We mentioned Ang Lee yesterday, which marked the release of one of the best films he ever made. Today has another one: Brokeback Mountain, a watershed in the presentation of gays onscreen, but more impressively a flawless adaptation of an 11-page short story that might not be filmable in the hands of anyone else. Lee makes a habit out of walking on water like that. Unfortunately, a homophobic Academy denied the film the Best Picture Oscar in favor of Crash… which most people agree is one of the worst films to win that honor. Brokeback endures where Crash didn’t, and we released today in 2005.
On an entirely different note, Brian De Palma’s batshit insane gangster opus Scarface opened today in 1983, finally answering the question of just how over-the-top Al Pacino can go. The character has become an inadvertent folk hero, which says as much about our fundamental lack of morals as anything. Even so, if you need to watch a movie leave the rails in the most spectacularly entertaining fashion available… we’ve got your horse.
That same day, John Carpenter’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel Christine made us all very afraid of Plymouth Furies. It diverges in key points from the book, and some of the particulars don’t make sense. But as a mood piece, it certainly hits all the right notes, and King’s patented revenge-of-the-nerd formula finds new life here. (Interesting side note: Christine’s two male stars, John Stockwell and Keith Gordon, have both gone on to successful careers as directors.)
Steven Spielberg has had his share of flops, but none deserved better treatment than Empire of the Sun, based on J.G. Ballard’s autobiographical tale of growing up English in Japanese-occupied China. It helped pave the way for the likes of Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, and it demonstrated the kind of maturity that critics always claimed the director lacked. Today it ranks among his very best. (It also helped launch the career of some kid named Bale.) It opened today in 1987.
Finally, the big-budget version of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe arrive in theaters today in 2005, the same day as Brokeback. Though the later films in the franchise stumbled over bad timing and increasing disinterest in the fantasy genre, this stands as a solid adaptation of the C.S. Lewis classic, bolstered by strong performances from James McAvoy — threading a needle as Mr. Tumnus — and Tilda Swinton’s chillingly underplayed White Witch.