By David Mumpower
1) The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Anything with a title this long must be good. I have been a bit surprised to discover that not everyone's childhood included a reading of the seven book series. I can only speak for my upbringing, but it was a ubiquitous part of the southern church-going experience. I never would have expected at the time that a movie adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe would be such a box office juggernaut. Color me surprised by the potent grass-roots campaign which has cropped up.
The groundswelling of support for the project is overwhelming. It gives me hope for any number of potential fantasy film franchises, though this is a duel-edged sword. Some of the knockoffs of what is already a knockoff of The Lord of the Rings trilogy will inevitably make me curse the success of this project. It's the equivalent of shaking my fist at the sun, though. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a foregone conclusion to earn $250+ million, winding up in the top four of 2005 box office. I've made my peace with this because it looks so, so pretty.
2) King Kong
Every other box office analyst you read will be quick to lavish praise upon this Peter Jackson re-make, and rightfully so. Jackson has sagely leveraged his crowning achievement, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, to attain the position needed to create a new version of King Kong, whose return was presumably forecast in Jackson's 2004 Best Picture winner. This is one of the most famous stories of the 20th century, so the combination of concept and directorial talent appears flawless.
Not so fast.
We all might have tried to suppress the memory, but there was a similar reproduction done in 1998. The title was Godzilla, and the film's first mistake was casting Ferris Bueller in the lead. There were many other mistakes after that. King Kong stars soundly rejected would-be starlet/Nicole Kidman sycophant Naomi Watts and tubby Weird Al Yankovic wannabe Jack Black. If this duo were starring in any movie not involving a giant CGI ape and Peter Jackson, North American movie audiences could not reject it fast enough.
Then, there is the issue of the special effects. When viewed independently, the ape and his dinosaur foil are fine. When humans are onscreen simultaneously, the footage appears straight out of 1960s science fiction serials. So jaw-dropping is the amateur nature of the effect that some have speculated it's an intentional throwback to the original film. I find that explanation empty, but we won't be able to determine the validity of said argument until the movie's release.
Has Jackson become so bulletproof that his mere presence behind the lens will allow mainstream movie buffs to ignore the sorts of flaws that sunk Godzilla and The Hulk? Maybe. Steven Spielberg isn't above such criticism now, but Jackson might still be in the honeymoon period. If so, King Kong soars past $250 million, possibly even $300 million. Right now, I am inclined to say it earns $225 million but is remembered poorly, creating the first chink in Jackson's armor. An Ang Lee level fall from grace is not outside the realm of possibility, though.
3) Fun With Dick and Jane
Forget Jim Carrey. The real casting masterstroke is Tea Leoni. Mrs. David Duchovny's resume may not highlight it, but Leoni's star first ascended on the quirky Fox comedy, Flying Blind. The show was lauded by critics, but criminally ignored by television viewers, mainly because it was legitimately a decade ahead of its time. Its absence on DVD is enough to flip me from manic to depressive, but Leoni's occasional returns to comedy flip me back again. In between jobs as The Pretty Girl in Bad Boys, Deep Impact, and Jurassic Park III, Leoni has tossed in the occasional return to her roots in Flirting with Disaster and, to a lesser extent, Spanglish. A full blown comedy role alongside a cinema icon is just what the doctor prescribed. I am going to be devastated if a film written by Undeclared icon Judd Apatow starring Carrey and Leoni is anything less than sensational. From a box office perspective, it's Carrey making wacky faces, so we have a good idea it will at least perform well if not achieve the superlative.
Face it, the best Spielberg is self-important Spielberg. He is in his element with this re-telling of the tragic events occurring during the 1972 Olympics. A story that encompasses the elements of Middle-Eastern agendas and terrorism, this harrowing experience gripped the entire world three decades ago. Now, the Hulk, the new James Bond and the evil skeletal leader from Pirates of the Caribbean combine forces to once again allow Steven Spielberg to be the focus of the Academy Awards. Box office in the Schindler's List neighborhood would appear to be a reasonable expectation for Munich with the potential for quite a bit more if it somehow manages to be great without being too depressing. Good luck with that.
5) Cheaper by the Dozen 2
I can't fault Steve Martin and Eugene Levy for earning as much money as possible while expending little to no energy. That is, after all, the capitalist dream. What I can't help but resent is the fact that the presence of both men plus wildly underrated comedian Bonnie Hunt will lure me out to see the movie. And I know that I will feel dirty afterward. A sequel was always a no-brainer since the original was a surprise blockbuster. I just hate watching the same man who wrote and starred in Shopgirl running a race with the co-star of The Man to see who can reach the Lowest Denominator movie-going audience quicker. Nobody wins in that war.
6) The Family Stone
I have already discussed my disliking of "copy of a copy" productions. Bastardizing a concept for extreme financial gain is savvy business, but it's not the way to achieve art. Let's be honest, though. Feuding family comedies ain't art. They can, however, be funny funny funny. And one that stars Mr. Incredible, one of the Wilson brothers (I forget which is which), and that hotel manager chick who saved a plane over the summer has my attention. On the downside, it co-stars Mrs. Ferris Bueller, but maybe just maybe the Godzilla Curse is lifting from this family. December could be their month of redemption, starting with this film's success. Go Team Bueller!
7) The Producers
People I trust keep swearing to me it will be huge. I love them and I want them to be right, but it's so hard for to get past my lackluster enthusiasm for the project. The Producers feels like what lies beneath Chicago but well above Rent. It's a happier story albeit a cynical one, and the presence of Uma Thurman and Will Ferrell will boost the box office. For these reasons, I am inclined to put it in the general vicinity of Chicago prior to its Academy Awards boost. That's the $75-$80 million area, a respectable total considering the movie has the same flaw that torpedoed Godzilla. It too stars Matthew Broderick. Don't just save Ferris. Save Ferris' movie career!
8) Memoirs of a Geisha
This long rumored project finally comes to fruition albeit without Steven Spielberg directing as had been teased for the body of the 2000s. His decision to make Munich opened the door for the entrance of Chicago's Rob Marshall. As was the case with his last film, Marshall is inundated with casting talent here. The crown jewel of Asian cinema, Zhang Ziyi, frontlines the cast. BOP faves Ken Watanabe and Michelle Yeoh are also onboard, but the real coup is the presence of Gong Li. The star of Raise the Red Lantern has largely eschewed western cinema in her career until now, but Memoirs of a Geisha signals the first of three consecutive mainstream American projects. Lucky us. The pedigree on this project is the gold standard, and it's reasonably expected to be a major awards contender in what has otherwise been a lousy year for quality projects. Assuming it earns the expected Oscar buzz (and the Golden Satellites have only tossed nine nominations its way), this film should be a box office factor through the start of spring.
9) Aeon Flux
Hey Paramount! Is this a joke? You can tell me. I promise not to say anything to anybody else. Okay, how about this. Rub your nose if it's a joke or lose back pretty much your entire budget if it's not a joke. I am expecting the latter, but hold out hope for the former. The recently cancelled press screenings have me wondering if there is an actual film to be released as opposed to an elaborate prank involving Charlize Theron, the mother from Almost Famous and a meth lab run by a failed hairdresser. It's a much more logical explanation. My Aeon Flux capacitor is fluxxing, and it's telling that this movie is going to make Halle Berry feel better about herself as well as her recent casting decisions.
10) Rumor Has It
Arguably the most novel concept on the 2005 schedule, this Jennifer Aniston project takes a new spin on The Graduate, the 1967 Dustin Hoffman classic. The premise is that the main character played by Aniston comes to suspect that the storyline might have been based upon a turbulent period her family experienced. But the more stunning revelation is that these events might have led to her conception. So, she goes out looking to find out the truth about some of the men involved in the events. The genius of the premise notwithstanding, Rumor Has It faces a hard sell. It's not a sequel to The Graduate, Jennifer Aniston's last project was a mediocre box office performer, and director Rob Reiner hasn't had a hit in a decade. I would love for a project with such innate cleverness to succeed, but I'm not holding my breath. It just can't compete with blander fare like a blood feud between Steve Martin and Eugene Levy. Sadly, that's a more marketable concept.
Michael Bentley's December 2005 forecast
Marty Doskins's December 2005 forecast
Kim Hollis's December 2005 forecast