We’re moving full steam ahead toward the Top 25, but we’ve got one more stop to make before we get there. Going forward there will be atleast one Christmas film in each group we examine. Today’s entry also looks at a couple modern classics that were made in my childhood but appreciated by me as an adult, yet another George Clooney flick (even though I really do TRY to dislike him), and one more ode to the 80’s from the late John Hughes. Enjoy…and remember that you can find the previous 70 films broken into 14 entries in the archives.
The only underdog more famous that Rocky Balboa is The Holy Bible’s David, who felled the giant Goliath. 1976’s Rocky is synonymous with the unknown who takes advantage of his one shot at success and shocks the world (even though he actually doesn’t win until the sequel). In the 34 years that have passed since the film’s debut, it’s thematic arc has been used countless times, some successfully (Rudy, Remember the Titans, Hoosiers, Seabiscuit, The Karate Kid, Dodgeball), some not so much (The Replacements, Summer Catch, any Rocky sequel past 2). Face it…the formula works if the writers, actors, and directors are halfway talented and put forth a little effort. By now though you know my mantra…it is nearly impossible to surpass the original. What is funny about Rocky is that it is remembered as a sports film and for its boxing sequences and some scenes of the titular character in training, when in reality it is a well written film with tremendous performances and really good development of the main players. Burgess Meredith and Talia Shire are probably not given enough credit for their roles, but their support is the backbone of the movie’s success. Sly Stallone actually wrote the script, but was an unknown commodity at the time and had to beg the powers-that-be to let him star in his own story then ended up giving the best performance of his career. Rocky went on to be nominated for 10 Academy Awards, winning 3 of them including Best Picture. Not bad for a movie that was made on a shoestring budget and shot in under a month. I am sure that films will continue to “borrow” the formula in perpetuity, but I am also confident that we will still be talking about Rocky in another 34 years.
The movies need more people like John Hughes. While so many teen flicks these days seem to be all about sex and gross out jokes (American Pie, Road Trip, Superbad), Hughes wrote and/or directed a whole slew of teen comedies in the 80’s that had an element of pathos and just enough of a message to make them cool but not preachy. Ferris Bueller, on its surface, is about a precocious high school senior skipping school. But look a little closer because I think it’s a lot more. Matthew Broderick stars as Ferris, the kind of loveable schemer it’s almost impossible not to like and nearly as difficult not to envy. He convinces his clueless folks that he is too sick to go to school and then proceeds to drag his gorgeous girlfriend and his morose best friend to accompany him on a day long adventure. The only people who seem to see through his BS are his caustic sister and the school principal, who seems quasi-maniacal in his efforts to bring down the teenager. Ferris is wise beyond his years. He understands that soon enough he and his friends will be in the “real world” and wants to take advantage of one last opportunity to be carefree and have some harmless fun. I suppose it is possible that the modern tradition of Senior Skip Day owes something to Ferris Bueller…but no one has ever done a Skip Day with quite the panache as Ferris. The film is Hughes’ ode to Chicago, as our trio of truants visit many of the city’s landmarks. They take in a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, go to the top of The Sears Tower, eat at a fancy restaurant (where Ferris passes himself off as Abe Frohman: Sausage King of Chicago), visit The Art Institute, and quite memorably “crash” the annual Von Steuben Day Parade with Ferris hopping up on a float and belting out Danke Schoen and Twist & Shout. I am 37 years old and I have never had such a fun and interesting day in my life…in high school, college, or beyond. Alan Ruck, who now is best known for his supporting role in the television show Spin City, is hysterically sympathetic as Cameron, the best friend with Daddy issues. A pre-Dirty Dancing Jennifer Grey is outstanding as the jealous sister who is tired of seeing her brother get away with everything. I don’t know why Grey didn’t become a bigger star. She did Red Dawn, Ferris Bueller, and Dirty Dancing all within 2 years of one another and then dropped off the map…or atleast has never done anything else anyone gave a damn about. Charlie Sheen has a quick cameo. The always reliable Edie McClurg is funny as the school secretary. And who can forget economist Ben Stein’s droll, tedious call of “Bueller…Bueller…Bueller…..”. There are so many iconic scenes and lines in Ferris Bueller that it has to rank as one of the most quotable films of the last 30 years. My affection is undoubtedly due in large part to being a child of the 80’s. I was 14 years old when this movie came out, so I embodied the target demographic. But I have seen Ferris Bueller many many times in the ensuing 24 years, and in my humble opinion it ages well, like a fine wine. It will still be relevant to high school kids for generations, and that isn’t a feat to which the majority of films in its particular genre can lay claim. Its relevance can be germane to adults too, if we pay attention. Look at Cameron, whose Dad loves his classic Ferrari more than his son. Or look at Ferris, who doesn’t take himself too seriously and advises us all that “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” That is some pretty sage advice from a 17 year old boy.
28 The Ref
I have warned you repeatedly that I LOVE Christmas movies. And while you have seen or will see many of the usual suspects that have shown up on our television screens every December for decades, here we have a criminally overlooked holiday treat. Somewhere in the deep dark recesses of my mind I vaguely recall seeing this for the first time in The Original Bachelor Palace back in my college days with a few good friends. It may have even been the same night we rented Trapped in Paradise. Or I could be totally off base. If my memory isn’t playing tricks on me it would partially explain my affection for The Ref. At any rate, whatever the particular circumstances may have been initially, I have seen this movie multiple times in the past 16 Christmas seasons. It is required holiday viewing in my household. Denis Leary…an excellent stand-up comedian who is now known primarily for his TV show Rescue Me…stars as a crook who, after a robbery has gone awry, is forced to hold a haughty Connecticut couple hostage in their home on Christmas Eve. The problem for Gus is that Lloyd and Caroline have some major issues. They are in marriage counseling because Caroline had an affair, Lloyd hates his life, and both blame each other for their son’s troubles. Now I know that doesn’t sound funny, but trust me…it is h-y-s-t-e-r-i-c-a-l. The bickering couple really tests Gus’ patience. Things get more complicated when Lloyd’s even snootier family shows up for dinner and then the conniving son comes home from military school. Hilarity ensues. Kevin Spacey makes almost anything instantly better…he’s such a great actor. The Ref isn’t as easy to find on your television as many of the better known holiday classics, but Comedy Central usually shows it once or twice. It is well worth the rental if you cannot find it on the ol’ tube though. For anyone who has never seen it, I assure you…you won’t be disappointed.
27 Ocean’s Eleven
Even though I am a huge fan of The Rat Pack and their music, their movies aren’t exactly high art. So I am not referring here to the 1960 original but rather to the 2001 remake starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon. It’s bad enough that Clooney movies keep showing up on this list, but now I am adding Pitt and Damon?? What in the world is wrong with me?? I suppose there’s no accounting for taste. I am just going to blame it on my love for anything and everything Vegas. Anyway, Ocean’s Eleven is the textbook definition of popcorn cinema, and I =guess that’s not a bad thing. Danny Ocean is fresh out of prison and has his sights set on robbing not one…not two…but three Las Vegas casinos all at the same time. He recruits his best wingman and they assemble a team to pull off the job. We eventually learn that Ocean’s real beef is with the owner of said casinos, played by the always superb Andy Garcia. The evil casino owner has hooked up with Ocean’s ex-wife, played by Julia Roberts. The crew that is to pull off this massive heist is a ragtag group of con men, played by guys like Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Elliot Gould, and Carl Reiner. They all have their key roles to play in the masterful plan, and for the most part the plan goes off without too much consternation. As a viewer I advise against trying to figure out details or attempting to apply logic. There are some holes…like: they are supposed to be robbing three casinos, but really they’re just robbing one vault that holds the money from three casinos. But it’s all good. The cast is very Rat Pack-esque in their breezy delivery and cool demeanor. There’s a little action, a little romance, a little comedy. The performances are very good. Don Cheadle is an underrated actor, and it is nice to see old timers Gould and Reiner in a big time flick with the younger, hipper It Guys. Two sequels were made, and as per usual the second was a subpar money grab while the third rebounded nicely with the addition of Al Pacino to the cast. I am tempted to point out that it is another case where the original is the best, but technically it is a remake of an original.
26 The Blues Brothers
When one is in college and joins a fraternity a few songs and a few films kind of come along with the package. I am not sure why this is so, but it is what it is. I am sure things have changed in the 15 years since I last graced a college campus…or a fraternity house… with my presence, but in my heyday The Blues Brothers was one of those beloved films. It is also one of the two movies (the other being Animal House) that made Saturday Night Live alumnus John Belushi a superstar. I have often wondered what other treasures Belushi would have offered us and how his career would have evolved had he not tragically left us far too soon. He stars as Jake, who along with his brother Elwood (played by Dan Aykroyd) formed a successful blues act before he landed in prison for armed robbery. Upon Jake’s release, the duo gather up the rest of their old band so they can do a benefit show and help the orphanage where Jake and Elwood grew up pay its property taxes. Along the way they manage to tick off the police, a group of neo-Nazis, Jake’s ex-fiancée, and a country band called The Good Ol’ Boys, all of whom chase The Blues Brothers and cause mayhem and destruction. Our heroes make the gig, pay off the taxes for the orphanage, and are ultimately sent to prison for all the havoc they have wreaked. The soundtrack is spectacular if you like blues music, and I do. There are alot of fun cameos…Ray Charles, Carrie Fisher, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, John Candy, Chaka Khan, John Lee Hooker, Paul Reubens/Pee Wee Herman, Joe Walsh, and Steven Spielberg, among others. The Blues Brothers is just a lot of mindless fun, and it continues to be a unique classic thirty years later.