by Brian Tallerico
Forget what the calendar says - summer is over. It's getting cold. The NFL is back up and running, and everyone but Patriots fans is excited about the season. New TV shows are debuting and old favorites are returning. And movie fans are saying goodbye to a better-than-average crop of summer movies from a still far worse-than-average year in film. There have been a couple of great wide releases (Wall-E, The Dark Knight) and some truly excellent smaller films (The Visitor, Snow Angels), but, overall, in terms of movie quality, 2008 has been lackluster at best. We need the next three and a half months to really turn things around for Hollywood and, call us optimistic, but we think it will. The Toronto and Venice festivals have started the buzz ball rolling on several high-profile films (and several unexpected buzz-builders), and we've got new releases on their way from great directors like Jonathan Demme, Danny Boyle, Spike Lee, Gus Van Sant, Darren Aronofsky, Kevin Smith, Ridley Scott, David Fincher, and Clint Eastwood, who's enough of an old-school Hollywood gentleman to give us TWO new works to get excited about (Changeling and Gran Torino). Over the years, Hollywood has shifted more and more of its quality product to the end of the year - largely to garner award nominations - but, even despite all that, when it comes to balancing quality vs. crap on the movie calendar, 2008 is more out of balance than any year in recent memory.
As such, many entertainment outlets play it safe this time of year, refusing to play favorites and pretending that they're just as excited for Madagascar 2 as they are for Quantum of Solace. We're calling b.s. on that kind of fall movie preview. We're ready to rank, based on early buzz, previews, and potential. To level the playing field, we've excluded any of the upcoming movies that we've seen, so if you're wondering why we didn't include Appaloosa, Choke, Flash of Genius, Lakeview Terrace, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, or The Lucky Ones, it's because we've seen 'em already. (For the record, at least two of them would have made the list and are movies that you should be excited to see this fall, but embargo keeps me from saying more.) With that out of the way, here are the ten movies we're most excited to see this fall, ten films that truly have the potential to turn around 2008's already underwhelming year in cinema. (No pressure, guys.)
TEN FALL MOVIES WE'RE EXCITED ABOUT:
Runner-ups: Australia, The Brothers Bloom, Changeling, Che, Gran Torino, Milk, The Spirit, Synecdoche New York, Twilight, and Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Release Date: October 17th
Cast: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, Thandie Newton, Richard Dreyfuss, Jesse Bradford, James Cromwell, Scott Glenn, Ellen Burstyn, Ioan Gruffudd, Noah Wyle, Rob Corddry, Toby Jones, and Jeffrey Wright
Written by: Stanley Weiser
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Why We're Excited: As a filmmaker, Oliver Stone hasn't really mattered in years (since at least 1999's Any Given Sunday and, arguably, since 1995's Nixon), but we've long said that one of the most controversial directors of the '80s and '90s had to have another great movie in him. Yes, a lot of directors slide and never come back to their prime (look at Coppola's recent work for a great example), but it feels like Stone just needed to find something to get passionate about again. Alexander and World Trade Center didn't do it, but it's hard to believe that the man who made Platoon, JFK, and Natural Born Killers couldn't easily make another masterpiece if he found that passion project again. And what better a subject for a maverick director like Stone than the travesty that has taken place in the White House for the last eight years? JFK, Nixon, W. - Stone could be the master filmmaker about the leaders of American government for the last half century. And have you seen that cast? Brolin as Dubya and Wright as Powell are brilliant enough casting choices, but the one that makes me smile every time is Richard Dreyfuss as Cheney. Will W. be more than just a series of jokes on the Bush years? Yes, it could devolve into "That's My Bush: The Movie," but JFK was about so much more than just Oswald and Nixon was about so much more that Watergate, so the potential for greatness in W. the movie (not the man) is definitely there.
9. Revolutionary Road
Release Date: December 26th
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates, Kathryn Hahn, and Michael Shannon
Written by: Justin Haythe
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Why We're Excited: Forget the hype about the reunion of Jack and Rose from Titanic (although that's how all the puff outlets will sell this movie). Yes, we too think it's kind of cool that Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio actually stayed best friends since filming the movie that changed their lives forever, but we'd be excited for Revolutionary Road even if the two had never met. They are inarguably two of the best actors of their generation, and the idea of them working together to bring a critically-acclaimed novel to life should get any true movie fan excited. Leo and Kate are on-screen again under the direction of Winslet's husband, Sam Mendes, in the story of April and Frank Wheeler, an average couple in 1950s Connecticut, who seem to have a fate just about as doomed as their last pair of waterlogged lovers. Frank hates his job. April hates her life. The couple go to France to try and leave their boring American lives behind and unfortunately discover that people tend to take their problems with them, no matter the locale. Leo and Kate have a combined eight Oscar nominations between them with no wins to date. We have a feeling one of them will finally be getting that statue this year.
8. Body of Lies
Release Date: October 10th
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani, and Carice van Houten
Written by: William Monahan
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Why We're Excited: While, as a critic, I always appreciate brooding character dramas, the testosterone-fueled man-boy inside me still loves to watch things go boom, and Body of Lies could easily be the biggest non-Bond action movie of the season. With all the high falutin' Oscar dramas to come, this action pic from one of the best directors of the last quarter-century has the potential to be huge. Leo has never worked with Scott before, but he did make a little movie with an important man behind the scenes of Body of Lies - William Monahan - and, the last time they teamed up, it produced the best picture of 2006, The Departed. Of course, we all know that Scott and Crowe HAVE made a movie together before - an instant classic A Good Year. Wait, no, not that one. Could this be another Gladiator or American Gangster? All signs point to a success. Leo plays a CIA operative who is sent to Jordan while Crowe plays a shifty CIA boss in this adaptation of the 2007 novel. Wanna know the main reason to get pumped for Lies besides the pedigree of its cast? Leo told MTV in 2007, "It's a throwback to the political films that I enjoyed in the '70s. Certainly [it's reminiscent] of films like 'The Parallax View' and 'Three Days of the Condor,' and I'd love to be a part of more films like that." And we'd all love to see more films like that too.
7. Slumdog Millionaire
Release Date: November 28th
Cast: Dev Patel and Freida Pinto
Written by: Simon Beaufoy
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Why We're Excited: Boyle has long been a personal favorite with Trainspotting, Millions, and 28 Days Later all deserving heaps of praise. Even Boyle's misfires - A Life Less Ordinary, Sunshine - are ambitious as hell. Everyone who saw Boyle's latest, Slumdog Millionaire, at the Toronto Film Festival has told us the same thing - "It's his best." The plot - about an impoverished teen who became a contestant on the Hindi version of Who Wants to be A Millionaire to get a girl - doesn't sound like anything that would usually set off our geek-centric radar, but the awesomeness of Boyle combined with what people said when they saw this thing in Canada have us really excited. Variety opened their review with this ridiculously poster-worthy quote - "Driven by fantastic energy and a torrent of vivid images of India old and new, “Slumdog Millionaire” is a blast." We knew several people that made it to Toronto this year and read reports all over the internet, and the movie that came up time and time again was Slumdog Millionaire. Fox Searchlight picked it up quickly and hope to turn it into a late-season hit. Luckily for them, the critical acclaim is already there. Does anyone remember the movie Fox picked up last year at Toronto and sent to the Academy red carpet? Like the city in Alaska?
6. Rachel Getting Married
Release Date: October 3rd
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Maher Zickel, Bill Irwin, and Debra Winger
Written by: Jenny Lumet
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Why We're Excited: Anne Hathaway plays a young woman who returns home for her sister's wedding after years of estrangement and falling in and out of rehab for the past 10 years. It kind of sounds like Margot at the Wedding but, you know, good. This is another flick that earned buzz from the film festival circuit, but this is one we saw coming. Check out that preview. It's a beauty and the comparisons to Robert Altman's work could make this a unique drama in a more high-budget season. We're also hearing that Anne Hathaway is a lock for a best actress nomination. Really? The chick from Get Smart? Hathaway has shown promise in the past, and we have a strange feeling this is going to do for her what Girl, Interrupted did for Angelina Jolie and Shakespeare in Love did for Gwyneth Paltrow. She's ready for her red carpet coronation. Demme's early work is amazing and, once again, Variety opens their review from Toronto with a line that makes it an instant must-see, "Brimming with energy, elan and the unpredictability of his "Something Wild," Jonathan Demme's triumphant "Rachel Getting Married" may just lay the wedding film to rest, being such a hard act to follow."
5. The Road
Release Date: November 28th
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Robert Duvall, and Garret Dillahunt
Written by: Joe Penhall
Directed by: John Hillcoat
Why We're Excited: The name NOT in the list above is the one that gets most literary nuts excited for The Road - Cormac McCarthy. One of the best writers alive won the Pulitzer Prize for The Road, the brilliant novel he wrote right after another little book that you might have heard of called No Country for Old Men. Don't expect "No Country 2" with The Road, although McCarthy's nihilistic worldview is still very much in place. The Road details a post-apocalyptic world gone horribly tragic where a father (Viggo Mortensen) struggles just to survive with his young son (Kodi Smit-McPhee). John Hillcoat directed the tragically underrated The Proposition two years ago and may be the most perfect fit of director and material on this list. Viggo has delivered this time of year with A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, and we have a strange feeling that it's going to be three for three.
4. The Wrestler
Release Date: TBA
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Evan Rachel Wood, and Marisa Tomei
Written by: Robert D. Siegel
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Why We're Excited: We love it when a director takes a complete left turn, and nothing could've been more unexpected from Darren Aronofsky than following the ambitious sci-fi vision of The Fountain with a film like The Wrestler. Did anyone ever think the director of Pi would make a sports movie? That alone makes us think that The Wrestler probably isn't your average Rocky sequel. And then there's the involvement of Mickey Rourke, an actor who we've always rooted for and hoped that he had one great part left in him (not counting his movie-stealing work in Sin City). Everyone who saw The Wrestler in Toronto or Venice has said that Rourke is a lock for a Best Actor Oscar nomination, and some have gone as far as to suggest that he might win. (We can't WAIT to hear that acceptance speech.) In the film, Rourke plays Randy "Ram" Robinson, a professional wrestler from the 1980s who retires after some heart problems. He goes on with his life, trying to form relationships with his daughter and a stripper - played by Wood and Tomei, respectively - but, for a variety of reasons, he must go back into the ring to face his old wrestling-card arch-nemesis Ayatollah. Sounds like a straight-up sports movie to us, but read this excerpt from the Variety review and TRY and not get excited - "Rourke creates a galvanizing, humorous, deeply moving portrait that instantly takes its place among the great, iconic screen performances. An elemental story simply and brilliantly told, Darren Aronofsky's fourth feature is a winner from every possible angle..."
3. The Hurt Locker
Release Date: TBA
Cast: Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Christian Camargo, David Morse, and Evangeline Lilly
Written by: Mark Boal & Kathryn Bigelow
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Why We're Excited: From everything we're hearing, we may FINALLY have our first truly great Iraq War movie. Mark Boal, a journalist for Playboy and The Village Voice who was embedded with the troops, has co-written an action movie set in Iraq that has people talking more than any of the previous attempts to make the Iraq conflict cinematically appealing combined. This could be the Apocalypse Now for Iraq. From the sound of it, Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark, Point Break) has finally made the masterpiece we always thought that she had in her. The movie that has been described as "Aliens in Iraq" is about an elite Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit and stars the great Jeremy Renner as the leader of the team who has to diffuse bombs in the middle of an impossible war. At Venice, the film received a ten-minute standing ovation and won the SIGNIS grand prize. The jury said in their statement that they awarded the film their prize because of "the filmmakers' uncompromising approach to the Iraq war and its consequences seen through the experience of the bomb diffusion specialists for whom war is an addiction rather than a cause. The film challenges the audience’s view of war in general and the current war in particular because it demonstrates the struggle between violence to the body and psychological alienation." Toronto Star critic Peter Howell said what we've all been waiting to hear after the lackluster string of Iraq movies - "Just when you think the battle of Iraq war dramas has been fought and lost, along comes one that demands to be seen... If you can sit through The Hurt Locker without your heart nearly pounding through your chest, you must be made of granite." There's still a chance that Summit Entertainment might hold the movie until '09, but with this kind of buzz and Oscar potential, why wait?
2. Quantum of Solace
Release Date: November 14th
Cast: Daniel Craig, Mathieu Amalric, Olga Kurylenko, Gemma Arterton, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, and Giancarlo Giannini
Written by: Joshua Zetumer, Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, & Robert Wade
Directed by: Marc Forster
Why We're Excited: Um, really? Do you have to ask? Have you SEEN that preview? We were amped for Quantum of Solace the minute it went into production simply because Casino Royale was one of the best films of 2006, but Quantum looks even better than we hoped it would. The first direct sequel to a Bond movie picks up right where the last one left off with Bond (Daniel Craig) still trying to unravel the events of the final act of Casino Royale. He's forced to battle against the nefarious Quantum organization and the chairman of its legitimate cover operation, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric from Diving Bell and the Butterfly). An out-of-control Bond looking for revenge instead of just carrying around a license to kill sounds unbelievable to us, and the fact that they not only decided to continue the story from the brilliant Casino Royale, but also re-hired the same writing team to do so shows us that they know what worked about the last movie and are ready to provide more of the same. There's so much serious material coming out this fall from The Road to The Hurt Locker, but, I'm willing to predict, that nothing is going to be more fun than Quantum of Solace.
1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Release Date: December 25th
Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Taraji P. Henson, Jason Flemyng, Elias Koteas, Julia Ormond, and Elle Fanning
Written by: Eric Roth
Directed by: David Fincher
Why We're Excited: The preview is a beauty. The story is intriguing. But this tops the list because it feels like the right mix of cast, writer, and director that could possibly lead to movie perfection. You know how you felt when you read about the cast and crew behind The Departed or No Country for Old Men? Benjamin Button gives us that same feeling. David Fincher has been meticulously honing his craft since Se7en, arguably getting more accomplished as a director with every film, and this looks like it will be his masterpiece. He's certainly swinging for the artistic fences with a film that takes place during most of the last century. Fincher's most regular collaborator, Brad Pitt, plays the title character, a man who ages in reverse, being "born" at the age of 80 in the early part of the twentieth century and "dying" as a baby in 2000. The supporting cast features two of the best actresses alive in Oscar-winners Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton (and everyone who's read the script says that it's actually Taraji P. Henson who is the most likely to steal the movie) and, visually, it looks like a stunner. A little of the film was recently shown to somewhat lukewarm reactions, but that doesn't stop Benjamin Button from topping this list. (You could see 20 minutes of many classic films out of context and not really get the whole experience.) Fincher's Zodiac was one of the most technically accomplished films of the last few years and that degree of artistic craftsmanship with an F. Scott Fitzgerald story and a cast like this behind it automatically earns Benjamin Button a spot in the top ten. And that gorgeous preview pushes it up to number one.
-- Brian Tallerico