'Hollywoodland' the Year's Best, So Far

It's safe to say as we come to the end of the summer movie season that "Hollywoodland," starring Oscar-winners Adrien Brody and Ben Affleck, is the best high-profile movie of the year.

Granted, the real Hollywoodland reserves its critical high-hopes for December, right before the Academy Awards deadline, but for now, if I had to put my money on a winner up to this point, it would be "Hollywoodland" for best picture, Affleck for best supporting actor and Diane Lane for best supporting actress.

Best director honors would go to first-time helmer Allen Coulter, who has made a name for himself at HBO directing critically acclaimed series like "Sex and the City," "Rome" and "The Sopranos."

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"Hollywoodland" fictionalizes the mysterious death of "Adventures of Superman" actor George Reeves, which was ruled a suicide.

Brody plays a flawed character in private eye Louis Simo, a divorced father who is hired by Reeves' mother to look into the death of her son.

The cops had already closed the case, and Simo incorporates the help of an L.A. Times (shades of "Chinatown's" Jake Gittes) reporter to drum up headlines and keep the story alive — to try to get the cops to reopen their case, and to keep his $50 per diem flowing.

Danger lurks around every corner.

Simo gets it from the cops, from rival private detectives and from a movie mogul who has something to hide, to say nothing of his estranged wife and troubled young son.

Coulter really directs two movies in one, as he seamlessly goes from a theorized version of Reeves' life to Simo's.

Reeves, played by an all-grown-up Ben Affleck, is as flawed as Simo.

An actor who yearns for Clark Gable's career but is stuck in the blue tights and red cape of his reluctant (off-screen) TV persona, is not your typical Boulevard of Broken Dreams story, because Reeves does achieve stardom.

Just not the way he wanted it.

In "Hollywoodland," Reeves wants to be taken seriously as an actor. Instead, he's looked on as a campy small-screen star, something in the 1950s that was not as well received as it is today.

In one scene, when Reeves attends a screening of "From Here to Eternity," in which he has a small role, audience members heckle the screen with "Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound" and "Faster than a speeding bullet," prompting the film's producer to make scissor motions with his fingers to indicate cutting down Reeves' part.

Later, when Reeves yells that he wanted to be more than Superman in his career, it's impossible not to imagine Affleck yelling the same thing at the height of his "Bennifer" era, when he was overexposed during his relationship with Jennifer Lopez.

According to the film, it was an open secret that Reeves was the kept man of MGM honcho Eddie Mannix's (Bob Hoskins) depressed wife Toni, played with shattering nuance by Lane.

In fact, every character in this film, from Simo's wife and son to Reeves's fiancee (Robin Tunney) to even L.A. cops who were no more than peripheral characters, all conveyed such back-story that it seemed like they all had something interesting to tell us, but just didn't have the screen time to do it, lending a sense of mystery to nearly every scene.

"That was in the script," said both Brody and Coulter after a screening hosted by the British Acadaemy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). The duo credits screenwriter Paul Bernbaum with writing such vivid characters, but it's Brody who ushers this story through to the end.

Keeping it reel?

There are no special effects, no explosions and no stunts to speak of here. Just fine directing, fine writing, fine acting, fine cinematography and a fine score.

Just what the movie doctor ordered after this lame summer full of remakes and sequels, from pirates with great makeup (but still not as good as the original), to the lackluster big-screen "Superman" and "Miami Vice," a disappointing film version of "The Da Vinci Code" and a plethora of animated (but good) kids' flicks.

Go see "Hollywoodland." Leave the kids home.

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