Look for Helen Mirren to hold court on September 29 at the opening night of the New York Film Festival. Mirren, who just won a Best Actress Emmy for her performance in HBO's "Elizabeth I," plays Elizabeth II in Stephen Frears' "The Queen," a depiction of the emotional aftermath of Princess Diana’s death, with an emphasis on what appears to have been a major conflict between Her Majesty and Prime Minister Tony Blair over just how public the royal family’s mourning need be. The screenplay is by Peter Morgan, and the cast includes Michael Sheen (as Blair), James Cromwell and Sylvia Syms. For more festival information, click here and check out the Film Society of Lincoln Center's official web site; to read about many more new biopics, click here; for the Variety review of "The Queen," click here. "The Queen" launches its New York theatrical run on 9/30/06.


VOLVER: Penelope Cruz, Lola Duenas, Blanca Portillo, Carmen Maura, Yohana Cobo, Chus Lampreave, Leandro Rivera, Carmen Machi, Pilar Castro (Written and directed by Pedro Almodovar; Sony Picures Classics) As is frequently the case with the films of Spain’s most outrageously daring, funny, profound, trashy auteur, “Volver” will be mostly, if not all, about women. This time, Almodovar intimately explores the quirks of the female members of a far-from-mainstream family. In truth, their lives are pretty much a mess, which is why the vexed, volatile mom played by Carmen Maura feels compelled to get back down to earth shortly after her untimely death. She’s simply got to make things right for her daughters (Penelope Cruz and Lola Duenas) and her granddaughter (Yohana Cobo). Go, ghost, go! Before “Volver’s” U. S. premiere, Sony Pictures Classics is presenting a nation-wide Almodovar retrospective that will include "Law of Desire," "Matador," "Women on the Verge," "Flower of My Secret," "Live Flesh," "All About My Mother," "Talk to Her," and "Bad Education." If you know of a better show in town, please fill me in. To see what else Penelope Cruz is up to, click here and browse the C page of STAR TURNS. Opens 11/3/06


PAN'S LABYRINTH (EL LABERINTO DEL FAUNO) Mirabel Verdu, Sergi Lopez, Ivana Baquero, Doug Jones (Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro; Picturehouse) Described as a fairy tale but sounding more like an art-house fright flick, hot Mexican director Guillermo del Toro’s latest movie deals with a dangerous fable dreamed up by a lonely, soulful Spanish girl at the peak of the brutally suffocating Franco regime. Del Toro, the powerfully imaginative creator of “Cronos,” “Mimic” and “Hellboy,” can be counted on to stir our emotions and stoke our fears. Opens 12/29/06


INLAND EMPIRE: Laura Dern, Jeremy Irons, Harry Dean Stanton, Justin Theroux, Julia Ormond, Terryn Westbrook, Michael Pare, Ian Abercrombie, Kristen Kerr, Peter J. Lucas, Masuimi Max, Emily Stofle, Kat Turner (Written and directed by David Lynch; StudioCanal) David Lynch, never known as a blabber-mouth, has said very little about his latest film, except to say that it is a “mystery about a woman in trouble” and that he didn’t work from a completed script. During shooting, he acknowledged that “I write the thing scene by scene and much of it is shot and I don’t have much of a clue where it will end.” That’s good enough for us, because we happen to believe Lynch is one of the most imaginative and compelling moviemakers around. His “woman in trouble” here--a crumbly cookie stuck in a California burg called Inland Empire--is played by Laura Dern, an actress who experienced a pack of trouble in Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” and “Wild at Heart.” And let’s extend a big welcome-back to Justin Theroux, an actor we predicted would become a huge star after Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” (maybe this time he’ll be lucky at last). Also on board: Julia Ormond, a much-hyped Brit we predicted would never become a huge star after she fizzled as the new Audrey Hepburn in the remake of “Sabrina” (maybe this time she’ll be lucky, too).

LITTLE CHILDREN: Kate Winslet, Jennifer Connelly, Patrick Wilson, Sadie Goldstein, Ty Simpkins, Jackie Earle Haley, Phyllis Somerville, Gregg Edelman, Noah Emmerich, Raymond J. Barry, Trini Alvarado (Directed by Todd Field; Written by Todd Field and Tom Perrotta; New Line Cinema) “In the Bedroom” (2001) was a painful-to-watch but impossible-to-resist drama about a middle-aged couple who scheme to murder the person responsible for the death of their son. Now, in his second feature, Todd Field, the writer-director of that film, has come up with what sounds like another powerhouse drama. Based on the novel by Tom Perrotta, the screenplay by Field and Perrotta focuses on the seemingly simple but dangerously complex relationships between husbands, wives, their children and their neighbors in a small suburban community. They mingle and engage in innocent, mundane activities of mainstream American life. But at least two of these individuals--a sexually frustrated woman and a stay-at-home dad--take bold steps to relieve the tedium of their lives. The repercussions of their rebellion are thornier than anticipated. Opens 10/6/06

MARIE ANTOINETTE: Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Rip Torn, Judy Davis, Danny Huston, Steve Coogan, Asia Argento, Marianne Faithfull, Aurore Clement, Molly Shannon, Shirley Henderson, (Written and directed by Sofia Coppola; Columbia) Kirsten Dunst, who made director Sofia Coppola proud in “The Virgin Suicides,” will try to do the same thing in this fresh take on the royal who lost her head during the French Revolution. In a move that some might brand as nepotism, Coppola cast cousin Jason Schwartzman as King Louis XVI. Anyone who saw “Rushmore,” however, knows Schwartzman--nephew of Francis Ford Coppola, son of Talia Shire--is as talented as he is well-connected, so obviously the kid should have stayed in the picture. Opens 10/13/06