Fall Movies — Three Movies to Watch for

By Kevin Brent

It’s not that the summer films of 2000 didn’t arrive with promise. All the proven bases were seemingly covered, and the studios were in place to capitalize on the record breaking summer of 1999. All was moving along swimmingly until the box office opened, the seats filled up, and the American public realized they had seen it all before. Everything echoed of places previously traveled, and very quickly we decided we’d rather not venture there again.

The Nutty Professor II just wasn’t quite nutty enough. The Patriot could’ve been Braveheart with a few costume changes, some new accents, and a few acres of good ole American soil. X-Men was maybe three superhero flicks too late. The Cell capitalized on maybe the best ad campaign in recent memory to cover up a movie so mind-numbingly awful, so comically devoid of substance that it should have been billed as a farce, set in the Bayou and starred Adam Sandler. At least then we could rejoice in the well-publicized torture scenes.

With success came fleeting attention, as Scary Movie and What Lies Beneath did damage to the box office but were unable to leave the indelible kind of mark Blair Witch Hunt and The Sixth Sense did. Nothing really stood out. Nothing really set itself apart. And without a question, nothing came close to raising the bar. With award time nearing, however, we can turn our attention toward the so called “gems” the studios have been saving. Let’s just hope none of them feature a dysfunctional suburban family, with a central character prone to exclaiming “I Rule!”

Winning the Grand Prize Award at Cannes is sort of like being named the best team in the nation by Sports Illustrated. It’s either the blessing of prosperity or the kiss of death. With Fine Line’s new release, “Dancer in the Dark”, its looking a bit like the latter. Not only is the picture dark and depressing, but it features extended musical numbers headed by an eclectic Icelandic musician. Starring Bjork in her first full length feature and directed by Lars Von Trier (of 1996’s Breaking the Waves, also an auspicious Grand Prize winner), the film first aroused attention due to the volatile nature of the relationship between Trier and his first time leading actress. Apparently on-going power struggles over musical content, specifically the editing of Bjork’s arrangements, led to Bjork penning a manifesto to be adhered to or else. Trier agreed, only later learning a major portion of his control in the picture was compromised. Currently, the two are not speaking and have no plans for reconciliation. So much for the petty gossip portion of the article. Dancer in the Dark is being both raved about and panned by critics and seems so art house directed that revenues (unless it can win the big Oscar) should be minimal at best.

The same cannot be said for Christopher Guest’s latest, “Best in Show”. There was no power struggle, no seething letters, no gooey ink for Liz Smith to scribble in her trite corner Times. For those not in the know, Guest is perhaps the greatest comedic filmmaker of our time, Woody Allen aside. From “Spinal Tap” to the unheralded “Waiting For Guffman”, Guest utilizes improvisational acting shot within the framework of a standard documentary to create what comes across as real life comedy. It’s a technique many predicted would never succeed. Maybe that is why Guest feels so comfortable within it. This time, he brings us into the world of competitive dog shows and those who stake their existence to their canines. “Show” stars his usual band of outcasts, from Parker Poesy to Eugene Levy. If there is one guarantee to be given this Fall, it is that “Show” will not disappoint. It should be so good, in fact, the public will soon be “hounding” Guest for more. Sorry, but somehow Guest just invites bad puns.

Finally, in the fine tradition of great American documentaries (?), the astoundingly successful “Blair Witch Project” prepares to unveil the second piece in its newly formed franchise. Titled “Book of Shadows”, Artesian Entertainment russles up a new group of suckers and sends them into the same old Maryland woods for more witchery and un-steady camera tom-foolery. Should be rebuffed by so-called Blair Witch “purists” while embraced by those dying for a teen horror bandwagon to leap upon. Either way you look at it, it’ll be interesting to see how a ten million dollar budget can spruce up a fairly average forest.

Other noteworthy and possibly award nominated features include “Cast Away”, re-uniting the “Forrest Gump” team of Tom Hanks and Director Robert Zemeckis, about the life of a man stranded on a desert island, “State and Main”, David Mamet’s latest exploring a doomed Hollywood production with a stellar ensemble cast, The Coen Brother’s latest, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, and “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas” starring Jim Carrey in the live action version of the classic children’s book.

Fall cinema is gearing up for a big rebound from the hot, fruitless months of summer. That is, if things go as planned. But on the unpredictable landscape of cinema, that is almost never the case.