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Media Watch: A peek into ‘A Beautiful Mind’; 2001’s 10 best films
by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register
(From the Feb. 7, 2002 edition of the Inland Register
Almost 10 years ago after a meeting in Seattle I wandered into the Egyptian Theater during the Seattle Film Festival. I got one of the last tickets available for a new Australian movie called Romper Stomper.
It was the most violent film I had ever seen. It was very difficult to make it through. The story centered on the leader of a group of skinheads who where constantly attacking Asian immigrants to Australia.
After the film, an actor I had never heard of came out in a trench coat smoking a cigarette to answer questions from the audience. His name was Russell Crowe.
Director Ron Howard has taken the now well-known actor Russell Crowe and given him an actor’s dream role in the terrific new film A Beautiful Mind. With the memory of Gladiator fixed in our minds we see quickly why Crowe, playing world-famous mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr., is one of the greatest actors of our time.
Crowe underplays real-life Nash, who is still alive and has long suffered with schizophrenia. In underplaying the role of a mentally ill person he gives more power and meaning to the character.
The movie begins with the arrival of Forbes on the beautiful Princeton campus in the early 1950s. It follows key points in his life until he receives the Nobel prize for his mathematical paper on game theory in 1994.
In the days before I saw A Beautiful Mind, if you had told me I would be enthralled by a story of a genius mathematician, I would have questioned your opinion. Somehow Ron Howard takes a very difficult theme and makes it into a movie that thoroughly engages the mind and the heart.
After Princeton Forbes takes an important government research position at MIT in Cambridge. There he teaches a student, played by Jennifer Connelly, who becomes his wife. His stress level increases as he meets a government agent (Ed Harris) who recruits him to work in a secret program designed to protect the United States from Russian advances in nuclear weaponry.
As the film proceeds and Nash’s mental illness becomes more obvious, we watch a man fall from the heights into the depths of darkness. The underplayed conflict in the relationship between husband and wife takes your breath away.
A Beautiful Mind is a journey of a man from the stratosphere of intellectual superiority to the human chasms of mortality. It is a story that connects with our stories of everyday life.
If you enjoy great acting you will be inspired by Russell Crowe’s incredible performance. The beautiful Jennifer Connelly holds her own against him. She is a star. Ed Harris is excellent, as (almost) always. Paul Bettany, as Nash’s roommate at Princeton, does a knockout job of acting.
In a film that could easily become set-bound like a theatrical play, cinematographer Roger Deakins’s work adds much to the greatness of the movie.
The ending, set at the Nobel ceremony in Stockholm, prevents the movie from being a masterpiece. It pushes the romantic love side of the story too far.
A Beautiful Mind is a movie for older teens and adults who long for an intriguing story with great acting that touches the lives of moviegoers. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
The USCCB rating for A Beautiful Mind is A-III – adults. The MPAA rating is PG-13 — Parents Strong Cautioned. It has intense thematic material with a scene of violence.
Each year it is difficult to assemble a Best 10 Movies list by the end of the year. Even almost a month into the new year I have been unable to see many of the movies that come out during the Christmas season.
My 10 Best list is based on films from 2001 that I saw and reviewed:
1. The best movie of the year is A Beautiful Mind (see review above). Russell Crowe gives the performance of his career as the mentally ill mathematician who eventually wins the Nobel Prize. The script is terrific as it brings you into the mind of a person suffering from schizophrenia. Jennifer Connelly stands out in the role of the professor’s wife and love. Director Ron Howard deserves all the accolades he should get for such a fine film.
2. Wit never appeared in theaters because it was presented on the HBO cable channel. Emma Thompson’s incredible acting skill gives a rounded performance of a college professor dying of cancer. The film raises and discusses so many of the important life and death questions facing any adult human being. Both mind and heart connect with this wonderful production, directed by Mike Nichols.
3. For a film that intrigues and excites the mind, Chris Nolan’s Memento stands out. This “film noir,” staring Guy Pearce, runs backwards in five- or 10-minute segments. The reason is that the main character, seeking his wife’s killer, has only short- term memory that lasts for only five minutes or so. I am told that those with DVD players can run the film backwards to see the film in the more traditional way.
4. The long-awaited The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is an expansive, beautifully photographed film of the J.R.R. Tolkien cult fantasy. Director Peter Jackson has done an outstanding job of adapting a classic for millions to the screen. Worth seeing even if you are not familiar with the story.
5. Franka Potente gives a powerful performance as nurse in the German film The Princes and the Warrior. This romantic thriller by the director Tom Tykwer gives us a great story beautifully filmed. There’s lots to talk about after seeing this one.
6. For a romance on the grand scale that takes up the theme of the ethics of capital punishment, there is no better film than The Widow of St. Pierre. The story takes place on a French Island off the coast of Canada in 1850. Daniel Auteuil and Juliettte Binoche give wonderful performances.
7. Tilda Swinton should be given an Oscar nomination for her incredible performance in The Deep End. She plays an ordinary wife and mother caught in the middle of a serious crime she believes her son has committed. What would a mother do? Swinton gives one possibility that may be over the top but draws you in, through to its surprising conclusion.
8. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone tries to be faithful to the book and yet give us some cinematic surprises. It is a story about good and evil where the young characters need to band together to overcome evil. The scenes of English castles and countryside are beautiful.
9. For an enjoyable movie that doesn’t take itself seriously you can’t beat the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou. Lots of laughs, good acting — especially by George Clooney— and great music.
10. Renee Zellweger is one of my favorite comedians. She makes Bridget Jones’s Diary a humorous but tender romantic comedy. Well worth seeing.
(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and ecumenical relations officer for the Diocese of Spokane.)
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