Movie Project #43: A Beautiful Mind [2001]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

A Beautiful Mind [2001]

A Beautiful Mind [2001]
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Akiva Goldsman, Sylvia Nasar (book)
Country: USA
Genre: Biography/Drama
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly, Christopher Plummer, Paul Bettany
Running Time: 135 minutes

(This post contains spoilers.)

The evolution of John Nash (Russell Crowe) in A Beautiful Mind is nothing short of remarkable.

In 1947, as a graduate student at Princeton University, Nash is a bold, cocky young man. He is confident in his mathematical talent, but his social skills are lacking. A flamboyant roommate, Charles Herman (Paul Bettany), helps bring him out of his shell, and eventually he fits in with a new circle of friends.

A Beautiful Mind [2001]

Nash’s personal growth is even more successful after college, as he gets a job as a professor at MIT, and he begins dating (and later marries) one of his very attractive students, Alicia (Jennifer Connelly). And just as he starts to grow tired of his day-to-day work, he gets a top-secret offer from a high-ranking Pentagon official, William Parcher (Ed Harris). Nash is confidentially hired on as a codebreaker, with his assignment being to find and decode hidden messages that the Russians placed into newspapers and magazines.

There’s just one problem. Parcher isn’t real.

Nash suffers from schizophrenia, and he is constantly imagining people and situations that don’t exist. Because he believes he is part of a classified government assignment, he becomes increasingly paranoid that the Russians are after him, and this begins to greatly impact his personal and professional life. Eventually, he is taken in by a psychiatrist, Dr. Rosen (Christopher Plummer), though the treatment at this time was only shock therapy.

A Beautiful Mind [2001]

The middle years of Nash’s life finds him struggling with his mental illness, unable to take care of his young son and also unable to work. The film’s big Hollywood moment arrives later on when Nash begins visiting MIT daily, eventually coming to terms with his hallucinations and getting his job back as a result. And, to make his story even more inspirational, the man earns a Nobel Peace Prize.

It’s a beautiful story, even if it does get a bit too schmaltzy at times. Russell Crowe does a phenomenal job as the very real (and still alive) Nash, and his mental illness is treated tactfully. Some bits of Nash’s actual life aren’t mentioned in the film, such as his bisexuality and his child out of wedlock, but director Ron Howard has claimed that this is not meant to be a literal representation. The rest of the performances, particularly that of Connelly and Harris, are excellent, and the acting as a whole helps elevate this film.


Future Classic Movie: Requiem for a Dream [2000]

Paula over at Paula’s Cinema Club has presented the blogging world with an interesting question: what movies from 2000 to present day will endure to become a future classic? The 2000s have already been fruitful for great films, and there are an extraordinary amount of excellent options to choose from. After narrowing down my list, I kept eyeing one particular film:

Requiem for a Dream [2000]

Requiem for a Dream is director Darren Aronofsky’s second full-length film, and it is one that is unforgettable for those who have seen it. The film revolves around four Coney Island residents, all who struggle with their own personal addictions.

Ellen Burstyn, in an Oscar nominated role, stars as Sara Goldfarb, a lonely widow who spends her days watching television and eating whatever is in her typically full refrigerator. After receiving a phone call saying she was selected to be a participant on her favorite game show, Sara begins obsessing over her weight, determined to fit into her old red dress. Her attempt to follow a diet plan fails miserably, so she goes to the doctor and gets a prescription of diet pills. She becomes addicted to them.

Her son, Harry (Jared Leto), is a heroin junkie who makes a habit of stealing her television and pawning it off for drug money. He regularly dreams of getting rich off a big score with his pal Tyrone C. Love (Marlon Wayans). Harry’s girlfriend, Marion Silver (Jennifer Connelly), hopes to open a fashion store and is relying on him to strike it rich. All three are users.

As the film progresses, all four main characters hit rock bottom, and we are there with them for every step of the way. This is a brutal movie experience, one that shows the extreme depths that addicts can ultimately reach.

So why will Requiem for a Dream be considered a classic in the future? Let’s take a look:

The Subject Matter
Drug abuse isn’t going away anytime soon. It has been over ten years since Requiem was released, and our country still has an out-of-control drug problem. I don’t see this changing at all, if ever, and Requiem’s message will ring true for countless years.

The Director
Darren Aronofsky is still young and should have a long career ahead of him, but there is no denying the man’s talent and repertoire already. Few people can capture the essence of self destruction like Aronofsky, and he uses some creative techniques to show the effects that drugs are having on these characters. Requiem has over 2,000 cuts (most movies of this length have 600-700), and it uses extremely quick shots to show the rapid effects of drugs entering the body. Take a look at this montage as an example:

On top of this, Aronofsky expertly uses a variety of long tracking shots, time-lapse photography, extreme closeups and faraway views. Looking at the film from a critical standpoint, this is some pretty innovative stuff. By the time all is said and done, I am confident Aronofsky’s name will be included in a list of the all-time greats.

The Credentials

  • IMDB: Overall rating of 8.4/10 based on over 280,000 votes (#66 on the Top 250)
  • 78% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes
  • Oscar, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations for Ellen Burstyn’s lead performance
  • Chlotrudis Award for Best Movie (plus another six nominations, including Best Director and Best Screenplay)
  • In total, the film won 23 awards and received 38 nominations. IMDB has the full rundown.

The Soundtrack
Who could ever forget composer Clint Mansell’s opening theme? Every time I hear this song, a rush of emotions comes over me. It’s such a beautiful song, but one that is equally devastating given the context. Listen to the theme in all its glory:

The rest of the soundtrack is equally impressive, a perfect fit for the film. It is so well-loved that it even got its own remix album with mixes by Paul Oakenfold, Delerium and Josh Wink, among others.

The Cast
I don’t care what anyone says, Ellen Burstyn should have won an Oscar for her performance. Sara Goldfarb’s transformation is just heartbreaking and cruel to watch. I can only imagine how difficult it was for Burstyn. Leto, Connelly and Wayans all deliver what are arguably the best performances of their careers. Special mention must also be made of Christopher McDonald as the TV infomercial host, Tappy Tibbons, in an especially memorable performance.

The Conclusion
In order to prepare this post, I gave Requiem for a Dream another watch last night. It had been at least four years since my last viewing, and it is just as amazingly disheartening as I remember. Requiem is a brutal, depressing film, but it is an incredible piece of art that its viewers will never forget. It can be argued that this is already a modern classic, and I am confident that it will hold up in the future as well.

Movie Project #31 and #32: Jaws [1975] and Dark City [1998]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Jaws [1975, Steven Spielberg]
Jaws [1975, Steven Spielberg]
Starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss.

I had seen parts of Jaws over the years, but had never sat down to watch the entire movie. I am kind of amazed that it has taken me so long to do so, as this is a top-of-the-line summer blockbuster flick. It’s impressive that a movie of this caliber can wait until the hour-past mark to actually show the great white shark. In fact, I found the first half of the movie to be the most fascinating, as we are watching an unseen creature terrorize a small island town. This is when the horror elements kick into full gear; we know a huge shark is out there, but since we don’t see it we feel somewhat invincible to a potential attack. But then, of course, the shark kills a couple people, including a child, and all hell breaks loose.

The second half of the movie focuses on three men — the town sheriff (Scheider), a ‘professional’ shark hunter (Shaw), and an oceanographer (Dreyfuss) — as they head out on a boat to kill the shark. I wasn’t as enthralled with this part of the film, although it did have some great moments (such as the hunter’s lengthy story about his time on the Indianapolis). Still, I enjoyed the cast, especially Dreyfuss, and John Williams’ epic score makes things even better. I can agree that this is one of Spielberg’s best. 8/10

Dark City [1998, Alex Proyas]
Dark City [1998, Alex Proyas]
Starring Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly.

I added Dark City to my project because I have some friends that absolutely love it, and because it was listed as Roger Ebert’s best movie from 1998. While watching the film, I was intrigued by its neo-noir style. It has obvious similarities to The Matrix, which was released one year later, and I can see why it has a bit of a cult following now. The dark atmosphere, dystopian city and intriguing sci-fi plot were all things I enjoyed from the movie. Unfortunately, the acting hampered things a bit for me.

Rufus Sewell seemed aloof and disinterested in the lead role, and I still don’t know whether I liked or despised Kiefer Sutherland’s overacting while playing the stuck-between-good-and-evil Dr. Schreber. The visual style is impeccable, but at the same time, the movie almost feels amateur-ish. I enjoyed Dark City, but I can’t help but feel that a better movie could have been made, considering the interesting sci-fi story and (normally) strong cast. 7/10