Spike Lee's "Get On the Bus"
Courtesy Photos
Winter Indies:
Heavy fall schedule for art house theaters

Fall is traditionally the season of the thinking person's film. Hollywood saves most of it's Oscar contenders for autumn release, and independent film makers usually wait until the summer's check-your-brain-at-the-door mentality has passed before releasing their blood and sweat, low budget efforts.

Even though this summer saw an unseasonal surge of indie pictures, thanks in part to Sundance Film Festival publicity, a record number of art house movies are still slated to open between now and the end of the year. Here's the scoop:

OCTOBER gets off to a exploitive start with Hustler White, a camera-in-tow semi-documentary about the hip-and-gay scene in L.A. Co-directors Bruce La Bruce and Rick Castro tag along with model Tony Ward on a "typical day."

Infinity, starring Matthew Broderick as a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and Patricia Arquette as his terminally ill love, is based on scientist Richard Feynman's autobiographies and is Broderick's directorial debut.

Winner of this year's Palme d'Or at Cannes, Secrets & Lies is a story of the changes in an English woman's relationship with her family when she is reunited with her long-lost half-black daughter. Written and directed by Mike Leigh, and starring Brenda Blethyn, who was also honored at Cannes with a Best Actress award.

A sensual young woman and a drifter are Caught in a spiral of jealousy and abuse when they conspire to free her of a dull husband.

A 1930s family is torn apart by violence and revenge in The Funeral, Abel Ferrara's follow-up to The Bad Lieutenant, starring Christopher Walken, Chris Penn and Isabella Rossellini.

Small Wonders is a hopeful documentary about an East Harlem violin teacher who started her own non-profit music program after losing her public school job to budget cuts. It was nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar last year under it's original title, Fiddlefest.

Another notable documentary, Microcosmos, could be described as Angels & Insects without all the mucking about with humans. A somewhat whimsical glance at entomological eroticism, the filmmakers promise romance, chivalry, humor and drama. Special Jury Prize at Cannes.

Filmed at the 1974 Zaire bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, When We Were Kings is just now being released for the first time. It received documentary pats on the back at Sundance.

Desperately lonely and struggling with his career as comic, a broke New Yorker moves to Hollywood to give improv a go in Swingers. The ironic comedy, written by and starring Jon Favreau (Rudy), is destined to be the uber-hip hit of the season.

A similar setup drives Ed's Next Move, about a lonely Wisconsin native who moves to the Big Apple looking for work and romance.

An onslaught of bleak but funny movies about lower-class English teenagers was inevitable after Trainspotting, and Beautiful Thing, about London toughs coming of age, has the distinction of being first to ride Danny Boyle's coat tails into American theaters.

Speaking of Trainspotting, Ewan McGregor follows up his career-making performance in that film with a turn as a law student with a hospital security night job who is framed as a serial killer in Nightwatch, director Ole Bornedal's remake of his 1994 Danish film. With Nick Nolte and Patricia Arquette.

After a year of fiddling with the title and playing opening date roulette, Jude (formerly Jude the Obscure) will finally see screen time. From the Thomas Hardy novel about a lonely Oxford student (Christopher Eccleston, Shallow Grave) who falls for his cousin (Kate Winslet).

The Bard is omnipresent this fall -- there are four Shakespeare movies coming out before the end of the year. Hot on the heels of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet (Leonard DiCaprio and Claire Danes in modern Miami) are the Al Pacino-directed Looking for Richard, a behind-the-scenes story-within-a-story about a Richard III production, and Twelfth Night, with Ben Kingsley, Richard E. Grant and Helena Bonham Carter. And Hamlet opens in December.

Community theater actors who think themselves undiscovered geniuses are the satirical target of Waiting for Guffman, from director-actor Christopher Guest, while perennial character actor Steve Buscemi spends time on both sides of the camera in Trees Lounge, an autobiographical tome he wrote about a bitter ice cream truck driver on Long Island.

Indie regular Jennifer Tilly is a mobster moll who runs off with $2 million and girlfriend Gina Gershon in Bound, and Spike Lee takes an admirable stab at bouncing back from Girl 6 with Get On The Bus, a dramatization of six men's journey to 1995's Million Man March.

Ishmail Merchant struck out on his own without ever-present producer James Ivory to direct The Proprietor, starring Jeanne Moreau as a Parisian author.

Heroine culture, brought to the spotlight by Trainspotting, gets a more serious glance in Curtis's Charm, with an ex-addict trying to help a still-hooked friend, and petty crime (also a Trainspotting topic) gets a comic turn in Palookaville. Drugs also play a part in Johns, a teenage Midnight Cowboy launched at Sundance.

NOVEMBER opens with more Cannes fodder. The Eighth Day, in which a runaway with Down syndrome (Pascal Duquenne) hopes his joie de vivre will rub off on workaholic buddy Daniel Auteuil. Duquenne and Auteuil shared the Best Actor award.

Writer/director Lars von Trier (Zentropa) tackles love, religion infidelity in his Grand Jury Prize winner Breaking the Waves, about a virginal Scottish bride and her recently paralyzed husband.

The French film Ridicule, which opened the festival and won audience praise but no awards, follows a village doctor with an epidemic on his hands to Louis XVI's court, where he finds fashion sense and a wicked tongue are the keys to getting the royal aid he seeks.

Stateside, 20th Century Fox abandon The English Patient, starring Ralph Finnes as a downed World War II pilot and Juliette Binoche as his nurse, for it's lack of marquee-powered stars. But Miramax revived the film, based Michael Ondaatje's book, and cast Kristin Scott Thomas and Willem Dafoe in supporting roles.

Kevin Spacey, one of Hollywood's most versatile actors, takes a turn behind the camera with Albino Alligator, a robbery-gone-awry yarn with Matt Dillon, Gary Sinise and Faye Dunaway.

French star Virginie Ledoyen is A Single Girl who finds out she's pregnant and spends a day running through her mind about what a baby will mean to her life.

A standing ovation at Sundance got the Australian Shine, about a piano prodigy who abandons his art until he falls in love, picked up for U.S. distribution.

Documentaries this month include Hype!, a head-long dive into the Seattle grunge scene, and Paris Was a Woman, tracing a gaggle of female artists and writers in 1920s France.

DECEMBER seems to be the month of all-star casts. On Christmas Day, Kenneth Branagh is back on the Bard-wagon with his self-financed Hamlet. Helping him say "Nice try Mel Gibson" are Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Jack Lemmon, Gerard Depardieu, Charleton Heston and Sir John Gielgud. No wonder it's three-and-a-half hours.

Woody Allen's musical Everyone Says I Love You opens the same day with nearly every star that isn't in Hamlet, including Alan Alda, Drew Barrymore, Goldie Hawn, Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman and Tim Roth.

Also all-star -- although not technically an indie movie -- is Tim Burton's Mars Attacks, which stars Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, and a dozen others.

In fact, it seems only Nicole Kidman and John Malkovich were out of town during the casting call for those pictures, and thus they have Portrait of a Lady to themselves. Jane Campion directs this adaptation of the Henry James novel.

An unusual romance taken from schoolteacher Novalyne Price Ellis' memoirs about her relationship with pulp writer Robert E. Howard (the author of Conan the Barbarian, et al.) is the subject of The Whole Wide World.

Helen Mirren stars in Some Mother's Son, a heartbreaking drama about two women whose sons participate in a 1981 hunger strike in Northern Ireland.

Virrorio De Sica's The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, a re-release of the 1971 Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film, dramatizes the suffering of a Jewish family during World War II, while a holocaust survivor writing a book about Nazi medical experiments is the subject of The Substance of Fire.

A version of this article appeared in October 1996 in SF Live, a San Francisco arts & entertainment monthly.
©1996 All Rights Reserved.

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