The fall movie season usually comes as a blessed relief after four solid months of diminishing summertime thrills. So after Labor Day I gazed over at the glorious fall release schedule, my heart fluttering as my eyes caught the names of so many filmmaking luminaries. Like Ridley Scott, for example! Look, there's Neil LaBute, and Shia LeBouf! Diane English and Tyler Perry! Diane Lane and Richard Gere, together again! Dane Cook and that dog from the Taco Bells ads apparently! Al Pacino, back with the director of 88 Minutes!
Say, what's going on here? This feels weird. It feels like... April. It's almost as if the fall movie season... isn't that exciting this year. Sure, there's a Spike Lee joint coming up, and a new Coen Brothers movie, and some other big-time directors like Baz Luhrmann and Sam Mendes emerging from the woodwork, but it all feels a little anticlimactic.
Maybe that climax just happened over an unusually strong summer, which saw new films from Spielberg, Nolan, Pixar, and David Gordon Green; summer blockbusters are siphoning more and more talent from the pool. The writing was on the wall when former Thanksgiving release Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince absconded for summer '09; Warner Brothers, still flush with Dark Knight cash and accolades, was essentially saying, hey, you know what, let's quit while we're ahead and call it a year.
Still, I was able to scrape together a baker's dozen of movies that I'm especially excited to see without resorting to a single Saw sequel. Not content to merely tell you what movies you should probably see, I'll also tell you where to see them.
1. The Brothers Bloom (12/19)
Rian Johnson's Brick was one of the most arresting indie debuts in ages -- smart, stylish, clever but not just a jape -- so I'm dying to see how he'll follow it up. From the trailer, it looks like he's playing with a fairy-tale con job as opposed to high-school noir, and if there were ever actors that could use an awesome director to maximize their considerable talents, it's Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel Weisz. I'm there; I just wish "there" were sooner than "three months from now."
Where to see it: The Landmark Sunshine would be nice, although poor Brick had to take up residence at the Angelika.
2. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (12/19)
After Panic Room, David Fincher was downgraded from "what will he do next?!" to "wow, that guy really likes to zoom the camera into tiny spaces. I guess that's kinda cool." But after Zodiac, his stock has shot back up, big time. Similarly, I wasn't so trusting of Brad Pitt as a serious actor before The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but I'm pretty much on board now. Benjamin Button, based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story about a man who ages in reverse (you know, like Jonathan Winters on Mork & Mindy), is also going to be at least two and a half hours, which based on the long-ass movies I just cited is a good sign.
Where to see it: The AMC-Loews at 68th St looks like the right mix of class and size, if they aren't having any of their frequent sound cock-ups.
3. Australia (11/26)
It's been seven years since Baz Luhrmann made Moulin Rouge, for my money the best American film musical of the past, oh, I don't know, let's say forty years. With the red curtain closed, he's set his sights on an old-fashioned epic romance-adventure-drama co-starring Rouge's Kidman. I wonder if this will follow his typical pattern of a pinball frenzy of cuts and screaming for twenty or thirty minutes, before building into something equally operatic but more poetic; I get the feeling Luhrmann will be increasing his average shot length by approximately three hundred percent here. Either way, I'm interested.
Where to see it: The Ziegfeld, if they book it -- but they may not if they're running Bond instead (see below), in which case one of those Times Square theaters might be big enough to cover it.
4. Burn After Reading (9/12)
As is their wont, the Coen Brothers follow up an Oscar win with a labyrinthine comedy, recruiting George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton to run around like goofballs. Expect critical harrumphing about the Coens condescending to their characters; also expect it to be hilarious, as the first completely original Coen script in years.
Where to see it: Union Square Regal, if you're superstitious -- that's where No Country for Old Men played forever. I'll be there Friday night.
5. Quantum of Solace (11/14)
Casino Royale kicked a lot of ass, so I expect the same from this next Craig Bond, which apparently picks up just moments after the last movie. Quantum of Solace has the distinction of being the only super-huge holiday movie that looks like it could actually be cool; otherwise, we're stuck with Madagascar 2, Yes Man, and Twilight, which looks like the poor man's so many things. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to check my email for instant death threats from Twilight fans.
Where to see it: Seeing Royale at the Ziegfeld was tops, so: that.
6. The Wrestler (not yet known)
This toast of a bunch of festivals was just picked up by Fox Searchlight for a presumed awards-consideration release before the end of the year. It's directed by the most talented humorless director around, Darren Aronofsky, and stars Mickey Rourke in a bid to make his jacked-up face make sense. Perennially underrated Marisa Tomei is in it, too! Also, I don't really know what it's about. Aronofsky is the selling point for me.
Where to see it: I get kind of a BAM vibe from this one, though it sounds less artsy than Aronofsky's previous work.
7. Valkyrie (12/26)
This supposedly troubled production has been shifted around the calendar a few times now, but Bryan Singer has a track record of making worthwhile movies, and this Hitler assassination caper sounds pretty badass. I guess people will make fun of Cruise for what will surely be a less than convincing German accent and eyepatch, but the dude has pretty solid taste in collaborators, logging time with Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, Cameron Crowe, Michael Mann, P.T. Anderson, and Ben Stiller. I'd like to officially, in advance, register my lack of surprise when people start saying "hey, this movie isn't bad at all!"
Where to see it: I dunno, actually. Maybe try out that Regal theater way downtown (and tell me how it is 'cause I haven't yet).
8. Synecdoche, New York (10/24)
I'm a little worried that Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut will suffer a little without Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, or George Clooney there to lighten his unremitting dread with some whimsy and/or deadpan humor, but he's certainly earned the right to put us all into a gray funk. Also, I'm from upstate New York, so any title that puns on Schenectady is fine by me (and I'm no stranger to gray funks, either).
Where to see it: A movie about a miserable playwright played by Philip Seymour Hoffman who recreates New York City in a warehouse while dealing with woman problems... OK, I give up, the Angelika does sound like kind of the perfect place for this.
9. Transporter 3 (11/26)
I'm told that Empire Magazine and/or all of Great Britain refers to Jason Statham as "The Stath." Let's get that going over here. This November, Stath's bread-and-butter franchise goes all trilogy on our asses. The Transporter series is actually one of the most consistent out there: you know Statham will take off his shirt and use it as a weapon while fighting bare-chested, and then drive a car someplace crazy, like in a church or over a waterfall or something. To be honest, this moving out of November would've made me way sadder than a Harry Potter bump ever could.
Where to see it: At the mall, in your hometown, 'cause it comes out over Thanksgiving break. Now you know where to have your high school reunion!
10. W (10/17)
It's been awhile since good ol' Oliver Stone has been in fighting form. But when he was, he was making stuff like Natural Born Killers and Nixon, which seem like ideal preparation for this satirical-empathetic portrait of another lousy president. Josh Brolin looks just about perfect as George Jr., and the supporting cast is almost Nixonian in its strength, so hopefully Stone has carried this off. If so, I eagerly await his take on Warren Harding.
Where to see it: Union Square sounds about right.
11. Doubt (12/12)
Normally I wouldn't get too psyched over a movie based on an acclaimed play because, let's face it, that's a recipe for a stagy and/or airless movie. Hence, no Frost/Nixon on this list. However: I'm willing to make exception for Doubt based on one-two-three punch-kick-punch of Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams, all actors who command attention; and also the fact that playwright and adapter John Patrick Shanley made Joe vs. the Volcano. I'm guessing this movie about a nun who suspects a priest of abusing a student won't be quite so hilarious, but at least there are signs that Shanley knows movies, not just parables.
Where to see it: This seems like an after-holiday-shopping-before-hot-cider-on-Upper-West-Side type of movie, so probably 68th St.
12. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (10/3)/Zack and Miri Make a Porno (10/31)
Start and end October with the finest imitation Apatow available: Michael Cera's indie-nerd victory lap and a non-bromantic comedy from Seth Rogen and Kevin Smith. I actually read the Nick and Norah novel; it's a cute book that could easily stand to replace the streamo-of-consciousness hero with Michael Cera's halting improvisations. I also saw Jersey Girl, and replacing Liv Tyler with the continually underutilized and very funny Elizabeth Banks as a slacker's dream-girl-next-door is a similarly good move. Dennings and Banks were both in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but the more I think about it, the weirder it is that Banks hasn't had the female lead in an Apatow joint yet. I'm not expecting a whole lot from these movies; just laughs and non-cloying cuteness and little resemblance to Nights in Rodanthe.
Where to see them: AMC/Loews Kips Bay 'cause that's where I saw the original versions, Superbad and Knocked Up.
So that's it. Stay tuned for my ongoing disappointment and/or elation with these movies.