90’s Film Frenzy: Dope Round 3

As we begin Round 3 of 90’s Film Frenzy the field has been whittled down from 100 to 32 combatants. The bad news is that now choosing a winner becomes alot more difficult. The good news is that going forward my intention is to be much less verbose. It has always been my aim to keep posts here at The Manofesto fairly brief & readable, but I was uncomfortable with the idea of breaking down this competition into anything other than rounds & divisions lest the whole idea become a jumbled mess. Unfortunately that has meant some pretty lengthy entries thus far. However, at this point I believe you have all the essential information about each movie. You know release dates, the main cast, & director(s). I’ve given you quotes and trivia. We’ve talked about box office performance, awards, & critics’ reviews. From here on out it is a matter of separating the contenders from the pretenders and seeing which film will stand out from an impressive crowd.

 

 

 

 

 

Titanic                                             vs.                                 Father of the Bride Part II

After receiving a first round bye Titanic overcame stiff Round 2 competition and defeated Saving Private Ryan. I’m a sucker for biopics and anything historical (except for war movies…obviously), and since the 1912 Titanic disaster had been of interest to me from a young age I was all about this movie back in ’97. DiCaprio & Winslet are perfect as the two leads, but let’s talk about the supporting cast. Kathy Bates as “Unsinkable” Molly Brown. Gloria Stuart as “Old” Rose, a performance for which Stuart became the second oldest person to receive an Oscar nomination (though she lost to Kim Basinger for L.A. Confidential). Victor Garber as Thomas Andrews, the shipbuilder who is devastated by the fatal flaw he never fathomed. Bill Paxton as a greedy treasure hunter digging around the remains of the ship whose perspective is changed by Rose’s emotional recounting of the doomed voyage. The framing device of an expedition exploring the sunken ship with the aid of an immersible is a nice touch mirroring real life explorations of the wreckage. Celine Dion’s song My Heart Will Go On is only heard during the closing credits but became part of the total package of the film’s success and was a #1 hit all across the world. Father of the Bride II has beaten two people…Bob & Mary, to get to this point. It got past What About Bob? In Round 1, and upset There’s Something About Mary in the second round. I am well aware that there is no shortage of people who might consider those two films superior to FotB2, especially Mary. I’m just not much for gross out humor, and while some might think a guy getting his junk caught in a zipper hilarious I just find that scene uncomfortable to watch. At any rate, FotB2 takes the premise of its predecessor in a…different but fun direction. There are a couple of really funny scenes…one where George Banks takes a powerful sleeping pill just as his daughter is going into labor, and another when he’s feeling old and colors his hair, freaking out his wife in the process. I know a lot of folks take issue with the way that Martin Short’s eccentric wedding coordinator from the first film is shoehorned into the sequel, but let’s face it…Franck is responsible for atleast half of the laughs in both movies, and it works. Short & Martin are a great duo. Like its predecessor FotB2 isn’t really laugh-out-loud funny as much as it is heartwarming & cozy. It isn’t particularly quotable and critics really disliked it, but for me it’s one of those reliable, tried & true, go-to movies when there’s nothing better to do than chill out with a good flick.

 

The Verdict:       Titanic. As much as I love Father of the Bride II it just doesn’t stand up to the competition. Eleven Academy Awards and over a decade as the highest grossing film of all time is hard to ignore.

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My Cousin Vinny                                    vs.                                 Independence Day

Independence Day defeated Silence of the Lambs and Swingers in a second round triple threat match after receiving a first round bye. While Will Smith is the big star I am personally fonder of Jeff Goldblum’s performance as a tech expert, Judd Hirsh’s turn as Goldblum’s father, & Randy Quaid as a crazy, alcoholic former fighter pilot. It is those kinds of supporting performances that can take a movie to the next level. Obviously, as a prototypical summer blockbuster there are lots of explosions, mayhem, action, & destruction, but one of the issues that I’ve always had with such movies is that I need more. I need good writing, interesting characters, and a credible premise that makes me care about what happens. Independence Day may not rise to the level of Jaws when it comes to those things, but meets the criteria well enough. Setting it against the backdrop of the holiday that celebrates American freedom while also blowing up The White House and making The President one of its central heroes provides what otherwise may have been just another disaster movie with a sense of patriotism, akin to how Halloween isn’t just another random slasher flick because of the holiday it represents, which is kind of brilliant. My Cousin Vinny beat Speed in the second round after receiving a first round bye, and now finds itself in a similar battle. Joe Pesci has done a little bit of everything in his career, and while he may be best known for tough guy gangster roles in films like Raging Bull, Goodfellas, & Casino, I actually prefer him in lighter fare like the Lethal Weapon series & Home Alone, and he is perfectly cast as fledgling attorney Vincent Gambini. Marisa Tomei famously won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as gum smacking car expert Mona Lisa Vito, a rare award for comedy. One of the two guys on trial in the movie is portrayed by Ralph Macchio, who we obviously all remember from The Karate Kid, and the other is played by an actor named Mitchell Whitfield, who really hasn’t done much else worth noting in his career. Honestly those roles could’ve been played by any two random actors because they really aren’t that important after the initial premise is set up, but I understand casting a known face like Macchio, even if his talent is pretty much wasted. The hidden gem of My Cousin Vinny is Fred Gwynne as the judge. Gwynne is most famous for his role as family patriarch Herman in the 1960’s TV show The Munsters, so to see him without monster makeup and using a southern accent is rather amusing. His interactions & exasperation with Vinny are some of my favorite scenes in the movie.

 

The Verdict:       My Cousin Vinny. This is mainly about my preference for comedy over action, although the critics happen to agree with me. Independence Day made a ton of money back in the day, and it’s fine for what it is. However, in hindsight perhaps the powers-that-be tried to cram a bit too much into it at the expense of character development. Vinny is well-written & performed, and it doesn’t rely on potty humor, gross-out gags, sex, or profanity. It creates a farcical (yet quasi-plausible) situation and great characters and sharp dialogue to tell a funny story.

 

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Sleepless in Seattle                      vs.                                 Dumb & Dumber

 

Sleepless in Seattle is the second and most well-known of three Hanks/Ryan collaborations. After receiving a first round bye Sleepless defeated Galaxy Quest in Round 2, mostly because I think it is more accessible and appeals to a wider audience. Bill Pullman portrays the sickly fiancé of Ryan’s character Annie, and he seems more adept at comedic roles than in more serious fare. I kinda sorta identify with the character’s offbeat sense of humor, his perceived fragility, and the fact that I could totally see a hot babe ditching me for someone more charming & handsome. The kid in the movie was actually a recast after the first child actor just didn’t work out, and he plays the part well enough. Rosie O’Donnell, whom I have grown to detest since she became an outspoken political nutjob, was just a comedic actress in the early 90’s, a few years away from hosting her eponymous daytime talk show. Her role as the requisite best friend is necessary & amusing. Dumb & Dumber is probably the best of the Farrelly Brothers filmography, unless one chooses to throw in a memorable fourth season episode of the TV sitcom Seinfeld called The Virgin, which the brothers wrote. Jeff Daniels is another actor (like Bill Pullman) who should do more comedy because he’s actually quite funny. I know Jim Carrey gets all the attention, but this movie wouldn’t be nearly as good without Daniels. I first became enamored with actress Lauren Holly when she co-starred in an underrated CBS dramedy called Picket Fences in the early 90’s, but her spotlight grew brighter in the midst of that show’s run when Dumb & Dumber hit theaters. For some reason she never quite became a huge star though, and in recent years has once again been doing supporting roles on television. She essentially plays the straight man to both Carrey & Daniels in this movie, but she does it well and is certainly easy on the eyes. I must admit that, though I had every intention of heading to my local cineplex back in 2014 to check out the sequel Dumb & Dumber To I never made it and haven’t sought it out in the ensuing years, which is very instructive in analyzing my lukewarm affection for the original. A prequel was made back in 2003, but I didn’t bother and I don’t think many others did either.

 

The Verdict:       Sleepless in Seattle. I love Tom Hanks. I love Meg Ryan. I love Hanks & Ryan together. Both have moved on in their careers and tend to pursue more somber roles these days, but this is their wheelhouse and if they were to ever make another movie together…even though both are 60-ish now and not nearly as adorably appealing as they were 25 years ago…I’d be amongst the first in line at the theater. Dumb & Dumber is a movie I have watched a few times over the years, but it’s not an automatic tune in if I’m channel surfing…I have to be in just the right kind of silly mood.

 

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American Beauty                                    vs.                                 The Birdcage   

I realize that Kevin Spacey is persona non grata in Hollywood at the moment, his career having been mowed down by the #MeToo gestapo. It isn’t my intention to minimize anything odious that someone may have done or to put any unworthy person on a pedestal, but our purpose here is to chill out, have fun, & discuss movies, and Spacey is a brilliant actor who has done some great movies. He is the absolute best part of American Beauty, although…in retrospect…the subplot about him having a thing for a high school cheerleader feels unnecessary. I’ve never had the high paying job, beautiful wife, cute kid, or nice house that Lester Burnham has, but I am at an age now where I can understand the point at which a middle aged man looks at his life and just kind of snaps. Fortunately he loses it in a non-violent, mostly hilarious way, although the idea of emptiness & desperation is still properly conveyed. American Beauty is, at its core, an examination of the fraudulent façade of middle class suburbia, where so many folks who appear to be living the dream are actually drowning in despair. The ending of the movie is a bit of a downer, but when one ponders how the entire film could have been really depressing given the subject matter yet chooses a more lighthearted approach the conclusion becomes not only tolerable but feels almost necessary. The Birdcage is a blueprint that more entertainments should follow if they are hellbent & determined use their bully pulpit to dive into the sociopolitical abyss. It is a story told thru an obvious prism with a fairly clear perspective, but it never feels sanctimonious or divisive. There are some that feel like homosexuality is represented using the most extreme stereotypes, and others that have the same issue with the way conservatives are depicted. All of that is probably true, but the film is a farce, so I take no issue with how the characters are written or portrayed. Robin Williams is brilliant, and a cast that also includes Gene Hackman & Nathan Lane has more than their fair share of fun moments. There is a great supporting character named Agador Spartacus portrayed by the very talented Hank Azaria that almost steals the show. Azaria has done voices on The Simpsons for almost three decades and had small roles in movies like Along Came Polly & Dodgeball. He’s the kind of actor that’s never going to carry a film or become a huge star, but is often one of the most memorable parts of whatever he is in.

 

The Verdict:       The Birdcage. I make no secret of my affection for Robin Williams, so admittedly he has an advantage over a lot of other performers…even Kevin Spacey. This is a tough call, and I concede that American Beauty has a better pedigree, including five Academy Awards. However, there are a couple of things that bother me about it. First is the whole subplot about the creepy next door neighbor and his retired military officer father. Lester Burnham, his wife Carolyn, & their glum daughter Jane are interesting enough characters…we didn’t need weird neighbors thrown into the mix. Secondly, any film that’s been mostly fun throughout but concludes with the main character getting a bullet put into his head leaves an odd impression. I get it. The filmmakers were weaving a complex story with various profound insights about life, which is fine. I actually like that sort of thing. I just feel like they got a little too cute in an effort to be esoteric, especially at the end. Conversely, The Birdcage is just good old-fashioned fun. It ends with Gene Hackman in drag dancing thru a gay nightclub to the sounds of Sister Sledge’s We Are Family. How great is that?!?!??

90’s Film Frenzy: Dope Round 2

As we begin second round competition in 90’s Film Frenzy allow me to remind y’all of a couple things. Nine movies in each division were given first round byes and will be pondered for the first time in Round 2. Also, because math is not my thing each division will have a triple threat match in this round. When laying the groundwork for this project the field kept expanding, and mathematically it should have topped out at 96 movies, which would have worked out perfectly. Alas, I’m not that smart sometimes, and now I have to fix my mistake. No big deal. I won’t be listing the basic info…release date, cast, director…for films that have already competed in Round 1 since I’ve already done so, but I will for the 36 that we haven’t discussed yet. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

Titanic

Release:  12/19/97

Starring:   Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

Directed By:     James Cameron (The Terminator, Aliens, True Lies, Terminator 2: Judgment Day)

 

vs.

 

Saving Private Ryan

 

Quotes

This Ryan better be worth it. He better go home and cure some disease, or invent a longer-lasting light bulb, or something.

 

Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. And I’ve tried to live my life the best I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.

 

Odds & Ends

The cast endured a grueling, week-long army boot camp instructed by technical advisor, retired Marine Dale Dye…all the principal actors except for Matt Damon, who was spared so that the other actors would resent him and would convey that feeling in their performances.  During the training everybody but Hanks voted to quit, as they found it too arduous. But Hanks thoroughly enjoyed the experience and his vote counted the most, so the rest of the actors were obligated to complete their training.

 

Military historian and author Stephen Ambrose, at a special screening of the film for him, had to ask for the screening to be halted twenty minutes in, as he couldn’t handle the intensity of the opening. After composing himself outside for a few minutes, he was able to return to the screening room and watch the film to its conclusion.

 

Cinemas were instructed to up the volume when they showed the film because the sound effects play such a crucial part in its overall effect.

 

Garth Brooks turned down the role of Private Jackson, which eventually went to Barry Pepper.

 

Despite being the movies main subject, Private Ryan (Matt Damon) doesn’t appear until over one and half hours into the movie.

 

Steven Spielberg cast Matt Damon as Private Ryan because he wanted an unknown actor with an All-American look. At the time he had no idea that Damon would win an Oscar for writing Good Will Hunting in 1997 and become an overnight star before Saving Private Ryan was released.

 

The Omaha Beach scene cost $11 million to shoot and involved about 1000 extras.

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Wow, talk about a heavyweight battle. What a way to begin Round 2!! Saving Private Ryan bested The Addams Family in the first round. It’s almost impossible to overlook its 92% Rotten Tomatoes score, the fact that it was the #1 movie at the box office in its year of release, and the five Academy Awards it won. I still cannot believe that Shakespeare in Love won Best Picture. What were the voters thinking?? I was fascinated by the infamous Titanic disaster long before the movie came out, but it undoubtedly increased my own interest and piqued the curiosity of countless others. In the two decades since the film burst onto the scene there have been numerous books & documentaries about the Titanic, practically making it a cottage industry. Not only was it the top grossing movie of 1997, but for a long time it was the highest grossing film of all time until Cameron’s Avatar took the crown in 2009. I still haven’t watched Avatar and doubt if I ever will. Titanic has an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with Gene Siskel opining that DiCaprio’s “beatific, sweet, open face… gives us a rooting interest in hoping that someone important to us survives the wreck”, while Rolling Stone called the film “pretty damn dazzling”. It won a dozen Academy Awards, including Best Picture & Best Director (Cameron), as well as dominating every other awards show that year.

 

The Verdict:   Titanic. I know some will call for the immediate revocation of my “Man Card”. So be it. It has become fashionable over the years for those who deem themselves too cool for school and perpetually above the fray to declare that they’ve never seen Titanic, a notion that I find laughable because…well…math. It is the second highest grossing film of all time, so logic dictates that a lot of people saw it, and that’s not even counting the ensuing years when it’s become ubiquitous on television and readily available on home video. In stating that I’ve never seen Avatar I realize that I am in a rather small minority, whereas if everyone who claims that they’ve never watched Titanic was telling the truth it wouldn’t have made half as much money. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay…you can admit that you’ve seen & enjoyed it because it is a really good movie. Saving Private Ryan is a great movie too, but war films just aren’t my thing. Perhaps if I’d served in the military or had close friends who’d been soldiers in wartime I might feel differently, but it simply isn’t the kind of thing you’d see me watching during vegg time.

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My Cousin Vinny

Release:  3/13/92

Starring:   Joe Pesci, Ralph Macchio, Marisa Tomei

Directed By:     Jonathan Lynn (Nuns on the Run, The Whole Nine Yards)

 

vs.

 

Speed

 

Quotes

A bomb is made to explode. That’s its meaning…its purpose. Your life is empty because you spend it trying to stop the bomb from becoming. And for who? For what? You know what a bomb is that doesn’t explode? It’s a cheap gold watch.

 

Poor people are crazy, Jack. I’m eccentric.

 

I’ve heard relationships based on intense experiences never work.

 

Odds & Ends

Sandra Bullock actually learned to drive a bus for the film, passing the test on her first attempt.

 

Joss Whedon re-wrote the script uncredited. According to the credited writer Whedon wrote most of the dialogue.

 

Ten busses were used in the making of the film. Each one had two steering wheels, one for Sandra Bullock, the other for the stunt driver, which was more often than not, on the roof of the bus.

 

Speed was released one week before O.J. Simpson led Los Angeles police on a chase in his white Bronco after he was suspected of murder. After the Bronco chase, many audiences who saw the film in theaters, noticed how closely scenes from the film, resembled the real-life Bronco chase, including media coverage, and aerial shots of Los Angeles freeways.

 

The film was originally written with Jeff Bridges & Ellen DeGeneres in mind for the lead roles.

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Speed got past Dazed & Confused in the first round based on the combination of its pop culture It Factor and stellar critic reviews. I’m not an action movie guy at all, so when such a film catches my eye it is a rare & special treat. The cast is terrific, the writing is superb, and at the time the action sequences were fresh & original. The old saying is that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and in the past two decades Hollywood has flattered Speed a lot. It’s right up there with Die Hard amongst movies that are copied, with only slight variations on an obvious theme. This thievery began as early as 1997 with a sequel to Speed itself. Unfortunately Speed 2: Cruise Control was doomed from the outset when Reeves declined to return. My Cousin Vinny is the rare comedy that received much love from normally stodgy critics. It has an 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The Baltimore Sun called it “hardly brilliant…but it’s easygoing and occasionally quite funny and ultimately satisfying”, the NY Times said it is “easily the most inventive and enjoyable American film farce in a long time”, and Ebert opined that “it’s the kind of movie home video was invented for…not worth the trip to the theater, but slam it into the VCR and you get your rental’s worth”. Mr. Ebert (may he rest in peace) unwittingly clarified exactly the kind of movie that defines my wheelhouse. I understand that studios, suits, bean counters, & erudite types like critics are focused on the here & now and getting people to throw down their hard earned cash at the local cineplex. For them a film’s lifespan is important for a few months. But here in flyover country we’re more interested in stuff that we can enjoy for many years over & over & over again, especially when one reaches an age when staying home with a good book or a fun movie is far more entertaining than painting the town red. If Ebert intended to damn My Cousin Vinny with faint praise he failed, because even though we don’t have VCRs or video stores anymore we do have streaming services & DVDs, and getting our money’s worth from those things is a goal most of us share.

 

The Verdict:   My Cousin Vinny. Marisa Tomei won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and My Cousin Vinny was the 29th highest grossing film of 1992. That’s good enough for me. It’s on television with some frequency and has aged quite well because good writing never goes out of style. Speed was the best action movie of its generation and if someone forced me to sit down and watch it again with them I wouldn’t be mad. Its legacy has been diminished somewhat by the atrocity that was its sequel, which is probably a bit unfair but nevertheless true. All in all this is simply about personal preference, and I almost always gravitate toward smartly written and skillfully performed comedy.

 

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Sleepless in Seattle

Release:  6/25/93

Starring:   Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan

Directed By:     Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Mixed Nuts, You’ve Got Mail)

 

vs.

 

Galaxy Quest

 

Quotes

 

By Grabthar’s Hammer, by the Sons of Warvan, you shall be avenged!

 

Look…I have one job on this lousy ship! It’s stupid, but I’m gonna do it, okay?

 

I thought I was the crewman that stays on the ship and something is up there and it kills me, but now I’m thinking I’m the guy that gets killed by some monster five minutes after we land on the planet.

 

Odds & Ends

A scene when Tim Allen is in a men’s room overhearing how the cast of Galaxy Quest are nobodies and all the co-stars can’t stand him mirrors an actual event in William Shatner’s life. He discovered the exact same things about himself when he attended a 1986 Star Trek convention.

 

On the rock planet Lt. Laredo chides Dr. Lazarus for holding his tracking device upside down. This is a subtle reference to the first season of the original Star Trek series, where Mr. Spock often held his tricorder upside down due to Leonard Nimoy being not yet familiar with the prop.

 

“I had originally not wanted to see Galaxy Quest because I heard that it was making fun of Star Trek, and then Jonathan Frakes rang me up and said ‘You must not miss this movie! See it on a Saturday night in a full theatre!’. And I did, and of course I found it was brilliant. Brilliant. No one laughed louder or longer in the cinema than I did, but the idea that the ship was saved and all of our heroes in that movie were saved simply by the fact that there were fans who did understand the scientific principles on which the ship worked was absolutely wonderful. And it was both funny and also touching in that it paid tribute to the dedication of these fans.” – Patrick Stewart

 

Galaxy Quest was one of the earliest films to have its own internet domain and website. However, rather than being a polished part of the marketing campaign, the site (in keeping with the movie’s fandom theme) was deliberately designed to look like a fan page, with screen captures and poor HTML coding.

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I’ve never been shy about my affection for a good rom-com, and Sleepless in Seattle is one of the best. Hanks stars as a lonely widow whose young son ropes him into pouring his heart out on a national radio show, and Ryan is the quirky young journalist who hears the show and immediately becomes smitten. Hanks & Ryan starred in three movies together in the 90’s, and I think they rank right up there with Bogie & Bacall, Hepburn & Tracy, and Burton & Taylor when it comes to romantic duos. Sleepless in Seattle was the fifth highest grossing film of 1993 (behind The Firm but ahead of Schindler’s List), and it holds a solid 71% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Newsweek called it a “sweet but perilously thin love story”, Rolling Stone gushed that it is “the hippest, frankest and funniest date movie around”, and the NY Times said “it’s a stunt, but it’s a stunt that works far more effectively than anybody in his right mind has reason to expect”. Galaxy Quest slipped past The Bodyguard in Round 1. As a spoof of sci-fi shows and their rabid fanbases it works more effectively than anyone could have ever imagined. The cast is solid, and who would have ever guessed twenty years ago that it’d be the actor who played beleaguered “red shirt” Guy Fleegman with an Oscar sitting on his mantle?? When you have Star Trek legends like Shatner, Stewart, Frakes, & Takei applauding a movie that kind of makes fun of them obviously someone somewhere did something right.

 

The Verdict:   Sleepless in Seattle. I feel bad for Galaxy Quest. It just got a really tough draw. I first saw Sleepless in Seattle in college. I actually had a date…with a woman!! I can’t remember her name and only knew her for a brief few months, but wherever she is I hope she is as fond of the movie as I am. It’s one of those that I will watch whenever it happens to be on, and I have it in my streaming collection for those odd late nights when there’s nothing else going on and I feel the need to watch a movie.

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American Beauty

Release:  9/15/99

Starring:   Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Chris Cooper, Mena Suvari

Directed By:     Sam Mendes (Road to Perdition, Jarhead, Skyfall)

 

vs.

 

Grumpier Old Men

 

Quotes

Last Thursday, I turned 95 years old. And I never exercised a day in my life. Every morning, I wake up, and I smoke a cigarette. And then I eat five strips of bacon. And for lunch, I eat a bacon sandwich. And for a midday snack? Bacon. A whole damn plate! And I usually drink my dinner. Now according to all of them flat-belly experts, I should’ve took a dirt nap like thirty years ago. But each year comes and goes, and I’m still here. Ha!

 

If my dog was as ugly as you, I’d shave his ass and teach him to walk backwards.

 

Odds & Ends

This was Burgess Meredith’s last film. He died of complications of Alzheimer’s disease two years later.

 

Lemmon & Matthau starred in ten movies together.

 

The cast includes three Oscar winners…Lemmon, Loren, & Matthau, and two Oscar nominees…Margret & Meredith.

 

Grumpier Old Men defeated Fools Rush In in the first round in a battle of two lightweight comedies. Repeat viewings are a significant marker for me, and this is another one of those movies that I catch often on TV and have stashed in my digital library for a rainy day. Sequels have become a given in Hollywood, and I suppose the premise here is as reasonably good as one could expect. Sometimes it isn’t really about the plot…we just like the characters and enjoy inhabiting their world for a couple of hours once in a while. It isn’t better than its predecessor, but neither is there a significant decline in quality. American Beauty was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won five, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Spacey), Best Director (Mendes), & Best Original Screenplay. The story focuses on Lester Burnham, a middle-aged man with a good job, nice house, lovely wife, and a beautiful daughter…a guy who appears to have everything but is drowning in his own misery, which seems like a fairly unexceptional & commonplace idea. But the thing about ordinary ideas is that they can be jumping off points for exceptionally talented people to work real magic. The characters that inhabit this movie and the things that they do & say are cathartic to average folks because it is unlikely that we would ever actually react similarly outside of our hidden thoughts. American Beauty is a fantasy set in the midst of the humdrum suburban routine. It was the 13th highest grossing film of 1999, behind Runaway Bride & The Green Mile but ahead of Notting Hill & Will Wild West. It has an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with CNN calling it “deeply disturbing, acerbically funny, brilliantly acted, breathtakingly original, & highly sophisticated”, People observing that it is “never less than fascinating and always visually stunning”, and The New Yorker saying that “this amazing and impassioned fantasia about American loneliness begins as satire and ends with a vision of the sublime”.

 

The Verdict:   American Beauty. This makes me sad because I adore Grumpier Old Men, but how can I overlook five Oscars and a plethora of stellar reviews?? Grumpier Old Men doesn’t break any new ground or expand on the original’s premise…it just puts it in the microwave, warms it up a bit, and serves up a pleasant second helping of yesterday’s supper. Spacey has never been more brilliant than in American Beauty, and I think Bening may have been robbed at the Academy Awards, losing Best Actress to Hilary Swank for her performance in Boys Don’t Cry.

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Dumb & Dumber

Release:  12/16/94

Starring:   Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels

Directed By:     The Farrelly Brothers (Kingpin, Shallow Hal, Me, Myself & Irene, Fever Pitch)

 

vs.

 

In the Line of Fire

 

Quotes

What did happen to you that day? Only one agent reacted to the gunfire, and you were closer to Kennedy than he was. You must have looked up at the window of the Texas Book Depository, but you didn’t react. Late at night, when the demons come, do you see the rifle coming out of that window, or do you see Kennedy’s head being blown apart? If you’d reacted to that first shot, could you have gotten there in time to stop the big bullet? And if you had – that could’ve been your head being blown apart. Do you wish you’d succeeded…or is life too precious?

 

For years, I’ve been listening to all these idiots on barstools with all their pet theories on Dallas. How it was the Cubans, or the CIA., or the white supremacists, or The Mob. Whether there was one weapon, or whether there was five. None of that’s meant too much to me. But Leary, he questioned whether I had the guts to take that fatal bullet. God, that was a beautiful day. The sun was out, been raining all morning. First shot, sounded like a firecracker. I looked over, I saw him, I could tell he was hit. I don’t know why I didn’t react. I should have reacted. I should have been running flat out. I just couldn’t believe it. If only I’d reacted, I could have taken that shot. And that would have been alright with me.

 

By the time you hear this, it’ll be over. The President is most likely dead, and so am I. Did you kill me? Who won our game? Not that it really matters, for among friends like you and me, it’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game, and now the game is done and it’s time to get on with your life. But I worry, that you have no life to get on with. You’re a good man, and good men like you and me are destined to travel a lonely road. Goodbye, and good luck.

 

Odds & Ends

This was the first time that The Secret Service offered its full cooperation in the making of a film.

 

The character of Frank Horrigan was inspired by real-life Secret Service agent Clint Hill, who was with President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, and who later broke down on national television during a live 60 Minutes interview, saying that he felt responsible for the President’s death.

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Rarely has a film had a more appropriate title than Dumb & Dumber. That’s not meant as an insult, because I am perfectly fine with the occasional mindless comedy. We all need to laugh a little more. Carrey & Daniels play a couple of unemployed nitwits whose well-intentioned attempt to return a briefcase to a beautiful woman gets them caught in the middle of a kidnapping plot. The details are secondary to the characters and the crazy things they say & do because…well…they’re idiots. Dumb & Dumber was the sixth highest grossing film of 1994 and holds a decent 67% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Entertainment Weekly called it “a frayed string of gags posing as a movie”, but said of Carrey that he “does literal-minded doofdom with peerless enthusiasm”. Variety opined that “the wholeheartedness of this descent into crude & rude humor is so good-natured and precise that it’s hard not to partake in the guilty pleasures of the exercise”, which to me essentially means “it’s so stupid that we didn’t want to like it but we can’t help ourselves”. I think a lot of people would agree with that assessment. A sequel came out in 2014, but I must admit that I’ve never seen it and don’t feel compelled to because sometimes it’s better to just let sleeping dogs lie. In the Line of Fire overcame the challenge of Carrey’s Man on the Moon in Round 1 because a) I gave the nod to a better movie over a single actor’s outstanding performance in a mediocre movie), and b) it had really good reviews & made a ton of money even if no one really remembers it 25 years later.

 

The Verdict:   Dumb & Dumber. The above mentioned B is the sticky wicket now because, as opposed to Man on the Moon, Dumb & Dumber is a funnier, more quotable, and much more fondly remembered film, whereas In the Line of Fire is easily forgotten about. If I’m couch potatoing on a lazy day I am much more inclined to stop channel surfing for Dumb & Dumber. The JFK assassination has been a tremendous launch pad for a stories and was most recently used by Stephen King in his excellent book & miniseries 11/22/63. Eastwood & Malkovich are compelling performers and still better than 95% of actors that are a third their age, but using the metric of repeat viewings the movie just doesn’t measure up.

 

*****************************************************

 

The Birdcage

Release:  3/8/96

Starring:   Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman

Directed By:     Mike Nichols (The Graduate, Biloxi Blues, Working Girl)

 

vs.

 

Lethal Weapon 3

 

Quotes

You have the right to remain unconscious. Anything you say ain’t gonna be much.

I’m only smoking to take my mind off my dog biscuit problem. I’ve been chasing more cars lately, and when I try to lick my balls I keep falling off the couch.

 

I’m chaos and he’s mayhem, we’re a double act.

 

You know what a future a cop has? None. You punch a clock for 30 years, retirement, pension… nothin’ to do. Drunk at noon, bullet in the brain by evening. Well, not for this kid! The police department’s got it all: guns, ammo, drugs, cash… it’s a one-stop shopping center. If you’ve got the balls and the brains, there’s nothing anyone can do about it!

 

Odds & Ends

For the film’s spectacular climax, the filmmakers found an abandoned housing tract just outside of Lancaster, California. A victim of the Savings and Loan crisis, the property had been untouched for over two years. Twelve out of the fifty-six houses in the tract became a dramatic inferno for the scene.

 

This is the only movie in the franchise, in which there is no mention of Riggs’ late wife.

 

In earlier drafts of the script Riggs was actually having an affair with Roger’s older daughter Rianne, which explains a couple of parts in the finished film.

 

______________________________

One has to wonder if The Birdcage…as written…would even be made in our modern, overly sensitive, politically correct culture. Based on the 1973 stage play La Cage aux Folles and a remake of the 1978 film about a gay couple whose son becomes engaged to the daughter of very conservative parents, The Birdcage transplants the action from the French Riviera to Miami. Williams, Lane, & Hackman are all brilliant, and I have to give a nod to Hank Azaria, who plays an…eccentric…housekeeper and has since gone on to have a solid career on both the big & small screen. It was the ninth highest grossing film of 1996 and holds a 79% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Ebert complimented “good casting in the key roles” and “a wicked screenplay that keeps the original story but adds little zingers here and there”. USA Today thought it to be “far less plastic than most cross-dressing comedies”, while the San  Francisco Chronicle called it “a glossy miscalculation”. Lethal Weapon 3 conquered Airheads in the first round, but this is a much tougher matchup. 3 introduced Rene Russo into the mix as Lorna Cole, an internal investigations officer who becomes romantically involved with Riggs. There is a really memorable scene with the two comparing battle scars all over their bodies, and…well…one thing leads to another. Who knew that gunshot & stab wounds could be so sexy??  Joe Pesci is also back as fast talking Leo Getz, now working as an inept real estate agent but also helping in the investigation of a rogue cop.

 

The Verdict:   The Birdcage. I love film series. When four or five (or more) movies are made about the same characters it says a lot about the audience’s affection for them. However, it is always prudent to proceed with caution and ponder the Law of Diminishing Returns, figuring out if people have had enough. I don’t think that is the case with Lethal Weapon 3, but I do believe that the four movies kind of become a blur of action sequences, shootouts, & wisecracks where the whole is more fondly remembered than its individual components. The Birdcage utilizes extreme stereotypes on both sides of the sociopolitical spectrum, which could be considered bellicose by some but seems appropriate for an entertaining farce.

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There’s Something About Mary

Release:  7/15/98

Starring:           Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon, Ben Stiller

Directed By:     The Farrelly Brothers (Hall Pass, The Heartbreak Kid, The Ringer)

 

vs.

 

Father of the Bride Part II

 

Quotes

Just because we’re older doesn’t mean we’re old. This is the 90s.

 

Father of the bride and a baby? Get out of town!!

 

Two Vastnick is like, ‘Bye, George! See you next Thursday!’.

 

Odds & Ends

When the movie opened, aspiring country singer Brad Paisley went to see it in the hopes that an ex-girlfriend he’d seen the first Father of the Bride with would be there. She didn’t show, but as he told an Atlanta radio station later, he sat in the theater watching the lead actress and thought to himself, “I could marry a girl like her.” A few years later, he not only married a girl like her, he married that particular girl…actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley.

 

It is stated that BIll Clinton is older than George Banks by 31 days. Bill Clinton was born on August 19th 1946. That would make George Banks’ date of birth September 19th, 1946.

________________________________

 

Father of the Bride II got past What About Bob? in the first round. Critics were generally ambivalent about it, with the word “sweet” coming up a lot but nothing much further. Personally I have always loved the FotB films. Are they great?? No. But they epitomize what I have come to appreciate in a movie…something that makes me smile, that I can watch over & over again, that never lets me down and always puts me in a good mood. I don’t need social commentary or on-the-edge-of-my-seat action, and I don’t even need to be doubled over in laughter. “Sweet” has become almost an insult in our society, but it really shouldn’t be. There’s Something About Mary tells the story of Ted, whose prom night with his dream girl goes hysterically awry. More than a decade later Mary is still on Ted’s mind so he hires a private eye to track her down, but unfortunately things go sideways again, although ultimately he gets the girl. Mary was the third highest grossing film of 1998, behind only Saving Private Ryan and Armageddon. It has an 83% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Variety stating that it “stands as proof positive that a comedy can be far from perfect and still hit the bull’s-eye if it delivers when it counts”, Rolling Stone calling it “sensational, sicko fun…just the thing to shake up the creeping conservatism that is draining the vulgar life out of pop culture”, and USA Today deeming it “a gut-busting blast of tasteless tomfoolery”.

 

The Verdict:   Father of the Bride Part II. I’m not a prude…really I’m not. However, given the choice between “sweet” and “sicko fun” or “tasteless tomfoolery” I’ll probably take “sweet” most of the time. I’m not sure why, but I just never warmed up to Mary. Like the title says, there’s just something about it, but for me it’s something that I don’t seem to get or enjoy all that much. In its review The Cincinnati Enquirer stated that “the Farrellys work so hard to be outrageous they end up sacrificing story, characters, even comedy, to achieve maximum gross-out”, which is spot on. So-called “gross out comedies” are all about the sight gag and shock value. The goal is to push the envelope as far as possible. But I need a plot and good characters, and there’s nothing about Mary that makes me invested in what happens. FotB 2 doesn’t push any envelopes or challenge societal norms of decency, but it warms my cockles and still holds my attention after all these years, and I think that indeed is pretty sweet.

 

***********************************************************

 

Independence Day

Release:  7/2/96

Starring:   Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman

Directed By:     Roland Emmerich (The Patriot, The Day After Tomorrow)

 

vs.

 

The Silence of the Lambs

Release:  2/14/91

Starring:   Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins

Directed By:     Jonathan Demme (Philadelphia, Beloved)

 

vs.

 

Swingers

 

Quotes

Baby you are so money and don’t even know it.

 

You got to get on with your life. You’ve got to let go of the past, and when you do, the future is beautiful. Look out the window. It’s sunny every day here. It’s like manifest destiny. Don’t tell me we didn’t make it. We made it. We’re here. And everything that is past is prologue to this.

Look, we’re gonna spend half the night driving around looking for this one party and you’re going to say it sucks and we’re all gonna leave and then we’re gonna go look for this other party. But all the parties and all the bars, they all suck. I spend half the night talking to some girl who’s looking around the room to see if there’s somebody else who’s more important she should be talking to. And it’s like I’m supposed to be all happy ’cause she’s wearing a backpack, you know?

 

Laugh all you want but if you call too soon you might scare off a nice baby who’s ready to party.

 

Now look…when you go up to talk to her, man, I don’t want you to be the guy in the PG-13 movie everyone’s really hoping makes it happen. I want you to be like the guy in the rated R movie, you know, the guy you’re not sure whether or not you like yet. You’re not sure where he’s coming from. Okay? You’re a bad man. You’re a bad man. You’re a bad man. Bad man.

 

Odds & Ends

Loosely based on the experiences writer Jon Favreau had when he first moved to Los Angeles. He had just broken up with a long term girlfriend and counted on his friends Vince Vaughn and Ron Livingston to cheer him up. The characters they play in the film are based on themselves.

 

Favreau wrote the screenplay in two weeks, with various friends in mind for key roles.

 

Some of the bar scenes were shot in actual bars during business hours. A sign was posted near where they were shooting warning patrons that if they came any closer, they would be unpaid extras in the film.

 

The shots taken from the hood of the car in Las Vegas were done without a proper permit. The interior of the casino was not the Stardust as the exterior shots imply, but was instead a downtown casino that they paid money to use for the evening.

 

Since the filmmakers couldn’t afford to pay extras, the scenes filmed at parties were filmed at actual parties that were taking place, with many Hollywood up-and-comers in attendance.

 

Trent, Mikey, Sue, Rob, and Charles represent the five members of the original Rat Pack: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, and Sammy Davis Jr..

 

Jon Favreau’s grandmother is the lucky gambler at the $5 minimum blackjack table, while Vince Vaughn’s father Vernon plays the lucky gambler at the $100-minimum blackjack table.

 

The release of the film coincided with the swing revival of the 1990s. It increased interest in 1940s culture, Hollywood nightlife, and swing music. Some of the slang used in the film became popular in the years following its release, especially the use of the word “money” as a catch-all term of approval or quality. The exclamation “Vegas, baby!” also became a common quote when referencing the city. The film also gave exposure to the term “Wingman” in its social interaction context.

 

 

Among the many studio notes that Jon Favreau received from potential bidders were to nix the Vegas scenes, change Trent into a woman, have Trent played by Johnny Depp, and/or to cast Chris O’Donnell or Jason Priestley. (editorial note: all of these are horrible ideas…thank God none were implemented)

______________________________

This is the first of our four triple threat matches in the second round because I am mathematically challenged. Swingers got past Batman & Robin in the first round, and more than two decades later it is still one of Vince Vaughn’s top 2 or 3 performances. It is fascinating that the film is so closely associated with Las Vegas (Vegas baby! Vegas!!) since only a small portion of the story takes place there. I’m sure marketing experts have done studies on the power of a catchphrase, and Swingers has to be a prime example. Independence Day is the quintessential legit summer blockbuster. I imagine that the pitch took about 30 seconds: “Aliens invade Earth on July 4th and blow up The White House”…”Yes please!!”.  Will Smith had burst onto the scene as a young rapper and became a TV star with his hit series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. By 1996 The Fresh Prince was in its final season, and just a few months after the last episode aired Independence Day hit theaters. Of course Smith isn’t the sole focus of the film…Goldblum, Pullman, Judd Hirsh, Robert Loggia, Randy Quaid, & Vivica Fox all play key roles as well, and as we all know with these kinds of movies the explosions & special effects are the real star of the show. ID4 was easily the #1 movie at the box office in 1996, and it holds a solid 63% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. CNN called it “splendidly cheesy entertainment”, Entertainment Weekly referred to it as “the first futuristic disaster movie that’s as cute as a button”, and Newsweek opined that “if I were a 10-year-old boy I’d probably think it was the coolest movie going”. The Silence of the Lambs is an adaptation of Thomas Harris’ excellent 1988 novel. Harris had actually introduced infamous Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter in an earlier book titled Red Dragon which was adapted into a 1986 film called Manhunter that no one bothered to see. It’s safe to say that Lambs is a much more successful endeavor. FBI agent Clarice Starling seeks the imprisoned Dr. Lecter’s assistance in the case of another serial killer named Buffalo Bill. Lambs isn’t your typical police procedural, and is more of a psychological thriller than a horror film, although there are a few unforgettably violent scenes. It was the 4th highest grossing film of 1991, ahead of Hook and City Slickers, but behind Terminator 2:Judgment Day and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The Silence of the Lambs has a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Demme), Best Actor (Hopkins), and Best Actress (Foster). The Boston Globe said that “it has everything you want in a popular thriller…it’s stylish, intelligent, audacious rather than shocking, and stolen by a suave monster you’ll never forget”, while Rolling Stone opined that “for all the unbridled savagery on display, what is shrewd, significant, & finally hopeful about Silence of the Lambs is the way it proves that a movie can be mercilessly scary and mercifully humane at the same time”.

 

The Verdict:   Independence Day. I am kind of strange when it comes to horror & violence. I can read those sorts of books (assuming it is well-written) all day long, but I don’t enjoy seeing “unbridled savagery” play out on screen. So, despite its unmatched pedigree and the fact that the book it is based on is one of the finest modern novels I’ve ever read I have to pass on The Silence of the Lambs. Swingers is fun, cool, quotable, & well-written entertainment, but just doesn’t measure up to the competition. Independence Day was one of the defining blockbusters of the 1990’s…pure popcorn cinema that doesn’t pretend to be anything else. A sequel was released just a couple of years ago, but I haven’t seen it and don’t feel any particular urge to do so. Will Smith didn’t bother to return, so why should I care??

2017 College Football Pre-Season Top 25

With the exception of the Thanksgiving-Christmas corridor this might be my favorite time of year. Anticipation is at its zenith and the possibilities are endless. Just looking at the schedules has me amped up, especially for two or three weekends when the lineup looks to be especially loaded. Whenever I begin this process I almost always get The Vibes, and the word that keeps popping into my head at the moment is parity. It is unlikely that any team gets thru their season unbeaten, and it’s entirely possible that a team with 2 or 3 losses sneaks into the playoff. Saturdays are going to be as glorious as usual this autumn, if only I can stay awake to watch the games. 16 of the 25 teams I have ranked here had 10 or more victories last season, and a few more won 9 games. Who will shockingly fall off the map?? Who will do a complete turnaround and climb out of the abyss of losing seasons into the Top 25?? Only time will tell, and what follows represents my best guess based solely on minimal research & decades as a dedicated fan, not any sort of insider knowledge. Perhaps we’ll look back in a few months and laugh at my foolishness, or maybe…just maybe…I will prove my worth as a bona fide guru. Who knows??

 

 

 

 

 

1          USC

Last Season:             10-3

Key Games:              9/9 vs. Stanford, 10/21 at Notre Dame, 11/18 vs. UCLA

Honestly, the schedule doesn’t look all that daunting for a top tier team, and with Heisman Trophy contender Sam Darnold behind center I don’t think we’ll see the Trojans go backward. Clay Helton is firmly entrenched as the head coach, providing consistency that the program has been lacking in recent years. If any big time powerhouse has a legit chance to go undefeated this is the one, and at the very least anything short of a playoff appearance will be a huge disappointment.

 

 

2          Penn State

Last Season:             11-3

Key Games:              10/21 vs. Michigan, 10/28 at Ohio St.

Last season’s Rose Bowl was probably the best post-season game other than the national championship. USC bested the Nittany Lions 52-49 on a last second field goal, and in many people’s minds it was a harbinger of fantastic things to come for both teams. The Sandusky/Paterno kerfuffle seems to be in the rear view mirror for Penn St., and while we could engage in endless sociopolitical commentary about all of that there is no doubt that moving past the fallout is good for the football program. There are two Heisman contenders in Happy Valley…QB Trace McSorely & RB Saquon Barkley…and, while I’m no expert, I have to believe that bodes well for the team’s chances of success. They’ll have to face the Buckeyes in Columbus, but Michigan will be a home game. If the Lions can split those two huge games I think they just might be national title contenders.

 

 

3          Oklahoma State

Last Season:             10-3

Key Games:              10/21 at Texas, 11/4 vs. Oklahoma

Surprise!! While the other team in Oklahoma usually gets all of the attention (and still will this year) the Cowboys have been pretty successful, racking up 10 or more wins in five of the past seven seasons. QB Mason Rudolph returns for his senior season, and it feels like he may be flying under the radar just like his team. That’s probably fine with the folks in Stillwater. Don’t be surprised if this is the team that comes out on the positive end of Bedlam, and I think they might even have an outside shot at perfection.

 

 

4          Florida State

Last Season:             10-3   

Key Games:              9/2 vs. Alabama, 9/16 vs. Miami (FL), 11/11 at Clemson

The season opener against Alabama will obviously set a tone for the season. That game is a neutral site contest in Atlanta and is the highlight of college football’s first weekend. A win would set the Seminoles on a course for a playoff appearance, but I don’t think a loss would be fatal. They’re still the favorites to win the ACC.

 

 

5          Ohio State

Last Season:             11-2

Key Games:              9/9 vs. Oklahoma, 10/28 vs. Penn St., 11/25 at Michigan

The Buckeyes still have JT Barrett behind center, and that gives them an immediate advantage. They did lose seven players to the NFL, but that’s nothing to an elite program. The second weekend of games will be highlighted by Ohio St. against Oklahoma, but it’s in Columbus and, while the talking heads will do their best to pump up the hype machine, I really don’t think it’ll be much of a contest. Penn St. will visit Columbus right before Halloween & a showdown in The Big House wraps up the regular season, and it is in one of these games that I expect Ohio St.’s playoff dreams to be dashed.

 

 

6          Alabama

Last Season:             14-1

Key Games:              9/2 vs. Florida St., 11/4 vs. LSU, 11/25 at Auburn

I’m a non-conformist so I rarely do what everybody else does…rank ‘Bama #1. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong. They may win or they may lose the season opener against Florida St., but The Voices are telling me that the true waterloo for the Tide will come in November against an archrival…either LSU or Auburn. Maybe both. A one or two loss Alabama would almost certainly still be in the playoff conversation, but I think they’ll fall short of the goal.

 

 

7          South Florida

Last Season:             11-2

Key Games:              9/15 vs. Illinois, 11/4 vs. Houston

Charlie Strong wasn’t deemed good enough to get the job done for Texas, but he’s moved on and found himself in a good situation. The American Athletic Conference doesn’t get much respect, but someone’s going to win it and the Bulls seem to be receiving all the buzz despite a coaching change that would normally be cause for apprehension. They’ll need to go undefeated to rank this high, and I don’t believe that to be an unreasonable expectation.

 

 

8          Georgia

Last Season:             8-5

Key Games:              9/9 at Notre Dame, 9/30 at Tennessee, 10/28 vs. Florida

It’s season 2 for Kirby Smart as the head coach in Athens, and I think his team will be more successful than they were last year. Obviously the SEC is extremely competitive, but if the Bulldogs can win a couple of the noted key games a Top 10 finish isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Running back Nick Chubb passed up being a likely first round NFL Draft pick to return for his senior season, a huge positive. A Georgia-Alabama conference title game could be really fun.

 

 

9          Wisconsin

Last Season:             11-3

Key Games:              10/7 at Nebraska, 11/18 vs. Michigan

I’m a little nervous about this one because the Big Ten is so tough. Can they really land three teams in the Top 10? And if so, is this the right third team?? I’ve left Nebraska, Northwestern, & Iowa out of this Top 25 altogether, but they’re always dangerous opponents. I’m betting that the Badgers get by all of them, meaning that a mid-November clash with Michigan…in Wisconsin…might decide a spot in the conference title game.

 

 

10        Auburn

Last Season:             8-5

Key Games:              9/9 at Clemson, 10/14 at LSU, 11/11 vs. Georgia, 11/25 vs. Alabama

The Tigers have been a bit off the radar the past few years since winning the national championship in 2010 and losing the title game in 2013. They are 23-16 over the past three seasons. Not bad, but not remarkable either. Exceeding mediocrity will be a tall order this season. They’ll need to pull off upsets in a couple of the games I have noted, but doing so would surely make them a solid Top 10 team.

 

 

11        Oklahoma

Last Season:             11-2

Key Games:              9/9 at Ohio St., 10/14 vs. Texas, 11/4 at Oklahoma St.

QB Baker Mayfield will get a lot of Heisman hype early in the season, but I’m just a bit uneasy about the sudden departure of head coach Bob Stoops. The Sooners will have superior talent on the field as they always do, and all indications are that new coach Lincoln Riley is a bright young mind who probably would’ve been a head coach somewhere sooner rather than later anyway, but I just don’t foresee a team undergoing such a coaching change contending for a national championship, especially with a daunting early season battle on the road in Columbus, OH. There’s also the fact that the Big 12 is expected to be as competitive this season as it’s been in awhile. Oklahoma will be a good team, but I think they’ll be on the losing end of one or two games that most wouldn’t expect them to lose.

 

 

12        Washington

Last Season:             12-2

Key Games:              9/23 at Colorado, 10/28 vs. UCLA, 11/25 vs. Washington St.

The Huskies were a playoff team last season and QB Jake Browning returns for his junior year. That’s good enough for me to take this team seriously. Barring any surprising losses it feels like Washington should be the favorite in their division to get a shot at the Pac 12 title, but I think that’s the ceiling. Any unexpected stumbles along the way could cause a rapid tumble down the rankings.

 

 

13        Louisville

Last Season:             9-4

Key Games:              9/16 vs. Clemson, 10/21 at Florida St.

Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson returns under center, and while there’s no denying that he’s a dynamic player the fact is that he’s not going to sneak up on anyone this year. Even going back to last season it seems like opponents began to figure him out since the Cardinals lost three straight to end the year, including a beatdown in the Citrus Bowl at the hands of LSU. Having said all of that, I think a 9 win season is possible. Keep an eye on the games against Clemson & Florida State. I expect both to be losses, but if they’re competitive contests it’ll go a long way toward earning Louisville respect.

 

 

14        Clemson

Last Season:             14-1

Key Games:              11/11 vs. Florida St.

Replacing a starting quarterback might be just as daunting as rebooting things under a new head coach. I am a huge fan of Deshaun Watson, who is now plying his trade in the NFL with the Houston Texans, and I don’t believe he’ll be easily forgotten (he should’ve won the Heisman Trophy last year). I have no doubt that the defending national champions will just reload at most positions, and head coach Dabo Sweeney is the real deal, but I think the Tigers will taste bitter defeat at the hands of archrival Florida St., and will probably be upset in atleast one other game.

 

 

15        Michigan

Last Season:             10-3

Key Games:              9/2 vs. Florida, 10/21 at Penn St., 11/25 vs. Ohio St.

When Jim Harbaugh was hired as the Wolverines’ head coach back in 2015 I predicted that they’d be “legitimate national championship contenders within three years”. However, faced with the task of replacing about 75% of the starting rotations on both sides of the ball I think it might be wise to dial back expectations just a bit. They have Ohio St. at The Big House in Ann Arbor, but must travel to Happy Valley to face Penn St. Another 10 win season would be phenomenal in a stacked Big Ten…anything more than that is probably wishful thinking.

 

 

16        West Virginia

Last Season:             10-3

Key Games:              9/3 vs. Virginia Tech, 10/28 vs. Oklahoma St., 11/18 vs. Texas, 11/25 at Oklahoma

Expectations are high for the Mountaineers, atleast here in West Virginia. The long awaited debut of QB Will Grier, a transfer from Florida who had to sit out last season, is imminent, and he’ll have no shortage of weapons, including RBs Kennedy McCoy & Justin Crawford and WRs Juvon Durante & KaRaun White. The X factor is the defense, which must replace the entire front line and cornerback Rasul Douglas, who has moved on to the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. The optimism probably doesn’t spread too far outside the Mountain State, but that’s alright…we’re used to everyone underestimating us in all walks of life. West Virginia MUST beat archrival Virginia Tech in the season opener, and then pull off atleast one upset in big games against celebrated conference rivals.

 

 

17        Boise St.

Last Season:             10-3

Key Games:              10/6 at BYU, 11/11 at Colorado St.

The Broncos are what they are. They’ll win 9 or 10 games, play for the conference title, and try to surprise everyone by upsetting a team from a “power” conference in a bowl game. But wait…Boise HASN’T played for the Mountain West championship or in a bowl game that people actually watch since 2014. Can they rebound this year?? I think so.

 

 

18        Virginia Tech

Last Season:             10-4

Key Games:              9/3 vs. West Virginia, 9/30 vs. Clemson, 11/4 at Miami (FL)

In his first season as the Hokies’ head coach Justin Fuente led his team to 10 wins and spot in the conference title game. Can that success be duplicated in 2017?? Maybe. The ACC isn’t a cakewalk by any stretch, and a neutral site season opener against my WV Mountaineers won’t be an automatic win. The difference in Tech’s season will be whether they win 7/8 games or 9/10 games. Either is possible.

 

 

19        Florida

Last Season:             9-4

Key Games:              9/2 vs. Michigan, 10/7 vs. LSU, 10/28 vs. Georgia, 11/25 vs. Florida St.

It wasn’t that long ago that almost every team would open the season with a couple of easy games against cupcake opponents, the result usually being a 65-10 snoozefest that accomplished nothing except filling the coffers of the overmatched losing team. However, with the advent of the four team playoff strength of schedule has become a point of emphasis. One wouldn’t think that teams from the heralded SEC would need to concern themselves with such matters, but it looks like they’re not taking any chances. The Gators begin their season at The Palace in Dallas against Michigan. The winner will probably be vaulted into the Top 10, the loser will have to battle back. Either way Florida will have a tough road after that first game, and they’ll need to upset a couple of conference opponents to finish as a ranked team.

 

 

20        Texas

Last Season:             5-7

Key Games:              9/16 at USC, 10/14 vs. Oklahoma, 10/21 vs. Oklahoma St.

Here’s what I find interesting. IF the South Florida Bulls do as well as most are predicting in Charlie Strong’s first year as head coach there, what does it say about his ability?? And IF the Longhorns bounce back from a long stretch of mediocrity as well, does credit have to be given to new head coach Tom Herman, or will it be because Strong recruited well and the suits in Austin pulled the plug on him too soon?? It’s a conversation I’ll be looking forward to throughout the season. I don’t think Texas is going to suddenly be a threat to win 10 games or compete for the Big 12 title, but if they can pull off an upset or two, play Southern Cal tough in the opener, and ultimately win 8 games I think this spot would be well earned.

 

 

21        Stanford

Last Season:             10-3

Key Games:              9/9 at USC, 9/23 vs. UCLA, 11/10 vs. Washington, 11/25 vs. Notre Dame

Contrary to what the folks in SEC territory would have us believe I happen to think that the Big Ten & Pac 12 are the toughest football conferences in America. Stanford always seems to be in the mix near the top, and I have no reason to foresee anything different this season. They’ll need to score a couple of big upsets, and the fact that 3 of the 4 key games I have noted are being played in Palo Alto should certainly help the cause. Look for an 8 or 9 win season and a ranking somewhere in the lower portion of the Top 25.

 

 

22        LSU

Last Season:             8-4

Key Games:              10/7 at Florida, 10/14 vs. Auburn, 11/4 at Alabama

Allow me to say something controversial. I think Leonard Fournette was an overrated college running back that will have a relatively short and very average NFL career. There…I said it!! At any rate, I don’t believe Fournette’s departure will have that much of an impact on the Bayou Bengals. Actually it may help not having him as a distraction. What doesn’t help is a schedule that includes trips to The Swamp and Tuscaloosa. 9 wins and a 3rd place finish in their division looks like the ceiling, and that’d be good enough to finish as a ranked team. Head coach Ed Orgeron is firmly entrenched as the head coach for now, but I have to believe that he’s on a short leash. He’ll get two seasons to prove his worth, and probably needs to win 8 or 9 games each year.

 

 

23        Miami (FL)

Last Season:             9-4

Key Games:              9/16 at Florida St., 11/4 vs. Virginia Tech, 11/11 vs. Notre Dame

Head coach Mark Richt acquitted himself quite nicely in his first season in Coral Gables, as the ‘Canes continue to hover on the fringes of their former glory. With the ACC raising the bar and being one of the better conferences I have a difficult time seeing them making any kind of significant leap in 2017. However, if they can win a couple of key games and beat all of the teams they’re supposed to defeat I don’t think equaling last year’s success is an unreasonable expectation.

 

 

24        UCLA

Last Season:             4-8    

Key Games:              9/23 at Stanford, 10/28 at Washington, 11/18 at USC

Despite recent comments that “football and school don’t go together” (a statement that might contain a kernel of truth but should never be verbalized) I like QB Josh Rosen. He’ll be a first round NFL draft pick next spring, and his importance became clear when the Bruins lost 4 out of their final 5 games when Rosen suffered a season ending shoulder injury last year. The Pac 12 is super tough, but I think UCLA flips the script and wins 8 games.

 

 

25          Notre Dame

Last Season:             4-8

Key Games:              9/9 vs. Georgia, 10/21 vs. USC, 11/11 at Miami (FL), 11/25 at Stanford

Surely the beloved Fighting Irish won’t finish with a losing record two years in a row?? If they could pull off one…or two…upsets sneaking into the rankings seems like a solid possibility. Conversely, another bad year might mean the end of the road for head coach Brian Kelly.

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100 Favorite Movies…..56-60

After a four month hiatus the time feels right to jump back into this series. Actually this little break was rather unintentional, or atleast I never meant for it to last this long…I just had other things I wanted to write about for awhile. There is still an eclectic mix of things in the pipeline, as I hope is always the case. Intellectual curiosity is a good thing. For now though, we’ll grab some popcorn (and chocolate covered peanuts) and head into the theater.

 

 


60 Hoosiers

It seems appropriate to be writing about Hoosiers on the cusp of NCAA basketball’s Final Four. I assure you the timing is purely coincidental though fitting. Hoosiers is a mid 80’s film set in the early 50’s, which right off the bat gives it a timeless quality. It stars Gene Hackman as a former college basketball coach who, it is eventually revealed, lost his job after hitting a student. Coach Norman Dale has been out of the game for over a decade when he is thrown a bone by an old friend, the principal of a small Indiana high school in need of a coach. Anyone who knows basketball knows that it is especially revered in Indiana, and that is reflected in the story. There’s the usual conflict between the coach and his players, who just don’t understand his methods. Throw in a budding romance between the coach and a fellow teacher (who can’t stand each other at first of course), a town drunk who also happens to be a basketball guru (played by Dennis Hopper in an Academy Award nominated performance), a gifted but troubled player who is reluctant to join the team, and townsfolk who are just a bit too passionate about their team (overcompensating for their empty and meaningless lives of course) and you’ve got yourself a nicely layered movie. Hoosiers has all the typical clichés that were originated in Rocky and have become staples in sports films like Rudy, Tin Cup, Remember the Titans, and Major League. Hackman and Hopper give nice performances and Hoosiers is a more than decent flick. It’s a bit predictable and the characters could be flushed out a bit more (it’s less than 2 hours long…another 20 minutes would have been peachy), but there’s no denying it has a place amongst the great sports movies. That place just may be a little lower in my opinion than many others’.

 

59 Vertigo

It should become apparent as one reads through these 100 movies that I am a Jimmy Stewart fan. By my count there are 6 of his movies on the list. It is ostensibly his Everyman quality…nice guy, small towner, “aw shucks” attitude that draws fans to Stewart, but the truth is much more complex. Jimmy’s talents had many facets, and in his career he played diverse roles…small town nice guy, hardscrabble cowboy, sophisticated man-about-town. Three directors guided Stewart through a large chunk of his 92 films – Frank Capra (3 films), Anthony Mann (8 films) Alfred Hitchcock (4 films). It is his work with Hitchcock that, in my opinion, is the most unique. Vertigo is much like that book that you were assigned to read in school and really resisted, but upon being forced to read it you rather enjoyed. I am not normally a huge fan of the suspense thriller genre, and years ago when I first made myself watch Vertigo (afterall, any self respecting Stewart fan just HAS to), I was fully prepared to not really like it all that much. However, much to my surprise I was sucked in by the singular story and the mesmerizing performances. The plot is far too intricate to describe here, but suffice to say it involves deception, dual identities, murder, obsession, and of course vertigo (i.e. paralyzing fear of heights). Jimmy strays about as far away from the “aw shucks” nice guy persona as he would ever get, but doesn’t cross too far into villainous territory. Vertigo demands repeat viewing so one can digest all of Hitchcock’s twisted goodness, but it is time well spent…although I do recommend following it up with a screwball comedy as a palate cleanser.

 

58 American Beauty

Speaking of screwball comedies…well, okay, maybe not so much. Any movie that climaxes with a person’s brains being spilled onto the kitchen floor probably can’t really be called a comedy. Actually this film is one of those that is rather difficult to categorize, but all things considered I must admit that American Beauty makes me laugh. Maybe it is the spot on accurate portrayal of the desperation and despair inherent in modern suburbia. Perhaps it is because it takes the average happy family myth and turns it on its ear. That’s a common theme nowadays. Numerous sitcoms portray families as dysfunctional trainwrecks of unhappiness. But that is a relatively new development in entertainment. Before American Beauty only two examples, both of them television shows…Roseanne and Dallas…stood out as having such a cynical approach to family life. I never particularly liked the Roseanne show, and Dallas was a soap opera. Kevin Spacey, who I enjoy in just about everything he is in, is brilliant in American Beauty as a man going through a mid-life crisis while dealing with a loveless marriage and a brooding & timid teenage daughter. As Lester Burnham, Spacey deals with his unhappiness like an NFL linebacker deals with a running back trying to bust up the middle for a big gain. Lester begins smoking pot with a voyeuristic teenage neighbor, starts working out in order to impress his daughter’s gorgeous cheerleader friend, and quits his suit and tie gig (blackmailing his young boss for a year’s salary on the way out) at an advertising firm in lieu of working the drive thru at a local burger joint. Meanwhile, Lester’s materialistic, oddly driven wife begins a torrid affair with a real estate rival and the daughter begins an eccentric romance/friendship with the pot smoking teenage neighbor. That kid has issues of his own, with a military man for as father and a quietly desperate mother who lets her husband run roughshod over the family. All the stories converge into a strangely violent climax. Kudos can certainly be given to Annette Bening as the wife, Carolyn, Wes Bentley as voyeuristic neighbor Ricky, and the always entertaining Chris Cooper as Colonel Fitts…but the engine that drives American Beauty is Spacey, who makes every movie he is in better than if he was not present.

 

57 This Is Spinal Tap

I am a big fan of “mockumentaries”, movies that present the story within the framework of a supposedly real documentary. The undisputed king of mockumentaries was made in 1984 by director Rob Reiner (fresh off his success as “Meathead” on All in the Family), and stars Michael McKean (Lenny from Laverne & Shirley), Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer (known to 21st century audiences as the voice of Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, Principal Skinner, and others on The Simpsons). Guest would go on to be a successful director of mockumentaries himself, as well as being the husband of 80’s scream queen and the still smokin’ hot Jamie Lee Curtis. This Is Spinal Tap follows a fictional British heavy metal band as they venture out on an American tour and includes flashbacks that tell the group’s backstory. Sharp eyed viewers will spot cameos or bit parts by now well known faces such as Paul Shaffer, Fred Willard, Fran Dresher, Dana Carvey, Anjelica Huston, and Billy Crystal, but it is the interaction of the three band members that makes the movie great. The band is…well…not that bright, which leads to hilarity. There are several iconic scenes that anyone who has ever seen the film will never forget…the amp that goes to 11, the spontaneous combustion and “unfortunate gardening accident “ (among other things) that continues to take the band’s revolving door of drummers, the Stonehenge set, the black album cover. And the songs – Spinal Tap produces songs with titles like Hell Hole, Sex Farm, Breakfast of Evil, and Swallow My Love. Basically This Is Spinal Tap takes everything we think we know about the awesomeness of the rock n’ roll lifestyle and throws it all out the window. You’ll never take rock music as seriously again, and that’s not a bad thing.

 

56 Batman

Sometime in late childhood I became fascinated with Batman. I am not sure when or why. I was never a comic book sort of kid, and the early 80’s were dominated by Superman, with the movie franchise starring Christopher Reeve. I suppose Batman’s backstory fascinates me, with him being just a normal guy who is psychologically scarred as a child after seeing his parents gunned down by street thugs. Batman is not from another planet and he has no superpowers. He is just a man who kicks ass and takes names. He does have a dual identity, and he does happen to be filthy rich, but I can forgive those indulgences. I really enjoy the old television show starring Adam West and Burt Ward. It only lasted for 2 seasons in the late 60’s (the almost identical timeframe as the original Star Trek series – who was in charge of TV shows in the 60’s and why did they keep cancelling great ones??) and was long gone before I was even born, but repeats were shown on some channel that I cannot recall when I was younger. Then in 1989, Tim Burton, who had achieved great success with Beetlejuice, decided to bring The Caped Crusader to the big screen. As I recall there was some trepidation with casting funnyman Michael Keaton in the titular role, but as it turns out he was perfect…much better than those who followed him – Val Kilmer and George Clooney. Of course the real star of this particular movie is Jack Nicholson as The Joker. I’ve never been a huge Nicholson fan…he’s more of a persona than a great actor…but he was the absolute best Joker. There are many that would say that the late Heath Ledger surpassed Nicholson’s achievement, but I feel like Ledger’s performance is too often looked at…subconsciously…through the prism of his untimely death. At any rate, all the stars aligned on this rendition of Batman on the big screen, and 20 years later it holds up quite nicely.