If It’s On I Will Watch It: A Middle-Aged Perspective on Field of Dreams  

Not long ago I was channel surfing on a particularly boring Saturday night and was quite pleased to happen upon Field of Dreams just as it was beginning. Sometimes I wish life was a little more exciting, but mostly I’ve come to embrace solitude & the banality of my existence. I am so thankful that I enjoy movies, music, & books. I might not ever travel the world or achieve greatness on any level, but I have the ability to amuse myself and mostly avoid drama & meaningless turmoil. There’s something to be said for contentment & simplicity. 

At any rate, I was 16 years old when Field of Dreams first hit theaters, and thru the years it has become one of my favorite movies. An uneventful July weekend is the perfect time to watch, and I realized something during my most recent viewing: the way I understand it at 49 years of age has evolved compared to how I saw it three decades ago. That seems like a pretty obvious conclusion, but I had not previously pondered the idea, and a few things dawned on me. 

First, there’s a scene near the beginning when Ray Kinsella is plowing a large portion of his cornfield to build the baseball field, and several of his neighbors watch in astonishment, calling him a damn fool for what he is doing. Not long afterward his brother-in-law, who is some sort of financier or bank official, warns Ray that he’s going to lose his farm. Now, I still fully embrace the whimsy of Field of Dreams, but I also see the perspective of the naysayers & pragmatists who think Ray Kinsella is crazy, because he is indeed absolutely nuts. Idealism doesn’t pay the bills…something that a teenager doesn’t get, but a more season adult certainly does. 

Secondly, let’s talk about Annie, Ray’s wife. Any man would be fortunate to have such a wife. My loneliness hadn’t bothered me until the past few years, but now I deeply regret not being married or having children. One of the ways I soothe myself on the matter is to look at a lot of young/youngish women (let’s say 20-something to 40-something) these days and realize that I may have dodged a bullet. I love & respect the ladies, but let’s just say they don’t make ‘em like they used to and leave it at that. Of course, while I stand by my assessment, I also realize it is a rationalization…a coping mechanism. There are Annies out there. Tough & strong-willed. Supportive. Honest without being harsh. Understanding. Willing to sacrifice, but also not afraid to put her foot down. Smart. Practical, but open to a little eccentricity. I just never found my Annie, or more accurately, haven’t been good enough for one to choose me. 

There’s another scene, set at a school board meeting, that seems a lot more true to life than I previously realized. I don’t have kids and haven’t attended many school board meetings, but I keep up with current events. While book burning is the issue in Field of Dreams, such gatherings are more likely to erupt while debating things like Covid protocols, identity politics, student safety, or sexual impropriety nowadays. Same idea though. It’s funny how Annie is portrayed as an open minded, free spirited, literature loving liberal while the school board & all the uptight parents in the audience are painted as “Nazis”. I guess even one of my favorite films isn’t immune to Hollywood indoctrination. I never noticed that thirty years ago. 

One thing I understand less now than I did back in the 80’s is Kinsella’s relationship with his Dad. He is 36 years old & afraid he’s turning into his father. What does that mean?? Why is it an issue?? My Dad & I have a really good relationship. Neither of us are perfect, but no one is, right?? I can think of alot worse things than turning into my father. In many ways I already have. Okay, okay…I get it to a degree. Though it’s not stated outright, Ray Kinsella feels like his father never did anything significant with his life. The old guy just worked, paid bills, and died. Building the baseball field is Ray’s way of making his mark…making an impact that he feels his father didn’t. I probably felt the same way when I was younger, but now a) I’ve led an even less impactful life than my father so I’m in no position to criticize, and b) Kinsella Sr. worked hard & raised his son, and I appreciate that contribution. If Ray had never built the baseball field – if all he ever achieved was being a good husband, father, & farmer – then that’d be a good life. Not everyone will live lives of prominence, grandeur, & prosperity, and that’s okay. 

On a more shallow level…..

According to my research the price of gasoline in 1989 was $1.06/gallon, which explains why the already financially strapped Kinsella doesn’t hesitate to drive from Iowa to Boston to Minnesota and back to Iowa. There’s no way anyone would do that nowadays.

By far my favorite portion of the movie are the scenes involving Moonlight Graham. Not only is time travel cool, but it’s not something you’d expect to see in an alleged sports film. I couldn’t name another Burt Lancaster performance if my life depended on it, but he is fantastic in Field of Dreams (it was his final big screen role). This part of the movie briefly touches on the infamous butterfly effect, posing the question “What would’ve happened if Moonlight had gotten a hit in his one big league game??”. Perhaps he would never have become a doctor, which would have changed the lives of countless people. I’m a sucker for philosophical ponderings like that. 

One of the things that I’ve always said about Field of Dreams is that it isn’t so much about baseball as it is a metaphor about regret, redemption, family, & the true meaning of happiness. And now I realize it’s also a story about having a mid-life crisis, but instead of buying a sports car or having sex with a 20 year old Ray Kinsella allows a mysterious voice to persuade him to build a baseball field & bring the ghosts of dead ball players back to play so at the end of the day he can introduce his Dad to his wife & daughter, which is actually a smarter choice than the car or the side chick. 

Weekend Movie Marathons: Jan de Bont

The first thing we need to do is define a few terms. First, a movie director “controls a film’s artistic & dramatic aspects and visualizes the screenplay while guiding actors & the crew in the fulfilment of that vision”. A cinematographer or director of photography (the two terms are interchangeable) is “the person responsible for the photographing or recording of a film, television production, music video, or other live action piece and is chief of the camera & light crew working on such projects, responsible for making artistic & technical decisions and for selecting cameras, film, lenses, filters, etc”. Today’s subject has achieved success doing both jobs, having a hand in creating some very memorable films. 

Friday Night

All the Right Moves

When you look at de Bont’s filmography you see that one of the earliest movies he worked on that you’ve actually heard of is this overlooked 1983 gem about high school football in the kind of small, economically depressed town that many people are either trapped in or dream of escaping (oftentimes both). You may have wondered why we didn’t include it in the Tom Cruise weekend marathon since it might be one of his best performances, and now you know. Several years ago I ranked it as my 6th Favorite Sports Film, and, while my appreciation for Rebecca DeMornay on the El train in Risky Business has been duly noted I must opine that there is a scene in this movie with the lovely Leah Thompson that pre-pubescent Me liked even better. 

Saturday Matinee 

Basic Instinct

I’m sensing a theme. Okay, I’m lonely…sue me. Basic Instinct is one of those “so bad it’s good” kind of things, like Cabbage Patch Dolls, the 1960’s Batman TV show, or disco. It made Sharon Stone a star, and was the sixth highest grossing film of 1992, besting more deserving fare like Aladdin, A League of Their OwnWhite Men Can’t JumpMy Cousin Vinny, & Father of the Bride. Sex sells & life isn’t fair. Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, Ellen Barkin, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathleen Turner, & Geena Davis all turned down the role that eventually went to Stone. Perhaps they didn’t want the world to see their cooter. As the cinematographer I guess we have Jan de Bont to thank for that famous scene.

Saturday Night 

Die Hard

One of the best Christmas movies of all time!! Okay okay…I couldn’t resist. I feel like I have praised it effusively thru the years, and I’m quite sure that most have an understanding of the plot & other factoids. Whether or not you agree with my assessment of Die Hard as a holiday classic I think we can all agree that it’s one of the best action films of all time, highly regarded as a genre altering work of art. 

Sunday Matinee 

Twister

After achieving success in the 1980s & early 90s as a cinematographer de Bont moved into the director’s chair and hit a couple of early home runs. I’m not usually into disaster flicks, but there’s something about Twister that suckers me in every time it’s on television almost three decades later. Perhaps it’s the cast…Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt, Jami Gertz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alan Ruck. Not big movie stars individually, but an ensemble of good, charming actors. You may be surprised to learn that Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, & James Cameron were all in the running to direct, but somehow de Bont jumped the line. I’d love to know more details about how that happened. 

Sunday Night 

Speed

Although I’m sure there’s more to the story, one of the reasons de Bont landed the Twister gig was that his directorial debut was such a rousing success, and he got the chance to direct Speed because the director of Die Hard recommended him. John McTiernan didn’t want to do something that he perceived as too similar to Die Hard, so he passed & suggested de Bont. I believe Shakespeare referred to such situations as the slings & arrows of outrageous fortune. Even more interesting, the lead role eventually played by Keanu Reeves was almost given to Stephen Baldwin, Tom Hanks, Wesley Snipes, Tom Cruise, or Woody Harrelson. Of those, I can only see Cruise as possibly being as good as Reeves ended up being. As for the role that made Sandra Bullock a household name, she was almost portrayed by Halle Berry, Meryl Streep, Kim Basinger, or Ellen DeGeneres. Wow…could you imagine a world in which Speed had made Ellen a movie star while Bullock’s career stalled after Demolition Man?!?!?? And speaking of stalled (to put it kindly), the sequel Speed 2 didn’t seem to affect Bullock & Reeves didn’t even participate, but de Bont has only directed two movies in the ensuing 25 years and most fans wouldn’t be able to name them if their life depended on it. Speed 2 is widely regarded as the worst sequel of all time, but that shouldn’t tarnish one’s regard for the original. 

WEEKEND MOVIE MARATHONS: Tom Cruise

In anticipation of Top Gun: Maverick coming soon to a theater near you it seems appropriate to enjoy a Weekend Movie Marathon featuring one of the biggest box office draws of my youth in the 1980s. To opine that Tom Cruise in “real life” seems a bit enigmatic would be an understatement, but I have become pretty good at separating the person from the entertainer, and one cannot deny that he is the textbook definition of a movie star (whether one considers that positive or negative is a matter of personal preference). Perusing Cruise’s filmography of over fifty movies I can confidently say that there are atleast a dozen that I have enjoyed on some level, and as many that aren’t my cup o’ tea but are generally considered pretty good by the masses. That’s a batting average any baseball player would envy. So, while my taste may not align with yours, I believe what is presented here would be a rather entertaining weekend for most. 

Friday Night 

Risky Business

Imagine the pitch…”high school kid runs a brothel out of his house while his parents are away on vacation”. I feel like that would’ve only been greenlit in the 80s. Cruise had been a supporting player in a few notable films (TapsLosin’ ItThe Outsiders), but this was the movie that made him a star. The iconic scene when he makes us all reminisce about the days of old with Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock n’ Roll is still parodied four decades later, and I’d sacrifice a limb to ride the El train with Rebecca DeMornay (that scene is seared into the memory of many men my age). Risky Business was the eighth highest grossing film of 1983 (behind Return of the Jedi Trading Places but ahead of National Lampoon’s Vacation ET: The Extra-Terrestrial), and it has a 92% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In other words, it appeals on some level to nearly everyone. 

Saturday Matinee 

Rock of Ages

Large ensemble casts are tricky. While most films tend to provide a spotlight for one or occasionally two big stars, every once in awhile a movie will come along with such a stacked lineup of well known performers that we’re immediately intrigued before we even step into the theater, but that doesn’t guarantee quality. Rock of Ages was actually a Broadway play that premiered in 2005 before being adapted for the big screen seven years later. Is it a good movie?? Not really. The cast includes Dancing with the Stars alum Julianne Hough, goofball Russell Brand, highly underrated Paul Giamatti, lovely Catherine Zeta-Jones, 90s hip-hop legend Mary J. Blige, controversial Alec Baldwin, SNL alum Will Forte, Bryan Cranston before he became famous, and of course our guy Tom Cruise, none of whom, despite being an intriguing potpourri of actors, would prompt me to watch. No, for me it’s the music…covers of a plethora of 80s hits from the likes of Journey, Foreigner, Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi, REO Speedwagon, and many more. The plot is dumb & the performances are cheesy, but that’s not even important. Aside from the music the best part of Rock of Ages is Cruise’s scene chewing Axl Rose/Jim Morrison cosplay. If you love 80s music you won’t hate this movie.

Saturday Night 

Top Gun

Well, it is the reason we’re here, right?? It remains to be seen if making a sequel more than three decades later was a wise decision, but the original is inarguably legendary. Somewhere on this site I believe I once called Top Gun an 80s time capsule movie, and I stand by that assessment. I recently watched it again for the first time in many years, and was still entertained. 

Sunday Matinee

The Firm

The book is better, as is usually the case. However, an adaptation starring the likes of Cruise, Gene Hackman, Holly Hunter, Ed Harris, & Hal Holbrook stands pretty good on its own merits (plus, where else have we ever seen Wilford Brimley & Gary Busey in the same place??). I seem to recall that there was a bit of controversy because the ending of the film differs from that of the book. I usually get pretty riled up about such things, but in this case I am willing to overlook it. 

Sunday Night 

Cocktail

I feel like Cocktail is vastly underappreciated. The love story is pretty formulaic, but that’s not a deal breaker. There’s a fun supporting performance from Aussie Brian Brown (who is rather amusing in Along Came Polly as well), and Elisabeth Shue as Cruise’s love interest is at peak loveliness. “Flair bartending” is the term for what you see in the film, and I guess it’s a real thing. I don’t know…I don’t get out much. At any rate, Cocktail is a really interesting story for a couple of reasons. It won the 1988 Golden Raspberry for Worst Film, while that same year Rain Man (also starring Cruise) took home the Academy Award for Best Picture (there’s a reason that movie isn’t featured here). Also, while Rotten Tomatoes scores Cocktail at 7% (which, despite being atrocious, doesn’t even land it on the site’s list of 100 lowest rated films), it was the 9th highest grossing film of the year, ahead of great stuff like BeetlejuceScroogedBull Durham, and the aforementioned Oscar winning Rain Man. The dichotomy is fascinating & hard to explain. All I know is the cast is cool & the music (especially Kokomo by The Beach Boys) is delightful. Popcorn cinema doesn’t always need to be great.

WEEKEND MOVIE MARATHONS: Jim Carrey

“I’m retiring…probably. I have enough. I’ve done enough. I am enough.” That is what Jim Carrey said in a recent interview. Do I believe him?? Of course not. Much like boxers, pro wrestlers, & aging rock stars I don’t think actors ever really retire. They can always be coaxed into a “comeback” to enjoy the spotlight “one last time”. Carrey hasn’t been a hot commodity in Hollywood in several years, so I’m not sure anyone would notice if he really did quit altogether, but I feel quite confident in predicting that he’ll continue to make movies here & there. However, his “retirement” proclamation seems like a great excuse to enjoy a Weekend Movie Marathon, much like we’ve already done with Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, and Ivan Reitman.

Friday Night 

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

This stupid film is what made Jim Carrey a superstar. I say “stupid” with all due respect, because I have no problem with goofy, mindless, foolish entertainment that exists for no significant reason other than to make people laugh. No life lessons, no deep philosophies, no connection to real life whatsoever…just belly laughs, because laughter really is the best medicine. Since he never won a Super Bowl his supporting role in Ace Ventura may be Dan Marino’s greatest contribution to pop culture, and I’d love to shake the hand of the casting director who listened to Wild Thing Funky Cold Medina and decided Tone Loc would make a good cop.   Ace Ventura has a 49% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is expected. Actually, I’m surprised it’s that high given the austere disposition of most critics. Conversely, it was the 16th highest grossing film of 1994, making more money at the box office than Pulp Fiction & Tombstone amongst others. A sequel was released a year later, but the lightning had escaped the bottle. 

Saturday Matinee 

Man on the Moon

I’m all about biopics. I vaguely recall comedian Andy Kaufman from his supporting role on Taxi & his infamous altercation with pro wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler on Late Night with David Letterman in 1982, and at first I thought Carrey was an odd choice to portray him in a movie. The strange thing is that Carrey’s casting turned out to be the best decision amongst a host of poor choices made by the filmmakers, including having the actual cast of Taxi appear as themselves in scenes set nearly two decades earlier. Carrey should’ve been nominated for an Oscar, but had to settle for a Golden Globe. 

Saturday Night 

The Truman Show

Reality TV was barely a thing in 1998, making The Truman Show seem quite prescient in hindsight. Carrey stars as a man whose entire life has been a reality show, only he has no idea. It’s a dramedy, which is my wheelhouse, and the performances are terrific. This was the first time that Carrey was robbed of an Academy Award nomination, although Ed Harris was nominated for Best Supporting Actor (he lost). There is a scene near the end of the film when the whole world seems to be glued to their televisions to see what will happen with Truman. When the show suddenly goes dark (if you’ve seen the movie you know why) crowds of people are shown in a brief moment of confusion before simply changing the channel, quickly moving on & resuming their lives. It’s a fleeting yet powerful moment that serves as accurately cynical commentary on our society. 

Sunday Matinee 

A Christmas Carol

I’ve written extensively about A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella that has been adapted into a decidedly mixed bag of films in the past century. In 2009 director Robert Zemeckis gifted us with a motion capture digital animated version of the story, with Carrey portraying multiple characters (Ebenezer Scrooge, The Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, & Yet to Come). Motion capture seems to be an oddly polarizing technology…some people love it, a lot of folks hate it. Personally, I’m a fan. I also respect movies that remain faithful to the book they’re  based on, and this film is a remarkably authentic translation of Dickens’ tale, especially given the fact that it is animated. Critics & moviegoers had a tepid response, but it has become part of my annual Yuletide tradition.

Sunday Night 

Liar Liar

This is Jim Carrey at his comedic plateau. Sure, he made Me, Myself, & Irene (not terrible by any means) & Bruce Almighty (you probably like it better than I do, although I don’t hate it) afterward, but certainly his roles started to lean toward the dramatic and/or the completely forgettable as a new century dawned. The premise…an attorney who is unable to lie for 24 hours…is inspired. How we get there is reminiscent of the 80’s Tom Hanks classic Big, but I’m willing to overlook the mystical contrivance since it leads to a comic showcase for Carrey’s unique skills, a more polished rendition of his Ace Ventura persona. Critics & audiences both gave Liar Liar two thumbs up, and it was the third highest grossing film of the year (Titanic was released right before Christmas 1997, so it was the box office champ of 1998…but with just a couple of weeks in theaters it was still the 7th highest grossing film of ‘97).

WEEKEND MOVIE MARATHONS: Ivan Reitman

Let’s call it happenstance. My friend Greg has been trying to get a podcast up & running for awhile, but life keeps getting in the way. With football finished & The Sammy Awards in the rear view mirror I find myself in an all too familiar writing funk, and since it’s my therapy the melancholy compounds itself. But then Ivan Reitman died. Now, with all due respect & total sincerity, I am NOT saying that Reitman’s demise is in any way positive or good, however I do believe in making lemonade out of lemons, so when Greg contacted me with an idea to do an episode of the podcast dedicated to the departed director a couple of decisions were made. First of all, if I am going to intelligently opine I needed a refresher on Ivan Reitman’s work. Secondly, while I am not sure what path we may go down on the podcast, I had always planned on doing a Weekend Movie Marathon focusing on Reitman. So here we are.

Friday Night

No Strings Attached

Ivan Reitman isn’t a name I immediately associate with rom-coms, but he did direct this one about a decade ago. No Strings Attached stars Natalie Portman & Ashton Kutcher and should not be confused with Friends with Benefits, a similarly themed film starring Justin Timberlake & Mila Kunis that was released just six months later. Since Kutcher & Kunis are married I wonder if they’ve ever argued about which movie is better?? Personally I find both mildly pleasant, although critics like Friends with Benefits significantly more. Anyway, you know what you’re getting from the jump…two people who agree to a casual, non-romantic, purely physical relationship catch feelings. It’s nice to see an Academy Award winning actress like Portman have fun and not fall into the trap of thinking she has to stick with tedious, pensive, dramatic roles.

Saturday Matinee

Kindergarten Cop

At some point someone got the idea that action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger should transition into comedy. Perhaps it was Ivan Reitman since he directed three such efforts. To be honest Kindergarten Cop isn’t as much of a straight comedy as it is a lighthearted action drama that utilizes cute kids in supporting roles to make it seem less…actiony. The future Governator plays a cop who goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher (hence the title) to apprehend a drug kingpin. There are some vaguely recognizable faces (Angela Bassett shows up as a stewardess just a year or two before she became well-known), and Penelope Ann Miller portrays the protagonist’s love interest. Whatever happened to Miller?? She should’ve been a huge movie star, but really hasn’t done anything notable since the early 90’s.

Saturday Night

Meatballs

One of Bill Murray’s earliest films, and the first of a few collaborations between he & Reitman. Teens at summer camp is a tried & true cinematic formula, and though Meatballs doesn’t really stand out from the crowd (it’s not particularly raunchy or even that hilarious), it is notable as a showcase for Murray’s comedic talents and solidifying the idea that his shtick could migrate from Saturday Night Live to the big screen.

Sunday Matinee

Draft Day

Kevin Costner is known for his sports-centric movies. Bull Durham. Field of Dreams. Tin Cup. American Flyers. For Love of the Game. I’m pretty sure Draft Day wouldn’t crack the Top 3 on that list, but if you’re one of those nerds whose eyes are glued to the television for three days every spring watching guys like Mel Kiper Jr., Todd McShay, & Rich Eisen break down the NFL’s Annual Selection Meeting then you appreciate this underrated gem. I just so happen to be one of those geeks. It’s kind of predictable & the romantic subplot is totally unnecessary, but a supporting cast that includes Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Sam Elliott, Chadwick Boseman, & Ellen Burstyn helps make it sufficiently entertaining.

Sunday Night

Twins

The Schwarzenegger comedy experiment came out of the gate strong. The plot involves 4ft.11, 150lb. Danny Devito & 6ft.2, 260lb. Schwarzenegger being long lost fraternal twins as a result of a genetics lab experiment. Of course that kind of amusing visual joke would typically make a funny SNL skit, while turning it into a feature film is tricky. Kudos to the actors & Reitman for pulling it off. Critics offered mixed reviews, but Joe Sixpack made Twins the 16th highest grossing movie of 1988, which isn’t too shabby in a year when the competition included classics like Coming to America, Good Morning Vietnam, Big, Die Hard, Moonstruck, Scrooged, Beetlejuice, & Bull Durham. A long rumored sequel (that waited so long Eddie Murphy’s role allegedly shifted to Tracey Morgan, which is like downgrading from Dom Perignon to Mad Dog 20/20) was set to get off the ground soon, but with Ivan Reitman’s departure from this mortal coil who knows what might happen. Perhaps his son Jason will take on the project.

Superfluous 7: Best (And Worst) Fictional Santa Clauses 

Yes West Virginia, there is a Santa Claus…or atleast there used to be a long time ago. Saint Nicholas was a 4th century clergyman in Turkey. He is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, & unmarried people, and is well known for his practice of secret gift giving. That very real bishop gave rise to the legend of Santa Claus (aka Kris Kringle, Jolly Old Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Pere Noel, Sinter Klaas, et al). As a central figure in our modern celebration of Christmas he is not without controversy, but unlike some of my Christian brothers & sisters I take no issue with Santa’s role in our merriment. I choose to see him as a friend & servant of Christ, spreading joy, generosity, & good cheer thru his interactions with children of all ages. Pop culture has embraced Santa Claus for centuries, and he ranks right up there with characters like Sherlock Holmes & Dracula in the countless times & ways he has been portrayed. In pondering that very subject I began thinking about all of the great & not so great depictions of Santa thru the years, and decided to present…..

from the home office in Santa Claus, IN…..

The Superfluous 7 Best (And Worst) Fictional Santa Clauses:

7 Worst – Santa Claus (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

It is only thru the prism of adulthood that we begin to understand that this Santa is kind of an ass!! While it isn’t surprising that other reindeer bully Rudolph about his…physical deformity…we expect more from Santa, who essentially says the whole red nose thing might prevent Rudolph from making his sleigh team. But then the weather gets bad (as if snowstorms are rare at The North Pole 🤷🏻‍♂️) and, like so many of us flawed human beings, Santa suddenly warms up to Rudolph when he realizes that red nose just might be advantageous. In other words, Rudolph is disposable until Santa needs to use him, which is pretty disheartening.

Best – Santa Claus (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

For those of us of a certain age the Rankin-Bass stop-motion animated holiday specials produced in the 1960s & 70s are quintessential Christmas and represent a huge piece of our childhood. 1964’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was the first of those TV specials and is still shown annually a half century later. While Rudolph, Hermey the Elf, & Yukon Cornelius take center stage, The Jolly Old Elf is there as a supporting character, and, despite his questionable attitude, he is the first Santa many encounter on television as kids. He has the red suit, the full white beard, a deep booming voice, & the requisite “Ho Ho Ho!”.

6 Worst – Nick Claus (Fred Claus)

This one hurts because I freakin’ love Paul Giamatti. From his breakout role in Howard Stern’s Private Parts to the Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon to portraying quirky writer Harvey Pekar in American Splendor to my personal favorite Sideways (a critically acclaimed yet underrated gem), Giamatti quietly became one of the most undervalued actors in Hollywood about two decades ago. It’s not that Giamatti is miscast as Sadsack Santa because vaguely depressed is kind of his wheelhouse, it’s the fact that characterizing Santa that way simply doesn’t feel right. Fred Claus isn’t a good movie to begin with, despite the presence of Vince Vaughn, Giamatti, & Oscar winner Kevin Spacey, but a milquetoast Santa with family drama who gets bullied by a bitter efficiency expert (🤔🤷🏻‍♂️👀) isn’t the least bit amusing. To top it off, Santa is unable to deliver gifts on Christmas Eve due to a back injury, so it’s up to his slacker brother to get the job done. And I’m supposed to laugh??

Best – The Norelco Santa Claus

From 1961-89 it was an annual tradition for Norelco (a division of electronics conglomerate Philips) to hawk their electric razor with a commercial featuring Santa Claus. This Santa didn’t say anything, he just zoomed thru snow covered hills utilizing an electric shaver head as a sleigh while a voiceover detailed the latest razor on the market that you might want to gift Dad, Grandpa, or any other man on your list. The irony of a full-bearded Santa shilling for a razor never occurred to me back then, and now those commercials (thankfully available on YouTube) provide a healthy dose of nostalgia, which becomes a huge part of the Christmas experience as one grows older.

5 Worst – Higbee’s Santa (A Christmas Story)

“Find a job you enjoy doing and you will never work a day in your life” is a quote I’ve seen attributed to both Mark Twain & Confucius, but the truth is that the vast majority of adults hate their job. We have bills to pay & oftentimes families to support, so you do what you have to do. Nobody embodies this ethos more than the department store Santa in our favorite 1983 holiday classic. In his brief time on screen he moans about possibly having to work overtime, shows utter disdain for the children standing in line to see him, grows impatient with a very nervous Ralphie, and literally kicks the boy in the face. Far from the jolly, kindhearted, magical elf we think of Santa being, this version is just Joe Sixpack anxiously awaiting the end of his shift, probably so he can go home, smoke a bowl, watch some porn, and eat a bologna sandwich with mustard dripping all over his wifebeater.

Best – Kris Kringle (Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town)

I love a good origin story, and this is the best explanation of all things Santa. Another well done Rankin-Bass production, it shows how a baby named Claus is abandoned, then found & raised by a family of toymakers named Kringle. When he grows up Kris volunteers to deliver toys to children in nearby Sombertown, ruled by the malevolent Burgermeister Meisterburger. Kris meets & falls in love with schoolteacher Jessica, who eventually becomes Mrs. Claus. He is forced to go down chimneys & leave toys in stockings after Meisterburger orders a lockdown (must be a Democrat). Jessica asks the Winter Warlock for help in freeing an imprisoned Kris, and he does so by feeding magic corn to reindeer, enabling them to fly. While in hiding Kris grows a beard, marries Jessica, & builds a toy empire at The North Pole. He decides that he’ll deliver gifts on one special night each year…Christmas Eve. It’s quite neat to have questions surrounding the Santa mythos answered, and seeing him grow from a baby to a red haired young man to the white-haired old man in a red suit we all know & love is delightful.

4 Worst – Emo Santa (The Year Without a Santa Claus)

Men are infamous whiners when we fall ill, but this dude takes the cake. Voiced by the legendary Mickey Rooney, this Santa Claus just isn’t feeling the good vibes or appreciation that he expects, so he sends forth the decree that Christmas is cancelled. It is this sort of thing that makes a lot of religious folks dislike Santa, as if he has the ultimate authority to cancel Christmas. Hollywood notoriously avoids focusing on the true Reason for the Season, something I reluctantly made peace with long ago. However, to insinuate that Santa Claus is in charge of the entire holiday is a bit much. And really, the guy isn’t even physically sick. He’s desperately seeking validation & an ego boost, and perhaps suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder. He should ask himself for some Vitamin D pills or a Sunlight Therapy Lamp for Christmas.

Best – The Coca-Cola Santa Claus

Coca-Cola’s signature red & white colors sync perfectly with Santa Claus, right?? However, it wasn’t always that way. If you look at visual depictions of Santa from the early 20th century or before how he looks varies widely. Sometimes he’s tall & thin, other times (in tune with his role as the Jolly Old Elf) he is seen as…well, elf size. He might be wearing the long & flowing robes of a typical bishop, or even military gear. When Coke began using Santa in advertising campaigns in the 1930s they hired illustrator Haddon Sundblom to create a warm & friendly Santa with rosy cheeks, an amiable smile, & that twinkle in his eye. He appears as a full-grown man with an ample mid-section. Sunblom’s Santa became the standard, and his nostalgic drawings can still give one all the feels.

3 Worst – The Santas That Killed Grandma & Kissed Mommy

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (recorded in 1952 by 13 year old Jimmy Boyd) and Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer (recorded by Elmo & Patsy in 1979) are two of the most enduring novelty songs of the holiday season, and I can’t stand them. Despite the title of the song, the kid’s drunken grandmother didn’t technically get killed by reindeer. The lyrics even indicate that the corpse had “incriminating Claus marks on her back” and warns “they should never give a license to a man who drives a sleigh and plays with elves”. Santa should’ve been arrested for vehicular manslaughter!! The other song is only marginally better. No one dies, but a child seeing Mom play tonsil hockey with Santa is likely going to need therapy. He thinks Dad will get a good laugh out of his wife being a skank, but that’s probably way too optimistic.

Best – Scott Calvin (The Santa Clause Trilogy)

I love the origin story of The Santa Clause. Rather than having Santa be one guy who magically lives forever it is depicted as a role that one person takes over when the previous portrayer dies. It makes a lot of logical sense. Scott Calvin is just an Average Joe, a middle-aged divorced Dad navigating associated pitfalls like custody issues & the ex wife’s new boyfriend, all while working 9 to 5 as an executive for a toy manufacturer (convenient). The whole deal with Santa falling off the roof is a little weird, but we soon forget it once Scott & his young son Charlie are transported to The North Pole. When Scott fully embraces his new life and becomes ensconced in the ultimate dream job it is truly magical. It’s a very modern perspective on the Santa Claus mythology, but with just enough notes of enchantment to make it special.

2 Worst – Willie T. Soke (Bad Santa)

Y’all know how much I love Christmas movies. Whether it’s a Santa Claus story, wacky family hijinks, or one of the plethora of adaptations of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, I’m always ready to jump onboard the Holiday Film Train. That being said, while I realize there are folks who absolutely love this “modern classic” from 2003, I’m not one of them. Willie is another mall Santa, but he’s even worse than the guy from A Christmas Story because he & his “elf” sidekick are pulling a long con…working at the mall until right before Christmas, then cleaning out the safe. But wait, there’s more!! Not only is Santa Willie a thief, he’s also a drunken, foul mouthed nymphomaniac who has sex with women in the mall dressing room & parking lot. On top of all that he is befriended by a mentally challenged young boy who he proceeds to take advantage of throughout the film. I’m no prude, and enjoy the occasional dark comedy, but come on man…this movie makes Die Hard look like a rom-com. They actually produced a sequel about five years ago, and it’s less amusing than the original.

Best – St. Nick (A Visit from St. Nicholas)

Published anonymously in the Troy Sentinel newspaper in 1823, it wasn’t until almost fifteen years later that Clement Clark Moore claimed authorship. At the time Moore was a middle-aged professor at a New York City seminary. The poem is very descriptive and solidified the Santa Claus persona, creating the perception most everyone has of him to this day. The idea that he is “jolly”. He rides a flying sleigh pulled by eight reindeer (and he gives us their names!!). He arrives on Christmas Eve and comes down the chimney. The twinkling eyes, jiggly belly, white beard, & rosy cheeks. It’s a beautiful story, one that many parents read to their children on Christmas Eve. I have always opined that anything…books, music, film & TV, etc…that we are still enjoying decades after its initial release deserves respect, and in this case we’re talking about a poem & a vivid interpretation of Santa Claus that has stood the test of time for two centuries.

1 Worst – Billy Chapman (Silent Night Deadly Night)

When I was a teenager our church had an active & tightly knit youth group. We shared some awesome times, one of those being our annual Progressive Dinner during which we’d have appetizers at one house, salad at the next, then go to another place for an entree, and finally end up at the home of our youth leaders for dessert. We’d stay there quite late, eating junk food, playing cards, and watching movies (oh to be a teen again). On one of these delightful evenings we watched a slasher film in which a young boy witnesses his parents get carjacked & murdered by Santa Claus. Billy ends up in an orphanage, grows up with…issues (shocker)…and becomes a murderous Santa himself. Look, I know that there are people who love this kind of thing, but horror films have never been my cup o’ tea, and involving Santa in such craziness, while undeniably creative, just isn’t entertaining. Surprisingly enough the movie birthed four sequels, and I think they’re going to remake the original.

Best – Kris Kringle (Miracle on 34th Street)

The first Christmas movie I watch every year actually begins its story on Thanksgiving, at the Macy’s Parade in NY City. When the man originally hired by the department store to portray Santa Claus is found intoxicated, kindly old Kris Kringle is Johnny On-the-Spot and takes over the gig. Along the way he befriends his world weary boss, her precocious daughter, & a quixotic attorney who is sweet on the single Mom. After claiming to be the REAL Santa the good-natured old man finds himself in a looney bin then on trial. Edmund Gwenn won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Kris Kringle, and of all the Santas ever seen on the big screen his is simply the best. He makes you want to believe that Santa Claus could actually be real.

THE 2021 SAMMY CLAUS WISH LIST 

Christmas isn’t what it used to be for Sammy Claus. There are lots of reasons for that, and I will spare The Manoverse the mundane details. Suffice to say that I long for the days when our extended family gathered on Christmas Eve to consume copious amounts of seafood and simply relish the joy of fellowship. I miss the cheerful anticipation of being with the nuclear family on Christmas Day when we were happier, healthier, & more sanguine. The absences of my mother & my grandparents are keenly felt years after their departure from this mortal coil. My nephews are grown up and I missed out on having children of my own, so we await a new generation of youngsters thru which we may renew our holiday merriment. If I sound downtrodden it is because I’m keeping it real. Thru the years I have occasionally laid bare my soul in this space. I have been transparent about who I am & what I’m about, good or bad. Having said all of that, it cannot be denied that this holiday season has been a significant improvement over last year. While legit concerns remain…because that’s just life…there is ample evidence for hope & tranquility. It is with that sense of optimism that we once again present the annual Wish List. As always, being Sammy Claus wields no special power. I will not be flying around the world in a sleigh pulled by reindeer on Christmas Eve. My fervent hope is that a certain inhabitant of The North Pole reads The Manofesto on occasion and might see fit to bestow these gifts upon the entities named here. And of course my biggest wish is that everyone will step away from the presents & the food & the movies to praise The One True Reason for The Season.

Gas Prices

a 50% decrease

The Pittsburgh Steelers

A young, athletic, rocket armed, mobile QB, revamped offensive line, and new offensive & defensive coordinators. Is that too much??

The NCAA’s Transfer Portal

Parameters. It’s not a terrible concept, but it is a little out of control.

Lebron James

Utter & complete professional failure and the newly learned skill of knowing when to shut your ignorant piehole.

Urban Meyer

a swift kick in the ass

Mike Krzyzewski (aka Coach K)

A very happy retirement…you’ve been amongst the best.

Tiger Woods

one last hurrah

The Southern Border of the U.S.

A freakin’ wall for God’s sake!! There is a right way & a wrong way for “tired, poor, huddled masses” to breathe free in America. My great grandparents emigrated here from Italy and I’m grateful, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask that a process be followed and laws respected.

The RGPAC

Just as many entertaining shows in the future as we’ve enjoyed the past few years.

My Friends Who Are Leaving RGPAC

Much success & happiness in your future endeavors. You WILL be missed & you better stay in touch!!

That One Dude On City Council

Defeat in the next election & much misery in your pathetic little life…you’re a total prick.

“Vaccine” Mandates & Passports

Annihilation. This is is America. Get the jab or not, whatever makes you happy & makes you feel safe, but no one should lose their livelihood or be denied access to venues over a “vaccine” that doesn’t even prevent the disease it was created to eradicate and has actually caused illness & death to otherwise healthy people who thought they were doing the right thing.

Sammy Claus

A Mrs. Claus, or atleast a lovely lady to laugh with, go out to dinner occasionally, see a show or watch a movie, and most of all someone with whom I can have engaging, enlightening, intelligent conversations and who’ll challenge me to be a better version of myself.

The Metaverse

healthy competition

Cancel Culture

cancellation

Anything “Problematic”

A giant eye roll. Seriously, stop judging things that were created, stated, produced, or done decades ago thru our modern, politically correct, woke perspective. It’s silly. It’s meaningless. It’s unproductive.

COVID-19

Lack of oxygen, which is the simplest way to put out a fire.

Kyle Rittenhouse

A peaceful life away from an unwanted spotlight.

Alec Baldwin

firearms safety training & a set of steak knives

The Cuomo Brothers

Actually, they’ve already gotten what they deserved.

Jenn Psaki

a lobotomy

My Neighbor

a mute button 😂

Late Night TV

Atleast one new host that is actually funny & not a complete douchenozzle.

Streaming Services

Consolidation & lower prices…y’all are getting out of control nickel & diming us into poverty.

Pro Wrestling

A return to the glory years of being enjoyable, must-see television. The current product ain’t it and we all know it.

Jeopardy!

A permanent new host that everyone can embrace.

Britney Spears

Wisdom. Happiness. Good decision making. Freedom. Peace.

Pete Davidson

Intestinal fortitude to withstand what is to come. Ride the wave my man. Enjoy the moment. Sadly, we all know it won’t last.

Per tradition I shall end with a quote from the Rankin-Bass animated classic Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town:

“Lots of unhappiness? Maybe so. But doesn’t Santa take a little bit of that unhappiness away? Doesn’t a smile on Christmas morning scratch out a tear cried on a sadder day? Not much maybe. But what would happen if we all tried to be like Santa and learned to give as only he can give…of ourselves, our talents, our love and our hearts? Maybe we could all learn Santa’s beautiful lesson and maybe there would finally be peace on Earth and good will toward men.”

Yippee Ki Yay Santa Claus  

What is a Christmas film?? What are the parameters?? How do we define the sub-genre?? These are vital questions to ponder as one tackles a central question of the holiday season: is Die Hard a Christmas movie?? 

It is a debate that has become an annual tradition on social media every December, with passionate advocates on both sides of the issue. I have jumped into the fray on occasion, but it’s kind of like arguing about religion, sports, & politics…the chances of changing anyone’s mind is midway between slim & none. 

The first thing that needs addressed is the definition of a Christmas movie. In my opinion it’s pretty simple. Context & backdrop are important. Is the movie set at or around Christmastime?? Visuals are a key element as well. Are there Christmas trees & decorations in the movie?? Music is a vital part of any cinematic experience. Does the movie contain Christmas music?? Some folks like to argue about the subject matter or main theme of the film, but that’s a slippery slope. How many of our beloved Christmas films are truly about Christmas?? There are very few movies that even mention Jesus Christ, let alone focus on His birth. Hollywood runs from religiosity, so if you throw out the birth of Christ as a defining characteristic the whole discussion becomes a free-for-all. What about a movie’s release date?? Nowadays most studios will debut their holiday films in November or December, but that hasn’t always been the case, so it has to be eliminated as a requirement. At the end of the day, if a movie takes place at Christmas, shows Christmas trees & other decor onscreen, has Christmas music, & gets alot of play on television in December I think you can reasonably call it a Christmas movie.

Die Hard was released on July 15, 1988, which is something that many use to discredit it as a Christmas film. However, allow me to toss out some truth bombs. It’s A Wonderful Life hit theaters on January 7, 1946, yet nobody calls it a New Year’s movie. Miracle on 34th St. was released on May 2, 1947 and no one is questioning its Yuletide credentials. White Christmas came out on October 14, 1954, yet it certainly isn’t a Halloween movie. Christmas in Connecticut was released on August 11, 1945. Elf?? October 9, 2003. The Polar Express?? October 30, 2004. You get the point. While Christmas movies are generally out in November or December there are exceptions, so release date cannot be used to disqualify Die Hard or anything else from the category.

Let’s dive down the setting rabbit hole. Some folks like to say that Die Hard isn’t a Christmas movie, it just happens to be set at Christmas, which is a really dumb argument. They point out that it’s about terrorists taking a bunch of people hostage in a skyscraper, and the plot wouldn’t change if it took place in the spring or summer. Okay, I’ll concede the point. However, let’s look at It’s A Wonderful Life, which is one of my all-time favorites. The story is about a suicidal man who is guided back on track by a good-natured guardian angel. It happens to take place on Christmas Eve, but would the story change all that much if George Bailey was going to jump off that bridge in March or September?? Not at all. What about Home Alone, the story of a little boy’s valiant defense of his house against burglars?? What if Kevin’s family forgot him as they were headed to the beach in the summer or to Disneyland in April?? Would it drastically alter the movie?? Not really. And don’t get me started on the ubiquitous Hallmark Christmas movies that the ladies love (okay okay…I’ve watched a few on occasion too). They are basically small screen rom-coms that take place at Christmas, but no one is mocking them. Well, alright…everyone mocks them, but no one whines that they aren’t Christmas movies. The importance of setting cannot be minimized. Die Hard takes place on Christmas Eve during a company Christmas party. Why do some people want to flippantly toss that fact aside??

At one point John McClane kills a terrorist, puts a Santa hat on him, & sends the carcass back to evil Hans Gruber wearing a sign that’s says “Now I have a machine gun…Ho ho ho!”. Are we supposed to ignore that?? Or how about early on, in the limo, when Argyle the chauffeur introduces us to Run-DMC’s Christmas in Hollis?? And the closing credits that feature traditional holiday song Let it Snow?? I’m pretty sure there is a little Jingle Bells & Winter Wonderland thrown into the mix as well. Those moments cannot be discarded.

I shouldn’t bring politics into this, but I cannot help myself. In my experience one side of the ideological aisle tends to support their opinions with logic & facts, while the other side is led by their feelings. I find this is also the case with the Die Hard debate. Christmas movies are generally warm & fuzzy family flicks or kid friendly Santa Claus stories, which is fine. I love that kind of stuff. Conversely, Die Hard is violent & doesn’t “feel” Christmasy. That’s really the only legitimate argument some can offer. Unfortunately for them facts & feelings don’t always intersect. 

In my humble opinion the debate begins & ends with the setting. To argue that Die Hard isn’t a Christmas movie, it’s just set at Christmas, makes zero sense. The fact that it takes place on Christmas Eve at a Christmas party is precisely what makes it a Christmas movie. Offering hypotheticals that the plot wouldn’t change if the story took place some other time of year doesn’t hold water a) because it is speculative and not based on the reality of what the film actually is, & b) rationale that can be applied to other movies that no one is trying to disparage. This fact & other evidence I have presented form a solid case in support of Die Hard as a Christmas movie. Welcome to the party Pal. 

WEEKEND MOVIE MARATHONS: MORGAN FREEMAN

If you haven’t read the intro to this series please do so that you have some idea of what’s this is all about, and if you’re a Tom Hanks fan you might want to go here (but then come straight back).

I could sit & listen to Morgan Freeman talk for hours. He has one of the greatest voices in the history of entertainment and is the definition of a late bloomer. Though he’d been a stage actor since the early 60’s & had some small, uncredited roles in forgettable films, the earliest work most remember him for is the PBS children’s educational series The Electric Company in the 1970’s. Even then, he didn’t really become a “movie star” until the 80’s when he was nearly 50 years old. To be honest his filmography is kind of hit & miss for me, so I gave sincere consideration to which of his works I’d enjoy spending a weekend watching. You may disagree with my choices, but I think the lineup presented here is solid. Freeman isn’t necessarily a leading man in the truest sense of that concept, but he makes anything he is in better.

Friday Night

Seven

I’m not into horror movies at all, and even thrillers aren’t really my thing. I much prefer something that’ll put a smile on my face. There are exceptions to every rule though. Seven follows two cops on the trail of a serial killer who uses the Seven Deadly Sins (pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, & sloth) as a theme for his…work. The psychopath is portrayed by Kevin Spacey and the detectives are played by Freeman & Brad Pitt, so it’s probably fair to say that Freeman is a distant third when it comes to star power in the cast, which kind of proves my point. Seven would have done well at the box office with Pitt & Spacey as the headliners, but the presence of Morgan Freeman makes it a better movie. If you’ve never seen it I won’t spoil the ending, but wow…it’s really good.

Saturday Matinee

Now You See Me

Perhaps I am one of the few who enjoys repeat viewings of this movie. It follows a group of magicians who use their skills to rob people & banks. Freeman portrays a jaded magician who now makes money exposing the secrets of magic. The cast includes Woody Harrelson, Michael Caine, Mark Ruffalo, and a few up & comers, so once again Morgan Freeman’s true role is to add gravitas to the ensemble, which is kind of his thing. Now You See Me has a tepid 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but finished 23rd at the box office in 2013, more than quadrupling its $75 million dollar budget. What that means is the stuffy, austere critics found all the flaws while Joe Sixpack just enjoyed watching a fun caper. A sequel came out a few years later, but wasn’t nearly as entertaining. I understand why Hollywood makes sequels, but sometimes lightning in a bottle just can’t be duplicated. It is my understanding that a third film is in development, and I hope it’s as slick & clever as the original, although I won’t hold my breath.

Saturday Night

The Shawshank Redemption

Many people promote The Shawshank Redemption as one of the greatest films of all time, and I wouldn’t argue too vociferously with those folks. As mentioned, I tend to gravitate toward lighter, more breezy fare, so prison flicks don’t usually earn my attention, but you know the drill…there are exceptions. Shawshank is actually based on a Stephen King novella. I’ve never read the book, but cannot imagine it could be better than the movie. Morgan Freeman portrays Red Redding, who has been imprisoned for two decades when we first meet him for a double homicide that he admits he’s guilty of but now deeply regrets. Red becomes best buds with Andy Dufresne, a young banker wrongly convicted of killing his wife & her lover. Lots of bad things happen at the prison, which is led by a corrupt warden. Andy eventually escapes, and (spoiler alert) several years later Red is paroled and reunites with his friend. Shawshank received seven Academy Award nominations, including a Best Actor nod for Freeman, which was his third of five Oscar nominations (he’s won once). It didn’t do well at the box office at all, but became one of the earlier movies to find success thru video rentals & being shown on television with some frequency. It’s almost embarrassing to realize almost thirty years later that The Shawshank Redemption made less money in theaters than balderdash like Natural Born Killers, The Shadow, Jason’s Lyric, & House Party 3.

Sunday Matinee

Bruce Almighty

It feels appropriate to spend Sunday afternoon with a film in which Morgan Freeman plays God. Once again he’s not the star…it’s Jim Carrey’s show, but God seems like a role tailor made for Freeman. He helps guide Carrey’s Bruce, an unhappy TV reporter who blames his crappy life on God. That’s when The Big Guy shows up and offers Bruce an opportunity to be in charge for a few days. Hilarity ensues and Bruce (along with the audience) learns a few valuable lessons along the way. Critics were lukewarm in their reviews, but it was the fifth highest grossing film of 2003. It’s one of those movies that’ll amuse you for a couple of hours & make you chuckle, but won’t really make an impact on your memory.

Sunday Night

Deep Impact

Speaking of impact…

1998 saw the release of two movies in which an asteroid threatens the existence of life on Earth. Armageddon had the cooler movie stars and made a bunch more money (finishing a far distant second to the juggernaut that was Titanic), but I’ve always had a soft spot for Deep Impact. While the cast isn’t as popular as the competition (whatever happened to Tea Leoni??) Morgan Freeman is there as the President of the United States, another role that seems tailor made for him. What does Freeman do?? Say it with me now…he makes anything he is in better. I believe Deep Impact has superior writing & features better performances than Armageddon, and our guy contributes significantly to that perception. And oh by the way…it still finished 7th at the box office that year despite mixed reviews (45% on Rotten Tomatoes compared to 38% for Armageddon, so critics weren’t impressed with either film).

100 Memorable Movie Characters – The Top 10

The most amazing thing for me is that every single person who sees a movie brings a whole set of unique experiences. Through careful manipulation & good storytelling you can get everybody to clap at the same time, to hopefully laugh at the same time, and to be afraid at the same time. – Steven Spielberg

“Stay tuned for the Top 10…coming…soon-ish.” That’s what I said at the end of the previous installment of this series…a little over a year ago. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then, but this isn’t the time to dive down that rabbit hole. At this moment I just want to finish what I started way back in October 2019. As I’m sure you’ll want a little refresher please check out how we got to this point by going here, here, here, here, & here. It’s good to be back.

10      Forrest Gump (Forrest Gump)

An unnamed person, in a conversation with legendary college football coach Bear Bryant, describes the titular character in 1994’s Best Picture simply & succinctly as “a local idiot”. Of course he is so much more. It is my understanding that the film is significantly different in tone from the book it is based on, but either way it is a flight of fancy in which the aforementioned idiot finds himself in a number of inexplicable situations, from playing college football at Alabama to becoming a war hero to blowing the whistle on Watergate burglars to owning his own shrimping business. Forrest isn’t completely oblivious, and he has a level of common sense that would be the envy of many real life individuals nowadays. He loves his Mama and meets his girl Jenny in grade school, although it takes her a few decades to return his affection. Those two ladies are all he really cares about until he gets to Vietnam and meets his buddy Bubba, whose life is cut tragically short, and Lt. Dan, who eventually becomes his best friend & business partner. Tom Hanks won his second consecutive Academy Award for Best Actor for the role, and we all should be thankful he got the part after John Travolta, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and Sean Penn all allegedly passed on it.

Quotes

“Mama always said ‘Life is like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re gonna get’.”

“Jenny and me was like peas & carrots.”

“Mama says stupid is as stupid does.”

“I never went back to work for Lieutenant Dan, though he did take care of my Bubba-Gump money. He got me invested in some kind of fruit company. And so then I got a call from him saying we don’t have to worry about money no more. And I said ‘That’s good…one less thing’.”

“I’m not a smart man, but I know what love is.”

“I don’t know if Mama was right or if it’s Lt. Dan. I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I think maybe it’s both happening at the same time.”

9        Dorothy Gale (The Wizard of Oz)

Judy Garland was 16 years old when she portrayed Dorothy in the 1939 classic, which was an annual television tradition when I was a kid (a quaint notion these days). Garland starred in dozens of films in a career that spanned four decades (remarkable when you considered she passed on at the young age of 47), but she’ll always be remembered as Dorothy, a Kansas farm girl who gets caught in a tornado and either has a really cool dream or actually goes to a fantasy land called Oz, depending on one’s interpretation of the movie. L. Frank Baum wrote 14 novels about Oz, which means that we missed out on a bunch of potential sequels. I guess Hollywood did business a whole lot different back then. At any rate, Garland’s talents as a singer & actress, as well as her youthful innocence, made her the perfect choice for the role.

Quotes

“Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

“Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh my!”

“There’s no place like home.”

8 Batman, Superman, & Spider-Man (various films)

I’m not a comic book guy…never was, even as a little boy. However, superheroes are such a ubiquitous part of the pop culture landscape that there are plenty of ways to become familiar with and be entertained by the plethora of adventures they engage in. Though it might be a fun debate I am fairly certain that most would consider the Big Three superheroes to be Batman, Superman, & Spider-Man. My particular favorite has always been Batman, precisely for the reason that some question his status as a superhero at all. He’s not an alien. His body hasn’t been genetically altered in any way. He doesn’t have any kind of magic powers. Batman is simply a mega rich business mogul who has dedicated his life to vigilante justice because he is psychologically damaged after watching his parents get murdered when he was a little boy. I dare you to come up with cooler origin story. Superman is an “undocumented worker” from the planet Krypton whose spaceship lands in Kansas. After growing up on the farm he becomes a big city reporter, but when he takes his glasses off & uses a phone booth to change into his red caped costume he becomes indestructible, has x-ray vision, and can fly. Spider-Man is a typical American teenager who is bitten by a radioactive spider and develops all kinds of cool powers, including the ability to shoot webs from his wrist that help him to scale tall buildings & fly. He decides to use his unique skills to bring bad guys to justice after his Uncle Ben is shot by a street thug. Our three superheroes have starred in dozens of movies & TV shows. My favorite big screen Caped Crusader was portrayed by Michael Keaton in the late 80s Tim Burton films. As far as I’m concerned the late Christopher Reeve will always embody Superman. And though I am pretty fond of Tobey Maguire’s version of Spider-Man from a couple of decades ago I have to say that the current incarnation as presented by the Marvel Cinematic Universe is quite entertaining.

Quotes

“Maybe that’s what Batman is about. Not winning, but failing and getting back up. Knowing he’ll fail, fail a thousand times, but still won’t give up.” – Batman

“No matter where you go in life there’s always going to be the one person that wants to bring you down, so stay strong and face your problems instead of running away.” – Superman

“Not everyone is meant to make a difference. But for me, the choice to lead an ordinary life is no longer an option.” – Spiderman

7 Gordon Gekko (Wall Street)

Gordon Gekko represents a moment in time, or atleast some people’s perspective of that particular era. Were the 1980s a Decade of Greed, wherein the populace engaged in intense levels of conspicuous consumption?? Certainly pop culture embraced that mythology, with TV shows like Dallas & Dynasty and movies ranging from Trading Places & Arthur to Scarface & St. Elmo’s Fire. Yuppies drinking Perrier on their yachts while constantly checking in with their stock broker were a popular stereotype. Class warfare was encouraged. Did any of that have a legit connection to the real world?? Certainly the economy was robust in the 80s, but as a kid in small town West Virginia I never encountered those kinds of people. Unlike preconceived notions of Appalachia our family wore shoes, had indoor plumbing, & didn’t have vehicles on blocks in our front yard, yet we definitely weren’t wealthy. At any rate, even if folks like Gordon Gekko were rare Michael Douglas made him seem very real, sort of cool, & really interesting. His return in the 2010 sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps probably came about a decade too late, but it was still fun to see him onscreen again.

Quotes

“The most valuable commodity I know of is information.”

“What’s worth doing is worth doing for money.”

“Gimme guys who are poor, smart, & hungry. And no feelings. You win some, you lose some, but you keep on fighting. And if you need a friend, get a dog.”

“I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies & gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all its forms: greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind.”

“It’s a zero sum game. Somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn’t lost or made, it’s simply transferred from one perception to another. Like magic.”

“You got 99% of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own. We make the rules, pal. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval, the price per paper clip. We pick that rabbit out of the hat while everybody sits out there wondering how the hell we did it.”

6 Marty McFly & Doc Brown (The Back to the Future Trilogy)

I don’t think there’s any way to separate the pair. They are peanut butter & jelly, Bert & Ernie, peas & carrots…one without the other just isn’t right. I am a huge fan of the Back to the Future Trilogy. I assume most people have some level of familiarity with the franchise, but just in case I’ll refresh your memory. Marty is a typical California teen in the 1980s with a family that he finds slightly embarrassing. Dr. Emmett Brown is an eccentric scientist who builds a time machine out of a DeLorean. Marty accidentally gets sent back in time to the 1950s, inadvertently screws up the space-time continuum, jeopardizing his parents relationship and therefore his own existence. It’s pretty heavy. Throughout three very entertaining films Doc & Marty take us from the 1980s to the 1950s to the 21st Century and even the Old West. Michael J. Fox wasn’t even the original Marty, but when actor Eric Stoltz just didn’t click in the role he was replaced, and thank God for that. BTTF is just the right mix of fun, adventure, suspense, & romance, and Doc & Marty are the centerpiece.

Quotes

“If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you’re gonna see some serious shit.” (Doc)

“Whoa, wait a minute, Doc. Are you trying to tell me that my mother has got the hots for me?” (Marty)

“Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the Earth’s gravitational pull?” (Doc)

“I guess you guys aren’t ready for that, yet. But your kids are gonna love it.” (Marty)

“Great Scott!”  (Doc)

“So, you’re my Uncle Joey. Better get used to these bars, kid.” (Marty)

“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” (Doc)

“Time traveling is just too dangerous. Better that I devote myself to study the other great mystery of the universe: women.” (Doc)

“Your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one.” (Doc)

5 Rocky Balboa (The Rocky Series)

When ranking my favorite sports films several years ago I opined that Rocky redefined the genre. It was the first sports movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture (only two others have achieved that feat since) and was actually written by Sylvester Stallone. Hollywood power brokers wanted a known entity like James Caan or Burt Reynolds to play the lead because at the time, in the mid-1970s, Stallone was a nobody. The fact that Stallone not only got the part but received an Oscar nomination and created an iconic character in the process actually mirrors the plot of the film. I like the other actors considered for the role just fine, but Stallone portrays Rocky in such a way that we see ourselves in him. He’s not rich or successful. He isn’t a well-spoken intellectual. He’s just a guy from the neighborhood doing what he can to get by and chasing a dream in his spare time. The fact that he succeeds (eventually) and builds a great life for himself & his family gives the rest of us hope that we can do the same.

Quotes

“She’s got gaps, I got gaps. Together, we fill gaps.”

“Yo Adrian! I did it!!’

“If I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!”

“The world ain’t all sunshine & rainbows. It’s a very mean & nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”

4 Darth Vader (The Star Wars Series)

Has there ever been a more iconic cinematic badass?? The costume. The mask. The voice. Put Vader in a cage with Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and any other lunatic in the history of film and I’m guessing he’d hold his own. The question is, did the prequels ruin his story?? Aside from the weak writing and poor casting that lessened the impact of the prequel trilogy I’m going to say no…Darth Vader is still Darth Vader. I view Anakin Skywalker as a different character altogether. At the end of Rogue One (a criminally underappreciated film that’s better than any of the prequels) Vader has a brief yet effectual appearance that’ll make the hair on your neck stand up, but nothing beats that moment in The Empire Strikes Back when he drops the biggest truth bomb ever on Luke Skywalker. That scene is still quoted & parodied more than four decades later, which is quite a legacy.

Quotes

“I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

“Join me, and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict, and bring order to the galaxy.”

“I am your father! Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy as father & son!”

“Obi-Wan has taught you well.”

“You under estimate the power of the dark side. If you will not fight, then you will meet your destiny!”

3 Rick Blaine (Casablanca)

Do men like Rick even exist anymore?? Cool. Smart. Pragmatic. Mysterious. Debonair. A rare mix of romantic & jaded. He’s the kind of guy that makes women swoon yet men can’t help but respect & admire. His aloof demeanor hides a principled heart of gold. He owns a nightclub in Morocco that people flock to during WWII to forget about war for awhile. People from all walks of life & all nationalities (including Nazis) are welcome at Rick’s Cafe Americain because he’s a businessman who’ll gladly take anybody’s money. Perhaps men like Rick don’t exist anymore because they never did in the first place. Rick Blaine is an idealistic notion of what a man should be, and there are worse characters one could emulate.

Quotes

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

“I stick my neck out for nobody.”

“When it comes to women, you’re a true Democrat.”

“I don’t mind a parasite. I object to a cut-rate one.”

“I’m not fighting for anything anymore except myself. I’m the only cause I’m interested in.”

“If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life. We’ll always have Paris. I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that. Here’s looking at you, kid.”

“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

2 Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird)

It is rare that an attorney is viewed as a role model even in fiction, but Atticus Finch is the ultimate quixotic fantasy. Not only is he the most virtuous lawyer ever, but he’s the epitome of a perfect father. Modern audiences tend to prefer anti-heroes, or atleast a flawed protagonist in which we recognize our own imperfections and soothe ourselves with the notion that it’s okay to be a little messed up. We scoff at ideals like integrity, honor, ethics, loyalty, & altruism. That being said, is it really that bad to have such a measuring stick in our fiction?? On top of all that let me remind you of something I stated two years ago when we began this journey: “the value of a character’s name cannot be overstated”. How cool & memorable is the name Atticus Finch?? As usual I urge everyone to read To Kill A Mockingbird. It is one of my favorite books and most agree it is amongst the finest novels ever written. But we are discussing movie characters here, right?? The book had already won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize, so adapting it into a film just a year later had to have been a daunting task. Gregory Peck had already been nominated for four Academy Awards in the 1940s, so the powers-that-be knew what they were doing. It turned out better than anyone could have ever dreamed, with Peck beating out Burt Lancaster, Jack Lemmon, & Peter O’Toole to win his only Oscar.

Quotes

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

“In this country our courts are the great levelers. In our courts all men are created equal. I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and of our jury system…that’s no ideal to me. That is a living, working reality.”

“I remember when my Daddy gave me that gun. He told me that I should never point it at anything in the house, and that he’d rather I’d shoot at tin cans in the backyard. But he said that sooner or later he supposed the temptation to go after birds would be too much, and that I could shoot all the blue jays I wanted, if I could hit ’em, but to remember it was a sin to kill a mockingbird. Mockingbirds don’t do anything but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat people’s gardens, don’t nest in the corncribs. They don’t do one thing but just sing their hearts out for us.”

1 Michael Corleone (The Godfather Trilogy)

We’ve reached the pinnacle, and I am contradicting myself one last time…or am I?? When discussing Pacino’s portrayal of Lt. Col. Frank Slade I opined that, while The Godfather is his best film, Slade is his best performance. I stand by that because there is a difference. Michael Corleone is a much more memorable character, especially since he has an entire trilogy to impact our pop culture consciousness. That influence is made all the more impressive when considering the fact that Pacino shares the screen with Marlon Brando & James Caan in the original film, Part 2 is focused on Robert Deniro’s depiction of young Vito Corleone, and so many people despise Part 3 (I don’t hate it). But the one constant flowing thru all three Godfather films is Michael Corleone. He is introduced as a young war hero in a new romance, then reluctantly gets pulled into the family business. Finding that he has a knack for ruthlessness Michael evolves into a stone cold killer and merciless husband, even having his own brother murdered. As he grows old & ill he becomes consumed with regret and concerned with his legacy, his story ending with one of the more depressing deaths in cinema. The evolution of Michael Corleone is well written & performed and remarkably sad. 

Quotes

“My father made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Luca Brasi held a gun to his head and my father assured him that either his brains or his signature would be on the contract. That’s a true story. That’s my family, Kay. It’s not me.”

‘It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.’

“Don’t ever take sides with anyone against the family again, ever.”

“Today, I settle all family business, so don’t tell me you’re innocent because it insults my intelligence. It makes me very angry.”

“I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!”

“My father taught me many things here. He taught me to keep your friends close but your enemies closer.”

“You’re nothing to me now. You’re not a brother, you’re not a friend. I don’t want to know you or what you do. I don’t want to see you at the hotels. I don’t want you near my house. When you see our mother, I want to know a day in advance so I won’t be there.”

“Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgment.”

“I command this family, right or wrong. It was not what I wanted!”

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”