It's around this time of year, after the Oscars have passed and the depressing repetitiveness of the current slate of movies seems inescapable, when studios announce their slate of films for the coming year. And most of their release dates are far in the distance, but at least this will give us all something to look forward to as we trudge through Mel's continuing descent toward insanity in "Apocalypto" and Mr. Scientology himself in "MI:3," with MI now standing for Maximum Irritation.
Unlike those hacks, these auteurs don't stay safely in their comfort zones, but instead choose to tackle challenging material and take risks. Although some of these films may not work, it is always preferable to fail at something difficult than to continue to make boring, repetitive, Oscar-begging vehicles. So when you're going to the theater, put your money where your gut is and support original, interesting films; you'll be glad you did.
"A Prairie Home Companion" [June] ?director: Robert Altman
Another film featuring a sprawling cast, including Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, and Kevin Kline; recent honorary Oscar recipient Altman always knows what to do with a big cast. He can keep the performances modulated to the same style and storylines clear without breaking a sweat. The film chronicles the final performance of the longest-running radio program in United States history.
"For Your Consideration" [September]?director: Christopher Guest
The mad-mocumentarist of "Best in Show" fame is back once again, and this time he's taking on the insanities of the Oscar race. The cast always delivers, with Catherine O'Hara and the hilarious Parker Posey taking lead duties this time around, and while the Academy may not find the humor in it, be sure that Guest will.
"Marie-Antoinette" [October]? director: Sofia Coppola
Coppola's "Lost in Translation" achieved great success, and here Kirsten Dunst stars as the fickle Queen of France. It appears to be a highly stylized historical piece, which may prove divisive, but its sheer originality will be more than worth your time.
"Volver" [October]?director: Pedro Almodóvar
Spain's premier director is at it again, with advanced praise preceding this film about a matriarch's ghost. Almodóvar's films are always worth your time, and his long-awaited return to working with Carmen Maura, a former muse with whom he had a falling out, could be magical.
"Little Children" [November]? director: Todd Field
The director of "In the Bedroom" returns for his sophomore outing, and success will largely hinge on his ability to sidestep the clichés of this suburban abuse scandal. When you have Patrick Wilson and Kate Winslet playing the leads, success is much more likely, however; this could even be the role that gets Kate the Great her long overdue Oscar.
"Dreamgirls" [December]?director: Bill Condon
In the wake of "Chicago," the studios eagerly greenlit a number of musicals, but poor directorial choices doomed them all to failure. Condon, however, has musical experience, as well as the prestige middle-ground sensibilities to make the material work. It tells the story of a group loosely based on Diana Ross and the Supremes, and the behind-the-scenes drama, with great music including one song that can bring down the house.
Inland Empire [TBD]?director: David Lynch
Lynch is one of the few directors who deserves to have an adjective featuring his name. "Blue Velvet" put him on the map in the '80s, and "Mulholland Drive" continued the tradition of Lynchian insanity on screen. As per usual there's very little plot info, but once it premieres at Cannes in May, the debate on what's actually occurring on screen will begin; you really have to see his films to believe them.
"The Fountain" [TBD]?director: Darren Aronofsky
It has been six years since "Requiem for a Dream," and Aronofsky's new film will take place over the span of 1,000 years; this practically defines artistic challenge and will be extremely difficult to pull off, but has the ability to be transcendent. The film stars Aronofsky's wife and recent Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz, Hugh Jackman, and Ellen Burstyn.