Monday, December 22, 2008

2009 Film Preview

2008 hasn’t been the best year for film, but it’s still got a few days to impress me with something great. But, looking ahead to 2009, we’ve got some potentially fantastic films on the horizon.

11. The Box - I’m one of the few defenders out there for Richard Kelly’s madly ambitious previous film, Southland Tales. It’s an undeniable disaster, a beautiful one in a lot of ways, but it’s not the kind of film that’s going to make it easy to find funding for your next one. So, he’s scaling it down for a film that’s described as a feature length Twilight Zone episode. I’m hoping that this film doesn’t sacrifice the idiosyncratic voice of his previous films in attempting to atone for the wackiness of Southland Tales. The premise has potential, and the Arcade Fire scoring the film is a great sign. We’ll see how it goes.

10. Thirst - The new Chanwook Park film has been getting some crazy buzz over in Korea, notable largely for the apparently extreme nudity required for the lead actress. I enjoyed Park’s recent “I’m a Cyborg,” but he hasn’t come close to the heights of the Vengeance Trilogy in either of his two recent projects. Is he getting back in the game here? Oldboy is one of the most ecstatic pop films of the decade, and if he could recapture some of that energy, we could have another classic on our hands. And, vampires are hotter than ever, so he should at least have an audience for the film.

9. Cleo - I don’t know if this one will actually make it out in 2009, but if it does, I’ll be right there to see it. Soderbergh is one of the toughest filmmakers to love because his films have very little throughline. He jumps from genre to genre, and just keeps making new and different stuff. I really like some of his films, and the notion of him making a musical based on Cleopatra’s life came out of left field. But, I really like musicals, particularly wackier ones, and this one sounds pretty out there. I’m sure it will divide audiences, but I’m excited to see what Soderbergh comes up with.

8. Public Enemies - Much like The Box, Public Enemies will have the onus of having to atone for a previous “failure,” in this case, Michael Mann’s masterful Miami Vice. Vice got a pretty poor reception when it came out, but thankfully got some year end love, and I think history will see it as a minor masterpiece. I don’t think a better film has been released since Vice came out, and I also think that the film represented a huge step for Mann, moving away from a narrative based cinema towards a more impressionist emotional film construction. Will Public Enemies follow? It’s hard to say right now since no footage has leaked. Certainly the subject matter doesn’t seem like something that demanded another film telling, but Vice seemed utterly redundant and turned out to be so real and emotionally vital. The cast on this one is fantastic, and I’m confident Mann will make the movie work.

7. Avatar - James Cameron’s been out of the narrative filmmaking game for a long time, but Avatar sounds like a worthy return. He’s created some of the most enjoyable and filmically satisfying popular cinema of all time. Both Aliens and Terminator 2 are pretty much flawless blockbuster films, managing to combine real emotion and interesting themes with all the action. Avatar is wrapped up in the 3-D element, but I just hope that he keeps the story and emotion present. He’s been away from filmmaking for too long, hopefully he’ll come back strong.

6. Where the Wild Things Are - Spike Jonze’s previous two films were both fantastic, evidencing an emotional depth that wasn’t present in his music videos. I wasn’t thrilled hearing that he was adapting Wild Things for his next film, but reading that lengthy interview with him at Aint-it-Cool, and seeing the initial photos, I’m much more excited. The images look so soulful and emotionally resonant, if the film can match that, it’s going to be quite an experience. And hopefully it won’t take Spike seven years to get his next film done.

5. Watchmen - I have really mixed feelings on this film. On the one hand, it is really cool to see the slavish attention given to realizing Alan Moore’s world on screen, and I’m sure there’s going to be myriad cool moments in the film. But, at the same time, the book is so perfect, and so intrinsically tied to the comic book medium, it’s hard to see what the film adaptation could add. Even if it’s like the Sin City movie and functions as a perfect recreation of the book, what purpose does it serve? Perhaps its purpose is just to entertain us, no more, no less. And, I’m sure I’ll get plenty of entertainment from the film. But, as you enjoy it, just remember, the snake god Glycon frowns on you. I wish everyone who saw Watchmen would check out Promethea, or the documentary “The Mindscape of Alan Moore” to get a better idea of what Alan Moore is really interested in.

4. Inglorious Basterds - I’ve loved every film Tarantino has made so far, and this one sounds like a hugely ambitious, really fun take on the war film. The script reviews make it sound great, and the cast is fantastic, particularly the presence of Maggie Cheung, back on the screen after a lengthy absence. I loved Kill Bill, and really enjoyed Death Proof, but I do hope this film captures some of the narrow emotional focus of Jackie Brown. All of Tarantino’s films have more emotional investment than most people give him credit for, Kill Bill is a lot more than just b-movie homages, the violence is also about revealing Beatrix to us. But, nothing in his oeuvre can match the simple emotional pleasure of watching Pam Grier and Robert Forster circling around each other. How wil Basterds wind up? I guess we’ll find out soon.

3. Rebuild of Evangelion 2.0: You Can(Not) Advance - The first Rebuild of Eva was a great movie, a variation on the series that clarified and focused the narrative into a more cohesive finished product. Rewatching the film, I saw a lot of interesting stuff, but my first reaction was slight disappointment, that the film stuck so closely to the original series. Judging from the info and trailer for 2.0, there’s going to be some big changes here, and I’m eager to see how Anno and co. evolve the narrative and make it work in a new form. I’m also curious to see if the idea of the new films as a kind of sequel/cyclical narrative with the original series is developed further. Plus, we’ll get the entrance of my favorite character from the series, Asuka. Will Anno take things to that tripped out place End of Eva dwelled in? The first Rebuild gives us an idea of what the project will be, but this is the one that blazes a whole new trail. I just wish I could see the film in a theater, not on a bootleg download.

2. The Tree of Life - A new Terence Malick film only four years after his last? That’s unprecedented. The actual story of Tree of Life remains kind of unclear. It’s either about three men in the 1950s, or about a minotaur at the dawn of time. Hopefully, it’s both. Either way, Malick is such a singular voice, I’m sure he’ll manage to make any subject matter into something magical and beautiful. The New World is one of the best films of the decade, and he makes films in a different language than virtually everyone else out there. He understands film as a medium, and the unique things that film can do more than any other director, he constructs moments of astounding beauty and emotion that linger long after the film is over. People may have had trouble with The New World, but history will vindicate it as a masterpiece. Hopefully this new one will match it.

1. Enter the Void - I’ve been waiting for this film for four years, ever since I first saw Irreversible. Irreversible is one of the most intense cinematic experiences you’ll ever have. The subject matter may have gotten the attention, but for me, it was the amazing craft that really made the film. The one take shots are unprecedented, and the film’s use of subtle CG is a perfect example of the new possibilities of effects. Enter the Void was described as an entire film in the style of the last 20 minutes of 2001, a feature length acid trip, and if there’s any filmmaker who can make you physically experience things with a film, it’s Noe. This will not be watching an acid trip, it will be tripping on acid. It’s a hugely ambitious movie, and I’m confident Noe will pull it off.