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BOP 25 of the Holidays 2007: 25-16

By BOP Staff

October 31, 2007

The holidays are approaching, and along with them comes that time of year when we get an outstanding assortment of family films that have staying power throughout the season and awards contenders that have staying power, well, for eternity, in some cases. It's an exciting time of year to be a movie fan, as 2007 offers an impressive variety of genres and stories to entice movie-goers. Since there haven't been any real films to emerge as major awards contenders so far, it's looking like November and December could be critical to the race. Here are some of the film's we can't wait to see.
Jack and Morgan play real-life Halo. 25) The Bucket List

Once upon a time, Rob Reiner had a streak of movies that threatened to make him into one of the finest populist directors of all time, starting with This is Spinal Tap, continuing through The Princess Bride and Misery and ending with, oh, let's say A Few Good Men (I'd extend to The American President except for North breaking his streak). Since then he's had a number of forgettable films, but The Bucket List might be a film that could get him back on track.

Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman star as two terminal cancer patients who meet together in a hospital ward and instantly annoy the crap out of each other, which is how all great friendships start. They both realize they have more they want to get out of their remaining life, with Nicholson's character's workaholism and Freeman's character's blue collar lifestyle preventing either of them from really experiencing everything they wanted to do. Together they draw up a list of things they need to do before they die – or kick the bucket, as it were, like skydiving, or seeing the Pyramids.

Normally, we'd shy away from just about anything that could be characterized as "uplifting" or "motivational" unless it involves some sort of sporting event – we've earned our cynicism honestly, thank you very much – but this cast has us intrigued. Freeman's everywhere this winter, but he's always a steady actor in any film, and Nicholson always brings life to a movie even if he is just a variation of himself. And there's always the chance of Meathead returning to form as a director too, which we'd very much like to see. (Reagen Sulewski/BOP)
Play some Skynyrd! 24) Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

If you saw our BOP 25 of Summer countdown, you will have probably sussed out that this is a group that likes Judd Apatow. A lot. Knocked Up was our top choice out of all the many potential blockbusters in line for release, and it appears likely to be a strong contender for our end of year voting as well. Our Apatow love would explain why many of us are looking at Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story as a sneaky film with all kinds of sleeper potential. Apatow wrote and produced the film, and is clearly working closely alongside Freaks and Geeks/Undeclared alum Jake Kasdan as he helms the project.

"Walk Hard" takes advantage of the comedic chops John C. Reilly displayed in Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby and puts them front and center. Since the movie follows a fictional musical legend a la Johnny Cash, we'll also see the musical talent that helped Reilly earn an Academy Award nomination for his performance in Chicago.

Of course, we realize that Reilly has never really carried a film on his own merits before, so we note that a host of other talented folks we love are also aboard. Jenna Fischer, Paul Rudd, Jason Schwartzman, Justin Long, Ed Helms and a number of others are all present and accounted for. We're sure Walk Hard is going to be one of the sillier movies to come along this year - but our hope is that it's good silly. (Kim Hollis/BOP)
I hope Harry Potter lives. 23) Youth Without Youth

Screen legend Francis Ford Coppola has been on a ten-year sabbatical. He chose to direct a John Grisham movie adaptation in 1997, The Rainmaker, and promptly decided to take a break from the industry. Let this be a cautionary tale for anyone considering future Grisham adaptations. But I digress.

Fast forward to 2007 and the man who directed The Godfather, The Godfather Part II and Apocalypse Now has finally shaken off the Grisham grime. He is ready to work again, and the project he has chosen is a novella written by Mircea Eliade entitled Youth Without Youth. The premise of this work is that an aging professor of linguistics in the World War II era "survives a cataclysmic event". The fallout from this is that he becomes much smarter, an impressive feat for a professor, and he also regains his youth. Yes, the whole premise of disaster creating new powers is more than a little bit comic book-y. Before you roll your eyes too much, I ask you a simple question. Have you directed a Godfather movie? No? Then shut up.

Anyway, now that the professor, Dominic Matei, has attained new abilities, the Nazis show up. This is exactly why Indiana Jones hates those guys. A harmless enough bloke suddenly develops superpowers and what do the Nazis want to do? Kidnap him then torture him until they determine how he got his new talents. God, I hate Nazis. Anyway, the worst part for Matei is that he encounters the lost love of his life, Laura. Her arrival throws a monkey wrench into his attempts to deduce the origins of human language. Her presence forces him to make a choice between his job and his girlfriend and, since this is a movie instead of real life, BOP has a pretty good idea which way he goes with it.

Youth Without Youth sounds like a fascinating story premise, but let's be honest here. The main reason this title makes the list is the presence of Francis Ford Coppola. This is the tenth year our staff has been running a movie Web site yet it is our first opportunity to cover one of his movies. You have seen how much we have slurped Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation. Just imagine how excited we are about her daddy's new movie. (David Mumpower/BOP)




I'm not there, and I'm not there, and you're not there... 22) I'm Not There

A number of us here at BOP are big fans of one Robert Allen Zimmerman. For those who don't follow the man's work, he might be better known as Bob Dylan – musician, poet, reluctant voice of numerous generations. In 2006, at the age of 65, he became the oldest living person to ever hit number one on the album charts. Two years earlier, he was nominated for a National Book Award for Chronicles: Volume One, a reflection on his life.

Director Todd Haynes' movie I'm Not There will similarly reflect on Dylan's life, but in a very unusual manner. He will take us through various stages of the singer/songwriter's career and biography, with six different actors portraying the performer. Marcus Carl Franklin, Ben Whishaw, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Richard Gere and Cate Blanchett will each offer their own interpretation of Dylan's genius. The movie is said to be inspired by Dylan's ability to reinvent himself over and over again.

Previously, Haynes drew a lot of attention, including an Academy Award, for his Douglas Sirk homage Far from Heaven. That film dealt with some difficult issues, from racism and homophobia to emerging feminism. Dylan has similarly contended with issues of all sorts, using his keen, wry intelligence to create songs that are timeless. We're looking forward to seeing Haynes' imaginative take on the artist's story. (Kim Hollis/BOP)
You *do* smell what the Rock is cooking! 21) Southland Tales

We've been waiting a long, long time for this movie from writer/director Richard Kelly. For the uninitiated, Kelly is best known for helming and scripting the cult hit Donnie Darko, a film that established Jake Gyllenhaal as one of the finest acting talents of his generation and also spurred frequent debate over exactly what the ending means. Donnie Darko is unique in that it is a sci-fi film wrapped up in both a mystery story and a high school coming-of-age tale. Anyone who has seen the movie will have strong, pervading memories of the brilliantly crafted "Head Over Heels" scene.

Southland Tales has had a bit of a tough road to theaters. Its release has been scheduled and re-scheduled numerous times, never a good sign of confidence and faith from the studios involved. The movie did have a premiere at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, followed by festival showings at this year's Fantastic Fest, the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival and the AFI Film Festival. From what viewers are saying, it's a challenging film and not for everyone, but to be fair, many people were saying the exact same thing about Donnie Darko six years ago.

Kelly's project does have the benefit of a spectacular cast, including Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (we can't help it - we love him), Seann William Scott (ditto), Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore, Miranda Richardson, Kevin Smith and John Larroquette. The story takes place in a futuristic Los Angeles, a city that is standing right on the edge of disaster/apocalypse. In the midst of all this are a boxer with amnesia (The Rock), an adult film star with a reality show in development (Gellar) and a cop with a split personality - split in such a way that one half must search for the other (Scott). If that doesn't sound weird enough to pique your interest, we just don't know what to do with you. (Kim Hollis/BOP)
I fear I have leveled up for the final time. 20) Beowulf

What the world needs now are creepy, World of Warcraft inspired, animated versions of our favorite actors. If you disagree with this assessment, don't blame BOP. Blame Robert Zemeckis.

The Academy Award winning director of Forrest Gump has never been afraid to take chances, going all the way back to the filming of his dream project, Back to the Future. The ahead-of-its-time (no pun intended) action comedy was rejected by every major studio prior to Zemeckis becoming a breakout director for Romancing the Stone. Having achieved the power to make the movies he wanted, Zemeckis proceeded to do exactly this with the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, Cast Away and The Polar Express. All of these projects have two things in common. The first is that they were daring movie ideas that had never been attempted before. The other is that all of them were huge box office successes.

In point of fact, Robert Zemeckis has quietly become one of the most financially viable movie makers of our era. In addition, the productions he oversees have often stood the test of time. The man is quite simply one of the greatest talents in our industry, and his presence on Beowulf is enough for the BOP staff to overlook the creepy graphics involved. Were this a live action movie starring Ray Winstone, John Malkovich and Anjelina Jolie, we would probably have it in our top five. Were the CGI-animated Beowulf movie we are seeing advertised right now directed by a less trusted auteur, it would not have made the list. Since this is Robert Zemeckis directing what appears to be a huge mistake of a movie idea, we are hedging our bets.

The talent involved makes Beowulf interesting, but we can't shake the feeling this is going to be a rare misstep for Mr. Zemeckis. Then again, people thought the same thing about Romancing the Stone prior to its release yet it stands as one of the best, most lasting movies of the 1980s. (David Mumpower/BOP)
I think the pot has kicked in. 19) Margot at the Wedding

Noah Baumbach's directorial debut was in 1995 with Kicking and Screaming, a movie that did not feature Will Ferrell as a mediocre soccer coach. He became the subject of intense BOP water cooler discussion with the release of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, a movie he co-wrote with Wes Anderson, in 2004 and The Squid and the Whale in 2005. A segment of our Wes Anderson fanclub argued passionately about the attention to love shown in The Life Aquatic, focusing upon how personal such a project must have been to Baumbach and Anderson. Similarly, fans of Baumbach were deeply moved by the enigmatic immaturity of the lead characters in The Squid and the Whale. Baumbach's most recent title might as well have been called, "How I Dealt with My Parents' Divorce."

What is rare about Baumbach is that in an industry of chest thumping pretenders, he engages viewers with his naked portrayal of mistakes of his youth. Frankly, we are starting to worry about the guy's self-esteem. He seems to regret a lot about his life, but the one positive seems to be that he married Jennifer Jason Leigh, who won our collective heart as the pregnant cashier in Fast Times in Ridgemont High. Leigh will play one of the leads in Baumbach's latest movie, which BOP has chosen as our 19th most anticipated movie of the holiday season.

The film formerly entitled Nicole at the Beach had its name changed to Margot at the Wedding when something unexpected happened. Nicole Kidman signed up to star in this production as Jennifer Jason Leigh's character's meddling, neurotic sister. So, if you want to see Nicole at the beach, you'll have to keep checking D-Listed for new bikini shots just like the rest of us. If, however, you want to see a movie wherein one sibling's marriage is disrupted by the arrival of her strong-willed, disapproving sister, this is right up your alley. And if that doesn't sound good, additional cast members include Jack Black, Ciaran Hands (Rome!) and John Turturro. This is going to be a low key, art-house flick with mega-acting talent, and Zissou fans that we are, we want to see it. (David Mumpower/BOP)
I can see by the way that you dress that you're a fan of the movie Tootsie! 18) Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

Walden Media has a simple directive. The new distributor wants to make movies that are accessible to families once more. In an era where filmmakers are driven to new heights of shock value in order to attain the attention of would-be movie-goers, Walden is focusing on a more classic style of cinema. This is the kind most frequently associated with Disney, a style associated with their Sunday night movies.

The throwback decision to produce G and PG movies has been largely positive thus far. A franchise was born with The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Its worldwide performance of roughly $740 million is more than justification enough for Walden's decision. Charlotte's Web also did well, earning $82.6 million domestically. Meanwhile, Hoot and How to Eat Fried Worms managed only a combined $21.1 million. So, the strategy has had highs and lows, but the highs waaaay more than make up for a misstep here or there. Also, it seems that consumers are able to deduce the premiere Walden titles from the rest.

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium has our staff believing that this is another successful Walden production. Although writer/director Zach Helm is an inddustry neophyte, his idea has somehow entranced one of the biggest names in the industry, Dustin Hoffman, to portray the titular lead. Presumably, the Academy Award-winning actor sees this role as his Willy Wonka, and the thought of such a mix excites us. Similarly, the presence of BOP fave Natalie Portman and Jason Bateman, master of deadpan humor, has us hoping for an instant holiday classic. The only reason we are not more optimistic about the title is that we have been burned before. Remember Toys? That was to be Robin Williams' Willy Wonka. (David Mumpower/BOP)
Why do people keep calling us Boris and Natasha? 17) Persepolis

A small but dedicated contingent of our staff threw their support behind Persepolis, an animated film based on the remarkable, critically acclaimed graphic novel that was published in the U.S. in 2003. Writer/illustrator Marjane Satrapi offered readers a glimpse into the world she experienced as a child growing up in Iran after the revolution and expulsion of the Shah.

What Persepolis the book did very well was to subvert expectations. Living in America, we've been presented with television and movie visions of the Middle East that give us definite ideas about how that world looks – even though few of us have ever had opportunity to visit. We learn in Persepolis that before the revolution, Iran was quite modernistic – education was vital, women's rights were evolving and citizens were proud of their ability to express radical, progressive ideas. All that changed when the Ayatollah came into power, with fear being the ruling emotion in an oppressive society.

Given the unique viewpoint and distinct visual appeal of the graphic novel, a movie is a natural progression, and one that is highly likely to draw all sorts of awards attention as the year draws to a close. Those of us who love the novel will definitely be there to give our support on opening night. (Kim Hollis/BOP)
If Lucy shows up, you know this kite is getting stuck in a tree. 16) The Kite Runner

Perhaps a few years too late, middle America is finally taking an interest in Afghanistan. Indicative of this is the fact that The Kite Runner, a novel about the country written by Afghanistani-American Khaled Hosseini, was the third most popular selling novel of 2005. And remember, folks, there was a new Harry Potter book that year. So, it was the second best selling non-J.K. Rowling work. Given the novel's unexpected financial windfall, it is unsurprising that Hollywood would move quickly to adapt the work.

Director Marc Forster has already made two films that were awards season contenders. Monster's Ball, his 2001 effort, helped Halle Berry kick down (imaginary) doors, as the actress won a Best Actress Oscar. In 2004, he helmed Finding Neverland, a title nominated for seven Academy Awards. In the interim, Forster has has missteps with 2005's Stay and 2006's Stranger Than Fiction, both of which were box office non-factors. Forster has circled back to familiar territory with The Kite Runner, a title likely to be frequently mentioned during awards season.

For those of you unfamiliar with the literature, it tells the story of Amir, an Afghani boy raised in Kabul who eventually moves to America. His home country is no longer safe due to events during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that will also be chronicled in Charlie Wilson's War. Amir is forced to return to his country when he discovers that a childhood friend's son has been transferred to an orphanage. Given that the friend, Hassan, had once fallen victim to a brutal attack while Amir cowardly watched from a distance, he feels that this is his opportunity to finally make things right again. What he does not know is that the boy has been sold into sexual slavery and that the Taliban soldier imprisoning the boy is the same one who violated his father many years ago. Amir must fight him to the death in order to liberate the boy and make things right.

The Kite Runner as a novel is a brutal, harrowing examination of what the last quarter century has been like for Afghani citizens. Presumably, the movie will cover much of the same territory, thereby shining further light into the lives of people we know only as the enemy. (David Mumpower/BOP)



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