This was the best movie made by anybody in 2004. Director Martin Scorsese was snubbed yet again at last year's Oscars, perhaps the biggest insult the Academy has paid him since snubbing him for Raging Bull. The Gangs of New York snub wasn't all that shocking, but being dissed for this one was a crime.
This exhilaratingly filmed Howard Hughes biopic netted editor Thelma Schoonmaker a much-deserved Oscar, and Cate Blanchett took one home for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of screen legend Katharine Hepburn. Of course, as Oscar logic would have it, the two most responsible for this film's success would be denied.
Leonardo DiCaprio delivered last year's best performance by an actor (sorry, Jamie) as the troubled tycoon, nailing Hughes the bad boy, Hughes the savvy businessman and Hughes the tragically ill recluse in one brilliant depiction. It seems as if DiCaprio has become Scorsese's De Niro replacement. Leo will team with Matt Damon on the upcoming Scorsese film The Departed.
While it is a great drama, The Aviator is also a triumph of special effects. The aviation scenes, including a couple of hair-raising plane crashes, are vintage Scorsese, meaning they are enormously fantastic.
Special Features: The two-disc set is packed full of documentaries, discussions and, thankfully, a Scorsese commentary. Some accuse Scorsese commentaries of rambling on, but I say they are among the most enjoyable and entertaining of the format. Some of the many documentaries focus on Hughes the aviation pioneer while others focus on his illness (obsessive compulsive disorder) and the film's special effects.
All sorts of controversy usually surround the films of director Terry Gilliam. There's an entire documentary out there (Lost in La Mancha) that chronicles one of his production's crash-and-burns.
As for 12 Monkeys, his excellent science-fiction film, this one came and went with no evident problems, and even garnered an Oscar nomination for Brad Pitt as a crazed mental patient. Bruce Willis plays a guy from the future sent back to collect samples as a means of finding a way to protect the human race from a virus. The film contains perhaps the best work of Willis' career, and the same can be said for Pitt.
Gilliam has long been one of the best visual directors going, but he seldom gets credit for drawing out great performances. Willis and Pitt here, Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Robin Williams with Jeff Bridges and Mercedes Ruehl in The Fisher King make up some of the more memorable, offbeat performances of the last 15 years (Ruehl got an Oscar for her work). In 12 Monkeys, he managed to get a great performance out of Madeleine Stowe, which is no small achievement.
This is one of those puzzler movies that never really gives the answers to what is going on, leaving much up to the viewer. Fifty years from now, it will be a classic.
Special Features: I love this movie, but calling this disc a special edition is quite misleading. The special features are exactly the same as on a disc released a few years ago. The only difference with this release is that the film has been digitally remastered. If you plunk down for this one thinking you are getting new stuff, you'll be pissed. Gilliam contributes a great commentary, and the behind-the-scenes documentary is good stuff. If you have the first DVD release, you have these features already.
Christian Bale sure put a lot of hurt on himself to play Trevor Reznik, a machine worker who hasn't slept for a year. The normally muscular actor took himself down to 120 pounds for the film, and the results are a little hard to look at. (When he has his shirt off, you can see his pancreas poking through his skin for Christ's sake!) Fortunately for Mr. Bale, the film is a good one, because it would've been tragic for him to go through all that trouble for garbage.
The film follows Reznik as he begins to lose his mind from lack of sleep, and it messes with heads in the great tradition of movies like Jacob's Ladder and Mulholland Drive. This one is a puzzler that doesn't come together until the final act. Director Brad Anderson (the creepy Session 9) does a nice job of keeping the viewer in the dark while mounting the suspense. It's a great meditation on guilt, stunningly acted and visually striking.
Special Features: The deleted scenes are great to see. They are filmed with skill, yet Anderson made the right choice in dumping them, because they would've diminished the film's sense of mystery. Anderson provides a commentary and participates in an informative documentary where film crew members express their shock and amusement in what Bale was willing to put himself through. At one point, Bale ran through raw sewage for a tunnel scene. This guy is committed.