It's ironic that one of the best films of 1994 told the story of one of the worst filmmakers of all time. Tim Burton's ED WOOD is a delightful, off-the-wall, and ultimately moving portrait of a young man trying to claw his way up into Hollywood from the bottom.

Ed Wood (Johnny Depp) produces awful plays in LA with various friends and hangers-on, including his girlfriend, Dolores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker), and transsexual wannabe Bunny Breckinridge (Bill Murray). Ed himself is a secret cross-dresser, and when he learns that schlock producer George

Weiss (Mike Starr) intends to make a film based on notorious transsexual Christine Jorgensen, he pitches himself as the best man for the job. A chance encounter with his idol, Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau), leads Ed to cast the now drug-addicted actor in his picture, and a deep friendship begins to

develop between the two.

Typically, Burton's storytelling is sometimes erratic, but his emphasis on humanizing marginal characters--a project that seems central to his artistic agenda--is as strong as ever. Wood and his entourage may be bizarre, but they're sympathetic and likable; one roots for Wood to succeed despite

his evidently complete lack of talent. Indeed, Burton, a true devotee of bargain-basement pop culture, probably intends to question whether "talent" is not just a cultural shibboleth, as misleading and overdetermined as "taste," or even "art."