#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, 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 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 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 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 normally passed 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 the 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)

#279. David Fincher

Many directors in Hollywood will stick to a particular genre, mainly because their artistic style matches well with the mood of the genre. Wes Craven directed horror, Charlie Chaplin directed silent comedies, Steven Spielberg directed science fiction, Alfred Hitchcock directed thrillers. In terms of modern directors, few have tackled the psychological thriller well. Christopher Nolan falls into this category, but David Fincher succeeds in this genre as well. What’s even more interesting is that Fincher seems drawn to film adaptations of stories and books. This is the niche where he excels as a director. There are a lot of books out there that cover some pretty dark material, and David Fincher’s artistic direction certainly brings that element out on the screen. This week’s two films highlight some of David Fincher’s best works.

The Social Networksocial_network_film_poster
Year: 2010
Rating: PG-13
Length: 120 minutes / 2 hours

While Fincher’s filmography is not extensive (he’s only directed 10 films), his skill is quite apparent. A number of his early films have attained cult status, including Se7en (1995) and Fight Club (1999), the latter of which was an adaptation of the book of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk. In terms of recognition by the Academy, within two years, he directed films that were nominated for Best Picture, as well as Best Director. His first nominations were for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), which itself was based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Unfortunately, he didn’t win that year, but his second set of nominations came with The Social Network (2010), which was also based on a book (this time being The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich). Once again, he was passed over for an Oscar, but I know he’ll soon be nominated again . . . hopefully claiming a win along with it.

Jumping back-and-forth between the deposition of Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), and the time he spent at Harvard, The Social Network’s tagline reads, “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.” Zuckerberg’s first enemy was none other than Erica Albright (Rooney Mara), the girl who dumped him. Fueled by anger and frustration, he created a website that compared the physical attractiveness of women on the Harvard campus. His next enemies would be the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer), who found out he created a popular social networking site named Thefacebook after they had asked him to code a similar idea they had. As the social media empire expanded, his final enemy would be that of Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), the close friend who helped him start Facebook in the first place. Now he’s being sued and remains a lonely, apathetic man.

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

As I mentioned before, one of the directors who excelled in thrillers was Alfred Hitchcock. David Fincher has directed thrillers as well, but his style is much darker. Perhaps this is due to the types of thrillers he has chosen to direct. From the aforementioned Fight Club (1999) to the film adaptation of Gone Girl (2014) (based on the Gillian Flynn novel of the same name), these psychological thrillers really play with the audience’s mind. Even though mystery thrillers come closer to what Hitchcock has done in the past, Fincher’s mystery thrillers are considerably more violent, merely on their source material alone. Case in point: Zodiac (2007) and the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) (based on the novel of the same name by Stieg Larsson) both examine serial killers. One of his first films, Se7en (1995) certainly set Fincher’s style, as it is a psychological mystery thriller.

Nearing retirement, detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is reluctantly paired with a hot-shot detective, David Mills (Brad Pitt). Their first case involves a pair of murders, both of which are linked to two of the seven deadly sins: “gluttony” and “greed.” At these crime scenes, there are clues to the next murder: “sloth.” It is at this point when the two of them realize the killer has been taking an enormous amount of time to set up and execute these murders. Doing some research into the seven sins, they find John Doe (Kevin Spacey), who manages to escape. Meanwhile, the detectives are moments too late to prevent the murders of “lust” and “pride.” At this point, Doe surrenders willfully, but not without a few conditions. Revealing the location of the last two murders that have yet to take place, all three of them drive out to the middle of the desert to learn how “envy” and “wrath” will die.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 fantastic Fincher films

Bacon #: 2 (Being John Malkovich / Sean Penn -> Mystic River / Kevin Bacon)

#159. Mindbenders

The medium of cinema has long been able to represent ideas that are impossible to see in real life. Whether it’s multiple personalities, the concept of time travel, or the high of illicit drug use, movies have been able to give an audience a look into a world that they would not otherwise be privy to. Through the use of special effects or just plain artistic license, filmmakers can make the intangible tangible. If a movie can make an audience stop and think, even if it is only for a moment, about the oddities of the psychological world around us, then it could be considered a Mindbender movie. For the most part, these films are best described as movies that require a second viewing immediately after the credits roll the first time. This week’s films examine two such movies that push the envelope of human understanding and cause us to rethink reality.

Fight ClubFight Club
Year: 1999
Rating: R
Length: 139 minutes / 2.32 hours

Every once in a while, you come across a film that requires an immediate second viewing. These films have such a shocking twist ending that you can’t help but wonder if the signs were there the whole time. One such film for me was Memento (2000). As the film progressed, the monochrome and color segments didn’t make too much sense together, but in the end, when they finally meet, everything came together and formed a cohesive narrative. As such, once the “trick” was figured out, a second viewing added a whole new level of depth to the film. Fight Club (1999) is a very similar film in this respect because of the representation of what goes on in a character’s mind. With Memento, it was short-term memory loss, but with Fight Club, the challenge of figuring out what’s real and what’s not ends up requiring a second viewing to catch everything.

What would you do if you found yourself in a dead-end job, unable to sleep, and homeless due to a freak gas leak? Well, if you’re the Narrator of Fight Club (Edward Norton), you’d make friends with Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a soap salesman who has a rich and colorful history as varied as the jobs he’s held. When they move to live in an abandoned house, things start getting out of hand. In order to vent out all the pent up rage of being stuck in a mundane existence, the Narrator and Tyler start Fight Club, an underground battle arena. Continuing to grow upon word-of-mouth, the Fight Club becomes something much larger, and much more resembling a terrorist organization. Now, what if you were to find out Tyler wasn’t who you thought he was? In the mind-bending ending to Fight Club, the frightening reality of the mind’s power is fully brought to light.

Donnie DarkoDonnie Darko
Year: 2001
Rating: R
Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours

For some reason, many “Mindbender” films end up being considered cult classics. This is probably due to several factors. First is the aforementioned “immediate second viewing,” which forces audiences to really focus on the movie, instead of just watching for entertainment. Secondly, the imagery used in these films can be seen as more artistic than a normal movie, thus spreading in popularity through a more viral nature, even if it was critically panned. While Fight Club definitely fits in the cult category, other cult classic Mindbenders would include Requiem for a Dream (2000) and Inception (2010). The visual aspects of these films certainly help to tell a story that’s complex and intricate. For Donnie Darko (2001), and its “time travel” undertones, the visual feel of the film, as well as its ideas and themes, helped to create a cult classic Mindbender.

Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is your average 1980s teenager. Well, average except for a few abnormalities. First of all, he sees visions of a giant and creepy rabbit. Secondly, he narrowly missed being killed by an errant jumbo jet engine crashing into his bedroom. Also, he knows when the world will end. Perhaps due to these abnormalities, Donnie commits some fairly impressive crimes that bring the quiet suburbia into an uproar. At first glance, Donnie Darko seems like an ordinary teenage angst film, but under the surface lies an intriguing science fiction. “Philosophy of Time Travel” is the name of the book given to Donnie that does a pretty good job of explaining the intricacies of the impossible. By the end of the film, the world hasn’t ended, but time has traveled full circle to Donnie’s demise.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 marvelous Mindbenders

#158. Edward Norton

Perfectionism is a personality trait that can be difficult to work with, but usually produces fantastic results. Edward Norton is just such a perfectionist when it comes to his acting. While he hasn’t been in many films, appearing in less than 30 since he started acting in 1996, the fact of the matter is that he chooses his roles and commits to them to get them right. Often, this is because the part requires an amount of villainy, of which he has been nominated twice. His breakout role in Primal Fear (1996) earned him a Best Supporting Actor nod, while his portrayal of a neo-Nazi in American History X (1998) earned him the Best Actor nod. That’s not to say that he can’t play much lighter characters, considering his collaboration with Wes Anderson in Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). This week’s two films examine the work of Edward Norton.

The Italian JobThe Italian Job
Year: 2003
Rating: PG-13
Length: 111 minutes / 1.85 hours

Sometimes a precedent can be tricky. For instance, if someone portrays a villain, and does so with excellence, when they are cast for their next role, there’s an understanding that they can perform in the role of the villain because they did so well earlier. Perhaps this is why actors like Kevin Spacey (especially in the mid-’90s) and Edward Norton are cast as villains. Sure, Norton has done some lighter work, as mentioned in the prologue of this post, but he definitely started out playing villains. Once again, aside from the roles described in the prologue, Edward Norton just happened to portray a double-crossing member of a heist team in a film from the early 2000s. Surprisingly enough, I’m not referring to The Italian Job, but rather to The Score (2001), which just goes to show that precedence can help determine future roles.

As part of a multi-talented heist team, Steve (Edward Norton) is the “inside man” who helps the group steal a large amount of gold bullion from a safe in a Venetian apartment belonging to Italian gangsters. Unfortunately, when the team gets to the Austrian border, Steve betrays them, escaping with the gold and leaving them for dead: underwater and trapped in the getaway vehicle. However, Steve soon finds it is difficult to turn large bars of gold into something less suspicious. Of course, when strange things start happening, Steve grows suspicious himself, thinking his former team may still be alive and trying to enact their revenge on him. What isn’t immediately apparent to him is the addition of Stella Bridger (Charlize Theron), who is the daughter of John Bridger (Donald Sutherland), whom Steve killed in the double-cross. As the new heist goes down, Steve takes to the skies to keep track of his gold.

Fight ClubFight Club
Year: 1999
Rating: R
Length: 139 minutes / 2.32 hours

For me, the interesting thing about Fight Club (1999) is that Edward Norton’s narration is so ingrained in my mind that when I finally sat down to read the book of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk, I couldn’t help but read the whole thing with Edward Norton narrating in my mind. Something about his voice and his delivery really makes the movie work as a whole. And while I enjoyed his performance in The Illusionist (2006), many consider Norton’s nameless “everyman” narrator in Fight Club to be his defining role, mostly due to the cult status of the film. That’s not to say his other roles have been any less ambitious or memorable (considering the aforementioned nominations he’s received), but rather that the cultural impact of this film has permeated into society as a whole, carrying Edward Norton along with it.

This is Jack’s summary of Fight Club. Fed up and complacent within a consumerist society, the Narrator (Edward Norton) meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) on an airplane flight. This meeting comes in handy when the Narrator’s apartment explodes, leaving him with nobody to turn to but Tyler. They move into an abandoned house together and start up an underground fighting group known as “Fight Club.” And yet, when Tyler starts moving the Club in odd directions, the Narrator keeps struggling to figure out why he’s being left out. However, much like Bruce Banner transforming into the Hulk in The Incredible Hulk (2008) (another Norton role), the twist comes when we realize Edward Norton’s Narrator has subconsciously transformed into a completely different person who is set on bringing down the oppressive capitalist system.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 notable Norton performances

Bacon #: 2 (Fight Club / Peter Iacangelo -> Hero at Large / Kevin Bacon)