A biopic depicting the early years of legendary director and aviator Howard Hughes’ career, from the late 1920s to the mid-1940s.
Year 1, Day 185
BEFORE: Happy New Year everyone! I’m really looking forward to what 2013 has to bring and to start it all off is the beginning of Oscar month. While the award ceremony doesn’t take place until February 24, I wanted to spend a full month catching up on a lot of a lot of past winners and nominees that I’ve never seen before starting with today’s The Aviator, nominee for Best Picture in 2004. This Scorsese film (one of two planned this month) was nominated for a total of 11 Academy Awards winning five of them including Best Supporting Actress for Cate Blanchett.
In addition to regularly scheduled programming of a film per day, I also hope to be covering the Academy Awards giving you my predictions for this year’s winners and later on in February, my thoughts on the actual winners. This is one of the most exciting times in the film year and I can’t wait to see a few of the big contenders for Best Picture. It should be a lot of fun.
AFTER: When it comes to biographical films or other historical dramas, I seem predisposed to like them (see: Argo, Lincoln, Capote) and The Aviator is no different. The reason I like this genre so much is that it makes learning fun. I get to see the history of an important figure in American aviation, the accomplishments he achieved, and on top of all that, there’s a great dramatic side to it where you can see Howard Hughes’ (Leonardo DiCaprio) obsessive-compulsion take ahold of him and what effects that has.
At the same time, biographical films can have some big battles to fight due to the fact that these stories have already happened. Lincoln for instance had to fight against the fact that we know the 13th Amendment passes, The Passion of the Christ fought against the fact that we know Jesus dies on the cross, and Argo had to fight against us knowing the Iranian Hostage Crisis was resolved. Before watching The Aviator I did not know anything at all about Howard Hughes so the film didn’t suffer the same problem, but it did suffer another inherent problem for biographical films: a wealth of information. While I certainly learned a lot about Hughes (his filmmaking, airplane building, and mental illness among other things) there were times during the film where I felt lost. There was just too much information and too many stories about the man that the filmmakers were trying to tell that they got tangled up and became overwhelming. For instance, including his film background. Martin Scorsese spent the first hour showing Hughes making his extremely expensive Hell’s Angels. But after that, his film career is hardly mentioned and just vanishes as if it never happened. I understand that aviation was a bigger part of his life, and is also the title of the film, but the way the Hell’s Angels and other storylines were included made The Aviator seem like a visual history book; his entire life recreated on film.
But where the film starts to drag, it makes up for it with the incredible portrayal of Howard Hughes by DiCaprio. In a performance bringing back memories of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, DiCaprio nails Hughes’ eccentricities and obsessive-compulsive disorder. While the film may have been a bit bloated at times, the acting always made it fun and interesting to watch. Cate Blanchett did do a great job playing Katharine Hepburn (although Sophie Okonedo did a very good job in the competing Hotel Rwanda that year) and Alec Baldwin and Alan Alda had great minor supporting roles as Pan Am founder Juan Trippe and Senator Brewster respectively. It wouldn’t be until a scene or two afterwards that I thought about why a scene was important and what purpose it served in the film as a whole because when I was actually watching it, I was so engrossed in these characters.
The Aviator was a great way to start the new year and a month of Oscar films. I have a few issues with the film with regard to the amount of information that was crammed into a spacious three hours, but honestly, I love whenever I can learn something new about history while watching a film. And to be able to see Leonard DiCaprio give another Oscar worthy performance (seriously, when is this guy going to win one) was satisfaction enough for watching this film.
RATING: 4 out of 5