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All Quiet on the Western Front One of the most powerful anti-war statements ever put on film, this gut-wrenching story concerns a group of friends who join the Army during World War I and are assigned to the Western Front, where their fiery patriotism is quickly turned to horror and misery by the harsh realities of combat. Director Lewis Milestone pioneered the use of the sweeping crane shot to capture a ghastly battlefield panorama of death and mud, and the cast, led by Lew Ayres, is terrific. It's hard to pick a favorite scene, but the finale, as Ayres stretches from his trench to catch a butterfly, is one of the most devastating sequences of the decade. The film won Oscars for Best Picture and for Milestone's direction -- and trivia buffs should note that the actors were coached by future luminary George Cukor, while Ayres became a conscientious objector in World War II. The Road Back (1937) followed, and the film was remade for television in 1979. ~ Robert Firsching, Rovi
A Beautiful Mind The true story of prominent mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr. is the subject of this biographical drama from director Ron Howard. Russell Crowe stars as the brilliant but arrogant and conceited professor Nash. The prof seems guaranteed a rosy future in the early '50s after he marries beautiful student Alicia (Jennifer Connelly) and makes a remarkable advancement in the foundations of "game theory," which carries him to the brink of international acclaim. Soon after, John is visited by Agent William Parcher (Ed Harris), from the CIA, who wants to recruit him for code-breaking activities. But evidence suggests that Nash's perceptions of reality are cloudy at best; he is struggling to maintain his tenuous hold on sanity, and Alicia suspects a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. Battling decades of illness with the loyal Alicia by his side, Nash is ultimately able to gain some control over his mental state, and eventually goes on to triumphantly win the Nobel Prize. Based loosely on the book of the same name by Sylvia Nasar, A Beautiful Mind (2001) co-stars Paul Bettany, Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, Christopher Plummer, and Judd Hirsch. ~ Karl Williams, Rovi
Going My Way It took some doing to persuade the staunchly Catholic Bing Crosby to play a happy-go-lucky priest in Going My Way; luckily he acquiesced, winning an Academy Award in the process. Crosby is cast as Father Chuck O'Malley, newly arrived at rundown, heavily in debt St. Dominic's Church. Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald), the cranky, set-in-his-ways curate of St. Dominic's, is none too pleased with O'Malley's breezy, "modernistic" methods. Fitzgibbon is content to adhere to the policies he has followed for nearly 45 years. Without overtly challenging Fitzgibbon's authority (he likes the old buzzard, and the feeling is mutual), O'Malley sets about to win the confidence of the local street toughs, organizing the boys into an angelic church choir. He also forestalls the plans of St. Dominic's mortgage holder Ted Haines (Gene Lockhart) to evict Fitzgibbons by arranging a fundraising choir tour, to be headlined by O'Malley's childhood friend, opera star Genevieve Linden (Rise Stevens). When he's not coming to the rescue of St. Dominic's, O'Malley is smoothing the path of romance for Haines' son (James Brown) and orphaned Carol James (Jean Heather), and arranging for a reunion between Fitzgibbons and his nonagenarian Irish mother. There is sentiment by the bucketful in Going My Way, but director Leo McCarey sagaciously tempers the treacle with moments of genuine hilarity and several delightful (and seemingly spontaneous) musical interludes. In addition to Crosby, Oscars went to Barry Fitzgerald, Leo McCarey, screenwriters Frank Butler and Frank Cavett, and Burke and Van Heusen's song hit "Swingin' On a Star." Bing Crosby repeated his father O'Malley characterization in McCarey's 1945 sequel The Bells of St. Mary's. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Out of Africa Out of Africa is drawn from the life and writings of Danish author Isak Dinesen, who during the time that the film's events occured was known by her married name, Karen Blixen-Flecke. For convenience's sake, Karen (Meryl Streep) has married Baron Bor Blixen-Flecke (Klaus Maria Brandauer). In 1914, the Baron moves himself and his wife to a plantation in Nairobi, then leaves Karen to her own devices as he returns to his womanizing and drinking. Soon, Karen has fallen in love with charming white hunter Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford), who prefers a no-strings relationship. A woman who prides herself on her independence, Blixen finds herself unhappily in thrall to an aloof man -- and doubly unhappy for living out such a cliché situation. Although Redford received a lion's share of criticism for his too-American performance, Streep has rarely been better, and the film's perfectly measured pace is complemented by David Watkin's stunning location photography. The movie was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won 7, including Best Picture, Best Director for Sydney Pollack, Best Adapted Screenplay for Kurt Luedtke, and Best Cinematography for Watkin. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi