Scene looks at the final movies of the
By MATT NANIA
Scene Movie Critic
The holiday movie season always brings out the best and brightest of Hollywood filmmaking. And although this year has already seen some noteworthy films — "Eyes Wide Shut," "American Beauty," "Fight Club," "Being John Malkovich," "Dogma," "The Insider", "Toy Story 2" — many of the season's upcoming films (with a few exceptions) are sure to be on some year-end best films lists.
This time of year also witnesses some high box-office figures, thanks to the millions of family gatherings that end at the nearest Multiplex.
But considering the sleuth of studio releases coming out between now and the end of the year, no particular movie looks to dominate at the box office. So here's a guide to help you decide which films will get your hard-earned Christmas money.
The Green Mile
The Players: Starring Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise and Michael Duncan; directed by Frank Darabont
The Plot: Based on the Stephen King serial novel, Hanks plays a depression era death-row prison guard assigned to watch over John Coffey (Duncan), an enormous black man convicted of murdering two young white girls.
The Buzz: Early audience response to this film has been overwhelming. But that's not so surprising — director Darabont has already done a sensitive prison film ("The Shawshank Redemption"), and Tom Hanks is, well, Tom Hanks. Though death-row movies are not necessarily the rage at the holidays, the combination should add up to success at the box office and Oscar nominations in everyone's stockings. (opens Friday)
Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo
The Players: Rob Schneider
The Plot: Schneider co-wrote this tale of an aquarium cleaner who, while fish-sitting for a successful gigolo, answers his business phone and decides to take some of the business.
The Buzz: "Deuce" is Schneider's bid to become a marquee name and break out of his smarmy supporting roles. And although screwball comedies such as "Ace Ventura" and "Billy Madison" have led to breakout careers, Schneider just does not have the comedic talent to sustain an entire film, despite Adam Sandler's role as executive producer. From the looks of it, Schneider will end up sleeping with the fishes. (opens Friday)
The Cider House Rules
The Players: Starring Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron, Michael Caine and Paul Rudd; directed by Lasse Hallstrom
The Plot: Based on John Irving's novel, "Rules" tells the story of a young orphan (Maguire) raised by a kindly abortionist (Caine) in World War II-era New England.
The Buzz: This old-fashioned, sprawling saga is expected to pack emotional heft and feature a marvelous supporting performance by Caine. Hallstrom has a way with heart-tuggers (see "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?"), and "Rules" just might make Maguire a star if the movie is marketed right by Miramax. (opens Friday)
Cradle Will Rock
The Players: Starring Susan Sarandon, John Cusack, Bill Murray and Emily Watson; directed by Tim Robbins
The Plot: "Cradle" is based on the true events surrounding the controversial 1937 musical drama about a greedy industrialist taken down by an ordinary man.
The Buzz: Returning behind the camera for the first time since 1995's "Dead Man Walking," Robbins is set with a holiday opening that may deliver his most powerful film yet. Plus, the terrific ensemble cast seems like it will provide the movie with some added weight. (opens Friday)
The Players: Starring Robin Williams; directed by Chris Columbus
The Plot: An adaptation of Isaac Asimov's story about a robot so intrigued by humans that it attempts to become one over a 200-year span.
The Buzz: Though it is likely to be considered sappy and sentimental by the chronically nihilistic, this second teaming of director Columbus and star Williams (the first was "Mrs. Doubtfire") seems like it should hit the right notes with audiences. (opens Dec. 17)
Anna and the King
The Players: Starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun Fat; directed by Andy Tennant
The Plot: An old-fashioned historical romance based on the true story of the 19th century British governess whose story is told in "The King and I."
The Buzz: Hong Kong action star Chow Yun-Fat gets to show Western audiences he can do more than just shoot, and Jodie Foster gets to stretch with a period film, a British accent and a love story. Director Andy Tennant proved he could give a pleasing, modern spin to the past with the Cinderella update "Ever After," however, "Anna" looks more like a big-screen epic of old than did that feminist fairy tale. Fox targets the whole family with this one, but it will have to do battle with "Bicentennial Man" and "The Green Mile." (opens Dec. 17)
Ride With the Devil
The Players: Starring Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich and Jewel; directed by Ang Lee
The Plot: Along the Kansas/Missouri border early during the Civil War in 1861, gangs of bushwhackers engage in bloody guerrilla warfare. "Devil" tells the story of a 16-year-old boy (Maguire) who becomes part of this bloody chapter of American history.
The Buzz: The success of "Saving Private Ryan" has made it clear to Hollywood that audiences are interested is seeing realistic portrayals of the horrors of war. Not counting "Glory," most Civil War movies of the last 20 years have not been tremendously successful, but an advantages of "Ride With the Devil" are its young cast, a very talented director ("The Ice Storm") and its unique look at a segment of the Civil War not known by most Americans. (now open in limited release)
End of the Affair
The Players: Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore and Stephen Rea; directed by Neil Jordan
The Plot: During World War II, a married woman (Moore) cheats on her husband (Rea) with a handsome novelist (Fiennes). But when her lover is injured during the London Blitz, she makes a pact with God that if he should live, she'll promise to end their affair.
The Buzz: This film appears to be low on everyone's radar despite the fact that it's based on a novel by famous English writer Graham Greene, regarded as one of the century's best scribes. Sounds classy, but given Jordan's erratic work (last year he gave us both the brilliant "The Butcher Boy" and the awful "In Dreams"), it's a toss-up. (now open in limited release)
The Players: Starring Michael J. Fox as the voice of Stuart Little, Geena Davis and Jonathan Lipnicki
The Plot: An adaptation of the classic E.B. White story of a mouse raised as a human boy.
The Buzz: A number of studios have shown that family films like "Babe" and "Free Willy" have the potential to make loads of money. Using cutting edge technology to tell this charming tale could result in a big box office — not to mention fun — movie. And although last year's "Babe: Pig in the City" didn't win the attention of audiences, this little story of a mouse with a heart just might. (opens Dec. 24)
Any Given Sunday
The Players: Starring Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, Dennis Quaid, Jamie Foxx, LL Cool J and James Woods; directed by Oliver Stone
The Plot: A brash young quarterback (Foxx) is hankering to steal the starting gig away from the aging quarterback (Quaid). The owner (Diaz) of the fictitious Miami Sharks sides with Beamen, forcing coach Tony D'Amato (Pacino), whose life is already in shambles, to make some tough decisions.
The Buzz: Forget "JFK" — this is the NFL, and Stone tries to capture every last little gritty bit of it. As one might expect, Stone depicts the league as corrupt, rife with racism, drug use and other professional sporting debauchery. The most obvious element that sets it apart is the sheer overwhelming intensity of the cast's star power. Stone has put together a fantastic ensemble, but that doesn't mean people will take an interest. After all, folks can watch football on well, any given Sunday. (opens Dec. 22)
The Players: Starring Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie, Whoopi Goldberg and Vanessa Redgrave; directed by James Mangold
The Plot: "Girl" is based on Susanna Kaysen's 1993 memoir about her two-year stay in a mental institution, which started in 1967, when she was 17.
The Buzz: After being named executive producer by the brass at Sony, Ryder spent years trying to find the right director. How she settled on James Mangold, whose police drama, "CopLand," wasn't exactly female friendly, is a mystery. Still, the devoted actress — who has said the film is not a female "One Flew Over Cuckoo's Nest" — and Mangold seem to have found common ground with the material.
Plus, the cast includes proven vets like Redgrave and the promising new blood of Jolie ("The Bone Collector"). Female moviegoers will, more than likely, be the dominant audience for this film. (opens Dec. 22)
Snow Falling on Cedars
The Players: Starring Ethan Hawke and Youki Kudoh; directed by Scott Hicks
The Plot: Hawke plays a journalist covering the trial of a Japanese American man accused of killing a Caucasian fisherman near the fictional Northwest island of San Piedro. Hawke's relationship with the accused's wife is depicted in flashbacks, along with the internment of the island's Japanese American citizens during World War II.
The Buzz: Scott Hicks follows his Oscar-winning "Shine" with an adaptation of David Guterson's best-selling mystery-romance-historical-courtroom drama. "Cedars" is much anticipated thanks to readers' passion for the book and because of Hicks' role as director. The film has the ingredients for a moving drama, but early reaction from the Toronto Film Festival has been mixed. (opens Dec. 22)
Man on the Moon
The Players: Starring Jim Carrey; directed by Milos Forman
The Plot: A biographical look at the late comic, Andy Kaufman (Carrey), who is considered one of the most innovative, eccentric and enigmatic performers of all time
The Buzz: Who's the man in "Man on the Moon"? None other than eccentric, spastic '90s comic Jim Carrey, who proved his dramatic chops in last year's "The Truman Show." And with the great Milos Forman ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Amadeus") directing, "Moon" has Academy Award potential and ambition. Audience reaction to the film will likely mirror reaction to the original Kaufman himself, including everything from confused silence to hearty laughs. Plus, Jim Carrey never hurts at the box office, and his extraordinary performance is said to be the best reason to see the film. (opens Dec. 22)
The Talented Mr. Ripley
The Players: Starring Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Cate Blanchett; directed by Anthony Minghella
The Plot: A young, ambitious American named Ripley (Damon) develops a malicious taste for the privileged lifestyle as well as a dangerous fixation on friend Rickie Greenleaf (Law).
The Buzz: Just about three years later, Minghella follows his award-winning "English Patient" with three past Oscar favorites: Damon, Paltrow and Blanchett. The film is reportedly more existential drama than suspenseful nail-biter, but with Minghella, one can count on a postcard-pretty film. And although a picturesque but low-key psychological drama isn't exactly holiday fare, any movie with so much talent should not be missed. (opens Dec. 24)
The Players: Starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman; directed by Dean Parisot
The Plot: Galaxy Quest is the title of a fictional TV show that airs for just three seasons but becomes a national obsession. It turns out that the series has extra-terrestrial fans who don't realize it's just a show, and they need the cast's help.
The Buzz: "Quest" sounds like "Three Amigos" set in space. If "Quest" can do for science fiction what "Amigos" did for Westerns, the audience is in for a hilarious time. And although Allen has had his share of misses, the former Home Improvement mainstay struck holiday box office gold with 1994's "The Santa Clause." (opens Dec. 25)
The Players: Starring William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly and Tom Cruise; directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
The Plot: The film's Web site simply states that "this is a story about family relationships and bonds that have been broken and need to be mended in one day."
The Buzz: Even armed with only the foggiest idea of what this film is about, anyone who saw "Boogie Nights," Anderson's critically lauded 1997 paean to the '70s porn industry, knows that he is more than capable of weaving involved, character-driven story lines. Anderson's reliance on a consistent core of journeyman actors makes his seemingly out-of-left-field casting of megastar Tom Cruise — who plays, of all things, a sleazy late-night infomercial sex advice guru — all the more intriguing. Surprisingly, out of the entire top-notch cast, Cruise has been the one to emerge with Oscar buzz. (opens Dec. 25)
The Players: Ice Cube; directed by Steve Carr (debut)
The Plot: This movie is the sequel to the popular 1995 urban comedy, "Friday." Following the events of the first film by just two weeks, Craig (Ice Cube) moves in with his cousin and uncle, while the town bully is still after him for knocking him out in the first film.
The Buzz: Chris Tucker, who was the best thing about the original, will not reprise his role this time around. However, after seeing the trailer, expect lots of laughs. (opens Dec. 24)
The Players: Starring Denzel Washington; directed by Norman Jewison
The Plot: "Hurricane" tells the true story of middleweight boxing champion Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, who was falsely convicted of the 1966 murder of three white men in a New Jersey tavern.
The Buzz: Buzz is extremely high on this film and with good reason: Norman Jewison has a strong track record with comparable subject matter ("A Soldier's Story," "In the Heat of the Night"), and Washington's smoldering and solemn performance looks brilliant. With a strong lead and director, this appears to be a film to keep an eye as the Oscar season approaches. (opens Dec. 29)
All Scene Stories for Wednesday, December 8, 1999