The FOTS team shares what stories they’ve always wanted to see brought to life, and with whom.
The ground rules for this one were pretty simple: First, it must be a project that is not, nor has ever been, in development. It can’t be a part of film lore (Kubrick’s Napoleon, Orson Welles’s Don Quixote, del Toro’s Mountains of Madness), and it can’t be a project we all know we’re getting eventually (like a Hamilton film, for example). Second, It must also be achievable, using directors/writers/actors that are
alive available right now.
So, if you were given an unlimited budget and the power to bend schedules to your will, what have you always wanted to see made?
This piece is inspired by a column written by critic/author/genius Matt Zoller Seitz (then at Slate), where he pitched, among other things, a Terrence Malick Moby Dick starring Mel Gibson as Ahab. It was hard to beat that idea, but we gave it our best.
DAVID: The Phantom Tollbooth (dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)
My favorite book of all time is 1961’s The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. For those who somehow haven’t had the pleasure, it centers on a bored boy named Milo who, after receiving said tollbooth via anonymous delivery, unwittingly falls into an adventure to save a magical kingdom. Even more than the novel’s timeless messages about the value of imagination and lifelong learning, I fondly remember its wit and its brightly-drawn characters. And as long as I’ve been interested in moviemaking, I’ve been waiting for the definitive adaptation (that bizarre animated version from 1970 doesn’t count). When the beginning and end of my film knowledge was Steven Spielberg, he was at the top of my list. Later, but before his Chocolate Factory-fueled career implosion, I’d have cut off an arm to see Tim Burton’s vision for it. But now, there’s only one name, or rather two names, that I want to acquire the rights: Joel and Ethan Coen.
Think about it — bring the dry humor of O Brother, Where Art Thou, Raising Arizona, and Hail, Caesar! to this fantastical children’s tale (in what would be their first), using the Coens’ reliable stable of actors. And with the potential for dozens of one-scene cameos as the disparately kooky denizens of The Lands Beyond, it wouldn’t be hard to stack this ensemble from the top down (as Alec Bings would know): John Goodman as a motion-captured Tock, the literal Watchdog; Oscar Isaac as Doctor Discord; George Clooney appearing as The Man, the world’s shortest giant/tallest midget/etc; Steve Buscemi as Officer Short Shrift; Frances McDormand as Faintly Macabre; Josh Brolin as the King of Dictionopolis and John Turturro as his brother, the Mathemagician; Brian Cox as the Humbug; Scarlett Johansson as the Soundkeeper; Peter Stormare as the Whetherman…
I mean, I could go on and on. Roger Deakins shoots it, T Bone Burnett curates the soundtrack, and the princesses of Rhyme and Reason are pleased. Let it be so, Hollywood gods.
CHASE: God’s Architect (dir. Martin Scorsese)
I have a strong opinion that religious/spiritual films don’t have to be terrible. Unfortunately, for every Chariots of Fire, The Passion of Joan of Arc, or The Tree of Life it feels like we’re forced to endure 50 God’s Not Deads, and I’d love to see that change.
My dream project is an original biopic about Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí and his efforts to build the Sagrada Família, one of the most unique and beautiful projects the world has ever seen (if you don’t know what it looks like, I’ll wait). It may seem an odd choice to some, but I like to imagine Martin Scorsese at the helm creating a third installment to a “religious trilogy” with The Last Temptation of Christ and the forthcoming Silence. You know the gangster films, but Scorsese has also directed some incredible biopics about extraordinary men intersecting with history, and God’s Architect would fit into that vein. It’s the story of one man and his extraordinary vision that refuses to conform to contemporary notions of beauty and time. As Gaudí famously said about his project when confronted with the reality of its monumental construction timeline in the 1880s, “my client is not in a hurry.”
I only have one pick to play the famous Catalan architect: Oscar Isaac. He even has a passing resemblance. Gael García Bernal plays Gaudí’s friend and collaborator Francesc Berenguer. Oscar winner Javier Bardem plays bishop Josep Torras who encourages Gaudí’s religious expression in the face of criticism, and the legendary Robert De Niro rounds out the cast as an Italian Cardinal who opposes Gaudí’s work, representing the traditional interpretation of religious architecture.
But the focus of the film has to be the basilica itself and Gaudí’s unique vision. The one image that’s burned into my mind’s eye is Gaudí and Berenguer on the street watching construction on the basilica as old men, contemplating how they’ll never see his legacy completed, but Gaudí Berenguer that he has no offspring. The church is his child, and no parent should ever outlive their children. The film’s last shot is of the continuing construction in 1926, and then a slow fade to the modern day where cranes continue to work on the still incomplete basilica. Text informs the viewer that Sagrada Família is expected to be completed in 2026 to mark the centenary of Gaudí’s death. Take that, God’s Not Dead!
TYLER: Y: The Last Man (Rian Johnson, Showrunner)
Though he is a notable screen and TV writer in his own right (Lost was largely saved by him, recovering Season 4 momentum after the bleh that was Season 3), Brian K. Vaughn’s seminal Y: The Last Man graphic novel has never made it (publicly) past the cursory development stage. Y, which chronicles the foibles of Yorick Brown, apparently the only living human male after a catastrophic event wipes out everything with a Y chromosome, is a madcap, freakishly literate and irreverent journey across the world. Yorick and his compatriots (Agent 355, Dr. Allison Mann, an awesome Capuchin monkey named Ampersand) form a mixed and tightly knit bunch, as the series swings from political thriller to Shakespearean parody to Asian neo-noir at the drop of a hat.
Who better than Rian Johnson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to bring the story to the small screen? I’ve long argued Y should’ve been AMC’s fifth greenly show of its slowly disintegrating heyday (Mad Men -> Breaking Bad -> Rubicon (miss u) -> The Walking Dead), as it couples together the complex plotting, fascinating moral questions and memorable locations that have came to define the network before it lost its head. John and JGL are masters of the medium, and of mixing genres where homogeneity might seem easy. Johnson has AMC chops, having directed the two greatest Breaking Bad episodes ever (“Ozymandias” and “Fly”), as well as a mastery of genre-flipping with his three self-written features Brick, The Brothers Bloom, and Looper. JGL, likewise, seems perfect as Yorick; a little deadpan, maybe, but Yorick’s tenaciousness and overall sense of righteousness would blend well with JGL’s steely-eyed determination. Blend in a colorful cast of female supporting characters (another point for the show: it would be a literal showcase for powerful female voices), the built-in audience from one of the more important graphic novels of the new millennium, and AMC might have another hit on its hands (finally).
RACHEL: The Philadelphia Story (dir. Jeff Nichols)
If you know me at all, you know about my Philadelphia Story Love Theory; it’s the basis for my interpretation of any great love story. All men are either a Cary Grant or a James Stewart, and we Katharine Hepburns just have to decide which man we want: passionate, loose-cannon Grant or stalwart, romantic Stewart. (For my money, I’m a Grant girl, all the way.) The Golden Age of cinema brought brilliant, multilayered romantic gems like Bringing Up Baby, The Shop Around the Corner, and the play/remake The Philadelphia Story. We’ve lost our love affair with true love affairs in modern cinema, and I propose a radical return to form.
Jeff Nichols — the oft high-concept connoisseur of such groundbreaking cinema as Mud, Take Shelter, and this year’s astonishing Midnight Special — impressively develops every single character in his films; we know the plight of all souls who grace his screen, never confused about their goals or choices. Imagine the classic love triangle/weekend-in-the-country story of the ex-flames burning hot at the backdrop of the former Queen of Society’s wedding to a new beau, and the reporter tasked to break up the upcoming nuptials by the aforementioned ex, helmed by a man known for his ability to encapsulate the human condition in celluloid.
This deep story of love and passion could only succeed in the modern age with Cate Blanchett in the Tracy Lord role (made famous by Hepburn), while Idris Elba and Alden Ehrenreich as Grant’s Dexter Haven and Stewart’s Macaulay Connor, respectively, woo the famous blonde. Any true expository on the nature of human emotion must be handled with an intensity of realism. Who better than this bunch to get the fires burning? I’m taking ten percent as producer. Let’s do this.
SEAN: Follies (dir. Steven Spielberg)
Besides the bizarre and delightful Busby Berkeley-inspired opening of Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, Steven Spielberg has never directed a musical. A screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s 1971 conceptual masterpiece Follies would be an ideal fit for Spielberg as he enters the twilight years of his career. Follies deals directly with nostalgia and sentimentality while delivering bitter truths about marriage, fame, and the fragility of the American Dream. In the play, a group of lovers and past performers reunite at the Weismann Follies Theater on the eve of its destruction, while being haunted by the ghosts of their youth. The reflective narrative provides a rich, fanciful, and dramatic backdrop in which Spielberg could flex his musical muscle. Follies moves between outright pastiche and gut-wrenching soliloquies until its final act, which explodes with a recreation of the follies themselves, which Spielberg would attack with colorful spectacle all the while retaining the brutal heartache underneath.
Goldman’s book for Follies is light on depth and works more within the bounds of metaphor, which is why it would be necessary to bring in heavy hitter Tony Kushner to flesh out the screen adaptation. Kushner understands the theater and the musical genre itself. His work with Spielberg on Munich and Lincoln has been among the most challenging and thoughtful of their careers. They would also have the added benefit that Sondheim is still very much alive and working. The idea of some new numbers written directly for Kushner’s adaptation is enough to make any musical lover giddy.
When it comes to casting, Follies should celebrate Hollywood’s past and its future by incorporating beloved veterans and new shining stars alike in every role available. I could easily see Spielberg favorites Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance filling the shoes of Buddy and Ben. Given her musical talents, Meryl Streep could make another grab at Oscar in almost any part she wanted (though her rendition of “I’m Still Here” would likely bring the house down). Shirley MacLaine could belt out a great “Broadway Baby” for nostalgia points. Rising stars Daisy Ridley and Logan Lerman could fill in as the stars’ ghost counterparts. Hell, this could be a great time for Spielberg to direct his wife Kate Capshaw again. And if some of these stars can’t really sing, then do it the old-fashioned way and dub them. This is the musical Spielberg has been waiting his whole life to direct…even if he doesn’t know it yet.