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September 13, 2005

Fall movie preview: giant gorillas and Johnny Cash

Well, summer's over, which means two things: School is starting again, and Oscar season is almost upon us. From now through the end of the calendar year, expect the usual big hype about big stars on the big screen. It's foolish to start the predictions so early in the year, but I'll admit that there are a few films I'm terribly excited about.

First things first. If you haven't already seen Proof, go catch it before the theaters stop showing it. Not only was the film adapted from a Pulitzer Prize-winning play written by a U of C alum, but it was also shot here on campus last summer. Giving David Auburn's play a quick read-through is definitely a must as well.

There are some movies that will be watched regardless of my recommendation—the new Harry Potter flick, for instance, and the long-awaited film adaptation of Rent—so a passing mention will be enough. But if magicians hitting puberty isn't quite your kind of film, fear not, for Oscar season has much more to offer.

To start off, Roman Polanski's version of Oliver Twist hits theaters on September 30. The original Dickens novel was pretty bleak, and Polanski attempts to remake it into a family film by employing the charms of Barney Clark as the doe-eyed Oliver and Harry Eden as the Artful Dodger. Ben Kingsley also stars as Fagin, the miserly old thief who trains young boys to pickpocket. All the parts are there—appropriate orchestral score, grimy yet lovable deviants, an elaborate setting—so all that remains to be seen is whether Polanski can provide the sparkles and kittens necessary to make his film a more lighthearted journey.

The second of three Jake Gyllenhaal films mentioned in this article, Jarhead (also starring Peter Sarsgaard and Jamie Foxx) is based on Anthony Swofford's gritty account of being a new Marine sent to fight in the Gulf War. Instead of focusing on dramatics, Jarhead reveals true details of life on the front line—sense of humor had to be as dry as the sand and personal reflection as stinging as the hot desert wind. Sam Mendes, who previously won an Oscar for directing American Beauty, might prove again that angst not only sells, but also rakes in trophies.

Walk the Line, James Mangold's biopic about the one and only Johnny Cash, has been hailed as an early Oscar contender, and all the clips and trailers seem to indicate the same. Joaquin Phoenix takes on the Man in Black and Reese Witherspoon revisits her natural Southern twang as June, Cash's wife. The film explores his troubles as well as the prolonged love story between Johnny and June, and the kicker is that both Phoenix and Witherspoon do their own singing in the film. Due out on November 18, this is probably one of the most anticipated films of the year, and if Mangold can retain his ability to captured a toubled soul on film, as he did in Girl, Interrupted, then Walk the Line will be well worth the four-year struggle it took for him to secure the rights to the film.

Based off the highly acclaimed debut novel by Myla Goldberg, Bee Season, out on November 11, explores how a Eliza Naumann's unexpected success in a school spelling bee disturbs the tricky, delicate dynamics of her family. Her father (Richard Gere) is deeply entrenched in Jewish mysticism, her mother (Juliette Binoche) is consumed by her career and harbors surprising neuroses, and her brother (Max Minghella) must cope with the fact that he is no longer the only talented child in the family anymore—what's a girl to do?

The Chicago Lesbian and Gay Film Festival may take place in November, but Brokeback Mountain, the movie every faghag and her friends are looking forward to, won't be out until December 9, just in time for the end of fall quarter. Director Ang Lee was famous for reintroducing American movie-goers to martial arts in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but can he redefine "action sequence?" In any case, the film can't be much worse than Annie Proulx's prose was in the original short story, and come on, the idea of Jake Gyllenhaal (the boy is pretty popular these days) and Heath Ledger making out is reason enough to fork over the cash for a movie ticket.

Also due to be released on December 9 is Memoirs of a Geisha, a tale about a woman's life among the most intriguing fold of Japanese society. It is directed by an American (Rob Marshall, best known for Chicago), and features Chinese starlet Zhang Ziyi in the title role of Sayuri, which should be slightly annoying, but if Marshall can bring Arthur Golden's lushly descriptive novel to life and unveil some of the little-known truths about the professional female entertainers of Japan, then hell, I'm sold. Expect lots of pillowing sakura petals and a long montage of face paint being applied to Zhang's ingenue features.

Looking to take the techincal categories by storm, Peter Jackson's much-anticipated remake of King Kong hits theaters on December 14. What can I say about this movie other than the fact that I've been watching the trailer online obsessively? Seriously, though, this classic adventure about a filmmaker whose cast and crew come up against dinosaurs and an oversized gorilla is about to get even more epic, thanks to Jackson's trusty WETA Digital company. And despite Naomi Watts, Adrien Brody, and Jack Black being listed among the leading cast, the performance I'm most excited about is that of Andy Serkis—remember how frightening Gollum was? Well, you have Serkis to thank for that—as the mythical beast himself.