Hollywood turns dramatic, talks Oscar for fall
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – After a summer when weary action flicks and television remakes failed to fire up movie fans, Hollywood hopes to turn things around this autumn with films that put new faces and the Oscar race in the spotlight.
The summer season ends this weekend and box office experts expect ticket sales to be down about 10 percent from last year’s record $3.9 billion as films like “Stealth,” “The Island” and to a lesser extent “Bewitched” failed to be big hits.
One refrain heard around Hollywood was that this summer’s films were just not good enough and that fans want originality rather than reruns.
The upcoming schedule features only two sequels officially designated as “part two” — thriller “Saw II” in October and family comedy “Cheaper by the Dozen 2″ in December — although titles like November’s ” Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” certainly qualify as follow-ons.
“Lords of the Rings” director Peter Jackson’s remake of a signature Hollywood film, “King Kong” opens in December and he promises a fresh take on the beauty and the beast classic.
As is typical of fall when teens head to school, the film industry goes light on the comic book action and kid comedy that fill the summer and focus more heavily on human dramas that appeal to older audiences.
October’s “The Weather Man” starring Nicolas Cage fits in the drama niche with a tale about a father in a mid-life crisis. It is funny, but the humor is dark. And, though its message is life affirming, it could make audiences uneasy.
“‘The Weatherman’ is like a mirror,” director Gore Verbinski told reporters. “You see yourself in it, and some people don’t like to look at themselves.
In September, Gwyneth Paltrow reprises her role in the award-winning play “Proof” as a woman caring for her mentally ill father played by Anthony Hopkins. Early buzz for the long-awaited film has Paltrow rehoning the acting skills that earned her a best actress Oscar for “Shakespeare in Love.”
Also in September, former “Lord of the Rings” king Viggo Mortensen is a small town husband who gets targeted by the mob in thriller “A History of Violence,” Nicolas Cage has “Lord of War” in which he plays an arms dealer with a moral conscience.
War and Middle East politics seem to be weighing on Hollywood’s mind with widely anticipated “Jarhead” hitting screens in early November followed later that month by “Syriana” and in December Steven Spielberg’s “Munich.”
“Jarhead” is based on Anthony Swofford’s best-selling book, and it details his days as a U.S. sniper in the 1991 Gulf War. Directed by Sam Mendes of Oscar-winning “American Beauty” fame, it stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx and Peter Sarsgaard.
Another Oscar winner, Stephen Gaghan who wrote drug dealing drama “Traffic,” gives audiences “Syriana,” which tells three disparate stories that revolve around oil and Arab politics. It stars George Clooney, Matt Damon and Amanda Peet.
For “Munich,” Spielberg re-visits the 1972 massacre of 11 Israeli athletes after they were taken hostage by Palestinians
during the Munich Olympics. Like the other two war films, it is high on this year’s award watchlist.
Several low-budget and independent films venture into the war and politics as well including “The War Within” about a Pakistani engineer turned terrorist. “Paradise Now” looks at two Palestinians recruited to be suicide bombers.
Director Tim Burton whose “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was one of this summer’s fresh surprises brings out a tale of tortured love in September with “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride.” It uses the stop-action puppetry — not computer generated animation — he employed in “Nightmare Before Christmas.”
“The technique reminds me more of an art form and less of a business in a sort of way,” Burton told Reuters.
OSCAR RACES, NEW FACES
Art, not commerce, is the key driving force in the Oscar race, and George Clooney’s October movie “Good Night and Good Luck,” a black-and-white film about newsman Edward R. Murrow and Sen. Joe McCarthy’s war on communism, figures prominently.
On September’s watchlist are “The Constant Gardner” and “Capote” with Philip Seymour Hoffman as the American writer. Must-see October titles are Cameron Crowe’s “Elizabethtown” and “Shopgirl,” based on the novel by comedian Steve Martin.
The Oscar race picks up in November with former 007 Pierce Brosnan in “The Matador,” Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in the Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line” and musical “Rent.”
December features the widely anticipated “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “All the Kings Men” and a film based on Mel Brooks popular Broadway musical “The Producers,” which in turn was based on Mel Brooks’ popular film.
The star-making machinery also uses awards season to launch new talent, and Hollywood is watching Sundance festival sensations such as writer/director Noah Baumbach and his “The Squid and the Whale” in October and actor Lou Pucci in September’s “Thumbsucker.”
Autumn is not only about serious dramas and Oscars. Hollywood has some fun, too. Big budget thrillers like “Flight Plan” with Jodie Foster, sci-fi adventure “Serenity,” Roman Polanski’s “Oliver Twist” and comedy “The Man” fill screens in September. October has animated “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” for kids, “In Her Shoes” for adults, and “The Fog” and “Saw II” for Halloween frights.
In November and December, Hollywood and its box office watchers have high hopes for movies like animated “Chicken Little,” the fourth “Harry Potter” movie and “The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” based on the beloved C.S. Lewis fantasy novel for children.
Hollywood turns dramatic, talks Oscar for fall