MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

The 10 Movies You Should be Excited About This Fall

As usual, this summer was one that emphasized explosions over character development at the box office.  However, there were a few movies that almost seemed out of place amidst the sea of dross, films like The Hurt Locker, Up, or In the Loop.  These films were so good that they made the dreck likeTerminator Salvation, Wolverine, andTransformers 2 seem even worse than they were.  I’m a fan of the Harry Potter franchise and the newest installment was quite good, but when you watch a film like that after you’ve seen Up, it just doesn’t stack up.  It’s hard to give a pass to The Proposal when you’ve seen(500) Days of Summer.  It’s impossible to sit through The Ugly Truth when you’ve seenFunny People.

As a result of the enormous disparity between great and awful this summer, I’m excited for the fall to arrive so that there will be a more even playing field.  There will still be films that will go right in the rubbish bin, but at least in the fall, the films are usually striving to be something more than disposable.  And I think the following ten films, based on the pedigree of the filmmakers and actors or the sound of the storyline, have a good chance at being really memorable.  So, let’s take a look at which ten films I will be attending opening day.

The Informant! (Directed by Steven Soderbergh) – September 18th

Earlier this year, Soderbergh wowed me with The Girlfriend Experience, which was one of Soderbergh’s smaller hand-held films without any (mainstream) movie stars.  Last year, he underwhelmed me with his brilliant but bloated Malick-esque Che.  So it goes with Soderbergh, one of the hardest working filmmakers who is simultaneously hard to pin down.  Most filmmakers that work that frequently – like Woody Allen or Spike Lee – have a definitive style that is almost like a brand.  Soderbergh’s style is forever changing and evolving, the style of his films dependent on the material he is given.  This is why, whether his films are brilliant or not, I have the utmost respect for the guy and think he is one of the top directors working today; to be able to be such a chameleon while churning out a film every year is remarkable.  He also usually hits way more often than he misses.

Matt Damon is rightfully one of everyone’s favorite actors because he gives nuance and subtle performances that don’t necessarily go where you expect them to.  I’ve enjoyed his tackling of the Jason Bourne character as someone who doesn’t need a lot of words to express his inner turmoil and I thought his closeted character in The Departed was a miraculous piece of conflicted work.  I always knew he was something different when he decided to follow-up Good Will Hunting with a hauntingly tragic turn in The Talented Mr. Ripley, but the film that really cemented him as one of the best working actors in my mind was The Good Shepherd.  It is one of the ten best performances of the decade in my opinion because of his calm, his poise and the soft-spoken way he is able to command the screen.

So, team Soderbergh and Damon together in a comedy about a whistleblower and I’m immediately sold.  Damon reportedly gained thirty pounds for this film, further proving that he is not the vainest actor.  I remember when I read about the weight gain and I thought, “well this must be a really serious film to gain that kind of weight for a role!”  But the fact that Damon actually gained that amount of weight for a mid-budget corporate comedy…well, it already has me laughing.

Shutter Island (Directed by Martin Scorsese) – October 2

I mean it’s Marty-freaking-Scorsese, does there need to be more of a reason to see this flick?  On top of that, it’s the first film he’s made since winning his first Best Director and Best Picture Oscar, which is like seeing how Michael Jordan would play the season after winning his first MVP and his first NBA Championships; would the expectations make him better or worse?  For Jordan, he just got better and better and I expect the same from Scorsese.

Besides the fact that he’s re-teaming with his new muse Leonardo DiCaprio for the fourth time, what’s most compelling to me about this film is that it looks like a real genre picture.  What I find so exciting about that tidbit is that while his recent “epic” movies like The Aviatorand Gangs of New York were good films, I think he’s really at his peak with less “serious” fare like The Departed.  Unlike his disciple Tarantino who thinks that merely repurposing old genre movies makes it art, Scorsese actually elevates his genre films to art.  The Departedcould have been a really flimsy and shallow film, but Scorsese makes it downright Shakespearean.

I’m hoping he brings that same touch to this film, which the trailer makes seem like an out and out horror flick about two US Marshals who go to the titular island, which is like the Alcatraz of mental institutions, to find a missing patient.  With an all-star cast supporting DiCaprio, including Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Jackie Early Haley, Max Von Sydow, Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley, sign me up.

A Serious Man (Directed by The Coen Brothers) – October 2

I do not share the love for the trailer for this movie that every blogger seemed to think was genius.  I like that the trailer didn’t show me a whole lot about what the movie is about, but it didn’t exactly whet my appetite either.  If I didn’t know that it was the new Coen Brothers flick, I would have shrugged my shoulders and forgotten all about it.

But this is the new Coen Brothers movie, which instantly puts it on this list.  Their track record is such that every new film from them is something of an event.  And, after a brief period of middling films – Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers – The Coens seem to be reinvigorated whether they’re working on something darker like No Country For Old Men or something more silly like Burn After Reading.

This film has no real bankable stars unless you count Richard Kind as a marquee draw.  Theater actor Michael Stuhlberg headlines the film, which is by all accounts a personal period picture, set in the Midwest in the 60s and follows a college professor as his life falls apart.  The trailer has given me – and others – a Barton Fink sort of vibe and that wouldn’t be such a bad thing at all.
Where the Wild Things Are (Directed by Spike Jonze) – October 16

I have to confess that I’ve never read Maurice Sendak’s famous children’s book that this film is based on, but the people I know who have read it are crazed with excitement over the prospect of it being turned into a film.  But to be honest, I’ve purposely avoided reading it the last couple years because I want to be fresh for the film.  I think almost everyone will be seeing the movie with some knowledge about what will happen, but I literally have no idea other than it’s about a kid who has a rich fantasy life and finds himself among “the wild things” which in the trailer look like big fuzzy mascots.

For me, the reason I’m excited about this film has to do with Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers.  Jonze has a perfect track record as a director so far, with both of his feature films – Being John Malkovich and Adaptation – being daringly original and full of vitality.  Jonze has a playful spirit as a director, which you can see as far back as his early music videos; he likes to take what is expected of a certain genre or concept and then turn it on its ear.  So it is therefore no surprise that Jonze has been talking a lot about how this film is not a “typical” children’s film where everything is happy and neat.  It’s evident from the gorgeous trailer that this film looks muddy and real and full of childhood angst.

And with novelist Dave Eggers co-writing the adaptation, I just know it’ll be full of nuance.  Eggers has been one of the most exciting young novelists working today, his book What is the What being one of my favorites, and I don’t think Away We Go really showcased Eggers’ talents.  This material seems to be right in Eggers’ wheelhouse since it deals with loss and angst and the feeling of being alone in the world.  This one should be good.

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (Directed by Rebecca Miller) – October 23

The film has gotten mixed reactions from the audiences that have seen this film in festivals, but I am such a gigantic fan of Rebecca Miller that this might be the film I’m most anticipating this year.  Her three previous films – Angela, Personal Velocity, and The Ballad of Jack and Rose – were about girls making that journey into womanhood with varying degrees of success; and each one of them is absolutely brilliant.  I always hold up Rebecca Miller as an example of a filmmaker who puts out films that presents women as creatures that aren’t only interested in fashion and don’t always work in glamorous jobs.  Instead, she makes real women who are beautiful, interesting, strong, fragile, conflicted and flawed.  And she also gets great performances out of all her actors, whether it’s Parker Posey in Personal Velocity or her husband Daniel Day-Lewis in Ballad of Jack and Rose.

Continuing with her favorite theme, Pippa Lee is about a middle-aged woman (Robin Wright Penn) who lives with her older husband (Alan Arkin) in a retirement community and reflects upon her past lives (played as a younger woman by Blake Lively).  Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder and Maria Bello round out the all-star cast.

For me, it doesn’t much matter what the plot of the film is or what the reactions have been so far because I have the utmost confidence in Miller to craft something that is out of the ordinary, grounded in truth and downright brilliant.

The Men Who Stare at Goats (Directed by Grant Heslov) – November 6

A comedy about the paranormal always conjures up Ghostbusters to me, which is one of my favorite comedies.  This film is about a unit in the US Army that employs paranormal powers including telepathy for use in combat.  It also stars George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor and Kevin Spacey, four men who are strong dramatic actors that are able to be light enough on their feet to bring a certain charm that is by its nature humorous.

Heslov is Clooney’s long-time writing and producing partner – and also Dylan Walsh’s associate in the movie Congo – and the film is actually based on a nonfiction (!) book.  Clooney also stars in Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air which is getting strong buzz, but if I had to pick a Clooney movie to see this fall, I would pick this one based on the intriguing concept.  The idea of our army dealing with psychics and telepathics just tickles my funny bone.

Broken Embraces (Directed by Pedro Almodovar) – November 20

It seems as if this film has been released everywhere but the U.S. at this point, but it’s the new Almodovar film so I’m there no matter what.  Even when Almodovar makes a subpar film – like Bad Education – it’s an interesting failure and is still better than most movies.  Almodovar has a fanciful touch that is usually tender while cutting to the bone.  Films like Talk to Her and All About My Mother are just on a completely different playing field than most films, operating at a higher level, with writing that is so well thought-out and full of strong emotions.

This film re-teams Almodovar with his muse Penelope Cruz and the idea is more than a little self-referential: it concerns an actress who becomes close with a filmmaker she loves.  But I’m sure the film is a lot more dense than that, full of ideas and colors and emotions that only Almodovar can fully realize.  With filmmakers like Almodovar, all you need to know is that he’s got a new film coming out because you know that good or bad, it’ll be an Almodovar film.
Nine (Directed by Rob Marshall) – November 25

Everything about this movie is usually a deal-breaker for me.  It’s a musical, first of all, and while I would never dismiss an entire genre out of hat, musicals are not my favorite films generally speaking.  Then there’s the Rob Marshall problem.  I don’t think he’s a badfilmmaker, but I don’t believe he’s a particularly great one either; at least, he didn’t show me a whole lot with his first two films – Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha – that led me to believe he’s someone worth watching.  And finally, there’s the little issue of the film being inspired by Fellini’s 8 ½, a film which I never much liked.  In fact, perhaps this is sacrilege, but I’m not a fan of Fellini in general.  So, all of these things combined should make me cross this off the list, right?

Well, I would have if they didn’t cast Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead role as director Guido Contini.  As I’ve written in this space more than a few times, I believe that Daniel Day-Lewisis the greatest living actor, a man who truly makes acting an art form.  His dedication is legendary, but I don’t much care about what kind of effort an actor puts into a role; all that matters is the finished product.  However he does it, his finished product is always one of the best of that particular year.  The man has simply never given a subpar performance or been anything less than stellar, really.  Not only does he give great performances, but he creates characters that leave indelible impressions; he is not capable of giving a portrayal that is forgettable in any way.

Oh yeah, the rest of the cast is pretty good too: Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Judi Dench, Sophia Loren, Kate Hudson and Fergie all play the various women in Guido’s life..  So, if nothing else, this movie will be nice to look at with all the babes in the cast.  I still have a lot of trepidation about this film, but if Daniel Day-Lewis is willing to star in it, I have to believe it’ll be something that is at least striving for greatness.

Me and Orson Welles (Directed by Richard Linklater) – November 25

When people used to ask me who I thought was the best young working director, I would often make a case for Richard Linklater.  He is, after all, the man behind Dazed and Confusedand the two most romantic movies of the last twenty years, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.  He’s also given us the game-changing films Slacker and Waking Life, the intense and claustrophobic Tape, and the raucous School of Rock.  But I have to admit that I’ve started to waver a little bit, with some visionary directors (P.T. Anderson, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, etc.) improving their games while Linklater seems to be in a bit of a rut.

He’s made missteps before – The Newton Boys – but his remake of Bad News Bearsseemed to be a straight paycheck job for a guy who always seemed to be above that kind of thing.  Afterwards he did Fast Food Nation and A Scanner Darkly, two films which I liked and admired a whole lot, but I still couldn’t shake the notion that neither film went as far as it should have.  They were both effective and strong, but Linklater seemed to let up or lose his focus on both; they weren’t the home runs I knew he was capable of hitting.

So I’m anxious to see Me and Orson Welles to see if Linklater fulfils the promise I think he has.  It’s a film about a young actor (played by Zac Efron) who is cast in a theater production of Julius Caesar directed by the young Orson Welles (Christian McKay).  It sounds like an intriguing enough concept, but with Linklater films, it’s all about the interpersonal relationships of the characters and how they talk to one another.  Talking, in general, is one of the most important parts of a Linklater flick and I’m excited to see people talking in his latest movie.

The White Ribbon (Directed by Michael Haneke) – December 30

Michael Haneke is a polarizing filmmaker.  It is rare to find someone who doesn’t have a strong reaction to the man and his work, which is probably due to the fact that he is incapable of making a film that isn’t trying to elicit a strong reaction for its audience.  He deals with all things taboo, whether that means making a film about a masochist who smells the used tissues in a peep show booth and cutting her genitals (The Piano Teacher) or a film that deals with France’s treatment of Algerians (Cache) or a film about two young psychopaths that torture a family for no reason (Funny Games).  Haneke seems to get a perverse pleasure out of torturing his audience, sometimes doing things just to piss them off – like the scene where the main bad guy rewinds the scene we just saw in Funny Games, taking away what could have been a happy ending in favor of a bleak one.

I happen to love Haneke.  I think he’s playing a psychological game with his audience and testing the limits of film, challenging the relationship between the director and the audience.  His new film, The White Ribbon, won the Palme D’or at Cannes this year, which usually suggests that a film is worth seeing.  The film is set in Germany in 1913, just prior to the first World War and is about the nature of schools and the nature of fascism and how they may or may not be connected.  Sounds just like a Haneke movie!

Bonus (if it actually comes out this year):

The Tree of Life (Directed by Terrence Malick) – December 25

I somehow doubt that this film will come out this year, but that’s just because I always doubt that a new Malick film will actually reach the cinemas any year.  I don’t think any director has made so few films yet been such a major influence.  Each one of his films, for me, has been a visual beauty at first that proceeds to grow on me with each passing year.  I loved The Thin Red Line and The New World when I saw them in theaters, enraptured by the sheer visual splendor; but I found that what really stuck with me were the poetry of the voiceovers, the faces of the actors, combined with those images.  In other words, the images stick because of everything else, not just because of the images.

And this new film sounds so incredibly warped that I need to see it yesterday.  All that is known about the film is that it is partly set in the 1950s with Brad Pitt the father of a family in Texas and that one of his sons grows up to be Sean Penn.  Oh yeah, there’s also dinosaurs!  Apparently at some point in the film, most likely as part of a prologue I would guess, there’s a section of the film that deals with CGI dinosaurs.  I don’t think this is quite Malick’s JurassicPark, but there is an IMAX film being prepared that deals in depth with the dinosaur section.

The fun of the film will be finding out how Malick connects the dinosaurs with the Pitt/Penn section and then, of course, the title of the film which conjures religious images, but also potentially a family tree.  If this film actually sees release this year, it will be the film I’m most giddy about seeing; it’s only the fifth Malick film to be released which, dinosaurs or not, makes it an event movie in my eyes.

– Noah Forrest
August 17, 2009
Noah Forrest is a 26-year-old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writers and do not neccessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon