Winning & Musing…Volume 2.21

Sadly football season is now over. Atleast we have Modified March Madness, the Daytona 500, & golf on the horizon, right?? The sports calendar may have its lulls, but they never last for long. 

 

 

 

 

Congratulations to the new Hall of Fame inductees: WR Calvin Johnson (Detroit Lions), who could’ve played atleast five more seasons and might’ve been considered the greatest receiver ever if he’d been on a perennial championship contender. O-Lineman Alan Faneca (Pittsburgh Steelers). DB John Lynch (Tampa Bay Buccaneers). QB Peyton Manning (Indianapolis Colts & Denver Broncos), who I will always consider a superior quarterback to Tom Brady. DB Charles Woodson (Oakland Raiders & Green Bay Packers), whose combined success in college & the NFL is probably under appreciated. WR Drew Pearson (Dallas Cowboys), who should have been in the HoF thirty years ago. Pittsburgh Steelers scout Bill Nunn, who played a huge part in building the 1970s dynasty. Former Oakland Raiders head coach Tom Flores. Not making the cut: O-Lineman Tony Boselli, linebackers Zach Thomas, Clay Matthews, & Sam Mills, and receivers Torry Holt & Reggie Wayne. 

 

 

A few friends posted on social media the day before the Super Bowl expressing total indifference about the Big Game. Actually I have several friends like that – absolutely no interest in sports whatsoever. To each their own, but honestly I’m very thankful to be a sports fan. Watching ball games, golf, & car races on TV has helped me thru some dark times at various points in my life. This past year I have observed several of my Facebook friends doing outdoor activities like fishing & hiking, and I’m a bit jealous. Such things are basically pandemic proof, which I’m sure has been a blessing for them. Unfortunately I’ve never been physically able to be outdoorsy, so I’ve relied heavily on simply being a sports fan. 

 

 

Real Time Super Bowl Thoughts:  

  • H.E.R.?? 👀 Stupid moniker, but she can sing, play guitar, & has a nice rack. 
  • I’m not a country music fan, but I might have to check out this Eric Church guy. Nice job on the anthem, although two voices aren’t necessarily a good thing. The lady singing kind of overpowered him. 
  • You mean that poet’s 15 minutes aren’t up yet?? ⌚️ Guess I can’t blame her for striking while the iron is hot. 
  • The Door Dash commercial with The Muppets is cute. 
  • “Jumping offside really does help you get to the QB sooner.” That’s some Booger McFarland level insight from Tony Romo 🤣.
  • Matthew McConaughey, Doritos, & Queen…an oddly compelling combination. Will Ferrell’s GM commercial is amusing. How can you have a group of Bud Light Legends without Spuds McKenzie or The Frogs?? Maybe that’s Budweiser?? I don’t know. On the rare occasion I drink beer I prefer good beer 🍺.
  • TB 7, KC 3 at the end of the 1st  Q. More defense & smash mouth football than most expected, and I’m okay with that. 
  • Mountain Dew Melon?? No thanks 🤢.
  • BIG 2nd Q goal line stand for the KC defense!!
  • The Jason Alexander Tide commercial is low key brilliant if you get the background music joke. TMobile, Gwen Stefani, & Blake Shelton…okay, I get it. Not bad 🤷🏻‍♂️.
  • 21-6…Tampa leads at the half. The Chiefs are making too many mental errors. 
  • A reasonably entertaining halftime show. I’m sure people far younger, allegedly way cooler, and more familiar with The Weekend than me will hype it as the best ever, but I’m nostalgic for the days of Prince, Michael Jackson, & Justin Timberlake. 
  • The Uber Eats Wayne’s World spot just made me sad. Wayne & Garth are looking old 👀.
  • Gronk is a freakin’ beast. I can’t hate on him like I do Brady. 
  • Dear Ashton Kutcher: Don’t. Ever. Sing. Again.
  • Tampa is up 31-9 at the end of Q3. If anyone but KC was the opponent I’d be changing the channel, but with Mahomes I feel like anything can happen.
  • “Only” 25k fans in a stadium that can seat over 65k. Will this event come to be known as a “super spreader”, or is that kind of thing over now that we have a new President?? 🏟
  • Blaine Gabbert now has more Super Bowl rings than Dan Marino, Dan Fouts, Jim Kelly, Warren Moon, & Fran Tarkenton…combined. Life isn’t fair. 
  • I hope Jason Pierre-Paul doesn’t celebrate with fireworks 🎇.
  • As a proud alumnus of Marshall University I can put aside my disdain for TB12 long enough to be happy for Bucs’ offensive coordinator & former Herd QB Byron Leftwich.
  • 31-9 Final. Tampa wins. The fallacy of The Patriots Dynasty has been exposed.  Belichick really is that coach who went 36-44 with the Cleveland Browns. It was Brady all along. He now has more titles than any franchise in NFL history, let alone individual players. Bastard. 
  • One thing the NFL does better than the other pro & even college leagues: the whole deal is over by 10:30pm. It’s Sunday night & people have to go to work in the morning, so the average fan doesn’t want to stay up until midnight. 

The 30 Day Film Challenge – Part 2

“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.

 

 

 

20     A film that changed your life…

It’s A Wonderful Life

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…

Rear Window

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…

The Godfather

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…

Forrest Gump

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.

 

 

 

30     A film with your favorite ending…

Field of Dreams

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.

90’s Film Frenzy: Wicked Round 1

Before we conclude Round 1 of 90’s Film Frenzy please go back and check out first round action in the Dope, Fly, and Phat divisions.

 

You have likely noticed that I consistently use two metrics in my evaluation…box office and critic reviews. I utilize Rotten Tomatoes to see what the critics had to say, and I look at Box Office Mojo to see how the movie stacked up financially against its competition. When I was growing up we didn’t have The Internet and movie critics were a rare breed mostly confined to big city newspapers. The big dogs on the block were Siskel & Ebert because they actually had their own television show, so you’re seeing them referenced a lot, mostly out of nostalgia. I also tend to focus on reviews that were written at the time of a film’s release in the 1990s because it is rather bogus and a bit unfair to give credence to something written many years later by a critic who has suddenly jumped on the bandwagon of a cult film that has grown in stature thru the magic of home video. Having said that, neither the box office nor the critics are always an accurate measure of a movie, and something that has achieved cult status for whatever reason shouldn’t be overlooked just because it didn’t make much money or receive critical acclaim two+ decades ago. It’s a delicate balancing act…one I hope that I am doing well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ghost

Release:                       7/13/90

Starring:                        Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg

Directed By:                 Jerry Zucker (Airplane!, Ruthless People)

 

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Reality Bites

Release:                       2/18/94

Starring:                        Ethan Hawke, Winona Ryder, Janeane Garofalo, Steve Zahn, Renée Zellweger, John Mahoney

Directed By:                 Ben Stiller (The Cable Guy, Zoolander, Tropic Thunder)

 

If there is one film in this competition that might qualify as “quintessential 90’s” I think Reality Bites fits the bill. It’s right there in the title…Reality Bites. Angst-ridden twenty-somethings try to find their footing in the post-graduate jungle that is life. That’s pretty much the idea. The cast is impressive, and the soundtrack is representative of its era, with songs from Crowded House, Lenny Kravitz, Julianna Hatfield, & The Posies. Not exactly mainstream, right?? I feel like the most enduring legacy of Reality Bites is the hit song Stay by quirky Lisa Loeb. This movie came out right after I graduated college and had entered the workforce, but at the time I was also still clinging to the old college life…hanging out with my friends and patronizing familiar watering holes ‘til 3am. Stay was in heavy rotation on the jukebox, and I have a vague recollection of a female acquaintance of mine dancing to the song and stripping down to her unmentionables right in the middle of the bar. Ghost was nominated for five Academy Awards and won two of them. When a banker is shot & killed by a mugger his ghost enlists the help of a shady psychic to warn his grieving girlfriend of impending danger. The enduring legacy of Ghost includes the zenith of Patrick Swayze’s solid career, Whoopi Goldberg when she was still funny and not a political hack, one of Demi Moore’s best performances, a renewed appreciation for The Righteous Brothers’ hit Unchained Melody, & a sudden interest in learning more about pottery.

 

The Verdict:       Ghost. I was precisely the target audience for Reality Bites and still found it dull. It was the 63rd highest grossing film of 1994, behind such stalwarts as Shaquille O’Neal’s Blue Chips, Pauly Shore’s In the Army Now, & Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Timecop. Rotten Tomatoes scores it at 66%, with the Chicago Tribune calling it “a good example of an anti-establishment comedy crippled by a seeming desire to infatuate the establishment itself”, while The New Yorker observed that “when the movie is over you don’t feel as if you had shared the experience of a new generation…you feel puzzled and vaguely crummy”. Conversely, Ghost won Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Goldberg). It was the second highest grossing film of 1990, behind only Home Alone, and holds a 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Gene Siskel declared that “Moore has never been more fetching”, while his buddy Ebert said that the movie “occasionally succeeds in evoking the mysteries that it toys with”.

 

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Glengarry Glen Ross

Release:                       10/2/92

Starring:                        Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey

Directed By:                 James Foley (Reckless, The Chamber)

 

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Striking Distance

Release:                       9/17/93

Starring:                        Bruce Willis, Sarah Jessica Parker, Tom Sizemore, Dennis Farina, John Mahoney

Directed By:                 Rowdy Herrington (Road House)

 

Just glancing at the cast of Glengarry Glen Ross elicits such high expectations that it’d be almost impossible for a film to live up to them. Based on a 1984 Pulitzer Prize winning play by David Mamet, the story shows us two days in the lives of aging real estate salesmen desperate to keep their jobs. The corporate office has announced that half of them will be fired in a week, so they must do whatever necessary to get the numbers needed to impress the boss. Lemmon, Arkin, Harris, & Pacino are powerful performers on an individual basis, and as an ensemble they are unmatched. Throw Spacey and a brief but memorable appearance by Baldwin into the mix and what you have is a movie in which the plot is secondary to the performances. In the hands of lesser actors it might be a total yawner, but what we end up with is a masterclass in how to make relatively mundane subject matter absolutely riveting. Bruce Willis was already a big movie star by 1993, with two Die Hards, two Look Who’s Talking films, & less appreciated fare like The Bonfire of the Vanities, Hudson Hawk, & The Last Boy Scout on his resume. Striking Distance tells the story of a disgraced Pittsburgh homicide detective relegated to river rescue duty after opining that a serial killer might be a rogue cop. When someone begins stalking him the game is afoot and the only person he can trust is his fetching female partner…or so he thinks. Striking Distance isn’t fondly recalled as one of Willis’ best, but with a cast that includes Parker, Mahoney, & Farina and a Pittsburgh backdrop familiar to this West Virginian I believe it is better than many may recall.

 

The Verdict:       Glengarry Glen Ross. I’m not usually into murder mysteries or police dramas, but Striking Distance works for me in a way it doesn’t seem to for many others. It was the 63rd highest grossing film of 1993 (better than Rudy but behind Pauley Shore’s Son-in-Law) and has an abysmal 14% Rotten Tomatoes score. Entertainment Weekly called Willis “morose” and the movie a “flat, dankly lit, grindingly inept thriller”, while Ebert called it “an exhausted reassembly of bits & pieces from all the other movies that are more or less exactly like this one”. Conversely, Glengarry Glen Ross has a stellar Rotten Tomatoes score of 94%, with Ebert saying that “you can see the joy with which the actors get their teeth into these great lines” and ReelViews opining that “for anyone who loves sharp dialogue, compelling characters, and a stinging social rebuke, Glengarry Glen Ross is not to be missed”. It was only the 94th highest grossing movie of 1992, yet we must consider that it isn’t a big budget epic but rather a stage play put on film. The fact that one can still appreciate its prominence nearly three decades later outweighs any perceived box office shortcomings.

 

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The Big Lebowski

Release:                       3/6/98

Starring:                        Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, Tara Reid, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Directed By:                 Joel & Ethan Coen (Raising Arizona, Fargo, No Country for Old Men)

 

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Ten Things I Hate About You

Release:                       3/31/99

Starring:                        Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Oleynik

Directed By:                 Gil Junger (Black Knight, If Only)

 

Ol’ William Shakespeare is still inspiring people 400 years after he left this mortal coil, and a big Hollywood trend the past few decades is to take the basic theme of a Shakespeare play and set it in modern times with young & hip movie stars. Ten Things I Hate About You turns Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew into a romantic dramedy about high school students. Stiles, Ledger, Gordon-Leavitt, & Oleynik star as two sisters and the guys attempting to woo them, and the cast also includes Andrew Keegan, David Krumholtz, Gabrielle Union, & Allison Janney. It was the 53rd highest grossing film of 1999 and has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 62%, with Variety observing that it “doesn’t even seem certain which decade it’s set in”, the San Francisco Chronicle opining that the movie “wimped out by blanding down the story and the characters to the point where she isn’t really a shrew and he isn’t really a maniac”, and Ebert chiming in that high school films are “running out of new ideas and have taken to recycling classic literature”. The Big Lebowski has grown in stature & popularity in the two decades since its release when it was the 96th highest grossing movie of the year, behind immense competition like Half Baked, Simon Birch, & Bulworth. It is the very definition of a cult film, although with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 82% it seems like critics recognized its greatness long before the masses caught up. Jeffrey Lebowski is known by his friends and refers to himself simply as The Dude. He is the quintessential slacker who enjoys sitting around in his bathrobe, drinking white Russians, and bowling with his pals Walter & Donny. When two thugs assault him in his house demanding money that is owed to their boss it becomes clear that they have the wrong guy…they’re after the other Jeffrey Lebowski – an old, handicapped millionaire. The thugs leave The Dude in peace but take a wiz on his area rug first, which offends him tremendously because the rug “really tied the room together”. When The Dude seeks out the other Lebowski for recompense he ends up getting caught in a complex plot involving kidnapping, ransom, a porn magnate, & a high school kid named Larry. The Cincinnati Enquirer called The Big Lebowski “loopy, unfathomable, profane, & very funny”, while Ebert simply framed it as “weirdly engaging”. There is actually an annual event in Louisville, KY called Lewbowski Fest which, since 2002, has celebrated the film with bowling, trivia, & costume contests, and a “religion” called Dudeism that advocates & encourages “going with the flow”, “being cool headed”, and “taking it easy” in the face of life’s difficulties, which does sound kind of awesome.

 

The Verdict:       The Big Lebowski. No contest. The Dude abides. But well, you know, that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

 

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October Sky

Release:                       2/19/99

Starring:                        Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Laura Dern, Chris Owen

Directed By:                 Joe Johnston (Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Jumanji)

 

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Four Weddings & A Funeral

Release:                       5/13/94

Starring:                        Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell

Directed By:                 Mike Newell (Donnie Brasco, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

 

Hugh Grant first became a thing in the early 90’s mainly because of Four Weddings & A Funeral. The plot is pretty simple, as it follows a small group of people whose lives keep intersecting at various social engagements, specifically…you guessed it…four weddings and a funeral. Andi MacDowell is a charming actress who has been in a few films that I’ve really enjoyed but she mostly flies under the radar. I vaguely recall seeing Four Weddings & A Funeral back in college, and what I remember most is a cover of an old 60’s song Love Is All Around that would be co-opted again a decade later for the British Christmas rom-com Love Actually. I think others enjoyed the movie more than me, as Four Weddings & A Funeral was nominated for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards, holds a 95% Rotten Tomatoes score, & was the 21st highest grossing film of 1994. Gene Siskel observed that it “couldn’t be more psychologically astute in its portrait of a man who defines himself by his bachelorhood”, while Entertainment Weekly raved that its “infectious charm and sunny goodwill can immediately buoy a soul”. Fellow West Virginian Homer Hickam is the subject of October Sky, which is based on his memoir Rocket Boys. We meet Homer as a high school student living amongst the economically and otherwise depressed coal fields of southern West Virginia in the 1950s. Homer and his pals dream of a better live outside of Appalachia, and the launch of Soviet satellite Sputnik into space inspires an interest in building rockets. Unfortunately dreams of success, happiness, & achievement are met with resistance from the redneck masses, and it’s up to the young lads to blaze their own trail and prove everyone wrong. The only person who seems to be in their corner is a kindhearted science teacher, but that’s enough. Homer Hickam went on to become a NASA engineer for nearly thirty years. October Sky was the 63rd highest grossing film of 1999 and holds a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Ebert complimented the movie’s “deep values”, while CNN called it “a sensational character-driven story with a strong narrative and great visual style”.

 

The Verdict:       October Sky. In doing my prep work I was surprised to learn that Four Weddings & a Funeral had been nominated for Best Picture. Perhaps the timing is just off for me. Back then I was at the tail end of my collegiate existence and caught up in other things. I remember seeing it once, and in the ensuing decades I don’t think I’ve ever seen it again. I’m sure if I went back and watched it now I’d find it perfectly delightful, but obviously it didn’t really resonate with me for whatever reason. Conversely, I can identify with certain beats in October Sky that few outside of Appalachia could ever understand. This was Jake Gyllenhaal’s first starring role, and he & the rest of the cast are superb.

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Liar Liar

Release:                       3/21/97

Starring:                        Jim Carrey, Maura Tierney

Directed By:                 Tom Shadyac (Patch Adams, Bruce Almighty)

 

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Doc Hollywood

Release:                       8/2/91

Starring:                        Michael J. Fox, Julie Warner, Woody Harrelson, Bridget Fonda, David Ogden Stiers, Barnard Hughes

Directed By:                 Michael Caton-Jones (Rob Roy)

 

Jim Carrey is a mixed bag for me. His shtick gets old really quick, and I tired of it fifteen years ago. However, between 1994 & 2003 he starred in a handful of memorable films, and Liar Liar might deserve a spot at the top of the list. Carrey plays a hotshot attorney whose focus on his career and deceitful ways have already ended his marriage and are on the verge of costing him his young son Max, who makes a wish on his birthday that his Dad not be able to lie at all for just one day. Max’s wish comes true and hilarity ensues. Liar Liar was the fourth highest grossing film of 1997 and has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 81%. Variety called it “close to an ideal jumping-off point for Carrey”, the Hollywood Reporter opined that “Carrey has never been better, funnier, or more controlled”, and Ebert expressed trepidation that “I am gradually developing a suspicion that Jim Carrey is growing on me”. Doc Hollywood marked Michael J. Fox’s emergence from the Back to the Future niche that he’d been in for over five years, and the results aren’t too shabby. He plays a hotshot Washington DC doctor on his way to Los Angeles to make bank as a plastic surgeon. But when he crashes his classic Porsche in a rural South Carolina town he finds himself marooned for awhile and forced to serve as the local physician for a quirky group of townsfolk. Gradually he starts to mellow and grow fond of his new neighbors, and of course there is a fetching young lady with which he becomes smitten. Doc Hollywood is kind of predictable, but enchantingly so, with a great cast and fun characters. It was the 24th highest grossing movie of 1991, ahead of Bugsy, Thelma & Louise, and Point Break. Rotten Tomatoes scores it at 71%, with Newsweek saying that it “oversells its whimsy and fits its quirkiness into a sitcom formula”, while Ebert called it “a sweetheart of a movie”.

 

The Verdict:       Doc Hollywood. There is a scene in Doc Hollywood involving the exquisite Julie Warner emerging from a lake that rivals Phoebe Cates infamously exiting a swimming pool a decade earlier in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I can’t get that scene out of my head when pondering the film. I’m a sucker for stories involving big city types being beguiled by easygoing small town life, and the cast pulls this version of the formula off to my satisfaction. I am not swayed by the box office for Liar Liar and like Fox better than Carrey.

 

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Lethal Weapon 4

Release:                       7/10/98

Starring:                        Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Chris Rock, Jet Li

Directed By:                 Richard Donner (Superman, The Goonies, Scrooged)

 

vs.

 

Can’t Hardly Wait

Release:                       6/12/98

Starring:                        Ethan Embry, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Lauren Ambrose, Peter Facinelli, Seth Green, Charlie Korsmo, Jason Segel, Donald Faison, Selma Blair, Sara Rue, Jenna Elfman, Jerry O’Connell, Melissa Joan Hart, Breckin Meyer

Directed By:                 Deborah Kaplan (A Very Brady Sequel)

 

Fans of the Lethal Weapon series have been anxiously awaiting a fifth installment for twenty years, and though I’m usually a “never say never” kind of guy I believe at this point that it’s too little too late and I’m okay with that. The fourth & final Lethal Weapon finds Riggs reluctant to marry his very pregnant girlfriend Lorna, Murtaugh dealing with the pregnancy of his eldest daughter by a mystery man, and the long in the tooth duo investigating an illegal Chinese immigrant smuggling situation. Rock joins the cast as an overzealous detective who is more than he lets on, and of course Pesci is back as fast talking ex-con Leo. Lethal Weapon 4 was the 11th highest grossing film of 1998, though it was also the most expensive of the four films to produce. It holds a 52% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Time referring to it as “mindless, sadistic violence juxtaposed with rote sentimentality”, while the New York Times generously pronouncing that it “turns out to be one of the nicer blow-’em-ups around”. Can’t Hardly Wait is another Hindsight Film, full of young actors who have stuck around long enough to be known for other things. It is also a classic high school film, set at a conventional graduation party and deconstructing all of the requisite high school archetypes. It was the 74th highest grossing movie of the year, ahead of Rushmore and A Simple Plan but behind Bride of Chucky and A Night at the Roxbury. It holds a 40% Rotten Tomatoes rating, with Entertainment Weekly calling it “a high-spirited, synthetically raucous house-party comedy” and Ebert saying that it “lumbers ungracefully from romantic showdowns to deep conversations to bathroom humor”.

 

The Verdict:       Lethal Weapon 4. Though rumors of one last movie persist I think 4 provides a fitting conclusion to a very entertaining series. Perhaps the powers-that-be could learn a lesson from Die Hard, a franchise that should have stopped after three installments but has subjected the masses to two additional films with a sixth one possibly on the way. Sometimes it’s better to end on a high note and leave the memories alone. Back in the days of Party of Five I had a huge celebrity crush on Jennifer Love Hewitt, so I’m all in on Can’t Hardly Wait. However, in a sub-genre that has produced so many memorable movies the past few decades it really doesn’t stand out from the crowd.

 

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Backdraft

Release:                       5/24/91

Starring:                        Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Robert De Niro, Donald Sutherland, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rebecca De Mornay

Directed By:                 Ron Howard

 

vs.

 

That Thing You Do

Release:                       10/4/96

Starring:                        Tom Everett Scott, Liv Tyler, Johnathon Schaech, Steve Zahn, Ethan Embry

Directed By:                 Tom Hanks

 

Every uniformed profession…policemen, the military, doctors, lawyers (hey…a three piece suit is kind of a uniform)…seems to get their own movie or TV series eventually. After all, life or death situations provide plenty of theatre. Backdraft is an ode to firefighters that tells the story of a wave of suspicious fires in Chicago, with a little family drama, political intrigue, & romance thrown into the mix. Ron Howard is a terrific director and the all-star cast is impressive, helping to make it the 14th highest grossing film of 1991, just behind Fried Green Tomatoes and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II but ahead of JFK and The Prince of Tides, and has a solid 74% Rotten Tomatoes score. Gene Siskel called it “a spectacle worth observing”, Ebert feebly praised it by saying “the scenes involving fire are so good they make me recommend the movie anyway, despite its brain-damaged screenplay”, and the Washington Post said “Backdraft is sure to do for fire what The Poseidon Adventure did for water”, which may have been meant as a compliment…possibly. That Thing You Do was written & directed by Hanks and tells the story of a small town band that quickly rises to fame in the early 60’s on the popularity of an infectious pop hit. Hanks plays a supporting role, while the real stars are the band along with a fetching young female groupie. As with many actual bands egos & personal agendas quickly get in the way and torpedo the group’s success, making the movie a more insightful than expected examination of why one hit wonders are what they are. It was the 60th highest grossing film of 1996 (better than Fargo and Sling Blade) and has a stellar 93% Rotten Tomatoes score. Variety calls it “a sweet, likeable tale”, the New York Times dubbed it “rock-and-roll nostalgia presented as pure fizz”, & Rolling Stone framed it as “a brightly entertaining blend of humor and heartbreak”.

 

The Verdict:       That Thing You Do. This matchup illustrates a few things. First of all, my personal tastes are on full display, with a breezy, lightweight, fun movie beating out an effects laden, action packed melodrama. Secondly, I think it points to the dichotomy that we see even more today than two decades ago when it comes to movies…the action film packed with explosions and A-List talent that inspires awe on the big screen versus the frivolous guilty pleasure that we watch over & over again on television years after its release. And finally, if the material is written well enough then sometimes it’s okay to cast a few under-the-radar performers and help them pull it off with catchy tunes and a good director. Tom Hanks also wrote & directed 2011’s Larry Crowne, so he isn’t infallible…but I’d be willing to give anything he wrote & directed a whirl based on That Thing You Do.

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A Time to Kill

Release:                       7/24/96

Starring:                        Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey, Sandra Bullock, Kiefer Sutherland, Donald Sutherland

Directed By:                 Joel Schumacher (St. Elmo’s Fire, Falling Down, Batman Forever)

 

vs.

 

The Blair Witch Project

Release:                       7/14/99

Starring:                        Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard

Directed By:                 Daniel Myrick (Believers, The Strand)

 

In 1999 The Internet was still in its infancy and “going viral” was a new concept. Social media wasn’t a thing yet, but that worked out well for The Blair Witch Project. The movie was highly anticipated before it even hit theaters because of its ingenuous marketing campaign. Reality television wasn’t on anyone’s radar yet either, so many folks were easily duped into believing that the movie was actual lost footage of a student documentary gone terribly awry. One kind of longs for those halcyon days when we weren’t so jaded & cynical. The movie itself follows three student filmmakers investigating an urban legend called The Blair Witch. I’m not a horror film aficionado, but I recall thinking that the movie isn’t really that scary, that it is more fascinating as an examination of the trio’s descent into madness. It was the tenth highest grossing film of 1999, earning more than The Green Mile, Oscar winning Best Picture American Beauty, and the first American Pie movie. That feat is even more impressive when you know that The Blair Witch Project had a budget of only $60k and earned almost $250 million. It has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 87%, with the Associated Press pointing out that “the thought that it might just might be real makes it much scarier”, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune calling it “a no-excuses horror show with an emotional wallop like falling headlong into a bear trap”, and the Washington Post saying it is “not the goriest, the grossest, the weirdest, the eeriest, the sickest, the creepiest, or the slimiest movie…just flat out the scariest”. A Time to Kill might be John Grisham’s best book…even better than The Firm…maybe. The movie takes a few liberties in telling the story of a Mississippi lawyer attempting to defend a black man who murdered two white men that raped & beat his young daughter. McConaughey is superb as the stressed out attorney, and Jackson gives one of his most nuanced performances as the distraught & vengeful father. The main issue I have is that the part of the female law student helping the defense team is beefed up considerably from the book because Sandra Bullock was cast in the part, but I realize that probably only bothers fans of the novel. A Time to Kill was the tenth highest grossing film of 1996, ahead of Scream but behind The Nutty Professor. It has a 65% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Rolling Stone called McConaughey “dynamite in a performance of smarts, sexiness, scrappy humor, and unmistakable star sizzle”, while Ebert thought the movie “a skillfully constructed morality play that pushes all the right buttons and arrives at all the right conclusions”.

 

The Verdict:       The Blair Witch Project. Wow, this is a very difficult decision. Neither film is the kind of breezy couch potato escapism to which I am typically drawn. However, evaluated on their own merits the choice becomes a bit clearer. I am not a big Sandra Bullock fan. There is just something about her that annoys me for no apparent reason. Given that fact, I was more irritated than usual when her character was magnified in the movie far more than she had been in the book. Secondly, while the novel A Time to Kill is probably a better book than The Firm I am not sure that is true when comparing the two movies. I am not at all into horror movies and probably won’t ever watch The Blair Witch Project again, but I cannot overlook its uniquely astounding success and the fact that it was most certainly a product of its time…probably a little ahead of it.

90’s Film Frenzy: Dope Round 1

So what exactly are we trying to accomplish here?? Are we seeking the best movie of the 1990s?? Not really. Are we looking for my favorite movie?? Well, yes and no. Is this about zeroing in on the signature film of the 90’s that most represents the decade?? That would be ideal but I’m not sure it’s possible. I suppose I am ultimately looking to “have my cake and eat it too”. It has always fascinated me that movies that make a ton of money are oftentimes loud, obnoxious, unintelligible games of chicken in which studios spend mind blowing amounts of cash and directors have fun with impressive technological toys all to tell a story that makes no sense, has no intellectual or emotional resonance, & people rush to theaters to see but forget about ten minutes after it’s over. Meanwhile, critics like to heap praise on erudite, pretentious snoozefests that Joe Sixpack in flyover country has no interest in seeing. Can a movie be successful critically AND commercially?? The 1970’s produced several such films: Jaws, The Godfather, Star Wars, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Apocalypse Now, All the President’s Men, & Young Frankenstein all spring to mind as being both popular and acclaimed. I’m okay with liking “bad” films…we all have our guilty pleasures. However, for the purposes of this competition what we are hoping to find are good movies that normal folks like you & me actually enjoy.

 

If you have not checked out first round action in the Fly and Phat divisions please do so, but for now we move forward. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

Swingers

Release:                       10/18/96

Starring:                        Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn

Directed By:                 Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith)

vs.

Batman & Robin

Release:                       6/20/97

Starring:                        George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Uma Thurman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alicia Silverstone

Directed By:                 Joel Schumacher (St. Elmo’s Fire, Falling Down, The Client)

 

One may make an assumption that Batman & Robin is included in this competition for the same reason films like Showgirls & Very Bad Things have been thrown a bone…because they are so dreadful that their sheer awfulness prompted a level of negative buzz that warrants discussion (kind of like how Cabbage Patch Dolls were considered so ugly they’re cute). That is partially true. However, as a huge fan of all things Batman I must also opine that it’s not really as bad of a movie as many seem to think. In 1995 Joel Schumacher took the reins of the franchise after Tim Burton was asked to step back from the director’s chair because the studio wasn’t happy with the box office for Batman Returns in 1992. Schumacher had already done St. Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys, & the John Grisham adaptation The Client, so there was reason to believe that he wasn’t a decent choice, and 1995’s Batman Forever did little to dissuade that notion. But then, after Val Kilmer decided not to reprise his one stint as The Caped Crusader for various reasons, George Clooney got the job. Clooney was still doing the TV show ER but had begun his movie career as well. Schumacher wanted to pay homage to the kitschy 1960’s Batman television show, so he decided the tone of his films would be more colorful & humorous than its predecessors, and though no one seemed to have much of an issue with the more cartoonish vibe of Batman Forever, it seems to be a point of contention when it comes to Batman & Robin. On paper the cast is top notch…Clooney, Schwarzenegger, Thurman, Silverstone…but critically it bombed & commercially didn’t fare as well as the previous films in the series. I remember seeing it in the theater with my best buddy Greg and thinking that it was aurally & visually obnoxious…an assault on the senses. However, when watching Batman & Robin on video…in the comfort of one’s own home where you can control the volume & the lighting…it’s much more palatable. In hindsight the movie suffered from comparisons with its forerunners, and as the fourth film in a series with two directors and three leading men there was a lack of stability that fans found unsettling. In a game of “One of These Things Isn’t Like the Others” it sticks out like a sore thumb…but on its own merits it is harmless cinematic fluff that is acceptably entertaining. Swingers was written by Jon Favreau, and was the first starring role for both he & Vaughn. The plot isn’t necessarily as important as the vibe, with the story revolving around a group of underemployed actors in 1990’s Los Angeles, a period when 60’s era swing music was experiencing a revival. The soundtrack is top notch, with tunes from the likes of Dean Martin, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Bobby Darin, & Sammy Davis Jr. There is a portion of the film that takes place in Las Vegas, and y’all know that tickles my fancy. Swingers isn’t a thought-provoking masterpiece that will cause one to ponder deep & philosophical questions of life, but it oozes cool and is quite quotable. Critic Roger Ebert called it “sweet, funny, observant, & goofy”, and I concur.

 

The Verdict:       Swingers. Batman & Robin has a 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was the 12th highest grossing film of 1997, although it must be noted that it is the least successful of any Batman film ever produced. When compared to 1989’s Batman ($250 million), 1992’s Batman Returns ($163 million), and 1995’s Batman Forever ($184 million), Batman & Robin’s $107 million is the very definition of The Law of Diminishing Returns. The franchise probably should have been given a rest after Forever, especially when faced with casting & creative changes. The viewing public obviously had Gotham City fatigue, and the absolute mauling given to the film by critics certainly didn’t help. Swingers has an 87% Rotten Tomatoes score, and ranked 155th at the box office in 1996. However, given the fact that it made $4.5 million on a $200k budget and its cast was a bunch of unknowns at the time the financial situation is relative. The film has become a cult favorite and its cast all went on to varying degrees of fame & success. It is a simple case of expectations vs. reality. Hollywood continues to make the mistake of giving huge budgets to movies with mega stars, dazzling effects, & over-the-top plots, when oftentimes it is a small budget, obscure but talented performers, & a well-written story that stands the test of time.

 

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Father of the Bride Part II

Release:                       12/8/95

Starring:                        Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Martin Short, Kimberly Williams

Directed By:                 Charles Shyer (Baby Boom,          I Love Trouble)

vs.

What About Bob?

Release:                       5/17/91

Starring:                        Bill Murray, Richard Dreyfuss

Directed By:                 Frank Oz (The Muppets Take Manhattan, Little Shop of Horrors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels)

 

FotB 2 is a remake of a sequel from 1951 called Father’s Little Dividend starring Spencer Tracy & Elizabeth Taylor, and a sequel to 1991’s Father of the Bride. Martin returns as the titular father who must deal with the concurrent pregnancies of his daughter and middle-aged wife. Martin Short is given a bigger role in the sequel after an amusing turn as an eccentric wedding planner in the first film. FotB 2 ranked 17th at the box office in 1995, ahead of some well-regarded movies like Braveheart, Clueless, Casino, Dead Man Walking, The Usual Suspects, & Leaving Las Vegas. It holds a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critic Roger Ebert opining “movies like this butter us up so well that we’d feel like a grouch criticizing them”, adding that the movie is “warm & fuzzy, and has some good laughs & a lot of sweetness” before concluding that “I had the unmistakable feeling, toward the end of this film, that they may be reaching the end of this particular road and that there may be new horizons to investigate”. Other critics said things like “Short is trotted back out for more of his mincing shtick…a pretty feeble way to keep his character in the story”, “starts off weak but finishes strong…wacky & weepy, silly & sweet”, and “the strengths of these films are not so much laughs as sincerity & heart”. What About Bob? is a dark comedy about a psychiatric patient who stalks his therapist on vacation and befriends the doctor’s family, which upsets the arrogant shrink to the point that he becomes unhinged & ends up in a catatonic state. Bill Murray apparently doesn’t work & play well with others in real life, and nearly two decades after the film was released Richard Dreyfuss said of Murray “Terribly unpleasant experience. We didn’t get along, me and Bill Murray, but I’ve got to give it to him…I don’t like him, but he makes me laugh even now.”, which kind of sums up my feelings about Murray. I’m not a huge fan, but I give credit where it is due in that he is a talented actor who has been in some memorable movies. I’m just not sure that What About Bob? is one of them. It was the 19th highest grossing film of 1991 and holds an 83% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with The Washington Post  proclaiming it “one comic session strung to feature-length breaking point”, while Entertainment Weekly states that it “begins as a rambunctious satire…but turns into little more than a pleasant one-joke movie.”

 

The Verdict:       Father of the Bride Part II. Several years ago I had a co-worker who enjoyed sour candies like Skittles, Lemon Heads, & Sweet Tarts, while I am all about chocolate. I am reminded of that comparison now because some folks like edgy, dark, cynical entertainment, while others…like yours truly…prefer what I call “comfort food cinema” that leans heavily toward sentiment, a few good laughs, a pleasant cast, & a low-key vibe. I suppose it also comes down to whether or not you’re a fan of Murray, Dreyfuss, Martin, or Short. I gravitate toward the latter duo.

 

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Lethal Weapon 3

Release:                       5/15/92

Starring:                        Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joes Pesci, Rene Russo

Directed By:                 Richard Donner (Superman, The Goonies, Scrooged)

vs.

Airheads

Release:                       8/5/94

Starring:                        Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, Adam Sandler, Joe Mantegna

Directed By:                 Michael Lehmann (Heathers, Hudson Hawk)

 

The only issue I have with the Lethal Weapon series is that it is easy to get the plots confused. They all star Mel Gibson & Danny Glover as a pair of mismatched cops fighting nefarious criminals, with the latter two films adding Rene Russo as a love interest for Gibson and 2, 3, & 4 having Joe Pesci as an annoying reformed criminal. In the third installment Riggs & Murtaugh track down a dirty cop who has become an arms dealer. A subplot involves the budding romance between Riggs and internal affairs officer Lorna Cole. LW3 was the fourth highest grossing film of 1992 and had the best box office of any film in the series. It has a 57% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Ebert opining that “we miss the sense of invention that brightened the earlier movies…this one falls back on experience & craftsmanship”, and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone calling the film “mediocrity wielded by experts”. Those are fair assessments in that we don’t necessarily keep going back to series like Lethal Weapon for innovative storytelling or fresh ideas…we have developed a deep fondness for familiar characters and the actors who portray them. Airheads is an example of the earlier work of guys like Sandler, Buscemi, Fraser, & Mantegna. It is a mildly entertaining tale about an unsuccessful garage band who takes an L.A. radio station hostage in an effort to get their demo tape played. It has a 21% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and ranked 138th at the box office in 1994, which was atleast better than something called Spanking the Monkey.

 

The Verdict:       Lethal Weapon 3. I’m not usually a buddy/cop movie kinda guy, but I adore the Lethal Weapon series. Airheads is a fun little movie, but there’s really no competition here.

 

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Man on the Moon

Release:                       12/22/99

Starring:                        Jim Carrey, Danny DeVito, Courtney Love, Paul Giamatti

Directed By:                 Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus)

vs.

 

In the Line of Fire

Release:                       7/9/93

Starring:                        Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich, Rene Russo

Directed By:                 Wolfgang Petersen (The NeverEnding Story, The Perfect Storm)

 

I love a good biopic. Let’s face it…if a movie is being made about a person’s life story it is a fair assumption that the person & their life was noteworthy and/or interesting. Whether the movie tickles one’s fancy largely depends on the level of curiosity about the subject, and I am old enough to have some degree of fascination with Andy Kaufmann. I am not a big Jim Carrey fan, but do recognize that he has a fair amount of talent when given the right material. Man on the Moon derives its title from a 1992 song by alt-rock band REM that was written as a tribute to Kaufman. The movie follows Kaufman’s rise from struggling night club act to infamous sitcom star thru his death from cancer at age 35. There are some questionable decisions made (like the cast of the sitcom Taxi portraying their 1970’s selves fifteen years later) that negatively impact one’s overall impression of the film, but praise for Carrey’s performance as Kaufman is nearly universal, to the point that he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor. In the Line of Fire is a criminally underappreciated movie about a guilt ridden Secret Service agent whose failure to save JFK’s life has messed with him for three decades. The agent gets another chance when a deranged former CIA assassin threatens the current President. The conclusion is somewhat predictable, but the ride getting there is lots of fun. I’ve never been a bigtime Eastwood fan simply because he typically stars in westerns & cop films that aren’t really in my wheelhouse, but for some reason I find this particular movie compelling.

 

The Verdict:       In the Line of Fire. Rotten Tomatoes scores Man on the Moon at 63% and it was the 58th highest grossing film of 1999, which seems far too low for an Andy Kaufman biopic starring one of the biggest movie stars in the world at the time. Movies like Stuart Little, the god awful Wild Wild West with Will Smith, & Deuce Bigelow: Male Jiggolo did better at the box office. In the Line of Fire was the 7th highest grossing film of 1993 and has a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I can’t help but wonder if Man on the Moon was a huge missed opportunity that might have fared better with a better script and a different director.

 

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Grumpier Old Men

Release:                       12/22/95

Starring:                        Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Sophia Loren, Burgess Meredith, Daryl Hannah, Kevin Pollak, Ann Margret

Directed By:                 Howard Deutch (Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful)

vs.

Fools Rush In

Release:                       2/14/97

Starring:                        Matthew Perry, Salma Hayek

Directed By:                 Andy Tennant (Sweet Home Alabama, Hitch)

 

I think we’ve established the fact that I have a type. If I am in vegg mode and doing some couch potatoing on a lazy afternoon I gravitate toward breezy comedies with pleasant characters and a charming plot. That’s my jam and I’m not sorry. Grumpier Old Men is a follow-up to the 1993 original and finds our two favorite cantankerous geezers resuming hostilities in the frozen tundra of Wabasha, MN. Things have calmed down between John Gustafson & Max Goldman, with John now happily married to Ariel (who moved into the neighborhood in the first film) and the two men’s offspring…Gustafson’s daughter Melanie and Goldman’s son Jacob…set to get married. But an alluring Italian divorcee moves into the neighborhood and all hell hilariously breaks loose once again. The cast is terrific, proof that not everyone has to be a gorgeous 20something for a movie to be good. Old-timer Burgess Meredith is the unsung hero once again, stealing the show at 87 years of age. It was the 20th highest grossing film of 1995 but only has a 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. By 1997 hit TV show Friends was only in its fourth season (not even halfway thru its decade long run) but the cast was already beginning feature film careers. Matthew Perry’s first leading man role was Fools Rush In, about a NY City architect who has a one night stand in Vegas while he is there supervising the construction of a night club. The vivacious young lady shows up at his door a few months later with a bun in the oven, and simply wants to introduce him to her close-knit & very traditional Mexican family so that when she breaks the news about her pregnancy she’ll be able to tell them they’ve met the baby’s father. The city boy is enchanted by the beautiful woman and her family ties, and in short order the two have a quickie wedding and move in together. Of course the culture clash is inevitable, especially when his snooty parents show up, and as tends to happen in rom-coms the couple fight, break up, & eventually reunite just in time to welcome their child into the world. It’s all very sweet & predictable, but I’m okay with that. Fools Rush In was the 70th highest grossing film of 1997 and has a 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

 

The Verdict:       Grumpier Old Men. This is a tough choice because I really like both movies, even though critics didn’t. Our old pal Ebert called Grumpier Old Men “a big-screen sitcom”, opining that “I would love to see this material transplanted to the TV screen where it belongs”. I am intrigued by that insightful comment, because of course two+ decades later isn’t that what eventually happens to a lot of movies anyway?? Think about it. We go to the local cineplex to watch loud, visually stimulating, effects laden action flicks that provide us with a momentary jolt of adrenaline…but decades later when we’re chillin’ out & flipping thru the channels what kinds of movies stand the test of time and provide a measure of jovial comfort on dreary & tedious days when we need that sort of cozy contentment?? Oftentimes it is exactly the kind of “big screen sitcom” that Ebert describes that has been “transplanted to the TV screen where it belongs” just as he suggested. He was a man ahead of his time. Of Fools Rush In Ebert said “it is a sweet, entertaining retread of an ancient formula, in which opposites attract despite all the forces arrayed to push them apart”, and “Yes, the movie is a cornball romance. Yes, it manufactures a lot of standard plot twists. But there is also a level of observation and human comedy”. It feels wrong that either film has to be eliminated at this point, but Grumpier Old Men has the edge in repeat viewings & legendary movie stars.

 

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Galaxy Quest

Release:                       12/25/99

Starring:                        Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman

Directed By:                 Dean Parisot (Home Fries, Red 2)

vs.

The Bodyguard

Release:                       11/25/92

Starring:                        Whitney Houston, Kevin Costner

Directed By:                 Mick Jackson (L.A. Story, Volcano)

 

Galaxy Quest works on multiple levels. It’s a comedy. It’s a sci-fi adventure. And it is a spoof. Allen, Weaver, Rickman, et al portray the cast of a Star Trek-esque TV show that was cancelled long ago but still has a community of hardcore fans that hold conventions & such, many of which the actors attend because they’ve been typecast and aren’t able to make any kind of money otherwise. The “captain” still basks in the glow of his small slice of fame, but the rest of the crew is really just over the whole deal. But then a strange thing happens…they find themselves caught up in an actual outer space adventure when a well-meaning group of aliens mistakenly believes the TV show to be real life and thinks the crew can save their species…or something like that. I suspect that Trekkies & other sci-fi nerds are the only audience that can truly appreciate everything Galaxy Quest has to offer, but perhaps those who just enjoy good popcorn cinema are entertained by it as well. The Bodyguard was a big deal back in 1992 because Whitney Houston was at the top of the music charts and was transitioning into acting with her first film role. Houston portrays a famous singer (not much of a stretch) who gains a former Secret Service agent as a bodyguard after being nominated for an Academy Award and being sent death threats by a mysterious stalker. Unsurprisingly the singer & the bodyguard fall for each other, and naturally the audience loves it because of the undeniable charm and chemistry of Houston & Costner. The Bodyguard has a little something for everyone…mystery, suspense, action, romance, drama…and gave us what…to my knowledge…is still the best-selling movie soundtrack of all time.

 

The Verdict:       Galaxy Quest. This one is tricky. Ideally I’d put it up for a vote from The Manoverse, but that doesn’t seem to work for me so I’ll make the tough choice. The Bodyguard was the 7th highest grossing film of 1992, behind the likes of Aladdin, Home Alone 2, & A Few Good Men but ahead of competition such as Wayne’s World, Unforgiven, & White Men Can’t Jump. It has a 35% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with our old pal Roger Ebert opining “the basic situation is intriguing enough to sustain a film all by itself”, but adding that he “felt a little cheated by the outcome”. Other critics were less generous. TV Guide called it “a dreary, turgid melodrama”, while Entertainment Weekly said “it is an outrageous piece of saccharine kitsch…or, atleast it might have been had the movie seemed fully awake.” Ouch. Galaxy Quest was the 30th highest grossing film of 1999, beating out notables like The Thomas Crown Affair, Eyes Wide Shut, Varsity Blues, & Fight Club. Rotten Tomatoes scores it at an impressive 90%, with the Associated Press calling it “alot of wacky fun” and Entertainment Weekly saying it is “a fast, loose, & very funny parody that pulls off the not-so-simple feat of tweaking Trekkies and honoring them, ribbing long-in-the-tooth actors and applauding them, bringing together Star Trek savants and those who couldn’t give a squat about dilithium crystals, and saying ‘See, there’s room on the final frontier for everyone.’” So what this boils down to is one movie that made a bunch of money but generally isn’t viewed as being very good versus a movie that didn’t make as much money but is well-regarded as being good at what it is supposed to be. All too often Hollywood seems to believe that they can take any old schlock and sell it to the masses as long as a big star or two or three is attached. And sadly much of the time they are right. I feel like The Bodyguard was successful because Whitney Houston was such an awesome singer and everybody likes Kevin Costner. That soundtrack that made a ton of money is mostly songs by Houston and probably would have been about as successful if it were just another one of her albums with no film attached, so I don’t think it should factor into the equation. As always I ask myself what I would watch if I were flipping thru the channels, and since I probably haven’t watched The Bodyguard since I saw it at the theater the answer is pretty clear.

 

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Speed

Release:                       6/10/94

Starring:                        Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper

Directed By:                 Jan de Bont (Twister)

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Dazed & Confused

Release:                       9/24/93

Starring:                        Jason London, Rory Cochrane, Ben Affleck, Adam Goldberg, Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Joey Lauren Adams, Parker Posey

Directed By:                 Richard Linklater (School of Rock, Fast Food Nation)

 

Keanu Reeves first came into our pop culture consciousness in the late 1980’s as Valley Boy slacker Theodore Logan in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. But since one can’t portray dimwitted high schoolers forever he moved on to more serious roles in Point Break and My Own Private Idaho. And then came Speed. The thriller about a bus rigged with a bomb programmed to explode if it slows down below 50 mph thrust Reeves into superstardom and also introduced the world to Sandra Bullock. It was the 8th highest grossing film of 1994 and has an exceptional 94% Rotten Tomatoes score. Dazed & Confused is a Hindsight Film, meaning that it has remained relevant in large part based on what several of its young stars went on to become…especially McConaughey & Affleck. The movie itself is a slice of life look at the last day of school for a bunch of high schoolers in Austin, TX. It is set in 1976 so there is a lot of pot smoking, cruising, & hazing of younger students…things that wouldn’t fly in our modern PC purgatory, and had even diminished by the late 80’s when I was in high school. Dazed & Confused isn’t as much about a particular plot as it is about capturing a mood and painting a picture of an era, which it does really well. The cast is…obviously…stellar, and the soundtrack (featuring songs by Foghat, ZZ Top, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Deep Purple, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kiss, & Black Sabbath) is terrific. It was only the 121st highest grossing film of 1993 but has become a cult classic in the ensuing years. It has a 93% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Ebert referring to it as “art crossed with anthropology” and Rolling Stone calling it “the ultimate party movie…loud, crude, socially irresponsible, & totally irresistible”.

 

The Verdict:       Speed. I am hesitant to reward a film based largely on the fact that its casting director did a superb job of finding young unknowns who eventually became famous. Matthew McConaughey’s next project would be starring in A Time to Kill two years later and EdTV (a film ahead of its time) in 1999. Ben Affleck did a few decent films after Dazed & Confused, but in 1997 cemented his status by winning the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay after writing Good Will Hunting with his pal Matt Damon. Dazed & Confused is a fun flick that does an excellent job of creating a snapshot of not just a moment in time but a time in life that just about everyone fondly remembers even if the details vary. Having said that, I cannot overlook the cultural impact of Speed. It was a surprise phenomenon that dominated the summer box office in 1994. Bullock had previously been in a couple of decent films (Love Potion No. 9 and Demolition Man), but Speed made her a star and she’s still making movies two decades later.

 

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The Addams Family

Release:                       11/22/91

Starring:                        Anjelica Huston, Raúl Juliá, Christopher Lloyd, Christina Ricci

Directed By:                 Barry Sonnenfeld (Get Shorty, Men in Black, Wild Wild West)

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Saving Private Ryan

Release:                       7/24/98

Starring:                        Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Ed Burns, Tom Sizemore, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel, Ted Danson, Paul Giamatti, Bryan Cranston

Directed By:                 Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, Hook, Jurassic Park, Catch Me If You Can)

 

The Addams Family made their debut in a series of cartoons published in The New Yorker beginning in 1938. In the 1960’s the kooky clan came to television for two seasons, and although the show was cancelled due to poor ratings it lived on in syndication, to the point that I was watching it as a kid growing up in the 80’s. The Addams Family finally came to the big screen in 1991 in a tale that finds a greedy lawyer & a con artist scheming to get ahold of the Addams fortune that is hidden deep in the bowels of their creepy mansion. The con artist’s son just happens to look like Gomez Addams’ brother Uncle Fester who has been MIA for 25 years, so there’s your plot. Hijinks ensue and of course the evil plan goes off the rails, all in the midst of the oddball family’s usual weirdness. The cast is superb, the movie is entertaining enough, and critics didn’t completely hate it. The Addams Family was the 7th high grossing film of 1991 and its Rotten Tomatoes score of 63% is fairly solid. The New York Times said that its “aimlessness & repetitiveness eventually become draining”, Variety opined that “despite inspired casting and nifty visual trappings the eagerly awaited Addams Family figures as a major disappointment”, and Ebert observed that “there are a lot of little smiles and many chuckles & grins, but they don’t add up to much”. Conversely, the Austin Chronicle gushed that “it’s hard to imagine a better screen adaptation of this queer household….Charles Addams would have been proud”, while the BBC complimented the cast, saying that it “elevates this film from flimsy to sheer delight”. Saving Private Ryan is a totally different kind of movie from its competition. It is a gritty & unflinching look at D-Day and its aftermath when a team of U.S. Army rangers are given the task of finding & rescuing Private James Ryan, whose three brothers have all been killed in the war making him the only son remaining. The mission isn’t easy and there is violence & death along the way. This is not a romantic, sanitized, family friendly war movie, though I don’t feel like it is gratuitous either…it’s just very very candid. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is poignant & impactful. Saving Private Ryan was the highest grossing film of 1998, has an amazing Rotten Tomatoes score of 92%, & was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. It won five of those Oscars, including Spielberg’s second Best Director award. It was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Shakespeare in Love, which in retrospect might be the biggest travesty in award show history.

 

The Verdict:       Saving Private Ryan. I’ve got to be honest…I only watched Saving Private Ryan once twenty years ago and don’t have the desire to ever watch it again. That’s not because it’s a bad move (obviously), it’s just that on a lazy day of couch potatoing violent war films aren’t my thing. Having said that, I cannot in good conscience overlook it, not simply because of its pedigree but out of respect for the historical events that inspired the story. It goes without saying that Spielberg is terrific, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better or deeper cast in the entirety of cinema. It is a story that needed to be told, and thankfully it was told really well. The Addams Family is an innocuous & engaging comedy that actually got a sequel a few years later, though I must admit that I’ve never seen it. I am intrigued by an animated Addams movie set to be released in 2019, but all in all I am inclined to stick with reruns of the old TV show.

Sports Films: The 25 Best (IMHO) – The Top Ten

film-crewOne thing that almost all great sports films have in common is an intense final act. The concluding installment of this venture might not be all that dramatic, but hopefully it’s a good read. If you haven’t done so already please catch up by checking out Part 1 and Part 2. After all, a good ending is meaningless without the enjoyment of the preceding crescendo.

 

 

 

 

10 We Are Marshall
I fully admit my extreme prejudice in overrating this film. I am a proud alumnus of Marshall muUniversity, and the 1970 plane crash that killed the entire football team is a deeply emotional event for anyone who has ever attended Marshall and lived in Huntington, WV. There is a wonderful 2000 documentary called Ashes to Glory that tells the story of the plane crash & its aftermath best, but We Are Marshall is a pretty good fictional account that has grown on me thru repeat viewings. Matthew McConaughey’s performance as head coach Jack Lengyel is somewhat quirky, but not too distracting. Englishman Ian McShane is grossly miscast as a West Virginia steel worker, but again it’s no big deal. Matthew Fox’s heartbreaking portrayal of assistant coach Red Dawson is superb and perhaps should have received an Oscar nomination. It is difficult for me to gauge how this movie is viewed by the general public because of my personal connection, but I think it is deserving of a spot in this particular cinematic potpourri.

 

 

9 Happy Gilmore
For many people of a certain generation it is Happy Gilmore, not Caddyshack, that is the golf happycomedy of record. This is Adam Sandler in his goofy mid-90’s prime. It isn’t going to win any awards or garner critical acclaim, but it’s a really fun way to spend a couple of hours vegging on the couch. Happy is a hockey player wannabe with anger issues who must find a way to raise money to pay his grandmother’s back taxes so she won’t lose her house. Enter Carl Weathers as the clichéd mentor/guru, a golf pro with a hilarious wooden hand after an unfortunate run-in with an alligator. Happy ends up on the pro tour challenging top dog Shooter McGavin (a fantastic name), with the two ending up in a climactic battle on the course. Along the way Happy romances a pretty girl, gets into a hysterical fistfight with Bob Barker, & becomes the talk of the golf world due to his unconventional style. If you’ve seen Happy Gilmore once I’m willing to bet you’ve watched it dozens of times.

 

 

8 Major League
What would happen if the Bad News Bears were adults and played on a MLB team?? That’s Major-Leaguepretty much the idea of this movie. The Cleveland Indians haven’t won a World Series since Harry Truman was President, and at the time Major League was in theaters in 1989 hadn’t even won a league pennant since the 1950’s. They are perfect fodder for a loveable loser story. The setup here is that the owner has died and his bimbo widow has inherited the club. She devises a scheme to sabotage attendance so the team can be relocated to sunny Miami. The devious plot involves putting together a hilariously ragtag motley crew, including a pitcher who just got out of prison and is as likely to reach the bleachers as the strike zone with his fastball, an outfielder who practices voodoo, a speedy center fielder that couldn’t hit water with a baseball bat if he was sitting in a boat, & a bunch of old, washed up veterans with personality conflicts. Of course we know how it ends, but the journey is engaging and the characters are unique & funny, so the sports movie clichés aren’t at all bothersome. It is interesting to note that the film climaxes (spoiler alert) with the Indians winning a one game tiebreaker to capture the division and get into the playoffs. We learn in 1994’s Major League II that they lost the ALCS. In that inferior sequel Cleveland wins the ALCS but we still never see them in the World Series.

 

 

7 The Karate Kid
I’ve written on previous occasions about time capsules. If one were to open an 80’s time kkcapsule full of movies I suspect that The Karate Kid would be among the treasured loot, alongside The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the Back to the Future trilogy, & two of the first three Star Wars films (the original came out in 1977). Kid stars Ralph Macchio as a high school student (Macchio was 47 years old at the time) who has relocated from New Jersey to Los Angeles and is being bullied in his new school. He turns to martial arts for assistance, with guidance from a sagacious old Japanese building super. Kid paints inside the lines of the sports movie blueprint, but the characters are so interesting and the martial arts setting is different enough from the usual football/baseball/basketball scenario that this film has become an indisputable modern classic. There were a few tepid sequels, but none can hold a candle to the original. Oh, by the way, I was just kidding…Macchio was only 23 when he played Daniel Laruso. He is now 53 years old.

 

 

6 All the Right Moves
Am I crazy or does this movie fly way under the radar?? Tom Cruise is a megastar who has made a plethora of notable films, some that are popular with the masses and others that are critical darlings. One must give Cruise credit for being a versatile performer even if it seems like he might be kind of an out-of-touch crackpot diva in real life. ATRM was one of Cruise’s earliest efforts, released in 1983 (the same year as Risky Business). It is the quintessential high school football movie. Cruise is a talented player whose goal is to use his skills to score a movescollege scholarship and escape his dreary Pennsylvania hometown, rising above a dead end life in the steel mills. Being trapped in a small town and yearning for something more is hardly an original plot, but it works really well in a sports movie because it rings so true. Many athletes that fans watch on TV almost daily come from working class families in economically challenged neighborhoods. What we view as a fun way to relax on the weekend is, for a lot of young men, their ticket to a better life. ATRM captures the essence of that struggle really well, and portrays just how important a game can be to a town that has nothing else to look forward to. Craig T. Nelson is well known for his role in the 90’s sitcom Coach, but here he plays an entirely different kind of coach, the type of guy who is way too intense and has just a bit too much power. ATRM holds up really well after three decades and provides much food for thought while also being quite entertaining.

 

 

5 Tin Cup
My father loved to play golf until he got older and his knees went bad. Once he gets them replaced I am hopeful he can get back out on the course and knock a few balls around with my eldest nephew, who has inherited Dad’s fondness for the game. At any rate, even though I am physically unable to play I too love golf. Many people find it kind of boring on TV, but I have spent many a Sunday afternoon watching the entertaining final round of a tournament. There aren’t a lot of golf-centric movies, but a couple stand out amongst the crowd, including this 1996 Kevin Costner rom-com in which he simultaneously romances a shrink while also trying to qualify for the U.S. Open. He’s a failed professional golfer who now owns a rundown tin-cup-560driving range, lives in a camper, & drinks a lot. He’s kind of given up and just doesn’t give a damn. What motivates him to get his act together?? A woman of course. Don Johnson is great as a smooth talking pro golfer. I mean he’s no Shooter McGavin, but there’s got to be a bad guy, right?? And of course there is a faithful sidekick played by one half of Cheech & Chong. I believe it is Cheech. Anyway, like a few other flicks you’ve read about here the plot leans a lot more toward romantic comedy than sports, but there is an appropriate amount of golf action, including the requisite climactic showdown. This one has a fantastic twist. Anyone who’s ever watched Tin Cup knows what I mean and I won’t spoil it. The combination of Costner’s charm, a solid supporting cast, a well written script, & the always reliable sports movie playbook make this one that is likely to stand the test of time.

 

 

4 Hoosiers
Youngsters in The Manoverse may not be familiar with Gene Hackman, an award winning actor whose career peaked in the 70’s with classics like The French Connection, The Conversation, The Poseidon Adventure, & Superman. However, since then he has had a few notable crusty old man roles in films like Mississippi Burning, Unforgiven, The Firm, & Hoosiers…one of the greatest sports movies of all time. Here Hackman is a disgraced former college basketball coach who lost his job after hitting a player. He’s given a second chance by an old friend, a high school principal in Indiana. Most sports fans know how significant basketball is there, and the small town of Hickory is no exception. It’s the kind of dead end hoosierstown where folks toil too hard for too little and don’t have much hope for a better future. You know…like we’ve seen in a hundred other sports films. But my philosophy has always been that things become formulaic because the formula seems to work. The townsfolk don’t understand the new coach’s ways and aren’t shy about offering input. The team…like all great underdogs…is outmatched & undermanned, but somehow they pull together and win. The wildcard is an enigmatic lad named Jimmy Chitwood, a basketball prodigy who doesn’t know whether he wants to play basketball. Of course he does play, and he hits the last second winning shot that we all know is coming. Sports films are usually David vs. Goliath. David almost always wins. That is the accepted norm. What separates the wheat from the chaff is the quality of the writing and the performances. Hackman adds necessary gravitas to Hoosiers. The 1950’s setting is quaint & nostalgic. A solid supporting cast doesn’t hurt. It’s the total package, and that’s why we love it.

 

 

3 Bull Durham
Stop…collaborate & listen…Costner is back with another edition. Okay okay…I’m sorry…I just couldn’t resist. Anyway, as Forrest Gump might say, Kevin Costner and sports films go together like peas & carrots. Here he plays a veteran catcher who has spent most of his time in baseball meandering in the minor leagues. His career is nearing its conclusion, but instead of getting one last cup of coffee in The Show he’s sent down a couple of rungs on the ladder to the lowest of the minors to mentor a young pitcher whose arm is superb but isn’t mentally or emotionally mature enough to be taken seriously. Hilarity ensues. And yes, there is a bdrom-com element, with Susan Sarandon as a philosophical baseball groupie who tries to have her cake & eat it too with the older catcher & the younger pitcher. Bull Durham is a really fun look inside the world of minor league baseball, where the players aren’t making a bazillion dollars, there’s very little if any TV coverage, and there aren’t any perks like first class flights or luxury hotel rooms. The script is sharply written and Tim Robbins, in one of his earliest roles, is hysterical as the goofy pitcher. I had an opportunity a few years ago, while hanging out with my friend The Owl in Columbus, OH, to see a game involving the real Durham Bulls, and scenes from this movie kept flashing thru my mind. It holds up really well after nearly three decades, and I suspect that’ll continue to be the case for many years.

 

 

2 Field of Dreams
Back to back Costner!! The dude has three films in the Top 5. That’s amazing!! And it’s not like I’m a hardcore Kevin Costner fan. Outside of the plethora of sports films he’s starred in there are a lot of snoozers like Waterworld and The Postman. But sometimes one finds their niche and it’s just a perfect fit. I heaped about as much praise as possible on Field of Dreams a few years ago when I named it 3rd amongst my 100 Favorite Movies, and one of the things I said was that calling it a sports film is an “epic oversimplification”. It is much more than that. I even stated that Field of Dreams “is not about baseball”. I stand by that declaration. However, FieldofDreams_1636642cin hindsight I realize that most sports films aren’t only about whatever sport they feature. Sports themselves are about more than winning or losing a game. Due to my disability I was never able to play competitive sports which is unfortunate because I believe that many valuable lessons can be learned thru involvement with such activities. Teamwork. Responsibility. The importance of following rules. Dedication. Focus. Work ethic. Respect. Honor. Tact. Diplomacy. The value of fitness & physical well-being. Integrity. Leadership. How to win & lose graciously. Overcoming obstacles & failure. I could go on, but you get the point. Field of Dreams is about things even more metaphysical than any of that, and it uses the backdrop of baseball to perfection. It’s a beautiful story that I’ve probably watched a hundred times over the years, and I’ll probably watch it a hundred more. It just never gets old.

 

1 Rocky
This list could reach its epic conclusion no other way. There were sports films produced before 1976, but Rocky re-wrote the rulebook and redefined the genre. It is THE classic David vs. Goliath story. Everything else that has come afterward is a derivative variation on the theme. But have you watched it recently?? Everyone remembers the big picture…the broad strokes. Characters like Rocky, Adrian, Mickey, & Apollo Creed. Rocky pounding on raw meat or running up the steps of a Philadelphia museum. That theme song!! Yet Rocky has been copied & parodied so much that people forget that it is a REALLY great movie. Stallone was a 29 year old struggling actor when he wrote the screenplay. Yes that’s right…Sylvester Stallone created Rocky!! He had to fight the suits to star in the film though. They wanted a big name like Burt Reynolds, James Caan, or Robert Redford to play the titular role. What would that rockyBhave been like?? Obviously we’ll never know, but, though now the masses couldn’t imagine anyone else as Rocky Balboa, the truth is that the script is so good that it likely would have worked anyway. Were there too many sequels made?? Probably, although I think the only one that was really terrible was Rocky V (the one with the late Tommy Morrison as a bitter former Balboa protégé). The rest were sufficiently entertaining popcorn cinema…they just lacked the heart & depth of the original. Rocky won the Academy Award for Best Picture, overcoming competition from Network, Taxi Driver, & All the President’s Men, and is a rare film that is beloved by both critics and normal people. Stallone became only the third person to ever be nominated for Best Actor & Best Original Screenplay in the same year. The other two were Charlie Chaplin & Orson Welles (since 1976 Woody Allen, Warren Beatty, Billy Bob Thornton, Roberto Benigni, & Matt Damon have all had similar double nominations). As much as I love sports movies I must admit that they rarely have this kind of elite pedigree. Not even Raging Bull or Field of Dreams, though nominated, won Best Picture. That’s not what this is about though. Awards are merely icing on the cake and just mean that a bunch of other people agree with my assessment. Good for them. The world would be a better place if more people acknowledged my wisdom.

The Not Quite Top 100 Movies – Honorable Mentions

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.


M
ASH

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.