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Fall Preview: Film

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DECEMBER

Family Man
Nicolas Cage finally puts down his Uzis and hand grenades to play a romantic lead: a career-centric investment banker who has the opportunity to see how his life would have been if he'd settled down and married his college girlfriend (Téa Leoni). It makes sense that it's coming out around the holidays, because it sounds to us like It's a Wonderful Life. (December 15)

Proof of Life
Expect lots of explosions in Taylor Hackford's thriller based on a 1998 Vanity Fair article. Russell Crowe (who apparently leaps at the chance to star in any film based on a VF piece) stars as a brave professional counter-terrorist who must save an engineer and his wife (Richard Morse and Meg Ryan) who have been captured by South American terrorists. Naturally, he falls in love with her. By the way, Crowe and Ryan started having the affair that broke up her marriage to Dennis Quaid during the shooting of this film. But that's not why we picked it. Not a bit. (December 15)

Chocolat
This modern-day fairy tale stars Juliette Binoche as the owner of a chocolate shop who bewitches a small town with her sinfully scrumptious snacks. Johnny Depp co-stars as her morsel on the side, and Alfred Molina plays the grump who absolutely hates chocolate and wants to shut her down. (December 15)

What Women Want
Mel Gibson plays a chauvinist pig who changes the toot of his horn after a freak accident in the bath (don't ask) leaves him with the ability to read women's minds. After using his superhuman powers to destroy the career of his boss (Helen Hunt), he starts going gaga for her and things take a turn for the precious. (December 15)

Enemy at the Gates
During the siege of Stalingrad, a young Russian sharpshooter (The Talented Mr. Ripley's Jude Law) and a savvy political officer (Shakespeare in Love's Joseph Fiennes) find their friendship threatened when they both fall for the same woman (The Mummy's Rachel Weisz). Meanwhile, a Nazi assassin (Ed Harris) has been hired to murder Law. Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud (The Lover). (December 22)

Traffic
Steven Soderbergh hopes to breathe new life into the old-fashioned drug thriller (think French Connection, not Pink Floyd's The Wall), and he just might succeed with the all-star cast he's assembled here. Three different stories collide: In one, Michael Douglas stars as the leader of the National Drug Task Force, whose daughter is hooked on junk; Catherine Zeta-Jones plays a vapid Mexican wife who must learn how to peddle dope after her husband is arrested for the same offense; and Benicio Del Toro plays a border cop with a decidedly lax moral code. (December 22)

State and Main
David Mamet may have finally put aside his long pauses and staccato dialogue for this relatively mainstream comedy, an insidery satire of the Hollywood film industry. Although it's certainly familiar ground, Mamet is a true original and the cast is very promising: William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, David Paymer, Alec Baldwin, and Sarah Jessica Parker. (December 22)

All the Pretty Horses
Although what the world really needs is a movie version of Cormac McCarthy's hypnotically gore-drenched Blood Meridian, we'll settle (for now, at least) for this adaptation of McCarthy's National Book Award-winning classic. Matt Damon stars as the teenage Texas nomad whose romance with a wealthy Mexican woman (Penelope Cruz) starts the blood a-flowing. Billy Bob Thornton directs, and there were reports of some tension between him and the studio (Columbia) over who got final cut. We'll see who won this month. (December 25)

Shadow of the Vampire
It's coming out so late in the year that it hardly qualifies as a fall film, but it sounds too promising to ignore. This fictionalized account of the making of the silent classic Nosferatu imagines that its star, Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe, in what's being touted as an Oscar-worthy performance), was a certified, fang-carrying vampire. John Malkovich plays F. W. Murnau, the overambitious German director who doesn't think twice before exposing his cast to the wrath of a crazed bloodsucker. Note to Lion's Gate: Bump up the release date. We can't wait. (December 29)

O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Coen brothers fans, rejoice. The boys are back with a modern retelling of Homer's Odyssey set in the old South. Three convicts (George Clooney, Tim Blake Nelson, and John Turturro) escape from jail in search of some buried treasure and meet a variety of cutthroats and screwballs along the way. (Film-nerd footnote: The title comes from Preston Sturges's Sullivan's Travels.) (December 22)

Cast Away
Tom Hanks lost 50 pounds to play the role of a smug federal agent who ends up stranded on a desert island without so much as a monkey or an evil queen to keep him company. Needless to say, he gets very, very lonely. We're hoping director Robert Zemeckis isn't pulling an Abbas Kiarostami: The thought of watching Hanks kick around palm fronds for three hours doesn't sit well with us, bushy beard or no. (December 25)

Finding Forrester
Gus Van Sant follows up his remake of Psycho with, it seems, a remake of Good Will Hunting. Sean Connery plays a hermetic novelist who takes a young athlete-scholar (Robert Brown) under his wing after discovering that the boy can really write. Which will the student ultimately choose: the basketball or the pen? Expect jaunty male cheekbones at close range. (December)

The Gift
In the past, practically all the players in this project have thanked the Academy, or at least come close. Sam Raimi (A Simple Plan) directs this neo-gothic tale of a clairvoyant mother (Cate Blanchett) who senses that her next-door neighbor (Hilary Swank) is being brutalized by her husband (Keanu Reeves). She's also trying to track down Katie Holmes, who plays Greg Kinnear's very missing fiancée. (December)

Moulin Rouge
Director Baz Luhrmann (Strictly Ballroom, William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet) is out to prove that the modern movie musical lives, whether Evita likes it or not. We shall see: Nicole Kidman stars as a Parisian nightclub crooner who falls in love with Ewan McGregor's flighty poet. Oh, yeah, it's also a millennial update of the Orpheus legend with lots of seventies pop classics. Okay, Baz, we're intrigued. (December)


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