80’s Movie Mania: Radical Round 3

Before we move forward it’s time to make a tough decision. Throughout this process I have attempted to minimize my own bias as much as possible, although it is an undeniable factor. I ask myself several questions. How popular is the movie?? Is the movie actually good?? Is the movie a worthy representation of 80’s cinema?? Has the movie held up well over time?? Is it shown on TV a lot?? Is it accessible & enjoyable to a wide audience?? Critics’ reviews can be instructive, but don’t always accurately reflect the attitude of the masses and can’t comprehend the status a film may have achieved in the subsequent decades after its release. Not to sound like a broken record, but all of these things are why I really wanted substantial involvement from The Manoverse. However since that isn’t happening I am forced to ask & answer these questions myself. Therefore, in what may be considered an upset by some, I am giving  Airplane! the 3rd Round victory over Top Gun in the Gnarly Division. Sorry Tom Cruise. So now that that’s done let’s move on.

 

 

 

Radical 3

 

Dead Poets Society    vs.     The Naked Gun

Robin Williams received his second Academy Award nomination for playing a kindhearted yet unconventional professor at a stodgy prep school in dps21950’s New England. The professor becomes very influential to a group of young lads, but when one of those boys gets so frustrated by his domineering father’s demands that he commits suicide it is the professor who receives the blame. Williams’ performance as Professor Keating is extraordinary, mostly reserved yet with hints of the actor’s well-known humor. There are a plethora of literary & poetic references, and the script is well-written. Dead Poet’s Society was the 10th highest grossing film of 1989, behind flashier fare like Batman, Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade, Back to the Future Part II, & Ghostbusters II, but ahead of solid competition like The War of the Roses, Steel Magnolias, Christmas ngVacation, & Field of Dreams. 1989 was a VERY good year indeed. The Naked Gun overcame challenges by Dragnet and Splash to make it this far. It has an 86% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and a 2012 Empire magazine poll ranked it the 7th best comedy of all time. Two sequels were made in the early 90’s, but neither recaptured the magic of the original. Word on the street is that a reboot is in the works, with Ed Helms possibly…or maybe not…taking over the lead role. We’ll see.

 

The Verdict:      Dead Poets Society. It’s just a damn fine film. There’s a sober tone, but enough humor is thrown into the mix to lighten the mood. Driving Miss Daisy won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1989, besting both Dead Poets Society AND Field of Dreams. In what sane universe does that kind of absurdity occur??

 

 

 

 

Big    vs.     Fast Times at Ridgemont High

bigTom Hank’s is a huge movie star now, with a couple of Academy Awards and numerous Golden Globes, Emmys, Peoples’ Choice, & other trophies sitting on his mantle. In 1988 his success was just hitting its stride, with memorable hits like Splash and Bachelor Party, as well as misses like Volunteers, The Money Pit, Nothing in Common, & Dragnet (although I really liked Dragnet). Hanks wouldn’t realize his full potential until the early 90’s, but Big gives us an early glimpse of his talent for gingerly straddling the comedy/drama line. He plays 12 year old Josh, whose wish to a carnival fortune telling machine to be “big” is mystically granted. The boy wakes up the next morning in the body of a 30 year old man. While trying to figure out his predicament Josh somehow ends up with an office job and a girlfriend. The charm of Big is watching Hanks never forget that he is portraying a young kid. His performance is charming and sneakily mesmerizing. Josh kind of likes playing in the grown-up world, but at the same time he misses his mother and yearns for the simplicity of childhood, a plight many adults can understand. Big earned ftTom Hanks his first Oscar nomination, although he ultimately lost the trophy to Dustin Hoffman (Rain Man). Fast Times has defeated Brighton Beach Memoirs and Spaceballs to make it to this point. The screenplay was written by Cameron Crowe, who ranks right up there in John Hughes territory and tells similar character based stories devoid of the violence & CGI induced odiousness that seems to be standard operating procedure these days. Crowe hasn’t been as prolific as Hughes, but he’s had a handful of hits, with Fast Times being his first success. The fantastic cast and pitch perfect soundtrack are ingredients for a triumphant recipe of 80’s pop culture.

 

The Verdict:      Fast Times. This is a decision that is very similar to the Top Gun vs. Airplane! matchup, though with differing results. You’ve got a quintessential 80’s film that went a long way toward defining the decade versus a definitively “better” film that doesn’t necessarily represent the 80’s in any meaningful way. Since this is 80’s Movie Mania I am inclined to give weight to movies that are more representative of a certain vibe, but I cannot overlook quality. Big is a good film and a pre-cursor of great things ahead for Tom Hanks, but if I am being honest Hanks is more of a star of the 90’s. Fast Times at Ridgemont High hits all the right 80’s notes and is a well-written film that has aged well.

 

 

 

Rain Man  vs.     E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

After receiving a first round bye Rain Man beat Night Shift in Round 2. It not only dominated awards season in 1988 but was the top grossing movie of the year. Director Barry Levinson is one of my favorites, with a filmography that includes Diner, The Natural, Good Morning Vietnam, History of the World Part 1, Tootsie, Disclosure, Quiz Show, The Perfect Storm, & Donnie Brasco. Levinson certainly isn’t afraid of being eclectic. Rain Man has a 90% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Siskel & Ebert both gave it a thumbs up, with Siskel calling Hoffman’s role “risky & thankless” and Cruise’s performance “the strength of the film”, while Ebert said the film “is about acceptance” and praised both Cruise & Hoffman’s performances. E.T. had a first round bye then upended Sixteen Candles in Round 2. To say that it dominated the box office in 1982 is an ET2understatement of epic proportions, as it more than doubled its closest competition. It is rare to find a big summer blockbuster that also has a heart and a well-written story, but history has shown that when Hollywood produces such greatness the masses respond. E.T. won four Oscars, but none of the “major” ones, a mystery that not even Sherlock Holmes could solve. E.T. has a remarkable 98% Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and upon its release pretty much every critic on the planet showered it with praise.

 

The Verdict:      E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. This was a REALLY difficult decision, but you want to know why Rain Man lost?? I pondered a simple question. If people were randomly asked when each film was in theaters I can virtually guarantee that most folks would peg E.T. as an 80’s film, whereas Rain Man could just as easily have been a product of the early 90’s. It’s a metric that probably could be utilized for many matchups in this competition, but one that I use only as a last resort when no other flaws can be found.

 

 

 

This Is Spinal Tap       vs.     Wall Street

stMockumentary classic Spinal Tap received a first round bye then eliminated Flight of the Navigator in Round 2. It barely registered at the box office in 1984, ranking 117th for the year. Financial success & popularity came later, after the movie was released on home video. However, critics loved the film right out of the gate. Ebert gave it 4 stars, opining that it is “absolutely inspired in a subtle way” and “the satire has a deft, wicked touch”. Wall Street received a first round bye then proceeded to defeat Revenge of the Nerds to make it here. It ranked a modest 26th at the 1987 box office, behind bona fide classics like wallstreet2_560Moonstruck, Lethal Weapon, Dirty Dancing, and Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, but ahead of decent completion like Spaceballs, Summer School, The Princess Bride, & Ishtar. Okay, you got me…I’m obviously joking about that last one (Ishtar is considered one of the biggest bombs of all time).  I think it is Charlie Sheen’s best work, and of course Michael Douglas won the Oscar for Best Actor in his role as Gordon Gekko. A sequel was made in 2010, but it doesn’t measure up. I blame Shia LeBeouf.

 

The Verdict:       Spinal Tap. Wall Street is a fine film. I never thought a movie about stocks & bonds could keep me on the edge of my seat, but it achieves that difficult task. Having said that, This Is Spinal Tap is so well written and performed, plus it actually spawned an entire sub-genre of films. Rob Reiner may be a raging liberal lunatic, but I’ll give him credit for creating a really great movie.

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..76-80

Today’s selection is pretty…..dramatic. Even the lone comedy in the bunch is more of a poignant “dramedy”. There are a couple 90’s movies, one from the 70’s, one from the 80’s, and one from the 50’s, before I was even born. No one can ever say I discriminate in my movie watching. If it’s good I don’t care when it was made or who is in it, as long as it makes me laugh, makes me think, or both.

 

 

 

80 Big

In yet another example of divine timing I caught this movie on HBO just as I was ready to write about it. I love it when a plan comes together. It seems like eons ago that Tom Hanks was a relatively obscure TV star on Bosom Buddies. Flash ahead nearly three decades and he is among the most famous and successful movie stars in the world and has two Best Actor Oscars sitting on his mantle. Though the 1984 mermaid flick Splash was Hanks’ coming out party as a major movie star, 1988’s Big cemented that status. It tells the story of a 13 year old boy who is the wimpy type that gets picked on and overlooked. He goes to a carnival where he uses a fortune telling machine to wish he were big. Lo and behold the next day his wish is granted and he’s been transformed, atleast physically, into a 30 year old man. I state it that way for a reason. Hanks’ performance in Big is brilliant (it earned him his first Best Actor nomination) because he makes it clear that although the character is 30 years old on the outside, on the inside he is still a little boy. His mannerisms, the things he says and the way he says them…..it’s a spot on interpretation of a child by an adult. Able support is given by Robert Loggia and Elizabeth Perkins (a smoking hot, underrated, underutilized actress even now), but Big is all about Hanks. Funny and touching without being overly sweet and sentimental, Big hits exactly the right note, the rare “fantasy” film that is utterly believable.

 

79 Saving Private Ryan

Back to back Tom Hanks?? You bet. Although this is a completely different Hanks vehicle. You won’t see very many war films on this list. I’m just not a big fan. I prefer to laugh rather than do the whole blood and guts thing. But Saving Private Ryan is so powerful, so raw, so realistic in its portrayal of the World War II D-Day Invasion that it simply cannot be overlooked. The cast is stunning…..Hanks, Matt Damon, Ed Burns, Tom Sizemore, Vin Diesel (showing that he has legit acting chops), and Adam Golberg star, and small cameos are made by Ted Danson, Dennis Farina, Paul Giamatti, and Bryan Cranston. And oh, by the way, the film is directed by Steven Spielberg. The opening scene hits you like a sledgehammer to the nether region, and things don’t really let up after that. The conclusion is so potently memorable and emotional that it takes the movie to another level. Irrespective of the war motif, Saving Private Ryan forces a self evaluation of one’s life, making a person really examine if they’ve made a difference and earned the right to take up space on this planet.

 

78 The Godfather Part III

Many many people disregard this third installment of The Godfather franchise. It’s like the crazy uncle that you keep locked in the basement and pretend doesn’t exist. But I think that’s unfair. First of all, it is the conclusion to one of the all time great movie trilogies. The first two films are generally considered to be among the finest ever made. Secondly, III still stars Al Pacino, and anything that is graced with the presence of Pacino cannot be all that bad. The legendary supporting cast from the first two films is nearly all gone…..only Talia Shire and Diane Keaton remain. In the absence of Brando, Duvall, and Caan we get Andy Garcia and Joe Mantegna, which isn’t necessarily as bad of a trade off as it may seem. Garcia is among the most underrated actors of his generation. The plot is a bit hard to follow and mirrors real life eventsinvolving the Vatican and papal murder & mayhem. Repeated viewings are almost a necessity to really have all the intricacies of the story really sink in, and that may be the biggest mark against III. One really has to invest some effort into completely understanding the story, and only big fans of the first two will likely have the inclination to undertake that endeavor. I personally believe it is worth the time. The Godfather Part III really grows on you and it becomes much clearer how it fits with the first two films. I have come to see it as a logical and almost necessary conclusion to Michael Corleone’s story, although director Francis Ford Coppola has stated that it was not originally intended to be so. He has been up front in saying that the only reason that he made the film was due to the box office failure of Tucker: A Man & His Dream. In other words, he needed the money. It is interesting to note two things about this movie. First, Robert Duvall was supposed to reprise the character of consiglieri Tom Hagen, but didn’t because he wanted a bigger payday. The character had to be rewritten as having died. Also, the character of Mary Corleone was orginally to be played by Julia Roberts and then Winona Ryder. Sophia Coppola, the director’s daughter, got the part only as a last resort after Ryder dropped out. Ms. Coppola’s performance is almost universally at the top of the list of reasons why some dislike The Godfather Part III. So imagine if Duvall had taken part and if either Roberts or Ryder would have played Mary. I guess we’ll never know for sure, but if those two things would have occurred the third installment may possibly have become as beloved as the first two films. As it is, I like the film. I love Pacino, I dig Andy Garcia, and I see the tragic conclusion to Michael Corleone’s tale as being well written and the only logical way it could have ended.

 

77 Rocky II

When people think of the Rocky story I sometimes think they get things a bit mixed up. They forget that at the end of the first Rocky film the titular character lost the fight, the point being that he had gone the distance which was a moral victory in and of itself. It’s not until the end of the second fight that Balboa wins in a dramatic near double countout. I’ve always believed that having Rocky lose at the end of the first fight only to have him actually win at the end of the second was a brilliant idea. I’m not privy to inside information, but I suspect that unlike how things work today, back in 1979 a sequel was not assumed or planned. So one can make an educated guess that the whole moral victory angle was Stallone’s original intent. After the enormous success of the first movie a sequel was demanded, and there’s no way on earth the audience would have stood for the underdog losing again. It is somewhat surprising that this foregone conclusion does not diminish Rocky II’s quality, which I suppose can be attributed to the fine writing and performances. Unlike The Godfather films I do not believe a third (or 4th, 5th, & 6th) movie was necessary to elaborate on Rocky Balboa’s saga. I would have been okay with forever remembering him as the imaginary World Heavyweight Champion and skip seeing him lose everything, fight the Russians, and not-so-gracefully grow old. I suppose we can blame George Foreman for the last two sequels and the Cold War for one of its predecessors. I can think of no logical reason why anyone thought Rocky III was a good idea.

 

76 Twelve Angry Men

Here in 2009 we have short attention spans, and we have been poorly conditioned to expect the wrong things from our movies. Dramas are oftentimes needlessly violent, and comedies constantly try to outdo each other with ever increasing offensiveness. Almost every movie of any genre is fast paced, shallowly written, and an all out assault on our eyes & ears and Hollywood seems to make the assumption that it needs to continuously ramp up the foul language, sexual content, blood & gore, and unrealistic death defying stunts. They are right of course, but onlybecause they have dictated the rules. Most anyone who doesn’t have any grey hair on their head has spent their lives going to movies replete with brutality and debauchery to the point that a film without it is deemed tedious. I say this as a basis for bringing up just such a “boring” movie, 1957’s Twelve Angry Men, a film that comes across more like a play because it was in fact adapted from one. It stars Henry Fonda as the one dissenting voice of a jury that is deciding a murder case. There are no car chases, no explosions, not hot and heavy sex scenes. It is simply 12 men sitting in a room arguing about the case they’ve just heard and whether or not the accused is guilty or not guilty. In my youth I talked of one day becoming an attorney. Though I strayed from that path the law is still something that interests me, which in some small way explains my interest in this film. The other thing that captivates my attention is its simplicity. I am a minimalist, and Twelve Angry Men is the ultimate testament to minimalism in moviemaking. There are no gimmicks…..everything, the whole roll of the dice, rests on the shoulders of fine acting and writing. I only wish that contemporary filmmakers were willing to gamble like that, and even more that modern audiences were capable of appreciating that type of quality.