The June issue of Premiere proudly proclaims on its cover: “Sizzling Summer Preview/ The Real Lowdown on All the Hottest Movies.” Inside the magazine under the heading of ” Premiere ‘s Ultimate Summer Movie Preview” was a Top 10 list of movies that would “rule the Box-Office galaxy.” No. 1 was, of course, Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace , with a predicted gross of $400 million. Well, maybe, maybe not. George Lucas should make all his money back and then some, but what I sense in the buzz around me is that Phantom Menace is becoming the butt of ridicule, as indicated by the New Yorker cartoon showing two adolescent moviegoers coming out of a theater and one saying to the other: “I liked the hype better than the movie.” People in the toy business tell me there seems to be little interest in the Lucas line. Could it be that there is retribution for overhyped bad and boring movies?
Anyway, No. 2 on Premiere ‘s “sizzling” list was Tarzan , the animated cartoon, with a projection of $180 million gross. Tarzan ? I may not see it even when it comes out on cable. Nos. 3 through 5- Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me , Wild Wild West and Big Daddy , Adam Sandler’s latest atrocity, are being openly merchandised as brainlessly lightweight for summer viewing. Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut at No. 6 is the first glimmer of grown-up counterprogramming and is probably worth a look. Notting Hill at No. 7 has already opened to generally good reviews except from the hard-core haters of Julia Roberts. American Pie at No. 8 concerns four high schoolers who “make a pact to lose their virginity by prom night.” The joke is supposed to be that they have a hard time “scoring.” Only time will tell if this rite-of-passage for male virgins will be of more than anthropological interest. Nos. 9 and 10 have casts that are more interesting than the subjects. John Travolta and the always sexy Madeleine Stowe play two investigators of a gruesome sex crime on a military base in The General’s Daughter . Liam Neeson as a professor, Lili Taylor as a “misfit,” Catherine Zeta-Jones as a “bisexual city girl” and Owen Wilson as a “professional guinea pig” rattle around in a malignant house in The Haunting , based on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel, The Haunting of Hill House , and Robert Wise’s 1963 movie, The Haunting with Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn, Lois Maxwell and Fay Compton, with Ms. Bloom playing the “bisexual” back then.
There it is, 10 predicted blockbusters, and only two moviegoing experiences I have any right to recommend with confidence. What then does my ideal moviegoing summer look like? I have already seen two of my top 10 movies for the year, and they are both about to be released. Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run is everything the overpraised Go tried to be and wasn’t: a hyperkinetic love story about a punkish heroine named Lola (Franka Potente) in virtually perpetual motion to save the life of her drug-dealing boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu). This German time-tripping track-meet romantic fantasy speeds along with cartoonish gusto for much of its very short running time, but it still has moments of quiet repose in which the two lovers wrestle charmingly with their relationship. Mr. Tykwer displays a flair for the medium, but never loses sight of the warm feelings that fuel Lola’s enormous expenditure of energy.
The second must-see recommendation for this summer is Éric Rohmer’s Autumn Tale with Marie Rivière, Béatrice Romand, Alain Libolt, Didier Sandre and Alexia Portal, a universal romance of middle-age yearnings with all the attendant vulnerabilities and misunderstandings. A 79-year-old storyteller with a long career in exploring the elective affinities and self-deception of the young in the eternal game of love, Mr. Rohmer has turned to an older generation with the same mix of wit, humor and irony. In the kingdom of What Might Have Been and Can Never Be, Mr. Rohmer reigns supreme. His special genius with his characters is in making us aware that their good-mannered sociability masks an inner turbulence that can erupt at any time into pure hysteria. Not enough action? Hah!
A few movies I would venture to recommend on the basis of past performances and future hope are Albert Brooks’ The Muse , with Mr. Brooks, Sharon Stone and Andie MacDowell; Garry Marshall’s Runaway Bride , with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere; Frank Oz’s Bowfinger , with Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy; Mickey Blue Eyes , with Hugh Grant, Jeanne Tripplehorn and James Caan, and An Ideal Husband , with Jeremy Northam, Cate Blanchett, Rupert Everett and Julianne Moore.
After all, Messrs. Brooks, Martin and Murphy have made me laugh in the past without hating myself afterward. So why not now? As for the rest, I try to keep an open mind, though I obviously prefer some genres to others. A movie about artificially intelligent sharks going berserk, like Deep Blue Sea , or a movie about a 35-foot crocodile, like Lake Placid , would require an infusion of Chekhovian dialogue to get me into a screening. I think there are too many animated films on movie schedules, and I’m getting sick of them. Not that I’m crazy about all the deadening digital stuff, either. Call me a Luddite, call me a technophobe, call me an old fogy, but spare me all the “improvements” on old-fashioned live-action cinematography in which the visual miracle of the human face remains paramount, no pun intended.
Fortunately for us New Yorkers, the archival institutions with which we are blessed are unlocking many treasures from the vaults. First and foremost for me is the presentation from the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater of a sublime series titled “Tracking Eternity: Max Ophuls’ Moving Pictures,” running from June 25 to July 15. To put a point to it, Ophuls is my favorite director, and The Earrings of Madame de … (Madame de …) (1953) my favorite film, but very close behind are Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948), Lola Montès (1955), La Ronde (1950), Le Plaisir (1951), Flirtation (Liebelei) (1932), Caught (1949), La Signora di Tutti (1934), Divine (1935) and The Reckless Moment (1949). I am especially looking forward to catching up finally with Edwige Feuillère in No Tomorrow (Sans Lendemain) (1939).
The Film Forum is reviving the directorial and acting contributions of Erich von Stroheim from June 25 to July 8 with such vintage silent classics as Foolish Wives , (1922), Greed (1924), The Merry Widow (1925) and The Wedding March (1928), and such talkies as Billy Wilder’s Five Graves to Cairo (1943) and Sunset Boulevard (1950). I must confess that I have always had mixed feelings about Stroheim’s work as a director. At Richard Koszarski’s doctoral defense of his Stroheim thesis, the late Bill Everson teased me by saying that I discriminated against Stroheim because he didn’t move his camera as much as Sternberg and Ophuls did. That may be part of it. The late Dwight Macdonald once wrote that the “von” that Sternberg affected was less “authentic” than that of Stroheim. Actually, both vons were fakes, though Stroheim was ranked above Sternberg because of the former’s Hollywood martyrdom. Heaven knows, Sternberg was eventually martyred as well, but he still worked betterwithin
thestudiosystemthan did Stroheim. The same distinction has worked for Orson Welles vis-à-vis Alfred Hitchcock, which I think unfairly diminishes both Sternberg and Hitchcock.
The Film Forum will honor Douglas Sirk with a tribute consisting of four new 35-millimeter prints of Universal’s romantic melodramas, Magnificent Obsession (1954), Written on the Wind (1956), The Tarnished Angels (1957) and Imitation of Life (1959). Can Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1946-1982) be far behind? Stanley Kubrick will be well represented this summer (in connection with the release of Eyes Wide Shut ) at both the Anthology Film Archives, Second Avenue at Second Street, from June 24 to 27, and at the Museum of Modern Art, at 11 West 53rd Street, from July
6 to 11. The two tributes do not overlap entirely, Anthology going exclusively with Killer’s Kiss (1955), MoMA with Lolita (1962), and both with Spartacus (1960), Paths of Glory (1957) and Dr. Strangelove (1964).
Not to be outdone, and it never is, the American Museum of the Moving Image, at 35th Avenue and36thStreetinAstoria, Queens-and, yes, Gertrude, there is a there there-is presenting 20 John Ford westerns from July 10 to Aug. 8. Most notably, they are showing The Searchers (1956), one of the half-dozen great American films of all time; and Stagecoach (1939), the film that reinvented the western, Monument Valley and the Seventh Cavalry.
Then from Aug. 21 to Sept. 5, the museum will follow the classical Ford (1895-1973) with the baroque Sergio Leone (1921-1989) through uncut versions of Once Upon a Time in the West (1969) and Once Upon a Time in America (1984), in the course of a complete Sergio Leone retrospective. Leone has a special place in my heart not only for reinventing the close-up and the western, but for inviting me at an 80′s Cannes Film Festival to a dockside dinner in his rented yacht where I sat between Monica Vitti and Stefania Sandrelli. I don’t speak Italian, but, hey, movies are their own language.