#280. Brad Pitt

How does an actor become a household name? Most of the time, this occurs not because of their acting, but because of the things they do off-screen. This is a bit of a Catch-22 because, in order to be notable for their off-screen activities, they need to have some semblance of on-screen success. Perhaps it’s the schadenfreude in us all that attracts us to the personal lives of movie stars, because deep down we want them to fail. We want to see them come back down to our level. This would explain the almost constant attention that tabloids give to actors like Tom Cruise, Jennifer Aniston, Angelina Jolie, and Brad Pitt. That’s not to say they aren’t successful actors, it’s more that our society makes them household names because of the notoriety of their personal lives. An added benefit to this is increased attendance at their films. This week’s two films look at the work of a household name actor: Brad Pitt.

Year: 1995
Rating: R
Length: 127 minutes / 2.12 hours

One of the draws that Brad Pitt utilized in his early career was that of his sex-appeal. The “pretty boy” used his looks in such films as Thelma & Louise (1991) and Interview with the Vampire (1994), both of which did not necessarily showcase his acting talent. Almost all at once, Pitt started to flex his acting muscle, showing the depth of his talent in such films as Se7en (1994) and 12 Monkeys (1995). While the latter of these two films earned him his first acting nomination (for Best Supporting Actor), the former was the first in a series of collaborations with director David Fincher. After Se7en, Pitt starred in Fight Club (1999), further proving his commitment to these grittier roles. By this point in his career, most people had heard of Brad Pitt, but he still had many more years to refine his craft from there.

Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) has just moved to a new town with his wife, Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow). As part of his transfer, he’s been assigned to work with aging detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman). While the two detectives have drastically different methods for investigating cases, they’ve nevertheless been placed together to find a mysterious killer who is using the seven deadly sins as themes for his murders. Following this thread, they find a suspect in John Doe (Kevin Spacey), who runs away upon their first meeting. The two detectives arrive moments too late to stop two more murders, but now John has given himself up and offers to lead them to the final two murders. Along the way, Doe admits that he’s jealous of David’s wife, egging him on to become the penultimate “wrath” in his string of serial murders.

The Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Year: 2008
Rating: PG-13
Length: 166 minutes / 2.77 hours

Action and comedy worked well for Brad Pitt in the years after Fight Club. From the Ocean’s Eleven (2001) trilogy to Troy (2004) and from Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) to Inglorious Basterds (2009), Pitt proved that he could run the gamut in a variety of roles. Joining up with David Fincher again, he earned his first nomination for Best Actor with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). This was followed by his second nomination in 2011 for Moneyball. By this point in his career, he had turned to producing films, earning him three Best Picture nominations for Moneyball (2011), 12 Years a Slave (2013), and The Big Short (2016), all three of which gave him small acting roles (but only 12 Years a Slave earning him his first Oscar). If people don’t know who Brad Pitt is by now, they haven’t been paying attention.

Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) was born near the turn of the 20th century as an old man. As time passed normally for the rest of the world, Benjamin aged in reverse. Once he was young enough to walk again, Benjamin ran across a seven-year-old girl by the name of Daisy (Cate Blanchett). Becoming younger and stronger, Benjamin takes to sea and is involved in World War II on a tugboat that comes across a sunken military boat, as well as a German U-Boat. Returning home, Benjamin meets up with Daisy, who has a successful career as a dancer. After an accident ends Daisy’s career, she is frustrated with Benjamin’s decreasing age, as well as her own limitations. Years later, when they both arrive at close to the same age, they finally start a life together. Unfortunately, as Benjamin becomes younger, they end their relationship. Eventually, the elderly Daisy cares for Benjamin as he reaches the “start” of his life.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 of the best Brad Pitt roles

Bacon #: 1 (Sleepers / Kevin Bacon)


#229. Terry Gilliam

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about animators after many years of viewing their work on YouTube, amongst other places, it’s that they are perhaps the most dedicated and artistic people around. Anyone can paint something, but when you have to paint that same thing over a million times, you make sure you know precisely what you are doing and what you want to do. And while there are plenty of amateur animators out there, the classically trained ones tend to stand out. Because animation can give you the flexibility to view things in whatever way you want, sometimes the best animators are the ones who have been educated in film so that they know the rules of traditional camera angles and shots and will then know how to obey or break those rules in their animation. While this week’s two films are not animated, they were directed by former animator, Terry Gilliam.

Year: 1985
Rating: R
Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours

Very early on in his directing career, Gilliam set his artistic style and has stuck to it ever since. Perhaps due to his extended time working as an animator, many of his films are quite fanciful, filled with bizarre settings and characters. Even the most mundane of occupations can suddenly be given an artistic theme to differentiate it from an even more imaginary world. It’s easy to animate these crazy realms, but to achieve the same effect in live-action can be a bit more difficult. Nevertheless, Terry Gilliam has shown that it can be done with such films as Time Bandits (1981), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), 12 Monkeys (1995), and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). This being said, while adhering to his style, his most controversial title was Brazil (1985), mostly due to the director’s vision not matching up with what studio executives wanted to release.

Working in the bureaucracy of the most banal of government positions, Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) often finds himself daydreaming, imagining a more classical world where he is able to save the archetypical damsel in distress. When he is put on task to fix a mistake that led to the unintended death of an innocent man, he runs across Jill Layton (Kim Greist), the very same woman he had been fantasizing about. Even though they have never met, Sam knows they are meant to be together, even if she is hesitant. Transferring to another governmental position, Sam now has the access to Jill’s records and an opportunity to learn more about her. Unfortunately, the government soon comes after her, confirming her fears. Sam comes in and saves the day, but they are soon captured and tortured. While Gilliam’s ending is a bit depressing, the two do manage to escape, even if the reality is false.

Monty Python and the Holy GrailMonty Python and the Holy Grail
Year: 1975
Rating: PG
Length: 91 minutes / 1.52 hours

I have written earlier of Terry Gilliam’s work in animation, so I would be remiss if I did not mention his work with Monty Python. Those who have seen the television show, Flying Circus, will recognize Gilliam’s work in the oddball cut-out animations that often act as scene transitions between skits. When the comedy troupe made the transition to the big screen, Terry Gilliam was right there with them, co-directing Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) with fellow Python player, Terry Jones. While his iconic animation appears at a few points in the film, the traditional story of Arthurian legend was put on its head in the most amusing of fashions. Perhaps this was why, years later, Gilliam decided to direct another film based on stories from childhood, The Brothers Grimm (2005). Needless to say, Holy Grail stands as Monty Python’s crowning achievement.

King Arthur (Graham Chapman), riding alone with his squire, Patsy (Terry Gilliam), sets out to gather knights join him at Camelot. After collecting a handful of men, he dismembers the Black Knight (John Cleese) and arrives home, only to reconsider when he realizes that it is a “silly place”. At this point, heaven opens up and God commands them to find the eponymous Holy Grail. After an unsuccessful attempt at a French-controlled castle, the group splits up to cover more ground. As each member faces the challenges of the Knights who say Ni, a Three-Headed Giant, an Amazonian castle filled with women, and an unwanted wedding in Swamp Castle, they soon find they are no better off than before. Reforming the group, they find Tim the Enchanter (John Cleese) and proceed to face a deadly rabbit, Beast of Aaargh, and a perilous quiz before finally coming upon the Grail in the French castle again.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 terrific Terry Gilliam titles

Bacon #: 2 (Monty Python and the Holy Grail / John Cleese -> The Big Picture / Kevin Bacon)