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Fall Finally Delivers Movies Worthy Of Praise And Critical Discussion

Heights Staff

Published: Sunday, September 9, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

According to conventional wisdom, the Hollywood movie year is easily divided into thirds. The period from January to April is the dumping ground for generic romantic comedies and cheap genre movies that can be produced inexpensively, make a small profit, and are soon relegated to the bargain DVD bins at Target. During the busy summer months, the studios bring us gargantuan moneymakers like The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers. Finally, the period from September to Christmas is a long march to Oscar night, as theaters become crowded with literary adaptations, biopics, and politically topical films all vying for Oscar gold—plus a few summer-style blockbusters for good measure.

By the looks of it, this fall movie season seems poised to hit all of the usual notes. There’s a new adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic Anna Karenina, brought to us by director Joe Wright and actress Keira Knightley, who previously collaborated on Pride & Prejudice and Atonement. In Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis plays America’s greatest president during the waning days of the Civil War. Kathryn Bigelow, fresh off her 2009 Best Director win for The Hurt Locker, is back with another politically-charged thriller: Zero Dark Thirty, the story of the Navy SEALS team that assassinated Osama bin Laden. As for the blockbuster contingent, look no further than Daniel Craig’s third outing as James Bond in Skyfall and Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

The talent behind this slate of films is undeniable, and each of these films holds great promise—but I’m more intrigued by the season’s riskier propositions. Take, for instance, the upcoming drama The Master. The film’s advertising has been daringly enigmatic, relying on cryptic voiceovers and ominous music without revealing much of the plot. Director Paul Thomas Anderson has acknowledged that the movie is inspired by the life of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, but early reviews suggest it is more concerned with the character played by Joaquin Phoenix, a psychologically scarred WWII veteran whom “the Master” takes under his wing. In any case, expectations are high after Anderson’s last movie, the highly acclaimed There Will Be Blood. In that film, Anderson combined a compelling, focused character study with an epic historical background to create a convincing portrait of American greed. The Master seems to be going for something similar, although this time with a focus on the power of cults and the postwar American experience. Featuring the talents of Anderson, Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and a score by Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood, here’s hoping it delivers.

Another movie I’m highly anticipating based on the director’s past work is Seven Psychopaths, opening October 12. Martin McDonagh is not a household name, but his 2008 debut, In Bruges, was a unique blend of buddy comedy, Tarantino-style violence, and existential drama. Seven Psychopaths stars Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, and Tom Waits in what appears to be a violent black comedy involving the kidnapping of a neurotic gangster’s Shih Tzu. If In Bruges was any indication, this outlandish premise will be milked for all it’s worth: politically incorrect laughs, unpredictable narrative twists, and rich, witty dialogue.

In terms of sheer ambition, the movie to beat this season is Cloud Atlas. Based on an award-winning 2004 novel by David Mitchell, the movie interweaves six storylines, ranging from an 1850 ocean voyage to a post-apocalyptic dystopia. Judging from the movie’s nearly six-minute trailer, it’s unclear how all this fits together, though the movie does offer some continuity by having its cast—including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, and Hugh Grant—play multiple roles across the different segments. The movie’s tagline is “Everything is Connected,” and I’m eager to see how. I’m also curious about the directing team, which consists of the Wachowski siblings (of The Matrix and Speed Racer) and Tom Tykwer, a German director best known for his art house hit Run Lola Run. Will Cloud Atlas manage to integrate so many disparate plot threads and stylistic influences, or will it collapse under the weight of its ambitions? Only time will tell, but it’s refreshing to see a big budget Hollywood film explore such risky territory.

Even with all these films to look forward to, though, it’s always conceivable that the season’s highlight will come out of nowhere. A year ago, Drive looked like a generic action movie, Hugo seemed like a dubious project for Martin Scorsese, and no one was talking about Take Shelter. Yet these three very different movies all became personal highlights of 2011. Ultimately, then, what I’m most looking forward to this fall is not a particular film, but something more abstract: the element of surprise.

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