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'Bugsy': Great To Be Nominated

Annette Bening, Warren Beatty in Bugsy
Annette Bening and Warren Beatty share make-up tips with one another in Bugsy.

Annette Bening, Warren Beatty in BugsyBarry Levinson's 1991 best picture nominee Bugsy is the next feature in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' “Great To Be Nominated” series. The glitzy Bugsy Siegel biopic will screen on Monday, August 13, at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

Cinematographer Allen Daviau and writer James Toback, both of whom were nominated for Oscars, along with actor Don Calfa (Louie Dragna) and casting director Ellen Chenoweth will take part in an onstage discussion following the screening.

Bugsy focuses on the loves and dreams of gangster Bugsy Siegel, who spent much of his time during the 1940s beating people up, committing cold-blooded murders, and cavorting with Hollywood actress wannabe Virginia Hill. He's also credited with the urban development of a desert patch that would eventually turn into the city of Las Vegas.

If only Bugsy the movie had been as mesmerizingly tacky and tasteless as The Strip. In his projects – e.g., Bonnie and Clyde, Reds – Beatty has always had a penchant for romanticizing the men he portrays. Whether or not they have sexual dysfunctions or other kinds of hangups, the producer-actor (and sometimes director) wants us to love his deeply flawed characters.

That approach worked for the most part in Reds because in that romantic-political drama history was dealt with seriousness, but it was less effective in Bonnie and Clyde (as a film, not as a cultural phenomenon) and it's a complete failure in Bugsy. For one, Beatty's Bugsy is much too calculatedly charming for both his own and the film's good, while neither the actor nor Toback's screenplay succeed in conveying the complexities of the charmingly evil, dreamily jaded gangster. Compounding matters, Beatty, then in his early 50s, looks much too old for the part. (Bugsy was murdered at the age of 41.)

Worse yet, this Disneyland-esque biopic consists of a series of poorly directed sequences that don't quite jell. Most of the cast flounders, save for Annette Bening, who is quite effective as the cunning Virginia Hill despite her lack of on-screen chemistry with Beatty, and for Elliott Gould's excellent cameo as a dim-witted mobster.

Allen Daviau's dreamlike cinematography is gorgeous, and so are the highly stylized sets and costumes – but they all give the impression that Bugsy is set on some other planet.

Bugsy received a total of 10 Academy Award nominations, winning Oscars for Art Direction (Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh) and Costume Design (Albert Wolsky). The other nominations were for Best Picture (Mark Johnson, Barry Levinson and Warren Beatty, producers), Actor in a Leading Role (Beatty as Bugsy Siegel), Actor in a Supporting Role (Harvey Keitel as Mickey Cohen), Actor in a Supporting Role (Ben Kingsley as Meyer Lansky), Cinematography (Allen Daviau), Directing (Levinson), Music - Original Score (Ennio Morricone) and Writing - Screenplay written directly for the screen (James

Two Oscar-nominated shorts – Stephen Kessler's Birch Street Gym and Christopher Hinton's Blackfly – will be screened prior to the feature.

Tickets are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. Tickets may be purchased by mail, in person at the Academy during regular business hours or, depending on availability, on the night of the screening when the doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets also may be purchased online at www.oscars.org/events. There are no minimum order requirements and no transaction or processing fees. Tickets may be purchased online until noon PST on the day of the event.

Curtain time for all features is 7:30 p.m., and pre-show elements will begin at 7 p.m. The Academy is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 247-3600.

Photo: Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library / © A.M.P.A.S.

'Bugsy': Great To Be Nominated © 2004–2018 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s).
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1 Comment to 'Bugsy': Great To Be Nominated

  1. Carrie

    Wow I couldn't disagree more. I thought Benning and Beatty had a ton of on screen chemistry! I thought he looked fine for the role because even though he was in his early fifties (bugsy died at 41) bugsy was a hardened criminal who aged faster than a pampered hollywood actor… the looks were probably about right. I also think that their chemistry was so great on the movie it led to their eventual marraige! (they are still together today)