Filmmakers know their own strengths. But what if they didn't?
Hollywood history is replete with fascinating “what-if” possibilities for many of our favorite movies. Some of the casting we’ve been spared is just wild. Can you imagine Ronald Reagan in Bogart’s Rick Blaine role in “Casablanca”? Or Nicolas Cage as Superman? Or Madonna as Evita? (Oops.)
But it’s not just actors. Helmers have always been a part of alternative history legends, too. What if, this past year, some of our most prominent filmmakers had been offered their first-choice projects? 2006 would’ve been very different. We can only wonder…
What if Almodovar had directed ‘The Queen’:
Days after the Paris car crash, the Queen Mum reports seeing Diana’s ghost prowling the grounds around Balmoral Castle, and she is committed to Bedlam. Back in Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) encounters Diana (Penelope Cruz) in the loo, forcing a confession that she substituted a drugged Camilla Parker-Bowles into Dodi’s limousine and disguised herself as an Andalusian paparazzo in order to escape. Fed up with Prince Philip’s nagging, Elizabeth whacks him over the head with a petrified slice of cake from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s wedding. Abdicating, she dumps Philip’s body in the Thames and teams with Diana, Fergie, Cherie Blair and Dame Edna Everage to open a finishing school and fat farm in East Grinstead.
What if Scorsese had directed ‘Little Children’:
Sarah (Kate Winslet) narrates her story of getting in good with the Mob: a bevy of “GoodMammas” who meet daily in the park and control all playtime and recess on the Eastern Seaboard. Sarah is put in charge of the lucrative swing-set traffic, even though she is technically not suburban-born. Her rise to the top is halted when she tells Brad (Patrick Wilson), her lawyer lover, all about the Mob’s activities, thus breaking the law of omerta (silent time-outs). For her own protection she’s placed for life in a maximum security day-care center. In a brief subplot, a convicted child molester (Jackie Earle Haley) moves in, decides the neighborhood is too sordid for him, and immediately exits.
What if Condon had directed ‘Flags of Our Fathers’:
Unscrupulous recruiting sergeant Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) turns six ragtag misfits into a band of brothers and ships them off to perform at Iwo Jima for what they’re told will be “One Fight Only.” Their photo is taken and they become a national sensation (“We’re your Dreamboats, girls / We’ll make you happy”). Stateside, a bond-selling tour is scuttled when Pfc. Ira Hayes sings “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” backed up by the Andrews Sisters. At war’s end, a photo of a sailor kissing a girl in Times Square replaces the boys in the public imagination (“Show biz, it’s just show biz”). Dejected, they go to work as sex researchers for Dr. Alfred Kinsey, but the Dreamboats are reunited for “One Night Only” during a Bob Hope USO tour in Korea.
What if Meyers had directed’The Departed’:
Uptight cop Billy (Leonardo DiCaprio) thinks no one likes him, and sensitive Mob soldier Colin (Matt Damon) is tired of beating protection money out of shopkeepers. When they meet on the Internet and decide to switch places during the Christmas holiday, hijinx ensue. Something’s gotta give when Billy and Colin both fall for the same va-va-voom psychiatrist (Jude Law). And crusty Uncle Frank (Jack Nicholson) provides comic relief with a hooker and a strap-on. Fun for the whole family, especially the Corleones.
What if Stone had directed ‘Marie Antoinette’:
Pic begins with the queen’s 1793 beheading so that Stone can explore the controversial “second blade theory.” In a flashback, the young princess (Juliette Lewis) meets the future King Louis XVI (Woody Harrelson) at an anti-Seven Years’ War rally. They get high on creme de menthe and go on a spree in which they travel the countryside forcing peasants to eat cake. The Fourth Estate celebrates the pair as “natural born caterers,” but when it’s discovered that King Louis went from XIV to XVI without XV in between, the people are enraged and tear down the Bastille. As a Jim Morrison cover of “La marseillaise” plays, the doomed queen is carted to her fate. In a dream sequence, Jim (Val Kilmer) appears and offers his love to her, but she won’t give him a tumbrel.
What if Eastwood had directed ‘The History Boys’:
Kidnapped out of kindergarten, Posner (Samuel Barnett) returns to boarding school with the habit of playing moody, solo jazz piano and singing Billie Holiday standards. He is shunned. Meanwhile, promising schoolmaster Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) is hit in the head by an errant spitball and forced to live life in a wheelchair. Wanting to end Irwin’s suffering, Posner pulls the plug, but it turns out Irwin is not on life support, and Posner has merely disconnected his table lamp. (Two months later, Eastwood produces a companion film telling the same story from the point of view of the firm that makes the school’s uniforms. “The Britches of Sussex County” is released in Cockney Rhyming Slang, with subtitles.)
What if Inarritu had directed ‘Little Miss Sunshine’:
A Proust scholar (Steve Carell) explains how the French genius fractured time. In Albuquerque, a color-blind aspiring pilot (Paul Dano) is deaf to his family’s pleas. In Arizona, a van breaks down in the desert. In San Diego, a little girl gets her shot, but it goes awry and hits her grandfather (Alan Arkin), who is then buried in three separate graves. The girl becomes a star and receives 21 telegrams. A dog is killed. Merry Christmas from Paramount!
What if Gibson had directed ‘Happy Feet’:
Deep in the frozen wilderness, miles from civilization and conventional morality, where life is cheap and existence hangs by a thread, a penguin named Mumble (Elijah Wood) learns to tap dance. When he attempts to open a dance studio, the tribal elders have him scourged and whipped, and he is banished along with comical sidekicks (Danny Glover and Joe Pesci), who are mowed down by an avalanche. Picked up by Jacques Cousteau’s ship Calypso, Mumble is taken in chains to San Diego’s SeaWorld, where he demonstrates a new dance called the “Apocalypso.” The other creatures torture him and pelt him with stones. “You’re tearing my heart out!” he cries, so they set him out on a scaffold with the proper tools for the job. Mumble escapes. Battered and bruised, bleeding from every orifice, he pulls himself along, painfully, step by step, north on the Pacific Coast Highway, getting as far as Malibu before being splattered across the pavement by a drunk driver. Mumble smiles beatifically as his life slips away, his feet still tapping as his blood cascades around him and the driver’s tirades ring in his ears.