80’s Movie Mania…The Sweet Sixteen – Part 1

80sWe began with 84 of the coolest films from the 1980’s and now we have narrowed the field to 16. I feel like I have said everything there is to say about the remaining competitors, from rehashing the plot to giving props to the actors & directors to film reviews to box office grosses. I’ve even thrown in tidbits of interesting trivia. What else is left to say?? The next couple of rounds will be much less…loquacious…because I really don’t want to be monotonous, especially since this is the cream of the crop. These are the films that defined the youth of an entire generation. These are the films that 80’s kids are still watching over & over because they are that entertaining. These are the films that have lasted, that still resonate on some level…whether they make us laugh, think, rock out, or simply remember a simpler time…three decades after their initial run. That doesn’t happen often. I often wonder what kids growing up today will be watching when they are middle-aged. I am sure they have their particular touchstones, yet I can’t help but feel that no group of movie lovers had it better than my generation. I could legitimately end this exercise right now and call it a 16-way tie…but I won’t. Please join me as we move forward.

 

 

Radical

 

dps3

Released:     6/2/89

Starring:        Robin Williams, Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles

Director:        Peter Weir (Witness, The Truman Show)

Awards:        Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, & Best Actor (Robin Williams), nominated for Golden Globes in all the same categories

Box Office:   $236 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  85% Fresh

Quotes:         “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering…these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love…these are what we stay alive for.”

“They’re not that different from you. Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But, if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen. You hear it? Carpe – – hear it? – – carpe, carpe diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

Miscellaneous:        The part of John Keating was once intended for Dustin Hoffman. It was also going to be Hoffman’s directorial debut before he withdrew from the film. Robin Williams was in a sober mood during filming, as he was going through a divorce at the time, and there was no joking around between takes.

 

vs.

 

fast3

Released:     8/13/82

Starring:        Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Forest Whitaker, Ray Walston, Phoebe Cates

Director:        Amy Heckerling (National Lampoon’s European Vacation, Clueless)

Awards:        none

Box Office:   $27 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  78% Fresh

Quotes:         “All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine.”

Miscellaneous:        Awesome soundtrack, featuring songs from Sammy Hagar, Jackson Browne, Joe Walsh, The Go-Go’s, Don Henley, Quarterflash, Poco, Donna Summer, Stevie Nicks, Oingo Boingo, & Jimmy Buffett. The screenplay was written by Cameron Crowe, writer/director of hits like Say Anything, Jerry Maguire, & Almost Famous.

 

 

The Verdict:       Dead Poets Society. By any objective measure it is the better film. Fast Times deserves kudos for a cast that went on to have successful careers, a great soundtrack, & generally representing the quintessential 80’s vibe. Those are all good things, but I like Dead Poets Society more.

 

 

 

stap      

Released:     3/2/84

Starring:        Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer               

Director:        Rob Reiner (Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, A Few Good Men, The American President)

Awards:        on multiple lists as one of the funniest movies ever made

Box Office:   $5 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  95% Fresh

Quotes:         “I don’t really think that the end can be assessed as of itself as being the end because what does the end feel like? It’s like saying when you try to extrapolate the end of the universe, you say, if the universe is indeed infinite, then how – what does that mean? How far is all the way, and then if it stops, what’s stopping it, and what’s behind what’s stopping it? So, what’s the end, you know, is my question to you.”

“There’s something about this that’s so black, it’s like how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.”

“We’re very lucky in the band in that we have two visionaries, David and Nigel. They’re like poets, like Shelley and Byron. They’re two distinct types of visionaries. It’s like fire & ice, basically. I feel my role in the band is to be somewhere in the middle of that, kind of like lukewarm water.”

“He died in a bizarre gardening accident.”

“I think that the problem may have been, that there was a Stonehenge monument on the stage that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf. Alright? That tended to understate the hugeness of the object.”

“It’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where? Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do? Eleven. Exactly. One louder. These go to eleven.”

Miscellaneous:        Not a box office hit, but found great success and a cult following when released on home video.

 

 vs.

et3

Released:     6/11/82          

Starring:        Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote

Director:        Steven Spielberg

Awards:        won Oscars for Best Original Score (John Williams), Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, & Best Visual Effects, nominated for Best Picture, won Golden Globes for Best Picture & Best Score, won L.A. Critics Award for Best Picture, won multiple Saturn Awards

Box Office:   $793 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  98% Fresh

Quotes:         “E.T. phone home.”

Miscellaneous:        ET’s face was modeled after poet Carl Sandburg, Albert Einstein, and a pug dog. The filmmakers had wanted M&M’s to be used to lure E.T. instead of Reese’s Pieces, but the Mars Company denied their request so Reese’s Pieces were used instead. As a direct result Reese’s Pieces’ sales skyrocketed. More & more companies then began requesting that their products be used in movies. Thus, product placement was born.

 

The Verdict:       Spinal Tap. I suppose conventional wisdom would call this a pretty big upset. E.T. has the numbers, the accolades, & Spielberg. Spinal Tap has spontaneously combusting drummers, Lick My Love Pump, & Dana Carvey as a mime. Perhaps if I went back and watched E.T. again I’d remember why it was such a big deal and be convinced to make the predictable decision. But the fact is that I haven’t seen it in atleast two decades, and I shouldn’t have to be convinced to love something. I mean no disrespect…it’s just that I’ve seen Spinal Tap multiple times and it always makes me laugh, and in my world that means a lot.

 

 

Gnarly

 

khan

Released:     6/4/82

Starring:        William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Ricardo Montalban

Director:        Nicholas Meyer (The Day After)

Awards:        none

Box Office:   $97 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  88% Fresh

Quotes:         “I have been . . . and always shall be . . . your friend.”

“He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him. I’ll chase him round the Moons of Nibia and round the Antares Maelstrom and round Perdition’s flames before I give him up!”

Of my friend I can only say this. Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most…human.”

“KHHHHAAAAAAAAN!!!”

“From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee. For hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”

Miscellaneous:        The computer simulation of Genesis transforming a dead planet into a habitable one is the first complete computer-generated sequence ever used in a feature film. It is the brainchild of ex-Boeing engineer Loren Carpenter, whom after Boeing went on to join George Lucas Industrial Light and Magic. At Boeing in the late 1970s Carpenter discovered that Mandelbrot fractals could be used to create realistic mountain landscapes for computer animations of new aircraft designs, a previously intractable problem, and started a revolution in computer graphics and simulation. It is a running gag that there is a Federation embargo against Romulan Ale, but this still doesn’t prevent resourceful people like Dr. McCoy from procuring some for Admiral Kirk as a birthday present. It is viewed it as a forbidden status symbol, akin to Cuban cigars in the United States.

 

 vs.

 

airplane2

Released:     8/2/80

Starring:        Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack

Director:        Jim Abrams, David & Jerry Zucker (Ruthless People, The Naked Gun)

Awards:        on multiple lists as one of the funniest movies ever made

Box Office:   $130 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  97%

Quotes:         “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue!”

“Surely you can’t be serious?”       “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.”

“We have clearance, Clarence.”   “Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor?”

Miscellaneous:        The filmmakers chose the lead actors because of their reputation for playing no-nonsense characters. Until this film these actors had not done comedy so their staid personas & line delivery made the satire in the movie even funnier. This is an aspect of the film modern viewers miss out on. Cameos include Ethel Merman, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Barbara Billingsley, Maureen McGovern, & Jimmie Walker. A sequel was made two years later, but it isn’t even in the same league as its predecessor.

 

The Verdict:       Airplane!. As a Trekkie it breaks my heart, but this is a necessary decision. The fact is that no matter how dearly I love it or how much money it has made films like Wrath of Khan appeal to a niche audience. Put 100 people in a room. Maybe 50 of them…if we’re being generous…are Trekkies. Now all of those Trekkies will likely agree that Wrath of Khan is awesome, but we’re still left with 50 people who couldn’t possible care less about Star Trek specifically or sci-fi in general. Conversely, when it comes to Airplane! there will likely be two types…those who have seen it and those who haven’t. Those who have seen it will almost unanimously agree that it’s hilarious, and those who haven’t seen it will quickly join the consensus after they watch. You’d be hard-pressed to find many people who don’t have a positive opinion of Airplane!. Of course none of this would matter if I disliked Airplane!…but I don’t.

 

 

 

footloose

Released:     2/17/84

Starring:        Kevin Bacon, John Lithgow, Lori Singer, Dianne Wiest, Sarah Jessica Parker

Director:        Herbert Ross (Funny Lady, The Goodbye Girl, Steel Magnolias)

Awards:        none

Box Office:   $80 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  54% Rotten

Quotes:         “Ecclesiastes assures us that there is a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to laugh and a time to weep. A time to mourn. And there is a time to dance. And there was a time for this law, but not anymore. See, this is our time to dance. It is our way of celebrating life. It’s the way it was in the beginning. It’s the way it’s always been. It’s the way it should be now.”

Miscellaneous:        Our old pal Ebert didn’t much care for Footloose, calling it “a seriously confused movie that tries to do three things and does all of them badly.” He went on to opine that its efforts to tell a story about conflict, introduce flashy teen characters, & be a “music video” all fall short of the mark. On the bright side, there is a fantastic soundtrack with songs from Kenny Loggins, Mike Reno & Ann Wilson, Deniece Williams, Bonnie Tyler, Shalamar, & Sammy Hagar. Of course I admit that it is a soundtrack that might only be awesome to those of us that were pre-teens or teenagers in 1984.

 

 

vs.

 

buck2

Released:     8/16/89

Starring:        John Candy, MacCaulay Culkin, Amy Madigan

Director:        John Hughes

Awards:        none

Box Office:   $79 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  64% Fresh

Quotes:         “I don’t think I want to know a six-year-old who isn’t a dreamer, or a sillyheart. And I sure don’t want to know one who takes their student career seriously. I don’t have a college degree. I don’t even have a job. But I know a good kid when I see one. Because they’re all good kids until dried-out, brain-dead skags like you drag them down and convince them they’re no good. You so much as scowl at my niece or any other kid in this school and I hear about it, I’m coming looking for you! Take this quarter, go downtown, and have a rat gnaw that thing off your face! Good day to you, madam.”

“I’m on to cigars now. I’m on to a five-year plan. I eliminated cigarettes, then I go to cigars, then I go to pipes, then I go to chewing tobacco, then I’m on to that nicotine gum.”

Miscellaneous:        The scene where Miles interrogates Chanice through the mail slot gave director John Hughes the idea for Home Alone.

 

The Verdict:       Uncle Buck. This result surprises me. Footloose is one of the signature films of the 1980’s. It made Kevin Bacon a huge star. But I cannot in good conscience allow a film with such negative reviews to go further, atleast not against such good competition. While it is true that 80’s Movie Mania is my creation, and without participation from the masses my judgement has played an even larger role than expected, I do respect the greater public perspective. That viewpoint seems to be that Footloose has a good soundtrack and produced a big movie star, but it is largely style over substance. I also feel like Uncle Buck is more…accessible. Footloose is beloved by those of us who were 12-17 years of age in 1984, but I’m not sure anyone much older or younger would appreciate its greatness.

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.

 

 

80’s Movie Mania: Gnarly Round 2

Welcome back to Round 2. Surprisingly enough I posted no polls for the Tubular Division so we have no loose ends to tie up.  That may change today…or it might not. So, without further ado…let’s roll.

 

 

 

 

Gnarly 2

 

Top Gun                                 vs.              Crocodile Dundee

topgun2Once upon a time, before Tom Cruise became a couch jumping whackjob, he was the epitome of cool. And hecroc2 just so happened to make some really good movies…something he hasn’t done with regularity for about 15 years. At any rate, in 1986’s Top Gun Cruise portrays a cocky pilot given the opportunity to train at the elite U.S. Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program, more popularly known as Top Gun. Once there he annoys just about everybody with his arrogance, but his immense talent cannot be ignored. Oh, he also happens to get romantically involved with one of his instructors. The cast includes Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Kelly McGillis, Tom Skerrit, Meg Ryan, & Tim Robbins, and the soundtrack is amazing. With songs by Kenny Loggins, Cheap Trick, Berlin, Loverboy, Miami Sound Machine, Jerry Lee Lewis, & The Righteous Brothers it epitomizes the 1980’s while also giving a nod to the past. Crocodile Dundee did not receive a first round bye, narrowly defeating Purple Rain, a decision I feel slightly guilty about after the untimely death of rock legend Prince. Ah well…what’s done is done. Dundee was the 2nd highest grossing film of 1986…Top Gun was #1. What we must ponder is which film has aged better and I think the answer is obvious.

 

The Verdict:       Top Gun. As crazy as Cruise may be in real life credit must be given where it is due. While lots of movies get made every year the fact is that the vast majority of them are forgotten about five minutes after we leave the theater. And just like music’s “one hit wonders” there are a ton of actors who may get lucky enough to do one decent project and then they fall off the map. Tom Cruise has hung around for over thirty years and made atleast a dozen or more movies that people remember with varying degrees of affection. Top Gun is amongst his best work and holds a special place in the collective pop culture consciousness of a certain generation.

 

 

 

 

Uncle Buck                                      vs.              The Last Starfighter

buckJohn Candy passed in 1994 at the age of 43…far too soon. Fortunately he left behind a plethora of starfighter2unforgettable work, including 1989’s Uncle Buck. Candy portrays a slovenly bachelor who is called upon to babysit his brother’s children for a few days due to a family emergency. There are a handful of recognizable faces in Uncle Buck, including 8 year old MacCaulay Culkin in his first significant role, but make no mistake…Candy carries the film and does it well. Written, produced, & directed by the incomparable John Hughes, Uncle Buck spawned a short-lived TV show the following year, but without Candy it was doomed. The Last Starfighter upended Police Academy in Round 1 and is a criminally underrated sci-fi adventure. It ranked 31st at the box office in 1984, way behind more celebrated films like Beverly Hills Cop, The Karate Kid, Footloose, Splash, & The Terminator. Admittedly its appeal is probably limited to sci-fi nerds like myself, but that’s okay. It is quirky & inspired and deserves more appreciation than it gets.

 

The Verdict:       Uncle Buck. John Hughes ruled the box office throughout the 1980’s, and John Candy was an underrated actor with a remarkable filmography. They made a great team and this is their best work together.

 

 

 

 

 

Good Morning Vietnam                  vs.              Biloxi Blues

gmvIt’s Vietnam vs. WWII! I have been effusive in my praise of the late Robin Williams and it makes me sad that we’ll never see any more new specimens of his genius. One of the first indicators of the immensity of his talent came in 1987’s Good Morning Vietnam. Williams portrays Armed Forces Radio DJ Adrien Cronauer in a film based on a true story. As with many of Williams’ films that would follow the subject matter is at times dramatic but always tinged with the star’s unique brand of humor. He received his first Academy Award nomination for the role. The cast also includes Forest Whitaker (who would win his own Oscar two decades later), Bruno Kirby, & JT Walsh, and a solid soundtrack has songs by The Beach Boys, Frankie Avalon, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, & The Supremes. Biloxi Blues edged out Parenthood in Round 1. It was the 23rd highest grossing film of 1988, ahead of competition like Mississippi Burning, The Accidental Tourist, & Mystic Pizza in what was a particularly strong year at the box office.

 

The Verdict:       Good Morning Vietnam. As much as I like the combo of Christopher Walken & Matthew Broderick I like Robin Williams 1000x more. It’s a different kind of war film that doesn’t completely ignore the violence & turmoil but doesn’t wallow in it either. This marks the moment Williams segued from legendary comedian to movie star.

 

 

 

 

Airplane!                                 vs.              Beetlejuice

airplane1980’s Airplane! received a first round bye and now enters the arena as the second oldest film in the beetlejuice2competition. It was inspired by a 1957 disaster flick called Zero Hour, but turns the idea on its ear by making it a hilarious parody. Four tough guy actors who had never before done comedy…Robert Stack, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, & Lloyd Bridges…were cast in lead roles. It’s the kind of thing Robert DeNiro has done with some regularity in the past decade. At any rate, the movie is loaded with sight gags, silly wordplay, & amusing cameos to the point that the plot sort of takes a back seat. Shakespeare it is not, but Airplane! does the yeoman’s work of making its audience laugh, which is sort of the point. Beetlejuice got the decision over Turner & Hooch in Round 1 even though it isn’t the kind of film normally in my wheelhouse. There is some buzz about a Beetlejuice sequel, especially since Michael Keaton is an even bigger star now than he was in 1988. Winona Ryder hasn’t had much career success in the past decade (or two) so she’s got to be praying hard that it happens.

 

The Verdict:       Airplane!. Say the words “parody film” and Airplane! almost immediately comes to mind. It set the standard for a genre that has seen its share of success with films like The Naked Gun, Spaceballs, the Austin Powers series, & Robin Hood: Men in Tights. They all surely owe a serious debt of gratitude to Airplane!.

 

 

 

Say Anything…                     vs.              48 Hrs.

sayanything1989’s Say Anything is in the mix after receiving a first round bye. It is a romantic dramedy that’s just a little…different…from the typical high school films that were so in vogue in the 80’s. John Cusack stars as Lloyd Dobler, a recent high school graduate with absolutely no plans for his future. He is hit by the thunderbolt at his graduation ceremony and becomes focused on pursuing Diane Court, the beautiful valedictorian who seemingly has it all together. Miraculously the quest works and the two begin dating during the summer before she intends to take off for a fellowship in England. There is a solid supporting cast, including Joan Cusack as Lloyd’s sister who is a single mother herself, the sublime John Mahoney (now better remembered as Frasier Crane’s Dad) as Diane’s overprotective and somewhat shady father, and smaller roles for folks we know better now than we did back then: Lili Taylor, Bebe Neuwirth, Eric Stoltz, Jeremy Piven, & Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson). At the end of the day though this is John Cusack’s show and he knocks it out of the park. 48 Hrs. narrowly beat out Teen 48-hrs_592x299Wolf in Round 1. The 80’s were very good to Eddie Murphy. He was THE star of Saturday Night Live before jumping into movies like Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, & Coming to America. Since then his career feels like it’s been two decades of mediocrity. One cannot help but wonder how the dominoes would have fallen if Richard Pryor had been cast as originally planned. A sequel…imaginatively titled Another 48 Hrs….was made in 1990, but no one remembers it even exists.

 

The Verdict:       Say Anything…. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s just something about this movie that has allowed it to remain in the 80’s pop culture consciousness. Maybe it is the performance of Cusack, who should have become every bit the superstar that contemporaries like Cruise, Swayze, & Michael J. Fox did but never quite got there. Perhaps it is the charm of Ione Skye, a beautiful lass that, much like fellow 80’s hotties Phoebe Cates, Mia Sara, & Jennifer Grey, shot to fame and then just as quickly fell off the map. Or possibly some credit should be given to the fact that every time we hear Peter Gabriel’s hit In Your Eyes we STILL picture Lloyd Dobler in a trenchcoat, boombox held high above his head, trying desperately to win back the love of his life. It’s probably all of the above.

 

 

 

 

The Outsiders                        vs.              Weird Science

outsiders2Both of these films overcame stiff competition in Round 1. Well okay, The Outsiders beat My Tutor, wswhich isn’t exactly stiff competition, while Weird Science got the nod over Raising Arizona, a film that a lot of people really enjoy. The Outsiders was only the 28th highest grossing film of 1983, behind two James Bond movies, something called Blue Thunder (????), and a bunch of bad sequels like Psycho II, Porky’s II: The Next Day, & Jaws 3D. However it did better than A Christmas Story, All the Right Moves, and re-issues of classics Rear Window & Raiders of the Lost Ark. Hindsight is 20/20, and thankfully we have home video to help us catch up with good things we may have foolishly disregarded the first time. Weird Science did even worse in 1985, ranking only 38th in a very competitive year at the box office, although the fact that it made less money than forgettable schlock like Spies Like Us, White Knights, Jagged Edge, & Agnes of God should embarrass somebody…mainly the viewing public. I know which way I lean here, but I’m going to throw a bone to The Manoverse. You’re welcome.

100 Favorite Movies…..41-45

At this point some patterns have started to develop. You will see my affections for certain types of films, certain actors, and particular film trilogies or series. I will do my best to not become repetitive in my comments, and apologize ahead of time if I do that anyway. In video stores they used to have a section of “If you liked this then check this out…”. I don’t really peruse video stores anymore. After all, with Netflix, DVR, Video On Demand, and Redbox who needs to pay Blockbuster $4/rental?? But if my dear readers have any suggestions based on the examples I write about here please don’t hesitate to let me know.


 

45 Sleepless In Seattle

I mentioned in a previous post that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan made three movies together. We’ve discussed You’ve Got Mail. Another was Joe Versus the Volcano, which is okay but not one of my favorites. The third Hanks/Ryan pairing is, in my opinion, the best and, with apologies to When Harry Met Sally (which we also looked at previously), the greatest romantic comedy of all time. Hanks plays a widower whose wife has just succumbed to cancer. That doesn’t seem like the basis for a romantic comedy, but we don’t get to see much of the sad stuff. What we see is Sam taking his young son and beginning a new life in Seattle. He eventually gets back into the dating scene, but his little boy isn’t satisfied with Dad’s taste in women, so he calls a nationwide radio talk show on Christmas Eve and tells the host his father needs a new wife. Sam is goaded into spilling his heart to an enraptured listening public who apparently have nothing better to do on Christmas Eve. Listening intently all the way on the other side of the country in Baltimore is Annie, played by Ryan. Annie is engaged to an allergy-ridden milquetoast that she doesn’t really love and easily becomes mesmerized…and a bit obsessed…by Sam’s story. She is among the thousands of women who send Sam letters, which he somewhat cynically yet logically dismisses. She even has a background check done on him and goes to Seattle only to chicken out when their eyes lock ever so briefly. In a nod to the 1957 Cary Grant classic An Affair to Remember, the little boy (posing as his father) writes Annie and asks her to meet him at the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day. The little boy takes off for New York by himself unbeknownst to Dad, and Annie decides to throw caution to the wind and be there too. I won’t spoil the ending for those who haven’t seen the film (and if you haven’t shame on you), but suffice to say that the phrase “Shall we??” may be one of the best lines of dialogue ever. I need to point out that Rosie O’Donnell has a role as the perfunctory best friend, and I detest Rosie O’Donnell. That should tell you all you need to know – if I can get past Rosie’s unfortunate besmirching of this movie it must be pretty extraordinary.

 

44 Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

We’ve established the fact…or atleast the commonly held opinion among Trekkies…that of the six films starring the original Enterprise crew the even-numbered ones are superior. This fourth installment is what I call “the one with the whales”. The crew travels back in time (and time travel is always cool) to 1980’s San Francisco to secure some humpback whales that will save Earth in the future. The details are too contrived to explain here, and they don’t really matter anyway. What matters is that the movie becomes a delightfully humorous fish-out-of water tale (pun unavoidable), with our heroes from the 23rd century trying to maneuver in the 20th. Spock and Kirk encounter an annoying punk rocker on a bus that refuses to turn down his music…Spock knocks him unconscious with the Vulcan nerve pinch. Spock doesn’t understand the concept of profanity but tries to fit it by using it…and fails miserably. Scotty tries to talk to a computer instead of using the keyboard. Kirk asks the crew to “remember where we parked” the Klingon Bird of Prey they’ve cloaked in an open field. Bones’ hilariously indignant take on “modern” medicine – “Dialysis?? What is this, the Dark Ages??”…” My God, man. Drilling holes in his head isn’t the answer!!”.  It’s a rather lighthearted Trek, and that’s okay. I suppose those that crave action, explosions, and battles to the death might not favor such a jocular story, and that is a perfectly understandable opinion. As for me, I feel it is a unique and memorable chapter in the Star Trek saga, and I will treasure it always.

 

43 Mrs. Doubtfire

I really like Robin Williams. I think he may be one of the two or three funniest men on the planet, and when he does dramatic roles he can be flat-out incredible. A few of his films are in this list and there are several more…Good Morning Vietnam, Aladdin, Good Will Hunting…that are more than fine but just not quite Top 100 worthy.  I do wonder about a lot of his choices in the 12 years since Good Will Hunting though. Patch Adams, Bicentennial Man, Death to Smoochy, Old Dogs…not a notable hit among them. But that’s a discussion for another time. Right now our topic of the moment is Mrs. Doubtfire, a very funny if a bit schmaltzy 1993 outing in which Williams dresses up as matronly old English nanny in order to spend time with his children, from whom his estranged wife is keeping him. Divorce and custody battles aren’t usually fodder for comedy, but somehow Mrs. Doubtfire pulls it off. The children are affable enough, and Sally Field is halfway sympathetic as a woman who has simply grown apart from her husband. But the heart & soul of the story is Williams in drag, a concept that is even funnier than it sounds. There is a scene near the end of the film where he is trying to have dinner in the same restaurant at the same time with his family as Mrs. Doubtfire and his boss as his normal male self. He almost pulls it off with impressive acumen, but unfortunately the boss is a drinker and he feels compelled to join in. Trying to lead a double life and keep up the ruse is difficult enough, but doing it while gooned on scotch proves to be too much. The hilarity that ensues before everything falls apart is more than enough to put a smile on one’s face though. The conclusion is a little sentimental, but I have to give the powers-that-be credit for not giving in to the temptation to go for the expected happy ending. This is one you can watch with the kids and not be embarrassed, and that is becoming something rare and valuable these days.

 

42 Rear Window

Jimmy Stewart is my very favorite actor of all time, and his range of roles was wide…everything from an affable lunatic that talks to an imaginary rabbit to a few turns as a tough cowboy and seemingly every nuance in between. He starred in four movies directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and I can’t think of an odder couple. I’m not a big Hitchcock guy. I generally prefer to laugh and lean heavily toward lighter fare, so his brand of suspense or thriller or however you want to classify his films just don’t usually pique my interest. But when Stewart is involved all the sudden I tend to take a look. 1954’s Rear Window is one of Hitchcock’s tamer offerings and deals with voyeurism taking a rather minimalist approach. Stewart plays a photographer who is housebound by a broken leg in the midst of a scorching hot summer. With nothing better to do (television was around, but I guess he’s not interested), Jeff spends his time checking up on the neighbors in his courtyard apartment complex with the aid of his binoculars. He has a girlfriend (played by Grace Kelly) and a home health nurse, but he still spends a good bit of time bored and alone. He can’t help but form opinions about his neighbors as he clandestinely peeks into their lives, and he even gives them nicknames like Miss Lonelyhearts and Miss Torso. One neighbor in particular grabs his attention, a man named Thorwald (played by the future Perry Mason, Raymond Burr). Jeff becomes convinced that Thorwald has murdered his wife and tries to persuade the girlfriend, the nurse, and a police buddy. They are dismissive at first, but eventually the girlfriend starts to believe Jeff is right and even starts nosing around since he can’t. Thorwald catches on to the fact that he is being watched, and the climax is a confrontation between the two men. By today’s standards the action is rather docile, and even in the world of Hitchcock it is somewhat unremarkable. But that is exactly what I like about it. It isn’t fancy or complex and doesn’t need to be. A good steak doesn’t need any kind of accompaniment to cover up the taste…its flavor is good enough to speak for itself. Rear Window is a well written story with good actors that takes a simple but appealing concept and turns it into a jolly good piece of entertainment.

 

41 Jerry Maguire

Unfortunately we live in a world where technology tends to shine a bright light on things that are none of our business and that we didn’t want to know in the first place. This type of “open book” situation is especially true of celebrities. No longer are they just actors and actresses playing roles on television or in movies. We know way too much about their personal life…all about their romances and sexual exploits, religious views, political affiliations, and opinions on everything from the environment & abortion to who they want to win the Super Bowl or World Series. This has been a legitimate issue for me, as so many Hollywood-ites are leftist, Godless, soul sucking ne’er-do-wells. It’s bad enough that  most of the “entertainment” produced nowadays is poorly written, dumbed down, sexually perverted, needlessly violent tripe…it is really frustrating when something decent comes about but stars some liberal America hating Jesus basher. What I finally had to do was learn to separate the two. I had to get to the point where I could admit that I liked a certain performer even if I disagree with their lifestyle. And so you will see movies on this list from the likes of Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon, John Travolta, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Alec Baldwin. One of these assclowns is Tom Cruise, the king of some wackjob “religion” called Scientology. As a child of the 80’s I was a witness to the rise of Tom Cruise to superstardom, and I enjoyed most of his early films*- such as Taps, The Outsiders, Losin’ It, Cocktail, and of course Rain Man, Top Gun, & All the Right Moves. The past 10 years have been rather subpar though. Minority Report, Collateral, War of the Worlds, all those Mission: Impossible flicks?? I don’t think so. But back in 1996 Cruise got it exactly, 100%, so very right in what is at this point his last great movie.  Jerry Maguire is a sports agent who has an epiphany about the rampant dishonesty and slimeyness inherent in his job. He writes a missive about these feelings and hands it out. He gets fired. Oops. With no other choice he ventures out on his own, but none of his clients follow him…except one. That lone client is Arizona Cardinals’ wide receiver Rod Tidwell (in an Oscar winning performance by Cuba Gooding Jr.), an eccentric, cocky, dissatisfied talent who just wants someone to “show me the money”. Also along for the ride is a secretary from Jerry’s former agency who is inspired to follow him and develops an infatuation. Dorothy is a single Mom of an extremely cute little boy, and Jerry develops a relationship with them after his shallow girlfriend dumps him. Sports fans get a small glimpse into the underhanded world of agent-client relations as well as enjoy cameos by such luminaries as NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr., quarterbacks Warren Moon, Troy Aikman, & Drew Bledsoe, sportscasters Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, & Mike Tirico, and real life sports agents Drew Rosenhaus & Leigh Steinberg. But the heart of the film is the romance between Jerry and Dorothy, a business arrangement that turns into something much deeper. 14 years later people still quote Jerry Maguire, and it’s delicate balance of comedy, drama, romance, and even a wee bit of action is a rare feat. It is sweet but not too sweet, cynical but not overly so. Writer-director Cameron Crowe, who also did Say Anything and Almost Famous, has a knack for making his characters very relatable and human. Jerry Maguire proves that a great movie doesn’t require guns ablazing, blood & guts, or special effects to be  truly special.