December 2004 Forecast

By David Mumpower

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10) The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

Wes Anderson seeks to do what he and Sofia Coppola previously failed to accomplish. Will this finally be the role that forces the Motion Picture Academy to acknowledge the acting talent of Bill Murray? After being robbed last year, the former SNL actor finds himself facing significant competition from early 2005 Best Actor frontrunners Jamie Foxx and, again, Johnny Depp. It would seem that The Life Aquatic was written with the sole purpose of giving Murray a showcase role as a lonely Jacque Cousteau-type meeting and interacting with his apparent offspring for the first time. Will it be enough to carry Murray to his deserved reward? Check back next week when BOP re-launches our Awards section to find out how we gauge his odds.

9) Fat Albert

Hey! Hey! Hey! It's flawed Albert! This film is the latest example of how wrong Hollywood meetings can go. It's not enough to remake (and generally butcher) classic television programs. Instead, we now are treated to that happy add-on of putting the characters in updated settings. Why? No one can say for sure, but I suspect there were a lot of pills involved in the pitch meeting and none of them may be prescribed by a doctor.

Remaking a charming children's show was apparently not an appealing enough idea on its own. So, Fat Albert and the gang are forced to be walking anachronisms for the sake of comedy (well, theoretically). The commercials for this film may very well be the worst of 2004, an amazing accomplishment for all the wrong reasons. Fat Albert wants to be like The Brady Bunch in the way that it examines the absurdity of the premise. But if you want to watch a premise like this executed well (and free of charge), just stay home and watch The Real Gilligan's Island on TBS.

8) Million Dollar Baby

I deeply admire the way Clint Eastwood handles the creative process. When he says he is going to make a movie, he does not get bogged down in the details. Instead, he shows up, gets a couple of takes per scene and then trusts his own instincts and experience to make the footage work. Million Dollar Baby is the latest example of this process. The announcement of the project to its arrival in theaters seems to have taken less time than I need to cook dinner (though admittedly, I do spend too long marinating). His latest project reminds me a lot of his 2002 release, Blood Work. I do not have lofty box office hopes for the project, but as always, an Eastwood project deserves a viewing. He has become one of the best directors in the industry's history, but has done so in his normal, low-key "I don't need the credit" fashion.

7) Flight of the Phoenix

Dennis Quaid, god love him, had one hit in the past 15 years coming into 2004. He leveraged the renewed awareness from The Rookie into starring roles in disastrous roles such as The Alamo along with a truly savvy decision to do monument porn in The Day after Tomorrow. Now, he finds himself trying to show it's the latter film which defines his box office pull these days. Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

The Flight of the Phoenix is a unique concept somewhat in the vein of ABC's Lost. A group of workers are stranded in the middle of the Gobi desert. One of them has an idea for how to use the parts they have on hand to make a functional transportational device. That new plane is the group's only hope for survival, so the man who builds it becomes the most important person there. He also goes a bit mad with power.

6) Spanglish

I applaud slapstick comedian Adam Sandler for this, his second noteworthy attempt at stretching himself as an actor. His prior work with Paul Thomas Anderson in Punch-Drunk Love was eye-opening in its depth and ringing emotional resonance. He is now aligned with legendary Hollywood icon James L. Brooks in this change-of-pace awards season contender. I am skeptical that any more of Sandler's sophomoric fanbase will follow him over to this project than they did with Punch-Drunk Love. But if Sandler does attain some critical acclaim for his work, he will once more stake claim to territory previously reserved for Jim Carrey. That aspect alone makes this gambit worthwhile.

5) The Aviator

All I know about Howard Hughes is what I learned from that Simpsons gambling episode where Mr. Burns goes crazy and becomes a germophobe (meaning he hates germs, not Germans...that's an earlier episode). Okay, I am exaggerating but only slightly. For whatever reason, the life and times of the powerful millionaire never appealed to the history geek in me, so I am largely flying blind here in discussing a biopic of his life.

What I do know is that the buzz on The Aviator has been deafening for a while now, and Miramax has even taken unusual steps here. The masters of hedging bets for awards season have put all their eggs in Leonardo DiCaprio's basket by allowing several other pedigreed projects to slide into 2005. That sign of confidence would indicate that this movie must be something very special. Biopics do not generally do well at the box office, so I have tempered expectations. A Best Picture nomination would go a long way in changing the upside here, though.

4) Meet the Fockers

Out of all the major December releases, this project is the one I am least interested in viewing. And, yes, I include Fat Albert in that. The original Meet the Parents was a delightful film which finally brought my beloved Teri Polo some deserved attention. It even led to her casting in a failed romantic sitcom. Of course, the appeal for mainstream audiences was the comedic chemistry of Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro as future son-in-law and militaristic hardass father.

In Meet the Parents and Analyze This, De Niro showed his comic chops. Fittingly, both successes have led to the same result: an inept-looking sequel. The advertising campaign to date has been predicated upon new cast addition Dustin Hoffman using the commode while De Niro showers. In three years, this is the funniest thing a writer could think to do in a sequel? A patrician family forced by marriage to hang out with hippies? The whole thing smacks of Dharma and Greg: the Movie. It might make money, but at what cost?

3) Blade: Trinity

I liked the first Blade flick well enough, but it was nothing special. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the second film was white hot. Blade II is legitimately one of the best action films since Terminator II. It has all of the elements of a movie I would enjoy: great villains, obvious but enjoyable heel turns, innovations in vampire evolution, and a showdown in a vat of blood. The one thing the sequel did not do, however, was leave much room for another film in the franchise. After all, everyone but Blade and Whistler died. Worse, the vampire government had been overthrown. That leaves little in the way of opportunity for a writer.

The unexpected has happened, though. Blade has been given a new foe: the First Vampire. Also, sensing that Blade's story might be ending, two buddies have been brought onboard in the form of fledgling scream queen Jessia Biel and Van Wilder himself, Ryan Reynolds. Presumably, this duo will have the opportunity for spinoffs should they prove popular here. It's a savvy decision since Wesley Snipes is getting long in the tooth, while each of them seems to be on the verge of breakout stardom. The Blade franchise appears to be poised for another blockbuster as well as secured for the foreseeable future with interesting sequel/spinoff options. I really have to tip my cap here.

2) Ocean's 12

There was a brief period when The Hollywood Reporter and Variety seemed to announce a new cast addition to Ocean's Eleven on a daily basis. And each of the names was staggering. The director was the hottest thing going in cinema; the male leads, George Clooney and Brad Pitt, are two of the five most famous actors in Hollywood; the love interest was the highest paid actress in the world at the time, Julia Roberts. The project's inception was as pristine as any in recent memory.

The question was whether such a talented group of people could possibly live up to the hype created by their simultaneous presence. When the trailer was released, skepticism abounded. The "highlight" clip was Matt Damon stuttering about the most troublesome aspects of the planned heist. More than one errant analyst foolishly dismissed the project as a high profile failure due to this fact. Boy, were they ever wrong.

Ocean's Eleven is one of if not the most well-remembered films of the decade thus far. The tightly crafted plot, nuanced performances, and Soderbergh's craftsmanship all meld together to create one of the most remarkable group buddy pictures in cinematic history.

Of course, all this does is build awareness and expectations for the sequel to seemingly impossible levels. Ocean's Twelve even has the audacity to add another A-List name in Catherine Zeta-Jones plus a master thespian in Mr. Monica Bellucci himself, Vincent Cassel. The former portrays Brad Pitt's ex-lover while the latter is a European master thief nicknamed the Night Fox seeking to match wits with Danny Ocean.

The pieces are in place for a magnificent opening weekend, but the success from there will be determined by how well Ocean's Twelve lives up to the hype. As a movie fan, I sincerely hope it's a home run...and that Topher Grace steals the show again.

1) Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

Blockbuster is a word meaning hugely successful. Children's book franchise is a phrase meaning J.K. Rowling-type money. Jim Carrey is a man showing no shame in his willingness to make goofy faces for money. The combination of these three words, phrases and people makes this movie likely to be the most successful opener of December. Having read the first six books, I must admit that the concept is not my cup of tea. Even so, I am somewhat excited to watch how the first three stories unfold cinematically. I would have been a lot more excited if Barry Sonnenfeld were still onboard, though.



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