ALL THE KING'S MEN
STARRING Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Patricia Clarkson, Anthony Hopkins
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY Steven Zaillian
Robert Penn Warren's Depression-era novel about a corrupt politician named Willie Stark a gloss on Louisiana governor Huey Long won a Pulitzer and spawned a 1949 film that took Best Picture, Actor, and Supporting Actress Oscars. So why go back to such venerated material now? According to Zaillian, it was James Carville's idea. ''He didn't own [the rights],'' says the writer-director (an Oscar winner for adapting Schindler's List) . ''But it was his favorite book, and he just talked to the right person.'' That was producer Mike Medavoy, who called Zaillian several years ago to ask if he'd ever read the novel. He hadn't, and proceeded to wade through it. ''My wife said she'd never seen me read so slowly,'' Zaillian reports. ''It's like poetry. I think it's as close to Shakespeare as we've gotten here.'' By December 2004, Penn was ready to go as Stark. There was talk of Meryl Streep as Stark's press secretary, an idea that leaked to trades as if a done deal, but it never happened. Clarkson signed on instead. (''I'm a Louisiana girl,'' she says. ''Born and raised in New Orleans, so these are my homies.'') Law came aboard as Stark's functionary and the tale's narrator, and Winslet as the love interest to Law's character. Shooting wrapped in April 2005, and Sony execs hoped Zaillian might be ready for a December 2005 release and the attendant Oscar push. But that would have left only three months to edit, Zaillian says (if Sony was to hold early screenings), and he's extremely grateful that studio chief Amy Pascal made what he calls the ''expensive decision'' to bump it to this fall instead. According to Law, ''Steve could have squeezed it out. I saw a cut last year, and it was terrific. But very rightly he said, 'I can do better if you give me a bit more time.'''
CHILDREN OF MEN
STARRING Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine
WRITTEN BY Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton
DIRECTED BY Alfonso Cuarón
One might assume it took a little creative recalibration for Cuarón to go from the cloistered enchantment of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to the pre-apocalyptic dystopia at the heart of this futuristic cautionary tale, adapted from P.D. James' novel, about an impending era in which the human race faces extinction unless a disenchanted former activist (Owen) can deliver the last pregnant woman on Earth to safety. But rather than change his approach, Cuarón, best known for humanistic odes to personal transformation like Y Tu Mamá También, shot this as if it were an intimate indie drama, using handheld cameras and existing locations instead of shiny futuristic sets. Think of this as science fiction unplugged. ''He gave it a real newsreel effect,'' says Caine, who plays a Yoda-like pot-smoking hippie Owen's character encounters on his odyssey. ''It makes the reality more real and therefore even more horrible.''