Possible Sunshine in a Plotless Year

Two film buffs muse on the coming attractions of 2004, including the good, the bad and the Benji

BEN B. CHUNG: First off, I want to congratulate you on your Oscar victory. You nailed all of the top six categories, while I only predicted four of them, officially marking the last time I ever expect simple quality to prevail over hype in my Oscar predictions. You were also right in guessing this year’s broadcast would be one of the most boring yet; you know you’re in for a stultifying evening when the biggest surprise is in the “Animated Short Film” category.

Anyhow, with the 2003 film year officially over, we look ahead to a new annum of quality cinema. So far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised, with anticipated stinkers like Miracle and The Dreamers turning out fully palatable. Golden Globe winner Osama, was a bit muted in tone, but nevertheless a sharp portrait of Taliban-era Afghanistan. The biggest revelation of all, though, was my unexpected admiration for The Passion of the Christ, which exceeded my admittedly low expectations to emerge as one of the more meaningful films I’ve seen in quite some time.

This coming spring looks to be unusually entertaining due to the long-awaited blossoming of a crop of big-name indies. The March 19th release Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is tops on my list; I’ve watched that trailer a dozen times over and it still discombobulates me whenever I see Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet bathing in a kitchen sink (why is that sink so big?) or Mark Ruffalo and Kirsten Dunst dancing in their underwear (why is Kirsten Dunst not more often dancing in her underwear?). Throw in Charlie Kaufman, the most reliable screenwriter functioning in Hollywood today, and the inspired use of ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky,” and already saliva stains are appearing down my shirt.

To put that horrible image behind us, I’ll move on to another pedigreed work of lofty repute, Dogville, which is coming to Boston sometime early in April. The high-wattage attention Nicole Kidman brings to this project will make it bound for the kind of mainstream controversy Lars von Trier’s past work has generally avoided with low-key casting. But as the movie features no intercalary song-and-dance numbers to revivify his Dogme formula, I’m not expecting anything vastly different from his previous similarly themed films—which I don’t suppose is such a bad thing.

Tom Hanks needs to win an Oscar for The Ladykillers. The Sexy Beast-meets-Duplex premise seems pretty flimsy, but when Hanks starts guffawing like some maniacal demon clown and demanding “waffles forthwith,” I begin giggling uncontrollably.

I also want to direct your and our four readers’ attentions to some of the less heralded fare that might only show up at Coolidge Corner or Brattle. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring tells the story of a single Buddhist monk and the five stages of his life that he experiences upon a floating monastery in the middle of a lake. The seemingly innocuous conceit hides some darker material, which apparently entangles him in some violent child games and ardent love affairs. The visuals, provided by South Korean director Kim Ki-Duk, are supposed to be amazing and the press stills alone are masterfully framed compositions.


Jim Jarmusch (Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai) is also releasing a visual stunner, the black-and-white Coffee and Cigarettes. The movie’s basically a collection of shorts he’s made over the past decade and a half, where a bunch of random famous people sit around and chat. These people include the White Stripes, Roberto Benigni, Iggy Pop, Cate Blanchett, Steve Buscemi and, in a single conversation, RZA, GZA and Bill Murray. Will probably appeal to Waking Life fans or anyone whose wondering what the hell Wu Tang has to say to Carl Spackler.

But of course, the bulk of my movie cash is saved up for all the popcorn I’m buying when Hollywood pulls out the big guns. Based on the really killer trailer, I’ve got some high hopes for zombie-filled remake Dawn of the Dead, which will hopefully maintain the satirist attitude of the original while avoiding the general tedium of last year’s 28 Days Later. Kill Bill: Volume Two is supposed to be more Tarantino than the first one, though at this point, I’d be pretty content just to see Bill killed. There’s also some small part of me, a stray Y chromosome, perhaps, yearning against its best judgment to see Troy. I mean, for Christ’s sakes man, look how many CGI ships they’ve fit into that CGI sea.

Oh and apparently, there’s another Benji movie coming out. Remember Benji? He saved lives a lot, even though he was a dog, which is a generally stupid animal.

And that’s just in the spring. Before I finish off with my breakdown of the explosive duds of the summer and hopeful Oscar contenders of the winter (a list which, last year, would have included sure things The Human Stain, The Alamo and The Missing), I’m curious as to your take on the past two months of film, and what you’re looking forward to most in the months ahead.

BEN SOSKIN: Thanks for your gracious congrats on my Oscar predictions, which even I wasn’t expecting would be so accurate (do I get extra points for guessing the breath spray?). Honestly, though, I wish that I had missed in more of the categories—it wasn’t worth sitting through four hours of foregone conclusions just to get gloating privileges.

Well, I’m glad one of us is excited about the coming year of films. A couple of months ago, I dug into’s long, long list of 2004 releases and hardly found any movies that I was much looking forward to; thank goodness I’ve made the jump from film junkiedom to political junkiedom.

This year, the only movie that I’m guaranteed to line up for on opening weekend is July’s Anchorman, in which Will Ferrell brings his Goulet voice (and its accompanying egomania) to the big screen.  People who have seen the script have said that Anchorman could be a modern classic, and so far they’ve been proven right by the clip reel on the movie’s website (Ferrell to his dog: “You pooped in the refrigerator? . . . . I’m not even mad!  That’s amazing!”). In the fall, Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Twelve should be a romp, and I’ll probably check out Martin Scorsese’s star-laden Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator, Oliver Stone’s Alexander, and Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm.

But as for the spring, I’ll be there with you for the second Kill Bill, even though Quentin’s coasting.  And I’ll be there too for The Ladykillers, even though the Coens have been batting around .333 since Barton Fink; I’m sick of paying $10 just to hear George Clooney use “hydroelectric” as a verb, or to hear Jon Polito emphasize the wrong syllable in “dry cleaning.”

Thanks for giving a shout-out to Coffee and Cigarettes, which should be a fun time; I saw the Tom Waits/Iggy Pop short in a VES section once and loved its casual humor, so I’d bet that the feature will be a good time, too.

I haven’t seen much the past couple months, and what I have seen has been Oscar catch-up.  Last Monday, I went down to Kendall and saw Monster and The Fog of War back-to-back.  I thought that Fog of War was a cutting stunner, right up there with The Thin Blue Line as the best Errol Morris I’ve seen.  I mostly saw Monster because it was shot in my hometown—my sister thinks that the film’s skating rink is the same one where we spent a lot of Saturday mornings back in elementary school—so I appreciated the film more for that than for its piss poor plotting or Charlize’s courageous stunt performance.