Last year around this time, I was looking forward to The Box, Taking Woodstock and a couple of films that never came — I'm looking at you, Terrence Malick. So at the risk of sounding premature, seeing as I was so wrong about those films, Robert Downey Jr. had better be working out pretty hard. Sure, the actor beefed up recently for Sherlock Holmes, but considering the dreadful slate of blockbusters this year, it seems Hollywood in 2010 will rest solely on Downey's Iron Man 2 shoulders. What else is there to drool over? A long-haired Jake Gyllenhaal and his "sacred dagger"? Owen Wilson's Marmaduke or whatever derring-do the unending parade of rewriters have settled on for Russell Crowe to perform as Robin Hood? It's not going to be pretty.
Thankfully, there are still smart writers, directors and producers trolling around Los Angeles, and they're needed now more than ever. It's time for the true artists out there to emerge and shine. Here are some that have been called into service.
Cemetery Junction In his first two films as a leading man, comedian Ricky Gervais helped craft two of the most oddly brilliant comedies in recent years: 2008's disarming and touching Ghost Town and last year's daring atheist rom-com The Invention of Lying, which Gervais wrote and directed. Now he's joined on the page and behind the camera by Stephen Merchant, his partner in the creation of the seminal BBC series The Office, for this coming-of-age tale set in 1970s London about a bunch of young office workers (naturally) at a "Prudential-like" insurance company. As expected, Prudential has already unleashed their lawyers on the film. (TBD)
Fair Game The Bourne Identity's Doug Liman brings "Plamegate" to the big screen in this political thriller starring Sean Penn as Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador sent by the Bush administration to find uranium in Africa to help bolster Bush's claims to a need for war with Iraq. When Wilson famously stated publicly that there was no uranium there, his wife, Valerie Plame (played in the film by Naomi Watts) was outed as a CIA operative, an action that could have cost Plame her life. Intriguingly, Fair Game is co-written by Jez Butterworth, a widely acclaimed English playwright, so don't go expecting Mr. and Mrs. Smith Go to Africa. (TBD)
Green Zone Speaking of, well, everything discussed in the Fair Game preview, Paul Greengrass, director of the other two Bourne movies, casts Matt Damon as a U.S. soldier tangled up in a CIA conspiracy involving — you guessed it — the futile search for WMDs in Iraq. (Perhaps the national furor over that 2005 CIA report stating the whole "weapons of mass destruction" thing was, oops, a lie simply took a few years to kick in.) The first trailer released is a jarring roller coaster of action, and the script is from Brian Helgeland, who's sometimes brilliant (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River) and sometimes not (last year's Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 remake, The Postman). One thing we're sure of is that Helgeland is not an English playwright. (March 12)
Inception When you're charged with following up the second-biggest movie of all time and one of the most beloved films in the history of cinema, complete creative control and a $200 million budget is a good place to start. Auteur Christopher Nolan follows The Dark Knight with this top-secret sci-fi mind-bender starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a businessman and virtually the entire cast from Nolan's Batman universe as, um, other people. (July 16)
Never Let Me Go Director Mark Romanek spent eight years looking for an idea worthy of following his 2002 Robin Williams creeper One Hour Photo, and it seems he found one in author Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, one of the best-received books of the last century. The plot involves a boarding school, clones and organ transplants, all of which should be fertile material for screenwriter Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later) and a cast of today's most phenomenally talented young actresses: An Education's breakout star Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Happy-Go-Lucky's Sally Hawkins. (TBD)
Paul Hands down the funniest script to circulate in the last year, this comedy from writers Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, the Laurel and Hardy duo from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, involves two comic-book geeks who encounter a real-life alien (Seth Rogen) named Paul, who recently escaped Area 51. The team embarks on a road trip through the Southwest together in search of safety and snacks, chased by hapless government agents and picking up a Jesus freak (SNL's Kristen Wiig) along the way. Despite the great screenplay, the shenanigans could easily threaten to take over coherence, so it's lucky that the film has director Greg Mottola behind the camera, whose work on Arrested Development and Superbad honed his comedic skills and whose poignant direction of last year's superb Adventureland proved he has a gentle touch. (TBD)
Season of the Witch OK, we'll give you that the attachment of director Dominic Sena, of Swordfish and Gone in 60 Seconds shame, and the casting of Nicolas Cage as a 14th-century knight commanded to bring a suspected witch to a monastery in hopes that cleansing her will end the Black Plague, does not sound appealing. Nor does the trailer look at all interesting. But the smart, thrilling script by Bragi F. Schut won him the esteemed Nicholl Fellowship — a rare honor bestowed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences upon unknown writers — back in 2003. So we're not completely insane for crossing our fingers on this one … right? (March 19)
The Town More than two years ago, this paper ran a feature lauding the work of Ben Affleck ("In defense of Ben Affleck," Oct. 2007), stating that a look at the actor's post-J. Lo work seems to suggest an actual artist underneath that square jaw. A slew of festival awards and an Oscar nomination for Gone Baby Gone (which he adapted for the screen and directed) has cemented that claim to the point where we can actually proudly admit we're looking forward to his next directorial effort. That follow-up is The Town, his adaptation of Chuck Hogan's dark crime novel about a bank robber (Affleck) who falls in love with his teller victim (Rebecca Hall) while being pursued by an FBI agent (Mad Men's Jon Hamm), who also draws the interest of the teller. Twisty! (Sept. 10)
Untitled James L. Brooks Project Thank God this is still saddled with that temporary name instead of the one-time working title, How Do You Know?, which was just a travesty of a moniker. Brooks, the master of the dramedy, finally returns to the screen six years after his last film, the overdone-yet-still-satisfying Spanglish, which came seven years after his prior film, As Good as It Gets. (The guy takes awhile to bang out the ideas.) But never doubt the man who also brought us Broadcast News, Terms of Endearment and practically every good TV show from the '70s. This new one stars Reese Witherspoon as Lisa, a track star perfectionist facing the possibility that she's become a half-step too slow. She meets Paul Rudd's George, a nice guy who may be in the middle of being framed for corporate espionage at his father's (Jack Nicholson) company. (Dec. 17)
Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps Predestined to become the cheeseball cult favorite of the year, Oliver Stone brings back Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) and Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) for another round of "Greed is good"—isms, but because money never sleeps and studio executives never stop trying to drink from the fountain of youth, the older … ahem … foxes are now joined by a couple of young go-getters whom they can condescend to all day long: Shia LaBeouf and Carey Mulligan. (Oh no! She's our favorite!) Yes, the corporate climate has changed considerably and we're all pretending greed is no longer "good," but are those economic realities something you trust Allan Loeb (aka "the most pompous unproven writer in Hollywood") to mine with elegance? No! Because that's not why we loved Wall Street, in all its glorious goofiness, in the first place. Should be great. (April 23)
Your Highness Danny McBride is one of those actors who can make you laugh just imagining him in certain scenarios. McBride plays the also-ran younger brother of a gallant dragon slayer (James Franco), whose perfect life sends McBride into a downward spiral of jealousy and excess until circumstances require him to straighten up. While we hoped director David Gordon Green would get back to the haunting dramas he does best after the diversion of Pineapple Express, it's understandable that this one couldn't be passed up. (Oct. 1)[email protected]