THE TOP TEN MOST CLICHED FILMS TO SEE THIS FALL
You may have noticed the slightly unusual title for this list. Good for you. The rationale behind it is simple: every year, certain films get a HUGE amount of buzz. Everyone, from the trades to your friends, tells you to see them. Again, largely sight unseen. This buzz, of course, is absolutely no indicator of how good the film will be. For example, almost all of us were suckered into seeing Pearl Harbor as a result of the media blitz behind it. What did you think of it? Exactly…
There are long histories of films with oodles of media coverage that flop on some level or another, be they critically (Pay It Forward), financially (The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc), or both (The Postman). Sometimes the amount of coverage backfires, as with the 1950s release of The Alamo, starring John Wayne, whose Oscar buzz blatantly stated that if you didn't vote for The Alamo, you were being un-American (it didn't win). So simply we have no idea exactly how good (most) of these movies are going to be. They may be genius, they may be awful, they will probably mostly end up being a mixed bag.
But if our life's blood the media is any indicator, we'd be fools if we didn't see these them:
10. Windtalkers (November 9)
Why It's Number 10: Three reasons. It's directed by John Woo, who in spite of the critical malaise currently surrounding his name as a result of Mission: Impossible 2, still has a reputation for directing truly great films. It stars Nicholas Cage, who in spite of the critical malaise currently surrounding his name as a result of Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Gone In Sixty Seconds, and pretty much everything else he's done since his last team-up with John Woo (Face-Off, Woo's best American film), still has a reputation for having made some truly great performances. And finally, it's about World War II, and the Academy just eats that shit up.
However, neither Woo nor Cage have, as shown above, been at the top of their game lately, so the project is, somewhat understandably, not as highly anticipated as it would have been, say, two years ago.
9. The Royal Tenenbaums (December 21)
Why It's Number 9: It features an all-star, all-acclaimed cast (including but not limited to Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelica Huston, Gene Hackman, Bill Murray and Ben Stiller), and critic's darling, though hardly Award's darling, writer/director Wes Anderson. Anderson's first two films, Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, have both been brilliant, funny, and most uniquely sincere stories about some of the most extraordinary ordinary characters ever put on screen. However, his quirky (read: not flashy) direction and quirky characters (co-written with long-time collaborator and actor Owen Wilson, who also appears) are a kind of filmmaking not rewarded by the Academy since The Philadelphia Story, when character interaction and witty dialogue alone was deemed deserving of merit… not just heady subject material. Anderson has also never directed what could be considered a "hit movie," so in spite of its cast The Royal Tenenbaums still has an uphill battle ahead of it.
8. A Beautiful Mind (December 25)
Why It's Number 8: Undeniably talented Aussie Russell Crowe shoots for his third Best Actor nomination in a row in a film by Apollo 13 director Ron Howard. Although we may be tired of hearing about his sexual exploits, we are certainly not tired of seeing him onscreen. And Crowe reportedly got so involved with his performance as a brilliant but schizophrenic Nobel Prize-winning mathematician that he had bad dreams for several weeks after the shooting ended. Ron Howard certainly has a greater track record with more crowd-pleasing films (Parenthood, Apollo 13, The Grinch), but who knew how entertaining Good Will Hunting would be, hmm? Still, star power aside, it may be difficult getting people into the theater to see a mathematician work, and topping it all off with a screenplay from Akiva Goldsman, who brought us Batman and Robin and Lost In Space (although in all fairness this script has had much more positive reviews), the filmmakers may be left with a tough sell.
7. The Man Who Wasn't There (November 2)
Why It's Number 7: Because it's the Coen Bros., damn it! The writing/directing/producing team of Joel and Ethan Coen has been responsible for such great films as Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou? They have (arguably) the best track record of any filmmakers working today. They're working with Academy Award-Winners Billy Bob Thornton and Frances McDormand! It won Joel Coen the Best Director prize at Cannes! It's a black and white 1950s style film noir about a barber who wants to break into dry-cleaning!!! It's… what? Oh yeah, that's why it's only number 7…
6. The Majestic (December 21)
Why It's Number 6: It stars Jim Carrey, one of the brightest stars (and most under-rated actors) in the Hollywood galaxy in a Capra-esque film from Frank Darabont, whose every film thus far has been nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It would be a sure thing if it were not for the unsure plot - Carrey plays a blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter who loses his memory and finds himself taking tickets at a movie theater ("The Majestic") playing the movie he himself wrote. Like several other star-studded films on this list, a somewhat tough sell, and Carrey has a bad history with tough sells (look at the poor critical and box office reception of his under-rated The Cable Guy, or the cold returns for his work in Man On The Moon). Similarly, The Majestic also has marks against it come award season, with Carrey being notoriously and repeatedly looked over by the Academy on numerous occasions. Though the advance word has been nothing if not great, The Majestic has its work cut out for it.
5. Hearts In Atlantis (September 28)
Why It's Number 5: Anthony Hopkins stars in an adaptation of a best-selling Stephen King novel in a movie directed by Shine's Scott Hicks. You've got a brilliant actor, an excellent director, and a non-horror novel from an author whose best movies have largely been made from his non-horror books (Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile). However, most of King's movies haven't done made much of a profit lately (The Green Mile being a notable exception). Still, with an acclaimed script from William Goldman, one of the most talented screenwriters of the last 50 years, and Sir Anthony Hopkins, one of the most talented actors of the last 50 years, Hearts In Atlantis seems like one of the surer things to hit theaters this fall. Even if Hicks' direction falters (as some say it did with his last film, Snow Falling On Cedars), it should be fairly easy to count on Hopkins, his costars, and the work of William Goldman to pull it through.
4. Vanilla Sky (December 14)
Why It's Number 4: Tom Cruise and Cameron Crowe re-unite after their unquestionable success in Jerry Maguire. Crowe is just coming off of his first Oscar win for his Almost Famous screenplay, and Cruise is just Cruise, still one of the more likable and indeed reliable stars in the business. The potential problems are there, however. The much discussed behind the scenes affair between Cruise and Cruz (Penelope) may not help the film, as such affairs rarely do (Cleopatra, Proof Of Life). There has been some speculation that the production was rushed due to the seemingly unavoidable actor's strike, causing director Crowe to forego his usual two or three year break between his films. Add to that the fact that the film is a remake of a fiercely independent film from Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar (Open Your Eyes, his latest film, The Others, is currently in theaters now), whose production and plot have been shrouded in secrecy (remember the last film of Cruise's that was shrouded in secrecy?), and there may be a dicey proposition for movie-goers. If Vanilla Sky turns out to be another high-minded (though possibly quality) film in which the film star actually acts, it might not be surprising if audiences stay away in droves.
3. Ali (December 7)
Why It's Number 3: A biographical drama of one of the most likable sports heroes in history, Muhammad Ali, starring one of the most likable movie stars in recent years, Will Smith, from one of the best genre directors of the last 25 years, Michael Mann (Last of the Mohicans, Heat, The Insider). Reportedly Smith has thrown himself fully into his role as the champion boxer, Jim Carrey in Man On The Moon-style, and the script, by Mann and his The Insider partner Eric Roth, ain't bad. But with a $100 million budget and the task of doing justice to one of the most well respected figures of the 20th century on the line, can even these great filmmakers succeed?
2. Gangs of New York (December 21)
Why It's Number 2: After a full decade of weepy period pieces (The Age of Innocence, Kundun) and attempts to recreate the formulas of his former glories (Casino, Bringing Out the Dead), "America's greatest living film director" Martin Scorsese returns to what he has always done best: telling different kinds of stories about life on the streets of New York. That the streets of this film are from over 100 years ago, and that the concept for the film is over 20 years old itself, only cements the notion that he is going to give us something special, something new. Top it all off with a cast of real actors, including Liam Neeson, Daniel Day-Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio (in a role that, we hope, will signal a return to the promise he once had, as well), and a script by Jay Cocks, Stephen Zaillian (Schindler's List, Searching For Bobby Fischer, Hannibal), and Kenneth Lonergan (Analyze This and the over-rated You Can Count On Me), and we are left with a film that, perhaps more than any release this year (apart from the Number 1 on this list), we have no reason not to expect great things from. With a reported budget of $90 million, though, an epic length, and a director who hasn't had a hit in years, the risks being run on Gangs of New York are high - it could very well be the next Apocalypse Now, or the next Heaven's Gate.
1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (November 16), The Fellowship of the Ring (December 19), and Ocean's Eleven (December 7)
Why They're Number 1: Well, duh. I bet you were wondering where all these movies were, weren't you? With three uber-blockbusters on the slate for Fall of 2001, each with similar draws and epic appeal, it would be unfair to all the other films on this list to give them the top three, not to mention the foolish prospect of decided which one was more anticipated than the other. If you've been living under a rock, here's a quick breakdown for you…
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - If you haven't at least HEARD about Harry Potter you are so out of the loop I find it unlikely that you are even on the internet right now. Regardless, Harry Potter is the main character a mega-popular series of children's books, a young wizard going through a series of Roald Dahl-ish/Terry Gilliam-esque adventures, whose exploits are coming to the big screen now, while the hype is still high. While not being a fan of the books, there is no denying that the advance footage/trailers for this film look awesome, and that the film appears to be a shining light in the recently dim career of director Chris Columbus (Bicentennial Man). With a script by Academy Award nominated screenwriter Steve Kloves (Wonder Boys), an all-British cast and a huge budget, Harry Potter is perhaps the most eagerly awaited family film of all time. Whether it is good or not may, ultimately, play a non-existent role in it's box office take.
Incidentally, I refer to this film by it's English title (in America we're calling it "and the Sorcerer's Stone") simply because my rudimentary training in the occult makes me completely incapable of getting past the simple fact that a "Sorcerer's Stone" doesn't exist. (That a "Philosopher's Stone" has never actually been found - that we know of - is patently beside the point.)
The Fellowship of the Ring - The first film in the long-awaited silver screen version of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Although the series has been adapted to the cinema once before (in Ralph Bakshi's patchy animated movies), Peter Jackson's (Heavenly Creatures, The Frighteners) $200 million dollar live-action version, starring Christopher Lee, Sir Ian McKellan, Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett, Sean Bean, Viggo Mortensen and scores of others, is one of the most talked about movie projects of all time. The best part, however, is that it's supposedly really good. Peter Jackson is a wonderful filmmaker, and New Line, the production company behind the adaptation, seems to have the utmost faith in him - the point of forgoing the test-screening process. Is it that good? And if it is, can it ever please the seemingly countless diehard fans of Tolkien's masterpiece? Only time will tell.
Ocean's Eleven - The cast (including but not limited to George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia and Julia Roberts) may very well be the coolest every assembled… at least, the coolest since the last Ocean's Eleven, which was the first film project to combine the unique talents of all the members of the illustrious Rat Pack. But in spite of all the great actors forgoing their $20 million salaries to team up together on screen, the real star of the show here is Stephen Soderbergh, the hotshot director who in recent years has cemented himself as the master of cool (Out of Sight, The Limey) and the mainstream (Erin Brockovich and Traffic). With his surprise Oscar win for Best Director last year, the promise of a return to old fashioned cool ("Nobody gets killed. There's no bad language") and a cast that any director, big or small would die for, Soderbergh has turned the latest reprehensible Hollywood remake into the must see film for diehard film fanatics everywhere.
Now, with all of these films coming out within, primarily, two months of each other, there may seem to be no room for the smaller films to make themselves known in this Fall's high-profile Academy Award season. But those films are going to get a boost soon enough with the next Hollyfeld Reporter, in which we look at THE TOP TEN FILMS THE MEDIA HAS IGNORED THIS FALL. See you soon...