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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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!”
If you haven’t read the intro to this series please do so that you have some idea of what’s going on here.
Who doesn’t like Tom Hanks?? I can even overlook his loathsome political beliefs because I’ll be darned if he isn’t a great actor who has starred in a plethora of really entertaining movies. Our marathon doesn’t have the best of Hanks’ filmography by any stretch, but there are reasons for that which will become clear down the road. That being said, I do think we have a solid cross section of his career, from one of his breakthrough roles in 1984 to a late 90’s entry that he wrote, co-starred in, & directed. Rest assured that you’ll be seeing a lot more Hanks here in the future, but I think this is a fun way to start.
Full disclosure…I hadn’t watched Bachelor Party for many years until I thought it prudent to do so for this discussion. Let’s be honest…Tom Hanks has grown into a much better actor in the past three & a half decades than he was in 1984, and has starred in a ton of more highly regarded movies. However, what one gets with Bachelor Party is Hanks at his peak level of fun, before he got caught up in trying to become a great actor, before he became a regular at awards shows, before anyone had high expectations of him. Bachelor Party is exactly what it sounds like. It tells the story of Rick, a happy go lucky bus driver by day and a total party animal by night. His buddies throw him a wild bachelor party the night before the wedding (as is always the case on TV & in movies even though it’s not actually a thing in real life most of the time). Hijinks occur, and the overriding question is whether the groom will cheat on his gal before the big day. The bad guys are the bride’s father & her ex-boyfriend, who conspire to torpedo the marriage before it even begins. Recently deceased Tawny Kitaen portrays the bride, and the wave of fame earned from this movie and a notable music video she starred in a few years later was something she successfully rode for decades. The best man is played by Adrian Zmed, who was a big deal for a few years in the 80’s (anyone remember Grease 2?? TJ Hooker?? Dance Fever??). Bachelor Party has a tepid 54% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but that’s not surprising. It isn’t really the kind of mindless entertainment notoriously priggish critics praise.
To date there have been four Toy Story films, a franchise largely responsible for reviving interest in animation and taking the genre to a whole new level. Feel free to watch the entire series, but we’re only covering the original film today. It was the first ever full length feature using computer animation, putting Pixar on the map. In the years since Pixar has produced two dozen movies, and most of them have been hits. Perhaps this is trivia that only interests me, but did you know Apple founder Steve Jobs is listed as an executive producer of Toy Story?? Or that Joss Whedon, now known for writing & directing The Avengers and creating television shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Angel, is credited as one of the writers of Toy Story?? Anyway, the plot revolves around a group of toys that belong to eight year old Andy. These toys become walking, talking, breathing beings as long as no humans are around, which is almost creepy when you really ponder the idea. The leader of Andy’s toys is Sheriff Woody (voiced by our guy Hanks), a pull string rag doll cowboy, but his role within the group and in Andy’s life is threatened by the arrival of Andy’s latest birthday present…Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen), a boisterous space ranger action figure who doesn’t realize he is a toy. Woody is jealous of Buzz and a rivalry develops, but things happen and they eventually become friends. Toy Story was the third highest grossing film of 1995 and boasts a rare 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Critically acclaimed & accessible to the masses is a rare combination.
Turner & Hooch
I just watched Turner & Hooch not long ago, which was the first time I’d seen it in atleast 20 years. You know what though?? It holds up well. It’s a comedy, but provides a small glimpse into Hanks’ future with some dramatic, tearjerker type scenes because (spoiler alert) anytime a cute animal is in mortal danger there will be some emotion. A similar film…K-9 starring Jim Belushi…featuring a cop partnered with a dog had been released a few months earlier in 1989, and I recall thinking that K-9 was a better movie than Turner & Hooch, but critics & audiences alike disagreed with me. One thing I noticed when watching Turner & Hooch recently was the supporting cast, which includes forgotten Brat Packer Mare Winningham, Craig T. Nelson (you remember him from films like All the Right Moves & Blades of Glory as well as hilarious 90’s sitcom Coach), and Reginald VelJohnson, who was Bruce Willis’ sidekick in Die Hard and the Dad who had to put up with nerdy neighbor Urkel in Family Matters. Kudos to the casting director.
Unlike alot of other Hanks films this isn’t one I’m all that familiar with or have watched many times, which surprises me given my affection for the dramedy sub-genre. Roger Ebert criticized Punchline for “making the fatal mistake of taking stand-up comedy seriously”, while the Washington Post opined that it “commits the unforgivable sin of being a movie about comedy that’s not funny.” Both are valid criticisms because dramedy is so difficult to pull off successfully, but Punchline isn’t bad because how can anything with a cast including Hanks, Sally Field, & John Goodman be terrible?? Hanks straddles the line, making one ponder how great he could’ve been as a standup comedian while simultaneously showing off acting chops that have been refined in the 30+ years since Punchline was produced. We can’t be too surprised though that it’s a performance oftentimes lost in the shuffle of his stellar filmography. Still, I’d encourage anyone to give it a whirl.
That Thing You Do!
By the time Hanks wrote, directed, & co-starred in That Thing You Do! in 1996 he’d already won two Academy Awards for Best Actor and was a bona fide megastar, so of course Hollywood was like “Okay dude, go ahead and make your silly little film about a one hit wonder band in the 60’s with its catchy theme song”. The thing is, it’s actually a pretty decent flick. The cast consists mostly of character actors like Steve Zahn, Tom Everett Scott, & Ethan Embry. Liv Tyler is also there in one of her earlier performances, just a couple of years after she & Alicia Silverstone had gained notoriety starring in Aerosmith’s music video for the song Crazy. I suppose Jonathon Schaech, who portrays the band’s brooding lead singer in That Thing You Do!, was supposed to become a big star, but Hollywood didn’t get the memo. And then there is Hanks, whose role as the band’s manager is relatively inconsequential, but whose name & mere presence helped the movie make $35 million at the box office…not bad for film with a $26 million budget. For context, 1996’s biggest hit…Will Smith’s Independence Day…had a budget of $75 million. It certainly helps that That Thing You Do! is a pretty good film with a 93% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning that critics liked it even more than folks like you & me. It’s the kind of delightfully satisfying movie that one watches on a lazy weekend when there’s nothing more pressing going on.
“Film is one of three universal languages, along with mathematics & music.” – Frank Capra
My original intention was to post this a few days ago, but stuff happens…like having a big chunk of what I wrote disappear because evidently I forgot to save my work. When something like that happens I can become quite emo, and to be honest I just lost my desire to write for a few days. Anyway, I’m feeling a little better about life in general now, so let’s finish this thing up and move on to the next gig. If you have not perused Part 1 please do so, and as always I really would enjoy some feedback.
16 A film that is personal to you…
We Are Marshall
I graduated from Marshall University in Huntington, WV in the mid-1990s, and the tragic 1970 plane crash that killed the entire football team, coaching staff, and a number of parents & boosters is a tale well known to anyone who has ever lived or attended school there. A couple of years after the crash a beautiful fountain on the student center plaza was dedicated in memory of the 75 lives lost, and during my four+ years at MU I passed by that fountain every single day. Anyway, 2006’s We Are Marshall, though an imperfect film, does an admirable job of depicting the event & its aftermath, with the haunting performance of Matthew Fox (Party of Five, Lost) as assistant coach Red Dawson deserving kudos. If you dig We Are Marshall I would highly recommend a 2000 documentary called Ashes to Glory, which is a more factual and much more emotional rendition of the story.
17 Favorite film sequel…
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
I really had to think long & hard about this one. Rarely do sequels even approach the greatness of the original. And what about trilogies & series?? Do I prefer the second, third, or fourth movie?? I generally think of such things as one entity and don’t go so far as to break down each film, although there are exceptions. Having said all of that, and while I still think the original 1983 National Lampoon’s Vacation is the best of the series, the particular niche that Christmas Vacation has carved out in the pop culture landscape is undeniable. Three decades after its theatrical run it is shown on television dozens of times each holiday season…and we still watch.
18 A film that stars your favorite actor/actress…
Joe Versus the Volcano and The Glenn Miller Story
First, I had to decide between Jimmy Stewart & Tom Hanks, but I’m taking the easy way out and not making that choice, Secondly, I have shown love to other films by both men already, so what I have chosen to do is give a shout out to two of their lesser known films. Glenn Miller was a real life big band leader in the 1930’s & 40’s and the composer of hits like Moonlight Serenade, Little Brown Jug, & In the Mood. While flying from a gig in the United Kingdom to Paris in December 1944 Miller’s plane disappeared over the English Channel. He was only 40 years old. James Stewart just so happened to be a Glenn Miller doppelganger, so when a biopic was produced in 1954 he was the ideal choice for the part. If you like Stewart or Miller you’ll love both after watching this movie, and you just might become a fan of big band music, as I did. Joe Versus the Volcano isn’t as well-regarded as other Hanks/Meg Ryan films, but I encourage everyone to give it a whirl. It’s a bit of a slog at the beginning, but if you can make it past those gloomy first few minutes what you’ll find is a story that contains a lot of symbolism and has much to say about life.
19 A film made by your favorite director…
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
I don’t generally have any director specific loyalties…I judge a film based on what I see on the screen, regardless of who is in front of or behind the camera. However, I am an 80’s kid, and that means I’ve seen just about everything that John Hughes wrote, produced, and/or directed. Christmas is usually the main focus of holiday entertainment, as it should be, but there is one really great film that focuses on Thanksgiving. It is the perfect mix of comedy & sentimentality, which is right in my wheelhouse. I wish Steve Martin & John Candy would’ve made more movies together, but then again I’m not sure there’s any way they could have topped their inaugural effort.
I don’t remember when or why I watched IAWL for the first time, but during my childhood it was on television countless times on numerous channels at all hours so there were no shortage of opportunities to see it. The idea of a small town guy with big dreams who never quite escapes to fulfill them spoke to me from an early age, and at this point I suppose I’m sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. IAWL was actually marketed as a romantic comedy, but has become a Christmas classic. To say it changed my life may be a tad dramatic because I’m not one to assign such power to a movie, but it does mean a lot to me and has become an important part of my holiday tradition.
21 A film that you dozed off in…
Monty Python & The Holy Grail
I’m probably going to catch some flack, but I have to be honest. There was a little video store down the street from my college dorm, and I decided to rent this movie that I’d heard so much about but never seen. Obviously it was a less than thrilling experience. I just don’t enjoy British humor.
22 A film that made you angry…
The Big Wedding
When a movie stars Robin Williams & Robert DeNiro I don’t think it is out of line to have high expectations. Sadly, not only does this movie fall short, it is undoubtedly one of the worst I’ve ever seen. I have never left a theater before a film is over, but I came pretty close with this one. DeNiro continues to trash his legendary legacy, while the late great Williams made a string of forgettable flops in the decade before his untimely demise.
23 A film made by a director who is dead…
Again, I’m not married to any particular directors, as in I adore every movie they’ve ever made. On top of that I’m not really a Hitchcock kind of guy. However, he did make a few films I’ve enjoyed, and his work with my man Jimmy Stewart is quite good. Rear Window is interesting in that it is essentially shot from one perspective, that of main character Jeff Jefferies, a professional photographer sidelined with a broken leg. Jeff lives in a courtyard apartment and becomes kind of a voyeur, intently watching neighbors that he doesn’t really know and making up stories about them that may or may not be true. When he decides that one of those neighbors might have murdered his wife things become really interesting. Rear Window wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture, which, in hindsight, seems like a real crime.
24 A film you wish you saw in theaters…
Apollo 13 and Titanic
I pondered & debated with myself, but I just can’t choose. History shows that Apollo 13 was released in June 1995, which wasn’t a good time in my life, so I’m not surprised I didn’t make it to the local cineplex for a flick. However, I have seen it countless times in the ensuing years and count it among the best movies ever made. I cannot recall a specific reason why I didn’t head to the theater to watch Titanic, although I’m not one for massive crowds so perhaps that scared me off. But by now I have watched it numerous times. I have always opined that some movies really should be seen on the big screen, and with a gigantic ship sinking into the ocean & a huge rocket being launched into space I can only assume these would have been really cool films to see in a theater. Alas, I suppose my 55 inch smart TV will have to suffice.
25 A film you like that is not set in the current era…
I cannot believe we have made it this far without mentioning what I consider to be the best film ever produced. It is nearly flawless. Thankfully, since it is set in the 1940s & 50s The Godfather fits this category perfectly.
26 A film you like that is adapted from somewhere…
I have never read Winston Groom’s 1986 novel, and am inclined never to do so. It is my understanding that the film differs vastly from its source material, and since I think it’s a damn fine movie I’m not going to ruin it by reading the book. I am usually in the camp that believes that the book is almost always better than the movie, but there are exceptions and I’m just going to mark Forrest Gump as one of them.
27 A film that is visually striking to you…
Batman & Robin
I believe I have previously described Batman & Robin as “aurally & visually obnoxious…an assault on the senses”, and I stand by that assessment. However, there is no denying that it is visually striking, and in hindsight it is far from the worst movie ever made.
28 A film that made you feel uncomfortable…
Very Bad Things
Oh wow…let me tell you something folks…if you’ve never seen Very Bad Things you really should. It’s something everyone needs to experience just once. I say that because it’s not the kind of film for which repeat viewings are a thing. Once is enough, and it’ll be something you will remember…for better or worse…for the rest of your life. It seems like a harmless enough concept…a group of buddies go to Vegas for a bachelor party. And with an all-star cast including Jon Favreau, Daniel Stern, Jeremy Piven, Christian Slater, Cameron Diaz, & Jeanne Tripplehorn one would assume it to be a fairly mundane, mainstream cliché…but that hypothesis is way wrong. As a matter of fact everything about this movie is so wrong, but in the kind of way that one cannot avoid staring at in complete fascination.
29 A film that makes you want to fall in love…
When Harry Met Sally
I freely admit it…I am comfortable enough with my smoldering machismo to proclaim my affection for rom coms, and in the early 90s America’s Sweetheart was Meg Ryan. She made three awesome romantic comedies (Joe Versus the Volcano, Sleepless in Seattle, & You’ve Got Mail) with Tom Hanks, who is the prototypical leading man for such films. However, I think When Harry Met Sally is probably the best of the genre. Billy Crystal is 14 years older than Ryan and early scenes depicting him as a recent college grad stretch the limits of credibility (he was 41 years old at the time), but the movie is funny, heartwarming, & a joy to watch. Near the end Crystal’s character says “when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible”, and I would love to find that person and begin the rest of my life.
I have opined on multiple occasions that “anyone who doesn’t shed a tear during the last 10 minutes of Field of Dreams doesn’t have a heart”. You see, it is so much more than a “sports movie”. It isn’t really about baseball at all. Field of Dreams is about regret & redemption, and the film’s conclusion packs an unexpected emotional punch, one that resonates even deeper three decades later than it did originally.
“Movies touch our hearts and awaken our vision, and change the way we see things. They take us to other places, they open doors and minds. Movies are the memories of our life time, we need to keep them alive.” – Martin Scorsese
As with the 30 Day Song Challenge I do not have the patience to post once per day for an entire month, and fortunately I don’t need to since I make the rules in this space. I feel like I’ve probably written entirely too much about movies here over the years, but it’s a subject I enjoy and right now I need as much to smile about as possible. 2020 has been a bumpy ride for many, so I don’t want to be selfish. Having said that, the past few months have been brutal for me personally, so I’m thankful for an outlet that allows me to take my mind off things, atleast for a little while. The vast majority of these were easy answers, though I had to ponder a few, and in some cases I found the questions a bit puzzling. That’s why I like providing context…it provides some insight into my thought process, which is not only helpful for you but something I find constructive as well. Once again I have broken this project into two parts for readability. Enjoy.
1 The first film you remember watching…
Coal Miner’s Daughter
To be honest I’m not entirely comfortable with this answer. Coal Miner’s Daughter was released when I was eight years old, and I’m pretty sure I watched movies before then. However, our local mall (complete with multiplex cinema) wasn’t built until a few years later, so anything I saw before had to be at a drive-in or on television, and nothing specific comes to mind. However, I have a clear memory of going to the drive-in with my parents & sister to see Coal Miner’s Daughter.
2 A film you like that starts with the first letter of your first name…
Sleepless in Seattle
I really like alliteration…it’s fun. I actually had a date…with a woman…to see this movie. It might be the last real date I’ve had lol (I don’t even remember her name though, which speaks badly of me, her, or both of us). Anyway, Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan are screen magic, and Sleepless might be my favorite film of theirs.
3 A film that has more than five words…
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
I’m not going to dive into a marketing lecture, but the vast majority of films have short titles…1-3 words. It’s just easier for people to remember, among other things. I really had to think about movies I’ve enjoyed with longer titles, but once Anchorman popped into my head it became an easy choice. Stay classy!!
4 A film with a number in the title…
So many choices!! However, I’m a big fan of the Ocean’s Trilogy. Eleven is a remake of a 1960 Rat Pack classic, and I actually enjoy the remake more than the original, partly because the ending of the newer film is so much more satisfying than the older one. Ocean’s Twelve is okay, though certainly the weakest of the trilogy. Ocean’s Thirteen rebounded with the addition of Al Pacino to the cast. I highly recommend binge watching all three movies, something I’ve done many times.
5 A film where a character has a job you want…
Okay, so he is a psychopath…but don’t forget that Jack Torrance (as portrayed brilliantly by Jack Nicholson) is also a writer.
6 Your favorite animated film…
The Toy Story Series
This is tough. There are so many animated classics that we all enjoyed as kids, but I have to ask myself, would I sit down and watch many of those old movies now…as an adult?? I suppose the occasional nostalgic mood may hit, but generally we look at such things differently when we’re older. However, the four Toy Story movies are more recent, have quite the memorable voice cast, the animation is top notch, and the plot is written to be enjoyed by all ages.
7 A film that you will never get tired of…
There are dozens of movies I could (and do) watch over & over & over again. I tend to prefer older movies that I grew up enjoying to most of the pathetic excuses for entertainment Hollywood churns out these days, and Casablanca is as pleasurable to watch now as it ever was. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.
8 A film where you liked the soundtrack more…
Saturday Night Fever and The Big Chill
Two movies immediately sprang to mind and I’m not going to choose between them. The Big Chill is about a bunch of middle-age 60’s radicals gathering together in the midst of the conservative revolution of the early 80’s to attend the funeral of an old schoolmate who committed suicide. The film itself is just fine, but the soundtrack…wow. Smokey Robinson. The Temptations. Marvin Gaye. Three Dog Night. Aretha Franklin. If you like Motown you can’t help but dig one of the best soundtracks ever produced. Saturday Night Fever not only skyrocketed John Travolta to superstardom, but it defined the disco era. The soundtrack relies heavily on The Bee Gees, but that’s okay because they kick ass. Disco may be dead, but it had its time in the spotlight and this particular album may have been the high point.
9 A film you hate that everyone else liked…
I watched it once…I just don’t get it. Travolta is cool. Samuel L. Jackson?? Very cool. I’m a big Bruce Willis fan. Tarantino just isn’t my kind of director. I can’t think of a single one of his movies I’ve enjoyed.
10 Your favorite superhero film…
I’ve said it a thousand times…I wasn’t a comic book kid. Outside of the three big superheroes (Batman, Superman, & Spiderman) I couldn’t possibly care less. The only “Marvel Cinematic Universe” films I’ve seen are the two Spiderman movies. I may or may not ever watch the rest of them. However, I do love me some Batman, and I really like the 1989 film starring Michael Keaton as The Caped Crusader. Keaton & Adam West (who portrayed Batman in the 60’s TV show) are easily my favorites, and it didn’t hurt Tim Burton’s movie to have Jack Nicholson’s larger-than-life portrayal of The Joker.
11 A film you like from your least favorite genre…
Horror flicks aren’t generally my cup o’ tea. However, John Carpenter’s original Halloween is a classic. From the brilliant opening sequence to the legendary theme music to the amusingly ostentatious performance of Donald Pleasence as a Captain Ahab-esque psychiatrist, well…it’s nearly flawless. It’s hard to believe that what has become an annual October institution was produced on a shoestring budget of just over $300k (in comparison, Jaws, which was produced three years earlier, had a budget of $13 million).
12 A film that you hate from your favorite genre…
Holmes & Watson
This one is a double whammy. I’m a huge fan of the Sherlock Holmes novellas & short stories, and I’ve also enjoyed the work of both Will Ferrell & John C. Reilly. When I first heard that the duo were going to tackle Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fabled crime solvers I was excited to see what kind of hilarious spin the stars of Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby could put on the story, but the result was immensely disappointing. Rotten Tomatoes gives Holmes & Watson an atrocious 10% score, and it won the Razzie for Worst Picture of 2018.
13 A film that “puts you in deep thoughts”…
First, I must state that I detest the way this is stated, like a nine year old wrote it. Secondly, though I’m not above thinking deeply I rarely run across a movie that makes me do so. It just doesn’t seem to be Hollywood’s thing, and sadly I don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg. Are crappy special effects movies with inane action sequences & insufferable explosions the norm because the populace demands it, or have we been conditioned to be dumbed down & accept such mediocrity?? I suppose it’s a little of both. At any rate, in 1993 Bill Murray & director Harold Ramis teamed up to give us the antithesis of such tedious garbage, and what they accomplished is far more than your typical comedy. Groundhog Day is existential. It is profound on a level that neither Murray nor Ramis likely intended. I watch it every February 2nd, and it always makes me ponder life.
14 A film that “gave you depression”…
The Perfect Storm
Another poorly worded turn of phrase. Here’s the thing: I don’t watch movies to get depressed. Trust me…my real life is miserable enough. Why on God’s green Earth would I pay money to have alleged entertainment make me sad?? It’s why I lean so heavily toward comedy. Having said that, occasionally something sneaks up and gives me all the feels. When I first watched The Perfect Storm I had NO IDEA it was based on a true story. It was on television and I was bored, so I gave it a whirl. It is well-written with good performances so I was quickly hooked. At the film’s conclusion I fully expected the ship’s crew to be miraculously rescued…but, of course, they are not. I’m a little slow sometimes, but eventually I learned that this actually happened…these were real people who died. The film does a superb job of conveying the very tangible danger faced by fishermen every day, and I have developed tremendous respect for those who put their lives on the line to put food on our table. Some years after my initial viewing of the movie (which I have watched countless times) I decided to read the book on which it is based, and I must opine that it is the rare case where the film is far superior.
15 A film that makes you feel happy…
I suppose numerous comedies make me happy, but since it’s summertime and baseball just began after a virus related delay of several months Bull Durham popped into my head. Sports films are delightful…sports comedies are sublime. One major barometer I use when judging movies is whether or not I am still glad to watch them many years & multiple viewings later, and more than three decades later I find Bull Durham just as enjoyable as I ever did.
Okay folks, let’s take a break. Stay tuned for Part 2!!
“Movies touch our hearts, awaken our vision, and change the way we see things. They take us to other places…open doors & minds. Movies are the memories of our lifetime.” – Martin Scorsese
We’re going to forego a verbose preamble today and jump right into the fray. If you have not read Part 1 please go back and do so at your leisure. As always I appreciate everyone who stops by to read the things that are written here, and your feedback is welcome.
90 Ma & Pa Kettle (various films)
Ma & Pa Kettle starred in ten films from 1947-57. They are simple country bumpkins raising their brood of 16 kids on the family farm, and the movies put them into various fish-out-of-water scenarios like trips to New York, Hawaii, & Paris, as well as winning a “house of the future” in a contest. I seem to recall that the Kettle films were shown on Saturday morning television with some frequency during my childhood. That was way before channels like TCM & AMC, so I assume it had to be a local syndication type of deal. I also have a vague recollection that it was my Dad who enjoyed watching Ma & Pa Kettle and introduced me to the movies.
“It may be a good day for you, but it ain’t for Pa. All the poor man wanted was a new tobacco pouch and instead he won a house he didn’t want and he got a bad sunburn.” (Ma)
“You do all the barkin’, but it’s me that’s always in the doghouse.” (Pa)
“You mean, Pa & Me’s got to support all our kids and the government too?” (Ma)
“Pa, you’re lazier than that old hound dog we used to have.” “Which one?” “The one that used to lean against the wall when she barked.”
89 Thelma Dickinson & Louise Sawyer (Thelma & Louise)
Full disclosure…I believe I’ve only watched Thelma & Louise once, but that was enough. The duo are southern ladies taking a girls’ trip to escape from their mundane existence, but things go awry when a drunken rabble-rouser tries to rape Thelma and Louise kills him. Of course we all know that in TV & movies no one ever does the smart thing by calling the police…instead they get spooked & go on the run, which is the foundation for the adventure that follows. Nearly three decades later many of us still refer to mischievous gal pals as Thelma & Louise.
“You said you ‘n’ me was gonna get out of town and for once just really let our hair down. Well darlin’, look out ’cause my hair is comin’ down!” (Thelma)
“You get what you settle for.” (Louise)
“He kinda prides himself on being infantile.” (Thelma)
“Good morning everybody, this is a robbery. Now if nobody loses their head, nobody will lose their head. Simon says everybody lay down on the floor, right away, right away, except you sir. You’ll have a story to tell your friends, that or a tag on your toe, it’s your decision.” (Thelma)
“I feel really awake. I don’t recall ever feeling this awake. You know? Everything looks different now. You feel like that? You feel like you got something to live for now?” (Thelma)
88 Raymond Babbitt (Rain Man)
I’m not sure anyone in history has done more to promote awareness of autism than Raymond Babbitt. Dustin Hoffman won his second Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Raymond, a savant whose deceased father left him millions that his scheming brother is trying to get from him. It is rare for Tom Cruise to be outshined in any film, but Raymond’s charming blend of pathos, humor, & vulnerability does the trick.
“I’m an excellent driver.”
“13 minutes to Judge Wapner and The People’s Court.”
87 Dr. Frank N. Furter (The Rocky Horror Picture Show)
Some films have broad appeal, and I assume that is what the powers-that-be are going for most of the time. However, there is no shortage of movies that are focused on a rather specific target audience. I haven’t seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show since I was in college, sitting out in a field late at night throwing rice & toilet paper at the screen, but that’s okay since it is exactly the kind of weird, drunken, relatively innocuous, & completely stupid experience one should have at 19, because if that’s how you spend your weekend when your 35 or 50 it becomes a bit disturbing. Dr. Furter describes himself as a “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania”, which seems like a fitting description. Unforgettable name?? Check. Unique outfit?? Check. Quirky as all get-out?? You bet. Actor Tim Curry has been nominated for Tony Awards, starred in films like The Hunt for Red October & Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, and portrayed Pennywise in the TV miniseries of Stephen King’s It, but he will most likely always be remembered as Dr. Frank N. Furter.
“Tonight, my unconventional conventionalists, you are about to witness a new breakthrough in biochemical research, and paradise is to be mine!”
“Don’t be upset…it was a mercy killing. He had a certain naïve charm, but no muscle.”
86 Mick “Crocodile” Dundee (Crocodile Dundee)
Let’s face it…the only reason any of us in the good ol’ USA has ever requested for someone to “throw another shrimp on the barbie” is because Crocodile Dundee taught us what that means in 1986. Outback Steakhouse was created in Tampa, FL two years after the film’s release in hopes of capitalizing on America’s newfound fascination with Australia. Two Dundee sequels were produced, but neither had the magic of the original, a classic fish-out-of-water tale featuring a most unconventional protagonist.
“Get on the right side of the road you pelican!”
“That’s not a knife…THAT’S a knife.”
“Well, you see, Aborigines don’t own the land…they belong to it. It’s like their mother. See those rocks? Been standing there for 600 million years…still be there when you & I are gone. So arguing over who owns them is like two fleas arguing over who owns the dog they live on.”
“Imagine seven million people all wanting to live together. New York must be the friendliest place on earth.”
85 Tommy DeVito (Goodfellas)
Not too long ago I saw a poll on Facebook asking about the best mob movie and was stunned when Goodfellas beat out The Godfather, because in my humble opinion The Godfather cannot be touched. Having said that, it is a rather unfair comparison. The Godfather is an Shakespearean fantasy with lots of Hollywood style & polish, whereas Goodfellas is more raw & down-to-earth. Inasmuch as The Mafia still exists in modern America I assume Goodfellas is probably a more accurate portrayal, but for me that doesn’t necessarily equal entertainment value. It’s kind of the same thing as people who fawn all over Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy because of its gritty realism, while I lean toward the escapism of the Burton/Schumacher Batman flicks from the late 80’s/early 90’s. At any rate, actor Joe Pesci had done Raging Bull in 1980 and added some life to the Lethal Weapon franchise in 1989 so Goodfellas wasn’t his first rodeo, but Tommy DeVito has become one of his defining roles (we’ll get to another a bit later). DeVito is loosely based on real life gangster “Two Gun Tommy” DiSimone, a NY City gangster who “disappeared” in January 1979. Two Gun Tommy was much younger, not to mention physically bigger & stronger, than the diminutive, middle-aged, fast-talking tough guy depicted in the film, but other mobsters have said that Pesci’s portrayal…for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor…is otherwise fairly accurate.
“What do you mean I’m funny? What do you mean? You mean the way I talk? What? You mean, let me understand this, ’cause, ya know maybe it’s me, I’m a little fucked up maybe, but I’m funny how? I mean funny like I’m a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh, I’m here to fuckin’ amuse you? What do you mean funny? Funny how? How am I funny?”
84 Larry Talbot (The Wolf Man)
Y’all know that I’m not a horror movie fan, but for some reason I love the old Universal monsters from the 1930’s & 40’s. Talbot is a mild-mannered man who returns to Wales after two decades in America to reconcile with his estranged father. He is bitten by a werewolf while trying to rescue a damsel in distress, and thereafter becomes a werewolf himself. After committing a series of murders he is eventually bludgeoned to death by his own father, who doesn’t realize The Wolf Man is his son. Lon Chaney Jr.’s portrayal of Talbot as quiet & reserved and emotionally tortured by his infirmity is the perfect contrast to the ferocity of the beast.
“You think I don’t know the difference between a wolf and a man? You’re insane! I tell you, I killed a wolf! A plain, ordinary wolf! Don’t try to make me believe that I killed a man when I know that I killed a wolf!”
83 Tony Montana (Scarface)
I don’t rate Scarface as highly as some simply because I tend not to like movies about crime & drugs…it’s just not my kind of entertainment. Having said that, there’s no denying that Tony Montana is a memorable character. Tony arrives in Miami from Cuba and starts his new life as a dishwasher. A few years later he is a wealthy drug lord with an unhealthy cocaine addiction. As is the case with such characters there is a lot of bloodshed, ultimately ending (spoiler alert) with Tony face down in a fountain after having been shot in the back by a rival’s henchman. Critics like to attach meaning to films like Scarface, seeing it as some sort of allegory about rising & falling, the excesses of the American Dream, or a commentary on criminal avarice, but I prefer to learn such lessons without all the violence & profanity. Italian-American Pacino seems like an odd choice to portray a Cuban, and I’m not sure that would fly in our newly woke culture just a few decades later. Interestingly, Robert DeNiro was the first choice for the role of Tony Montana but he declined the opportunity.
“This is paradise. This is paradise, I’m tellin’ you. I shoulda come here 10 years ago. I’d have been a millionaire by this time. By this time, I’d have had my own boat, my own car, my own golf course.”
“Me, I always tell the truth…even when I lie. So say good night to the bad guy! Come on. The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again, let me tell you. Come on. Make way for the bad guy. There’s a bad guy comin’ through! Better get outta his way!”
“This country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the woman.”
“Okay, you little cockroaches… come on! You wanna play games? Okay, I can play with you. Come on! Okay, you wanna play rough?!?!?? Okay! SAY HELLO TO MY LITTLE FRIEND!”
82 Deputy U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard (The Fugitive)
Other than its love of sequels the other way that Hollywood plays it safe by not being particularly innovative is to recycle old television shows and bring them…or atleast the central premise…to the big screen, with the results being decidedly mixed. The Dukes of Hazzard, Leave it to Beaver, & The Wild Wild West weren’t good movies, while The Addams Family, The Brady Bunch, & Charlie’s Angels were decent enough. One of the best movie adaptations of a TV show is The Fugitive, with Harrison Ford portraying erroneously convicted Dr. Richard Kimble. While the television show had Dr. Kimble doggedly pursued across the country by local police Lt. Philip Gerard, the film kicks it up a notch by making the hunter no nonsense U.S Marshal Sam Gerard, although the quest is essentially limited to Chicago. Tommy Lee Jones won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Gerard, and became the focus of the story in a much inferior sequel a few years later. In the movie neither Kimble nor Gerard resemble the television characters they are based on all that much, but in this case the adaptation is actually better than the original.
“Let that be a lesson to you, boys & girls. Don’t ever argue with the Big Dog, because the Big Dog is always right.”
“Listen up, ladies & gentlemen! Our fugitive has been on the run for 90 minutes. Average foot speed over uneven ground barring injuries is 4 miles per hour and that gives us a radius of 6 miles. What I want out of each & every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse, and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at fifteen miles. Your fugitive’s name is Dr. Richard Kimble. Go get him.”
81 Walter Sobchak (The Big Lebowski)
Lebowski is a weird movie, but it sure is fun to watch when a particular mood strikes. One of the key reasons for its success is John Goodman’s portrayal of Walter, the foul-mouthed, slightly unhinged, but loyal best buddy of the film’s protagonist. I’ve never been a fan of Goodman’s infamous TV show Roseanne in any of its incarnations, but I sure have enjoyed his big screen career. Raising Arizona. Everybody’s All-American. The Hangover Part III. They may not be transcendent films, but they’re enjoyable enough and better because Goodman is in them. Walter is most definitely second fiddle in Lebowksi, but that’s okay…great movies need supporting characters that add a colorful layer to the story, and in this case the mission is certainly accomplished.
“Donny, you’re out of your element! Dude, the Chinaman is not the issue here!”
“Nihilists! I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.”
“Lady, I got buddies who died face down in the muck so that you & I could enjoy this family restaurant!”
“You want a toe? I can get you a toe. Believe me. There are ways, Dude.”
“Life does not start and stop at your convenience, you miserable piece of shit!”
“You know, Dude, I myself dabbled in pacifism once. Not in ‘Nam of course.”
“We’re talking about unchecked aggression here, Dude.”
“Smokey, this is not ‘Nam. This is bowling. There are rules.”
80 Captain Louis Renault (Casablanca)
¾ of a century after its theatrical release Casablanca is still regarded as one of the best movies ever produced. There are multiple reasons for that, but one of them is Capt. Renault, a cynical & slightly corrupt French policeman. Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco on the coast of Africa. During World War II it was a vital strategic port, and since a large chunk of Europe was controlled by the Nazis travel was limited, hence the importance of the film’s “letters of transit” (a true film MacGuffin…in reality no such documents existed). Capt. Renault plays all sides, loyal only to his own needs & desires…or so we are led to believe until the film’s conclusion. He isn’t a clichéd movie bad guy…he seems pleasant enough, and in fact has some of the more blithe dialogue. It is rare for an alleged villain to add levity to the story, but that is exactly what Renault does, which is probably why I like him. Actor Claude Rains played more conventional antagonists in films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, and earned four Academy Award nominations in his career, but Casablanca was the beginning of a beautiful friendship with the audience and Cpt. Renault.
“I’m making out the report now. We haven’t quite decided whether he committed suicide or died trying to escape.”
“It is a little game we play. They put it on the bill, I tear up the bill. It is very convenient.”
“I have no conviction, if that’s what you mean. I blow with the wind, and the prevailing wind happens to be from Vichy.
“How extravagant you are, throwing away women like that. Someday they may be scarce.”
“You mustn’t underestimate American blundering. I was with them when they “blundered” into Berlin in 1918.”
“I told my men to be especially destructive. You know how that impresses Germans.”
“Everybody is to leave here immediately! This cafe is closed until further notice. Clear the room, at once! I am shocked…shocked…to find that gambling is going on in here!”
“Well, Rick, you’re not only a sentimentalist, but you’ve become a patriot.”
“Round up the usual suspects!”
79 Jack Dawson & Rose DeWitt-Bukater (Titanic)
For several years Titanic was the highest grossing film of all time, and it swept thru the 1997 awards season like a tornado. Critics & the general populace both love it, but one of the few condemnations I seem to recall hearing back then was that the main focus wasn’t on actual people who lost their lives in the infamous tragedy. Instead the spotlight was given to two fictional characters in Jack & Rose. They are essentially a riff on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. He’s a good-natured American guy from the wrong side of the tracks heading home to Wisconsin, while she is a prim & proper British debutante who hates her rigid life. In the course of three hours we become invested in them individually and in their love story. They may not be based on real people, but as composite characters I believe they are solid representatives of the 1500 souls lost on that catastrophic night.
“I’m the king of the world!” (Jack)
“Do you know of Dr. Freud, Mr. Ismay? His ideas about the male preoccupation with size might be of particular interest to you.” (Rose)
“I’m not an idiot. I know how the world works. I’ve got ten bucks in my pocket. I have nothing to offer you and I know that. I understand. But I’m too involved now. You jump, I jump, remember? I can’t turn away without knowing you’ll be all right.” (Jack)
“I’m flying, Jack!” (Rose)
“I got everything I need right here with me. I got air in my lungs, a few blank sheets of paper. I mean, I love waking up in the morning not knowing what’s gonna happen or, who I’m gonna meet, where I’m gonna wind up. Just the other night I was sleeping under a bridge and now here I am on the grandest ship in the world having champagne with you fine people. I figure life’s a gift and I don’t intend on wasting it. You don’t know what hand you’re gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you… to make each day count.” (Jack)
“Jack, I want you to draw me like one of your French girls. Wearing this…wearing only this.” (Rose)
“I don’t know about you, but I intend to go write a strongly worded letter to the White Star Line about all this.” (Jack)
“Don’t you do that…don’t you say your goodbyes. Not yet, do you understand me? You’re gonna get out of here, you’re gonna go on, and you’re gonna make lots of babies, and you’re gonna watch them grow. You’re gonna die an old… an old woman warm in her bed, not here, not this night. Not like this, do you understand me? Winning that ticket, Rose, was the best thing that ever happened to me. It brought me to you, and I’m thankful for that, Rose. I’m thankful. You must do me this honor. You must promise me that you’ll survive, that you won’t give up, no matter what happens, no matter how hopeless. Promise me now, Rose, and never let go of that promise.” (Jack)
78 Jenny Curran (Forrest Gump)
A lot of subtext can be read into Forrest Gump. Some believe that Jenny…the lifelong friend of the film’s simpleminded hero who was abused as a young girl, becomes a hippie, descends into a life of drugs & prostitution, and ends up dying of (we assume) a sexually transmitted disease…is meant to represent the counterculture & upheaval of the 1960’s that many consider the loss of America’s innocence. She is the darkness in contrast to Forrest’s patriotic optimism. I’m not sure any of that symbolism was purposeful by the filmmakers, but the movie & the character stand on their own merits regardless of intent. Actress Robin Wright has had a solid career in Hollywood, from soap opera Santa Barbara in the mid-80’s to The Princess Bride in 1987 to the recently concluded Netflix hit House of Cards, but the sadness & vulnerability that defines Jenny has been her crowning achievement.
“Dear God, make me a bird. So I could fly far. Far far away from here.”
“Listen, you promise me something, okay? Just if you’re ever in trouble, don’t be brave. You just run, okay? Just run away.”
77 Inspector Harry Callahan (Dirty Harry)
Clint Eastwood’s career has spanned over a half century, and he’s done everything from westerns to critically acclaimed dramas to the television show Rawhide. He’s even become an Academy Award winning director. However, Eastwood will always be most closely associated with his portrayal of Harry Callahan, a tough as nails San Francisco cop who plays by his own set of rules.
“I know what you’re thinking: ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do you, punk?”
76 Euphagenia Doubtfire (Mrs. Doubtfire)
The titular character in this film is actually a man in drag. Daniel Hillard is an itinerant voice actor whose uptight wife divorces him and gets custody of their three children. Instead of allowing their father to spend more time with them the career driven mother decides to hire a nanny, so Daniel dons a very convincing disguise and becomes an elderly British woman. The ruse works, and Mrs. Doubtfire allows Robin Williams’ comedic genius to shine.
“Oh, sir! I saw it! Some angry member of the kitchen staff. Did you not tip them? Oh, the terrorists – they ran that way. It was a run-by fruiting.”
“I’m a hip old granny who can hip-hop, be-bop, dance ’til you drop, and yo, yo, make a wicked cup of cocoa.”
“Oh. Carpe dentum. Seize the teeth. Just shake them off, like a dog.”
“I found the best way to keep from smoking again and lighting up is to be around those who do smoke. I have to randomly ingest just a little bit of nicotine and it steels my wool.”
“He was quite fond of the drink. It was the drink that killed him. He was hit by a Guinness truck. So it was quite literally the drink that killed him.”
75 Woody Pride & Buzz Lightyear (The Toy Story Series)
The older I get the more I appreciate animated movies, especially since the technology has really advanced in the past couple of decades. It doesn’t hurt that Toy Story is a great example of a film that can be enjoyed by kids but is well written enough for adults to be entertained as well. Buzz Lightyear is a boisterous Space Ranger who doesn’t understand that he’s a toy. He is the newest action figure for young Andy, a birthday present from his mother. Buzz initially has a difficult time fitting in with the rest of Andy’s toys, especially Sheriff Woody, who is envious that he’s been replaced as Andy’s favorite plaything. Woody is the unofficial leader amongst all of Andy’s toys and feels threatened by Buzz at first, although the two eventually become pals.
“To infinity and beyond!” (Buzz)
“I can’t stop Andy from growing up… but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” (Woody)
74 Inigo Montoya (The Princess Bride)
You killed his father…prepare to die!! Inigo Montoya is a Spanish swordsman on a mission. As a child he witnessed six fingered Count Rugen murder his father and has spent his life seeking vengeance. Initially he works with malevolent Vizzini to kidnap the lovely Buttercup, but eventually he becomes a good guy, teaming up with The Man in Black & giant Fezzik to rescue Buttercup. He also comes face to face with Rugen and finally gets his revenge.
“He was a great swordmaker, my father. When the six-fingered man appeared and requested a special sword, my father took the job. He slaved a year before it was finished. The six-fingered man returned and demanded it, but at 1/10th his promised price. My father refused. Without a word, the six-fingered man slashed him through the heart. I loved my father. So naturally, I challenged his murderer to a duel. I failed. I was 11 years old. When I was strong enough, I dedicated my life to the study of fencing. So, the next time we meet, I will not fail. I will go up to the six-fingered man and say, ‘Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.’”
73 Lt. Dan Taylor (Forrest Gump)
I was born with a birth defect and have been disabled my entire life, so the way I do things & live my life is entirely normal to me. However, I have known people who became disabled later in life thru some sort of calamity, and it isn’t uncommon for such folks to become understandably bitter & angry about their situation. Lt. Dan captures those emotions perfectly. He’s kind of a prick, but one can’t help but have empathy and root for him. Gary Sinise might be the most underrated actor of his generation, and it’s a shame that he didn’t win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Lt. Dan.
“Now, you listen to me. We all have a destiny. Things don’t just happen…it’s all part of a plan.”
“There are two standing rules in this outfit. One, take care of your feet. Two, don’t go doing something stupid, like getting yourself killed.”
“You call this a storm?!?!?? Blow, you son of a bitch! It’s time for a showdown! You and me! I’m right here! Come and get me! You’ll never… sink… this…boat!!!!”
72 Edward Scissorhands (Edward Scissorhands)
I can’t say I’m on the Tim Burton bandwagon (I have zero interest in Ed Wood, Mars Attacks, or Sweeney Todd, Dark Shadows didn’t really work for me, and I’m thoroughly confused by The Nightmare Before Christmas), but I have enjoyed some of his work (the Batman films of the late 80’s/early 90’s are much more entertaining than Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy no matter what anyone says, and Beetlejuice is a modern classic), with Edward Scissorhands chief among them. Edward is the Pinocchio-esque creation of an elderly inventor whose kind & quiet demeanor is offset by the scary looking blades he has instead of hands. The inventor dies and Edward lives for years in an old gothic mansion until a nosy Avon lady stumbles upon him and tries to integrate him into her odd little neighborhood. There Edward falls in love with the lovely young Kim, which makes her boyfriend jealous. Drama & violence ensue, with Edward fleeing back to his mansion. The movie has a framing device with an older version of Kim telling her granddaughter the story and saying that she believes Edward is still alive & living in the old mansion. Johnny Depp seems like kind of a weird dude, but credit where it is due…the guy is a terrific actor and Edward Scissorhands is probably his best performance. Edward is a quiet character who expresses so much with his eyes & facial expressions, which I find captivating.
“Mrs. Monroe showed me where the salon’s going to be. You could have a cosmetics counter. And then she showed me the back room where she took all of her clothes off.”
71 Mickey Goldmill (The Rocky Series)
Burgess Meredith had a long & successful career in Hollywood, doing a little bit of everything from portraying The Penguin in the 1960’s Batman TV show to playing Lenny in one of the best film adaptations of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice & Men, but to those of us of a certain age he’ll always be Rocky Balboa’s grizzled old manager in the first three Rocky films. Mickey sees Balboa’s potential and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. Mickey encourages Rocky in his pursuit of heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, and does his best a few years later to steer the champ away from the menacing Clubber Lang. Of course Rocky is mauled by Lang, but Mickey’s death immediately afterward spurs his path to revenge.
“I’m here to warn ya, that ya gotta be very careful about this shot that you got at the title. Because, like the Bible says, you ain’t gonna get a second chance. What ya need is a manager. I know, because I’ve been in this racket for fifty years. I’ve seen it all, all of it. I’ve got 21 stitches over this left eye. I’ve got 34 stitches over this eye. Do ya know that I had my nose busted 17 times. I got all this knowledge, I got it up here now, I wanna give it to you. I wanna take care of ya. I wanna make sure that all this shit that happened to me doesn’t happen to you. Ya can’t buy what I’m gonna give ya. I’ve got pain and I’ve got experience.”
“You’re gonna eat lightnin’ and you’re gonna crap thunder.”
“You got another shot. It’s a second shot at the, I don’t know, the biggest title in the world. And you’re gonna be swappin’ punches with the most dangerous fighter in the world. And just in case, you know, your brain ain’t workin’ so good, all this happens pretty soon and you ain’t ready. You’re nowhere near in any shape. So I say, you know, for God’s sake, why don’t you stand up and fight this guy hard?! Like ya done before? That was beautiful! But don’t lay down in front of him like this! Like, I don’t know, like some kind of mongrel or something. ‘Cause he’s gonna kick your face in pieces, you know that? That’s right. This guy just don’t wanna win, you know. He wants to bury ya, he wants to humiliate ya. He wants to prove to the whole world that you was nothing but some kind of a freak the first time out. And he said you’re a one-time lucky bum. Well, now, I don’t, I don’t wanna get mad, in a biblical place like this, but I think you’re a hell of a lot more than that, kid.”
“Why don’t you carry this? ‘Cause I liked you a lot better when you was carryin’ spit. ‘Cause the way you’re trainin’, you’re gonna end up pumping gas in Jersey somewhere!”
“You can’t win, Rock! This guy’ll kill ya to death inside of 3 rounds! He ain’t just another fighter. This guy is a wreckin’ machine, and he’s hungry! Hell, you ain’t been hungry since you won that belt! Three years ago, you were supernatural. You was hard and nasty. You had this cast iron jaw. But then, the worst thing happened to you that could happen to any fighter. You got civilized. Don’t worry, kid. You know, presidents retire, generals retire, horses retire, Man o War retired. They put him out to stud. That’s what you should’ve done, retire.”
70 Ace Ventura (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective)
Jim Carrey has gone on to become a fairly well-regarded actor who takes himself, his craft, and life in general way too seriously. However, 25 years ago he was an up & comer known for portraying Fire Marshal Bill on the TV sketch comedy show In Living Color. Critics hated Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, but its 47% score on Rotten Tomatoes was trumped by a $72 million box office, making it the 12th highest grossing film of 1994 and earning a sequel just a year later. The sequel was an even bigger financial success but also more panned critically. Ace is a unique & unforgettable character because really, who would even conceive of “pet detective” being a thing?
“Einhorn is Finkle. Finkle is Einhorn! Einhorn is a MAN!”
“Fiction can be fun! But I find the reference section much more enlightening. For instance, if you were to look up professional football’s all-time bonehead plays you might read about a Miami Dolphin kicker named Ray Finkle, who missed a 26-yard field goal in the closing seconds of Super Bowl XVII. What you WOULDN’T read about is how Ray Finkle lost his mind, was committed to a mental hospital, only to escape and join the police force under the assumed identity of a missing hiker, manipulating his way to the top in a diabolical scheme to get even with Dan Marino whom he blamed for the entire thing!”
69 Rhett Butler & Scarlett O’Hara (Gone with the Wind)
The on again/off again relationship between Rhett & Scarlett reminds me of every “will they or won’t they” antagonistic & tortured “romance” we’ve seen play out on TV in my lifetime. In the real world such relationships are toxic, but within the scope of entertainment we find the tension & chemistry charming. Rhett Butler is a wealthy scoundrel who eventually enlists in the Confederate Army. Scarlett O’Hara is an entitled debutante, the self-centered daughter of a plantation owner. She spends most of the film pining for southern gentleman Ashley Wilkes, but he’s married to her cousin. Rhett is immediately smitten with Scarlett, but thru the years she marries two other men for all the wrong reasons, and both husbands end up dead. Scarlett goes through a lot of stuff over the course of the story, proving herself to be as resilient & tough as she is spoiled. Eventually Rhett & Scarlett marry & have a child, but she STILL can’t get over Ashley Wilkes. Rhett becomes fed up with her shenanigans and bolts, just as she finally figures out that he’s the man she truly needs. Vivien Leigh won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Scarlett, beating out the likes of Greta Garbo & Bette Davis in the process. Clark Gable wasn’t the original choice to portray Rhett…Gary Cooper turned down the part. Gable was nominated for Best Actor, but lost to Robert Donat for his role in Goodbye, Mr. Chipps.
“I’m very drunk and I intend on getting still drunker before this evening is over.” (Rhett)
“As God is my witness they’re not going to lick me. I’m going to live through this and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat, or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again! (Scarlett)
“The war stopped being a joke when a girl like you doesn’t know how to wear the latest fashion.” (Rhett)
“Tara! Home. I’ll go home. And I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all… tomorrow… is another day!” (Scarlett)
“Open your eyes and look at me. No, I don’t think I will kiss you, although you need kissing badly. That’s what’s wrong with you. You should be kissed, and often, and by someone who knows how.” (Rhett)
“I’m the only man over 16 and under 60 who’s around to show you a good time.” (Rhett)
“There’s one thing I do know, and that is that I love you Scarlett. In spite of you and me and the whole silly world going to pieces around us, I love you. Because we’re alike. Bad lots, both of us. Selfish & shrewd, but able to look things in the eyes as we call them by their right names.” (Rhett)
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” (Rhett)
68 Robin Hood (various films)
Sir Robin of Loxley first appeared in English folk ballads in the 15th century and has popped in & out of our collective pop culture consciousness for over 500 years. An outlaw who steals from the rich & gives to the poor, lives in Sherwood Forest with his band of Merry Men (Friar Tuck, Little John, Will Scarlet, et al), battles the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham, & romances the lovely Maid Marian, Robin Hood has starred in about three dozen movies in the past hundred years. It is likely that he’d be a bit higher in our countdown if more of those films had been…noteworthy. Hollywood keeps trying, but despite their best efforts the only Robin Hood movie that has made much of an impact is 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, a classic starring Errol Flynn.
“We Saxons have little to fatten on by the time your tax gatherers are through. Overtaxed, overworked, and paid off with a knife, a club, or a rope.”
“It’s time to put an end to this! Now, this forest is wide. It can shelter and clothe and feed a band of good, determined men – good swordsmen, good archers, good fighters. Men, if you’re willing to fight for our people, I want you! Are you with me?”
“What else do you call a man who takes advantage of the King’s misfortune to seize his power? Now, with the help of this sweet band of cutthroats, you’ll try to grind a ransom for him out of every helpless Saxon, a ransom that will be used, not to release Richard, but to buy your way to the throne. I’ll organize a revolt, exact a death for a death, and I’ll never rest until every Saxon in this shire can stand up free men, and strike a blow for Richard and England.”
67 Clark Griswold (The Vacation Series)
Five years ago The Manofesto ranked Clark Griswold 4th on our list of Superfluous 7 Most Awesome Fictional Dads, opining that despite being kind of a dufus it is obvious that he is a devoted family man. Chevy Chase has portrayed Clark in five films stretching all the way back to the original National Lampoon’s Vacation in 1983. He’s an interesting character in that his occupation as an R&D expert in food additives & preservatives seems to indicate some level of intelligence, yet he is depicted as an ordinary putz in his personal life. Chase’s gift for physical comedy as well as how others play off him…with sort of an eye-rolling tolerance for his buffoonery…endears Clark to the audience, making us glad when everything turns out fine despite his persistent screw-ups.
“This is no longer a vacation…it’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun! I’m gonna have fun and you’re gonna have fun! We’re all gonna have so much fuckin’ fun we’ll need plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles! You’ll be whistling Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah out of your assholes!!! HAHAHA!!! I gotta be crazy; I’m on a pilgrimage to see a moose! Praise Marty Moose! Holy shit!!!”
“Hey, look kids…there’s Big Ben and there’s Parliament.”
“Honey, we’re not normal people. We’re the Griswolds!”
66 John Doe (Se7en) & Keyser Soze (The Usual Suspects)
Oscar winning actor Kevin Spacey may be persona non grata in Hollywood these days, but until he ran into the #MeToo Mafia his career had been full of memorable roles. To be honest Se7en & The Usual Suspects aren’t really my kind of films, but both offer unforgettable villains made even better by the presence of Spacey inhabiting the characters. Se7en tells the story of a serial killer who uses The Seven Deadly Sins as a theme in his murders. John Doe forces a man to eat until his stomach ruptures (gluttony), kills a lawyer by literally taking a pound of flesh from him (greed), starves a drug dealer/child molester almost to death (sloth), forces a man at gunpoint to kill a prostitute by raping her with a bladed “toy” (lust), & mutilates the face of a model (pride). For those who haven’t seen the movie I won’t spoil the final two crimes representing envy & wrath. The Usual Suspects finds the LAPD interrogating cerebral palsy-afflicted con man Verbal Kint after he survives a massacre on a ship. Kint weaves a tale about a crime lord named Keyser Soze, but in possibly one of the best endings to a movie ever it is revealed (major spoiler alert) that Verbal Kint IS Keyser Soze. Spacey won his first Academy Award (Best Supporting Actor) for his role in The Usual Suspects.
“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” (Keyser Soze)
“Don’t ask me to pity those people. I don’t mourn them any more than I do the thousands that died at Sodom & Gomorrah.” (John Doe)
65 Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Young Frankenstein)
First of all, it is pronounced “Fronk-en-steen”. That is just one small way in which Frederick has intentionally distanced himself from his grandfather’s twisted legacy. However, upon inheriting the family castle in Transylvania Frederick finds himself at a crossroads, and I think we all know the hilarious path he chooses. I’m a fan of parody films, and the way director Mel Brooks spoofs the classic story is funny in a way that I fear may be lost on modern youngsters. Gene Wilder not only stars as Frederick but he also co-wrote the screenplay with Brooks. The cast…Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Gene Hackman…is first rate, even if no one under 45 these days might appreciate that fact. I have a bad feeling that someday somebody is going to get the bright idea to remake Young Frankenstein, and that would be…at the very least…misguided.
“From that fateful day when stinking bits of slime first crawled from the sea and shouted to the cold stars, ‘I am man!’ our greatest dread has always been the knowledge of our mortality. But tonight, we shall hurl the gauntlet of science into the frightful face of death itself. Tonight, we shall ascend into the heavens. We shall mock the earthquake. We shall command the thunders, and penetrate into the very womb of impervious nature herself.”
“My grandfather’s work was doodoo! I am not interested in death! The only thing that concerns me is the preservation of life!”
“Are you saying that I put an abnormal brain into a 7 and a half foot long, 54- inch wide GORILLA?!?!?! IS THAT WHAT YOU’RE TELLING ME!?!”
63 Carl Spackler (Caddyshack)
One would assume that being an assistant greenskeeper at swanky Bushwood Country Club would allow even a middle class guy like Carl a decent lifestyle. Alas, he lives in small hut on the golf course, with his job & the game of golf itself consuming his life. He dreams of one day winning The Masters, and in his spare time breeds grass hybrids that one can “play 36 holes on in the afternoon” then “get stoned to the bejeezus” on it at night. He becomes obsessed with ridding the golf course of a rabblerousing gopher, going so far as to utilize explosives and blow up the very course he is employed to look after.
“What an incredible Cinderella story! This unknown, comes out of nowhere, to lead the pack at Augusta. The crowd is just on its feet here. He’s a Cinderella boy. Tears in his eyes, I guess, as he lines up this last shot. He’s got about 195 yards left, and he’s got a, looks like he’s got about an 8-iron. This crowd has gone deadly silent… Cinderella story, out of nowhere, former greenskeeper, now about to become the Masters champion. It’s in the hole! It’s in the hole!”
“My enemy…my foe…is an animal. In order to conquer the animal I have to learn to think like an animal. And, whenever possible, to look like one. I’ve gotta get inside this guy’s pelt and crawl around for a few days.”
“And he says, ‘Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.’ So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.”
64 Hermione Granger (The Harry Potter Series)
Author JK Rowling describes Hermione as having “pale skin, bushy brown hair, brown eyes, & large buck teeth”. In the films she is much lovelier than the impression one gets from the books, but her personality remains unchanged: intelligent, sensible, strong-willed, loyal, & just a tad bit officious. She’s the kind of person that’s nice to have in your corner, and one that presents fierce opposition. She’s tough as nails and not afraid to stand side by side with the boys or go toe to toe with the baddies, yet she retains an element of vulnerable femininity & kindness. I suppose for a certain age of young ladies Hermione could be called a feminist icon.
“Honestly, am I the only person who’s ever bothered to read Hogwarts: A History?”
“Now if you two don’t mind, I’m going to bed. Before you come up with another idea to get us killed. Or worse, expelled.”
“I’m highly logical which allows me to look past extraneous detail and perceive clearly that which others overlook.”
“Just because you have the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have!”
“No Harry, you listen…we’re coming with you. That was decided months ago…years, really.”
62 Austin Powers & Dr. Evil (The Austin Powers Series)
I may not be a James Bond fan, but I really enjoyed the Austin Powers movies, which are essentially a Bond parody. Powers is a 60’s era swinger & British spy whose arch nemesis is Dr. Evil. When Dr. Evil becomes cryogenically frozen Powers does the same so that he’ll be available to stop Evil in the future. That future is three decades later, when both Powers & Evil are thawed out and continue their battle. Dr. Evil intends to steal nuclear weapons & hold the world hostage for “$100 BILLION!!”. It’s all very silly, with double entendres, sight gags, & the kind of goofy humor that tickles my funny bone. Mike Meyers created the story as a tribute to his British parents and plays both characters. Meyers was a couple of years removed from his time at SNL and hadn’t had much success outside of the two Wayne’s World films, but cemented his stardom with the dual roles. Rumors of a fourth Powers movie have persisted since the third one hit theaters 17 years ago, but so far it hasn’t happened.
“I bet she shags like a minx.” (Austin Powers)
“Fire the laser!” (Dr. Evil)
“The 70s and the 80s? You’re not missing anything! I looked into it. There’s a gas shortage and A Flock of Seagulls. That’s about it.” (Austin Powers)
“Why must I be surrounded by frickin’ idiots?” (Dr. Evil)
“Oh, behave!” (Austin Powers)
“Throw me a frickin’ bone here!” (Dr. Evil)
“Groovy, baby!” (Austin Powers)
“I have a better idea. I’m going to place him in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death.” (Dr. Evil)
“SILENCE!! I will not tolerate your insolence!” (Dr. Evil)
“Ladies & gentlemen, welcome to my new submarine lair. It’s long and hard and full of seamen.” (Dr. Evil)
61 John Bender (The Breakfast Club)
There are five high schoolers in trouble & spending their Saturday in detention at Shurmur High School in suburban Chicago on March 24, 1984: Claire Standish (The Princess), Andrew Clark (The Athlete), Brian Johnson (The Brain), Allison Reynolds (The Basket Case), & John Bender (The Criminal). Of that group it is Bender that shines just a little brighter. The idea behind these characters is that they represent typical high school stereotypes, and it’s the main reason the film holds up nearly four decades later…those labels are universal and don’t change all that much. Every high school has rebels like Bender, the kind of badass who thumbs their nose at authority, doesn’t care all that much about academics, & seemingly has a limited future. However, the great thing about The Breakfast Club is that it explores those archetypes & exposes their folly. It’s a movie that one perceives differently thru the prism of adulthood, and as a grown man I am struck by the not-so-subtle suggestion that Bender has been physically, mentally, & emotionally abused at home. There is a scene in which blowhard Principal Vernon gets in Bender’s face, and contrary to the bluster that he exhibits in the presence of his peers, the tough as nails bully cowers like a scared child. It is a stark reminder that not everything is always as it seems – sometimes people put on masks to hide their pain.
“Screws fall out all the time; the world is an imperfect place.”
“Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?”
“I could see you really pushing maximum density. You see, I’m not sure if you know this, but there are two kinds of fat people. There’s fat people that were born to be fat, and there’s fat people that were once thin, but they became fat, so when you look at them you can sort of see that thin person inside. You see, you’re gonna get married, you’re gonna squeeze out a few puppies and then….”
“Eat my shorts.”
“”Face it…you’re a neo-maxi-zoom-dweebie.”
60 Beetlejuice (Beetlejuice)
Horror comedies are a rare treat, but they are the kind of Halloween-ish fare I prefer instead of straight up slasher flicks. Michael Keaton is an undervalued gem of an actor, capable of adding zest to comedies, dramas, big budget superhero films, biopics, or whatever else he does. When a young couple dies in a car accident but still finds themselves residing in their suburban Connecticut home they employ the services of a centuries old “freelance bio-exorcist” to get rid of the new owners of the house. That freelancer is a fast-talking, mischievous, & crude trickster who is essentially a “Livingbuster” (as opposed to a Ghostbuster)…a ghost who exterminates the living by scaring them away. The name Betelgeuse (the proper spelling) refers to a star in the Orion constellation that is the ninth brightest star in the night sky. Rumors of a Beetlejuice sequel have been circulating for years, but the project seems to have hit a wall.
“I’m the ghost with the most, babe.”
59 Sonny Corleone (The Godfather Trilogy)
Hands down Sonny has the greatest death scene in movie history. The eldest son of Don Vito Corleone, hothead Santino takes over as temporary boss of The Family after his father is shot by goons working for narcotics kingpin Turk Sollozzo. Under Sonny’s leadership the Five Families engage in a Mafia war after Sonny’s younger brother Michael kills Sollozzo & a corrupt cop, forcing the entire Corleone organization to “go to the mattresses”. After his brother-in-law Carlo physically abuses his wife Connie, Sonny defends his sister’s honor by beating the holy hell out of Carlo, which leads to rival boss Emilio Barzini setting a trap using Carlo to bait Sonny into making a reckless mistake. He is brought down in a hail of gunfire at a toll booth. Sonny’s sexual prowess and physical…gifts…are elaborated on much more in the book than the movie, but his affair with one of Connie’s bridesmaids at the beginning of the first film is important because his illegitimate son Vincent Mancini becomes Don of the Corleone Family in the much maligned & underappreciated Part III.
“Hey, whatcha gonna do, nice college boy, eh? Didn’t want to get mixed up in the family business, huh? Now you wanna gun down a police captain ’cause he slapped ya in the face? Hah? What do you think this is? The Army, where you shoot ’em a mile away? You’ve gotta get up close like this and bada-bing, you blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit!”
58 Godzilla (various films)
Godzilla (which in Japanese translates into gorilla whale) is a 300-400 ft. reptilian creature weighing several hundred thousand tons who lives in the sea and is awakened as a result of nuclear radiation. He has been the star of about three dozen films dating back to the 1950’s, and the earliest movies are still the best, mostly because of the kitschiness factor of the archaic special effects & amusingly poor dubbing of English over the original Japanese. Big scary monsters are nothing new in Hollywood, but most of them come & go rather quickly. Maybe they get a couple of sequels but that’s usually it. Godzilla has stood the test of time, and we can still count on a new movie in the series popping up somewhere every few years for our viewing pleasure.
57 Bo “Bandit” Darville (Smokey & The Bandit)
At one point in my childhood Burt Reynolds was the biggest movie star in the world, and though he’d previously done well-regarded films like Deliverance & The Longest Yard my earliest memory of him is Smokey & The Bandit. I was five years old and didn’t really get all the humor, but there were car chases & crashes so that was enough to attract my attention. In the ensuing four decades I have watched this movie countless times, and though the entire cast is terrific it is The Bandit that holds it all together. He’s a trucker who’s between jobs, and that guy that knows everyone and is loved by everybody because of his charm & good looks. He’s cocky but not arrogant, confident enough in his skills to agree to a bet wherein he’ll bring 400 cases of Coors beer to Atlanta from Texarkana, TX in just 28 hours. The premise might not make much sense to folks in 21st century America because one first must understand that in the 1970’s Coors was unavailable east of Oklahoma (it didn’t become distributed nationally until 1986), and because it was made without stabilizers & preservatives could spoil quicker than other beers. Bootlegging was the illegal transport of alcoholic beverages due to violation of registration & licensing laws. I have no idea what the penalty was, but I assume the $80k Bandit is offer by Big Enos Burdette is worth the risk. At any rate, his antics are so much fun that it makes an otherwise odd & now outdated idea still entertaining after all these years.
“Oh I love your suits. It must have been a bitch to get a 68 Extra Fat and a 12 Dwarf.”
“You’re always hoppin around. And you’re kinda cute, like a frog. And I’d like to jump ya.”
“He was taking a 10-100.”
“Cowboys love fat calves.”
“What’s a Texas county mounty doing in Arkansas?”
56 Moses (The Ten Commandments)
Hollywood’s history with Biblical epics is spotty at best, but they did it right with The Ten Commandments. It’s got to be a tough gig portraying a character from The Bible, right?? They are real people who actually walked the Earth, but it was so long ago that there aren’t photos or video to lay the foundation for an accurate depiction. With the exception of events that are written about in God’s Word there isn’t much to base a character on, yet millions of people whose faith is deeply important to them have high expectations. By 1956 director Cecil B. DeMille had helmed dozens of movies, many of them in the silent era in the first two decades of the 20th century. His epic circus drama The Greatest Show on Earth had won the Academy Award for Best Picture a few years earlier. Charlton Heston wasn’t DeMille’s first choice to play Moses, but the two had worked together on The Greatest Show on Earth and Heston’s knowledge of Egyptian history captivated the director, who thought the actor resembled Michelangelo’s 16th century statue of Moses in the church of San Pietro in Rome. William Boyd, who had portrayed Hopalong Cassidy in over five dozen cowboy movies in the 1930’s & 40’s, turned down the part, so Heston was chosen. He’d acted in over a dozen previous films, but it was The Ten Commandments that made him a star.
“A city is made of brick, Pharaoh. The strong make many. The weak make few. The dead make none. So much for accusations.”
“It would take more than a man to lead the slaves from bondage. It would take a god, and I am no god. I am but a man, a man who asks by what right any man may enslave another of a different race or creed. But if I could free these people, I would.”
“Who shall withstand the power of God?!?!??”
55 Buck Russell (Uncle Buck)
It’s the role that John Candy was born to play: a slovenly black sheep uncle called on to babysit his nieces & nephew in the midst of a family emergency. Buck is a middle-aged unemployed bachelor who smokes cigars, drinks beer, drives a noisy old gas guzzler that’s seen better days, & spends a lot of time at the track betting on horses…not exactly the ideal caretaker for children. The two younger kids take an immediate liking to Buck, but he has a much more difficult time winning over his teenage niece. Those interactions between an uncle clearly out of his element and the children are the crux of the film, and Candy infuses Buck with a mix of humor, common sense, tough love, amiable befuddlement, & roguish charm that endears him to the audience.
“I’m on to cigars now. I’m on to a five year plan. I eliminated cigarettes, then I go to cigars, then I go to pipes, then I go to chewing tobacco, then I’m on to that nicotine gum.”
“What’s your record for consecutive questions asked?”
“I don’t think I want to know a 6 year old who isn’t a dreamer or a sillyheart, and I sure don’t want to know one who takes their student career seriously. I don’t have a college degree. I don’t even have a job. But I know a good kid when I see one. Because they’re all good kids until dried-out, brain-dead skags like you drag them down and convince them they’re no good. You so much as scowl at my niece or any other kid in this school and I hear about it, I’m coming looking for you! Take this quarter, go downtown, and have a rat gnaw that thing off your face! Good day to you, madam.
“Stand me up today and tomorrow I’ll drive you to school in my robe and pajamas and walk you to your first class.”
“Ever hear of a ritual killing? You gnaw on her face in public like that again and you’ll be one.”
“I have a friend who works at the crime lab at the police station. I could give him your toothbrush and he could run a test on it to see if you actually brushed your teeth or just ran your toothbrush under the faucet.”
54 R2D2 & C3P0 (The Star Wars series)
The Star Wars galaxy created by George Lucas offers a multitude of memorable characters. We’ll get to some others eventually, but we begin with a pair of futuristic droids that offer delightful levity amongst all the action & intrigue. There are eleven films in the series…the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy, the soon to be concluded sequel trilogy, Rogue One, & Solo. R2D2 & C3P0 have appeared in ten of these, which is by far more than any other character. R2D2 purportedly stands for Second Generation Robotic Droid Series-2, but the truth is that when Lucas heard his sound editor on American Graffiti ask for Reel 2, Dialog Track 2 in abbreviated form he liked the sound of it. R2D2 is a utility robot used for the maintenance & repair of starships and related technology. In the films he first belongs to Naboo defense forces charged with repairing Queen Padme Amidala’s ship. Thru the years he is owned by Qui-Gon Jinn, Anakin Skywalker, Owen Lars, Luke Skywalker, & Rey. R2’s distinctive shape and various beeps & unique noises are signature elements of the character. C3P0 is a little more humanlike than his buddy, having legs & feet and the ability to speak. He is a protocol droid intended to assist in etiquette, customs, & translation and is fluent in over seven million forms of communication. Thru the years he has served Shmi Skywalker, the Lars family, Padmé Amidala, Raymus Antilles, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, & Rey. His distinctive gold plating makes him easy to spot in a crowd, and his fussy, worrisome personality is rather comical. I’m sure back in the 70’s many people thought that by the 21st century robot assistants like R2D2 & C3P0 would be commonplace, but we’re not quite there yet.
“For a mechanic, you seem to do an incessant amount of thinking.” (C3P0)
“Don’t blame me. I’m an interpreter. I’m not supposed to know a power socket from a computer terminal.” (C3P0)
“R2, you know better than to trust a strange computer.” (C3P0)
“It’s against my programming to impersonate a deity.” (C3P0)
53 Billy Madison & Happy Gilmore (eponymous films)
Adam Sandler’s career has been a mixed bag. He is undoubtedly talented & funny, but his shtick isn’t everybody’s cup of tea and he’s made a lot of bad movies. In my opinion his funniest films were in the early 90’s, though you won’t find many critics who would agree. I take no issue with solicitous, meaningful films with life lessons, powerful messages, & profound themes, but sometimes we just want to turn off our brain for awhile and laugh at something completely stupid & pointless and Sandler has done a decent job of providing that sort of entertainment. Billy Madison is a rather juvenile 20-something in a clear state of arrested development. When his hotel tycoon father plans to retire he’d prefer Billy take over the business but knows he isn’t capable, especially since the old man bribed teachers to pass Billy all the way thru school. At any rate, Billy accepts a challenge to complete 12 grades of school in two weeks, which is somehow supposed to magically make him qualified to helm a Fortune 500 company. I know…it makes very little sense, but the journey is lots of silly fun, which is the whole point. Happy Gilmore is a failed hockey player wannabe who must figure out a way to help his grandmother buy back her house that the IRS took for back taxes she owes. He inexplicably ends up on the PGA Tour and (spoiler alert) wins enough money as a champion golfer to help out his grandmother. Once again…don’t put too much thought into it. The plots of these movies aren’t meant to be logical and the characters aren’t supposed to be realistic, but Sandler infuses both Billy & Happy with enough affable charm that we root for their success and want them to overcome the odds despite the fact that they are total idiots.
“Oh, Veronica Vaughn … soooo hot … want to touch the hiney!” (Billy)
“The Price is wrong, bitch!” (Happy)
“You ain’t cool, unless, you pee your pants! Everybody my age pee their pants; it’s the coolest!” (Billy)
52 Ellis “Red” Redding (The Shawshank Redemption)
Many folks may not realize that The Shawshank Redemption is based on a 1982 Stephen King novella. In that book Red Redding is described as a middle-aged Irish man with greying red hair, so casting Morgan Freeman in the role can only be described as an inspired choice. Red has been imprisoned at Shawshank for 40 years for murdering his wife & passengers in her vehicle after he tampered with the brakes. He has attained a level of influence for being able to smuggle a variety of goods into the jail for other inmates, though his attitude remains somewhat sullen. He is a practical man, resigned to his fate yet regretful of the crime he committed when he was young & stupid. Red befriends new inmate Andy Dufresne, and they end up changing each other’s lives tremendously. Freeman received his third Academy Award nomination for the role, but lost the Best Actor prize to Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump).
“In 1966, Andy Dufresne escaped from Shawshank prison. All they found of him was a muddy set of prison clothes, a bar of soap, and an old rock hammer, damn near worn down to the nub. I remember thinking it would take a 600 years to tunnel through the wall with it. Old Andy did it in less than 20. Andy crawled to freedom through 500 yards of shit-smelling foulness I can’t even imagine…or maybe I just don’t want to. 500 yards… that’s the length of five football fields; just shy of half a mile.”
“Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”
“These prison walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, gets so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized. They send you here for life, that’s exactly what they take. The part that counts anyways.”
“Rehabilitated? Well, now, let me see. You know, I don’t have any idea what that means. I know what you think it means, sonny. To me it’s just a made-up word. A politician’s word, so that young fellas like yourself can wear a suit and a tie and have a job. What do you really wanna know? Am I sorry for what I did? There’s not a day goes by that I don’t feel regret. Not because I’m in here, or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone, and this old man is all that’s left. I gotta live with that. Rehabilitated? It’s just a bullshit word. So go ahead and stamp your forms, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don’t give a shit.”
“I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it is the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend, and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”
51 Laurie Strode (Halloween)
Screen legend Janet Leigh is the original Scream Queen for her small yet pivotal role in the 1960 Hitchcock classic Psycho, so it is fitting that her daughter Jamie Lee Curtis would assume the mantle after playing Lorrie Strode, an ordinary American teenager who endures a single night of terror at the hands of a knife-wielding masked maniac. Numerous sequels, remakes, & reboots have kept the Halloween franchise alive, but really the 1978 original & its initial 1981 sequel are the only two that matter.
Seven months ago we started our journey with 100 movies that defined the decade of the 1990’s. And while trilogies (Toy Story, Austin Powers, Scream) & Christmas films (Home Alone, The Santa Clause, The Ref) weren’t included, we still ended up with a rather eclectic & competitive field representing a decade that is difficult to pigeonhole.
It is tempting to define the 90’s with grunge, flannel, boy bands, hacky sack, baggy jeans, gangsta rap, & the rise of The Internet, which wouldn’t necessarily be inaccurate. However, when it comes to movies I don’t think any of that translated well…atleast to anything noteworthy. When thinking about the 1990’s on film it seems as though there were solid contributions across all genres, with the defining characteristic being a general lack of defining characteristics. Whereas 80’s kids look back with fondness at some of the flicks we enjoyed growing up partly because of their singular music, kitschy style, & overall cheesiness, I don’t feel like 90’s films have that kind of unique vibe. Society seemingly turned down a dark & more violent path in the 90’s, which is certainly reflected in movies as much as anything else, but since I don’t tend to gravitate toward such morose entertainment it isn’t a big thing for me. I suppose it is fair to say technology played an increased role in 90’s movies, especially with improvements in special effects & animation. It is kind of fun & interesting to watch some 90’s films and chuckle at their depiction of The Internet, marvel at the size of cell phones, & realize how much social media would have altered the plot, but it’s not really a dominating theme.
The good thing about this lack distinction is that, instead of stories defined by their style, we were offered plenty of enjoyable movies with enough substance to give them staying power, and y’all know that’s a big deal to me. Do you realize that films made in the 90’s are now as old as films produced in the 1960’s would have been in the 90’s?? When considered thru that prism the sheer number of impactful movies made in the 1990’s that are still being viewed with some regularity three decades later is quite remarkable. Whether you prefer comedy or drama, are into horror or action, hold a special place in your heart for animation or holiday classics…the 1990’s had plenty of solid choices.
As far as this competition goes, just like 80’s Movie Mania I have tried to be fair in my analysis & conclusions, but obviously personal bias can’t be completely eliminated. I’m fine with that though, because at the end of the day favorite movies are always a matter of individual taste. We can cite box office numbers, award nominations & victories, and critical reviews ‘til the cows come home. All of those things are valid criteria for scrutiny, but the truth is that sometimes they matter and sometimes they don’t. Having said all that, my hope is that most won’t have too much of an issue with my conclusions. Enjoy.
Of the Final Four contestants Mrs. Doubtfire is probably the one that most represents a 90’s vibe, with a story centered around divorce & child custody. It’s a tough gig to turn such topics into comedy, but with Robin Williams anything was possible. He stars as Daniel Hillard, a fun-loving voice actor whose charm has worn thin with his career-driven wife Miranda, played by Sally Field. When the final straw breaks the camel’s back of their marriage Daniel is inspired to interview for the nanny position that Miranda has advertised, but obviously can’t do it as himself. The solution?? Don heavy make-up, a wig, panty hose, & a dress and transform into Euphegenia Doubtfire, an elderly British lady any mother would want to babysit their children. Adding to the hijinks is Miranda’s flirtation with a former beau, fueling Daniel’s envy. It’s not so much that he wants to rekindle the marital flame as much as he doesn’t like another man so smoothly stepping into a paternal role. At any rate, the premise allows Williams to dip into his arsenal of comedic tricks, and the result is a super family friendly dramedy that doesn’t sidestep real life issues or give into the temptation for an idealistic & sentimental ending, but mostly focuses on humor.
A good friend opined a long time ago that time travel is cool, which is why almost any book, movie, or TV show containing it is enjoyable. But what about a time warp in which a man lives the same day over & over & over & over…(well, you get the point)?? Bill Murray stars as Phil Connors, a grumpy Pittsburgh meteorologist who makes the 90 minute trek up to Punxsutawney on February 2 to cover the annual festivities. Travelling with him are smartass cameraman Larry (portrayed by 80’s funnyman Chris Elliott) & lovely producer Rita (Andi MacDowell, at the apex of her career…a few years after Sex, Lies, & Videotape and a year before Four Weddings & A Funeral). Phil is a malcontent who hates reporting on Groundhog Day and doesn’t seem too happy about anything else. When a snowstorm forces Phil, Rita, & Larry to spend the night in Punxsutawney the weatherman isn’t pleased, and that mood doesn’t improve when he wakes up the next morning to find its Groundhog Day again!! You may recall learning about the five stages of grief at some point in school…denial, anger, bargaining, depression, & acceptance. Phil goes thru similar stages while stuck in the endless loop. At first he is confused. Then he uses his circumstance (and the idea that there are no consequences for his actions) to engage in drunken debauchery. He then becomes depressed and commits suicide multiple times to no avail. After killing himself and the infamous groundhog but still waking up in the time loop Phil decides to use his situation to better himself, learning things like ice sculpting, piano, & French poetry. He then begins being generous & helpful to others and also falls in love with Rita, utilizing the time loop to learn everything about her and become the kind of man she wants in her life. It is her love that ultimately seems to end Phil’s nightmare, although it is never explained what caused the time loop in the first place, how long it lasts, or exactly why it stops. The entire film is an existential enigma disguised as an ordinary comedy.
Accepted at face value Forrest Gump is simply the life story of “a local idiot” who has some improbable adventures and always gravitates back toward the girl he’s loved since childhood…but is that all it is?? Tom Hanks won his second consecutive Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Gump, a low IQ child in 1950’s Alabama who grows up to win the Medal of Honor for heroism in Vietnam, become an All-American football player for Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide, & make millions of dollars as a shrimping magnate. His childhood friend Jenny takes a different path. Abused as a young girl by her father, she becomes a promiscuous hippie, does drugs, & ends up as a single mother ill with “some kind of virus” (likely AIDS or hepatitis). Along the way Forrest & Jenny drift in & out of each other’s lives, ultimately ending up married & raising their young son together before Jenny dies. Forrest Gump is mostly a drama, but I love the fact that there are moments of levity. And what a soundtrack!! You’ve got music from Elvis Presley, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Aretha Franklin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Three Dog Night, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Mamas & the Papas, The Doobie Brothers, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Seger…anyone who enjoys classic rock will dig the tunes in Forrest Gump. As far as deep analysis goes, there are some that look at the film as an allegory of two Americas, with Forrest representing small town conservatism and Jenny embodying the anti-war, free love, drug-induced counterculture that rose to prominence in the 60’s. There is plenty of symbolism, philosophical ponderings about fate & destiny, and maybe even some religious or atleast spiritual subtext. If one would rather just enjoy the pleasure of Forrest Gump as a great story, that’ll work and you won’t be disappointed, but the underlying themes are there and serve as food for thought.
I don’t remember exactly when I became fascinated by the infamous Titanic disaster, but I know it was long before 1997. There had been other books, movies, & documentaries about the tragedy, but this film took the public’s level of interest to a whole new stratosphere and created an entire cottage industry out of a voyage that lasted less than a week a century ago. Kate Winslet & Leonardo DiCaprio earned lifelong fame portraying Rose & Jack, a pair of star crossed lovers whose brief romance is cut short by an iceberg. Rose Dewitt Bewkater is a high society debutante being forced into marriage with arrogant steel tycoon Cal Hockley, while Jack Dawson is third class steerage passenger who won his ticket in a poker game. Think of it as a slightly modernized twist on Romeo & Juliet. The first part of the movie introduces us to the pair, whose initial encounter takes place when Jack talks Rose out of jumping into the ocean…ironic when one considers what is to come. Of course we know that Titanic was a real ship that actually sank, so eventually those events take center stage, the situation having been personalized by our affection for Jack & Rose. There is also a framing device, as the beginning of the film presents a modern day expedition to the bottom of the sea, with a treasure hunter seeking The Heart of the Ocean, a huge heart-shaped diamond given to Rose by Cal. The treasure hunter is contacted by a still living Rose, who is over 100 years old, and she relays the events of her memory to him & his team. Real life Titanic passengers & crew like “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, ship builder Thomas Andrews, White Star managing director J. Bruce Ismay, Captain Edward Smith, business moguls John Jacob Astor IV & Benjamin Guggenheim, and elderly couple Isidor & Ida Strauss, are depicted, and one of the few complaints that I’ve heard about Titanic over the years is the fact that the stories of such historical figures take a back seat to the fictional love story of Jack & Rose, but personally I don’t have an issue with the creative choices of the filmmakers…it is a movie, not a documentary, and since it set records at the box office & during awards season I assume very few others saw a problem.
Robin Williams was a legend, and Mrs. Doubtfire is undoubtedly one of his best movies, but at the end of the day it is just a solid comedy elevated by the performance of its star. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but at this point I have to pick nits and I cannot in good conscience promote it as an elite film.
Surprise!! You assumed it was going to win, didn’t you?? To be honest I might have had the same notion not that long ago. Critically acclaimed, record setting, award winning…Titanic is the total package. However, as I was pondering these final four films something hit me like a ton of bricks. Historical dramas, as these kinds of movies are known, are a double-edged sword. The notoriety of the event itself is obviously what leads to a film being made, and certainly it helps get curious moviegoers into the theater. But on the flip side the movie will always be compared to the actual situation, and in this case I think the tragic sinking of the RMS Titanic is such a fascinating story that Titanic feels merely satisfactory, perhaps even unnecessary. In retrospect the significance of the movie is that it renewed interest in the historic event.
The Runner Up
This breaks my heart. I adore Groundhog Day. Like a fine wine it has grown more deliciously elegant with age. To be honest I didn’t even watch it until years after its initial release. In February 1993 I was in the second semester of my junior year of college, spending most of my time drinking beer, hanging out with my fraternity brothers, and occasionally studying. I am actually glad that I didn’t see Groundhog Day back then, as I undoubtedly would have shrugged it off as the average comedy film that so many believe it to be instead of the metaphysical mediation of life that it actually is. Thru the prism of adulthood I am able to truly appreciate all that the movie has to offer. Though it isn’t winning this competition Groundhog Day is like the 12th seed during March Madness that goes on a run and finds itself head-to-head with the bluebloods, or an NFL team that has finished 8-8 for so many years that no one has any expectations then suddenly becomes a Super Bowl contender.
90’s Film Frenzy Champion
Tom Hanks starred in about a dozen significant films during the 1990’s, so I suppose it comes as no surprise that one of his works would win this competition. Something that I have consistently stated in our many discussions about movies in this space over the years is that a key benchmark for me is repeat viewings, and the idea of whether or not I am happy/excited when channel surfing and see that a particular movie is on TV. It is one thing to head to the local cineplex and be entertained for a couple of hours by the latest action flick, rom-com, slasher film, Christmas movie, sports drama, murder mystery, biopic, superhero adventure, sci-fi fantasy, or gross-out comedy, but it is entirely different when you are glad to watch the same story for the hundredth time decades later while vegging out at home. Not only does Forrest Gump check all the requisite boxes…made a ton of money, won a bunch of awards, killer soundtrack, received great reviews, eminently quotable…but I am still delighted to watch it whenever it is on, which is surprisingly often for a movie that hit theaters 25 years ago. My father shares my love of Forrest Gump, which is a source of amusement for me since Dad & I rarely have a similar pop culture palate. I understand that there are a fair number of cynics who despise the movie for one reason or another, but I believe those folks are either overanalyzing or simply disagree with its perspective. To each their own. My adoration has endured for over two decades and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
It was at this point just over a year ago, as Merry Movie Mayhem was drawing to a conclusion, that I took the easy path and let the final eight combatants bow out with what was essentially a collective tie. I don’t feel bad about that because Christmas movies are just so special that I am fine with not following thru with a fight to the death. I don’t have the same kind of sentimental attachment to the 1990’s, so today we move forward with the division finals, aka The Elite 8. Enjoy.
Titanic vs. Sleepless in Seattle
After receiving a first round bye Titanic has gotten past Saving Private Ryan, Father of the Bride II, & The Birdcage. Sleepless in Seattle also received a first round bye then overcame challenges from Galaxy Quest, Dumb & Dumber, and My Cousin Vinny. I knew this moment would eventually come, and sadly it has arrived. During 80’s Movie Mania I eliminated National Lampoon’s Vacation in The Final Four because the ending makes it feel outdated. As I mentioned back then, the debate is whether that should be a mark against the film or celebrated as something that marks the era we are commemorating. Obviously I decided the former rather than the latter, and we are faced with a similar situation now. I adore Sleepless in Seattle, but the fact is that it feels dated because the invention of The Internet has made much of the premise irrelevant. The same story simply couldn’t be told nowadays. Conversely, Titanic has the advantage of being an historical drama. The story is what it is and it is…with all due respect to the unfortunate victims of the tragedy…frozen in time. The movie doesn’t feel outdated two decades later, and it won’t be two decades from now. One also cannot overlook the fact that it remains the second highest grossing film of all time and is one of only three films (the others being Ben-Hur and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) to win eleven Academy Awards. It has pretty good scores on Rotten Tomatoes too…89% from critics & 69% from the public, meaning that it is the rare movie that is actually good and popular. Though a film about a disaster that occurred in 1912 can’t really represent the decade of the 90’s I do feel like it is a signature piece of the cinematic experience of the 90’s.
You’ve Got Mail vs. Groundhog Day
You’ve Got Mail received a first round bye then defeated The Firm, Aladdin, & Good Will Hunting to make it to this point. After a first round bye Groundhog Day has gotten this far by overcoming Clueless, American Pie, & Apollo 13. The bottom line for me is originality. I have said for many years that I am secure enough in my smoldering machismo to admit that I enjoy a good rom-com, and You’ve Got Mail is a good rom-com. However, having said that, the thing about rom-coms is that they all share similar structural DNA. And why not?? The blueprint works, right?? But also, of the three films that Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan did together I think You’ve Got Mail might be the weakest…or atleast the most formulaic. Both Sleepless in Seattle and Joe Versus the Volcano feel more innovative, which makes a lot of sense since You’ve Got Mail is a loose remake of the 1940 James Stewart classic The Shop Around the Corner. Conversely, Groundhog Day is an inspired meditation on life, philosophy, love, & spirituality hiding in plain sight as an ordinary comedy. No one can argue with a straight face that Bill Murray & Andie MacDowell are as cute, perky, & charming as Hanks & Ryan, but his beleaguered cynicism and her enthusiastic naiveté work perfectly in Groundhog Day. It’s the kind of film one can watch over & over and discover something new each time, which seems rather appropriate.
Forrest Gump vs. The Fugitive
After a first round bye Forrest Gump defeated Presumed Innocent, Die Hard: With A Vengeance, & Office Space to land in the Elite 8. The Fugitive received a first round bye then got past Joe Versus the Volcano, The Wedding Singer, & Father of the Bride. If you watch The Fugitive with absolutely no prior knowledge of the 60’s TV hit your enjoyment of the movie won’t suffer at all. Two powerhouse performances by Harrison Ford & Tommy Lee Jones (who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor) combined with great writing & edge-of-your seat drama make for a terrific cinematic experience. Forrest Gump is based on a novel that had gone virtually unnoticed, and the movie makes changes so significant that it feels completely original. Forrest Gump has a great cast (Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Sally Field, Gary Sinise), a fantastic soundtrack, and was both critically acclaimed & popular with the masses. I do know people that hate it, but I just don’t understand those folks at all. This is a tough one, but repeat viewings give Gump the nod in a photo finish.
Mrs. Doubtfire vs. The Big Lebowski
After a first round bye Mrs. Doubtfire has beaten That Thing You Do, Tommy Boy, & Scent of a Woman. The Big Lebowski is the lone film in The Elite 8 that did not receive a first round bye, and thus far has overcome Ten Things I Hate About You, Wayne’s World, Deep Impact, & The Shawshank Redemption. My vibe is that, in a poll of many, those that were teens or in their early 20’s back in the late 1990s would lean toward Lebowski, while older folks might favor Doubtfire. It is probably an unfair comparison, but much like the early comedies of Adam Sandler (most notably Happy Gilmore & Billy Madison), if one happened to be at the exact right age and/or maturity when The Big Lebowski was released then it is likely an essential movie for that person. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be enjoyed by others, just that its humor is quite specific & unique. Jeff Bridges is one of the most underrated thespians of his generation, and his role as The Dude (or His Dudeness, Duder, or El Duderino, if, you know, you’re not into the whole brevity thing) might be his crowning achievement, even if it’s not the kind of character or film that the awards shows fawn all over. John Goodman is another undervalued actor, and his performance as somewhat aggressive & slightly off kilter Vietnam vet Walter Sobchak is a hidden gem. Conversely, it is likely that slightly older folks…those that came of age in the 80’s as Robin Williams rose to fame…would have a greater appreciation of Mrs. Doubtfire. Williams had a rather eclectic career and was capable of playing a whole range of parts, but his wheelhouse was funny comedies in which he could put his full arsenal of comedic genius on display, and Doubtfire fit his skills like a glove. The supporting cast…including Sally Field & Pierce Brosnan…have their moments, but it’s Williams’ show and he carries it well. I suppose that I must reluctantly admit to being part of the older crowd, because, though I appreciate Lebowski for what it is, there are moments of weirdness that don’t resonate with my particular comedy palate, while Doubtfire is the kind of gentle, easygoing, family friendly humor that I tend to gravitate toward.
Greetings friends. No, I didn’t forget. With the holiday season in full swing and football reaching a fever pitch on all levels I suppose I’ve been a bit distracted, but it’s time to get back to 90’s Film Frenzy. I have decided to reintroduce an idea originally utilized during 80’s Movie Mania…a tale of the tape comparison focusing on five factors that I consider significant when evaluating these films:
Re-Watchability: Is it on television a lot?? If it is on TV am I excited enough to stop channel surfing & watch??
Relevance: Does the story hold up well?? Or do modern societal norms & changes in technology make it feel dated??
Quotability: Fun, interesting, well-written movies of all genres are usually very quotable.
Cultural Impact: Is it one of those movies that everyone of a certain age has seen?? Is it familiar to multiple generations?? Do people still occasionally talk about it & watch it even many years after its release??
Pleasure: Do I enjoy watching this movie?? We’ve all read books or watched shows/movies just because we felt compelled to…because we wanted to be cool or seem educated. But what do you enjoy when no one else is around??
Titanic vs. The Birdcage
The Verdict:Titanic. This one breaks my heart a little because The Birdcage and my man Robin Williams probably deserve a better fate, but I have to “keep it real” as the kids like to say. The Birdcage, while obviously a farce, looks a little different thru a 21st century prism of how we now view & treat the “LGBTQ Community”. Society wasn’t quite as “woke” back in the 90’s, so the caricature presented of a gay couple and their lifestyle might be offensive to some nowadays. And honestly, the exaggeration works both ways, because the movie doesn’t portray conservatives in the best light either. But above & beyond all of that Titanic is simply a cultural phenomenon that still ranks as the second highest grossing movie of all time and just about swept all the major awards. It is still shown on television with some regularity, and I enjoy watching it now almost as much as I ever did.
My Cousin Vinny vs. Sleepless in Seattle
The Verdict:Sleepless in Seattle. This is a tough one. I’m not sure either movie is all that quotable, but I give the edge to My Cousin Vinny because I still refer to young people as “yutes”. Vinny also wins the relevance category because Sleepless in Seattle has one major flaw…a quarter century later it simply couldn’t happen. Sam Baldwin would probably be pouring his heart out on a podcast rather than a radio show. Instead of thousands of lonely & desperate women sending him letters he’d be getting friend requests and ladies would be “sliding into his DMs”. Annie Reed wouldn’t need to sic a private investigator on Sam or fly to Seattle to check him out…she could just scrutinize his social media profiles. I’m not sure if young Jonah could still pull off the feat of booking a flight & making it all the way from Seattle to New York, but surely it would be much more difficult for a ten year old kid to do that in a post-9/11 world. However, having said that, Sleepless would be my choice to watch in vegg mode, I still get excited to catch it on TV & will occasionally stream it for no apparent reason when I’m bored, and I feel comfortable saying that the cultural impact of Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan outweighs the charm of Joe Pesci & Marisa Tomei.
Forrest Gump vs. Office Space
The Verdict:Forrest Gump. Kudos to Office Space for making it to the Sweet 16. That’s pretty darn good for a movie that ranked 121st at the box office in 1999 and has an ensemble of character actors, with Jennifer Aniston as the only real movie star in the cast. While it is extremely quotable it is also inescapably out-of-date with plot points centering around the Y2K “virus”, floppy disks, & a laserjet printer. However, the human frailties & frustrations associated with workplace culture that the movie pokes fun are universal & timeless. Conversely, Forrest Gump is a mini history lesson with a bit of romance thrown into the mix, which makes it somewhat similar to Titanic. Gump won Best Picture, Best Actor (Tom Hanks), and Best Director (Robert Zemeckis), and was the top box office draw of 1994, so its pedigree is irrefutable.
The Fugitive vs. Father of the Bride
The Verdict:The Fugitive. This is a coin toss situation. I could (and have) watched both movies over & over again. I’m not sure either one has any claim to being especially relevant, but neither is there anything about them that is particularly passé two decades later. Neither movie is all that quotable. As far as cultural impact goes, The Fugitive is based on a 1960’s TV show and Father of the Bride is a remake of a 1950 film. So what it comes down to for me is the fact that The Fugitive was nominated for seven Academy Awards (Tommy Lee Jones won Best Supporting Actor and Best Picture was lost to Schindler’s List) and has a 96% score on Rotten Tomatoes, while Father of the Bride has a 71% Rotten Tomatoes score and received two MTV Movie Awards nominations. As much as I adore Father of the Bride I cannot overlook the pedigree of the competition.
Apollo 13 vs. Groundhog Day
The Verdict:Groundhog Day. This might be the hardest decision I’ve had to make thus far. Apollo 13 gets a small tip of the cap because all of us still say “Houston…we have a problem” whenever the opportunity arises, and kudos must be given for the film’s nine Academy Award nominations (Best Picture went to Braveheart) as well as its remarkable 95% Rotten Tomatoes score. Having said that, Groundhog Day has an even better 96% Rotten Tomatoes score, and where it really makes an impact is its relevance. Groundhog Day is…ironically…timeless. I cannot emphasize enough that it is so much more than a run-of-the mill comedy. It is profound in a way that is unique & rare. A lot of movies have an agenda and make a concerted effort to be meaningful & didactic, but Groundhog Day takes such a nuanced approach to being insightful that I’m not even sure the filmmakers intended anything so evocative. Apollo 13 is brilliant. Hanks, Ron Howard, Ed Harris, the music…the whole package is a dazzling display of what talented people can accomplish when they unite to make a good movie. However, let’s be honest…it is based on a real event that was pretty extraordinary. I do not want to sell the powers-that-be short. Afterall, plenty of terrible movies have evolved from really cool true stories. But in this case I have to give the edge to creative brilliance born from fiction.
Good Will Hunting vs. You’ve Got Mail
The Verdict:You’ve Got Mail. The biggest mark against You’ve Got Mail is relevance. AOL, dial-up, chat rooms…all are 90’s relics. Much like the other Hanks/Ryan collaboration that I adore…Sleepless in Seattle…social media makes the whole plot of You’ve Got Mail largely obsolete. But despite that notable deficiency it is still a film with irresistible charm and fine performances from its two leads as well as supporting roles for Greg Kinnear, Parker Posey, Jean Stapleton, Steve Zahn, & Heather Burns. Good Will Hunting garnered Academy Awards for Matt Damon & Ben Affleck (Best Original Screenplay) as well as my man Robin Williams (Best Supporting Actor), but honestly…I haven’t watched it in two decades. It just hasn’t remained in our collective pop culture consciousness.
Shawshank Redemption vs. The Big Lebowski
The Verdict:The Big Lebowski. This may surprise some folks. The pedigree for Shawshank is enviable. Seven Academy Award nominations (though it did not win any of them). A 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Conversely, Lebowski was barely noticed at the box office and took several years to make an impact on the pop culture landscape. I still don’t think one can think of it as “mainstream”. However, once it became a thing amongst film buffs the popularity of Lebowski soared. It is one of the most quotable movies out there, and for me it comes down to the idea of sitting down for the enjoyable diversion of watching a movie. I’m not against drama at all, but Lebowski is just more fun. Shawshank has an inspirational & uplifting conclusion, but one has to grind thru a pretty intense couple of hours before that, and I am rarely in the mood for that.
Mrs. Doubtfire vs. Scent of a Woman
The Verdict:Mrs. Doubtfire. I recently read a really interesting biography about Robin Williams, and in it there is a discussion about the latter part of his career. His wheelhouse was undoubtedly zany comedy, but a combination of Williams’ determination to prove himself as an actor and some questionable decisions by various folks led him to do films like What Dreams May Come, One Hour Photo, August Rush, & Insomnia. Some of his dramatic roles…Good Will Hunting, Awakenings, Dead Poets Society…are well regarded, while a few of his comedies…Flubber, Patch Adams, License to Wed…missed the mark, but Mrs. Doubtfire is a perfect platform for his talent and I can’t help but wish that his filmography contained a lot more such showcases. Scent of a Woman is essentially two hours of Al Pacino chewing scenery, which is delightful fun that I enjoy just fine, but Mrs. Doubtfire is the better movie.
My apologies for the brief hiatus I’ve taken from this competition. I have no valid excuse, so we’ll just move on. We have already covered Round 3 action in the Dope and Fly divisions, so we’ll try to finish up the third round within the next week. I know all you non-sports folks get a little perturbed with me this time of year, but rest assured I’ve not forgotten about you. Allow me to take this opportunity to wish The Manoverse a very Happy Halloween. Whether you’ll be trick-or-treating with your kids, handing out candy to the neighborhood crumb crunchers, curling up with a scary movie or book, or attending a wild & crazy costume party I hope y’all stay safe and have lots of fun.
Apollo 13 vs. The Mask
After receiving a first round bye Apollo 13 defeated John Candy’s underrated rom-com Only the Lonely in Round 2. Most of the attention is…obviously…given to Tom Hanks, as well as his fellow “astronauts” Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, & Gary Sinise. The Academy showed some love to Ed Harris & Kathleen Quinlan by giving them Oscar nominations in supporting categories (Harris lost to Kevin Spacey for his role as Verbal Kint/Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects, while Quinlan lost to Mira Sorvino for Mighty Aphrodite). However, Apollo 13 features a large ensemble that really brings everything together. Character actors like Joe Spano, Chris Ellis, Marc McClure, Brett Cullen, Clint Howard, Loren Dean, & Christian Clemenson portray NASA officials. Ron Howard’s mother plays Jim Lovell’s mother Blanche. The kids portraying Lovell’s children aren’t given much to do but they do it well. These are the kinds of performances that are important in helping the viewer escape reality and really get into a movie. The film was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Dramatic Score, and the music does play a vital role. It’s a shame Apollo 13 only won two of the nine Academy Awards for which it was nominated. One never knows about such things…perhaps if it’d been released a year earlier or later it might have swept all of those awards and be considered one of the greatest films of all time. The Mask got past PCU in the first round and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective in Round 2. Unlike a large ensemble film The Mask is all about Jim Carrey (and to a lesser degree the hotness of Cameron Diaz). His talent (and some unique special effects) are the engine that makes the movie go. It’s a fun & somewhat memorable film, but hardly transcendant.
The Verdict:Apollo 13. It’s a pretty easy decision really. I suppose one could look at it as Hanks vs. Carrey, and even by that metric Apollo 13 wins easily. However, Apollo 13 deserves a lot more credit than that. I’ll go so far as to say that it would be a great film even with someone besides Hanks portraying Jim Lovell. But of course Hanks makes everything that he is in better, so in this case he just elevates a fantastic movie to sublime.
Good Will Hunting vs. Batman Returns
Good Will Hunting got a first round bye and then defeated Adam Sandler’s Big Daddy in Round 2. The main attraction for me is the presence of Robin Williams in a role that finally won him an Oscar. I recently finished a great biography of Williams, and it was said in that book that at some point Williams began to take some heat from critics for playing sentimental & sympathetic roles that forced him to hide is well-known comic frenzy, but I think he was just so determined to be taken seriously as an actor that he didn’t think it wise to play zany comic characters. It was a balancing act with which he struggled his entire career. Batman Returns beat Showgirls in Round 1 and emerged from a second round triple threat against Pretty Woman & What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?. It has now gotten as far as its predecessor did in 80’s Movie Mania. I’ve read many opinions stating that Returns is actually better than 1989’s Batman, but I feel like it is less memorable. Of course the original featured Jack Nicholson’s superb performance as The Joker, which is hard to beat. Returns tries to match it with three villains…Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, Danny DeVito’s Penguin, & Christopher Walken’s Max Shreck, a wealthy industrialist whose plans to build a chemical plant in Gotham City are derailed by Bruce Wayne, who then responds by backing The Penguin as a mayoral candidate to get what he wants. It is my understanding that the Schreck character was created when Billy Dee Williams, who portrayed Harvey Dent in the original film, decided not to return. I assume that Dent would have morphed into Two-Face, something that did occur when Tommy Lee Jones assumed the role in Batman Forever. I really like Penguin’s origin story in Returns, and of course Pfeiffer is the best Catwoman since Julie Newar & Eartha Kitt in the 60’s. Walken’s presence as Shreck feels out of place and somewhat misguided, although I’m not sure Dent’s presence would have been an improvement. Three villains is just too much in a Batman movie.
The Verdict:Good Will Hunting. The question…as always…that I ask myself is if I were channel surfing on a lazy day which film would I watch. But more importantly, I think about which one excites me more. I love that feeling of flipping thru the channels and going “Oh cool!! ‘Insert Movie Name Here’ is on!!”, and the truth is that I’ve never felt that way about either of these movies. Batman Returns might legitimately be the best of the Burton/Schumacher Batman series, but it’s not nearly as iconic as its predecessor, and even 1997’s Batman & Robin has gotten more mileage out of being an allegedly terrible movie. I don’t find Good Will Hunting to be particularly memorable, but my love for Robin Williams is enough to push it thru.
American Pie vs. Groundhog Day
After Groundhog Day received a first round bye then got past Clueless in Round 1 I said that “I am busting at the seams to say everything I want to say” about it. The cool thing about Groundhog Day is that one can choose to view it from two different angles, and seeing it thru one prism doesn’t exclude a person from enjoying it thru the other. It works as a comedy based on Bill Murray’s sardonic wit, quirky supporting characters, & a unique situation. However, it really shines as an existential examination of life itself. One must realize that weatherman Phil Connors is stuck repeating the same day…depending on which theory one chooses to embrace…dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of times. One story I ran across awhile back estimated that Connors spends over thirty years in Punxsutawney just repeating February 2nd over & over & over. In that time he goes thru a whole range of emotions…confusion, bewilderment, anger, depression. He experiences it all. At first he uses the situation to his advantage, attempting to bed a beautiful woman and making a pass at his lovely co-worker Rita. Phil steals money, drives recklessly, & drinks heavily because he realizes there are no consequences for his actions. But then he becomes depressed and attempts to commit suicide multiple times. However nothing he tries works, and eventually he has a revelation. He accepts his weird circumstance and decides to use his time to learn new things, help people, become a better man, & woo Rita the right way. You see, Groundhog Day is not just another comedy…it’s a morality play about redemption, happiness, self-improvement, generosity, community, & love. American Pie got a first round bye then defeated Armageddon in Round 2, in no small part because the cast of Armageddon has been scornful of their own movie so I am not inclined to defend it if they don’t. American Pie is a generational teen sex comedy in the grand tradition of Animal House, Porky’s, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, & Risky Business. It might not be a high bar to aspire to, but then again I suppose it’s better to be remembered for gross out humor & delinquent hijinks than not be remembered at all like so many movies. The cast has gone on to do other noteworthy work, but American Pie will always be their legacy. A few sequels were made and they’re…okay…but the original stands on its own as one of the best comedies of its era.
The Verdict:Groundhog Day. Much like we all enjoy watching A Christmas Story, It’s A Wonderful Life, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, White Christmas, & a host of other classics every December, or some enjoy horror flicks, monster movies, & The Great Pumpkin in October, it has become tradition for me to watch Groundhog Day on February 2. But of course one can watch it any day of the year and it never gets old. American Pie is a solid comedy, a snapshot of an era while being simultaneously eternal, as good teen movies tend to be. It just ran into peerless competition.
You’ve Got Mail vs. Aladdin
You’ve Got Mail received a first round bye then upended The Firm in Round 2. Greg Kinnear has carved out a nice little career for himself, with roles in charming fare like As Good As it Gets and Little Miss Sunshine. Parker Posey is oftentimes one of the only good things about a bad movie in stuff like Mixed Nuts, but also shines in ensemble mockumentaries like A Mighty Wind, Best in Show, & Waiting for Guffman. Neither star will ever shine as brightly as Tom Hanks or Meg Ryan, but they play key roles in You’ve Got Mail. Aladdin is a great film, but suffers from the same problem as The Lion King…its unavailability makes repeat viewings almost impossible. I’m not the kind of person who will love a movie just because a bunch of critics tell me I should, and I am also distrustful of snap judgements. How many times do we walk out of a movie theater heaping praise on what we’ve just watched, but a few years later we’ve never seen it again?? Conversely, how many times do we walk out of a theater thinking a movie was just alright, but a decade or two later it’s become a cult classic that we love and have watched countless times?? That’s why repeat viewings are crucial in my opinion. There are so many factors that play into one’s enjoyment of a movie that I truly believe it often takes time for appreciation to develop. Robin Williams was brilliant and his performance makes Aladdin great…but that is an opinion that I formed 25 years ago and I can’t be sure that it hasn’t changed. A live action remake with Will Smith as The Genie is scheduled to hit theaters next spring, and I’ll probably check it out.
The Verdict:You’ve Got Mail. It’s not a perfect movie, but it is delightful enough to be on TV quite often and I’ll usually watch when it is on. Aladdin…well…it doesn’t have that advantage.
In the early rounds of 90’s Film Frenzy I provided y’all with as much information as I could about each movie, including the big stars we allegedly flock to the theater to see. That is all well & good, but I think there is much more that goes into one’s enjoyment of a film. The old adage is that little things mean a lot, and we shouldn’t overlook all the small things that can add up to a movie really being a fun experience. What’s the setting?? Is it a small town, big city, or foreign locale?? Don’t forget about music. I happen to think that a film’s soundtrack can be a huge contributor to its success. And while everyone focuses on the lead actors I feel like we should give some love to those with supporting roles and even the “character actors” who might only have a scene or two but make the most out of it. These are some of the things I am focusing on in the third round of this competition.
Forrest Gump vs. Die Hard: With A Vengeance
After receiving a first round bye Forrest Gump got past Presumed Innocent in Round 2 in a contrast of two films based on novels. As good as Presumed Innocent the movie is the book is way better. Conversely, I’ve heard mixed reviews of Forrest Gump the book, to the point that I’m afraid to read it and have it ruin my feelings about the movie. The book’s author actually wrote a sequel called Gump & Co., but thus far it hasn’t been translated to film and it probably won’t be, especially since Tom Hanks has expressed misgivings about portraying the title character again. My affection for Forrest Gump is such that I am amazed that it isn’t universally loved, but there are detractors out there. It’s 72% Rotten Tomatoes score is good, but nowhere near some other films in the competition that have ratings of 90% or more. Some folks think it is manipulative, overly sentimental, tiresome, & not as historically accurate as it could’ve been. There is no shortage of people who believe that Pulp Fiction or The Shawshank Redemption should’ve won the Academy Award for Best Picture as well as the Oscars for Best Actor & Best Director. I disagree with all of that. Even my father loves Forrest Gump, and trust me…Dad & I rarely share similar tastes in entertainment. Die Hard: With a Vengeance wouldn’t even be in this competition if it had been the final Die Hard film since trilogies are disqualified. Alas, two additional (subpar) movies were made in the series with one last hurrah allegedly on the way, so Vengeance gets its well-deserved kudos. The difference between this third entry and its predecessor…1990’s Die Hard 2…is the addition of Samuel L. Jackson as Detective McClane’s reluctant sidekick. It was Jackson’s follow-up to Pulp Fiction and immediately preceded his role in A Time to Kill, meaning he was on a pretty good roll at the time. The filmmakers knew they had to mix things up in the third film because Die Hard 2 was a fairly tepid rehash of the original premise. Jackson breathes new life into the story, injecting additional humor & attitude. He & Bruce Willis play off of each other quite well.
The Verdict:Forrest Gump. Though it made it into the competition thru a loophole, the fact is that Vengeance isn’t nearly as great as the original Die Hard. Sequels are tough. They (usually) get made because the first movie was so good and made a lot of money, but that will always mean unfair comparisons right from the start. Forrest Gump is like a golfer that always finishes second in major tournaments…as good as it is there are people all too willing to point out its flaws. But whether or not you believe it deserved all the accolades it received back in 1994, the fact is that being the #1 film at the box office & winning a half dozen Academy Awards isn’t something I can overlook, especially when it comes to a movie that I stop everything to watch almost every single time it is on TV.
The Fugitive vs. The Wedding Singer
This is a tough one. I love The Wedding Singer because of its many nods to 80’s pop culture that stir up memories of my long lost youth. The soundtrack is fantastic, with songs from the likes of Culture Club, The Police, Elvis Costello, The Thompson Twins, Billy Idol (who also has a fun cameo in the movie), Spandau Ballet, Hall & Oates, The Cure, Kool & The Gang, Bruce Springsteen, and a few others. That’s quite a lineup. I also want to give a nod to brief appearances by Jon Lovitz & Steve Buschemi. I normally find Lovitz unamusing and mostly dreadful, but his scene in The Wedding Singer is actually quite entertaining. I’m kind of surprised that someone didn’t come up with the idea of a sequel starring Buschemi & Lovitz as new wedding singers. It is my understanding that the film was adapted into a stage musical (kind of a reverse Rock of Ages situation), and I must say that I’d totally go see that show. The Fugitive got past Joe Versus the Volcano in Round 2, which broke my heart because I feel like JVtV is a profound & underappreciated gem. Conversely, appreciation abounds for The Fugitive, with a damn near perfect 96% score from the critics and seven Oscar nominations. I’ve watched The Fugitive countless times, but there is a scene in which Dr. Kimble finds himself in the stairwell of a huge building facing off against Lt. Gerard before narrowly escaping thru downtown Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and no matter how many times I’ve seen it I still feel a palpable sense of drama and tension. Actually there are a few scenes like that, and when a filmmaker can still make the viewer buy into the suspense even when we’ve seen it a bunch of times and know exactly what’s going to happen…well folks, that’s what I call great entertainment.
The Verdict:The Fugitive. These choices are becoming harder & harder, but sometimes I’ve got to pick nits. Ninety percent of the time I’ll lean toward an easygoing comedy, and The Wedding Singer gets bonus points for fantastic music & delightful Sandler/Barrymore chemistry. However, The Fugitive is special. It creates drama without a lot of gratuitous violence, and there is really only one big, explosive action sequence. The rest is just brilliant writing and superb performances.
Billy Madison vs. Office Space
Back to back Sandler…which nowadays would be a cringe worthy waste of time, but two decades ago that wasn’t the case. Unlike The Wedding Singer, which is a more subdued & pleasant performance, Billy Madison is full on Sandler being Sandler, playing the kind of infantile ne’er-do-well that has largely defined peoples’ perception of him as an actor. This film & Happy Gilmore will always be the first two things that pop into the average cinephile’s mind when Sandler is the topic of conversation, and I don’t think that’s such a terrible thing. Fans of The West Wing will appreciate Bradley Whitford’s appearance as devious businessman Eric, Billy’s nemesis. Christmas film aficionados will delight in seeing A Christmas Story’s Old Man…Darren McGavin…as Billy’s wealthy yet exasperated father. I’m somewhat surprised that the vivacious Bridgette Wilson (wife of tennis legend Pete Sampras) never became a big star, but Billy Madison & 2001’s The Wedding Planner are among her few career highlights, and she hasn’t done any notable acting work since 2008. Office Space got a first round bye before beating out Spielberg’s expensive flop Hook in Round 2. According to my limited research the definition of a cult classic is…flexible…but typically focuses more on obscure & unconventional films shunned by the mainstream. Office Space would seem to qualify since it made less than $11 million during its theatrical run. In comparison, the budget for 1999’s highest grossing film… Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace…was over $115 million and it made $431 million. But Office Space would find new life on home video and come to be appreciated by anyone who has ever worked in an office environment, which is obviously a lot of people. It is one of the most quotable films of the 90’s, and has characters & situations that are very relatable. Jennifer Aniston was & is the film’s biggest star since she was right in the middle of her run on the hit TV show Friends at the time and has become even more well-known in the ensuing years, but other cast members like Ron Livingston, Stephen Root, Gary Cole, Diedrich Bader, & John C. McGinley have had solid careers (mostly on television). Like most of the general public movie critics pretty much ignored Office Space at first, but once it gained traction and reviews were written they were mostly favorable.
The Verdict:Office Space. I’ve had several people tell me over the years that they thought I’d enjoy popular sitcom The Office, the original British incarnation of which premiered in 2001 and surely had to be somewhat influenced by the movie. However I must admit that I’ve never watched either version of The Office because I’m pretty old-fashioned and prefer multi-camera sitcoms with a live studio audience & laugh track…I just can’t embrace single camera sitcoms like The Office, Modern Family, Young Sheldon, & It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. I know I know…I’m probably missing out. At any rate, I can get my fix of corporate culture humor anytime by watching Office Space, and that’s good enough for me.
Grumpy Old Men vs. Father of the Bride
There’s a Twix commercial that’s getting a lot of play on TV these days that amusingly compares ghosts & spirits, janitors & custodians, and morticians & undertakers, and these two movies could merit a similar appraisal. Both are amiable comedies that did well enough to spawn affable sequels. Both star older comedic actors instead of hot young Hollywood flavors of the month. Both did surprisingly well at the box office, while critics liked but didn’t love both films. I absolutely adore both films and will watch them whenever they’re on television, and sometimes I’ll stream one or the other when I’m bored & in the mood for a good flick. These are what I call comfort food movies. They warm the cockles and make me smile, which is all I really need a movie to do.
The Verdict:Father of the Bride. I have decided against the cop out of a tie and will let the numbers be a tiebreaker. Father of the Bride did slightly better at the box office and the critics like it just a skosh more, so I defer to the will of the people. Personally I think both films are winners.