A year of Shakespeare - and McGregor

 

WITH original screenplay ideas thinner on ground than ever in Hollywood - or perhaps it's because the studios are afraid of investing in untested new ideas - film-makers are relying more and more on literary classics. With the novels of Jane Austen virtually exhausted, the studios are turning their attention to Shakespeare again. Expect at least four adaptations from the Bard on your screens this year, along with three from Henry James (including Jane Campion's The Portrait Of A Lady), and at least two each from Thomas Hardy and Joseph Conrad.

Hollywood will also continue to recycle its past with Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park follow-up, The Lost World and Joel Schumacher's Batman and Robin leading the pack of sequels, and there will be even more big-screen spinoffs from old TV series - from The Saint, starring Val Kilmer and due in March, to a movie of The Avengers to star Ralph Fiennes and Nicole Kidman.

While it's much too early to call the Oscars at the end of March - the nominations are not announced until February 11th - the early indications are that American movies are unlikely to fare very well on the night, and the front-runners may well feature a number of low-budget movies from outside the US such as Shine, Secrets & Lies and Breaking The Waves. The commercial success of those movies and of the hugely popular Trainspotting, in particular, will certainly ensure increased support for movies which do not in any way conform to the standard Hollywood assembly line material.

If Alan Parker's reinvention of the screen musical in Evita proves a big box-office hit - and if Woody Allen's more modest musical Everyone Says I Love You does well - we can expect a renaissance of the musical, and several Broadway contenders, including the smash hit, Rent, are waiting in the wings for a movie treatment.

In Ireland, support for the film industry seems assured if there is a change of government at the general election, given the positive policies put forward by Fianna Fail last month. And the proliferation of new Irish cinema screens is set to continue throughout 1997: in the past fortnight, 29 new screens opened in sites from Blanchardstown to Limerick to Killarney. There are more screens on the way for Limerick, Galway and Cork, and in Dublin exhibitors are seriously exploring potential developments in Dun Laoghaire, Dundrum, Quarryvale and Swords.

Artist to watch:

Ewan McGregor. The hottest young actor of 1996 should get even hotter next year when he appears in Nightwatch, The Serpent's Kiss and A Life Less Ordinary - and he's starring in the new Todd Haynes movie in February and is set to play the young James Joyce in Pat Murphy's Nora in April.

This year's Must Sees:

1. The Butcher Boys Filmed on location in Co Monaghan this summer before Michael Collins went on release, Neil Jordan's film of Patrick McCabe's extraordinary novel has the ingredients of an equally extraordinary film. The film, scripted by Jordan and McCabe, features two young newcomers, Eamon Owens and Alan Boyle, along with Jordan regulars Stephen Rea, Ian Hart, Fiona Shaw and, as the Virgin Mary, Sinead O'Connor. At present it's scheduled for November release, but it may open earlier.

2.I Went Down: The word in the industry is very strong on this contemporary comedy set in the Dublin underworld. The first film written by the acclaimed 24-year-old Irish playwright Conor McPherson, it is the second feature directed by Paddy Breathnach, who made such a promising debut with Ailsa. Newcomer Peter McDonald features in the cast with Brendan Gleeson, Peter Caffrey and Tony Doyle. Opening in summer or autumn.

3.A Life Less Ordinary: The third film from the remarkable Shallow Grave and Trainspotting team of actor Ewan McGregor, director Danny Boyle, writer John Hodge and producer Andrew MacDonald is a screwball comedy with elements of black humour and fantasy dealing with a Scotsman's experiences in the US. McGregor is joined in the attractive cast by Cameron Diaz, Holly Hunter, Delroy Undo, Stanley Tucci, Ian Holm and Dan Hedaya. Due in the autumn,

4. Titanic: James Cameron, the director of Aliens, The Terminator and The Abyss is back in the water for this mega-budget epic chronicling the ill-fated liner, its passengers and crew. Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet are the young lovers at the centre of the story, and the cast features Billy Zane, Bill Paxton and Kathy Bates, but the real stars could be the state-of-the-art special effects. Opens in late autumn.

5.Vertigo: The Star Wars trilogy is set for a re-release in March/April, but for me, the unmissable reissue in 1997 has to be this immaculate 7Omm restoration of Alfred Hitchcock's great 1958 masterpiece of obsession and manipulation starring James Stewart, Kim Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes. Seeing the restored version on 70 mm at the Ziegfeld in New York two months ago was an unforgettable experience and I left the cinema walking on air. Due in April.

6.The 50th Cannes Film Festival The world's biggest and most important film event celebrates its 50th edition in May and promises to pull out all the stops with an international programme of unprecedented range and quality and visits from dozens of film-makers who have won prizes at the festival in the past. Most of the movies likely to be shown are still in various stages of production.