CATE BLANCHETT is my early prediction for the year's Best Actress Oscar in Veronica Guerin, which reads on paper like a Silkwood-ish dramatized biography of the assassinated Irish journalist. Having Joel Schumacher as a director isn't necessarily a plus, but she'll be ably supported by the likes of CIARAN HINDS (Persuasion, Oscar & Lucinda). Vying with Cate for Best-Actress attention will be the priceless SAMANTHA MORTON, in Jim Sheridan's long-delayed In America. Among women in supporting roles, JOAN ALLEN got good Sundance buzz for Off the Map, directed by Campbell Scott (in which she does not – I repeat, does not – play a frosty, jilted wife), and the duo of TILDA SWINTON and CHARLOTTE RAMPLING, two of the smartest actresses alive, will be on hand for Norman Jewison's The Statement.

The male leads in that film will be MICHAEL CAINE and recent Tony-winner ALAN BATES, either of whom could court Oscar next February. Indeed, many of the most tantalizing performances by men are crowded together in ensembles. SEAN PENN, my early favorite as Best Actor, will lead NAOMI WATTS and BENICIO DEL TORO in Alejandro González Iñárritu's 21 Grams, and will headline an even richer cast in Clint Eastwood's Mystic River: KEVIN BACON, TIM ROBBINS, LAURENCE FISHBURNE, LAURA LINNEY, and MARCIA GAY HARDEN are also on hand for that project. Anthony Minghella has corraled an exquisite supporting cast for Cold Mountain, including BRENDAN GLEESON of 28 Days Later, RAY WINSTONE of Sexy Beast, DONALD SUTHERLAND, and PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN among the men, and EILEEN ATKINS, MELORA WALTERS, and KATHY BAKER among the ladies. Finally, Robert Altman will doubtless attract quite a crowd to his ballet ensemble-piece The Company, whose loudest buzz is currently attached to A Clockwork Orange's MALCOLM McDOWELL.

ROGER DEAKINS, whose pictures are always worth a thousand words, will try to repeat this fall his double-triumph from 2001, when he turned out both the shimmering black and white expressionism of The Man Who Wasn't There and the polished romanticism of A Beautiful Mind. In fact, he's once again teaming up with the Coen Brothers on the one hand and Jennifer Connelly on the other, though to an extent the stylistic directions have been swapped. This time it's the Coens who are after some luscious Hollywood glamour in their Disney-produced Intolerable Cruelty, a sharp contrast with the desaturated close-ups and bleached-out Pacific landscapes of House of Sand and Fog, starring Connelly and Ben Kingsley.

Other noteworthy cinematography this fall can be expected from DECLAN QUINN (Leaving Las Vegas, Monsoon Wedding), putting a cold, worldly light on New York City for In America; from EDUARDO SERRA (The Wings of the Dove), whose gift for painterly etherealism should be perfect for Girl with a Pearl Earring; and from PHILIPPE ROUSSELOT (A River Runs Through It, Henry & June), who should have fun with the fablic pastoral oddities of Big Fish.


Two very different films promise to rank among the year's most strikingly visualized. Girl with a Pearl Earring, which tackles the notoriously difficult task of making a film about painting, will undoubtedly be assisted by production designer BEN VAN OS. With usual collaborator Jan Roelfs, Van Os realized many of the spectacular visions in Peter Greenaway's films (Prospero's Books, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover) as well as the sumptuous pageantry of Sally Potter's Orlando, all on the kind of shoestring budget that Pearl Earring has been allowed.

Meanwhile, from a different century and half a world away, the Chinese epic adventure Hero promises all manner of bold color-fields, panoramic vistas, and dramatic architecture. The dazzling robes, armors, and uniforms in that picture are the work of EMI WADA, another Greenaway vet—she concocted Vivian Wu's couture outfits in The Pillow Book—who won an Oscar for the martial spectacle of Kurosawa's Ran.

The Lord of the Rings series has acquired its third principal editor in as many movies, and that's a good thing. JAMIE SELKIRK, the credited "supervising editor" as well as a co-producer on the first two pictures, is stepping up as the credited editor for The Return of the King, and we can only hope he will employ the same wizardly gifts he demonstrated in much of Peter Jackson's early work. Heavenly Creatures in particular is one of the best-edited pictures of the last ten years. Not only does the cutting delineate characters and spaces expertly, all within a complex and chaotic narrative, but when Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey dash across hillsides and race into Borovnia, Selkirk makes the images come alive in a way that none of the chases and cross-country treks in The Two Towers managed to do.

Look out, too, for STEPHEN MIRRIONE, another master of the multi-segment narrative, as he strings together the plot strands of Iñárritu's 21 Grams.


BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI was seeming permanently out to lunch with the back-to-back navel-gazing of Little Buddha and Stealing Beauty in the mid-nineties. But 1999's Besieged, starring Thandie Newton and David Thewlis, was an intriguing work in a minor chord, so my interest is awakened in The Dreamers, a three-character romantic drama set in Paris, just on the eve of the May '68 revolts.

Bertolucci's career by now has traversed Italy, France, China, India, and North Africa, a geographic spread that few directors could equal. One of his few peers in multinational filmmaking is MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM, who is almost as promiscuous (and prolific) with themes and genres as he is with locales. Having photographed everything from the war-torn Balkans (Welcome to Sarajevo) to the California gold rush (The Claim) to the early-80s British punk scene (24 Hour Party People), Winterbottom's latest offering is In This World, a story of two young Afghan immigrants living in London, with scenes filmed on three different continents. In This World won the top prize at Berlin last year, potentially making the time right to finally break out this unique, politically engaged artist to a wider audience.

Cinema Non Grata
PETER GREENAWAY can't seem to get arrested these days; his last film, a largely tedious affair called 8½ Women, was excoriated by critics and barely got released. None of this augurs well for Greenaway's magnum opus project The Tulse Luper Suitcases: The Moab Story, which – speaking of globe-trotting – traverses all seven continents and a batallion of international actors in a mystery-comedy-metatext about a passel of 92 suitcases and their cryptic contents, hidden and archived all around the world (and often having something to do with forgotten scenes and relics from Greenaway's own early work). The Moab Story, which was meant to inaugurate a new series of Greenaway productions, screened in competition at this year's benighted Cannes Festival. It wasn't tarred and chased out of town like The Brown Bunny was. In fact, its fate was worse: barely anyone seems to have noticed. I'm often put off by Greenaway, who seems to take sadistic, contemptuous delight in mystifying his viewers, and yet when his films work they are dazzling. And even when they don't work, he is one of the few working directors whose creations are completely singular, completely his own. I hope Tulse Luper finds some kind of distribution deal, but I suspect we may have to make do with the website, an interesting but frustrating multimedia concoction in its own right.

Love Objects

Why should moviegoers be ashamed of our own investments in particular stars and screen idols? Okay, so some people consider these attachments pathetic, abstract, or delusional. I just think of them as successful long-distance relationships. This fall two personal demigods return to the screen after long absences. I'm not sure about the long Goldilocks job that RUSSELL CROWE is sporting in Peter Weir's Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, and the film itself, judging by the preview, looks a little too much like, shall we say, water-logged macho bullshit. But if My Russell can survive burlap skirts, love-cured schizophrenia, and the VR stylings of Virtuosity, I see no reason not to watch him at the prow of his own ship. Ahoy, Russ—it's good to hear your real voice again!

My affair with JESSICA LANGE will also be well-abetted by the upcoming release schedule. Jessie's been kind of riding out the fumes of her mannerisms in the last few years, letting her fingers fly all over in nasty, delirious character parts like Tamora in Titus and that mean, mean mommy in Hush. But as I say, once a fan, always a fan, so sign me up three times: for her weird, dye-jobbed part as Bob Dylan's record producer in a neo-fascist future state in Masked & Anonymous (a summer release only now trickling out to the provinces), for her repeated grieving sessions over Albert Finney's deathbed in Big Fish, and for her role as a psychiatric supervisor in the endlessly deferred Prozac Nation. This last flick will probably suck the most, and it seems reasonable to tell Ms. Ricci that when Frances Farmer is your shrink, you're up shit creek. But I'll still be there with you!

. . . and We End with . . .
The Guilty Pleasure of the Year
Everything about MONA LISA SMILE could so easily go wrong. The whole inspirational-teacher genre is so understandable, since teachers are fabulous, but also so abject, given how often they regress into Michelle Pfeiffer tossing candy bars to her students/dolphins or Robin Williams nattering on about Walt Whitman and the responsibility you owe your own soul. The whole idea of Julia Roberts in period dress, even the playtone 1950s version in this cuddly mainstream project, grates against the mind; Julia's great, but as Anthony Lane aptly observed, she gets coarse and ungainly the minute you try to doll her up. I would also suggest that Julia's name does not spring to mind upon hearing the words "Wellesley professor," nor do budding careers like those of Kirsten Dunst, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Julia Stiles necessarily thrive in the pastel preciousness of mass-market genres. (Look what happened to Dunst in Get Over It, Stiles in A Guy Thing, or for that matter, Roberts in Hook.) And Mike Newell, a director who strays all over the quality chart, is likely to verge more on the cutesy Enchanted April side of things than the lean, mean Donnie Brasco side.

I realize all this, and I still plan to be there the first week. This is exactly the kind of uncontrollable consumer's impulse that has gotten me in trouble at the movies all year so far (viz. my attendance at View from the Top and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle) — but what can I tell you. It's the movies. Something clicks and You Just Have To Go.

Finally, since you've held in this long, my Mid-Year Special Features conclude
with insanely early Oscar predictions in the main eight categories. . .

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