Cranky’s Flickershow Reviews

Neil Richter

Marty vs. The Man With No Name

 

         Many are speculating that this will be the year that Martin Scorsese finally gets his much-deserved Oscar. His The Departed proved both a critical and a popular triumph, Marty’s biggest box-office success ever. Thematically, it was a thrilling return to form. His last two films, the mammoth historical epic Gangs of New York and the Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator, received a certain degree of derision from critics who felt that he was ‘Oscar-baiting’. That is, desperate for the statuette, he decided to go for the most epic project he could find in an effort to wow the academy. Both were nominated for multiple Oscars, including best director, but in typical academy fashion Scorsese was snubbed. When watching The Departed however, it is clear that Scorsese made this film for himself and himself alone. There is no sense that he is ‘putting on airs’ of any sort. This is a down and dirty gangster film, densely plotted and dazzlingly edited (thanks to ace work from his longtime collaborator and editor Thelma Schoonmaker). Personally, I feel that Scorsese has never had a better chance at nabbing his long-overdue Oscar.

         Despite all this though, a major obstacle lurks. Academy favorite Clint Eastwood is in the running, and as he has proved in the past, he is a formidable opponent. The man is a living icon with an undeniable pull when it comes to Academy voters. With his Letters From Iwo Jima just now getting a wide release, only time will tell how the public will respond to his retelling of the titular World War II battle. What we do know is that it has proven itself one of the major critical successes of the year. Whats more, Eastwood’s film is the kind of picture that makes Academy members drool. For one it’s billed as a war picture with a conscience, which means it secures three criteria right away: it’s a downer, it has a central ‘message’ about us as human beings, and its epic. The Departed doesn’t quite live up to these standards. For one, despite its gruesome subject matter, it remains a startlingly glib film, often spitting out jokes and bloodied bodies in tandem, something that’s bound to ruffle more than a few feathers. Even moreso, it never aspires to be anything other than a truly magnificent piece of pulp. Needless to say it succeeds brilliantly in its modest aims. Despite all this, Eastwood’s film has the grave laboriousness of a ‘serious’ film, something Scorsese’s funhouse ride of a movie lacks. Still, we aren’t talking about best picture here, though both films are nominated in that category. We’re talking about directing. All of this would be speculative if Eastwood didn’t have such a triumphant track record when it comes to Academy voters. Case in point is his performance at the last two academy awards. Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby dominated the nominations, with Mystic River netting him a best director nomination, and Million Dollar Baby getting him the statuette for both best director and picture. What was even more surprising was the fawning that took place whenever one of Eastwood’s films came up for scrutiny. Nobody had a bad word to say about Mr. Eastwood. As I said before, he’s a living legend, both to his colleagues and the public in general. Scorsese, on the other hand, has always been an outsider. His films are too profane, too violent, too much. They’re practically hyperactive when compared to the Eastwood’s straightforward style as a director. Evidence of this can be found when one looks at budgeting. Scorsese is not a cheap filmmaker. His Gangs of New York went epically over-budget and The Departed cost an estimated 90 million dollars to bring to the screen. Eastwood is a polar opposite. One of the reasons that film studios like him is his supremely frugal reputation. When making a film, he has been known to pay special attention to budget constraints, making sure that no extraneous spending takes place. For example, Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby both cost an estimated 30 million dollars apiece. That’s only two thirds of what it took to finish The Departed. This frugality, though not necessarily an artistic asset, is something that continues to endear Eastwood to the big decision-makers in Hollywood.

         Truth be told, it is too early to tell who will win this year’s Oscar race for best director. Perhaps a dark horse will come into the running and surprise us all. From my humble perspective however, it is between these two titans. In my mind, Scorsese is the deserving winner. The Academy owes him a whole truckload of Oscars for snubbing his magnificent work on Taxi Driver in favor of Rocky way back in 1976. Nonetheless, Eastwood seems to have the upper hand. Still, we can always hope. After all, isn’t this the industry that makes dreams come true?

 

02/15/07