As we begin Round 3 of 90’s Film Frenzy the field has been whittled down from 100 to 32 combatants. The bad news is that now choosing a winner becomes alot more difficult. The good news is that going forward my intention is to be much less verbose. It has always been my aim to keep posts here at The Manofesto fairly brief & readable, but I was uncomfortable with the idea of breaking down this competition into anything other than rounds & divisions lest the whole idea become a jumbled mess. Unfortunately that has meant some pretty lengthy entries thus far. However, at this point I believe you have all the essential information about each movie. You know release dates, the main cast, & director(s). I’ve given you quotes and trivia. We’ve talked about box office performance, awards, & critics’ reviews. From here on out it is a matter of separating the contenders from the pretenders and seeing which film will stand out from an impressive crowd.
Titanic vs. Father of the Bride Part II
After receiving a first round bye Titanic overcame stiff Round 2 competition and defeated Saving Private Ryan. I’m a sucker for biopics and anything historical (except for war movies…obviously), and since the 1912 Titanic disaster had been of interest to me from a young age I was all about this movie back in ’97. DiCaprio & Winslet are perfect as the two leads, but let’s talk about the supporting cast. Kathy Bates as “Unsinkable” Molly Brown. Gloria Stuart as “Old” Rose, a performance for which Stuart became the second oldest person to receive an Oscar nomination (though she lost to Kim Basinger for L.A. Confidential). Victor Garber as Thomas Andrews, the shipbuilder who is devastated by the fatal flaw he never fathomed. Bill Paxton as a greedy treasure hunter digging around the remains of the ship whose perspective is changed by Rose’s emotional recounting of the doomed voyage. The framing device of an expedition exploring the sunken ship with the aid of an immersible is a nice touch mirroring real life explorations of the wreckage. Celine Dion’s song My Heart Will Go On is only heard during the closing credits but became part of the total package of the film’s success and was a #1 hit all across the world. Father of the Bride II has beaten two people…Bob & Mary, to get to this point. It got past What About Bob? In Round 1, and upset There’s Something About Mary in the second round. I am well aware that there is no shortage of people who might consider those two films superior to FotB2, especially Mary. I’m just not much for gross out humor, and while some might think a guy getting his junk caught in a zipper hilarious I just find that scene uncomfortable to watch. At any rate, FotB2 takes the premise of its predecessor in a…different but fun direction. There are a couple of really funny scenes…one where George Banks takes a powerful sleeping pill just as his daughter is going into labor, and another when he’s feeling old and colors his hair, freaking out his wife in the process. I know a lot of folks take issue with the way that Martin Short’s eccentric wedding coordinator from the first film is shoehorned into the sequel, but let’s face it…Franck is responsible for atleast half of the laughs in both movies, and it works. Short & Martin are a great duo. Like its predecessor FotB2 isn’t really laugh-out-loud funny as much as it is heartwarming & cozy. It isn’t particularly quotable and critics really disliked it, but for me it’s one of those reliable, tried & true, go-to movies when there’s nothing better to do than chill out with a good flick.
The Verdict: Titanic. As much as I love Father of the Bride II it just doesn’t stand up to the competition. Eleven Academy Awards and over a decade as the highest grossing film of all time is hard to ignore.
My Cousin Vinny vs. Independence Day
Independence Day defeated Silence of the Lambs and Swingers in a second round triple threat match after receiving a first round bye. While Will Smith is the big star I am personally fonder of Jeff Goldblum’s performance as a tech expert, Judd Hirsh’s turn as Goldblum’s father, & Randy Quaid as a crazy, alcoholic former fighter pilot. It is those kinds of supporting performances that can take a movie to the next level. Obviously, as a prototypical summer blockbuster there are lots of explosions, mayhem, action, & destruction, but one of the issues that I’ve always had with such movies is that I need more. I need good writing, interesting characters, and a credible premise that makes me care about what happens. Independence Day may not rise to the level of Jaws when it comes to those things, but meets the criteria well enough. Setting it against the backdrop of the holiday that celebrates American freedom while also blowing up The White House and making The President one of its central heroes provides what otherwise may have been just another disaster movie with a sense of patriotism, akin to how Halloween isn’t just another random slasher flick because of the holiday it represents, which is kind of brilliant. My Cousin Vinny beat Speed in the second round after receiving a first round bye, and now finds itself in a similar battle. Joe Pesci has done a little bit of everything in his career, and while he may be best known for tough guy gangster roles in films like Raging Bull, Goodfellas, & Casino, I actually prefer him in lighter fare like the Lethal Weapon series & Home Alone, and he is perfectly cast as fledgling attorney Vincent Gambini. Marisa Tomei famously won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as gum smacking car expert Mona Lisa Vito, a rare award for comedy. One of the two guys on trial in the movie is portrayed by Ralph Macchio, who we obviously all remember from The Karate Kid, and the other is played by an actor named Mitchell Whitfield, who really hasn’t done much else worth noting in his career. Honestly those roles could’ve been played by any two random actors because they really aren’t that important after the initial premise is set up, but I understand casting a known face like Macchio, even if his talent is pretty much wasted. The hidden gem of My Cousin Vinny is Fred Gwynne as the judge. Gwynne is most famous for his role as family patriarch Herman in the 1960’s TV show The Munsters, so to see him without monster makeup and using a southern accent is rather amusing. His interactions & exasperation with Vinny are some of my favorite scenes in the movie.
The Verdict: My Cousin Vinny. This is mainly about my preference for comedy over action, although the critics happen to agree with me. Independence Day made a ton of money back in the day, and it’s fine for what it is. However, in hindsight perhaps the powers-that-be tried to cram a bit too much into it at the expense of character development. Vinny is well-written & performed, and it doesn’t rely on potty humor, gross-out gags, sex, or profanity. It creates a farcical (yet quasi-plausible) situation and great characters and sharp dialogue to tell a funny story.
Sleepless in Seattle vs. Dumb & Dumber
Sleepless in Seattle is the second and most well-known of three Hanks/Ryan collaborations. After receiving a first round bye Sleepless defeated Galaxy Quest in Round 2, mostly because I think it is more accessible and appeals to a wider audience. Bill Pullman portrays the sickly fiancé of Ryan’s character Annie, and he seems more adept at comedic roles than in more serious fare. I kinda sorta identify with the character’s offbeat sense of humor, his perceived fragility, and the fact that I could totally see a hot babe ditching me for someone more charming & handsome. The kid in the movie was actually a recast after the first child actor just didn’t work out, and he plays the part well enough. Rosie O’Donnell, whom I have grown to detest since she became an outspoken political nutjob, was just a comedic actress in the early 90’s, a few years away from hosting her eponymous daytime talk show. Her role as the requisite best friend is necessary & amusing. Dumb & Dumber is probably the best of the Farrelly Brothers filmography, unless one chooses to throw in a memorable fourth season episode of the TV sitcom Seinfeld called The Virgin, which the brothers wrote. Jeff Daniels is another actor (like Bill Pullman) who should do more comedy because he’s actually quite funny. I know Jim Carrey gets all the attention, but this movie wouldn’t be nearly as good without Daniels. I first became enamored with actress Lauren Holly when she co-starred in an underrated CBS dramedy called Picket Fences in the early 90’s, but her spotlight grew brighter in the midst of that show’s run when Dumb & Dumber hit theaters. For some reason she never quite became a huge star though, and in recent years has once again been doing supporting roles on television. She essentially plays the straight man to both Carrey & Daniels in this movie, but she does it well and is certainly easy on the eyes. I must admit that, though I had every intention of heading to my local cineplex back in 2014 to check out the sequel Dumb & Dumber To I never made it and haven’t sought it out in the ensuing years, which is very instructive in analyzing my lukewarm affection for the original. A prequel was made back in 2003, but I didn’t bother and I don’t think many others did either.
The Verdict: Sleepless in Seattle. I love Tom Hanks. I love Meg Ryan. I love Hanks & Ryan together. Both have moved on in their careers and tend to pursue more somber roles these days, but this is their wheelhouse and if they were to ever make another movie together…even though both are 60-ish now and not nearly as adorably appealing as they were 25 years ago…I’d be amongst the first in line at the theater. Dumb & Dumber is a movie I have watched a few times over the years, but it’s not an automatic tune in if I’m channel surfing…I have to be in just the right kind of silly mood.
American Beauty vs. The Birdcage
I realize that Kevin Spacey is persona non grata in Hollywood at the moment, his career having been mowed down by the #MeToo gestapo. It isn’t my intention to minimize anything odious that someone may have done or to put any unworthy person on a pedestal, but our purpose here is to chill out, have fun, & discuss movies, and Spacey is a brilliant actor who has done some great movies. He is the absolute best part of American Beauty, although…in retrospect…the subplot about him having a thing for a high school cheerleader feels unnecessary. I’ve never had the high paying job, beautiful wife, cute kid, or nice house that Lester Burnham has, but I am at an age now where I can understand the point at which a middle aged man looks at his life and just kind of snaps. Fortunately he loses it in a non-violent, mostly hilarious way, although the idea of emptiness & desperation is still properly conveyed. American Beauty is, at its core, an examination of the fraudulent façade of middle class suburbia, where so many folks who appear to be living the dream are actually drowning in despair. The ending of the movie is a bit of a downer, but when one ponders how the entire film could have been really depressing given the subject matter yet chooses a more lighthearted approach the conclusion becomes not only tolerable but feels almost necessary. The Birdcage is a blueprint that more entertainments should follow if they are hellbent & determined use their bully pulpit to dive into the sociopolitical abyss. It is a story told thru an obvious prism with a fairly clear perspective, but it never feels sanctimonious or divisive. There are some that feel like homosexuality is represented using the most extreme stereotypes, and others that have the same issue with the way conservatives are depicted. All of that is probably true, but the film is a farce, so I take no issue with how the characters are written or portrayed. Robin Williams is brilliant, and a cast that also includes Gene Hackman & Nathan Lane has more than their fair share of fun moments. There is a great supporting character named Agador Spartacus portrayed by the very talented Hank Azaria that almost steals the show. Azaria has done voices on The Simpsons for almost three decades and had small roles in movies like Along Came Polly & Dodgeball. He’s the kind of actor that’s never going to carry a film or become a huge star, but is often one of the most memorable parts of whatever he is in.
The Verdict: The Birdcage. I make no secret of my affection for Robin Williams, so admittedly he has an advantage over a lot of other performers…even Kevin Spacey. This is a tough call, and I concede that American Beauty has a better pedigree, including five Academy Awards. However, there are a couple of things that bother me about it. First is the whole subplot about the creepy next door neighbor and his retired military officer father. Lester Burnham, his wife Carolyn, & their glum daughter Jane are interesting enough characters…we didn’t need weird neighbors thrown into the mix. Secondly, any film that’s been mostly fun throughout but concludes with the main character getting a bullet put into his head leaves an odd impression. I get it. The filmmakers were weaving a complex story with various profound insights about life, which is fine. I actually like that sort of thing. I just feel like they got a little too cute in an effort to be esoteric, especially at the end. Conversely, The Birdcage is just good old-fashioned fun. It ends with Gene Hackman in drag dancing thru a gay nightclub to the sounds of Sister Sledge’s We Are Family. How great is that?!?!??