Posts Tagged ‘movies’

If you’re like me, you’ve seen and heard jokes and morning show conversations about how unsafe it is to travel with Tom Hanks. This has come up with the release of Sully, inspired by the notorious Miracle on the Hudson emergency plane landing and the events which followed. With this, Tom Hanks has been in at least two major releases where a character he plays deals with a plane crash.

So yes, maybe flying with a Tom Hanks character isn’t the greatest of ideas, but imagine the story which you would walk away telling. Hanks always chooses, or at least almost always, interesting stories and projects, so if all you have to deal with is a little plane crash, so be it.

This, and the release of the latest Dan Brown book-to-screen adaptation of Inferno with Hanks again as Robert Langdon, led me to start thinking about Tom Hanks movies in general, and great subject to ponder. This guy went from the TV show Bosom Buddies, which is where I first was exposed to him, to some of the best films of our time. Thus the inspiration of my latest Top 5 Favorites post.

Before I get into my personal favorites of his film career, let me review how I remember Tom Hanks coming to power. Since I am a child of the ’80s, my first exposure of Tom Hanks was on the TV sitcom Bosom Buddies where he and fellow actor Peter Scolari had to dress as women to get a decent rent-controlled Manhattan apartment in a building for only female residents. After that, I believe the first movie I saw him in, on VHS of course, was Splash (1984). I was a little over 10 years old and barreling towards puberty, so to be honest it took many years for me to realize Tom Hanks was even in that film, since all I payed attention to was Daryl Hannah as a mermaid.

After that, Hanks went on to star in a series of screwball comedies, some better than others, but it wasn’t until I saw Nothing In Common (1986) on HBO as a teenager that I knew this screwball actor had a major amount of talent and range. Punchline (1988) followed that and I remember watching it with my folks on VHS. During the infamous–in my book–scene when Hanks’s character does his Singing in the Rain performance outside that diner having been romantically rejected by Sally Field’s character, my dad uttered a simple, “Wow, that guy is GOOD.”

Multiple projects later as an actor, producer and director including back-to-back Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role during the mid-1990’s, and Tom Hanks has carved himself a niche as being one of the great actors of my generation.

Without further haste, here are my selections for what are my Top 5 Favorite Tom Hanks movies thus far. The are listed from No. 5 to No. 1.

Subjected for your approval.

poster_savingmrbanksNo. 5 – Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

One icon of cinema playing another icon. Tom Hanks gets to portray Walt Disney, pre-popsicle of course. This movie was so delightful for so many reasons; the cast, the rehearsal scenes, the dynamic Hanks and co-star Emma Thompson (Stranger Than Fiction) created between Disney and the creator of the Mary Poppins literary franchise, P.L. Travers, as the two worked to bring the books to the big screen. Hanks has two great scenes for me; first, when he opens up to Travers about his father forcing him to run his paper route and learning the meaning of forgiveness. The other was the scene where, while in rehearsal, Travers demanded the film not have the color red in all the exterior scenes of London.

The film was extremely informative from a Hollywood historic standpoint, particularly in the fact that Disney never acquired the intellectual property rights to adapt Mary Poppins to screen until well after pre-production had begun.

However, Thompson and Hanks really carried the film with an amazing supporting cast, and Hanks as Disney was a prime example of how this actor is a true chameleon. Among the actor’s research and preparation for the role, Hanks visited the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco several times and spoke with family members including Disney’s daughter Diane Disney Miller. Supposedly, Hanks himself is a distant cousin of Walt Disney, but I could not find any reliable source on the web to confirm that little tidbit.

To read my full review of Saving Mr. Banks, click here.

poster_castawayNo. 4 – Cast Away (2000)

The beauty of this film is how Tom Hanks can say so much with his physical performance and non-verbal representation without having hardly any lines. The story is about how a FedEx executive whose world is ruled by the clock and having no time to meet goals suddenly finds himself stuck on a remote island when his flight crashes in the ocean, now he has all the time in the world for the next three years until he finally figures out a way to try and escape to freedom or die in the process.

To this day, any time I build something with my own hands, like our dog house or change out a light fixture, and it works, I throw my hands in the air and shout, “YES! LOOK WHAT I HAVE CREATED!” This refers to one of the more memorable scenes from the movie where Hanks’ character, Chuck, figures out how to start a fire in the wild of the island, probably having never done so in his life. The moment shows Chuck reaching a new level of his own masculinity and is comical since we’ve all had moments of acting like a total tard when no one was looking.

The moment which shows Hanks as a master for me is when Chuck has finally escaped the island and floating out at see with his volleyball co-hort Wilson, who became the only “person” for him to talk to for his years of solitude. However, while napping on his raft at sea, Wilson comes loose and drifts out into open water with Chuck unable to rescue him. Chuck loses his only friend for the previous three years and the next scene shows him sobbing like a child who lost their best friend. That moment brings me to tears every time, and it is all because Hanks does such a superior job of selling it to the viewer.

Hanks gave an interview in 2000 about his preparation for the role, from which he stated the hardest part was losing so much weight to show Chuck three years after being stranded. He said not eating French Fries during that process was torture, I agree it would be. Regardless, his pre-production work paid off in the final project helping create one of his greatest roles and pictures.

There is only one moment of the movie I disliked. During the reuniting of Chuck and girlfriend Kelly, played by Helen Hunt (As good As It Gets), when she is catching him up on events he missed over the past three years, she mentions Tennessee not only has an NFL football team in the Titans, they went to the Superbowl and almost one the game but came up short by one yard; one yard away from winning. That’s actually inaccurate. In that Superbowl game, the Titans were down by a touchdown and they needed to reach the end zone to tie the game and send it into overtime. On their last play, the were one yard shy of the goal line. It was one yard to tie, not one yard to win. That has always bugged me for some reason. Maybe Kelly just didn’t understand the game.

poster_punchlineNo. 3 – Punchline (1988)

This movie is not only one of my favorite Tom Hanks films, it is one of my favorites of all time. It follows the plights of two comedians; Steven (Hanks) who is a med-school flunkie and peppered stand up comic and Lila (Sally Field) who is a New Jersey housewife who is trying to break into the craft. She enlists Steven into a sort of mentorship role while Steven eventually falls for Lila. The picture culminates into the lauching of Steven’s career because of Lila’s sacrifice.

The movie in general is a small story from the life of comic Barry Sobel, who was quite popular during the late ’80s and early ’90s. However, Hanks was nothing like Sobel. The actor made the character his own. He was hilarious but also quietly sad, being virtually homeless and emotionally helpless, that is until Lila comes into his life. This is also possibly the best performance I’ve ever seen from Field. Between her and John Goodman (Coyote Ugly) playing her husband, her home life creating adversity for her outer motivation was so well scripted.

Back to Hanks. Like I mentioned in my preface, the Singing in the Rain scene shows how trying to be funny can truly give you a glimpse at a character’s sadness and depression. I just don’t know how Hanks pulled that scene off but it is truly masterful.

In preparation for this role, Hanks–and Fields for that matter–enlisted the aide of actual stand up comics to help them. Helping Hanks was none other than his character’s true-life inspiration Barry Sobel. Sobel and comedian Randy Fetcher teamed with Hanks to help write his character’s stand up routines for the film. Both Hanks and Fields took their learnings to random stand up clubs to get comfortable with the craft prior to filming.

David Selzter (Lucas), writer and director, was a fan of comedy clubs which helped inspire him to write this loosely adapted from true life plot. His work on this project was truly a great example of writing, directing and performance choices working together as a team. That is one of many reasons Punchline is one of my favorite movies of all time and one my favorites starring Tom Hanks. To read my full review of Punchline, click here.

poster_savingryanNo. 2 – Saving Private Ryan (1998)

I think it’s amusing only one movie directed by Steven Spielberg appears among this list, while two appear directed by Robert Zemeckis. I felt the ensemble performances within the eight men of the rescue squad was what made this picture so entertaining. It will take a long time to put an ensemble THIS strong together again.

However, Tom Hanks as Captain Miller was the cornerstone of the casting. Hanks had so many great aspects to his character including the neurological tick which made his hands tremble at times. Also, the script included an interesting game among Miller’s men who kept guessing his backstory but wasn’t really sure until one of the film’s most tense moments. The speech of that scene was actually much longer, and Hanks pleaded to Spielberg to shorten it since Miller wouldn’t be interested in telling his men that much about himself. Spielberg agreed.

The special effects, going hand in hand with the picture’s production design, was flawless and captured the destruction and the era of the German occupied regions of France depicted throughout the story. Two-time Academy Award winning director Spielberg and two-time Oscar winner Januz Kaminski really knocked the visuals of the film out of the park. Overall, you can’t get a better World War II set movie than “Saving Private Ryan.” I have yet to see anything come close, and I doubt I will in the remainder of my lifetime.

One note to Tom Hanks integrity to the craft was a six-day boot camp each of the actors were asked to endure prior to filming. Since the boot camp was terribly physically challenging, one actor voted the team quit, but it was Tom Hanks, who reputed enjoyed the experience, who decided to stick it out in preparation of his role, thus inspiring the rest of the cast to see the camp to its end as well.

To read my full review of Saving Private Ryan, click here.

poster_forrestgumpNo. 1 – Forrest Gump (1994)

This is my second selection directed by Robert Zemeckis which won him the Academy Award for Best Direction in 1995; however, it is my first selection among favorite Tom Hanks starring pictures.

Forrest Gump is just a man who looks to keep things simple, thinks simple and loves a gal who is anything but. However, it is the numerous sequences where Gump’s presence is added to pivotal moments in American history and at times causes them is what makes this picture a delight. That, and of course his friendship-relationship with Jenny, played by Robin Wright (Unbreakable), is what pulls the heart strings and makes this movie an American classic.

My favorite scene to show Hanks’ chops is when he is reunited with Jenny, after she has given birth to her son, also named Forrest. She tells Forrest Sr. the son is HIS from their one night together years before. Hanks’ physical response to the news, knowing he now has a son and concerned for the kid’s mental abilities showed two things. One, there was an emotion of utter fright which Hanks conveyed without using any dialogue, and two, this was the first indication that Forrest was cognitive of his own mental limitations and fearful it was hereditary.

This is of course an ironic notion since it shows a level of sharpness we hadn’t been shown from Gump prior to that moment. The moment gets me in the feelie-goods every time and shows the immense amount of talent Hanks has for his craft, and that scene–in my opinion–won Hanks the Academy Award.

This performance is also one of the best and unique accents Hanks had developed from the film. Watching the DVD extras, Hanks gives an interview where he credits the accent was developed from the natural accent of Michael Connor Humphreys who played Gump as a young boy. Hanks said he had such a great southern accent which “came from his backbone,” he decided to adopt it for his older Gump character. To do so, Hanks sat and listened to Humphreys describe the plot of his favorite movie to him. The movie? Jurassic Park.

Another reason I felt this production was special for Hanks, since the visual effects of the film and locations were demanding on the film’s budget, the A-List actor, whom already won one Academy Award walking on set by that time, agreed to not be paid for his role. Instead, he accepted percentage points as compensation which allowed him a $40 million dollar payday and his second Oscar. Sometimes, Hanks knows it’s about the craft first and the money later, and this brilliant work is a prime example of that. This is just one of many reasons why Forrest Gump is my favorite film in Tom Hanks’ list of productions.

Of course, when you review Hanks’ list of films, choosing a mere five to select as your favorites is extremely hard if not impossible. He has performed in so many absolutely great films, not good but GREAT films, selecting only five to write about can’t be done. Therefore, I have selected–as I do with all my Top 5 Favorites posts–five honorable mentions which almost made the cut.

Bridge of Spies (2015)

Tom Hanks’ character of Donovan is where the message of this film sits. Compromise is about “Give” and take not “Give Up” and take. His resolve and refusal to compromise his negotiation stance helps the audience get behind him as a protagonist. Hanks is as well as he always does in a leadership type roll. I also like how they gave his character a cold during the entire trip to Berlin for negotiations. For some reason, it made him more human. Now, Hanks is always a great addition to any film, but this is the one film where Hanks doesn’t necessarily carry the film. They carry each other. To read my full review of Bridge of Spies, click here.

Captain Phillips (2013)

This is such a great story and well made film, but half of it occurs in such closed quarters, the film becomes a complete study in using one’s face to convey inner motivations and fears. Tom Hanks and Academy Award nominated supporting actor Barkhad Abdirahman, the leader of the Somalie pirates. Hanks is perfectly the man for that kind of trade. The film is intense and the moment when Phillips, the title character, is about to be executed by his captors and he screams out to his family back in New England for even having left them, my heart breaks each time I’ve seen. In addition, after the Navy Seals finally take down the bad guys and Hanks is rescued, his breakdown in the medical unit equally heartbreaking but far more satisfying.

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

This was moreso a great notch on Leonardo DiCaprio’s resume, but Tom Hanks as a nemesis character on the side of the law is a perfect addition to the dynamic of the film. DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale Jr.–whom I’ve actually interviewed in real life, the true life-inspired character not the actor–serves as an anti-hero, breaking the law and swindling money just to support himself as a runaway. However, Hanks as FBI agent Carl Hanratty is the man attempting to bring justice to the story, so even though he’s the nemesis for the main character, he’s the “good guy.” This makes the film unique and one of my favorites with Hanks on the bill. To read my full review of Catch Me If You Can, click here.

Apollo 13 (1995)

What can I say about this modern classic about one of the most terrible moments in NASA history which turned into one of its finest hours of rescue. From the moment the Apollo 13 mission to the moon is derailed by a faulty coil which blows up an oxygen tank once the three-man crew are in outer space, the film is one of the most intense stories of rescue and government teamwork. Hanks is wonderful as the lead role of astronaut Jim Lovell who was captain of the mission vessel and it’s not only one of my favorite Tom Hanks movies, it’s one of my favorites from director Ron Howard.

The Terminal (1999)

Barely edging out The Green Mile among my honorable mentions is The Terminal about a foreigner (Hanks) who is detained and stranded at New York’s JFK international airport while on a mission to honor his late-father’s memory. However, after a coup in his homeland while flying to the U.S. leaves him without a country to pass through immigration checkpoints, Hanks’ foreign character Viktor uses his time making friends, learning to speak English and battling the strangely anal adversity of an extremely well-written nemesis character in Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci). Albeit the romance between Viktor and Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) got convoluted at times, this slice of life picture directed by Steven Spielberg was enjoyable from start to finish and there is no reason to consider it one of my honorable mention favorites starring Tom Hanks. To read my full review of The Terminal, click here.

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What better, more appropriate theme for the days leading up to the 2016 general election, including the call for a new U.S. President, than that of movies relating to the presidency itself.

For months leading up to this October, I’ve been excited to examine what constitute my favorites in this genre for a couple reasons; one, movies involving the U.S. Presidency comes with a mystique about it for me. If it involves the oval office, figuring I’ll never actually see it with my own eyes, it’s the equivalent of seeing Neverland for myself, or Mars. I’ve been close, however. As a child, I was taken on the White House tour, but the oval office still remains a mystery for me.

The second reason is, the U.S. Presidency has been a vehicle for great stories for multiple decades and genres and doesn’t come with any kind of parameters because of this. Therefore, my Top 5 Favorites list involving the U.S. Presidency involves titles in a variety of genres; drama, docudrama, comedy, romantic comedy, etc. Their plots range from “inspired by actual events” to far-fetched fiction.

Lastly, in an election year a rotted as the last apple in the barrel, it’s more than consoling to me to review what my favorite movies are involving the U.S. Presidency and races for it.

Subjected for your approval, these are my Top 5 Favorite U.S. Presidency movies, listed from No. 5 to No. 1.

poster_daveNo. 5 – Dave (1993)

Directed by Ivan Reitman

This movie is a subtle comedy which sort of turns into a semi-romantic comedy in its subplot. This story of a political impersonator who is asked to stand in for the actual president after the Commander in Chief falls into a coma after an outside-marital affair.

There are several elements of this picture which I adore, particularly in the writing. Among them is how Dave, played by Kevin Kline (De-Lovely), discovers the corruption behind the leaders of the present administration and attempts to set things in motion to right what he feels are wrongs. I also loved the dynamic between himself and the first lady, played by Sigourney Weaver (Gorillas in the Mist), especially when she discovers, and HOW she discovers, Dave is an imposter.

Another great aspect? The supporting cast including Frank Langhella, who appears in THREE of my Top 5 Favorites selections in some capacity, Kevin Dunn, Ving Rhames, Laura Linney, Charles Grodin, Bonnie Hunt and a late entry from Ben Kingsley as the U.S. Vice-President all added to the overall value of the production with their own nuances. Langhella provides a strong nemesis character for the story.

My favorite scene from the movie was when Dave and the first lady get pulled over during a casual drive around D.C. by street cops, who start to freak out about the fact they pulled over America’s No. 1 power couple. However, Dave explains to them not only he but both of them are presidential impersonators and give them a little performance on the side of the road to win over their trust. When Sigourney Weaver starts joining in the singing, it cracks me up every time.

poster_13daysNo. 4 – Thirteen Days (2000)

Directed by Roger Donaldson

I wasn’t alive during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 while John F. Kennedy was in office. However, this movie is so well produced, acted and written, it sure makes me feel like I lived it right there in the White House.

This picture is so intense, as it starts high from the beginning when a U.S. spy plane discovers a nuclear missile site in Cuba, parked there by the USSR, and it leads to the moment the White House and the Kremlin came to a resolution all the while the two superpowers teetered on the brink of civil war.

Inspired by actual events, which adds to the overall engagement of it with any American viewer with any interest in our nation’s history, the role of John F. Kennedy was played by Bruce Greenwood (Dinner for Schmucks) and is maybe my favorite portrayal of that president. Kevin Costner (Mr. Brooks) played Kenneth O’Donnell, a special assistant to Kennedy and good friend, whom along with younger brother and U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the threesome was known as the Irish Mafia.

The dynamic between Greenwood, Costner and Stephen Culp who played Robert Kennedy as the “mafia” trio helped sell the film from the White House level. Dylan Baker also had several great moments as U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.

Overall, if you are looking for a thriller that isn’t a murder mystery or involve a bunch of bikini teenagers getting hacked at a summer camp, this is your thriller.

poster_americanpresidentNo. 3 – The American President (1995)

Directed by Rob Reiner

I love this movie by all non-political reasons. It is a spry romantic comedy between two characters who have no business falling for each other and have the world pushing against them. This basic premise has been done before in that genre, but when you add the high concept vehicle of the U.S. Presidency during an election year, now the comedy has plenty of chances to do something different.

I loved the character of President Shepherd, played by Michael Douglas (Ant-Man). He thought with his heart, which allowed us to understand his infatuation for lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade, played by Annette Benning (American Beauty). I also liked how it left his re-election future in the air. The climax of the film was simply Shepherd’s decision to fight back the mudslinging he and Wade had taken for months. However, it would stand to reason the damage had been done and Shepherd would not have earned the presidency. That part is irrelevant to the actual story.

What I didn’t care for was the representation of the Republican camp. With no bias of my own as a middle-aisle independent, Republican’s were depicted as these evil beings, sitting in dark smokey rooms, planning ways to assassinate the President’s character and play on the voter’s disrespect and fear. It was too much. It was very one-sided. I understand the movie needs a clear-cut nemesis, but to have it so over the top makes it difficult to buy into a plotline which is already far-fetched.

It was a risky move, but I fell for the movie nonetheless and that’s why it’s one of my top favorites involving the U.S. Presidency. Another reason I love this movie so much is the score. Marc Shaiman’s work on the soundtrack for this production are some of my favorite tracks on my mp3 player.

10290A_UNI_FNX_DOM1sh_Spread_R4No. 2 – Frost/Nixon (2008)

Directed by Ron Howard

I am still impressed how a movie can be so entertaining and engaging when it’s only about two people sitting down and talking. With a handful of amazing performances, this film is without a doubt a solid No. 2 in my list of favorites.

First of all, Ron Howard (The DaVinci Code, A Beautiful Mind). This guy is almost Yoda level of his craft. If it wasn’t for the existence of Steven Spielberg, I would say he is a true master. Visually, with the aide of top notch production design to represent the year 1977, David Frost, played by Michael Sheen (The Queen), sitting across from former president Richard Nixon, played by Robert Langhella (Dave), under TV lights in two comfy chairs couldn’t have been more thrilling.

The writing of the picture was credited to Peter Morgan who also penned the Broadway stageplay it was based on. The outer and inner motivations of the principal characters as well as its high quality supporting cast was award-worthy all around. The biggest surprise came from Kevin Bacon (Apollo 13) as Jack Brennan, Nixon’s former Chief of Staff and closest adviser. The moment when Brennan was almost brought to tears prior to the final climactic interview was an amazing moment for the former Footloose actor.

Langhella’s scene when Nixon calls Frost late in the night, drunk, prior to the final day of taping was also Academy Award worthy. Langhella earned a nomination for this role that year after having won the Tony Award for playing Nixon in the Broadway production.

I love how the movie depicts a retired, memoirs promoting Nixon as being very smart and crafty, always being able to bend a situation to his own interests. It also shows the advantageous implications of the David Frost interviews for both he and Nixon, but only if the interviews went in one or the other’s favor. Everything to gain or everything to lose, so the two and their respective teams get entangled in this sort of game of cat and mouse, each attempting to find success out of the situation.

It’s intense, well written, comical in spots and all around one of the top two best productions involving the U.S. Presidency. Read my full review of Frost/Nixon here.

img_0767No. 1 – All the Way (2016)

Directed by Jay Roach

I know it’s odd from my No. 1 selection to be a movie never released to cinemas and based on previously published Broadway material, but this film is so interesting showing how American politics can be a war in and of itself. That, and it involves one of the biggest transformations by an actor I’ve seen in quite some time. Brian Cranston (The Infiltrator), as President Lyndon B. Johnson, gave the performance of his career thusfar as far as I’m concerned. There was no Cranston, there was only Johnson.

Director Jay Roach has surprised me with a handful of productions. This one however was so well crafted and maybe his best. He is the director of two titles which appear in this post. For All the Way, he gave the film a familiarity which was special and made it feel large despite having such a small scope.

It also amazes me and shows this director.s range to have come from absurd productions like the Austin Powers saga (which I love by the way) and move into high-political stories like Recount, Game Change and others which I will be reviewing individually as part of the theme for this month.

Anthony Mackie (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) also gave the performance of his young career as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Frank Langhella appears once again on my list, in this production as Johnsons’s mentor and fearsome opposition. Another supportive role I enjoyed was Bradley Whitford (Billy Madison) as eventual Vice President Hubert Humphries depicting his role in getting Kennedy’s posthumous civil rights bill passed with Johnson as its leading voice. Stephen Root (Office Space) also turns up as J. Edgar Hoover and has few scenes but it’s interesting nonetheless when he’s on screen.

There are so many great, strong scenes in this production, it’s hard to pick just one. But possibly my favorite is when Johnson is moving into the oval office, getting sized for new suits and changing the decor. There’s so much coming at him, and it shows how ready he is for his new position as President with the civil rights bill as his biggest goal for the first act. However, by the time he’s come to the Democratic National Convention seeking relection, he’s a blubbering mess in act two. The dynamic between the two types of Johnson’s is interesting and very engaging. Melissa Leo shows her chops during those blubbing scenes as Lady Bird Johnson.

If a perfect movie had been released in 2016, I would have to say All the Way is the closest to it. Read my full review of All the Way here.

Of course, movies depicting the U.S. President or the oval office have been around since actor Joseph Kilgour played George Washington in two different films in 1909. So it stands to reason naming only five as my favorites is almost impossible. The following is my traditional list of honorable mentions which are some of my favorite films of this unique genre which didn’t quite make the top five of my selections. They are listed in no particular order.

JFK (1991)

It’s the murder mystery of all murder mysteries. District Attorney Jim Garrison’s hunt to find those whom conspired to assassination John F. Kennedy and discover the true killers is obviously a vehicle for great intensity. But there were two things I loved about this film. As a murder-mystery, it’s purely amazing. It keeps you wide eyed almost the entire time and is very well paced and crafted from its foundation, the screenplay. I also liked how it poked at all five major conspiracies behind who killed JFK, rather than pick a conspiracy to harp on. It basically said there’s something sinister surrounding this event, not didn’t exactly point fingers. The arguments were so convincing, I would whole heartedly believe their was a conspiracy which killed Kennedy not involving Lee Harvey Oswald. However, I’ve actually been to Dealey Plaza in Dallas where Kennedy was shot, and if you’ve seen it too, you’d see how these grassy knoll conspiracies simply aren’t valid.

Primary Colors (1998)

This movie is wonderful for its performances mostly. Based on a book from an anonymous author who supposedly worked on the Bill Clinton presidential campaign, this movie examines the behind the scenes antics between idealistic campaign volunteers putting their hope in a southern Democrat president with a history of putting his dick where it doesn’t belong. John Travolta (Hairspray) gives his best Clinton impersonation, while Emma Thompson (Stranger Than Fiction) throws in her version of the Hillary side of the story. The supporting class its well put together, including a great showing from Kathy Bates (Misery) who earned an Academy Award nomination for this role. The best part of this film was it feels balanced politically for the most part. Read my full review of Primary Colors here.

The Contender (2000)

This title is what I use as an example of a non-thrilling thriller. It’s an all-out political war between the President, played by Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), trying to get senate committee approval of his candidate to assume the office of Vice President after the ticketed VP had passed away. His candidate? Laine Hanson, played by Joan Allen (Nixon), a female senator who takes a ton of flack about supposed sexual events in her past by the committee opposition, led by senator Shelly Runyon, brilliantly played by Gary Oldman (Robocop). Although Hollywood’s representation of the Republican opposition to Hanson and the President was heavily one-sided, at least the arguments Oldman made against confirming Hanson as VP were valid and gave at least a LITTLE balance to the political representation of the characters and plot. It’s engaging and you’ll learn a lot about about our executive process in that situation. Read my full review of The Contender here.

Lincoln (2012)

On production design alone, this movie is well worth seeing. However, there are two main reasons why I enjoy watching Lincoln whenever it is on; Daniel Day Lewis as the title character and Sally Fields as first lady Mary Todd. Daniel Day Lewis completely gave himself over to this role and it was all too difficult to see him and not the former U.S. President during the political war to pass the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Steven Spielberg has always churned out wonderful period pieces that are politically driven. Although I feel the movie represented Lincoln in a too-heroic fashion, I love how it showed him and his supporters buying votes with federal commissions and outright political guilt. Basically, the film represented Lincoln’s political genius well while showing to get what you want in politics, you have to give and pull favors just to even do the right thing.

Game Change (2012)

The main reason to see this movie? It is hands down the best performance from Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights) which won her a Golden Globe. Moore plays Sarah Palin in a story of how senator John McCain, played by Ed Harris (Apollo 13), and campaign manager Steve Schmidt, played by Woody Harrelson (The Hunger Games), bit off more than they could chew by selecting the Alaskan Governor as McCain’s running mate during the 2008 Presidential election. The down side is, the story is very difficult to accept as fact entirely. There are moments when Palin is depicted as having almost schizophrenic moments from the stress of the campaign trail and receiving dirty shots at her family by the opposition. But false historics aside, if these characters were completely fiction, this movie grabs you and keeps you in its face with several moments of me blurting “Oh crap!,” or “Holy shit!” at random intense moments. This is simply a well made-film with three great principal performances, lead by the best performance of Moore’s resume.

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If you’re like me, you’ve fallen for a movie and it has become one of your lifetime favorites, especially if the movie was released during your childhood. I’m a child of the ’80s, and many of my favorites are also the favorites of men who are now hitting their mid-life crisis.

But now imagine that same lifelong favorite motion picture being deconstructed, chewed up and re-produced by today’s filmmaking standards and box office favorites simply because mainstream Hollywood may have grown devoid of any original ideas and plotlines. For me, a good instance would be Hollywood suddenly announcing it was doing a reproduction of 1984’s Cloak & Dagger, which I named one of my Top 5 Favorites from the ’80s. My love for that movie is so engrained, just the announcement of a remake would make me immediately hate the new version. And it would more than likely justifiably suck.

However, every so often, there is a remake to comes along which proves itself worthy of continued fanship. In some cases, the remake may even be better than the original or at least honor it well enough. My list of Top 5 Favorites, having discussed the qualifications with movie writing cohort Brian G. Felts, is unique in that not everyone may remember or ever knew these selections were inspired by a previous motion picture. Brian and I have ruled out movies which were born from a television series or small-episode event.

However, to broaden the spectrum of possible selections, we decided our lists would also include reboots which kicked off a new take on an old series such as Batman or Spider-Man sagas. To include both these types of projects, we’ve dubbed them “revamps.”

Below are my selections for my Top 5 Favorite Revamps in cinema history. Many of these are even better than the original films by which they were inspired, and at the least they did justice to their muse. They are listed from No. 5 to No. 1.

Subjected for your approval:

poster_sommersbyNo. 5 – Sommersby (1993)remake of: The Return of Martin Guerre (1982)

I remember seeing this movie at a $1 theater after it pretty much didn’t do well at the box office. However, when I saw it I cried my eyes out. It was emotionally engaging and the mystery of the story was very well done. It’s basically about a guy named Jack Sommersby, played by Richard Gere (Primal Fear), who comes back to the family farm after serving in the civil war. His wife can barely recognize him and soon starts to suspect this man is not actually her husband. Meanwhile he turns their small town around by allowing the slaves of the land to earn their own land by growing tobacco and pulling the community out of extreme poverty…and of course the KKK has else to say about it.

It’s pretty involved in the anti-slavery message and the mystery as to whether Jack is the true Sommersby or just a kind-hearted imposter. Ultimately, his wife, played by Jodi Foster (The Accused), discovers he is an imposter but loves him far more than she ever did her husband. He is later discovered as a war deserter and is hung, even though he is not the right man. I balled. It got to me hard and every time I have shown anyone the movie, man or woman, they have cried terribly as well.

The movie is based on a French-made film called The Return of Martin Guerre which I tried to watch but was bored and could not get through. Years after Sommersby came out, Broadway came up with a musical version under the title of the original. I don’t know if it was any good and I don’t care, but Sommersby with Foster and Gere was excellent and makes the No. 5 spot on my list of favorite revamps.

poster_meetjoeblackNo. 4 – Meet Joe Black (1998)remake of: Death Takes a Holiday (1934)

Every movie from the 1930’s pretty much sucks ass, therefore the odds of this remake of Death Takes a Holiday had “great revamp” pretty much in its favor from the beginning. Basically, Brad Pitt (Fight Club) is run over by a couple cars after meeting a girl. Then Death, as a character, uses his body to take some time off from taking souls just to experience existence for himself as a vacation, and shadowing tycoon William Parrish, the girl’s father, played by Anthony Hopkins (The Remains of the Day), as his guide prior to having to take Parrish to the afterlife.

Eventually, Death falls in love with Parrish’s daughter, played by Claire Forlani (Mystery Men), and decides they will all die and be family in the afterlife, to which Parrish attempts to convince him otherwise and taking his daughter’s life just because he has fallen for her is selfish and goes against everything for which existence was designed.

This film is truly is a great romance, a great drama and very well adapted by an atrocious number of writers and director Martin Brest (Scent of a Woman). It also involves one of my favorite scores from composer Thomas Newman (Finding Nemo, Wall-E).

I could watch this movie endlessly and never get tired of it, however the scene I could put on repeat is the scene where Death tastes peanut butter for the first time. The comedy is subtle in that scene but I laugh out loud ever time I see it. The scene where Pitt gets pummeled like a rag doll in the car accident was also intense and memorable. Given this production is such an improved on the 1934 snooze-fest which inspired it, Meet Joe Black makes the No. 4 spot in my list of favorite revamps.

No. 3 – Father of the Bride (1991)remake of: Father of the Bride (1950)

This movie has evolved several times over since I first saw it. When I first saw it, I thought it was a super cute and well written production with an amazing cast lead by Steve Martin as an obsessive overprotective father whose only daughter announces she’s getting married. Today, it still is all those things but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found my neighbors resemble the parents of Brian Makenzie, the daughter’s fiancée, and I become more like George Banks (Martin), especially with two daughters of my own.

Prior to having kiddos, I mostly remember laughing out loud when I’d think of Father of the Bride. Now when I think of this production of the 1950 classic, I think of how I get choked up when Annie, played by Kimberly Williams (We are Marshall), calls her father from the airport after the wedding after he has situationally missed out on every big moment of the celebration and was feeling unimportant to her. That call made the movie for me.

Director Charles Shyer has a bunch of stinkers in his list of credits but this movie is the one gem on his resume. Nancy Myers, however, has written a ton of fantastic films and always swings for the fences when it comes to heartstrings material.

I can’t love this movie enough and that is why it has earned the No. 3 spot on my list of favorite revamps.


poster_littleshopNo. 2 – Little Shop of Horrors (1986)remake of: Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

The reason this is my No. 2 favorite revamp is because it was so much more entertaining and had much better production value than its original inspiration. Based on a cult-followed movie from legendary crap-monster-movie maker Roger Corman, Little Shop of Horrors was a revamp of the original which incorporated aspects of the Broadway version of the story by Howard Ashman, who also wrote the screenplay for the 1986 version. The only thing the original movie gave us was a unique premis and an introduction to Jack Nicholson, who had a walk-on role and one of his first movie appearances ever.

Rick Moranis (Parenthood) was cast as Seymour and performed it perfectly on a couple levels. With this version being a musical, his simple voice fit Seymour like a glove. Ellen Greene (Talk Radio) played Audrey, Seymour’s love interest. I had a bit of a thing for Greene at the time, so of course I thought what she gave was perfect for the movie. However, with breakout performances like Steve Martin (Father of the Bride) as the crazy dentist and Bill Murray (Ghostbusters) as the patient who loves pain, the cast was virtually perfect.

However, it was the songs and production which made this version of the story so much better than the first. The musical numbers are catchy beyond catchy. I’ve even done a couple as audition pieces. I simply can’t think of any other reason why 1986’s version of Little Shop of Horrors wouldn’t take the No. 2 spot on my list of favorite revamps.

img_3726No. 1 – Ocean’s Eleven (2001)remake of: Ocean’s 11 (1960)

What can I say about this fucking movie. Let’s start with the fact that it was so good it spawned two sequels. Let’s follow that up with the fact that it’s possibly the best confidence-game driven plot in a movie in probably the last 20 years. Let’s wrap up with the fact that it comes chuck full of superstar power each of whom truly gave to film and made it as brilliant as director Steven Soderbergh (Crash, Magic Mike).

This story was so well crafted from beginning to end. It had great anti-hero’s in George Clooney and Brad Pitt; anti-hero’s because they are planning a major crime. The best part was the big reveal of how the 11 pulled of the heist as well as lured Tess, played by Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman), away from casino mogul Terry Benedict, played by Andy Garcia (When a Man Loves a Woman).

Usually, I find Soderbergh’s style muttled and rough. His visions always seem unfinished when it hits the screen, including too much handheld camerawork and nothing comes organically. Magic Mike is one perfect example. However, this movie is a polar opposite to the director’s usual fare. As an example of things coming organically, the final Las Vegas scene was perfect, where the team was standing outside the Bellagio watching the infamous fountain show, looks at each other and one by one walks away from each other without saying goodbye. Soderbergh told the cast he wanted Pitt to leave first and Saul, played by Carl Reiner, to leave last. The remaining members were asked to depart in an order which felt comfortable. The scene is one of my favorite in the movie because of how natural it felt.

The original Ocean’s 11 was simply Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and other Rat Packers making another movie as an excuse to hang out. This version of Ocean’s 11 was far more exciting, engaging and satisfying. That’s why it makes the Top of my list of favorite revamps.

Of course as Hollywood goes through lulls where no original ideas come out of it for years, quality revamps are almost a given to appear from time to time. The following is my honorable mentions of productions which didn’t quite make my Top 5 list but still made their mark in this genre. They are listed in no particular order.

Total Recall (2012)

You would think I would have hated this movie given its a remake of an Arnold Schwarzenegger started ’80s classic. But it came as a big surprise to me to find out this reboot is actually very well done and almost as enjoyable as the original. I enjoyed the entire diversion from “Mars” as its own character in the original movie, but it was replaced with a vehicle which worked just as well in my opinion. There was nothing about this remake I didn’t like. Although it wasn’t strong enough to make my Top 5, it made smart diversions from the original without insulting it. That’s a rare thing to do.

The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

The original version of this movie was drawn out and boring while this revamp was layered in so many ways. It was political. It was a mystery. It was a great cast and a great script which usually spells greats movie. My favorite scene is the climax when Denzel Washington pulls the trigger on Liev Schrieber and Meryl Streep. It was tough moment but the writing really didn’t allow the character to get out of the story any other way. It was very organic and worth making an honorable mention to my list.

The Birdcage (1996)

I remember when this movie came out, the production and Nathan Lane took flack for bathing in homosexual stereotypes with his character Albert. However, having been involved in the theatre for many years, I can say I thought he was spot on for some of the more theatrical dames out there. In fact, most of my gay friends agreed, but there’s always someone whose feelings are going to get hurt because their parents didn’t raise them to realize the world is mean and you have to have thick skin to endure it. That being said, this movie is hilarious and well updated from the original French movie La Cage aux Folles, which became a Broadway mega-hit. My favorite scene was with Robin Williams, where he was attempting to get Agador’s stew out to his conservative dinner guests. Williams slipped on the set during the take, and instead of stopping, he played it off and made the end of the scene that much more hilarious. If you watch closely, you can see Williams almost start giggling when he starts to recover. I’m so glad they kept the incident in the final film.

Scent of a Woman (1992)

Arguably Al Pacino’s best performance and thusfar his only role to win him an Academy Award as Colonel Frank Slade. Also directed by Martin Brest, this movie almost doesn’t count as a revamp, since it’s based on a novel by Giovanni Arpino. However, the French–always the French–produced a film based on the book first. Then of course Hollywood copy cats the idea but produces one of the best movies made that year and an Academy Award nominee for best picture. The movie has a lot to say and so many strong scenes. If it wasn’t such a long slow paced film, it would have made my Top 5 for sure. My favorite scenes include the first meeting between Charlie and Col Slade, the family dinner which Slade crashes, the ride through Manhattan in a borrow Ferrari with blinded Slade at the wheel, the scene when Charlie wrestles him when Slade goes to shoot himself and obviously the big final speech from Slade on Charlie’s behalf at the assembly at the Baird School. These were just a handful of examples of the strength the movie brought in its storyline. The score from Thomas Newman was also one of my favorites in this composer’s catalog.

Father of the Bride 2 (1995)

Not only was Father of the Bride a remake, so was its sequel, Father of the Bride II, based on the classic film Daddy’s Little Dividend. This was actually the first one in this series starring Steve Martin, Diane Keaton (Annie Hall) and Kimberly Williams, and in my opinion it is funnier than the original. However, the original is just a slightly better made movie overall. The storylines between the mother and daughter being pregnant at the same time, preceded by George Banks’ midlife crisis made for a ton of situational comedy which cracks me up every time I see it. This feature is time tested for me, and if Part II hadn’t relied so much on the first film for developmental aspects, it would be Father of the Bride 2 among my Top 5 and the first Father of the Bride movie finding its way in my honorable mentions.

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photo courtesy of tomcruise.com

Tom…sigh. What an adventure this guy has led us on. From his early days in Taps and Risky Business to his descent into Scientology and keeping Katie Holmes locked in his basement wearing lace panties and chained to a broken water pipe–I have absolutely no facts to back that up by the way. And then, miraculously, he somewhat emerges from the rectum of L. Ron Hubbard to produce a handful of respectable works and stops opening his mouth to the media about his “religion,” trying to make the rest of us feel beneath him because we didn’t bother to read Dianetics.

As you may be able to tell, my love-hate relationship with the works of one of Hollywood’s biggest has been bitter over the years, but the guy still does great movies for the most part. However, over the course of his career, he has produced a lucid collection of stinkers. This is what I plan to examine as a challenge from my movie corner co-hort Brian G. Felts. Below is my Top 5 Favorites list of what I feel are the worst movies in which Tom Cruise had a major role.

Let me start by remembering when I was first introduced to a movie which had Tom Cruise in it. I don’t. He just sort of showed up one day in Top Gun and the rest was history. Kidding. I actually saw the movie Taps (1981) in the cinema when I was seven years old. It was about a bunch of kids who standoff to save their military academy from being taken over by a condo developer. It was junk. The next time I saw Cruise I believe was the infamous dancing in his underwear scene in Risky Business (1983). But what drops people’s jaws the most is when they find out I didn’t actually see Top Gun until I was about 32 years old. I was 12 when it hit theaters but for some reason despite its popularity I never saw it. The first I actually saw it was in the cinemas however during one of those throw back classic promotions at a local movie house. Top Gun clearly put Cruise on the map and projected him to A-List notoriety or at least put him on the fast track to it.

Then he had to go and marry Nicole Kidman, whom I had a major celebrity crush on for I think a decade, and this started my low despise of the Cruise ship. That’s when I started to notice, not all Tom Cruise movies are actually any good. So here is my breakdown of the Top 5 fails on Tom Cruise’s resume as an actor. They are listed from No. 5 to No. 1.


poster_valkyrieNo. 5 – Valkyrie (2008)

I’m not sure with whom to blame blame for this movie; director Bryan Singer? (X-Men, The Usual Suspect). But regardless, Tom Cruise carries the film as Col Claus con Stauffenberg who help implement a plot to assassinate and overthrow Adolf Hitler during the height of Nazi Germany. The film includes an all star cast and to be honest the story itself is great.

The production however was terrible. Every character was supposed to be German but the majority of the cast had their natural British accents in tow and Cruise had no attempt to conceal his American dialect. I don’t think anyone in the cast sounded remotely German, so this very engaging historical story was ruined by a total lack of authenticity.

As for Cruise, I simply didn’t think he was able to pull off a character who was a disabled war veteran. Again, the authenticity just wasn’t there from his performance, his choice or those of the actors around him. Like I said, can’t exactly blame Cruise for the level of blah this movie brought since its problems were across the board and not just with Cruise’s role or performance.

poster_collateralNo. 4 – Collateral (2004)

What was with Tom Cruise’s grey hair in this film? Cruise’s makeup job in this picture appears to try and represent him as an older gentlemen, but Cruise’s physical and vocal characterization of Vincent is still younger and athletic than his look. My assessment is, Vincent, as a professional hit man, has died his hair this way so if any witnesses attempt to identify him, cops will be searching for an older man and not someone who looks like he would normally. However, there’s no text in the movie to support that, so Cruise’s look is consistently unusual, almost distracting.

The movie itself again wasn’t terrible. It got very cluttered in the second act with misguided sequences and lengthy random shots from director Michael Mann (Heat, Ali) showing the “driving” between Vincent (Cruise) and Max (Jamie Foxx). These shots were lacking reason and I thought it dragged the movie on. Act Three fell victim to a few cinematic conventions, which was disappointing after such a lengthy build up.

My biggest problem with the movie is its title. I just don’t see how the word “collateral” has anything to do with the story. I don’t see the relevance. Oh well. Click here to read my full review of Collateral.

poster_lionsforlambsNo. 3 – Lions for Lambs (2007)

My last three selections for worst movies involving Tom Cruise each have a high w.t.f. factor. The worst thing about this movie is its muddled messages. Is it pro-war? Is it pro-activism? Is it pro-education? Is it anti-military? I really can’t decipher the damn thing. As for Tom Cruise’s part as a young senator named Jasper Irving who works a media connection, a reporter played by Meryl Streep (Into the Woods), to announce a new military action, win favor with the press and gain public popularity.

Eventually, we find Cruise’s character to be this Paul Ryan-type young republican who is just desperate to “take the big toys down off the shelf” as reporter Janine Roth (Streep) puts it. If this is a little unclear of its meaning, she means these young republicans are too eager to nuke an adversary and start World War III just to compare dick size.

At every turn, this movie was convoluted at every corner. The influence of Professor Malley, played by Robert Redford (Sneakers), over his apathetic student played by Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spiderman). The political influence of congressman Irving over Roth, and more so her editor’s motivations. The ideologies of Malley’s two students who join the military to prove a point and get injured during a covert military action against terrorism. There are so many storylines which are supposed to intersect, but ultimately they don’t. Not directly. So the whole thing is confusing and pointless.

And Cruise’s presence doesn’t help this stinker one bit.

poster_vanillaskyNo. 2 – Vanilla Sky (2001)

What. Was. That? If there is an award for most confusing and clouded storyline by an established and talented filmmaker, it’s Vanilla Sky. Let’s start with the poster, shall we? It’s Tom Cruise’s fat head on a one sheet looking like he just woke up and unclear what’s going on. That;s pretty much how I looked after trying to watch this movie.

This was director Cameron Crowe’s (Jerry MaGuire, Almost Famous) worst movie ever. Two hours and 16 minutes just to watch Cameron Diaz (In Her Shoes) get upset Cruise blew a load in her mouth and then tried to dump her. What? “You came in my mouth. I mean, that means something!”-actual line from Diaz in the movie. What?!

Basically, if I understand it correctly, is Cruise plays this influential publisher who lives in privilege until he is in this car accident with this jilted lover (Diaz). Then his life, which we never really gave a crap about in the first place gets thrown around like a rag doll. So what. Who care? Talked about being emotionally disconnected from the material, Vanilla Sky is the perfect example of poo on a stick.

poster_eyeswideshutNo. 1 – Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Oh boy. Here we go. Time for every guy who saw this movie to chastise me for saying this. Eyes Wide Shut sucked so bad, it literally makes me want to cry. Is it Tom Cruise’s fault…surprisingly, no. It was the last fully completed project from director Stanley Kubrick (Full Metal Jacket, The Shining), of whom’s work I completely despise.

Why does it make me want to cry? Because the one film which shows Nicole Kidman completely naked multiple times I SOOOOOO wish was actually a movie worth watching. However, just like all of Kubrick non-sense productions, it is slow and senseless.

Again, let me see if I have this straight. Cruise plays this doctor who finds out his wife cheated on him. So pissed off at her and looking for payback, I think (wasn’t really made clear), goes on this nightlong sexcapade where he never actually has sex, but does run neck deep into this secret society of swingers that scares the crap out of you with the hollow piano score. It was painfully slow. It was painfully misdirected in story. In fact, there was no story. It was Tom Cruise. Walking around New York City finding himself in awkward situations which had something remotely to do with sex.

In the end, we realize the movie could have been wrapped up in 30 minutes to share its final message of “Don’t cheat on each other.” Kubrick, and naked Kidman in a shitty movie and having the watch a confused Cruise try to make sense of the story…and possibly a reason why he even agreed to be in the picture. This is in my opinion the worst Tom Cruise starred movie on his resume. Click here to read my full review of Eyes Wide Shut.

To be fair, I will briefly share some the films I feel were Tom Cruise’s best, but unfortunately their greatness are attributed to other talents involved in the production. They are listed in no particular order.


Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

This picture won Oliver Stone his second Academy Award for directing and rightfully so. This was also one of the best films I’ve see Tom Cruise do. If fact, no matter how many times I’ve seen it, Cruise melts away and I am watching the real Ron Kovic. It’s masterful in performance and production. This was also nominated for Best Picture that year.

Jerry MaGuire (1996)

Although a Cameron Crowe-directed movie appears on my worst list, this one would be on my best list. It’s one of the best films for Crowe and for Cruise. Maybe even one of the best films of that decade. This was also nominated for Best Picture from the Academy Awards that year. Click here to read my full review of Jerry MaGuire.

Minority Report (2002)

Let’s credit Steven Spielberg for this. It’s simply awesome and I am NOT a fan of science fiction, but the mystery involved in this film and the concept of a cop’s name coming up in their future criminal’s system was interesting. It was exciting and perfectly told…again, to Spielberg. Thank you Tommy boy for not screwing it up with your presence.

The Color of Money (1986)

Cruise was a supporting role in this. Paul Newman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) was the true star, of which his performance won him the Academy Award that year. It is also one of the best films directed by Martin Scorsese (The Departed, Goodfellas). The cockiness of Cruise’s character fit perfectly with the coolness of Newman. This was maybe the first evidence of Tom Cruise being able to hold his own with heavy-hitting actors like Newman. This was another hopeful for Best Picture that particular year. Click here to read my full review of The Color of Money.

Far and Away (1992)

It’s Irish and it’s Ron Howard (Apollo 13, The Davinci Code) directing a story from his own family history. THAT is why this movie is so good…oh and it has Nicole Kidman to look at. The movie itself is pop-Irish at best, but given it’s based on the romantic story of Howard’s great grandparents meeting and coming to America together and reunite at the Great Oklahoma Land Race makes the movie far more interesting than otherwise. Click here to read my full review of Far and Away.

A Few Good Men (1992)

Let’s blame Aaron Sorkin’s writing on this great film, based on his stageplay, as well as the direction from Rob Reiner. However, This was maybe the best movie Tom Cruise ever put his name on. It is a great mystery. It is a great courtroom drama. It’s a great story of growth for Cruise’s character, and with Demi Moore standing next to him, he isn’t the worst thing in the movie. PLUS, it has Jack Nicholson in a very badass role which also gained him a supporting actor Academy Award that year. The movie itself was nominated Best Picture.


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What exactly is a “character performance?” This is when an actor dawns an almost caricature-like persona in effort to play a breakout character which the audience would remember most from its cast.

A character performance can also be given an actor who plays a true-life character with specific attributes resembling their real-life inspiration and completely unlike him or herself.

For example: Think of U.S. President roles. You have Michael Douglas as Andrew Shepherd in The American President (1995). Nothing outlandish about that performance. Played a president as you would expect a U.S. President to be “behind the scenes.” This is not what one would consider a character performance.

Now remember Anthony Hopkins in Nixon (1995). Hopkins took such care to become the former U.S. President Richard Nixon including all his physical and vocal attributes, the Academy Award winner (Silence of the Lambs) achieved a persona so unlike and outlandish to his British stately self, one could call this a character performance. By the way, Hopkins earned an Academy Award nomination that year for that performance, so obviously it was a memorable role for him.

So now that you should have a grasp on what constitutes a character performance, let’s take a look at what some of which are my favorites. Looking through my list of possible favorites, some of the performances to make my favorites list kind of made me jealous. I look at them, even though I am not a professional actor, and think to myself I’ll never be able to turn out a performance that good without years of training and experience. These performances are far past what I could ever do for a role.

I also think some of these character performances are based on a stereotype. In fact, I think one of them even took on critical attacks for feeding a stereotype of a “screaming queen” demographic, but in essence he resemble some friends I had during my years in theatre. So I don’t feel he was a stereotype at all, but rather what I said before; a caricature of that type of persona.

So below is my Top 5 favorite character performances from movies I’ve actually seen, counting down from five to one. I think it’s amusing most of my Top 5 favorites in this category came out of movies from the ’70s. I also invite you to tell me what you think are YOUR favorite character performances in movies. If I haven’t seen one of YOUR favorites, maybe I will have to check it out. For now, here are mine.

Submitted for your approval:


Blazing Saddles, Madeline Kahn, 1974. (photo courtesy of Warner Brothers)

No. 5 – Madeline Kahn as Lili Von Shtupp in Blazing Saddles (1974) 

Her speech impediment and her musical number are all I think of when I remember this infamous Mel Brooks (The Producers) movie, co-written by the late Richard Pryor (Harlem Nights). It’s this performance which makes me sad to think she is no longer with us. This role also earned Kahn an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

My favorite scene of the movie was actually cut from the original theatrical version. It was the last lines of dialogue during the scene where she seduces the new Black sheriff. Lili makes like she is going down on Bart, the sheriff played by Cleavon Little. She makes a statement about wanting to know if “what they say about black men” is true, (I’ll assume you get what she’s refering to). After this, the lights go out, we here some noises and Lili says, “It’s TWUE, It’s TWUE.” To which Bart answers, “Lady, you’re sucking on my arm.” This was actually the only scene of the movie cut by Brooks from the final print for being too offensive. And of course Pryor was person who wrote that exchange.


ED WOOD, Johnny Depp, 1994, ©Buena Vista Pictures

No. 4 – Johnny Depp as Ed Wood in Ed Wood (1994)

Here is a perfect example of playing a true-life character with an outlandish persona for an amazing character performance. I think the relationship between Depp and director Tim Burton reached a pinnacle with this movie. Ed’s inane grin and bright vocal performance, along with a solid supporting cast, make this one of both Depp’s and Burton’s finest films.

As for Depp’s efforts, his quirky Ed Wood persona made the character loveable and charming despite being a total moron half the time. This film earned two Academy Award nominations and won them both. Unfortunately, Depp’s performance wasn’t one of them. Being his most memorable performance, I was saddened to see he got no Oscar love, but this role will have all the love from me for decades to come.


What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, Leonardo DiCaprio, 1995. (photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

No. 3 – Leonardo DiCaprio as Arnie in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993)

Believe it or not, there was a time in Leo’s career when I could not stand anything he did. His every performance resembled the one previous and they all completely annoyed the living crap out of me. That is until this little known slice-of-life picture came along. Not only is this one about the only Lasse Halstrom directed movie I can stomach, this was the first role from Leo which allowed him to shed his pre-teen magazine cover-dawning image of the early ’90s and show movie fans he actually had acting chops.

Until Grape?, Leonardo only took roles in his wheelhouse. This was a breakout for him, and he earned my respect with it. What better role for DiCaprio to break the chains of typecasting than by playing a snot-drizzling mentally challenged teenager? None. It was simply a great risky role for a young actor which garnished him an Academy Award nomination as well.


One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Brad Doriff, 1975. (photo courtesy of United Artists/Warner Brothers) 

No. 2 – Brad Doriff as Billy Billit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Billy Bibbit is an unusual character to begin with. He’s soft spoken and generally quiet and doesn’t become a key character until the latter third of the film. Although he’s internally complicated and easily manipulated, his external motivation is simple; he just wants to find love. That’s it. Doriff, who never really reached super celebrity status, adopted the reserved nature of this character and the Bibbit’s studder noted in the novel which inspired the film. Doriff’s Bibbit was developed with the innocence the character truly needed.

When Act III rolls around, Doriff is sent off in memorable fashion, which also nabbed him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The film was only the second in Oscars history to win the “big five” awards, including writing, directing, actor, actress and Best Picture.


Hoffa, Jack Nicholson, 1992. (photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox films)

No. 1 – Jack Nicholson as Jimmy Hoffa in Hoffa (1992)

I think when Jack Nicholson is an elderly man, long retired from acting and the Academy gives him a lifetime achievement award, I think he will look back on his career and say Hoffa was the role of his lifetime. The film met with mild success and mediocre to bad reviews from the critics, but Nicholson’s performance was above and beyond what Jimmy Hoffa could have done playing himself.

Having adopted an accent for the role, which he haven’t seen Nicholson do a lot of roles, his mannerisms, his posture–aided by a prosthetic nose to help him resemble the notorious President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters–all screamed of a memorable character Nicholson himself was probably surprised he was able to pull off. Since the film itself was labeled such a stinker, no Academy love came Nicholson’s way but that doesn’t mean the performing wasn’t more than deserving it at least an Oscars nomination.

Of course, with hundreds of performances in existence which fit the “character” description, it was difficult for me to actually whittle down my favorites to just five. So below are my five honorable mentions who were barely outside the final cut. Presented in no particular order:

Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008)

Between this and Brokeback Mountain, Heath Ledger proved himself a legitimate actor with a ton of talent and ability to give himself over to a character completely unlike himself. The Joker was so far beyond my expectations and reservations for him in this roll. He was a true delight and I’m saddened every time I watch this performance to know with Ledger’s passing we would not be seeing what performances he would produce in the latter half of his life. He also won an Academy Award for this roll, award after his passing.

Anthony Daniels as C3PO in Star Wars (1977)

Voice and physical choices could make or break this droid character introduced in the original Star Wars. Anthony Daniels gave himself to this stately ambassador droid helping make the character an icon among fanboys and Star Wars a staple of pop-culture.

Della Reese as Vera in Harlem Nights (1989)

It’s hard to call this a character performance, but it’s on the cusp. The only reason it’s memorable to me is because it’s so beyond Della Reese’s personality. Never-the-less, Vera helps make Harlem Nights enjoyable despite a record setting amount of f-bomb’s and other vernacular which some would consider offensive. She, however, makes it work and is hilarious, while others in the film make it feel contrived.

Nathan Lane as Albert in The Birdcage (1996)

This is the one performance I mentioned above which drew fire from the queen community about it being an unfair stereotype. When the truth is, Lane was spot on with his presentation of Albert, at least when compared to some of the screaming queens with which I was friends during my years in theatre. Regardless, offensive or not, when you mention The Birdcage to anyone who has seen it, they immediately think of the memorable character performance left on the table by a modern master of cinematic and theatrical comedy.

Tommy Lee Jones as Clay Shaw in JFK (1991)

Here’s another one that is marginally not a character performance by standard criteria, but because it is so outside what we know Tommy Lee Jones to be as himself, it qualifies. Also landing him his first Academy Award nomination, Jones had a very strong grasp on this character even though the character only had one real scene with dialogue. Between the cane-required limp and a subtle flamboyancy from the character’s sexual orientation, this true-life suspect for conspiring to murder U.S. President John F. Kennedy (found not guilty) came to life in what may be a the most memorable trick in Tommy Lee Jones’ acting bag.

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We all have them when it comes to movies; guilty pleasures. Those films which we know are terrible and can’t defend their cinematic merit, since they usually have none, but for some reason we absolutely adore them.

I’ve had guilty pleasure movies since I was a child. We used to go to the cinemas as a family–Dad, Mom, my brother Brian and myself–and we’d see a piss poor film, and as the end credits scrolled up the screen my mother would tell us, “Okay, kids, pick out someone in the credits to beat up for how bad this movie is.” I remember one of the movies we saw, one of which she made that statement, I actually would consider one of my Top 5 favorite guilty pleasures of all time.

So here is the list of what I feel are my Top 5 favorite guilty pleasures. They are listed from No. 5 to No. 1 and it so happens my lower ranked movies have older release dates. Probably because my level of “guilty” changed as I got older.

I also invite you to comment on what you feel would be YOUR Top 5 favorite guilty pleasures. Sometimes it’s fun and cathartic just to say them out loud.

Subjected for your approval:

poster_remowilliamsNo. 5 – Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985)

Directed by Guy Hamilton

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this movie; however, how can you make a decent movie where Broadway star and Academy Award winner Joel Grey plan a Korean martial arts master?

How can you pull  an audience into you story when you’re asking them to believe Fred Ward (Tremors, Road Trip) as Williams can learn to dodge bullets in only six months of training?

This movie has the intellect of a toe nail clipping, but I absolutely adore the movie and have since I was a kid pretending to be Remo Williams in the backyard of our family home in rural Rhode Island. That is of course when I wasn’t off pretending to be Superman, Indian Jones or Han Solo.

poster_dreamlittledreamNo. 4 – Dream a Little Dream (1989)

Directed by Marc Rocco

This movie is a train wreck of 1980’s sounds and costuming, which destroyed what little career Corey Feldman and Corey Haim (both from Lost Boys) had coming out of the late decade. At one point of this movie, Feldman has a dance sequence where he shows the influence of his friendship with the late Michael Jackson.

This picture is so unbelievable and stupid., it’s difficult to believe it came from the same director as Murder In the First. However, a now non-working Meredith Salenger has the female lead. I had a huge crush on her when I was a teen, and so this movie sucked me in somehow.

It’s total late ’80s crap, but for some reason, I love it. I once even bought a copy brand new but pawned it before it came out of the shrink wrap. Now I can just find it on Hulu’s free service and that’s good enough for me.

poster_nightbreedNo. 3 – Nightbreed (1990)

Directed by Clive Barker

This was Clive Barker’s second attempt at directing one of his own stories-turned-screenplays. The production design of a mythical cemetery was built in a studio and everything could not look more fake. The sound was horrible making me think every line of dialogue fell victim  to ADR, and the writing itself falls apart in the third act AND in character motivation.

For some reason, however, I enjoy the many creature characters, following min character Boone as he discovers how he fits into the Nightbreed’s prophecy–which Barker fucked up in the end anyway–and I absolutely love the main villain Buttonface, played by director David Cronenberg. He creeps me out and I love it. Since this movie sucks so bad, and I love it so much, this is definitely on of my top guilty pleasures.

poster_showgirlsNo. 2 – Showgirls (1995)

Directed by Paul Verhoven

Would you believe when I saw this movie in the theaters I actually got choked up at one point. This picture is the queen of self-indulgent cinema, as if Verhoven said “Let’s make a way too long movie with as many tits in it as possible AND we can try to get that tall girl from Saved By the Bell to not only get naked but shave and show her public region bald.”

Then they create a crappy story around all THAT. However, being a huge fan of Saved By the Bell, I enjoyed seeing Elizabeth Berkley commit career suicide and at one point was almost brought to tears. This movie truly defines a guilty pleasure for me since as bad as it is, I could watch it a hundred times over. What the hell is wrong with me?

poster_spiceworldNo. 1 – Spiceworld (1997)

Directed by Bob Spiers

This movie needs no explanation why it’s so bad. This is royalty among bad movies, and director Bob Spiers seemed to know having the Spice Girls as the central characters and cast in the movie playing themselves, he literally could do ANYTHING with the story and have a hit on his hand…at least in 1997.

The pictured was doomed to suck since it was first pitched to the money men. I became a fan of the Spice Girls’ bubble gum pop music and eventually became a fan of this complete bubble gum movie. The oddity of this picture is, however, it’s actually pretty funny in spots. The plot is terrible, but the comedy writing aspect of it isn’t a complete fail.

I know the picture is worthless, but for some reason, whether it’s the adorable girls with British accents, the music or the plethora of cameos from the United Kingdom’s classically trained top actors, including Roger Moore, Richard Briers, Alan Cumming, Jason Flemyng, Stephen Fry, Bob Hoskins, Richard Grant, Hugh Laurie, Mark McKinney–who is actually Canadian, Meat Loaf, Richard O’Brien, Jennifer Saunders, Dominic West, George Wendt (American) and others.

Of course, these five guilty pleasures can’t be the only favorites in a sea of hundreds of terrible films which for some phenomenal reason I immensely enjoy. So outside my favorite five, here are a handful of honorable mentions to this unique genre in no particular order:

Not Another Teen Movie (2001)

The story, writing and performances are terrible, but for some reason I laughed. What’s more, if you enjoy random and unnecessary nudity, this film is also for you.

The Perfect Storm (2000)

The main reason why this one sucks so bad is I hate movies which label themselves “Based on actual events” or “Based on a true story” and its principal characters die in a manner which NO ONE would be able to tell their story. How exactly do we know what they went through prior to their unfortunate demise without anyone left alive to tell the tale. That’s what what is wrong with this picture. That and the fact George Clooney was the only actor without a New England accent and he stuck out like a sore thumb.

Pearl Harbor (2001)

This one would have been so much better if it went without the three-way romance and romantic conflicts and was just about the people caught in the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It also would have been about 1.5 hours shorter. However, from end to end, I enjoy it while many others have been hyper critical of it.

Jeffrey (1995)

Compared to the stageplay from which this was adapted, this movie sucks so bad. However, there are so many little scenes from the play which DID translate to film well and it makes me giggle every time I see it. Also, it’s a movie about living in a culture with AIDS. This was the only movie I’ve ever seen that was about having AIDS and living, rather than having AIDS and dying. That impressed me, so I have some respect for what it went for. I laughed in spots and despite it sucking on the whole, It’s a guilty pleasure for me.

I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988)

This is I believe Keenan Ivory Wayans (Scary Movie) first directed film in which he also starred. I believe it was an attempt to spoof Shaft, but didn’t quite hit the nail on the head. However, there are a ton of little comedy bits which I thought were hilarious, especially the scene where Chris Rock has only pocket change and tries to buy a meal and drink in a fast BBQ joint. It’s terrible but I’ll stop to watch it every time I see it come on TV.



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