Conspiracy, corruption, catastrophe — politics and world events sure can be exciting. Even the mainstream news is taking an interest. All the same, it’s lagged well behind the movie industry, which last year addressed drug cartels (The Constant Gardener), the arms industry (Lord of War), the First Amendment (Good Night, and Good Luck), the oil corporations (Syriana), and the war on terror (Munich). Admirable but perhaps not prudent. Hollywood’s focus on real-life problems might explain one of the biggest box-office dips in ages. Daunted by this downturn, will filmmakers turn away from relevant subjects and return to tried and true sequels, remakes, and out-and-out fluff? Or will they persist in their brave path, at least until the pre-Oscar limbo is over?
The worst-case scenario — politically speaking — is the Third Reich. Dennis Gansel’s Napola — Elite für den Führer | Before the Fall (January 6; all dates are subject to change) provides a reminder of those dark days with this tale of a young German teenager who must choose between advancement in the party and loyalty to his pacifist best friend. In short, it’s a buddy movie. For a less pointed version of the same scenario, try The Matador (January 6), in which Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear play an assassin and a businessman who meet in a Mexico City bar and hit it off. Richard Shepard (Mexico City) directs. Woody Allen’s Hitchcockian Match Point (January 6), a thriller about marriage and its discontents in tony London, has been acclaimed as his return to form; Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys-Myers star. If Woody proves too edgy, you can always kick back and enjoy the inanity of Grandma’s Boy (January 6), as a 35-year-old nerd moves in with his grandmother and her two elderly roommates. It’s the first feature for Nicholas Goossen. No doubt some acerbic commentary about the plight of the elderly lurks in the subtext.
Race relations get an airing in Glory Road (January 13), the true story of the Texas Western coach who in 1966 took an all-black starting line-up into the NCAA basketball final against all-white Kentucky. Josh Lucas stars; it’s the feature debut for director James Gartner. Terrence Malick takes on another true story of interracial conflict and resolution in The New World (January 13), a lush and long-winded version of the familiar story of Pocahontas, John Smith, and the Jamestown colony. Colin Farrell, Q’Orianka Kilcher, Christian Bale, and Christopher Plummer star.
Those concerned about the right to privacy might be interested in Caché/Hidden(January 13), a thriller from Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher) about a TV personality who receives covert videotapes of himself and his family. Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche star. Maybe he’s got something to hide, like the title lovers of Tristan & Isolde (January 13). Kevin Reynolds, who’s already botched Robin Hood the Prince of Thieves, renders this classic mediæval romance starring James Franco and Sophia Myles. Maybe the guy in Caché doesn’t care who knows about his bad behavior, like John Wilmot, the 17th-century poet and debauchee played by Johnny Depp in Laurence Dunmore’s directorial debut, TheLibertine (January 13). Or perhaps he’s merely blind, like the dissolute diplomat played by Ralph Fiennes in The White Countess (January 13) who refuses to see the political turmoil around him as he perseveres in building the title nightclub. Also starring Natasha Richardson, and with a script by Kazuo Ishiguro (Remains of the Day), this is the last collaboration of director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant before the latter’s death.