The Illusionist is also a bit sluggish sort of like a complicated magic trick building to its climatic conclusion. It starts at the turn of the century when mysterious stage magician Eisenheim (Edward Norton) arrives in Vienna and begins performing his astounding illusions. He arouses not only the curiosity of the people who believe he has otherworldly powers but of the ruthless Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell) an unsavory fellow who’d like to prove the man a fraud especially after he witnesses a budding attraction between his beautiful fiancé Sophie von Teschen (Jessica Biel) and the magician. What Leopold doesn’t know is that Eisenheim and Sophie were once childhood sweethearts—and now that they’ve reunited a dormant and forbidden love affair has been rekindled. Now it’s up to Vienna's shrewd Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) to uncover the truth charged by Leopold to intensify his efforts to expose Eisenheim. With Uhl doggedly pursuing the man behind the magician Eisenheim prepares to execute his greatest illusion yet. The stars of The Illusionist all shine. Yes even Ms. Biel who may not be of the same caliber as her cast mates but certainly doesn’t embarrass herself either as the aristocratic Sophie with a feisty spirit. Norton who has always prided himself on choosing his projects wisely is sad and wonderful as The Illusionist’s regal and masterful purveyor of chimera. Oscar could come calling. Gold might also be in Giamatti’s horizon who seems unable to turn in a sour performance in whatever he does (even if its swimming with water nymphs). As the steadfast policeman Uhl Giamatti takes the brilliantly juicy part and runs with it. He really comes alive when trying to figure out Eisenheim’s trickery but is continually baffled by it at the same time. Sewell (The Legend of Zorro) plays the bad guy once again. Guess he doesn’t really care to try something new so long as he gets the job done. The reason The Illusionist feels like an independent film despite its opulent art direction and period costumes is because writer/director Neil Burger is a newbie. And it’s obvious the story is something close to his heart. Taken from a short story called “Eisenheim The Illusionist ” Burger has cleverly interwoven an intimate murder mystery with a grand and romantic saga of two lovers torn apart by class struggles all within the frame work of magic. It’s a brilliant first effort. Burger’s inexperience does show up at times especially in how the film plods a bit in the beginning but once it gets going you’re hooked. It’s also interesting to note there are TWO 19th century period movies about magicians coming out in the same year. Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige with Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as rival magicians is due out in October. Magicians and their tricks can certainly be cinema worthy it’s just funny to see how those Hollywood execs all think alike: “Hey did you hear about that new guy doing a movie about a turn of the century illusionist or whatever? Let’s do one too!” “OK and let’s release it two months after the first one!” “OK!” Oy.
Besides the elbow-rubbing and power mongering, let's not forget that the Sundance Film Festival is also about the films.
With that in mind, the annual indie film fest announced today its partial list of films for the 2001 powwow.
The lineup for three categories -- dramas, documentaries and the American Spectrum -- have thus far been announced, and other areas such as premiere, international films and short films will be announced Wednesday.
Films at the festival only compete in the dramatic and documentary categories. Top films coming out of Sundance in previous years include Ed Burns' "The Brothers McMullen" and last year's "Girlfight" from director Karyn Kusama.
The Sundance Film Festival takes place Jan. 18-28 in Park City, Utah.
In the meantime, here's the complete list of Sundance films in competition and in the American Spectrum.
"30 Years to Life," directed by Vanessa Middleton "American Astronaut," directed by Cory McAbee "The Believer," directed by Henry Bean "The Business of Strangers," directed by Patrick Stettner "The Deep End," directed by Scott McGehee & David Siegel "Donnie Darko," directed by Richard Kelly "Green Dragon," directed by Timothy Linh Bui "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," directed by John Cameron Mitchell "In the Bedroom," directed by Todd Field "L.I.E.," directed by Michael Cuesta "Lift," directed by DeMane Davis & Khari Streeter "MacArthur Park," directed by Billy Wirth "Memento," directed by Christopher Nolan "Scotland, PA," directed by Billy Morrissette "The Sleepy Time Gal," directed by Christopher Munch "Some Body," directed by Henry Barrial
"Chain Camera," directed by Kirby Dick "Children Underground," directed by Edet Belzberg "Dogtown and the Z-Boys," directed by Stacy Peralta "The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic," directed by George Butler "Go Tigers!" directed by Kenneth A. Carlson "Home Movie," directed by Chris Smith "Lalee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton," directed by Susan Froemke, Deborah Dickson with "Albert Maysles Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind," directed by Stanley Nelson "The Natural History of the Chicken," directed by Mark Lewis "Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey," directed by William Greaves "Scout's Honor," directed by Tom Shepard "Scratch," directed by Doug Pray "Southern Comfort," directed by Kate Davis "Startup.com," directed by Chris Hegedus & Jehane Noujaim "Trembling Before G-D," directed by Sandi Simcha Dubowski "An Unfinished Symphony," directed by Bestor Cram & Mike Majoro
"Acts of Worship," directed by Rosemary Rodriguez "After Image," directed by Robert Manganelli "Dancing in September," directed by Reggie Rock Bythewood "Diary of a City Priest," directed by Eugene Martin "The Doe Boy," directed by Randy Redroad "Haiku Tunnel," directed by Jacob Kornbluth & Josh Kornbluth "Invisible Revolution," directed by Beverly Peterson "Jump Tomorrow," directed by Joel Hopkins "Manic," directed by Jordan Melamed "Margarita Happy Hour," directed by Ilya Chaiken "Miss Wonton," directed by Meng Ong "Raw Deal: A Question of Consent," directed by Billy Corben "Roof to Roof," directed by Ara Corbett "Women in Film," directed by Bruce Wagner "Tape," directed by Richard Linklater "Wet Hot American Summer," directed by David Wain.