Tuesday, October 02, 2007

coming soon: a countdown of must-see movies

WITH THE FALL SEASON COMES the upsurge of big studios piping up their chances for the Oscar Awards next year. Taking the cue from the early buzz as well as the track record of its creators and sheer star wattage, here are 20 films--a forecast of contenders for the critics' nods--I crave to see before the year ends:

LUST, CAUTION. "An uncompromising and incredibly seductive piece of filmmaking," raves an early review of this Best Picture winner at the recently-concluded Venice Film Festival.

After scoring the Best Director trophy at the Academy Awards two years ago, Ang Lee returns with an espionage thriller set in WWII-era Shanghai.

Asian cinema icon Tony Leung (star of Happy Together, Hero, In the Mood for Love, etc. ) stars as a powerful political figure in Shanghai who gets embroiled in a passionate game of emotional intrigue with a young woman.

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA. Though screen versions of literary heavyweights often wind up a dud (consider the ill-fated filmizations of Toni Morrison's Beloved, Isabelle Allende's The House of the Spirits, Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, and Annie Proulx's The Shipping News, etc), who can resist a celluloid rendition of one of the masterpieces of Nobel Prize-winning Gabriel Garcia Marquez?

Directed by Mike Newell, this sprawling saga of obsession gathers three of Latin America's acting sensations among its stellar cast: Javier Bardem (Before the Night Falls, The Sea Inside, Mondays in the Sun), Fernanda Montenegro (Central Station), and Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace). Hopefully this time, Newell will weave a magical exception to the rule of literary-cinematic mismatch.

THE KITE RUNNER. Based on novelist Khaled Hosseini's bestselling phenomenon about redemption, this is an epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal againts a barbaric backdrop (the final days of Afghanistan's monarchy up to the atrocities of the Taliban reign).

Mark Foster (whose work in Finding Neverland is breathtaking) directs this story of a man who returns to his native Afghanistan to seek redress to a long-standing wrong and rescue the son of a childhood friend.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Yet another literary adaptation (from Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!), it has magnum opus written all over it. To begin with, it blazes with the presence of my favorite actor Daniel Day-Lewis under the helm of the great Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love)

A sprawling epic about family, greed, corruption, and the pursuit of the American dream, this film is set in the booming West Coast oil fields at the turn of the 20th century.

I'M NOT THERE. Described as an "utterly bizarre" biographical film celebrating the genius and the legend of singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, this promises to be another cinematic gem from Todd Haynes after his critically acclaimed Far From Heaven.

So far the film has snagged a Special Jury Prize from this year's Venice Film Festival where the splendid Cate Blanchett also won the Best Actress for portraying a male role. Yes, Blanchett is one of the six different characters who embody Dylan's spirit (along with Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, among others), depicting different stages of the artist's life.

SWEENY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET. Brace yourself for genre-bending delight only Tim Burton can whip up: a horror musical straight out of the a Tony Award-winning dazzler showcasing the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim.

Featuring the great Johnny Depp in the title role, the story of Sweeney Todd is of a wrongfully imprisoned barber in Victorian England who sets out to seek revenge on the judge who imprisoned him. The plot is foreshadowed in the first lines of the opening number: "Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd./His skin was pale and his eye was odd./He shaved the faces of gentlemen/Who never thereafter were heard of again." Helena Bonham Carter also stars.

ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE. For her phenomenal performance as Bob Dylan in Todd Hayne's I'm Not There, Cate Blanchett seems poised to compete against herself come award season with an encore of her star-making portrayal in Elizabeth.

She reunites with Shekar Kapur in this period piece about the queen's crusade to defend her empire while dealing with conspiracies against her rule on top of her heart's vulnerability.

Geoffrey Rush also reprises his role while Samantha Morton joins the cast as the scheming Queen Mary of Scotts.

AMERICAN GANGSTER. Expect a masterpiece as the fusion of two of the finest actors in the industry whips a cinematic coup under the deft directorial hand of Scott Ridley.

This mob movie set amidst the tumult of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights era is a biopic of Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington)
, a self-driven fugitive of the segregated South who became a drug kingpin in Harlem. He built his empire by smuggling cheap, high quality heroin in the coffins of soldiers who died in Vietnam. Probing the parallels between Lucas and the cop who ultimately nailed him down, Detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), this film tackles how these two disparate men stick to their own personal code of ethics amidst a culture of corruption.

ATONEMENT. Out of the haunting novel by Booker Prize winner Ian McEwan, this psychologically incisive adaptation explores the life-changing consequences of a lie.

A domestic crisis explodes in the wake of an imaginative 13-year-old girl's accusation of a sexual crime, altering the fates of two lovers and other people in an upper-middle-class country home at the onset of World War II.

Finetuning an epic theme on guilt, fear, hope, and redemption, Joe Wright (the director of Pride and Prejudice) orchestrates an ensemble lead by Keira Knightly and James MacAvoy.

EASTERN PROMISES. “A mesmerizing power punch,” declares a rave review from The Rolling Stone of this David Cronenberg thriller.

Voted as the Best Film at the recently-concluded Toronto Film Festival, it stars Viggo Mortensen as a charismatic and ambitious driver for one of London's Russian mob whose cool existence gets jarred after he got enmeshed with a midwife (Naomi Watts) in the wake of young teenager's death after giving birth. Anna resolves to try to trace the baby's lineage and relatives after she discovered the girl's personal diary whose revelations cast shadows in the two protagonists' lives.

THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY. For this film, Julian Schnabel (director of the gorgeous After Night Falls) won the Best Director award at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. More than enough reason, indeed, to watch out for this mind-over-matter tale about the indomitability of imagination.

It zooms in on the real-life plight of Jean-Dominique Bauby (editor of Elle France) who suffered a stroke that paralyzed his entire body at the age of 43. With only his left eye spared from the paralysis, he used his remaining faculty to write his memoir using a machine that records his blinks.

Based on Bauby's book, Schnabel has the epic task of mapping the interior world of a man in the purgatory of a psychological torment: being trapped inside his body while staking out pieces of heaven out of imagined stories from spectacular vistas visited only inside his head.

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. A musical fantasia woven out of songs by the Beatles, the gritty world of the hippy counter-culture turns whimsical in the hands of director Julie Taymor (Frida, Titus, and the Broadway hit musical The Lion King).

Weaving a love story in the middle of the anti-war protest, mind exploration and rock 'n roll, Taymor's film moves from the dockyards of Liverpool to the creative psychedelia of Greenwich Village, from the riot-torn streets of Detroit to the killing fields of Vietnam. Tumultuous forces tear apart the young lovers Jude (Jim Sturgess) and Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) until they overcome the odds along with a bunch of friends and musicians all swept up in the maelstorm of a memorable era.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. The Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan) cast their cinematic nets wide and deep into the oceanic complexity of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem lend gravitas to this morality tale of hustling and drug-running in small town America.

When a film like this strips down the conventions of American crime drama and broadens its scope to encompass Biblical themes and the stuff of today's headlines, expect a powderkeg matched only by the Coen brothers' creative cool.

RENDITION. Indie sensation Gavin Hood (director of Tsotsi, winner of the Best Foreign Film in the 2005 Academy Awards) gets a royal mainstream treatment with an ivory-tower casting: Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon, and Jake Gyllenhal, and Alan Arkin.

Rendition is the CIA's antiseptic term for its practice of sending captured terrorist suspects to other countries for interrogation and torture.

Innocence and evil intertwine in this thriller set in the vortex of international terrorism and surveillance. Reality check, indeed, can be no less a spine-tingler in the ways of the reel.

THE GOLDEN COMPASS. Who's impervious to the honest-to-goodness spell of fantasy? After Tolkien and Peter Jackson loomed gigantic with their tales about hobbits, the film adaptation of first story of Philip Pullman’s award-winning trilogy (His Dark Materials) is set to find again the true north of epic entertainment.

Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig lend their larger-than-life presence in an alternative world full of witches where people’s souls manifest themselves as animals and talking bears fight wars. At the film's epicenter is Lyra (played by newcomer Dakota Blue Richards), a 12-year-old girl who starts out trying to rescue a friend who’s been kidnapped by a mysterious organization known as the Gobblers - and winds up on a lgendary journey to save the world. Chris Weitz directs.

INTO THE WILD. Here's one story Thoreau would have gone the distance for: An idealistic young man literally goes out on a limb in search of a place where untamed authencity exists far from the madding crowd: an American way of life ruled by hypocrisy and materialism.

Sean Penn also dares a tightrope act in his debut endeavor as screenwright and director to dramatize the bestselling book by Jon Krakauer about the true story of Christopher McCandless, an over-achieving college student and athlete Christopher McCandless. Turning his back to civilization, he abandoned his family and possessions, gave his entire $24,000 savings account to charity, and hitchhiked to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way, Christopher encounters a medley of characters who helped him find meaning in his life until his death.

IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH. From the hand who aced the Academy Award for writing and directing Best Picture materials (Million Dollar Baby and Crash), here's one poised for a high-five.

Paul Haggis explores the minefield of love and loyalty for family and country against the backdrop of intolerance and the Iraq war. It tells the story of a war veteran (Tommy Lee Jones) and his wife (Susan Sarandon) as they search for their son, a soldier who recently returned from Iraq but has mysteriously gone missing. A police detective (Charlize Theron) helps in the investigation that rears more smoke of inhumanity from the inferno far from the warfront.

RESERVATION ROAD. It's a bumpy ride down the crossroads of grief and guilt as this film paves the way for exploring moral choices no less hellish than the devil and the deep blue sea.

Out of John Burnham Schwartz's novel, Terry George (director of Hotel Rwanda) probes the purgatory of loss and revenge as the fate of two fathers collide in the wake of a fatal car accident.

Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Ruffalo, two of the most gifted actors in American cinema today, unleash thespic fireworks with Jennifer Connelly and Mira Sorvino.

LIONS FOR LAMBS. Talk about helluva casting, and this one looks like Rushmore carved out of Beverly Hills: Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise.

Redford, who scooped an Oscar for his directorial debut in Ordinary People, returns to call the shot in this "powerful and gripping story that digs behind the news, the politics and a nation divided to explore the human consequences of a complicated war."

JUNO. Mythic is its meteoric appearance at this year's Toronto Film Festival. Better believe the rapt review from the critic Roger Ebert regarding this "fresh, quirky, unusually intelligent comedy" about a 16-year-old girl who deals with the madness of an unwanted pregnancy with an offbeat aplomb.

"Magical screenplay," Ebert raves of the first-time script by a former stripper who calls herself Diablo Cody.

From the Toronto fest where it ranked second to Cronenberg's Eastern Promises, Ebert reports with rapture: "I don’t know when I’ve heard a standing ovation so long, loud and warm as the one after Jason Reitman’s Juno, which I predict will become quickly beloved when it opens at Christmas time, and win a best actress nomination for its 20- year old star, Ellen Page


Witness Street said...

Goodness, thank you for this list! I want to watch Atonement so badly, and I wish they adapt Amsterdam into film as well.

Cheers, and thanks for sharing!

Utok Bulinaw said...

Can't wait for the Kite Runner, Lions for Lambs and Rendition. Sir, daghan kaayong salamat ani!