Oscar Vault Monday – The Aviator, 2004 (dir. Martin Scorsese)

The Aviator is one of my favorites of director Martin Scorsese’s films (picking just one is just too hard, but if I were forced to choose I’d go with After Hours).  It’s both a stirring biopic and a colorful look at Old Hollywood, an era Scorsese clearly respects and adores. The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, winning five: Best Sound Mixing, Best Costume Design (won), Best Art Direction (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Editing (won), Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor Alan Alda, Best Supporting Actress Cate Blanchett (won), Best Actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Best Director and Best Picture. With its eleven nominations and five wins, The Aviator had both more nominations and more wins than the Best Picture winner (Million Dollar Baby, which had seven nominations and four wins). The other films nominated for Best Picture that year were Finding Neverland, Ray, Sideways and winner Million Dollar Baby. I’m not going to say whether I think one film should have won over the other because I think both The Aviator and Million Dollar Baby have their merits and their detractors. I’m just glad Sideways didn’t win.

This was the fifth of six Scorsese films to be nominated for Best Picture, the other’s being 1976’s Taxi Driver, 1980’s Raging Bull, 1990’s Goodfellas, 2002’s Gangs of New York and 2006’s The Departed (which is the only one of his films to win the prize). It was also Scorsese’s fourth of five Best Director nominations (surprisingly, he was not nominated for Taxi Driver despite its Best Picture nomination; he would finally win the award for 2006’s The Departed.) I wanted to talk a bit about some of the techniques used in the film. For one, the first 50 minutes or so were filmed in shades of red and cyan blue, emulating the early bipack color movies (such as those filmed in the Multicolor process, which was owned by Hughes).  The scenes that take place after 1935 were treated to look like the saturated three-strip Technicolor films of the era. As a result, The Aviator not only has a vintage look and feel, but in doing so also stands out from most movies made today.

This is one of my favorites of Leonardo DiCaprio’s performances, and it may well be his most complex and compelling. He really captures Hughes’ drive and his spiraling de line into crippling O.C.D. is heartbreaking. DiCaprio was nominated against Johnny Depp in Finding Neverland, Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda, Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby and winner Jamie Foxx in Ray (one of two nominations Foxx received by the Academy for his work in 2004). His second of four films with director Martin Scorsese, this would be DiCaprio first Best Actor Oscar nomination (he was up for Best Supporting Actor for 1993’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape – co-starring fellow 2004 nominee Johnny Depp). DiCaprio has also been nominated for Best Actor for 2006’s Blood Diamond. DiCaprio is starring as J. Edgar Hoover in the Dustin Lance Black (Best Original Screenplay winner for 2008’s Milk)-penned, Clint Eastwood-directed J. Edgar due out in theaters in November. I’m excited to see what he’ll do with Eastwood, who has proven to be quite the actors’ director.

Although I think Blanchett’s best performance to date was as one of the Bob Dylan’s in 2007’s I’m Not There, I do so love her as Kate Hepburn. She did an amazing job bringing Hepburn back to life – and capturing her unique voice. Blanchett was nominated against Natalie Portman in Closer, Sophie Okonedo in Hotel Rwanda, Laura Linney in Kinsey and Virginia Madsen in Sideways. This was Blanchett’s second of five Oscar nominations. She was for Best Actress for 1998’s Elizabeth and 2007’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age, as well as Best Supporting Actress for 2006’s Notes On A Scandal and 2007’s I’m Not There.

I love Kate Beckinsale, I really do. I wish she were able to do more roles like her turn as Ava Gardner in this film. I think when she’s given something good to work with, she’s fantastic.

Alan Alda gives a biting performance as Senator Ralph Owen Brewster. Alda was nominated against Clive Owen in Closer, Jamie Foxx in Collateral, Thomas Haden Church in Sideways and winner Morgan Freeman in Million Dollar Baby. Although he won numerous Emmys and Golden Globe Awards for his comic work on the television show M.A.S.H., this was his first – and so far only – Academy Award nomination.

Jude Law’s role as swashbuckling actor Errol Flynn was brief, but boy was he fantastic. Makes me wish he’d get to play the infamous Australian actor for an entire biopic of his own. I also wanted to mention Law because in the fall of 2004 the British actor had five other films in theaters along with The Aviator: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, I Heart Huckabees, Alfie, Closer and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. This was my first year in college and I swear my then-boyfriend and I saw a new Jude Law film in theaters every weekend. Somehow we didn’t manage to see The Aviator, though. I think this was because it came out during winter break. What a shame.

I just recently saw Hell’s Angels and I’ve got to say it was more amazing than I could have imagined. Hughes’ direction of the aerial sequences is breathtaking. I’m glad Scorsese gave a good deal of attention to this aspect of Hughes’ career. I don’t, however, think Gwen Stefani did Jean Harlow justice. I mean, she doesn’t do much and wasn’t given much to work with, which is a shame because Harlow was such a fascinating lady. But even if they had developed the character more, Stefani still would have been completely wrong for the part.

I also get a kick out of the part where Hughes goes in front of the production board. It’s such a wonderful little slice of Old Hollywood history that is largely forgotten by most moviegoers today.

Lastly, I just wanted to say I love all of the reproduction airplanes in the film. I’m glad Scorsese chose to use scale models over CGI; the results are always much more realistic.


About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on August 22, 2011, in Oscar Vault Monday and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Must see this sigh. Jude Law looks exactly like Errol Flynn in that photo. Is the board giving him hell for That scene in The Outlaw LOL

  1. Pingback: Oscar Vault Monday – Taxi Driver, 1976 (dir. Martin Scorsese) « the diary of a film history fanatic

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