A Fine Romance
Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola’s melancholy love story, is the season’s sweetest film. (And Bill Murray is buff!)
Bill Murray, a fading movie star, meets Scarlett Johansson, an unemployed 22-year-old, on an ad shoot in Tokyo. Why set this film in Tokyo?
I like the idea of this guy having this midlife crisis in such a weird and beautiful place—Bill Murray in his kimono in this hotel, depressed. I thought there was camaraderie between the midlife-crisis thing and someone in their early twenties not knowing what they wanted to do.
The word is, Bill and Scarlett both give amazing performances. How did you pick them?
I wrote it with Bill in mind. I approached him with a treatment early on and kept sending him stuff. Finally he agreed to do it, but I didn’t really know he would do it until he got to Tokyo. We didn’t have a contract—Bill’s elusive. I met with Scarlett after Ghost World. She was a fan of Bill’s, and I figured they would get along. When I introduced them, I felt like a matchmaker.
Even though Bob and Charlotte don’t have a typical affair, would you call this movie a May-December romance?
I don’t think of it like that. I wanted it to be that pure moment of having a crush and that kind of melancholy when it’s not going to become something else. I think it’s romantic when there’s something keeping people star-crossed. Usually in a movie, it’s a war keeping them apart, but in this case it’s just life.
Bill looked pretty great for a 52-year-old. Did you tell him to hit the gym?
No, but he told me he was getting in shape since he had to be a movie star. I was glad when he showed up all buff and tan.
And the part when he’s swimming in the hotel pool …
I know! We lingered on that shot a little longer so you could see his back muscles. He was so proud. —Sarah Bernard
• Details: Lost In Translation, September 12 (Focus Features).
Film Forum’s John (Manchurian Candidate) Frankenheimer retrospective showcases the director’s most controversial works.
The late John Frankenheimer had a special knack for making politically prescient thrillers that gave audiences the cold creeps. Sounds like just the sort of thing we need right now. From September 19 to October 9, Film Forum will be showing fourteen of the best Frankenheimer movies, all in 35-mm. prints, some brand-new.
His 1962 masterpiece, The Manchurian Candidate, which stars Frank Sinatra in his best performance, is so blackly satirical that it took almost a decade to find its audience. The Cold War drama Seven Days in May, made two years after Manchurian Candidate, offers up a straight-faced version of that earlier classic’s rampant paranoia. Frankenheimer started out in live television and brought to his best movies the vividness of those early free-form years. The Iceman Cometh, for example, features perhaps the greatest theatrical ensemble acting in American film. Along with Robert Ryan, there is the very young Jeff Bridges, Moses Gunn, Bradford Dillman, and, in his last role, Frederic March. Seconds, in which Rock Hudson plays an older man who undergoes plastic surgery to create a completely new life for himself, is a grotesque and unsettling parable of loss and identity.
Frankenheimer’s most frankly commercial ventures could be spectacular in their own way. The Train, for example, is a galvanizing World War II melodrama that features some of the greatest train wrecks of all time. Grand Prix has some of the whooshiest auto races ever filmed. Bring your crash helmet. —Peter Rainer
• Details: John Frankenheimer Film Forum, September 19 to October 9.
It’s a daunting task, adapting a Phillip Roth novel. In The Human Stain, Robert Benton may have nailed it.
‘I’m dyslexic, I can’t spell. Truly I am the least likely person to be a writer,” says three-time Oscar-winning screenwriter and director Robert Benton. This isn’t false modesty but a personal acknowledgment that the movies are a medium of adaptation and reinvention. Benton was the art director of Esquire magazine when he and a colleague, David Newman, tried their hand at a screenplay called Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Benton went on to write and direct Kramer vs. Kramer, Places in the Heart, and Nobody’s Fool.
The theme of self-reinvention lies at the heart of his new project, an adaptation of Philip Roth’s The Human Stain. Anthony Hopkins plays Coleman Silk, an aging pugilist turned university dean who gets caught up in some p.c. campus madness, is banished from academia, and falls for a hard-bitten charwoman played by Nicole Kidman. Hard to say which is the greater imaginative leap—Kidman as a janitor or Hopkins as a light-skinned black man passing as a Jew.
Benton knows from passing. “When I moved from Waxahachie, Texas, to New York, the first thing I did was lose my accent and do my best to make people believe that I had come from somewhere in the East.” Roth’s point, he says, is that we live in a culture that reinvents itself and turns its back on its own traditions. “This is essential to the American character. What you get from that is a kind of freedom. What you lose is a history that goes beyond yourself.”
The buzz on Stain is that Benton masterfully captures Roth’s searing novel and its Clinton-impeachment-era backdrop (the film is on many an early Oscar shortlist). Of those nostalgic days of our reinventing president and his human stains, Benton says: “Philip Roth promised to send me a bumper sticker that he had Milton Glaser make up: BRING BACK MONICA LEWINSKY. I would be very happy to have that on my car.” —Adam Sachs
• Details: The Human Stain , September 26 (Miramax).
In Under the Tuscan Sun, Raoul Bova is Diane Lane’s latest young European conquest. Say buon giorno to Hollywood’s sexiest newcomer.
People who have seen the movie say you’re every American woman’s fantasy—the young Italian stud.
Thank you! It’s something I don’t think about. There are a lot of guys in the world more beautiful than me. Personally, I like charming people. I like the character—the seduction, the intelligence.
You and Diane Lane’s character fall in love in one day!
She has a problem with her husband, so she leaves him and goes to Tuscany. She falls in love with the people, the food, the culture—then me. It was a beautiful day. It was like destiny.
Are the sex scenes hot?
Hot, but not very hot. This movie is from Disney! The relationship between my character, Marcello, and Francesca is very pure, but very intense at times.
How did you get the part?
Audrey Wells, the director, and I had lunch and we liked each other. I got the part also because I can make limoncello. I told Audrey, and she said, “Can you tell me how to make it? I want this scene in the movie.” On the set, Diane was looking at me with her beautiful eyes, and I said, “Okay, you put the skin of the lemon inside the bottle with three quarters of pure alcohol,” and then I forgot a part and I said, “I forgot the rest!” My mistake is in the movie.
You cook. How does American cuisine compare to Italian?
The best thing to cook in America is Italian food.
Who do you think is the sexiest American actor?
Brad Pitt, of course. —L.D.
• Details: Under the Tuscan Sun, September 26 (Touchstone).
Once Upon a Time in Mexico is Robert Rodriguez’s final El Mariachi flick. It may also be the best.
‘Quentin Tarantino calls this my Dollars trilogy,” says Robert Rodriguez. “El Mariachi was A Fistful of Dollars, Desperado was For a Few Dollars More, so Once Upon a Time in Mexico had to be epic and iconic. This is my Once Upon a Time in America—in Mexico, of course.”
Rodriguez, you’ll recall, became a cult sensation with El Mariachi—the $7,000 indie film he wrote, directed, edited, and wrote the music for, about a guitarist (Carlos Gallardo) lost in backwater Mexico who is mistaken for an escaped con and winds up warring with local drug dealers (the 1992 film, released the same year as Reservoir Dogs, helped usher in the Miramax era of independent film). Desperado, Rodriguez’s $7 million 1995 sequel starring Antonio Banderas as the mariachi (still suffering from mistaken identity, still shooting every narcotraficante in sight—and bedding Salma Hayek), was another cult hit.
Now comes Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Banderas returns as the music man lured into crime fighting, but this time the focus widens, with Johnny Depp playing a CIA agent who learns of a drug lord (Willem Dafoe) intending to assassinate the Mexican president (Hayek also returns for the ride).
The movie isn’t just bigger; it’s also said to be better. Depp, who Rodriguez says took Pirates of the Caribbean because he fell in love with action filmmaking in Once Upon a Time, apparently steals the show. In fact, he may want a trilogy of his own. “His is the best-written character,” Rodriguez says. “I showed Johnny this shot of him walking through an alley, the theme music he wrote is playing, and this voice-over begins … ‘The man with no eyes is back—Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Part II … ’ Johnny said, ‘Anytime, anywhere.’ ” —B.K.
• Details: Once Upon a Time in Mexico, September 12 (Columbia).
Best of The Rest
Party Monster Club kid James St. James (Seth Green) narrates the true story of his best friend and rival Michael Alig (Macaulay Culkin), a misfit from Indiana who rose in the early nineties to become the shockingly costumed (think diapers and bloody wedding gowns) king of the Limelight and the downtown club scene, then spiraled out of control and murdered his drug-dealing roommate, Angel Melendez (Wilson Cruz). Also starring—who else?—Marilyn Manson and Chloë Sevigny. (September 5; Killer Films)
Matchstick Men Ridley Scott’s lighthearted crime comedy stars Nicolas Cage as a thief with issues and Sam (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) Rockwell as his young, trigger-happy protégé. (September 12; Warner Bros.)
Cold Creek Manor Director Mike Figgis brings back the semi-retired Sharon Stone for this sexy thriller about an urban couple who discover that bad things happen when you leave the city. With Dennis Quaid. (September 12; Touchstone.)
In This World Shot on location with a local cast, Michael (24 Hour Party People) Winterbottom’s tale of two teenage Afghan refugees escaping from Pakistan to London beat Spike Jonze’s Adaptation for the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. (September 19; Sundance Film Series.)
To Be and To Have Following thirteen students in a one-room elementary schoolhouse in the rural French province of Auvergne, Nicholas (In the Land of the Deaf) Philibert’s character-driven film was the highest-grossing documentary in French history. (September 19; New Yorker Films.)
Anything Else Woody Allen’s latest look at New Yorkers and their neuroses casts him as a mentor to Jason Biggs, a young joke writer who can’t let go of the destructive people in his life, including an agent who keeps upping his commission (Danny DeVito), a girlfriend who can have sex with everyone but him (Christina Ricci), and his girlfriend’s midlife-crisis mother (Stockard Channing), who’s decided to become a lounge singer and move in with him. This time (happily), Woody doesn’t play the love interest. (September 19; Dreamworks)
Duplex In Danny DeVito’s follow-up to Death to Smoochy, a manipulative real-estate broker (Harvey Fierstein) sets up a young couple (Drew Barrymore and Ben Stiller) in their dream house, a gorgeous Brooklyn brownstone. But the pair develop homicidal tendencies when they discover that the old lady who lives in the rent-controlled apartment upstairs—who blasts Hawaii Five-O all night, accuses Stiller of being a pervert, and sics the cops on him—isn’t dying soon of natural causes. (September 26; Miramax)
Uma and Quentin are back with Kill Bill, fall’s most buzzed-about film. This time, things really get messy.
For once, the phrase “one of the most anticipated movies of the year” isn’t mere marketing hyperbole. Listen in to the obsessive chatter about Kill Bill on the Internet—where the film’s trailer has been endlessly deconstructed and any dubious bit of gossip about the movie can inspire weeks of debate on message boards—and you might find yourself thinking, Um, is this a new George Lucas movie?
Actually, it’s Quentin Tarantino’s latest Uma Thurman vehicle. Last time those two teamed up, of course, it resulted in the coolest accidental blockbuster of the nineties, Pulp Fiction. “When I first met Quentin,” says Thurman, “he was making a movie with constraints, and now he’s made a movie without constraints.” It’s this sense—that Tarantino’s latest magnum opus might be Pulp Fiction on steroids—that’s fueling much of the buzz about Kill Bill.
It helps, too, that the film is a martial-arts thriller (martial-arts cinemaniacs are an order unto themselves). Thurman’s character, the Bride, is an assassin who awakens from a four-year coma to hunt down her would-be killers. (Hyperviolence ensues.) Her character, Thurman says, “is like a fierce deity—a phoenix. She’s not compassionate; she’s vengeful.” It’s all part of a meditation on resurrection and retribution that’s so operatic it turned out to be too much for one movie: Tarantino persuaded Miramax to release Kill Bill in two parts (no date has been set yet for the second half).
Thurman admits to being as consumed by Kill Bill as are Tarantino’s panting fans. She had to be—she’s in almost every frame of the film, spent an extraordinary 150 days shooting it, and endured months of grueling martial-arts training before filming even started. “I had to learn how to handle a samurai sword and to master several forms of combat—all this mad stuff.”
Reality, post-Tarantino, seems oddly muted. “Now I’m just re-examining life,” says Thurman. “It’s really something to go into a movie and walk out a year later. I’m still in the process of unraveling myself from Kill Bill.” —Simon Dumenco
• Details: Kill Bill: Volume 1, October 10 (Miramax).
Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River, a smart drama with Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, and Tim Robbins, may be rolling toward an Oscar.
There’s a reason Mystic River will open the 2003 New York Film Festival: It’s one of Clint Eastwood’s “greatest works,” says festival director Richard Peña.
Long the 73-year-old director’s pet project, the film adapts Dennis Lehane’s story about a trio of childhood Boston friends who reunite after 25 years when one of their daughters is murdered in the city. With a script by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential), a strong showing at Cannes, and top billing at Lincoln Center, the film’s already generating Oscar talk for Eastwood and his A-list ensemble cast.
Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, and Tim Robbins play the friends at the center of the story, with Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, and Laura Linney taking supporting roles. “We’re pros, so we could have faked it if we’d had to, but we all connected,” says Bacon. He plays a cop, Robbins plays a conflicted family man, and Penn smolders as a volatile ex-con looking to avenge his daughter’s death.
“This film has a lot to do with unspoken history, and we’ve all been through various chapters in our careers and lives,” Bacon says. “When you see the film, you see it on our faces—we’ve all been road-tested.” —Logan Hill
• Details: Mystic River, October 8 (Warner Bros.).
Halle Berry’s creepy mental-hospital thriller Gothika is, as the Oscar winner says, “mental.”
Gothika is your first lead role since winning the Monster’s Ball Oscar. Did the award give you new confidence?
It’s a validation—winning an award like that restores a bit of your creative juice. But then you feel like, Okay, now everything I ever do is going to be compared to that performance. With Bond and X-Men, the first thing everybody said was, “It’s not Oscar-worthy.”
You play a criminal psychologist who awakens to find herself a patient in her own hospital. Your mother was a psychiatric nurse. Did that draw you to the role?
I always admired what my mother did—it’s a tough job for a woman, working in a psych ward—and that world felt familiar to me because of the stories my mom told me. I felt an instant connection.
The film is apparently terrifying.
It’s a horror-thriller going on inside a psychological mind-bender.
It sounds mentally— Oh, it’s mental.
What can you do to create more quality roles for black women?
I can fight to play parts that are not just written for black women. That’s what Gothika is.
What will people take away from this film?
I think they’ll ask themselves, If I were dropped in this situation, what would I do? How fierce would I be? I think what people will discover is that they’d do just about anything to get out of that place.
You loaned your Oscar to the Academy for an exhibit on the history of the Oscars. When you get it back, where will you keep it?
I’m building a house, and I’m thinking of building a special place for it. I don’t want a lot of people touching it—I don’t want all kinds of energies on Oscar. —Lauren DeCarlo
• Details: Gothika, October 24 (Warner Bros.).
Sundance winner The Station Agent could be the indie hit of the fall.
‘Basically, it’s a throwback to the Western,” says Tom McCarthy, writer-director of The Station Agent. “A mysterious stranger blows into town on a train and changes everyone’s life.” What he doesn’t mention is that the town is in western New Jersey, and the stranger is played by dwarf actor Peter Dinklage. In the 37-year-old McCarthy’s debut, Dinklage plays Finbar McBride, a lonely model-train repairman who inherits an abandoned railroad depot in Newfoundland, New Jersey, befriends an outgoing Cuban lunch-cart salesman, and woos a depressed artist. The sweet, bizarro comedy took the Audience and Screenwriting awards at Sundance, and McCarthy drew comparisons to indie god Wes Anderson. Still, a romantic comedy about a sad dwarf? “This isn’t a story about Peter dealing with his height,” says McCarthy. “It’s a story about something we all deal with—feeling like we don’t belong.” —Ben Kaplan
• Details: The Station Agent, October 3 (Miramax).
In Sylvia, Gwyneth Paltrow explores the life of the tortured poet. Let the Best Actress buzz begin.
Plath is the kind of character that Oscar nods are made of. When did you first read her?
I was doing Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle. I was 20, and Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jennifer Beals took me under their wing and told me I had to play Sylvia Plath someday. They gave me a copy of The Bell Jar and signed it.
What did you make of it?
If you’re a certain sort of young woman, with a curious and artistic brain, and you read it when I did, when you’re not wholly formed yet, it puts you perilously close to understanding what it’s like to be on that borderline . . .
Why make this film, after so much ink has already been spilled over Plath and Ted Hughes?
Much has been made of Plath as a strong, determined woman, and Hughes has been vilified as a murderer for so long, but this is a story about people who are very much in love, with the understanding that there’s never just a monster and a victim.
Plath’s daughter Frieda is furious.
I’m a public figure, and I don’t like people invading my private life, so I understand. But I think that Plath’s and Hughes’s work is so extraordinary, and their relationship will, throughout time, be held up as one of those incredibly passionate, tumultuous artistic relationships . . .
So you have rules for what makes a story meaningful, not exploitative?
I try to do things that attempt to reach a greater understanding. Some documentary on E!—that’s just a pile of wasted brain cells.
You’ve had experience with that sort of thing …
Yeah, it sucks. It’s stupid. It’s like I can never get out of high school. —L.H.
• Details: Sylvia, October 17 (Focus Features).
The Best of The Rest
Wonderland Scarily convincing as porn star John Holmes, Val Kilmer anchors director James Cox’s sleazy true story about sex, drugs, and murder in Laurel Canyon in the early eighties. Fellow derelicts include Carrie Fisher, Janeane Garofalo, and Kate Bosworth—in a breakout performance as Holmes’s underage muse. (October 3; Lions Gate.)
The School of Rock Richard (Dazed and Confused) Linklater’s latest finds failed rocker Jack Black trying to win a “battle of the bands” with an 11-year-old guitar prodigy from the prep school where he’s been substitute-teaching. (October 3; Paramount.)
Bus 174 José Padilha and Felipe Lacerda’s extraordinary documentary about the infamous bus hijacking that riveted Rio in 2000 mixes archival footage with new interviews and examines not only the crime and the ensuing media coverage but a subculture of graphic violence also seen in City of God. (October 8; ThinkFilm.)
Intolerable Cruelty The Coen brothers dream up a serial divorcée (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who vows revenge against her latest ex-husband’s slick lawyer (George Clooney) by marrying him, then cleaning him out in the divorce. With Billy Bob Thornton and Geoffrey Rush. (October 10; Universal.)
Runaway Jury The latest John Grisham adaptation has real-life ex-roommates Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman facing off as opposing counsel in a fictional landmark gun-control case whose verdict goes up for bid when John Cusack starts tampering with the jury—from the inside. (October 17; 20th Century Fox.)
Veronica Guerin Joel Shumacher enlists Cate Blanchett in this true story about Irish journalist Guerin, whose efforts to expose the connection between Ireland’s drug dealers, police, and criminal courts ultimately led to her 1996 murder. (October 17; Jerry Bruckheimer Films.)
Pieces of April Katie Holmes stars as a 21-year-old free spirit who invites her estranged family over for Thanksgiving after learning that her mother (Patricia Clarkson) has breast cancer, only to find herself scurrying around her Lower East Side tenement looking for a place to cook her bird. Along the way, she encounters, in turn, an African-American gourmet, a family of Chinese immigrants, and Will & Grace’s Sean Hayes, the proud owner of a brand-new, self-cleaning convection oven. (October 17; United Artists)
In the Cut Piano director Jane Campion rescues Meg Ryan from romantic-comedy hell with this sexy thriller, adapted from Susanna Moore’s 1995 bestseller about a lonely English professor (Ryan) who strikes up a steamy affair with a homicide detective (Mark Ruffalo) investigating a brutal (and possible serial) murder Ryan may have witnessed near her East Village home. Naturally, Ryan starts wondering if her new lover may indeed be the killer—and if she might be next. (October 22; Sony Screen Gems)
Elephant Gus Van Sant won Best Director and the Palme d’Or at Cannes for this mostly improvised look at an ordinary day in a Portland, Oregon, high school that builds toward a Columbine-like end. (October 24; Fine Line.)
Shattered Glass Stephen Glass was making up stories while Jayson Blair was still fetching coffee at the Times. Hayden Christensen (Star Wars: Attack of the Clones) plays the fabulist in screenwriter Billy Ray’s directorial debut. (October 31; Lions Gate.)
Die Mommy Die A campy whodunit written by and starring New York drag legend Charles Busch (whose Off Broadway play was adapted for the film) in a Sundance-award-winning role as a promiscuous fallen pop diva who may or may not have murdered her husband with a poisoned suppository. (October 31; Sundance Film Series.)
Hugh Grant’s Love Actually isn’t just a romantic comedy. It’s ten romantic comedies in one.
This fall, if you’re dragged to one romantic comedy—either by a date or by the strange force that draws women toward Hugh Grant in weak-kneed heaps—let it be Love Actually. It’s the latest collaboration between Grant and writer-director Richard Curtis (Bridget Jones’s Diary, Notting Hill), and this time, they’ve upped the ante. Not content with one romance, Curtis scripted what co-star Laura Linney calls “ten different story lines about various forms and incarnations of love.” A cast of British all-stars (including Colin Firth, Rowan Atkinson, and Keira Knightley) plays twenty men and women looking for love in lovely London. Grant plays a prime minister who clashes with a redneck American president (Billy Bob Thornton) and falls for his office tea lady (Brit songstress Martine McCutcheon), while Linney gets mushy in an office run by Alan Rickman. “I had a line with Emma Thompson,” the normally restrained actress notes. Then she goes totally weak-kneed herself: “Hugh Grant and I were on the set at the same time!” —L.H. • Details: Love Actually November 14 (Universal).
In Master and Commander, Russell Crowe brings his commanding presence to the high seas.
‘Jack Aubrey is a grandly capable man, in charge of 197 souls on a 138-foot world,” says Russell Crowe. “Men like him were the nasa of their time.” As the brash, burly British Navy sea captain Aubrey, Crowe leads his crew on a globetrotting eighteenth-century chase for a massive warship that ambushed his own. Despite the film’s booming cannons, whistling shrapnel, and 800-odd special effects, Crowe swears Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World “is not an action film.” In fact, he pushed director Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society, Witness) for months to make the script more complex. “At first, Peter saw Jack as a simple man,” says Crowe, “but a man like that couldn’t have been.” The resulting commander, says Crowe, “has bad relationships and drinks too much, he uses too much profanity, and yet he generates love and authority.” Now, what would Crowe see in a difficult guy like that? Other than another shot at Best Actor. —L.H.
• Details: Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World, November 14 (20th Century Fox).
Nathaniel Kahn’s haunting My Architect chronicles a son’s quest to understand his father.
Before he died penniless in Penn Station in 1974, Louis Kahn became the idol of a century of great architects—while secretly fathering children with two women other than his wife. My Architect follows the youngest Kahn offspring, Nathaniel, who was 11 when Dad died, as he nervously pumps those who knew Lou (including his mother) for information and travels the world to see his greatest works for himself. “To some extent, everyone’s parent is a mystery to them,” says Nathaniel, who took five years to make the picture. “And an investigation into any parent’s life is fraught with peril.” Astonishingly, this personal saga blossoms into a Citizen Kane–like meditation on whether anyone is truly knowable—but the showpiece is Kahn the younger’s spellbinding photography, which shows off his dad’s buildings’ epic grandeur as well as their spiritual intimacy. The apple, it seems, doesn’t fall far from the façade. “I had to keep going back,” Nathaniel says. “I got into a place where it was almost like talking to my father.” —Robert Kolker
• Details: My Architect, Film Forum, starting November 12.
The Best of The Rest
The Matrix: Revolutions Part two left us wondering how Neo (Keanu Reeves) could manipulate the “real” world as he did the “machine” world. In the third installment of the Wachowski brothers’ sci-fi head-scratcher, it all becomes clear—we hope. (November 5; Warner Bros.)
Elf Will Ferrell takes on his first solo starring role as the now fully grown and very tall adopted son of one of Santa’s elves (Bob Newhart) who heads to New York in search of his biological father (James Caan). Zooey Deschanel (House Hunting) plays the department-store elf who falls in love with him. (November 7; New Line.)
21 Grams Alejandro González IñÃ¡rritu’s follow-up to the emotionally harrowing Amores Perros is another intense—if more hopeful—story of intersecting lives: this time, a grieving mother (Naomi Watts), a dying math professor (Sean Penn), and an ex-con (Benicio del Toro). (November 14; Focus Features.)
The Cooler A contagiously unlucky man (William H. Macy) goes to work for a Vegas casino manager (Alec Baldwin) to thwart gamblers’ winning streaks. But the plan goes awry, in Wayne Kramer’s directorial debut, when the “cooler” falls in love with a cocktail waitress who turns his luck around (Maria Bello). (November 19; Lions Gate.)
The Barbarian Invasions Writer-director Denys Arcand’s story about a cancer-stricken historian (Rémy Girard) who spends his last days rabble-rousing with friends, making peace with his son, and scoring dope from a beautiful junkie won Best Screenplay honors at Cannes. (November 21; Miramax.)
Big Fish Tim Burton’s adaptation of Daniel Wallace’s southern novel revolves around a journalist (Billy Crudup) trying to understand his dying father (Albert Finney), a traveling salesman who keeps flashing back to tall tales he once told his son—about a swamp witch (Helena Bonham Carter), a circus ringleader (Danny DeVito), and a sheep-eating giant (the seven-foot-four-inch Matthew McGrory). Ewan McGregor plays the salesman’s imagined younger self. (November 26; Columbia.)
Bad Santa In a twisted fantasy that could only come from the mind of Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World; Crumb), an alcoholic thief (Billy Bob Thornton) disguises himself as Old Saint Nick to rob mallgoers, until he meets an introverted 8-year-old boy who, of course, teaches him the meaning of Christmas. (November 26; Dimension Films.)
New York Stories
Five fall films that could (and do) happen only in Gotham.
September 5 (Killer Films)
Club kid James St. James (Seth Green) narrates the true story of his best friend and rival Michael Alig (Macaulay Culkin), a misfit from Indiana who rose in the early nineties to become the shockingly costumed (think diapers and bloody wedding gowns) king of the Limelight and the downtown club scene, then spiraled out of control and murdered his drug-dealing roommate, Angel Melendez (Wilson Cruz). Also starring—who else?—Marilyn Manson and Chloë Sevigny.
In the Cut
October 22 (Sony Screen Gems)
Piano director Jane Campion rescues Meg Ryan from romantic-comedy hell with this sexy thriller, adapted from Susanna Moore’s 1995 bestseller about a lonely English professor (Ryan) who strikes up a steamy affair with a homicide detective (Mark Ruffalo) investigating a brutal (and possible serial) murder Ryan may have witnessed near her East Village home. Naturally, Ryan starts wondering if her new lover may indeed be the killer—and if she might be next..
September 26 (Miramax)
In Danny DeVito’s follow-up to Death to Smoochy, a manipulative real-estate broker (Harvey Fierstein) sets up a young couple (Drew Barrymore and Ben Stiller) in their dream house, a gorgeous Brooklyn brownstone. But the pair develop homicidal tendencies when they discover that the old lady who lives in the rent-controlled apartment upstairs—who blasts Hawaii Five-O all night, accuses Stiller of being a pervert, and sics the cops on him—isn’t dying soon of natural causes..
Pieces of April
October 17 (United Artists)
Katie Holmes stars as a 21-year-old free spirit who invites her estranged family over for Thanksgiving after learning that her mother (Patricia Clarkson) has breast cancer, only to find herself scurrying around her Lower East Side tenement looking for a place to cook her bird. Along the way, she encounters, in turn, an African-American gourmet, a family of Chinese immigrants, and Will & Grace’s Sean Hayes, the proud owner of a brand-new, self-cleaning convection oven..
September 19 (Dreamworks)
Woody Allen’s latest look at New Yorkers and their neuroses casts him as a mentor to Jason Biggs, a young joke writer who can’t let go of the destructive people in his life, including an agent who keeps upping his commission (Danny DeVito), a girlfriend who can have sex with everyone but him (Christina Ricci), and his girlfriend’s midlife-crisis mother (Stockard Channing), who’s decided to become a lounge singer and move in with him. This time (happily), Woody doesn’t play the love interest.