In an otherwise lackluster year, five films made magic with the complexities of acting, directing, writing, and visual art.

Oscars 2000

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

In an otherwise lackluster year, five films made magic with the complexities of acting, directing, writing, and visual art. These are good movies by any standard. With the credit spread widely, this year's Oscar show should be a good one. For a change, Hollywood can congratulate itself on five movies that burrow into our minds and, in some cases, our hearts.

American Beauty - Annette Bening and Kevin Spacey battle the loss of self so famously linked to suburban life. They are superb as the couple buffeted by the elements of materialism, marriage, pretense, and beauty. Ms. Bening and Mr. Spacey ace the subject of desperation, one with rage, one with tenderness. Theirs is a titanic struggle against the mediocrity that is the price we pay for the approval of society.

The Cider House Rules - John Irving's screen adaptation of his novel is enhanced by the subtle and sensitive work of director Lasse Hallstrom and a fine cast. Michael Caine and Tobey Maguire, gentle and kind, deal with the affecting power of the orphanage that holds them both. The humanity of this film is wrenching. John Irving makes emotional magic of the orphanage, the orchard, and all the people who tend them. The movie is the work of a master storyteller supported beautifully at every turn by the cast and crew.

The Green Mile - Fine performances by Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, and the rest of the strong cast mark this long death-row movie that deals with grace and transcendence-and the supernatural, courtesy of Stephen King. The movie may be concerned with the details of life on the green mile, but the business at hand is electrocution, and the mechanics and spirit of it are brought home hard.

The Insider - The chilling collision between television's "60 Minutes" and Brown & Williamson, the nation's number three tobacco company is ugly business. Television producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) guides whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) through the ordeal of exposing the disgraceful lies of his corporate bosses. Christopher Plummer is unsettlingly good as Mike Wallace, whose fame as an investigative reporter will remain tarnished by this film. The politics of Big Tobacco and the journalists who cover it are as nasty as they are incomprehensible. Money wins every time over the health of the nation and its right to know the truth.

The Sixth Sense - This thinking man's horror story became the sleeper hit of the year. Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan has created a riveting tale that manipulates the audience artfully. Long after you leave the theater, you'll be thinking about the carefully crafted surprise that is the film's haunting legacy. Toni Collette is terrific as the mom who tries to fathom her son's demons; Bruce Willis is rewardingly restrained; Haley Joel Osment is simply astonishing.

My picks: Best Picture: The Cider House Rules. Best Actor: Russell Crowe. Best Actress: Annette Bening. Supporting Actor: Michael Caine. Supporting Actress: Angelina Jolie. Best Director: Lasse Hallstrom

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
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