Faces of the Future
Autumn traditionally brings us harvest festivals and what my old Sunday school teacher used to call 'mellow fruitfulness', and I suppose you could extend that image to the movies too. The season gets underway with important film festivals at Venice and Toronto. There's a new extravaganza this year at Rome, and next week the London Film Festival celebrates its half-century (click here for our special preview ).
This is also the period when Hollywood starts to wheel out its big guns in the annual hunt for Oscar glory. Judging by past history, this year's early contenders for best picture might include Ridley Scott's A Good Year; All the King's Men with Sean Penn; Anthony Minghella's London romance Breaking & Entering; Scorsese's The Departed; and Clint Eastwood's World War II drama Flags of Our Fathers.
It's too early to say if 2006 will go down as a vintage year for film, but already we know that autumn will bring us a fresh crop of exciting actors, writers and directors. Here, then, is our guide to the faces to watch out for over the next couple of months: some new, some old, some unspeakably hideous…
They must be putting something in the water down under - terrific actors keep popping up. Abbie Cornish could be Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts' younger sister: she has a similar resourceful prettiness, pert nose, blonde hair, and wide range. Cornish won accolades for Somersault last year. She gives a startlingly tough, unsentimental performance as a junkie turned hooker opposite Heath Ledger in Candy (released Nov 3), but reveals a lighter side (and a sun-burned bum) in Ridley Scott's film of Peter Mayles' A Good Year (Oct 27). As far as Cornish is concerned, there's no doubt about that.
The remarkable Christian Bale continues to astonish with his versatility and conviction. Sticking with his Batman Begins director Christopher Nolan, Bale plays a working class Edwardian magician in The Prestige (Nov 10), an original drama about feuding showmen constantly trying to one-up each other's tricks. Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine and David Bowie co-star, but it's Bale who dominates - and who could end up with an Oscar nomination. Check out American Psycho, The Machinist, Velvet Goldmine and The New World to get a sense of this British actor's reach.
Screenwriter (and Crash director) Paul Haggis can do no wrong at the moment. The first person to write back to back Best Picture winners (Million Dollar Baby and Crash), Haggis has three more projects coming out this autumn, all very different: there's The Last Kiss (Oct 20), a midlife crisis movie with Zach Braff based on an Italian film of the same name; Casino Royale (Nov 17); and Clint Eastwood's eagerly anticipated WWII drama Flags of our Fathers (Dec 22). Clint was so taken with that subject he's already filmed a sequel/companion film, giving the Japanese perspective on the battle of Iwo Jima, and Haggis wrote that one too. As if all that wasn't enough, he has a new TV drama series debuting this season.
The police psychologist in The Departed, Farmiga had the (presumably) not unpleasant task of sharing her bed with Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio. As the only significant female role in the film, she also carved out an emotional space for herself that gave an extra dimension to the movie. Then get a load of Farmiga in Breaking & Entering (Nov 10). Almost unrecognizable as an Eastern European prostitute in Kings' Cross, Farmiga all but steals the movie out from under Jude Law, Juliette Binoche et al. She didn't come out of nowhere though: her back catalogue includes The Manchurian Candidate, Running Scared, and Iron Jawed Angels.
If you're lucky enough to have seen Pusher and Pusher II you will already know that this year's Bond villain is no lightweight. Danish actor Mikkelsen has a knack for taking a stock character and going somewhere completely unexpected (see Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself). Give him a colourful role, and look for fireworks (see his bloodthirsty Tristan in King Arthur). Casino Royale is released Nov 17.
It's not like he's ever gone away or anything, but Ben Affleck affects a long-overdue career resuscitation in Hollywoodland (Dec 1), playing TV Superman George Reeves who killed himself (or did he?) back in 1959. Much to his own surprise, Affleck won the Best Actor prize at the Venice Film Festival for his shrewdly observed, honest character work. This absorbing mystery film is one of the best surprises of the year.
South Korean director Bong Joon Ho (Memories of Murder) looked at 1500 designs before settling on the eponymous creature that terrorizes the citizens of Seoul in The Host (Nov 10). Inspired by mutant fish found in the local waterways, but way bigger, and with legs, the Host is far and away the most exciting monster to hit cinema screens for some time. Imagine Jaws running right up onto the shore, then hoisting itself up to perform graceful arabesques through the air with its looping tail.
We all know about Borat (Nov 3), the controversial cultural ambassador from Kazakhstan, but spare a thought for his long-suffering producer Azamat Bagatov, aka American actor Ken Davitian. A short, swarthy actor who is often typecast as an Eastern European heavy in TV series like The Shield and Six Feet Under, Davitian more than holds up his end playing Sancho Panza to Sacha Baron Cohen's Quixote. In the film's most eye-watering sequence both men strip naked, run through the corridors of a busy hotel, and wrestle on the bed. This may be the least erotic nude scene ever filmed.
He's made more than two dozen films, but you probably wouldn't recognise him. Doug Jones was Pencilhead in Mystery Men, Yeti in Monkeybone, a Morlock spy in The Time Machine, the fourth Tartutic in Lady in the Water, and (his best known role) Abe Sapien in Hellboy. We still don't get a look at his face in Guillermo Del Toro's breathtaking fantasy film Pan's Labyrinth (Nov 24), but it's a juicy double role for Jones: he's Pan, and the Pale Man (a five hour make up job in itself). Unlike in Hellboy, he also gets to use his own voice - and has lots of lines too, though he had to learn them in Spanish. Fear not, we'll be seeing a lot more of Jones in the near future; he's playing the Silver Surfer - and human alter-ego Norrin Radd - in the next Fantastic Four movie.