Posted on 12.28.04: There’s a scene in Titanic when Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack Dawson — an independent-minded, self-starting, vaguely bumpkinish guy who lives by his own rules — sits down with a bunch of white-tie swells in the first-class dining room. Jack’s a little intimidated at first, but he stands his ground by being himself and explaining a personal philosophy that’s hard to disagree with, which is to always “make it count.”

It’s not a great scene, but a moderately satisfying one. It instills respect for Jack, and at the same time lends a certain warmth by saying that even the blue-bloods can relax and laugh at themselves and show respect for a guy who can look them in the eye.

There’s a scene in The Aviator when DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes — vaguely bumpkinish, independent-minded, self-starting, living by his own rules — sits down with a bunch of Connecticut swells, or more preicsely the family of his girlfriend, actress Katharine Hepburn.

Howard’s a little intimidated at first, but the Hepburns are absurdly rude and snooty to him, which leads to his getting testy and then a bit rude himself.

“We don’t care about money here, Mr. Hughes,” says Mrs. Hepburn.

“That’s because you have it,” Howard answers.

“Would you repeat that?”

“You don’t care about money because you have it,” he says again. “And you’ve always had it. My father was dirt poor when I was born…”

“Back in torrid Houston, this would be?” asks Mrs. Hepburn.

“Oh, shut up,” snaps Howard.

“Howard!” Kate exclaims.

“I care about money, Mrs. Hepburn, because I know what it takes out of a man to make it,” Howard continues. “Now if you’ll excuse me I have some aviation nonsense to take care of.”

And then he gets up and bolts out of the room like a six year-old. Kate joins him later on for a croquet game on the back lawn. “I think father rather likes you,” she tells him. “But really, though…you can’t retire from the field of battle like that or they’ll never respect you.”

Exactly. Nobody likes a quitter. I suppose this scene (written by John Logan) was meant to act as a counter-weight to the scene at the end when Hughes boldly jousts with Senator Owen Brewster (Alan Alda) in front of a battery of cameras and microphones. But I don’t get why a guy with the balls to slap down an aggressive politician can’t handle himself better with the Hepburns. It doesn’t add up.

A lot of serious-minded critics are saying The Aviator is a near-great film that should win director Martin Scorsese his long-overdue Oscar. They’re dreaming. The dinner-with-the-Hepburns scene is one reason it doesn’t make it. The stylish thing over the last five or six years among critics has been to loathe Titanic, but it’s a far more satisfying thing to watch than The Aviator.