Coming soon… 2007 Oscar Season Preview
It's always misleading to look ahead to the next 12 months of cinema from the perspective of late December/early January 1st... For better or worse the Academy Awards dominate movie release schedules for the Hollywood studios - the Oscar nominations are announced Jan 23 and the awards are February 25. The BAFTAs are presented Feb 11 - which means we get a disproportionate number of ambitious, grown up films released coming through in this period.
This year, they include a smart, sassy musical (Dreamgirls), a really meaty spy-movie directed by Robert De Niro (The Good Shepherd), and one of the finest war movies I've ever seen (Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima). If only it was always like this! (See below for a rundown on the rest of January-February-March releases.)
It goes against the grain to complain about a glut of good movies, but the flip side is the inevitable famine that will kick in later in the year, when blockbusters dominate the multiplexes and size counts for more than quality.
Not that there aren't plenty of promising films to look forward in later months, some of them 'event pictures': The return of Quentin Tarantino, for instance, in a double-feature with buddy Robert Rodriguez called Grindhouse; David Cronenberg's London thriller Eastern Promises, with Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts; Shane Meadows' autobiographical This Is England, which won the top prize at the first Rome film festival last year; as well as new outings for Harry Potter, Spider-man, Shrek, Jason Bourne, Jack Sparrow and Danny Ocean.
Personally, I'm especially looking forward to Francis Coppola's Youth Without Youth, starring Tim Roth; Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood, a turn of the century oil saga starring Daniel Day Lewis; and (duh!) The Simpsons Movie. I'm also hoping against hope that former enfant terrible Harmony Korine will pull off something remarkable with Mister Lonely, his first film in eight years. The cast may or may not include Samantha Morton as Marilyn Monroe, Diego Luna as Michael Jackson, Denis Lavant as Charlie Chaplin and Anita Pallenberg as The Queen of England.
Meanwhile, unless you watch three films a week over the next three months, I have a strong suspicion you're not going to see everything you might want to. I guess that's where DVD comes in...
This month is heaving with potential Oscar contenders. Forest Whitaker and Will Smith are both being touted for Best Actor. Whitaker plays Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, while Smith is another real-life character, though a rather less notorious one (stock broker/single parent Chris Gardner) in The Pursuit of Happyness. Both are released January 12.
The following week Brit audiences finally get to see Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's ambitious Babel. There's also a second take on the writing of 'In Cold Blood', Infamous, this time with British actor Toby Jones as Truman Capote and Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee.
Septuagenarian Sylvester Stallone makes a surprisingly strong fist at reclaiming former glories in Rocky Balboa, and, best of a strong bunch, Robocop director Paul Verhoeven returns to his native Holland to make an audaciously gripping WWII resistance drama, Black Book (all released Jan 19).
The heavyweights keep on coming, January 26: Leonardo DiCaprio turns in his most mature performance to date as a South African diamond smuggler in the polemical thriller Blood Diamond. One of Oscar's perennial also-rans, Peter O'Toole gets another (last?) shot at the statuette for playing a romantically-inclined elderly actor in Venus.
The same week, Emilio Estevez's Bobby is an Altman-esque take on the assassination of Robert Kennedy through the microcosm of a day in the life at the hotel where it happened - Sharon Stone is a standout among the large ensemble cast.
Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain has divided critics and audiences in America and at festivals. It's an emotional sci-fi trip spanning three realities, gorgeous to look at, not so great to listen to. Finally Old Joy is arguably the most captivating American indie to come out of Sundance last year.
It's the ladies' turn February 2. American Idol loser Jennifer Hudson is a shoo-in for the considerable consolation prize of being named this year's Best Supporting Actress for her star-making turn in Dreamgirls. Judi Dench may give Helen Mirren a run for her money in the Best Actress category for her performance in Notes On a Scandal. And Annette Bening could also get a shout for playing a narcissistic mom in Ryan Murphy's adaptation of the best-selling memoir Running with Scissors.
Oscar fever itself is satirized in Christopher Guest's For Your Consideration (Feb 9). Also out that week the deftly composed Turkish art film Climates, and Hannibal Rising, a prequel with Gaspard Ulliel as the young Lecter and Gong Li as a formative influence. More romantic, Dirty Dancing and Casablanca are both reissued in time for Valentine's Day.
February 16 brings us Hot Fuzz, the eagerly-awaited cop movie spoof from the Shaun of the Dead team; Michel Gondry's long-delayed but entirely dreamy Science of Sleep, and Kevin Costner and Joan Allen in The Upside of Anger, which premiered at Sundance way back in January 2005. Edward Norton vies with Paul Giamatti in The Illusionist, a mystery thriller about a nineteenth century magician (stop me if you've heard this one). Some US critics preferred it to The Prestige.
The shortest month concludes with three masterpieces: Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima, Robert De Niro's enthralling account of the establishment of the CIA, The Good Shepherd, and Abderrahmane Sissako's Bamako.
With the Oscars done and dusted, March takes on an indie flavour. For most film fans the most intriguing release will be David Lynch's epic DV puzzler Inland Empire (March 9), which is reportedly even more perplexing than usual. After a long absence, David Fincher has gone back to serial killers for Zodiac (March 16), Steven Soderberg and George Clooney try to reproduce the aura of Hollywood's Golden Age in the period drama The Good German (March 9), and Richard Linklater takes on industrialized eating habits in Fast Food Nation (March 23). Ryan Gosling gives a bravura performance as a crack-addicted teacher in Half Nelson, while Hilary Swank essays a more conventional class trip through the blackboard jungle in Freedom Writers (both March 2 ). Novelist Dito Montiel makes a confident directorial debut with his autobiographical A Guide to Recognising Your Saints, released the same week, with Robert Downey Jr playing the author.
Top DVD Releases
January: Thank You For Smoking; Children of Men; Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby; Art School Confidential; A Scanner Darkly; Brothers of the Head; Little Miss Sunshine; Click; World Trade Center
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