Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Upcoming Theatrical Releases: March 2009

One of my favorite parts of writing the Manifesto in years past was when I would break from Oscars’ analysis and look ahead to the upcoming summer season (or, as was the case in 2007, the entire year), attempting to forecast the hottest pending theatrical releases. Forgive my leanings toward divination, but there’s something exciting about gazing into the unknown. It’s not really about prognostication – I’m not interested in showcasing my predictive prowess regarding which films will be hits and which will be duds. It’s more about building anticipation. One of the marvelous things about movies is that you never know when you’ll next see a great one, and it’s fun to peer into the future and question just when and what that will be.

Of course, in the past, I could only perform this ritual of cinematic stargazing once a year, as the Manifesto was issued annually to coincide with the Oscars. Now, however, I’m the author of this fancy, ever-evolving blog and am no longer subject to the tyranny of that ceremony; in fact, I can write about whatever the fuck I want, whenever the fuck I want. It’s quite liberating, really.

As such, I’m proudly announcing the Manifesto’s bold new plan to publish a post detailing hot upcoming theatrical releases every month. This may not seem like a particularly ambitious goal, but anyone familiar with this writer’s legendary laziness should recognize it as a fearsome task for me. Still, I aim to follow through, and should I fail, I’m confident I’ll receive an outpouring of emails next month insistent on an April list. Without doubt.

Anyway, regarding the selection process for the following films, please note that I’m by no means using these lists as a platform to predict box office success; Disney’s Race to Witch Mountain may become a smash hit with family audiences, but I’m sure as hell not going to stump for it. Rather, I simply intend to discuss upcoming films that I’m excited to see for whatever reason, and in anticipating those features, I hope to spread some enthusiasm for them. As far as quantity goes, it will be dependent entirely on the month – March isn’t exactly a classical hotbed for cinematic greatness, so even coming up with seven anticipated releases was a bit of a stretch. Once the summer rolls around, however, I expect to have no trouble reaching double digits.

So there you have it. Here’s hoping this catches on and encourages some of my readers to head out to theatres should I mention a movie that catches their eye (don’t worry, I won’t be spoiling any plot details). And of course, if you have any additional thoughts on upcoming films that I might have missed (or any additional remarks on those mentioned), feel free to share them in the Comments. Here are the Manifesto’s most highly anticipated theatrical releases of March 2009:

7. Adventureland (March 27). Sure, it’s possible it’ll just be another moronic, run-of-the-mill “nerdy kid gets a lame job, romantic entanglements and cheeky shenanigans ensue” comedy. But look at the pedigree. The director is Greg Mottola, whose previous film was Superbad, which remains one of the funniest movies of the decade. The cast also has seasoning. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig provide support (somehow both of them have remained comedically fresh in spite of overexposure), and Kristen Stewart is emerging as an actress to watch – she somehow brought an element of pathos to her preposterous character in Twilight, and she isn’t bad-looking either.

More importantly, the lead is played by Jesse Eisenberg, who immediately secured a place on my prestigious Jewish Actors to Watch list seven years ago with his note-perfect portrayal of an insecure teenager in Roger Dodger (a buried treasure if there ever was one). He followed that three years later with a part in The Squid in the Whale, where he played another insecure teenager, only in a completely different manner, replacing innocence and charm with bitterness and anger. He’s been relatively quiet since, so perhaps Adventureland will herald his return to relevance.

6. The Great Buck Howard (March 20, limited). I confess I haven’t heard much about this movie, and it’s received hardly any buzz since premiering at Sundance last year. That said, I’m intrigued by Colin Hanks’ first starring role – he was just terrific in his recurring guest role as a persistent priest on “Mad Men”, and he also essayed a surprisingly complex character in Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Also, having Tom Hanks (yes, Colin’s father) and John Malkovich on hand can’t hurt.

5. Monsters vs. Aliens (March 27). Sue me, O.K.? The trailer totally hooked me. “Once again a UFO has landed in America – the only country UFOs ever seem to land in.” That shit is funny. (As for the fact that it’s in 3-D, the less said about that, the better.)

4. I Love You, Man (March 20). I’ve managed to avoid the trailer thus far, which is critical for comedies because morally corrupt producers are always liable to dump all of the funny scenes into the preview. While this means I don’t know anything about the movie’s premise, I do know that director John Hamburg’s previous feature was Along Came Polly. That’s the bad news. The good news is that after experiencing the joys of Knocked Up and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I will absolutely see any movie starring Paul Rudd and Jason Segel. Those two could host a reality show dissecting Kathy Bates’ nude scene in About Schmidt and I’d watch it. Honestly, I think if Ron Howard had cast Rudd and Segel over Langella and Sheen, Frost/Nixon would have won Best Picture. No one in this town takes chances anymore.

3. Watchmen (March 6, IMAX). If any other blogger is compiling a list of the hottest movies in March, Watchmen owns the top spot on his list. It’s by far the biggest event movie thus far in 2009 and will likely remain so until J.J. Abrams’ remake of Star Trek arrives in May (yawn). But personally, I’m worried. First of all, director Zack Snyder’s sole claim to fame is 300. That may be a selling point among most fans these days (the movie somehow made $211 million), but I frankly thought 300 was shallow, uninspiring, and just plain dumb. If the trailer is any indication, Watchmen will feature the same hyper-stylized technique that characterized 300. That isn’t necessarily a problem, but I’m concerned that Snyder, in his rather obvious quest to become the next visionary, might be prioritizing filmmaking flair over more important qualities. Like, you know, plot and character.

But such skepticism may be unfounded, and I must admit that in addition to being wary, I’m also quite excited, as Watchmen has a lot going for it. My friends Dave and Stacy rave about the source material (“The most celebrated graphic novel of all-time!”), the trailer really does look badass, and the buzz from the London premiere has been positive, with critics emphasizing the movie’s darkness and refusal to conform to Hollywood norms. The cast, while not showstopping, appears solid, peopled with strong character actors like Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Patrick Wilson, and the generally (but not always) hot Carla Gugino. Whether it achieves its desired cinematic glory or becomes just another superhero movie remains to be seen, but my eyes are open.

2. Duplicity (March 20). Ah, now this is promising. Granted, the plot doesn’t seem revelatory – two former spies (Clive Owen and Julia Roberts) plot to defraud a corporation of $40 million and have to engage in various forms of subterfuge and, well, duplicity in order to pull it off. I’m also not thrilled about the casting. Owen will be fine, and Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson are never more enjoyable than when they get to chew scenery; however, if I’m a director looking for a super-hot CIA agent who’s supposed to be both intelligent and sexy, Julia Roberts is not at the top of my list. She isn’t even in the Top 10. So that’s frustrating.

(Assuming we’re forced to pick an American – which is rather difficult, because damn if the Brits don’t fucking dominate any Best Actress discussion right now – you know who I would have cast? Mary-Louise Parker. Sure, she isn’t nearly as big a name as Roberts, but she’s considerably more talented and hotter, plus “Weeds” has enough cachet that she’d still help tickets. Oh well, at least Meg Ryan isn’t involved.)

That said, Duplicity immediately burned itself onto my cinematic radar screen once the trailer revealed that its director is Tony Gilroy. For those not in the know, Gilroy is not only the screenwriter of all three Jason Bourne movies but also the director of Michael Clayton, my second-favorite film of 2007 and quite possibly one of the most perfect movies ever made. It’s a bit odd that he’s following his directorial debut with an ostensible comedy, but it’s also encouraging that he’s willing to branch out rather than continue mining the territory that earned him an Oscar nomination. Regardless, the point is that after Michael Clayton, Tony Gilroy’s next movie automatically achieves Must See status. And if Duplicity is half as good as his first movie, we won’t be disappointed.

1. Sunshine Cleaning (March 13, limited). Hell yes. I’ve been anticipating this movie for so long, I gushed about it in the Manifesto of two years ago. It premiered at Sundance in January of 2008, earned excellent buzz, then inexplicably floundered without a release for over a year. Fortunately Overture Films has come to the rescue, meaning I can finally see this quirky indie about … well, I believe it’s about two sisters who struggle for work as maids, so they start running a secret business whereby they use their cleaning services to dispose of dead bodies for a fee, or something. But that’s not the point.

The point is that the two sisters are played by Amy Adams and Emily Blunt. Fucking A! Do you recognize what a terrific pairing that is? Look, I don’t brag about that many things, but I am incredibly skilled when it comes to eyeing young talent (er, among actors, that is). Sure, Amy Adams already had an Oscar nomination for Junebug, but after Enchanted I knew she was headed for stardom and promised as much in the Manifesto. One year later, she nabbed another nomination for Doubt. It won’t be her last.

As for Emily Blunt, everyone raved about Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada, but the true breakout performance in that film was Blunt’s. (O.K., technically she broke out two years earlier in My Summer of Love, but nobody in America saw that.). She hasn’t been acknowledged by the Academy yet, but she will, and given that her name has already cropped up surrounding high-profile movies like Iron Man 2, it’s clear that people are gradually recognizing her greatness. To wit, the New York Times just ran a feature on her, proving once again – just like with Emily Mortimer – that the Times routinely steals from the Manifesto and refuses to credit me. But hey, at least Emily Blunt is finally getting some much-deserved press.

So the fact that Amy Adams and Emily Blunt are appearing in a movie together just blows my fucking mind. The only pairing that might top it would be Keira Knightley and Emma Watson, and if that ever happened, I’d just spontaneously burst into flames like Fawkes in Chamber of Secrets. As is, I’m pretty fucking thrilled. As for the movie itself, Overture is trying to channel a Little Miss Sunshine vibe, which is fine, although the movie strikes me as more serious. As for the rest of the cast, cagey vet Alan Arkin is on hand as well, as is the reliably hilarious Steve Zahn, but they’re afterthoughts. Sunshine Cleaning is mandatory viewing because it represents the opportunity to see not one but two of the hottest actresses operating in cinema today continue to enter their prime. Sign me the fuck up.

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