Studios traditionally roll out their "heavy gun" movies in the fall. We see the films that will vie for Best Picture and Best Acting Oscars. This fall, there are some unlikely actors giving unlikely performances.
'The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers' opens this fall. (New Line)
A good example is Adam Sandler. Sandler is featured in Paul Thomas Anderson's "Punch Drunk Love." Sandler plays a shy salesman who falls in love with Emily Watson. Anderson made his name directing Mark Wahlberg in "Boogie Nights," which made Wahlberg a leading man. Anderson also directed the moving "Magnolia," featuring Tom Cruise. One wonders if he can coax an Oscar-worthy performance from Sandler, whose claim to fame is being "The Waterboy."
Speak of Oscar, and one has to think of Jack Nicholson. When we think of Jack, we think of roles like retired astronaut Garrett Breedlove in "Terms of Endearment" and crazed father John Torrance in "The Shining." This fall will see Nicholson playing a Nebraska widower named Warren Schmidt in Alexander Payne's "About Schmidt." This is a subdued role for Nicholson, with a supporting role by Oscar-winner Kathy Bates. Payne, who directed an underrated movie called "Election," may get a best director nomination if he can bring the same kind of craft to this movie.
Other possible best director nominees include Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. Both have Leonardo DiCaprio films opening on the same day. Scorsese brings the highly anticipated "Gangs of New York." In it, DiCaprio stars as a young Irishman who wishes to avenge the death of his father in 1860 New York. Spielberg sends Tom Hanks to hunt down DiCaprio in "Catch Me If You Can," in which DiCaprio plays a man who runs from the FBI while impersonating all kinds of people.
The fall has also become a season for franchise releases. Sequels in two franchises will premiere: "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers." "Potter" is said to be a darker movie than the first, while "Two Towers" is said to have one of the greatest battle scenes ever filmed.
Speaking of franchises, James Bond is the granddaddy of them all. "Die Another Day" will feature Pierce Brosnan as 007 in the series' 20th offering. This movie will also feature last year's best actress winner, Halle Berry, and be the first Bond movie to feature John Cleese as Q. Cleese takes over for Desmond Llewelyn, who occupied the role in the previous 19 installments but died in 1999.
Last year, many thought "Moulin Rouge"—a movie that helped bring new life to the movie musical—would win the Best Picture Oscar. It didn't, but this fall will see another musical brought to the screen. Bob Fosse's "Chicago" will be released starring Catherine Zeta Jones and Renee Zellweger. The two play Velma and Roxie, two Roaring '20s vamps on trial for murder. Richard Gere plays their mouthpiece. Expect big musical numbers from this Broadway-to-screen adaptation.
Last year's best director, Steven Soderberg, will bring a remake of "Solaris," a sci-fi film based on a 1972 Russian movie. In it, George Clooney plays a psychiatrist sent to a space station to discover why those on the station are committing suicide. When he arrives, he starts dreaming about his dead wife and is drawn into the group psychosis.
Speaking of Clooney, he makes his directorial debut with "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind." If you are over 40, you probably remember "The Gong Show" and its demented host and creator, Chuck Barris. In "Confessions," it seems that Barris was not just the master of ceremonies on a whacked-out game show; he was also whacking people as a CIA assassin. Sam Rockwell plays Barris, with support from Julia Roberts and Drew Barrymore.
This fall's movie season offers a great mix of film genres and styles. There should be something on a screen near you that will bring a tear or a smile.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Burgaw Baptist Church in Burgaw, N.C.