Auteurs of Autumn

Top-notch directors present a string of promising films in the months ahead

Fall Movie Preview

September 08, 2006|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

It's the Attack of the A-List Directors. And it's going to last for weeks - and months - in theaters this fall.

After scaling visual peaks with his Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator (2004), Martin Scorsese digs into the asphalt jungles of the East Coast with The Departed, an undercover-cop suspense film set in Boston, with the powerhouse trio of Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson.

Brian De Palma has been riding a new wave of renown ever since hip-hop stars began modeling themselves on his 1983 gangster movie Scarface. His 1940s period piece The Black Dahlia follows homicide cop Josh Hartnett as he attempts to crack an instantly infamous murder case that summed up the sick soul of postwar L.A.

Christopher Nolan, a cult hero because of his trick film Memento (2000), follows his blockbuster Batman Begins with a new puzzle movie, The Prestige, co-starring everyone's favorite wolverine, Hugh Jackman, and Nolan's Batman, Christian Bale.

Jackman also stars in The Fountain, from art-house fave Darren Aronofsky (Pi, 1998). He's a man whose search to cure his ailing wife - played by Aronofsky's fiancee, Rachel Weisz - spans continents and centuries.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who made a sensational debut with Amores Perros (2001) and showed his virtuosity with character actors in 21 Grams (2003), reportedly has topped himself in Babel, pulling off another multistranded storyline, this time with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett.

And Sofia Coppola, the rare female director to boast as strong a fan base as any of these guys, does an about-face from the contemporary comedy-drama Lost in Translation with Marie Antoinette. Kirsten Dunst plays the cake-prescribing queen.

A-list actors who've turned themselves into A-list directors bring on their most ambitious works. Warren Beatty's magnum opus Reds (1981) receives a special retrospective screening at the New York Film Festival - raising hopes of a theatrical re-release or (at last) a DVD.

Fresh off his Oscar win for Million Dollar Baby (2004), Clint Eastwood has directed Flags of Our Fathers, the story of the six men who raised the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima in the moment memorialized by late photographer Joe Rosenthal.

And supporting actor-turned-director Todd Field, not heard from since his award-laden In the Bedroom (2001), offers an adaptation of Tom Perrotta's novel Little Children, about the affair of a desperate househusband (Patrick Wilson) and a desperate housewife (Kate Winslet).

Will Scorsese and Eastwood square off at the Oscars again? Perhaps a more intriguing question is whether, this time, the better director will win.

A lot depends not just on how well the directors deliver, but on whether the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can put a convoluted film noir like Scorsese's The Departed in the same class as a World War II epic like Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers.

One thing, though, is clear. With a menu this rich - as the following categories illustrate - we're apt for once to enjoy both sizzle and steak.

Local heroes

Barry Levinson, mining a vein of political humor he hasn't tapped since he madeWag the Dog (1997) from a wild David Mamet script, has done himself one better: He has directed and written Man of the Year, the story of a Jon Stewart-like character (played by Robin Williams) who makes a run for the presidency.

Meanwhile, the ever-active John Waters appears as a spirited witness to the weirdness of Hollywood's ratings board in Kirby Dick's documentary, This Film Is Not Yet Rated.

Comeback kids

Some of us feel that British director Anthony Minghella was underpraised for his small-scale classic Truly, Madly, Deeply (1991) and overpraised for his epicThe English Patient (1996). So it's a relief to learn that after the debacle of Cold Mountain (2003) he went back to intimate filmmaking with Breaking and Entering, a love triangle featuring Jude Law, Robin Wright Penn and Juliette Binoche (as a Bosnian refugee in London).

Way back in 2002, Australian director Phillip Noyce made a remarkable turn-around when he moved from slick Jack Ryan thrillers - Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994) - to brilliant social dramas - The Quiet American (Michael Caine's best performance ever) and Rabbit-Proof Fence (a heartbreaking saga of childhood disrupted by institutionalized racism). This year he returns and tries to stay in his new groove with Catch a Fire, the story of a South African freedom fighter.

Kings of comedy

Mike Judge, who proved himself ahead of his time - or maybe a head of his time - with 1999's Office Space, the absolute word on the quality of life in the cubicle age, has concocted a madcap satire about how American democracy 500 years hence has turned into ... Idiocracy. Catonsville-bred cinematographer Tim Suhrstedt, who shot Little Miss Sunshine, also shot Idiocracy and thinks it's a howl. Will Baltimoreans get the chance to judge for themselves? Idiocracy has opened in New York and L.A. but is not on the local release schedule.

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