Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #5

5. Amadeus (1984)

This one is yet another surprise to make the list (and probably more surprising as to its high placement), but this film was one of the first movies I remember seeing that just wowed me. I saw it first on video after it had won the praise of all the critics and its 8 Academy Awards (including Best Picture, Director, Actor and Adapted Screenplay). I thought before seeing it, like most kids would have, that it was just a boring drama that old people liked. What I found when I watched it (with my parents) was a majestic, sumptuous and gorgeous masterpiece that was filled with some of the most amazing music I have ever heard and some of the most memorable images I have ever seen. And as I have grown older, my appreciation for this film has grown with me. First of all, it is based on a fascinating play by Peter Schaffer (which he cleverly reworked for the screen). And second of all, it has a fantastic ensemble cast and they are an ENSEMBLE. There are no major stars in the cast that the great director Milos Forman assembled. Most of the roles are played by character actors pulled directly from the New York stage.

Peter Schaffer, who was the toast of the West End and Broadway after his groundbreaking and controversial play Equus, conceived of a drama about the antipathy that existed between two classical composers, who were contemporaries: one enormously famous and the other, not so much. Schaffer took dramatic license in depicting the relationship between his two main characters, so much so that he was criticized by some music purists. Nevertheless, the play opened in London and was a great success, prompting a Broadway transfer. The Broadway production (which featured Sir Ian McKellen, Tim Curry and Jane Seymour) was a critical and audience hit running for over 3 years and winning 7 Tony Awards (including Best Play and Best Actor for Ian McKellen). Producer Saul Zaentz, who had won an Oscar producing the film version of another play (#55: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), purchased the rights to Schaffer's play and felt that only Milos Forman (director of his previous Oscar-winner) could do justice to the work. Forman and Schaffer worked very hard at adapting the play for the screen (reworking several scenes) and spent several months on casting in New York.

The movie (like the play) focuses on composer Antonio Salieri's jealousy and resentment of his contemporary, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart is everything Salieri is not. Salieri is refined and gentlemanly with a modest talent, while Mozart is vulgar, rude and a pure genius when it comes to music. Unlike the play, the film ups the ante in the relationship between Salieri and Mozart. It stresses a stronger respect and friendship between the two, yet contains a severe "dose" of backbiting and mystery. While the filming was to occur mostly in Prague and Vienna, Forman insisted to Schaffer that they cast mostly Americans in the roles (so audiences wouldn't have trouble with accents!). In the roles played onstage by McKellen, Curry and Seymour, they cast unknowns F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce and (as a last minute replacement for the injured Meg Tilly) Elizabeth Berridge, respectively. Each of these actors play their roles prefectly, especially Abraham (in an Oscar-winning performance). In addition to the leads, as mentioned before, the movie features a phenomenal ensemble of New York stage actors including Roy Dotrice (in an amazing performance as Mozart's father), Jeffrey Jones, Christine Ebersole, Cynthia Nixon (years before Sex and the City) and, one of the "lone Britons" in the film, Simon Callow (who had played Mozart in the London stage production of Schaffer's play). Mozart's music is beautifully adapted to serve as underscoring for the movie and gives an emotional power to the fabulous images (the gorgeous sets and costumes) within the film. It is a thrilling piece of cinema that was a well-deserved winner of several awards worldwide.

Next Post: #4

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