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 2

Today we finish up second round action for 80’s Movie Mania. Please feel free to go back and check out Round 2 results for the Gnarly, Tubular, & Bodacious Divisions. I haven’t been posting polls much lately because it seems like an exercise in futility. Maybe someday I’ll figure out what I’m doing wrong, but until then we’ll just forge ahead. As always feedback is appreciated. Tell your friends & family about the site. Let’s grow The Manoverse into a force to be reckoned with in the blogosphere!!

 

 

 

 

Radical 2

 

Rain Man   vs.     Night Shift

More Tom Cruise?? Yep, I’m afraid so. In 1988’s Rain Man Cruise plays Charlie, a down-on-his-luck NightShift-Still2shyster whose estranged father dies and leaves him nothing but an old car and some rose bushes. The old man left millions of dollars to an older brother that Charlie didn’t even know existed. That brother, Ray (in an Oscar winning performance by Dustin Hoffman), is an autistic savant residing in a mental institution. Charlie impulsively decides to take Ray away from the facility and get legal custody thereby gaining access to the inheritance. The ensuing road trip is full of fun & poignant moments as the two brothers bond and Charlie matures. Rain Man not only got Hoffman his second Oscar but also won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, & Best Original Screenplay. Night Shift defeated Fletch in Round 1. It ranked 36th at the box office in 1982, behind clunkers that no one remembers like Things Are Tough All Over, Best Friends, & The Dark Crystal, but ahead of notable competition including The Thing, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Diner, & Grease 2. It might be an overstatement to say that Night Shift launched the careers of Ron Howard, Henry Winkler, Michael Keaton, & Shelley Long, but it definitely counts as a prominent catalyst for them, especially the directorial trajectory of Howard and Keaton’s stellar filmography. Winkler’s portrayal of a character that is the polar opposite of Happy Days’ Fonzie showed his range even if he never became a huge movie star.

 

The Verdict:       Rain Man. The pedigree cannot be denied, and unlike many Best Picture winners it is the kind of lighthearted popcorn flick one can enjoy anytime it may pop up on television.

 

 

 

 

This Is Spinal Tap       vs.     Flight of the Navigator

After receiving a first round bye the ultimate mockumentary makes its Mania debut. Presented as a faux documentary of a supposedly real rock band, 1984’s Spinal Tap is a satirical look inside the zany world of rock n’ roll. It stars Michael McKean (Laverne & Shirley’s Lenny Kosnowski), Harry Shearer (the voice of Ned Flanders, Mr. Burns, & others on The Simpsons), & Christopher Guest (the real life husband of Jamie Lee Curtis) as members of a goofy British band that sings songs like Hell Hole, Sex Farm, & Gimme Some Money. Written & directed by Rob Reiner, the movie features cameos & early screen appearances by stars like Bruno Kirby, Ed Begley Jr., Fran Drescher, Dana Carvey, Billy Crystal, Howard Hesseman, Paul Shaffer, & Anjelica Huston and contains many memorable scenes & quotable lines. Actual rock stars like Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, U2’s Edge, & Dave Grohl allegedly love the film and praise its accuracy. Flight of the Navigator upset The Goonies in Round 1. I can be a rebel on occasion. Navigator ranked a lowly 48th at the box office in 1986, behind idiocy like Friday the 13thnavigator Part 6, Wildcats, Poltergeist II: The Other Side, & The Golden Child (a film that nearly killed the career of Eddie Murphy). However it did fare better than decent flicks like Brighton Beach Memoirs, The Best of Times, 9 ½ Weeks, Highlander, & Maximum Overdrive. A quick look back reveals that Flight of the Navigator was released in early August of 1986 and faced stiff competition from summer blockbusters Aliens and The Fly as well as 80’s mainstay Stand By Me.

 

The Verdict:       This Is Spinal Tap. I adore the whole mockumentary genre, and this is the one that started it all. Great characters, well-written script, superb cast, fun cameos…there’s a whole lot to appreciate here.

 

 

 

 

Wall Street           vs.     Revenge of the Nerds

wallstreet2_560Michael Douglas, son of legendary 20th century actor Kirk Douglas, has had a fine career. He co-starred with Karl Malden in the 1970’s TV cop show The Streets of San Francisco. He won an Oscar for producing 1975 Best Picture One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He’s starred in notable films like Basic Instinct, The China Syndrome, & Falling Down. But he reached the pinnacle in 1987 with his portrayal of Gordon Gekko, a dodgy business tycoon who famously opines that “greed is good”. Charlie Sheen is also along for the ride as an inexperienced but ambitious stockbroker who first admires Gekko before eventually turning against him. The world of stocks, bonds, & corporate raiding is a tricky one to translate to film, but Wall Street pulls it off, keeping things accessible to the viewer and creating a level of suspense, intrigue, & drama normally reserved for more action based movies. Revenge of the Nerds defeated Twins in the first round. It was the 16th highest grossing movie of 1984, behind hits like Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, Footloose, & Thenerds2 Karate Kid, but besting pretty solid competition, stuff like The Terminator, A Nightmare on Elm Street, & Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. Well okay, that last one sucked, but I had to sneak it in somewhere because thirty years later the title, as well as the concept of break dancing in general, cracks me up. The powers-that-be squeezed all they could out of Nerds, with three sequels in the course of the following decade. The original still pops up on TV occasionally and is always good for a few chuckles.

 

The Verdict:       Wall Street. Gordon Gekko may be one of the most unforgettable characters in the history of cinema. He has become the icon of a certain fragment in time, a symbol of arrogance, materialism, & yes…greed.

 

 

 

 

Splash       vs.     The Naked Gun

splashEveryone remembers Ron Howard when he was a little kid starring as Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show, and then as a teenager playing Richie Cunningham on Happy Days. However, Howard knew from an early age that he wanted to become a director. He left Happy Days after its 7th season to concentrate on directing and has strung together an impressive list of well-received & entertaining hits. One of his early triumphs is 1984’s Splash, about a NY City businessman who falls in love with a mermaid. The cast includes Tom Hanks (in his breakout role), Daryl Hannah, John Candy, & Eugene Levy. It was the 10th highest grossing film of 1984 and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture. The Naked Gun beat out Dragnet in Round 1. It was the 8th highest grossing film of 1988, behind really good films like Rain Man, Big, Coming to America, & Die Hard, but besting some pretty good flicks like Scrooged, Bull Durham, & Tucker: The Man and His Dream. Alright, I’m joking again about that last one, Anyway, as far as the parody/spoof genre goes The Naked Gun would be on its Mount Rushmore…if such a thing existed.

 

The Verdict:       The Naked Gun. I suppose this is kind of an upset. Splash is definitely the more critically acclaimed film, and with names like Howard, Hanks, & Candy its pedigree is indisputable. However, one of the benchmarks I hold in highest esteem is repeat viewings, and I don’t think I’ve seen Splash in atleast 20 years. It’s just not shown on television that much for some reason. And to be honest if it were on but The Naked Gun was also on at the same time I have a feeling I’d choose the latter. Splash is mostly remembered as a springboard for the careers of Howard & Hanks (who have both done better work in the ensuing years), not necessarily for the movie itself. Meanwhile, The Naked Gun epitomizes an entire category of films and is just plain old funny. Poor Tom Hanks…beaten by Leslie Nielsen & OJ Simpson two rounds in a row.

 

 

 

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial    vs.     Sixteen Candles

One of the earliest moviegoing experiences I remember is going to see Coal Miner’s Daughter at the sixteendrive-in with my parents & sister, which was likely sometime during the summer of 1980 or 81 when I was 8 or 9 years old. The other experience I remember is going to see E.T.. Our local mall opened in 1982, the same year that E.T. was in theaters, and it was there that I saw it. Produced & directed by the incomparable Steven Spielberg, E.T. tells the story of a cute, friendly little alien botanist who is inadvertently left behind by his compatriots when their peaceful mission to collect samples of Earth plant life is interrupted by government agents. E.T. is discovered by a 10 year old boy named Elliot, and eventually his younger sister Gertie (a 5 year old Drew Barrymore in one of her earliest roles) and older brother Michael. The kids decide to keep E.T.’s existence a secret from their mother and formulate a plan to help the alien get home to his own world. Drama ensues. E.T. quickly overtook Star Wars as the highest grossing film of all time and held that title for over a decade. To this day it is still in the Top 10 on that list when the numbers are adjusted for inflation. It won four Academy Awards, though it lost Best Picture to Gandhi. Sixteen Candles got the decision over Red Dawn in Round 1. It ranked a humble 44th at the box office in 1984, behind head scratchers like Cannonball Run II, City Heat, All of Me, & Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan. But hey, it beat horror classic Children of the Corn, so that’s…something. I guess America hadn’t gotten the John Hughes/Brat Pack memo quite yet.

 

The Verdict:       E.T.. I’m going to contradict myself. It’s probably been even longer since I’ve watched E.T. than Splash. In that time I’ve seen Sixteen Candles plenty of times. I was initially prepared to hand Sixteen Candles the upset victory, but I just can’t pull the trigger. E.T. was the highest grossing movie OF ALL TIME for 11 years!! How do I overlook that?? This is a great example of why Manoverse participation would be helpful. I’d love to take the temperature of the masses, but I have no faith that delaying the decision with a poll would accomplish anything.

 

 

 

Fast Times at Ridgemont High     vs.     Spaceballs

fast2Fast Times beat Brighton Beach Memoirs in Round 1. It was the 29th ranked film at the box office in 1982, space2behind classics like Poltergeist & First Blood as well as not so great movies like The Toy, Young Doctors in Love, and The Sword & The Sorcerer. The good news is that it did better than some impressive competition like Pink Floyd: The Wall and re-issues of The Empire Strikes Back, Bambi, & Raiders of the Lost Ark. Fast Times isn’t the kind of movie that wins awards, but it meant something to those of a certain age. I’m not sure how modern teens view it…if it speaks to them on some level or seems completely lame & outdated. I really hope it is the former rather than the latter. Spaceballs won a tossup over Summer School in Round 1. It ranked 31st at the 1987 box office. One would think a Star Wars parody might do better, but atleast it bested solid competition like The Lost Boys, Can’t Buy Me Love, Raising Arizona, Some Kind of Wonderful, & Over the Top. A sequel would seem to write itself, but for some reason it just never happened.

 

The Verdict:       Fast Times. Easy call. Spaceballs is a great parody film, but it isn’t better than an archetypal 80’s film that helped define the decade and an entire generation.

100 Favorite Movies…..36-40

It is more than likely after today’s sojourn into cinema that we’ll be taking another little break from this series. There are some other things that The Lord is laying on my heart to write, some that I have already begun such as the Sermon on the Mount analysis and the examination of the Fruits of The Spirit. I do not anticipate that this breather will be a few months like last time…more like a few weeks. Until we pick things back up, please enjoy this entry and take a look around The Manofesto at the other subject matter I attempt to write about with some semblance of intelligence and affection.


 

 

40 Cast Away

Any hardcore sports fan will tell you that success in baseball requires a collective effort, as does football…but in basketball one superstar can put a team on his back and carry them a long way toward victory.  Similarly, in film, occasionally a single performance is so brilliant that it makes an otherwise flawed film great. Tom Hanks is another actor, like Jimmy Stewart & Robin Williams, who seems equally adept at comedy and drama. I tend to prefer his more lighthearted performances, but that is a byproduct of my overall gravitation toward comedy and not really a commentary on Hanks’ abilities. In 2000’s Cast Away Hanks plays Chuck, a globetrotting FedEx systems guru who is constantly called to all corners of the world to put out fires (in a figurative sense). He is on the verge of proposing to his understanding girlfriend Kelly on Christmas Eve when he has to fly off on yet another problem solving endeavor. He tells her “I’ll be right back”, but his plane crashes and he ends up marooned on an island in the middle of nowhere. The plane crash scene is attention-grabbing and disturbingly realistic, but in a good way. A large chunk of the story is then told on the island, as we see Chuck evolve…or maybe devolve…from a harried, Type A, always on the run, white collar yuppie wannabe into a lonely, boney, grizzled survivalist. The island scenes are, in my opinion, sublime. There are long stretches with no dialogue, and it’s only the subtle, skillful craftsmanship of Tom Hanks that keeps us invested. Cast Away should be shown to every acting student in order to teach how a performer can convey so much with their eyes, small gestures, and sheer physicality. I cannot avoid spoiling things by saying that Chuck does find a way off the island after four years and is rescued. His return home is the portion of the film that is a mixed bag. On one hand I applaud the writers and director Robert Zemeckis for not giving into the temptation to give us the trite, happy ending. Kelly has moved on with her life, gotten married and had children, and that is dealt with effectively. And there is a scene where Chuck’s co-workers throw him a welcome back party complete with a smorgasbord that includes crab legs. Chuck picks one up and tosses it aside dismissively, which is absolutely exceptional. The man has just returned from a deserted island where he has eaten nothing but seafood for four years and these thoughtless jackasses put that kind of stuff on the buffet?? It is almost a throwaway moment, but for me it is one of the most memorable scenes in any movie I’ve ever seen. On the other hand, the ending leaves something to be desired. Chuck has held onto one unopened package that washed up on the island and delivers it. The note he leaves says “this package saved my life”, which I don’t get. Maybe I am just being thick, or overanalyzing. Then he comes to a crossroads…literally. The film ends with Chuck standing in the middle of a four way road with a slight grin on his face. It’s a very odd ending that I suppose was meant to have a thoughtful, ponderous tone. Instead it just leaves me…every time I watch…thinking “That’s it??”. At any rate, the film’s shortcomings are trumped by Hanks’ unforgettable performance and its “read between the lines” commentary on the value of time and the importance of priorities. I would have liked to have seen more emphasis put on what happens after Chuck’s re-entry into civilization, but that likely would have meant shaving the amount of time spent on the island scenes, which would probably lessen the overall impact.

 

39 The Shawshank Redemption

Sometimes I wish Hollywood could figure out a way to put Morgan Freeman in every movie and television show. He automatically makes whatever he is in better. He has a certain something…call it class, or maybe gravitas…that draws the viewer in like a magnet. In 1994’s Shawshank Redemption, Freeman plays Red, a grizzled veteran of prison life and a man with “connections” who is able to get his fellow prisoners almost anything they want, which makes him an important guy. Red becomes good friends with the newly arrived Andy, played by Tim Robbins in his only notable performance outside Bull Durham. Andy has been wrongly accused and convicted of killing his wife and her lover. He begins to become an important guy like Red by tutoring fellow inmates to get their GED and helping the guards with their taxes. The warden utilizes Andy’s skills to launder kickback money. Eventually, after 20 years, Andy escapes in a unique and unforgettable way that involves a rock hammer and a Rita Hayworth poster, exposing the warden’s illegal schemes in the process. Not long after Red is paroled after having spent 40 years at Shawshank for a murder he did actually commit. The ending is all about hope and…well…redemption. But before we get to that ending we get realistically harsh glimpses of prison life, from brutal & crooked guards to gang rape to the suicide of an old convict who has been released but cannot function “on the outside”. The Shawshank Redemption is not light entertainment, and thus it probably ranks lower than many films of lesser quality on this list simply because it isn’t the kind of movie that one watches over and over again on a lazy rainy Saturday on one of the abundantly available cable TV channels. Or atleast it’s not the kind of movie I am going to watch that often. When I do watch stories like this my palate has to be immediately cleansed with something frivolous and optimistic. Nonetheless, Shawshank is a brilliantly written tale with a cast second to none.

 

38 Best in Show

I talked about my affection for mockumentaries when we looked at This Is Spinal Tap, and Best in Show is the funniest yet. Maybe being a dog owner enhances the experience?? I don’t know. There is a group of actors…Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Ed Begley Jr., Bob Balaban, Parker Posey, Michael McKean, Catherine O’Hara, & Jennifer Coolidge…that have done several of these types of films together, all directed by Guest. The story centers around an eclectic group of dog owners all headed to the same show in Philadelphia. The show itself is a parody of the Westminster Dog Show held every spring at Madison Square Garden and The National Dog Show shown every Thanksgiving on NBC immediately following the Macy’s Parade. The owners portrayed include a redneck hound dog lover, a clueless airhead heiress engaged in the love that dare not speak its name with her dog’s lesbian trainer, an uptight yuppie couple, a middle aged Florida couple who keeps coming across men the wife has had sex with, and a humorously effeminate gay couple. We also get to meet the folks who actually produce the dog show, and the highlight is a clueless, over-the-top announcer that says things like “which one of these dogs would you want to have as your wide receiver on your football team?” and “I went to one of those obedience places once. It was all going well until they spilled hot candle wax on my private parts.” It’s all very absurd and that is kind of the point. There isn’t any message, no moral to the story, no lessons to be gleaned. It’s just a good time. Try this though…watch Best in Show and then watch one of the real dog shows. You will see just how perfectly the movie captures the essence of the actual event, and that’ll make the movie even funnier.

 

37 Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

The parade of Christmas movies continues. Lost in New York is a sequel to 1990’s Home Alone, which we will discuss down the road. I feel safe in assuming that the vast majority of folks have seen both films. The sequel uses the same formula as the original, only changing the setting. And while that may indicate an all too prevalent lack of creativity, it is also quite logical. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?? The question I had when this film first arrived in theaters in 1992…and I am sure I was not the only one…was “How in the world can these idiotic parents accidentally ditch their kid AGAIN??” The answer is actually rather clever, the only part of the story with any originality. Once little Kevin has been separated from the pack he ends up in The Big Apple and is having a rollicking good time shacked up at the posh Plaza Hotel. But coincidentally the bumbling thieves from the first film end up in New York too, plotting to rob a toy store on Christmas Eve. Kevin discovers the plan and foils the robbery. There is an extended scene of cartoon violence just as in the first film, this time making use of an absent aunt and uncle’s currently undergoing extensive renovations home. Meanwhile the rest of the family is in Florida until the police discover that Kevin has used his Dad’s credit card in New York. The story is completely predictable and we can see the ending a mile away, but I don’t care. This is a funny movie and a holiday tradition. Is it on the same level as some of the more renowned Christmas classics?? No. I would put it a level below most of them. I could have done without the pious subplot involving the homeless pigeon lady, and the preachy toy store owner is a weak but necessary plot device. But those are small points of contention. Joe Pesci & Daniel Stern are once again sufficiently amusing as the crooks, and Rob Schneider & Tim Curry are modestly humorous as maybe the most inept hotel employees in history. The family plays its necessary part. The city itself is always an effective co-star in the myriad movies and television shows set there. I suppose my affection is, in this case, more a function of repeated viewings than possibly any other movie thus far. Lost in New York is inexplicably on random television channels throughout the year, so I have watched it a lot. I am fully aware that it isn’t high art or critically acclaimed, but it is innocuous enough and suits my tastes just fine.

 

36 Halloween

Let us segue from Christmas to Halloween. I am not a big horror guy. I just get no joy out of seeing some deranged serial killer mow through an entire cast of characters with a knife or chainsaw or other sundry instruments of doom. People who seem a bit too fascinated with blood n’ guts have a chemical makeup in their brains with which I cannot identify. That being said, Halloween is the one movie of its genre that I thoroughly enjoy and watch annually (during the appropriate season of course). Just to be clear, I am speaking of the 1978 John Carpenter original and not the fairly recent Rob Zombie “reimagining”. I haven’t seen that one yet and probably never will. Carpenter’s film introduces us to Michael Myers, who stabbed his teenage sister to death when he was six years old on Halloween night and has been in a mental institution for 15 years. He escapes…on Halloween…and returns to his hometown. In hot pursuit is the obsessed Dr. Loomis, who has been treating Michael all these years but at some point gave up because he realized the boy was “pure evil”. We also meet teenager Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis in what was her first film role. Michael Myers seems to have an odd fascination with Laurie Strode and stalks her throughout the movie, killing several innocent bystanders along the way. I think one of the reasons I like Halloween is because it really isn’t all that bloody, atleast by today’s standards. The producers didn’t have much of a budget, so they rely mostly on atmosphere and ambiance, and that works really well. Halloween isn’t so much gory as it is eerie and suspenseful. The story is well written and not really all that out in left field. The use of our scariest holiday is inspired and the music is perfect. I particularly enjoy Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis. He is borderline maniacal himself in his dogged hunt for the killer. As with so many other horror films Halloween spawned countless sequels, each one progressively more ridiculous, atleast until Jamie Lee Curtis was brought back into the mix after two decades and participated in two follow-ups that basically ignored all the insipidly silly chapters that preceded them. But even those two movies couldn’t live up to the magic of the original. Sometimes the right mix of circumstances converges and we get lightning in a bottle, and it is nearly impossible to ever repeat. Such is the case with Halloween. I would be remiss if I did not mention Halloween II, which was made 3 years after the first but the story picks up exactly where the first film left off. Michael stalks Laurie in a hospital, slowly killing various nurses and staff. We eventually learn that Laurie is Michael’s younger sister and that’s why he is after her. Michael and Dr. Loomis both supposedly die at the end, but of course death is oftentimes not permanent in the slasher genre. I just cannot put Halloween II in the list, even as a backdoor tie. The violence and gore is increased noticeably and unnecessarily, and there just seems to be something missing. It is certainly much better than the countless sequels that would follow, but not on par with its predecessor. As I said, lightning in a bottle is almost never captured again.