Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Following Previews Have Not Been Rated

Post-Oscar, and faced with the dross of most January-April releases (The Pacifier??), it can start to feel like no movie is ever going to be good again. Thank goodness for the following 25, which are my biggest mouth-waterers for the coming months of 2005:

  1. The New World
    The Thin Red Line is the best English-language movie of the last ten years (that is, since Todd Haynes' Safe). Malick has made three masterpieces in three tries; he's the only filmmaker I can think of, from any period or culture, who can say that. Colin Farrell and the John Smith/Pocahontas narrative in general wouldn't necessarily get my heart leaping, but this artist is impossible not to trust. And the trailer gave me goosebumps I can still feel.

  2. The Holy Girl/La Niña Santa
    No one has confirmed that this movie will be released this year, but after racking up some rapturous reviews at last year's Cannes, it seems like the right time. I'm always rooting for breakout female directors, especially from abroad, and Lucrecia Martel of Argentina already has an ardent following after two movies. The Almodóvar brothers in the producers' chairs and the hilarious Theremin version of Carmen on the soundtrack augur for something weird and likable; the still photos remind me of Buñuel or Campion, and that's a huge turn-on.

  3. Yes
    Joan Allen anchoring a movie by landmark feminist/formalist director Sally Potter (Orlando, Thriller), about a middle-aged woman's passionate sexual affair with a Lebanese exile, all rendered in iambic pentameter. I have always had nerdy tendencies, but films like this I just can't wait to see. Joan!

  4. All the King's Men
    Robert Penn Warren's novel (read it!!) is so good that even after a well-above-par screen adaptation in 1949, I am eager to see a second take, and with the year's best cast for an American film—Sean Penn as Willie Stark, Jude Law as Jack Burden, Patricia Clarkson as Sadie Burke, Kate Winslet, Anthony Hopkins, Mark Ruffalo, and James Gandolfini—lines should start forming now. Prestige screenwriter Steven Zaillian has proven to be a great director in both Searching for Bobby Fischer and A Civil Action, guiding more strong casts through complex stories, rendered with unexpected visual sophistication. Bring it, Steve. Set the Louisiana Capitol a'burnin'.

  5. A History of Violence
    David Cronenberg is one of my favorite directors, bar none, although Spider didn't grab me the way a lot of his others have. This tale could be even more conventional, with grizzled men avenging their daughters (or something), but this auteur always commands attention, and Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen oughta help.

  6. Manderlay
    Dogville didn't floor me across the board, though certain sequences, performances, and aspects were extraordinary. And I'm still a Dancer in the Dark disciple; in fact, even when I'm not into a Von Trier picture (see Zentropa or The Five Obstructions), I'm still piqued. So bring on this ante-bellum parable of American self-betrayal and fling modesty and artistic humility once more out the window, shall we? Payoffs could be major.

  7. Savage Grace
    I can't tell whether the rumors that Clive Owen has been ousted from the cast are true; I hope they aren't. But there's plenty else going for this fact-based murder story set in '72: the return of New Queer Cinema director and mentor Tom Kalin (Swoon), another producing effort from the producer I most admire, Christine Vachon (Safe), and Julianne Moore working again in the post-New Queer niche where she's done her absolute best work. Shivers!

  8. The Dying Gaul
    Could easily be one of those movies that only exists to indulge its tony cast, and friends at festivals haven't been raving, but when egghead sex symbols (and real-life sweethearts) Campbell Scott and Patricia Clarkson get together for a drama where they both bed Peter Sarsgaard as well as each other, you're not gonna dim my enthusiasm that easily.

  9. Woman Is the Future of Man
    Of the recent Korean hits still making their way to these shores, this romantic comedy-drama that rocked the Cannes and New York Film Festivals in '04 is highest on my list. Close behind is Oldboy, which is rumored to be horrifically violent but formally impressive.

  10. Howl's Moving Castle
    I'm not hearing that Howl's is the equal of Miyazaki's last film, Spirited Away, but I'm hearing that it comes close. Close would be enough: I haven't responded to a single other animé feature in any significant way, but Miyazaki may have the stuff to make me a believer.

  11. 2046
    For some reason, I'm nervous that I'm not going to like this. I'm getting tired of the way Wong Kar-wai cultivates this rebel-hero persona with his perpetually delayed movies and sunglasses-only personal style, and I'm not as hyper-susceptible to either Tony Leung or Zhang Ziyi as some. Still, fetching actors in William Chang's swooning production designs (he's the one member of the Wong team who never, ever slips) offer plenty to be gassed about. And my hunch could easily be wrong.

  12. Clean
    After Irma Vep and demonlover, it would be foolish not to be an Olivier Assayas fan. And Maggie Cheung: does this woman have more pure star charisma than any actress since Garbo, or is it just me? You can just sit and stare at her face, and infer all kinds of potential movies based on a single expression. And yet she's also a terrific actress, with a meaty part to play. Gimme, please.

  13. Syriana
    Buzz around Hollywood for years has held that this long-completed screenplay marked a real attempt to characterize American-Middle Eastern relations and military frictions in mature detail, with genuine depth of character and political scope. Is that really possible, especially for a movie produced now? I certainly hope it is. I'm 10x more excited for this than for Sam Mendes' Gulf War film Jarhead, but I'm pulling for both of them to really have some ideas in their rucksacks.

  14. Sin City
    I'm not generally one to get my knickers in a twist about comic-book or graphic-novel adaptations, but the trailers for Sin City are just too delicious for words (which, obviously, is exactly what screen images should be). For some reason, I'm not feeling this'll reveal itself as a Sky Captain-style tease; I'm banking on a genuine stylistic coup with some storytelling chops to back it up.

  15. Proof
    I didn't love the play, and I still wish they'd cast Mary-Louise Parker, who instantly made herself synonymous with this role. But I'm a lover of American drama, which is so rarely done well (or done at all) on American screens, so I'm rooting for this. My man Alwin Küchler (Morvern Callar, Code 46, The Mother) is the lensman, so it might even look smart.

  16. Kings and Queen
    I actually don't know a ton or even an ounce about the plot of this French drama, but lotsa critics I trust singled it out at last fall's NYFF, and director Arnaud Desplechin is an up-and-comer I haven't sampled yet. I give credit to those recent American dramas that have chased tragic grandeur, but a lot of them haven't wound up with much to show for it. (The Human Stain was what the title promised, instead of what the book promised.) Let's hope the French know how to do it better.

  17. The Upside of Anger
    One of my straight-up Hollywood picks, and lookee, it's coming out in a week! Probably destined to be described as Joan Allen's stab at a Something's Gotta Give crossover hit, and who deserves it more? The trailer makes her look sensational (not just physically, but in terms of her performance), and it even augurs well for Kevin Costner, who may re-center his early gifts for comedy. The actresses playing Allen's daughters are a who's-who of the best teen girlz in the biz. I'm ready to buy my bucket-sized Coke and drink it all up. (Will Joan win the Golden Globe for Musical/Comedy? Between this and Yes and perhaps Off the Map is it Her Year?)

  18. Paint
    I like the Altman movies that hit big (Gosford Park), the ones that don't (The Company), and even the ones that actively annoy a lotta people (Dr. T and the Women), so whenever this redundant-sounding "exposé" of mean tempers and schemes in the art world bows, color me eager.

  19. The Fountain
    I had reservations about Pi and even more about Requiem for a Dream, but I still don't think we've seen Darren Aronofsky show his real stuff as a director: those two films felt like workshops toward what a true, integrated directorial vision will be like. The plot and tone of this one sound even more elliptical and challenging, and the cast is intriguing. Third time's the charm?

  20. The Ring Two
    Considering that I liked the first American Ring just fine but not extravagantly, I'm not sure why I'm so psyched about this. Wait, yes I am sure. The teaser trailer was terrifying, and the new, fuller-length preview is comparably so. Jesus, I'm nervous now just typing this. (That trailer for the similar-looking Dark Water is kind of a chiller, too.)

  21. Saraband
    Reports imply that Ingmar Bergman himself isn't fully pleased with his 30-years-later postdate on Scenes from a Marriage, and Bergman in DV sounds like a shame, but "A New Film from Ingmar Bergman" is a phrase you just can't brush off, whatever caveats are attached.

  22. The Constant Gardener
    City of God was good enough to make me wonder what else Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles has up his sleeve, and I'm ever hopeful that lead actor Ralph Fiennes will reignite his career, which was so exciting in the mid-90s. Here's hoping this is the right project with the right people at the right time.

  23. The Interpreter
    Director Sydney Pollack has been short-changing his talent for years, and maybe the trailer has already said it all...but doesn't that seem a little too obvious? Are there even more surprises in store? Even if not, isn't there already Sean Penn, Nicole Kidman, and Catherine Keener in a UN-set thriller with paranoid undercurrents, James Newton Howard on the soundtrack, and Darius Khondji handling the images? That'd be plenty, unless it all somehow gets garbled. We'll know soon enough.

  24. Brokeback Mountain
    Speaking of crossed fingers, I'd love to believe that this is going to work, but the literary self-seriousness of The Ice Storm (also directed by Ang Lee) really didn't work for me, I haven't cottoned to what I've read by Proulx, and the Heath Ledger/Jake Gyllenhaal love story seems destined to be watered-down. Still, if the studio (Focus) really nurtures it, if Rodrigo Prieto keeps up his streak of gorgeous-looking movies, and if the greenhorns in the cast discover unforeseen charisma, I'll be clapping loudest.

  25. Even Bigger Unknowns...
    Will Batman Begins be as solid a summer blockbuster as last year's Bourne Supremacy? Will Theo Angelopoulos find a US distributor for Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow? Will these two movies ever be jointly considered again? Is Thumbsucker a boring American indie or a hint of genuine new talent? (Either way, it's got Tilda Swinton.) Is Woody Allen really back with Melinda and Melinda? What else is looming that I don't know about, or that I'm forgetting? There's always more magic on the way than you realize.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Why Isn't There More to Say?

After all the build-up, the post-Oscar silence at NicksFlickPicks has been admittedly odd. Blame the flu. But also blame a not especially interesting ceremony featuring a not especially inspired list of winners and nominees. It's not altogether surprising that years with a lot of good movies tend to yield bad Oscar vintages: cult faves like Eternal Sunshine and Kill Bill, Vol. 2 and Before Sunset and Maria Full of Grace register strongly in their niches, but while the art fans are busy dividing themselves over these pet projects, consensus picks that lotsa people like but few people love tend to sweep up. Will anyone ever seriously discuss Finding Neverland or Ray or even The Aviator ever again? There were few if any pop phenoms at this year's awards, few if any upsets, no songs worth whistling, no swans as dresses, no Cher as Spiderwoman. But here are ten things I've still dug up to say:

  1. You mean Best Picture doesn't have to be a letdown?
    Million Dollar Baby is the first Best Picture winner since at least American Beauty, and really since Titanic, that seemed really and truly deserving. It struck me as the easy pick of this litter, though a Sideways win would have been satisfying in its own way. Still, I was psyched. If you want to know why, check out my new review.

  2. But even that wasn't the best Oscar of the night...
    ...since the Original Screenplay citation for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind at least guarantees that the Academy has some cognizance of what counts as a masterpiece, in at least one category. The Incredibles win for Animated Feature was also gratifying, if unsurprising, as was the triumph of "Al Otro Lado del Rio" as Best Song. Even though I don't swoon over that song (even when sung by the right people!), at least three of the others were such drivel that it was a joy to see them shut out... also, it was the only category where I scored right with a "surprise" prediction. So there's that.

  3. And speaking of Eternal Sunshine and Bests...
    No one looked better than Kate Winslet. No one. No one even close.

  4. Tragedies
    Why did Laura Linney come as Brad Pitt in Troy? Is she trying to announce her candidacy for People vs. Larry Flynt/Sid & Nancy roles? Alternatively, if they decide to remake The Neverending Story, she's a shoo-in for the Southern Oracle.

  5. What did I think about Hilary's speech?
    I was fine with it, though I think I was alone among the group I watched it with. Sure it milked the trailer-park thing a little, but I don't get that Hilary is any more "fake" than anyone else in these circles. She probably would have been my fifth choice of those five, but I still thought she did a good job—this year's race happily lacked a Naomi Watts in 21 Grams, a Salma Hayek in Frida, or a Juliette Binoche in Chocolat, where you're just like "Whaaaa?"—and if I won an Oscar, even my second one, I'd thank everyone in the damn world, too. And by the way...

  6. Is Hilary Swank the new Sally Field?
    Sally began in an inauspicious background: Gidget, The Flying Nun; Hilary was a 90210/Karate Kid/Buffy-the-Movie girl. Sally won in '79 and '84. Hilary won in '99 and '04. I'm not sure either is a great actress (though Hilary was at least unqualifiedly great in Boys Don't Cry). They are both kind of personality performers who really go for the gumption thing. Characters you underestimate till they prove their mettle, unionizing, boxing, farming, writing false news stories, conning Marie Antoinette, shooting Robin Williams, that sort of thing. Sally Redux was all, "You like me, you really like me!" Hilary Redux was all, "I'm just a girl from a trailer park." If history keeps repeating, Hilary's run at Oscar is officially done. (Sally went 2/2 but hasn't been nominated again in 20 years, even in the Year of Gump.)

  7. How about those Oscars presented from the audience?
    Jamie Foxx's Gramma in heaven should whup someone for this. No respect, no dignity, no clips from the winners or even the nominees from Makeup, Animated Short, Live Action short. That's just fucked up, y'all. If Valli O'Reilly and Bill Corso and Chris Landreth and Andrea Arnold want to come to my house and personally show me footage and tell me all about their hard work, they may consider themselves invited.

  8. And what about the Rock?
    I thought he was funny at the beginning, which is the only time I ever really notice the host. He didn't seem to "fit" the Oscars format all that well, and he certainly wasn't all that funny or finessed in introducing the presenters. The Bush/Gap stuff was funn-nee. The ersatz disses on Jude Law/Colin Farrell/Rock himself were hilarious, though Jude obviously is amazing, so my boyfriend Sean Penn may be excused for (rather over-seriously) stepping up for him. Best joke all night: "I had to deal with this movie called Soul Plane. I'll trade you ten Passion of the Christs for one Soul Plane." That said, Whoopi and Steve are still, by far, my faves. And I reiterate: do we need a host? (You know who would be great, smart, funny, elegant, pretty, and articulate, with backgrounds in stand-up and in serious acting? Emma Thompson. Which will also never happen, obviously.)

  9. Am I seriously done ragging the bad stylings and failed humor?
    Josh Groban, be silent. Beyoncé, one note per syllable usually suffices. Robin Williams, shut it: you've been peddling the same "improv" for at least 10 years too long. Salma and Penélope, hop in my Chrysler, it's as big as a whale! Scarlett, stop frying and bleaching your hair. Kirsten, what's with the platinum blonde? Laura Bush, what's with—oh wait, that's Drew Barrymore. Sean, you haven't called in weeks. Renée, EAT, and speak in your friggin' normal voice, the one you use when you're acting. And Melanie, you can't... I feel like... no. It hurts too much. Melanie has become the actress equivalent of the train-wreck in The Fugitive. With her around, I barely noticed that Sally Kirkland was MIA.

  10. But class is class...
    And Cate Blanchett and the extreeemely dapper Morgan Freeman have it. Morgan has such integrity and expresses himself with such sincere authority that I actually believed he was honored to work with Hilary Swank, rather than the other way around. And Cate, I'd love to have seen you win this for Ripley, but it's impossible to begrudge you anything. Talk about charm and grace. Let Marty Scorsese's daughter make her own way. I hope I marry your son. (Sorry, Derek. Sorry, Sean.)

Now, you know y'all have thoughts to share, too...