“Movies touch our hearts and awaken our vision, and change the way we see things. They take us to other places, they open doors and minds. Movies are the memories of our life time, we need to keep them alive.” – Martin Scorsese
As with the 30 Day Song Challenge I do not have the patience to post once per day for an entire month, and fortunately I don’t need to since I make the rules in this space. I feel like I’ve probably written entirely too much about movies here over the years, but it’s a subject I enjoy and right now I need as much to smile about as possible. 2020 has been a bumpy ride for many, so I don’t want to be selfish. Having said that, the past few months have been brutal for me personally, so I’m thankful for an outlet that allows me to take my mind off things, atleast for a little while. The vast majority of these were easy answers, though I had to ponder a few, and in some cases I found the questions a bit puzzling. That’s why I like providing context…it provides some insight into my thought process, which is not only helpful for you but something I find constructive as well. Once again I have broken this project into two parts for readability. Enjoy.
1 The first film you remember watching…
Coal Miner’s Daughter
To be honest I’m not entirely comfortable with this answer. Coal Miner’s Daughter was released when I was eight years old, and I’m pretty sure I watched movies before then. However, our local mall (complete with multiplex cinema) wasn’t built until a few years later, so anything I saw before had to be at a drive-in or on television, and nothing specific comes to mind. However, I have a clear memory of going to the drive-in with my parents & sister to see Coal Miner’s Daughter.
2 A film you like that starts with the first letter of your first name…
Sleepless in Seattle
I really like alliteration…it’s fun. I actually had a date…with a woman…to see this movie. It might be the last real date I’ve had lol (I don’t even remember her name though, which speaks badly of me, her, or both of us). Anyway, Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan are screen magic, and Sleepless might be my favorite film of theirs.
3 A film that has more than five words…
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
I’m not going to dive into a marketing lecture, but the vast majority of films have short titles…1-3 words. It’s just easier for people to remember, among other things. I really had to think about movies I’ve enjoyed with longer titles, but once Anchorman popped into my head it became an easy choice. Stay classy!!
4 A film with a number in the title…
So many choices!! However, I’m a big fan of the Ocean’s Trilogy. Eleven is a remake of a 1960 Rat Pack classic, and I actually enjoy the remake more than the original, partly because the ending of the newer film is so much more satisfying than the older one. Ocean’s Twelve is okay, though certainly the weakest of the trilogy. Ocean’s Thirteen rebounded with the addition of Al Pacino to the cast. I highly recommend binge watching all three movies, something I’ve done many times.
5 A film where a character has a job you want…
Okay, so he is a psychopath…but don’t forget that Jack Torrance (as portrayed brilliantly by Jack Nicholson) is also a writer.
6 Your favorite animated film…
The Toy Story Series
This is tough. There are so many animated classics that we all enjoyed as kids, but I have to ask myself, would I sit down and watch many of those old movies now…as an adult?? I suppose the occasional nostalgic mood may hit, but generally we look at such things differently when we’re older. However, the four Toy Story movies are more recent, have quite the memorable voice cast, the animation is top notch, and the plot is written to be enjoyed by all ages.
7 A film that you will never get tired of…
There are dozens of movies I could (and do) watch over & over & over again. I tend to prefer older movies that I grew up enjoying to most of the pathetic excuses for entertainment Hollywood churns out these days, and Casablanca is as pleasurable to watch now as it ever was. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.
8 A film where you liked the soundtrack more…
Saturday Night Fever and The Big Chill
Two movies immediately sprang to mind and I’m not going to choose between them. The Big Chill is about a bunch of middle-age 60’s radicals gathering together in the midst of the conservative revolution of the early 80’s to attend the funeral of an old schoolmate who committed suicide. The film itself is just fine, but the soundtrack…wow. Smokey Robinson. The Temptations. Marvin Gaye. Three Dog Night. Aretha Franklin. If you like Motown you can’t help but dig one of the best soundtracks ever produced. Saturday Night Fever not only skyrocketed John Travolta to superstardom, but it defined the disco era. The soundtrack relies heavily on The Bee Gees, but that’s okay because they kick ass. Disco may be dead, but it had its time in the spotlight and this particular album may have been the high point.
9 A film you hate that everyone else liked…
I watched it once…I just don’t get it. Travolta is cool. Samuel L. Jackson?? Very cool. I’m a big Bruce Willis fan. Tarantino just isn’t my kind of director. I can’t think of a single one of his movies I’ve enjoyed.
10 Your favorite superhero film…
I’ve said it a thousand times…I wasn’t a comic book kid. Outside of the three big superheroes (Batman, Superman, & Spiderman) I couldn’t possibly care less. The only “Marvel Cinematic Universe” films I’ve seen are the two Spiderman movies. I may or may not ever watch the rest of them. However, I do love me some Batman, and I really like the 1989 film starring Michael Keaton as The Caped Crusader. Keaton & Adam West (who portrayed Batman in the 60’s TV show) are easily my favorites, and it didn’t hurt Tim Burton’s movie to have Jack Nicholson’s larger-than-life portrayal of The Joker.
11 A film you like from your least favorite genre…
Horror flicks aren’t generally my cup o’ tea. However, John Carpenter’s original Halloween is a classic. From the brilliant opening sequence to the legendary theme music to the amusingly ostentatious performance of Donald Pleasence as a Captain Ahab-esque psychiatrist, well…it’s nearly flawless. It’s hard to believe that what has become an annual October institution was produced on a shoestring budget of just over $300k (in comparison, Jaws, which was produced three years earlier, had a budget of $13 million).
12 A film that you hate from your favorite genre…
Holmes & Watson
This one is a double whammy. I’m a huge fan of the Sherlock Holmes novellas & short stories, and I’ve also enjoyed the work of both Will Ferrell & John C. Reilly. When I first heard that the duo were going to tackle Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fabled crime solvers I was excited to see what kind of hilarious spin the stars of Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby could put on the story, but the result was immensely disappointing. Rotten Tomatoes gives Holmes & Watson an atrocious 10% score, and it won the Razzie for Worst Picture of 2018.
13 A film that “puts you in deep thoughts”…
First, I must state that I detest the way this is stated, like a nine year old wrote it. Secondly, though I’m not above thinking deeply I rarely run across a movie that makes me do so. It just doesn’t seem to be Hollywood’s thing, and sadly I don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg. Are crappy special effects movies with inane action sequences & insufferable explosions the norm because the populace demands it, or have we been conditioned to be dumbed down & accept such mediocrity?? I suppose it’s a little of both. At any rate, in 1993 Bill Murray & director Harold Ramis teamed up to give us the antithesis of such tedious garbage, and what they accomplished is far more than your typical comedy. Groundhog Day is existential. It is profound on a level that neither Murray nor Ramis likely intended. I watch it every February 2nd, and it always makes me ponder life.
14 A film that “gave you depression”…
The Perfect Storm
Another poorly worded turn of phrase. Here’s the thing: I don’t watch movies to get depressed. Trust me…my real life is miserable enough. Why on God’s green Earth would I pay money to have alleged entertainment make me sad?? It’s why I lean so heavily toward comedy. Having said that, occasionally something sneaks up and gives me all the feels. When I first watched The Perfect Storm I had NO IDEA it was based on a true story. It was on television and I was bored, so I gave it a whirl. It is well-written with good performances so I was quickly hooked. At the film’s conclusion I fully expected the ship’s crew to be miraculously rescued…but, of course, they are not. I’m a little slow sometimes, but eventually I learned that this actually happened…these were real people who died. The film does a superb job of conveying the very tangible danger faced by fishermen every day, and I have developed tremendous respect for those who put their lives on the line to put food on our table. Some years after my initial viewing of the movie (which I have watched countless times) I decided to read the book on which it is based, and I must opine that it is the rare case where the film is far superior.
15 A film that makes you feel happy…
I suppose numerous comedies make me happy, but since it’s summertime and baseball just began after a virus related delay of several months Bull Durham popped into my head. Sports films are delightful…sports comedies are sublime. One major barometer I use when judging movies is whether or not I am still glad to watch them many years & multiple viewings later, and more than three decades later I find Bull Durham just as enjoyable as I ever did.
Okay folks, let’s take a break. Stay tuned for Part 2!!
A film is…or should be …more like music than fiction. It should be a progression of moods & feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later. – Stanley Kubrick
If you need to catch up with the first three parts of this series please go here, here, & here.
I decided to run some numbers because I’m nerdy like that. It surprises me how well balanced these rankings are when it comes to representation from the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and classics produced before I was born. What doesn’t surprise me is just how few characters from movies in the first couple of decades of this century made the cut. I’m not sure if that is a reflection on the subpar quality of newer films, the fact that they haven’t had time to really get a deep hold on our pop culture consciousness yet, or simply a manifestation of the singular entertainment taste of a middle-aged guy in flyover country. It’s probably all of the above. At any rate, enjoy!!
39 Ron Burgundy (Anchorman)
Will Ferrell is a polarizing comedic actor…either you enjoy his shtick or you hate it. I happen to find Ferrell amusing, although his film career has been decidedly uneven. Old School, Elf, Step Brothers, & Talladega Nights are hilarious, while Bewitched, The Campaign, Holmes & Watson, and The House failed miserably. Perhaps Ferrell’s greatest contribution to pop culture is his embodiment of news anchor Ron Burgundy. Though it is never stated when the storyline is set there are many indicators that it is in the 1970’s, making Burgundy a throwback of sorts, an hysterically exaggerated interpretation of a bygone era. Burgundy is pompous, misogynistic, vain, & mostly clueless, but he is good at his job. When he is forced to welcome a woman to his news team he doesn’t take it well and hilarity ensues. It’s the type of silly humor that kind of flies above the head of some, but if you get it you’ll be quite entertained. Ferrell throws himself completely into becoming Ron Burgundy, to the point that nearly everything he’s done afterward has paled in comparison. An Anchorman sequel was produced eight years after the original, but it couldn’t live up to its predecessor.
“Discovered by the Germans in 1904, they named it San Diego, which of course in German means ‘a whale’s vagina.”
“Great Odin’s raven!”
“The only way to bag a classy lady is to give her two tickets to the gun show and see if she likes the goods.”
“I don’t know how to put this but I’m kind of a big deal. I’m very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.”
“I am going to have three fingers of Glenlivet with a little bit of pepper, and some cheese.”
“It’s quite pungent. It’s a formidable scent. It stings the nostrils…in a good way.”
“Well, I could be wrong, but I believe diversity is an old, old wooden ship that was used during the Civil War era.”
“I’m in a glass case of emotion!”
“You are a smelly pirate hooker. Why don’t you go back to your home on Whore Island?”
“It’s so damn hot!! Milk was a bad choice!!”
“I won’t be able to make it fellas. Veronica & I trying this new fad called uh, jogging. I believe it’s jogging or yogging. it might be a soft j. I’m not sure but apparently you just run for an extended period of time. It’s supposed to be wild.”
“You stay classy, San Diego.”
38 Biff Tannen (The Back to the Future Trilogy)
When actor/comedian Thomas Wilson first moved to Los Angeles to begin his career in entertainment he was roommates with Andrew Dice Clay & Yakov Smirnoff. That has nothing to do with anything in particular, but I find it amusing. Decades after co-staring in all three BTTF films Wilson began to tire of incessant & tedious questions from fans about them so he wrote Biff’s Question Song, which is quite funny (you can find it on YouTube). At any rate, Biff is a classic high school bully who…at different times (literally)…makes life tough for both George McFly & his son Marty. In BTTF 2 we get a glimpse of the future (October 21, 2015 was the future back in the early 90’s) wherein Biff…with a little help from a sports almanac…is a filthy rich tyrant running roughshod over Hill Valley, and there have been indications that Future Biff was based on Donald Trump. Personally I think that’s a bunch of poppycock, a narrative crafted by some because it just so happens to fit in a really vague way. Biff appears in various forms throughout the trilogy. In BTTF 2 there is an older version of Biff alongside his grandson Griff, and in BTTF 3, which takes place in The Old West, Marty & Doc are tormented by Biff’s ancestor Mad Dog Tannen, who is sort of a Jesse James-esque outlaw. In all his incarnations Biff is the quintessential comedic bad guy, someone we immensely enjoy seeing get his just deserts.
“Why don’t you make like a tree and get outta here?”
It can’t be easy acting with an imaginary rabbit, but that’s exactly what James Stewart does in Harvey. Elwood is a nice enough fellow, but his insistence on treating his pal Harvey as a real creature drives his family nuts. Though Elwood is fond of the drink and hangs out in a bar no one is sure if his…friendship…with Harvey is a result of that proclivity or if he truly is mentally ill. Through a series of misunderstandings & classic farce it is Elwood’s sister that ends up institutionalized, but then the hunt commences for Elwood himself. By the end of the film Elwood has convinced the doctor of Harvey’s existence and his sister decides she’d rather her brother remain…eccentric…than become “normal” thru treatment. Stewart received his fourth Academy Award nomination for Best Actor but lost to José Ferrer for his role in Cyrano de Bergerac.
“Well, I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years and I’m happy to state I finally won out over it.”
“I always have a wonderful time, wherever I am, whoever I’m with.”
“That’s envy, my dear. There’s a little bit of envy in the best of us. That’s too bad, isn’t it?”
“You see, science has overcome time & space. Well, Harvey has overcome not only time & space…but any objections.”
36 The Joker (multiple films)
The Joker is Batman’s oldest & fiercest rival, making his debut in the inaugural comic book way back in 1940. Since then he has appeared in every medium that The Caped Crusader has, including multiple animated & live action films. His backstory & certain details vary in all of those movies, but he is usually depicted as a psychopath with a bleach white face, bright red lips that form a grotesque smile, & green hair. Though the origins may differ The Joker is most often a “normal” guy who somehow becomes disfigured then descends into madness. He doesn’t seem to have any kind of extraordinary abilities…he’s just really smart, completely sadistic, & batshit crazy (pun unintended). By far my favorite Joker is Jack Nicholson’s turn in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. Nicholson should have received an Oscar nomination for his performance, but had to settle for a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical. He faced stiff competition from Morgan Freeman (Driving Miss Daisy), Billy Crystal (When Harry Met Sally), Michael Douglas (The War of the Roses), & Steve Martin (Parenthood), with Freeman ultimately taking home the prize. Heath Ledger did win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his take on The Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight. Though the performance is undeniably stellar my feeling has always been that it is more fondly regarded in the wake of Ledger’s tragic death than it otherwise may have been. I have not seen Jared Leto’s Joker in 2016’s Suicide Squad or Joaquin Phoenix in Joker, which is currently in theaters, though I expect that I’ll catch both on video sometime in the future. Whatever one’s particular favorite might be the fact is that The Joker is a cornerstone supervillain in comic book films and an unforgettable character no matter who portrays him or what kind of spin they put on the story.
“Wait ’til they get a load of me!” (Batman 1989)
“I believe that whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you stranger. (The Dark Knight)
“You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?” (Batman 1989)
“I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.” (The Dark Knight)
“Can somebody tell me what kind of a world we live in where a man dressed up as a bat gets all of my press?? This town needs an enema!” (Batman 1989)
“Introduce a little anarchy…upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos.” (The Dark Knight)
“Never rub another man’s rhubarb!” (Batman 1989)
“I’m a man of simple tastes. I like dynamite & gunpowder… and gasoline! Do you know what all of these things have in common? They’re cheap!” (The Dark Knight)
“I do what other people only dream…I make art until someone dies. I am the world’s first fully functioning homicidal artist.” (Batman 1989)
35 The Dude (The Big Lebowski)
His name is Jeffrey Lebowski, and that’s important because the crux of the film is mistaken identity. The bad guys are actually after the other Jeffrey Lebowski, an elderly millionaire whose wife screwed them out of some money. The plot is a comedic heist farce that is strangely fun, but honestly the characters & their interactions are what one remembers about the movie. The Dude is a middle-aged, unemployed slacker who spends his days smoking pot and his nights bowling, drinking a lot of White Russians along the way. He has a really laid back devil-may-care attitude, though he seems to be fairly intelligent & insightful. Needless to say, the action-packed drama he becomes involved in thanks to the other Lebowski is in direct contrast to The Dude’s normally easygoing lifestyle, which makes the movie an interesting twist on the fish-out-of-water formula. It actually inspired an entire philosophy called Dudeism , which advocates & encourages the practice of “going with the flow”, “being cool headed”, and “taking it easy” in the face of life’s difficulties, believing that this is the only way to live in harmony with our inner nature and the challenges of interacting with other people. Dudeism aims to assuage feelings of inadequacy that arise from society’s emphasis on achievement & personal fortune, alternatively encouraging a preference for simple pleasures like bathing, bowling, & hanging out with friends. Louisville, KY began hosting an annual Lebowski Fest in 2002, and several other cities have followed suit, including London, England.
“Look, let me explain something to you. I’m not Mr. Lebowski. You’re Mr. Lebowski. I’m the Dude. So that’s what you call me. That, or His Dudeness … Duder … or El Duderino, if, you know, you’re not into the whole brevity thing.”
“Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”
“I bowl. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback.”
“Yeah, well – The Dude abides.”
“This is a very complicated case. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you’s. And, uh, lotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in old Duder’s head. Luckily I’m adhering to a pretty strict drug regimen to keep my mind, you know, limber.”
34 Bluto Blutarsky (Animal House)
John Belushi died way too young at the age of 33 in 1982. He only starred in eight movies after being one of SNL’s original Not Ready for Primetime Players for four seasons, but amongst those far too few films are Animal House & The Blues Brothers, both of which remain irrefutable comedy classics four decades later. When I attended college in the early 90’s I joined a fraternity hoping it would be half as much fun as Animal House. My brothers & I were better students than the party animals of Delta Tau Chi and not quite as rowdy, but we had fun and were certainly inspired to a degree by the movie. With the exception of a cameo by the legendary Donald Sutherland. Belushi was the biggest star in the film, even though Bluto probably has less dialogue than most of the cast. Bluto provides a unique brand of physical comedy, a prime example of using the fat dumpy guy for laughs. Belushi could get a chuckle out of the audience simply by the way he moved or even with just facial expressions. One of Animal House’s most celebrated scenes is the food fight in the cafeteria, but go back & watch…we only see about two seconds of the actual food fight. What makes it memorable are Belushi’s actions leading up to it, and he barely says anything.
“See if you can guess what I am now. I’m a zit. Get it?”
“What? Over? Did you say ‘over’? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no! And it ain’t over now. ‘Cause when the goin’ gets tough . . . the tough get goin’! Who’s with me? Let’s go!”
“My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.”
33 The Shark (Jaws)
One could argue that The Shark is the real star of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic. What’s really interesting is the behind-the-scenes stories wherein we learn about all the issues cast & crew faced while filming. One of the biggest problems was the mechanical shark (which they named Bruce), which regularly malfunctioned. This forced Spielberg to retool the script and altered Jaws from what would have been a straight up horror movie to more of a suspenseful Hitchcockian experience. For example, in the opening scene the shark was originally supposed to be seen fully devouring a late night swimmer, but instead what we got was the woman being dragged underwater kicking & screaming by some unknown force. Limited usage of the mechanical shark makes the moments that we do see the creature that much more impactful, and that arguably created a better film. I was frightened for years by the idea of sharks after seeing Jaws (it didn’t help that I was probably 7 or 8 years old the first time I saw it), and even now I have zero interest in swimming in the ocean. Multiple sequels followed the original Jaws, to the point that it became a joke in 1989’s Back to the Future Part II (Jaws 19…this time it’s really, really, really personal!! lol). Even though none of those sequels lived up to the original and only served to soil its legacy we shouldn’t forget that the first one is a truly great movie, in no small part thanks to its scary lead character.
32 Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs)
Speaking of scary…
Sir Anthony Hopkins’ interpretation of Dr. Lecter is legendarily disturbing, a role for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Hannibal “The Cannibal” is a forensic psychiatrist who also happens to be a serial killer, which actually makes a lot of sense. After landing in prison he is consulted by the FBI when they’re trying to track down other psychopaths, and in Silence he is interviewed by young agent Clarice Starling, who is on the trail of serial killer Buffalo Bill. Despite his homicidal tendencies Dr. Lecter is a well-to-do, culturally refined man with erudite tastes in food, wine, music, & art. The dichotomy is a large part of what makes the character so fascinating. Like it or not we all have pre-conceived notions & tend to put folks in neat little boxes, and typically we don’t think of brilliant & sophisticated people as murderers, although when one really ponders the idea it’s much more logical that an intelligent individual with financial means would get away with such crimes than a stupid and/or poor person. Hopkins portrayed Lecter in Silence as well as prequel Red Dragon and sequel Hannibal. I have read all three books, but didn’t see the prequel & only watched bits & pieces of the sequel (it wasn’t good at all). It is my understanding that another prequel book & film…Hannibal Rising…was produced as well, but I guess I wasn’t paying attention.
“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”
“We begin by coveting what we see every day. Don’t you feel eyes moving over your body, Clarice? And don’t your eyes seek out the things you want?”
“Well, Clarice, have the lambs stopped screaming? Don’t bother with a trace, I won’t be on long enough. I have no plans to call on you, Clarice. The world’s more interesting with you in it. So you take care now to extend me the same courtesy. I do wish we could chat longer, but I’m having an old friend for dinner. Bye.”
31 Jake & Elwood Blues (The Blues Brothers)
The Blues Brothers first appeared on an episode of Saturday Night Live on January 17, 1976. Well…kind of. The sketch was actually called “Howard Shore and his All-Bee Band” and had John Belushi singing while Dan Aykroyd played harmonica…both dressed in bee costumes. Aykroyd had long been an aficionado of blues music and turned Belushi into a huge fan as well. Aykroyd owned a bar in New York and the duo used to sing blues music there at SNL after parties. They came up with the idea for a band, complete with fictional backstories, which went out on the road and produced an album in 1978 called Briefcase Full of Blues, recorded live when The Blues Brothers were the opening act for comedian Steve Martin. A few months before that they had made their official SNL debut. The film came along in 1980 and was the tenth highest grossing movie of the year (ranked above it: The Empire Strikes Back, Airplane!, Coal Miner’s Daughter, and Smokey & The Bandit 2, just to name a few). The whole idea of the two characters’ having a quite detailed background then forming a very real band that performed concerts and made a hit record before a movie was even made is pure genius. Their music & outfits contribute tremendously to the full effect, which adds up to The Blues Brothers still being a part of the pop culture zeitgeist four decades later. Belushi’s untimely death is sad for many reasons, but one of them has to be the fact that we probably would have gotten one or two more Blues Brothers flicks. We did get a sequel in 1998 called Blues Brothers 2000 in which John Goodman stepped into the void as Mighty Mac Blues, but it just didn’t have the same appeal as the original.
“Are you the police? “No, ma’am. We’re musicians.” (Elwood)
“Yes! Yes! Jesus H. tap-dancing Christ… I have seen the light!!” (Jake)
“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.” (Elwood)
“Four fried chickens and a Coke.” (Jake)
“We’re on a mission from God.” (Elwood)
“I hate Illinois Nazis!” (Jake)
“We’re so glad to see so many of you lovely people here tonight. And we would especially like to welcome all the representatives of Illinois’s law enforcement community who have chosen to join us here in the Palace Hotel Ballroom at this time. We do sincerely hope you all enjoy the show. And please remember, people, that no matter who you are and what you do to live, thrive and survive, there are still some things that make us all the same. You. Me. Them. Everybody. “ (Elwood)
30 Professor Severus Snape (The Harry Potter Series)
Alan Rickman had an interesting career. He was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, but didn’t find mass success until his 40’s after starring as terrorist Hans Gruber in the classic Christmas caper Die Hard. More than a decade later he became popular with the sci-fi nerd crowd after starring in Galaxy Quest. Then a few years after that he really hit the jackpot when the Harry Potter series was translated to film. To call Professor Snape complicated would be a vast understatement. His story plays out in seven films in the course of a decade, and we’re never quite sure whose side he is on. Is he a faithful servant of the dark Lord Voldemort?? Or is he a double agent whose true allegiance lies with Professor Albus Dumbledore?? We eventually learn that Snape was a classmate of Harry’s parents James & Lily Potter, and that Snape loved Lily but was pretty much bullied by James & his pal Sirius Black. At one time Snape was one of Voldemort’s Deatheaters, but switched allegiances in an effort to protect Lily. His feelings toward Harry are complex, a mix of the animosity he felt toward the boy’s father & the affection he had for the boy’s mother, but ultimately it is revealed that much of what he did over the years was meant to save Harry’s life. It is a tribute to Rickman’s immense talent that Snape’s screen presence is so cold, acerbic, arrogant, & borderline cruel yet retains a sense of mystery & vulnerability. Credit must be given to author JK Rowling for creating such a complex character, but we all know that a great book doesn’t always evolve into a great movie, and while I still like the Potter books much more than the movies it must be said that Rickman’s portrayal of Snape isn’t one of the reasons why.
“Control your emotions. Discipline your mind!!
“I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses… I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death — if you aren’t as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach.”
“You dare use my own spells against me, Potter? Yes, I’m the Half-Blood Prince.”
“The Dark Arts are many, varied, ever-changing, and eternal. Fighting them is like fighting a many-headed monster, which, each time a neck is severed, sprouts a head even fiercer and cleverer than before. You are fighting that which is unfixed, mutating, indestructible.”
“It may have escaped your notice, but life isn’t fair.”
29 The Cowardly Lion, The Tin Man, & The Scarecrow (The Wizard of Oz)
I seem to recall that when I was a child The Wizard of Oz was offered as a special television presentation once a year. That idea seems quaint now when we can watch almost anything we want anytime we choose, especially old movies. Author L. Frank Baum actually wrote a series of 14 Oz books in the first two decades of the 20th century, but the beloved 1939 film is based on the original book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It was one of ten nominees for Best Picture (a field that included Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Goodbye Mr. Chipps, Of Mice & Men, and the winner – Gone with the Wind). One can choose to view Oz many different ways, but I’ll leave it to people much smarter than me to do that kind of analysis. Taken at face value we can all relate to guys like The Cowardly Lion, who seeks courage…The Tin Man, who wishes for a heart, and The Scarecrow, who only wants a brain. These are endearing but imperfect characters who recognize what they lack and engage in a journey to be made whole. It has been suggested that The Wizard represents God, Oz is Heaven, and The Yellow Brick Road is a kind of path to enlightenment. I don’t know if that’s true, but if it is it’s no wonder we feel a connection to these flawed characters seeking redemption.
“If I only had a brain.” (Scarecrow)
“Courage! What makes a King out of a slave? Courage! (Cowardly Lion)
“If I only had a heart.” (Tin Man)
28 ET (ET: The Extra-Terrestrial)
Our fascination with outer space & aliens goes back many decades, but it feels like most of the time sci-fi treats such creatures as villains that we humans are to fear. Not ET. He’s about as loveable as anything that a UFO has ever stranded on Earth. He befriends 10 year old Elliott & the boy’s family, and in a harbinger of things to come with product placement in movies develops an affinity for Reese’s Pieces, which had only been on the market for five years. Actually the original script called for the use of M&M’s, but the Mars Candy Co. declined a deal that Hershey ultimately accepted. Of course we all know how these stories end and eventually Elliott & his pals help ET evade capture by government agents and hop a ship back to his home planet. Anyone over the age of 40 can tell you what ET looks & sounds like, and Reese’s Pieces are still going strong. I’d say that’s a solid legacy.
“Phone. Home. E.T. home phone.”
27 Jason, Michael, & Freddy (slasher flicks)
I am a child of the 80’s, and horror films were a big deal back then. While I am not a huge fan of the genre kudos must be given to three cornerstones, especially since they have appeared in a whopping 33 films (with more to come I’m sure). The only horror movie I really like is the original 1978 Halloween in which Michael Myers murders his older sister and ends up in a sanitarium at the tender age of six, only to escape fifteen years later and return home to the sleepy little hamlet of Haddonfield, IL on Halloween night to engage in a killing spree. Numerous sequels and reboots have been made, but all they’ve done is muddle the mythology and water down the understated brilliance of the original. Michael is referred to in the credits as The Shape, and his appearance is notable for the whited out William Shatner mask he wears. He never says a word, and we aren’t really supposed to know why he does what he does except that he is the embodiment of “pure evil” (one of the key elements the sequels & remakes ruined). Just as Jaws made the idea of swimming in the ocean perpetually frightening Jason Voorhees had a negative impact on summer camp for an entire generation & singlehandedly proliferated the ideas of triskaidekaphobia & paraskevidekatriaphobia (look them up…I can’t do everything). The backstory is that Jason is the young son of the cook at Camp Crystal Lake, and when he drowns as a boy his mother goes nuts and starts killing people. As it turns out he isn’t as dead as everyone thought, which means Mom’s revenge was needless. But now she’s dead and he’s the one seeking vengeance. At any rate, Jason is known for wearing a hockey mask, although he didn’t actually do that until Part 3. The backstory for Freddy Krueger is a little stronger. He’s a child killer in small town Ohio who lures his victims to a boiler room before shredding them with a bladed leather glove. After he gets out of jail on a technicality he is hunted down & burned alive by a mob of angry parents. Years later, though his physical body is dead he lives on and haunts the dreams of local teenagers. Everything about Freddy is memorable, from his history to his clothes to his burnt face. And really, the idea of an evil force haunting our dreams is super creepy and borderline genius.
26 Obi-Wan Kenobi & Master Yoda (The Star Wars Trilogy)
Wise old gurus who seem to understand the mysteries of life and pass on their knowledge to young protagonists are a cornerstone of cinema, and nowhere is it done better than in the Star Wars universe. Ben Kenobi is initially introduced as an old recluse living on Tattoine near Owen & Beru Lars and their nephew Luke Skywalker. After his aunt & uncle’s death Luke is mentored by the elderly man, who we find out was a great & powerful Jedi warrior. His relationship with Luke’s father is a huge part of the franchise. Obi-Wan is killed by his nemesis Darth Vader in the first film, but appears as a Force ghost in the latter two parts of the original trilogy. A younger Obi-wan is a significant player in the prequel trilogy as we see his relationship with Anakin Skywalker from beginning to end. Sir Alec Guinness was already a living legend by the time he originated the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi, having won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1957 for his role in The Bridge on the River Kwai. During his career he received four Oscar nominations, including a Best Supporting Actor nod for Star Wars (he lost to Jason Robards). Guinness famously had a…complicated…relationship with Star Wars, calling it “fairytale rubbish” and the dialogue “banal mumbo jumbo”. It was his idea to kill the character off in the first movie as he “shriveled up” at the mere mention of Star Wars. Luckily for George Lucas he didn’t face the same ego-driven obstacles with Yoda since it was essentially a puppet voiced by Frank Oz (the same guy who provided the voice for other famous characters like Miss Piggy, Fozzy Bear, Cookie Monster, & Ernie’s pal Bert). Yoda is the Jedi Master of Jedi Masters, a 900 year old two foot tall creature with wrinkled green skin and an odd…almost dyslexic…speech pattern who we don’t meet until he trains Luke Skywalker on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back. It is his appearance & the way he talks that makes Yoda so memorable. I’m far too lazy to do the required research, but I’d bet that Yoda was one of the top selling Halloween costumes in the early 80’s.
“The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.” (Obi-Wan Kenobi)
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” (Yoda)
“You’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. The truth is often what we make of it…you heard what you wanted to hear, believed what you wanted to believe.” (Obi-Wan Kenobi)
“Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealously. The shadow of greed, that is.” (Yoda)
“I felt a great disturbance in the Force… as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.” (Obi-Wan Kenobi)
“Do or do not, there is no try.” (Yoda)
“Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them.” (Obi-Wan Kenobi)
“Mind what you have learned. Save you it can.” (Yoda)
“If you define yourself by the power to take life, the desire to dominate, to possess…then you have nothing.” (Obi-Wan Kenobi)
“Attachment leads to jealously. The shadow of greed, that is.” (Yoda)
“Be mindful of your thoughts…they betray you.” (Obi-Wan Kenobi)
“If no mistake have you made, yet losing you are… a different game you should play.” (Yoda)
“If you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” (Obi-Wan Kenobi)
Let’s take a break. We’ll resume with the Top 25 soon.
“We live in a box of space & time. Movies are windows in its walls. They allow us to enter other minds, not simply in the sense of identifying with the characters, but by seeing the world as another person sees it.” – Roger Ebert
My apologies for the slow progress of our little project. I actually had this ready to post last weekend, but ran into some personal issues…sad circumstances that I’d rather not revisit at the moment. I am thankful for the diversion The Manofesto provides during tough times. This space has been a godsend for me thru the years…cathartic, even when the subject matter might not be indicative of that fact. If even one person out there has gotten half as much pleasure out of reading this stuff as I’ve had writing it then it’s all been worth it. Anyway, if you haven’t read Parts 1& 2 please take some time to catch up. We’ll leave the light on for you.
50 Scout Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird)
Her proper given name is Jean Louise Finch, and she’s the precocious daughter of a respected attorney in 1930’s Alabama. Scout also narrates the story, the crux of which is a controversial rape trial wherein her father is defending the accused. Along the way she spends time with her brother Jem & their pal Dill Harris and becomes fascinated with mysterious neighbor Boo Radley. She loves & respects her father, and slowly begins to understand the deeper issues that plague her community. To Kill A Mockingbird won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was adapted into a film just a year later. The movie was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning three. Actress Mary Badham was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Scout Finch but lost to Patty Duke for her role as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker. Badham was the youngest actress ever nominated for that particular award until Tatum O’Neal took home the trophy a decade later. Badham had a very short acting career that was essentially over by the time she was 14 years old, but I suppose when you star in To Kill A Mockingbird right out of the gate the bar is set rather high. The novel is one of my favorite books of all time, and thankfully the movie stays as faithful to it as one could expect.
“Maycomb was a tired old town, even in 1932 when I first knew it. Somehow it was hotter then. Men’s stiff collars wilted by 9am, ladies bathed before noon after their 3pm naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frosting from sweating & sweet talcum. The day was 24 hours long, but it seemed longer. There’s no hurry, for there’s nowhere to go, nothing to buy, and no money to buy it with. Although Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself, that summer I was six years old.”
“Neighbors bring food with death, flowers with sickness, and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch & chain, a knife… and our lives.”
49 Lord Voldemort (The Harry Potter Series)
He Who Must Not Be Named!! This dude is so evil people don’t even want to mention his name, which is pretty heavy stuff. I’m a much bigger fan of the Potter books than the movies, mostly because the books are so massive that the movies necessarily leave a lot of minor characters & subplots on the cutting room floor. Obviously though Voldemort doesn’t have that issue. Thru the course of the series we learn how his life began as Tom Marvolo Riddle, his father abandoned he & his mother, the mother died so Tom ended up in an orphanage, he met Albus Dumbledore who got him into Hogwarts School, and Tom descended into a psychotic murderer who became the most powerful wizard in the world. He is obsessed with becoming immortal, especially after losing his physical body upon killing James & Lily Potter. When you get right down to it the entire Potter story can be boiled down to Good vs. Evil, and Voldemort is basically a fictionalized version of Satan. Good vs. Evil is a staple in literature, movies, & other forms of entertainment, and there is always a Bad Guy. Having said that, I think it is fair to rank the Potter series amongst the best modern fiction out there and Voldemort is one of the most memorable evildoers ever portrayed on film.
“There is no good and evil. There is only power, and those too weak to seek it.”
“Welcome, my friends. Thirteen years it’s been, and yet, here you stand before me, as though it were only yesterday. I confess myself… disappointed. Not one of you tried to find me.”
“Shall I divulge how I truly lost my powers? Yes, shall I? It was love. You see, when dear, sweet Lily Potter gave her life for her only son, she provided the ultimate protection. I could not touch him. It was old magic. Something I should have foreseen.”
“I’m going to kill you, Harry Potter. I’m going to destroy you. After tonight, no one will ever again question my powers. After tonight, if they speak of you, they’ll speak only of how you begged for death.”
“I know that many of you will want to fight. Some of you may even think that to fight is wise. But this is folly. Give me Harry Potter. Do this and none shall be harmed. Give me Harry Potter, and I shall leave Hogwarts untouched. Give me Harry Potter, and you will be rewarded. You have one hour.”
“Harry Potter, I now speak directly to you. On this night, you have allowed your friends to die for you, rather than face me yourself. There is no greater dishonor. Join me in the Forbidden Forest, and confront your fate. If you do not do this, I shall kill every last man, woman and child who tries to conceal you from me.”
48 Jefferson Smith (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington)
James Stewart is one of my favorite actors of all time. It’s A Wonderful Life. Harvey. Rear Window. Vertigo. I could go on, but one of the best roles of Stewart’s career is Jefferson Smith, the leader of an organization called The Boy Rangers (because The Boy Scouts refused to allow use of their name). Smith is a good-natured, idealistic, naïve young man who is inexplicably maneuvered into becoming a replacement Senator from an unnamed state. Once in the U.S. Senate others are under the impression that Smith can be manipulated to do their bidding & line their greedy pockets, but the newbie is much more astute & committed to his principles than anyone realizes. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was originally intended to be a sequel to 1936’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, with Gary Cooper reprising his role as Longfellow Deeds, but when that idea fell thru director Frank Capra retooled the story into a vehicle for Stewart, who received his first Academy Award nomination for the role.
“You’re not gonna have a country that can make these kind of rules work, if you haven’t got men that have learned to tell human rights from a punch in the nose. It’s a funny thing about men, you know. They all start life being boys. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if some of these Senators were boys once. And that’s why it seemed like a pretty good idea for me to get boys out of crowded cities and stuffy basements for a couple of months out of the year. And build their bodies and minds for a man-sized job, because those boys are gonna be behind these desks some of these days.”
“I wouldn’t give you two cents for all your fancy rules if, behind them, they didn’t have a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness and a little lookin’ out for the other fella, too.”
“There’s no compromise with truth. That’s all I got up on this floor to say.”
“Get up there with that lady that’s up on top of this Capitol dome, that lady that stands for liberty. Take a look at this country through her eyes if you really want to see something. And you won’t just see scenery; you’ll see the whole parade of what Man’s carved out for himself, after centuries of fighting. Fighting for something better than just jungle law, fighting so’s he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent, like he was created, no matter what his race, color, or creed. That’s what you’d see.”
“I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Paine. All you people don’t know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for, and he fought for them once, for the only reason any man ever fights for them: Because of one plain simple rule: Love thy neighbor. And in this world today, full of hatred, a man who knows that one rule has a great trust. You think I’m licked. You all think I’m licked. Well, I’m not licked, and I’m gonna stay right here and fight for this lost cause.”
47 Annie Savoy (Bull Durham)
The term “Baseball Annie” may or may not have originated with Ruth Ann Steinhagen, a 19 year old Chicago woman who became obsessed with infielder Eddie Waitkus and shot him in a hotel room in 1949. That incident inspired the 1952 novel The Natural, which was adapted into a movie starring Robert Redford in 1984. At any rate, a Baseball Annie is a groupie who hooks up with baseball players, and Annie Savoy might be the most well-known (fictional) example. Susan Sarandon’s most famous role before Bull Durham was probably playing Janet Weiss in the 1975 adaptation of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, although she has five Academy Award nominations and one Best Actress trophy on her resume. Sarandon gives Annie the perfect blend of sensuality, humor, strength, metaphysicality, & vulnerability. She is almost motherly (in a sexual kind of way of course) to inexperienced rookie pitcher Nuke LaLoosh, while veteran catcher Crash Davis isn’t intimidated at all & calls her out on her BS, which totally turns Annie on. Sarandon was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical, but lost to Melanie Griffith for her role in Working Girl.
“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. There are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance, but it just didn’t work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there’s no guilt in baseball, and it’s never boring, which makes it like sex. There’s never been a ballplayer slept with me who didn’t have the best year of his career. Makin’ love is like hitting a baseball, you just gotta relax and concentrate. Besides, I’d never sleep with a player hitting under .250, unless he had a lot of RBIs or was a great glove man up the middle.”
“This is the damndest season I’ve ever had; the Durham Bulls can’t lose and I can’t get laid!”
“Baseball may be a religion full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time, but it’s also a job.”
“Women never get lured. They’re too strong and powerful for that.”
“Actually, nobody on this planet ever really chooses each other. I mean, it’s all a question of quantum physics, molecular attraction, and timing. Why, there are laws we don’t understand that bring us together and tear us apart. It’s like pheromones. You get three ants together, they can’t do dick. You get 300 million of them, they can build a cathedral.”
“Cute? Baby ducks are cute, I hate cute! I want to be exotic & mysterious!”
46 Mr. Miyagi (The Karate Kid)
Who would have ever guessed in 1975 that the owner of Arnold’s Drive-In would go on to become a sage old martial arts master & building maintenance man?? Pat Morita was viewed as a comedic actor because of his work on Happy Days & MASH, so the powers-that-be were reluctant to cast him as Mr. Miyagi, a role that requires a kind of quiet wisdom. Hindsight is 20/20, and we understand now that Morita was perfect for the part, which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor (won that year by Haing S. Ngor for his role in The Killing Fields) and which he reprised in three sequels.
“First learn balance. Balance good, karate good, everything good. Balance bad, might as well pack up, go home.”
“In Okinawa, all Miyagi know two things: fish & karate. Karate come from China, 16th century, called te, ‘hand’. Hundred year later, Miyagi ancestor bring to Okinawa, call karate. ‘empty hand’.”
“Fighting always last answer to problem.”
“Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off. Breathe in through nose, out of mouth. Wax on, wax off. Don’t forget to breathe, very important.”
“Man who catch fly with chopsticks accomplish anything.”
45 Vincent Gambini & Mona Lisa Vito (My Cousin Vinny)
Actor Joe Pesci makes his second appearance in our countdown, but in a very different role from the violent lunatic he plays in Goodfellas. Vincent is actually on the other side of the law…a middle-aged attorney who has never tried a case. When his young cousin & a friend are charged with a murder they didn’t commit in Alabama they call upon Cousin Vinny to help. It then becomes a classic fish-out-of-water story because you have very Brooklyn Vinny clashing with the locals of a small southern town. Such tales are dime-a-dozen in Hollywood, but this one is particularly well done, and none of the depicted stereotypes are mean-spirited or small-minded. Vinny proves to be unconventional yet clever, in no small part due to the motivation & assistance provided by his girlfriend Lisa. Until Vinny Marisa Tomei had been best known for her small screen roles on soap opera As the World Turns and Cosby Show spinoff A Different World, but that all changed when she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mona Lisa. Since then she has gone on to have a steady & sporadically successful career with a few additional award nominations. My Cousin Vinny is one of my go to movies when I’m in the mood to chill out & need something to simply put a smile on my face, and it holds up quite well after 25+ years.
“I routinely twist the maximum allowable torquage.” (Lisa)
“You’re in Ala-fuckin’-bama. You come from New York. You killed a good ol’ boy. There is no way this is not goin’ to trial.” (Vinny)
“Imagine you’re a deer. You’re prancin’ along. You get thirsty. You spot a little brook. You put ya little deer lips down to the cool clear water…bam! A fuckin’ bullet rips off part of ya head! Your brains are layin’ on the ground in little bloody pieces! Now, I ask ya, would you give a fuck what kind of pants the son-of-a-bitch who shot you was wearing?!” (Lisa)
“When ya look at the bricks from the right angle, they’re as thin as this playing card. His whole case is an illusion, a magic trick. It has to be an illusion ’cause you’re innocent. Nobody, I mean nobody, pulls the wool over the eyes of a Gambini, especially this one.” (Vinny)
“Well, I hate to bring it up because I know you’ve got enough pressure on you already. But, we agreed to get married as soon as you won your first case. Meanwhile, ten years later, my niece, the daughter of my sister is gettin’ married. My biological clock is tickin’ like this, and the way this case is goin’, I ain’t never gettin’ married!” (Lisa)
“Did you just say you’re a fast cook, that’s it!? Are we to believe that boiling water soaks into a grit faster in your kitchen than on any place on the face of the Earth!? Perhaps the laws of physics cease to exist on your stove! Were these magic grits? I mean, did you buy them from the same guy who sold Jack his beanstalk beans!?” (Vinny)
“The car that made these two equal-length tire marks had positraction. Can’t make those marks without positraction, which was not available on the ’64 Buick Skylark! You see when the left tire mark goes up on the curb, and the right tire mark stays flat and even? Well, the ’64 Skylark had a solid rear axle. So, when the left tire would go up on the curb, the right tire would tilt out and ride along its edge, but that didn’t happen here, the tire mark stayed flat and even. This car had an independent rear suspension. Now, in the ’60s, there were only two other cars made in America that had positraction, independent rear suspension, & enough power to make these marks: one was the Corvette, which could never be confused with the Buick Skylark. The other had the same body length, height, width, weight, wheelbase, and wheel track as the ’64 Skylark, and that was the 1963 Pontiac Tempest.” (Lisa)
44 Jack Torrance (The Shining)
I’ve been very slow to jump on board the Stephen King train, but over the years I’ve dipped my toe in the pool occasionally. The Shining is King’s 1977 novel about an schoolteacher & aspiring writer and his family who are hired to run a creepy hotel in Colorado. It was adapted for the big screen in 1980, with Jack Nicholson taking on the lead role. Jack Torrance slowly descends into madness, (spoiler alert) eventually attempting to murder both his wife & young son. King famously disliked the film and felt like Nicholson was miscast as Torrance. The author would have preferred a nicer “everyman” sort of actor in the role since it would have made Torrance’s dark turn all the more unsettling, whereas Nicholson was already typecast as unhinged & scary. By 1980 Nicholson had amassed five Oscar nominations, winning Best Actor in 1975 for his role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, so it is understandable that director Stanley Kubrick would jump at the chance to have him star in The Shining. Robert De Niro, Robin Williams (who was unknown at the time), and Harrison Ford were all considered, but King didn’t like any of those choices either so perhaps he’s just impossible to placate.
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
“Come out, come out, wherever you are!”
“Wendy, darling, light of my life, I’m not gonna hurt ya. Ya didn’t let me finish my sentence. I said, I’m not gonna hurt ya. I’m just gonna bash your brains in.”
43 Fredo Corleone (The Godfather Trilogy)
Actor John Cazale starred in only five movies before cancer took his life at the young age of 42. Those movies?? The first two Godfather films, The Deer Hunter, The Conversation, & Dog Day Afternoon…all of which were nominated for Best Picture. That’s quite a track record, and it’s unfortunate that we’ll never know what might have been if Cazale lived & had a long career. Fredo is the middle son of the Don of America’s most notorious crime family. Unlike his tough & hotheaded older brother and cool & calculating younger brother Fredo is a little slow and kind of nervous, so he isn’t trusted with any kind of important responsibilities within the organization. In Part II he betrays his brother Michael, who is nearly killed by rival gangster Hyman Roth. When Michael learns of Fredo’s treachery he has him murdered. Despite the fact that Fredo is a bit of a horndog he is a sympathetic character. On a personal level I understand that feeling of being overlooked, disrespected, & thought of as somehow…less…by others. Fredo knows how people view him and he is frustrated by it because he believes he isn’t quite as inept as everyone thinks he is and just needs someone to give him a chance, but on the other hand he is shown to screw up every opportunity he is given by his family.
“Mike! You don’t come to Las Vegas and talk to a man like Moe Greene like that!”
“You’re my kid brother, and you take care of me? Did you ever think about that? Huh? Did you ever once think about that? Send Fredo off to do this. Send Fredo off to do that! Let Fredo take care of some Mickey Mouse nightclub somewhere! Send Fredo to pick somebody up at the airport! I’m your older brother, Mike, and I was stepped over! I can handle things! I’m smart! Not like everybody says, like dumb! I’m smart, and I want respect!”
42 Riggs & Murtaugh (The Lethal Weapon Series)
The buddy/cop movie formula is tried & true…but also hit & miss. The two cops are usually opposites in every way…one experienced & one less so, one by the book & one more rebellious, one a family man & the other a free-wheeling single, a serious dude vs. a wisecracking smartass. There are variations, but the tension between two individuals who see the world completely different yet are forced to work together toward a common goal is the essence of the story. We don’t remember much about the bad guys or the particular crimes involved…what sticks with the audience is the relationship between the two heroes. Arguably the formula has never worked better than with Lethal Weapon. In four films between 1987 & 1998 Danny Glover portrayed straitlaced Roger Murtaugh, a husband & father who’s been with the LAPD for many years and is on the verge of retirement, while Mel Gibson is Martin Riggs, a younger widowed detective who is grieving his wife’s death and lives on the edge because he may or may not be crazy, suicidal, or both. Thru the years the duo grow from being initially distrustful of each other to becoming brothers from another mother, all while chasing an assortment of criminals. Opinions vary on the strength/weakness of each individual film, but the franchise as a whole is quite enjoyable even more than two decades after the fourth movie was released, and that is due mainly to our affection for Riggs & Murtaugh.
“What did one shepherd say to the other shepherd? Let’s get the flock out of here.” (Riggs)
“I’m too old for this shit.” (Murtaugh)
“We can’t shoot a dog. People? Okay, but not dogs.” (Riggs)
“My baby is having his baby!” (Murtaugh)
“You have the right to remain unconscious. Anything you say ain’t gonna be much.” (Riggs)
“We both know why I was transferred. Everybody thinks I’m suicidal, in which case, I’m fucked and nobody wants to work with me; or they think I’m faking to draw a psycho pension, in which case, I’m fucked and nobody wants to work with me. Basically, I’m fucked.” (Riggs)
“You’re not trying to draw a psycho pension! You really are crazy!” (Murtaugh)
“Well, what do you wanna hear, man?! Do you wanna hear that sometimes I think about eatin’ a bullet?! HUH!? Well, I do! I even got a special bullet for the occasion with a hollow point, look! Make sure it blows the back of my goddamned head out and do the job right! Every single day I wake up and I think of a reason not to do it! Every single day! You know why I don’t do it?! This is gonna make you laugh! You know why I don’t do it?! The job! Doin’ the job! Now that’s the reason!” (Riggs)
41 Jeff Spicoli (Fast Times at Ridgemont High)
Another tried & true movie formula is the high school flick. Every generation has one or two definitive ones, and in the pre-John Hughes era of the early 80’s it was Fast Times at Ridgemont High. By 1982 Sean Penn had done one episode of Little House on the Prairie and was part of the ensemble in the film Taps, though he was certainly lower on the proverbial depth chart than George C. Scott, Timothy Hutton, & probably even Tom Cruise. That changed in a big way with Fast Times, which also featured a group of youngsters…Forest Whitaker, Judge Reinhold, Eric Stoltz, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Anthony Edwards, Nicolas Cage…who would go on to have rather successful Hollywood careers. However it is Penn as Spicoli, a beach bum stoner, that stands above the crowd. Sean Penn has been nominated for Best Actor five times and taken home two Oscars, but he’ll never escape the shadow of a character that he portrayed almost four decades ago. Spicoli’s interactions with teacher Mr. Hand (portrayed by My Favorite Martian’s Ray Walston) are hysterically funny, and he embodies the surfer dude stereotype so perfectly that I would argue he is the model for it.
“All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine.”
“People on ludes should not drive.”
“Hey bud, what’s your problem?”
“Hola, Mr. Hand.”
“I did battle some humongous waves. But you know, just like I told the guy on ABC, danger is my business.”
“I’ve been thinking about this, Mr. Hand. If I’m here and you’re here, doesn’t that make it our time? Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with a little feast on our time.”
40 Abbott & Costello, The Three Stooges, Laurel & Hardy, & The Marx Brothers (multiple films)
Stay with me folks…I’ll try not to make this too complicated. I’ve made this a four way tie for several reasons. Actually I debated including any of these acts at all, but in the final analysis I couldn’t justify excluding them. Here’s the thing…we’re discussing movie characters, right?? Well, when it comes right down to it all of these guys portrayed slightly different characters in all of their films, none of which stand out above any others. Their movies are more about the situations they are put in and the zany antics that follow. Having said that, we must also recognize that their stage personas are characters in & of themselves, so essentially they are…in a roundabout way…portraying the same characters in all of their films. Bud Abbot & Lou Costello starred in about three dozen films from 1940-56, and around Halloween I’d much rather watch Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein or Abbott & Costello Meet The Invisible Man than any modern slasher flick. Moe, Larry, Curly (and sometimes Shemp or Curly Joe) made over 200 films from 1930-70. The vast majority of those were “short subjects”, meaning the movie is 40 minutes or less, but The Stooges did star in about two dozen full length features, and when I was growing up in the 70’s & 80’s their stuff was on television with some regularity. Laurel & Hardy teamed together in over 100 movies from the late 1920’s to the mid-40’s. About 1/3 of those were actually silent films & 40 were short subjects, but they did star in a couple dozen full length features. The Marx Brothers…Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, & Gummo (real names: Julius, Adolph, Leonard, Herbert, & Milton)…were NY City kids born to Jewish immigrants from Europe. Gummo never appeared in any of the movies but was part of their Vaudeville act. Zeppo appeared in the first five movies but left performing behind and became an agent. Groucho, Harpo, & Chico are the trio most associated with The Marx Brothers, and they did about a dozen films together. Gabe Kaplan, the star of 70’s sitcom Welcome Back Kotter, was a big Marx Brothers fan and The Sweathogs were allegedly loosely based on the group. I am not including quotes from these acts because they provided far too much material to sift thru and narrow down. In addition, much of their comedy is slapstick & physicality that obviously doesn’t translate to the written page all that well. Suffice to say that the comedic contributions of all four holds up surprisingly well after several decades and has undoubtedly influenced comedians that have come along in the ensuing years.
This feels like an appropriate place to pause. Readability has always been a primary goal here at The Manofesto, so I shall refrain from pushing ahead and wait for another day.
After an unavoidable…interruption…a year ago we are back and thrilled to present the 2016 Sammy Awards, a Manoverse tradition since 2010. The Sammys are, in a nutshell, a fun & introspective year in review presented as the world’s best imaginary awards show. I like to think of The Sammys as an eclectic remix of real awards shows…classier than anything MTV offers, not as pretentious as The Oscars & Grammys, and more engaging than the plethora of offerings (The SAGs, The Tonys, The ESPYs, The People’s Choice Awards, etc.) that no one watches. The pace is brisk because a show longer than two hours drags and loses the interest of the viewer. There are no acceptance speeches because most of the categories have far too many nominees to have in the audience and many might not consider it an honor to be nominated anyway. I’d like to think that Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu would take a shot at streaming the show. Their people should call my people.
Let us begin by welcoming the host for our 2016 show. He’s an award winning comedian & talk show host, and since 2010 has breathed new life into legendary game show Family Feud. Please welcome Steve Harvey!!
Following a brief yet hilarious introduction to the show by our host it is time for the first award presentation. Please welcome a three time World Series winning pitcher, six time MLB All Star, former ESPN baseball analyst, & everyone’s favorite politically incorrect keyboard warrior…Curt Schilling!! And the nominees are:
Biggest Sports Story
One of the more poignant moments in sports is when a player, coach, or other associated personality decides to walk away after a long & memorable career, and in 2016 it seems like we said more than the usual fair share of goodbyes. I was never a big Kobe Bryant fan, but there is no denying that he had a significant impact on the modern NBA. After limping to the finish line the last couple of years on tired legs & surrounded by a very mediocre LA Lakers team, Kobe summoned some of his old magic one last time, scoring 60 points against the Utah Jazz in his final game. Peyton Manning rode into the sunset the way everyone would like to. After a legendary & record breaking 18 year career he led the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl championship. Manning certainly wasn’t at his best in his final few seasons with the Broncos, but his place among the greatest quarterbacks of all time is secure. Vin Scully, Dick Enberg, & Verne Lundquist all plied their trade as announcers for many decades. Scully is best known as the voice of the LA Dodgers, but fortunately for us east coasters he also called many nationally televised games in both baseball & football. Enberg is best remembered as a play-by-play announcer for NBC, calling both NFL & MLB games. Lundquist isn’t completely retired, but will no longer be calling college football games. Thankfully we’ll still be able to hear him on golf broadcasts. Kevin Garnett & Tim Duncan both called it quits after the 2015-16 NBA season. Duncan won five championships in 19 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs. In 1995 Garnett became the first player in two decades drafted directly from high school to the NBA, a practice the league would outlaw in 2006. He played for three different teams and won one championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008. He had more individual than team success, winning a league MVP & being named to 15 All Star teams. David Ortiz is a mountain of a man that was the designated hitter & occasional first baseman for the Boston Red Sox for 13 years. He was a big part of the team that finally broke the infamous Curse of the Bambino and brought Boston their first World Series title in 86 years. Two more titles would follow. Big Papi had one of his best seasons in 2016, batting .315 and hitting 38 home runs. Unfortunately various leg & foot problems forced him into retirement. Though I haven’t watched NASCAR for a couple of years for reasons I’ll not rehash, Tony Stewart had become my favorite driver after the tragic demise of Dale Earnhardt. I always appreciated his forthright & decidedly un-PC manner. Smoke won three Cup titles & 49 races in over 600 starts in 18 years. I suppose he’ll still be around as a team owner, which is good for the sport.
Cleveland Wins NBA Title
I’m not the biggest NBA fan. I only pay attention when the playoffs roll around, have never had a favorite team, & haven’t cared all that much since Michael Jordan retired. However, the one thing that has drawn me in at all over the past several years is the closest thing we’ve had to Jordan…Lebron James. His departure from Cleveland to Miami and subsequent return has been well chronicled, and in 2016 all the hopes & dreams of every sports fan in Cleveland came to fruition as King James led his hometown Cavaliers to their first ever NBA title, the city’s first professional sports championship of any kind since 1964. It was an exciting rematch of the previous year’s championship series, with the Cavs coming back from a 3-1 series deficit to upend the defending champion Golden State Warriors in a thrilling Game 7.
Brady’s Court Battle
In 2016 golden boy QB Tom Brady finally lost his yearlong battle against DeflateGate and was forced to serve a four game suspension at the beginning of the NFL season. Of course he still may get the last laugh, as the New England Patriots finished with the best record in the league and enter the playoffs as a solid Super Bowl favorite.
Villanova Wins NCAA Title
The Villanova Wildcats won their first national championship since 1985, beating North Carolina on a buzzer beater in the title game. The Wildcats won 35 games and defeated four straight Top 10 opponents during March Madness.
Warriors Wins Record
The 2016 Golden State Warriors, led by point guard Stephen Curry & power forward Draymond Green, won 73 games during the regular season, breaking a record set by the Jordan/Pippen Bulls two decades earlier. They came into the season as the defending NBA champs and dominated the competition…until the finals, where they fell to Lebron James & his Cleveland Cavaliers.
Cubs Win World Series
The Chicago Cubs have been the loveable losers of baseball for as long as I can remember. As with the Red Sox, the Cubs had been battling their own “curse”, the Curse of the Billy Goat, on which multiple heartbreaking postseason failures had been blamed since their last World Series title in 1908. All of that changed in 2011, when Theo Epstein, the wunderkind general manager that had helped Boston turn things around a decade ago, took the same job in Chicago. In 2016 his rebuilding plan blossomed and the Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians in a really fun seven game World Series.
The long sad odyssey of Johnny Manziel finally reached its inevitable conclusion in 2016 when the former Heisman Trophy winner but failed NFL quarterback was cut loose by the Cleveland Browns. Aside from the fact that Manziel is a marginal NFL talent at best, off the field issues with drugs, legal problems, & just a generally selfish, arrogant, poor attitude torpedoed any chance he had at success. When the Browns don’t even want you that’s a huge warning sign.
Penguins Win Stanley Cup
I pay even less attention to hockey than I do the NBA & NASCAR, but if my Pens are involved when the playoffs roll around I will generally check it out. 2016 brought Pittsburgh its fourth Stanley Cup since 1990. They defeated the San Jose Sharks in six games, with the awesome Sidney Crosby being named the series MVP.
And the Sammy goes to…..
The Chicago Cubs. It’s hard to beat a century old drought and an angst ridden fan base that has endured so many painful losses. I’m a Pirates fan, so I obviously cheer against the Cubs all season long, but I must admit this was a really cool story and I am glad for long suffering fans in The Windy City.
To present our next award, please welcome three all-time favorites who have one thing in common…they did guest spots on a certain television show back in the 60’s. First, he is best known as Captain Merrill Stubing on 80’s cheesefest The Love Boat. Please welcome Gavin MacLeod. Next, he has long been one of America’s crankiest yet most beloved comedians. He hung out with Sinatra back in the day, spent a good deal of time on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show couch, and now he is here with us at The Sammy Awards. Please welcome Don Rickles. And finally, he is an Academy Award winning actor best known for creepy roles in The Shining, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Batman, & A Few Good Men. It is an honor to welcome Jack Nicholson.
This is a special award with only one nominee & winner.
The Fred Berry Memorial Award for Excellence in Syndication
The Andy Griffith Show
Even the best television shows are generally cancelled after 6-10 seasons, air in syndication for a few years, & then slip away into the ether, replaced in the hearts & minds of viewers everywhere with the latest & greatest sitcom, soapy drama, or police procedural. Every once in awhile a program comes along that stays afloat in the sea of pop culture prominence for a bit longer, but eventually even those elite shows fade into just an occasionally recalled fond memory. The Andy Griffith Show is different. On any given day of the week I can do a little channel surfing and watch atleast a couple of TAGS episodes. Ponder that. This is a show that stopped airing original episodes nearly a half century ago, but its reruns are still broadcast in 2016 and beyond. Almost all of the cast has left this mortal coil, yet we still watch. I don’t think I’d be wrong in saying that TAGS has entertained multiple generations and continues to delight people of all ages even today. Local TV stations have no shortage of syndicated programs to choose from when they need to fill a time slot, but they know that TAGS has retained its popularity and will get good ratings. There are many reasons for this, most of which I have mentioned somewhere in this forum at one time or another. It is the distinct pleasure of The Manofesto to give The Andy Griffith Show one more well deserved victory lap, and hopefully we’ll all still be enjoying it for many years to come.
To present our next award we originally contacted singer & emancipated butterfly Mariah Carey, but she declined the invitation and has gone into hiding in an undisclosed location for some unknown reason. We next contacted MMA fighter Ronda Rousey, but when she was told that the presentation would likely take longer than 48 seconds she was forced to say no. Therefore, we turn to well-regarded and very funny blogger, author, & social media personality Susannah Lewis. And the nominees are:
Least Satisfying Movie
So it has come to this for Adam Sandler. After being one of the biggest movie stars in the world in the 90’s with hits like The Wedding Singer, Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, & The Waterboy, he has hit the skids in the past decade, with some of the worst films ever produced (Jack & Jill, That’s My Boy, something about a Zohan). Now his movies aren’t even in theaters…they are being directly streamed into our homes. I didn’t know this until after I saw The Do-Over, but awhile back Sandler signed a four movie contract with Netflix. The first one was released last December when I was in the hospital which explains why I hadn’t heard of it. As for this second project in the deal, it has Sandler & David Spade as two old high school pals who are unhappy with their lives so they fake their own deaths. It’s an interesting premise, and I’ve got to give all involved credit for one thing…they didn’t mail it in. The story has more twists & turns than an Appalachian highway, with an odd mix of comedy, action, intrigue, & pathos. It’s not boring…it’s just not very good.
Robert DeNiro needs to fire his agent, manager, & anyone else that assists him in choosing projects. Seeing him in excrement like this makes me sad. Even Zac Efron can do better and he’s a tool.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
I had low expectations going in because the 2014 original wasn’t good, yet somehow this sequel is actually even more tasteless & unremarkable. I didn’t laugh once. Two hours of my life I can never get back.
Fans of The Big Bang Theory get quite a shock seeing their sweet little Bernadette in this flick. Melissa Rauch stars as a former Olympic medalist still living on her fading notoriety in the small Ohio town in which she grew up. The young “lady” is mean-spirited, foulmouthed, & treats her adoring mailman father like dirt. She doesn’t have a job and relies on her fans & friends to buy her things. Oh, and she also steals money from mail she rifles thru in her Dad’s truck. Are you laughing yet?? When Hope (that’s her name…seriously) gets an opportunity to coach an up & coming gymnast also from her hometown she at first attempts to sabotage the young girl, but eventually changes course and guides her to the gold medal. I’m sure there are people out there that find this movie hysterically funny, but I’m not sure I’d want to know those people.
Bad Santa 2
If you enjoyed the 2003 original I suppose you’ll like this follow-up, which has Billy Bob Thornton putting the ol’ red suit back on & reprising his role as a misanthropic, drunken, foul mouthed thief who likes to score big during the holiday season. He reunites with his diminutive partner in crime and they team up with Santa’s profane & terminally ill mother to rob a Chicago children’s charity. I’m no prude, but I do believe I have some class and this kind of humor just doesn’t frost my cupcake. I didn’t particularly care for the first film and had no expectations that the sequel would alter my perspective. I was right. If vulgarity & F-bombs tickle your funny bone then, by all means, enjoy…it’s a free country. I will continue to aim higher.
And the Sammy goes to…..
Dirty Grandpa. I don’t know why I continue to subject myself to DeNiro. The Godfather Part II is way way way in the rearview mirror. Even the Meet the Parentsmovies seem like a lifetime ago. In the past decade this alleged cinematic icon has made a string of forgettable and/or outright atrocious films. This might be the absolute worst of the bunch, and could compete for one of the vilest pieces of garbage to ever be on the big screen. Just retire Mr. DeNiro. Leave the memories alone.
This feels like an appropriate place to pause. Please stay tuned for Part 2!!
Greetings friends and fellow cinephiles. It’s time to put the 3rd Round of 80’s Movie Mania to bed so that we can move on to the Sweet Sixteen. At this point I can’t recall exactly what I’ve said or not said in these little preambles, so please excuse any unfortunate repetitiveness. I do want to remind The Manoverse that I am well aware that I have left many worthy films out of this competition. If you haven’t seen some of your favorite 1980’s classics there are a few possible explanations. This competition is heavily influenced…maybe totally so…by my personal preferences and what I have or haven’t seen. Therefore you won’t find any of the Indiana Jones series (I’ve never watched any of them), no horror films (the only slasher flick I like is Halloween, which was made in 1978), or stuff like Tootsie, Full Metal Jacket, Gremlins, Fatal Attraction, Amadeus, The Color Purple, or The Untouchables…because either I haven’t seen them or have and don’t believe them to be all that remarkable. You may have noticed that Lethal Weapon was included in this competition while Die Hard was not. That was a difficult decision, but I have a little something brewing for Christmas 2017 and didn’t want to be redundant (also the reason cool holiday flicks like A Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation, & Scrooged are not a part of 80’s Movie Mania). You already know that I eliminated trilogies right off the bat, specifically the Star Wars and Back to the Future films, four of which were produced in the 1980’s. There were also a lot of laudable sports films made during the decade, including Hoosiers, Raging Bull, Field of Dreams, Major League, The Karate Kid, BullDurham, & All the Right Moves, but I’ve already focused on them elsewhere so I decided including them here was unnecessary. Even with these omissions I believe I’ve presented a compelling & provocative tournament, and a fun trip down memory lane. Okay, enough of that. We ride!!
National Lampoon’s Vacation vs. Stand By Me
1983’s Vacation received byes thru the first two rounds. Chevy Chase stars as Clark W. Griswold Jr., a well-intentioned yet blundering family man who decides to drive his wife & kids from Chicago to California to visit the nation’s preeminent theme park. As usual with road trip flicks there are a plethora of epic fails & hilarious calamities, with the biggest twist coming when the Griswolds finally reach Wally World. This movie has held up remarkably well over the past thirty plus years, with the notable exception that the conclusion would never ever happen in The Internet Age. A few sequels were made with variable results…European Vacation isn’t too bad, Christmas Vacation is awesome, & Vegas Vacation is…well…let’s just forget it ever happened. A reboot/sequel was made last year in which the adult version of Rusty Griswold takes his own family on a cross-country trek. It is…okay. Stand By Me has gotten past K-9 and Weekend at Bernie’s to arrive at this point. It is one of the better film/TV adaptations of Stephen King’s work, right up there with The Shawshank Redemption and Carrie. It has a 91% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and is nostalgically romanticized by almost everyone who was a young teenager in 1986.
The Verdict:Vacation. I’m all about nostalgia, but I really can’t fully embrace Stand By Me. I suppose I just don’t relate to the boys in the film. I never had those kinds of relationships or those sorts of adventures as a kid. Objectively speaking it is a great movie, but it’s not one for which I’ve ever had deep affection. Conversely, I’ve seen Vacation countless times in the past three decades. If it’s on television I’m probably going to stop flipping thru the channels and watch. I’ve been known to keep it saved on my DVR for a boring rainy day. There are so many great scenes & quotable lines. It is undoubtedly the zenith of Chevy Chase’s long & prosperous career.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off vs. The Princess Bride
You were probably wondering about the whereabouts of ol’ Ferris. Well, he had byes thru the first two rounds but has now arrived. 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off solidified the star status of Matthew Broderick and tells the story of a scheming yet likeable high schooler, his girlfriend, & their best friend who decide to play hooky for the day and enjoy some of the finer things Chicago has to offer. They visit the Art Institute of Chicago, go to the top of the Sears Tower, eat lunch at a fancy restaurant, take in a Cubs game, & Ferris commandeers the microphone on a parade float belting out fun covers of Danke Schoen and Twist & Shout. In the process Ferris outwits his clueless parents as well as a persistent school principal. It’s all great fun, and we get to vicariously live thru a character who brazenly pulls off what most of us would never have the cahonas to try. The Princess Bride got past Cocktail in Round 2. It didn’t fair that well at the box office in 1987, coming in 41st, behind drivel like Outrageous Fortune, Mannequin, & Adventures in Babysitting. It did better than Ishtar and Superman IV though, so that’s something. Like other “cult classics” The Princess Bride would have to wait for the riches gained from home video to be deemed successful. Actress Robin Wright starred in the film while still doing soap opera Santa Barbara, but of course she has gone on to become one of Hollywood’s best. Rotten Tomatoes rates The Princess Bride as 97% Fresh, and our old pals Siskel & Ebert gave it double Thumbs Up. Ebert said it is “good-hearted fun” and “satire containing true innocence”, while Siskel called it “the weirdest assortment of characters since Star Wars” (which I’m pretty sure he meant as a compliment).
The Verdict:Ferris Bueller. It’s odd to contemplate how different this competition might look with slightly altered matchups. The Princess Bride probably deserves a better fate, but Ferris Bueller is just so entertaining. And it kind of has a subtle message. We’ll get into that some other time though.
Batman vs. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Our favorite Caped Crusader defeated 80’s pop staple Pretty in Pink in the last round. Batman was by far the #1 film at the box office in 1989, and almost three decades later it is still near the Top 50 highest grossing films of all-time when adjusted for inflation. Willem Dafoe, David Bowie, John Lithgow, Tim Curry, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Richard Gere, Jeff Goldblum, Robert Englund, & James Woods were among the actors considered for The Joker. Robin Williams thought he had the role after Jack Nicholson initially turned it down, but then Nicholson reconsidered and Williams was dismissed. That angered him so much that he refused an offer to portray The Riddler in the 1995 sequel Batman Forever. Thus we were stuck with Jim Carrey. Director Tim Burton retroactively says of his own film that it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”, while Christopher Nolan, who would direct a new Dark Knight trilogy a couple of decades later, called the 1989 film “brilliant, visionary, & extraordinarily idiosyncratic”. The Voyage Home…aka the one with the whales…defeated Eddie & The Cruisers in Round 2. It was the fifth highest grossing film of 1986, behind Top Gun and Platoon but ahead of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Stand By Me, Hoosiers, & Pretty in Pink. It has an 85% Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, with Ebert calling it “easily the most absurd of the Star Trek stories”, but also “the best, the funniest, and the most enjoyable in simple human terms.” I concur.
The Verdict:The Voyage Home. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think Burton is onto something, and since he directed the thing he should know…Batman is probably more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie. I mean I still think of it as a great movie as well, but the competition is stiff. The Voyage Home…in my opinion…is right up there with Wrath of Khan in the Star Trek hierarchy.
Risky Business vs. Coming to America
After a first round bye Risky Business took out Iron Eagle in Round 2. It was the 10th highest grossing film of 1983, behind classics like Return of the Jedi & WarGames, but beating out some darn good competition like Scarface, The Big Chill, & A Christmas Story. It has an impressive 96% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Ebert said Risky Business “is a movie about male adolescent guilt…in other words it’s a comedy”, and also called it “one of the smartest, funniest, most perceptive satires in a long time.” High praise indeed. Coming to America defeated Brat Pack classic St. Elmo’s Fire in Round 2. It was the 3rd highest grossing film of 1988, behind only Rain Man & Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and ahead of great stuff like Die Hard, Beetlejuice, Scrooged, Bull Durham, & The Naked Gun. Its rating on Rotten Tomatoes is 69% Fresh, which is really good but not quite on par with many of the greats in this competition. Judged against other Eddie Murphy films it is easily in his Top 5, but amongst the bigger universe of comedy films I’m not sure it stands out.
The Verdict:Risky Business. While Coming to America is a solid comedy it doesn’t feel special except when held up alongside the dreck that comprises way too much of Murphy’s overvalued filmography. Conversely Risky Business is an iconic representation of its era.
First things first. Let’s tie up a loose end from the previous installment. In a coin flip I am giving The Outsiders a victory over Weird Science. The former is just too good to overlook, with a powerful story and an all-star cast, while the latter, though it is another collaboration between John Hughes and Anthony Michael-Hall, is probably their weakest effort. Okay, so…let’s move forward. Today we’ll have the second round of competition in the Bodacious Division. Rock n’ roll dudes!!
Batman vs. Pretty in Pink There have been many incarnations of my favorite superhero. The Caped Crusader of course originated in comic books in 1939 and continues to be a staple of that medium today. A famously campy television show aired on ABC for three seasons in the late 1960’s. Director Christopher Nolan brought his dark & gritty vision of the character to the big screen in a solid film trilogy a decade ago. And before that directors Tim Burton then Joel Schumacher produced a quadrilogy (I think I just created a new word!) of Batman movies in the late 80’s/early 90’s. We’ll talk about the other films at some point in the future, but for now we focus on 1989’s Batman, the first of that quadrilogy. Starring Michael Keaton as the titular hero and the legendary Jack Nicholson as his archnemesis The Joker, Batman adequately reflects the character’s caliginous & savage comic book history while still remaining classic popcorn escapism. There were concerns about Keaton being cast in the starring role because he was known mostly for being a comedic actor, but he nailed it and to this day remains my favorite big screen Batman. Of course everybody knows that Nicholson steals the show and is still the best Joker ever, with all due respect to the late Heath Ledger. Anyone who has enjoyed the plethora of films in the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” in the past several years should know that they owe a ton of credit to Batman for breathing new life into the genre nearly three decades ago. Unlike its opponent Pretty in Pink did not get a first round bye, besting Broadcast News in a close call. John Hughes, Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, John Cryer, If You Leave…Pretty in Pink has everything one could want in an 80’s film. A tip of the cap must be given to the powers-that-be for the ending, wherein the girl (Ringwald) DOESN’T pick the loveable loser best friend and instead chooses the good-looking rich guy…just like real life.
The Verdict: Batman. This is a tough one because Pretty in Pink is the prototypical 80’s movie, while Batman is slightly ahead of its time in embracing a gloomier 90’s-esque sensibility. However, I must go with my heart here. In my opinion this is the best comic book film ever made, although I have admittedly seen very few others.
Risky Business vs. Iron Eagle He’s baaaacckk. Tom Cruise dominated the box office in the second half of the 80’s, but his breakout role came in 1983’s Risky Business. Cruise stars as high schooler Joel, whose parents leave him alone while they go on vacation. Like any normal teenager Joel goes a little nuts, including getting’ busy with a…lady of the night. After inadvertently sending his father’s Porsche into the river he must come up with some quick cash to get it repaired. The answer?? Turn the house into a brothel for a night…obviously. Risky Business not only features a fantastic soundtrack (Phil Collins, Bob Seger, Muddy Waters, Prince), but includes an iconic scene in which Joel dances around his living room in his underwear lipsynching Old Time Rock n’ Roll. Iron Eagle upset An Officer & A Gentlemen in Round 1. It ranked 41st at the box office in 1986, behind unremarkable bombs like Cobra, Children of a Lesser God, & Police Academy 3, but ahead of solid competition including Flight of the Navigator, Youngblood, & Brighton Beach Memoirs. Obscure trivia: Did you know that Robbie Rist, best known as Cousin Oliver in The Brady Bunch, has a role in Iron Eagle?? Well you do now!!
–The Verdict:Risky Business. I love Iron Eagle, but Risky Business is a time capsule film and probably one of Cruise’s Top 5 roles.
Coming to America vs. St. Elmo’s Fire Eddie Murphy is back too. I’m sensing a theme. At any rate, 1988’s Coming to America is much more aligned with the kind of comedy we expect from Murphy. He stars as a pampered prince from one of those fictional nations that movies like to create, but doesn’t want to enter into an arranged loveless marriage. So the prince & his loyal assistant (played by Arsenio Hall) take off for NY City. There they find jobs at a McDonald’s-esque fast food joint and the prince falls in love with the owner’s lovely daughter. From there it is a classic fish-out-of-water story intertwined with a rom-com. James Earl Jones plays the king, while Samuel L. Jackson and Cuba Gooding Jr. have really small “blink and you’ll miss it” roles. This is undoubtedly one of Murphy’s best movies. St. Elmo’s Fire beat Romancing the Stone in the first round and is a classic Brat Pack film. It was the 23rd highest grossing film of 1985, behind stiff competition like Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club, & The Goonies, but besting notable films like Teen Wolf, Weird Science, Young Sherlock Holmes, & Vision Quest. St. Elmo’s Fire, by the way, is “a weather phenomenon in which luminous plasma is created by a coronal discharge from a sharp or pointed object in a strong electric field in the atmosphere, such as those generated by thunderstorms or created by a volcanic eruption, sometimes appeared on ships at sea during thunderstorms, regarded by sailors with religious awe for its glowing ball of light” and is named in honor of St. Erasmus of Formia, the patron saint of sailors. I have no idea what that has to do with the movie, but meaningless trivia is kind of my thing.
The Verdict:Coming to America. St. Elmo’s Fire has a fabled cast and a kickass theme song, but it is a flawed film, probably in part because it is directed by Joel Schumacher and John Hughes is nowhere in sight. Coming to America is directed by John Landis and has a likeable cast with a fun script. It doesn’t necessarily paint outside the lines, but it doesn’t really have to.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home vs. Eddie & The Cruisers There were six films made with the cast of the original Star Trek series…William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Spock, DeForest Kelley as Dr. Bones McCoy, George Takei as Sulu, Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, Walter Koenig as Chekov, & James Doohan as Scotty…between 1979 and 1991. In this fourth installment the crew of the USS Enterprise goes back in time to modern day (1986) San Francisco to scoop up some humpback whales that will play a part in saving Earth in the 23rd century. It is a quintessential fish-out-of-water story, with our favorite space cowboys trying to fly under the radar in the 1980’s. It also holds up a rather humorous mirror to modern culture and allows the characters to really shine in a fun, lighthearted way. Eddie & The Cruisers scored an upset victory over the more acclaimed A Fish Called Wanda in Round 1 because that’s just how I roll. It is actually based on a novel that I may read someday. The premise is fantastic, but I have a lot of questions about the execution. In doing some reading about the film it sounds like it just ended up in the wrong hands and several mistakes were made. A more skilled director and production team might have made a movie that isn’t quite as overlooked & underappreciated as the final product.
The Verdict:Star Trek IV. I love Eddie & The Cruisers, but it could have been so much better. The Voyage Home isn’t necessarily a traditional Trek film. The action doesn’t take place in outer space and The Enterprise is MIA, but the script is really good and the cast does some of their finest work. It makes me smile, and in my book that’s pretty cool.
The Princess Bride vs. Cocktail 1987’s The Princess Bride is another film based on a book, the author being the guy who would go on to write or assist with screenplays for films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, Misery, A Few Good Men, & Good Will Hunting. The film uses the book as a framing device, with Peter Falk (aka Columbo) starring as a grandfather reading to his ill grandson, played by a pre-Wonder Years Fred Savage. In the “fairy tale” a young farm girl named Buttercup falls in love with a laborer. He goes off to seek his fortune so they can be married but is presumed dead when his ship is attacked by an infamous pirate. A few years later Buttercup is set to marry the prince of yet another fictional country before she is kidnapped by one of the oddest trios you’ll ever see. Of course the young lady’s true love isn’t really dead and sets out to rescue her. The film is directed by Rob Reiner and has a charming cast, including Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, & Andre the Giant. The best way I can describe it is delightfully quirky…family friendly escapism at its best. Cocktail got the decision over Stripes in Round 1. It was the 9th highest grossing movie of 1988, beating out solid competition like Beetlejuice, Scrooged, Bull Durham, & Everybody’s All-American. The Beach Boys’ song Kokomo is the film’s unofficial theme song and was a #1 hit.
The Verdict:The Princess Bride. This is a tough one because I love Cocktail. It is probably the most underrated Cruise movie. But The Princess Bride, besides being a cult classic, is a really solid film and a lot of fun.
Stand By Me vs. Weekend at Bernie’s Stand By Me defeated K-9 in Round 1. It was the 13th highest grossing film of 1986, behind Top Gun, Crocodile Dundee, & Ferris Bueller’s Day Off but ahead of Pretty in Pink, The Fly, Three Amigos!, & Hoosiers. It was directed by Rob Reiner and features a cool 50’s soundtrack. The framing device with Richard Dreyfuss as an older version of one of the characters that lets us know how all of their lives ended up playing out is a nice touch. Weekend at Bernie’s got the first round decision over Bachelor Party. It ranked 39th at the box office in 1989, ahead of Road House, The Fabulous Baker Boys, & The Dream Team but behind crapfests like The Karate Kid Part III, The Abyss, & The Bear (whatever the heck that is). It is interesting to ponder what became of stars Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman. McCarthy…a member of the infamous Brat Pack who starred in notable films like Mannequin, Pretty in Pink, & St. Elmo’s Fire…hasn’t been in anything memorable since Bernie’s (unless one wants to generously include the 1993 sequel) and has more recently been doing guest spots in TV shows that no one watches. Silverman starred in a mid-90’s sitcom called The Single Guy for a couple of seasons and does a lot of TV stuff, but Bernie’s seems to be his career highlight. Fame is indeed fleeting.
After a four month hiatus the time feels right to jump back into this series. Actually this little break was rather unintentional, or atleast I never meant for it to last this long…I just had other things I wanted to write about for awhile. There is still an eclectic mix of things in the pipeline, as I hope is always the case. Intellectual curiosity is a good thing. For now though, we’ll grab some popcorn (and chocolate covered peanuts) and head into the theater.
It seems appropriate to be writing about Hoosiers on the cusp of NCAA basketball’s Final Four. I assure you the timing is purely coincidental though fitting. Hoosiers is a mid 80’s film set in the early 50’s, which right off the bat gives it a timeless quality. It stars Gene Hackman as a former college basketball coach who, it is eventually revealed, lost his job after hitting a student. Coach Norman Dale has been out of the game for over a decade when he is thrown a bone by an old friend, the principal of a small Indiana high school in need of a coach. Anyone who knows basketball knows that it is especially revered in Indiana, and that is reflected in the story. There’s the usual conflict between the coach and his players, who just don’t understand his methods. Throw in a budding romance between the coach and a fellow teacher (who can’t stand each other at first of course), a town drunk who also happens to be a basketball guru (played by Dennis Hopper in an Academy Award nominated performance), a gifted but troubled player who is reluctant to join the team, and townsfolk who are just a bit too passionate about their team (overcompensating for their empty and meaningless lives of course) and you’ve got yourself a nicely layered movie. Hoosiers has all the typical clichés that were originated in Rocky and have become staples in sports films like Rudy, Tin Cup, Remember the Titans, and Major League. Hackman and Hopper give nice performances and Hoosiers is a more than decent flick. It’s a bit predictable and the characters could be flushed out a bit more (it’s less than 2 hours long…another 20 minutes would have been peachy), but there’s no denying it has a place amongst the great sports movies. That place just may be a little lower in my opinion than many others’.
It should become apparent as one reads through these 100 movies that I am a Jimmy Stewart fan. By my count there are 6 of his movies on the list. It is ostensibly his Everyman quality…nice guy, small towner, “aw shucks” attitude that draws fans to Stewart, but the truth is much more complex. Jimmy’s talents had many facets, and in his career he played diverse roles…small town nice guy, hardscrabble cowboy, sophisticated man-about-town. Three directors guided Stewart through a large chunk of his 92 films – Frank Capra (3 films), Anthony Mann (8 films) Alfred Hitchcock (4 films). It is his work with Hitchcock that, in my opinion, is the most unique. Vertigo is much like that book that you were assigned to read in school and really resisted, but upon being forced to read it you rather enjoyed. I am not normally a huge fan of the suspense thriller genre, and years ago when I first made myself watch Vertigo (afterall, any self respecting Stewart fan just HAS to), I was fully prepared to not really like it all that much. However, much to my surprise I was sucked in by the singular story and the mesmerizing performances. The plot is far too intricate to describe here, but suffice to say it involves deception, dual identities, murder, obsession, and of course vertigo (i.e. paralyzing fear of heights). Jimmy strays about as far away from the “aw shucks” nice guy persona as he would ever get, but doesn’t cross too far into villainous territory. Vertigo demands repeat viewing so one can digest all of Hitchcock’s twisted goodness, but it is time well spent…although I do recommend following it up with a screwball comedy as a palate cleanser.
Speaking of screwball comedies…well, okay, maybe not so much. Any movie that climaxes with a person’s brains being spilled onto the kitchen floor probably can’t really be called a comedy. Actually this film is one of those that is rather difficult to categorize, but all things considered I must admit that American Beauty makes me laugh. Maybe it is the spot on accurate portrayal of the desperation and despair inherent in modern suburbia. Perhaps it is because it takes the average happy family myth and turns it on its ear. That’s a common theme nowadays. Numerous sitcoms portray families as dysfunctional trainwrecks of unhappiness. But that is a relatively new development in entertainment. Before American Beauty only two examples, both of them television shows…Roseanne and Dallas…stood out as having such a cynical approach to family life. I never particularly liked the Roseanne show, and Dallas was a soap opera. Kevin Spacey, who I enjoy in just about everything he is in, is brilliant in American Beauty as a man going through a mid-life crisis while dealing with a loveless marriage and a brooding & timid teenage daughter. As Lester Burnham, Spacey deals with his unhappiness like an NFL linebacker deals with a running back trying to bust up the middle for a big gain. Lester begins smoking pot with a voyeuristic teenage neighbor, starts working out in order to impress his daughter’s gorgeous cheerleader friend, and quits his suit and tie gig (blackmailing his young boss for a year’s salary on the way out) at an advertising firm in lieu of working the drive thru at a local burger joint. Meanwhile, Lester’s materialistic, oddly driven wife begins a torrid affair with a real estate rival and the daughter begins an eccentric romance/friendship with the pot smoking teenage neighbor. That kid has issues of his own, with a military man for as father and a quietly desperate mother who lets her husband run roughshod over the family. All the stories converge into a strangely violent climax. Kudos can certainly be given to Annette Bening as the wife, Carolyn, Wes Bentley as voyeuristic neighbor Ricky, and the always entertaining Chris Cooper as Colonel Fitts…but the engine that drives American Beauty is Spacey, who makes every movie he is in better than if he was not present.
57 This Is Spinal Tap
I am a big fan of “mockumentaries”, movies that present the story within the framework of a supposedly real documentary. The undisputed king of mockumentaries was made in 1984 by director Rob Reiner (fresh off his success as “Meathead” on All in the Family), and stars Michael McKean (Lenny from Laverne & Shirley), Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer (known to 21st century audiences as the voice of Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, Principal Skinner, and others on The Simpsons). Guest would go on to be a successful director of mockumentaries himself, as well as being the husband of 80’s scream queen and the still smokin’ hot Jamie Lee Curtis. This Is Spinal Tap follows a fictional British heavy metal band as they venture out on an American tour and includes flashbacks that tell the group’s backstory. Sharp eyed viewers will spot cameos or bit parts by now well known faces such as Paul Shaffer, Fred Willard, Fran Dresher, Dana Carvey, Anjelica Huston, and Billy Crystal, but it is the interaction of the three band members that makes the movie great. The band is…well…not that bright, which leads to hilarity. There are several iconic scenes that anyone who has ever seen the film will never forget…the amp that goes to 11, the spontaneous combustion and “unfortunate gardening accident “ (among other things) that continues to take the band’s revolving door of drummers, the Stonehenge set, the black album cover. And the songs – Spinal Tap produces songs with titles like Hell Hole, Sex Farm, Breakfast of Evil, and Swallow My Love. Basically This Is Spinal Tap takes everything we think we know about the awesomeness of the rock n’ roll lifestyle and throws it all out the window. You’ll never take rock music as seriously again, and that’s not a bad thing.
Sometime in late childhood I became fascinated with Batman. I am not sure when or why. I was never a comic book sort of kid, and the early 80’s were dominated by Superman, with the movie franchise starring Christopher Reeve. I suppose Batman’s backstory fascinates me, with him being just a normal guy who is psychologically scarred as a child after seeing his parents gunned down by street thugs. Batman is not from another planet and he has no superpowers. He is just a man who kicks ass and takes names. He does have a dual identity, and he does happen to be filthy rich, but I can forgive those indulgences. I really enjoy the old television show starring Adam West and Burt Ward. It only lasted for 2 seasons in the late 60’s (the almost identical timeframe as the original Star Trek series – who was in charge of TV shows in the 60’s and why did they keep cancelling great ones??) and was long gone before I was even born, but repeats were shown on some channel that I cannot recall when I was younger. Then in 1989, Tim Burton, who had achieved great success with Beetlejuice, decided to bring The Caped Crusader to the big screen. As I recall there was some trepidation with casting funnyman Michael Keaton in the titular role, but as it turns out he was perfect…much better than those who followed him – Val Kilmer and George Clooney. Of course the real star of this particular movie is Jack Nicholson as The Joker. I’ve never been a huge Nicholson fan…he’s more of a persona than a great actor…but he was the absolute best Joker. There are many that would say that the late Heath Ledger surpassed Nicholson’s achievement, but I feel like Ledger’s performance is too often looked at…subconsciously…through the prism of his untimely death. At any rate, all the stars aligned on this rendition of Batman on the big screen, and 20 years later it holds up quite nicely.