#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)


#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, there are very few that 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 that 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 directed 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 that 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’s a psychological mystery thriller.

Nearing retirement, detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is reluctantly paired with 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 that 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)

#140. Morgan Freeman

Chances are, now that you’ve started reading this post, you’re probably imagining Morgan Freeman narrating it. While this soothing, informative voice has narrated many movies before, it wasn’t until 2005’s March of the Penguins that this actor really became known for his narrating ability. This doesn’t mean that Morgan Freeman can’t act; in fact, it’s quite to the contrary. Having acted for over 50 years, Morgan Freeman has been in some of the most celebrated films of the late 20th Century. From Best Pictures like Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Unforgiven (1992), to cult classics like The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and Se7en (1995), Morgan Freeman has been in a lot of films (even including some less successful ones). This week’s two films examine two different sides of Morgan Freeman’s career.

Now You See MeNow You See Me
Year: 2013
Rating: PG-13
Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours

For the last 30 years, Morgan Freeman has been in a movie almost every year (with the exceptions being 1986 and 1999). Recently, he has been in multiple films, sometimes appearing in up to five different movies a year. Considering that most actors decrease their amount of work as they get older, Morgan Freeman has aged so gracefully and fits so many roles flawlessly that it would almost be stupid to stop acting at this point. And even though he is doing more narration work on this end of his career, he still manages to get key roles in film franchises. Most notably, he portrayed Lucius Fox, Batman’s equipment and tech support guru, in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight saga. Another great fit for him was playing Nelson Mandela in Invictus, an obvious choice considering his close resemblance to the South African leader.

In Now You See Me, Freeman plays Thaddeus Bradley, the magician’s worst nightmare. Bradley has made a fortune selling DVDs where he cracks open the illusions of other magicians and shows the world the secrets behind the tricks. As a result, he’s pulled in as a consultant to help the FBI and Interpol catch four magicians (who call themselves the “Four Horsemen”) who have managed to rob a bank in Paris during their show in Las Vegas. While the Horsemen are always one step ahead of the investigators, Bradley helps narrow the gap. By this time, there’s speculation that a “fifth horseman” might be helping the group from the inside. And yet, in retaliation for an event which helped define Bradley’s career as a spoiler of magic, he ends up being framed as the “fifth horseman” for assisting the Horsemen in their capers.

Driving Miss DaisyDriving Miss Daisy
Year: 1989
Rating: PG
Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours

Another Best Picture that Morgan Freeman performed in was 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy. What’s perhaps more strange is that, while he has won many other awards, he’s only won one Oscar for acting. That’s not to say he hasn’t been nominated. In fact, he’s been nominated four times over the length of his career. While you’d think he would win for Best Actor in Driving Miss Daisy, The Shawshank Redemption, or Invictus, his only Oscar was for Best Supporting Actor in Million Dollar Baby. And yet, because he is African American, Morgan Freeman has excelled in many roles dealing with racism. From the Civil War piece, Glory, to the South African rugby championship in Invictus, Freeman has managed to handle these roles with grace and a sense of solemn power. Driving Miss Daisy is no exception to this.

During the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, change is still slow in the south, but even more-so for the older generations who have been set in their racist ways for a long time. When it becomes obvious that Daisy Werthan (Jessica Tandy) cannot drive, her son Boolie (Dan Aykroyd) hires Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman) as a chauffeur for her. Even though Daisy is resistant to the idea, eventually she learns more about Hoke and begins to accept him. As a retired teacher, Daisy puts it upon herself to teach Hoke to read once she finds he’s illiterate. Unfortunately, racism doesn’t just affect the blacks, it also affects the Jews, which Daisy learns when her synagogue is bombed. Eventually, Daisy has deteriorated to the point where she needs to be put in a retirement home. Even so, when Hoke retires many years later, she still remembers their time together fondly.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 fantastic Freeman roles

Bacon #: 1 (Eastwood Directs: The Untold Story / Kevin Bacon)