THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Note: Two hot Oscar-contenders opened while I was on Christmas vacation. In order to stay current with new movies while still giving these noteworthy titles their due, I have decided to write about them in capsule format.

Russell Crowe plays Nobel Prize winner John Forbes Nash, Jr. in A Beautiful Mind
A Beautiful Mind tells the story of John Forbes Nash, Jr., a real-life mathematical genius who studied at Princeton in 1947 and went on to teach at MIT. Nash (played by Russell Crowe) is portrayed in the early scenes as an odd duck; he seems to have the kind of eccentricity that often accompanies superior intelligence. Eventually, he is recruited into a top-secret government agency where his assignment is to break enemy codes. Ed Harris plays the government official who supervises Nash. (If you don't already know the twist in the story of John Forbes Nash, Jr. skip down to the next review so nothing will be revealed.) As Nash gets deeper and deeper into dangerous government work, we learn that he is actually suffering from schizophrenia - and therefore many of his experiences, including his work as a codebreaker, are hallucinations. With the help of his sympathetic wife (Jennifer Connelly), Nash comes to understand that he suffers from a mental illness. He uses his intellect to keep it at bay; in other words, he teaches himself to ignore his own delusions. Nash ultimately went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, and his story is inspiring. This is a man who had the courage to be an active participant in his own treatment. Crowe is superb as Nash, effectively portraying both the brilliance and the madness. Connelly is terrific as well, giving a performance that should catapult her to more top roles. Director Ron Howard uses some visual imagery to depict Nash's illness, and the effect helps us understand what he's going through. A Beautiful Mind is an absorbing movie from start to finish. Perhaps because it deals with the subject of genius, it impacted me more on an intellectual level than on an emotional one. Still, this movie deserves every Oscar nomination it will surely receive.

( 1/2 out of four)

Natasha Wightman, Bob Balaban, Tom Hollander, and Jeremy Northam are some of the party guests in Robert Altman's Gosford Park
For a month, I had been hearing buzz about Gosford Park, the latest film from Robert Altman, a great director whose work I have often admired. I had a sense of anticipation as the opening credits rolled. Would this be another masterpiece from one of our greatest living filmmakers? Regrettably, I have to say that Gosford Park earns the most dreaded label of all: overrated. Essentially a satire of the English class system, the movie finds a group of socialites gathering at a country estate for a weekend of hunting and partying. As the rich and glamorous cavort upstairs, their servants play out dramas of their own downstairs. Eventually, a murder takes place, making everyone present a suspect. The cast includes such recognizable faces as Kristin Scott-Thomas, Maggie Smith, Ryan Phillippe, and Helen Mirren. Despite a good cast and an intriguing premise, Gosford Park frustrated me endlessly. There are some 30 speaking parts in the film and trying to keep everyone straight was damn near impossible for me. The movie rushes through the introductions, so I never understood who half the characters were. And since 99% of the story involves characters standing around talking about other characters, I quickly became hopelessly lost (it doesn't help that Emily Watson plays the most incoherent movie character since Brad Pitt's mumbling boxer in Snatch). To be perfectly honest, this may be more a fault of mine than of the film's; audience members who pick it up quickly might find everything perfectly understandable. However, I can't review what others will think of a movie; I can only give my own opinion. In this case, my opinion is that Gosford Park is hopelessly muddled - an overlong, pretentious film that left me cold, right up to the end when the murderer is unsatisfactorily revealed. Altman has smugly called Gosford Park a "who-cares?-dunnit." To that statement, I humbly ask: if he doesn't care, why should I?

( 1/2 out of four)

A Beautiful Mind is rated PG-13 for intense thematic material, sexual content, and a scene of violence. The running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Gosford Park is rated R for some language and brief sexuality. The running time is 2 hours and 17 minutes.
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