Oscars, 2005

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


 At last, some suspense. Oscar’s last few years have been intolerably dull. During the reign of the blockbuster, the atmosphere has been one of slow death for a grand old institution. This year five deserving movies are in the running and all five are sprinkled with fine performances and excellent direction. Without expensive pretension, we’ll have to be content with quality and talent. If Jon Stewart can deliver, we may have a good evening.

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN – A moving love story between two western drifters in the desolate mountains of Wyoming. Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) meet sporadically on Brokeback Mountain. Off the mountain, each tries for what he considers a “normal life.” It isn’t a stretch to suggest that none of this would have worked the way it does without the infinite subtleties of director Ang Lee.

CAPOTE – The story of a short period in the life of Truman Capote and author Harper Lee, his lifelong friend from the south. He is writing “In Cold Blood;” Her new book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” as just been accepted for publication. He is the gay man-child darling of social and literary New York; she is the emotional bulwark to his narcissism. In a dazzling bit of bravery, Phillip Seymour Hoffman turns in the best acting performance of the year. Catherine Keener’s Harper Lee is a grand study in loyalty, and Bennett Miller’s first shot at directing a movie is a victory.

CRASH – Two crashes, a shooting and a theft unleash all the conflicting feelings about race that Writer/director Paul Haggis insists hide in each of us. Haggis believes this inherent set of contradictions is rooted in fear and he makes us face up to that through a fine script and a terrific cast. They are so good that standing in their shoes for just a few minutes is electrifying. Among them: Don Cheadle, Brendan Fraser, Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Ryan Phillipe, Thandie Newton, Terrence Howard.

GOODNIGHT AND GOOD LUCK – Edward R. Murrow, glowing with the convictions born of his wartime broadcasts from London, was the perfect man to stop Joseph McCarthy’s rampage against “communist agents” who weren’t. Director George Clooney and David Strathairn catch Murrow’s dignity and strength, all leading to the wondrous moment when Joseph Welsh asked, “Have you no shame, sir?” Watch Patricia Clarkson for the feel of the ‘50s, and soak up the atmosphere of early broadcasting. George Clooney has found his field: constructive idealism.

MUNICH - Director Steven Spielberg has a message: “Home is everything.” Underlying every frame of this picture is the tortured desire of both the Israelis and the Palestinians for a homeland where they can belong. Golda Meier puts Avner Kauffman (Eric Bana) in charge of vengeance for the slaughter of the Israeli Olympians. The covert agent learns that no one will help him and he cannot help himself. He is alone in a world of “intersecting secrecies,” and learns the universal truth that “Every man we kill is replaced by someone worse.”

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