Fall Preview: Film


Woman on Top
No one knows why this film was pushed back from its original June release date, but it’s not a quality thing – honest. We’ve seen the film, and it’s fluff – but the best kind of fluff. Penelope Cruz stars as a spicy gourmet chef who likes to always be in control, whether she’s dicing chilies or mounting men. When she moves from Brazil to San Francisco, she finds herself starring in a hit television show and causing numerous male hearts to flutter. (September 22)

The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen
For a long time, horror-film devotees have been dying to see the possessed Linda Blair’s infamous spider-walk scene, in which she scuttles downstairs bent backward on her hands. Originally excised from the film for being too disturbing, it’s now been restored in this definitive cut of William Freidkin’s classic. And take it from us: The scene is out there. (September 22)

Remember the Titans
Jerry Bruckheimer (Flashdance, Top Gun) produces and Boaz Yakin directs this true story of a newly appointed football coach (Denzel Washington) who must overcome discrimination from the Virginia locals while trying to win over the team’s former coach (Will Patton), a white guy who’s been bumped down to assistant. Washington, who came within inches of winning an Oscar last year, is hoping this puts him in contention again. (September 29)

Karyn Kusama’s directorial debut knocked ‘em out at the Sundance festival last winter. Her film tells the story of Diana (played by newcomer Michelle Rodriguez), a surly young high-schooler in Brooklyn who keeps beating the hell out of her classmates until advised to take her problems into the boxing ring, where she blooms. Kusama and Rodriguez have been basking in the glow of positive advance buzz for eight months now, but we’ll see if audiences buy it. (September 29)

Best in Show
Christopher Guest follows up his fitfully funny Waiting for Guffman with yet another heavily improvised mockumentary. This time, Guest and company (including Parker Posey, Catherine O’Hara, and Michael McKean) lampoon the uppity dog-show scene. (September 29)


Requiem for a Dream
Prepare for a grim, relentless barrage of druggy footage as Darren Aronofsky (who wrote and directed 1998’s most eccentric sleeper, ¼) presents his blistered-lips-and-all depiction of four Coney Island junkies: Ellen Burstyn is the speed-addled mom; Jared Leto, her heroin-addicted son; and Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans, his jittery girlfriend and buddy. There’ve been some battles with the MPAA over a threatened X rating, so it will be interesting to see who caves first. (October 6)

Meet the Parents
Ben Stiller plays Teri Polo’s skittish husband-to-be, who has an agonizingly tough first run-in with her father, a surly ex-CIA psychologist played for all it’s worth by Robert De Niro. Directed by Jay Roach (the man behind both Austin Powers films), the cat-and-mouse comic pairing of the Taxi Driver himself and the whiny Stiller sounds perfect. (October 6)

Two Family House
Fans of The Sopranos will be arriving en masse to check out Michael Rispoli (who appeared as Jackie Aprile on HBO’s hit series) playing a real family man who yearns to transform his Staten Island home into a cabaret theater. (October 6)

Dr. T & the Women
He may falter a bit more than before, but a new Robert Altman film is still news. In his latest, Richard Gere plays a much-requested gynecologist whose well-ordered existence is coming apart because of the ladies in his life: There’s his alcoholic sis (Laura Dern), his neurotic daughter (Kate Hudson), and, trickiest of all, his frazzled wife (Farrah Fawcett), who has taken to skipping in fountains totally naked. (October 13)

Billy Elliot
Boy likes ballet. Father gets angry. Universal’s new art division, Universal Focus, gets rolling with this British tale about an 11-year-old (Jamie Bell) who chooses a tutu over boxing gloves and chagrins his family, most of all his testosterone-dipped dad. (October 13)

The Yards
Shady wheelings and dealings are occurring within the bowels of the New York City subway system, and James Caan plays a grimy businessman whose company repairs subway cars. We’re literally in the underworld, and there’s fear and corruption everywhere. Caan’s nasty wife (Faye Dunaway) and scheming nephew (Mark Wahlberg) are both after the family business, and betrayals and back-stabbings abound – particularly after Joaquin Phoenix, playing Wahlberg’s childhood best friend, enters the picture. Directed by James Gray. (October 20)

Pay It Forward
Haley Joel Osment wasn’t invited back to join Bruce Willis and M. Night Shyamalan for Unbreakable, perhaps as a result of his Golden Globe sniffle-fest. Nevertheless, he’s featured prominently here, playing an altruistic seventh-grader who teaches his troubled parents (Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt) a thing or two about redemptive grace. We’re imagining the film as the celluloid equivalent of those PRACTICE RANDOM KINDNESS and SENSELESS ACTS OF BEAUTY bumper stickers. (October 20)

Lucky Numbers
Nora Ephron follows up You’ve Got Mail with what seems to be a departure from her trademark sticky sweetness. Her new black comedy centers on a downtrodden TV weatherman (John Travolta) who with the help of a mischievous co-worker (Lisa Kudrow) rigs the state lottery so the numbers are in his favor. (October 27)

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2
The sequel to the highest-grossing indie film in history eschews handheld shakiness for a more traditional storytelling approach. This time around, four teenagers (all played, again, by newcomers) sign up to go on a walking tour of the Black Hills, only to return from the bewitched woods with bizarre symbols etched into their bodies and blood-curdling hallucinations. Directed by Joe Berlinger, known for his documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. (October 27)


Charlie’s Angels
While Farrah Fawcett can be seen losing her mind in Robert Altman’s latest, the seventies TV show that made her a star gets a millennial makeover with Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu as those three detectives with the leggy moves and the cantankerous boss whose face we never get to see (but we do get to see Bill Murray, who plays Charlie’s assistant). All we want to know is whether Cameron will be doing a poster. (November 3)

The Golden Bowl
This Merchant Ivory costume drama, adapted from Henry James’s final novel, promises plenty of well-coiffed socialites hurling themselves upon satin-upholstered divans. Advance word is that it’s a bit on the slow side, but hey, it’s Henry James, not Stephen King, for God’s sake! Kate Beckinsale stars as a woman recently married to a prince (Jeremy Northam). She unwittingly discovers proof that he has a mistress (Uma Thurman). Distressed, she runs sobbing to her wealthy papa (Nick Nolte). (November 3)

The Legend of Bagger Vance
Triumph of the human spirit, anyone? Will Smith plays a curiously messianic golf caddie who mentors a World War I veteran (Matt Damon again) into becoming one hell of a putter. But will he be able to beat those two golf champions he’s just challenged for a tournament? Charlize Theron plays Damon’s beleaguered girlfriend, and Robert Redford directs. After The Horse Whisperer, nobody seems too optimistic about this one. But some of us have been Redford stalwarts since Ordinary People, so we’re thinking The Natural meets Tin Cup. (November 3)

Red Planet
Hoping to succeed where Mars Attacks!, Mission From Mars (hey, didn’t that come out this year, too?), and pretty much every other film with Mars in the title has failed, Anthony Hoffman’s directorial debut finds Val Kilmer donning a kicky astronaut outfit to visit that tiny red dot in the sky – only to get stranded there. Could be another lonely Robinson Crusoe update à la Cast Away, only with vaporizing guns in lieu of coconuts. For some reason, we’ve got to see this one. Hope springs eternal. (November 3)

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Wearing ultra-elaborate face makeup that seriously threatens to upstage the elasticity of his actual face, Jim Carrey brings the Mean One to the silver screen. Just how well he and director Ron Howard succeed in presenting Seuss’s classic with actual human beings is anyone’s guess. Also opening for the kids today is Rugrats in Paris, which finds those shrill toddlers terrorizing the City of Light on Nickelodeon’s dime. (November 17)

The 6th Day
It’s the not-so-distant future, and anything can be cloned: cattle, chicken, cats, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who plays a pilot who arrives home one day to find that he’s already there. Talk about déjà vu! Meanwhile, a villainous DNA specialist (Tony Goldwyn) is trying to murder him before the secret gets out. This is do or die for Arnold. Does he still have what it takes to sell tickets, or should he start seriously thinking about that political career? Directed by Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies). (November 17)

Bruce Willis and writer-director M. Night Shyamalan team up for a second time, and given that their first pairing resulted in The Sixth Sense, we’re expecting yet another tale chock-full of New Age occult trimmings that blows away the competition Thanksgiving weekend. This time around, Willis plays the sole survivor of a train crash who must find out why the fates have decided to spare him. Samuel L. Jackson is the mysterious figure who might have a few answers up his sleeve. The minimalist trailer already has audiences buzzing. I see big box office. (November 22)

Geoffrey Rush puts the S back in S&M as the notorious Marquis de Sade in this new film by Philip Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Right Stuff). Sure, it’s really about censorship and freedom, but you can still count on plenty of britches, bodices, exposed bosoms, and hearty slaps on the rump. Kate Winslet co-stars as the Marquis’s admiring laundress. Joaquin Phoenix is the officious Catholic priest hoping to salvage what’s left of his soul. And Michael Caine turns up as a sadistic doctor. Doug Wright adapted his own Off Broadway play. (November 22)

102 Dalmatians
“Mommy, I want a dalmatian – again!” Expect another barrage of these-spotted-dogs-are-a-menace-to-your-children articles as underage audiences get more than their fill of pooches with cuddly, computer-enhanced facial expressions and painted-on spots – not to mention even more elaborate costumes and scenery-chewing from Glenn Close, who reprises her role as the maniacal Cruella De Vil. New to the lineup is Gérard Depardieu, who co-stars as a creepy fur peddler. (November 22)

Original Sin
Their love, it is, how you say … taboo? Angelina Jolie plays a mail-order bride with a secret, and Antonio Banderas the somewhat startled recipient of the tattooed parcel in this murky melodrama set in 1880s Cuba. The sex scenes are supposed to be hot, but director Michael Cristofer’s last film, Body Shots, let us down in that department. (November)


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)

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)

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)

Fall Preview: Film