- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 8, 2001

At the moment it seems perfectly reasonable to await eight movies this autumn with considerable curiosity and optimism.
They include "Monsters, Inc.," the latest feature from the Pixar humorists and animators; Michael Mann's biographical "Ali," starring Will Smith as boxer Muhammad Ali, who played himself in a defective prototype of 1977 titled "The Greatest"; Chris Columbus' "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," the first movie derived from J.K. Rowling's best-selling adventure novels for juveniles; and "Windtalkers," John Woo's tribute to Navajo code talkers with the Marines on Saipan.
The others are Martin Scorsese's "Gangs of New York," alluding to immigrant rivalries of the 1840s; Robert Altman's "Gosford Park," an upstairs-downstairs social comedy and whodunit set at an English country estate in the 1930s; Steven Soderbergh's update of the Rat Pack heist melodrama "Ocean's 11"; and Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," the first installment in a belated live-action adaptation of the J.R.R. Tolkien gnome saga, due for additional chapters at Christmas 2002 and 2003.
If you're partial to the following performers, the new season promises double exposures:
Robert Redford in "The Last Castle" and "Spy Game," Gene Hackman in "Heist" and "The Royal Tenenbaums," Billy Bob Thornton in "Bandits" and "The Man Who Wasn't There," Anthony Hopkins in "Hearts in Atlantis" and "Bad Company," Kevin Spacey in "K-Pax" and "The Shipping News," Gwyneth Paltrow in "Shallow Hal" and "The Royal Tenenbaums," Cameron Diaz in "Vanilla Sky" and "Gangs of New York," Maggie Smith in "Harry Potter" and "Gosford Park," and Brad Pitt in "Spy Game" and "Ocean's 11."
Others in this list are Tim Allen in "Big Trouble" and "Joe Somebody," Marisa Tomei in "Happy Accidents" and "In the Bedroom," James Gandolfini in "The Last Castle" and "The Man Who Wasn't There," Robbie Coltrane in "From Hell" and "Harry Potter," Kristin Scott Thomas in "Gosford Park" and "Life as a House," Ben Stiller in "Zoolander" and "The Royal Tenenbaums," Owen Wilson in "Zoolander" and "The Royal Tenenbaums," Mark Ruffalo in "The Last Castle" and "Windtalkers," Patrick Warburton in "Big Trouble" and "Joe Somebody," and Stanley Tucci in "Sidewalks of New York" and "Big Trouble." (Who are these Royal Tenenbaums, you ask? They are a family of neurotic geniuses, invented by Owen Wilson and director Wes Anderson in some kind of homage to J.D. Salinger's Glass family.)
Moviegoers also should prepare for triple doses of Ethan Hawke ("Training Day," "Waking Life" and "Tape"), Heather Graham ("Sidewalks of New York," "From Hell" and "Killing Me Softly") and Leelee Sobieski ("The Glass House," "Joy Ride" and "My First Mister"). Cate Blanchett could duplicate Helen Hunt's feat of last season as a four-picture attraction: "Bandits," "Heaven," "The Shipping News" and "The Lord of the Rings," although her character appears to do a first-reel exit in "Shipping News."
Apart from Will Smith, the major draws with a single prominent attraction include Denzel Washington ("Training Day"), Tom Cruise ("Vanilla Sky"), Jim Carrey ("The Majestic"), Michael Douglas ("Don't Say a Word"), Julia Roberts and George Clooney ("Ocean's 11"), Russell Crowe ("A Beautiful Mind"), Arnold Schwarzenegger ("Collateral Damage"), John Travolta ("Domestic Disturbance"), Nicolas Cage ("Windtalkers"), Jackie Chan ("The Accidental Spy") and Martin Lawrence ("Black Knight").
Like all new movie seasons, this one is best approached without exaggerated expectations. To find fraternal teams intriguing might help. This is because Joel and Ethan Coen ("The Man Who Wasn't There"), Peter and Bobby Farrelly ("Shallow Hal"), Allen and Albert Hughes ("From Hell") and a new twosome, Josh and Jacob Kornbluth ("Haiku Tunnel"), will exemplify brotherly cinema in different genres.
Avengers also will be well represented. The range varies from Mr. Schwarzenegger in "Collateral Damage" to newcomer Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter.
Fables about second chances and fresh starts also look plentiful, from John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale as a star-crossed romance in "Serendipity" to Mr. Carrey, Mr. Allen and Mr. Spacey as guys rebounding from failure or grief in "The Majestic," "Joe Somebody" and "The Shipping News," respectively.

* * *

According to the conventional wisdom, the summer is devoted to blockbuster spectacles and raucous farces, the better to beguile vacationing youngsters and families while securing about 40 percent of the annual box-office gross during about 33 percent of the calendar year. Summer begins as soon as a major studio launches an attraction with adequate drawing power in the spring, usually in early May, to get a jump on the traditional Memorial Day weekend season start. It officially expires on Labor Day weekend.
The fall season is actually an extended fall-winter season and begins chronologically the weekend after Labor Day but strategically as soon as a plausible Academy Award contender appears. This usually falls between October and Christmas week. The season does not conclude as a practical matter until the Academy Awards are presented late in March or early in April.
What needs to be appreciated is that the commercially ravenous and much-maligned summer is prodigal in more than revenue-enhancing terms. Qualitatively, it has displayed a split personality for several years. Yes, there are the grandiose and incoherent adventure spectacles that seem to get worse and worse with every succeeding summer, from the remake of "Godzilla" to "The Mummy Returns," or from "Armageddon" to "Pearl Harbor." The prevalence of lewd farce, currently exemplified by "American Pie 2" and "Summer Catch," also gives the season a bad name.
Nevertheless, alert and discriminating moviegoers could also have discovered these quality titles this summer: "The Golden Bowl," "The Circle," "Startup.com," "The Road Home," "The Anniversary Party," "The Closet," "The Score," "The Deep End," "The Others," "Divided We Fall," "Everybody's Famous," "Under the Sand," "Ghost World" and "An American Rhapsody." Unfortunately, some of these were barely noticed during the summer movie season in Washington.
Contrary to oversimplified legend, the summer is not a wasteland. When it comes to independent American features or foreign language imports, the season is often an eye-opener.
Appropriately, a good example from 1999 was Alejandro Amenabar's "Open Your Eyes." This movie has now been remade as the Tom Cruise holiday attraction, "Vanilla Sky."
A talented young Spaniard, Mr. Amenabar made an auspicious English-language debut this summer with "The Others."


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