My Favorite Year

It's easy to be positive about the upcoming year in local film

Whether it's the champagne buzz or my natural ebullience I can't say, but I'm always optimistic on Jan. 1. OK, we avid moviegoers are enthusiastic year round, thrilling to trailers, advance photos of actors in costume, and even, on occasion, casting announcements. We're so devoted that we set our alarms for Tuesday a.m., Feb. 11, when Academy Award nominations are revealed, and are already working on our Oscar get-up -- a '50s hausfrau? an orc? Virginia Woolf? -- for the March 23 telecast. So it's easy to be positive about the upcoming year in local film, which promises star sightings and indie breakthroughs from January on.

Nicolas Cage makes his directorial debut Jan. 10 with Sonny, a low-budget, distinctly unglamorous portrait of a male hustler. (Remember when Sean Penn dissed Cage for abandoning serious films to become a highly paid action star? Sonny may rekindle their friendship.) Meanwhile, Sam Green's documentary about the militant '60s radicals The Weather Underground is primed to make headlines at the Sundance Film Festival in three weeks and garner national distribution.

Valentine's Day weekend brings Lynn Hershman Leeson's high-definition sci-fi romance Teknolust to L.A., N.Y., and the Bay Area (followed by other hip metropolises). Matt Dillon's City of Ghosts, which he wrote with East Bay scribe Barry Gifford, also opens in February, nearly two full years after shooting wrapped. Behind the camera, East Bay filmmaker Finn Taylor (Cherish) is gearing up to shoot his third independent feature here in March. I've been told on the QT that another local writer/director who hit it big with his first S.F.-shot feature may make one more early this year, but I can't say more until the ink dries on everybody's contracts.

On the theater beat, Berkeley's Fine Arts Cinema closes Feb. 2 after a three-month reprieve. (It will be reincarnated in a lovely new building in a year and a half.) The Lumiere begins its quake retrofitting imminently, scheming to figure a way it can keep a screen or two open in the evenings while work is being done during the day. At the end of October the Four Star's Frank Lee takes over operation of the Presidio Theater; it's also going to be late fall (at the soonest) before the Coronet finally comes down to make room for a senior center.

OK, but what are we really looking forward to? The Singing Detective, with Marin thespian Robin Wright Penn starring opposite Robert Downey Jr., premieres at Sundance and hopefully opens sooner rather than later. The Matrix: Reloaded, which shot extensively in Oakland and Alameda, opens May 15, followed by The Matrix: Revolutions on Nov. 7. And The Hulk, which is set in S.F. but shot here for only a week or so, opens everywhere June 20.

Delroy Lindo, the East Bay deacon of cool, is guaranteed no glory as one of the save-the-world volunteers in The Core (opening March 28), an apocalyptic action flick that filmed a couple of scenes in San Francisco. Robert Duvall's Assassination Tango, an American Zoetrope production, arrives in April, as does James Ivory's Le Divorce, based on local author Diane Johnson's novel. Finding Nemo, the latest animated splash from Emeryville-based Pixar, has a release date of May 30 through Disney.

Later in the year, former S.F. director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld helms Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde (opening July 2, but of course). Philip Kaufman's Blackout is scheduled to open Sept. 19, and Clint Eastwood's Mystic River, with one Sean Penn, is slated for October. Sharon Stone hopes to revive her flagging career in the Mike Figgis thriller The Devil's Throat, while Terry Zwigoff's fascinating career continues with the Christmas satire Bad Santa. You can breathe, now: No Robin Williams or Chris Columbus movies will assail us this year.

As for revivals, 2003 marks the centennial of Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu's birth and the 50th anniversary of The Big Heat, Stalag 17, Roman Holiday, The Wild One, The Naked Spur, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Shane, and From Here to Eternity. How many of this year's movies will be remembered half a century hence? We'll see.

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