This is the season to start paying attention to what’s coming soon to a theater near you. The studios roll out their best films in time for the Oscar race, and this year in particular there is an impressive list of upcoming films you simply can’t miss. While there is something for everybody, most of the movies on the slate are somber. We wouldn’t want it any other way.
Social injustice, the dissolution of the American dream, uncovering a dishonored President, fighting for the rights of the disenfranchised, a man who ages backwards, an epic down under, challenging the Nazis – these are some of the themes explored in the films being released this Oscar season.
It’s a great time to revisit Harvey Milk, with gay marriage in the hot seat here in California. But it’s really more than a political movie, or even a gay rights movie – it is a return to form for director Gus Van Sant who has made one of his best films to date. Sean Penn turns in another brilliant performance as Milk (should be enough on its own to bring in the crowds), with great turns by James Franco, Emile Hirsch, and Victor Garber.
Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio are reunited for the film version of Richard Yates’ indictment of the American dream. Directed by Sam Mendes, this is probably the most anticipated film of the year if, for no other reason, than to see Kate and Leo back together again. But there are better reasons. Mendes hasn’t been in the director’s chair many times since he won his Oscar for American Beauty. There have been two films, one good (Road to Perdition) and one not so good (Jarhead). He chooses his projects well but seems particularly attuned to the foibles of we complex Americans. Along with a talented director, Revolutionary Road has the juicy subject matter, and the adept and versatile actors.
Clint Eastwood is pulling another two-fer this year with Changeling coming out this month and Gran Torino later this year. Changeling stars Angelina Jolie as Christine Collins, a woman put in a loony bin when she insisted the boy the police “found” wasn’t her son. Jolie has already earned great reviews for her performance. Gran Torino, a drama in which Eastwood co-stars, confronts racism, unity and tolerance all at once.
If there is one sweeping epic in the bunch, it has to be Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, a love story starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman set against the backdrop of World War II Australia. It’s being hailed as the new Out of Africa, but with Luhrmann don’t expect a traditional epic. Luhrmann and Kidman brought magic to the big screen with Moulin Rouge. If Australia has even half of that magic it will be a good sit.
Coming off a successful Broadway run, Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon is the movie adaptation of Peter Morgan’s brilliant play. Morgan has also written the screenplay, and the film stars Michael Sheen as David Frost and the sublime Frank Langella as President Nixon. It’s sure to be a draw for Watergate freaks (of which I am one), but it’s also an opportunity to take a look back at an era and a leader who was shamed out of office and compare it to the way we view our leaders now and how little we do about their acts of malfeasance. Beyond that, Langella is doing his very best work in the latter part of his brilliant career.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
David Fincher wraps his mind around the big picture stuff with his film adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald story. The film stars Brad Pitt as the aging-backwards Button, and though many will be drawn to the visual effects alone, it also packs a hell of an emotional punch.
Ed Zwick delves into the Holocaust for this film, based on a true story, about three brothers who escape from Nazi-occupied Poland and disappear into a forest where they build an oasis from the madness and endeavor to help rescue fellow Jews. Zwick has assembled a first-rate cast, including Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell.
This is a movie that has flown under the radar for several months as it’s been wowing critics on the festival circuit. It is an exuberant love story directed by Danny Boyle and is probably the only film of the season that promises to lift the spirits. The story is about a man living in poverty in India who decides to appear on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. But he doesn’t do it for money, he does it for love. If there is one film “everyone is talking about,” this is it.