You never get a second chance to make a first impression, particularly when you’re an unknown director with a new movie that could make or break your career.
Several untested filmmakers are making their U.S. directorial debuts this fall movie season, and it’s bound to be a nerve-wracking initiation.
At stake: Whether the would-be auteur becomes the next Quentin Tarantino or the next Mark Illsley. Who’s Mark Illsley? Exactly.
Perhaps the most highprofile of this fall’s bunch is Shane Black, the one-time Hollywood powerscribe ("Lethal Weapon," "The Long Kiss Goodnight") who all but disappeared from the movie business in the late ’90s. Enlisting the services of two other talented flame-outs, Black is back with "Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang" (Sept. 16), a noir murder mystery about a petty thief (Robert Downey Jr.) masquerading as an actor who teams up with a gay private eye (Val Kilmer).
Countless actors have made the crossover to movie direction, with results both indelible (Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard) and inedible (William Shatner, David Duchovny). Liev Schreiber ("Sphere," "The Manchurian Candidate") will hope for the former when "Everything Is Illuminated" (Sept. 16) — his adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s award-winning novel, starring Elijah Wood as a young Jewish man who travels to Europe to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis — finally dawns at theaters.
Schreiber would be happy to mimic the success of fellow actor George Clooney, whose well-received debut feature, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" (2003), emboldened him to make the Communist witch-hunt drama "Good Night, and Good Luck" (Oct. 14), starring David Strathairn as crusading journalist Edward R. Murrow.
Fall movie audiences also will witness the U.S. debuts of two highly touted imports: Swedish suspense specialist Mikael Hafstrom and Australian critical darling Cate Shortland.
Hafstrom’s "Derailed" (Oct. 21) is an erotic thriller about two married business executives (Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston) and the ruthless blackmailer (Vincent Cassel) who threatens to expose their love affair.
Shortland’s "Somersault" (Oct. 28) made a clean sweep of the 2004 Australian Film Institute awards with its coming-of-age story of a teenage girl (Abbie Cornish) who struggles to unravel the mysteries of sex and romance.
Movie critics are understandably skeptical when an MTV hotshot makes the jump to feature films, but the music video ranks have produced some of the decade’s most exciting new directing talent, including Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"), Spike Jonze ("Adaptation") and Tarsem Singh ("The Cell").
Time will tell if Mike Mills — whose résumé includes videos for such alt-rock luminaries as Moby and Air — will warrant the same high praise for "Thumbsucker" (Sept. 14), a black comedy about a troubled teenager who throws his life into upheaval when he tries to kick his unsightly oral fixation. Tilda Swinton, Keanu Reeves, Vince Vaughn and Benjamin Bratt lead a superlative cast.
FINALLY IN THEATERS
For Rodrigo Garcia, the son of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the thrill of a national release is a long time coming. Garcia’s "Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her" was a high-profile Sundance acquisition five years ago, but the movie, strangely, never made it to theaters.
After a few years working out of the HBO bullpen ("Carnivale," "Six Feet Under"), Garcia returns with "Nine Lives" (Oct. 14), a oneact drama notable for its splendid female cast (Glenn Close, Dakota Fanning, Holly Hunter and Sissy Spacek, to name a few) and the fact that his camera remains in a fixed position through the entire movie.
If that sounds a bit on the experimental side, get used to it. In Hollywood, autumn is the one time during the year when fresh ideas and fresh faces reign.