By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com February 14, 2012 at 3:53PM
Late last night, the trailer for Whit Stillman's "Damsels In Distress" debuted, and for those who didn't catch it on the festival circuit last year, it was the first time they'd seen any new footage from the "Metropolitan" and "Barcelona" helmer in over a decade. By the time that 'Damsels' is released, nearly fourteen years will have passed since the release of Stillman's third film, "The Last Days Of Disco," a near-Malickian absence. While he's been absent for longer than most, he's far from alone. As we've discussed both last year, and last week, there's plenty of other filmmakers who have been missing in action for some time.
While our piece last week was made up of names from whom nary a peep had been heard of late, we wanted something a little more optimistic for Valentine's Day, so below, you'll find five directors who, like Stillman, haven't made a film in a substantial amount of time, along with investigations of how they've spent the intervening years. None of their films have release dates, but all should have new movies in theaters before 2012 is over and done with.
Time Away From The Game: Four years since 2008's "Me And Orson Welles."
The Brief: The circuitous, eclectic career of Richard Linklater is not unlike the path set by his friend and colleague Steven Soderbergh. Linklater has done high and low, micro-budgeted indies (“Tape”) and mainstream-as-they-get studio films (“The Bad News Bears” remake), but without matching the same successes and accolades.
What Happened: "Me And Orson Welles" died on the vine in a barely-there indie release, and not even the presence of teen sensation Zac Efron could help what turned out to be one of the least financially successful films of Linklater's career. Unbowed, Linklater attempted to put on the Obama-bound "Liars A-E," a female-led road trip story about two friends who visit all their exes on the way to Obama's 2008 inauguration. Despite inspired leads Rebecca Hall and Kat Dennings, the project fell apart when Miramax did. While he's still been working on his "Untitled 12-Year Project” with Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette on and off, plus teased a third "Sunrise/Sunset" picture, and an adaptation of “The Incredible Mr. Limpet,” not a lot has coalesced just yet, but thankfully, Linklater returns this year with "Bernie" a Fargo-esque pet project he's been trying to get off the ground for several years. Starring his "School Of Rock" lead Jack Black and "Dazed And Confused" hunk Matthew McConaughey, "Bernie" was bought by Millenium Entertainment last year, and presumably is scheduled for release on April 27th. It will be a welcome return for Linklater and hopefully if the Black List script "Young Republicans" is still on deck (potentially starring Paul Dano), it won't be another five years between films.
Time Away From The Game: Five years since "The Orphanage" premiered at Cannes.
The Brief: Bayona is a Spanish former commercials and promo director who was taken under the wing of Guillermo Del Toro after meeting him when the Mexican helmer was on the festival route with debut "Cronos." After making several shorts, Bayona enlisted Del Toro's help to produce "The Orphanage," which became a global hit.
What Happened: Arguably the best horror film of the last decade, "The Orphanage" seemed a dead-cert to put Bayona into all kinds of demand. And it did, as he swiftly signed on to direct "Hater," a thriller about an epidemic of violence by normal people, again produced by Del Toro, at Universal, but it never got going. Then, he was courted to direct "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," Nikki Finke even going so far as to say he had the job, but in fact, the director, quite correctly, had no interest whatsoever in the teen vampire franchise. Finally, in 2010, he got going again on "The Impossible," a drama set around the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, with Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor. Thanks to a heavy VFX element, it's been a while in post-production, but an eerie, promising trailer finally arrived at the start of last month, and Summit picked up the project for a release later in 2012. Hopefully it's worth the wait.
Time Away From The Game: Three-and-a-half-years since "Miracle At St. Anna."
The Brief: One of the great success stories of American independent film of the 1980s, Lee's always had ups and downs to his career, and was riding high after studio flick "Inside Man," the biggest hit of his career.
What Happened: As you might recall, Lee followed "Inside Man" with an expensive passion project, WW2 epic "Miracle At St. Anna." The film is actually decent, far better than its reputation, but was poorly received, and proved a major box office flop. Prior to that, Lee had been the toast of the town, with many projects in development, including a film based around the L.A. riots, the "Time Traveler," a biopic of Ronald Mallet one of the first African-Americans to earn a PhD in theoretical physics, another biopic on James Brown, and a sequel to "Inside Man." Slowly, they began to fall by the wayside, especially when Lee left long time agents Endeavor, who'd set up the deals, but "Inside Man 2" remained in development, although "Hotel Rwanda" scribe Terry George was brought on to write a new script from scratch. Ultimately, the failure of 'St. Anna' didn't help matters, and Universal, beset by a series of financial disappointments, could never bring themselves to pull the trigger. Other projects emerged over time: he was thought to be working on a stand-up film for Tracy Morgan, he was attached to big-budget thriller "Nagasaki Deadline," and tried to make a more personal work "Brooklyn Hearts MJ," about the night that Michael Jackson died, but none ever made it to the starting line. Frustrated, Lee poured his own money into "Red Hook Summer," a return to his indie roots, which debuted at Sundance this year to a mixed reception (but then, when has a Spike Lee film not had a mixed reception?...). With two HBO projects, drama pilot "Da Brick" and a biopic of Marion Barry with Eddie Murphy, and the "Oldboy" remake all on the way, it looks like we won't have another four year gap to suffer.
Time Away From The Game: Eleven years since his debut "CQ" appeared.
The Brief: Another member of the Coppola cinematic dynasty, Roman, son of Francis Ford, brother of Sofia, made his debut with "CQ" a batty-but-brilliant homage to the new wave and 1960s science fiction, over a decade ago. It was coolly received at its Cannes premiere, and Coppola hasn't directed a feature in a decade.
What Happened? Unlike most of those who've featured on these two lists, Coppola Jr. has seemingly hardly set foot off a film set in the last decade; he's been nothing if not busy. He's just not been directing features. He founded the promo company The Directors Bureau, whose clients include his sister, Patrick Daughters, Shynola, Nash Edgerton and Mike Mills, way back in 1994, and has continued to run that, as well as helming music videos for The Strokes and Phoenix, among others, and commercials including those for Stella Artois and The New Yorker. Not that he's shunned features entirely: he directed second units for his sister on "Lost In Translation" and "Marie Antoinette" (and produced 2010's "Somewhere"), for his father on "Youth Without Youth" and "Tetro," and for pal Wes Anderson on "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou" and "The Darjeeling Limited." But perhaps his best known credit was co-writing 'Darjeeling' with Anderson and cousin Jason Schwartzmann, while Anderson and Coppola reunited to pen this year's "Moonrise Kingdom" together. So it's not surprising that he's not had the time to get a feature going. But finally, as "Moonrise Kingdom" wrapped, it was announced that Coppola was stealthily getting underway on "A Glimpse Inside The Mind Of Charles Swan III," a 70s-set tale of a famed graphic designer, starring a back-from-the-wilderness Charlie Sheen alongside Schwartzmann, Bill Murray, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Katheryn Winnick and more. Was it worth the wait? Hopefully we'll find out later in the year.
Time Away From The Game: It's been five years since "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" bowed at the Venice Film Festival in 2007 and then was met with a thud by audiences.
The Brief: New Zealand-born Australian film director Andrew Dominik has a small, but powerful resume. His excellent, both creepy and hilarious debut, "Chopper" introduced the rest of the world to Eric Bana (who, as a comedian to bein with, revealed all kinds of acting chops, pardon the pun). Then came his most infamous film. 'The Assassination of Jesse James' which was widely praised in 2007 by critics, earned itself two Oscar nominations and scored Brad Pitt the best actor award at Venice. But at the box-office it bombed, earning only $3.9 million in the U.S. with a budget of 30 million. The two hour and forty minute running time scaled down from a rumored runtime of 3.5 hours (a small battery of peple were brought in and out of the editing bay), and Warner Bros. were not happy. But it's gone on to become a cult classic in many circles, including ours (we placed it at #2 in our top films of 2007 during our Best of the decade coverage). Pitt recently called it one of his all-time faves and admitted he thinks WB is ashamed of it since it tanked commercially
What Happened: Dominik wrote five scripts to direct sometime between "Chopper" and 'Jesse James,' including a screenplay of Jim Thompson's "The Killer Inside Me" (that Michael Winterbottom eventually directed from a totally different script). He also adapted Thompson's "Pop. 1280" for Woody Harrelson and producer Leonardo DiCaprio, and wrote an adaptation of Guillaume Canet's twisty French thriller "Tell No One," but it appears Ben Affleck is also directing that (also, sadly, from a different script). And another adaptation to boot: Cormac McCarthy's "Cities of the Plain," none of which he could get off the ground. He realized without movie stars he couldn't get a movie made, and then when he landed Pitt in 'Jesse James' he almost landed himself in movie jail. That jailtime likely still would have happened if 'Jesse James' hadn't become such a belatedly beloved hit, but thankfully, even beancounters recognize how talented Dominik is. For his next trick, he's making a crime comedy "Cogan's Trade," with, who else, Brad Pitt in tow. The Weinstein Company will release the film, reportedly sometime this fall. Also on deck is "Blonde," based on Joyce Carol Oates's fictional Marilyn Monroe memoir of the same name, which Naomi Watts is attached to. Hopefully 'Trade' isn't a critical dud and we'll see this one go forward. Either that or "My Week With Marilyn" has already killed the idea.
Honorable Mentions: Three filmmakers from a previous list all have new films arriving this year -- duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, with their first film since 2006's "Little Miss Sunshine," the Paul Dano & Zoe Kazan-penned "He Loves Me," and Jonathan Glazer, whose terminally underrated "Birth" hit in 2004, and who will finally be back this year with twisted sci-fi tale "Under The Skin," starring Scarlett Johannsson. Meanwhile, Australian director Cate Shortland might have helped introduce the world to Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington with her 2004 film "Somersault," but she's had to work harder for stardom; her German-language post-WW2 tale "Lore" will arrive later in the year. And finally, Hal Hartley's "Meanwhile," his first feature siince 2006's "Fay Grim," hits theaters imminently, but we'll be dealing with him in much more detail next week...
-- Oliver Lyttelton & RP