The Aviator gets my vote for Best Picture Oscar. Of course, I don't have a vote, but if I did, I'd cast it for Scorsese's film?#34;even though I enjoyed Sideways more and found Million Dollar Baby more emotionally satisfying.
It's hard to get close to Howard Hughes, another genius on the edge of madness profile?#34;fascinating to be sure, but not the kind of person we can easily identify with. There's no rule, of course, that movies are supposed to be about characters we identify with, but sentimentalists that we are, moviegoers get attached to certain films, and find themselves rooting for their favorites at Oscar time.
I try not to do that. I admire the achievement represented by Aviator more than I admire the craft and integrity of Million Dollar Baby and more than I admire the human comedy in Sideways. Yes, there are two other films nominated, but I didn't see one (Ray) and don't consider the other (Finding Neverland) worthy of the honor.Aviator, on the other hand, as well as its director, Martin Scorsese, have earned the honor. This is "moviemaking" at its best?#34;in the grand, old Hollywood tradition that doesn't much exist anymore. There's a place for truly (as opposed to digitally) spectacular films, and this qualifies. All of the aerial sequences are breathtaking, but the crash scene alone is worth the price of admission. Aviator is one wild ride.
The "mental illness" portion, of course, is tougher to watch. Actors love this kind of "challenge" (Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind) and Leonardo DiCaprio is up to the task of recreating Hughes' obsessive/compulsive dementia. My general complaint is that actors and directors get so fascinated by it they tend to devote too much of the film to shoving our faces in it.
Fortunately, there's also plenty of the genius in evidence?#34;and more impressive, Hughes' ability to rise above his extreme dysfunction to allow that genius to prevail momentarily. In the end, it makes Hughes a more sympathetic and admirable figure.
The film's weakest moment comes at the beginning with the too-obvious homage to the "Rosebud" scene from Citizen Kane, as if the director wanted to make sure the audience knows they're about to witness a "great American film."
What Scorsese does instead, which is better, is make a film about a great American. Hughes wasn't entirely admirable, but he was larger than life, and one of those wildly audacious figures who pushed us into the future and helped make us who we are.
Film is the medium where Americans create their myths and tell themselves their national "story." It is our bible, our Pantheon, our Native American totem pole. It serves the function of the African griots. How did we get here? Who are we?The Aviator is one of our myth films. We haven't really had one since Saving Private Ryan. Such films serve a necessary function in this culture. They aren't the only ones that should be awarded Oscars for best film (in fact, Private Ryan didn't win), but Aviator is certainly a worthy recipient.