Top Films

By Wall, James M. | The Christian Century, January 13, 2004 | Go to article overview

Top Films


Wall, James M., The Christian Century


MY CHOICE as 2003's best film is Mystic River which introduces us to characters burdened by their choices. Three boys are playing in the street one day when two men approach them. The men say they are policemen and order one of the boys to get into their car, leaving the other two to watch as the car drives away. Later, as adults, the abduction haunts each of them: Why did one get ha the car and why not the other two? Their unshared memories strain their adult relationships.

With Mystic River, 73-year-old Clint Eastwood has made a film that surpasses even his 1992 Unforgiven, another story of choices made by men who are unable to face what they have done to themselves and to others. The main characters in Mystic River are played by Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon. Two of their wives (Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney) offer their husbands support, but their efforts only dig their spouses deeper into despair.

Confronted with his worst mistake, one of the men weeps over a bad choice made for what he thinks are good reasons. The film's closing scene asks how we are to live with such sins. The answer one man gives another is a shrug and a small smile, implying that we must "just live with it," but reminding viewers that life without honest and forgiveness will never rise above an empty shrug.

A series of 20 novels by Patrick O'Brian has made Captain Jack Aubrey a popular character. Two O'Brian novels are the Basis of a film about early 19th-century sea warfare: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. It is 1805, and Russell Crowe is Lucky Jack, captain of a ship that's chasing a French warship off the coast of Brazil. What lifts this sea adventure above others is Crowe's steady, strong performance and Peter Weir's masterful direction. Master and Commander combines sea battles with the personal narrative of a leader who inspires and cajoles his crew to perform its duty for Cod and king.

Australian-born Weir (Gallipoli, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Dead Poets Society) juxtaposes the fury of battle with moments of human encounters aboard ship, including one moment when a young boy has to have his shattered arm cut off. The boy is consoled when Captain Jack gives him a book about British hero Horatio Nelson who--as every British schoolboy knows--bravely served as a British commander even after he'd lost both his right eye and his right arm in battles.

Cold Mountain, set in the closing days of the Civil War, is based on a novel by Charles Frazier. Jude Law is Inman, a Confederate soldier recovering from battle wounds who decides to leave the military hospital and walk home to Ada (Nicole Kidman), a young woman waiting on her farm on the other side of "Cold Mountain" in North Carolina. Frazier draws his plot from stories handed down by his great-great-grandfather. The story of the two lovers parallels other tales within this tale: tales of battlefield suffering, of the journey home, and of surviving on it 19th-century homestead. Director Anthony Minghella also made The English Patient, another wartime film.

Swimming Pool slyly and skillfully demonstrates French director Francois Ozon's insight into the struggle toward wholeness that is so crucial to the creative process. British actress Charlotte Rampling is Sarah Morton, a British mystery writer who is invited to retreat to her publisher's French villa and overcome a writing block.

But when the your daughter of the publisher arrives unexpectedly, she interrupts Rampling's work. The older woman is jealous of her visitor's carefree view of sensuality, and soon the two are competing for the stone man. The film's resolution is satisfying and surprising, as befits both a mystery story mad a mature woman's journey toward self-discovery.

In Something's Gotta Give, Diane Keaton makes her own journey of discovery. Divorced for ten years and staring at a laptop screen that won't produce the play she is trying to write, Keaton is surprised when her daughter and Boyfriend show up to spend the weekend.

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