Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Most Anticipated Films of 2006 [Part One]

You don't have to say anything. I am perfectly aware that posting a list of this year's best-looking films is a little silly considering we are in the middle of May, considered by many to mark the start of the Summer Movie Season (heralded by the release [and flop] of the woefully-titled M:i:III). What's more, everyone else has already put in their two cents' worth, so why bother with a mostly similar-looking list? Good points, but in my defense, I must remind you all of the following: a) January to March, film-wise, are clearly not part of the new year, but dedicated to discussing the Awards Season of the prior year, and b) we all know the early crop of movies are largely forgettable fare. Now, with the Cannes Film Festival having just begun (with Ron Howard's much-anticipated [and apparently much-panned - yikes!] The Da Vinci Code adaptation), things are looking up for us film fanatics who live half our lives in the cinema halls or in front of our televisions.

Note: I do plan on having a non-film-related post soon enough about summer plans and the end of school, as well as a generous capsule review rundown.

First, the ones I am not looking forward to watching this year:

World Trade Center - No, I am not of the mind that it is way too early to discuss 9/11 in art, although it's certainly more tasteful in my mind to consider the events in a less direct manner than to dramatize the events in full, explicit detail. I was not a fan of the year's first film dealing with the tragedy, and as such, I cannot get my hopes up for this Oliver Stone-helmed picture. The trailer that has been floating around for the past few days (and that was officially released today) is even more suspicious-looking. I certainly hope Stone does not follow in the steps of Greengrass - delivering respectful and well-made filmmaking, but unwilling to ask difficult questions or add anything that would elevate the proceedings beyond shock recreation.

Flags of Our Fathers - It's not that I don't welcome any more films by Clint Eastwood or Paul Haggis, because I've certainly enjoyed (some) of their recent output. I am a big fan of Mystic River, and thought Haggis's adaptation of Million Dollar Baby had its strengths. It's a timing issue mostly. I am certainly not looking forward to seeing them both at year's Oscar ceremony, in contention for yet another mini-sweep, and for a WWII-film at that. *snore*

Superman Returns - I am of two minds here; on one hand, this could be the film that salvages Kevin Spacey's career (isn't his Lex Luthor just perfect casting) and present a superhero film worthy of matching Raimi's Spider-Man saga. Then again, it has the clueless Kate Bosworth as the leading lady (*snore* again), and Brandon Routh does not inspire confidence in me. Still, I will try to keep an open mind about this, but I will not be surprised at all if I end up hating it. Superman was never one of my favorite superheroes growing up.

Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna - Karan Johar is the most successful director working in Bollywood today, and IMHO, he's also one of the worst. He has built his career on sugary-sweet family dramas that shamelessly attempt to manipulate and push buttons (and made millions). He has since promised that this outing will be much darker, exploring marital infidelity, and within the South Asian Disapora in New York. I still don't trust him, because the latest plot synopsis makes the enterprise sound like a bad rip-off of 2004's Closer.

Babel - Alejandro González Iñárritu returns to his favorite subject (three-layered drama about different people brought together by tragic accidents - how original!) in this film that is in contention for the Palme D'Or this month. I will certainly see this for the cast (Cate Blanchett + Gael Garcia Bernal = j'adore), but I've hated everything this director has done with a passion.

In addition, All the King's Men (Sean Penn needs to tone it waaaaaaay down, from the looks of the Oscar-bait trailer), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (Blaaaah - is this necessary?), A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater may have directed possibly the best film of the new milennium, but his Waking Life was a thankless affair, and this looks like more of the same), Umrao Jaan and Don (Bollywood runs out of Hollywood films to copy-cat, and turns to Hindi classics to desecrate).

Runner-ups (to the Most Anticipated):

Lady in the Water - Has M. Night Shyamalan learned his lesson? Early on during the pre-production of this film, it sure seemed like it. After all, he set about working on a subject completely at odds with his prior filmography (yes, the appearance of supernatural beings in our world is nothing new for him, but it seemed like he was going to put a fantastical, romantic spin on it). He insisted that there would be no trailer and to the surprise of all, it sounded as if the man's ego had been damaged enough by The Village's failure that his head was finally out of the clouds. Obviously, this humility did not last very long, because the publicity material is already plastered with his name in gigantic lettering, and statements like "A Bedtime Story" (WTF?) are abound. The most recent trailer is a lot less magical (Strange creatures! Spooks in the night! Run!), and seems like the trickster is back to his old ways. But then again, Paul Giamatti and Bryce Dallas Howard are starring, so that's enough to put my butt in the theatre seat opening day. But wary, I shall be...

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - From the looks of the trailer, the promotional team at Warner Brothers would have you believe that Brad Pitt is the only person starring in this movie (Casey who?). I detest it when posters and ads leave out the rest of the ensemble to focus on only one or two actors to sell the film. I understand why it's like that, but the fact remains that the majority of the public will not know that the cast here includes Casey Affleck, Mary-Louise Parker (whee!), Zooey Deschanel, Sam Rockwell, Paul Schneider, Sam Shephard, and Ted Levine.

Fur - Okay, you've got me. The sole reason I have this down here is because it means a return to form for Nicole Kidman. After tolerating her in The Interpreter and gritting my teeth through her painful slapstick/overplay in The Stepford Wives and Bewitched, I finally get my chilly, cold and mentally disturbed Kidman back. The movie doesn't even have to please - I was less than thrilled with Jonathan Glazer's Birth, but bought the DVD just to re-live her performance whenever I could.

In addition, The Devil Wears Prada (Streep as a bitch? I'm so there, as I was for Death Becomes Her and She-Devil), Fast-Food Nation (I'm more excited by this Linklater effort, especially how he will create a narrative out of a non-fiction text), Inland Empire (I'm iffy on Lynch, but always willing to go in with an open mind), Notes on a Scandal (Blanchett and Dench doing what they do best), Provoked (Aishwarya Rai makes an Oscar bid), The Woods (a Patricia Clarkson starrer that has been lost in release date-limbo), A Prairie Home Companion (Altman and big casts always deliver), The Good German (I'm sick of Clooney, but I'm always up for Blanchett, who somehow manages to repell overexposure), Children of Men (Cuaron follows up Harry Potter), Goya's Ghosts (what's Milos Forman cooked up for us in his absence?), Zodiac (Gyllenhaal mania), Pan's Labyrinth (del Toro is one of the more interesting directors working today), and The Good Shephard (how will De Niro fare behind the camera?).

The Top Fifteen:

15. Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan)
Almost six years after garnering an Original Screenplay nod and making Laura Linney a household name with his masterpiece You Can Count on Me, Kenneth Lonergan pursues his sophomore project in this story about a young woman (Anna Paquin) who is devastated by witnessing a bus accident. I am confident that with Lonergan's writing talent, this film will give some great lines to chew on, but even more exciting is the chance that he will able to move Paquin away from her recent Lolita-esque cypher rut in The 25th Hour and The Squid and the Whale. Joining the party are You Can Count alumnus Mark Ruffalo (who is also screaming "Acting Makeover" after playing thankless love interests in 13 Going on 30 and Rumor Has It) and Matt Damon (who, like Blanchett, will be appearing in three different films this year).

14. The Prestige (Christopher Nolan)
After blowing my mind with the breathtaking Memento, Christopher Nolan has been kind of wasting his time with an adequate-but-pointless remake and a gloomy, joyless superhero re-vamp. Thankfully, this new project seems very much worth his time, and the fact that it stars two of the best actors working today (Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale) just adds to my anticipation. The film depicts a deadly rivalry that forms between two competing magicians in turn-of-the-century London. Sounds like a gorgeous film already, and I can already imagine the superb work by the technical team. Plus, the supporting cast is nothing to scoff at either - Andy Serkis, Scarlett Johansson (although she really needs to cut down her projects), David Bowie (!), and Michael Caine.

13. Running with Scissors (Ryan Murphy)
There's only one thing on everyone's mind regarding this film, and that's "Is this the film that will finally win Annette Bening her Oscar?". That and "Will Hilary Swank come around the corner again and steal the frontrunner status?". It certainly is a juicy role for Bening, but what concerns me is the fact that it's such a high-wire act, similar to what she did in all her nominated performances. Is it going to be too much? But regardless of Oscar potential, the film still sounds like a messy, over-the-top hoot. Great cast supporting the diva including Gwyneth Paltrow, Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Evan Rachel Wood, Alec Baldwin, Patrick Wilson (aaah!). I have a feeling this will be the I Heart Huckabees of the year (same type of bizzare humor, terrific ensemble cast).

12. X3: The Last Stand (Brett Ratner)
I am not a big fan of this series, I have to admit right off the bat. There are just too many characters and subplots going on, and I prefer my main source of conflict to be much more personal and aimed at the individual (read: Spider-Man). But the arrival of this installment is promising for a couple of reasons - it's the final one (ups the stakes), it features the performance of Dark Phoenix (my favourite X-"Man" character) and has a heart-pounding trailer. Yes, it's directed by Brett Ratner, but I think he understands how much is riding on this film, and from the looks of it, he's done a solid job of taking over for Bryan Singer. Plus, I just have to see Kelsey Grammer as The Beast. Just perfect casting right there.

11. The Da Vinci Code (Ron Howard)
Believe you me, I'm just as surprised to see this film listed so high as you are. I have hated every single thing Ron Howard has directed (and that includes the overrated Apollo 13), and the quality of his work has deteriorated even more with the turn of the century. The fact that his grating chum Brian Grazer is in tow, as well as screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (who believes he has to overexplain everything in his work) is even more disturbing. I haven't read the book, nor do I care to. The advance word at Cannes has been damning on top of it all, so why do I care about this film? Because I feel that this mystery lends itself perfectly to a film medium - it will be nothing more than a empty-calorie "big" popcorn thrill ride, and I am in the mood for a summer film that is both entertaining and about more than explosions. I feel that Howard can deliver at least that. Plus, it has Alfred Molina, Audrey Tatou, Ian McKellen and Paul Bettany - that is worth something!

... and the top ten will be posted tomorrow. This has nothing to do with "unveiling" it as a surprise; it's just that I'm exhausted and can write no more.


JavierAG said...

Aargh, I want more!

Good call on "The Prestige". I loved "Memento" but have been waiting for Nolan to return to form ever since ("Insomnia" and "Batman" - yikes).

I loved "Amores Perros" but thought "21 Grams" was really dull, BUT it does have Cate & Gael so... who cares?

As for "Da Vinci Code", I am so seeing it this week or the one after that - I just want to have a fun time at the movies for God's sake! (And Ian McKellen is said to be terrific).

Nick M. said...

"Patrick Wilson (aaah!)"

Good 'aaah' or bad 'aaah'?

Nonetheless, today I asked my friend: "what films are being theatrically released soon?" Seriously, I have absolutely no idea what the future of film in 2006 holds. Therefore, I am somewhat thankful for your entry (The Da Vinci Code!?!?!).

I eagerly await your Ron Howard/Dan Brown-less top 10 anticipated. At least you understandably took a premature shit on the Eastwood/Haggis project.

Oh, and -- on a whim -- I attempted to watch Crash again. I only lasted 20 minutes. I completely agree with whoever called it a two-hour TV show, because that is exactly what it is.

Ali said...

Javier - 21 Grams was painful, but Gonzalez sunk to a new low with his submission in 9"11'01 - September 11. That's where my feelings for the director went from indifference to disgust.

I don't know what it is about The Da Vinci Code that is so tantalizing. I know it's going to be terrible... could it be that I'm actively looking forward to trashing it? That might very well be it.

Nick - Definitely good "aaah!". He probably has a tiny part in the flick, so I'll have to look to Field's Little Children to see him at his best (the fact that he's acting opposite Winslet is even more exciting).

You know you want to see The Da Vinci Code. Come on! It's going to be a spectacular failure, and what is more fun than picking apart a Ron Howard film?

I knew you wouldn't be able to last through a repeat viewing of Crash. Anyways, I don't resent the film as a whole as much as I do the industry and awards groups, for they are the ones that lavished praise so readily.

jesse said...

PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION is at the one at the top of my list--especially after reading a glowing write-up in Film Comment yesterday.

I don't know how much Shyamalan can be blamed for marketing--I can't imagine any studio would be willing to bank on a film without any advance publicity. And I'm extremely curious since it's apparently based on a children's story he wrote... WTF?

minijonb said...

Top on my list is A Scanner Darkly - I like things that are a little blurry.

RC said...

have you seen DVC and X-Men now that there out...

what you expected?

I read Running w/ scissors just a couple months ago and i think it seems like the movie could be way heavy...or it could feel more like Royal Tennenbaums...especially w/ Gwyenth Paltrow in it.

--RC of