Biographies. Period pieces. Inspiring true stories of triumph over adversity. There was much to admire about the Historical Dramas of 2000-2009, from the Oscar-winning star performances as larger-than-life personas (Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich, Charlize Theron as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, Jamie Foxx in Ray) to the blood-soaked spectacle of atrocities old (Pearl Harbor, The Pianist) and new (Hotel Rwanda, World Trade Center). While filmmakers have long been notorious for altering events to suit Dramatic purposes, the Historical film should nevertheless stick as close to the facts as possible, as well as provide us a vivid recreation of times past. Done right, these films not only show us where we've been, but also what we've yet to become.
The Top Five:
5. The Aviator (Martin Scorsese, 2004)
Biopics aren't typically my thing. Too much sentimentality, I suppose, or maybe it's the self-congratulatory attempt to shoehorn an entire life's story into feature length. Martin Scorsese, though, takes a more creative approach with his bustling Howard Hughes epic, narrowing his focus to the impressive 20-year span in which the billionaire industrialist burned brightest, from shooting Hell's Angels at 22, to his successful test flight of the "Spruce Goose" H-4 Hercules in 1947. Scorsese also seems to be having great fun replicating the Hollywood of yesteryear, right down to the two- and three-shade Technicolor film stock of the period (most noticeable in the grass where Hughes and Cate-Blanchett-as-Katherine-Hepburn play golf, or the fields where Hughes crashes his H-1 Racer). And while Leonardo DiCaprio initially seems too boyish to carry the entire movie on his shoulders, his performance actually gains in stature the older his character gets. It's a mirror for DiCaprio's own career trajectory, of a prodigy whose talents extend far beyond his years.
3. Black Hawk Down (Ridley Scott, 2001)
2. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
1. United 93 (Paul Greengrass, 2006)
The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, never resorts to ham-fisted melodramatics. In United 93, there are no "movie stars" to speak of, no speeches, no left wing/right wing political agenda; and it's shot in a pseudo-Documentary style that captures, with gut-wrenching intensity, the escalating panic of a nation caught completely off guard. Scenes play out in real time, between the air-traffic controllers, FAA officials and military personnel (some of them playing themselves) trying to make sense of the chaos, and the passengers and crew on board UAL Flight 93, who make the iconic and fateful decision to overpower their hijackers. You may question, of course, the purpose of reliving the events of that morning in such visceral detail. "Entertainment" this is not; as a testament to those "first people to inhabit the post-9/11 world," though, it is absolutely essential.
So there it is. Seven down, three to go - and with roughly three months to go for the year! With any luck, I'll finish this project before Christmas. (But don't hold me to that.) Next in line: the Horror films of the Noughties. Ooh, scary.