By Anusha Alikhan
With the favorites for this year’s Oscars already picked-out, movie buffs can look forward to a whole new year of films to watch. It may be too early to tell which contenders will make it onto the Oscar roster in 2008, but with a little help from the experts, we can give you a preview of some upcoming bests.
1. Drawing on Sundance successes acting dean and film professor at Columbia University School of the Arts, Dan Kleinman cited “Grace is Gone,” directed by James C. Strouse as a “2007 great.” Starring John Cusack, the plot deals with a father of two, coping with the death of his wife, Grace, who is killed in the war in Iraq. The movie won the audience prize for best drama at Sundance this past January and a Waldo Salt screenwriting award. Harvey Weinstein, who purchased the distribution rights to the film at Sundance, announced plans to mount an Oscar campaign for Cusack.
2. Another winner at Sundance, lauded by Kleinman, was “Padre Nuestro.” The film is about an illegal immigrant from Mexico, Juan (Jesús Ochoa), who goes looking for his estranged father in New York City. It took home the 2007 grand-jury prize for best U.S. drama, one of the Sundance’s top prizes. It was 32-year-old director Christopher Zalla’s first film.
3. Also a first effort was director Patricia Riggen’s “La Misma Luna” (The Same Moon), which was screened at Sundance in the non-competitive category. It will be “very popular” when it’s released, according to Kleinman. “It got the best audience reaction I’ve ever seen,” he said. “There was a five minute standing ovation.” The story follows the parallel paths of a Mexican immigrant worker and her son, who are separated by circumstance, but never lose hope of reuniting.
4. Directed by Justin Theroux, and starring Mandy Moore and Billy Crudup, “Dedication” is another “film to watch,” said Kleinman. In this romantic comedy, Crudup plays Henry, a cynical children’s book author whose motto is “Life is nothing but the occasional burst of laughter rising above the interminable wail of grief.” When Henry is forced to collaborate with a woman on his next book, chaos ensues. The film, which premiered at Sundance, is Theroux’s directorial debut. He is a well-known actor who previously appeared in movies such as “Mulholland Drive” and “Miami Vice.”
5. Anthony Monda, associate professor at New York University’s Kanbar Institute of Film & Television, recommends “Across the Universe,” a musical directed by Julie Taymor, which incorporates Beatles music into an original story. “It is a great work of art,” he said. The film, set in the 1960s, is about an English dock worker, played by Jim Sturgess, who travels to America to find his estranged father and eventually gets involved in peace activism. It’s set for release in September 2007.
6. Tim Burton’s upcoming “Sweeney Todd,” is another film to be “excited” about, according to Monda. “Burton is one of the pure personal filmmakers,” he said. “He has a vision and goes with it, he’s a real author.” The story, adapted from Stephen Sondheim’s stage musical thriller, involves a wrongfully imprisoned barber in Victorian England who sets out to seek revenge on the judge who imprisoned him. It is Burton’s fifth collaboration with Johnny Depp, who is cast in the starring role as the demon barber of Fleet Street. Sasha Baron Cohen joins Depp as rival barber, Signor Adolfo Pirelli. Look out for “Sweeney Todd” in December 2007.
7. “No Country for Old Men,” adapted from the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, is a “deeply spirited story, with some great action,” said Monda. Acclaimed filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen whose past successes include “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “The Big Lebowski,” have written and directed the film. The plotline involves Llewelyn Moss, played by Josh Brolin, who goes on a hunting trip to the Rio Grande and unwittingly gets mixed up in a drug deal gone sour.
8. The comedy drama “Margot at the Wedding,” is directed by Noah Baumbach, and stars Nicole Kidman, as Margot. “Baumbach is one of the new and interesting directors that deserves some attention,” said Monda. The film focuses on the Margot’s character, who experiences a personal journey of discovery on the eve of her sister’s wedding. It is Baumbach’s first project following “The Squid and the Whale,” which won wide acclaim and earned him two awards at Sundance in 2005, and an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay.
9. Wes Anderson’s latest endeavor, which Monda called “brilliant, personal, and funny,” is “The Darjeeling Limited.” The film stars Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman as three brothers who take a train ride through India in search of a rare albino tiger that is believed to be the reincarnation of their recently deceased father. Anderson previously garnered an Academy Award nomination for the dark comedy, “The Royal Tenenbaums” in 2001, and has been called “the next Scorsese” by the man himself.