#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.

Se7enSe7en
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)

#269. Baseball

As America’s pastime, baseball has been a boundary breaker for decades. It has leveled the playing field for different races and genders and is enjoyed by people of all ages, both as athletes and spectators. Of course, the one place where this is obvious is in film. We see the struggles of a league comprised entirely of women in A League of Their Own (1992). We observe the youthful exuberance of children playing pickup games of baseball in The Sandlot (1993). We even get a glimpse into the statisticians who can find the most efficient way to build a winning team in Moneyball (2011). Almost every facet of baseball has been covered in film, which is why some of the more fictional representations of this sport resort to more supernatural means. This week’s two films show that there’s more to the game of baseball than it would seem.

Field of DreamsField of Dreams
Year: 1989
Rating: PG
Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours

The late 1980’s and early 1990’s heralded a spike in the popularity of baseball. At the time, I was just entering elementary school and picked baseball as my sport of choice to play. Meanwhile, Hollywood was allowing Kevin Costner to start making films about baseball. While he started with Bull Durham (1988), he continued the trend shortly afterward with Field of Dreams (1989). Throughout the years, he would also star in For the Love of the Game (1999) and The Upside of Anger (2005). But with Field of Dreams, we all saw that baseball was a family affair. Other films also emphasized this point, such as Trouble with the Curve (2012) and Angels in the Outfield (1994), the latter of which also included a plot device that hearkened back to the ghostly apparitions of its predecessor, Field of Dreams.

Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) was raised being told the story of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal by his father. This was partly due to his father idolizing “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta). Inspired by a voice in his head, Ray builds a baseball field in his field of corn only to find one night that Jackson has arrived to play baseball. He and the other disgraced players, all long dead, appear on the field and begin to play a game. The voice returns to Ray, who then finds Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) and Archibald Graham (Frank Whaley) and helps them come to terms with some of their lost, baseball-related dreams. Meanwhile, Ray’s family is in financial trouble because of his decision to destroy some of his crop, but after he reconciles with his dead father, the word about the famous players finally gets out and people come from miles around to watch these legends play ball.

The NaturalThe Natural
Year: 1984
Rating: PG
Length: 138 minutes / 2.3 hours

Over the years, many baseball players have made themselves household names due to a variety of reasons. Most of the time, it is due to their talent on the field, but sometimes it’s because of something that sets them apart from the rest of the players. For instance, Jackie Robinson being the first African American baseball player to play for a professional team placed him in the history books. His story was told in the film, 42 (2013). Lou Gehrig was a talented baseball player for the Yankees before he was diagnosed with ALS. His story was told in the film, The Pride of the Yankees (1942). Jim Morris entered Major League Baseball much older than other rookies. His story was told in the film, The Rookie (2002). And yet, sometimes the fictional talents, like in Rookie of the Year (1993) and The Natural (1984), are more entertaining to watch.

After Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) lost his father as a boy, the tree where he died was struck by lightning. From the glowing embers of the wood, Roy fashions a bat that he names “Wonderboy”. Years later, Roy is a promising baseball player who travels up to Chicago to try out for their team. On the way there, he strikes out “The Whammer” (Joe Don Baker) at a local carnival, piquing the interest of sportswriter Max Mercy (Robert Duvall). Unfortunately, after a failed assassination by Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershey), Roy’s baseball career is finished. Years pass and Roy is signed on to play for the New York Knights, where his batting skills are proven through the use of Wonderboy. Despite corruption, Roy brings his team all the way to the pennant, his pitching skills now having been rediscovered. Undeterred by another accident, it’s up to Roy to win the game for his team.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 of the best baseball movies