The arts in 1999: Film - The Force will be with us, like it or not

It was the French actor, playwright, film-maker and wit Sacha Guitry who said it first: "The cinema isn't Latin. It's American." That was in 1919.

Now, 80 years later, at the threshold of what is technically the medium's third century, only those with eyes wide shut (see below) would deny the truth of Guitry's impudent aphorism. From what we already know of the films to be released this year, it is obvious that the ones everyone will wish to see are American. But then, so is the whole experience of moviegoing. Multiplexes have become the cinema's malls. The public shops for films, just as it shops for clothes, and naturally tends to be drawn to brand names: on the one hand, Next, Gap and Laura Ashley; on the other, Willis, Spielberg and Merchant Ivory. As for the little corner store, the little corner cinema, well, they're history.

Hope, anyway, springs eternal, especially at the start of a new year, so what should we be looking for? I would single out movies by a quartet of Hollywood mavericks. Le Woody Allen nouveau, natch. It's titled Celebrity and arrives on cue in June, just as le Beaujolais nouveau does in November. The question is, as always with this uneven film-maker: will it be a good or disappointing cru? There's also Gus Van Sant's Psycho, originally announced as a shot-by-shot remake of Hitchcock's classic, which made it sound like a real one-off (or two-off). Now we learn that it's only scene-by- scene, another matter altogether and potentially a lot less interesting. But who knows? Warren Beatty is no longer a bankable superstar, not since his boyish features became a waxy palimpsest of several face- lifts. As a director, however, he's one of the very few in Hollywood still prepared to take risks, and his Bulworth, even if shunned by the general American public, is reputedly the best by far of the current wavelet of political satires. But the most enticing prospect of all is undoubtedly Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line. Malick is a unique case. After directing the much-admired Badlands and Days of Heaven, he upped and quit the industry to do his own thing. Now, 20 years later, haloed by the aura of mystery which attaches to every artist fallen silent in his prime, he returns with a starry adaptation of a Second World War novel by James Jones. Oh, and yes, almost forgot, there's the first of the new Star Wars thingies.

From Britain two films stand a chance of making themselves heard above the din surrounding the future (if any) of our national film industry. Having publicly repented the indigestible wodges of visual experimentation that marred his recent output, Peter Greenaway offers 81/2 Women, presumably not just a homage to Fellini but to the one work in the late Maestro's filmography the title of which was calculated to charm the most obsessively numerate of directors. And, from Mike Leigh, we can expect, after the disaster of Career Girls, what sounds like a pretty radical change of style. The subjects of his latest, as yet untitled, film are Gilbert and Sullivan.

In On Connait la Chanson there was a running gag about a PhD thesis written by one of the characters, whose medieval subject, "the yeoman knights of Lake Paladru", was of interest to, at most, half-a-dozen people in the world. It struck me, as I watched the film, that here was a perfect metaphor for the increasing indifference to just the kind of "art cinema" to which the film itself belonged. For those out there who are still interested, though, the coming year sees new works by Eric Rohmer (An Autumn Tale), Nanni Moretti (Aprile), Theodoros Angelopoulos (Eternity and a Day) and Emir Kusturica (Black Cat, White Cat) - not to mention a film with the (dubious?) distinction of having invented its own genre, Roberto Benigni's Life is Beautiful. The genre? The Holocaust comedy.

Finally, we'll have a chance to see the movie that became a legend even as it was being filmed, Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. Practically two years in the making, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, the abrupt departure of Harvey Keitel and Jennifer Jason Leigh, a permanently closed set and persistent rumours of hard-core pornography. What can one say? Its own shoot will be a hard act to follow.

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