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Autumn's Sneak Peek

IT-LIST FEMALE: I will always love you. You saved my life.

HUNKY ACTOR: And because of that love, that deep love in your deep blue eyes and your perfect breasts, I must blow up this building and then get in a sword fight with the alien enemy from ancient history.

ALIEN: Shit. I'm screwed.

BOMB: Boom.

And with that, the worst summer of movies is finally over.

It's time for the fall--the season when writers, directors, actors and studios actually make an effort, or tear-jerk trying. This year, the fall movie season is inspiring heightened expectations--partly because of the lousy summer, but also because many A-list directors, famous tales and innovative projects are on the slate:

Mo' Budget, Mo' Problems?

Like the summer, the fall has its share of mega-expensive movies. Unlike those in the summer, these films are not remakes and are for the most part not directed by hacks. For the honor of the fall's most anticipated film, it's a tossup between Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and The Fellowship of The Ring, two much anticipated literary adaptations.

Potter director Chris Columbus claims to be a huge fan of the books, and asserts that he understands the importance of being faithful to the stories about a coming-of-age wizard. Columbus ruffled the industry's feathers when he decided against using a known actor for the lead. He's worked magic with that combination before--i.e. Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone.

If Columbus worries about succeeding with his adaptation of the recent Potter books, Ring director Peter Jackson must be as nervous as a girl who's five days late. Adapting a series of books with an international following of fans more diehard than ill-tempered Trekkies is a daunting challenge. Luckily for Jackson, Ring stars established thesps Ian McKellan, Elijah Wood and Sean Bean. If he fails, it won't be alone. And judging by the trailer, he won't.

Armies of One--or Two

For each big-budget adaptation of famous literature, there are a few dozen big-budget star vehicles low on inspiration and originality: John Travolta plays an action-hero father in Domestic Disturbance. Jet Li kicks his own ass in The One, and Nicolas Cage goes Navajo in the World War II flick Windtalkers. Johnny Depp and Heather Graham duel with Jack the Ripper in From Hell. Brad Pitt and Robert Redford get intelligent in Spy Game. Guy Pearce crosses the continuum in a remake of The Time Machine. Will Smith stings like a butterfly and flies like a bee in Michael Mann's biopic Ali.

Merchant and/or Ivory

The tradition of long, overblown period films continues this fall. Hilary Swank and Christopher Walken show off their ruffles in the ever-so-excitingly titled The Affair of the Necklace. Jim Cavaziel looks for revenge in The Count of Monte Cristo, and Robert Altman crosses murder with bowties in Gosford Park. Finally, Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York, a film that has been in the works for 20 years, comes to theaters this December. About young mobsters in Manhattan, Gangs mixes Scorsese's sleek style with hot young talent--Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz star in a cast that also includes Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson.

Cinema Fou

The great experimental and audacious filmmaking that marked 1999, and disappeared in 2000, is back again this fall. The products range from the barely daring--Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky, a psychological thriller starring two actors named "Cruize" (Penelope and Tom)--to the all-out quirky, like Wes Andersons' The Royal Tenenbaums. Anderson, writer/director of Rushmore, has created the story of the precocious Tenenbaum family, played by Anjelica Huston, Gene Hackman, Gwyneth Paltrow and Anderson-film staple Bill Murray. The Coen brothers have Billy Bob Thornton and James Gandolfini sleuthing it up in The Man Who Wasn't There. How's this for a personality change: The usually jovial Steve Martin plays a dentist caught up in a web of lies and murder in the dark comedy Novocain. Lastly, David Lynch's Mulholland Drive opens in October. 'Nuff said.

Comfort Food

Bruce Willis steals Billy Bob Thornton in Bandits. K-PAX is the story of a man who thinks he is an alien--it sounds like a flat idea (and like a boring film), until you factor in Kevin Spacey as the potential alien and Jeff Bridges as his therapist. Drew Barrymore rides cars and boys in the aptly titled teen-pregnancy story Riding in Cars with Boys. Two-fifths of *NSync ride elevated trains in On the Line. A weepy Kevin Kline contemplates Life as a House. Finally, Steven Soderbergh's star-packed remake of Ocean's 11 opens in December. How's this for enticement: The heist film's playbill features the names Clooney, Roberts, Pitt, Damon and Affleck.

Ha!

As was true with the summer film season, and as is true with primetime television, comedy seems to be on the outs. It might be a sign that society is maturing and growing tired of endless pranks. It's more likely a sign that the studios did some focus-grouping--although one should wonder which focus group suggested teaming Chris Rock and Anthony Hopkins as ghosts for Bad Company. Jack Black gets in deep with a fat-suit-wearing Gwyneth Paltrow in Shallow Hal. David Mamet swipes back with Heist. Not Another Teen Movie looks like another teen movie. Finally, Tim Allen and Jim Belushi clown around in Joe Somebody.

Pure Oscar Fodder

Some films might be weighty and amazing, but let's be honest--their role in the industry's circle of life is to win some producer a Best Picture Oscar. Perhaps none of these films will be nominated, but they were made with little naked gold men in mind. Russell Crowe slays numbers and equations in A Beautiful Mind. Kevin Spacey emotes with Julianne Moore and Judi Dench in The Shipping News. Jim Carrey tugs on the writers' guild's heartstrings as a blacklisted scribe in The Majestic. Sissy Spacek gets it on In the Bedroom. Robert Redford fights prison and villainous warden James Gandolfini in The Last Castle. Anthony Hopkins, always an Oscar target, plays a mysterious old man in an adaptation of Stephen King's Hearts in Atlantis.

Add these films to a wealth of independent and foreign films (of which, it seems 50 percent have gay or lesbian themes or protagonists) and you've got a pretty memorable season.

The goals of fall films are to endeavor artistically, win Academy Awards, pacify the few real actors left in Hollywood and make mountains of money--not necessarily in that order. With such a mixed bag of reasons for making a movie, not to mention the mutual exclusivity of those goals, this fall could as easily implode under the weight of its budgets as it could succeed and duplicate the success of 1999.

Editors' Picks

In the past year, films have underperfomed (2000 fall season) and dramatically overperformed (2001 summer) at the box office. What have been absent are rave critical reviews for a mainstream production. What does the future hold? Recess film editor Martin Barna and associate film editor Alex Garinger make their predictions for a few annual awards.

The Titanic Biggest Box Office Award:

AG: Harry Potter over Lord of the Rings by 28 cents

MB: Potter wins the fall, but Shrek wins the year

The Waterworld Biggest Letdown Award:

AG: Windtalkers

MB: The Time Machine

The Sixth Sense Surprise Box Office Hit Award:

AG: Gangs of New York

MB: Shallow Hal

The South Park Surprise Critical Hit Award:

AG: The Majestic

MB: Spy Game

The Costner Memorial Oscar Fodder Letdown Award:

AG: The Last Castle

MB: A Beautiful Mind

The Tom Hanks Pathetic Drivel Award:

AG: The Shipping News

MB: K-PAX

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