Hollywood is not kind if you're a film fan. In the studios' minds, it is acceptable to deliver a couple dozen good films a year and churn out depressingly average movies with recycled plotlines and product placement up the wazoo the rest of the time.
These ho-hum movies' dominance in the distribution of films means that films with an original vision are drowned out by the star-studded action films. Quality independent and foreign films do not have the opportunity to reach their audiences or give new viewers a chance to become familiar with different filmmaking styles and challenging work.
So what can we do about it? For one, you can support independent theaters like Eveningstar and Movies on Exchange as often as possible. These enterprising businesspeople press forward to present films they enjoy personally and want to share with the public, rather than what the Beverly Hills moguls have chosen.
You can also be patient. Every year, around six months from now, films with a more challenging goal than getting the hormones burning emerge in full force. A few are also scattered in the rest of the year to keep us satiated. Here's a preview of the expected highlights:
One of the best ways to judge a film's potential is by the director's past work. On this count, Paul Thomas Anderson's film "There Will Be Blood" has to be one of the top contenders for accolades in 2007. Daniel Day-Lewis stars in an adaptation of Upton Sinclair's book about an early 20th-century Texan family in the oil business. Anderson's previous work, such as his humanizing, enthralling look at the porn industry in "Boogie Nights," has shown that he is a director with a thrillingly unorthodox vision. This is exactly what such an ambitious project needs.
Besides Anderson, many of the top auteur filmmakers are releasing films in the coming year. Noah Baumbach returns from his superb film "The Squid and the Whale" with another family-in-distress dramedy, "Margot at the Wedding," starring Nicole Kidman. Master of thrillers David Cronenberg reunites with Viggo Mortensen in "Eastern Promises," a film about the ruthless leader of a London crime family that is thrown off balance by a midwife, played by Naomi Watts.
Todd Haynes, who directed the magnificent homage to '50s melodrama "Far From Heaven," returns with his Bob Dylan biopic "I'm Not There." No fewer than seven actors, including Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, and Cate Blanchett, will play Dylan at different points in his life and musical career.
Infamous documentary filmmaker Michael Moore returns this year with "Sicko," a highly relevant look at the health care system. Moore is unlikely to hold back punches against a system that now leaves one in six Americans uninsured. Other engrossing documentaries are sure to emerge later in the year, but this one will likely spark national discourse.
I hold out hope for ambitious titles with unorthodox talent attached to it. Something original that isn't quite successful is better than a safe, boring film any day. Tim Burton has always been a director with a vision, and how he brings that vision to Stephen Sondheim's masterful musical "Sweeney Todd," which could have the power to enthrall. Burton's favorite muses, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, star as a demonic pair running a barber shop in 19th-century London.
The award for most original title of the year seems to have been locked up by "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," a Western with a cast that includes Mary-Louise Parker, Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck in the title roles.
There always seems to be a suffocating amount of prestige pictures fighting for viewers and Oscar's fancy; this year is no exception. Keep your eye out for an adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's classic novel "Love in the Time of Cholera," sees a love triangle in turn-of-the-century South America. Also, "Lust, Caution" returns director Ang Lee return to more familiar soil than Wyoming cowboys. This World War II espionage thriller, set in Shanghai, stars Tony Leung?possibly the most artistically successful Asian actor working today.
One of Leung's most frequent collaborators is director Wong Kar Wai, who has finished his first English language film, "My Blueberry Nights." Norah Jones stars in her acting debut alongside Natalie Portman, Jude Law, and David Strathairn, as she travels across the United States to resolve questions of love.
There's not time to discuss them in depth, but other potential titles to look out for include "No Country For Old Men" by the Coen Brothers; "Be Kind, Rewind" by "Eternal Sunshine" director Michel Gondry; "Persepolis," an animated film based on the graphic novel about an Iranian girl growing up during the cultural revolution; "The Age of Darkness" by one of Canada's best directors, Denys Arcand; "Lions for Lambs," a film about the Afghanistan War with Streep, Cruise and Redford; and "Margaret" by Kenneth Lonergan, of "You Can Count On Me" fame.
So though the pickings are slim, there's much to look forward to. As long as you make sure to avoid "Disturbia" like the plague, you'll be OK.