6 Good Films That Were Not Nominated For Best Picture: The 2010s


Concluding our look at good films that were not nominated for best picture, here are 6 films from the 2010s.

Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010, dir by Banksy)

This wonderfully subversive documentary was my second-favorite film of 2010, right behind Black Swan.  Was it real or was it all a hoax?  In then end, does it matter?  This brilliant film definitely deserved to be the first documentary to be nominated for best picture.  Instead, sadly enough, it was only nominated for Best Documentary Feature and it lost to the rather boring Inside Job.

Upstream Color (2013, dir by Shane Carruth)

Shane Carruth’s haunting and enigmatic Upstream Color was a film unlike any others.  This brilliant film was my favorite of 2013 but, sadly, it was totally snubbed by the Academy.

A Field In England (2014, dir by Ben Wheatley)

Speaking of haunting and enigmatic, A Field In England may not be for everyone but it’s still one of the most memorable films released over the past 6 years.  Was it a horror story?  Was it a historical heist film?  Was it all a hallucination, inspired by eating mushrooms found in the field mentioned in the title?  Your guess is as good as mine but you’ll never forget about it, even if the Academy saw fit to snub it.

Calvary (2014, dir by John Michael McDonagh)

This Irish meditation on sin and salvation featured one of Brendan Gleeson’s best performances, a brilliant script, and an unforgettable ending.  Sadly, not only was Gleeson snubbed but the Academy ignored the rest of the film as well.  Still, it’s one of the best films ever made about being Catholic and Irish in the 21st Century.

Carol (2015, dir by Todd Haynes)

How this film was not nominated for best picture, I’ll never understand.  Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara have never been better.  This is a moving and poignant film about two women who, in the end, refuse to allow society to dictate who they are and who they love.

American Honey (2016, dir Andrea Arnold)

In American Honey, Andrea Arnold creates an unforgettable portrait of life on the fringes and she gets a star-making performance from Sasha Lane, as well.  Even Shia LaBeouf is tolerable in this film!  American Honey was perhaps too long and, narratively, too loose for the Academy’s a taste.  That’s a shame because American Honey is a film that future historians will look at when they want to know what America was like in 2016.

And that concludes our look at good films that were not nominated for best picture!  Enjoy the Oscars, everyone!

 

 

Film Review: Live By Night (dir by Ben Affleck)


Remember Live By Night?

Released in December of 2016, Live By Night was one of those highly anticipated films that ended up bombing at the box office and leaving critics cold.  The anticipation was due to the fact that Live By Night was the first film that Ben Affleck had directed since Argo won best picture.  It was seen as Affleck’s next prestige picture, the one that would remind everyone that he was more than just the latest actor to be cast as Batman.  Live By Night was expected to be a huge Oscar contender.  As for why it bombed at the box office, that may have had something to do with the fact that Live By Night is not a very good film.

It’s a gangster film, one that takes place during prohibition.  Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is the most boring gangster in Boston.  Or, at least, he is until he falls for the wrong woman and he ends up having to flee down to Tampa.  Once down there, Joe sets himself up as the most boring gangster in Florida.  There’s all sorts of themes running through Live By Night — racial themes, economic themes, even some heavy-handed religious themes — but ultimately, the main impression that one gets from the film’s story is that Joe Coughlin was a very boring gangster.

Anyway, Joe gets involved in all sorts of corruption and violence.  He brings down his friend, Dion (Chris Messina), to help him out.  Whereas Joe is rational and dull, Dion is violent and dull.  You spend the entire movie waiting for the moment when Dion will turn on Joe but it never happens.  I guess that’s a good thing since Joe and Dion are busy battling the Klan.  Joe may be a 1920s gangster but he’s got the political and cultural outlook of a 21st century movie star.

Joe knows that prohibition is going to end someday, so he hopes to make money through opening up a casino.  Standing in the way of the casino is a prostitute-turned-evangelist named Loretta (Elle Fanning).  Loretta is the daughter of the local police chief (Chris Cooper), with whom Joe has an uneasy friendship.  You keep expecting this plot to go somewhere but it really doesn’t.  Loretta’s just kinda there.  That said, we do get a hilarious shot of a tearful Chris Cooper repeating the word repent over and over again so there is that.

Zoe Saldana is also just kind of there, playing Joe’s Cuban wife.  Again, you expect a lot to happen with Saldana’s character but, for the most part, she’s mostly just a plot device who exists solely so that Joe can have some sort of motivation beyond simply wanting to get rich.

It’s a big, sprawling film that never quite feels like an epic.  A huge part of the problem is that Ben Affleck the director is let down by Ben Affleck the actor.  Regardless of what’s happening in the scene, Affleck always has the same grim look on his face.  At times, it seems as if he’s literally been chiseled out of a marble and you find yourself wondering if he’s actually capable of any facial expression beyond glum annoyance.  A gangster film like this need a bigger-than-life protagonist but, as played by Affleck, Joe always seems to be in danger of vanishing into the scenery.

I think part of the problem is that Affleck’s previous films all dealt with places and subjects that Affleck felt comfortable with, perhaps because he could relate their stories to his own personal experiences.  Gone, Baby, Gone and The Town both took place exclusively in Boston.  Argo dealt with the film industry.  Live By Night is a period piece set in the South and Affleck is obviously lost from the minute Joe arrives in Florida.

Live By Night, I think, could have been a good movie if it had been directed by someone like Paul Thomas Anderson and maybe if an actor like Colin Farrell played the role of Joe.  But, as it is, it’s just a rather stolid and uninspiring gangster film.

Never Nominated: 16 Actors Who Have Never Been Nominated For An Oscar


Along with being one of the greatest actors who ever lived, the late Peter O’Toole had another, far more dubious achievement.  He holds the record for being nominated the most times for Best Actor without actually winning.  Over the course of his long career, Peter O’Toole was nominated 8 times without winning.

But, at least O’Toole was nominated!

Below are 16 excellent actors who have NEVER been nominated for an Oscar.  10 of these actors still have a chance to get that first nomination.  For the rest, the opportunity has sadly past.

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  1. Kevin Bacon

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t like Kevin Bacon?  Amazingly, despite several decades of good performances in good films, Kevin Bacon has yet to be nominated.  That said, he seems destined to be nominated some day.  If nothing else, he deserved some sort of award for being the most successful cast member of the original Friday the 13th.  (As well, 40 years after the fact, his cry of “All is well!” from Animal House has become one of the most popular memes around.)

2. Brendan Gleeson

This brilliant Irish actor deserved a nomination (and probably the win) for his brave performance in Calvary.  But, even if you ignore Calvary, his filmography is full of award-worthy performances.  From The General to Gangs of New York to 28 Days Later to In Bruges to The Guard, Gleeson is overdue for some recognition.

3. John Goodman

John Goodman deserved to be nominated this year, for his performance in 10 Cloverfield Lane.  He brought warmth to both Argo and Inside Llewyn Davis.  And he was absolutely terrifying in Barton Fink.  John Goodman is one of the most underrated actors working today.

4. Malcolm McDowell

It’s obviously been a while since Malcolm McDowell had a truly great role.  But who could forget his amazing performance in A Clockwork Orange?  For that matter, I liked his sweetly gentle performance in Time After Time.  Someone give this man the great role that he deserves!

5. Ewan McGregor

Ewan McGregor is an actor who is oddly taken for granted.  His performance in Trainspotting remains his best known work.  But, really, he’s been consistently giving wonderful performances for twenty years now.  Sometimes — as in the case of the Star Wars prequels — the films have not been worthy of his talent but McGregor has always been an engaging and compelling screen presence.  When it comes to playing someone who is falling in love, few actors are as convincing as Ewan McGregor.

6) Franco Nero

Franco!  If for nothing else, he deserved a nomination for playing not only Lancelot in Camelot and not only the original Django but also for playing Intergalactic Space Jesus in The Visitor.  I also loved his work in a little-known Italian thriller called Hitchhike.  Nero is still active — look for him in John Wick 2 — and hopefully, he’ll get at least one more truly great role in his lifetime.

7) Sam Rockwell

Let’s just get this out of the way.  In a perfect world, Sam Rockwell would already have an Oscar.  He would have won for his performance in 2009’s Moon.  He also would have received nominations for The Way, Way Back and Seven Psychopaths.  Sadly, Sam’s still waiting for his first nomination.  Again, the problem may be that he’s such a natural that he just makes it look easy.

Andy Serkis

8) Andy Serkis

Andy Serkis has never been nominated, despite giving some of the best performances of this century.  He should have been nominated for Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.  He should have won for Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

9) Harry Dean Stanton

Harry Dean Stanton has been around forever and he’ll probably outlive everyone else on the planet.  He often seems to be indestructible.  Harry Dean is the epitome of a great character actor.  He’s a modern-day John Carradine.  And, just as John Carradine was never nominated, Harry Dean seems to destined to suffer the same fate.  Oscar may have forgotten him but film lovers never will.

10) Donald Sutherland

It’s hard to believe that Donald Sutherland has never been nominated for an Oscar but it’s true.  He probably should have been nominated for his work in Ordinary People and JFK.  Even his work in The Hunger Games franchise was an absolute delight to watch.  I imagine that Sutherland will be nominated someday.

Donald Sutherland and Kristen Stewart

Finally, here are 6 actors who sadly were never honored by the Academy and who are no longer with us:

  1. John Carradine

I mentioned John Carradine earlier.  Carradine was a favorite of many directors and he brought his considerable (and rather eccentric) talents to a countless number of films.  Among his best performances: Stagecoach and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

2. John Cazale

Before his untimely death, John Cazale acted in 5 films: The Godfather, Godfather Part II, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter.  All five of them were nominated for best picture.  12 years after his death, archival footage of him was used in The Godfather Part III.  It was also nominated for Best Picture.  Not only is Cazale alone in having spent his entire career in films nominated for best picture but, in each film, Cazale gave a performance that, arguably, deserved to be considered for a Best Supporting Actor nomination.  Cazale was an amazing actor and it’s a shame that he wasn’t able to give us more great performances.

3. Oliver Reed

Oliver Reed was a legendary drinker but he was also an amazingly entertaining actor.  I’m not a huge fan of Gladiator but his final performance was more than worthy of a posthumous nomination.

Alan Rickman

4. Alan Rickman

When it comes to the late Alan Rickman, it’s not a question of whether he should have been nominated.  It’s a question of for which film.  I know a lot of people would say Rickman deserved a nomination for redefining cinematic villainy in Die Hard.  Personally, I loved his performance in Sense and Sensibility.  And, of course, you can’t overlook any of the times that he played Snape.

5. Edward G. Robinson

Edward G. Robinson was never nominated for an Oscar!?  Not even for Double Indemnity?  Or his final performance in Soylent Green?  Horrors!

6) Anton Yelchin

It’s debatable whether or not Anton Yelchin ever got a chance to give a truly award-worthy performance during his lifetime.  I would argue that his work in both Green Room and Like Crazy were pretty close.  But, if Yelchnin had lived, I’m confident he would have eventually been nominated.  We lost a wonderful talent when we lost him.

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28 Days Later


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Gentle Readers, there are A LOT of bad horror films out there and I mean Halloween Resurrection bad, but when you get a truly great one, it sticks with you for your life.  This movie is more unique in that the writer Alex Garland really peaked with this film and there are IMDB credits to prove it.  Danny Boyle directed the piece and you really feel as though you were inhabiting the after-times of a dead world….well, undead.  Danny Boyle did Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 hours, but I know what you’re thinking- Did he write anything besides family films for Disney?  Yes, he made this awesome zombie film.

We see shots of terrible violence and realize that monkeys are being forced to watch it. Then, Animal Rights Activists enter heavily armed with guns and sanctimony.  The researcher begs them not to release the animals because they are infected with a terribly contagious disease and that the goal of their research is to find a cure for rage.  The Animal Rights Activists patiently listen to the scientist instead of acting purely from smug instinct, dooming us all.  Just kidding, they release one of the monkeys, it rips the animal rights activist apart, barf bleeds all over her, making her patient zero, and I try really hard not to root for the diseased monkey.  The disease is out!  Of course, many of us always knew that animal rights activists would lead to the zombie apocalypse.  Just read their twitter feeds and you’ll know that they’ll doom us all.  Fade to Black and 28 Days Later… appears as a subtitle in the bottom right….BRILLIANT!!!

Jim wakes from a coma to a dead world.  Sound familiar? Yes, TWD went beyond homage there.  He leaves the hospital to amazing details that really sell a dead London.  Empty hospital, empty streets, garbage, worthless cash everywhere, a bus is overturned in front of parliament, and an amazing score reveals a World without people.  If you’re looking for the song that plays when he’s walking around dead London during the opening –  it’s by Godspeed You! Black Emperor – East Hastings – Long Version.

HOW DID THEY MAKE LONDON EMPTY?  MERLIN!  This is England, after all.   Nah, Danny Boyle got MANY government officials to agree to let the production shutdown huge traffic arteries for 90 seconds at a time.  London is one my most favorite cities and I would love to live there and it is Europe’s New York City, therefore, imagine shutting down Times Square for filming.  

Jim gets chased by fast-moving zombies and meets Selena and a Red Shirt.  He goes with them and realizes very quickly that he was probably better off in a coma.  Jim insists on seeing his parents.  They agree to take him and he finds them suicided on the bed clutching a note that reads- “With endless love, we left you sleeping. Now, we’re sleeping with you.  Don’t wake up.” This is not your dad’s zombie movie.  They decide to stay at his house for the night, but are attacked by zombies.  Red Shirt gets infected and is dispatched by Selena.  Jim and Selena must flee.

Jim and Selena venture forth and find Frank and his daughter Hannah.  It hasn’t rained for some time, therefore -no water.  For survival, they have to leave the city.  Selena doesn’t want to go with Frank and his daughter because she sees them as anchors, but Jim insists and Hannah explains that we actually need each other. Frank plays a radio signal that beckons them to safety and they leave as one tribe.  Along the way, there are some intense scenes and some shopping.  They arrive at the salvation location, but Frank gets infected and is killed by soldiers.

Right away, you can tell that the soldiers are goofing off too much.  I have commanded soldiers and there’s some level of goofing off, but this had an air of creepiness and broken discipline.    The soldier’s have taken over a residence as their HQ and have put up defenses to keep zombies out and people in.  We quickly learn that the radio message was a trap. Corporal Mitchell harasses Selena and a fight erupts.  The Major breaks it up, but it’s clear that Jim, Hannah, and Selena are prisoners.  The Major explains that the soldiers could not face a dead world and one attempted suicide.  The Major had a plan- lure women to the compound with a radio signal.  When they arrived, they would keep them prisoner to breed with his soldiers to restart civilization. He puts it simply: women equal hope.  His logic and delivery is truly chilling in its cold mathematics.

They decide to execute Jim and a SGT who gets in their way and keep Hannah and Selena for reproduction.  Corporal Mitchell and another Soldier take Jim and the SGT out for execution to a killing field.  Corporal Mitchell wants to bayonet Jim, the other Soldier can’t handle that kind of intimate murder, leading to a melee.  The SGT is killed and Jim escapes.

The next sequence is truly amazing because we see our hero morph from the sensitive man that he is naturally to a state of feral revenge indistinguishable from the fast-moving zombies.  He’s shirtless to further emphasize his lack of civility as he makes short work of many of the soldiers to rescue Hannah and Selena. Corporal Mitchell who wanted to bayonet him and rape Selena becomes the focal point of Jim’s rage- Jim puts his thumbs deep into Corporal Mitchell’s eyes until he’s dead.  This is a critical act of monstrosity because it shows not tells in the clearest finality that there is no separation between Jim’s blind rage and the rage that has infected the human population.

I don’t want to totally spoil the ending because this film will remain with you and is a must see.  It’s commentary on violence and society is forever salient: Violence is horrific, but forced civilization is worse and will lead to the ultimate act of revenge – THUMBS IN YOUR EYEBALLS or some such equivalent.  The other important lesson the film tries to inculcate is to beware of self-certain sanctimonious people because their grandiosity could doom us all.

Film Review: Suffragette (dir by Sarah Gavron)


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It’s funny (or perhaps not) when you think about it.  I’ve always taken my right to vote (and, in theory at least, have some say over how I’m governed) for granted.  Even before I turned 18 and officially registered, I never had any doubt that, some day, I would be able to vote for President and every other elected office.  (And, even before that, I voted in student council and mock presidential elections.)  Voting is something that I so take for granted that, even when I cast my first official vote in the 2004 Presidential election, it didn’t really mean much to me.  Given the choice between Bush and Kerry, I wrote in the name of Charles Jay, the candidate of the Personal Choice Party.  I knew nothing about Mr. Jay but I had come across his name online and I liked the idea of personal choice and I thought it would make for a funny story to tell all of my friends who were actually taking the election seriously.  (Even back then, I enjoyed annoying people who actually cared.)  Essentially, I threw my vote away and I did it without a second thought.

Of course, what I didn’t understand at that time was that the right to vote was something that many brave women had fought for, gone to prison for, and even died for.  If I had lived before 1920, I would not have had the right to vote and I certainly would not have had the opportunity to so casually toss my vote away.  Women in the U.S. did not win the right to vote until 1920.  But before everyone starts in with the usual “America is so backwards!” crap, consider this.  In Britain, women did not win the right to vote until 1928.  Women could not vote in France until 1944 and Switzerland waited until 1984!  Last year, women in Saudi Arabia voted for the first time.

The struggle of British women to gain equal rights under the law is the subject of the film Suffragette.  Maud Watts (played by Carey Mulligan, my generation’s Audrey Hepburn) is a laundress living in London in 1912.  She spends her day working for little money and for a male boss who, for years, has sexually harassed and abused the women working under him.  Unlike a lot of the women who work at the laundry, Maud has a stable home life.  She is a devoted mother and her husband, Sonny (Ben Whishaw), is supportive.

Or, at least, he seems to be at first.  Things chance once Maud gets involved in the suffragette movement.  It’s not just that her lecherous boss laughs at her for wanting to be treated equally,  That, we expect.  No, what is truly infuriating is to watch how quickly Sonny goes from being a loving husband to a monster, the type who forbids Maud from seeing her own son and then callously puts the boy up for adoption.  Confronted by his wife’s demand to be treated as his equal, Sonny reveals himself to be no better than the casual misogynists that Maud must deal with, on a daily basis, at work.  Raised on a diet of films where men come to their senses and justice (and love) somehow prevails, I kept expecting Sonny to see the error of his ways or for Maud to at least be reunited with her son.  Needless to say, none of that happened.  This is a film that never lets us forget the sacrifice involved in fighting for equal rights.

Instead, having lost everything that previously defined her life, Maud throws herself into the battle for women’s rights.  And, as Suffragette makes clear, that meant a lot more than just winning the right to vote.

It’s an inspiring story and both Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham-Carter (who plays another suffragette) give powerful performances.  At the same time — and this is something that many critics need to understand and acknowledge — you can love a film for what it has to say while, at the same time, acknowledging that it doesn’t totally work as a piece of cinema.  Suffragette is not a perfect film and reviewing it, I found myself torn between praising the film’s message and criticizing director Sarah Gavron’s frequently uninspired cinematic technique.  (From a strictly cinematic point of view, Suffragette will play better on television than on a big movie screen.)

Perhaps for me, the film’s great weakness was casting Meryl Streep in the role of real-life activist Emmeline Pankhurst.  Ms. Pankhurst was the leader of the Suffragette movement and is an inspiring historical figure.  Unfortunately, as soon as Meryl shows up for her four-minute cameo, it becomes impossible to see her as being anyone other than Meryl Streep, a wealthy white woman who — unlike the real-life Ms. Pankhurst — will never be sent to prison for demanding the right to vote.  When Meryl shows up as Ms. Pankhurst, it takes the viewer out of the historical reality of the film.  You’re no longer watching a group of brave women risking their lives and demanding to be treated equally under the law.  Instead, you’re just watching a Meryl Streep cameo.

Throughout the film, Maud stays in a succession of safe houses and decrepit offices.  She always has a picture of Ms. Pankhurst near her and occasionally, she looks to it for strength and guidance.  However, since the picture of Ms. Pankhurst is really just a picture of Meryl Streep, it again serves to take the viewer out of the film.  Perhaps if Meryl Streep had more screen time, she would be able to get us to think of her as being Ms. Pankhurst but since she’s only onscreen for four minutes, she instead just serves to distract from the film’s message.

(Personally, I would have cast either Emma Thompson and Kristin Scott Thomas in the role of Ms. Pankhurst, two great actresses who would could have portrayed her charisma without being quite as distracting as Meryl Streep.)

As I said earlier, Suffragette is not a perfect film but it does teach an important lesson that needs to be learned, especially by those of us who occasionally take our rights for granted.  It’s a film that reminds us that years ago, brave women fought for everything that we have now and it’s a film that encourages us to keep fighting.  It’s not a perfect film but it’s a film that deserves to be seen.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #122: Calvary (dir by John Michael McDonagh)


Calvary_movieposterCalvary was probably the best movie of 2014 that you did not see in a theater.  I missed seeing it during its brief theatrical run in the States.  If I had seen it when it was originally released, my list of the best films of 2014 would have been far different.  Calvary is an amazing film that takes a serious and intelligent look at issues of faith, morality, guilt, and absolution.  It is one of the best films about Catholicism that I’ve ever seen.

The film, which was written and directed by John Michael McDonagh (who previously gave us The Guard), tells the story of an Irish priest, Father James (Brendan Gleeson).  During confession, an unseen parishoner tells James about the horrific sexual abuse that he suffered as a child.  The parishoner explains that the priest who abused him has since died so the parishoner plans to get his revenge on the Catholic Church by killing James.  He tells James to meet him on the beach next Sunday.  He also informs James that his death will mean more because James is a “good man.”

The rest of the film follows James over the course of what could be the last week of his life and we watch as James struggles to fulfill his priestly duties in a world that seems to be moving further and further away from the Church.  While everyone seems to come to him with their problems and their questions, few people seem to share James’s faith and James is often left to wonder whether he’s doing any good at all.

For instance, when he confronts the local butcher (Chris O’Dowd) for beating his wife, the butcher refuses to admit that he did anything wrong.  When he goes to prison and talks to a serial killer (Freddie Joyce) who wants forgiveness, James replies that he can’t be forgiven because he feels no guilt.  The local millionaire (Dylan Moran) offers to donate money to the church but also confesses that he made his money through illegal means.  A local doctor, a hedonistic, cocaine-snorting atheist played by Aiden Gillen, takes perverse pleasure in taunting James for caring about death.  When James attempts to talk to a local girl, the girl’s father accuses him of being a pedophile.  When the local church catches on fire, nobody in the village seems to care.  And finally, one night, James returns home to discover that someone has murdered his beloved dog.

And yet, there are good moments as well.  James prays with a woman (Marie-Josee Croze) who has just lost her husband.  James gets chance to bond with his emotionally unstable daughter, Fiona (Kelly Reilly).  James successfully counsels a troubled young man (Killian Scott) and befriends an American writer (M. Emmett Walsh).

And, as Sunday approaches, James is forced to decide whether to leave his parish or to go to the beach.

Calvary is a great film, one that consistently takes you by surprise and forces you to think.  In many ways, James serves as a stand-in for the entire Catholic Church.  He’s made mistakes, he’s been battered, and he struggles with doubt.  And yet, at the same time, he is still capable of doing so much good.  Calvary is one of the best Catholic films ever made.

And it also features Brendan Gleeson’s best performance to date.  That is truly saying something because Brendan Gleeson is one of our greatest actors.  Gleeson is onscreen for every minute of Calvary and his emotional and, at times, warmly humorous performance is an amazing thing to behold.  When we first see James, he’s a weary and burned-out man.  Over the course of the week (and the film), he goes from being frightened to angry to sad to eventually achieving a state of grace.

It’s a great performance in a great film.

You may have missed Calvary in 2014.

Don’t miss it again.

Shattered Politics #71: Gangs of New York (dir by Martin Scorsese)


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Despite the fact that it was nominated for best picture and marked the start of his fantastically successful collaboration with actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese’s 2002 film Gangs of New York does not have the best reputation.  It always seems to be regarded as one of Scorsese’s lesser films and, often times, both The Aviator and The Departed are described as representing a comeback of sorts from Gangs.

To a certain extent, I have to agree.  Gangs of New York is a lesser Scorsese movie but then again, a lesser Scorsese film is still a hundred times better than the greatest films from Brett Ratner or Michael Bay.

The flaws of Gangs of New York are many.  The film, which tells the epic story of how an Irish gang led by Leonard DiCaprio battled a nativist gang led by Daniel Day-Lewis in Civil War-era New York City, runs for nearly 3 hours and yet it somehow still feels rushed and incomplete.  Cameron Diaz is far too contemporary of an actress to be truly believable as a 19th century pickpocket.  For that matter, Leonardo DiCaprio gives one of the worst performances of his career, coming across as being one-note and shrill.  If you only knew DiCaprio from his work in Gangs of New York, you would have a hard time believing that he was capable of doing the type of work that he did in Inception or The Wolf of Wall Street.

And yet, Gangs of New York is one of those flawed films that I can’t help but enjoy.

First off, on a purely personal level, how can I not love a film about how terribly the Irish were treated in the 19th Century?  Seriously, the Irish were regarded as if they were somehow subhuman.  They were attacked for being Catholic.  They were viewed as being criminals.  An entire freaking political party — the American party — was formed specifically to keep the Irish out.  But you know what?  We Irish kept coming, we kept fighting for our rights, and now everyone wishes they could be one of us!

Secondly, and this should not a shock when you consider that the film was directed by Martin Scorsese, the film looks absolutely gorgeous!  Despite the fact that it’s takes place in a 19th century slum and most of the characters are poor, Gangs of New York is a visual feast.  I loved the ornate sets and all the colorful clothes.  I loved the attention to detail that was put into everything.

(My favorite visual from the film: Daniel Day-Lewis and his entourage walking down a street while fireworks explode directly over Day-Lewis’s shoulder.)

Third, there’s Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance as Bill “The Butcher” Cutting.  One reason why DiCaprio’s performance is so noticeably bad is because he’s acting opposite Day-Lewis.  Sporting a handle-bar mustache and speaking in an almost satirically exaggerated New York accent, Day-Lewis turns Bill into one cinema’s greatest villains.

Add to that, the great Italian actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice show up for a few minutes, playing Simon Legree in a theatrical production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin!  Scorsese should make more films with Radice.

But, perhaps the main reason why I enjoy Gangs of New York is because, as I’ve mentioned so many times in the past, I really am a big history nerd.  And Gangs of New York deals with a period in American history that really doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves.  While we all know that the Civil War started when the South seceded from the union, what is often forgotten is that the North was not united in their support of Abraham Lincoln and the Union.  In fact, the Mayor of New York, Fernando Wood, was such a strong supporter of the Confederacy that he, at one point, suggested that New York City should secede from the union as well.  And when Lincoln instituted the draft, NYC — and several other cities in the north — exploded into riots.

Of course, Gangs of New York is not a 100% historically accurate.  For one thing, it compresses the time frame of the draft riots and — as films often do — it downplays the culture of Northern racism and instead portrays racists like Bill Cutting as being the exception to the rule.  But, even with that in mind, Gangs of New York still serves as a good starting point for those who want to learn more about American history than what they’ve been told in school.

My favorite parts of Gangs of New York dealt not with how the gangs fought each other but instead how the gangs were used as political foot soldiers.  One of the major supporting characters in Gangs of New York is William “Boss” Tweed (Jim Broadbent), a real-life politician who was at the center of one of America’s first major political scandals.  When we first meet Tweed, he is using Bill Cutting’s gang to fix elections.  However, as the film progresses, Tweed comes to realize that the political future of New York rests with the Irish.  So, Tweed starts using the Irish gang to fix elections.  For those of us who are into political history, the Boss Tweed scenes are a lot of fun.

Gangs of New York has its flaws.  It’s the type of project that, if it were made today, it would probably be a series on HBO and it would win all sorts of awards.  (Actually, it did kinda.  It was called Boardwalk Empire.)  It’s not perfect, but I like it.