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A Beautiful Mind (2001)

An award-bid movie if ever there was, this biopic of mathematician John Forbes Nash is two-parts Shine to one-part Good Will Hunting. Scripted by Akiva Goldsman (Lost in Space) and directed by Ron Howard (The Grinch), both trying to get sincere and serious after effects movies, it showcases a big, compelling performance from Russell Crowe as a genius whose eccentricities turn out to be due to genuine mental illness. Though his student work, inspired by observation of the group dynamics of chatting up a blonde in a bar, includes a breakthrough that eventually wins him a Nobel prize and is crucial to all sorts of real-world applications (we take this on trust), Nash goes off the deep end in later life and it is revealed that several people who seem to be important to him are just illusions and that he isn't involved in super-secret spy stuff. In the end, with the support of his long-suffering wife, Nash opts to live with the hallucinations, having deduced their unreality logically from the way a little girl doesn't age, and settles into a niche at Princeton, scribbling formulae on windows and eventually coming out of his shell to become a beloved teacher under layers of old-age make-up. It's better in the early paranoid stretches, which include a wonderful 1950s spy movie parody as Nash is sucked into an imagined world of fighting commie atom spies and dodging fedora-wearing enemy agents, than it is with the inspirational soap as handicaps are overcome so the hero can triumph at the end. Crowe's genuinely fine work still seems a bit Shine/Rain Man/Forrest Gump-ish in mannerism and turn of phrase, though experience suggests that career moves like this are often rewarded with Oscars. With sterling support from Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Paul Bettany and Christopher Plummer - not all playing real people.

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