We only needed to see the kick-ass trailer for Milk to slot this Gus Van Sant film straight into Best Picture contention. After all, it has all of those gold statuette elements: a true story—of California’s first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk, who was murdered alongside San Francisco Mayor George Moscone by Supervisor Dan White (who used the Twinkie Defense in court!)—and a cast that boasts Sean Penn, doing his Sean Penn thing and disappearing completely into his role of Harvey Milk while bringing out yet another side to Josh Brolin, who plays Dan White. Plus, there’s an awful lot of pretty boys—James Franco, Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna—who might not have quite enough to do, but manage to do plenty with what they were given. We can tell you that Milk lives up to its prerelease hype, and Mr. Van Sant, who has wandered off into more dreamland territory with Paranoid Park, Elephant, and Last Days, tells this incredible story straightforwardly and with a lot of class. (Nov. 26, Focus Features)
You gotta love a movie that doesn’t mind presenting itself as being big, big, BIG. Judging from its trailer (it’s reportedly still being worked on … including how to end the sucker—take from that what you will), Australia, from director Baz Luhrmann—his first since 2001’s Moulin Rouge!—looks like a return to some old-fashioned epic sprawl of romantic lushness. Set in northern Australia before World War II, Nicole Kidman (looking prim with porcelain skin) plays an English aristocrat who meets the rough-and-tough and facial-haired Hugh Jackman. Together they have to travel hundreds of miles only to face the bombing of Darwin. Along the way there is making out, and pretty dresses, and, we’re just guessing here, some heart-tugging tragedy. Mr. Luhrmann has always liked surprises, so who knows what’s in store with this one. Besides, as one critic said to us recently, “Why wouldn’t you want to see the two prettiest actors working today onscreen together?” (Nov. 26, Fox)
Hey, here’s a fun Christmas film for the whole family! Or … not. Forget the excitement of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet reunited onscreen together for the first time since Titanic (though yeah, that’s pretty exciting). How about the fact that this excellent and beloved 1961 novel by Richard Yates is finally making its way to the silver screen? This story is a doozy, about a young couple filled with hope and the ambition to live a life less ordinary slowly but surely being suffocated by life and marriage in the suburbs. Who wants a drink? Sam Mendes (a.k.a. Mr. Kate Winslet) directs, and from what we’ve seen, it looks like we can expect some of the lighting, music, costumes (and soul-crushing) of Mad Men. Seriously, we haven’t yet been able to make it through the trailer without choking up. If only Yates were here to see this. (Dec. 26, Paramount Vantage)
Screenwriter Peter Morgan has had good luck turning historical events into gripping films (see The Queen, The Last King of Scotland) but Frost/Nixon surely presented a steeper hill to climb. The film re-creates the post-Watergate interviews between British TV host David Frost and disgraced former president Richard Nixon in the summer of 1977. It was originally written for the theater, and director Ron Howard wisely has Frank Langella (who won a Tony for his Tricky Dick) and Michael Sheen reprise their roles in the film. Oliver Platt (yay!) and Sam Rockwell co-star as Frost researchers, and, hey look—Kevin Bacon is in there as threatening Nixon aide Jack Brennan. (Dec. 5, Universal)
Call it the other Kate Winslet movie! So far, The Reader has generated more ink for the infighting between Harvey Weinstein and producer Scott Rudin (who eventually took his name off the film). But do not count this one out. David Hare adapted the best-selling novel (Oprah-pick!) by Bernhard Schlink about a teenager (played by David Kross, and Ralph Fiennes as an adult) who has an affair with an older woman (Winslet) in post WWII Germany. Ten years later, it turns out the woman is a defendant on trial for Nazi crimes. Yikes! The film’s promotional department tells us: “Behind the mystery lies a truth … that will make you question everything you know.” Duly noted. (Dec. 10, the Weinstein Company)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
David Fincher takes on quite a different kind of subject matter in this one (no severed heads, we think), loosely adapted by Eric Roth from the short story written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1922. It tells the story of a man who ages backward (and not in the Hollywood lady kind of way). We absolutely loved Mr. Fincher’s Zodiac from last year, and have also come to grips with the fact that we think Brad Pitt is actually very talented. Though the idea of two people falling in love and only being able to meet—age wise—in the middle before sliding past each other makes us feel sad already. (Dec. 25, Paramount/Warner Brothers)
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