Movie Project #34 and #35: The Aviator [2004] and Misery [1990]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

The Aviator [2004, dir. Martin Scorsese]
The Aviator [2004, dir. Martin Scorsese]
Perhaps I am looking in all of the wrong places, but doesn’t it seem odd that a modern film with 11 Oscar nominations, including five wins, is rarely discussed these days? Especially when said film is directed by Martin Scorsese and features brilliant performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett, among others? Perhaps it is the fact that most involved have done superior work, but that doesn’t change the fact that The Aviator is a well-crafted epic.

The film follows the life of eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, beginning with his incredibly lengthy and expensive filming of Hell’s Angels. He dabbles in the film industry a bit more (including as producer of the original Scarface and The Outlaw), but it’s clear that his true passion is aviation. This leads him to purchase Transcontinental & Western Air (TWA). From there, his company takes on contracts with the US Army while attempting to develop the biggest and fastest planes in the world (no easy feat, of course). Hughes’s life makes for a hell of a story, one that is full of ups (such as his relationships with Katharine Hepburn and Ava Gardner, the former of whom is played by Blanchett) and downs (his worsening OCD habits and paranoia).

The Aviator does start to feel its length after a while (all 170 minutes of it), but it’s hard not to appreciate the way this story is presented. This is a visually stunning film, and clearly the Academy loved these aspects of it as well (four of its Oscar wins were for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction). If anything, it had me wanting to learn more about Howard Hughes, especially as the film ends during the 1940s (Hughes went onto live until 1976). 8/10

Misery [1990, dir. Rob Reiner]
Misery [1990, dir. Rob Reiner]
Misery tells a story that is so simple, but it’s one that is not easily forgotten. When famous novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) gets into a nasty car crash during a blizzard, he is saved by local nurse, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who personally brings him into her home to rehabilitate him. That’s all fine and well, except for the fact that Wilkes is the novelist’s self-described “#1 fan!” and she refuses to let him leave the house. Oh, and she’s pissed off because Sheldon killed off her favorite character in his novels.

Going into the film, I had heard a lot about Bates’s frightening Oscar-winning performance, and yep, she is scary as hell. Her obsessive nature can be terrifying, particularly when she goes from being pleasantly awkward to bursting with anger at the drop of a hat. Making matters worse is the fact that Sheldon’s legs are busted up, and he cannot physically move (great piece of physical acting by Caan here as well). This is the kind of stuff that will make you want to quit writing (or at least stay out of the public eye).

There’s nothing to Misery that makes it rise to “must see” status, but it is a damn fine piece of entertainment, and another strong Stephen King adaptation. 7/10

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24 thoughts on “Movie Project #34 and #35: The Aviator [2004] and Misery [1990]

  1. Jaina says:

    The Aviator is definitely not as talked about as perhaps it should be. Personally, I really enjoyed it. Much like you. Had the same effect on me as it did on you – Howard Hughes seems like an utterly amazing and revolutionary person. I’d like to say, I need to see the film again, which I probably do, but … the length of it is, well lengthy! And the subject matter isn’t exactly like. One of those watch once and then maybe watch again in a decade or so, sort of films.

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      I agree with you there, Jaina. I’m really glad I watched The Aviator, and it deserves to be talked about more, but it’s not something I will likely revisit too often. Watching Hughes deteriorate is definitely not light material.

  2. jackdeth72 says:

    Nice, well laid out choices, Eric!

    ‘The Aviator’ is one of the better later Scorsese films. Due to the director’s trademark attention to period detail. And his ability to gather exceptional talent. Especially amongst the women. Who give as well as they get! And Mr. DiCaprio delivering a performance where I didn’t think he was Mr. DiCaprio.

    Cool fast airplanes, too.

    ‘Misey’ is an ironic tour de force for Mr. Caan. Delivering a mostly bedridden performance that rates up there with his very early ‘Brian’s Song’. While Kathy Bates effortless makes countless scenes her own.

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      Cheers, Jack! I think I might give the edge to The Wolf of Wall Street as far as the Scorsese/DiCaprio collaborations go, but The Aviator did not disappoint.

      I’ve heard good things about Brian’s Song but haven’t seen it myself. I’ll have to see if I can track it down.

  3. sati says:

    I like Misery a bit more than you – it just has such a great, claustrophobic atmosphere and Bates did a hell a lot more with the role than she was even supposed to – there are times when Misery acts like a betrayed child and that makes it into such a rick performance

  4. ckckred says:

    Nice review. The more I think about it, the more I’d probably saw The Aviator is the best movie Scorsese’s done in the 21st century. Not a flawless picture, but a great biopic that really maintains your interest.

  5. Wendell says:

    I enjoyed Aviator and perhaps it should be more talked about than it is. However, comments made by you and Jaina point to why it might feel like a forgotten film. We just aren’t compelled to revisit it. It’s an excellent movie, but has a disposable quality to it. On the other hand, Bates’ work is truly indelible. What she accomplishes in this movie makes it rise to the level of must-see, and makes it one of the best of all Stephen King adaptations, in my opinion. Good post.

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      I think you’re right, Wendell. The Aviator is a great film, but it’s lacking in the rewatchability factor, especially when compared to other Scorsese flicks like Goodfellas or even The Wolf of Wall Street.

      I still can’t get over Kathy Bates’ performance in Misery. So damn frightening — phenomenal work.

  6. ruth says:

    The Aviator definitely made me want to see a documentary on Howard Hughes, he’s quite a fascinating man. It’s been ages since I saw the film, I think I like it but not sure if I love it, though I did love Blanchett’s performance.

  7. Chris says:

    Yep, Howard Hughes’s life makes for a hell of a story. Those plane scenes in The Aviator are magnificent, especially on the big screen. The H Hughes sequel would be very different as I heard he became a recluse 🙂

  8. Dan says:

    I’d give Misery a little more credit. I think it’s a must-see if you like Stephen King or good thrillers. It’s a terrific adaptation of the book and Kathy Bates is truly phenomenal.

  9. Victor De Leon says:

    2 amazing films. Own both and I love watching The Aviator every so often. One of my favorite Marty films and an incredible biopic. Nice work!

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