Favorite

"Black Hawk Down"; "A Beautiful Mind"; "Gosford Park" 

Quick Flicks

"Black Hawk Down" — War is hell for 100 continuous minutes in this Ridley Scott take on the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu. True to his personal style, Scott's artistic recreation is gritty and graphic. Artistically he puts the audience in heaven — the movie's look is never short of breathtaking. But what we're watching is disturbing, disheartening and morale-shaking. Although its ensemble cast (Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore and others) appeals, Scott has no time for character development or back stories. Instead, like "Band of Brothers," this is a movie about logistics. We sit riveted, for sure, watching as the tragic events unfold door-by-door, block-by-block, rooftop-by-rooftop, casualty-by-casualty. Yet as powerful and thought-provoking as "Black Hawk Down" is — and it will suck you in — it's ultimately unsatisfying, lacking that human touch.

"A Beautiful Mind" — Presented with few manipulative flourishes or manufactured sentimentality, this semitrue tale of Nobel Prize-winning math theorist John Nash Jr.'s struggle with schizophrenia and genius is terrific. As he did with "Apollo 13," director Ron Howard keeps our interest by focusing on human nature rather than the complex scientific underpinnings of the story. As Nash, Russell Crowe isn't acting a part, he becomes Nash. Whether battling with delusions and personal demons or awkwardly romancing wife-to-be Alicia (Jennifer Connelly, in a graceful, understated performance), Crowe's Nash never feels less than real. Howard succumbs to sentimentality at the end, but it works. Even the most hardened hearts will be moved.

"Gosford Park" — This latest ensemble piece from master American filmmaker Robert Altman resists definition. But one thing's certain, it's Altman's best since "The Player." In true "Upstairs/Downstairs" fashion, Altman and his cast of British acting notables transport us to a country estate where the likes of Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas and Jeremy Northam lord it over the equally status-conscious house staff that includes Helen Mirren, Alan Bates, Emily Watson and Clive Owen. Gossip and passions run rampant, as money troubles, marriage woes and family rivalries are dissected by everyone. Yes, there's a murder, but it adds little to the movie other than Stephen Fry's delightful turn as a bumbling police inspector. Seamlessly melding stories, characters, actors and action, "Gosford Park" doesn't entertain, it beguiles.

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