Anybody monitoring the seismograph between this past May and August in search of a massive box office stampede was bound to come away rather nonplussed: even the concept of the summer blockbuster is beginning to feel obsolete.
Moviegoers should take heart, then, that this fall’s crop promises a number of lean, no-nonsense pictures with some genuine vision on both sides of the lens. Granted, a well-known director and cast don’t guarantee cinematic brilliance (see “All the King’s Men” and “The Black Dahlia”), but so many movies this autumn look good on paper (or on YouTube) that at least a few of them are bound to be gems.
“Into the Wild” : Based on the acclaimed book by Jon Krakauer, this film follows a young loner as he forsakes family, friendship and civilization to find personal fulfillment in the wilderness. Hopefully director and co-writer Sean Penn hasn’t underplayed the erratic nature of main character Christopher McCandless, who met his demise in an abandoned school bus in Alaska.
“Eastern Promises” : The last time Viggo Mortensen worked with director David Cronenberg, the result was 2005’s “A History of Violence,” a superb drama that made audiences feel like they were flossing with barbed wire. Viggo’s back this fall as a lethal Russian mobster in Cronenberg’s “Eastern Promises.” Naomi Watts can be expected to deliver a compelling performance as a London midwife who finds herself in a criminal underworld. Factor in Cronenberg’s supremely cool visual style, and the result may be alluring enough to forgive the absence of William Hurt.
“I’m Not There” : Literalists will express bewilderment at the idea of having 6 different actors—Marcus Carl Franklin, Ben Whishaw, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Richard Gere and, yes, Cate Blanchett—play Bob Dylan in this biopic about the Minnesotan troubadour. But Dylan himself has signed off on “I’m Not There,” granting full rights to his music. Early clips show Blanchett absolutely nailing Dylan’s 1960s amphetamine androgyne, and the film sports a dynamite soundtrack to boot: Stephen Malkmus, Yo La Tengo, Willie Nelson and a bevy of others are listed as contributors.
“The Darjeeling Limited” : “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” occasioned Wes Anderson’s most lukewarm reviews to date, but the man Martin Scorsese once described as “the next Scorsese” is still one of the most original filmmakers today. “The Darjeeling Limited” finds Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman as three brothers (dysfunctional, no doubt) trekking across India. There’s no point in trying to predict much about this film except that, barring the script, co-written by Anderson, Schwartzman and Roman Coppola, will be meticulously crafted. Oh, and whimsical. There will be whimsy involved.
“No Country For Old Men” : Somewhere in between Cronenberg and Anderson lie the Coen brothers, whose films have trained an absurdist eye on both the farcical and the truly horrifying. “No Country For Old Men,” adapted from a Cormac McCarthy, is rife with bloodletting: the story follows a chain of murderous events sparked by a botched drug deal, with the film’s most fearsome killer using a captive-bolt pistol to dispatch his victims. Joel Coen directs, Ethan Coen and Scott Rudin produce, and Tommy Lee Jones stars in what may prove to be the most menacing, chill-inducing cinematic experience of the year.
“Elizabeth: The Golden Age” : Cate Blanchett’s shape-shifting abilities continue in this sequel to 1998’s “Elizabeth.” Blanchett’s portrayal of the Virgin Queen earned her an Oscar nomination nearly a decade ago, and it’s hard to imagine that the stately Aussie will do anything less than radiate regal bearing again this fall. Plus, any movie that attempts to capture the rise and fall of great powers — as this one does with the global showdown between England and Spain — just seems inherently cool.
“3:10 to Yuma” : Fortunately for the film industry, Christian Bale is fast gaining a reputation as one of the most versatile and convincing actors in the business. Fans of cinema should be pleased with the dynamic Welshman’s next incarnation. “3:10 to Yuma,” a remake of the 1957 Western, casts Bale opposite Russell Crowe in the classic law-versus-outlaw scenario. Westerns, once a dime a dozen, can tend toward the formulaic, but it’s reasonable to expect otherwise from this movie.
“Shine a Light” : Considering the importance of music to so many of Martin Scorsese’s great films, and the consummate craftsmanship Scorsese brought to “The Last Waltz” and “No Direction Home,” this upcoming concert documentary of The Rolling Stones more than deserves a place on any moviegoer’s agenda. Some may be tempted to write it off as mere footage of aging rock stars. But with a director like this? And a band like this? Bonus points for naming the film after a track from “Exile on Main Street,” probably the Stones’ very best album.