Forgive me, but I really don't care what Oliver Stone has to say on the subject of Alexander the Great, and I'm not interested in watching Nicolas Cage unearth any kind of National Treasure. Yet I'm inordinately excited to see The Spongebob Squarepants Movie. Such is my reality. With few dollars to spend on theatrical films these days, and even fewer opportunities to make it out of the house even if I was stinking rich, I've got to be choosy. And it says a lot about the state of American film (at least to me) that I'm willing to pass over work by an Oscar-winning director (who, I admit, has never made films, other than Salvador and Nixon, that I admired) or starring an Oscar-winning actor who at one time, before he got the Bruckheimer Jones, was considered one of the best and most original of his generation... in favor of a big screen adaptation of a TV cartoon about a chatty, fast-food addicted loofa.
There are plenty of titles in 2004 that I missed on the big screen that I'm hoping to catch up to on DVD, such as I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (still on schedule for tonight, after my oldest finishes her screening of The Secret of NIMH and heads to bed), Control Room, Gozu, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, The Hunting of the President, Ju-On, The Story of the Weeping Camel, The Ramones: End of the Century and, it seems, Team America: World Police, Tarnation, Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession and Beat Takeshi's Dolls.
As for what lies ahead, there seems to be less of interest coming to a theater near me than usual this holiday season, which is a development that, come to think of it, meshes rather well with my newly restricted multiplex diet. But the next month or so is not entirely without its promises...
THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU I have (unreasonably?) high hopes for the new Wes Anderson film based on its refreshingly dry trailer and because I'd see just about anything that features Bill Murray front and center (well, not Garfield: The Movie).
BRIGHT FUTURE New ways to get thoroughly unnerved, courtesy of Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Cure). It's something to do with a two guys and a jellyfish, and the less I know about it going in the better.
SIDEWAYS Election is one of the best films of the '90s. Can Alexander Payne's new film come close to it? Paul Giamatti and Sandra Oh are two good reasons to seek out stadium seating anyway, but Virginia Madsen's getting the kind of attention that might signal a full-on career revival.
THE AVIATOR Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow? I'm there!
BAD EDUCATION This is the kind of complex filmmaking for adults that seems increasingly rare, but seems second nature for Pedro Almodovar. If he continues the streak started by Live Flesh and extended by All About My Mother and Talk to Her, Almodovar may be ready to move into the master class.
HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS Superstar-in-waiting Ziyi Zhang headlines the second martial arts epic of the year from Zhang Yimou (she had a much smaller role in the director's Hero, made in 2002 but only released here this past August). She could be the Ginger Rogers of a new wave of fight-choreography-as-dance masterpieces.
OCEAN'S TWELVE Redundant? Perhaps. Unnecessary? Almost guaranteed. Steven Soderbergh could get the worst reviews of his career for this sequel to his own spiky remake of the Rat Pack original, and I'd still go see it before I went anywhere near Christmas with the Kranks.
MILLION DOLLAR BABY David Poland at TheHotButton.com has got me really excited about this one. So soon after Mystic River, to hear such effusive advance praise for another Clint Eastwood movie is cause for elevated expectations, indeed.
NOTRE MUSIQUE New Godard. If it plays in Los Angeles longer than a week, I've got a shot.
I'm also intrigued by Closer, Ray, Kinsey, Enduring Love, A Very Long Engagement, I Am David, The Assassination of Richard Nixon and In Good Company, but if I have to choose (and I will have to choose), these titles definitely comprise the second tier.
So, here we go, enthusiasm in check, into the first Christmas season in three years with no astonishments from Peter Jackson to look forward to-- Hey, wait! The extended version (50 added minutes) of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King comes to DVD on December 14. By God, all of the sudden I am pretty excited for the holiday movie season!