Rating -

Musical (US); 1996; Rated PG; 134 Minutes

Madonna: Eva Peron
Antonio Banderas: Che
Jonathan Pryce: Juan Peron
Jimmy Nail: Agustin Magaldi
Victoria Sus: Dona Juana

Produced by Lisa Moran, Alan Parker, Robert Stigwood, Andrew G. Vajna and David Wimbury; Directed by Alan Parker; Screenwritten by Alan Parker and Oliver Stone

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Written by DAVID KEYES

When Leonardo DiCaprio stood on the deck of the remodel of Titanic in 1997, he proclaimed himself "the king of the world." How ironic for a person like him, since, before starring in James Cameron's epic in 1997, his career went pretty much unnoticed. But there he was, graciously, aboard that legendary ocean-liner, sailing to 'the new world,' happier and stronger than any performance that came before. As Jack Dawson, he received overwhelming recognition from peers, movie-watchers, and critics all over the world. By the time "Titanic" had already made an imprint at the box office, there were predictions that DiCaprio would be nominated for an Academy Award.

Too bad he wasn't. America's teen heartthrob, and as I like to call him, "young blue eyes," wasn't even in the final consideration for a nomination. The Academy's decision to shut him out prompted a large of heap negative remarks towards the Academy, some of which were the most scathing since Barbara Streisand was neglected on Oscar nominations in 1991 for "The Prince Of Tides." Heck, one critic even went as far as exclaiming "not nominating DiCaprio for 'Titanic' is like not nominating Clark Gable for 'Gone With The Wind.'" This is the Academy Awards, though--half the people in great movies are shut out from nominations because, like all of us, the Academy members have their own opinions and values. At least "Titanic" still earned 11 Academy Awards on Oscar night.

DiCaprio isn't alone. At the end of 1996, Hollywood's "kings of the world" were Alan Parker and Madonna, the two energetic forces of power that dazzled the screen when the brought us the film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Weber's musical, "Evita." Considering that it is hailed as one of the best movies of 1996, it might seem shocking that such a movie could not to get major Academy Award nominations, right? Well be shocked; the only nominations "Evita" got were in minor categories, and even in most of those, the film lost out to the mess titled "The English Patient."

Does that change the fact, though, that "Evita" is the best musical movie ever made? I think not; in fact, I'd consider the movie as one of Hollywood's proudest and most stunning achievements. It is a film so mesmerizing and lyrically provocative that it will likely stun movie watchers with paralyzing awe. And rightfully so; after twenty-something years of limbo production, switching directors, rewrites of scripts and going through numerous cast changing stages, it finally announced itself to the screen when we all saw Madonna standing on a balcony and singing to the Argentinean people.

The 'material girl' stars opposite Antonio Banderas, who is essentially the film's narrator. He sings and shouts of Eva Peron as she takes her third-class life to the top of the Argentinean ladder; from beginning to end, he's there, watching over her, as if he were some sort of guardian angel. Considering that this is a musical entirely made on the music, it wouldn't surprise me if he was.

Madonna, as most know, plays Evita Peron, the woman whom, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, helped her husband get into the presidential seat, donated and raised money to support the third-class citizens, and almost became vice president. Her followers referred to her as "Partido Feminista," among other things, and they literally considered her to be in higher power than her husband, Juan.

But the movie, appropriately, is about Eva's rise to power, her fall, and Che's version of how the story unfolds. He sees everything that goes on and knows exactly what to say at exactly what time. The music (which is the film's only dialogue) is constructed with striking and wonderful lyrics which not only explain the story, but seem to demonstrate the emotions that emerge from the film's central characters.

In one of the final scenes, when Evita grows gravely ill, the new song, "You Must Love Me," plays in the background as if it were to be played at a funeral service. It is a song very powerful and very sad; yes, we feel sorry for Evita as she is dying, but the country's sorrows and sadnesses outweigh anything we could possibly feel. These are the people that, after all, knew her and trusted her. If this had been a story about JFK, or another great American political figure, we'd be the ones seriously emotional.

Sometimes, though, the movie plays like two entirely different films. The first half is a document of Eva's struggles and triumphs as she moves up the social ladder "like Cinderella." The last half is a more appropriate portrait of the Evita we knew from history books; the Evita who allowed the third-class citizens to enjoy life more than she did when she was one herself. Both sections of the movie are so different from each other that, if you walked in on it near the beginning and in the end, you'd swear it was two different films. Why? Well, consider this: if a movie begins with the struggle of a woman's third-class life and ends with the government struggling to control this now-powerful woman, would that sound like the same movie to you?

So what does it come down to? What are the reasons for liking such a movie? Why did the Academy reject it in some of the most deserving categories? There are no answers to those questions, because the reasons and answers are too numerous to count. Now that I look at it, maybe that explains why the Academy neglected it. Perhaps the people who select the nominees were puzzled when they saw a woman in high power on the screen.

1998, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org. Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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