The Fellowship of the Ring | Bill Clinton | National Board of Review  

Lord of the Rings Sings 

Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is terrific. How do you like that? Three hours of adventure, acting, ebullience, wonderful special effects, a complete plot and story, dialogue, and memorable original music. I was starting to think I'd never see such a thing again. 

Lord of the Rings is so much better than Harry Potter that it's kind of frightening, in fact. Where Harry was dull, flat and lifeless, Fellowship just sings with all kinds of small and great pleasures. Not the least of which are really fine acting by Sir Ian McKellen, Ian Holm, Viggo Mortensen, and Elijah Wood — the latter as the famous Hobbit known as Frodo — in the main roles. 

But wait: Even the smaller parts are well-cast and nicely performed. Cate Blanchett and Liv Tyler make important if more minor appearances. They are both quite good, and Tyler's appearance as Arwen, the queen of the elves, sets her up for the two sequels with a lot of anticipation. She has excellent chemistry with Mortensen, too, and as usual delivers a very accurate British accent. 

What Lord of the Rings really revels in though are the characters and their relationships. The movie wouldn't work unless you could feel Frodo's (Wood) fondness for his mentors (McKellen and Holm), and his best friend Sam (played by Sean Astin). The whole story is laid out simply at first and then peeled away to reveal influences from The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Wagner's Ring Cycle, and The Three Musketeers. But they're influences, not stolen bits. Indeed, Jackson makes something highly original and familiar all at the same time. Quite a feat. 

The three hours swim by, and at the end you really are interested in seeing parts two and three, which were already filmed. Could it have been shorter? Absolutely. Does it matter? No. In fact, Star Wars fans will be riveted when they see how much of that movie's legend was "adapted" from J.R.R. Tolkien's original books in the first place. Are there Oscars waiting for Fellowship? Certainly for special effects, costuming, makeup, and other technical categories. 

At last, smart movie making, with a real sense of creativity, style, wit, and texture. You can't ask for anything more. 

Bill Clinton Plays Hooky on Golf Course

Former President Bill Clinton took advantage of our unusually warm weather on Tuesday. Instead of putting in office time, he chose the outdoors. Clinton played golf at Mount Kisco Country Club in a foursome, including one woman. The woman in question? Sale Johnson, soon-to-be former wife of Robert Wood Johnson, the chairman of Johnson & Johnson, and owner of the New York Jets. 

You may recall that the Johnsons abruptly announced their separation last spring, surprising many in their elite Park Avenue circle. Robert Johnson, known as Woody, is also first cousin to actor Michael Douglas through Douglas' mother, Diana Dill. Nick Manolios, the Mount Kisco Country Club golf pro, confirmed that Clinton played there Tuesday but said he was unaware of a woman in the party. "You're talking to the wrong person since I didn't see them," he said. 

Nevertheless, sources confirmed that Clinton played with Johnson and two unidentified men. One of the men is thought to be the former president's neighbor in Chappaqua, N.Y., a doctor who is a member of the country club. Johnson, said one onlooker, "was the last to arrive and the first to leave." 

Johnson — a duffer with a 6 handicap — herself told me yesterday that she played with Clinton, but she declined to name their partners. She said: "I've given him golf tips in the past and I wanted to see how they'd worked out. He's a very good golfer. All his tee shots went right down the middle. He wants to be a serious student of the game. He's certainly got the coordination." 

Johnson said that she first met the Clintons when they summered in Wyoming several years ago during their first administration. "I gave him a horseback riding lesson and a golf lesson the first day I met him," she recalled. 

Will Oscar Ignore National Board Winner? 

I wrote in this space on Nov. 21 that the National Board of Review — a paid for, fan-membership group — had already chosen its best picture of the year. I said it would be Moulin Rouge. And yesterday, they chose Moulin Rouge

The NBR has had quite a fun autumn, what with private dinners and luncheons with all the stars and all the directors. Of course Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann was their favorite. The group's ringleaders had him to dinner twice, and apparently decided well before they'd seen all the 2001 movies that Moulin Rouge would win. 

Last year they did the same thing with Quills, a movie which was seen by few and won no other awards from any other groups. So the thinking now is that Moulin Rouge will fade from the Oscar race. 

The other NBR choices are specious at best, peculiar at most. They were: In the Bedroom, Ocean's Eleven, Memento, Monster's Ball, Black Hawk Down, The Man Who Wasn't There, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, The Pledge, and Mulholland Drive

Of those, I would say only In the Bedroom and Memento could possibly merit inclusion in an end-of-the-year list. But the NBR is about studio financial sponsorship, so they've managed to spread all their awards around to include all their backers. Because of that, the best film is not directed by the best director nor does it star the best actors.

In a moment of complete nonsense, they've also selected Jon Voight for lifetime achievement. That means that Voight will attend their annual dinner at Tavern on the Green — which costs $350 a head — with his son-in-law, NBR best actor choice Billy Bob Thornton. The two actors are about ten years apart in age, but I would like to hear Billy call Jon "dad."

It should be a family values night for the records.

Respond to the Writer