Welcome back! Let's get right into November...
Friday, November 2 – Thursday, November 8
Unless you have kids and are forced to sit through The Bee Movie (stay retired, Seinfeld!), you have only one option this week, but that’s OK because it’s the biggest release of the season, and potentially the year. Director Ridley Scott, one of the greatest directors of the last 30 years, gives us American Gangster. It’s the story of Frank Lucas, probably the most revolutionary narcotics figure of the 20th century. In the early 1970’s, Lucas, played here by Oscar winner Denzel Washington (who has worked with Ridley’s brother Tony on three films), had the brilliant idea of smuggling Vietnamese heroin back from the war in the coffins of dead US soldiers. When that heroin hit the streets of Harlem, and the black community in general, it changed the world forever. Before African-Americans got on smack, the biggest criminal around the way was “the numbers man”, your local bookie. Lucas basically created the major drug trade in New York City, and now it was drug escalation; before him it was a little weed, a little coke. Heroin had been out of favor since the Bop days of Charlie Parker. Lucas’ heroin led to crack, crack led to Hip-Hop. Frank Lucas is one of those figures in American history that everyone should know, but doesn’t. Scott also reunites with Russell Crowe, who plays the cop who’s after Lucas, and the two know success together; Crowe won his Oscar with Scott on Gladiator. And the rest of the cast and crew is as just as good; the screenplay is by Steve Zallian, who won an Oscar for Traffic, and the supporters include the incredible Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cuba Gooding Jr, Josh Brolin, Idris Elba, Carla Gugino, Armand Assante, John Hawkes, Ted Levine, and Norman Reedus, as well as rappers like T.I., Common, and The RZA. This is as must-see a film as you’re going to get.
See: American Gangster
Friday, November 9 – Thursday, November 15
This week, while your less intelligent human peers are shuffling like zombies to lay down cash for Fred Claus, you can feel smart having two brilliant choices to pick from, but both are among the most anticipated films of the year, so you should make every effort to see them both. The first is the new Coen Brothers film, No Country For Old Men. They’ve returned to crime noir on this go-round, and the film, starring Tommy Lee Jones, looks to be a classic. The other film is the super-long-awaited Southland Tales, director Richard Kelly’s extremely troubled follow-up to his adored Donnie Darko (no trailer yet - click for a clip). Southland Tales premiered 18 months ago at Cannes ’06, and was supposedly booed, though some dispute this. Since then, it’s been endless hours in the editing room for Kelly, honing what’s sure to be one of the oddest films you ever see, and hoping the studio will actually release it. It’s a sci-fi musical action comedy. Yes, you read that correctly. I think if you put a gun to Kelly’s head and made him pick a genre, he’d say it’s a satire. Dwayne Johnson (can we stop calling him “The Rock” yet?) stars as an action movie star trying to make a film, but his life starts imitating the script. Add in Sarah Michelle Gellar as an upwardly-mobile porn star, Seann William Scott as an LAPD officer, and countless wacky cameos and bit parts, from Mad TV’s Will Sasso to Mandy Moore, from Kevin Smith to an almost unrecognizable Justin Timberlake. Oh, and don’t forget the three prequels being released in graphic novel form; I believe the first two are out already.
See: Both, but seek out No Country For Old Men first.
Friday, November 16 – Thursday, November 22 (Thanksgiving)
I think the big-budget animated Beowulf looks kinded lame, and could anyone care less about Dustin Hoffman ripping off Willy Wonka in Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, so you have another week to do some catching up. The one interesting film opening on Friday is Noah Baumbach’s follow-up to his 2005 breakthrough, The Squid & The Whale. The new one, Margot At The Wedding, appears to be a sobering family drama starring Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh as sisters, but with flashes of comedy because it also stars Jack Black as Leigh's fiancé. You know no matter how hard he tries to do serious work, he’ll accidentally be funny somewhere in there. Now, this next flick is more of a release for next week, but because of the holiday, Wednesday is a fairly popular release day every year. This year we get The Mist, which registers high on the curiosity meter. It’s yet another film adaptation of a Stephen King work, but what’s special here is that it’s the third one directed by Frank Darabont. The first one was a little film you might’ve seen – The Shawshank Redemption – yeah, and he followed it with The Green Mile. So, it’s been 8 years since, and it’s about time he gives us another film. No matter how good it is, and the first trailer looks...OK, Darabont’s name is still worth the price of admission.
See: Margot At The Wedding if you’re bored or if it gets good reviews. Check out The Mist for Turkey Day.
[Weeks Twelve & Thirteen]
Friday, November 23 – Thursday, December 6
Hey, I know you have to shop. Good thing for you I covered The Mist in Week 11, and I only have one film for you in these two weeks. Black Friday brings the release of Todd Haynes’ surreal Bob Dylan biopic, I’m Not There. This is one of the ones I’m really waiting for – who doesn’t want to see Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, and Richard Gere – ALL as Bob Dylan??!!? That’s awesome, not to mention David Cross as Allen Ginsberg. You can meet me at the front of the line. Other than that, take a week off and save a few bucks for the December onslaught.
See: I’m Not There
Friday, December 7 – Thursday, December 13
The Christmas season really gets going with an excellent batch of films. First, the big money is on The Golden Compass, which is already being positioned as the next Lord of The Star Potter saga, and it looks pretty massive. Second, from the director of Pride & Prejudice and its star, Keira Knightly, comes Atonement, a romance which looks like Cold Mountain set during World War II. Recent festival screenings have critics absolutely raving that it’s an instant classic and it will clean up at the awards; when people are saying a film is among the greatest of all time at the time of its release, it’s probably even money to go check it out. And third, I want to mention Leatherheads, directed by and starring George Clooney. I haven’t seen any footage yet, but it sounds interesting - a romantic comedy set against the backdrop of the beginning of what would become the NFL - it sounds kind of like Some Like It Hot meets Bull Durham, but with shoulder pads. I’m intrigued because I’ve loved Clooney’s two previous directorial endeavors; the down side is the woman being fought over is Renee Zellweger, but the up side is The Office’s John Krasiniski is playing Robbins to Clooney's Costner, and seems a better prospect than that horrible Robin Williams debacle this summer.
See: The Golden Compass; if you’re like me and you hate sitting in theaters with lots of kids, see it as late in the day as possible. Check out Atonement on a weeknight if you get a chance.
Friday, December 14 – Thursday, December 20
This is a grab bag week, with a lot to choose from. The blockbuster is going to be I Am Legend, starring Will Smith, and directed by Constantine director Frances Lawrence. The concept is incredible, with the tagline – "The last man on Earth is not alone” – saying it all, and I have a feeling it will be the rare big budget popcorn flick that delivers. Almost as tempting is the new Woody Allen picture, Cassandra’s Dream. A crime thriller in line with his 2005 masterpiece Match Point, this film concerns two cockney brothers (Ewan McGregor & Colin Farrell) trying to one-up each other for a girl, and how their criminal uncle (Tom Wilkinson) gets them wrapped up in wrong doing. Also, do not sleep on Juno, director Jason Reitman's follow-up to his great Thank You For Smoking. It's a teen pregnancy black comedy starring, as the knocked up pair, Ellen Page (Hard Candy, X-Men 3) and Michael Cera (Superbad); the brilliant cast also includes Kingdom duo Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner, as well as the hilarious Rainn Wilson, J.K. Simmons, and Alison Janney. Finally, way under the radar, is Youth Without Youth. I don't know much about it except (a) it's about Nazis, (b) it stars Tim Roth, and (c) it's the first film in a decade from legendary Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola. That all should be enough for a matinee.
See: well, all four, but if I personally had to pick one, after seeing the trailer, I would pick Juno...cuz ya know, who doesn't like to laugh?
[Weeks Sixteen & Seventeen]
Friday, December 21 - New Year's Eve
I combined the last week and a half of the year because most of the movies are opening on Christmas Day, which is a Tuesday. There are a total of 14 films coming out within these 10 days, so I'll try and cut off the excess. The must see is going to be P.T. Anderson's long-awaited There Will Be Blood [12/26], starring a spooky Daniel Day Lewis and Little Miss Sunshine's Paul Dano. A loose adaptation of Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil!, it is the third of the gritty westerns I've been mentioning, but it's the only one to feature a score by Radiohead's virtuoso multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood; it looks positively epic. After that, the next movie I would recommend is National Treasure: Book Of Secrets [12/21]. I know you might feel this damages my credibility, but as a man that grew up on Indiana Jones, I think it's refreshing to see a family-friendly action movie in an age of increasingly explicit films. Plus, the entire cast and crew from the original is returning, and they've added Helen Mirren, Ed Harris and Bruce Greenwood - so how could it go wrong? Beyond those two films you have some interesting options. Sweeney Todd [12/21] is yet another teaming of director Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, so even though I'm not a fan of musicals, it still bears mentioning. The Savages [12/26] has Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman, which is always good. Hoffman also pops up in Mike Nichols' political drama, Charlie Wilson's War [12/25], starring a couple of up-&-comers named Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. I wasn't going to mention Walk Hard [12/21], cuz I'm really not sold on it yet, but I'm a big fan of Jenna Fischer's, so her starring role warrants the mention. And finally, AVP: Reqiuem [12/25]. I had to do it. C'mon, nothing could be as bad as the first one.
See: There Will Be Blood
So, that's a wrap! Let's do a little recap with my list of the
Top 17 Must-See Films of the Fall.
17. Atonement [12/07]
16. The Assassination Of Jesse James... [9/21]
15. Gone Baby Gone [10/19]
14. Into The Wild [9/21]
13. Cassandra's Dream [12/14]
12. I Am Legend [12/14]
11. Southland Tales [11/09]
10. We Own The Night [10/12]
09. Juno [12/14]
08. Control [10/10]
07. The Golden Compass [12/07]
06. There Will Be Blood [12/26]
05. 3:10 To Yuma [out now]
04. I'm Not There [11/23]
03. The Darjeeling Limited [9/29]
02. No Country For Old Men [11/09]
01. American Gangster [11/02]
Thanks for reading, have fun at the theater, and stay tuned for more goodness here at CSR.