Oh, there's no place like moan for the holidays. That's now the tradition for year-end movies, and this year the season of official good feeling is refracted in Oscar-envious films about troubled folks. A schizophrenic mathematician, a slow-witted father, an amnesiac writer, a disfigured playboy, unhappy families in Manhattan and on an English estate--all these sad souls threaten to turn the holiday film scene into a Yuletide reunion at Bellevue. But wait. Most of these tales are ultimately journeys to spiritual health. And if you need a dose of old-movie magic--reach for the Ring. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING
STARRING: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Cate Blanchett DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson
When he began the job of bringing J.R.R. Tolkien's much loved trilogy to the screen, New Zealand director Jackson may have felt like Frodo Baggins, the lowly Hobbit who assumes the task of taking the Ring of Power on a trek to save Middle Earth. But Jackson proves he is up to it. This first episode shows him well on his way to creating a film epic that nearly matches its source. Fellowship is not simply a sumptuous illustration of a favorite fable; though faithful in every detail to Tolkien, it has a vigorous life of its own--grandeur, moral heft and emotional depth.
Any apt adaptation of The Lord of the Rings is bound to have a gravity about the awful task at hand. Jackson's film has that, but it is also a buoyant experience because the characters are lively and engaging--each actor (especially Wood as Frodo and McKellen as the wizard Gandalf) magically fitting his role--and because the production team put such skill and joy into designing a movie Middle Earth. The landscapes, a cunning mixture of computer images and real New Zealand, bestow a distinct and beguiling personality on each realm.
At 2 hr. 58 min., the film will test children's bladders but not their patience. Like the best fables, it creates a world where the young (and old) can lose themselves and, in identifying with the little Hobbit that could, find their better selves. --R.C.
A BEAUTIFUL MIND
STARRING: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Christopher Plummer DIRECTOR: Ron Howard
What's terrific about Howard's somewhat fictionalized but entirely absorbing biopic about John Forbes Nash Jr., the Nobel-prizewinning mathematician and economic theorist who was for several decades immobilized by paranoid schizophrenia, is the simple, elegant way Howard thrusts us into Nash's disastrously troubled mind. He forces us, without any distracting or distancing cinematic devices, to experience the world as Nash does, and one can't say much more about that because Howard's style brilliantly hides the movie's slowly dawning central surprise.