Autumn Tales

Fall Film Previews

Well, we made it through the summer of the movie with three titles, Star Wars: Episode 1 ­ The Phantom Menace. George Lucas' space epic did quite well for itself at the box office (about $420 million to date and still counting, thank you very much), but it wasn't the lethal Jedi conqueror that everyone instinctively feared. The summer of '99 delivered the biggest box-office figures on record: just under $3 billion, proving that the galaxy was big enough for more than one movie.

Generally, the autumn movie season is a quiet, reflective time during which the focus is on dramatic and adult-oriented fare after the loud popcorn crunch of the summer's no-brainers. But this fall season looks like it will be busier and noisier than ever. All those movies that were pre-emptively moved off the summer release calendar in order to protect them from The Phantom Menace juggernaut are now populating every unfilled nook and cranny of autumn marquee space. It has led to a crowded situation in which multiple major releases will be coming out every Friday from now until the end of the year.

It will be a shame if all the clutter obscures the opportunities that beckon. The season offers a large number of big films featuring high-profile stars paired with top-notch directors. There's the Kevin Costner baseball picture, For Love of the Game, directed by Sam Raimi; Tommy Lee Jones and Ashley Judd in Bruce Beresford's chase film Double Jeopardy; Annette Bening and Kevin Spacey ­ who are so far receiving some of the best notices of their careers ­ in American Beauty helmed by acclaimed stage director Sam Mendes; Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman play mother and daughter in the Wayne Wang-directed Anywhere But Here; John Cusack and Cameron Diaz headline Being John Malkovich from video maestro Spike Jonze; thesp couple Nicolas Cage and Patricia Arquette turn paramedic for Martin Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead; Antonio Banderas directs wife Melanie Griffith in Crazy in Alabama; Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter team up in David Fincher's Fight Club, which was delayed from summer release in the wake of Columbine summer; in an unlikely pairing, Meryl Streep works with Wes Craven in the inspirational The Music of the Heart; Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas find romance in Sydney Pollack's Random Hearts; Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer do likewise in Rob Reiner's The Story of Us; Richard Farnsworth rides a tractor for David Lynch in the director's G-rated Disney picture, The Straight Story; George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and Ice Cube make off with Gulf War loot in David O. Russell's Three Kings; Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat re-create the old chestnut Anna and the King for director Andy Tennant; Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie hunt serial killers in Phillip Noyce's The Bone Collector; Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel throw their fates into the hands of Jane Campion in Holy Smoke; Al Pacino and Russell Crowe turn whistle-blowers in Michael Mann's The Insider; Milla Jovavich, John Malkovich, Faye Dunaway, and Dustin Hoffman go back in time with Luc Besson for The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc; Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas play rival boxers in Ron Shelton's Play It to the Bone; Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci join with Tim Burton to retell the legend of Sleepy Hollow; and an all-star cast helps Kevin Smith present the much-talked about Dogma, although at press time the film still has no official release date or distributor but plans look good for a November roll-out.

Also look for a number local film series and festivals. This fall the Austin Film Society is conducting a Contemporary Brazilian Cinema series, a New Korean Cinema series, and an ongoing monthly horror film series called Full Moon Madness. The Austin Museum of Art will host a Cuban Cinema series in late September. The Dobie Theatre will be home to a Francois Truffaut mini-festival in November. The Alamo Drafthouse is currently mounting its Cannibal Film Festival. And Austin's fall season still promises the undiscovered gems in the CinemaTexas Short Film and Video Festival later this month and the Austin Heart of Film Festival in early October.

In the lists below, announced opening dates are included when known; the dates correspond with their expected local opening dates. Expect some of these to change as the weeks go by. The listings look at movies in release through Thanksgiving. In late November we will return with a look at the holiday film season.

-- Marjorie Baumgarten

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