Wednesday, March 26, 2008
I've been thinking a lot about Michael Mann's The Insider lately. Part of it has to do with this excellent new blog I have discovered called Radiator Heaven, which is run by a really intelligent writer that everyone should check out. Another reason it keeps crossing my mind is that I have been thinking a lot about the state of modern American films and why my tastes seem to be falling further and further away from what other people value.
Truth be told, I don't think there are too many American films from the past decade that can hold a candle to The Insider. Whereas any number of directors (and I won't name any names here but you know who they are) might set out to make an 'important' film, I feel Mann actually achieved that with this film. I also don't think there has been a better acted film in the past ten years with Russell Crowe's performance as Jeffrey Wigand being among the best I have ever seen.
This all got me to thinking about the film's performance at the 1999 Academy Awards when it was shut out after being nominated for seven awards. I couldn't remember what was big that year so I looked it up and discovered with distaste that it was none other than American Beauty, a popular film I don't like that kind of sums up the division I feel with a lot of other modern film fans.
I didn't think American Beauty was a terrible film but I didn't think it was a good one either and even mentioning it in the same breath with something like The Insider baffles me. Nearly ten years later I don't understand why the public or critics responded to Mendes' film so strongly.
The best actor award that year went to Kevin Spacey, an actor I typically like but not in American Beauty and frankly comparing Spacey's rather limp turn to Crowe's monumental performance is unbelievably jarring to me. I think it was to a lot of folks as well as it was just a year later that Crowe did indeed win the award he should have taken home in 99 for Gladiator, a great film and performance but to my eyes not at the level of The Insider.
Michael Mann lost the directing prize to Sam Mendes, again for American Beauty and he also lost the best adapted screenplay award to John Irving for The Cider House Rules (you couldn't make this stuff up if you tried, it's like the academy voters all smoked cracked before submitting their ballots). Also on the losing end that night was the film's cinematographer Dante Spinotti and the editing and sound teams.
Pacino, who gives one of the best performances of his life here, wasn't even granted a nomination nor was Lisa Gerrard, whose breathtaking score is one of the most effective I have ever heard.
Add on insult to injury, the film's current DVD is one of the most botched I have ever seen with an non-existent audio commentary by Crowe and Pacino listed on the back and only a short featurette granted as an extra. In a world where we have special editions of Police Academy and Mallrats, can't we get a decent dvd release of The Insider?
There have been lots of other wince inducing years at the Oscars (don't even get me started on 1952, 1968, or pretty much the entire decade of the eighties) but the 1999 awards really bug me. Which all goes towards saying if you have never seen The Insider, or if it has been awhile, give it a look. I hope that a decent DVD hits stores eventually, as it is the current one can be found typically for under ten dollars at stores and online.