Saturday, February 23, 2008

Last Year's Oscar-winning Best Picture: "The Departed" Plus One Line Review's Best Picture Ranking

The set-up of THE DEPARTED is that a bright but troubled rookie cop (Leonardo DiCaprio as William Costigan, Jr.) is recruited to infiltrate Boston crime kingpin Frank Costello’s (Jack Nicholson) organization, and finds that Costello’s own informant within the department (Matt Damon as “Colin Sullivan”) is looking to root him out— now each is trying to unmask the other first. The movie is another venture into the crime drama by Martin Scorsese, who delivers a movie in this genre every five years: GOODFELLAS, CASINO, GANGS OF NEW YORK.

THE DEPARTED is based on the Hong Kong film INFERNAL AFFAIRS (2002), a pulpy little thriller that was a great success in its home country (even prompting sequels). THE DEPARTED has taken this pedigree and expanded on it with a complete Hollywood-style overhaul: and it benefits well from the A-list treatment. Screenwriter William Monahan and editor Thelma Schoonmaker structure the film with overlapping scenes that keep the pace up and emphasize the parallels between the characters (as Frank says early on regarding those who become cops or criminals: “When you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?”).

The ensemble excels, led by pros DiCaprio and Damon, with only, strangely, Jack Nicholson slightly off the mark. Nicholson is never entirely believable in the role of Frank Costello, especially in scenes that include bits where he was obviously “ad-libbing”— when these moments are not invisible, you find yourself seeing just a well-known actor showing off. However, these few moments in the movie don’t do any real “damage” to the piece as a whole.

Mark Wahlberg as no-B.S. special unit Detective Sergeant Dignam is a standout among the supporting players. His portrayal is one of someone who is completely sure of himself: actor and character, alike. He has one of the best lines in the film to illustrate just that: “I’m the guy that does his job. You must be the other guy.”

Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, and Ray Winstone play variations on characters they’ve played in the past yet each fits seamlessly into the framework. The casting (and performance) of Vera Farmiga as psychiatrist Dr. Madolyn Madden solidifies the film. Farmiga is sexy but not overly showy for her character’s profession and her performance avoids cliché: she exudes an intelligence that is both book smart and relationship savvy, yet she errs in her own relationship choices with both men. This reflects her human fallibility and shows a different side to both male lead characters— one that they share — a hope at normalcy.

The plot is labyrinthine and part of the fun is seeing various different principals mixing on-screen. The film is a solid entertainment, even old-fashioned in a way (especially with Scorsese at the helm, he who bills his films as “pictures” and uses such camera devices as an iris shot— a standard of silent movies). The film fits in with Scorsese’s oeuvre, although the camerawork is much more subdued. There are echoes of GOODFELLAS in the very first minutes (Sullivan’s character goes through an initiation not unlike the “You look like a gangster” scenes with Henry Hill.). And there are autobiographical ties (Sullivan was an alter boy, Costello has a penchant for drawing, all the principals grow up in an immigrant culture), a signature song selection, and the defined Scorsese protagonist of a man-in-crisis: but herein its threefold (Costigan, Sullivan, and Costello: each handling the pressure in different ways and gradations).

THE DEPARTED won the Oscar for Best Picture and it was, indeed, the best movie available for the award in a weak year. Scorsese won his Oscar for both career achievement and for turning in a solid moneymaker in his now signature genre.

The Departed (2006): A solid, even somewhat old-fashioned, Hollywood-done-well film with an ensemble of established pros and a labyrinthine plot that never lags.


One Line Review Ranks...
79 Years of Oscar's Best Picture Winners (1927-2006):

1. Casablanca— 1943
2. Annie Hall— 1977
3. The Godfather— 1972
4. Lawrence of Arabia— 1962
5. All About Eve— 1950
6. The Godfather, Part II— 1974
7. The Best Years of Our Lives— 1946
8. The Bridge on the River Kwai— 1957
9. West Side Story— 1961
10. Schindler’s List— 1993

The Apartment— 1960 (****)
Unforgiven— 1992 (****)
On the Waterfront— 1954 (****)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest— 1975 (****)
Amadeus— 1984 (****)
Dances With Wolves— 1990 (****)
It Happened One Night— 1934 (****)
Kramer vs. Kramer— 1979 (****)
All Quiet on the Western Front— 1930 (****)
Hamlet— 1948 (****)
American Beauty— 1999 (*** 1/2)
Gone With the Wind— 1939 (*** 1/2)
Midnight Cowboy— 1969 (*** 1/2)
The Sound of Music— 1965 (*** 1/2)
The Departed— 2006 (*** 1/2)
Platoon— 1986 (*** 1/2)
Chicago— 2002 (*** 1/2)
You Can’t Take It With You— 1938 (*** 1/2)
Patton— 1970 (*** 1/2)
The Last Emperor— 1987 (*** 1/2)
Mutiny on the Bounty— 1935 (*** 1/2)
Terms of Endearment— 1983 (*** 1/2)
The French Connection— 1971 (*** 1/2)
Driving Miss Daisy— 1989 (*** 1/2)
Titanic— 1997 (***)
Rocky— 1976 (***)
In the Heat of the Night— 1967 (***)
A Man for All Seasons— 1966 (***)
The Life of Emile Zola— 1937 (***)
Gladiator— 2000 (***)
My Fair Lady— 1964 (***)
From Here To Eternity— 1953 (***)
The Deer Hunter— 1978 (***)
Rebecca— 1940 (***)
Out of Africa— 1985 (***)
Marty— 1955 (***)
Going My Way— 1944 (***)
Shakespeare in Love— 1998 (***)
Rain Man— 1988 (***)
The Silence of the Lambs— 1991 (***)
The English Patient— 1996 (***)
All the King’s Men— 1949 (***)
Oliver!— 1968 (***)
Gandhi— 1982 (***)
How Green Was My Valley— 1941 (***)
Forrest Gump— 1994 (** 1/2)
The Lord of the Rings: The ROTK— 2003 (** 1/2)
Grand Hotel— 1932 (** 1/2)
Wings— 1927 (** 1/2)
Gentlemen’s Agreement— 1947 (** 1/2)
Million Dollar Baby— 2004 (** 1/2)
The Lost Weekend— 1945 (** 1/2)
Mrs. Miniver— 1942 (** 1/2)
Ordinary People— 1980 (** 1/2)
The Sting— 1973 (** 1/2)
Braveheart— 1995 (** 1/2)
Crash— 2005 (** 1/2)
Ben-Hur— 1959 (** 1/2)
The Greatest Show on Earth— 1952 (** 1/2)
Cavalcade— 1933 (** 1/2)
Tom Jones— 1963 (** 1/2)
An American in Paris— 1951 (** 1/2)
Chariots of Fire— 1981 (** 1/2)
The Broadway Melody— 1929 (**)
The Great Ziegfeld— 1936 (**)
Around the World in 80 Days— 1956 (**)
Gigi— 1958 (**)
A Beautiful Mind— 2001 (**)
Cimarron— 1931 (**)

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