In most languages, warmth is associated with good stuff and cold with bad stuff. You feel warm toward someone (and even hot for them) or someone can have an icy personality.
Movie stars, bands or companies can all be “so hot right now.” Or they can leave people “feeling cold.”
Here at SFR, we don’t need a fancy French theorist to tell us that we can deconstruct this hierarchy and see things the other way around. And so, in the spirit of celebrating winter and its frigid temperatures (and Oscar-bait), we present our Winter Movie Preview, wherein promising looking films are given icy cold ratings and crappy looking movies are dissed by being called hot. (Release dates are subject to change, most likely, in Santa Fe, for the frustratingly distant future.)
Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting) directs this dramatic retelling of heroic Harvey Milk’s story. In 1977, Milk (played here by Sean Penn) became San Francisco’s first openly gay city supervisor. This made him the first openly gay person to reach any sort of significant public office in the United States—and it also made him an equally loved and despised figure in the culture wars. But tragedy struck Milk and San Francisco’s mayor, George Moscone, when they were assassinated by one of Milk’s fellow supervisors (Josh Brolin).
Cold or Hot?: Nothing can surpass the power of the 1984 Oscar-winning documentary about Milk, called The Times of Harvey Milk. Still, Penn’s portrayal of Milk presents some amazing verisimilitude in terms of body movement and speech patterns. And this story is just
so important and moving.
Screener Prophecy Rating: ice cream cold
Randal Miller, the filmmaker behind the California wine-themed indie-hit Bottle Shock, which played in Santa Fe this past summer, returns rapidly to theaters with the zany kidnapping caper Nobel Son. The awesome Alan Rickman, most beloved (by me) for his droll and devious portrayal of the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, stars as Eli Michaelson, a roundly despised, pompous, arrogant bastard of a Nobel Prize-winning scientist. Michaelson’s ivory-tower fiefdom is torn asunder when his son (Bryan Greenberg) is kidnapped by one of his students (Shawn Hatosy). Things get even worse for Dr. Michaelson, though, when his son, who hates his guts, goes over-the-top Stockholm-syndrome and teams with his captors in an effort to extort and humiliate his father.
Cold or Hot?: Danny DeVito and Bill Pullman have roles in Nobel Son, making it an obvious nod to the ’80s comedy classic Ruthless People, in which they also starred and which is also about a kidnapping/ransom situation in which the kidnappee switches sides. With a hot indie director and a terrific cast, Nobel Son looks like it might just have a chance at rivaling Ruthless People’s dark hilarity.
Screener Prophecy Rating: zero degrees Kelvin
The playwright and Oscar-winning scribe of Moonstruck, John Patrick Shanley, returns to directing—his last and only other effort was ’90s Joe Versus the Volcano—with the Pulitzer and Tony-winning Broadway play-turned-Oscar-bait Doubt. Perhaps bitter about being kicked out of Catholic school in New York as a youngster, Shanley centers his story on shady stuff—including, of course, inappropriate touching—going down (possibly literally) at a Catholic school in New York. Meryl Streep leads as the prim principal of said school, who suspects a corpulent priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) of abusing a black student. Amy Adams (Junebug, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day) is the young nun caught in the middle.
Cold or Hot?: With semi-controversial themes and three of the best actors working in Hollywood today in roles suited to their strengths, Doubt has multiple-Oscar
winner written all over it.
Screener Prophecy Rating: cold as a nun’s knickers
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) remakes the beloved 1951 black-and-white sci-fi classic with Keanu—Keanu!—Reeves in the lead. Reeves plays Klaatu, the alien visitor and intergalactic keeper of the peace. Jennifer Connelly is Klaatu’s human homie and our species’ last hope.
Cold or Hot?: The 1951 version featured a distinctly human-looking alien (no Star Trek-like forehead nubs or weird ears were even proffered) sporting a silver turtle-neck sweater and accompanied by a giant tinfoil robot; the 2008 version has a quazillion dollar effects budget. But will it have soul? Given the cheesy lines in the trailer (Keanu: “If the Earth dies, you die. If you die, the Earth survives.”) and the queasy cast, the safe money says it will be effects-driven drivel, with the Cold War message of hope from the original either totally absent or lamely updated Hollywood-style for a “post 9.11 world.” On the other hand, Keanu is most natural in roles where he is supposed to act like a personality-less alien, so this one might work. Nahhh…
Screener Prophecy Rating: hot as an alien laser beam
Hewing rather closely to the thematic territory he explored in 1997’s Liar Liar, in which his duplicitous lawyer character couldn’t lie for 24 hours, Jim Carrey, in Yes Man, plays an unspontaneous guy who challenges himself to say yes to absolutely everything for an entire year.
Cold or Hot?: Saccharine as these movies sound, and ultimately are, they do also ask simple, but sort of profound, questions about how life could be different if we lived it differently, more courageously, more openly or more honestly. Though Carrey hasn’t been terribly funny since The Cable Guy, way back in 1996, he does these sorts of sweet-yet-slapsticky films like no one else can.
Screener Prophecy Rating: luke cool
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
With the sort of plot device that, in a more intellectual mode, could have been scripted by Charlie Kaufman or, with a more slapstick tone, could have starred Jim Carrey, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is written by Hollywood heavyweight Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, Munich, The Insider and, lamentably, The Postman), directed by the ingenious David Fincher (The Game, Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac) and stars Brad Pitt as Benjamin Button, a man who ages backward. Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton co-star.
Cold or Hot?: Wouldn’t it be great if you could get the bad-knees and weak-bladder (well, I guess bladder-control issues would still be destined to return) part out of the way first, before moving on to the vigor of youth, then the wonder of childhood and, finally, go out as an orgasm? On the other hand, puberty in reverse sounds pretty rough. Either way, this device seems like a great idea for an exploration of all sorts of ideas. Everyone involved with the production is a talent and, moreover, the effects in the trailer look awesome.
Screener Prophecy Rating: colder than Swinton’s icy blue eyes
Child actor (The Andy Griffith Show) turned director of ’80s classics (Willow, Splash, Cocoon) turned director of respected contemporary films (A Beautiful Mind) and not-so-respected contemporary films (The Da Vinci Code), Ron Howard presents a time trip back to an era when presidents who did illegal things were actually held accountable: the Nixon era. Yes, before Troopergate or, more locally, Blockgate, there was the originator of the suffix of scandal, namely Watergate. Frost/Nixon centers on BBC correspondent David Frost’s 1977 “gotcha!” interview with Tricky Dick. Frank Langella (Starting Out in the Evening) plays I’m-not-a-crook Nixon, and Peter Morgan (The Queen) is Frost, hoping to prove, post-Watergate, that he is one.
Cold or Hot?: This one’s easy: Its title includes the word “Frost,” and it looks like terrific, anxiety-fueled fun.
Screener Prophecy Rating: frosty cold
Based on the novel by Richard Yates and directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Jarhead), Revolutionary Road examines an attractive Connecticut couple in the ’50s who reside in a state of domestic bliss, which, oh-so-predictably, turns into claustrophobic domestic hell. But, of course, you don’t care about that. You only care that this couple is played by the reuniting titanic duo from Titanic: Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. The Screener has only one serious critical observation: Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!
Cold or Hot?: Kate and Leo aside, Revolutionary Road looks to be Mendes’ best chance to return to the critical darling status he enjoyed with American Beauty.
Screener Prophecy Rating: you guessed it, iceberg
Comic book creator-turned-filmmaker Frank Miller—the man behind Sin City—returns with The Spirit, another gritty, super-stylized adaptation of a graphic novel (this time not by Miller himself, but by Will Eisner). Gabriel Macht (The Good Shepherd) plays The Spirit, a cop who returns from the dead to fight evil in not very well lit Central City. Scarlett Johansson plays a character whose name—Silken Floss—could be the name of a line of Victoria’s Secret panties. Samuel L Jackson is the treacherous criminal mastermind, The Octopus.
Cold or Hot?: It’s as simple as this: If you like Sin City, odds are you’ll like The Spirit, too. If you loved Sin City, you’re likely to love The Spirit. If you…you get the
Screener Prophecy Rating: cold as a noir night
Valkyrie takes its title from the code-named coup in which a group of German officers planned, during the height of WWII, to assassinate Adolf Hitler and end the war—which, if you haven’t heard, really sucked. Tom Cruise is the eye-patch-sporting German national hero, Col. Claus von Stauffenberg.
Cold or Hot?: Valkyrie’s director, Bryan Singer, has one of those classic Hollywood stories in which a director makes a terrific film (The Usual Suspects) and then parlays that artistic success into big budget paydays and ever-declining works of cinematic art (X-Men, Superman Returns). Valkyrie, quite likely, will be a continuation of that vertiginous artistic nose dive. If so, its descent will be matched only by the rapid decline of Cruise’s (judging from Valkyrie’s trailers, Cruise plays himself as usual—accent-free English and all) star-power, credibility and, it seems, sanity.
Screener Prophecy Rating: hotter than the billions of exploding “body thetans” that were dropped by Xenu into volcanoes and blown up with hydrogen bombs
When Fox isn’t having its big-mouthed bloviators spew nonsense about hip-hop on TV, its film arm, Fox Searchlight Pictures, busies itself by making money off of movies glorifying the music. Such is the case for Notorious, a biopic of Christopher Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls, who rose from obese, crack-dealing street hustler to megastar rapper and who also lived long enough to mention that rise in every single one of his songs. Perfectly Biggie-looking newcomer Jamal Woolard plays Big Papa. He is supported by Angela Bassett as Voletta Wallace, Anthony Macki as Tupac, Derek Luke as Sean Combs and Naturi Naughton as ’Lil Kim.
Cold or Hot?: You know what I’m saying? Oh, wait! I haven’t said anything yet. OK, though Biggie may be the greatest rapper of all times and Notorious’ soundtrack is sure to be bangin,’ its director, George Tillman Jr., hasn’t made a movie since 2000’s disastrously sappy Cuba Gooding Jr.-vehicle Men of Honor. Now do you know what I’m saying?
Screener Prophecy Rating: hotter than a fat man wearing a three-piece suit in the middle of a Brooklyn summer day