Dozens of films are vying for one of the 10 Best Picture nominations at this year’s Oscars, but a revival screening of Amadeus is a nice reminder of the sort of movie that’s missing from the current Academy Awards horse race. The 1984 Oscar winner, directed by Milos Forman and adapted by Peter Shaffer from his Tony Award–winning play, is a lavish, smart, literate period drama that addresses issues of ambition, art and envy on a grand canvas. For some people, such a description calls to mind the most bloated of middlebrow, award-hungry bores, but Amadeus is that rare “prestige” picture that’s legitimately prestigious. In the early 19th century, aging, bitter and moderately talented composer Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) is looking back on the great misery of his life — the rapid ascension of the young genius Mozart (Tom Hulce) in Vienna 40 years before. Via flashbacks, Salieri details both the agony of his realization that this immature, arrogant brat was the great composer he himself could never be, and also his strategy to undermine the prodigy. Scholars will warn you about the film’s factual inaccuracies, but Amadeus is less about the specifics of history than it is about the messiness of base human desires. Shot through with a cheeky sense of humor that rarely creeps into cutesiness, the film uses its refined late–18th century European setting as a crucible for the same battles over ego and creativity that haunt every modern-day Hollywood studio. (What aspiring screenwriter doesn’t cringe during the movie’s famous “too many notes!” scene?) This year’s high-profile potential nominees have many attributes, but few are as majestic, thought-provoking and darkly comic as Amadeus, which the New Beverly will present in its 2002 director’s cut.

Wed., Jan. 20, 8 p.m.; Thu., Jan. 21, 8 p.m., 2010

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