Just as the leaves on the trees start to change their colors, the tone and temperament of the movies being offered change radically between summer and fall.
The five films picked by PopMatters as must see this month are all flashy, high profile pieces with big names, and even bigger ideas, behind their creation. In fact, in what is becoming a kind of yearly rivalry ritual, both Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood are presenting their latest Oscar bait to eager audiences, while Brad Pitt, Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale and that scandalous Truman Capote are at it again. Speaking of the In Cold Blood scribe, writer/director Douglas McGrath was working on his fictionalized meeting between the author and the notorious Dick and Perry before Bennett Miller and Philip Seymour Hoffman realized their version of the story. Now, a year after Capote walked away with the critical kudos, McGrath wants his chance. Bringing along the near-Truman twin Toby Jones, and a higher profile cast, Infamous (13 October) promises to explore the taboos along with the truth that makes the story behind literature's most well-known 'non fiction novel'. Similarly, Eastwood wants to take another symbol stuck in time -- the raising of the American flag on the island of Iwo Jima during the final days of World War II -- and present it from two very distinctly different angles. Flag of Our Fathers (20 October) will approach the event from the Allies/Americans side. Letter from Iwo Jima, showing the Japanese side of the situation, is rumored to be arriving in December. With no firm date yet set, all we have is this evocative first film to contend with. Again, the trailer looks incredible.
Flag of Our Fathers -- Trailer
Speaking of an "Asian approach", Martin Scorsese was given the tricky task of reworking the beloved Hong Kong crime flick Infernal Affairs (2002) into one of his maverick New York stories. Boasting a crackerjack cast with notable surnames like DiCaprio, Nicholson, Baldwin, Wahlberg and Damon, The Departed's (6 October) tale of undercover officers and double crossing criminals could be the auteur's biggest box office hit to date. Whether such a financial windfall will add or detract from its Oscar worthiness is something filmgoers will have to wait and see. Similarly, The Prestige (20 October) promises a lot more than it may be willing to reveal. The preview has played all summer, and it looks to take magic and the individuals who create it into the world of science and the supernatural. You can't argue with the film's credentials -- Christopher Nolan of Memento (2000) and Batman Begins (2005) fame is forging this fascinating narrative from a novel by Christopher Priest, and has brought along a few familiar faces to help him realize his vision. Just the notion of Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as battling prestidigitators is enough to warrant attention. When you add in Michael Caine, Andy "Gollum" Serkis and David Bowie as Nikola Tesla, you definitely raise the expectations of the audience. Here's hoping Nolan delivers, and delivers big.
The Prestige -- Trailer
That is apparently NOT going to be a problem for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Cannes winning wonder, the creative and complex Babel. Telling several different stories surrounding a Western couple (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchet) and their tragic trip to Morrocco, Inarritu uses the cinematic mannerism he mastered in 21 Grams (2003) and Amores Perros (2000) to interweave several symbolic themes. Not only does the film deal with the obvious notion of communication -- thus the title -- but the way in which information is presented, and perverted, by the media and other similar sources. Advance word is red hot -- those lucky enough to see the film in France this past May have praised its power, its scope and its message. In a month overloaded with similar epic aspirations, Babel may be the only film out there that can meet them... and perhaps, even surpass them.
Babel -- Trailer
Sex, slaughter and scissors form the facets of three of the second tier releases riding cinematic shotgun in October. John Cameron Mitchell's follow-up to his cult rock romp Hedwig and the Angry Inch couldn't be more different. Anyone whose overheard that the writer/director intended to make a movie about sex featuring actors and actresses really "performing" on film need look no further than the International trailer that hit the 'Net last week. Between the copious amounts of nudity and the blink and you'll miss it moments of hardcore, Shortbus's (4 October) arcane combination of emotion and erotica threatens to be an epiphany, or an embarrassment. That's almost how fans of Tobe Hopper's original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) felt when a Michael Bay produced remake was announced. One stellar 2005 redux later, and we're back for a second serving of Leatherface-based splatter. Subtitled The Beginning (4 October), this prequel proposes to explain how the skin wrapped killer found his fondness for power tools. Perhaps it turns out to be all some nutty psychiatrist's fault. That's the premise behind Augusten Burroughs infamous memoir, now a major motion picture, Running with Scissors (27 October). While some have suggested that this could be just another Wes Anderson-style visit to Eccentri-City, the present hype proffers it as a sly adult comedy with a wonderful balance between the goofball and gravitas.
Running with Scissors -- Trailer
Marie Antoinette (20 October) supposedly suffers from the same split personality. Writer/director Sophia Coppola's controversial look at the court of Versailles prior to the French Revolution was resoundingly booed at Cannes by those whose history she was hijacking, yet it's hard to read anything substantial into such a reaction. It could just be some surly cultural jealousy, or a reaction to having an American handling a key character from one's own onerous history. Whatever the situation, Coppola is convinced her OC style take on an immature monarchy will resonate with the all-important adolescent audience. Besides, if she's right, and the movie is a hit, no one will care about those callous catcalls. Last but certainly not least, Todd Fields mixes suburbia with its most feared factual circumstances -- the arrival of a paroled pedophile to the neighborhood -- to create Little Children (6 October), a seemingly perfect post-modern morality play. The typical disconnect and angst turns to distrust and anger once the serenity of the setting is threatened by the stigma of sexual crimes, and soon the characters' true selves begin to emerge. The trailer is a gorgeous meditation on the stifling sameness of maturity and responsibility. Of all the titles talked about, this could be the season's big sleeper.
Little Children -- Trailer
With his recent journey to rehab for lingering substance abuse issues, some could jokingly argue that we've finally found a reason for why Robin Williams apparently agrees to appear in every script that's sent to him. Man of the Year (13 October) looks no different. Though it has the waning talents of Barry Levinson behind it, this man of the people political comedy looks like its ready for a recall. The Marine (13 October) marks Vince McMahon and the WWE's second venture into cinematic entertainment. Though the preview for this action flick is frighteningly flashy, this could be an excellent slice of vigilante cheese. The same goes for DOA: Dead or Alive (20 October). Based on the infamous videogame featuring ass kicking supermodel types in bikinis, this one has a chance, especially with hormonally charged teenage boys. Besides, fight flick vet Corey Yuen (The Transporter) is behind the camera, so at least the clashes will be classic. Creative violence will definitely have to be Saw III's (27 October) saving grace. After the novelty of the first film's puzzle box plotting, all the series really has left are its cruel, inventive killings.
Man of the Year -- Trailer
Back when the original Grudge (2004) took a bite out of the box office, the idea of a spooky black-haired female ghost was already old hat. Now, thanks to the proliferation of the image via numerous J-horror vehicles, it's become a creaky cliché. So what does Hollywood do? Determine that a sequel to the Sarah Michelle Gellar hit is warranted. But at least The Grudge 2 (13 Oct) has the Ju-On pedigree to trade on. Employee of the Month (6 October) strands us with acting voids Jessica Simpson, Dane Cook and Dax Shepard as a pair of stoner slackers and the supposed 'hottie' who will date whomever takes the title... title. Talk about learning to hate your job.
Employee of the Month -- Trailer