It was at this point just over a year ago, as Merry Movie Mayhem was drawing to a conclusion, that I took the easy path and let the final eight combatants bow out with what was essentially a collective tie. I don’t feel bad about that because Christmas movies are just so special that I am fine with not following thru with a fight to the death. I don’t have the same kind of sentimental attachment to the 1990’s, so today we move forward with the division finals, aka The Elite 8. Enjoy.
Titanic vs. Sleepless in Seattle
After receiving a first round bye Titanic has gotten past Saving Private Ryan, Father of the Bride II, & The Birdcage. Sleepless in Seattle also received a first round bye then overcame challenges from Galaxy Quest, Dumb & Dumber, and My Cousin Vinny. I knew this moment would eventually come, and sadly it has arrived. During 80’s Movie Mania I eliminated National Lampoon’s Vacation in The Final Four because the ending makes it feel outdated. As I mentioned back then, the debate is whether that should be a mark against the film or celebrated as something that marks the era we are commemorating. Obviously I decided the former rather than the latter, and we are faced with a similar situation now. I adore Sleepless in Seattle, but the fact is that it feels dated because the invention of The Internet has made much of the premise irrelevant. The same story simply couldn’t be told nowadays. Conversely, Titanic has the advantage of being an historical drama. The story is what it is and it is…with all due respect to the unfortunate victims of the tragedy…frozen in time. The movie doesn’t feel outdated two decades later, and it won’t be two decades from now. One also cannot overlook the fact that it remains the second highest grossing film of all time and is one of only three films (the others being Ben-Hur and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) to win eleven Academy Awards. It has pretty good scores on Rotten Tomatoes too…89% from critics & 69% from the public, meaning that it is the rare movie that is actually good and popular. Though a film about a disaster that occurred in 1912 can’t really represent the decade of the 90’s I do feel like it is a signature piece of the cinematic experience of the 90’s.
You’ve Got Mail vs. Groundhog Day
You’ve Got Mail received a first round bye then defeated The Firm, Aladdin, & Good Will Hunting to make it to this point. After a first round bye Groundhog Day has gotten this far by overcoming Clueless, American Pie, & Apollo 13. The bottom line for me is originality. I have said for many years that I am secure enough in my smoldering machismo to admit that I enjoy a good rom-com, and You’ve Got Mail is a good rom-com. However, having said that, the thing about rom-coms is that they all share similar structural DNA. And why not?? The blueprint works, right?? But also, of the three films that Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan did together I think You’ve Got Mail might be the weakest…or atleast the most formulaic. Both Sleepless in Seattle and Joe Versus the Volcano feel more innovative, which makes a lot of sense since You’ve Got Mail is a loose remake of the 1940 James Stewart classic The Shop Around the Corner. Conversely, Groundhog Day is an inspired meditation on life, philosophy, love, & spirituality hiding in plain sight as an ordinary comedy. No one can argue with a straight face that Bill Murray & Andie MacDowell are as cute, perky, & charming as Hanks & Ryan, but his beleaguered cynicism and her enthusiastic naiveté work perfectly in Groundhog Day. It’s the kind of film one can watch over & over and discover something new each time, which seems rather appropriate.
Forrest Gump vs. The Fugitive
After a first round bye Forrest Gump defeated Presumed Innocent, Die Hard: With A Vengeance, & Office Space to land in the Elite 8. The Fugitive received a first round bye then got past Joe Versus the Volcano, The Wedding Singer, & Father of the Bride. If you watch The Fugitive with absolutely no prior knowledge of the 60’s TV hit your enjoyment of the movie won’t suffer at all. Two powerhouse performances by Harrison Ford & Tommy Lee Jones (who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor) combined with great writing & edge-of-your seat drama make for a terrific cinematic experience. Forrest Gump is based on a novel that had gone virtually unnoticed, and the movie makes changes so significant that it feels completely original. Forrest Gump has a great cast (Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Sally Field, Gary Sinise), a fantastic soundtrack, and was both critically acclaimed & popular with the masses. I do know people that hate it, but I just don’t understand those folks at all. This is a tough one, but repeat viewings give Gump the nod in a photo finish.
Mrs. Doubtfire vs. The Big Lebowski
After a first round bye Mrs. Doubtfire has beaten That Thing You Do, Tommy Boy, & Scent of a Woman. The Big Lebowski is the lone film in The Elite 8 that did not receive a first round bye, and thus far has overcome Ten Things I Hate About You, Wayne’s World, Deep Impact, & The Shawshank Redemption. My vibe is that, in a poll of many, those that were teens or in their early 20’s back in the late 1990s would lean toward Lebowski, while older folks might favor Doubtfire. It is probably an unfair comparison, but much like the early comedies of Adam Sandler (most notably Happy Gilmore & Billy Madison), if one happened to be at the exact right age and/or maturity when The Big Lebowski was released then it is likely an essential movie for that person. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be enjoyed by others, just that its humor is quite specific & unique. Jeff Bridges is one of the most underrated thespians of his generation, and his role as The Dude (or His Dudeness, Duder, or El Duderino, if, you know, you’re not into the whole brevity thing) might be his crowning achievement, even if it’s not the kind of character or film that the awards shows fawn all over. John Goodman is another undervalued actor, and his performance as somewhat aggressive & slightly off kilter Vietnam vet Walter Sobchak is a hidden gem. Conversely, it is likely that slightly older folks…those that came of age in the 80’s as Robin Williams rose to fame…would have a greater appreciation of Mrs. Doubtfire. Williams had a rather eclectic career and was capable of playing a whole range of parts, but his wheelhouse was funny comedies in which he could put his full arsenal of comedic genius on display, and Doubtfire fit his skills like a glove. The supporting cast…including Sally Field & Pierce Brosnan…have their moments, but it’s Williams’ show and he carries it well. I suppose that I must reluctantly admit to being part of the older crowd, because, though I appreciate Lebowski for what it is, there are moments of weirdness that don’t resonate with my particular comedy palate, while Doubtfire is the kind of gentle, easygoing, family friendly humor that I tend to gravitate toward.