Performances to Watch

GWYNETH PALTROW will have a go of the lead role in John Madden's adaptation of Proof, a play that earned Tonys for its author David Auburn and its original star, Mary-Louise Parker. Proof also won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, despite the fact that the story never really goes anywhere: it's really a showcase for the main actress, and though I heartily wish Parker had been given the chance, Gwynnie's been getting undeserved bum raps for her good work in recent pics like Sylvia and Shallow Hal. I'm not expecting greatness, but she did have the London stage-run of Proof as practice. And keep an eye out, too, for HOPE DAVIS, who I expect might finally snag that elusive Best Supporting Actress nomination as Gwyneth's carpy sister.

CHRISTIAN BALE and JENNIFER JASON LEIGH join forces, though their characters are opponents, in Brad Anderson's The Machinist, a sorta-kinda combination of Melville's Bartleby and Von Trier's Dogville. Buzz at Sundance was good-not-great, but Bale consistently opts for interesting projects and he interacts beautifully with actresses, as evidenced in Little Women, The Portrait of a Lady, and American Psycho. (Well, he interacted beautifully; I'm not saying his characters always do.)

And speaking of Little Women: two years ago, in the otherwise-dreary Igby Goes Down, CLAIRE DANES sketched an ornery, complex twentysomething who was feisty and put-upon and essentially decent and a little kinky, but not in any of the ways this prototype usually is in the movies. In other words, she finally seemed like the actress she seemed like she might be when we met her, lo this decade ago. Will Richard Eyre's Stage Beauty or Steve Martin's Shopgirl finally release the Inner Claire?

So this is where JODIE FOSTER has been hiding? In France, making a French-language historical wartime romance oddity with Amélie auteur Jean-Pierre Jeunet? Wherever, whatever, Jodie, as long as you're stepping back up to the plate. Note: Foster grew up speaking French, since she attended a lycée during her high-school years. Oh, and the film's called A Very Long Engagement; Oscar seems likely to notice.

Once Collateral finally opens, we'll know if JAMIE FOXX is heading into the fall as the bonafide star he's been threatening (and deserving) to be for a while now. Even if the Mann movie fizzles, though, or if Tom Cruise steals all the thunder, Foxx has center stage in Ray, a judicious biography of Ray Charles that couldn't be more timely, with Charles just having passed away this summer. Lip-synched biopics can be trouble, but sometimes they're jewels, like Jessica Lange's Sweet Dreams, about Patsy Cline. Among Ray's second-tier ensemble, I'll be rooting hard for REGINA KING, an actress I've loved since she managed to breathe some life into whole stretches of John Singleton's Poetic Justice (no small feat).

Robert De Niro mugged memorably in the original Meet the Parents, and Ben Stiller did some nice work before he contracted his nasty bout of Katehudsonus travoltacitis, a nasty, mosquito-born virus that makes you say yes to each script in your inbox. Regardless of their fine work, though—especially Stiller's indelible slow burn at the airport counter—Gwynnie's mommie BLYTHE DANNER did the most subtlely hilarious acting in the picture: just watch her when Stiller's character surprises her with physical affection at the front door. I'm hoping Blythe gets a little more to do in the sequel, Meet the Fockers, though BARBRA STREISAND ain't gonna cede the scenery too easily. And that's fine, too, because she's one of the most dazzling comic actresses in decades of American movies, a fact we'd alllllmost forgotten since she hasn't acted in anything in forever. Here's hoping she reminds everyone.

Ready for Their Close-Ups?
EMILY MORTIMER was a fetching lass in Kenneth Branagh's sweet-natured Love's Labour's Lost, a frazzled actress in Lovely & Amazing (where she earned an Indie Spirit Award), and most recently, one of Ewan McGregor's nubile conquests in Young Adam. Finally, now, she has a movie all to her own, a British dramedy called Dear Frankie about a single mom who's been secretly answering her son's letters to his absent dad, whom she knows is never coming back and is never going to respond. Of course, there are complications, which should be funny, sad, melancholic, hopeful, farcical, delicate...Emily's gonna get a workout, and finally, there won't be some bigger star distracting our attention.

PATRICK WILSON is one of modern Broadway's most talented, best-liked, and cute-as-a-buttonest musical theater stars. He played the leads in the stage version of The Full Monty in 2001 and in Susan Stroman's revival of Oklahoma! in 2002, scoring Tony nods for both. Plus, he gave the single best performance out of impressive company in last December's Angels in America miniseries, which hopefully means he has an Emmy coming down the pike. Still, America's film geeks barely know who he is, and a second-tier role in last spring's Alamo fiasco didn't help. This Christmas then, when Warner Bros. finally drops its visually splashy, unavoidably gaudy Phantom of the Opera, Wilson will have his first on-screen musical role in his most brand-named vehicle yet. True, he'll be competing for attention with GERARD BUTLER, who has the more magnetic role as the Phantom (and is also, incidentally, the male lead in Dear Frankie). And, I'm already cringing at his gross, lanky wig, but My Patty—not to be confused with Patricia Clarkson, also My Patty—has overcome more than this to get where he is. Now, let's see him go further. (And let's see him call me!)

Lighting & Design

Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding may not have been cinema for the ages, but it sure looked great, didn't it? Credit master d.p. DECLAN QUINN (Aidan's brother), who can make anything look delicious, from Nair's vibrantly colorful spectacles to the more intimate Vanya on 42nd Street or Leaving Las Vegas, two remarkable acting pieces that benefitted hugely from Quinn's subtle, humane brilliance at lighting actor's faces. Nair's Bollywoodized take on Vanity Fair will almost certainly land on the Monsoon side of things, and the production design could easily be the kind of over-the-top, spangly affair that wins cinematography kudos from people who don't really grasp what cinematography is. Still, a genius is a genius, and if Declan lights it, I will come.

Opening in September right after Vanity Fair is first-timer Kerry Conran's Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow...yes, that comic-booky, sci-fi-y whatzit with all the famous actors that you've been seeing previews of for a year now. Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Angelina Jolie are all pretty easy on the eyes, but I daresay none of them has ever been in a film, not even The Talented Mr. Ripley, where the visuals are even more ravishing than they. Preview buzz has been pretty great for this flick, which looks like some sorta retro-futuristic Royal Air Force fantasy thing, with Jude and Angie as top guns and Gwyn as a fearless reporter. If you thought Spider-Man 2 was 2004's final word in visualizing the comic-book aesthetic, just wait for what cinematographer ERIC ADKINS and production designer KEVIN CONRAN (is that nepotism I smell?) have in store for us.

P.S.: Gwyneth Paltrow will also have the good fortune to be lit by ALWIN KÜCHLER in Proof. After Morvern Callar, Ratcatcher, and this past spring's The Mother, Küchler has a defensible claim as the most exciting new cinematographer currently working in English-language movies. That whole "stagebound" thing will hopefully go right out the window.

Comfort Food
If someone lied to you and said that the novel Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason wasn't as funny as the original, then please know that this nefarious, deceitful-type person did, in fact, lie to you. V.v.bad. Simple casting dictates that at least one major plot-point must have been altered, though it would be simply superb if it hasn't been. One way or the other, Bridget should be a warm ray of audience gratification amongst all the hyper-merchandised movies that start showing up under the cineplex tree by the first weekend in November.


Living Legend: INGMAR BERGMAN reportedly wasn't too satisfied with how Saraband turned out, though the cranky Swede was never one to look on the bright side. Let's at least hope that this years-later return to the characters from Scenes from a Marriage at least gets a curtain call stateside, especially now that we know it's Ingmar's swan song.

Classy Auteur: Meanwhile, Hungarian phenom ISTVÁN SZÁBO, who showed such a muscular, rangy understanding of the actor's life in his Oscar-winning Mephisto, trains his lenses on a stellar cast of thesps for Being Julia, about a troupe of jealous, horny, backbiting theater types. The story, adapted by The Pianist's Ronald Harwood, is taken from a novel by W. Somerset Maugham, last represented on screen by 2000's Up at the Villa, a weirdly self-parodic mystery-romance with Kristin Scott-Thomas and Sean Penn. I think I was the only person in North America who really liked Up at the Villa, but hopefully Being Julia will find a more receptive audience.

Young Turk: DAVID O. RUSSELL is back for the first time since 1999's Three Kings! Let us rejoice, especially since I Heart Huckabee's, his convoluted comedy about "existential detectives," sounds like more winning loopiness from the guy who gave us Spanking the Monkey and Flirting with Disaster. Having Lily Tomlin, Dustin Hoffman, Naomi Watts, and the ubiquitous Jude Law around shouldn't, you know, hurt the film too much.

Panic Attacks
With Mexican firebrand Gael Garcia Bernal in the starring role, Ché Guevara's youthful adventures to work from, and reputable Brazilian director Walter Salles behind the camera, there's no reason for The Motorcycle Diaries to go too wrong. With a killer cast headlined by Johnny Depp, Kate "The Great" Winslet, Vanessa Redgrave, and Julie Christie (still prettier than Diane Kruger), Marc Foster's biography of J.M. Barrie, recently retitled Finding Neverland, should also be a built-in pleasure. So why do I keep getting this sinking feeling that they're both going to wind up too precious by half, merely revering their subjects when they're supposed to be illuminating or explaining them?

Anything You Can Do, She Can Do Better...
...which is why I'll be lining up for JULIANNE MOORE in Joseph Ruben's The Forgotten, even if it's directed by the maestro behind Sleeping with the Enemy and The Good Son. Even if it could so easily be one of those Bless the Child disasters where a worthy actress can't resist a trashy foray into the supernatural. Even if co-star Dominic West still hasn't earned the right to look quite so Dennis Quaid-smirky after a career that's taking years to really get off the ground. (You last noticed him, or didn't, getting shot by Renée Z. in Chicago.) And even if Juli might well be wishing that her recent romantic comedy Laws of Attraction really was The Forgotten. (Don't worry, Jules, I don't think anyone was even looking.)

It is, after all, Julianne Moore. Bring on the delusional-mommy, haunted-house, neo-Gothic oogah-boogah.

I'll Believe 'Em When I See 'Em
(Though I So Want To Believe!)
Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman in a thriller set inside the United Nations, for which they have built a giant, replica set here in upstate New York? Nic again, as a bereaved mother with an unhealthily sexy/scary obsession with a 10-year-old boy—and Anne Heche, Lauren Bacall, and Ted Levine hanging around while she loses her marbles? Joan Allen, the best thing since electric light, raising four headstrong daughters and getting even more fed up than usual? John Greyson, the director of the uneven but unforgettable Lilies, taking his queer eye to colonial South Africa, to tell the story of an interracial same-sex relationship under, go figure, a certain amount of strain? THE INTERPRETER, BIRTH, THE UPSIDE OF ANGER, and PROTEUS all sound like tantalizing projects, but Sydney Pollack will have to post-produce at lightning speed to have the first ready by Thanksgiving; New Line's website isn't even mentioning Birth, which was supposed to be a major fall release for them; Joan Allen's micro-indies have a way of falling into the video dustbin (All the Rage, Off the Map); and United States distributors are never exactly tripping over themselves to get the Canadian Greyson's experimental work into 'plexes. I'll keep saying my prayers, but I'm getting least for now.

P.S. (7/30/04): Heavens to betsy, Proteus is not only making it into American's already here! New Yorkers can look for it at the Angelika Film Center at Houston and Mercer, in the West Village. Pity I won't be down there this summer.

. . . and We End with . . .
The Best Title in a Year's Worth of Movies

Supply your own caption, your own punchline, or your own $9.75.
No matter which, it's still called SEED OF CHUCKY. I hope someone got promoted for that.
Aren't movies the greatest?

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