Elvis has re-entered the building. The undisputed King of Rock and Roll will forever be Elvis Presley. His impact on music and pop culture is so legendary that a proper big screen musical biopic was inevitable. Sure there were TV movies and shows, but never what you’d call an event movie. After The Great Gatsby in 2013, Elvis was immediately announced as director Baz Luhrmann’s next project. Though it was nearly a decade before he could fully realize it. I’m an Elvis fan like everybody else, so I was excited to see it on the big screen. Elvis is just as flashy and stylish like only Luhrmann can accomplish. Unlike most biopics, Elvis feels like a comic book movie that emphasises every important piece of Presley’s life.
Modeling himself after Captain Marvel Jr, inspiration from black Gospel artists on Memphis Beale Street, his controversial hip movements, liberating effect on girls, military service, meeting Priscilla Presley, his acting career, Vegas, love of guns, and eventual weight gain are all covered. Although most of the attention is given to Elvis Presley’s relationship with shifty manager Colonel Tom Parker. A lot of the movie is told from his perspective as an unreliable narrator. Casting Tom Hanks as the mysterious Dutch snowman was a perfect full circle moment since Forrest Gump is the one who inspired Elvis. You can tell Hanks was included for star power, but the movie truly belongs to Austin Butler. I’ve been familiar with Butler for years since I grew up seeing him in Nickelodeon shows like Ned’s Declassified, iCarly, and Zoey 101. I always love when an unsuspecting actor gives a career-making performance.
Along with a possible Best Picture nomination, I predict Butler gets nominated for Best Actor. Butler fully transforms into Elvis in a way that doesn’t feel like another impersonation. From his look to his voice and every energetic performance. Fellow musical artists like Hank Snow, B.B. King, and Little Richard are acknowledged, but more attention is still given to just about every hit Elvis song. My only real complaint would be the unneeded inclusion of modern remixes. Elvis is a fun show, but there is tragedy that needed to be acknowledged. Like Elvis’ relationship with his late mother and managing father. Olivia DeJonge is just as uncanny as Priscilla Presley who, along with their daughter Lisa Marie, gave the movie their seal of approval. Elvis is also affected by the Memphis assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. Elvis ends up with other managers, but his continued affiliation with Parker led to his prescription drug abuse and inevitable heart attack. Elvis is an emotional tribute that took care of business.
Elvis Presley performs for the crowd
P.S. I have officially finished my 96 day Oscar movie marathon from 1927 to 2022
Green Book is like Driving Miss Daisy in reverse. Much to the chagrin of Spike Lee who lost Best Picture to another race related driving movie. Green Book was arguably the safest Best Picture winner compared to the harsh BlacKkKlansman and celebratory Black Panther. Green Book is PG-13 and gives equal attention to its black and white main characters. Without his brother, crude comedy director Peter Farrelly managed to win Best Original Screenplay. Green Book is funny and easy going with just enough depth to support its racial themes. Green Book centers on the real life unlikely friendship between Italian American Tony Lip and African American Dr. Don Shirley.
Before he was an actor in every gangster flick, Frank Vallelonga was a Copacabana bouncer. His son Nick Vallelonga and other family members contributed to his portrayal. Viggo Mortensen is very Italian, but his down to earth performance earned him a third Best Actor nomination. Dr. Shirley was a famous jazz pianist who hired Tony as his chauffeur and bodyguard while he performed in the segregated deep south. The title refers to The Negro Motorist Green Book that black people used to avoid white-only establishments. Shirley’s family wasn’t contacted, so they criticized parts of his portrayal. In only 2 years, Mahershala Ali managed to win 2 Best Supporting Actor Oscars.
The role of a virtuous drug dealer in Moonlight couldn’t be more different than his role as the prim & proper musician in Green Book. Shirley’s dignified nature clashes with Tony’s tell it like it is bullsh*tting at first, but they eventually find common ground. Tony helps Shirley loosen up and enjoy fried chicken, while Shirley helps Tony write more eloquent letters to his wife. Linda Cardellini plays Tony’s wife Dolores back home. On their tour, Tony and Shirley face discrimination from the same people who praise the latter when he performs on stage. They’re arrested, refused to dine, and beaten, but Shirley maintains his dignity and Tony sees things from his perspective. Green Book is a smooth ride that does the job.
Tony Lip drives Dr. Don Shirley
P.S. Kiss the kids.
Spotlight shines a spotlight on intensive investigative journalism. From 2001 to 2002, The Boston Globe investigated and published articles about sexual abuse in the Catholic church. Though the film wasn’t intended to condemn the church, it’s hard to say that it isn’t shown in a negative light. I’m not Catholic myself, but Spotlight is supposed to make you feel uncomfortable. Spotlight is more about the power of the press and journalistic integrity. The controversial subject matter and emphasis on journalism made me put off reviewing the movie. Like All the President’s Men, I’m not always able to follow everything.
Spotlight is one of the last Best Picture winners that won simply because it was a good movie with good acting, good direction, and a good story that the Academy always goes for. Not since The Greatest Show on Earth has a Best Picture winner won only 2 awards. The other being Best Original Screenplay. The Revenant had the most nominations and Mad Max: Fury Road had the most wins, but it was Spotlight that won. Like the Spotlight team, director Tom McCarthy and his co-writer did extensive research to get the story right. Spotlight has an impressive all-star cast of DC and Marvel actors. Mark Ruffalo gives what may be the best performance of his career as passionate journalist Michael Rezendes. Rachel McAdams is far more straightforward as sole female journalist Sacha Pfeiffer.
Both Ruffalo and McAdams were nominated for their performances. After Birdman elevated his career, Michael Keaton continued that momentum as lead reporter Walter Robinson. There’s also the lesser known Brian d’Arcy James as reporter Matt Carroll. Liev Schreiber and John Slattery head the Boston Globe as Marty Baron and Ben Bradlee Jr. respectively. Bradlee is actually the son of the same editor who exposed Watergate. Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup also appear as sexual abuse lawyers. As Spotlight interviews past victims, we learn their stories in graphic detail. Spotlight is hard to watch, but it’s necessary to learn the truth.
The Spotlight team
American Sniper refers to the most lethal sniper in U.S. Military history. United States Navy SEAL Chris Kyle gained attention with his autobiography of the same name. The book was written one year before the soldier’s tragic death, but a movie was in development almost immediately. Several big names were attached, but directing duties eventually went to Clint Eastwood with Bradley Cooper as the star. American Sniper became the highest grossing film of Eastwood’s career and one of the most profitable war movies in recent memory.
Though completely ignored by the Golden Globes, American Sniper received several Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. Only winning Best Sound Editing since every 2014 nominee won at least one award. Like The Hurt Locker or Zero Dark Thirty, American Sniper deals with the controversial Iraq War. Chris Kyle was also controversial, but that shouldn’t shape one’s opinion of the movie. American Sniper is heart-stopping whenever Kyle takes aim at an intended target. His record 160 confirmed kills made him a legend among his unit.
Cooper is incredibly good at portraying Kyle’s regret when losing a fellow soldier. Kyle is very patriotic and a man of faith who grows increasingly distant from his family back home. Unfortunately, the serious scene where Kyle returns home to his newborn baby is ruined by the use of a distracting baby doll. Most of Kyle’s personal life is covered from meeting his wife Taya played by Sienna Miller to his untimely death at the hands of mentally ill Veteran Eddie Ray Routh. Fortunately, the final scene is handled with dignity. American Sniper answers for every shot that it takes.
Chris Kyle takes aim
Captain Phillips is the best depiction of modern piracy put to screen. Based on the true story of the first American vessel seized by pirates in over a century. In 2009, the unarmed Maersk Alabama cargo ship was hijacked by 4 armed Somali pirates. I don’t remember the event, but I do remember having immediate interest in Captain Phillips. Merchant mariner Richard Phillips told his survival story in the book A Captain’s Duty. Though tales of his heroism have been questioned over the years, there’s no denying the quality of the biopic. It’s a different kind of action thriller from Bourne director Paul Greengrass.
One that managed to be nominated for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Along with multiple technical nominations for Best Film Editing, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. Though Tom Hanks gives another award worthy performance as a real life individual, it’s his Somali co-star who rightfully earned all the recognition. First time actor Barkhad Abdi was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in just about every prestigious award show. Everybody knew the line “I’m the captain now” whether they saw the movie or not. Abdi is a natural who was selected among similarly unknown Somali actors.
Captain Phillips could’ve been a simple story of good vs. evil, but they do manage to make you sympathize with desperate pirate captain Abduwali Muse. Like any other crisis, Phillips says goodbye to his wife and prepares for a normal day with his first officer Shane Murphy. The initial hijacking leaves you on the edge of your seat and you remain tense as the crew attempts to outsmart the pirates. When Phillips is held hostage on a lifeboat, he and Muse develop a sort of mutual understanding. There’s a sense of relief when the Navy finally puts an end to it. Captain Phillips is a three-dimensional story of survival.
Abduwali Muse seizes command of Captain Phillips’ boat
The Aviator is the way of the future. Though it does harken back to classic Hollywood in a big way. The Aviator was deliberately shot with old fashioned two-color and three-strip technicolor. Though modern day CGI was unavoidable, scale model planes were used as well. The titular aviator is original genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist Howard Hughes. Tony Stark was based on Hughes and it’s not hard to see the influence. A Howard Hughes biopic was in the works for decades until it finally landed in the hands of Martin Scorsese with Leonardo DiCaprio as the star. This would be the second collaboration between the director and actor after Gangs of New York. Though it is a rare PG-13 Scorsese picture. DiCaprio emulates Howard Hughes and his love of filmmaking, passion for aviation, and way with women. Along with his more infamous traits like his severe OCD and intense germaphobia.
The Aviator explores the making of Hughes’ epic war picture Hell’s Angels, Hughes building planes for the war, the relationship he has with multiple famous celebrities, and any legal trouble that came with his decisions. Although Best Picture ended up going to Million Dollar Baby, The Aviator was another movie about the movies that won big at the Academy Awards. The movie was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Sound Mixing. It won all the technical awards for Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, and Film Editing, but it’s Cate Blanchett who won Best Supporting Actress for playing Katherine Hepburn herself. The only time an actor won an Oscar for playing an Oscar winner. Blanchett looks and sounds so much like Hepburn without feeling like a caricature. Hughes’ most long-term relationship is with Hepburn, but he does move on to Ava Gardner played by a classy Kate Beckinsale.
The Aviator is filled with major Hollywood stars. John C. Reilly plays Hughes’ manager Noah Dietrich who tries to protect his image. Alec Baldwin plays Hughes’ aviation archenemy Juan Trippe who runs Pan Am airlines against his TWA airline. Alan Alda was also nominated for playing the senator who questions Hughes near the end. Ian Holm, Danny Huston, Willem Dafoe, and Adam Scott have memorable roles, but the most interesting appearances are Jude Law as swashbuckling actor Errol Flynn and singer Gwen Stefani as Hell’s Angels actress Jean Harlow. Hughes makes several reckless decisions like building faster planes that crash with him nearly dying. He fights the MPAA for the violence in Scarface and the boobs in The Outlaw. The enormous Spruce Goose airplane is his greatest accomplishment, but Hughes will forever be known for his reclusive actions. The Aviator shows the positive and negative effect of success on the psyche.
Howard Hughes takes flight
The Pianist is very different than The Piano. It tells the story of Holocaust survivor Władysław Szpilman. A Polish-Jewish pianist who lived to be 88 years old. I’ve known about the movie for years since my brother watched it when he was in high school. Though my heart says The Two Towers should’ve won, I feel like The Pianist is the more logical Best Picture winner than Chicago. The Pianist won other major awards including Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Like Steven Spielberg and Schindler’s List, The Pianist was a deeply personal film for controversial director Roman Polanski. He himself was a Polish-Jew who survived the Kraków Ghetto at a young age. Speaking of young, Adrien Brody became the youngest Best Actor winner of all time at the age of 29. He was so happy that he kissed Halle Berry live on stage. Szpilman is at first a thriving pianist who ends up losing everything and everyone he cares about. Brody more than earned his Oscar by losing weight and appearing more malnourished and gaunt overtime. The Oscar winning screenplay can be viewed in three parts.
The first act slowly introduces World War II as Jews are forced to wear Star of David armbands. Szpilman has a family and a singer that he loves, but all that is taken away from him. The second act is set during the Nazi occupation of Poland where Jews are forced to do labor or executed. Szpilman manages to avoid concentration camps by hiding with non-Jews. The third act is practically a silent film as Szpilman desperately tries to survive in the ruins of Warsaw. Szpilman avoids death thanks to a friendly German officer played by future King Kong collaborator Thomas Kretschmann. Playing the piano saves his life and makes The Pianist a moving story of survival.
Władysław Szpilman plays the piano
Erin Brockovich is a true David vs. Goliath story. Based on the true story of an unlikely woman who fought against a major corporation. Erin Brockovich is one of two Steven Soderbergh films nominated for Best Picture in the year 2000. Soderbergh is the first director since 1938 to be nominated twice for Best Director. He actually lost to himself for his other movie Traffic. I’m not too familiar with Soderbergh’s style, but he seems to do well with human interest stories. For which the movie was nominated for Best Original Screenplay.
Erin Brockovich is a struggling single mother of three who winds up working for a small law firm after a failed lawsuit. Julia Roberts won the Oscar and several other prestigious awards for her portrayal of Brockovich. Her hysterical acceptance speech is infamous, but her performance really is one of her best. Brockovich is a former beauty queen who constantly swears, bares her cleavage, and isn’t taken seriously. The real Erin Brockovich actually makes a cameo as a waitress appropriately named Julia. Albert Finney is just as good in a Best Supporting Actor nominated performance as the lawyer Ed Masry who reluctantly hires her.
Together Ed, but mostly Erin blow the whistle on PG&E. The energy corporation was responsible for a chromium water contamination that made several residents sick. Unlike her more experienced superiors, Erin is far more compassionate with every person she interviews. As Brockovich builds her case, she finds love with a virtuous biker played by Aaron Eckhart. Though her work puts a strain on her family, it’s worth it to see her earn the respect she deserves. Erin Brockovich gets the job done.
Erin Brockovich gets to work
P.S. My decade spanning Oscar marathon officially makes Erin Brockovich my 2,000th movie review!
- A Trip to the Moon – 1,000th review
- Night of the Living Dead – 3rd annual review celebrating when I started
- The Terminator – 1,100th review
- The Aristocats – 1,200th review
- Escape from New York – 1,300th review
- Big Trouble in Little China – 1,400th review
- Transformers: Dark of the Moon – 4th annual review celebrating when I started
- Shrek – 1,500th review
- Ant-Man and the Wasp – 1,600th review
- Walk the Line – 1,700th review
- No Time to Die – 1,800th review
- A Boy Named Charlie Brown – 5th annual review celebrating when I started
- Willow – 1,900th review
The Last Emperor is the first western film aloud entry into the Forbidden City. A fact the movie takes advantage of by showcasing the beauty and mystique of the golden palace. I was always curious to see The Last Emperor, but like the Forbidden City itself, I remained totally blind to it. Though directed by the Italian Bernardo Bertolucci and filmed in English, The Last Emperor is the first predominantly Asian movie to win Best Picture. Unlike Gandhi, screen legend Peter O’Toole is the only major western actor in the movie. Something about him in a foreign land seems to attract awards attention. Not since Gigi has a movie won all 9 of its Academy Awards. Including Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Original Score, and Sound. Once again there were no acting nominations even though most of the Chinese cast deserved recognition.
John Lone plays Puyi, the titular last emperor of China who took the throne when he was just 2 years old. The film is framed with Puyi in prison, but nearly 3 hours are spent covering his entire life from emperor to citizen. As a toddler, Puyi is too childish to make his own decisions or appreciate the significance of his power. He wants to leave his sheltered life several times, but he does learn to accept his role later in life. As a child, Puyi tries to hold onto his youth, but it costs him his beloved wet nurse. The Last Emperor is actually the first PG-13 Best Picture winner. There’s one F bomb and some violence, but it’s mostly instances of brief nudity and sexual encounters. As a teenager, Puyi is given spectacles and his choice of an Empress.
Joan Chen plays his mostly content wife Wanrong who ultimately succumbs to opium addiction. Vivian Wu plays his unhappy secondary consort Wenxiu who ultimately leaves him. I know Puyi was probably harsher in real life, but the movie holds back a bit. Though he has many servants, Puyi’s most productive connection is with his English tutor Reginald Johnston played by O’Toole. Puyi learns a lot about western culture, but leaving the Forbidden City isn’t by choice. I don’t fully understand eastern politics, but I know Puyi ended up a puppet of the Japanese during the war when he reclaimed his title as Manchurian emperor. When the Red Army imprisons him, Ying Ruocheng plays the warden who reeducates him. When his sentence is up, the movie comes full circle when the elderly Puyi visits his former throne. The Last Emperor is a powerful story with humble beginnings.
Puyi sits on his throne
Gandhi is the first British made Best Picture winner with a predominantly Indian cast. Mahatma Gandhi was the most influential practitioner of nonviolent resistance and passive protest. His methods would go on to inspire such civil rights activists as Martin Luther King. I’ve known about the Indian leader for years, but I only saw fragments of the movie when I was in school. Gandhi is of course another sprawling 3 hour epic with great production value. Gandhi won prestigious awards like Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay along with technical categories like Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, and Film Editing. I’m not surprised it won Best Picture, but everyone (even the director) agrees that E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is the more timeless film that should’ve won. Richard Attenborough would go on to star in Jurassic Park after developing a friendship with Steven Spielberg.
Even still, Gandhi was a dream project for Attenborough. Several decades went by with similar movies like Lawrence of Arabia being made in its place. Non-Indians like Alec Guinness were considered to play Gandhi, but thankfully they went with the relatively unknown half Indian, half British Ben Kingsley. With the help of Oscar nominated makeup, Kingsley goes through a startling transformation. Mohandas K. Gandhi was once a young lawyer with hair and more English attire before embracing his Indian heritage with the bald head, mustache, glasses, and loincloth he became known for. Gandhi explores major events throughout his life including being thrown from a South African train, inspiring nonviolent protests, witnessing the aftermath of a violent massacre, and fasting for peace in his country. The movie focuses on Gandhi’s just cause to make India independent from British rule. I do find it a little ironic that a movie about resisting the British would follow such a pro-British movie like Chariots of Fire.
Nevertheless, Gandhi has an all-star British cast that complements the mostly unknown Indian cast. It was a major career boost for actors like Bernard Hill and even Daniel Day-Lewis. Gandhi is supported by his Indian wife, children, and friends like Roshan Seth as the anti-colonial Jawaharlal Nehru. British leaders like Edward Fox as the ruthless General Dyer try to resist Gandhi with violence, but he has many non-Indian supporters. Martin Sheen and Candice Bergen play journalists who document his accomplishments. There’s also his English daughter Mirabehn and his Christian priest friend Charlie played by Ian Charleson in his second consecutive Best Picture winner. Gandhi’s complicated faith is explored with a mix of Hindu, Muslim, and Christian principles. His last big fast is in response to a civil war between Hindu and Muslim Indians. The movie begins with Gandhi’s assassination, but you can’t fully appreciate the impact until the end. Gandhi goes to show what one small Indian man in a loincloth is capable of.
Gandhi has help walking