No matter what the future brings

Tuesday, 29 March 2005 — 9:04pm | Film

It’s three months into the calendar year, but the roster of films I already know I intend to see in 2005 has changed remarkably little since I first promised one a month ago. Of course, in my mind, the movie season is not officially underway until Sin City opens later this week, but then again, I have yet to catch Robots, and I still owe a Constantine review.

I’ll preface this by saying that “tentpole” pictures aside, it is usually hard to point out most of the films that will end up among the year’s best even in March. Aside from the big franchises, adaptations and years-in-the-making pet projects by high-profile directors, films worth getting excited about have developed a tendency to come out of the gates in November and December, preceded only by the buzz of the festival circuit and critical preview screenings no more than a month or two in advance. On the other end of the spectrum are films that get marked on the calendar years in advance; Cars and Watchmen are already sitting pretty atop my list for 2006, and there’s a certain release this year that has blocked off a weekend in May since it was officially announced in 1997.

Without further ado, let us proceed categorically.

Star Wars: It would be inaccurate to call Revenge of the Sith (19 May) the movie I’ve been dying to see. It is, properly, the movie I’ve been living to see. This is the film I have been waiting for ever since I started reading and writing about cinema all those years ago when the Prequels were just making it to the drawing board and nobody had any idea what to expect. This is the episode that will lay all the speculation to rest. This is the episode that binds the galaxy together. This is it, and it’s here in less than two months.

Big films by big directors: The biggest of them all is the last one on the release calendar, and that is Peter Jackson’s real dream project, King Kong (14 December). We already know what happened with his runner-up.

Before that, we have the most interesting traditional battle epic in sight, Ridley Scott’s Crusades picture Kingdom of Heaven (6 May). After putting up with several years of cheap imitators (and even failed expensive imitators that may or may not go by the name of Oliver Stone) trying to make their own Gladiator, I’m enthralled to see Scott come back and show them how it’s done – with an ambitious backdrop that has largely been unexplored, to boot.

Then there’s Ron Howard’s latest collaboration with Russell Crowe, the Jim Braddock bio-pic Cinderella Man (3 June). Yes, it’s yet another boxing movie, but yes, it looks like it could be really something. Maybe this is the personal fascination with the Depression era talking, or just an acknowledgment that Crowe is one of the finest actors this generation, and Howard is a good match for him.

Invasion of the literary nerds: Four major classics of the fantasy/sci-fi canon are coming to film this year, and one can only hope they all live up to their namesakes. First down the pipeline is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (29 April), which is this year’s The Phantom of the Opera in the sense that it has taken far, far too long to get here. But it is arriving at last, and while director Garth Jennings is a big question mark, at least the project is no longer in the hands of Jay Roach. Stephen Fry (the Guide), Warwick Davis (Marvin) and Alan Rickman (Marvin’s voice) are feats of perfect casting, The Vogons are positively full of, um, Vogonity. The trailers make the film look great, though hopefully it will stay true to the Britishness and wit of the source material. As far as actual point-by-point consistency with the book goes, one should expect nothing; even Douglas Adams contradicted himself constantly in every iteration of the story.

Steven Spielberg continues his whirlwind comeback tour of every nook and cranny of science fiction with War of the Worlds (29 June), starring Tom Cruise and penned by Jurassic Park screenwriter David Koepp. The contemporary take on H.G. Wells appears only loosely related to the novel, but it’s Spielberg doing an alien invasion movie – interestingly, the only kind of alien movie he hasn’t done.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (18 November) is a mixed bag of hype. As the book with the scenes that are most easily imaginable and translatable to pictures, be it the Quidditch World Cup, the Triwizard tasks or the cemetary showdown, it is one to see on opening day. But while director Mike Newell is sufficiently British, he still needs to convince me that he is capable of tackling something of this scope. The worst thing the franchise can do at this point is to turn away from Cuaron’s laudable visual overhauls in The Prisoner of Azkaban, yet it is doing exactly that with the costumes and effects.

Shrek director Andrew Adamson is more immediately convincing as the right man for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (9 December), especially when you consider that also attached to the project are composer Harry Gregson-Williams (Chicken Run and Shrek), Richard Taylor’s WETA dream team (fresh off The Lord of the Rings), and Tilda Swinton as the White Witch. This is a formula for enchantment if I ever saw one.

Comic books: There are three coming out this year that have really piqued my interest, and none of them are associated with Marvel. All of them, to some extent, represent a certain maturation in comic book adaptations to film. The first is Sin City (1 April), which already looks like the best translation of the graphic novel look to motion pictures in history, and possibly the most audacious adoption of a print aesthetic since Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy fifteen years ago. Even the best serious graphic novel adaptations to date, however stylish, have remained first and foremost motion pictures in the traditional vein – Road to Perdition comes to mind. Sin City looks to graft several stories from Frank Miller’s noirish underworld straight to film with an all-star cast.

For all his popularity, I still think Batman has not been given a proper cinematic treatment, and Batman Begins (17 June) may be the first. Directed by Memento‘s Christopher Nolan, starring a very fitting Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne and finally featuring the Scarecrow as a screen villain, this is the Warner/DC response to Marvel’s recent success in capturing the superhero mystique. It is a necessary and long-overdue reset of how the franchise has traditionally been treated. The one real concern, if it can be called that, is that Sin City makes Batman Begins look so standard and safe. The comparison is less than superficial, since Frank Miller practically created the modern conception of the character in The Dark Knight Returns and went on to revive interest in the early period with Year One.

Last but not least is V For Vendetta (4 November), the next title to fly the Vertigo banner and the latest attempt to do Alan Moore justice. As I discussed in an earlier post, if James McTeigue and company stay true to the British subtleties of the original and do not deviate too far in the direction of The Matrix, we should be in for a treat.

Feature animation: CG is now the talk of the town, but the most exciting prospects in the world of animation this year are both done in stop-motion Claymation. The biggest one to watch out for is the first Wallace & Gromit feature film, The Curse of the Wererabbit (7 October). Anyone with even a passing familiarity with Aardman Animation’s oeuvre should already be aware there is ample reason to plan the weekend around this movie. You should too.

Opening shortly before it is Tim Burton’s spiritual followup to The Nightmare Before Christmas, the early Hallowe’en treat Corpse Bride (23 September). Watch the trailer, and you will agree.

I won’t miss Madagascar (27 May), even if I am hardly a fan of the Dreamworks Animation approach. This one looks slick and stylized, and the penguins are great; and if there is any substance under the promise of fun, it would be a much-appreciated bonus. Hopefully, the topical-for-a-minute-only humour that plagued a certain attempt at a shark movie is kept to a minimum in favour of amusement that comes from the animation itself. To this end, note said penguins.

Finally there is Chicken Little (4 November), Disney’s maiden voyage into all-CG waters. I can’t say I expect this film to be any more significant than the standard offerings we are seeing from the major non-Pixar animation studios, but I really do hope it is a cut above the rest. The performance of Chicken Little is a double-edged sword in that if it succeeds, the possibility of traditional Disney animation coming back anytime soon is even more unlikely; yet if it does not succeed, then Disney’s long sickness will look all the more terminal. But on balance, I want to see a good movie.

Assuming they see release: There are two films that have already made the rounds elsewhere but, to my knowledge, have yet to reach distribution deals that will bring them to Alberta screens anytime soon. The first is Downfall (Der Untergang), Germany’s 2004 Oscar nominee for the Foreign Language award, a story of the collapse of the Third Reich from Hitler’s perspective. Awhile back, Stephen wrote a fantastic post about why this is a film to watch out for, and I see no need to repeat him further. With any luck, the arthouses will pick it up soon.

The other significant film that has only been exhibited in a limited capacity, but should really go everywhere, is Dream On Silly Dreamer, a 40-minute documentary about the death of traditional animation at Walt Disney, as told by the animators themselves. There is still surprisingly little public awareness of the tragedy that has befallen the state of American animation, and it is a story that I would like to see told. Word on the film has been overwhelmingly positive, and I want to see the results for myself.

And everything else: As I said at the beginning of this piece, the landscape will probably look completely different by summer’s end. I still have to hear more about Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown and Steven Spielberg’s film about the Munich Olympics (tentatively entitled Vengeance), and who knows what else will come out of the woodwork. On the release calendar, I should take note of two more films. First is Kung Fu Hustle (22 April), the latest comedy from Shaolin Soccer director/star Stephen Chow, who is one of the few directors in the world who still understands how to pull off silly slapstick that not only gets you rolling on the floor laughing yourself to tears, but without being stupid. Well, not too stupid. Unlike Shaolin Soccer‘s Stateside release, which was handled by Miramax, Hustle is being carried by Sony Pictures Classics, which consistently has the balls to release Asian films unmolested.

Buried deep in the release schedule right before the onslaught of the Galactic Empire, but not to be overlooked, is Unleashed (13 May). It is my belief that Jet Li has yet to be given the respect he deserves in English-language film as an actor, not just a fancy-schmancy kung fu guy. From what I can tell, this time around he has a chance to stretch his legs as a performer working under a story premise that is actually compelling. The film is written by Luc Besson and directed by one of his stable of proteges, though as an aside, Besson should really return to directing himself. None of the pseudo-Bessons have ever produced anything on the level of Léon (The Professional) or The Fifth Element, even though they have his style down on the surface. But even though Besson has instead chosen the path of becoming a French Jerry Bruckheimer, even Bruckheimer delegated a good film or two, and Unleashed looks promising.

And that’s a wrap. I see a preview screening of Sin City tomorrow, so hopefully I will return with comments at some point in the near future. Until then, chide me for my unintended omissions.

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