Friday, July 16, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #68

68. Shakespeare In Love (1998)

This movie has so many elements that I love: it is set in my favorite historical period (Elizabethan England), it is about my favorite author (William Shakespeare), it has a brilliant ensemble cast and a cleverly conceived screenplay. Shakespeare (deftly played by Joseph Fiennes) is suffering a severe bout of writer's block. He is supposed to be writing a comedy called "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter," but he cannot seem to get the words down on paper (although with that title, who could?). All seems to be lost until he meets Lady Viola du Lessups (the beautiful Gwyneth Paltrow in her Oscar-winning performance), a noblewoman who dreams of being on the stage at a time when women were not allowed on stage. The two are in love at first sight and, for Will, "Romeo and Ethel" becomes Romeo and Juliet, a tragic romance. The movie uses Shakespeare's language quite perfectly and it mirrors the action of the story (i.e. the romance between Will and Viola, the rivalry between London's two theatres: the Curtain and the Rose).

The screenplay is phenomenal considering the two writers never really sat in the same room together. According to film-lore, screenwriter Marc Norman and playwright Tom Stoppard did most of their collaboration by phone (with Norman in LA and Stoppard in London). Stoppard's mark on the work is clear, especially with the Shakespearean scenes (something he had done before adapting Shakespeare's Hamlet for his play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead). In addition to the great screenplay and the charming leads, the supporting cast provides the film with a mixture of drama and comedy. Its an amazing ensemble that includes Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson, Simon Callow, Rupert Everett and Judi Dench (in an astonishing performance as Queen Elizabeth that garnered her an Oscar, though less than 10 minutes onscreen). There is also Ben Affleck who, surprisingly, is not as miscast as one would think. The film is a pure delight and it won several Academy Awards including Best Picture (beating out Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, but more on that later).

Next Post: #67

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