A new year means a fresh slate -- of films. We movie fans indulge in airbrushed expectations of a perfectly fabulous year in cinema, at least until the first dog of January fouls the air. But while I'm still floating in my champagne bubble, feeling a bit like Mr. Magoo, I anticipate only success for the Bay Area's multitude of on- and off-screen players in the coming months.
Our local exhibition scene gets a boost with the reopening of the newly multiplexed Presidio in the spring and the newly swank Fine Arts Cinema in the fall. On the downside, in late 2004 -- or, more likely, early '05 -- the Coronet will finally close to make room for the Institute on Aging's new facility, at least four years after those plans were announced. The Vogue, Metro, Alexandria, and Galaxy are also in precarious straits -- but I say that every year.
On the DVD front, California Newsreel will release Marlon Riggs' Ethnic Notions (1986), but probably not by April 5, which marks the 10th anniversary of the East Bay documentary maker's death. (Frameline is mounting a local theatrical tribute as well.) Come August, the San Francisco-based National Film Preservation Foundation releases an endlessly fascinating three-DVD set, Saving the Silents: 50 More Treasures From America's Film Archives.
What about new movies? At long last, Phil Kaufman's Twisted (formerly known as Blackout) opens Feb. 27, some 16 months after the S.F.-set thriller wrapped production here. Similarly, Barry Levinson's Envy, a comedy starring Jack Black and Ben Stiller, will have been sitting on the shelf for nearly a year when it finally sees the light of projectors on April 2. No doubts surround The Incredibles, Pixar's computer-animated feature about a suburban family of superheroes, which busts out of the blocks Nov. 5.
The fall also brings Jacob Kornbluth's The Best Thief in the World, plus local fantasist Henry Selick's stop-motion animation in Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic. Yes, I know that Kornbluth's movie hasn't premiered yet (it debuts at Sundance), let alone scored a distributor. But I'm hopeful, just as I'm rooting for cameras to roll this year on Terry Zwigoff's Art School Confidential, the Ghost World follow-up penned by Daniel Clowes. Along the same lines, I'm buoyed by the possibility that Francis Ford Coppola might kick his utopian epic Megalopolis into high gear.
I'm betting that the high-profile performance of the year among Bay Area actors will be Robin Wright Penn's in A Home at the End of the World (July 23), based on the novel by Michael Cunningham (The Hours). The busiest local actor may well be Peter Coyote, who turns up opposite Isabelle Adjani and Gérard Depardieu in the upscale French wartime drama Bon Voyage, as well as in the thrillers Main Line and Deepwater. The equally in-demand Benjamin Bratt plays Halle Berry's love interest (and a detective) in Catwoman (July 30), with Sharon Stone as the villainess. (Summer camp, anyone?) Bratt also leads The Great Raid to liberate a Japanese concentration camp during World War II, and assumes a supporting role in the Sundance entry The Woodsman.
Delroy Lindo has his best role in ages as a Jamaican cricket aficionado and unwelcome immigrant to Britain in the 1960s coming-of-age tale Wondrous Oblivion. Sean Penn propels The Assassination of Richard Nixon (opposite Naomi Watts, his co-star in the current 21 Grams, once again), which had a problematic shoot in the Bay Area last year. Penn also appears in Thomas Winterberg's It's All About Love and plays himself in This So-Called Disaster (opening in late April), a documentary that covers the final three weeks leading up to the 2000 world premiere of Sam Shepard's The Late Henry Moss at the Magic Theatre. Robin Williams surfaces in writer/director David Duchovny's House of D, though I'm more curious about The Final Cut, a sci-fi thriller in which Williams' character eerily parallels Gene Hackman's morally conflicted San Francisco snoop in The Conversation.
Speaking of actors, 2004 marks the 100th birthday of two Olympian leading men, Jean Gabin and Cary Grant, as well as the inimitable and indispensable character actor Peter Lorre. Dare I ask the cinema gods for retrospectives devoted to each? (Thanks, Rafael, for the Grant series, showing Jan. 11-29.) We can anticipate revivals of a few of the memorable films marking their 50th anniversary, such as The Seven Samurai, La Strada, Buñuel's droll The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, On the Waterfront, Rear Window, Johnny Guitar, A Star Is Born, Sabrina, and Magnificent Obsession. If even a couple of 2004's releases can stand with those titles, it will have been a fabulous year indeed.
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