2020: The year that Brad Pitt has his best chance ever of winning an Academy Award.
“Oh, man. I’m gonna abstain,” Pitt remarked in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.
Abstain from campaigning, that is … and with the career he’s had, it should have zero effect on the outcome come February.
“I find chasing it actually a disservice to the purity of your telling a story, and a shackling thing to focus on,” Pitt said.
After working with legendary filmmakers Quentin Tarantino and James Gray over the last year, along with being one of David Fincher’s main men, the mature quote makes sense from him — he’s likely the last true movie star in the business today.
Sure, he now has an Oscar in hand, but Leonardo DiCaprio has been inconsistent throughout the decade. You could argue for Mission Impossible lead man Tom Cruise, though his glory days were back in the late ‘90s/early 2000s. The Rock is certainly turning into the main attraction, but he hasn’t done nearly as much for cinema as Pitt has over the last few decades.
Pitt is the current favorite to win Best Supporting Actor for his second-best performance of the year in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, a role he certainly had much input on. In an interview with Pure Cinema Podcast, Tarantino claimed Pitt brought a DVD of the 1971 film Billy Jack over to his house because he thought his character (the 100 percent chilled-out, handsome Cliff Booth) could borrow some traits from the Tom Laughlin film.
Only Tarantino already had the film. Not the DVD, the actual 35mm print — and he was planning on showing it to Pitt that very night.
It’s just a good example of Pitt being on the same wavelength as one of the greats. They worked together on 2009’s Inglourious Basterds, and it certainly seemed they still had unfinished business as collaborators. Tarantino used the 55-year old celebrity to near perfection in a role representing the aging man in the movie industry, showcasing the calm coolness and good looks Pitt has been accustomed to accept as his stereotype over the years.
But it is his performance in Gray’s Ad Astra that shines above most things I have seen in 2019. Racking up a 40 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, Ad Astra is just another example of not only the recent issue of mismarketing films (which you can read more about in our movie trailers piece), but also the quickness modern audiences have to judge. Yet, it’s a testament to Pitt’s willingness to ignore outside perception and do something different.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (featuring an unironically similar lead role) received poor initial reception because it was more of thinkpiece than an action flick. A woman even sued the film simply because it did not flow the way she wanted it to.
Ad Astra is similar to Drive, and even Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049. All feature seamlessly silent main characters, which may be the core issue that nobody really seems to focus on. Pitt pulls off the role Ryan Gosling has been accustomed for.
When people think of Pitt, they go to Fight Club and World War Z. 12 Monkeys is often referred to as one of his most memorable performances. But all of those performances feature Pitt acting like Pitt. It’s the subtlety he brings to Roy McBride that keeps the slow-burn hypnotizing (a good comparison would be Casey Affleck’s Manchester By the Sea performance beating out Denzel Washington’s Fences at the 2017 Oscars).
What most people don’t know about Pitt is his work as a producer, though. He has been able to get lesser known films out to the forefront in recent years simply because of his name, which is a huge blessing. In an interview he did with Collider, he was essentially asked about his entire career, acting and producing alike, which really makes you realize the groundwork he has laid for today’s ever-growing extinct climate film is headed toward.
Best Picture-winning films 12 Years A Slave and Moonlight feature Pitt’s name in the credits. His tiny role at the very end of Slave may feel a bit Hollywood-ized but, it’s safe to say, without his name on the feature less people would have made the trip to see the masterpiece.
In fact, Pitt even brought the idea to Gray for his 2017 film The Lost City of Z and received a producer credit. He also worked on Selma, Okja, If Beale Street Could Talk, and The Last Black Man in San Francisco, and will work with Barry Jenkins again on his new TV series The Underground Railroad.
The work he has done with Andrew Dominik is undoubtedly his most unrecognized. Pitt and Affleck made a film back in 2007 with Dominik called The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (a title that might be too long for its own good). Although Affleck basically takes over the film with a stunning portrayal of a man slowly growing less and less fond of one of his idols, Pitt takings a surprising turn as James, churning out the man as less intelligent than the world would have ever known.
He later worked with Dominik in 2012’s Killing Them Softly, an absolute scorcher of a film that proves how easy it is to pull off a crime in today’s real world.
It would also be a crime to not recognize his work in Terrence Malick’s 2011 masterpiece The Tree of Life. The film is less about the performances and more about the mood (hence why Malick is known as the master that he is) but the fact that Pitt and other major actors were a part of this piece is very revealing and respecting. It’s credits like these, where he takes less money for a film that will not reach a large audience, that truly make his career shine as more than the pretty face-movie star most know him as.
So yes, Pitt likely will be getting his chance to shine in 2020 at the Oscars. But let’s think about it as a career achievement award (kind of like DiCaprio’s back in 2016). His producing efforts for Plan B and inclination to work with the best will stand the test of time. Hollywood is not the top performance of his career, but it’s the role that can finally put him over the top.