One of the biggest box office cash-ins in Hollywood today is also one of the boldest talents. The career of Leonardo DiCaprio has had many growing pains, but now that he’s grown up and knows exactly what he wants out of his career, he appears unstoppable. His gift is to take us inside the often harrowing mind of the male psyche by manipulating and subverting the things that make people sympathize with it. He often yearns for connection in his films, whether it be from an unrequited love (Inception, Shutter Island) or just a human to be normal around (The Departed), he takes us to these places with ferocious skill and unbreakable humanity. Rarely does he crack a smile these days, but that makes them all the more meaningful when he does. If there is any hope that the art house can continue to have a big budget, it’s because stars like him appreciate the art they work in, and not just the huge salary it gives them.
Matt Damon is one of the hardest working, most consistently superb screen actors working in Hollywood today. He’s one of the few people working inside the modern-day studio system who has yet to fully succumb to a large pay day. Even looking at his page on IMDB, you see he has 5 films slated for release in 2011, the first of which was The Adjustment Bureau. His name on the marquee was enough to draw studio money to a film otherwise filled with lesser names. Since his big break in Good Will Hunting, he has evolved into a full-fledged movie star without losing his passion-project sensibility. Whether he’s chasing down the truth in The Bourne Trilogy or partnering with Clint Eastwood, you have enough faith of his ethic off-camera to enjoy what’s about to be in front of it.
1. Martin Scorsese- It may seem unimaginable that nearly three years ago director Martin Scorsese had yet to hold an Academy Award in his hands, but it is the disappointing truth. The once would-be Catholic priest entered the film making world with hits like Boxcar Bertha and Mean Streets which put him at the forefront of New Hollywood with his violent, audience-specific films. Though Francis Ford Coppola felt he was unfit to helm The Godfather: Part III, Scorsese quickly overshadowed Coppola to become an icon of his own, creating films filled with themes related to violence, machismo, Italian-American identity, immigration, Catholicism and New York City. Five decades of classics like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and The Departed, Scorsese set a style of quick editing, rock and roll soundtrack and frequent collaboration with actors and editors who claim Scorsese to be a living encyclopedia of film history. The film that did it for us: Though he’s created modern epics including a personal favorite, Gangs of New York, Scorsese’s talents are most apparent in Taxi Driver, a film with some of the most carefully constructed technical detail and powerful themes of isolation, violence, sex and how they are related and lead to destruction.
2. Stanley Kubrick– One of the unprecedented visual artists in all of cinema, it’s hard to not love movies when Stanley Kubrick makes them. His gift for telling a compelling story is aided by those infamous distant shots, able to encompass the idiocy in The War Room (Dr. Strangelove) or gravity-defying in the great beyond (2001: A Space Odyssey). He never told the same story twice, but each film carries with it his distinct visual flair, helping him to create some of the most fully realized worlds the movies have ever seen. Kubrick is one of the biggest influences on American cinema not only because of his artistic genius, though. His ruthless dedication to his vision of the material led to feuds with his actors and the writers of the source material (both on The Shining.) Perfectionism is costly, but with it he created many things that are, in fact, perfect. The film that did it for us: There’s never been a more beautifully filmed comedy than Dr. Strangelove, and there are few as horrific.
For our new Spotlight series, I decided to kick things off with one of the greats. While this segment of the site may not always focus on big names, they don’t get much bigger than Jack Nicholson. Exploring a career as acclaimed and a man as legendary as this is no easy task. What these pieces will consist of are commonalities in the career of the subject, as well as five key films to see their work in. As always, give us feedback about what you think!
Career: As previously mentioned, Nicholson’s career has been legendary for decades. One of the greats of both the old and especially the new American cinema, he has forged an identity on the screen that is both iconic and consistently shifting. A lot can be done with those eyebrows, and he finds something new every time. Whether he raises them in madness (The Shining) or in smug victory (As Good as It Gets), they are part of what defines him as an actor. Of course the other thing is that talent. He has given us some of the most legendary movie characters of all time and also influenced many other fine actors. His off-screen life is kept largely private, though he makes notorious awards show appearances and is a legendary playboy. It would be ignorant to keep him out of those shows, since he alone has won three Oscars and been nominated for 12. At the forefront of American screen legends, Jack is not afraid to take risks, and has made it a point to work with every director he’s wanted to work with and only rarely cashing in on his image (The Bucket List). Though there are far more than five great performances from him, here are the highlights that showcase a different side to Hollywood’s definitive wily renegade.
1. There Will Be Blood– Paul Thomas Andersen’s take on a corrupt, independent oil prospector at the turn of the century who just conned a family out of their oil-wealthy land is an epic exploration of two souls squaring off in a new world torn between spiritual and capitalistic ideals. The performance of Daniel Day Lewis gives Daniel Plainview flesh and blood thicker and blacker than the oil he devotes himself to drilling, carrying the film for nearly three hours and never skipping a scene that won’t enthrall. Those who can’t appreciate experimental filmmaking or principals of classic cinema like Citizen Kane will think this movie bores more than it bleeds. Though it’s a tragic tale, telling the American nightmare oppose to the America dream, it’s technically beautiful, if not perfect. The unconventional and strange cinematography and score are just a few of the elements that set Andersen up as rebellious poet, taking a stand against everything the digital film age embodies, and in doing so he creates something just as classic, magnificent and important as Citizen Kane, but clumping them together is injustice. There Will Be Blood mines deep into new territories and in the process, becomes a masterpiece.
2. The Departed– Martin Scorsese’s visceral return to the crime drama yielded extraordinary results. Packing an unbeatable cast into a winning script by William Monahan, Scorsese creates a world where corruption starts young and gets more powerful with age. Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Vera Farmiga, and Mark Wahlberg are all excellent, but as with most of his films, Scorsese is the star of the show. He laces this tale of Shakespearean magnitude with perfect music and pacing. Two and a half hours rarely go by so fast. You’ll have whiplash by the time the film reaches its bloody climax, and love every second of it. With The Departed, Scorsese’s created a classic that stands with his best work. Continue reading
St. Patrick’s Day is one of the biggest drinking days of the year, whether it be the Irish invading the pubs in numbers larger than usual or other people dressing in green and dousing themselves in beer. If you’re looking to avoid the St. Patrick’s Day alcohol binge, here are some movies that pay homage to Irish heritage without focusing on beer.
1. Gangs of New York– Martin Scorsese’s 2002 epic lands us right in New York City in the mid-19th century. Irish-Americans face discrimination from the loyalist party, who are also facilitating a takeover of the city while everyone else is fighting the Civil War. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Amsterdam Vallon, an Irishman who tries to take revenge on Bill the Butcher (the ever-superb Daniel Day-Lewis) for murdering his father. Not only will you get a dose of Irish-American history, you’ll also get one of the great film epics of the 2000’s.
2. Once– This beautifully made musical follows two people in Dublin as they write and record music. Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglovás star as the two, and the chemistry they share is revelatory. The film surprisingly won the Oscar for Best Original Song the year it was released. That song, “Falling Slowly,” is one of the most gorgeous songs ever recorded in a musical, let alone a movie. Don’t miss your chance to experience this film.