Streep. Spielberg. Scorsese.
It will be a season in which these big names wax bigger, slipping into fall and slaloming through a crowded Christmas.
In two weeks, Streep will appear in "Plenty," drawn by David Hare from his hit off-Broadway play. She'll encore in December in "Out of Africa" (based on the Isak Dinesen novel), the Prestige Release of the season, directed by Sydney Pollack ("Tootsie"). One or both are certain to garner yet another Oscar nomination for the Yale-trained actress whose lapidary technique has made her the Katharine Hepburn of her generation.
Using the enormous popularity of his own movies as leverage, Steven Spielberg has, through his Amblin' Entertainment, established himself as the most powerful mogul in Hollywood. Not only does everyone take his phone calls -- everyone says yes. For Christmas, he's executive producing "Young Sherlock Holmes" for Paramount; everyone who's seen it agrees that the Chris Columbus script is a wow. Spielberg will also present "The Money Pit" for Universal, a comedy directed by Richard Benjamin ("My Favorite Year").
The big stretch for Spielberg, though, will be the movie he is directing himself for Warner Bros.: "The Color Purple," based on the Alice Walker novel and starring Whoopi Goldberg. It is Spielberg's first "serious" movie, and his bid for the Oscar that has so far eluded him. That film, too, will appear at Christmas.
The fall will be kicked off by "After Hours," premiering in New York next week and in Washington a month later. Directed by Martin Scorsese ("Raging Bull," "Taxi Driver"), this urban comedy takes a young man (Griffin Dunne, who coproduced) through a madcap night in New York in which he meets everyone from Rosanna Arquette to Cheech and Chong. Those who have already seen it say it's the old Scorsese, which means that it may be the best movie of the year.
Once again, the second half of the year is end-loaded, with almost nothing of note opening till the three weeks beginning with Thanksgiving weekend, during which everything opens. This strategy has always seemed misguided, and now seems more so, given what is evolving as a new pattern in ticket-buying behavior. With the competition from cable, videocassettes, and to some extent, a higher quality of network television ("Miami Vice," and the upcoming "Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories," with episodes directed by Scorsese, Clint Eastwood and Paul Bartel among others), the audience has become more selective in spending its money.
The upshot is that people are going to see the one or two must-see movies of the season, and stay home otherwise, waiting till the rest appear on cassette or cable. Last Christmas, "Beverly Hills Cop" took its money home in trucks, and almost everything else drowned in red ink; similarly, this past summer, "Rambo" and "Back to the Future" cleaned up, "Cocoon" broke even, and everything else lost. This new selectivity, in other words, has centrifugally pulled the blockbuster-or-flop curve into an aggravated form.
The obvious counter-strategy would be to spread the Christmas releases out a little. But tell that to the marketing geniuses.
Still, the studios are optimistic that the end of the year will recoup the summer's box office falloff, with grosses already down roughly 20 percent from last year. September
"Plenty," which stars the rock star Sting opposite Streep and is directed by Fred Schepisi ("Iceman"), relates the traumas of a former Resistance fighter 15 years later, during the Suez crisis. It is the first project shepherded by new 20th Century-Fox topper Barry Diller, the highest paid executive in the United States, and, with its patina of Broadway class and serious concerns, bears Diller's stamp. It may provide Fox with the shot-in-the-arm of prestige that the studio desperately needs; at last year's Oscars, Fox was desperately underrepresented.
September will also include "Agnes of God," Norman Jewison's version of the hit Broadway play, starring Jane Fonda, Meg Tilly and Anne Bancroft. In "Maxie," Glenn Close, Mandy Patinkin and the late Ruth Gordon star in a comedy about a 1920s flapper who invades the body of a San Francisco housewife.
The New York Film Festival kicks off in New York late in the month with "Ran," a "samurization" of "King Lear" by the peerless Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. Unlike last year's festival, noteworthy for introducing new American talents like Jim Jarmusch ("Stranger Than Paradise") and the Coen brothers ("Blood Simple"), this year will concentrate on such well-established foreign directors as Jean-Luc Godard (who will premiere his controversial "Hail, Mary," the Christ story retold with Mary as a gas station attendant), the Taviani brothers ("Chaos"), Alain Tanner ("No Man's Land"), and Kurosawa. The leading American entry is "Chain Letters," by longtime avant-gardist Mark Rappaport.
Otherwise, September is largely barren. There is the long-held "Creator," starring Peter O'Toole as a scientist who invents a woman (Mariel Hemingway). Fox is hot for "Commando," a Rambo-esque shoot-'em-up. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars, but Mark Lester directs. October
There's probably no reason to list the October releases, since everyone will be watching the Mets and Yankees in the World Series. But what the heck: Besides "After Hours," October will include the premiere of Paul Schrader's Cannes entry, "Mishima," detailing the life of the fabled Japanese author, cult hero, right-wing lunatic and suicide.
"Joshua Then and Now," based on the Mordecai Richler novel, is expected in October or November.
Jessica Lange and Ed Harris will star in "Sweet Dreams," based on the life of country/western singer Patsy Cline.
"Blue City," based on the Ross MacDonald mystery, stars Ally Sheedy (hooray) and Judd Nelson (boo).
Orion will try to start its own version of the "Indiana Jones" serial with "Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins," starring Fred Ward.
Sissy Spacek will star in "Marie," the story of a Tennessee parole commissioner who blew the whistle on a corrupt system.
Jeff Bridges and Glenn Close star in "The Jagged Edge," a courtroom drama.
In "Silver Bullet," Gary Busey ("The Buddy Holly Story") tries to save a town from a werewolf attack; in October, you'll find out if he succeeds.
Disney has "The Journey of Natty Gann," starring Jon Cusack ("The Sure Thing") and Meredith Salenger as a young girl who travels cross-country in search of her father.
And then, "Better Off Dead," a comedy about teen-age love starring Cusack as well; and a comedy about medical students in the Caribbean starring Steve Guttenberg called "Bad Medicine," for which audiences are already lining up around the block. November
William Friedkin, director of "The French Connection," returns to the hard-edged thriller with "To Live and Die in L.A."
Director Arthur Penn ("Bonnie and Clyde") will present "Target," starring Matt Dillon as a boy who discovers that his father (Gene Hackman) is a spy.
Ryan O'Neal and Giancarlo Giannini will star in "Fever Pitch," the story of a journalist who reports a story on high-stakes gambling, and gets the bug himself.
Getting the jump on the rest of the Christmas releases, Columbia will present "White Nights" for the Thanksgiving weekend. Directed by Taylor Hackford, it's the story of a black American tap dancer (Gregory Hines) who has defected to Russia, and a Russian ballet dancer (Mikhail Baryshnikov) who, having defected from Russia, finds himself back there. The love interest is Isabella Rosselini, daughter of Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rosselini (and the former Mrs. Scorsese). This one, in the Hollywood argot, has a "buzz."
"White Nights" is supposed to be an America First rabble-rouser, but it's probably nothing compared to the patriotic gore we can expect in "Rocky IV." Rocky Balboa, the indefatigable Sylvester Stallone, goes to Russia to face off against the Soviet champ. Can you wait? I can't wait.
And then November has two Christmas releases that are, well, about Christmas. Disney has "One Night Before Christmas," and Tri-Star will present "Santa Claus," for which the Salkinds reportedly spent $60 million. December
Besides Spielberg's "The Color Purple," "The Money Pit" and "Young Sherlock Holmes" (directed by Barry "Diner" Levinson) and "Out of Africa" (which stars Robert Redford opposite Streep), Christmas brings a grab bag of comedies, epics and thrillers, among them "Revolution," directed by Hugh Hudson and starring Al Pacino. After throwing the Brits out 200 years ago, we have now hired them to tell the story -- why?
Then there's Embassy's "A Chorus Line," the film version of the Broadway hit. Advance word says it's a disaster. Then again, the advance word on "The Godfather" said it was a disaster.
Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner will return in the sequel to "Romancing the Stone," "The Jewel of the Nile."
Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd will appear in a comedy, "Spies Like Us." Don't hold your breath.
Richard Pryor fans hope his semi-autobiographical "Jo Jo Dancer" will provide his breakthrough.
Blake Edwards is directing "The Music Box," a comedy starring Ted Danson, of "Cheers" fame.
Wolfgang Petersen ("Das Boot") will direct "Enemy Mine," a big-budget thriller.
There is as yet no firm Washington release date for "Eleni," starring Kate Nelligan and John Malkovich, and based on Nicholas Gage's New York Times reportage on his mother's past; "Head Office," starring Judge Reinhold making merry and making money; "Flesh and Blood," starring Rutger Hauer as a mercenary soldier in 16th-century Europe; "My Man Adam," a teen comedy about a kid who wants to be a television anchorman (why not?); and "Odd Job," about five college chums who get into the movie business (why not indeed?).