Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
Well, I didn't quite make it day and date. Thursday was the birthday, and thanks to a ton of business committments and our server change, now's the moment I was able to finally post this. I've always thought of Memorial Day weekend as one long extension of my birthday anyway, so it all works out. Another year has slipped away, and this time, I’m looking down the barrel of one of “those” milestones. I’m switching demographics. I’ve hit the wall. I’m 35 years old now. I’m already five years older than my father was the year I was born. That seems incredible to me.
This has been a busy and productive year for me, but I have a confession to make. This was the year that everything finally caught up to me. I find that my patience, what little I once possessed, is gone. I find that I’m tired more often. And I find that movie hype, which used to be like heroin to me, now leaves me indifferent more often than not. I don’t want to be hard-sold anymore. I just want to enjoy the build-up to a film again and just watch the movies and let them do what they’re going to do, removed of expectation or marketing muscle.
I look back at all my time at AICN, starting in 1997, and it occurs to me why I’ve always resisted words like “critic” or “reporter” or “journalist,” and, no, it’s not just me playing semantics word games to fudge an issue, either. I knew that wasn’t what I was doing when I started sending stuff in to AICN at first, or even once I became an editor for the site. I liked the personal approach that Harry took to the site and everything he did on it, and I wanted to be able to write about film with that degree of liberty. What I was doing didn’t really have a name when I started, but I think there’s a word now that sums it up pretty well: I was blogging. When I write from a personal perspective about the impact a movie had on me, or when I talk about my reaction to a script, I’m not pretending to be some impartial observer. This was always, from my point of view, meant to be an outlet for writing about my own personal perspective on film, including my own creative endeavors. Even now, I’ll say flat-out that I do not consider AICN to be any sort of one-stop shopping spot for every single scrap of news or rumor. It’s not meant to be a consumer report. Instead, writers and editors really do follow their interests, as idiosyncratic as they may be.
One of my favorite guys who ever wrote for the site, Mr. Beaks, got his start here as a Talkbacker and by sending in reviews of a Brian De Palma retrospective screening series, still one of my favorite things I’ve ever published on the site. I know I can get tunnel vision, too, especially when I’m nuts about a film like THE IRON GIANT or SHAUN OF THE DEAD. Every year, I get to share all sorts of odd film-related adventures with Harry and with Quint and with Obi-Swan and with all of my other friends, and with you guys as well. People who groan about what I am or am not “allowed” to write are cordially invited not to read me. But let me make something perfectly clear, in case the last eight years of AICN writing hasn’t already. I’m not going to stop writing about the movies I love or the movies I hate or the movies I’m simply looking forward to. I love film. I try to keep my film diet varied and demanding. I challenge myself and my tastes as often as I can. If there are holes in my film knowledge, then I try to fill them. I write incessantly about film because I think incessantly about film.
And, yes, I am biased. I am completely and gloriously biased about movies, as I have been since day one, since that day in 1977 when I first decided I wanted to make films. I am biased, and so are you. If you have opinions about what you watch, then you are biased. If you like a particular performer or a specific director, then you are biased. We all walk into movies with baggage, but what does that matter? When I like a film, when it works for me, then that’s all there is to it. I share my thoughts with you guys because there’s nothing better than talking to another film geek about something you’ve seen. Agree, disagree... doesn’t matter. It’s the act of conversing, that exchange, which can be so continually edifying.
So here I am. Here I remain. Here I continue. And what is on the horizon to keep me interested enough to keep writing? Well, as I did last year, I decided to list the thirty-five things that have me dreaming right this moment, one for every candle on the cake.
Let’s start with the stuff that’s so close you can almost taste it, this summer’s cream of the crop, some of which was on the list last year as well:
35. BATMAN BEGINS
You know what did it for me finally? You know what image pushed me over? In one of the more recent trailers, there’s a shot of Gotham City, a plane’s-eye view of the whole city, and for the first time in any BATMAN film, it looks like a real goddamn city. In that moment, director Christopher Nolan convinced me that he is serious about doing something new. I didn’t watch that ten-minute clip on SMALLVILLE. I’m seeing the film in a week, so why bother? At this point, I want to see it all onscreen, in context, larger than life, and my fingers are firmly crossed.
34. WAR OF THE WORLDS and VENGEANCE
I love it when Steven Spielberg gets a wild hair up his ass and gets all manic and turns out two films in a year. Sure, other people do it, too (like Terry Gilliam and Richard Linklater this year), but this is Steven Spielberg we’re talking about... ostensibly the most famous and powerful filmmaker alive. Possibly ever. When he double dips, he doesn’t always make great films, but he does make it interesting every time. On paper, at least, it’s looking like 1993 all over again. The ad campaign for WAR OF THE WORLDS has been admirably restrained so far, but he hasn’t found that one great image to pin the whole thing to yet like the ripples in the water as the T-Rex approaches. When JURASSIC PARK was released, we didn’t see any stills of the dinosaurs in pictures until the film was in theaters, and that created a frenzy. People saw it because they had to see it. They had to see these “real” dinosaurs. The problem here is that people aren’t sure what they’re waiting for. Do we see aliens? How much of them? Are they characters or merely faceless monsters? Call me optimistic, but I’m betting the film works. That new trailer has a lot of shots from what look like amazing set pieces, and that’s where Spielberg is pretty much a genius without peer. Nobody has produced better set pieces in more films, and I’m sure he’ll continue for years to come.
VENGEANCE, or whatever he finally ends up calling it, sounds like this year’s SCHINDLER’S LIST, and it’s amazing material. I haven’t read this script, but I hear the rewrite by Tony Kushner (of ANGELS IN AMERICA fame) is excellent. That moment in international history involving murder and kidnapping at the Olypmics and the fall-out that resulted from it... that’s heavy material, rife with moral quandary and high drama. The idea that he’s going to shoot and release this by the end of the year so he can be ready for an early 2006 start date on his LINCOLN film with Liam Neeson is just incredible to me. He must have an amazing pre-production machine in place prepping each project, running with an efficiency that most directors only dream of. I think he’s more prolific than Woody Allen at this point, and he’s lost none of his craft, none of his visual wit. Sure, his sensibilities have evolved, but no one can argue his innate command of film vocabulary. More than any other director working today, Steven Spielberg is a symbol of optimism for me. He stands as proof that age doesn’t have to dull a filmmaker, and that the cutting edge of the craft takes a lifetime to perfect.
33. GEORGE A ROMERO’S LAND OF THE DEAD
I’d like to formally announce that the line to kiss George Romero’s ass in public forms behind me, and this summer, I hope everyone takes a turn. It’s about time. I really like the trailer for LAND OF THE DEAD. I like the cast. I know it was a hard film to make, and there were some grim stories from the set about frustration at first, but I’ve also heard that everyone’s very pleased with the end result, and I hope all the passion that went into making it shows up onscreen. Romero’s a great workman, a guy whose gift isn’t a particularly pretty one. There’s a sort of bland, dispassionate tone to his best work that hits the viewer someplace dark. There is a cynicism to Romero’s films that seems like a natural response in the face of such grim, unsmiling horror. The more mundane something is, the more “real” it becomes. I’m rooting for Romero to make this film something that is unmistakably his. “Zombies, man... they creep me out,” indeed.
Curse you, Joss Whedon. Curse you for not including LA in the sneak preview screenings of SERENITY that played around the country Thursday. It was my birthday, damn you, and no SERENITY for me. Boooooo... hissssssss...
Just for that, I’m not going to include this film on this list. Take that. I’m not interested anymore. You blew it, dude. Sure, I watched every episode of FIREFLY on DVD in one weekend the first time, immediately drawn in by the strength of the cast and the western-in-space aesthetic. I’ve actually rewatched the whole series since, and I gave out the FIREFLY box to friends and family for Christmas last year to help spread the word. But never mind that. Now you lost me. I mean, yes, I visited the set of SERENITY on the Univeral lot, joined by Hercules The Strong, and we spoke at that point about the film, and everything you said sounded great. It sounds like one hell of a cool film. But I don’t care now. This is the second set of SERENITY screenings, and still no LA. As Natalie Portman would say, “Joss... you’re breaking my heart!”
Which means, of course, that I’ll still see the film. I’ll just curse your name now while I wait for September, you bastard.
And P.S. – have fun with WONDER WOMAN. That’s a tough nut to crack.
Next, let’s look at the heavy hitters for the next year or so, those movies that promise so much. Can they all deliver? God, wouldn’t it be nice?
I know very little about this film, and I like it like that. What I do know sounds great, and there was one conversation in particular, speaking to someone who isn’t working on the film, but who has reason to be familiar with the film, where they gushed, talking about the film like they were describing a girl they just fell in love with. When you spend enough time talking to studio people, you can tell when they genuinely like something they’re involved in. In this case, it sounded like they had been blindsided by the film. Steven Gaghan seems to be working to his strengths telling a sprawling story about the CIA’s involvement in the Middle East just after the Cold War ends, starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Amanda Peet, Michelle Monaghan (who just got the role in M:I3 that Lindsay Lohan wanted, evidently), Chris Cooper, William Hurt, Tim Blake Nelson, and Jeffrey Wright. I hope it’s a smart piece of provocation. And, for the record, Fat Clooney is even cooler than Regular Clooney. Like, TOUCH OF EVIL cool. Can’t wait.
30. A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE
How convenient that this trailer would go live just as I’m adding this to my list. A David Cronenberg film at Cannes in competition in the year 2005. That makes me very happy for some reason. It’s good to know that Cronenberg can still come out swinging, and it’s also great to see Viggo Mortensen being given good material. It’s a very interesting graphic novel by John Wagner that I only recently read for the first time, but I have no idea how much of the book Cronenberg’s using or not using in his film. The response out of Cannes seemed pretty favorable overall, but I won’t read any full reviews. I’m not even sure I want to see any more footage than that one trailer. Wouldn’t it be nice to just walk into this one cold?
29. THE BROTHERS GRIMM and TIDELAND
I don’t care about any of the stories of difficulty during the production of THE BROTHERS GRIMM. By now, it’s far more unnerving when a Terry Gilliam film wraps without a single negative peep escaping the set, as was the case with TIDELAND. Because of the Disney/Miramax divorce and rumored difficulties in the editing room between Gilliam and the Weinsteins (is there anyone who didn’t see that coming?), GRIMM has been endlessly delayed, meaning we get two Gilliam films in one year. We must have pleased the gods somehow because we are being gifted mightily. GRIMM looks big and lush and silly, while TIDELAND sounds dark and sad and haunted. Whatever they end up being, I’m looking forward to both of them. The idea of Jeff Bridges working with Gilliam again should be one of the year’s most exciting events.
28. Documentaries as mainstream entertainment
It’s been building for the last few years, but it seems like the documentary market has finally become a mainstream mainstay, and there are a number of contenders to be this summer’s next big breakout hit. MAD HOT BALLROOM just opened in limited release, and just around the corner, we’ve got ROCK SCHOOL, which looks like what happens when you put SPELLBOUND and SCHOOL OF ROCK in a blender, David LaChapelle’s hip-hop dance movie RIZE, the incredibly family friendly MARCH OF THE PENGUINS, MURDERBALL, the legendarily filthy THE ARISTOCRATS, and GRIZZLY MAN. They’ll all be out before August. Look at how aggressively those trailers are cut. Those aren’t movies being released for specialty markets or art houses. Those are great movie trailers for any genre. People finally got smart about how selling documentaries as movies, not as documentaries. All of those films seems like viable commercial possibilities. That big three-page story in last week’s ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY highlighted all seven of those films, and one of the things you can’t overestimate is the power of word-of-mouth. That’s still the strongest motivating factor in getting audiences out for the second or third weeks of a film’s release. That’s what gives some of these documentary hits such great legs. Whenther you loved SUPER-SIZE ME or FARENHEIT 9/11 or hated them, chances are you talked about them and heard other people talking about them. Every one of those seven films I mentioned sounds great to me, but PENGUINS looks like the one to beat at the box-office. Who needs special effects and big stars this summer when you’ve got this many great choices available at the same time?
27. ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL
Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff together again? Yes, please.
26. TIM BURTON’S CORPSE BRIDE and WALLACE & GROMIT: CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT
Almost as exciting as the prospect of two Gilliam films in a year is the notion of two very different full-length stop motion animation films. I have a deep, abiding respect for anyone who still does something as resolutely hand-made as these films in an age where everyone’s obsessed with the cutting edge. I wrote about my recent trip to the CORPSE BRIDE set, but I’m equally interested in seeing what Nick Park and Aardman Animation have been up to. That first trailer for WALLACE & GROMIT was very funny, and it looks like all of the company’s trademark eccentricity is firmly intact, a good sign.
I decided not to read the screenplay for Cameron Crowe’s new movie, even when it was offered to me repeatedly. I walked into ALMOST FAMOUS with a lot of baggage, and I’d rather just savor this one onscreen. Taken at the most surface level, the film sounds like it’s GARDEN STATE, but further south. Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) has to go home to Kentucky to help bury his father, and he meets a quirky flight attendant played by Kirsten Dunst who he falls in love with when she reconnects him to life. That’s how I’ve heard this described, but knowing this is Cameron Crowe, who has proved time and time again that he knows how to write smart comedy with a heart better than anyone else, I’m confident that this will be special. Susan Sarandon, Judy Greer, Alec Baldwin, and Jessica Biel all round out the supporting cast, so the pressure is on for Bloom. This is a chance to prove he’s got chops outside the period action movie genre, and he’s surrounded by actors who will eat him alive if he’s not up to the task. In the end, it’s Crowe who I consider the real movie star here, and I can’t wait to see what he’s done this time.
24. THE CONSTANT GARDENER
Sometimes, all it takes is one film to hook me, one film to get me interested in anything else a filmmaker does, and a film like CITY OF GOD more than does the trick. Fernando Meirelles made such an amazing, propulsive, celebratory first film that it’s small wonder major stars and studios were clamoring to work with him on his second film. Working from a John Le Carre novel, he’s just completed a political thriller starring Ralph Fiennes and the incredibly busy Rachel Weisz. We got one test screening review a month ago, and it was fairly negative, but I don’t care. All I’ve got to do is think back on how CITY OF GOD blindsided me, and I’m practically foaming at the mouth with anticipation all over again.
23. THE ICE HARVEST
When I went to the FanTasia Film Festival for the first time, I took a few books with me. Several of them had been heavily hyped, but the one that really snuck up on me and kicked my ass was a jet-black little noir novel with a wicked sense of humor by a guy named Scott Phillips. I honestly didn’t think anyone else had even read the book, so I was surprised when I read that Harold Ramis had alredy finished shooting his bigscreen adaptation, which Focus Features is planning to release this fall. Ramis is fairly underrated as a filmmaker, and no matter how bad MULTIPLICITY is, he’s still the guy who made GROUNDHOG DAY and who co-created GHOSTBUSTERS. This is very different than anything he’s ever done before, the story of a really, really bad Christmas Eve and a plan gone horribly wrong, as they are wont to do in noir stories, and that’s what I find exciting... Ramis pushing himself to do something new. Look at his cast. Billy Bob Thornton, John Cusack, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Platt, Randy Quaid... not really what you think of as a typical Ramis cast. With great source material like this, maybe this is going to a rebirth for him as a director.
22. V FOR VENDETTA
Yes, I read Rich Johnston’s piece earlier this week about Alan Moore’s problems with the film adaptation of the graphic novel he co-authored with David Lloyd, but I also read the script for the film, and right now, I’m intrigued. I don’t think it’s a flawless script, but I think it’s a huge improvement from the Alan Moore films we’ve seen up till now. Natalie Portman’s well-cast as Evey, the girl who becomes the sole confidant of V, a mysterious terrorist working to bring down an oppressive London government. Frankly, I’m amazed the film is getting made at all in today’s political climate, never mind seeing how much of it is actually intact. There are some key sequences that the Wachowskis got right, but some big ideas that they dropped completely. Their first time director, James McTiegue, is a big fat unknown as a feature filmmaker, which is a little scary with material this complex, and the switch from James Purefoy to Hugo Weaving as the lead mid-shoot is more than a little suspicious. Even if the film is only 1/10th as smart and caustic and hallucinatory as the original work, it’ll still be better than most films we’ll see this year.
Hey, Sam Mendes, where have you been? I’m a firm believer that third films are more important than second films in figuring out who a filmmaker is. AMERICAN BEAUTY was a major debut, and ROAD TO PERDITION was a solid follow-up. Mendes appears to be a man with a real taste for classy mainstream films, and I’m curiosu to see what he can make of Anthony Swofford’s JARHEAD, a big hit novel about his time as a Marine in Iraq. Wiliam Broyles Jr. wrote the script, which is a good sign, and the cast looks good. Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, and Peter Sarsgaard star, with Lucas Black, Chris Cooper, Dennis Haysbert and Sam Rockwell helping to round out the huge ensemble. Mendes has a knack for surrounding himself with great collaborators, and he’s got Thomas Newman composing his score, Roger Deakins shooting the film, and Walter Murch cutting it. Can’t get any better than that. Now let’s just hope the film lives up to that pedigree.
20. THE NEW WORLD
Or, as I like to call it, HOLY SHIT, TERRENCE MALICK’S REALLY MAKING ANOTHER MOVIE!! Part of me figured that THE THIN RED LINE was going to be a one-off, a fluke, a mere hiccup before Malick retreated back into rumors and false starts for the rest of his life. But here we are seven years later, and in addition to being fairly active as a producer on films like UNDERTOW, THE BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY, and Michael Apted’s upcoming AMAZING GRACE, he’s back with, in my opinion, the coolest trailer so far this year. I’m hypnotized by the imagery in that brief glimpse of Malick’s take on the story of John Smith and Pocahontas. Couldn’t be any further from the Disney version, but it cracks me up that the voice of their animated character, Irene Bedard, is actually in Malick’s film in a different role. Christian Bale and Colin Farrell are both great intense actors who often are not pushed to their full potential. Here’s betting that Malick knows exactly what to do with them, and I can’t wait to see what Emmanuel Lubezki and Malick, both brilliant visual artists, do together.
19. THE FOUNTAIN
I’ll be the first to admit it... I’m a sucker for seeing someone’s dream project realized, and this one in particular has been a long time coming. Darren Aronofsky deserves some sort of special award for sticking with this film and finally wrestling it up onscreen, and the guys who are closest to him, like Eric Watson and Ari Handel and Matty Libatique, are all just as devoted to the vision of this film as Aronofsky is. I wrote my set report earlier this year, and I’m still curious to see how Warner Bros. plans to release and promote the film. Hopefully, we’ll get a trailer and the graphic novel soon to hold us over until they set the fall release date. For serious SF fans, this is the one to wait for this year.
18. THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE
I’ve been a real tough customer on this one so far. When Walden Media leapt into production on this one, it felt like they were jumping on the HARRY POTTER/LORD OF THE RINGS bandwagon, and there’s certainly an unavoidable comparison to be made. That new trailer went a hell of a long way toward convincing me that Andrew Adamson may have made a successful transition from animation to live-action after all. C.S. Lewis had a unique and beautiful voice as a writer, and if this film truly does bring that voice to life, it may be one of the best Christmas gifts we get.
17. THE PRODUCERS
Sweet tapdancing Hitlers, I hope this film works. It’s a rough year for Gene Wilder fans with two of his greatest roles being remade. Thankfully, as anyone who saw this onstage can attest, this musical is a very different animal from the late ‘60s cult film that inspired it. It took balls for Mel Brooks to risk tarnishing the original film’s reputation, and it paid off with an enormously popular show. I’m glad they’re making the film with Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane, the original cast from Broadway, as well as Roger Bart, who was Tony-nominated for his work in the show, and the additions of Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman to the film look to be good things. Still... it’s been a while since Brooks has mattered on the bigscreen, so until we get a glimpse of footage from this, it’s a fascinating question mark.
Talk about fascinating question marks. Kurt Wimmer’s EQUILIBRIUM was a solid b-movie as a screenplay, but the way Wimmer directed the action scenes really elevated the entire endeavor and made it something noteworthy. I’ve had a few chances to talk about action theory with Wimmer, and I’m convinced that he understands how to create kinetic cinema on an instinctual level. He just knows how to make it move. He has a gift for velocity and impact and geography in an action beat, everything you need to really sell a great moment. Milla Jovovich should be an action star. She was wonderful when working with Luc Besson on THE FIFTH ELEMENT, but she’s seemed stranded in the films produced by her current boyfriend Paul “Weak Structure” Anderson, so I’m hoping Wimmer figures out what to do with her. Sometimes all I want from an action film is real action, and if there’s any film on the horizon this year that might deliver the goods, it’s this one.
15. THE DEPARTED
The cast alone would make this one of the big titles for the coming year. Leonardo Di Caprio, Mark Wahlberg, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Ray Winstone, Alec Baldwin... that’s a dream team. And I have to say, as a fan of this season of THE SHIELD, I’m interested to see how Anthony Anderson does with this cast. He’s got undeniable chops, and will probably fit right in. William Monaghan’s a damn good writer, and INFERNAL AFFAIRS makes for some outstanding source material. The combination of Martin Scorsese as director and that cast makes THE DEPARTED one of the most irresistible films in production right now. What makes this story so ripe for retelling is how the film’s big hook is both character and story based, and not just some cheap narrative twist for the sake of it. People don’t give Scorsese enough credit for being an entertainer. Sometimes great cinema can feel a little bit like homework, but Scorsese loves melodrama and genre potboilers as much as he loves obscure European neorealism. I’m going to bet he digs into this material with more passion than directors half his age, and twice the skill of even the best of his peers.
I know, I know... of all the films on this list, this is the most tentative of them all as the entire production team waits for word from Paramount about the fate of the project. As I mentioned in my recent article, I’m convinced that these guys are close to making something great, and my motives for including it here again in this list are entirely greedy: I want to see the movie. And since blowing out birthday candles is all about making wishes, that’s what I’m doing. This time next year, we’ll see if I got my present or not.
Here we are with another filmmaker reaching that critical third film, and this is one of the strangest, hardest-to-predict projects on this whole list. I adore Sophia Coppola’s first film, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, and I really like her Oscar-winning LOST IN TRANSLATION a lot. What impresses me most so far is how different those two films were. She seems to be good at setting a tone for each film, and her movies are all about mood, draping themselves over you and enveloping you for a few hours. Her take on the story of Marie Antoinette appears to be primarily about sex and the pressures of social expectation on a very young girl who is essentially sold by one country to another as royal breeding stock. She knows her job: to fuck her husband and produce a royal heir. The script for the film is an exercise in minimalism, stripped down so far that it feels like a sketch instead of the painting it will eventually be. Coppola’s casting choices are unconventional to say the least, but I’m fascinated. Judy Davis? Rip Torn? Jason Schwartzman? Kirsten Dunst? Asia Argento and Marianne Faithful and Molly Shannon and Steve Coogan? In a film being shot on location in the actual palaces of Versailles, in the places where the real Marie-Antoinette lived her life as a symbol of everything wrong with the aristocracy, somehow becoming a flash point for the anger that led to a revolution. How she’s going to approach the period detail with collaborators like costume designer Milena Canonero and cinematographer Lance Acord is what interests me most. It really is a comforting notion that the name Coppola still stands for bold, visionary filmmaking over 30 years after the release of THE GODFATHER, if not exactly in the way we would have expected.
Rob Marshall got some great mileage out of the success of CHICAGO, but the person who cracked that screen adaptation after an eternity in development hell was screenwriter Bill Condon. Then last year’s KINSEY reconfirmed all of the promise of GODS AND MONSTERS, proving Condon to be a very sympathetic director, wonderful with actors, with a great natural eye. He cracked CHICAGO because he’s a huge fan of musicals in general with a fairly encyclopedic knowledge of the form. I’d be willing to bet this one’s going to be worth watching if only because of how notoriously picky David Geffen’s been about letting anybody have the film rights. Whatever Condon’s pitch was, it did the impossible and, finally, Condon’s putting his cast together and gearing up to shoot this year. A number of the musicals being greenlit right now seem to me like part of a trend, but this one’s a labor of love, and the best opportunity that Beyonce Knowles is ever going to have at movie stardom. Also, I’m dying to see what Condon does with Eddie Murphy. Forget about that INGLORIOUS BASTARDS rumor... if Murphy’s ever going to turn his career around, it’ll start right here.
11. A SCANNER DARKLY
Philip K. Dick is the most abused author in the history of film adaptation. Alan Moore? Lightweight. Stephen King? For every DREAMCATCHER, there’s a SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. Most popular authors can expect both good and bad films to be made from their work, but in the case of PK Dick, no one has ever directly adapted one of his novels or stories for the screen. Even BLADE RUNNER, a film I love, bears only a passing resemblance to the brilliant DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? that inspired it. Now, finally, thanks to Richard Linklater, we’re about to see what happens when someone takes one of Dick’s most paranoid and revealing novels and somehow brings every single detail and all the texture to life. The script that Linklater wrote is the best thing he’s ever put to paper, and that trailer is visually arresting, with one crazy cast including Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson with his freak turned up to eleven. Bob Sabiston’s work on WAKING LIFE was interesting and experimental, but it looks like he really refined what he’s doing, and my only negative comment about this film is that it blows we have to wait until 2006 to see it.
10. Marvel As A Studio
For a while, it seemed like the main advantage Marvel had over DC in terms of bringing their properties to the screen was being able to shop the various characters around to find the best deal. But the result has been only sporadically successful. Some of the films have worked well and connected with a huge crossover audience, while other have been more troubled. One advantage that DC and Time-Warner have is being able to do crossover films. They came very close to making their SUPERMAN VS. BATMAN film, and if they pull off the revitalization of both franchises, then they still might do it. I guess Marvel started to see the advantages of a deal that follows the Pixar model, and their recent announcement of their distribution deal with Paramount that allows them total control is probably the best news for Marvel since the opening of the original SPIDER-MAN. They’ve got a chance now to finally make these films exactly the way they want to, and only time will tell if Avi Arad and Kevin Fiege and the rest of the Marvel team are able to really make this freedom pay off. They’ve still got some of their very best characters in their hip pocket, and they may just be getting started.
9. X3 Versus SUPERMAN! The Big Battle Of 2006!
IN THIS CORNER... Matthew Vaughn, fresh off the critical success of LAYER CAKE, hungry to make something big and splashy, working for a studio desperate to punish Bryan Singer for defecting and willing to spend almost anything to make it happen.
IN THIS CORNER... Bryan Singer, fresh off the success of the X-MEN franchise, beloved by fanboys, and the first person to actually get this film off the ground after one of the longest and most expensive development periods in film history. He’s got a hard-on for Richard Donner’s original and something to prove, which could be a winning combination for audiences.
So who’s going to win? Well, in a best-case scenario, the viewing public will. X3 sounds more and more interesting with each new bit of casting or with the little tidbits of plot that we’re hearing. Vaughn’s already won several major behind-the-scenes battles that seem to indicate that even with the brutal production schedule and all the expectations Fox has, Vaughn really is the man in charge. X-MEN is one of the best franchises in the Marvel stable thanks to the way it can naturally evolve and characters can be rotated in and out of the series. Screenwriters Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg are hard at work right now, and by all accounts, that six-day-script they wrote as a first draft was damn good, actor bait that seems to be working. Thanks to the rumors about Morlocks and the casting of Vinnie Jones as Juggernaut, Harry’s convinced now that this is going to be the Age of Apocalypse. Whatever storyline they use, they’re still just scratching the surface of available material. This is an important film because it could either derail the franchise or prove that it’s bigger than any one filmmaker.
Meanwhile, part of me thinks that Bryan Singer’s got balls of steel for his approach to SUPERMAN RETURNS, while another part of me thinks it sounds like a gigantic train crash waiting to happen. A CGI Brando performance built from old footage? A semi-sequel with an unknown Christopher Reeve clone? That costume?! I want to trust Singer and his writers. I want to see Warner Bros. get this right. Hell, I want to believe a man can fly. This is a huge gamble for everyone involved, and no matter what, it’s going to keep next summer interesting.
8. Doug TenNapel and EARTHBOY JACOBUS
I’ve heaped a lot of public praise on the last few books by Doug TenNapel, and I would urge anyone who hasn’t read CREATURE TECH or TOMMYSAURUS REX to give them a try. Or you could just wait for the publication of EARTHBOY JACOBUS, his newest slice of big-brained brilliance, a cross between STAR WARS and THE LION KING told with all the eccentric visual wit that fans of his work have come to expect. A retired police chief gets drawn into a lifetime of anxiety and fear when he comes across a young boy who has just escaped from a bizarre alternate dimension. TenNapel has woven a beautiful metaphor here about the fears of parenthood, as well as the rewards, and he’s also managed to craft a rousing coming-of-age SF adventure story as well. TenNapel’s already hard at work on his next book, which blows my mind. This guy has a great batting average. He’s three for three on his recent books. There’s only one thing better than a guy this naturally gifted at storytelling, and that’s when he is also this prolific. Each new release is a treat, and I hope we see many more in the years to come.
7. GHOST TOWN and JOHN CARTER OF MARS
Keep in mind... this is a personal list. Nothing would please me more than having my films next year beat the piss out of whatever Harry’s doing, but damn it, he keeps showing me production art and telling me about work being done on the scripts for both GHOST TOWN and JOHN CARTER OF MARS, and I have to confess... they sound great. If Harry’s learned anything in his time at AICN, it is the importance of surrounding yourself with strong creative collaborators, and whether it’s his still-mysteriously-unnamed writer on GHOST TOWN (guaranteed to make fanboy hearts go pitter-patter when he’s finally announced) or that insane design team hard at work bringing Barsoom to life, Knowles seems to have his shit together. There will come a time when I crush Knowles like a bug... but based on these two projects, I have to say that it won’t happen any time soon.
6. My managers, agents, and lawyers
You are only successful in this business if you surround yourself with a team that supports you and busts ass for you. Over the course of the past eleven years, ever since my first sale, I’ve had numerous agents and managers and lawyers, but it’s only been in the last four or five years that the combination has been right. I get a lot of letters from people asking for advice on agencies and what to look for when picking an agent or a manager. The most important thing is finding someone who gets what it is that you want to do, someone whose sensibilities mesh with yours, and who can actually muster the muscle to get you into the rooms where you want to be. Don’t worry about being at a giant name-brand agency... I’ve done it, and it’s rough if you’re not one of the very top earning clients... so just worry about being at the right one. I don’t thank Aaron, Sean, Brant, Jeremiah, Mitch, and Alison enough, so I’ll take this opportunity to do so now.
5. RACE WITH THE DEVIL
Watching the first two seasons of PROJECT GREENLIGHT, I was endlessly entertained by Chris Moore, who frequently seemed like an island of sanity in a sea of lunatics. As my harshest critics would happily point out, I have a wee bit of a temper issue, and watching Chris struggle to maintain his composure in the midst of some truly astonishing circumstances struck me as high entertainment. Now, having worked for Chris on and off for the last few months, I like him even more than I expected to. He strikes me as someone with little or no patience for the bullshit of Hollywood. He’s got a no-nonsense approach to development that’s been a dream so far. The most amazing part of working on this project has been reading all the letters from people who love the original ‘70s version of RACE, who have all informed me that they will kick my ass if I get it wrong. Well, just for the record, I’m pretty fond of the original as well, and what we’re going to try to do with Chris may be totally insane, but it’s sincere. There’s something interesting about watching a producer shift gears to become a director. That’s just not how it’s normally done. Of course, considering how often people in this town insist on doing the same old thing and playing it safe, trying something different feels pretty damn good.
4. MASTERS OF HORROR
The coolest thing about the MASTERS OF HORROR launch party, aside from those awesome black Zippo lighters we were all given with the show’s logo silkscreened on the side, was getting a chance to talk to many of the other people involved, both writers and directors. Stephen Romano, Steve Niles, Tobe Hooper, Don Coscarelli, Joe Lansdale, George Romero, Stuart Gordon, Joe Dante and John Landis were all there, and there was a sense while talking to them that everybody’s really excited by the idea for this series, energized by the challenge. It’s a sort of style exercise, with all of working under the same rules: ten days to shoot, a couple of million bucks total, and anything goes as far as content. Even when Mick Garris first asked us to pitch some episode ideas, it sounded like a horror fan’s dream come true. The total line-up of filmmakers, which also includes Dario Argento, Larry Cohen and Roger Corman, intrigues me, and aside from what I’ve read in the same press releases you’ve probably read, I don’t know anything about the other stories. I’ll see them when they’re finished the same way as you guys, and that’s the way I like it. I’ll get to enjoy this show. Of course, my writing partner and I feel like we won the horror fan lottery. When we wrote our script, there was no guarantee that they would even film it, so when they told us that John Carpenter was going to direct our episode, it seemed too good to be true. When they told us who would play one of the main roles in the film (and I’m not naming names until the episode’s in the can for fear of jinxing myself), we started to suspect we were being set up on a hidden camera prank show. Working with Carpenter’s been a dream, which isn’t to say it’s been easy. Carpenter’s been around long enough and had enough experiences both good and bad to know exactly what he wants. He was hard on us and on our script, and the result is something we’re really proud of, something that’s better than what Scott and I would have done if left to our own devices. I’m dying to visit the set, which will bring me full-circle since the very first film set I ever visited was STARMAN when I was 13 years old. But more importantly, I’m looking forward to October, when I’ll finally be able to share something this cool with all of you.
3. Scott Swan
I met Scott in high school. Both of us had moved there from out of state, our parents drawn to a particular magnet school that had a TV production program. Scott and I were paired up by a teacher, and at first, we were suspicious of one another, but three years of constant collaboration pretty much guaranteed that by the time we graduated, we had figured out how we wanted to spend our creative lives. It’s been almost 20 years since then, and watching our work get published, produced, and gradually win us a chance to ply our craft in the way we’ve always wanted has been enormously satisfying. What’s been even more satisfying is that we’ve beaten the odds, and in a town where most people can’t make a creative relationship last for the duration of one film, we seem to actually enjoy it more with each passing year. This past year has been the most rewarding of our lives, and by this time next year, we’ll finally have something... or maybe even a couple of somethings... in release. I hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoy working together.
2. KING KONG and BATTLE ANGEL ALITA and BEOWULF
Now that EPISODE III is here, there are no films I want to see more than these three from some of the most technically and creatively adventurous filmmakers working today. Peter Jackson’s on a roll, James Cameron is long overdue for his return to directing, and Robert Zemeckis may be the most skilled innovator of the modern FX era. In each case, it’s also the screenwriting talent involved that has me excited. Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens are like the other 2/3 of Peter Jackson’s brain by this point. Laeta Kalogridis has never been given a fair shake, despite having written some great scripts, and she may have finally found the right guy for the job in Cameron. And Zemeckis is evidently working closely with Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary on the BEOWULF script, giving them one of the most amazing mandates a screenwriter could ever hope to hear: "Remember, with mocap every second costs the same no matter what you're doing - so you may as well let your imaginations run wild. Do what you always wanted to do - don't hold back." The greatest Beauty and the Beast story ever retold, ultrabudget live-action anime, and mocap mythology are all right around the corner, and we’re damn lucky to see all three.
1. The Great Unknown
More than anything else, this is what keeps me going back to the theater. Yes, this site has always traded in spoilers and early peeks and trying to stay a step ahead of the manufactured buzz, and the reason for that is because I love to be surprised. I love to be blindsided. I love it when a film or a script or a book or whatever just shows up on the doorstep unannounced and proceeds to rock my world. That constant sense of discovery is what makes this all so interesting and worthwhile. The day I feel like I’ve seen it all, I’ll quit having to do anything with movies and just walk away.