90’s Film Frenzy: The Sweet Sixteen

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

 

Re-Watchability                                                                               

 

Relevance                         

 

Quotability                                                        

 

Cultural Impact                                                 

 

Pleasure                       

 

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

 

Re-Watchability                    

 

 

 

 

Relevance                              

Quotability                          

Cultural Impact                                                                                     

 

 

 

 

Pleasure                                                                                                   

 

 

 

 

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

 

Re-Watchability                        

Relevance                                    

Quotability                                                                                                         

 

 

Cultural Impact                             

 

 

Pleasure                                       

 

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

 

Re-Watchability                              

 

Relevance                                        

 

Quotability                                     

 

Cultural Impact                               

 

Pleasure                                           

 

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

 

Re-Watchability                              

Relevance                                                                                              

 

 

Quotability                

 

 

Cultural Impact                               

 

 

Pleasure                                         

 

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

Re-Watchability                                                                                                 

 

Relevance                                      

Quotability                                      

 

 

Cultural Impact                                                                                                 

 

 

Pleasure                                                                                                          

 

 

 

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

Re-Watchability                                                                                               

 

 

Relevance                    

 

 

Quotability                                                       

 

 

 

 

Cultural Impact                            

 

 

 

 

Pleasure                   

 

 

 

 

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

Re-Watchability                            

Relevance                                     

Quotability                                                                                                        

 

 

Cultural Impact                              

 

 

Pleasure                                         

 

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.

90’s Film Frenzy: Phat Round 2

I am not a “prisoner of the moment” kind of guy. I’m 45 years old so I’m not an old fogey, but neither am I hip, cool, woke, with it, or worried about keeping up with the crowd. Oftentimes I am late to the party when it comes to movies, music, television, books, & various pop culture trends. Perhaps I’m a bit close-minded and stuck in my ways, but generally I like what I like and that’s just fine with me. It isn’t unusual for me to pass over something that has the masses excited, only to decide months or even years later to give it a whirl. I suppose I figure that if people are still talking about something after all that time then maybe it’s legit. At any rate, if you’re new to 90’s Film Frenzy everything you’ve missed is available in The Vault, including second round action in the Dope Division. Enjoy.

 

 

 

Apollo 13

Release:    6/30/95

Starring:     Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris

Directed By:        Ron Howard (Night Shift, Splash, Cocoon, Parenthood)

 

vs.

 

Only the Lonely

 

Quotes

I had a Polack friend once. She was incredibly stupid. She was the stupidest woman that I ever knew. She believed that black cows squirted chocolate milk!

 

Oh… sorry… but I just got lucky in there with a girl. Not in that way… she does everybody in there… not in that way.

 

Odds & Ends

Maureen O’Hara initially refused to sign the movie contract…though she loved the script…until she met co-star John Candy. Fortunately the two of them instantly created a strong rapport.

 

Producer John Hughes insisted that Ally Sheedy be cast as Theresa because he wanted to have a member of his Brat Pack be romantically involved with a star of his later adult features on-screen. It represents two different generations of Hughes regulars.

 

Chris Columbus wrote the script with Maureen O’Hara in mind for the role of the mother. Once casting had begun, he insisted on having O’Hara play the role, and began a search for her. What he didn’t know, was that she had long since retired, and was living on St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. Columbus contacted her brother and had a script sent.

 

This was Maureen O’Hara’s first feature film role since Big Jake in 1971.

 

O’Hara told John Candy that he reminded her of Charles Laughton and said that underneath the clown character existed a powerful, complicated actor. O’Hara told Candy to trust his talent as an actor and not always play the clown.

____________

June of 1995 was a rough month for me (I’ll spare you the details), so I didn’t see Apollo 13 on the big screen, but oh how I wish I would have because I’m sure it was even more impressive. However, in the years since I have watched it dozens of times, and it just seems to get better with age. I am too young to remember the real life Apollo 13 disaster, but I have developed an interest in reading about the space program and don’t think that knowing how the story ends detracts from one’s enjoyment of the movie. I have no idea what is in the job description of a film director, but it feels like Ron Howard made a lot of correct decisions, starting with the outstanding cast. Apollo 13 was the third highest grossing film of the year, behind only Toy Story & Batman Forever and ahead of Jumanji & Waterworld. It holds a 95% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with the NY Daily News predicting that “Tom Hanks is on his way to becoming the American Everyman…an exemplar of boyish goodwill and quiet moral force”, People Magazine opining that “tense as the best murder mysteries and as kinetic as the most exciting action films…this space adventure is as thrilling as movies get”, and the Washington Post observing that the movie “lifts off with a payload of the right stuff: courage, can-do, grace under pressure, & other qualities derided as machismo by some but applauded as old-fashioned values by others”.  Apollo 13 was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won two. Only the Lonely is an underrated gem. I’m a big John Candy fan, and seeing Maureen O’Hara onscreen in her twilight years nearly a half century after her turn in Miracle on 34th St. is a real treat for aficionados of that Christmas classic, even though she portrays an entirely different kind of character. At first glance this seems like an odd potpourri of talent, and amongst the more well-known work of all involved it kind of gets lost in the shuffle, but it’s definitely not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

 

The Verdict:       Apollo 13. I have nothing bad to say about Only the Lonely and would encourage anyone who’s never seen it to give it a whirl, but the competition is overwhelming. 

 

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Good Will Hunting

Release:    12/5/97

Starring:     Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Robin Williams

Directed By:                 Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho)

 

vs.

 

Big Daddy

 

Quotes

Having a son is great… As long as his eyes are closed, and he’s not moving or talking.

 

Dented cans are half-price. Microsoft went down 3 points. We gotta save some money.

 

Do you want a Happy Meal? Can I get you one of those Happy Meals? You got a Happy Meal? Can we get a Happy Meal? WILL SOMEBODY GET THE KID A HAPPY MEAL?!

 

The boy just won’t quit peeing and throwing up. He’s like a cocker spaniel!

 

Odds & Ends

Allen Covert has appeared in 25 Adam Sandler films.

 

This is the most successful live action movie of Adam Sandler’s career, making over $163 million domestically. His 2015 animated sequel Hotel Transylvania 2 made over $169 million.

 

__________________

 

In the past two decades Damon & Affleck have become ubiquitous in Hollywood, starring in everything from thrillers & rom-coms to action flicks & superhero franchises. No one will ever list them among the finest actors of their generation, but kudos must be given for carving out solid, lasting, & somewhat impactful careers for themselves. Back in the mid-90’s they were barely blips on the radar, with Damon having a pivotal yet small role as the titular character in Saving Private Ryan, and Affleck best known as part of Kevin Smith’s ensembles in Dazed & Confused and Mallrats. But then the two best buddies co-wrote a screenplay about a troubled genius working as a janitor at MIT, and that film received nine Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture), winning two of them (Best Supporting Actor for Williams and Best Original Screenplay for Damon & Affleck). The rest is history. Good Will Hunting was the 7th highest grossing film of 1997 and holds an extraordinary 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. USA Today thought that Damon “delivers the year’s No. 1 breakthrough performance”, while our old pal Ebert said that “the outcome is fairly predictable; so is the whole story, really” but added “it’s the individual moments, not the payoff, that make it so effective”. Big Daddy bested Basic Instinct in the first round because when Sandler is funny he’s more entertaining than ice picks & Sharon Stone’s lady parts. When you watch some of the movies that Sandler has starred in during the past decade Big Daddy looks like Citizen Kane in comparison. I understand that his comedy is an acquired taste, but I think this is a film that probably has a slightly broader appeal than most of his other stuff.

 

The Verdict:       Good Will Hunting. Affleck & Damon strike me as being real douchenozzles, but I’ll be darned if they haven’t made some entertaining films, and I can’t overlook a movie that got my guy Robin Williams his one & only Academy Award. Mostly known as a manic comedian, Williams was also a brilliant dramatic actor, and his talent is on full display in this movie. Big Daddy is fun to watch on a lazy rainy day, but in this case it’s bologna going up against filet mignon.

 

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American Pie

Release:    7/9/99

Starring:              Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Sean William Scott, Tara Reid, Mena Suvari, Eugene Levy, Shannon Elizabeth, Alyson Hannigan, Jennifer Coolidge, Eddie Kaye Thomas

Directed By:        Paul & Chris Weitz (About a Boy, Little Fockers)

 

vs.

 

Armageddon

 

Quotes

Damage? Total, sir. It’s what we call a global killer. The end of mankind. Doesn’t matter where it hits, nothing would survive, not even bacteria.

 

I know the president’s chief scientific advisor. We were at MIT together and, in a situation like this you really don’t wanna take advice from a man who got a C- in astrophysics. The president’s advisors are wrong and I’m right.

 

The United States government just asked us to save the world. Anybody wanna say no?

 

You know we’re sitting on four million pounds of fuel, one nuclear weapon and a thing that has 270,000 moving parts built by the lowest bidder. Makes you feel good, doesn’t it?

 

We spend 250 billion dollars a year on defense. And here we are. The fate of the planet is in the hands of a bunch of retards I wouldn’t trust with a potato gun.

 

Yeah, one more thing, um…none of them wanna pay taxes again. Ever.

 

You go take care of my little girl now. That’s your job. Always thought of you as a son. Always.

 

For the next 11 days the Earth’s in a shooting gallery. Even if the asteroid itself hits the water, it’s still hitting land. It will slam into the ocean bedrock. Now if it’s a Pacific Ocean impact, which we think it will be, it will create a tidal wave about three miles high, flash boil millions of gallons of sea water. It will hit the West Coast and wash up in Denver. Japan is gone, Australia is wiped out. Half of the Earth’s population will be incinerated by the heat blast, the rest will freeze to death in a nuclear winter. Basically the worst parts of the Bible.

 

Odds & Ends

NASA shows this film during their management training program. New managers are given the task of trying to spot as many errors as possible. At least 168 have been found. Many of the errors found in the film were acknowledged by the director and known even during filming & production and were left in deliberately. Michael Bay said, “It’s a movie and not many people know about it”, so they were kept in for entertainment value. Bay has also stated that Armageddon is his worst film, saying “I will apologize for Armageddon because we had to do the whole movie in sixteen weeks. It was a massive undertaking. That was not fair to the movie. I would redo the entire third act if I could.”

 

When asked why he did this film, Steve Buscemi replied, “I wanted a bigger house”. Billy Bob Thornton also admitted to doing the film for the money and often jokes about acting in it. He has, however, called it “not THAT bad”. Ben Affleck has practically disowned the movie, even repeatedly making fun of it on the commentary.

 

Because of the patriotic nature of the script, and the success of using Top Gun as recruitment material, the producers persuaded NASA to allow Director Michael Bay and company to shoot in the normally restricted space agency. This included the neutral buoyancy lab, a 65 million gallon, 40 ft. deep pool used to train astronauts for weightlessness, and the use of two $10 million space suits. Parts of the movie were filmed at Edwards Air Force Base in California and the crew was allowed to shoot in a launch pad with an actual space shuttle docked to it. The only condition was that they not step into the shuttle itself. Ben Affleck admitted to stepping inside the orbiter for a brief moment, before NASA technicians ordered him out of the spacecraft.

 

After Rockhound gets space dementia, the shuttle crew wraps him in duct tape, which is, in fact, NASA protocol for immobilizing a crazed crew member.

 

Bruce Willis has said that he did not care for Michael Bay’s directing style, and he refuses to work with him again.

 

______________________________

Teen sex comedies are a tried & true movie trope, with some being funnier & more memorable than others. It seems like every generation has one such film that they claim as their own. American Pie finds a group of high school seniors making a pact to get laid on prom night. Of course the group of teens has personalities of varying quirks & levels of hilarity and finds themselves in amusing situations. It was a surprise hit in the summer of ’99, ending the year as the 20th highest grossing film. It made stars out of most of its young cast and spawned several sequels, none of which lived up to the mirth & freshness of the original. Rotten Tomatoes gives American Pie a decent score of 60%. The Cincinnati Enquirer called it “cheap soft-core porn masquerading as comedy”, the L.A. Times complimented its “unusual ability to mix bodily functions humor with a sincere & unlooked-for sense of decency”, our pal Ebert called it “cheerful, hard-working, & sometimes funny”, and USA Today compared it to “the C student who later makes a bundle then comes back to endow the school”. I assume that was meant as a compliment. Armageddon got past Clerks in Round 1, which I’m sure would tick off erudite film aficionados who think Kevin Smith is  freakin’ genius.

 

The Verdict:       American Pie. The cast & crew of Armageddon made this decision easier than I anticipated, because if they’re going to insult & ridicule their own movie then why should I support it?? I chuckle at people who complain about scientific accuracy in such films since those folks completely miss the point of sitting down with a bucket of popcorn, a vat of soda, & a box of candy and escaping from reality for a couple of hours. No one will ever accuse Armageddon of being good, but it is entertaining enough with a charming cast and impressive special effects. American Pie is undoubtedly a cultural touchstone for 90’s kids. I was a 27 year old college graduate in 1999 so I don’t claim it as such, but it has more than a few funny moments and does a great job of mixing gross-out humor with a certain level of sentimentality.

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You’ve Got Mail

Release:    12/18/98

Starring:     Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan

Directed By:        Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle)

 

vs.

 

The Firm

 

Quotes

I’m a federal agent! You know what that means, you lowlife? It means you’ve got no rights, your life is mine! I could kick your teeth down your throat and yank them out your asshole, and I’m not even violating your civil rights!

 

You want to know something funny? I discovered the law again. You actually made me think about it. I managed to go through three years of law school without doing that.

 

Let me get this straight: you want me to steal files from the firm, turn them over to the FBI, send my colleagues to jail, breach attorney-client privilege, thus getting myself disbarred for life, then testify in open court against the Mafia?? Are you out of your mind?

 

Odds & Ends

Holly Hunter is on screen for a total of 5 minutes and 59 seconds; one of shortest performances ever nominated for an Oscar. She is in twenty scenes, for an average of eighteen seconds per scene.

 

Except for the sporadic soundtrack songs the entire movie score is created solely on a piano, as played by its composer Dave Grusin. As a means of expanding the tonal range of his piano’s percussive properties, he simulated harp-like passages by stroking the naked strings of his grand and rapping the wooden frame for effects, as a drummer might beat his drums.

 

The cast includes two Oscar winners: Gene Hackman & Holly Hunter; and five Oscar nominees: Tom Cruise, David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook, Gary Busey, and Ed Harris.

______________________________

 

You’ve Got Mail was the third & (thus far) final Hanks/Ryan collaboration. It is very loosely based on the 1940 Jimmy Stewart rom-com The Shop Around the Corner, taking the premise of two people who can’t stand each other in “real life” but have fallen in love thru anonymous correspondence and updating it to the 20th century. Ryan is the proprietor of a quaint little children’s book store in NY City whose business goes under when a big box chain bookstore moves into the neighborhood. What she doesn’t realize is that the owner of the evil chain store is also the man that she met in an online chat room and has been having an ongoing e-mail “relationship” with for several months. Hanks & Ryan are obviously charming, but kudos to a supporting cast that includes Jean Stapleton (All in the Family’s Edith Bunker), Greg Kinnear, Parker Posey, Steve Zahn, Heather Burns, & Dave Chappelle. You’ve Got Mail was the 14th highest grossing film of 1998 and holds a 69% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Ebert observed that “Ryan and Hanks have more winning smiles than most people have expressions”, the Dallas Morning News said that it “provides a perfectly cuddly night at the movies”, and Variety called it a “winning romantic comedy and great date movie”. The Firm defeated My Best Friend’s Wedding in Round 1. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 76% rating, with Newsweek crediting it for “restoring faith in Hollywood professionalism”, Variety saying that it is “a smooth adaptation of John Grisham’s giant bestseller”, and Rolling Stone observing that “the book moved at turbo speed…at two and a half hours, the movie crawls”.

 

The Verdict:       You’ve Got Mail. Tom Hanks. Meg Ryan. Bookstores. Internet romance. What’s not to love?? Rolling Stone was right about The Firm…it’s good, but the book is better.

 

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Aladdin

Release:    11/25/92

Starring:              Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, Gilbert Gottfried

Directed By:        Ron Clements & John Musker (The Great Mouse Detective, The Little Mermaid)

 

vs.

 

Patch Adams

 

Quotes

All of life is a coming home. Salesmen, secretaries, coal miners, beekeepers, sword swallowers, all of us. All the restless hearts of the world, all trying to find a way home.

 

You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.

 

What’s wrong with death, sir? What are we so mortally afraid of? Why can’t we treat death with a certain amount of humanity and dignity, and decency, and God forbid, maybe even humor. Death is not the enemy gentlemen. If we’re going to fight a disease, let’s fight one of the most terrible diseases of all, indifference.

 

Our job is to rigorously and ruthlessly train the humanity out of you and make you into something better. We’re gonna make doctors out of you.

 

Odds & Ends

During filming Robin Williams and the rest of the cast & crew worked closely with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to fulfill the fantasies of several children who were at the time undergoing cancer treatment. The children appeared with Williams in scenes at the pediatric ward.

 

One of the film’s producers was Mike Farrell, who met the real Patch Adams when Adams served as an advisor to the TV series MAS*H, in which Farrell played Dr. B.J. Hunnicutt.

 

In real life, Patch Adams’ close friend who was murdered was a man, not a female love interest. Carin is a fictional character.

 

This was the fifth time Robin Williams portrayed a doctor in the space of nine years: Awakenings (1990), Nine Months (1995), Good Will Hunting (1997), What Dreams May Come (1998).

______________________

 

It’s Robin Williams vs. Robin Williams!! Patch Adams got by Black Sheep in Round 1. It was the tenth highest grossing film of 1998, ahead of Mulan and The Truman Show but behind Rush Hour and Godzilla. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a hideous 23% rating, with Ebert opining that “it extracts tears individually by liposuction, without anesthesia”, Entertainment Weekly calling it “offensive and deeply false ‘inspirational!’”, and CNN dubbed it a “blubbering ass-kiss of a movie”. It is my opinion that such reviews are a bit excessive, but then again I am one who tends to enjoy what others derisively accuse of being sentimental. It is tempting nowadays for Robin Williams fans to deify the man and his career, but the truth is that his movies were hit & miss. I don’t think Patch Adams is as bad as the critics seem to believe, especially with a charming supporting cast that includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michael Jeter, & the lovely Monica Potter, but when the real life subject of the film doesn’t particularly like his own biopic it is an indication that some poor decisions may have been made along the way. Aladdin is another big screen animated classic from Disney, which seems to specialize in such movies. It is based on one of the stories from the classic One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales. Aladdin is a young homeless boy who falls in love with Princess Jasmine, comes into possession of a magic lamp, and is granted three wishes by The Genie that is released from the lamp. It’s a familiar story to most of us, but is told with particular panache in this adaptation, especially with Williams giving voice (and loads of personality) to The Genie.

 

The Verdict:       Aladdin. It really isn’t even a fair fight.

 

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Groundhog Day

Release:    2/12/93

Starring:     Bill Murray, Andy MacDowell

Directed By:        Harold Ramis (Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation)

 

vs.

 

Clueless

 

Quotes

Wasn’t my mom a Betty? She died when I was just a baby. A fluke accident during a routine liposuction.

 

So, okay. I don’t wanna be a traitor to my generation and all, but I don’t get how guys dress today. I mean, c’mon, it looks like they just fell out of bed and put on some baggy pants, and take their greasy hair…ew!…and cover it up with a backwards cap and, like, we’re expected to swoon? I don’t think so!

 

Searching for a boy in high school is as useless as searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie.

 

As if!

 

Like, right now, for example, the Haitians need to come to America. But some people are all, “What about the strain on our resources?” But it’s like, when I had this garden party for my father’s birthday, right? I said RSVP because it was a sit-down dinner. But people came that, like, did not RSVP, so I was, like, totally buggin’. I had to haul ass to the kitchen, redistribute the food, squish in extra place settings. But by the end of the day, it was, like, the more the merrier. And so, if the government could just get to the kitchen, rearrange some things, we could certainly party with the Haitians.

 

I so need lessons from you on how to be cool. Tell me that part about Kenny G again?

 

Odds & Ends

The film’s writers sat in classes at Beverly Hills High to get the flavor of the students.

 

The band playing during the party scene is the Boston-based Ska band the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

 

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Clueless got past Empire Records in the first round based largely on its pop culture cache back in the day. If this competition was only about which film represents the 1990’s best I’d have to say that Clueless would be a prohibitive favorite. It was a surprise hit in the summer of 1995, and inspired trends in fashion & slang. Entertainment Weekly said of the main character Cher that “there’s such a gaping discontinuity between her physical beauty and her vacant, gum-snapping personality that she’s like a walking advertisement for everything that’s right & wrong with America”, something that I could say about numerous women I have encountered in my own life. Variety called it “a fresh, disarmingly bright, and at times explosively funny comedy” and the San Francisco Chronicle observed that “by the time you skip out of the theater you’ve had a great time but can’t remember a single reason why”. The story is loosely based on Jane Austen’s 1815 book Emma, but I must admit that’s one classic novel that I’ve never read so I cannot properly compare the two. Much like Scrooged it took me awhile to give Groundhog Day a whirl because for the longest time I just didn’t get the whole Bill Murray thing, but rest assured I most certainly do now. On its surface Groundhog Day is a simple comedy about a misanthropic weatherman who keeps waking up on the same day (February 2…hence the title) over & over & over again. But it’s so much more than that. Groundhog Day was the 13th highest grossing film of 1993, just ahead of Grumpy Old Men and behind Philadelphia (which won Tom Hanks his first Oscar). It has an incredible 96% Rotten Tomatoes score, with People Magazine calling it “surprisingly inventive”, Empire Magazine saying it is “comic perfection”, and Ebert opining that it is “lovable and sweet”. All of those comments are accurate, but I’d be interested in digging thru all of the reviews to see if any critic actually “got it”, to find out if anyone truly understands the movie on a deeper level.

 

The Verdict:       Groundhog Day. I am busting at the seams to say everything I want to say about Groundhog Day, but I’ll save it until next time. For now allow me to give you a homework assignment: watch this movie. You may be able to catch it on TV somewhere, but if not then stream it on Netflix or whatever service you prefer. You will not regret it. With all due respect to Clueless, my apologies, but this is like comparing fast food to a five star dining experience.

 

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Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

Release:    2/4/94

Starring:     Jim Carrey, Sean Young, Tone Loc, Dan Marino

Directed By:        Tom Shadyac

 

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The Mask

 

Quotes

Hold on, sugar! Daddy’s got a sweet tooth tonight!

 

Sssomebody stop me!

 

Hold me closer, Ed, it’s getting dark…tell Auntie Em to let Old Yeller out…tell Tiny Tim I won’t be coming home this Christmas…tell Scarlett I do give a damn!

 

Odds & Ends

A lot of moments, particularly ones involving the dog, were ad-libbed on set. The scene where Milo won’t let go of the Frisbee as Ipkiss tries to stash the money in his closet wasn’t planned, and Jim Carrey ad-libbed Ipkiss’ frustrated reaction to Milo not being able to run up the wall.

 

Prior to Cameron Diaz landing the role of Tina Carlyle, the producers had originally suggested Anna Nicole Smith for the role. This was Diaz’s first acting role.

 

Based on a Dark Horse comic book series of the same name which consisted of dark horror stories abiut how the mask would murder people with cartoon antics. Chuck Russell has said that the movie script started off in that tone before being transformed as a vehicle for Jim Carrey’s unique comedy.

 

This was the first Jim Carrey movie to reach $100 million at the box office.

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It’s Jim Carrey vs. Jim Carrey!! Before Ace Ventura hit theaters in February of 1994 Carrey was primarily known as a stand-up comic and one of the stars of Fox’s hit variety show In Living Color. But that all changed with this strangely hilarious tale about a detective specializing in animal cases taking on the task of finding the missing mascot for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. It was 16th highest grossing film of the year, behind Maverick, The Client, & Disclosure but ahead of Legends of the Fall and D2: The Mighty Ducks. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 46%, which isn’t surprising since it is precisely the sort of goofy comedy that pompous critics just don’t get. Entertainment Weekly compared Carrey’s performance to “an escaped mental patient impersonating a game-show host”. The NY Times said that the movie “has the metabolism, logic, & attention span of a peevish 6-year-old”. Roger Ebert said that he viewed the film as “a long, unfunny slog through an impenetrable plot”. Real folks look at Ace Ventura and see rapper Ton Loc (Funky Cold Medina) as a police detective and NFL quarterback Dan Marino in his acting debut and understand that this is a silly farce intended to make folks laugh, something at which it succeeds. The Mask defeated PCU in the first round based mostly on its cultural impact. Critics like it a lot more than Ace Ventura, with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a score of 77%. The Philadelphia Inquirer called it “an amazing fusion of physical comedy and state-of-the- art cinema illusion”. The L.A. Times said Carrey “has a bright and likable screen presence, a lost puppy quality that is surprisingly endearing”. Variety thought the film was “adroitly directed…viscerally & visually dynamic and just plain fun”. Both of these films received sequels, but neither Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls and Son of the Mask (which had neither Carrey nor Diaz in its cast) failed to live up to their predecessors.

 

The Verdict:       The Mask. Jim Carrey is an acquired taste and I freely admit that he grew tedious for me a long long time ago. However, these movies were our first big screen exposure to his antics and they were fresh & humorous at the time. Nowadays Carrey seems to take himself way too seriously, but 25 years ago that wasn’t an issue and his performances were much more fun. As far as this particular head-to-head matchup it’s really a pick ‘em, but since The Mask did better critically & at the box office I’ll give it the nod.

 

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What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

Release:    12/17/93

Starring:              Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio

Directed By:                 Lasse Hallström (The Cider House Rules, A Dog’s Purpose)

 

vs.

 

Pretty Woman

Release:    3/23/90

Starring:     Julia Roberts, Richard Gere

Directed By:                 Garry Marshall (Overboard, Beaches)

 

vs.

 

Batman Returns

 

Quotes

I wasn’t born in the sewer, you know. I want some respect…a recognition of my basic humanity. But most of all I wanna find out who I am by finding my parents, learning my human name. Simple stuff that the good people of Gotham take for granted!

 

You’re catnip to a girl like me. Handsome, dazed, and to die for.

 

Just relax. I’ll take care of the squealing, wretched, pinhead puppets of Gotham!

 

Odds & Ends

The production wanted to use King Penguins, and the only tame ones in captivity were at a bird sanctuary deep in the English countryside. The birds were flown over to the States in the refrigerated hold of a plane, given their own refrigerated trailer & swimming pool, a half a ton of fresh ice every day, and had fresh fish delivered daily straight from the docks. Even though the temperature outside frequently topped 100 degrees the entire set was refrigerated down to 35 degrees. The birds also had an around-the-clock bodyguard. Clearly the birds enjoyed the experience as, following their stint in Hollywood, most of them had mated and produced eggs, the sure sign of a contented penguin.

 

Annette Bening was originally cast as Catwoman, but was replaced by Michelle Pfeiffer when she became pregnant.

 

Singer David Bowie, who had been previously considered to play the Joker in 1989’as Batman, was the first choice for the part of Max Shreck, but he turned down the role in favor of one in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.

 

Though it was it was lambasted as too grotesque & pessimistic it is the only one of the four Warner Brothers’ Batman films that doesn’t include a single reference to the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents.

 

Burgess Meredith, who had portrayed The Penguin in the 1960’s Batman TV show, was asked to play the Penguin’s father in the opening of the film, but illness prevented him from it.

 

Michelle Pfeiffer said that her costume was vacuum sealed once she was fitted into it for scenes, so she actually had only a short amount of time to perform before she would have to have it opened or she could become lightheaded and pass out. They went through 60 catsuits during the six month shoot, at a cost of $1000 each.

 

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In 1993 Leonardo DiCaprio was barely a blip on the pulp culture radar. He had joined the cast of television sitcom Growing Pains during its final season in 1991, and had bit parts in a few movies, but Gilbert Grape was his coming out party. The titular Gilbert is actually portrayed by Johnny Depp. What is eating at him is having to be the main caretaker of his morbidly obese mother, mentally challenged brother, & two sisters after his father had committed suicide a few years earlier. DiCaprio plays Arnie, the mentally challenged brother, and Arnie is a real handful for Gilbert. Complicating things further is a fetching young lady who arrives in town and catches Gilbert’s eye. Luckily she takes a shine to Arnie which makes things a bit easier. Gilbert Grape is a touching family drama chockful of great performances. It was only 111th highest grossing film of 1993, but it garnered an 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and got DiCaprio his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor (he lost to Tommy Lee Jones for his role in The Fugitive). Newsweek complimented Depp’s performance, but predicted that it was DiCaprio who “will take your breath away”. Time summarized the premise as “true heroes are those people who day by day must tend to misfits, and do so with love, tenacity, and a determination not to go terminally sour in the process”. Ebert called it “one of the most enchanting movies of the year”. Julia Roberts’ coming out party was Pretty Woman, the story of a kindhearted & good-natured prostitute hired to be a wealthy businessman’s arm candy for a few days who turns out to be so bewitching that he falls in love with her. It was the 4th highest grossing film of 1990, behind Home Alone but ahead of Total Recall and Die Hard 2. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a rating of 62%, with the NY Times calling it “something special”, Ebert proclaiming it “the sweetest and most openhearted love fable since The Princess Bride”, and the Washington Post dubbing it “a slick, instantly & entertainingly digestible Cinderella fable”. Roberts was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress but lost to Kathy Bates for her role in Misery. Batman Returns easily beat Showgirls in Round 1. It was the third highest grossing film of 1992, behind only Aladdin and Home Alone 2. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 81%. The L.A. Times said that “Burton’s dark, melancholy vision is undeniably something to see…but it is a claustrophobic conception, not an expansive one, oppressive rather than exhilarating, and it strangles almost all the enjoyment out of this movie without half trying”. The Boston Globe called it “the rarest of Hollywood beasts…a sequel that’s better than the original”. People Magazine observed that the movie is “full of grim, Dostoyevskian undertones, not to mention a multitude of bloody, violent scenes”. Newsweek said that Burton “makes nightmares that taste like candy”.

 

The Verdict:       Batman Returns. I’m just not a Julia Roberts fan. I understand that she was one of the biggest stars of the 90’s and Pretty Woman is not only her signature role but also one of the defining movies of the decade, but repeat viewings just haven’t happened over the years, and if I’m channel surfing it is likely that I’d watch just about anything else. I’m not a huge DiCaprio guy either, but unlike his buddies Clooney and Affleck it isn’t because he seems like such an assclown in real life as much as it is the roles he has chosen over the years. I look at a lot of DiCaprio films…. The Man in the Iron Mask, Gangs of New York, The Departed, Inception…and immediately know that I’m just not interested. There are a few exceptions of course, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? is probably his most underrated film. Having said that, there’s no denying that it’s a bit of a downer. I’d have to watch a silly comedy immediately afterward as a palate cleanser. Batman Returns is, as critics mentioned, dark, melancholy, grim, & a bit violent. But it’s a comic book movie, and with all of the films that have come out in that genre in the ensuing decades criticism of Batman Returns as being too gloomy feels misleading. We pretty much know what we’re getting with a Tim Burton movie, and all things considered that’s usually not a bad thing.

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..41-45

At this point some patterns have started to develop. You will see my affections for certain types of films, certain actors, and particular film trilogies or series. I will do my best to not become repetitive in my comments, and apologize ahead of time if I do that anyway. In video stores they used to have a section of “If you liked this then check this out…”. I don’t really peruse video stores anymore. After all, with Netflix, DVR, Video On Demand, and Redbox who needs to pay Blockbuster $4/rental?? But if my dear readers have any suggestions based on the examples I write about here please don’t hesitate to let me know.


 

45 Sleepless In Seattle

I mentioned in a previous post that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan made three movies together. We’ve discussed You’ve Got Mail. Another was Joe Versus the Volcano, which is okay but not one of my favorites. The third Hanks/Ryan pairing is, in my opinion, the best and, with apologies to When Harry Met Sally (which we also looked at previously), the greatest romantic comedy of all time. Hanks plays a widower whose wife has just succumbed to cancer. That doesn’t seem like the basis for a romantic comedy, but we don’t get to see much of the sad stuff. What we see is Sam taking his young son and beginning a new life in Seattle. He eventually gets back into the dating scene, but his little boy isn’t satisfied with Dad’s taste in women, so he calls a nationwide radio talk show on Christmas Eve and tells the host his father needs a new wife. Sam is goaded into spilling his heart to an enraptured listening public who apparently have nothing better to do on Christmas Eve. Listening intently all the way on the other side of the country in Baltimore is Annie, played by Ryan. Annie is engaged to an allergy-ridden milquetoast that she doesn’t really love and easily becomes mesmerized…and a bit obsessed…by Sam’s story. She is among the thousands of women who send Sam letters, which he somewhat cynically yet logically dismisses. She even has a background check done on him and goes to Seattle only to chicken out when their eyes lock ever so briefly. In a nod to the 1957 Cary Grant classic An Affair to Remember, the little boy (posing as his father) writes Annie and asks her to meet him at the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day. The little boy takes off for New York by himself unbeknownst to Dad, and Annie decides to throw caution to the wind and be there too. I won’t spoil the ending for those who haven’t seen the film (and if you haven’t shame on you), but suffice to say that the phrase “Shall we??” may be one of the best lines of dialogue ever. I need to point out that Rosie O’Donnell has a role as the perfunctory best friend, and I detest Rosie O’Donnell. That should tell you all you need to know – if I can get past Rosie’s unfortunate besmirching of this movie it must be pretty extraordinary.

 

44 Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

We’ve established the fact…or atleast the commonly held opinion among Trekkies…that of the six films starring the original Enterprise crew the even-numbered ones are superior. This fourth installment is what I call “the one with the whales”. The crew travels back in time (and time travel is always cool) to 1980’s San Francisco to secure some humpback whales that will save Earth in the future. The details are too contrived to explain here, and they don’t really matter anyway. What matters is that the movie becomes a delightfully humorous fish-out-of water tale (pun unavoidable), with our heroes from the 23rd century trying to maneuver in the 20th. Spock and Kirk encounter an annoying punk rocker on a bus that refuses to turn down his music…Spock knocks him unconscious with the Vulcan nerve pinch. Spock doesn’t understand the concept of profanity but tries to fit it by using it…and fails miserably. Scotty tries to talk to a computer instead of using the keyboard. Kirk asks the crew to “remember where we parked” the Klingon Bird of Prey they’ve cloaked in an open field. Bones’ hilariously indignant take on “modern” medicine – “Dialysis?? What is this, the Dark Ages??”…” My God, man. Drilling holes in his head isn’t the answer!!”.  It’s a rather lighthearted Trek, and that’s okay. I suppose those that crave action, explosions, and battles to the death might not favor such a jocular story, and that is a perfectly understandable opinion. As for me, I feel it is a unique and memorable chapter in the Star Trek saga, and I will treasure it always.

 

43 Mrs. Doubtfire

I really like Robin Williams. I think he may be one of the two or three funniest men on the planet, and when he does dramatic roles he can be flat-out incredible. A few of his films are in this list and there are several more…Good Morning Vietnam, Aladdin, Good Will Hunting…that are more than fine but just not quite Top 100 worthy.  I do wonder about a lot of his choices in the 12 years since Good Will Hunting though. Patch Adams, Bicentennial Man, Death to Smoochy, Old Dogs…not a notable hit among them. But that’s a discussion for another time. Right now our topic of the moment is Mrs. Doubtfire, a very funny if a bit schmaltzy 1993 outing in which Williams dresses up as matronly old English nanny in order to spend time with his children, from whom his estranged wife is keeping him. Divorce and custody battles aren’t usually fodder for comedy, but somehow Mrs. Doubtfire pulls it off. The children are affable enough, and Sally Field is halfway sympathetic as a woman who has simply grown apart from her husband. But the heart & soul of the story is Williams in drag, a concept that is even funnier than it sounds. There is a scene near the end of the film where he is trying to have dinner in the same restaurant at the same time with his family as Mrs. Doubtfire and his boss as his normal male self. He almost pulls it off with impressive acumen, but unfortunately the boss is a drinker and he feels compelled to join in. Trying to lead a double life and keep up the ruse is difficult enough, but doing it while gooned on scotch proves to be too much. The hilarity that ensues before everything falls apart is more than enough to put a smile on one’s face though. The conclusion is a little sentimental, but I have to give the powers-that-be credit for not giving in to the temptation to go for the expected happy ending. This is one you can watch with the kids and not be embarrassed, and that is becoming something rare and valuable these days.

 

42 Rear Window

Jimmy Stewart is my very favorite actor of all time, and his range of roles was wide…everything from an affable lunatic that talks to an imaginary rabbit to a few turns as a tough cowboy and seemingly every nuance in between. He starred in four movies directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and I can’t think of an odder couple. I’m not a big Hitchcock guy. I generally prefer to laugh and lean heavily toward lighter fare, so his brand of suspense or thriller or however you want to classify his films just don’t usually pique my interest. But when Stewart is involved all the sudden I tend to take a look. 1954’s Rear Window is one of Hitchcock’s tamer offerings and deals with voyeurism taking a rather minimalist approach. Stewart plays a photographer who is housebound by a broken leg in the midst of a scorching hot summer. With nothing better to do (television was around, but I guess he’s not interested), Jeff spends his time checking up on the neighbors in his courtyard apartment complex with the aid of his binoculars. He has a girlfriend (played by Grace Kelly) and a home health nurse, but he still spends a good bit of time bored and alone. He can’t help but form opinions about his neighbors as he clandestinely peeks into their lives, and he even gives them nicknames like Miss Lonelyhearts and Miss Torso. One neighbor in particular grabs his attention, a man named Thorwald (played by the future Perry Mason, Raymond Burr). Jeff becomes convinced that Thorwald has murdered his wife and tries to persuade the girlfriend, the nurse, and a police buddy. They are dismissive at first, but eventually the girlfriend starts to believe Jeff is right and even starts nosing around since he can’t. Thorwald catches on to the fact that he is being watched, and the climax is a confrontation between the two men. By today’s standards the action is rather docile, and even in the world of Hitchcock it is somewhat unremarkable. But that is exactly what I like about it. It isn’t fancy or complex and doesn’t need to be. A good steak doesn’t need any kind of accompaniment to cover up the taste…its flavor is good enough to speak for itself. Rear Window is a well written story with good actors that takes a simple but appealing concept and turns it into a jolly good piece of entertainment.

 

41 Jerry Maguire

Unfortunately we live in a world where technology tends to shine a bright light on things that are none of our business and that we didn’t want to know in the first place. This type of “open book” situation is especially true of celebrities. No longer are they just actors and actresses playing roles on television or in movies. We know way too much about their personal life…all about their romances and sexual exploits, religious views, political affiliations, and opinions on everything from the environment & abortion to who they want to win the Super Bowl or World Series. This has been a legitimate issue for me, as so many Hollywood-ites are leftist, Godless, soul sucking ne’er-do-wells. It’s bad enough that  most of the “entertainment” produced nowadays is poorly written, dumbed down, sexually perverted, needlessly violent tripe…it is really frustrating when something decent comes about but stars some liberal America hating Jesus basher. What I finally had to do was learn to separate the two. I had to get to the point where I could admit that I liked a certain performer even if I disagree with their lifestyle. And so you will see movies on this list from the likes of Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon, John Travolta, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Alec Baldwin. One of these assclowns is Tom Cruise, the king of some wackjob “religion” called Scientology. As a child of the 80’s I was a witness to the rise of Tom Cruise to superstardom, and I enjoyed most of his early films*- such as Taps, The Outsiders, Losin’ It, Cocktail, and of course Rain Man, Top Gun, & All the Right Moves. The past 10 years have been rather subpar though. Minority Report, Collateral, War of the Worlds, all those Mission: Impossible flicks?? I don’t think so. But back in 1996 Cruise got it exactly, 100%, so very right in what is at this point his last great movie.  Jerry Maguire is a sports agent who has an epiphany about the rampant dishonesty and slimeyness inherent in his job. He writes a missive about these feelings and hands it out. He gets fired. Oops. With no other choice he ventures out on his own, but none of his clients follow him…except one. That lone client is Arizona Cardinals’ wide receiver Rod Tidwell (in an Oscar winning performance by Cuba Gooding Jr.), an eccentric, cocky, dissatisfied talent who just wants someone to “show me the money”. Also along for the ride is a secretary from Jerry’s former agency who is inspired to follow him and develops an infatuation. Dorothy is a single Mom of an extremely cute little boy, and Jerry develops a relationship with them after his shallow girlfriend dumps him. Sports fans get a small glimpse into the underhanded world of agent-client relations as well as enjoy cameos by such luminaries as NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr., quarterbacks Warren Moon, Troy Aikman, & Drew Bledsoe, sportscasters Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, & Mike Tirico, and real life sports agents Drew Rosenhaus & Leigh Steinberg. But the heart of the film is the romance between Jerry and Dorothy, a business arrangement that turns into something much deeper. 14 years later people still quote Jerry Maguire, and it’s delicate balance of comedy, drama, romance, and even a wee bit of action is a rare feat. It is sweet but not too sweet, cynical but not overly so. Writer-director Cameron Crowe, who also did Say Anything and Almost Famous, has a knack for making his characters very relatable and human. Jerry Maguire proves that a great movie doesn’t require guns ablazing, blood & guts, or special effects to be  truly special.

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..46-50

Bon Jovi declared “We’re halfway there…we’re livin’ on a prayer”. Kenny Loggins asked us to “Meet me halfway, across the sky”. You get the point…we’re half done with this countdown and, in golf parlance, making the turn. Now, it’s not that the first 50 movies I’ve written about are irrelevant. I like them or they wouldn’t be on the list. But now we’re getting serious. The cream rises to the top and this process is starting to get creamy. I will try to avoid becoming too verbose and gushing over these next 50 films…but I cannot guarantee I will be able to comply with that edict. You’re going to see a lot of comedies and Christmas movies from here on in, so I hope you enjoy those as much as I do. And as always, feedback is always appreciated.


 

50 Little Miss Sunshine

At the outset of this series I shared a bit about my thinking when deciding on the Top 100, and one of the things I said I take into consideration is longevity. People who say that their all time favorite movie is one that was just in the theater a year or two ago annoy me tremendously. However, there are exceptions to every rule, and this is about as close to an exception as we’ll get. Little Miss Sunshine was released in 2006 and stars Abigail Breslin, Alan Arkin, Greg Kinnear, and Steve Carell. Not exactly an all star cast, especially when one considers that at the time Carell was just hitting his stride with The 40 Year Old Virgin and The Office was a fairly new television show. However, a good movie should be based on good writing and not just the pop culture It Factor of its cast. After all, Will Smith is still considered one of the biggest movie stars in the world and hasn’t been in anything worth a damn for about a decade. Sunshine is a unique take on the road trip genre, made popular by such fare as Smokey & The Bandit, Rain Man, Tommy Boy, Sideways, Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, and National Lampoon’s Vacation ( two of which we’ll be giving some love to at some point along this path).  A 9 year old girl fascinated by beauty pageants receives an opportunity to compete in one herself. The family treks 800 miles from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Southern California in an old Volkswagen van, and as per usual in road trip flicks, the adventure isn’t boring. Along for the ride is Dad, a down-on-his-luck motivational speaker who says things like “sarcasm is the refuge of losers”…Uncle Frank, a gay Proust scholar who recently attempted suicide…brother Dwayne, a teenager who gets inspiration from Nietzsche and has taken a vow of silence until he can successfully become a pilot…and Grandpa, who was kicked out of the old folks’ home for snorting heroine. Now before any action has taken place or a word of dialogue is spoken, one can see tremendous potential just from those undeniably singular characters. The glue holding it all together is the Mom, a comparatively sane person. I won’t spoil the fun for those who may have thus far overlooked Little Miss Sunshine, but let me say two things. First, Alan Arkin won a well deserved Oscar for his foul mouthed yet relatively brief role as the grandfather. His character makes this movie hands down. I am not sure why his real life son Adam Arkin was not cast as the Dad…it would have been perfect. The other note that needs mentioning is the ending. I suppose it’s not too big of a spoiler to say that, despite all the difficulties along the way the family does make it to the pageant just in the nick of time. Once there it quickly becomes apparent that the little girl is way out of her league, a plain Jane novice amongst little grizzled veterans with layers of makeup, fake eyelashes, and swimsuits the parents should be arrested for allowing them to wear.  But she gets on stage and does her thing, and it is one of the funniest scenes you will see on film. You won’t see it coming, but you won’t forget it once you’ve watched.

 

49 Miracle on 34th Street

Every December our televisions are polluted with Christmas movies, and I love every second. Channels like Hallmark and ABC Family introduce new made-for-TV flicks each year, and some of them are halfway entertaining. The big studios usually come up with one or two holiday themed films, with fairly recent examples being stuff like Bad Santa, Christmas with the Kranks, Deck the Halls, and Four Christmases. Sometimes these are okay, but rarely do they have a real impact or any sustainable staying power. They entertain for a couple hours but ultimately are completely forgettable. But there are a handful of films that have become classics…Christmas traditions almost as important as twinkle lights, eggnog, and mistletoe. You’ll see several of those on this list, and one of the oldest is Miracle on 34th Street. Made in 1947, in a post-war era that wanted feel good stories and laughter, it’s the story of a department store Santa who is put on trial to prove whether or not he is real. In a bit of prescient marketing, the film opens with Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is now thought of as the official kickoff to the Christmas season. Santa charms most of his co-workers, but he sets his sights on a skeptical single Mom and her unbelieving, precocious young daughter. No details are ever given as to why Mom is single or the reasons for her cynicism, but one can assume that she was hurt badly by a man. Santa is joined by a friendly lawyer who has a thing for Mom, which comes in handy when Ol’ Saint Nick runs up against the legal system. I am quite sure that anyone over the age of 30 has seen Miracle on 34th Street. I do worry that younger generations may not fully embrace its greatness since it isn’t shown on TV as much these days. Not that long ago it was shown on NBC immediately following the Macy’s parade, which seemed appropriate. Now NBC airs a dog show. Movie channels like AMC and TCM still show Miracle, but not as much as one may think. In 1994 a remake was made, and it isn’t bad as far as remakes go. Macy’s refused to participate and Gimbel’s was already out of business, so two fictional stores are substituted. Other small changes are made to the plot, but overall it stays fairly faithful to the original and is rather likeable. Still though, it is almost always my stance that the original is better than a remake and I hope that in this case we never stop watching the 1947 classic…in black and white. There is a colorized version, but colorization of black and white films is just so wrong, plus they usually give me a headache.

 

48 You’ve Got Mail

Bogey and Bacall… Hepburn and Tracy…Astaire and Rogers. Classic screen pairings are exceptional. The chemistry has to be just right, and it cannot be forced or planned…the magic just happens. It is my personal opinion that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are one of those magical duos. 1998’s You’ve Got Mail was their third movie together, and is kind of a remake of the 1940 Jimmy Stewart vehicle The Shop Around the Corner. I wouldn’t consider it a true remake, as it is significantly updated to include modern technology…e-mail and chat rooms play a key role and the title itself is borrowed from AOL’s well known welcome to customers signing in to their account. But the basic premise is still there…two lonely people anonymously corresponding and falling in love in the process, all while they are totally unaware that they know each other in real life. This update folds in the concept of competing bookstores, which is likely a big factor in its likeability for me. Greg Kinnear, Parker Posey, Jean Stapleton, and John Randolph have amusing supporting roles, and that is a key ingredient in any great film. Like any tasty recipe the flavors have to maintain a delicate balance. You’ve Got Mail seems to pop up on television a lot, and I must confess that I will generally watch unless I am really busy, which is rare. Further Hanks/Ryan pairings seem unlikely…they are both getting older and Meg Ryan has paid a few too many visits to her friendly neighborhood Botox provider…but we shall savor the goodness they’ve provided for us for many years to come.

 

47 Elf

While Miracle on 34th Street has long been a bona fide Christmas classic, there are a few films that are growing into that role. One of those up and comers is 2003’s Elf, starring Will Ferrell. Ferrell seems to be one of those actors that you either love or hate…there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground amongst fans. That is largely a function of his sophomoric humor and childlike performances. But that irreverent immaturity works perfectly in this movie. As the story goes, an orphaned baby crawls into Santa’s sack on Christmas Eve and ends up living at the North Pole. After three decades of being raised as an elf, Buddy faces the harsh reality that he is actually not one at all and sets off… passing “through the seven levels of the Candy Cane Forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and then through the Lincoln Tunnel”…for New York City to find his real Dad, a book publisher who is on Santa’s Naughty List. It’s a fun twist on the standard fish-out-of-water tale, as Buddy’s innocent elfish behavior befuddles those around him while at the same time making us, the audience, crack up laughing. Buddy does things like chew old gum that people have stuck under tables, eat pasta covered in syrup, and burst into a diner with the moniker “World’s Best Cup of Coffee” congratulating them enthusiastically on their accomplishment. He eventually finds his crusty Dad, played by James Caan, and somehow stumbles into Gimbel’s (which was actually defunct by 2003, but we won’t quibble) where he is mistaken for an employee. He eventually gets fired after hysterically attacking a faux Santa (“You stink. You smell like beef and cheese! You don’t smell like Santa.”), but not before becoming enamored with the lovely Jovie, with whom he develops a relationship. The climax involves the real Santa, Christmas caroling in Central Park, and Buddy’s family & friends uniting to save Christmas. It’s all very silly, very harmless, and a lot of fun. I don’t think it is farfetched to assume that Elf will undoubtedly take its rightful place alongside A Christmas Carol, It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and others in the pantheon of beloved holiday films…if it hasn’t already.

 

46 When Harry Met Sally

I am not afraid to admit that I, as a man, like romantic comedies. I would much rather see two people go about the meandering yet fun process of falling in love than watch a bunch of pointless explosions, shootings, and car chases. All that stuff can be entertaining on occasion, but I generally prefer something with an actual storyline. When Harry Met Sally is the gold standard of rom-coms, as they are known. It is the one that every film of its ilk is compared to. Released in 1989, the story covers about a decade and a half and stars Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, who tackle the question “can men and women be just friends?”. While the pairing of Ryan and Crystal doesn’t have quite the enchanting luster of Ryan and Tom Hanks, the two do have a certain quirky chemistry. For guys like me seeing a schlub like Crystal charm his way into the life of a babe like Ryan (pre-Botox addiction) is encouraging even if it is fake and in no way reflects how the world works in reality. Our two lovebirds meet in college and instantly hate each other. This part of the film is the weakest only because it is laughable to see a 40 year old Crystal portray a character half his age, but the interaction and dialogue is so fun and snappy that one can forgive the infraction. As the relationship between Harry and Sally grows so does the film grow on the viewer as things progress. Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby provide amiable support as the obligatory best friends, and the music, done mostly by an at the time unknown Harry Connick Jr. seals the deal. The deli scene…you know what I’m talking about – “I’ll have what she’s having”…is legendary and just another memorable moment that makes the movie great.