Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

For my preview of 2006 this year, things are gonna seem kind of funny, seeing as though most of the films I mention- even in my Top 10- don’t have release dates set in stone yet. And many of the films that do have release dates were, oddly enough, slated for 2005 at one point. No matter- it just makes the coming year all that more fascinating for viewers. No type of film is left out, be they in a different language, animated, non-fiction, controversial, or just plain quirky. In 2006, one thing’s for certain- we’ll see plenty of variety coming out of Hollywood. However much of it is any good, though, we’ll have to just see for ourselves.

Brian’s 10 “Must-See” Movies of 2006
1. “Apocolypto” (Summer 2006)- So…Harry Knowles got a sneak peek of this at his annual Butt-Num-a-Thon, eh? Lucky SOB. Actually, the entire world got one not long after in a must-see trailer. What is this exactly, you’re asking? It’s Mel Gibson’s next film as a director, and the man has gotten none the less ambitious since his powerful 2004 epic “The Passion of the Christ.” Little is known about the film- currently shooting in Mexico- save for that it’s an action epic taking place in the 15th Century prior to the Spanish conquest of Mexico and Central America in the 16th Century, the cast will be comprised of unknowns, the film will contain dialogue completely in the Mayan language, and it is the summer action tentpole film of Disney, who has signed on to release the film. All involved might be crazy, but after he sheepherded “Christ” to $600 million worldwide amid some of the most polarizing criticism in the history of cinema- and don’t forget that this is the Oscar-winning director of “Braveheart” at work- I can’t imagine wanting to see another movie more next year.

2. “Cars” (6/9)- No filmmakers have had a more impressive box-office and critical run than Pixar has had since its’ 1995 landmark “Toy Story” (see “A Bug’s Life,” “Toy Story 2,” “Monsters Inc.,” “Finding Nemo,” and “The Incredibles,” the latter two of which won the Best Animated Feature Oscar). Kudos to Disney for extending their relationship with the company by buying it and putting their people in charge of all things animation, ’cause despite what some people think, “Cars” looks like another blockbuster. That this one looks more like the loopy comedy of “A Bug’s Life” than Pixar’s deeper blends of funny and feeling (“Nemo,” “Toy Story 2”) is not surprising then you look at the premise- cars that can talk. This should really be a car worth taking for a test drive around the block when you watch the film’s not-giving-anything-away trailers and take a closer look at the talent involved. The cast includes race-car aficionado Paul Newman, Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Bob Costas, and real-life racers Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip; the writer-director is none other than Pixar grand poobah John Lassetter, back in the driver’s seat for the first time since “Toy Story 2”; and the composer is once again Randy Newman, who after four wonderful efforts for the studio (and finally winning an Oscar) is back after two films (his cousin Thomas scored “Nemo”; “Alias” composer Michael Giacchino did “The Incredibles”) with the only American animation studio worthy of your undivided attention.

3. “Sicko” (N/A)- Though no release date has been made yet, I’d expect this around Election Day next year. What is it? The latest documentary from love-him-or-hate-him rabblerouser Michael Moore (his last two- 2002’s Oscar-winning “Bowling for Columbine” and 2004’s “Fahrenheit 9/11”- landed on my 10 Best lists those years), and this time his aim is at health insurance in America. Really, is there any more to say about it? Just that so long as Moore continues to stir the emotions of Americans on both sides with vicious wit and compassionate heart in his quest to make this country a better place (which he’s already done with four films- including 1989’s “Roger & Me” and 1998’s “The Big One”- that stand as testaments to the First Admendment’s allowing of Freedom of Expression), he’s my go-to guy for social and political commentary.

4. “A Scanner Darkly” (7/7)- This was a film originally intended for 2005, but production issues kept it from being released. What’s the hold-up? Well, “Scanner Darkly” is the latest visionary animated feature from director Richard Linklater (who followed up the great trio of “Waking Life,” “School of Rock” and “Before Sunset” with the greatly disappointing “Bad News Bears”), who based this movie on a story by the celebrated Philip K. Dick (whose work has inspired everything from “Blade Runner” to “Minority Report”) about a future world where nothing is what it seems (sorry, I’m not too familiar with the story). The cast is an intriguing blend of star power- provided by Keanu Reeves, who seems at his best in this type of unique noir story (see “Constantine” and the first “Matrix”)- and indie rebels- including Robert Downey Jr., Winona Ryder, and Woody Harrelson- and the visual style- not unlike what Linklater did with his profound and groundbreaking “Waking Life” (which he shot digitally, then painted over with animators)- looks like a breath of fresh air compared to the sometimes-sterile visual grammer we get from most genre thrillers nowadays. If you can, get your hands on the trailer, and you’ll see why it rates such excitement.

5. “The Departed” (August 2006)- Normally a remake of a cult hit foreign film- in this case, the Hong Kong thriller “Infernal Affairs”- wouldn’t rate so high on a list of movies to see for a year, but what till you hear about it. The story is an intriguing one- a Boston cop is undercover in a local mob family, who also has one of their people undercover in the Boston Police Department. Interesting enough, right? Wait till you check out the talent involved. The script is by William Monohan, whose literate script for “Kingdom of Heaven” was one of the year’s most underrated. The score is to be by Howard Shore, who will no doubt draw upon his years of experience with dark, psychological character studies with such directors as David Cronenberg and David Fincher to deliver a score as dense and full of dramatic color as he has for “A History of Violence,” “Spider,” and “Se7en.” The cast includes three of the best actors working today; Leonardo DiCaprio is the BPD officer working undercover, Matt Damon is the mob guy under the noses of the BPD, and Jack Nicholson is the mob boss at the center of the story. So why is this so high? The director is none other than Martin Scorsese, the film geek-turned-master director whose films on mafia life- from “GoodFellas” to “Mean Streets” to “Gangs of New York”- have become the gold standard everyone holds other films up to. That he found one more angle to explore the subject on- and with his current favorite actor (it’s his third straight collaboration with DiCaprio)- means this embattled director (“Gangs of New York” drained him, “The Aviator” was another Oscar disappointment) still has a keen eye for mining new territory in the subject he’s explored for 30 years now. I can’t wait to see this one.

6. “World Trade Center” (8/11)- In the year of the 5th anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, mainstream Hollywood is finally tackling the subject. Too soon? Perhaps, but it’s happening, so we now have a choice to make- do we give in? That’s for each one of us to decide. Personally, Universal’s “Flight 93” (4/28)- from “The Bourne Supremacy’s” Paul Greengrass (about the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania)- seems too risky a venture (since no one is quite clear what happened) to look forward to much, and the jury’s still out on the rumored 9/11 film from Sony starring Don Cheadle and- yes- Adam Sandler, but against perhaps my better judgement, “World Trade Center” has peaked my interest. Not only does the story- about two real-life Port Authority police officers who became trapped in the rubble of the Twin Towers- seem to be the most fitting way to approach the subject head-on, but the people bringing it to the screen are intriguing. In front of the camera are Nicolas Cage (who hit a new career peak in “The Weather Man”) and Michael Pena (one of the highlights of the “Crash” cast) as the trapped officers, with Mario Bello (“A History of Violence”) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (“Mona Lisa Smile”) as their wives; behind the camera is director Oliver Stone, the politically-charged filmmaker whose last controversial film- “Alexander”- was a commercial flop as well as an artistic misfire. But unlike previous films (including his masterpiece, 1991’s “JFK”), Stone has found a personal story that looks to go against the type of broad historical context that could bring the painful tragedy to audiences in a profoundly emotional and- dare I say it?- non-partisan way that harkens back to “Platoon” and the unseen-by-me “Born on the Fourth of July.” If Stone can keep touchy politics out of this film and capture the dramatic pull of the story- which wouldn’t seem to need it, he may find himself the front-runner for his third Academy Award.

7. “The Passion of the Clerks” (August 2006)- Call it the Kevin Smith Desparation Flick. Look, I enjoyed “Clerks” (after hating it the 1st time), Smith’s foul-mouthed, low-budget black-and-white breakout film from 1994 about a day in the lives of two slacker retail clerks in New Jersey. But a sequel? OK, I have an irrational love for the short-lived (six episodes) of the animated “Clerks” TV show (I’m still waiting on the movie, by the way), but another movie? Well, leave it to Smith to pull a surprise out of his ass for this one and take a page from Richard Linklater’s playbook. Like Linklater did with “Before Sunrise” and its’ wonderful nine-years-removed sequel “Before Sunset,” Smith isn’t doing some crass rehash with new characters, he’s returning to Dante and Randall and exploring the cause-and-effect of being a clerk in their 30s, and the further arrested development that can come from it. If he pulls the idea off as well as Linklater did, Smith has another breakout- actually, more like a rebirth- waiting for him. And spoofing “The Passion of the Christ” with the title and teaser trailer that was online? Comic genius Kev.

8. “Alice” (October 2006)- This is a film where I’m probably getting my hopes up about it just on the premise- and its’ possibilities- alone. Of course, the star- “Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s” Sarah Michelle Gellar- doesn’t hurt, either. Based on the video game by American McGee, which is subsequently based on the story/novels by “Alice in Wonderland’s” Lewis Carroll (yes, THAT Alice), Gellar plays Alice as a young woman, disturbed and mourning the death of her parents, who wanders back through the rabbit hole into the land of talking animals and the wicked Queen of Hearts. (Summary paraphrased from IMDB.) Categorized as an action/horror/fantasy- which would play to Gellar’s “Buffy” strengths- and directed by Marcus Nispel (who directed that dreadful “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake back in 2003; hopefully that movie’s awfulness was more from producer Michael Bay than him), I’m probably hoping for way too much out of this story- which would have the possibility to blindside people as a meditation of loss and rediscovering your youth if handled with the right amount of maturity (see, probably hoping for way too much from this; this isn’t Steven Spielberg, Joss Whedon, or Alex Proyas directing afterall) just based on that story outline alone. Regardless, Gellar is one of my favorite actresses, and even if the film is nothing more than a genre entry, it’s sure to be a fascinating one.

9. “Southland Tales” (N/A)- This is another one with Sarah Michelle Gellar (she has five coming out this year), except this is an ensemble piece for her. That ensemble includes The Rock, Seann William Scott (“American Pie”), Miranda Richardson (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”), Kevin Smith (see #7), Bai Ling (“The Crow”), Janeane Garafalo (“The Truth About Cats & Dogs”), Jon Lovitz, and Justin Timberlake (didn’t know about that last one until today; is it too late to take this off my Top 10?). And did I mention she plays a porn star? (I wouldn’t expect much graphic action, though.) What kind of film has Gellar playing that role next to a cast like that (and Moby doing the music…OK, it’s Top 10 worthy again)? The kind that’s set in 2008 Los Angeles during a three-day heatwave leading up to a big Fourth of July party…and is categorized as a comedy/thriller/science fiction film. Who would come up with something like this? That would be Richard Kelly, the writer-director who made a big splash a few years back with the moody cult hit “Donnie Darko” (which I just thought was good, not great) that made him a talent on the rise and broke out Jake Ghyllenhaal. Will he suffer the sophomore slump, or be the next Tarantino? We’ll see whenever the Hell this comes out this year.

10. “The Fountain” (N/A)- OK, so let’s try this again, shall we? Still without a release date (there’s a lot of that going on this year, as you can see), you may recall- if you’re a long-time reader- that I put this in a slot on my Fall 2005 “Must-See” list when it appeared in a Fall Movie Preview Guide (for your info, it was Premiere). Well, Fall came and went and still no sign of the latest piece of surreal, artful cinema from visionary writer-director Darren Aronofsky (“Pi”), his first film since 2000’s “Requiem for a Dream.” Long in development (actors like Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett have been attached in its’ history), “Fountain” tells an epic story of a man who travels through time- the story spans 1000 years- to try and rescue his soulmate. As the plot outline on IMDB says, it is “a story of love, death, spirituality, and the fragility of our existence in this world.” That Warner Bros. is putting this story in the hands of a director of indie innovator is encouraging enough (I can’t wait to hear the score by Aronofsky’s composer Clint Mansell); that- with an admittedly modest $40 million budget- they would let him cast actors Hugh Jackman (who hasn’t had a hit outside of the “X-Men” films) and wife Rachel Weisz (an Oscar front-runner for “The Constant Gardener”) in the leads as opposed to big stars is even more so. Could we be watching another “Matrix” like cult hit? For those who know my opinion on that overblown phenomenon, you know I’m hoping for something greater.

Other films to look forward to: “Why We Fight” (1/20), a popular doc from last year’s Sundance Film Festival about American foreign policy; “For Your Consideration” (9/22),  the latest mockumentary from Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy after “Waiting For Guffman,” “Best in Show,” and “A Mighty Wind”; “Youth Without Youth” (N/A), the first film for writer-director Francis Ford Coppola since 1997’s “The Rainmaker,” is a pre-WWII drama with Tim Roth and Bruno Ganz; “V for Vendetta” (3/17), a promising thriller adapted from Alan Moore’s graphic novel about a futuristic world gripped by terror and dictatorship starring Natalie Portman and written by “The Matrix’s” Wachowski Brothers; “Lady Vengeance” (5/5), the third film in gifted Korean director Chan Wook Park’s revenge trilogy (after the startling “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” and “Oldboy”); “The Da Vinci Code” (5/19), with director Ron Howard and actors Tom Hanks, Ian McKellen, and Audrey Tautou bringing the controversial and phenomenally-successful best-seller to the big screen; “This Film is Not Yet Rated” (Fall 2006), a documentary on the movie ratings system- ironically rated NC-17- produced by the Independent Film Channel which will play at Sundance before it’s shown on the channel; “Inland Empire” (N/A), the latest twisty mystery from mind-bending auteur David Lynch (“Mulholland Dr.”) starring “Wild at Heart’s” Laura Dern; “16 Blocks (3/3), a promising action thriller from director Richard Donner (“Lethal Weapon,” “Superman”) starring Bruce Willis and Mos Def; “Night Watch” (2/17), a good-looking horror epic- the first of three- from Russia; “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World” (1/20), a timely comedy from all-time great writer-director-actor Albert Brooks (Marlin from “Finding Nemo”); “Inside Man” (3/24), a promising film about a bank robbery face off from director Spike Lee starring Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, and Jodie Foster; “American Dreamz” (4/21), a promising comedy about modern American culture with Dennis Quaid, Hugh Grant, Mandy Moore directed by Chris Weitz (“About a Boy,” “In Good Company”); “Bubble” (1/27), the first of a series of low-budget experiments both in filmmaking and distribution from director Steven Soderbergh (“Ocean’s Eleven”); “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (7/7), the first of two forthcoming sequels to 2003’s suprise smash with Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, and director Gore Verbinski hitting the high seas once again; “Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction” (3/31), a perhaps unnecessary- but nonetheless intriguing- sequel to the hit 1992 erotic thriller with Sharon Stone returning to the role that made her a star; “Superman Returns” (6/30), the rejuvination of the revered DC Comic superhero with the creative team of “X-Men 2”- including director Bryan Singer and composer John Ottman- behind the camera, and unknown Brandon Routh (as Clark Kent), Kate Bosworth (as Lois Lane), and Kevin Spacey (inspired casting as Lex Luthor) in front of it; “Firewall” (2/10), a hopeful return-to-form thriller for Harrison Ford also starring Paul Bettany and Virginia Madsen; “X-Men 3” (5/26), the third film in the so-far terrific Marvel comic book adaptation, this time with “Red Dragon” and “Rush Hour’s” Brett Ratner directing instead of Bryan Singer (hence why it’s so far down); “Miami Vice” (7/28), with “Collateral” and “Heat” director Michael Mann bringing his popular ’80s TV show to the big screen with Colin Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, and Gong Li; “Lady in the Water” (7/21), the latest supernatural drama from writer-director M. Night Shyamalan (“Signs,” “The Sixth Sense”), starring Paul Giamatti; and “Sin City 2” (8/18), the second series of noir graphic novels adapted  by rebel multitasker Robert Rodriguez and “City” creator Frank Miller. Also, keep an eye out for three intriguing projects that haven’t had much word on them yet, but are Top 10 worthy if they come out this coming year-“Goners”, a supernatural thriller written by Joss Whedon (“Serenity,” “Wonder Woman”) and set up at Universal, “Knowing”, a time-travel thriller to be directed by Alex Proyas (“Dark City,” “I, Robot”) for Sony that was announced some time ago, and “Lovers, Liars and Lunatics”, the latest writing/directing/acting project and comedy from my girl, “Buffy’s” Amber Benson (“Chance”).

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