The 1997 Oscar nominations are a riotous celebration of independent films.

OSCARS 96

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


The 1997 Oscar nominations are a riotous celebration of independent films. Hollywood, take note.

Although THE ENGLISH PATIENT is a glorious sight, it holds us at a certain distance. Surrounded by the surreal beauty of the North African desert, the characters seem more symbolic than real. As symbols of a time when circumstance was bigger than life, Kristin Scott Thomas, Juliette Binoche, and Ralph Fiennes are exactly right. It is 1939; it is Tobruk and Cairo, the British, Germans, Hungarians, and Arabs. Love and intrigue claim the screen as director Anthony Minghella evokes the awful romance of war.

FARGO - The very mention of the name elicits either grimace or glee. Ethan and Joel Coen's humor makes you howl or leaves you cold. The whole movie is their joke, and they have extracted excellence from William H. Macy and Frances McDormand, who experience a series of ridiculous non-events without even a hint of recognition that everything around them is unraveling. Maybe that's just the way things are in this frigid landscape, and maybe that's the joke.

JERRY MAGUIRE taps into the culture of greed that infects professional sports and hands us a hero who decides to serve his clients without selling his soul. Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding Jr., Regina King, and Rene Zellweger play their parts with infectious and unselfconscious enthusiasm. It's the good guys against the oily sports establishment, a feel-good picture with a jaunty cast. Cameron Crowe plays the audience smartly, delivering a finale that will soak up the tears the audience is eager to shed.

SECRETS and LIES is the story, wondrously told, of two branches of a family that knows very little pleasure and a lot of pain. Director Mike Leigh makes a small slice of English life universal with the searing lesson that we are all very scared of family truth. Brenda Blethyn unleashes one of the finest performances to grace a movie in years. Marianne Jean-Baptiste brings great dignity to the daughter searching for her birth mother, and Timothy Spall, who should have been nominated but wasn't, is a gentle miracle. This flawless cast has enabled director Mike Leigh to use illusion to cast light on all our lives.

SHINE without Geoffrey Rush might have been an ordinary film. His performance obliterates the problems in this story of a young classical pianist carrying emotional scars inflicted by a tortured but still monstrous father (Armin Mueller-Stahl). Playing David as a wounded boy grown tall, struggling with his demons, Rush manages to create a man endearing in his gentleness. Watching him in the process of rediscovering joy is an absorbing sight--a triumph for Geoffrey Rush, the actor, portraying the triumph of David Helfgott, the musician.

My choices: Brenda Blethyn (actress), Geoffrey Rush (actor), Juliette Binoche (supporting actress), Edward Norton (supporting actor), Mike Leigh (director), "Secrets and Lies," (best picture). The Academy will probably reward: Frances McDormand, Tom Cruise, Lauren Bacall, Cuba Gooding Jr., Anthony Minghella, The English Patient.


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 500
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