five worthy contenders have bubbled to the top...


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

In a year that can only be called lackluster, five worthy contenders have bubbled to the top to compete for the "Best Picture" Oscar. The five disparate movies are accompanied by an equally varied group of nominees for best performance.

GLADIATOR - Wielding his big talent with admirable understatement, Russell Crowe transforms a costume epic into a moving glimpse of history at its most brutal. It's Crowe's Maximus vs. Joaquin Phoenix's horrific Commodus in a visually stunning film that actually makes us think about the nature of man. In 180 AD, the entertainment of choice took place in the Coliseum, where fifty thousand bloodthirsty spectators applauded the agonizing death of slaves at the hands of the Roman war machine.

CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON - The bold director Ang Lee has made a visual extravaganza that flies elegantly across the dramatic landscape of China. Equal parts love story, martial arts, and adventure, it bristles with historical detail. Every stroke of a writing brush, every thrust of a sword is rooted in five thousand years of tradition. That said, despite its surreal beauty, this is a cold movie. We marvel at the spectacle, but the characters remain distant.

ERIN BROCKOVICH - This is Julia Roberts's moment. Albert Finney is the perfect foil for her verbal bulldozer. The two of them generate a kind of rolling, involuntary laughter that never eclipses the central tragedy of the true story of Pacific Gas and Electric knowingly poisoning its workers and neighbors. Making no concession to the consistency of her dress code or her foul mouth, Roberts plays the real-life Erin Brockovich as a brassy dame in spike heels and tank tops. Director Steven Soderbergh knows well the riches he has in his cast and directs at a fast clip with a superb blend of humor and drama.

TRAFFIC - Director Steven Soderbergh sears us with the ugly central fact of the economics of the Mexican drug trade: the drug lords want to addict 26 million American children under the age of 15. Watching the movie is an ordeal, but no one who sees it is likely to return to complacency and ignorance. Mr. Soderbergh drives his stake to the heart with a three-pronged guided tour of the drug chain, each filmed in different colors. Brutal picture, fine cast-with a standout performance by Benicio Del Toro.

CHOCOLAT - Given the implied promise that everyone will be released from misery and tradition to ascend into lightness, the process isn't quite as much fun as we want it to be. Still, Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, and especially the radiant Lena Olin manage to make the audience smile at the tale of a magical chocolate maker fighting the local establishment.

Predictions: Picture: Traffic; Actor: Tom Hanks; Actress: Julia Roberts; Supporting Actor: Benicio Del Toro; Supporting Actress: Marcia Gay Harden; Director: Steven Soderbergh. My picks: Traffic, Ed Harris, Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Julie Walters, Steven Soderbergh. Biggest oversight: Billy Elliot and its stars, Jamie Bell and Gary Lewis.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 501
Studio : various
Rating : various
Running time : various

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