The question I have heard most often this year—after "What did you think of Inception?"—is "Have there been any good movies this year?"
Well, in a sense, this year has not yet begun to fight. As movie studios continue to increasingly backload their annual prestige hopefuls, we truly have to wait until the year-end holidays before we render a verdict on 2010.
Moreover, area cinephiles have long known that the Triangle, with its miscellany of multiplexes, art house theaters, universities and cultural centers, is a veritable oasis for otherwise parched moviegoers. The following is a sampling of marquee film events taking place this fall, together with several upcoming new releases that might infuse audiences with a welcome dose of optimism.
6 Duke University's Screen/ Society: Duke's Art of the Moving Image launches another eclectic program, beginning Sept. 6 with The Wedding Song, the first entry in its French Film Series. More than 30 films will screen throughout the semester under such other headings at East Asian Cinema, Muslim Cultures, N.C. Latin American film and the films of documentary filmmaker James Longley (Iraq in Fragments). For a complete listing of films and screening dates, go to ami.trinity.duke.edu/screensociety/schedule.php.
10 The UniVarsity Roman Polanski Film Series: The revamped Varsity Theater in Chapel Hill kicks off this trio of Polanski classics on Sept. 10 with a screening of Chinatown. Oct. 30 features Rosemary's Baby, followed by The Pianist on Nov. 15. Best of all, the series, sponsored by UNC's Department of Comparative Literature, is free to the public.
12 The Cinema, Inc.: This Raleigh-based film organization's 45th season begins at the Rialto Theatre with Don Juan DeMarco. Monthly classics include Mafioso (Oct. 10), Eugene Jarecki's Why We Fight (Nov. 14) and Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, the 1964 Grand Prize winner at Cannes (Dec. 12). (www.cinema-inc.org)
17 NCMA Fall Film Series: The N.C. Museum of Art seasonal series—curated by Indy contributor Laura Boyes—starts with The Seven Samurai, part of a five-week salute to director Akira Kurosawa using new Janus prints of his films. After the imperishable opening film, the other four titles are ones that were not part of the Carolina Theatre's successful Kurosawa retrospective of a few months ago. In late October, the program shifts to movies that evoke the America of Norman Rockwell, starting with Preston Sturges' 1944 classic, Hail the Conquering Hero and ending Jan. 28 with, er, Blue Velvet. (ncartmuseum.org/calendar/type/fall_film_series)
17 The Town: Ben Affleck looks to follow up the success of his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, with this adaptation of Chuck Hogan's award-winning book Prince of Thieves, about the aftermath of a Boston bank heist. The cast includes Jon Hamm, Blake Lively, Rebecca Hall and Jeremy Renner.
24–26 Escapism Film Festival: The Carolina Theatre's annual homage to neo- and cult classics features a program headlined by Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Raiders of the Lost Ark. There's a John Carpenter-Kurt Russell double feature: Escape From New York and Big Trouble in Little China. And catch screenings of Robocop, Wolfgang Petersen's Enemy Mine and ... The Muppet Movie? (festivals.carolinatheatre.org/escapism)
24 Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps: A generation later, Wall Street is more evil than ever. Oliver Stone's sequel has Shia LaBeouf, and Michael Douglas reprises his Oscar-winning role as financier and robber baron Gordon Gekko.
27 Charlie Chaplin Film Festival: Running through Oct. 7 at Durham's Carolina Theatre, this traveling, nationwide program features Janus prints of some of Chaplin's greatest works. Along with collections of the Little Tramp's shorts, the schedule includes his essential feature films: City Lights, Modern Times, The Great Dictator and The Gold Rush. (janusfilms.com/chaplin)
1 The Social Network: Controversy is already swirling around David Fincher's drama about the founding of Facebook, with a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and a cast that includes Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake.
22 Paranormal Activity 2: Same cast, new director (Tod Williams), new screenwriter ... wait, the first one had a script? Same box office behemoth?
22 Hereafter: For some of us, Clint Eastwood doesn't make our day, but his new film, a set of parallel stories about three people affected by death, was written by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/ Nixon) and stars Matt Damon.
5 127 Hours: Director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) reteam for the true story of Aron Ralston (James Franco), a mountain climber who amputated his own arm after being trapped beneath a boulder for five days.
19 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1: I hate to admit it, but the Harry Potter series has gotten better with each passing film. David Yates resumes the directorial reins for the first of a two-part finale to the widely popular fantasy-adventure series. Will Harry and his mates finally vanquish evil Lord Voldemort? Stay tuned - Part II releases next summer.
19 The Next Three Days: Love him or loathe him, Paul Haggis is an intriguing filmmaker. He writes and directs this thriller about a woman accused of murder and the measures her husband takes to free her from prison. This remake of the 2007 French film Pour Elle stars Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks and Liam Neeson.
21 Carrboro Film Festival: The 5th annual short film festival takes place from 1–7 p.m. at the Century Center at 100 North Greensboro St. Attention area filmmakers: The submission deadline is Sept. 30. (carrborofilmfestival.com)
1 Black Swan: The movie poster itself is enough to captivate me over this physiological thriller from director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for the Dream; The Wrestler). Rival ballerinas (Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis), cast as the White and Black swans in Swan Lake, forge a bizarre relationship. This film has "boom or bust" written all over it.
10 The Tourist: Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others) directs a screenplay by Julian Fellowes about American tourists who get caught up in a complex game of international intrigue. Set in Venice, the film stars Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. Comparisons to Hitchcock and Polanski are already being bandied about; it's actually a remake of a little-seen 2005 French thriller, Anthony Zimmer.
10 The Fighter: Aronofsky, Damon and Brad Pitt were once attached to this long-gestating story about boxing brothers Micky Ward and Dickie Eklund. Ultimately, David O. Russell (I Heart Huckabees; Three Kings) directed leads Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, with Amy Adams cast as a love interest.
17 Tron: Legacy: Cheesy? Sure. But, wow, do the trailers for this continuation of the 1982 cult "classic" look great! This is one film that should merit that 3-D ticket surcharge.
25 True Grit: Before it was a John Wayne classic, this was a 1968 serial and book by author Charles Portis. It is the literary origin—more from the point of view of 14-year-old Mattie—that filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen aim to emphasize in their remake, with the help of cast members Jeff Bridges, as Rooster Cogburn, along with Matt Damon and Josh Brolin.