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My knowledge of mid-19th-century Manhattan is something approaching zero. I had absolutely no idea about the gang wars of the 1840s (likewise Five Points), nor Blackwell's Island, nor the nefarious activity that occurred during the 1860s (some of it also at Five Points), and in this regard, "Gangs of New York" does a good job at teaching this important, yet little known, part of American History. I can't sit here and claim it's faithful to the truth, when I don't even know what the truth is, but it seems like it's at least trying to be. Yes, Martin Scorsese is going to throw in some drama, but that doesn't mean the history lesson is worthless; just embellished. Let me warn you, before writing any spoilers, that this is a very long and difficult film to follow - you'll be doing yourself a favor to write down names, positions, actors, or have the Wikipedia window open if you're watching it on your computer - otherwise, you might easily get confused. I did all this and *still* got confused, so be mindful. If you get lost (and don't be ashamed if you do), there's a very thorough synopsis on IMDB.com. *** SPOILER ALERT *** It's surprising that Liam Neeson ("Priest" Vallon, Amsterdam Vallon's (Leonardo DiCaprio's) father) is killed off so early in the film, but that does set the stage for the rest of the movie. Plus with other major stars such as William Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis), and Jenny Everdeane (Cameron Diaz), this might have saved some on what must have been substantial salary costs (*) Speaking of history, I find it both fascinating and timely that Abraham Lincoln's Conscription Act of 1863 - the first-ever mandatory draft for American men - could be circumvented either by paying $300, or by finding a suitable substitute (this is both in the film, but also occurred in real-life). Needless to say, this caused a great deal of civil unrest, as accusations were made that wealthier people could avoid the draft, whereas poorer people were stuck with it - the more things change, the more they stay the same. It's amazing to me how Amsterdam had the wits about him to sell the recently killed corpse to medical science (it's even more amazing to me how that ended up in the papers, considering the transaction was made in complete secrecy). Notice the tribute paid to Nosferatu in the newspaper article - the drawing of the man second-from-the-right - even the man on the far-right has similar ears: My goodness - I just realized I'm only forty minutes into this film, and I have over two hours remaining. Ha! I knew when they were talking about Jenny (Cameron Diaz) being a "turtledove," that it was Martin Scorsese making a cameo as a wealthy homeowner. (*) Interesting - when I was confirming that about Scorsese, I also read that both DiCaprio and Scorsese both took salary reductions to preserve the budget. Huh! And shortly afterwards, Horace Greeley (Michael Byrne) makes a formidable appearance. Here's an interesting piece of information about the 1872 Presidential Election (it's too important to be called "trivia."). Likewise, P.T. Barnum (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) makes a significant appearance in the movie. Wikipedia describes "Gangs of New York" as an "epic period drama," and that it certainly is. Who would know that the New York City Draft Riots of 1863 were the largest civil and racial insurrection in American history, aside from the Civil War - I certainly didn't, and wouldn't have if I hadn't watched this film. For this reason alone, the film is worth watching - I'm not even sure I knew this film even existed (it was released four months after Karen died, and I only have a vague recollection of the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion - I mean, I have a memory of noticing the headlines when it happened, but I didn't care, and know almost nothing about it (contrast to the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, which was one of the few incidents during my lifetime that I remember where I was when I heard the news (some others being the O.J. Simpson Trial, the World Trade Center attacks, the Apollo 11 moon landing, and Martin Luther King's assassination). "Gangs of New York" may not be to everyone's taste, but there's no denying that it's an important, historical film, and one which I will remember for a long time. It's so long (2'45") that you *must* be dragged into its atmosphere if you're going to watch it, and you're unlikely to forget it for that reason alone. To show how out of touch I was with life during that time period, I've never even heard of "Chicago," which won the Best Picture Academy Award that year.
I'm in the process of watching "Spotlight" - the Academy Award winner for Best Picture of 2015 - on Amazon.com, and am typing this as I go. A couple interesting things right off the bat: * "Spotlight" is the first picture since 1952 ("The Greatest Show On Earth") to win Best Picture, and only one other award (in this case, Best Original Screenplay). * There's a fascinating (some might say "annoying") feature on Amazon called "X-Ray," which is sort of a real-time CliffsNotes, listing who is in what scene, and occasional blurbs of trivia, as the film advances (the viewer can disable X-Ray, but I'm taking something of a studious approach to this film (surprise, surprise!), so I'm using it, despite it being a clear-and-present distraction). And yes, it *is* available on Amazon right now, but it will set you back $5.99 to watch. Okay, let me get this over with: Good picture, for sure, but not Best Picture material. I haven't seen the others in 2015, so I have nothing to compare it to, but this just isn't a Best Picture film. I can easily see how it didn't win anything else, other than Best Original Screenplay. However, I'm glad I saw it, as I was simply unaware of the magnitude of the Boston Priests cover-up. Never mind the other cities; I'm talking only about Boston, and (assuming the numbers they throw out at film's-end are true) the problem was of such enormous magnitude that I'm a better person for having seen the film - there's no way I could ever forget, now that I've seen it fully acted out. In fact, I'd say that it's miraculous that the Catholic Church survived to the extent that it did, although there's nobody to "destroy" it except its own parishioners, and they don't want that to happen, so I guess it's not all that miraculous. And quite frankly, I'm not sure the Catholic Church *is* going to survive this. The guy protesting every day on Massachusetts Avenue - I really feel sorry for him. And assuming the figures - and list of cities - at the end of the film are correct (and I'm sure they are), well, let's just say that if this was a publicly traded company, it would be shut down and disbanded. I'd love to know what others thought of the film - I can't think of a single performance that I would consider to be "outstanding" (although many were very good), and I don't understand how enough Academy members voted for this for it to win. Anybody?
I watched "The Departed" today, and while I loved the film, I'm a little surprised it won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Picture. It was an excellent, thrilling, double-twisting, head-scratching, mess-with-your-mind, crime thriller involving mirror-image good-and-evil juxtapositions that make you thankful you're watching it on video, since you're camped on the rewind button for half the movie. A great picture with mega, mega-stars? Yes! Best Picture of the year? Boy this must have been a very lean year, not that the Academy Awards are any arbiter of truth; still, I just don't see this as even being in the running, although the Academy has shocked me in the past with its mediocre winners. Don't get me wrong: It's an outstanding crime thriller which I really enjoyed; I'm just surprised so many critics thought so highly of it. How many films have you seen lately where Matt Damon is arguably the third-biggest draw, and where Alec Baldwin is perhaps the sixth-biggest? How much did they spend on salaries? I am very much in the minority in that I find Quentin Tarantino terribly overrated, and someone who relies far too much on excessive violence; this film clearly had a Tarantino-like influence over the far-superior Scorsese. Did he really need to make this such a bloodbath? Well, it added something, I suppose, and also like most audience members, I'm starting to become numb to gratuitous splatter films, so as long as movies aren't torture porn (and this didn't go that far) they've become socially accepted, and not even all that shocking which I think is a real shame.