Text: Records tumbled, glowing reviews were dispensed like so much sunscreen, and we still had room for mindless junk like Eight Legged Freaks and XXX. Thanks to pictures like Road To Perdition, Signs and Minority Report, the summer of 2002 was certainly the best in recent memory.
But what about the fall? Does the bumper crop of stellar offerings between Days Memorial and Labor mean we won't see anything good until the holidays, when the big Oscar race gears up?
Don't bet on it. While the mainstream theatres will be chock-full with the back-to-school swill, the alternative outlets should keep us happy with plenty of films that actual people with actual brains might actually want to see. Think about it --- last year, the best of what cinema had to offer hit local screens between September and mid-November (Ghost World, Mulholland Drive, Amélie), and the year 2000 wasn't much different (Dancer in the Dark, Billy Elliot, Best in Show).
What follows is a guide to navigate you through the many independent, foreign and special interest events that are scheduled to unspool in Rochester before you even have to think about concocting your Thanksgiving excuses.
Das Experiment is a German import about a psychological research project in which 20 volunteers are randomly divided into guards and prisoners before being dropped into an artificial penitentiary for two weeks to see how the role assignment affects its subjects. Run Lola Run's Moritz Bleibtreu stars as a journalist who becomes a prisoner in hopes of turning the experience into an award-winning story.
Another career go-getter is in Secretary: young Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) does whatever she can to please her egomaniacal boss (James Spader). Trouble is, Lee has just been released from a mental institution and is a chronic self-mutilator. You can practically feel the sparks from here, can't you? Secretary won a special award for originality at this year's Sundance Festival.
If you don't see any humor in cutting, maybe traditional stand-up comedy is more your speed. Check out Notorious C.H.O. (October 18), comedian Margaret Cho's follow-up to the arthouse hit I'm the One That I Want. Filmed live during a Seattle performance in late 2001, Cho waxes poetic about her Korean roots, her inability to break into Hollywood and her apparent love of various body parts that I dare not mention in such a high-brow publication. There is also a lot of very un-PC humor geared toward Cho's reputation as a "fag-hag," as well as a hilarious story about Scotland's only gay bar (called C.C. Bloom, after the Bette Midler character in Beaches).
All that laughing will most certainly put you in the mood for something a little more serious, which you'll find in Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer's Heaven. Not only is this his English-language debut, it's the first in a series of three films (Hell and Purgatory are set to follow) written by Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski before his 1996 death (he planned to make them himself). Cate Blanchett stars as a teacher in Italy whose husband dies of a drug overdose. Tired of the police doing nothing about the dealers, she resorts to vigilante justice and ends up in prison, where she falls for a cop played by Giovanni Ribisi.
Another deliciously dark offering is François Ozon's 8 Women. If you were bored to tears during Gosford Park, this murder-mystery might alleviate any concerns you may have had about the state of that particular genre. It's about a big party at a country estate where the host is murdered by one of his guests, which are --- you guessed it --- eight women. The female cast reads like a who's who of French cinema --- Catherine Deneuve (The Musketeer), Fanny Ardant (Ridicule), Emmanuelle Beart (Mission: Impossible), Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher), Virginie Ledoyen (The Beach) and Danielle Darrieux (Young Girls of Rochefort).
Want something even darker? The Grey Zone is about as bleak as you can get. Written and directed by Tim Blake Nelson (the guy who wasn't Clooney or Turturro in O Brother), Zone tells the story of the Sonderkommando, a rag-tag bunch of World War II concentration camp prisoners who help the Nazis exterminate hordes of Jews in exchange for a few special privileges, like better food and the possibility of living for a couple extra months. The unlikely castmates include Steve Buscemi, David Arquette, Daniel Benzali, Harvey Keitel, Mira Sorvino and Natasha Lyonne.
Special guests are on the menu over at the Dryden Theatre at the George Eastman House. One night after the showing of his film, Bus Riders Union, an informative documentary about public transportation in Los Angeles, Haskell Wexler will be in town to screen Medium Cool (October 19), one of the '60s biggest and best independent film milestones. Rochester's own Robert Forster stars as a Chicago-based television cameraman who witnesses the anarchy of the 1968 Democratic Convention. And Forster himself will be in town the following evening to introduce Alligator (October 20), the highly entertaining John Sayles-penned thriller from 1980.
The fun continues the following weekend, when legendary horror producer Richard Gordon comes to the Dryden to show Fiend Without a Face and The Haunted Strangler (October 26). And that's just to whet your whistle for the scariest film on the Dryden's calendar --- Hell House, a documentary about a Pentecostal church in Dallas whose members put on an extravagant fire-and-brimstone haunted house every Halloween. Frightened onlookers witness depictions of botched abortions, drunk-driving fatalities and death via AIDS. Take a frightening peek at the people who elected Dubya as their governor before the country didn't elect him president.
If music is more your style, the Dryden is still the place to be. They'll be showing a brand-new, fully restored version of what many consider to be the greatest concert film ever made --- Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz, which documents the Band's farewell concert in 1976. But if you're tired of kicking it old school, then you won't want to miss I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, a behind-the-scenes look at Wilco and the making of their dazzling album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which just might be the best rock-and-roll story in the last decade.
Hey, don't forget that the fall is film festival season in Rochester! After the big festival in Toronto comes to a close, local film lovers can look forward to ImageOut (October 4-12), which celebrates its aluminum (read: 10th) anniversary this year, boasting a program that includes a sing-a-long version of Grease with director Randal Kleiser, All the Queens Men with Matt LeBlanc and Eddie Izzard, Beijing love story Lan Yu, a drag-and-glitter documentary about San Francisco's The Cockettes, and Native American Sherman Alexie's brilliant The Business of Fancydancing. For more information, visit their web site at www.imageout.org.
After giving you a few weeks to get your bearings, the High Falls Film Festival (October 30-November 3) hits the screen after its wildly successful inaugural bow last year.
Announced titles to date include Love Liza, which won Fairport native Gordy Hoffman the top screenwriting award at this year's Sundance fest (his brother, Philip Seymour Hoffman, stars); Personal Velocity, which was written and directed by Rebecca Miller (daughter of Arthur) and stars Parker Posey, Fairuza Balk and Kyra Sedgwick; and Daughter From Danang, a documentary about the effects of Nixon's "Operation Babylift" 22 years after its Vietnamese orphans were adopted by American families (it was named Best Documentary at Sundance). And that's in addition to panels conducted by actress Lainie Kazan and cinematographer John Bailey. Check their site at www.highfallsfilmfestival.com.