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Chicago

Are you ready for a huge shock? I mean this is the most surprising thing you may have ever heard in your life. I liked Chicago. Yes, I know itís a musical, but the 2002 Oscar winner for best picture wasnít all that bad.

Iíve said before that one of my major issues with musicals in general is the suspension of disbelief, that I just couldnít buy into the idea that a person walking down the street would suddenly break into a song accompanied by a highly choreographed modern dance routine. The producers of Chicago dodge that bullet admirably with a nice little plot point. Roxie Hart is nuts. Renee Zellwegerís Roxie is a big fan of jazz revues in her life as a bored housewife before shooting her lover, and she simply imagines elaborate song and dance numbers during her incarceration and trial. In her messed up little head, the warden isnít introducing her new inmates to prison life. She sings. Her lawyer doesnít hold a press conference. He holds a song and dance number.

When you have a musical, youíre supposed to pay more attention to the music than the plot, and the music is fairly good. And All That Jazz and When Youíre Good to Mama are better than most songs from musicals and the rest of the soundtrack is better than the bulk of most musical numbers, though it doesnít stand out quite like the two major numbers.

And although this is a musical so the plot takes a back seat to the songs, the plot is still pretty good. This is the story of a woman who flies into a fit of range when it seems her lifelong dream has gone down the drain, and overcomes this new major roadblock of prison time and eventually reaches that goal despite everything. The characters are all pretty well developed too, although none are particularly likable. Roxie is single-mindedly focused on stardom and shoots her lover when she realizes he canít help her get there. Billy Flynn is the definition of a sleazy lawyer, in it only for his own fame. Mama is corrupt. The one innocent person in all this, Roxieís husband, is too dense to realize whatís happening.

Acting is where the real magic happens. Iíve never considered Queen Latifa a big time great actress, but apparently the OPP video was the perfect place to hone her chops. Add to that the delightful performances in the two lead roles from Zellweger and Catherine Zeta Jones, two actresses better suited to those roles than any other performer I can think of. They also get some great work in limited roles out of Dominic West (about to break out as a star in The Wire when he landed the role of the vic here) and John C. Reilly as Roxieís clueless husband. Taye Diggs also does a great job playing the bandleader who shows up to MC musical numbers throughout the movie. Think about that for a moment. Not only does Roxie imagine a song and dance routine over every major event in her life, she also imagines the bandleader from the club introducing it.

Richard Gere is not someone whose work I generally like. In interviews he seems like a genuinely nice and decent human being, but most of his roles lately have been sleazy scumbags. So when they needed someone to play Roxieís sleazy, scumbag attorney, they turned to the master, and Gere turned in a great performance.

As for stuff I donít like about this movie, well, there isnít much. Sure, itís a musical, but unlike most musicals the plot isnít entirely absurd. In fact, if you take the music away it becomes one of the best film noirs of this century. Iím not saying this is a perfect movie, or even one of the all-time greats, but it is extremely good, and very entertaining.

As for the other nominees in 2002, you have The Pianist, which had a great performance from Adrian Brody, but was kind of boring, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, which was the weakest of the trilogy, and anyway they gave a statue to part three the next year, The Hours, which had a brilliant script but kind of dragged on in places, and Gangs of New York which was almost as good as Chicago. Not nominated, you had Adaptation, which did get a best adapted screenplay nomination for Charlie Kaufmanís imaginary brother, Nirgendwo in Afrika, which is spectacular, but the script is all of the place, and the Magdeline Sisters, the movie that proves religion is evil and features a great sequence involving a young woman threatening a group of nuns with a large crucifix. But it may surprise you to note that Chicago may be the best of the bunch. All the rest I have mentioned are strong candidates, especially Gangs of New York and Magdeline Sisters, but Chicago hits all the right notes, features great acting from top to bottom, and is simply very entertaining. So see, I can like musicals. Just donít tell anybody.


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