Okay, so 2009 has been a fairly solid and entertaining year for films thus far…but is it just me, or is there very little to get excited about in these last few months? Last year, 5 of the 10 films to make the top ten list for my annual Davies Awards were released in the final two months of the year. This year, there’s nothing that has me as excited as I was last year about Doubt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon or Revolutionary Road — films with pedigree, class, all-star casts, interesting stories — you know, the type of stuff Oscar loves. It seems every piece of Oscar bait was withheld until those last few weeks of December last year (let us not forget The Wrestler as well). Hollywood spoiled us. Yet…maybe there will be more of an element of surprise this year, and there will be that little film that comes out of nowhere — and I’m sorry, folks, but you can’t tell me that films like last year’s Slumdog Millionaire or this year’s Precious came out of nowhere with all that highly manipulative prepackaged positive buzz and carefully platformed release schedules designed to maximize profit. 2009 has been full of surprises — who would’ve thought that Inglourious Basterds or District 9 would’ve been so good — so I’m holding out hope…and here’s my buzz on what films might become those diamonds in the rough.
Lest I remain discontent…here are my most anticipated films for the Winter Season 2009/2010.
The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, limited release Christmas Day 2009). This Palm D’Or winner from Cannes appears to be both Haneke’s most artistic and accessible film to date. This seems a shoe-in for a Best Foreign Language Film nomination, though it could strike an even deeper cord, and seems destined to do for the cold, austere Haneke (Funny Games, The Time of the Wolf, Cache) what The Sweet Hereafter did for Atom Egoyan. Thematically, there appears to be shades of religious films like Doubt or Silent Light or any from Dreyer’s canon, while the intimate, small-town story is anchored in a pre-WWI Germany ripe for, you know, all that stuff historians and artists and socio-political theorists and psychologists love to delve into when trying to uncover, “What happened to make the people do THAT?” It all sounds well and good, but what really clinched this for me was the preview. I haven’t responded to a preview like this since the original trailer for There Will Be Blood — a completely different type of film on the surface, but like this White Ribbon, appears to be a measured departure from the director’s previous works, and just oozes “THIS IS ART!” It chilled me to the bone. Here’s hoping the film does the same.
Up in the Air (Jason Reitman, NYC and LA December 4th 2009, wide release Christmas Day). Can director Jason Reitman duplicate the success of Juno? Will George Clooney finally score a massive commercial hit outside of those awful Oceans “Insert Number Here” films? Will Vera Farmiga (unsung for her roles in The Departed and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) finally score that first Oscar nomination? Already, this film, which bares a striking resemblance to the detached type-A male personality Reitman previously put cleverly on display in Thank You for Smoking, has some critics gushing, “Why don’t they make more movies like this?” In other words, it looks to be targeted at adults, smartly written, well directed, well cast and will tackle relationships in a mature, thoughtful way. The preview is slick and well done, and I’m just hoping is makes enough money so at the very least those whining critics will shut their traps. I jest…seriously, look at this preview! Why don’t they make more movies like this? This thing is a shoe-in Jerry Maguire-style Oscar-bound piece of entertainment.
The Road (John Hillcoat, November 25th, 2009) I have to admit, I’ve been running hot and cold on this one. I thought Cormac McCarthy’s book was good but a bit overrated…though its stark minimalism made it ripe for a pulsating and thrilling film adaptation. I got onboard when John Hillcoat was announced as the director — I loved his grim Aussie Western The Proposition. But when the first images started floating around, I thought, man, they got it all wrong. Then there was a delayed release date — this was originally slated for November 2008. Then there was the first Hollywoodized preview, which made it look like a terribly rote post apocalyptic action film. But now the reviews are coming out, and though they are mixed, the ones that lean positive are positively rapturous…and the word is, Hillcoat got his cut out there and McCarthy’s vision is in tact. The original trailer was a studio hack-job but this one is a little better:
Edge of Darkness (Martin Campell, January 29th 2010) Mel Gibson goes bat-shit insane in an attempt to uncover who murdered his daughter. Looking to tap into the same audience that flocked to 2009’s Taken, Martin Campell (The Mask of Zorro, Casino Royale) directs this from a script by William Monahan (The Departed). Unlike the total suck-fest that was Taken, this flick actually looks good…and we haven’t seen Gibson kick-ass in front of the camera in a long time. Check it out:
Shutter Island (Marin Scosese, February 19th 2010) Some of you might remember this was on my Summer/Fall Preview post earlier in the year, but after bombarding us with the schlocky trailer, the studio pulled the film at the last minute and changed the release date from October 2009 to February 2010. I’ve never hid the fact that Scorsese is one of my all-time favorite directors, and thanks to previous and superb film adaptations of some of his other novels (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone) Dennis Lehane is one my favorite writers whom I’ve never actually read. This looks to me like Scorsese doing his own Hitchcock riff, and hell, even if this is no better than Cape Fear (which is still a pretty entertaining flick), then that will still be a most welcome relief in the middle of February, which is typically the worst time of the year for quality films. Here’s the new preview:
Other films of potential interest:
- Fantastic Mr. Fox (already in limited release, wide on Turkey Day) Meryl Streep! George Clooney! Animated! In Stop-Motion! By Wes Anderson!
- Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (already in limited release). Shoe-eating German Werner Herzog directing American lunatic Nicolas Cage in an update…homage…remake…sequel…WTF? of that amoral Harvey Keitel film? Sign me up!
- Broken Embraces (already in limited release). Pedro Almodovar directing Penelope Cruz…again. Ay yi yi.
- Brothers (December 4th). An inexplicable remake of a quiet, intimate Dutch film that is currently being advertised as a melodramatic thriller. Natalie Portman looks good at least. Tobey Maguire promises to over-act.
- Invictus (December 11th). This should successfully reunite the Clint Eastwood “Commercial Hit” with the Clint Eastwood “Oscar Bait”. This is my early bet for Best Picture.
- The Lovely Bones (December 11th). Peter Jackson directs the adaptation of the international best-selling novel. Sounds good on paper, but am I the only one who thought the previews were hokey?
- Avatar (December 18th). This is only on the list because it looks so monumentally unfathomably terrible — like a video-game update of The Smurfs mixed with a monstrously cliched “star-crossed love story in a time of war” plotline. I keep hearing that goofily slack-jawed “You’re not in Kansas anymore, you’re on Pandora” line from the previews over and over in my head. What was Cameron thinking? This will either be the season’s biggest bomb or biggest hit.
- The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (Christmas Day). The previews look like a mess, but this certainly has potential if Terry Gilliam gets the tone right…and there’s the Heath Ledger factor that should bring in the curious.
- The Book of Eli (January 15th) Yet another post-apocalyptic opus with an obvious religious message. This one stars Denzel Washington instead of Will Smith. At least the Hughes Brothers (From Hell) deliver up some hellishly cool imagery in the previews.
- The Crazies (February 26th). The apocalypse. Small town. Zombies. Or something. Remake of the Romero flick. This is only on the list because the preview was actually kinda good, though how many of these types of films do we need before the actual end of the world?
Written by David H. Schleicher
So what films are you most excited about this winter? Leave a comment and be heard.