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Gus Van Sant, the American director known best known for the blockbuster hit Good Will Hunting, starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.
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That same year, Van Sant explored the deadly high school shootings that took place at Columbine High School in 1999 with Elephant. A thought-provoking re-imagining of the tragedy, the film follows a group of teenagers through a seemingly ordinary day until that normalcy is shattered by violence. Van Sant "has created a haunting elegy on the unpredictability of life," wrote Ruthe Stein for the San Francisco Chronicle.
In Last Days (2005),
Van Sant uses the days before the suicide of alternative rocker Kurt Cobain as the film’s inspiration. As little is known about Cobain’s last days, the movie offers a fictional look at a famous rocker who is overwhelmed and isolated by his success.
More recently, Van Sant directed a segment for the film Paris Je T'aime (2007), which also featured the work of such directors as Alexander Payne, Wes Craven, and the Coen brothers. Returning to his hometown of Portland, Oregon, Van Sant directed the small independent film Paranoid Park (2008) about a teenager boy whose actions lead to an accidental death. This larger drama is set against the character's personal struggles at school and at home.
Openly gay, Van Sant found Milk (2008) to be a special challenge for him. "I think the responsibility of making this movie—of representing an entire generation, an entire new class of gay men that existed in the '70s—was scary," he told Interview magazine. The story of Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay people to be elected to public office, languished for years in Hollywood before Van Sant made his film. Committed to accurately telling the story, he sought to follow a more realistic style than some of his previous works.
Released in November 2008, Milk opened to rave reviews. Sean Penn gave a compelling performance as the title character, and Josh Brolin also received a warm reception for his depiction of Milk's assassin, Dan White. The film could not have been more timely; it hit theaters just weeks after Californian voters passed Proposition 8, which, in effect, put an end to legalized gay marriage.
In January 2009, Milk received eight Academy Award nominations, including Van Sant's second nomination for best director, and won two: For best original screenplay and best actor (Sean Penn). With Milk serving as yet another testmament to his talent, Van Sant has proved time and time again that he is one of the top directors working today.
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