by Luke Gorham by Sam C. Mac Feature Articles Film

You Can’t Stop What’s Coming | Fall Film 2008

August 12, 2008

A few weeks back we presented you with our lists of the best films of 2008, so far. Without much fanfare we now share our picks for what looks good that’s yet to be released. As it’s impossible to tell if any of these movies will really be worth our time, a list like this shouldn’t be taken too seriously: these are just films that Luke and I both agree have a fair amount of potential.

Harry Potter

10. For me the premiere pleasure of the Harry Potter’ films has never been the wizards, witches, trolls or dragons—that’s gravy. I’ve always been fascinated by this franchise (perhaps even more so then the Lord of the Rings series) because of the scope of the films, specifically, the way in which the characters develop, and the fact that they — like the actors who play them — age. With Michael Apted’s vital documentary project, the Up series, the director continues to go back and interview his subjects — a bunch of seven year-old kids in England, of various degrees of privilege and of various ethnicities — every seven years. Last time he visited, for his seventh and arguably best film, they were 49, nearly four decades older than when Apted first met them. I don’t want to oversell the Harry Potter series — its achievement certainly doesn’t approach Apted’s work — but the idea that over the course of seven separate films, and for even more years, we’ll have seen these people age on screen — grow as characters, mature as actors — has always been a fascination of mine, one that no other current series in cinema can indulge. It helps that the young actors who play the parts are quite good, getting better with each film, and that the films themselves (handled by a cornucopia of different directors) have been good (or better), with only one real misstep (2005’s Goblet of Fire). The latest, David Yates‘s Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, looks to continue in the dark, foreboding direction the last few have taken, and has been called the best book by hardcore Potter fans. Sam C Mac


9. Synecdoche, New York, the directorial debut of critically-acclaimed screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as a visionary playwright who is perhaps biting off more than he can chew. Explaining more than this proves difficult as an official synopsis of the film is nearly as indistinct as the film is sure to be labyrinthine. However, betting on the success of a Kaufman joint is always a safe bet, and with Hoffman on board, as well as a surfeit of critics’ actresses (Samantha Morton, Catherine Keener, Emily Watson, Hope Davis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michelle Williams, Dianne Wiest), Synecdoche is well on its way to becoming an art-house, critical favorite of 2008. While Sam would argue that Kaufman’s renown may be a bit generous, I would confidently argue that Sam is wrong and Kaufman is in fact the most creative and articulate screenwriter working. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich are two of the ten best films of the last ten years, and while Kaufman’s new position seated on the director’s chair intimidates both of us, the film’s Cannes praise has us anticipating what will surely be one of the most unique films of the year. At worst, it will be an intriguing and accomplished misfire; at best, we might witness something truly special. Luke Gorham


8. Rachel Getting Married has a title reminiscent of Eric Rohmer’s moral tales (a la Suzanne’s Career) or Noah Baumbach’s Margot at the Wedding — which itself was an homage of a sort to Rohmer — and from the trailer it seems like a scrappy little family drama (like the latter, minus the volatile hatred), a low budget indie, far and away from director Jonathan Demme’s big-budget Hollywood blockbusters (Silence of the Lambs and the underrated remake of The Manchurian Candidate among them) and his last couple films, which were documentaries (Neil Young: Heart of Gold and Jimmy Carter Man from Plains). If anything, Rachel Getting Married seems more akin to Demme’s quirky ’80s movies, such as Melvin and Howard and Something Wild (arguably the director’s golden period). Regardless, just about all the films Demme has made over the past two decades or so have been very good. Under a lesser director’s supervision I may have worried that Rachel would be sentimental and trite (the trailer has moments that suggest that — see the heavy-handed scene in which Rachel drives directly into a sign with arrows that point in two directions, yuck). I’ve also never been a fan of Anne Hathaway, who’s scored the lead in the film, but the actress looks like a nice fit for this material — and the off-putting touches I detect may seem less so in context. Or maybe the whole thing will suck worse than Demme’s deplorable remake of Charade (The Truth About Charlie), who knows. SCM


7. Clint Eastwood, the director, is one of the very best in the game, and probably the most reliable as of late. In the last five years alone, he’s given us Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Flags of Our Fathers, and Letters from Iwo Jima, three of which are near-masterpieces (Flags being the exception). While his latest effort, Changeling, doesn’t sound quite as promising as recent ones, it is never good to underestimate Eastwood — especially considering the Cannes praise the film received. While the first synopsis had me worried with its sci-fi insinuations, more recent and specific summaries position Changeling as a more likely heir to L.A. Confidential than The Forgotten. And with Eastwood lending his actor-friendly direction to stars Angelina Jolie (who has been stellar as of late) and perennial standout John Malkovich (a personal favorite of mine), Changeling has both Sam and I excited for whatever Eastwood is bringing our way. LG


6. Though Woody Allen’s been a bit wobbly lately, it’s hard to resist the cast of Vicky Christina Barcelona: Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, Patricia Clarkson, and Penelope Cruz — a more attractive ensemble of actors will be difficult to find this year. Also, coming out of Cannes the film was getting some good ink, and so it looked like this could be one of those rare late-period triumphs for Allen — the last time that happened was in 2005, for Match Point (one of the best films of that year). A few months later, and only about a week away from its release, the film looks less like a return-to-form (a ridiculous phrase to use in the first place) and more like a passable bit of fun, which would still be an improvement over his last two features. SCM


5. As arguably the biggest film of the year, and thus the film with the most opportunity to disappoint, Australia has both Sam and I salivating over its possibility and biting our nails with nervous anticipation. A WWII romantic epic in the vein of Gone with the Wind that highlights a little told story of recent history; what Australia has going for it, first and foremost, is a visionary director in Baz Luhrmann, the idiosyncratic talent behind two of the best films in recent memory. We both consider Romeo + Juliet to be one of the best films of the ’90s, and I consider Moulin Rouge! to be among the best of the current decade (Sam isn’t as keen as me on Luhrmann’s latter film, although he does like quite a bit of it). Likewise, Kidman is one of the best actresses working when she is on her game, and her last teaming with Luhrmann wrought one of her fine performances to date. However, Australia also stars Hugh Jackman, an actor who has failed to find real critical acclaim in Hollywood and his presence alone seems to be an ill omen for films. That said, we’re holding out hope that Luhrmann strikes gold again and breaks the Jackman curse. LG 


4. Luke and I are big Gus Van Sant fans, and find the director to be one of the few out there who can craft big budget Hollywood pictures with the same quality craftsmanship as he brings to his low budget indies (this year’s Paranoid Park, one of those said indies, made both of our lists of the best films of the year, so far). As such, we’re looking forward to his first Hollywood outing in some time — his last being Finding Forester, a passable bit of inspirational fluff. Milk chronicles the life and times of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, who was assassinated in 1978 by former city supervisor Dan White. The subject has already had an incredibly successful documentary dedicated to it, and I have my reservations about Sean Penn (Luke likes him more than I do), who’s been cast in the lead role, but we’ve always had faith in Mr. Van Sant, so why stop now. SCM

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

3. David Fincher’s fine work on Zodiac was mostly ignored by year’s end, but this year he looks to score even bigger with perhaps his most ambitious work to date, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story of the same name and inspired by a Mark Twain quote, Button follows a man (Brad Pitt) who is born at age 70 and begins to age backward. The short story is very brief and vague, but nevertheless raises some intriguing questions about life, relationships, and the lenses through which we perceive our world. Screenwriter Eric Roth will have ample opportunity and responsibility to expand on these ideas and create some truly memorable supporting characters, and while this may be an intimidating thought for those who have read the story, it’s a relief and sign of good things to come that Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton are also on board. On top of that, this film will see the third collaboration of perfectionist director Fincher and star Brad Pitt (following Se7en and Fight Club) and, by the looks of the trailer, will provide the pair with a chance for their most critically lauded effort to date. LG


2. Since Che Guvera was turned into a sex symbol by Walter Salles — cf. Gael Garcia Bernal’s wide-eyed-n-bushy-tailed performance in 2004’s scenic but stupid Motorcycle Diaries — a strong argument could be made that the iconic revolutionary’s life should not be put on film. Luke completely disagrees with me on this. And so does Steven Soderbergh, one of Hollywood’s most ambitious directors, his Che devoting over four hours worth of edited footage to the historical figure, as screened for the tough, judgmental audiences at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The verdict was mixed: some, such as the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Philips, thought it to be better than any other American film at the festival (including Clint Eastwood’s heavily lauded Changeling), while others thought that Soderbergh’s epic — split into two feature-length parts, the first called “The Argentinian” and the second “Guerrila” — was overstuffed and meandering. Just about everyone, however, agreed that Benicio Del Toro’s performance in the lead was worthy of ardent praise, winning him best actor. Since then, the film has had its fair share of difficulties; studios are afraid to purchase the property, and there’s much discussion surrounding the nature of its release. Through it all, Soderbergh has stood his ground, stubbornly, refusing to make concessions for the sake of accessibility. This could mean it won’t see the light of day until 2009, but Luke and I are confident that something will be worked out in the coming months, making it eligible for this year’s Oscars. SCM

The Road

1. Based on the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, The Road stars Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as a father and son on the run from everything, and on the road to nothing. The story is one of survival and enduring love between these two, but the book it’s based on is perhaps one of the bleakest novels ever written. For Sam and I, this film seems to have everything going for it. Not only is the film based on one of the most acclaimed novels of the past 50 years, but it is being directed by John Hillcoat, the auteur behind 2006’s The Proposition, a film that featured prominently on both of our year-end Top 10 lists. The novel leaves much to the imagination, and after witnessing Hillcoat’s visual flair on display in The Proposition, this marriage between director and source material seems like a match made in filmic heaven. On top of that, the film stars recent first-time Oscar nominee Mortensen, an actor who has been on a tear as of late, delivering consistently varied and complex performances. Like There Will Be Blood last year, this is a film we feel has very little chance to end up poorly, but all the potential in the world. In a year which has as weak a slate as 2008 currently appears to have, a film like The Road keeps us hoping, wishing, and most frustratingly, waiting. LG