“Film is one of three universal languages, along with mathematics & music.” – Frank Capra
My original intention was to post this a few days ago, but stuff happens…like having a big chunk of what I wrote disappear because evidently I forgot to save my work. When something like that happens I can become quite emo, and to be honest I just lost my desire to write for a few days. Anyway, I’m feeling a little better about life in general now, so let’s finish this thing up and move on to the next gig. If you have not perused Part 1 please do so, and as always I really would enjoy some feedback.
16 A film that is personal to you…
We Are Marshall
I graduated from Marshall University in Huntington, WV in the mid-1990s, and the tragic 1970 plane crash that killed the entire football team, coaching staff, and a number of parents & boosters is a tale well known to anyone who has ever lived or attended school there. A couple of years after the crash a beautiful fountain on the student center plaza was dedicated in memory of the 75 lives lost, and during my four+ years at MU I passed by that fountain every single day. Anyway, 2006’s We Are Marshall, though an imperfect film, does an admirable job of depicting the event & its aftermath, with the haunting performance of Matthew Fox (Party of Five, Lost) as assistant coach Red Dawson deserving kudos. If you dig We Are Marshall I would highly recommend a 2000 documentary called Ashes to Glory, which is a more factual and much more emotional rendition of the story.
17 Favorite film sequel…
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
I really had to think long & hard about this one. Rarely do sequels even approach the greatness of the original. And what about trilogies & series?? Do I prefer the second, third, or fourth movie?? I generally think of such things as one entity and don’t go so far as to break down each film, although there are exceptions. Having said all of that, and while I still think the original 1983 National Lampoon’s Vacation is the best of the series, the particular niche that Christmas Vacation has carved out in the pop culture landscape is undeniable. Three decades after its theatrical run it is shown on television dozens of times each holiday season…and we still watch.
18 A film that stars your favorite actor/actress…
Joe Versus the Volcano and The Glenn Miller Story
First, I had to decide between Jimmy Stewart & Tom Hanks, but I’m taking the easy way out and not making that choice, Secondly, I have shown love to other films by both men already, so what I have chosen to do is give a shout out to two of their lesser known films. Glenn Miller was a real life big band leader in the 1930’s & 40’s and the composer of hits like Moonlight Serenade, Little Brown Jug, & In the Mood. While flying from a gig in the United Kingdom to Paris in December 1944 Miller’s plane disappeared over the English Channel. He was only 40 years old. James Stewart just so happened to be a Glenn Miller doppelganger, so when a biopic was produced in 1954 he was the ideal choice for the part. If you like Stewart or Miller you’ll love both after watching this movie, and you just might become a fan of big band music, as I did. Joe Versus the Volcano isn’t as well-regarded as other Hanks/Meg Ryan films, but I encourage everyone to give it a whirl. It’s a bit of a slog at the beginning, but if you can make it past those gloomy first few minutes what you’ll find is a story that contains a lot of symbolism and has much to say about life.
19 A film made by your favorite director…
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
I don’t generally have any director specific loyalties…I judge a film based on what I see on the screen, regardless of who is in front of or behind the camera. However, I am an 80’s kid, and that means I’ve seen just about everything that John Hughes wrote, produced, and/or directed. Christmas is usually the main focus of holiday entertainment, as it should be, but there is one really great film that focuses on Thanksgiving. It is the perfect mix of comedy & sentimentality, which is right in my wheelhouse. I wish Steve Martin & John Candy would’ve made more movies together, but then again I’m not sure there’s any way they could have topped their inaugural effort.
I don’t remember when or why I watched IAWL for the first time, but during my childhood it was on television countless times on numerous channels at all hours so there were no shortage of opportunities to see it. The idea of a small town guy with big dreams who never quite escapes to fulfill them spoke to me from an early age, and at this point I suppose I’m sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. IAWL was actually marketed as a romantic comedy, but has become a Christmas classic. To say it changed my life may be a tad dramatic because I’m not one to assign such power to a movie, but it does mean a lot to me and has become an important part of my holiday tradition.
21 A film that you dozed off in…
Monty Python & The Holy Grail
I’m probably going to catch some flack, but I have to be honest. There was a little video store down the street from my college dorm, and I decided to rent this movie that I’d heard so much about but never seen. Obviously it was a less than thrilling experience. I just don’t enjoy British humor.
22 A film that made you angry…
The Big Wedding
When a movie stars Robin Williams & Robert DeNiro I don’t think it is out of line to have high expectations. Sadly, not only does this movie fall short, it is undoubtedly one of the worst I’ve ever seen. I have never left a theater before a film is over, but I came pretty close with this one. DeNiro continues to trash his legendary legacy, while the late great Williams made a string of forgettable flops in the decade before his untimely demise.
23 A film made by a director who is dead…
Again, I’m not married to any particular directors, as in I adore every movie they’ve ever made. On top of that I’m not really a Hitchcock kind of guy. However, he did make a few films I’ve enjoyed, and his work with my man Jimmy Stewart is quite good. Rear Window is interesting in that it is essentially shot from one perspective, that of main character Jeff Jefferies, a professional photographer sidelined with a broken leg. Jeff lives in a courtyard apartment and becomes kind of a voyeur, intently watching neighbors that he doesn’t really know and making up stories about them that may or may not be true. When he decides that one of those neighbors might have murdered his wife things become really interesting. Rear Window wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture, which, in hindsight, seems like a real crime.
24 A film you wish you saw in theaters…
Apollo 13 and Titanic
I pondered & debated with myself, but I just can’t choose. History shows that Apollo 13 was released in June 1995, which wasn’t a good time in my life, so I’m not surprised I didn’t make it to the local cineplex for a flick. However, I have seen it countless times in the ensuing years and count it among the best movies ever made. I cannot recall a specific reason why I didn’t head to the theater to watch Titanic, although I’m not one for massive crowds so perhaps that scared me off. But by now I have watched it numerous times. I have always opined that some movies really should be seen on the big screen, and with a gigantic ship sinking into the ocean & a huge rocket being launched into space I can only assume these would have been really cool films to see in a theater. Alas, I suppose my 55 inch smart TV will have to suffice.
25 A film you like that is not set in the current era…
I cannot believe we have made it this far without mentioning what I consider to be the best film ever produced. It is nearly flawless. Thankfully, since it is set in the 1940s & 50s The Godfather fits this category perfectly.
26 A film you like that is adapted from somewhere…
I have never read Winston Groom’s 1986 novel, and am inclined never to do so. It is my understanding that the film differs vastly from its source material, and since I think it’s a damn fine movie I’m not going to ruin it by reading the book. I am usually in the camp that believes that the book is almost always better than the movie, but there are exceptions and I’m just going to mark Forrest Gump as one of them.
27 A film that is visually striking to you…
Batman & Robin
I believe I have previously described Batman & Robin as “aurally & visually obnoxious…an assault on the senses”, and I stand by that assessment. However, there is no denying that it is visually striking, and in hindsight it is far from the worst movie ever made.
28 A film that made you feel uncomfortable…
Very Bad Things
Oh wow…let me tell you something folks…if you’ve never seen Very Bad Things you really should. It’s something everyone needs to experience just once. I say that because it’s not the kind of film for which repeat viewings are a thing. Once is enough, and it’ll be something you will remember…for better or worse…for the rest of your life. It seems like a harmless enough concept…a group of buddies go to Vegas for a bachelor party. And with an all-star cast including Jon Favreau, Daniel Stern, Jeremy Piven, Christian Slater, Cameron Diaz, & Jeanne Tripplehorn one would assume it to be a fairly mundane, mainstream cliché…but that hypothesis is way wrong. As a matter of fact everything about this movie is so wrong, but in the kind of way that one cannot avoid staring at in complete fascination.
29 A film that makes you want to fall in love…
When Harry Met Sally
I freely admit it…I am comfortable enough with my smoldering machismo to proclaim my affection for rom coms, and in the early 90s America’s Sweetheart was Meg Ryan. She made three awesome romantic comedies (Joe Versus the Volcano, Sleepless in Seattle, & You’ve Got Mail) with Tom Hanks, who is the prototypical leading man for such films. However, I think When Harry Met Sally is probably the best of the genre. Billy Crystal is 14 years older than Ryan and early scenes depicting him as a recent college grad stretch the limits of credibility (he was 41 years old at the time), but the movie is funny, heartwarming, & a joy to watch. Near the end Crystal’s character says “when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible”, and I would love to find that person and begin the rest of my life.
I have opined on multiple occasions that “anyone who doesn’t shed a tear during the last 10 minutes of Field of Dreams doesn’t have a heart”. You see, it is so much more than a “sports movie”. It isn’t really about baseball at all. Field of Dreams is about regret & redemption, and the film’s conclusion packs an unexpected emotional punch, one that resonates even deeper three decades later than it did originally.
Let me take this opportunity to reiterate something that I have mentioned a couple of times in the past. One thing that you will not see in this competition are trilogies. No Austin Powers. No Toy Story. No Back to the Future or Godfather (both Part 3s were released in 1990). It is my belief that most movie trilogies are essentially three parts of the same film…a beginning, middle, & end. While it is possible to evaluate each film on its own individual merits the fact is that most of us think of them as a single entity. In some cases that may be unfair, but I believe it necessary to apply the rule across the board. Now once a fourth movie is made all bets are off. Some film series have 4 or 5 parts, while others have so many sequels they become kind of a joke. In those cases I think it is appropriate to weigh the value of each film separately rather than as a collective unit. That’s my two cents anyway…feel free to disagree. For now though, let us continue with the present discourse.
Starring: Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jami Gertz, Alan Ruck
Directed By: Jan de Bont (Speed)
Very Bad Things
Starring: Christian Slater, Cameron Diaz, Daniel Stern, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Jon Favreau, Jeremy Piven
Directed By: Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, Lone Survivor)
Disaster flicks have been a Hollywood staple for decades. Earthquakes, volcanoes, rogue waves, Earth destroying asteroids, plane crashes, raging fires, landslides, blizzards, nuclear holocaust, alien invasions, killer mutant animals, population decimating viruses…it’s all been done numerous times with varying degrees of success. Twister follows two storm chasers in the midst of a divorce who find themselves reunited in pursuit of one final tornado. There are subplots and an entire team of quirky characters, all of which are mildly interesting, but let’s be honest…the disaster itself is the main focus of such movies, and with modern CGI technology they are generally much more impressive than similar films made back in the old days. The cast here is above average, and the effects are more than adequate. Very Bad Things is a film that most probably missed during its time at the local cineplex, and even now it isn’t something that you’ll catch on television much despite a really impressive cast. The story follows a group of buddies, one of which is about to get married. They gather in Vegas for the bachelor party and after a freak accident find themselves with a dead stripper on their hands. As is the norm in such stories the folks involved in the situation don’t do the right thing by reporting the accident and trusting the justice system to understand that they did nothing wrong. Instead they create a cover-up, which inevitably leaves a trail of lies & dead bodies that’d make the hairs on the back of Shakespeare’s neck stand up.
The Verdict:Twister. With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 57% and a box office that made it the second highest grossing film of 1996 (behind only Independence Day and ahead of Mission: Impossible & Jerry Maguire) Twister’s credentials are formidable. Ebert opined that it “has no time to waste on character, situation, dialogue, & nuance” but “as a spectacle it is impressive”, which of course is the point. Very Bad Things is I suppose what they call a black comedy, and if one is into that sort of thing you might enjoy it. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 44% score, which is actually higher than I might have guessed. The Los Angeles Times called it “hollow, simple-minded, & about as profound an experience as stepping in a pile of road kill”, while Ebert commented that “it isn’t a bad movie, just a reprehensible one”. Audiences seemed to agree, as it ranked 128th at the box office in 1998, behind classics like Blues Brothers 2000, Half Baked, & the infamous Psycho remake starring Vince Vaughn.
Directed By: Tim Burton (Batman, Beetlejuice, The Nightmare Before Christmas)
Starring: Shannen Doherty, Jeremy London, Jason Lee, Claire Forlani, Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams
Directed By: Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jersey Girl)
Tim Burton is…different. He definitely has a unique style and his movies aren’t like anything else out there. Whether or not one considers that a good thing is a matter of taste. For me Burton’s filmography is a mixed bag, but most would agree that one of his best is Edward Scissorhands, a fantasy/horror/sci-fi tale about an aging inventor who creates a human-like creature but dies before the project is completed. Edward is left with hands that are kind of like a Swiss Army knife, which are occasionally useful but quite frightening to others. After The Inventor passes Edward lives a life of solitude in an old mansion that most believe to be abandoned until a kind Avon sales lady comes calling and finds him. She graciously invites Edward into her home where he quickly falls in love with her daughter. He is a gentle soul and the neighborhood takes a liking to him, allowing him to use his “hands” to trim hedges, groom dogs, & style hair. Unfortunately the daughter’s jealous boyfriend succeeds in turning the neighborhood against Edward and a confrontation ensues in which the boyfriend is accidentally killed. The daughter lies to the police, making everyone believe that Edward is dead, and at the end of the story we find out that all of this took place many years ago and Edward is probably still alive in the old “abandoned” mansion. Edward Scissorhands has elements of Beauty & the Beast, Frankenstein, & Pinocchio. The movie received numerous accolades for visual effects, makeup, & costume design, composer Danny Elfman got a Grammy nomination, and Depp was nominated for a Golden Globe. Mallrats was Kevin Smith’s follow-up to Clerks and ostensibly takes place within the same “universe”. The story follows two college-aged guys as they fritter away a day at the local mall, engaging in hijinks and dealing with various issues along the way. I actually like Mallrats better than Clerks, and its cast…Affleck, Doherty, Lee, Adams, London, Forlani…is definitely better. Critics are lukewarm about it given the Rotten Tomatoes rating of 55%. Our old pal Ebert loved Clerks but didn’t like Mallrats in comparison, saying “Clerks spoke with the sure, clear voice of an original filmmaker. In Mallrats the voice is muffled.” With all due respect to Roger Ebert (may he rest in peace), film critics love to say stuff like that. While I’m not a huge fan of either movie atleast Mallrats has a plot and some measure of energy.
The Verdict:Edward Scissorhands. This is a no-brainer. I won’t claim to be a Depp fan, but this is probably his best role. It was the 20th highest grossing film of 1990 and has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 89%. The NY Times complimented Burton’s “awe-inspiring ingenuity”, while Variety calls it “a delightful and delicate comic fable”. Kevin Smith seems like a cool dude, and I love the fact that he is such a huge fanboy of things like Batman and Star Wars, but I can’t wrap my head around the fondness for his films. If someone would like to explain it to me I am willing to listen.
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Sarah Jessica Parker, James Caan
Directed By: Andrew Bergman (The Freshman, It Could Happen To You, Striptease)
Starring: Harrison Ford, Bonnie Bedelia, Greta Scacchi
Directed By: Alan J. Pakula (All the President’s Men, Sophie’s Choice, The Pelican Brief)
Once upon a time it seemed as if attorney/writer Scott Turow was poised to challenge John Grisham as the top dog in the legal thriller genre. His first two books were turned into films, but after that nothing else really emerged as part of the pop culture zeitgeist of the 1990s. Presumed Innocent was Turow’s inaugural novel and his best one. It follows prosecutor Rusty Sabich as he first investigates the murder of a co-worker before eventually being accused of being the killer himself after it is discovered that he’d once had an affair with the victim. As is almost always the case the book is so much better than the movie, but kudos to Ford, Bedelia, Raul Julia, & Brian Dennehy for really bringing the characters to life. The ending is epic, to the point that I highly recommend the book and/or the movie almost entirely based on its conclusion. Honeymoon in Vegas is a goofy comedy about a guy who loses his fiancée in a poker game and his epic adventures in getting her back. I’m a sucker for anything with a Las Vegas backdrop, and it doesn’t hurt that the cast is charming. The soundtrack is pretty good too, comprised mostly of Elvis Presley covers from the likes of Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, John Cougar Cougar Mellencamp Mellencamp, Trisha Yearwood, Travis Tritt, & Bono, along with songs sung by Elvis himself.
The Verdict:Presumed Innocent. Ideally I’d put this up for a vote, but we all know how that story goes, right?? Honeymoon in Vegas has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 61% and was the 41st highest grossing film of 1992, behind Aladdin, Unforgiven, Patriot Games, & The Mighty Ducks, but ahead of Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Hoffa, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer (yes kids…it was a movie way before it was a television show). Entertainment Weekly asks “how could a movie featuring the Flying Elvises be anything less than…entertaining?”, before proceeding to explain exactly how it achieves that distinction, while our buddy Ebert said that it “inspires enough laughter to pay its way”. Rotten Tomatoes gives Presumed Innocent a score of 87%, and it was the 12th highest grossing film of 1990. Time magazine opined that the movie “does not work as well as the novel did”, while Gene Siskel called it “a riveting adaptation of Turow`s novel” that is “more compelling (than the book) principally because of the superb supporting cast”. To be honest one is more likely to see Honeymoon in Vegas on TV occasionally because it is precisely the kind of accessible & undemanding entertainment that most of us prefer during vegg time, but Presumed Innocent is clearly the better film.
Starring: Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Maggie Smith
Directed By: Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Saving Private Ryan, E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, Catch Me If You Can)
Joe Versus the Volcano
Starring: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan
Directed By: John Patrick Shanley (Doubt)
Tom Hanks vs. Robin Williams. It is precisely the kind of nightmare matchup that I knew was inevitable when I conceived this idea. I have dreaded it simply because I am such a big fan of both men and hate to choose one over the other, but fortunately they both have multiple entries in the competition, and I have a feeling that the movies themselves more than the leading men will make the decisions fairly straightforward. Hook is a very 1990’s retelling of the Peter Pan story. It opens with Peter as a middle-aged attorney who is so focused on his career that he is somewhat neglectful of his wife & kids. He has completely forgotten who he once was, but his wife’s grandmother hasn’t because she is Wendy…yes, THAT Wendy. When the family travels to London to visit Wendy it is the perfect opportunity for vengeful Captain Hook to swoop in and kidnap the children, forcing Wendy to reveal the truth to Peter, At first he doesn’t believe it, but then Tinkerbell shows up and whisks him off to Neverland, where The Lost Boys help him remember his epic past and prepare him for a showdown with Hook in order to rescue his progeny. The film is directed by Spielberg and has a first rate cast. On paper it doesn’t get much better. Joe Versus the Volcano is the first of three movies that Hanks & Ryan did together, but it is probably the most overlooked film of both of their careers. Joe Banks is a depressed hypochondriac sleepwalking thru a dreary life in which he works at a tedious job at a gloomy medical supplies factory. He is diagnosed with “brain cloud” and told by a doctor that he only has a few months to live, so he tells his boss to take the job & shove it and finally gets the courage to ask a lovely co-worker out on a date. Then an eccentric & wealthy businessman shows up and offers him a blank check if he’ll do something kind of crazy in return. The billionaire needs some sort of rare mineral to manufacture one of his products, and this mineral can only be found on a remote Pacific island. However, the inhabitants of the island won’t let him mine the mineral unless he provides a human sacrifice to appease a volcano that erupts every century…or something. I don’t know…it’s weird. Anyway, with nothing to lose Joe accepts the offer, and with the financial means to do so he treats himself to quite the shopping spree. He seems happier & healthier than ever after leaving his miserable job, accepting his fate, & deciding to live life to the fullest before he hurls himself into an active volcano. The businessman’s daughter is assigned the task of escorting Joe to the island, and along the way they fall for each other. I won’t spoil the ending, but it’ll put a smile on your face.
The Verdict:It’s A Tie. There are fond memories attached to Hook for me, but I also feel like I need to be objective. Hook was the 6th highest grossing film of 1991, behind Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves but ahead of Fried Green Tomatoes, JFK, & Boyz N the Hood. However, it has a really subpar score of 29% on Rotten Tomatoes. Ebert called it “a lugubrious retread of a once-magical idea” and said that “the crucial failure in Hook is its inability to re-imagine the material, to find something new, fresh, or urgent to do with the Peter Pan myth”. Entertainment Weekly was more generous in their appraisal, stating that Hook is “jam-packed with entertainment value, enough to give you your money’s worth”, but that “the movie is so frenetic, so bursting with movement and rowdiness and special effects, so drenched in gooey, mythic sentiment about the child within, that nothing in it quite gels”. JVtV was the 33rd highest grossing film of 1990 and has a 62% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Entertainment Weekly didn’t particularly care for the film, calling it “a fiasco… the purest silliness”, but Ebert gets it, saying “I realized a wondrous thing: I had not seen this movie before” and declaring that it “achieves a kind of magnificent goofiness”. I cannot put aside how special Hook was to me back in the day, but I also refuse to overlook what Joe Versus the Volcano actually is…a modern fable rife with allegory & nuance. EW was right about Hook…despite its shortcomings one still gets our money’s worth in entertainment value. And Roger Ebert nailed it in his review of JVtV…it isn’t like any other movie we’ve seen, and that’s a good thing.
Starring: Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, Bruno Kirby, Jack Palance
Directed By: Ron Underwood (Tremors, Mighty Joe Young, The Adventures of Pluto Nash)
Starring: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy
Directed By: Kenny Ortega (Newsies)
Billy Crystal is a national treasure, whether he is acting in funny movies or hosting awards shows. He’s just one of those guys that it is virtually impossible not to like. Crystal was on a roll in 1991, having starred in The Princess Bride, Throw Momma from the Train, & When Harry Met Sally all in the last few years of the 1980’s. City Slickers stars Crystal as a NY City ad executive going thru a midlife crisis. His two best buddies gift him with a two week dude ranch excursion, during which the three men join several other regular folks like themselves in a kind of cowboy fantasy while driving cattle from New Mexico to Colorado. Lessons are learned, attitudes are adjusted, & lives are altered during the cattle drive, all under the watchful eye of intimidating trail boss Curly, a role that won Jack Palance an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Hocus Pocus didn’t make much of an impact when it first landed in theaters, but in the ensuing years repeat viewings on TV have made it a family friendly Halloween tradition. The story follows three kids in Salem, MA who inadvertently resurrect a trio of witches who had been hanged three centuries earlier. Halloween hijinks ensue, but not the kind that one might see in a slasher flick. If you enjoy the spooky atmosphere of the holiday but aren’t all that enamored with blood n’ guts or psychotic serial killers then Hocus Pocus is the film for you.
The Verdict:City Slickers. Critics really dig City Slickers, resulting in a remarkable 90% score on Rotten Tomatoes. It was the 5th highest grossing film of 1991, behind Terminator 2 & Silence of the Lambs but ahead of Backdraft & The Prince of Tides. Entertainment Weekly called it “a delightful surprise” and “a comedy with real joy in it…and real humanity too”, while Ebert said it is “much more ambitious and successful than expected”. Hocus Pocus scores only 30% on Rotten Tomatoes, with Gene Siskel calling it “dreadful” and the NY Times opining that “too much eye of newt got into the formula, transforming a potentially wicked Bette Midler vehicle into an unholy mess”. It was the 39th highest grossing movie of 1993, which is a respectable showing for a niche film that was released in July when it should’ve been in theaters during October. Whoever made that decision should have lost their job. At any rate, the pedigree of City Slickers cannot be denied…it made a bunch of money, won an Academy Award, & is critically acclaimed. A tip o’ the cap to Hocus Pocus for retaining a shred of pop culture sustainability via repeat viewings on television every Halloween. It is my understanding that The Disney Channel is doing a made-for-TV remake in the near future, which is probably a horrible idea.
After two successful films Michael Keaton stepped away from the cape & cowl and studio suits gently pushed Tim Burton out of the director’s chair. Schumacher’s “Bat-vision” is a little more colorful & chaotic than Burton’s dark & brooding style, but few seemed to mind as it relates to Batman Forever (detractors saved their wrath for the next film). Kilmer’s turn as The Caped Crusader is unobjectionable but totally forgettable. I’m not a huge Nicole Kidman fan, and her role here just doesn’t work for me. “The Boy Wonder” Robin joins the fun this time, but O’Donnell is about as interesting as staring blankly into space. Batman movies are all about the villains though, right?? The Riddler is probably my favorite Bat-villain of them all, and if the powers-that-be would have stuck to their original plan of casting Robin Williams this movie might have been brilliant. Carrey isn’t a bad choice…he’s just not my cup o’ tea. Tommy Lee Jones is a excellent actor, but he is woefully miscast as Two Face. I think a lot of mistakes were made in the production of this film, and I can’t help but wonder what might have been had Burton & Keaton returned and Williams had starred as the one & only villain. Sister Act finds Whoopi Goldberg as a lounge singer who sees a mob hit and is forced into the witness protection program. She goes into hiding as Sister Mary Clarence, staying at a San Francisco convent where she revitalizes the choir. The group becomes so popular that the Pope himself wants to see them perform, but unfortunately the gangsters Sister Mary Clarence is hiding from discover her location and kidnap her, with her new nun friends jumping into help the rescue effort. This was Goldberg’s follow-up to her Oscar winning performance in Ghost, and the film did well enough to get a sequel just a year later.
The Verdict:Neither. Rotten Tomatoes scores Batman Forever at 39%, with Gene Siskel saying that “it doesn’t add up to much, but it’s certainly entertaining”, the L.A. Times opining that it is a “boisterous comic book confidential serviceable enough to satisfy”, & the San Francisco Chronicle calling it “the ultimate in what summer movies have become…an art-direction, Dolby-sound, special-effects extravaganza, a grand-scale effort that’s more awe-inspiring than completely successful as entertainment.” Wow…talk about damning with faint praise. It was the second highest grossing film of 1995, behind only Toy Story and actually ahead of Apollo 13, which in hindsight seems criminal. Sister Act was the sixth highest grossing film of 1992, behind Aladdin, Home Alone 2, & A Few Good Men but ahead of Wayne’s World, A League of Their Own, & Unforgiven. It has a solid 74% Rotten Tomatoes score, with Newsweek saying “it may be clumsily made, shamelessly contrived, & utterly cynical in its calculated uplift, but there’s no getting around it: the damn thing is funny”, and Ebert opining that it “plays like a missed opportunity” that “doesn’t have the zest & sparkle it needs…scenes move too slowly, dialogue settles upon itself, and routine reaction shots are clicked off with deadly precision”. First off, y’all just knew I’d have to even things out after the previous tie. Secondly, the question I ask myself is “What would I do if I was lazily flipping thru the channels??”. The answer is that I’d choose to watch both Hook and Joe Versus the Volcano over Sister Act and Batman Forever.
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Heather Graham, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Directed By: Paul Thomas Anderson (Punch-Drunk Love, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood)
The American President
Starring: Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Michael J. Fox, Martin Sheen
Directed By: Rob Reiner (This Is Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, A Few Good Men)
The porn industry wouldn’t seem to be proper fodder for a critically acclaimed, Oscar nominated drama, but here we are. An all-star cast traces the rise (pun unavoidable) of high school dropout Eddie as he escapes an abusive family situation and becomes well-known adult film star Dirk Diggler. There is lots of drug use, violence, and…of course…sex, but the film is rather well-written and the cast is superb. The material in less talented hands probably would have been a joke, but as presented is an unexpectedly interesting movie despite its subject matter. The American President is essentially a love letter to Bill Clinton, which isn’t surprising given the people involved. The titular Commander in Chief is a widowed father whose relationship with an environmental lobbyist creates all sorts of issues. The cast is undeniably terrific, and the movie itself heavily influenced the creation of the TV show The West Wing just five years later.
The Verdict:The American President. Most films would be considered beyond fortunate to have half of the fantastic ensemble present in Boogie Nights. It has to rank right up there as one of the best collections of talent in recent movie history. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a fine score of 93%, with TV Guide calling it “an epic story of self-delusion with a skill & grace that many more experienced filmmakers would be hard put to match”, and Variety opining that the director’s “strategy is remarkably nonjudgmental and nonsensationalistic, largely due to his love and respect for all the characters and his impressive storytelling skills”. It ranked a disappointing 79th at the box office in 1997, earning less money than even much ridiculed competition like Speed 2: Cruise Control, Anaconda, & Flubber. The American President was the 29th highest grossing film of 1995 (because it was released near the end of 1994) and has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 90%. The NY Times called it “sunny enough to make the real Presidency pale by comparison”, while the Washington Post deemed it “a well-modulated charmer”. For me there are a few factors to consider. Boogie Nights might be a well-executed story with a blue chip cast, but I don’t find the theme itself all that interesting. In addition, it’s a little too gritty & violent for my taste. The premise of The American President is a bit far-fetched, but Douglas & Bening are irrefutably appealing and the rest of the cast is pretty darn good too. Sorkin is a talented writer, and as a fan of The West Wing I appreciate this movie’s part in the eventual creation of that show.
Starring: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Drew Barrymore
Directed By: Wes Craven (Swamp Thing, A Nightmare on Elm Street)
Mr. Saturday Night
Starring: Billy Crystal, David Paymer, Julie Warner, Helen Hunt
Directed By: Billy Crystal
I’ve never been a big fan of horror films in general, but when that particular mood does strike the old Universal films of the 1930’s & 40’s (Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein, Lon Chaney Jr.’s The Wolf Man) are more my speed. I’m an 80’s kid, so the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises were a thing when I was growing up, but they never really piqued my interest. Scream is given credit for breathing new life into the genre. It tells the story of high school student Sidney Prescott, whose mother was murdered a year before. Now someone is stalking Sidney & her friends, with local sheriff’s deputy Dewey and TV reporter Gale joining in the hunt for the killer. Scream is well-regarded for its whip smart & perceptive approach, sharp writing, & subversion of accepted horror film expectations. At the time Drew Barrymore was the biggest star in the cast, and her character is killed in the first five minutes, which was a pretty big surprise to audiences. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 79%, with the L.A. Times calling it “a bravura, provocative sendup of horror pictures that’s also scary and gruesome yet too swift-moving to lapse into morbidity”, while Ebert said that he “liked the in-jokes and the self-aware characters” but was also “aware of the incredible level of gore in this film”. Scream was the 13th highest grossing film of 1996, behind Independence Day and A Time to Kill but ahead of The English Patient and Jingle All the Way. Mr. Saturday Night is a sneaky good biopic of a fictional Borscht Belt comedian who rises to prominence in the 1940’s and eventually scores his own television show in the 50’s, only to lose it all because of his own arrogance & self-destructive tendencies. Thirty years later he is performing at nursing homes and doing commercials for adult incontinence products, but might have one more shot at stardom…if he doesn’t blow it again. By Buddy’s side throughout his roller coaster career is his long suffering wife and loyal brother, who also doubles as his manager. Character actor David Paymer received an Oscar nomination for his supporting role as the perpetually unappreciated brother. Mr. Saturday Night was the 82nd highest grossing film of 1992, which was atleast good enough to beat out Chaplin and Glengarry Glen Ross, both highly acclaimed movies. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a tepid 56% rating, with Entertainment Weekly calling it “a perverse labor of love” and “gimmicky but enjoyable”, while Ebert observes that the movie “has a real poignancy” but “what doesn’t really work is the change of heart, which is obligatory in all showbiz films” because “anyone who has been a SOB until the age of 70 is unlikely to reform, and so the happy ending is unhappy because it’s not convincing”.
The Verdict:Mr. Saturday Night. I’m going to take some heat for this one, but I’m prepared. On the surface Scream would seem to not only be a shoe-in to make it out of the first round, but a strong contender to be considered a signature film of the 1990’s. 99 out of 100 writers would probably deem it so. I suppose I’m The One. I’ve done my best to put aside personal opinions in the face of strong opposition from the masses, but at the end of the day this has to be an exception. Credit is owed to Scream for revitalizing a genre that had been suffering from poorly written gore fests and endless sequels. Its plot is atleast somewhat more realistic than the kind of supernatural, impossible to kill, evil for evil’s sake horror monsters that I grew up with. Having said that, y’all know how much I admire Billy Crystal, and the fact that Mr. Saturday Night is a multi-toned dramedy instead of a straight up comedy is intriguing. Julie Warner should have become a bigger movie star, and Paymer got a tough draw at the Academy Awards, facing off against Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, & Gene Hackman (the winner for his role in Unforgiven).
Greetings friends, and welcome to Round 1 of 90’s Film Frenzy. If you haven’t read the intro please do so, and then we can begin with the Phat Division.
As with 80’s Movie Mania and Merry Movie Mayhemthere are a few factors that are taken into consideration as we advance thru this process. It goes without saying that I have to have watched the movie because I can’t evaluate something I haven’t seen, right?? And generally I have to have liked it, although as opposed to its predecessors this competition has a few entries that have been included for other reasons despite my personal opinion. I’m generous like that. In addition to these obvious elements there are a few additional things I ponder:
Is it on television a lot?? If it is on TV do I stop & watch?? There are some movies that are shown on television frequently many years after debuting on the big screen. Sometimes I’ll flip right on thru to the next channel. Other times I will watch an old movie with mild interest because there really aren’t many options. But every once in awhile I’ll run across a movie that, despite the fact that I’ve seen it countless times, I will always stop whatever I’m doing and be delighted to watch it again.
Does the story hold up well?? Or do modern societal norms & changes in technology make it feel dated?? Unlike a Christmas film or an 80’s movie I’m not sure there as many tangible features that distinguish a 90’s flick, and insomuch as something might be “quintessential 90’s” there is a strong possibility that I may not particularly like it. 1990’s music was largely defined by rap, grunge, & hip-hop. Television & movies in the 1990’s became edgy & pessimistic. Technology exploded in the 90’s, which is a double-edged sword at best. 1990’s fashion wasn’t particularly noteworthy or cool. Having said all of that, it is still possible for a 90’s film to feel…passé.
We all love quotable movies, right?? It adds to the cool factor and long term durability of a film, and for me it indicates that it is well-written & charming story that’ll give me the warm fuzzies that I dig in a moviegoing experience.
Is it one of those movies that everyone of a certain age has seen?? Is it familiar to multiple generations?? Do people still occasionally talk about it & watch it even many years after its release??
Do I enjoy watching the movie?? We’ve all read books or watched shows/movies just because we felt compelled to…because we wanted to be cool or seem educated. But what do you enjoy when no one else is around??
My tastes are not defined by anyone else. I like what I like whether anyone agrees with me or not. However, I do give credence to things like awards, box office numbers, & the general opinions of critics. My opinion may not be persuaded by those things, but I’m not opposed to taking them into consideration.
Now you know a little bit about my process, and so we shall begin with the first eight head-to-head matchups. Enjoy.
Starring: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer
Directed By: Tim Burton (Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands)
Starring: Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan, Gina Gershon
Directed By: Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct)
Tim Burton & Michael Keaton followed up the very successful Batman (the top grossing movie of 1989) with a tale in which both The Penguin and Catwoman arrive in Gotham City to challenge The Caped Crusader. The follow-up wasn’t quite as successful as the original, but still did more than respectable numbers. At the time it was condemned by some for being a bit too dark & violent (criticism which seems rather quaint two decades later) and suffered from comparisons with its predecessor, but thru the prism of time appreciation for the film has grown and many would opine that it is the best among that particular set of four Batman movies. Conversely, Showgirls has never received much love from critics or the moviegoing public…for good reason. The buzz at the time was all about actress Elizabeth Berkley, who was determined to not be typecast as a squeaky clean good girl like the one she portrayed on frivolous Saturday morning sitcom Saved by the Bell. Mission accomplished I suppose. Berkley stars as a gal from the wrong side of the tracks who longs to rise from low class stripper to Vegas showgirl, although the way the story is presented there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference. There’s a lot of nudity & sex but not much of a plot, and the acting is atrocious. Rather than elevating Berkley from lightly regarded television star to respected film actress Showgirls essentially destroyed her career.
The Verdict:Batman Returns. Widely regarded as a trainwreck, Showgirls is the kind of movie that a person might watch once just to see what all the chatter is about, and especially in the mid-90’s young men of a certain age were curious to see Jessie Spanos’ naughty bits. However, it certainly isn’t a popcorn flick that is shown on TV often or is in any way worthy of repeat viewings. In retrospect criticizing Batman Returns for its noir tone seems silly now since a decade later Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was celebrated for essentially the same kind of gritty vibe. Michelle Pfeiffer was the best Catwoman since Julie Newmar & Eartha Kitt, and Danny DeVito’s Penguin is just fine.
Directed By: Charles Russell (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, The Scorpion King)
Starring: Jeremy Piven, David Spade, Jon Favreau
Directed By: Hart Bochner (High School High)
Jim Carrey followed up the wildly successful Ace Ventura: Pet Detective just six months later with a comic book film adaptation in which he stars as a milquetoast bank clerk whose personality is transformed by a green mask. Stanley Ipkiss is the kind of quiet, shy pushover that everyone takes advantage of & no one respects. He becomes smitten with a gangster’s gal pal but is too introverted to do anything about it…until he finds a magical wooden mask that turns him into a suit wearing, shape shifting, supremely confident, green-faced trickster. Not only does he get the girl, but he foils the gangster’s bank robbery in the process. This was the film debut of Cameron Diaz, and one of three movies that Carrey had in the Top 20 of 1994…quite a year for him. On the flip side is PCU, a fun little jab at political correctness in which a college freshman encounters just about every sort of stereotypical fringe group one might imagine exists on campus. There’s the uptight preppy fraternity…the laid back party animal fraternity…extreme feminists…potheads…militant black students…and of course the overly sensitive school administration that fosters mistrust amongst the various groups by promoting inclusion & multiculturalism. PCU isn’t a good movie, but it was way ahead of its time and actually foreshadowed some of the issues we confront in the 21st century. Plus it has a really eclectic cast featuring some of the earlier & less appreciated work of a few folks that have gone on to bigger & better things.
The Verdict:The Mask. To be honest, if I was flipping thru the channels and both were on at the same time I would probably watch PCU. I hate political correctness and love how PCU satirizes the entire concept. I enjoy just about anything with Jeremy Piven, and the rest of the cast is pretty good as well. Having said that, PCU was the 144th highest grossing film of 1994 & has a 47% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Heck, Mixed Nuts (one of the worst Christmas films of all time) and Cops & Robbersons (easily a lowlight on Chevy Chase’s filmography) both made more at the box office than PCU!! Conversely, The Mask is the perfect showcase for Carrey’s unique talent, and it solidified his stardom. It was the 9th highest grossing film of 1994…ahead of both Pulp Fiction and Interview with the Vampire.
Starring: Alicia Silverstone, Paul Rudd, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy
Directed By: Amy Heckerling ( Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Look Who’s Talking, National Lampoon’s European Vacation)
Starring: Anthony LaPaglia, Rory Cochrane, Johnny Whitworth, Robin Tunney, Renée Zellweger, Liv Tyler, Ethan Embry
Directed By: Allan Moyle (Pump Up the Volume)
This is the film equivalent of a matchup featuring the Minnesota Twins vs. the Colorado Rockies…not scraping the bottom of the barrel by any stretch, but certainly not worth any sort of hype or enthusiasm. Alicia Silverstone gained pop culture viability after appearing in an early 90’s music video for Aerosmith alongside Liv Tyler, but it is Clueless that made her famous. She stars as Cher, a spoiled Beverly Hills high school student who checks all of the rich Daddy’s girl boxes…except that she’s not a completely shallow airhead. Cher decides to help out a nerdy gal at school, and succeeds in making her new friend cool & popular. In the process she reflects on her own life and confronts her shortcomings, becoming a better person and falling for her ex stepbrother in the process (which no one seemed to find the least bit creepy twenty years ago). Clueless wasn’t a huge box office hit, but it holds an 81% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, made Silverstone a movie star for a few years (although her fame was fleeting), and is a true snapshot of an era. Empire Records is what I like to call a Hindsight Film, meaning that its cast is full of then unknowns who would go on to bigger & better things. The movie itself is a forgettable slice of life look at one day at a small record store and its teenage employees. It ranked a putrid 236th at the box office in 1995, and only became a cult favorite after Renee Zellweger & others became more famous several years later.
The Verdict:Clueless. Again, given the opportunity to watch either/or on a random rainy afternoon of couch potatoing I would personally lean toward Empire Records, but the cultural impact of Clueless cannot be denied. In retrospect I am surprised that Silverstone’s career stalled so suddenly, to the point that the last role she had in anything that drew an audience was a cameo in Tropic Thunder a decade ago.
Starring: Robin Williams, Monica Potter, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Directed By: Tom Shadyac (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Nutty Professor, Liar Liar)
Starring: Chris Farley, David Spade, Tim Matheson
Directed By: Penelope Spheeris (Wayne’s World, The Beverly Hillbillies)
Patch Adams is based on the true story of a doctor who practices his unique brand of medicine right here in my home state of West Virginia. It is my understanding that Hollywood used broad creative license in telling the story, but I’m okay with that. Robin Williams was brilliant & is deeply missed by fans around the world, and Patch Adams is probably one of his more underappreciated roles. Critic Gene Siskel named it his worst film of 1998 and it holds a lowly 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The real Patch Adams isn’t a big fan either, once saying that “it sacrificed much of his message to make a selling film” and “out of all aspects of his life and activism, the film portrayed him merely as a funny doctor”. However, after Williams’ death Dr. Adams called him “a wonderful, kind and generous man” and said “I’m enormously grateful for his wonderful performance of my early life”. Black Sheep was the second pairing of SNL alums Chris Farley & David Spade and tells the story of a well-intentioned yet blundering manchild whose attempts to help his brother’s gubernatorial campaign go hilariously awry, even with one of the candidate’s employees babysitting him. There is a certain segment of the population who may have been teens or twentysomethings in the early 90’s and were big fans of that particularly amusing era of Saturday Night Live. That is the target audience for Black Sheep, but otherwise critics hated it and the box office wasn’t impressive (it was the 50th highest grossing film of 1996).
The Verdict:Patch Adams. Neither is a great movie, but both are acceptably entertaining when one is in vegg mode. Admittedly there is part of this decision that is purely sentimental in memory of Robin Williams. But also, of the two Farley/Spade collaborations Black Sheep is the lesser film, so that also makes the choice easier.
Directed By: Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)
I have to admit that I only recall watching Pulp Fiction once, and it didn’t appeal to me at all. Tarantino’s style just doesn’t frost my cupcake. The plot is convoluted, with intersecting stories about mob hitmen, a boxer, & a gangster’s wife that don’t necessarily make any kind of sense. The cast is top notch and the movie was the tenth highest grossing film of 1994. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Travolta), Best Director (Tarantino), Best Supporting Actress (Thurman), & Best Supporting Actor (Jackson), although the only Oscar it won was Best Original Screenplay. Only the Lonely is an unassuming little romantic dramedy about a middle-aged policeman who still lives with his domineering Irish mother and the uproar caused when the cop becomes involved with a timid funeral parlor beautician. It is the final performance of legendary actress Maureen O’Hara…best remembered for her role as a cynical mother in the 1947 Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street…and holds a 62% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The Verdict:Only the Lonely. NCAA’s March Madness always has a few big upsets, so just think of this as the cinematic equivalent of Cleveland St. over Indiana. While I try to give credence to a film’s pedigree & star power there are simply some situations where it doesn’t matter, and I’ve just never understood the love for Pulp Fiction. Film critic Gene Siskel stated that “the violent intensity of Pulp Fiction calls to mind other violent watershed films that were considered classics in their time and still are”, comparing it to Psycho, Bonnie & Clyde, and A Clockwork Orange in that they all “shook up a tired, bloated movie industry and used a world of lively lowlifes to reflect how dull other movies had become”. I suppose that is where the disconnect lies for me. I’m not looking for anything to shake me up. If a movie is well-written & performed I don’t really care how formulaic it may be, and oftentimes prefer satisfying & familiar comfort food to anything trying to challenge the status quo.
Sharon Stone burst onto the pop culture radar with one memorable flash. Basic Instinct tells the story of a cocaine sniffing homicide detective investigating the murder of a rock star in which the prime suspect is a provocative & sexy crime novelist. Of course the two become involved in a sizzling yet totally inappropriate affair, and at the end of the day the audience is led to believe that the enigmatic writer really is the killer. Big Daddy is the last gasp of Adam Sandler’s career zenith, during which he starred in a handful of sophomoric yet appealing comedies like Happy Gilmore and The Waterboy. A few of his 90’s films are part of this competition. Big Daddy sees Sandler portray the kind of infantile slacker that seems to be his wheelhouse, and that slacker…thru a series of inexplicable events that do not reflect how the world actually works in any way…becomes the foster father of an abandoned child. Of course he proves to be a loveable yet dreadfully poor role model for the boy, but everything works out okay in the end. Reviews for the film aren’t as horrible as one might assume, but obviously it’s not the kind of story that critics are going to enthusiastically endorse.
The Verdict:Big Daddy. Both films are viewed as mediocre by most everyone. Big Daddy was the 7th highest grossing film of 1999, while Basic Instinct was the 9th highest grossing film of 1992…so there’s really no discernible difference in that regard. This comes down to two things. Repeat viewings are a key factor for me, and I probably haven’t watched Basic Instinct in twenty years. Conversely, Big Daddy is precisely the kind of mindless fun that pops up on television with some frequency and is always pleasurable to watch in vegg mode. It’s not Sandler’s best, but it is far from his worst. Secondly, while Sharon Stone skyrocketed to stardom she quickly faded away and hasn’t been in anything notable this century. The quality of Sandler’s work has diminished considerably and he’s been in some truly awful movies in the past decade (That’s My Boy might be the worst film ever made), but he still occasionally cranks out mildly entertaining fare like Grown-Ups, Blended, or the Hotel Transylvania movies.
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Gene Hackman, Ed Harris, Holly Hunter, Hal Holbrook
Directed By: Sydney Pollack (The Way We Were, The Electric Horseman, Out of Africa, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Presumed Innocent)
My Best Friend’s Wedding
Starring: Julia Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Cameron Diaz, Rupert Everett
Directed By: P.J. Hogan (Confessions of a Shopaholic)
Once upon a time I was on the Grisham bandwagon like many avid readers. As a kid I had seriously pondered a law career, and even after that thought process dissipated I enjoyed any kind of book related to the profession, especially the well-written thrillers that Mr. Grisham was penning in the early 90’s. The film adaptation is worthy of the book, with Tom Cruise starring as a young lawyer employed by a shady Memphis law firm whose biggest client is The Mafia. An all-star cast brings the story to life, although I seem to recall some controversy about the conclusion. The ending of the book has the protagonist turn over evidence to the FBI therefore breaking attorney-client privilege. Knowing his career is over & he has crossed The Mob he steals $10 million dollars from the firm and flees to The Cayman Islands. In the film he refuses to sacrifice his principles but finds a way to bring down the firm by exposing overbilling violations. The Mafia is left untouched and the attorney is able to simply take his family back to Boston to resume a normal life. Such changes usually bother me, but in this case I don’t really mind. At any rate, The Firm was well-received by critics and was the 4th highest grossing film of 1993, which is rather impressive. My Best Friend’s Wedding stars Julia Roberts as a woman who is secretly in love with her male best friend, and not happy when he announces his engagement to another woman. She plays dirty to sabotage the relationship but it backfires on her and the wedding proceeds as planned, with the “best woman” bravely admitting defeat and wishing the happy couple well. The cast is charming and the plot mildly interesting, but in a sea of dime-a-dozen rom-coms I just don’t think this one stands out from the crowd.
The Verdict:The Firm. Rolling Stone movie critic Peter Travers called My Best Friend’s Wedding “the summer-date-film supreme for pretty women and the gay men they love”, while Roger Ebert said that “it subverts the usual comic formulas”. Accurate assessments, and I personally have nothing negative to say either. I just happen to love The Firm in book form and think the movie does its source material proper justice. It might be one of Cruise’s best performances.
Starring: Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler, Ben Affleck, Owen Wilson, William Fichtner, Steve Buscemi, Michael Clarke Duncan
Directed By: Michael Bay (Bad Boys. The Rock, Pearl Harbor, Transformers)
Starring: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson
Directed By: Kevin Smith (Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jersey Girl)
There were two films in 1998 about asteroids destroying Earth, because Hollywood loves blowing stuff up. These two movies were released within a couple of months of each other and preferences vary among fans, although Armageddon is general considered the cooler & more fun of the two. Bruce Willis stars as a deep sea oil driller recruited by NASA to lead a mission into space to deploy nuclear weapons on the giant asteroid. He insists on having his zany crew of oil field misfits come along for the ride. Hilarity ensues, or atleast as much joviality as can be mustered about the extinction of mankind. Armageddon was the second highest grossing film of 1998, behind Saving Private Ryan and ahead of There’s Something About Mary. It has a lowly 38% Rotten Tomatoes score, with the Boston Globe calling it “big, noisy, stupid, & shameless”, the Wall Street Journal opining that it “redefines (downward) the standard for summer stupidity”, & the Washington Post observing that it “could have been written by a chimp who’s watched too much TV…it is like putting your head in a tin washbucket while weightlifters whack it with golf clubs”. You gotta love movie critics, right?? Clerks was Kevin Smith’s first film and is still probably his most well-known work. One has to respect a guy for being able to ride the wave for almost 25 years. The story is a slice-of-life day in small town America focusing on Dante, a 20-something convenience store clerk and his pal Randal, who works next door at the video store. The duo spend more time not working than working and get themselves into various scrapes throughout the day. Clerks was the 155th highest grossing film of 1994, but made over $3 million dollars on a $31k budget. We’d all love to get that kind of return on our investments. Rotten Tomatoes gives it an impressive 88% score. Ebert loved it, calling it “so utterly authentic that its heroes have never heard of their generation”. Others agree with that assessment, with the New York Times boldly proclaiming it to be “a buoyant, bleakly funny comedy” and Entertainment Weekly christening it a “slacker manifesto” and “a fast, likable 90 minutes at the movies”.
The Verdict:Armageddon. Y’all know that I fancy myself as somewhat intellectual, marginally cool, & a champion of the underdog. This should be exactly the kind of matchup in which I scoff at box office numbers and proudly side with film critics who “get it”…except that when I comes to Clerks I don’t get it at all. Perhaps if I had seen it in 1994 when I too…just like the two guys in the movie…was a directionless 22 year old floundering thru a mundane existence then I would understand. But like so many others who completely missed its theatrical run I didn’t catch it until much later on home video. Is it well-written with snappy dialogue?? To some degree yes it is. But I just can’t get past the fact that it looks like a student film starring the director’s buddies instead of actual performers with legit talent. Actually, if one looks at it thru a 21st century prism Clerks is a movie that someone could make using their smartphone and then upload it to YouTube…quirky and not without its charms, but ultimately forgettable. Armageddon isn’t a great movie, but it is a solid moviegoing experience…exactly the kind of popcorn cinema that has made summer blockbusters a thing. The cast is eclectic & entertaining, and the movie gave us Aerosmith’s power ballad I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing, which was nominated for an Academy Award and is…surprisingly…the band’s only #1 song. I’m not knowledgeable enough to comment on the scientific exactitude of Armageddon, but does it really matter?? It’s a movie…escapism personified…and that works for me.
Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your home. – David Frost
I am easily distracted and have a short attention span. In years past I could easily finish a 500 page book within a week, and not that long ago I would have completed a fun & frivolous project like this in 3 or 4 days, but the older I get the less I seem to be able to focus and the more time it takes me to complete a task. Perhaps I’m just bored with life in general. I don’t know. Anyway, y’all didn’t stop by for me to lay on the couch and have you analyze my neuroses. If you need to get caught up with how we arrived at this point please click here. Today we reach the summit and discuss the Top 25 most memorable television characters of all time (in my humble opinion). I don’t think there are too many surprises in store, but I could be wrong. I still believe that there are writers out there creating great characters in all forms of entertainment, but sadly I think nowadays those writers and thus their characters frequently embrace a gloomier, more solemn & complex vibe. There’s nothing wrong with complexity, but for pete’s sake most of us are just trying to relax, laugh a little, and escape from the tedium of the daily grind, not join a crusade about serious worldly issues. Hollywood has become far too enamored with promoting various agendas and has forgotten how to chill out & have fun. That’s my viewpoint anyway. Your mileage may vary and that’s alright. For now though let’s recognize & give kudos to times when those left coasters got it right. Enjoy.
25 Alex P. Keaton (Family Ties)
Okay okay okay…I suppose Family Ties did have a quasi-political premise. It was the 80’s and Ronald Reagan had cast his spell on a huge portion of the country, which didn’t sit well with aging 60’s radicals. And so we got a sitcom about middle-aged former hippies raising a family in Columbus, OH, with their eldest son being a right leaning yuppie Republican. However, despite that general theme the show itself didn’t deviate much from standard nuclear family fare, except that it was funny and extremely well-written & performed. Alex Keaton isn’t your typical teenager. He wears a suit to school, carries a Richard Nixon lunchbox, reads the Wall Street Journal, and actually enjoys studying economics. While Alex is depicted as somewhat uptight and often disagrees with his parents’ opinions he is never shown to be a bad guy or antagonistic, and he’s actually rather comical. He loves his family and they love him. There is a reasonably fair-minded presentation of differing worldviews, which has become all too rare just a few decades later.
24 Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Star Trek)
Dammit Manoverse…he’s a doctor, not a writer!! Admittedly my love for Bones McCoy began with the half dozen Star Trek movies produced in the 1980’s because that was my first exposure to Trek, but rest assured that he’s the same cantankerous curmudgeon even in the original series…just a few decades younger. He’s the voice of reason that tempers the reactionary passion of his captain and injects humanity into the detached analysis of the ship’s science officer. He’s also really funny and has some of the best one liners.
23 Luke Spencer (General Hospital)
Lucas Lorenzo Spencer emerged as one of the more provocatively popular leading men in soap history a few decades ago, a real accomplishment for a character that was intended to disappear after a few months. Instead, Luke’s stay in Port Charles lasted…off & on…for nearly four decades. He famously falls for beautiful young Laura Webber and rapes her at a college disco, a deed that would normally brand a character as a villain. However, Laura loves him, so Luke is redeemed and becomes a good guy. Luke & Laura’s wedding in 1982 had 30 million television viewers, which still has to be some sort of record. Over the years Luke evolved into a beloved scoundrel, always ready for an escapade or hatching a scheme to proliferate his bank account. He is the quintessential soap hero, constantly engaged in battle with the dastardly Cassadine clan while exhibiting fierce loyalty to his family, especially son Lucky, Aunt Ruby, & sister Bobbie. Luke & Laura both die and return to life a couple of times as soap characters tend to do, and eventually end their marriage. Luke moves on with bitchy socialite Tracey Quartermaine, which is arguably a more enjoyable pairing. He is a restless soul and always finds himself in hot water, but somehow makes it thru. Alcoholism becomes an issue, as well as horrible childhood memories that had been repressed for decades, both of which add layers of complexity to Luke but weren’t well-received plot points by GH fans who prefer their fun-loving scalawag instead of a depressed, broken, suicidal old man. Luke left Port Charles a few years ago and is presumably living a life of adventure somewhere in Europe.
Actually his given first name is Norville. Of course he is Scooby’s owner/master (or whatever title you prefer), and the two are inseparable. Shaggy is the prototypical slacker, an animated homage to Bohemian beatnik Maynard G. Krebbs from the early 60’s sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Unlike his friends, who bravely seek to solve mysteries they encounter, Shaggy is a chicken who runs at the first sign of trouble. He mostly prefers to hang out with his dog and take it easy. Oddly enough they both seem to always have the munchies, though I have no idea what that’s all about. Well-known radio personality Casey Kasem voiced Shaggy for four decades.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created the world’s foremost consulting detective in 1887, writing four novels & 56 short stories about Holmes and his trusty wingman Dr. Watson over the course of four decades. Since then Holmes has had a long life in films, television, radio, stage plays, & any other entertainment outlet imaginable. At one time Guinness had Holmes listed as the most portrayed fictional character in history, though I believe Santa Claus & Dracula are right there with him. At any rate, though (surprisingly) I have never seen Benedict Cumberbatch’s well-regarded interpretation of the treasured detective in BBC’s series Sherlock, I do fondly recall the late Jeremy Brett’s depiction in an 80’s series that ran here in America on PBS. There were 41 episodes of Sherlock Holmes, each rather faithfully adapting one of Conan Doyle’s stories. I’m sure that all 60 would have been produced had it not been for the untimely death of Brett at the age of 61. Most rankings & polls out there rate Brett’s version of Holmes as one of the 2 or 3 best, and I wholeheartedly concur.
20 Mork from Ork (Mork & Mindy)
Robin Williams was a force of nature (and cocaine)…a legendary comedian who evolved into one of the most significant actors of a generation. His acting career was launched on a 1978 episode of Happy Days in which he portrays a goofy alien from outer space who wants to take Richie Cunningham back to his home planet as a human specimen. Mork got his own spinoff in which he lands in Colorado and befriends the young & beautiful Mindy, even telling her the truth about his identity. Mork lives in Mindy’s basement for four seasons, with the two eventually falling in love, getting married, & having a “baby” (hilariously played by legendary comedian Jonathan Winters). The show itself was never great, but it was a showcase for Williams’ peerless talent and an indication of great things to come.
19 Les Nessman (WKRP in Cincinnati)
Persnickety newsman Les Nessman is probably the most overlooked part of WKRP’s greatness. Johnny Fever & Venus Flytrap are cooler, receptionist Jennifer Marlowe is sexier, & clueless boss Mr. Carlson gets a lot of laughs, but Les is the comedic gem of the ensemble. Unlike his laid-back colleagues Les is super serious about his job, approaching it as if he is an important journalist breaking momentous news on a major media outlet, whereas in reality he’s the newsman for a smallish radio station at which rock n’ roll pays the bills and news is not essential at all. Despite his erudite demeanor & professorial appearance Les is a total dufus and completely incompetent. His only area of expertise seems to be husbandry, for which he has won a Silver Sow Award and multiple Buckeye Newshawk Awards, accomplishments for which he is quite proud. He amusingly likes to imagine that his cubicle is an office, putting tape on the floor where walls would be and demanding that his co-workers knock on the imaginary door. Les Nessman’s shining moment is the 1978 Thanksgiving episode Turkeys Away, during which he gives dire news updates on a promotional gimmick initiated by Mr. Carlson that goes horribly yet hysterically awry.
18 Cliff Clavin (Cheers)
Actor John Ratzenberger originally auditioned for the role of Norm Peterson, but when he didn’t get the part he asked the producers if they had a bar know-it-all in the cast, and thus the part of blowhard mailman Cliff was created. Cliff is a middle-aged momma’s boy who is terrible with women, and like the rest of his cohorts he’s a loveable loser that would come across as sad & pathetic in reality, but somehow works as a sitcom character. The funny thing is that we’ve all known people like Cliff that are mostly full of bull and try our patience when we’re in their presence for any length of time, but despite their faults we kind of like having them around.
In retrospect Friends was better than most of us realized at the time. Oh sure it was popular, ranking as a Top 5 hit in nine of its ten seasons, and the cast became superstars, but if you watch it now in syndication almost fifteen years after the final episode aired what you realize is what a well-written & performed show it was. I can’t single out any one character from the ensemble because I feel like each was a vital part of the program’s success. Monica Geller is an OCD fussbudget, a chef by trade who acts as the de facto glue that holds the group together. Monica’s brother Ross is a neurotic paleontologist whose ex-wife became a lesbian. Ross’ best friend is Chandler Bing, a sarcastic business executive. Chandler lives across the hall from Monica with Joey Tribbiani, a dimwitted yet kindhearted struggling actor who is a bit of a ladies’ man. Monica’s childhood friend Rachel Green, a self-absorbed rich girl who left her fiancé at the altar, shows up and becomes Monica’s roommate in the inaugural episode. Rounding out the group is hippy dippy massage therapist & quirky songwriter Phoebe Buffay. They mostly assemble in Monica & Rachel’s apartment, Chandler & Joey’s place, or at the local Central Perk coffeehouse. Ross’ unrequited love for Rachel and their subsequent on again/off again relationship is a principal focus of the show thru the years, and in later seasons Chandler & Monica become involved & get married. I’m not sure it’s fair to say that any of them are accurate illustrations of real 20/30-somethings, but some of their issues do ring true and did so at a time in my life where I really appreciated that connection.
16 Fred Sanford (Sanford & Son)
For some reason Fred, an elderly black junk dealer from south central Los Angeles, always reminded me of my paternal grandfather, a retired Italian-American coal miner from West Virginia. Perhaps it is because my Papaw was a fan of the show. Fred is a widower who lives with his middle-aged son Lamont and runs his business out of his home. Fred is a feisty old dude, never hesitating to mix it up with sister-in-law Esther, next door neighbor Julio, or Lamont’s best buddy Rollo. Though he & Lamont appear to be close he is quick to belittle his son, often calling him a big dummy. Fred is oftentimes shown to be bigoted, which is played for laughs but probably wouldn’t fly with the modern day PC Police, and he is rather lazy as well as a bit of a manipulator. By far Fred’s most enduring legacy is when he would find himself in a tight spot or on the verge of having one of his harebrained schemes exposed, at which time he’d fake a heart attack and proclaim “This is the big one! You hear that, Elizabeth?? I’m coming to join you honey!!”.
15 Louie DePalma (Taxi)
Danny DeVito has had a moderately successful film career, appearing in movies like Romancing the Stone, Ruthless People, Throw Momma from the Train, Twins, Batman Returns, & Deck the Halls, but his first taste of fame came via 80’s sitcom Taxi. Louie is the dispatcher at the Sunshine Cab Company and acts as if he’s the boss, although in retrospect I’m not sure if he had any kind of authority or just likes to pretend that he does. He is a misogynistic & unscrupulous schemer who shows zero respect for any of his colleagues and is rarely at a loss for words, usually of the demeaning & insulting variety. His diminutive size coupled with an arrogant, abrasive attitude are indicative of a classic Napoleon complex. However, despite his faults Louie oftentimes does the right thing, and, in contrast to his coarse exterior, deep down there’s a big ol’ soft heart that makes an appearance on occasion.
14 Ari Gold (Entourage)
I have no idea if life in Hollywood is as…colorful…as it is depicted on Entourage, but if there really is an agent like Ari Gold I’m not sure if an actor should sign with him without hesitation or run away as fast as possible. He is ill-mannered, foul-mouthed, arrogant, belligerent, & somewhat deceitful, but is also shown to be really good at his job and truly concerned about his clients, especially rising star Vincent Chase. In contrast to Vince & his buddies, who enjoy basking in the party lifestyle like a bunch of wealthy & carefree delinquents, Ari is a faithful husband & father whose biggest fault just might be hardcore dedication to his career. Ari is one of those rare characters that demands attention, stealing every scene in which he appears.
13 Dr.Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory)
Far be it for me to fall into the “prisoner of the moment” trap, but after a decade on the air I don’t think it is an overreaction to consider Sheldon one of the best characters in television history. While TBBT writers have done a good job of remaining faithful to the ensemble dynamic of the show and still give a fair amount of screen time & storyline to everyone, it is undeniable that Sheldon is the breakout character, especially since the 9 year old version of him is already starring in a spinoff even as the original show remains one of the highest rated programs on television. I watched the first episode of Young Sheldon, but it just didn’t pique my interest. In TBBT thirtysomething Sheldon is a theoretical physicist, a genius with an eidetic memory and a total lack of social skills or emotional intelligence. He is egotistical, peculiar, somewhat irrational, & oftentimes childish. He & his pals are classic geeks who love comic books, technology, & sci-fi but know next to nothing about sports, pop culture, contemporary music, or current events. His mother is a devout Christian, and Sheldon’s devotion to science causes him to view her faith with derision, a foible that has troubled me a bit on occasion. Sheldon is an extremely well-written character whose physical comedy is an underrated portion of what has been an award winning performance.
12 Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane (The Dukes of Hazzard)
Is he a bad guy?? Not really. Is he corrupt?? I suppose, but not in the traditional sense. It’s more accurate to say that Rosco is a weak-minded follower who is easily led astray by his greedy brother-in-law Boss Hogg. It is initially revealed that Rosco had served with integrity for 20 years, but got screwed out of his pension just as he was on the verge of retirement (Dukes was a show ahead of its time). He joins in Boss’ schemes in order to get back the money he lost. All traces of bitterness soon fade away though, as Rosco evolves into a simpleminded, inept, & comical lawman. His constant companion is a lethargic basset hound named Flash, and despite his own foolishness he consistently calls deputies Enos & Cletus dipsticks. He enjoys “hot pursuit”, but it usually doesn’t work out well as he oftentimes seems to “scuff his vehicle”. Rosco genuinely cares about Boss Hogg but is also intimidated & taken advantage of by him, rarely getting more than a small fraction of whatever windfall the duo earns from their deceitful plots. He doesn’t seem to have any genuine beef with the Dukes but is regularly ordered to chase them by Boss Hogg, though they rarely get caught & easily escape when they do end up in jail. Much like Hogg, Sheriff Rosco is portrayed as far more sinister in the 2005 big screen adaptation, which is another strike against that film.
Television viewers have a love/hate relationship with spinoffs. Sometimes they work, but oftentimes they fall way short of expectations. Gomer Pyle USMC lands somewhere in the middle, which isn’t intended to be negative…it’s just that it’s almost impossible to measure up to TAGS. Gomer appears in Seasons 3 & 4 of TAGS and was introduced because the actor who portrayed Floyd the Barber had a stroke and was off the show for awhile. Like most residents of Mayberry Gomer is an unsophisticated bumpkin with a friendly & gentle disposition. He works at Wally’s Filling Station and is alternately shown to know nothing about automobiles or to be an expert mechanic (TAGS had issues with continuity). He is always willing to help out when needed and is deputized by the police on several occasions, though he proves to be a totally incompetent lawman. On a few occasions Jim Nabors is able to show off his real life singing talent. Any episode of TAGS with Gomer is even more of a delight than usual, which is probably why he was given a spinoff. That show lasted for five seasons and features Gomer as he enlists in the Marine Corps and clashes with hard-nosed drill instructor Sergeant Carter. It’s a classic fish-out-of-water story, with a bit of an Odd Couple vibe thrown into the mix. I like the TAGS version of Gomer much more than I like him in the spinoff, but that probably has more to do with the overall quality of the two shows rather than the character. When Gomer leaves Mayberry the void is filled by his cousin Goober, but I’ve never enjoyed Goober as much as Gomer.
Television is like a library. There are a lot of library books in it, and you have to pick and choose what you take out of it. – David L. Wolper
10 Rev. Jim Ignatowski (Taxi)
The third member of the Taxi cast to make the cut is a spaced-out relic from the 60’s who might be the most entertaining dopehead not named Cheech or Chong. Iggy grew up wealthy, but his Mom died when he was very young and his father was a busy doctor, so he was mostly raised by servants. He was extremely intelligent and attended Harvard, but in a comical twist on the whole Adam & Eve/forbidden fruit concept is goaded by his girlfriend into eating a marijuana laced brownie, which leads to him permanently becoming an eccentric & absentminded burnout. Jim’s random tangents that have nothing to do with the topic of conversation are hysterical, especially when he completely forgets whatever point he thought he wanted to make. Occasional glimpses of his former intellect & deep thinking skills sneak thru the fog and he says something profound, which of course takes everyone by surprise. Iggy once opined “You know the really great thing about television? If something important happens, anywhere in the world, night or day… you can always change the channel”, which kind of sums up how I feel about TV nowadays. In an early Season 2 episode titled “Reverend Jim: A Space Odyssey” the cabbies get Jim a job, but first they must take him to the DMV so he can pass the driver’s test and get his license. It is quintessential Iggy, and quite possibly one of the best sitcom moments of all time.
For some reason I really identified with George. He is Jerry’s best friend since junior high school, and becomes pals with Jerry’s other quirky cohorts. Jerry opines that George could have been normal, but isn’t mostly because of his crazy parents. He is a self-described “short, stocky, bald man” who is alternately bombastic & self-loathing. He always looks for the easiest way to do something, or even avoids doing it altogether. He’s awkward, impulsive, insecure, narcissistic, high-strung, occasionally devious, & not good at all with women. He has several relationships throughout the series, but always manages to screw it up. I am reminded of the 1999 film Office Space, in which the main protagonist states that “it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care”, except in George’s case he actually is lazy, though not necessarily stupid. Jerry Seinfeld made a brilliant choice when he decided to play straight man and let his co-stars be the wacky oddballs with most of the comedic moments.
Michael Scott (The Office)
When we began this journey I noted that there were allegedly great television shows that I’d not watched, therefore some significant characters y’all might love may not appear here. That is still true, however I have rectified one glaring omission. The Quarantine of 2020 prompted me to binge The Office on Netflix since I had never seen it when it originally aired on NBC from 2005-13. Though it is a delightfully quirky ensemble there is no doubt that the heartbeat of the show is the World’s Best Boss, Michael Scott. As portrayed by Steve Carell, Michael is, well…unique. Clueless. Superficial. Egotistical. Unintentionally offensive. Occasionally disrespectful. Desperate to be admired. In short, he’s certainly not management material, but that is the essence of the joke. In the real world someone like Michael wouldn’t last five minutes in a leadership position. We wonder how he stays employed. Despite his shortcomings though, he sincerely loves his job and shows genuine affection for (most of) his employees. He tries really hard, and that’s why we like him. When Carell’s budding film career took off & he left the show it was never the same. Fans are generally united in the belief that Seasons 8 & 9 were lackluster, which is proof of the significance of Michael Scott.
8 Dr. Frasier Crane (Cheers and Frasier)
Frasier Crane has the distinction of being one of the two longest running live action characters in television history, appearing in nine seasons of Cheers and, of course, all eleven seasons of the eponymous spinoffFrasier, for a total of twenty years on the air. He’d probably deserve a spot on this list for that alone, but there is so much more to love. Dr. Crane first appears in the third season of Cheers as the new beau of waitress Diane Chambers. The two are kindred spirits…pretentious intellectuals that don’t really fit into the working class pub dynamic. Alas, Diane can’t fight her attraction to bar owner Sam Malone and eventually leaves Frasier at the altar. Even after Diane departs Cheers at the end of the fifth season Frasier sticks around and becomes a regular part of the group, eventually marrying then divorcing aloof fellow psychiatrist Lilith and fathering a son with her named Frederick. When Cheers concludes Frasier moves back to his hometown of Seattle to help his brother Niles care for their father Martin, a police officer forced to retire after being shot in the line of duty. In Seattle Frasier hosts a radio talk show, so there is interaction with eccentric callers & quirky work colleagues in addition to the familial relationships. Frasier is a bit more masculine than his brother, but is just as much of a pompous elitist. He is passionate about theater, fine art, literature, & gourmet food, but because of his time in Boston is considerate toward his blue collar father’s lifestyle & hobbies, though he by no means shares those proclivities. It almost seems as if he might be bipolar because he can transition from eloquently helping a caller on his radio show in a soothing & melodious tone into an indignant fit of rage just minutes later, something that happens in nearly every episode. Despite being an alleged expert in helping other people solve their issues Frasier does not understand his own complexities and doesn’t have a great track record with the ladies. In addition to the doomed engagement to Diane & divorce from Lilith he dates a plethora of women in Seattle, but nothing ever seems to work out.
7 The Dynamic Duo (Batman)
Nearly every incarnation of Batman stays true to his gloomy origins as an orphaned billionaire who becomes a crime fighting vigilante after his parents are murdered in the gritty, violent, & sinister milieu of Gotham City. Robin is originally a young boy in a family of acrobats who witnesses his parents die in an accident arranged by a mobster, and is afterwards taken in by Bruce Wayne who becomes his legal guardian. But all of that melancholy stuff is set aside in the 1966 action sitcom that aired for three seasons on ABC. Dick Grayson (aka Robin) is still the “youthful ward” (now a teenager) of billionaire Bruce Wayne (aka Batman), and the two team up to fight crime in Gotham City, but the atmosphere is bright, the dialogue is cleverly corny, the villains are hardly intimidating, & the end result is delightfully absurd. Adam West’s interpretation of Bruce Wayne/Batman is funny because the character takes every situation so seriously, delivering his lines in a solemn & melodramatic tone. This incarnation of Robin is enthusiastic & peppy, but not annoyingly so. The entire show is cheeky & whimsical, a definite departure from the norm and a risky choice that paid off. Joel Schumacher’s 1997 film Batman & Robin starring George Clooney as The Caped Crusader attempted to borrow the cheesy vibe, but it fell flat because…well, let’s face it…Clooney isn’t Adam West.
6 Archie & Edith Bunker (All in the Family)
Contrary to popular belief the idea of Hollywood idealists using their entertainment platform to promote an agenda and talk down to the masses about issues that common folks in flyover country are allegedly ignorant about isn’t a brand new concept conceived in the 21st century…it’s just that they used to be much better at it. Norman Lear did a lot of it in the 1970’s and did it quite well, creating shows like Sanford & Son, One Day at a Time, Maude, Good Times, & The Jeffersons. By far his greatest creation was All in the Family, centering on a working class family in Queens, NY. The head of the household is Archie Bunker, an ill-tempered, opinionated, & narrow-minded loading dock foreman. He is an equal opportunity contrarian who insults just about every minority, religion, & nationality. He is especially dismissive of his ultra-liberal son-in-law, who he calls Meathead. However, despite his gruff exterior, deep down Archie is a loving & decent man who cares about his family and friends, though he often becomes impatient with wife Edith, who he calls Dingbat. Edith is rather ditzy, but she’s usually quite jovial & compassionate, the sort of person who might get on one’s nerves but you just can’t help but like. She’s a bit of a throwback…a submissive & dedicated wife, mother, and grandmother that would be scoffed at by modern day feminists. The Bunkers are extreme caricatures certainly created to make a point. Archie is intended as a mean-spirited dig at conservative values, while Edith’s kindhearted yet naïve subservience is meant as negative commentary on the traditional but allegedly outdated idea of the stay-at-home housewife. But an odd & unexpected thing happened…the audience actually liked & identified with them. Fans understood that conservatives aren’t really evil racists and easily dismissed many of Archie’s more exaggerated traits while realizing that some of his views had merit. They were able to chuckle at Edith’s comical zaniness while recognizing that being a traditional housewife isn’t a horrible thing. People saw thru the self-righteous poppycock of Meathead and agreed with Archie’s assessment of him. Decades later folks who are now much more aware of media bias can clearly see how Lear attempted to manipulate the conversation…and how he failed miserably.
5 Arthur Fonzarelli (Happy Days)
Fonzie was never intended to be a significant part of the Happy Days cast. He is introduced as a local mechanic who Ritchie & Potsie occasionally bump into at Arnold’s Drive-In. He didn’t even wear a leather jacket at first because the powers-that-be were concerned about him looking too much like a hoodlum (which is old school slang for what we’d now call a gang member). But Fonzie is too awesome to be held down by The Man, and eventually became a central part of the show. He’s all about being cool and chillin’ with the ladies. He has the ability to make a jukebox work with the pounding of his fist, and women flock to him with the snap of a finger. Richie, Potsie, & Ralph Malph all look to Fonzie for advice about various issues, and the Cunninghams treat him like a member of the family. In the beginning he is a high school dropout, but eventually completes his education, and at various points owns a garage, is part owner of Arnold’s, & even becomes a high school teacher. Fonzie’s oddest contribution to pop culture is the 1977 fifth season opener in which, after helping a couple of Hollywood producers passing thru Milwaukee deal with mechanical issues, he finds himself in Tinseltown for a movie audition. While there he is challenged by an obnoxious jerk to a water skiing duel (a laughable idea at best). During the competition Fonzie literally leaps over a tiger shark in the water. Though Happy Days would continue for six more seasons that episode was cited by some as a moment indicative of a decline in quality, therefore popularizing the term “jumping the shark”. Fonzie became so popular that some wanted to rename the show Fonzie’sHappy Days, but actor Henry Winkler adamantly refused and insisted that Ron Howard continue to receive top billing. I believe that, even to this day, more than thirty years after Happy Days went off the air, one can still see Fonzie’s leather jacket on display at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC, which is a pretty cool legacy.
4 Captain Kirk & Mister Spock (Star Trek)
This may be the strangest variation on the Odd Couple formula ever seen on television. James Tiberius Kirk hails from Iowa and is Starfleet’s youngest & best yet most rebellious officer. While a student at Starfleet Academy he is the only person to ever overcome a training exercise called the Kobayashi Maru, a moral dilemma and no-win scenario that Kirk defeats by reprogramming the computer. Though his solution is what most would consider cheating he is actually commended for original thinking. That one story sets the stage for everything we see afterward from Captain Kirk. He is brash, passionate, bold, dedicated, & extremely smart. He thinks outside the box and doesn’t back down from a fight. The yin to Kirk’s yang is his science officer Mr. Spock, a half alien whose mother is human while his father is Vulcan. Spock exhibits many Vulcan traits, primarily the predisposition to rely on logic & reason and leave emotion out of their thought process. It is this ability that enables Spock to balance Kirk’s intensity and inclination to jump in with both feet. Spock can present all the options to Kirk along with every possible outcome. Conversely, since Spock is essentially a computer with legs it is Kirk that oftentimes explains concepts like feelings, humor, & emotions to him, helping him to make sense out of the foolish & illogical things that human beings tend to do. The two men don’t always understand each other, but have immense respect & admiration for one another and might have been television’s first bromance.
3 JR Ewing (Dallas)
Entertainment used to be very clear about the differences between heroes & villains. In old westerns the good guys would literally wear white cowboy hats, while the bad guys would wear black hats (an idea some would undoubtedly consider racist nowadays). However, somewhere along the line the concept of the anti-hero became prevalent, wherein a character might not necessarily be evil but certainly has dubious ethics & selfish motives. JR Ewing is the eldest son of a wealthy oil baron who eventually takes over the family business. He loves his family, but tends to love his money just a little bit more. Dallas originally intended to focus on the Romeo & Juliet-esque romance of JR’s younger brother Bobby and his new wife Pam, the daughter of patriarch Jock Ewing’s most bitter enemy, but JR’s penchant for screwing over everyone…business rivals, his family, his wife…with a sly grin on his face made him the character everyone loved to hate. It was always a treat to see who JR was going to cheat, shake down, intimidate, & defeat next. He is always a few steps ahead of everyone else, especially the honorable & benevolent Bobby, as well as Cliff Barnes, Bobby’s inept brother-in-law and JR’s spirited but overmatched nemesis. Dallas reached its pinnacle at the end of Season 3 when it popularized the concept of the cliffhanger after an unknown assailant tried to murder JR Ewing. During the entire summer of 1980 America was abuzz with the question “Who shot JR??”, a mystery that was solved that November in what remains the third most watched television episode in history, bested only by the series finales of MASH & Cheers. I was a kid when Dallas was on the air, and one of my most cherished memories is what a kick my Dad got out of it whenever JR was revealed to be the dastardly mastermind behind a scheme that had vanquished Cliff, Bobby & Pam, JR’s wife Sue Ellen, or one of Ewing Oil’s many adversaries. Dad was genuinely entertained by JR Ewing in a way that few people seem to be by anything on television these days.
2 Cosmo Kramer (Seinfeld)
Seinfeld has four of its characters on this list…two of them in the Top 10. Kramer lives in an apartment across the hall from Jerry and has been described as a “hipster dufus”, although I’m not exactly sure what that means. He has a unique fashion sense, as well as peculiar tastes in things like food, sports, cigars, & women. He is neurotic in a way unseen on television before or since, fearing clowns & mice and having seizures whenever he hears the voice of Entertainment Tonight host Mary Hart. In nearly every episode Kramer busts into Jerry’s apartment with a combination smile & look of perpetual amazement. He doesn’t seem to have a job and supports himself with get rich quick schemes & wacky entrepreneurial ideas, sports betting, publishing a coffee table book about coffee tables, & a brief but lucrative gig as an underwear model. To call him quirky or eccentric would be an epic understatement. His philosophies & perspectives aren’t by any means normal, yet they oftentimes make sense in a way one would have never imagined to be possible. Kramer really isn’t comparable to any other character in any form of entertainment. He is a unique creation, with credit given to Seinfeld’s stellar writing as well as actor Michael Richards’ flawless physical comedy.
1 Deputy Barney Fife (The Andy Griffith Show)
TAGScan easily be separated into two eras…its first five seasons and then its final three. While it is true that those two time periods are most easily distinguished by the fact that Seasons 1-5 were broadcast in black & white before switching to color in the latter three years, a more significant difference is the departure of Barney Fife at the end of the fifth season. Barney is the excitable & ham-fisted deputy in Mayberry. Early on we are told that he is Andy Taylor’s cousin, but that relationship was only alluded to a couple of times and from then on the two are merely lifelong best friends & co-workers. Barney reminds me a bit of WKRP’s Les Nessman in the sense that he takes his job very seriously and is hilariously overzealous. There are also shades of Cheers’ Cliff Claven, with Barney’s incompetent attempts to present himself as a know-it-all when the truth is that he has no clue what he’s doing or talking about. Barney’s bravado is poorly disguised window dressing for tremendous neuroses and low self-esteem, and Andy selflessly goes above & beyond to save his deputy’s fragile ego on multiple occasions. Everyone likes Barney but few respect him, and respect is what he craves. He tends to overreact, while Andy is laid-back & steady. Barney is emotional, anxious, & easily taken advantage of by others, but despite his numerous shortcomings he is the heart of TAGS, and his absence during the program’s latter three seasons left a hole that was never quite filled. In Season 6 Floyd the Barber’s nephew Warren Ferguson becomes Mayberry’s new deputy, but he only lasted 11 episodes before the character was never heard from or spoken of again. Immediately following actor Don Knotts’ exit TAGS played with the idea of making a character who’d been introduced as a banjo player at a carnival the new deputy, but actor Jerry Van Dyke declined the opportunity. In hindsight the plan might have actually worked out for the show, but obviously that didn’t occur. Gomer Pyle’s cousin Goober was given the primary role as Andy’s sidekick, but I never really warmed up to Goober. As I’ve stated previously the final three seasons of TAGS were just dandy and it is still terrific TV, but it just isn’t the same, and I can’t think of any better example of a character’s exodus so significantly altering the fabric of a show.
I mentioned in my introduction to this series that I am taking my task a little more seriously the second time around, and that one rule that I’ve imposed upon myself is “no ties”. This is a difficult tenet to follow and necessitates an Honorable Mention List. These films, for one reason or another, just didn’t quite make the cut. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good, they just aren’t quite good enough. Nevertheless, I do enjoy them and feel compelled to give some love.
All the Right Moves A 1980’s ode to high school football, and one of Tom Cruise’s earliest (and best) performances. Friday Night Lights years before there was a Friday Night Lights. Plus, if I may be perfectly candid, there’s a love scene involving Leah Thompson that by today’s standards is rather docile, but it sure was seared into the minds of all preteen boys of that era.
American Wedding You’ll see the original American Pie in The Top 100. And while the bland second part of the trilogy doesn’t even merit a second thought (or a second viewing), this conclusion of the adventures of the hapless Jim, his obnoxious friend Stifler, and Jim’s well intentioned but clueless father (played perfectly by Eugene Levy) is an admirably amusing effort.
Austin Powers Series Thus far there have been three Austin Powers films, and I suspect there are more to come. I’ve never watched an entire James Bond movie, nor any of the other spy flicks that Austin Powers apparently spoofs. But that doesn’t distract from the enjoyment factor for me.
Broadcast News History shows that this film was released at about the same time as Moonstruck, Good Morning Vietnam, Wall Street, Three Men & A Baby, Throw Momma From the Train, and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles..…and during the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season…..so it’s not surprising that it seemingly got lost in the shuffle. Still, it’s an amusing look at the TV news business with a scene stealing performance by the vastly underrated Albert Brooks.
Deep Impact In 1998 two blockbusters were released within a couple months of each other, both of them about an asteroid destroying Earth. One was the Bruce Willis/Ben Affleck film Armageddon, the other was Deep Impact, whose biggest stars are Morgan Freeman and Robert Duvall. But despite the lack of star power aimed at the younger demographic, Deep Impact is a better movie.
Fever Pitch Fever Pitch is based on a British book, and there was a British film made as well. But the movie I am referring to is an American version of the story in which Jimmy Fallon plays an obsessed Boston Red Sox fan and Drew Barrymore is his new girlfriend. Is it high art? No. But it is a pleasant diversion, and almost every film I can think of in which baseball is used as a backdrop offers some level of amiable pleasure.
Grumpy/Grumpier Old Men I am including both films here. The legendary screen pairing of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau did most of their work together before I was born or atleast when I was too young to notice. But these two movies, about bickering neighbors in the frozen tundra of Minnesota, brought their charmingly hilarious magic into my consciousness and onto the radar of a whole new generation. Appreciation must also be shown to Burgess Meredith, best known to movie audiences as the crusty old manager of underdog boxer Rocky Balboa, who steals every scene he’s part of in these two movies, both made when he was well into his 80’s.
Liar Liar It may be heresy to admit, but I’m not a huge Jim Carrey fan. He’s amusing to a point, but few of his movies are really that good in my opinion. Liar Liar is my favorite Carrey comedic performance hands down. He plays a lawyer forbidden to lie for an entire day (it’s not important why), and hilarity ensues.
MASH Traditionally when television shows are created based on feature films it’s a bad idea. However, one shining example of a television show which was actually better than its big screen predecessor is MASH. But that doesn’t mean that the movie is subpar. It’s actually quite good.
PCU I detest political correctness, so it’s no surprise that a movie that takes it to task would be to my liking. This little seen early 90’s gem (starring Jeremy Piven and Jon Favreau) draws comparisons to Animal House, but it’s not really a fair association. Animal House is just a rollicking good time. This movie tries to weave in a message. Whether or not that’s a good thing is a matter of personal discretion.
Rain Man It almost made The Top 100, it really did. But one of the things I take into consideration is repeated viewings. There are those movies that one has seen literally dozens of times, and if it happens to be on TV one just automatically stops and watches. With Rain Man neither of these applies. I don’t see it on television much, and if it were to be on I’m not sure I’d jump for joy and immediately cease whatever else I might be into.
The Comedies of Adam Sandler I’m lumping together a half dozen films here – 50 First Dates, The Wedding Singer, Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, The Waterboy, and Big Daddy. Admittedly Sandler flicks aren’t targeted at a mature and educated audience, but they are fun in a gratuitously dim-witted way.
Smokey & The Bandit I LOVED this movie as a kid. It was funny, plus it featured fast cars and chase scenes. When you’re a small boy that’s all you need in a movie. It’s still amusing 30 years later, but it doesn’t hold up well enough to make The Top 100. Even back then I didn’t understand what the big deal was about driving a truck full of beer from one state to another, and now that frame of reference is completely obsolete.
The Spiderman Series Out of all the movies on this Honorable Mention list, this was the toughest selection. The Spiderman movies achieve a rare feat….they are popular and made a ton of money, plus they are well written and critically acclaimed. It’s probable that my affection for all things Batman clouds my judgment when it comes to other superheroes. However, I have to be honest with myself, and I just don’t put these movies into the category of “must see” in my universe. Your mileage may vary.
The Upside of Anger A perfect example of the term “hidden gem”. Take a poll of 1000 random people and I’m betting less than 20% have even heard of The Upside of Anger, and even less has actually seen it. The film stars Kevin Costner (in his best performance since Tin Cup nearly a decade before) and the underrated Joan Allen as two neighbors with only one thing in common…..their love of booze. He’s a retired baseball player (imagine that), and she’s a mother of four lovely daughters who is dealing with all the inherent responsibilities and stress that comes with that role. Her husband has apparently ditched her and taken off with his secretary, so she bonds with Costner’s character and a relationship evolves. The characters are nicely developed and the actors are top notch. The ending is one of those that you don’t see coming, and I like that. The Upside of Anger doesn’t make The Top 100 yet because it’s a fairly new movie that I just caught for the first time a couple of years ago. We’ll see how my affection for it grows over time.
Very Bad Things This is a really peculiar film, one that takes the concept of “black comedy” to a whole new stratosphere. It’s got an outstanding cast – Jon Favreau, Cameron Diaz, Jeremy Piven, Daniel Stern, Christian Slater. In a nutshell, the story revolves around a raucous bachelor party that goes wrong…..very, very wrong. I cannot stress how badly this party and its aftermath goes for all involved. I guess one has to have a certain type of macabre sense of humor to really appreciate Very Bad Things and I suppose I have that mentality on occasion.
Wall Street Sometimes a movie isn’t necessarily remembered for the actual story as it is for one truly memorable character. Michael Douglas won an Academy Award for his superb turn as Gordon Gekko, the man who etched in our minds the life lesson that “greed is good”.
We Are Marshall Okay…..so I’m biased. Marshall University is my alma mater. But I’m not TOO biased…..this movie didn’t make The Top 100 because as a film it could have been better. I understand that the powers-that-be needed a big name to sell the product, but I’m unconvinced that Matthew McConaughey was the correct choice. Meanwhile, the other Matthew..…Matthew Fox of Lost and Party of Five fame…..gives an understatedly moving performance. We Are Marshall is an emotional tale for those of us who know the real life story well, but I suspect that the average moviegoer was underwhelmed.