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ISSUE 118 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/12/2004

The Life Cinematic

By Molly Bayrd
Arts Editor
and Stephanie Soucheray
Variety Editor

Friday, November 12, 2004

We know what youre thinking: December is only a few short weeks away, and there are no more Lord of the Rings films to be released in theaters. What are avid winter movie-goers to do? Do they succumb to the otherwise depressing aspects of the holiday season (read: drowning their miseries in eggnog in the middle of crowded shopping malls)?

Or do they don their gay winter apparel and brave the untested cinematic waters, armed only with a popcorn bucket and a sliver of hope that Peter Jackson might come through at the last minute? From what we can tell, the latter seems to be the more rewarding option for the upcoming season.

Ah, the winter movie. Through the course of time, this cinematic landmark has stood as the bearer of Oscar nominations, the bringer of breakthrough roles to promising new stars and as a playground for the brilliant ideas which dwell in the minds of the worlds most prolific directors. More cerebral, profound and provocative than their summer counterparts, those films belonging to the genre of winter blockbusters are the wine and cheese to the Junior Mints and Cherry Coke of much-hyped summer films.

In years past, classic winter movies such as Titanic, American Beauty and Shakespeare in Love have paid testament to the telling Oscar buzz that erupts in the winter months  each of them won Best Picture in their respective release years.

This season appears no different, with films such as The Aviator, Ray and Alexander soon to overwhelm audiences and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences alike with their epic scopes and all-star casts.

With all-star casts often come all-star directors. This season, one of the biggest trends in winter films seems to be the re-emergence of some of the biggest names in recent directorial history. On Dec. 3, Academy Award winning director Mike Nichols (who just won an Emmy for his HBO adaptation of Tony Kushners Angels in America) will release his latest directorial effort, Closer.

The film, which stars Jude Law, Julia Roberts and Natalie Portman, explores the theme of fidelity in modern relationships. While it is not likely to garner the same publicity or sizeable audiences as Oliver Stones Alexander, the film has generated a substantial amount of Oscar buzz for its frank discussion of modern sexual mores.

Other famous directors making waves (make that snowballs) this season are Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh and James L. Brooks.

Speaking of Alexander, the epic biopic by oft-controversial director Stone (Born on the 4th of July), stars bad-boy and suddenly blond Colin Farrell as the legendary Macedonian conqueror. To be released on Nov. 24, Alexander (also starring Angelina Jolie and Val Kilmer) is likely to find the same success as its 2000 summer counterpart, Gladiator  a film that, coincidentally, was the defining film of Russell Crowes career to date. Are you listening, Colin Farrell?

For those of us who arent into historical biopics and would rather take the kids (i.e., annoying cousins and siblings) to more family-oriented films, the 2004 holiday season will see no shortage of family friendly features.

Robert Zemeckis The Polar Express (Nov. 10), featuring the directors famous muse, Tom Hanks, has been tagged already as one of the most wonderful childrens book adaptations of all time. The film attempts to capture the memorable story of a boy who takes a magical journey to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. The book was written by Chris Van Allsburg in 1985.

Other fanciful, literature-related films include the upcoming Finding Neverland, (Nov. 24), a biographical account of the life and relationships of J. M. Barrie, the Scottish playwright who penned Peter Pan. Johnny Depp stars in this drama, guaranteed to simultaneously challenge and enlighten young and adult viewers alike with its ruminations on imagination and aging.

Lighter family films include Spongebob Squarepants: The Movie (Nov. 19), Nickelodeons first feature-length animated film, made even more hilarious than its TV version by the vocal talents of Alec Baldwin and Scarlett Johansson.

If Spongebob cant break your Seasonal Affective Disorder blues, other movies guaranteed to do the job are on the way. Adam Sandler stars in Spanglish, a dramedy by James L. Brooks to be released Dec. 17. Combining Sandlers years of comedic honing on Saturday Night Live and his recent foray into drama, the film chronicles a young man trying to work through language barriers after taking a Spanish family into his home.

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Meet the Fockers, the follow-up to Meet the Parents are two other comedies which will battle for best blockbuster sequel this winter (their respective release dates are Nov. 12 and Dec. 22).

Perhaps the quirkiest, most eccentric comedy to hit screens this season will be Wes Andersons latest offering, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, to be released Dec. 10. Fans of Andersons other critically acclaimed winter darling, The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), highly anticipate Andersons next release. Using many of the actors from Tenenbaums, including Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Anjelica Huston, The Life Aquatic will appeal to viewers with a dryer, subtler senses of humor.

While the aforementioned comedies will serve to satisfy viewers lighter tastes this holiday season, the movies most likely to please audiences all-around cinematic hankerings include the upcoming blockbusters National Treasure, Oceans Twelve and The Aviator.

Inspired by the Masonic conspiracy theories popularized by Dan Browns The DaVinci Code, National Treasure (Nov. 19) stars Nicholas Cage as a third-generation treasure hunter out to protect and find Americas most illustrious treasure. There is one caveat: The map Cage needs to obtain the treasure is located on the back of the Declaration of Independence.

To be released Dec. 10, Oceans Twelve, Steven Soderberghs long-anticipated sequel to his all-star winter 2002 blockbuster Oceans Eleven, transports viewers to Italy. The now-famous group of thieves from the first film are plotting their next heist. The addition of winter movie maven Catherine Zeta-Jones (Oscar winner for her role in 2002s Chicago) to the films already sterling cast raises the level of elegance and sophistication in the stylish caper.

The last and most talked-about of the upcoming winter blockbusters, Martin Scorseses The Aviator, tells the true story of Trans World Airlines mogul and eccentric playboy Howard Hughes (played by St. Olafs recent visitor Leonardo DiCaprio). The film also stars Cate Blanchett and Kate Beckinsale, who portray Katharine Hepburn and Ava Gardner respectively, two of Hughes lovers. The film also marks the cinematic debut of No Doubt rocker Gwen Stefani, who plays silver-screen beauty Jean Harlow.

Needless to say, there is an abundance of upcoming winter films to stuff the movie-goer's Lord of the Rings-hungry appetite, and garnish it with the cranberry sauce of excellence (i.e., casts, crews and scopes). With a dollop of adventure (National Treasure) and a dash of epic heroism (Alexander), this years holiday movie smorgasbord is bound to rank among the richest of feasts in winter movie history.

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