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Thirteen years into the epidemic, Hollywood's first mainstream response to AIDS premiered: Jonathan Demme's Philadelphia. In an attempt to neutralize the inherent difficulties posed by the subject matter (a sexually transmitted and deadly disease) and the characters (male homosexuals), the director consistently described the film as an analysis of prejudice, while Tristar Pictures, which released it, confusedly promoted it as a film that was not really about AIDS or about somebody who had AIDS.
What the film appears to be about is Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks), the rising star of Philadelphia's most prestigious law firm. Unbeknownst to his co-workers, Andrew is gay and has AIDS. When the truth is suspected, he is fired on trumped up charges of incompetence and decides to sue his former bosses for AIDS-based discrimination.
Nine lawyers refuse the case as does Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), an avowed homophobic and AIDS-phobic ambulance chaser. He later changes his stance and takes the case as a matter of simple justice although he remains steadfast in his prejudice against gays. With the support of his partner, Miguel (Antonio Banderas), Andrew takes on the system. He wins the case and dies the following day.
The film covers a brief period in the life of a working-class English family: Mum (Tilda Swinton), Dad (Ray Winstone), their 18-year-old daughter, Jessie (Lara Belmont), and 15-year-old Tom (Freddie Cunliffe). They have recently moved from London to an isolated cottage on the Dorset coast. Mum gives birth to a baby girl, Alice. Tom discovers that Dad is sexually abusing Jessie. When the baby is hospitalized with an unexplained injury, apparently genital, Tom tells Mum about the incest, and when Dad confronts him and denies it, Tom stabs him.
The film opens with a bird's-eye sweep over the frieze of a post-engagement battlefield--mud, strewn with bodies and shards of machinery, all iron grey and relieved only by rare patches of crimson blood. Psychiatrist William Rivers (Jonathan Pryce) treats shell-shocked soldiers in the converted Craiglockhart Manor. He is obliged to admit the poet and decorated war hero, Siegfried Sassoon (James Wilby), because his military superiors prefer to label the much-loved Sassoon's public criticism of the war as insanity rather than treason. Rivers is supposed to "cure" the very sane poet of his anti-war sentiments.
At the hospital, Sassoon meets another poet, Wilfred Owen (Stuart Bunce), equally horrified by the war although he, like Sassoon, believes himself not to be a pacifist. A secondary plot is devoted to the mute officer Billy Pryor (Jonny Lee Miller) who recovers his speech, his memories, and a small portion of his self-respect through the patience of his doctor and his lover, Sarah (Tanya Allen). Vignettes of other personal horrors and the brutal psychological wounds they have caused are presented with riveting flashbacks to the ugly trenches. Sassoon, Owen, and Pryor return to active service. The film closes with a dismal scene of Owen's dead body lying in a trench.
The Longhettis are an Italian-American working class family. Nick (Peter Falk) is a construction worker. He and his wife Mabel (Gena Rowlands) have three children. Mabel is unusual, perhaps mentally ill, maybe with a bipolar or borderline disorder, but diagnosis is not really the point. She is warm, spontaneous, beautiful, and an affectionate if inconsistent mother. Because Mabel is so eccentric and unpredictable, the Longhetti family seems to function at a kind of delicate equilibrium.
This stability is disrupted when Nick fails to get away from work on a night he and Mabel had planned to spend alone together. The children are with her mother, and Mabel finds it intolerable to be alone, so she gets drunk, goes out, and picks up someone in a bar. The next morning Nick brings a crowd of work mates home with him after the night shift and Mabel copes with the invasion by cooking up a spectacular spaghetti breakfast and flirting outrageously with one of Nick's friends.
Later when a neighbour brings his children to play, Mabel again behaves inappropriately. Nick, under pressure from his mother and Mabel's physician, is persuaded to have his wife institutionalized. She is taken away. Nick angrily rejects the concern of his friends, but struggles terribly to manage the children.
The film ends with the evening of Mabel's return from hospital. Nick and his mother have arranged a dinner party to celebrate her recovery, but it is quickly clear that, despite electroconvulsive therapy, Mabel is unchanged. It also becomes more evident than ever that her "madness" is rooted as much in the family's social network, her uncomprehending parents, judgmental mother-in-law, and volatile husband, as it is in her own brain or personality. But, after an appalling evening, Mabel and Nick put the children to bed and then go about cleaning up the house as usual, their fragile normality restored for now.
This is the true story of Christy Brown (Daniel Day-Lewis), who was born with cerebral palsy (CP) into a poor Irish family in 1932 and overcame severe physical disability to become a famous artist and writer. In his early years Christy is severely disabled and disfigured--spastic, unable to speak, and close to quadriplegic, able to control only his left foot. His father (Ray McAnally) initially regards him as both retarded and sinful, but his mother (Brenda Fricker) faithfully and heroically cares for him.
Gradually, as he begins to speak, Christy's intelligence becomes apparent, his father accepts him into the family, and he trains himself to paint with his left foot. In his Dublin neighborhood, Christy is widely accepted, playing football goalie (by lying across the goal) and being made King of the Bonfire on All Hallows Eve, and he at least passively participates in an adolescent game of spin-the-bottle.
CP specialist Dr. Eileen Cole (Fiona Shaw) recognizes Christy's artistic talent and offers to train him. She brings him Shakespeare's "To be or not to be" soliloquy, gives him training in speech and movement control, and arranges for a one-man show of his artistic work. Christy falls in love with Dr. Cole and is crushed when she reveals that she is already engaged, and he tries unsuccessfully to slit his wrists.
Recovering emotionally from that disappointment, Christy in the years that follow sees more success as an artist and writes the autobiography on which this film is based--and, we are told in a closing title, he marries his nurse when he is about 40. (Christy Brown died in 1981 in his late forties.)
May-Alice Culhane (Mary McDonnell) is a daytime soap opera star who is struck by a taxi in New York and wakes up in a hospital paralyzed from the waist down. Upset and bitter, and unable to continue acting, which she says is the only thing she was ever good at, she returns to her Louisiana bayou family home to begin the rest of her life in isolation.
An employment agency sends out a string of helpers. Some are better than others, but all are quickly defeated by May-Alice’s deep bitterness and negativity and her incipient alcoholism. Then comes Chantelle (Alfre Woodard), who needs the job so badly, as part of digging herself out from a cocaine addiction, that her determination makes her a match for May-Alice.
It is decidedly bumpy going, but Chantelle persists and May-Alice finally strops drinking and begins to make some progress in physical therapy. She takes up black-and-white photography, developing her own prints from her wheelchair, and she gratefully receives the gentlemanly attentions of her high school idol Rennie, played by David Strathairn. (The film takes its title from a practice that locals believe can make love-wishes come true.)
This is the story of the life, loves, wounds, grit, artistic genius, and death of the well-known Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, played by Salma Hayek. At the age of eighteen Kahlo was in a near-fatal bus accident that left her with lifelong injuries to her pelvis, spine, and uterus. (The film does not include the fact that Kahlo had suffered some physical disability since a case of polio at the age of six.)
The life Kahlo survived to live was artistically enormously productive and successful, but it also had more than the usual share of physical suffering, medical procedures, attempts to self-medicate, and accompanying emotional distress. The film covers these things, as well as what Kahlo called the second disaster in her life, her marriage to the famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, played by Alfred Molina.
Penny (Michele Hicks), working as a prostitute, is called to a room in a seedy hotel where she finds her client is a pair of adult conjoined twins, Blake and Francis Falls (played by identical but not conjoined twins, Mark and Michael Polish, who also co-wrote the screenplay). Shocked, she flees but later returns and, when she learns that one of the twins is ill, calls a doctor friend of hers to examine them. She cares for the twins and they become friends. At Halloween, "the only night of the year they [can pass for] normal," she takes them to a party and then back to her apartment where she and Blake almost make love while Francis, evidently the weaker twin, is sleeping.
She tells her lawyer/pimp about the twins, and he tries to persuade them to sell him their story (which he imagines in terms of separation: "The greatest divorce of all time: not who gets the kid but who gets the kidney . . . "). Offended by her betrayal, they return to their hotel room, and, apparently for the first time, the twins fight. Blake wants to get away from his brother.
The next morning Francis is ill once more, and the twins are hospitalized. Michele visits them and learns that they are dying. Francis's heart is becoming weaker, straining Blake's, and the only way to save Blake will be by separating them. Francis cannot survive separation. Penny tracks down their mother (Lesley Ann Warren), who gave them up for adoption at birth. She visits them in hospital. It emerges that Penny herself has a "retarded" child who is being raised by others. Francis's heart fails, and the twins are taken to the operating room.
Later, Penny tracks Blake down where he is now living alone in the trailer where the twins had lived before, as circus performers. The film ends with Blake, now a man with one arm and one functioning leg, telling Penny that the "story of me is over," but also that stories continue after sad endings. What makes an ending sad, he tells her, is the knowledge that the storyteller is continuing without you.
Giovanni (Nanni Moretti) is a psychoanalyst. He has a beautiful wife, Paola (Laura Morante), and an adolescent son and daughter, Andrea and Irene. One Sunday morning, Giovanni gets a call from one of his patients, newly diagnosed with cancer and frantic. Instead of spending the day with his family, Giovanni attends to his patient. Andrea goes diving with friends, there is an accident, and he is killed.
The rest of the film examines the family’s bereavement. Giovanni finds his work increasingly difficult, and by the end of the film he has decided that he can no longer be a psychotherapist.
A love letter addressed to Andrea arrives from a girl called Arianna: it turns out Andrea had a secret girlfriend. Both parents become obsessed, in different ways, with contacting Arianna. Eventually she visits them, while hitchhiking with her new boyfriend, and the family drive all night along the Mediterranean coast, taking Arianna and the boy to France. Next morning, on the beach at Nice, in saying goodbye to Arianna, they seem to have made progress in continuing their life as a family without their lost son.
Author and Oxford don, C. S. Lewis (Anthony Hopkins), lives a sheltered life as a bachelor, sharing a house with his brother. In 1952 he meets an American woman, Mrs. Joy Gresham (Debra Winger). They become friends when Joy moves to England with her young son, Douglas, divorcing her alcoholic husband; when Joy is in danger of losing her visa, Lewis agrees to marry her so that she can become a British citizen.
The marriage appears to be purely a technicality. This is in part because of Lewis’s emotional frigidity with people, which is contrasted with the profundity and energy of his engagement with books and ideas. Joy eventually confronts him about this, and at about the same time she is diagnosed with advanced cancer.
The prospect of her death disrupts Lewis’s ideas about God, suffering, and human relationships, prompting a crisis that leads him to recognize his love for her. Their legal marriage is consecrated in her hospital room and, after radiation treatment puts her in remission, Joy and her son move in with Lewis. After a few months, she dies. Lewis is left with a new knowledge of the real paradoxes of love, connection, loss, and suffering.