100 Memorable Movie Characters – The Top 10

The most amazing thing for me is that every single person who sees a movie brings a whole set of unique experiences. Through careful manipulation & good storytelling you can get everybody to clap at the same time, to hopefully laugh at the same time, and to be afraid at the same time. – Steven Spielberg

“Stay tuned for the Top 10…coming…soon-ish.” That’s what I said at the end of the previous installment of this series…a little over a year ago. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then, but this isn’t the time to dive down that rabbit hole. At this moment I just want to finish what I started way back in October 2019. As I’m sure you’ll want a little refresher please check out how we got to this point by going here, here, here, here, & here. It’s good to be back.

10      Forrest Gump (Forrest Gump)

An unnamed person, in a conversation with legendary college football coach Bear Bryant, describes the titular character in 1994’s Best Picture simply & succinctly as “a local idiot”. Of course he is so much more. It is my understanding that the film is significantly different in tone from the book it is based on, but either way it is a flight of fancy in which the aforementioned idiot finds himself in a number of inexplicable situations, from playing college football at Alabama to becoming a war hero to blowing the whistle on Watergate burglars to owning his own shrimping business. Forrest isn’t completely oblivious, and he has a level of common sense that would be the envy of many real life individuals nowadays. He loves his Mama and meets his girl Jenny in grade school, although it takes her a few decades to return his affection. Those two ladies are all he really cares about until he gets to Vietnam and meets his buddy Bubba, whose life is cut tragically short, and Lt. Dan, who eventually becomes his best friend & business partner. Tom Hanks won his second consecutive Academy Award for Best Actor for the role, and we all should be thankful he got the part after John Travolta, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and Sean Penn all allegedly passed on it.

Quotes

“Mama always said ‘Life is like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re gonna get’.”

“Jenny and me was like peas & carrots.”

“Mama says stupid is as stupid does.”

“I never went back to work for Lieutenant Dan, though he did take care of my Bubba-Gump money. He got me invested in some kind of fruit company. And so then I got a call from him saying we don’t have to worry about money no more. And I said ‘That’s good…one less thing’.”

“I’m not a smart man, but I know what love is.”

“I don’t know if Mama was right or if it’s Lt. Dan. I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I think maybe it’s both happening at the same time.”

9        Dorothy Gale (The Wizard of Oz)

Judy Garland was 16 years old when she portrayed Dorothy in the 1939 classic, which was an annual television tradition when I was a kid (a quaint notion these days). Garland starred in dozens of films in a career that spanned four decades (remarkable when you considered she passed on at the young age of 47), but she’ll always be remembered as Dorothy, a Kansas farm girl who gets caught in a tornado and either has a really cool dream or actually goes to a fantasy land called Oz, depending on one’s interpretation of the movie. L. Frank Baum wrote 14 novels about Oz, which means that we missed out on a bunch of potential sequels. I guess Hollywood did business a whole lot different back then. At any rate, Garland’s talents as a singer & actress, as well as her youthful innocence, made her the perfect choice for the role.

Quotes

“Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

“Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh my!”

“There’s no place like home.”

8 Batman, Superman, & Spider-Man (various films)

I’m not a comic book guy…never was, even as a little boy. However, superheroes are such a ubiquitous part of the pop culture landscape that there are plenty of ways to become familiar with and be entertained by the plethora of adventures they engage in. Though it might be a fun debate I am fairly certain that most would consider the Big Three superheroes to be Batman, Superman, & Spider-Man. My particular favorite has always been Batman, precisely for the reason that some question his status as a superhero at all. He’s not an alien. His body hasn’t been genetically altered in any way. He doesn’t have any kind of magic powers. Batman is simply a mega rich business mogul who has dedicated his life to vigilante justice because he is psychologically damaged after watching his parents get murdered when he was a little boy. I dare you to come up with cooler origin story. Superman is an “undocumented worker” from the planet Krypton whose spaceship lands in Kansas. After growing up on the farm he becomes a big city reporter, but when he takes his glasses off & uses a phone booth to change into his red caped costume he becomes indestructible, has x-ray vision, and can fly. Spider-Man is a typical American teenager who is bitten by a radioactive spider and develops all kinds of cool powers, including the ability to shoot webs from his wrist that help him to scale tall buildings & fly. He decides to use his unique skills to bring bad guys to justice after his Uncle Ben is shot by a street thug. Our three superheroes have starred in dozens of movies & TV shows. My favorite big screen Caped Crusader was portrayed by Michael Keaton in the late 80s Tim Burton films. As far as I’m concerned the late Christopher Reeve will always embody Superman. And though I am pretty fond of Tobey Maguire’s version of Spider-Man from a couple of decades ago I have to say that the current incarnation as presented by the Marvel Cinematic Universe is quite entertaining.

Quotes

“Maybe that’s what Batman is about. Not winning, but failing and getting back up. Knowing he’ll fail, fail a thousand times, but still won’t give up.” – Batman

“No matter where you go in life there’s always going to be the one person that wants to bring you down, so stay strong and face your problems instead of running away.” – Superman

“Not everyone is meant to make a difference. But for me, the choice to lead an ordinary life is no longer an option.” – Spiderman

7 Gordon Gekko (Wall Street)

Gordon Gekko represents a moment in time, or atleast some people’s perspective of that particular era. Were the 1980s a Decade of Greed, wherein the populace engaged in intense levels of conspicuous consumption?? Certainly pop culture embraced that mythology, with TV shows like Dallas & Dynasty and movies ranging from Trading Places & Arthur to Scarface & St. Elmo’s Fire. Yuppies drinking Perrier on their yachts while constantly checking in with their stock broker were a popular stereotype. Class warfare was encouraged. Did any of that have a legit connection to the real world?? Certainly the economy was robust in the 80s, but as a kid in small town West Virginia I never encountered those kinds of people. Unlike preconceived notions of Appalachia our family wore shoes, had indoor plumbing, & didn’t have vehicles on blocks in our front yard, yet we definitely weren’t wealthy. At any rate, even if folks like Gordon Gekko were rare Michael Douglas made him seem very real, sort of cool, & really interesting. His return in the 2010 sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps probably came about a decade too late, but it was still fun to see him onscreen again.

Quotes

“The most valuable commodity I know of is information.”

“What’s worth doing is worth doing for money.”

“Gimme guys who are poor, smart, & hungry. And no feelings. You win some, you lose some, but you keep on fighting. And if you need a friend, get a dog.”

“I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies & gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all its forms: greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind.”

“It’s a zero sum game. Somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn’t lost or made, it’s simply transferred from one perception to another. Like magic.”

“You got 99% of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own. We make the rules, pal. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval, the price per paper clip. We pick that rabbit out of the hat while everybody sits out there wondering how the hell we did it.”

6 Marty McFly & Doc Brown (The Back to the Future Trilogy)

I don’t think there’s any way to separate the pair. They are peanut butter & jelly, Bert & Ernie, peas & carrots…one without the other just isn’t right. I am a huge fan of the Back to the Future Trilogy. I assume most people have some level of familiarity with the franchise, but just in case I’ll refresh your memory. Marty is a typical California teen in the 1980s with a family that he finds slightly embarrassing. Dr. Emmett Brown is an eccentric scientist who builds a time machine out of a DeLorean. Marty accidentally gets sent back in time to the 1950s, inadvertently screws up the space-time continuum, jeopardizing his parents relationship and therefore his own existence. It’s pretty heavy. Throughout three very entertaining films Doc & Marty take us from the 1980s to the 1950s to the 21st Century and even the Old West. Michael J. Fox wasn’t even the original Marty, but when actor Eric Stoltz just didn’t click in the role he was replaced, and thank God for that. BTTF is just the right mix of fun, adventure, suspense, & romance, and Doc & Marty are the centerpiece.

Quotes

“If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you’re gonna see some serious shit.” (Doc)

“Whoa, wait a minute, Doc. Are you trying to tell me that my mother has got the hots for me?” (Marty)

“Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the Earth’s gravitational pull?” (Doc)

“I guess you guys aren’t ready for that, yet. But your kids are gonna love it.” (Marty)

“Great Scott!”  (Doc)

“So, you’re my Uncle Joey. Better get used to these bars, kid.” (Marty)

“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” (Doc)

“Time traveling is just too dangerous. Better that I devote myself to study the other great mystery of the universe: women.” (Doc)

“Your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one.” (Doc)

5 Rocky Balboa (The Rocky Series)

When ranking my favorite sports films several years ago I opined that Rocky redefined the genre. It was the first sports movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture (only two others have achieved that feat since) and was actually written by Sylvester Stallone. Hollywood power brokers wanted a known entity like James Caan or Burt Reynolds to play the lead because at the time, in the mid-1970s, Stallone was a nobody. The fact that Stallone not only got the part but received an Oscar nomination and created an iconic character in the process actually mirrors the plot of the film. I like the other actors considered for the role just fine, but Stallone portrays Rocky in such a way that we see ourselves in him. He’s not rich or successful. He isn’t a well-spoken intellectual. He’s just a guy from the neighborhood doing what he can to get by and chasing a dream in his spare time. The fact that he succeeds (eventually) and builds a great life for himself & his family gives the rest of us hope that we can do the same.

Quotes

“She’s got gaps, I got gaps. Together, we fill gaps.”

“Yo Adrian! I did it!!’

“If I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!”

“The world ain’t all sunshine & rainbows. It’s a very mean & nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”

4 Darth Vader (The Star Wars Series)

Has there ever been a more iconic cinematic badass?? The costume. The mask. The voice. Put Vader in a cage with Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and any other lunatic in the history of film and I’m guessing he’d hold his own. The question is, did the prequels ruin his story?? Aside from the weak writing and poor casting that lessened the impact of the prequel trilogy I’m going to say no…Darth Vader is still Darth Vader. I view Anakin Skywalker as a different character altogether. At the end of Rogue One (a criminally underappreciated film that’s better than any of the prequels) Vader has a brief yet effectual appearance that’ll make the hair on your neck stand up, but nothing beats that moment in The Empire Strikes Back when he drops the biggest truth bomb ever on Luke Skywalker. That scene is still quoted & parodied more than four decades later, which is quite a legacy.

Quotes

“I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

“Join me, and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict, and bring order to the galaxy.”

“I am your father! Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy as father & son!”

“Obi-Wan has taught you well.”

“You under estimate the power of the dark side. If you will not fight, then you will meet your destiny!”

3 Rick Blaine (Casablanca)

Do men like Rick even exist anymore?? Cool. Smart. Pragmatic. Mysterious. Debonair. A rare mix of romantic & jaded. He’s the kind of guy that makes women swoon yet men can’t help but respect & admire. His aloof demeanor hides a principled heart of gold. He owns a nightclub in Morocco that people flock to during WWII to forget about war for awhile. People from all walks of life & all nationalities (including Nazis) are welcome at Rick’s Cafe Americain because he’s a businessman who’ll gladly take anybody’s money. Perhaps men like Rick don’t exist anymore because they never did in the first place. Rick Blaine is an idealistic notion of what a man should be, and there are worse characters one could emulate.

Quotes

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

“I stick my neck out for nobody.”

“When it comes to women, you’re a true Democrat.”

“I don’t mind a parasite. I object to a cut-rate one.”

“I’m not fighting for anything anymore except myself. I’m the only cause I’m interested in.”

“If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life. We’ll always have Paris. I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that. Here’s looking at you, kid.”

“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

2 Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird)

It is rare that an attorney is viewed as a role model even in fiction, but Atticus Finch is the ultimate quixotic fantasy. Not only is he the most virtuous lawyer ever, but he’s the epitome of a perfect father. Modern audiences tend to prefer anti-heroes, or atleast a flawed protagonist in which we recognize our own imperfections and soothe ourselves with the notion that it’s okay to be a little messed up. We scoff at ideals like integrity, honor, ethics, loyalty, & altruism. That being said, is it really that bad to have such a measuring stick in our fiction?? On top of all that let me remind you of something I stated two years ago when we began this journey: “the value of a character’s name cannot be overstated”. How cool & memorable is the name Atticus Finch?? As usual I urge everyone to read To Kill A Mockingbird. It is one of my favorite books and most agree it is amongst the finest novels ever written. But we are discussing movie characters here, right?? The book had already won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize, so adapting it into a film just a year later had to have been a daunting task. Gregory Peck had already been nominated for four Academy Awards in the 1940s, so the powers-that-be knew what they were doing. It turned out better than anyone could have ever dreamed, with Peck beating out Burt Lancaster, Jack Lemmon, & Peter O’Toole to win his only Oscar.

Quotes

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

“In this country our courts are the great levelers. In our courts all men are created equal. I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and of our jury system…that’s no ideal to me. That is a living, working reality.”

“I remember when my Daddy gave me that gun. He told me that I should never point it at anything in the house, and that he’d rather I’d shoot at tin cans in the backyard. But he said that sooner or later he supposed the temptation to go after birds would be too much, and that I could shoot all the blue jays I wanted, if I could hit ’em, but to remember it was a sin to kill a mockingbird. Mockingbirds don’t do anything but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat people’s gardens, don’t nest in the corncribs. They don’t do one thing but just sing their hearts out for us.”

1 Michael Corleone (The Godfather Trilogy)

We’ve reached the pinnacle, and I am contradicting myself one last time…or am I?? When discussing Pacino’s portrayal of Lt. Col. Frank Slade I opined that, while The Godfather is his best film, Slade is his best performance. I stand by that because there is a difference. Michael Corleone is a much more memorable character, especially since he has an entire trilogy to impact our pop culture consciousness. That influence is made all the more impressive when considering the fact that Pacino shares the screen with Marlon Brando & James Caan in the original film, Part 2 is focused on Robert Deniro’s depiction of young Vito Corleone, and so many people despise Part 3 (I don’t hate it). But the one constant flowing thru all three Godfather films is Michael Corleone. He is introduced as a young war hero in a new romance, then reluctantly gets pulled into the family business. Finding that he has a knack for ruthlessness Michael evolves into a stone cold killer and merciless husband, even having his own brother murdered. As he grows old & ill he becomes consumed with regret and concerned with his legacy, his story ending with one of the more depressing deaths in cinema. The evolution of Michael Corleone is well written & performed and remarkably sad. 

Quotes

“My father made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Luca Brasi held a gun to his head and my father assured him that either his brains or his signature would be on the contract. That’s a true story. That’s my family, Kay. It’s not me.”

‘It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.’

“Don’t ever take sides with anyone against the family again, ever.”

“Today, I settle all family business, so don’t tell me you’re innocent because it insults my intelligence. It makes me very angry.”

“I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!”

“My father taught me many things here. He taught me to keep your friends close but your enemies closer.”

“You’re nothing to me now. You’re not a brother, you’re not a friend. I don’t want to know you or what you do. I don’t want to see you at the hotels. I don’t want you near my house. When you see our mother, I want to know a day in advance so I won’t be there.”

“Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgment.”

“I command this family, right or wrong. It was not what I wanted!”

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

Points of Ponderation…..Episode 1.20

A semi-regular attempt to address some of life’s minutiae that might otherwise be overlooked…..

 

 

 

 

By far one of my favorite traits in a human being is resilience. I dig the kind of people who have overcome obstacles and are able to put away their pain & sadness to show the world an irrepressible spirit with smiles & laughter. Sure they might be faking it much of the time, but they’re making an effort, and that’s beautiful. One of my favorite scenes is in the film Rocky Balboa when an aging Italian Stallion is talking to his son about such resilience. He makes the point that the world “will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it”, and that life “ain’t about how hard you hit…it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” I admire anyone that gets back up when they get knocked down. It shows courage, toughness, & humility. That’s the kind of person I’ll be glad to call friend any day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was amused a few weeks back when perusing social media after President Trump’s State of the Union address and ran across a comment from a friend of a friend who opined that it was “one of the most poorly written speeches I’ve ever heard” and “his speechwriters should find a new job”. Now I’m the first to admit that Trump isn’t a gifted public speaker, but I also believe that no matter what one’s political opinions might be that SotU was objectively a home run. Was it a little gimmicky?? Perhaps. But to call it “poorly written” is a bad take from someone who I assumed was much smarter. I’m pretty sure that person is a hardcore liberal, the kind who actually believes Bernie Sanders is a legit choice to be President of the United States. That’s fine…it’s a free country & we can agree to disagree. And speaking of the State of the Union, I wasn’t all that offended by Speaker Pelosi acting like a belligerent toddler throughout the evening and tearing up President Trump’s speech at the end. It exposed what kind of person she really is, though sadly I have no doubt that the people in her district in California will re-elect her to an 18th term and she’ll get four more chances to hear a Trump SotU.

 

 

 

I don’t suffer from depression myself, but I do go thru the occasional valley, which can include feelings of loneliness & isolation. However, I think the point of this meme can be be expanded beyond all of that. It’s a tremendous dichotomy in our modern world where everyone is connected online and communication is easier than it ever has been that society is oftentimes non-communicative. It has been a source of frustration for me over the years that so many people who I’d really like to talk to & see more often rarely seem to reach out. My phone hardly rings. I spend most days & evenings alone when I’m not at work. Sometimes I don’t mind…but other times I do. I don’t feel like my ability to reach out has been muted…I’ve just made the conscious decision to not bother with those who don’t seem to notice my absence. 

 

 

 

I’m 47 years old & single, so my expertise about women is virtually nil, but I’d like to think I know a few things. An acquaintance of mine recently posted on social media that “I will never tell you my needs until I am desperate. You are expected to just know or you’re not the one for me because I want an intuitive man.” Okay…there’s a lot to unpack there. On one hand I do kinda sorta get it. When my sister was a teenager my mother used to become frustrated because she didn’t think she should have to tell my sister every little thing that needed done around the house or that she needed help with; Mom expected my sister to see what needed done & do it without being prodded. To some degree that is completely understandable. However, there is a thin line between intuitive & psychic. I’d like to think that I’d be the kind of attentive boyfriend/husband that would make a woman content and be able to anticipate her wants & needs. However, in the course of my life I have found direct communication to be…efficient. A person can’t always read your mind, no matter how well y’all know each other. I don’t care what kind of relationship is involved…romantic, professional, parental, friendship…forthright communication is best. I believe in most instances people are pleased by the result of such refreshing honesty. Certainly it seems like a better course of action than assumptions, guesswork, expectations, disappointment, & lingering bitterness based on misguided idealism.

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.

100 Favorite Movies…..76-80

Today’s selection is pretty…..dramatic. Even the lone comedy in the bunch is more of a poignant “dramedy”. There are a couple 90’s movies, one from the 70’s, one from the 80’s, and one from the 50’s, before I was even born. No one can ever say I discriminate in my movie watching. If it’s good I don’t care when it was made or who is in it, as long as it makes me laugh, makes me think, or both.

 

 

 

80 Big

In yet another example of divine timing I caught this movie on HBO just as I was ready to write about it. I love it when a plan comes together. It seems like eons ago that Tom Hanks was a relatively obscure TV star on Bosom Buddies. Flash ahead nearly three decades and he is among the most famous and successful movie stars in the world and has two Best Actor Oscars sitting on his mantle. Though the 1984 mermaid flick Splash was Hanks’ coming out party as a major movie star, 1988’s Big cemented that status. It tells the story of a 13 year old boy who is the wimpy type that gets picked on and overlooked. He goes to a carnival where he uses a fortune telling machine to wish he were big. Lo and behold the next day his wish is granted and he’s been transformed, atleast physically, into a 30 year old man. I state it that way for a reason. Hanks’ performance in Big is brilliant (it earned him his first Best Actor nomination) because he makes it clear that although the character is 30 years old on the outside, on the inside he is still a little boy. His mannerisms, the things he says and the way he says them…..it’s a spot on interpretation of a child by an adult. Able support is given by Robert Loggia and Elizabeth Perkins (a smoking hot, underrated, underutilized actress even now), but Big is all about Hanks. Funny and touching without being overly sweet and sentimental, Big hits exactly the right note, the rare “fantasy” film that is utterly believable.

 

79 Saving Private Ryan

Back to back Tom Hanks?? You bet. Although this is a completely different Hanks vehicle. You won’t see very many war films on this list. I’m just not a big fan. I prefer to laugh rather than do the whole blood and guts thing. But Saving Private Ryan is so powerful, so raw, so realistic in its portrayal of the World War II D-Day Invasion that it simply cannot be overlooked. The cast is stunning…..Hanks, Matt Damon, Ed Burns, Tom Sizemore, Vin Diesel (showing that he has legit acting chops), and Adam Golberg star, and small cameos are made by Ted Danson, Dennis Farina, Paul Giamatti, and Bryan Cranston. And oh, by the way, the film is directed by Steven Spielberg. The opening scene hits you like a sledgehammer to the nether region, and things don’t really let up after that. The conclusion is so potently memorable and emotional that it takes the movie to another level. Irrespective of the war motif, Saving Private Ryan forces a self evaluation of one’s life, making a person really examine if they’ve made a difference and earned the right to take up space on this planet.

 

78 The Godfather Part III

Many many people disregard this third installment of The Godfather franchise. It’s like the crazy uncle that you keep locked in the basement and pretend doesn’t exist. But I think that’s unfair. First of all, it is the conclusion to one of the all time great movie trilogies. The first two films are generally considered to be among the finest ever made. Secondly, III still stars Al Pacino, and anything that is graced with the presence of Pacino cannot be all that bad. The legendary supporting cast from the first two films is nearly all gone…..only Talia Shire and Diane Keaton remain. In the absence of Brando, Duvall, and Caan we get Andy Garcia and Joe Mantegna, which isn’t necessarily as bad of a trade off as it may seem. Garcia is among the most underrated actors of his generation. The plot is a bit hard to follow and mirrors real life eventsinvolving the Vatican and papal murder & mayhem. Repeated viewings are almost a necessity to really have all the intricacies of the story really sink in, and that may be the biggest mark against III. One really has to invest some effort into completely understanding the story, and only big fans of the first two will likely have the inclination to undertake that endeavor. I personally believe it is worth the time. The Godfather Part III really grows on you and it becomes much clearer how it fits with the first two films. I have come to see it as a logical and almost necessary conclusion to Michael Corleone’s story, although director Francis Ford Coppola has stated that it was not originally intended to be so. He has been up front in saying that the only reason that he made the film was due to the box office failure of Tucker: A Man & His Dream. In other words, he needed the money. It is interesting to note two things about this movie. First, Robert Duvall was supposed to reprise the character of consiglieri Tom Hagen, but didn’t because he wanted a bigger payday. The character had to be rewritten as having died. Also, the character of Mary Corleone was orginally to be played by Julia Roberts and then Winona Ryder. Sophia Coppola, the director’s daughter, got the part only as a last resort after Ryder dropped out. Ms. Coppola’s performance is almost universally at the top of the list of reasons why some dislike The Godfather Part III. So imagine if Duvall had taken part and if either Roberts or Ryder would have played Mary. I guess we’ll never know for sure, but if those two things would have occurred the third installment may possibly have become as beloved as the first two films. As it is, I like the film. I love Pacino, I dig Andy Garcia, and I see the tragic conclusion to Michael Corleone’s tale as being well written and the only logical way it could have ended.

 

77 Rocky II

When people think of the Rocky story I sometimes think they get things a bit mixed up. They forget that at the end of the first Rocky film the titular character lost the fight, the point being that he had gone the distance which was a moral victory in and of itself. It’s not until the end of the second fight that Balboa wins in a dramatic near double countout. I’ve always believed that having Rocky lose at the end of the first fight only to have him actually win at the end of the second was a brilliant idea. I’m not privy to inside information, but I suspect that unlike how things work today, back in 1979 a sequel was not assumed or planned. So one can make an educated guess that the whole moral victory angle was Stallone’s original intent. After the enormous success of the first movie a sequel was demanded, and there’s no way on earth the audience would have stood for the underdog losing again. It is somewhat surprising that this foregone conclusion does not diminish Rocky II’s quality, which I suppose can be attributed to the fine writing and performances. Unlike The Godfather films I do not believe a third (or 4th, 5th, & 6th) movie was necessary to elaborate on Rocky Balboa’s saga. I would have been okay with forever remembering him as the imaginary World Heavyweight Champion and skip seeing him lose everything, fight the Russians, and not-so-gracefully grow old. I suppose we can blame George Foreman for the last two sequels and the Cold War for one of its predecessors. I can think of no logical reason why anyone thought Rocky III was a good idea.

 

76 Twelve Angry Men

Here in 2009 we have short attention spans, and we have been poorly conditioned to expect the wrong things from our movies. Dramas are oftentimes needlessly violent, and comedies constantly try to outdo each other with ever increasing offensiveness. Almost every movie of any genre is fast paced, shallowly written, and an all out assault on our eyes & ears and Hollywood seems to make the assumption that it needs to continuously ramp up the foul language, sexual content, blood & gore, and unrealistic death defying stunts. They are right of course, but onlybecause they have dictated the rules. Most anyone who doesn’t have any grey hair on their head has spent their lives going to movies replete with brutality and debauchery to the point that a film without it is deemed tedious. I say this as a basis for bringing up just such a “boring” movie, 1957’s Twelve Angry Men, a film that comes across more like a play because it was in fact adapted from one. It stars Henry Fonda as the one dissenting voice of a jury that is deciding a murder case. There are no car chases, no explosions, not hot and heavy sex scenes. It is simply 12 men sitting in a room arguing about the case they’ve just heard and whether or not the accused is guilty or not guilty. In my youth I talked of one day becoming an attorney. Though I strayed from that path the law is still something that interests me, which in some small way explains my interest in this film. The other thing that captivates my attention is its simplicity. I am a minimalist, and Twelve Angry Men is the ultimate testament to minimalism in moviemaking. There are no gimmicks…..everything, the whole roll of the dice, rests on the shoulders of fine acting and writing. I only wish that contemporary filmmakers were willing to gamble like that, and even more that modern audiences were capable of appreciating that type of quality.