Oscar-bait prestige season is upon us: no more CGI, no more Michael Bay-esque titantic explosions, no more fart jokes. You can either look at it as where the year ends for films or where it begins and let’s face it, we enjoy a cock n’ balls joke as much as the next guy, but we’re ready for, ahem…*cough* the cinema to do its thing.
I’m Not There (dir Todd Haynes. Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale)
We think this is a film about Bob Dylan with a bunch of actors, but we’re not totally sure. We need to do some research about this one. Todd Haynes (“Velvet Goldmine,” Far From Heaven”) directs; that much we know. Cate Blanchett is said to be a lock for an Oscar or something…
Watch The Trailer.
The Darjeeling Limited (dir. Wes Anderson. Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman)
Wes Anderson’s fifth film is either his worst or his best. A story about three estranged brothers on a spiritual journey to India has some critics howling at its disjointedness and lack of substance, while a small minority is praising its mature tones calling it the most melancholy film he’s ever made. We’ve seen it, but we’ll keep mum until our review later this week.
Eastern Promises (dir. David Cronenberg. Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts)
Estimable film critic J. Hoberman calls director David Cronenberg the “most provocative, original and most consistently excellent North American director of his generation” (above Spielberg, Scorsese and Lynch). While that remains to be seen, Cro’s re-teaming with Viggo Mortensen as a ruthless Russian thug caught between the ever more ruthless mob and a nosy midwife is fierce, unforgiving and at times utterly thrilling. But much like the sometimes-episodic feeling “A History of Violence,” the ending wraps way too neatly, it runs out of gas, and a lot of loose ends are left in the open.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
(dir. Andrew Dominik. Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck)
The film has been in studio limbo for almost two years, which usually spells doom, but it’s for the best reasons: the suits want a western epic and instead, director Andrew Dominik turned in a meditative epic more in line with the poetry of Terrence Malick than the shoot ’em ups of John Ford. Casey Affleck is said to be fantastic as the coward and Brad Pitt just won the Venice Film Fest award for best actor.
Gone Baby Gone (dir. Ben Affleck. Casey Affleck, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris)
Ben Affleck was self-aware enough to realize that Bennifergate made him one of the most loathed men on the planet so he did the wisest thing possible: he disappeared. Then he took small supporting roles and starting writing a film he decided to direct. Smart move, right? Only he decided to adapt a Dennis Lehan novel and made a film that looks like a paint by numbers version of Lehan’s popularly adapted “Mystic River.” It looks like almost a shot-for-shot remake, but we could be wrong. A similar and current, girl gone missing incident in the UK have fucked the films chances of playing across the pond anytime soon. Pity that.
Into The Wild (dir. Sean Penn. Emile Hirsch)
Sean Penn does whatever the fuck he wants, so that means adapting a novel about some idealist hippie who drops out of society to live off berries and bear shit. Even better he casts the so-far unbankable Emile Hirsch as the lead. But it’s a wise choice. Anyone who’s watched Hirsch knows he’s destined for greatness and a Johnny Depp-style career if he doesn’t fuck it up. The performance could be this years dark horse nominee ala Ryan Gosling in “Half Nelson.” The supporting cast includes Hal Halbrook, Vince Vaughn and Catherine Keener. Penn’s bff Eddie Vedder wrote the flannel-like mountain man folk tunes.
No Country For Old Men (dir. Ethan Coen. Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin)
Much like Woody Allen in recent years, every four-five films (about once a decade) the Coen Brothers decide to throw their wacky lightness off track for an excursion down the dark side and the desert-set ‘Old Men’ looks black as night and makes “Fargo” look like as cuddly as Teddy Ruxpin. Javier Bardem stars as a unforgiving mercenary in a really bad paigeboy haircut which might be the reason why he’s so brutalizing and pissed off. Expect lots of blood, a high body count and laughs that can only be squeezed out of the irony of human misery.
In the Valley of Elah (dir. Paul Haggis. Charlize Theron, Tommy Lee Jones)
Everyone outside the Oscar committee with a function left and right lobe thought “Crash” was utter tripe, so maybe Paul Haggis has something to prove? Charlize Theron stars as a detective on the case of an AWOL Iraq war vet and Jones plays the ex-military man assisting her investigation. Haggis calls it a “moral whodunnit,” and it could be more of his ham-fisted platitudes and cliches, but Toronto Film Fest reviews are strong.
Lust Caution (dir. Ang Lee. Tony Leung, Tang Wei)
The most lauded film of the summer (so far) is also probably the most difficult sell in North America. Plus: Oscar-winning director Ang Lee (the cowboy film that turned ‘brokeback’ into a verb). Plus: “Caution’ just took the top Venice film fest prize. Minus: It’s rated NC17 for explicit sexuality and violence. Plus: It’s a war espionage thriller with sex! Minus: It’s an arty erotic foreign-language thriller with a cast you’ve never heard of unless you know who in god’s name Wong Kar Wai is (if you don’t you should).
Lake Of Fire (dir. Tony Kaye)
Do you remember career down in flames self-saboteur Tony Kaye? Kaye burned every Hollywood bridge there was to burn (and spat on the ashes) and went near bat shit crazy when Ed Norton took “American History X” away from him (let’s face it, kinda of a dick move). He took out full-page Variety ads condemning the studio and Norton and tried to change his credit to, “directed by Humpty Dumpty” (he failed). An infamous 2003 Vanity Fair piece, firmly established Kaye’s psychotic personality as he befriended and then brutally betrayed Marlon Brandon about two years before his death. Well, Kaye’s returned with “Lake of Fire,” a unaffected black-and white documentary about abortion that’s supposed to be completely non-partisan and completely powerful.
Control (dir. Anton Corbijn. Sam Reily, Samantha Morton)
The life and untimely demise of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis is yet another rock biopic in the crowded fall season (see “Across the Universe,” “I’m Not There”) and first time filmmaker, longtime rock photographer Corbijn is ostensibly the only man for the job (his original Joy Division photos gave the band their iconic look), but alas it’s not meant to be. The script is flat, the direction and execution is uneventful. There’s great moments of unexpected comedy and flashes of side-actors’ brilliance, but overall it’s not even affecting enough to stir Curtis let alone have him rolling in his grave. The overall feeling is: meh.
Michael Clayton (dir. Tony Gilroy. George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson)
Stock lawerly drama with George Clooney, right? Maybe. Clooney wanted to direct, but first time filmmaker and screenwriter Tony Gilroy somehow convinced the persuasive actor that he was the man for the job and his passion made the star acquiesce (the two shared a passion for ’70s thrillers “Klute” and “The Parallax View”). Clayton is about corporate lawyer who discovers a conspiracy and his own moral compass and while that sounds cliche, the trailer looks riveting. Clooney slashed his $20 million dollar asking price so Gilroy could preserve final cut and that’s something to admire.
And that’s really just the tip of the fall season iceberg [ed. does that even any make sense?]. Later this week (or next week if we get lazy), the final pt.II of the film’s you should be most looking forward to see (or should be forewarned about at least) and there’s lots of them.