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Arts & Entertainment Preview - April 2000

B Y   E L L A   T A Y L O R

The 1999 Ella Awards

Cinema having turned 100 with business as usual, blockbusters and sequels carried the box office. On the side, however, there was enough bold and brassy filmmaking, even among mass-market movies, to jazz the most jaded critic. Here are those that gladdened this reviewer's scaly heart.

  Best Picture: Topsy-Turvy

Best Picture: Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy -- a wise, funny, and wistful portrait of the bickering partnership between the kings of English operetta, Gilbert and Sullivan, as they prepped for their hit, The Mikado -- is a goofy homage to creative process, and a (rare, these days) blow struck for humanistic filmmaking.
Runners-up: Director Spike Jonze hilariously maps the downside of Being John Malkovich with help from neophyte screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and a sporting turn by the star as himself. Anthony Minghella puts a daring new spin on Patricia Highsmith with The Talented Mr. Ripley. M. Night Shyamalan brings soul to the horror movie with The Sixth Sense.

Best Foreign-Language Picture: Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar bows low -- very, very low -- before the female spirit in All About My Mother, a forties-style melodrama for nineties women.
Runners-up: In Dr. Akagi, Shohei Imamura fashions a hero out of improbable material -- a fusspot Japanese country doctor healing a Westerner on the eve of Japanese surrender. From France and Belgium respectively, Erick Zonca's lyrically fevered The Dreamlife of Angels and the Dardenne brothers' hyper-realistic Rosetta pay tribute to young girls on the skids.

  Best Actress: Reese Witherspoon

Best Nonfiction: Wim Wenders and Ry Cooder give honor to the brilliant old maestros of Cuban music in The Buena Vista Social Club.
Runner-up: In Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., Errol Morris charts the strange career path of a would-be scientific arbiter of whether Jews were really gassed at Auschwitz.

Best Actress: Rather than overplaying the goody two-shoes student in Alexander Payne's witty high school comedy Election, Reese Witherspoon makes her all the funnier, and scarier, by playing her straight.
Runners-up: Hilary Swank, for the restraint she brought to a potentially grandstanding performance as the transgendered teenager Brandon Teena in Boys Don't Cry; Canadian actress Sarah Polley, as the gauche teen who falls for older man Stephen Rea in Guinevere; Annette Bening, for her unhinged suburbanite in American Beauty.

Best Actor: Russell Crowe  

Best Actor: Russell Crowe plays brilliantly against type as the nerdy whistle blower in The Insider.
Runners-up: Om Puri, for his matter-of-fact dignity as a beleaguered Pakistani cabbie living in England in My Son the Fanatic; Sean Penn, full of nutty élan as a mad jazz guitarist in Sweet and Lowdown.

Best Supporting Actress: Catherine Keener, sharp as a razor as John Cusack's testy love object in Being John Malkovich.
Runners-up: Anne Heche, sexy and bitter as a saint's abandoned daughter in The Third Miracle; Samantha Morton, for her wordless expressivity as the put-upon ingenue in Sweet and Lowdown.

Best Supporting Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman, for his elastic range as the solicitous nurse in Magnolia and the feckless playboy who blows Matt Damon's cover in The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Runners-up: Haley Joel Osment, sidestepping cuteness as the boy haunted by ghosts in The Sixth Sense; Delroy Lindo, for his quietly anguished miscreant father in The Cider House Rules.

Grace Notes

Isn't it ironic?   
Alanis Morissette as God   

As the end credits roll in The Dreamlife of Angels, the camera slowly pans from the face of star Elodie Bouchez, bent over a numbing factory task, to those of the anonymous women similarly occupied around her. Her story is also theirs.

Improbably incarnated as Alanis Morissette, God does a headstand just for the hell of it in Kevin Smith's Dogma.

"What are we standing on?" wonders Terence Stamp in The Limey as he paces the patio of a hideous Hollywood Hills mansion jutting over a gaping ravine. "Trust," mutters his companion.

With a slimily whispered "Tommy, Tommy, Tommy, Tommy," Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Talented Mr. Ripley speaks volumes about his own creepy nature, that of the panicked murderer facing him, and the coming fate of both.

In Topsy-Turvy, Lesley Manville outlines a new scenario for her husband, Gilbert -- and pours out her heart about all she has given up to be his devoted helpmeet.

Ella Taylor is a film critic for LA Weekly.

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Photo Credits -- Topsy-Turvy: Simon Mein. The Insider: Frank Connor. Election: Bob Akester. Dogma: Darren Michaels.
Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.

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