It’s almost hard to believe the first decade of this new millennium is almost over, but that just means we get to start debating what were the best films of this young century and why we think so. Over the next six months we will have a series of essays of my reflection and discussion on what made these films great to me and why I would love for you readers to seek them out. So sit back, take a gander, and let me know what you think. Agree, disagree, call me an idiot, but let me know in the comments why you loved it, hated it, or thought these films were just ok. So without further ado lets take a look at the decade’s best…
David Fincher’s – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
David Fincher’s 2008 film stands up with any of his best films by telling a wonderful story, getting fantastic work out of his actors, and utilizing ground breaking special effects that are so good you don’t even know you are watching them much of the time.
The story of Benjamin Button is that of a child born of unusual circumstances. He was born old and as he ages his body gets younger. Born practically deaf, blind, and with arthritic bones as he ages all of these things get better becoming more youthful and spry as he ages. Raised by an adoptive mother, Queenie, he lives in the retirement home she manages and is surrounded by older people that look similar to himself at his young age. The story here is Benjamin’s life and the experiences he has, there is no great struggle, no horrible emotional issues over his condition, no real plot whatsoever. We just are along for the ride and that structure is really hared to grab on to as we experience this film for the first time. Films aren’t made in this fashion all that often, especially major studio fare like this, and the film only grows in richness on multiple viewings.
The one thing that pops out at you first in foremost in the film is the absolutely breathtaking cinematography and special effects. Fincher frames and designs every shot with such meticulous precision you could pull almost any shot from the film and use it as a background on your desktop. The lighting, the framing, and the camera moves are endlessly beautiful and what makes it even more impressive is that a majority of the shots had to have effects work added later. Thankfully the effects work in the film is second to none and it’s almost astonishing that it wasn’t ILM or WETA doing the work. Digital Domain has long been a successful effects studio but they took it to another level creating a photo realistic representation of Brad Pitt and aging him up all while replacing the actors head in the original shot. The make-up team also needs to be applauded for their fantastic work with aging up the actors on set and to the company that made them look younger in countless scenes and it all looks unnoticeable.
The narrative is also worth the price of admission and it isn’t just a technical wizardry show. Eric Roth applied the finishing touches to this script and brought it all together in the end. Every actor is great and has an interesting story to share through their on screen proxy. Captain Mike is brought to life with wonderful glee and heart by Jared Harris. Capturing the crude and loveable nature of a drunken sailor he shows Benjamin the ropes in the ways of women and drinking. Taraji P. Henson plays Queenie and nails the loud and opinionated New Orleans native. Full of love for her family and religion Henson nails the part without going way over the top that can come with a role that easily could have fell into stereotype. Jason Flemyng wins us over as Benjamin’s abandoning father and Fincher keeps the relationship from sinking into melodrama and instead is a respectful understanding. Cate Blanchett was robbed of an Oscar nomination if you think those things matter as her turn as Daisy, Benjamin’s long longed for love. She plays the character from her teens to her death bed and evolves every time we see her, becoming more wise and less of a youth showing some incredible range as an actress. Finally, Brad Pitt plays button from four years old till he is a memory sixty year old man in the body of a teenager and he does a marvelous job. Bringing a child’s curiosity to Benjamin as a boy and playing sly when people assume his age is far older then it really is in his youth, Pitt expresses this all with subtle ease. You can also see his longing just underneath his eyes for Daisy and he expresses Benjamin’s love with out waving his hands and making a scene.
Full of technical mastery, wonderful characters, and wonderful turns by all actors involved there is a whole lot to love in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Full of little quirks and stories, an epic romance that spans decades, and an examination of life unlike any we have really seen before, the picture is a very unique one. Fincher crafts another masterpiece to add to his resume and his third amazing partnership with Brad Pitt. A film that will only grow with age, it think we will find it to become one of the more loved and remembered films of the year and decade as time moves on. A timeless tale, the film came along and was produced at just the right time so that the picture can maintain a timeless look pulling off a character and performance from Pitt that would never have been possible until its release. So if you brushed this one off in 08 do yourself a favor and revisit this wonderful tale as I think you will find that it will only get better as you experience it again and again.