My apologies for the brief hiatus I’ve taken from this competition. I have no valid excuse, so we’ll just move on. We have already covered Round 3 action in the Dope and Fly divisions, so we’ll try to finish up the third round within the next week. I know all you non-sports folks get a little perturbed with me this time of year, but rest assured I’ve not forgotten about you. Allow me to take this opportunity to wish The Manoverse a very Happy Halloween. Whether you’ll be trick-or-treating with your kids, handing out candy to the neighborhood crumb crunchers, curling up with a scary movie or book, or attending a wild & crazy costume party I hope y’all stay safe and have lots of fun.
Apollo 13 vs. The Mask
After receiving a first round bye Apollo 13 defeated John Candy’s underrated rom-com Only the Lonely in Round 2. Most of the attention is…obviously…given to Tom Hanks, as well as his fellow “astronauts” Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, & Gary Sinise. The Academy showed some love to Ed Harris & Kathleen Quinlan by giving them Oscar nominations in supporting categories (Harris lost to Kevin Spacey for his role as Verbal Kint/Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects, while Quinlan lost to Mira Sorvino for Mighty Aphrodite). However, Apollo 13 features a large ensemble that really brings everything together. Character actors like Joe Spano, Chris Ellis, Marc McClure, Brett Cullen, Clint Howard, Loren Dean, & Christian Clemenson portray NASA officials. Ron Howard’s mother plays Jim Lovell’s mother Blanche. The kids portraying Lovell’s children aren’t given much to do but they do it well. These are the kinds of performances that are important in helping the viewer escape reality and really get into a movie. The film was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Dramatic Score, and the music does play a vital role. It’s a shame Apollo 13 only won two of the nine Academy Awards for which it was nominated. One never knows about such things…perhaps if it’d been released a year earlier or later it might have swept all of those awards and be considered one of the greatest films of all time. The Mask got past PCU in the first round and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective in Round 2. Unlike a large ensemble film The Mask is all about Jim Carrey (and to a lesser degree the hotness of Cameron Diaz). His talent (and some unique special effects) are the engine that makes the movie go. It’s a fun & somewhat memorable film, but hardly transcendant.
The Verdict: Apollo 13. It’s a pretty easy decision really. I suppose one could look at it as Hanks vs. Carrey, and even by that metric Apollo 13 wins easily. However, Apollo 13 deserves a lot more credit than that. I’ll go so far as to say that it would be a great film even with someone besides Hanks portraying Jim Lovell. But of course Hanks makes everything that he is in better, so in this case he just elevates a fantastic movie to sublime.
Good Will Hunting vs. Batman Returns
Good Will Hunting got a first round bye and then defeated Adam Sandler’s Big Daddy in Round 2. The main attraction for me is the presence of Robin Williams in a role that finally won him an Oscar. I recently finished a great biography of Williams, and it was said in that book that at some point Williams began to take some heat from critics for playing sentimental & sympathetic roles that forced him to hide is well-known comic frenzy, but I think he was just so determined to be taken seriously as an actor that he didn’t think it wise to play zany comic characters. It was a balancing act with which he struggled his entire career. Batman Returns beat Showgirls in Round 1 and emerged from a second round triple threat against Pretty Woman & What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?. It has now gotten as far as its predecessor did in 80’s Movie Mania. I’ve read many opinions stating that Returns is actually better than 1989’s Batman, but I feel like it is less memorable. Of course the original featured Jack Nicholson’s superb performance as The Joker, which is hard to beat. Returns tries to match it with three villains…Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, Danny DeVito’s Penguin, & Christopher Walken’s Max Shreck, a wealthy industrialist whose plans to build a chemical plant in Gotham City are derailed by Bruce Wayne, who then responds by backing The Penguin as a mayoral candidate to get what he wants. It is my understanding that the Schreck character was created when Billy Dee Williams, who portrayed Harvey Dent in the original film, decided not to return. I assume that Dent would have morphed into Two-Face, something that did occur when Tommy Lee Jones assumed the role in Batman Forever. I really like Penguin’s origin story in Returns, and of course Pfeiffer is the best Catwoman since Julie Newar & Eartha Kitt in the 60’s. Walken’s presence as Shreck feels out of place and somewhat misguided, although I’m not sure Dent’s presence would have been an improvement. Three villains is just too much in a Batman movie.
The Verdict: Good Will Hunting. The question…as always…that I ask myself is if I were channel surfing on a lazy day which film would I watch. But more importantly, I think about which one excites me more. I love that feeling of flipping thru the channels and going “Oh cool!! ‘Insert Movie Name Here’ is on!!”, and the truth is that I’ve never felt that way about either of these movies. Batman Returns might legitimately be the best of the Burton/Schumacher Batman series, but it’s not nearly as iconic as its predecessor, and even 1997’s Batman & Robin has gotten more mileage out of being an allegedly terrible movie. I don’t find Good Will Hunting to be particularly memorable, but my love for Robin Williams is enough to push it thru.
American Pie vs. Groundhog Day
After Groundhog Day received a first round bye then got past Clueless in Round 1 I said that “I am busting at the seams to say everything I want to say” about it. The cool thing about Groundhog Day is that one can choose to view it from two different angles, and seeing it thru one prism doesn’t exclude a person from enjoying it thru the other. It works as a comedy based on Bill Murray’s sardonic wit, quirky supporting characters, & a unique situation. However, it really shines as an existential examination of life itself. One must realize that weatherman Phil Connors is stuck repeating the same day…depending on which theory one chooses to embrace…dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of times. One story I ran across awhile back estimated that Connors spends over thirty years in Punxsutawney just repeating February 2nd over & over & over. In that time he goes thru a whole range of emotions…confusion, bewilderment, anger, depression. He experiences it all. At first he uses the situation to his advantage, attempting to bed a beautiful woman and making a pass at his lovely co-worker Rita. Phil steals money, drives recklessly, & drinks heavily because he realizes there are no consequences for his actions. But then he becomes depressed and attempts to commit suicide multiple times. However nothing he tries works, and eventually he has a revelation. He accepts his weird circumstance and decides to use his time to learn new things, help people, become a better man, & woo Rita the right way. You see, Groundhog Day is not just another comedy…it’s a morality play about redemption, happiness, self-improvement, generosity, community, & love. American Pie got a first round bye then defeated Armageddon in Round 2, in no small part because the cast of Armageddon has been scornful of their own movie so I am not inclined to defend it if they don’t. American Pie is a generational teen sex comedy in the grand tradition of Animal House, Porky’s, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, & Risky Business. It might not be a high bar to aspire to, but then again I suppose it’s better to be remembered for gross out humor & delinquent hijinks than not be remembered at all like so many movies. The cast has gone on to do other noteworthy work, but American Pie will always be their legacy. A few sequels were made and they’re…okay…but the original stands on its own as one of the best comedies of its era.
The Verdict: Groundhog Day. Much like we all enjoy watching A Christmas Story, It’s A Wonderful Life, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, White Christmas, & a host of other classics every December, or some enjoy horror flicks, monster movies, & The Great Pumpkin in October, it has become tradition for me to watch Groundhog Day on February 2. But of course one can watch it any day of the year and it never gets old. American Pie is a solid comedy, a snapshot of an era while being simultaneously eternal, as good teen movies tend to be. It just ran into peerless competition.
You’ve Got Mail vs. Aladdin
You’ve Got Mail received a first round bye then upended The Firm in Round 2. Greg Kinnear has carved out a nice little career for himself, with roles in charming fare like As Good As it Gets and Little Miss Sunshine. Parker Posey is oftentimes one of the only good things about a bad movie in stuff like Mixed Nuts, but also shines in ensemble mockumentaries like A Mighty Wind, Best in Show, & Waiting for Guffman. Neither star will ever shine as brightly as Tom Hanks or Meg Ryan, but they play key roles in You’ve Got Mail. Aladdin is a great film, but suffers from the same problem as The Lion King…its unavailability makes repeat viewings almost impossible. I’m not the kind of person who will love a movie just because a bunch of critics tell me I should, and I am also distrustful of snap judgements. How many times do we walk out of a movie theater heaping praise on what we’ve just watched, but a few years later we’ve never seen it again?? Conversely, how many times do we walk out of a theater thinking a movie was just alright, but a decade or two later it’s become a cult classic that we love and have watched countless times?? That’s why repeat viewings are crucial in my opinion. There are so many factors that play into one’s enjoyment of a movie that I truly believe it often takes time for appreciation to develop. Robin Williams was brilliant and his performance makes Aladdin great…but that is an opinion that I formed 25 years ago and I can’t be sure that it hasn’t changed. A live action remake with Will Smith as The Genie is scheduled to hit theaters next spring, and I’ll probably check it out.
The Verdict: You’ve Got Mail. It’s not a perfect movie, but it is delightful enough to be on TV quite often and I’ll usually watch when it is on. Aladdin…well…it doesn’t have that advantage.