Life Is Beautiful
**** GM
Starring: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini, Guistino Durano, Sergio Bini Bustric

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This is the best movie of 1998.

The sheer audacity and originality of setting a comic tale in a concentration camp - and actually pulling it off - should be enough on its own to outclass a gritty WWII picture and a movie about ye olde sitcomme writer's libido. But, alas, no one votes for a film if you have to read it.

I now wish I would have seen the 1999 Oscars AFTER I saw this film instead of before, so I could rejoice with Roberto Benigni and see him as alive and insane as he should be. Elton John went on The Late Show with David Letterman and badmouthed this film, referring to it as 'irritating.' Elton John is an idiot. "Life Is Beautiful" deserves all the praise it gets.

The film follows the constant joy and fervor that Guido (Benigni) has for life as he moves in with his uncle and works as a waiter to earn money to fulfill his dream of owning a bookstore. He gets wrapped up in a series of wacky, Stooge-like misadventures, all the while making light and shrugging off the growing fascism that surrounds him in 1939 Europe. He falls madly in love with Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), steals her away from her unwanted betrothed and spawns a perfect family with Joshua (Giorgio Cantarini), a brilliant, funny kid who can actually run the bookstore by himself at the age of five or so.

This wonderful family is broken apart by the Nazi regime, and they're all herded away to a concentration camp - which traditionally signifies the end of all comedy and the onset of immense tragedy. Somehow, though, Benigni manages to do the impossible and preserve Guido's relentless, comic optimism throughout these dire circumstances, and his determined efforts to spare his son from the horrors of his situation by convincing him that it's all an elaborate game is nothing short of heroic.

The performances are flawless, and it's constantly surprising to find laugh-out-loud humor jumping out at you in the middle of this tense, ominous setting. It keeps you on the edge, waiting for the inevitable crushing blow, but Guido makes such an art out of squirrelling out of tricky situations that you can't help but think that maybe, just maybe, this family will make it out of there intact. But you can't help but be aware that, deep within, it's a dream that won't come true.

Just so you're certain I'm not jumping on the bandwagon - like most American idiots, I have a hard time voluntarily going to foreign films. Unlike most American idiots, I tend to sprout a mean distaste and scorn for anything that becomes accepted that becomes popular. As George Carlin once said, "I worry about my judgment when anything I believe in or do regularly begins to be accepted by the American public."

That said, this movie has crept into my mind and has not let me stop pondering it, and I don't believe it will leave me anytime soon. It's more profoundly affecting than anything I've seen all year.

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