ANNUAL MANUAL: Culture- Movies

Nicole Kidman makes her return to the big screen in three movies this year, including the fantasy adventure The Golden Compass.

The best of the rest of 2007

They're already showing trailers for next summer's movies, even if they haven't been filmed yet. Is it any wonder that by the time a picture opens you sometimes think you've already seen it?

My contribution to that situation is my annual list of the films I'm most looking forward to in the rest of this year. Except for a handful I've already seen, I'm not saying you should necessarily be looking forward to them, but something about them has piqued my interest.

Last year's list included a lot of films that proved to be Oscar contenders and/or my personal favorites, but I totally missed Pan's Labyrinth and The Last King of Scotland and thought Idlewild sounded more interesting than Dreamgirls and The Prestige better than The Illusionist. And who didn't think All the King's Men, The Fountain, and The Good German would be winners and Snakes on a Plane would be fun? In other words, it's still a crapshoot, but I'll see them all (usually without paying) so you won't have to.

Because I cheat, the list winds up as a compromise (about 35) between the "Top Ten" I'm assigned to write and what my OCD tells me to write: a comprehensive listing of every film scheduled for release before year-end that might possibly be worth seeing.

The national release dates, subject to change, are in parentheses; but most of these are platform releases that won't reach Charlottesville until later– perhaps next year, if ever.

1. National Comedy Day – Unless schedules change, two of the year's funniest movies will open August 17. You can choose between the subtle British humor of Death at a Funeral, directed by Frank Oz (Bowfinger, Housesitter), and the raunchy American wackiness of Superbad, from some of the Knocked Up people, in which two graduating seniors have one wild night.

2. The Return of Nicole Kidman – Nicole Kidman was Hollywood's highest-paid actress for five minutes, until she turned 40 and Reese Witherspoon passed her; but the former Mrs. Cruise cranked out three movies during those five minutes, and we'll see them in the next few months. The Invasion (Aug. 17) pairs her with Craig, Daniel Craig in what sounds like a sci-fi variation on The Others. The Golden Compass (Dec. 7) will show whether Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials novels will give New Line a trilogy to match The Lord of the Rings. The more modest Margot at the Wedding (Oct. 19) pits Kidman against sister Jennifer Jason Leigh in a dysfunctional family dramedy by Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale).

3. History Repeats Itself – At least in the case of The Golden Age (Oct. 12), which reunites Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush under Shekhar Kapur's direction in a rare arthouse sequel that continues the story of Queen Elizabeth I as portrayed in Elizabeth. Clive Owen joins the cast as Sir Walter Raleigh. The Other Boleyn Girl (Dec. 21) speculates about the sister (Scarlett Johansson) who didn't marry King Henry VIII (Eric Bana). Natalie Portman plays the one who did. Peter Morgan (The Queen) wrote the screenplay.

4. Two for Clooney's Goonies – Though not as hot as two years ago, George Clooney has two chances to redeem himself for The Good German and Ocean's Thirteen. Leatherheads (Dec. 7), which he also directed, is a romantic comedy with Renée Zellweger set in the early days of football and co-starring John Krasinski (TV's The Office). The more promising-looking Michael Clayton (Oct. 5) is a legal thriller about a whistle-blower. Think Erin Brockovich meets The Insider.

5. J'acCusack – Warm from 1408, John Cusack tries to turn up the heat with two movies that cast him as a caring father. In the Sundance hit Grace Is Gone (Oct. 12), he takes his two daughters on a road trip after his soldier wife dies in Iraq. In Martian Child (Oct. 26) Cusack's adopted son has psychological problems... unless he really is from Mars. Sister Joan Cusack appears with John in that one, and in War, Inc., an action comedy that may also open this year.

6. Afghan with the Wind – Various aspects of war in the Middle East are dramatized in five films that sound promising: Lions for Lambs (Nov. 9) with Robert Redford directing himself, Meryl Streep, and Tom Cruise, in a drama about an investigation into soldiers injured behind enemy lines; In the Valley of Elah (Sept. 21) has Tommy Lee Jones trying to find out why his son went AWOL after returning from Iraq; Charlie Wilson's War (Dec. 25), directed by Mike Nichols and co-starring Julia Roberts, finds Tom Hanks playing a Texas congressman who helped finance the Afghans' fight against the Soviets; The Kingdom (Sept. 28) is an action thriller with Jamie Foxx and Chris Cooper investigating a bombing in the Middle East; and The Kite Runner (Nov. 2), directed by Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, Stranger Than Fiction), has an Afghan who grew up in America returning home to help an old friend.

7. Music Music Musicals – Johnny Depp stars as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street in Tim Burton's version of the Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd (Dec. 21; wide release Jan. 11), with Helena Bonham Carter as the woman who bakes his victims into pies. In I'm Not There (Sept. 21) Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, Velvet Goldmine) has more actors (Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw) playing Bob Dylan than played James Bond in the original Casino Royale. Beatles songs are the inspiration (the main characters are Jude and Lucy) for imaginative Julie Taymor's (Frida) ‘60s-set musical romance, Across the Universe (Sept. 28).

8. Austentatious – Jane Austen's life inspires her own work in Becoming Jane (Aug. 10), with Anne Hathaway as the young author-to-be who falls in love with James McAvoy. Her work inspires contemporary California women, who find their lives imitating her art, in The Jane Austen Book Club (Sept. 21).

9. New Films from Old Favorite Directors – Ever versatile, the Coen Brothers and Ang Lee explore new territory. Fresh off Brokeback Mountain, Lee examines Shanghai during the 1940s in Lust, Caution (Sept. 28), an intimate drama about a romance with political ramifications. The Coens tackle Cormac McCarthy's novel, No Country for Old Men (Nov. 21), with Josh Brolin making off with money in the aftermath of a drug deal gone bad and finding himself pursued by sheriff Tommy Lee Jones and bad guy Javier Bardem.

10. Three R's: Reservation Road (Oct. 19), a suburban drama directed by Terry George (Hotel Rwanda), with Mark Ruffalo as the man who accidentally killed Joaquin Phoenix' son; Rendition (Oct. 19) stars Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal in Gavin Hood's (Tsotsi) thriller about the secret interrogation of a suspected terrorist; and on the much lighter side, Rocket Science (Aug. 24) is a wonderfully offbeat comedy about a stutterer who's seduced into joining the high school debating team.

If I could write about 18 instead of ten I'd include:

Two mockumentaries on the way: Finishing the Game (Oct. 5) is said to return Justin Lin to the level of his debut film, Better Luck Tomorrow, with this speculation on how Game of Death was finished after star Bruce Lee died early in the filming. Walk Hard (Dec. 14) – even the title's funny – stars John C. Reilly as a musical legend of decades past, a contemporary of Elvis (Jack White).

Love in the Time of Cholera (Nov. 16), from Gabriel García Márquez's novel, is the story of a man who waits more than 50 years for the woman he loves to become a widow and give him a second chance. Well, he doesn't wait alone all that time– he is Latin.

Feast of Love (Sept. 14), an ensemble drama directed by Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer), about the romantic entanglements of a group of friends in Oregon, stars Morgan Freeman, Selma Blair, Radha Mitchell, and Greg Kinnear.

The Eleventh Hour (Aug. 17), a sequel of sorts to An Inconvenient Truth, with Leonardo DiCaprio, who is prettier than Al Gore, narrating as well as being one of the writers and producers. It's said to focus on things we can do to restore the planet's ecosystems. (#1 – Don't vote Republican)

The Brave One (Sept. 14) – Jodie Foster had enough of the courtroom in The Accused. This time when she's attacked she goes out for vigilante vengeance. Neil Jordan (The End of the Affair, The Crying Game) directs. Terrence Howard and Naveen Andrews co-star.

American Gangster (Nov. 2) – Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe star in Ridley Scott's drama about drugs smuggled into Harlem in the 1970s in the caskets of American soldiers.

Youth Without Youth (Dec. 14) – Based on a novella by Romania's Mircea Eliade, this drama stars Tim Roth as a fugitive professor in Europe in the 1930s. It's Francis Ford Coppola's first film in a decade, so we'll give it a shot, even though the director says it explores themes of "time, consciousness, and the dream-like basis of reality."

One I won't mention is The Signal (Sept. 7) because I appear in it for about ten seconds and that would be a conflict of interest, even though I've seen it and it's quite good (except when it slows down near the end) for a low-budget horror movie, with some solid laughs and scares. Of course, now I've mentioned it, but don't say I've ever skirted disclosure!



Regal Downtown- On the Downtown Mall, across from the Hook's offices (titles usually visible from our webcam!). Presents blockbusters and artier fare on its six screens. Times: 979-7669. Office: 979-7857.

Carmike 6- By Albemarle Square, the theater boasts six screens and it's the only theater with a matinee every day of the week, every day of the year. Times: 973-4294. Office: 973-5972.

Regal Cinema 4- Behind K-Mart. This is where most of the blockbusters come. Four stalls in the ladies' room, so expect a wait. Times: 980-3333. Office: 978-1607.

Vinegar Hill- Downtown Charlottesville's original art-house theater is still the best for independent and foreign films. Times: 977-4911. Office: 977-8468.

UVA is blessed with two film groups, both based in Newcomb Hall:

Cinemateque- Snooty French name, but shows closer-to-mainstream films: 924-7314

OffScreen- Blander name of the two, but actually screens the more adventurous independent, foreign, and classic stuff. 243-8741

If you wanna neck to celluloid, you have to drive pretty far, as Charlottesville lost its drive-in (where the Hydraulic Road Kroger now stands) in the '70s. 

Fork Union Drive-In: Go retro on Route 612 South, about 40 minutes away. 842-3624

Hull's Drive In: Old-fashioned fun about an hour west in Lexington, 540-463-2621,


For the only comprehensive movie listings in town, plus capsule revues from our very own Steve Warren, check out the Hook in print every week or online at



Big movies shot in Central Virginia

The 2007 summer comedy Evan Almighty might be the most recent occasion when Hollywood has come knocking on our door, but it's hardly the first. Check out all the cinematic history (some parts of it more forgettable than others) that dots our landscape.

Virginia - (1941) - Starring Fred MacMurray, best known as the dad in My Three Sons, this melodrama was set at Monticola, a Howardsville-area mansion. Here, we find a southern belle who must choose between impoverished southerner Stonewall Elliot (MacMurray) and– egads– a Yankee industrialist.

Giant - (1956) - Texas rancher Rock Hudson visits a Maryland farm to buy a horse. What he finds is the owner's daughter, the lovely Elizabeth Taylor. It happened at Belmont, a cushy Keswick-area farm that plays a bit part in what would turn out to be the final film in the short career of James Dean.

The Four Seasons - (1981) - Alan Alda and Carol Burnett headline this "romantic" comedy with extensive shooting at Pantops, which was owned at the time by the Worrell publishing family. It's now home to the Kluge-Ruhe Museum of Aboriginal Art. Nominated for four Golden Globes.

Mutants in Paradise (1984) - This film seems to have started and ended the career of its writer/director Scott Apostoulo. "This film makes Attack of the Killer Tomatoes look like Citizen Kane," writes one IMDB reviewer. It does, however, feature the film debut of boxing's former Lightweight Champion of the World Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini.

Morgan Stewart's Coming Home - (1987) - This dull (directed by Alan Smithee) knock-off of Ferris Bueller's Day Off takes place in Washington, D.C. but is actually filmed in Charlottesville. Whatever it lacks in artistic quality, it may be worth finding in the bargain bin because it probably shows more local scenes and extras than all the other pictures on this list.

Toy Soldiers - (1991) - Albemarle County's own Miller School plays "The Regis School," an academy of misfits and rebels shunned from America's elite prep schools who put their bad behavior to use when terrorists take the school hostage. Cinema's two greatest drill seargents Louis Gossett, Jr. (An Officer and a Gentleman) and R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket) share screen time with the boy who would be Sam in Lord of the Rings, Sean Astin.

True Colors - (1991) - John Cusack and James Spader play two UVA Law students who pour booze on themselves at Macadoo's and go dancing at Trax. Even the Hook (which didn't exist then) has a tangential role. Our delivery driver lent his yellow Volvo to a scene filmed outside Trax.

A Kiss Before Dying - (1991) - Matt Dillon, Sean Young, and an ordinary house near the Korner restaurant served as key elements in this critically panned psycho killer story.

Sommersby - (1993) - They poured dirt on the streets of Lexington for this post-Bellum drama starring Richard Gere and Jodie Foster.

Major Payne - (1995) - After a critically acclaimed performance in Toy Soldiers, Miller School gets cast again, this time as the home of a JROTC program under the direction of hard-boiled Marine Benson Payne (Damon Wayans). Live grenades plus cute kids equals hilarity!

Hush - (1998) - The working title was Kilronan, the screen name given to Rocklands, the Orange County spread then operating as an inn (now a private residence). This dud of a film stars an up-and-coming actress named Gwyneth Paltrow playing daughter to abusive mom played by former local Jessica Lange.

Mickey - (2004) - Written and financed by John Grisham and partially shot at his Cove Creek Park baseball complex in Covesville, this boy-and-his-dad baseball picture was directed by another prominent Albemarlean: Hugh Wilson, the creator of WKRP in Cincinnati. Alas, despite starring Harry Connick Jr. and opening in about a dozen southern cities, it went quietly to DVD shelves.

War of the Worlds - (2005) - Supposedly set in New England, but they can't fool us. The spotlight shines once again on Lexington in one of this Tom Cruise blockbuster's most dramatic scenes.

Evan Almighty - (2007) - Directed by UVA alum Tom Shadyac, this sequel to the Jim Carrey vehicle Bruce Almighty reprises Steve Carell's role as a weatherman who gets the call from God (Morgan Freeman) to build an ark. Shooting in Crozet's Old Trail neighborhood wrapped in June 2006, and included a menagerie of animals, a 200-foot-long ark, and plenty of locals appearing as extras. That its nationwide reception was tepid didn't dim the enthusiasm of locals.