Now that 2004 has finally been laid to rest — along with the usual heaps of Person of the Year articles and Top 10 lists — it’s time to move our gaze forward to the coming months and a no less-venerated tradition: New Year’s predictions.
Some are no-brainers. For instance, I predict choppy marital waters for the artist formerly known as J. Lo (who’s now referring to herself as Jennifer) and Marc Anthony, and widespread speculation about Lindsay Lohan’s bust. I also predict that Hollywood will develop record numbers of scripts about ancient codices encrypted on priceless pieces of literature and art.
Those are the easy ones.
Foretelling which of the year’s movies will score big with audiences is a different, more challenging task altogether. Please accept the following predictions both as divination and preview of the movie year 2005.
BIGGEST BOX-OFFICE SMASH
Evil-lord-to-be Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) will keep his date with a lava pit in "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith" (May 20), the last of George Lucas’ unsatisfying but hideously lucrative "Star Wars" prequels. Touted as the darkest (i.e., least puerile) of the three movies, "Sith" should gross anywhere between the $421 million raked in by "The Phantom Menace" (1999) and the $310 million collected by "Attack of the Clones" (2002).
BIGGEST ACTORLY PAYCHECK
To appear in Steven Spielberg’s "War of the Worlds" remake (June 29) — at $200 million, rumored to be the most expensive movie production ever — leading man Tom Cruise negotiated 10 percent of the merchandising, DVD and box-office profits to go along with his usual $20 million to $30 million fee. If everything goes well, the toothy thespian could conceivably fetch up to $100 million for his work in the movie, a modern-day retelling of the H.G. Wells classic. Co-stars Dakota Fanning and Tim Robbins stand to make a bit less.
BEST SPECIAL EFFECTS
Peter Jackson rewrote the book on movie effects with his "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. In "King Kong" (Dec. 14) — his remake of the 1933 monster classic — Jackson will apply those same visual innovations to a 30-foot-tall gorilla that rampages through New York City after being ripped from its island home in the Indonesian archipelago. Bring it on, Pete.
BRIEFEST CAREER AS AN ACTION STAR
Rotund rapper Ice Cube ("Friday") goes on reefer hiatus to play a streetwise operative who’s dispatched to Washington to defuse a dangerous power struggle in "XXX: State of the Union" (April 29). Original "XXX" star Vin Diesel has left the franchise to concentrate on more challenging, emotionally layered fare, such as his upcoming babysitting farce, "The Pacifier" (Feb. 25).
ACTOR BEST POISED TO BECOME A HOUSEHOLD NAME
Excellent in such little-seen cult gems as "American Psycho" and "The Machinist," Welsh actor Christian Bale leaps onto the A-list as the new Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s "Batman Begins" (June 17). The Brit-heavy cast includes Michael Caine as Alfred and Gary Oldman as Lt. Gordon.
OTHER BREAKOUT PERFORMANCES
Hip-hop’s Mos Def ("The Woodsman") — a distinctive and exciting dramatic talent — will steal the show as Arthur Dent’s extraterrestrial benefactor in "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy" (May 6), based on the iconic sci-fi novel by Douglas Adams. Toni Collette ("Muriel’s Wedding") will outshine Cameron Diaz in the sisterly bonding fable "In Her Shoes" (April 15).
SEQUEL LEAST LIKELY TO COMPARE FAVORABLY TO THE ORIGINAL
Madcap auteur Barry Sonnenfeld ("Men in Black") has jumped ship, leaving "Be Cool" (March 4) — the sequel to "Get Shorty" (1995) — in the far-less-capable hands of journeyman filmmaker F. Gary Gray ("The Negotiator"). John Travolta returns as showbizcurious goon Chili Palmer, this time trying to break into the music industry.
SEQUEL THAT MIGHT (BECAUSE THE ORIGINAL WASN’T VERY GOOD ANYWAY)
"Zathura: Jumanji 2," starring Robin Williams. (Dec. 21).
REMAKE THAT WILL THRIVE
Purists pretend to hate the fact that Tim Burton is remaking "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (July 15), but how can you pooh-pooh the casting of Johnny Depp as wily confectioner Willy Wonka? Besides, the original (titled "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory") was released 34 years ago, satisfying the unofficial statute of limitations in these matters.
REMAKE THAT WILL HAVE US ASKING ‘WHY?’
"The Longest Yard" (May 30), featuring Adam Sandler and Chris Rock as incarcerated footballers. Honorable mention: "The Pink Panther," starring Steve Martin and Kevin Kline (Sept. 23).
MOST POTENTIALLY OVEREXPOSED ACTRESS
Naomi Watts ("The Ring") certainly isn’t hurting for work. Besides the aforementioned "King Kong," the Australian lovely will be seen in the horror sequel "The Ring Two" (March 18), the struggling-actress indie comedy "Ellie Parker" (fall TBA) and "Stay" (fall TBA), a suicide drama from "Finding Neverland" director Marc Forster.
BIGGEST DARK-HORSE HIT
Robert Rodriguez ("Spy Kids") and comic book genius Frank Miller ("The Dark Knight") co-direct "Sin City" (April 1), a diabolical multinarrative crime saga starring Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis. Shot in highcontrast black-and-white, it should be a bloody beautiful feast for the eyes.
COMEDY MOST LIKELY TO FEATURE A JOKE ABOUT PASTIES
In "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous" (March 25), FBI agent Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock) teams up with a new partner (Regina King) and goes to Las Vegas to pose undercover as a showgirl.
COMEDY MOST LIKELY TO FEATURE A SHAMELESS WOMANIZER WHO LEARNS THE TRUE MEANING OF LOVE, OR MEANING OF TRUE LOVE
Will Smith stars in "Hitch" (Feb. 11) as a professional matchmaker who comes under scrutiny by a sexy journalist (Eva Mendes). Sexy journalist? File it under "science fiction."
MOVIE MOST LIKELY TO BE SEEN EXCLUSIVELY BY ‘MATRIX’ FANS
Keanu Reeves plays a supernatural investigator who teams up with a comely police detective (Rachel Weisz) in "Constantine" (Feb. 18), adapted from DC/Vertigo’s "Hellblazer" comic.
Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz battle ocean-polluting West African tyrants in "Sahara" (March 25), adapted from the novel by Paradise Valley author Clive Cussler.
BEST SCENERY (HUMAN VARIETY)
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie play married assassins who are unwittingly hired to kill each other in "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" (June 10), from "Go" director Doug Liman.
"Lord of the Rings" boy-toy Orlando Bloom plays a young blacksmith who rises to defend Jerusalem from Muslim invaders in Ridley Scott’s "Kingdom of Heaven" (May 6). Bloom reportedly donned fake chest hair for the role.
Sydney Pollack’s "The Interpreter" (April 22) stars Nicole Kidman as a U.N. linguist who accidentally overhears details of an assassination plot. It sounds a little like Francis Ford Coppola’s eavesdropper classic "The Conversation," with a more scrumptious protagonist (sorry, Gene Hackman).
MOVIE MOST LIKELY TO SCORE SOMEBODY AN OSCAR
Take your pick: Past winners Russell Crowe and Renée Zellweger star in Ron Hod’s "Cinderella Man" (June 3), about Depression-era fighter Jim Braddock. Industry darling Terrence Malick ("The Thin Red Line") directs Colin Farrell as a colonial explorer in "The New World" (November TBA). Orlando Bloom plays a bereaved young man who finds inspiration in the form of his flight attendant (Kirsten Dunst) in "Elizabethtown" (July 29), from writerdirector Cameron Crowe ("Almost Famous").
BEST BET TO OCCUPY YOUR KIDS FOR TWO HOURS
Chris Rock, Ben Stiller and David Schwimmer lend their voices to a rabble of Central Park Zoo animals who accidentally hop a boat to Africa in DreamWorks’ computeranimated "Madagascar" (May 27). Paul Newman, Richard Petty and Owen Wilson rev up their motors in Pixar Animation’s "Cars" (Nov. 4). Director Mike Newell ("Four Weddings and a Funeral") tries to work his magic on "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (Nov. 18). Christmas Day will see the release of an all-CGI version of C.S. Lewis’ "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (Dec. 25).
MOST LIKELY TO FAN THE STEM-CELL RESEARCH DEBATE
In "The Island" (July 22), Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson play fugitive clones bred to supply the powerful and wealthy with spare body parts. Michael Bay ("The Rock") directs.
MOST LIKELY TO MAKE US PINE FOR ‘THE INCREDIBLES’
Reportedly, Fox handed director Tim Story the reins to "Fantastic Four" (July 1) based on the strength of his work on the Jimmy Fallon/ Queen Latifah bomb "Taxi." How utterly depressing.
BEST BOOK-TO-MOVIE ADAPTATION
Liev Schreiber’s "Everything Is Illuminated" (Aug. 12) — based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel about a young man (Elijah Wood) who attempts to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Holocaust — looks just a bit more promising than the Drew Barrymore/Jimmy Fallon sports-themed romance "Fever Pitch" (Oct. 7), which has great lineage (a novel by "About a Boy" author Nick Hornby), but stars Jimmy Fallon.
BEST TV-TO-MOVIE ADAPTATION
Kind of like anointing the best kind of malignant tumor, isn’t it? I’ll go with "Bewitched" (July 8) — starring Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell — over "The Dukes of Hazzard" (July 29) and its cast of Johnny Knoxville, Jessica Simpson and Seann William Scott.
BEST WAR MOVIE
"Jarhead" (November TBA), based on former Marine Anthony Swofford’s bestselling 2003 book about his Desert Storm experiences, has an out-of-control cast that includes Jamie Foxx, Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Sam Rockwell and Peter Sarsgaard. Sam Mendes ("American Beauty") directs.
Heath Ledger and Matt Damon play a pair of 19thcentury sibling con men whose tales of monsters and Gothic horror come to life in Terry Gilliam’s "The Brothers Grimm" (Nov. 23).
Mike Judge, the creator of "King of the Hill" and "Office Space," has an untitled comedy in production about an Army test subject (Owen Wilson) who is transported 1,000 years into the future, only to be hailed as a genius by a futuristic civilization that has grown remarkably stupid. See what reality TV is doing to us? (Aug. 5)