I've been known to watch a lot of movies. That's changed in recent years, partly because I'd been spoiled on cheap St. Louis prices, and partly because I used to live alone. Here, with my family in Las Vegas, I've gotten a lot more finicky. We've managed free passes to a few sneak previews -- In Good Company, Bride and Prejudice, and Sahara come to mind. Also, the nearest theater shows second-run movies, and by the time they get a movie I'm already in the queue for the greatest DVD service available: the Las Vegas public library system. Like Netflix and Blockbuster, only free.
A lot of movies get released in a year. Throw out all the horror movies that arrive weekly, and there's still a lot. But the following 12 are ones I might just catch on a big screen, in order of interest:
1. Star Wars Episode III. Was there any doubt? This series belongs to our generation, not to the videogamers younger than us with the short attention span. Truth be told, the original trilogy has its flaws, but we forgive and forget. The modern trilogy is inferior in most ways, but to expect otherwise is unrealistic. Our understanding of this final installment is simple. We know what happens before and after. We know who has to die. But we don't know an exact timeline, and a lot can be crammed into 2.5 hours. The enjoyment of this film won't come from its ending, but from its details. Personally, I'd like to know how one constructs a new lightsaber. (May 19)
2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Okay, this series belongs to the younger ones, but if they can strain their backs on an 800-page book, then I'll be happy as a secondary fan. I don't have a major complaint about any of the first three movies, and with the subplot of house elf rights kept to a minimum, I'll probably enjoy this one too. Plotwise it's the strangest in the book series, so here's hoping they have some fun with the format. Bonus points in adding Ralph Fiennes and Miranda Richardson to this British hall of fame casting. (November 18)
3. Bee Season. See, they're not all blockbusters. This is the first of two films on this list that are based on books about being Jewish in New York City, which is surprising, because the only thing that's a bigger turnoff for me in the reading world is an endorsement from Oprah's Book Club. But I liked this book about a second-born child finding an intelligence niche in spelling bees, and am curious to see what Juliette Binoche and Richard Gere will do in the roles of her parents. (September 30)
4. Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Assume the rumors in the tabloids are true. Assume the hookup is inevitable. Assume we'll get tired of reading about Brad and Angelina by mid-summer. Won't matter. This film has too much going for it to be the next Gigli. (Side note: I saw that movie eventually, and it deserved a better fate. It should have died more quietly.) Plus, Doug Liman did Swingers, Go, and The Bourne Identity, which makes him a near-lock as a director who makes fun, interesting movies. (June 10)
5. Elizabethtown. Normally a new Cameron Crowe movie would top a list, but I didn't like most of Almost Famous (though I liked Frances McDormand) and Vanilla Sky (though I liked Kurt Russell). Add to that the fact that I've been to the title town just south of Louisville, and am unsure what's so cinematic about it. So now it's #3. Kirsten Dunst is the lead? Yeah, #5. (October 14)
6. Batman Begins. For me at least, a new Batman film might get a little lost in the shuffle. The cast, save Katie Holmes, looks promising. (Aren't there any good actresses under 30?) The film was shot in London and Chicago, which should make it look a lot more gritty and gray than sleek and black (Tim Burton) or day-glo and homoerotic (Joel Schumacher). And if we can accept an American as Bridget Jones, we'll be fine with a Brit as Bruce Wayne. (June 17)
7. Walk the Line. It will be marketed as this year's Ray, but I'm hoping it's a little more cohesive. The pitch: Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon and Johnny and June Carter Cash. I can't imagine it being very crowd-pleasing, but here's hoping people will watch it because it might actually be good. (November 18)
8. Fantastic Four. Oh, this could totally suck. But I think I'm entitled to one potentially brainless actionfest in a summer full of franchises and classic TV adaptations. And the trailer seems to deliver. Also, Jessica Alba plus superhero spandex equals fundamentally watchable. (July 8)
9. Bewitched. Once again, Nicole Kidman's nose merits special attention in the production department. A natural twitch would be nice, but if not, spend the money on realistic CGI. I don't know what to do with Will Ferrell as Darren, but the metareality concept of the film sounds promising. Plus, Shirley MacLaine is Endora, and it'll be nice to see Stephen Colbert and Amy Sedaris on the big screen without actually having to watch the Strangers with Candy movie. (June 24)
10. The Brothers Grimm. Don't know much about it, but the pedigree is nice: Matt Damon and Heath Ledger are the title duo, and Terry Gilliam directs. Plus, it has Monica Bellucci, and if I can sit through half of The Matrix Reloaded for her, I can look forward to this. (July 29)
11. Everything is Illuminated. The other Jewish New York story on this list, based on the book by Jonathan Safran Foer. I haven't read it, but I am currently reading his second, Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close, which is pretty interesting so far. From what I can tell, for this film Elijah Wood plays the author, whose (autobiographical?) story about finding the woman who saved his grandfather in the Ukraine during WWII is dramedy of significant vintage. I'm not sure how I feel about having a Hobbit on this list, but maybe he's trying to outgrow that. (August 12)
12. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I saved the riskiest for last. I have a hunch the material was handled correctly, but there are so many ways this film can screw it up. It needs to be more funny than quirky, more intelligent than aloof, and mostly harmless. (April 29)
Honestly, I don't really care to see War of the Worlds or King Kong, could wait on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and consider a The Dukes of Hazzard movie entirely inessential. But I'm always open to suggestions. Any films looming on your horizon?