September 5, 2004
Frodo for president!
Hey, don’t scoff. J.R.R. Tolkien’s intrepid hobbit hero has everything you could possibly ask for in a candidate: Illustrious war record, sound immigration policy, good hair.
Sure, he’s a little young, but pair him with a cagey political insider — say, Elrond the Elf King — and we could be looking at a very special ticket.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. For the first time in four years, Frodo and the rest of the "Lord of the Rings" gang are nowhere to be found on the fall/holiday movie schedule. In fact, potential blockbusters of any stripe seem to be in short supply. Reflecting the season, there’s an unusual surplus of politically themed films, including "Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry" (Oct. 1) and "Team America: World Police" (Oct. 15).
There’s also the usual collection of star vehicles with Oscar potential, including "The Aviator," "Alexander" and "An Unfinished Life."
Will it amount to a recordbreaking movie season? Probably not, but the fall/holiday movie schedule is no empty ballot. Here are some of the candidates, thoughtfully cataloged for your perusal.
MOST INTRIGUING CAST
Jude Law, Naomi Watts, Mark Wahlberg, Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin star in "I Heart Huckabees" (Oct. 15), an edgy, sprawling satire of corporatism, New Ageism and French radicalism from filmmaker David O. Russell ("Flirting With Disaster," "Three Kings"). The inimitable yet oft-imitated Wes Anderson ("Rushmore") directs Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett and others in "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou" (Dec. 24), about a eccentric oceanographer (Murray) who takes his estranged son (Wilson) on a series of deep-sea adventures.
FOR JUNIORS AND MISSES
Katie Holmes unwittingly falls in love with a member of her Secret Service detail in "First Daughter" (Sept. 24), a premise that rings suspiciously similar to "Chasing Liberty" back in January.
MOST INTRIGUING SEQUEL
George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and the rest of the original eleven-spot are joined by Catherine Zeta-Jones in "Ocean’s Twelve" (Dec. 10) from director Steven Soderbergh. With an extra man on board, Danny Ocean (Clooney) attempts to pull off simultaneous heists in the three European cities.
OBLIGATORY CHEESY SCI-FI FLICK
Based on the Ray Bradbury story, "A Sound of Thunder" (Oct. 8) stars Ed Burns ("The Brothers McMullen") as a futuristic safari guide who takes clients millions of years into the past to hunt dinosaurs. Disaster strikes when a client strays from the script and accidentally kills a butterfly, causing time ripples that irrevocably alter the present. Wasn’t this a "Simpsons" episode? Ben Kingsley and Catherine McCormack co-star.
MOST POTENTIALLY TASTELESS TITLE
From the producers of "Monster’s Ball" comes "The Woodsman" (Dec. 24) starring Kevin Bacon as a paroled sex offender who returns to his hometown and tries to rebuild his life. Real-life wife Kyra Sedgwick co-stars.
MOST LIKELY TO YIELD AN OSCAR
As usual, Miramax is fielding a formidable collection of Oscar contenders, including "An Unfinished Life" (Dec. 24) from director Lasse Hallstrom ("The Cider House Rules"). Jennifer Lopez stars as an abused wife and mother who takes shelter from her husband by moving in with her estranged father-in-law (Robert Redford) on his Wyoming ranch. Morgan Freeman also stars.
MOST LIKELY TO MAKE YOU THANK GOD CHRISTMAS ONLY COMES ONCE A YEAR
A tie between "Christmas With the Kranks" (Nov. 24) — starring Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis as a pair of married Scrooges — and "Surviving Christmas" (Nov. 12) with Ben Affleck as a depressed record executive who hires a surrogate family to spend the holidays with him.
FEMALE PERFORMANCE TO WATCH
Another Miramax offering, "Proof" (Dec. 24), stars Gwyneth Paltrow as a troubled woman who may or may not have penned a revolutionary mathematical proof originally attributed to her brilliant but mentally ill father (Anthony Hopkins). Honorable mention: Keep an eye peeled for a plucky up-and-comer named Barbra Streisand. This exciting new talent plays Ben Stiller’s mother in "Meet the Fockers" (Dec. 22).
MALE PERFORMANCE TO WATCH
Jim Carrey looks brilliantly cast as the greedy, aquilinefaced villain Count Olaf in "Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events" (Dec. 17), based on the children’s books by Daniel Handler. Honorable mention: Colin Farrell gets a dye-job and conquers most of the known world in Oliver Stone’s epic "Alexander" (Nov. 5).
MOST PROMISING FAMILY MOVIE
No current movie trailer seems to delight audiences more than "The Incredibles" (Nov. 5), a computergenerated superhero farce from director Brad Bird ("The Iron Giant"). Loosely based on "The Fantastic Four," it’s about a family of superbeings trying to live a normal life in the suburbs. Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson, Holly Hunter and Jason Lee provide voice work. Other family fare includes "The Polar Express" (Nov. 10), a Robert Zemeckis/ Tom Hanks collaboration based on a popular children’s book, and "Shark Tale" (Oct. 1) an animated, fish-themed mobster spoof starring Will Smith, Robert De Niro and Renee Zellweger.
MOST FABULOUS FAMILY MOVIE/GAY ICON DOUBLE-WHAMMY
In "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" (Nov. 19), our angularly attired hero takes leave from the town of Bikini Bottom to track down King Neptune’s stolen crown.
MOST LIKELY TO GIVE YOU AN ART ATTACK
Art house mainstay and recent Oscar winner Pedro Almodovar ("Talk to Her") examines the effect of Francoera religious schooling and sexual abuse on two lifelong friends in "Bad Education" (November/December). Other primo indie offerings: "Sideways" (Oct. 29), a tale of wine tasting and romantic angst from Alexander Payne ("Election"); "Finding Neverland" (Nov. 12), starring Johnny Depp as "Peter Pan" creator J.M. Barrie; and John Waters’ "A Dirty Shame" (Sept. 24), starring Tracey Ullman as a convenience store owner and housewife who is transformed into a sex addict with perverse predilections after suffering head trauma in a car crash.
BEST BETS TO SCARE THE YULE LOG OUT OF YOU
Sarah Michelle Gellar and Bill Pullman are terrorized by vengeful Tokyo demons in "The Grudge" (Oct. 22), an Englishlanguage remake of the Japanese art house hit "Ju-On." If that doesn’t pump ice in your veins, maybe "The Forgotten" (Sept. 24) will do the trick. Julianne Moore stars as a bereaved mother who loses her 8-year-old son in an airplane crash, only to be told by a psychiatrist that the child was the imaginary product of false memories and a diseased psyche. Uh, right. And I suppose these stretch marks just created themselves?
MOST EXPOSED ACTOR
Jude Law is all over the place, starring in "I Heart Huckabees," the retro sci-fi adventure "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" (Sept. 17), the playboy reckoning fable "Alfie" (Oct. 22), the Julia Roberts/Natalie Portman infidelity saga "Closer" (Dec. 3) and, finally, "The Aviator" (Dec. 17, see below). Honorable mention: Rising actor Gerard Butler, who scored the lead in Joel Schumacher’s "The Phantom of the Opera" (Dec. 24) as well as a role in the John Irving-esque indie drama "Dear Frankie" (Oct. 1).
VERY SPORTING OF YOU
The two highest profile sports movies go head to head on Sept. 17: "Mr. 3000," starring Bernie Mac as a Cooperstown-bound slugger who comes out of retirement to reach the mythical 3,000-hit plateau, and "Wimbledon," starring Paul Bettany as a fading tennis champ whose game is resurrected by a romantic fling with a rising female talent (Kirsten Dunst).
Best described as a hybrid of "The Da Vinci Code" and Indiana Jones, "National Treasure" (Nov. 19) stars Nicolas Cage as a descendant of Benjamin Franklin hunting for a war chest hidden by the Founding Fathers.
MOST LIKELY TO ENRAGE CONSERVATIVE TALK SHOW HOSTS
"South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone lampoon the war on terror in "Team America: World Police"
(Oct. 15) using so-called "super-marionation" puppets popularized in the 1960s TV show "Thunderbirds." Elsewhere, a pair of anti-corporate activists crash a series of World Trade Organization conferences in the documentary feature "The Yes Men" (Sept. 24). Lastly, John Sayles’ "Silver City" (Sept. 17) involves a bumbling, malaprop-coining politician (Chris Cooper) whose campaign for governor of Colorado is derailed by a murder investigation.
MOST INTRIGUING BIOPIC THAT’S NOT ABOUT HOWARD HUGHES
Having flashed his chops as a dramatic actor, Jamie Foxx ("Collateral") slips on the shades to play soul legend Ray Charles in "Ray" (Oct. 29), opposite Regina King ("Jerry Maguire") and Kerry Washington ("Save the Last Dance"). Expect Foxx’s performance to generate immediate Oscar speculation. Also buzzworthy: Kevin Spacey directs himself in "Beyond the Sea" (Nov. 26), the Bobby Darin biopic.
MOST INTRIGUING MOVIE, PERIOD
In "The Aviator" (Dec. 17), Martin Scorsese depicts aviation mogul Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) in his most productive, pregermophobic years, when he conquered whole industries and bedded enough Hollywood starlets to fill a 747. Scorsese’s star-studded cast includes Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, Jude Law and many others.