MY AWESOME MIX TAPE #6
"How can you possibly be nostalgic about a concept like 'a little while ago'?"
- George Carlin
20 years. Doesn't seem that long, does it? Though, understandably, the older you get, a coupla decades is a blink of the eyes. Added to that, it also depends on where you're standing; at 36 years of age, 20 years ago isn't as supercharged as if I were 26.
1999 may've just been the 1990s with higher contrast and maximum color saturation, but stuff like Britney Spears, Geico commercials, and new Star Wars movies don't exactly place me in a nostalgicoma of reminiscent bliss. In fact, when you hold it up next to any 20 year period from the last century, you'll see drastic changes in politics, science, and technology between then & now - but not so much in cultural avenues like fashion, cars, architecture, and especially entertainment. For a moment, compare 1950 to 1970... Or how about 1960 and 1980... They're like different planets, aren't they? But that's a stubborn argument for another time; besides, 1999 has enough of a mouthfeel that it certainly stands out a bit - at least in my own mind. I was in high school, which is a section of life when you're not entirely informed, but you're the most aware. For me, the air smelled of playful violence and abrasive cheapness. One thing that's always been consistent is that media and the culture have always had their sites on the youth, and I was a youth, and despite my own secret little interests and obsessions, the decibel level of everything else was too loud to concentrate. When you're older (or younger, even) you can design & maintain your own bubble, but it's a bitch when you're 16.
So, what was hip? You remember: The Matrix and The Mummy, "No Scrubs" and "Nookie," SpongeBob and Sopranos, mp3s and Y2K... It all seems like a parody of now, doesn't it? But in the Rap-Rock dumpster fire of pre-9/11 pop culture, there were a few things that were weird enough, silly enough, crazy enough, and/or interesting enough to penetrate my unique brand of teenage angst and elitist outlook: Eminem, multiple multiplex visits, and even Ms. Spears were a few of the freak flags that flew over my fortress of solitude - maybe I had the foresight to anticipate which subjects would have the longevity to hold my interest well into my adulthood. Or, I'm incapable of growth.
Speaking of! Back in 2010, I wrote a brief, crabby temper-tantrum about how Entertainment Weekly's declaration that 1999 was "The Year That Changed Movies" was, in fact, not. Though, looking back over the past 20 years, maybe it did -- just not in the way they'd predicted & I'd hoped for. But, once again, that's a stubborn argument for another time. So let us not make any sweeping statements about the lasting impact (or lack thereof) on the new millennium, and just all agree that '99 was a crazyass bananas year for the film & video medium.
Gaining distance from it now, what I take most from it is the unusually high volume of all-time favorite flicks, followed by a shitload of almost-as-good stuff. (Regretfully back-peddling a minute, these statistics immediately took a nosedive the following year and never recovered.) All my favorite directors released something, and people I'd never thought much of - or never heard of - were suddenly doing interesting things. New, competent actors were emerging. A new Star Wars movie had let me down. A horror movie actually scared me. Spacey had gone mainstream. Hanks was overshadowed by an ensemble cast -- as was Tom Cruise. Only one movie was noted for its special effects, while all the others were making waves with satire, human emotion, social commentary, innovative storytelling techniques, and other old-fashioned things like writing, editing, cinematography, and directing. Clearly we weren't done with the established hallmarks of traditional, narrative moviemaking, and while '99 could've marked a shift in originality, it instead was a curtain call for a century of film that would promptly lap itself in the other direction. And while none of these movies really stepped outside the parameters of just plain old mainstream fare (which is the evolution I'm still waiting for), there was a palpable effort toward quality and innovation - whether they worked or not, the passion for risk was as prevalent as it was in 1970s Cinema.
And that's my final answer.
Still as young and pretty as the day I married her.
This was the direction I wanted to see filmmaking take - which will always be an inarticulate sentiment, though I tried my best to weight it down with my sorta review some years back. And what that confession boiled down to was that I'd never committed to one singular favorite movie, until I did, and still do.
Over the past two decades, I've proudly allowed my choice to define me or 'label' me in the eyes of others - much in the way one's choice of wardrobe or religious or political views will influence the perception of their peers. And I bring this up because there's always been an unspoken, sorta wonderful prejudice when it come to other people's favorite films - especially when they're passionate - and for movie folks like you & I, it's the most legitimate and satisfying instance that we're allowed to sit back and quietly judge you.
2. The Insider
I ingested several doses of this drug before I started to feel the effects. Initially, I was coming at it from the wrong angle: its dense plot full of whistleblowing, gag orders, and tortious interference wasn't exactly rife with thrills, but something had me coming back again & again. Jess once described it as "not really a movie," and she was exactly right; the 'mood' of this thing is the movie - the high contrast cinematography and the spooky New Age/Techno soundtrack swirl around like smoky oils that give this otherwise dry drama some of the heaviest handmade texture I've seen in any movie ever.
Put it in your mouth, light it up, and you're gonna get your fix.
3. The Blair Witch Project
As usual, it's tough to talk about a movie that's been so talked-about (and so firmly divisive). And let's face it - we're never gonna retrace our steps all the way back to the car...
The series of events depicted are as unsettlingly unpredictable as the camera moves and edits that drive it, and the soundtrack consisting solely of the cold, crunchy woods and screams of terror in the darkness make a pretty strong case as the most causticly creepy campfire tale ever told.
4. The Limey
I'm a fan of simplicity, and I think this was the movie that helped me discover that. The story is so Plain-Jane and straightforward that it's like a blank canvas - allowing all kindsa colorful directing and acting and, most confrontationally, some innovative editing that - like it or not - you won't soon forget.
5. Eyes Wide Shut
I went to the theater three times during its run - with the knowledge that this was the last new Kubrick picture we were gonna get on the big screen. I can't say I didn't thoroughly enjoy the movie, but even at the height of my Kubrickian fandom, I was still ignorant to the simple fact that there were subtexts and subtleties and shots and riddles and pacing choices that I simply was unable to absorb in my initial hysteria. Like all his stuff, it was too big to wrap my arms around in just three measly viewings, and after two decades and countless more engagements, it cuts deep in all the vital areas while still hitting all those ambiguously beautiful notes. Also, a color-saturated cinematography guaranteed to melt your face off every time.
Alright, this is complicated. In '99, Brian Helgeland released Payback, which is a super solid pulp noir/kinda Comedy Thriller that largely satisfies, despite its tones of slapstick and a horrible, distracting blue filter applied in post that makes it look like it was made... now.
Then, in 2007, they released Payback Straight Up: The Director's Cut on DVD: the dramatically restructured original version with much much darker subject matter (and no blue), which ultimately elevates the movie high on the list of best hardboiled revenge flicks of all time. And since it was the original, intended cut, I'm counting it as one of the best of the year (more than the blue one).
7. Office Space
A lot of abrasive, sometimes obnoxious comedies came out this year, but there were a few on the subtle side. The cerebral side. The dry side. I don't know how many of these categories Office Space falls under, but its combination of 'low-key' and 'big laughs' is a style that resonates with me, mmmkay? And looking back on it now, it really was American Beauty without the flimsy dialogue or melodrama; exploring the same themes of monotony, freedom, and growth and regression as counterparts. And, how it does, indeed, feel good to be a gangsta.
8. Bringing Out the Dead
Either it was Marty's moodiest piece of work he'd done, or it happened to coincide beautifully with my own mood at the time.
The pace & editing felt less dynamic and/or inspired than Casino or Kundun, and John Goodman and Patricia Arquette turn in uncharacteristically lame performances - but again, I was in a mood.
Still though, between this, Cape Fear, and eventually Shutter Island, they guy's fully capable of committing to a straightforward Horror picture were he so inclined. (Though I feel like that probability has passed us by. Or, I could just be in a mood.)
9. The Sixth Sense
There are two things I take from this movie: one is that it really does feel like the Children's Horror cinema I grew up with (Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Lady in White, even The Good Son kinda), which is a weird, intangible atmosphere to grasp, let alone depict in an original story. Secondly - and I've been saying it since Muriel - is that Toni Collette fuckin' rocks, and her peers need to start congratulating her with various statues. The twist was its own moment, but the scene in the car between her & Haley Joel was a strong enough ending for this or any other picture.
10. Galaxy Quest
Count this one as a pleasant surprise (though I think the poor marketing had everyone misled).
Three Amigos in space is a good premise (though a pretty easy one), but the parody portion is spread so far & wide that no rock is left unturned: spaceship functions with no purpose, science vernacular with no substance, and the depth and intensity of nerd fanaticism is all played not just for laughs, but as a cohesive and compelling story.
It's a crazy cast, but the idea of Sigourney fighting aliens in outer space is a solid gag that the movie maturely never calls out.
11. Being John Malkovich
This should've been the wakeup call for original screenplays in the coming years. And in many cases, it was: though most of the ripoffs it inspired usually failed in balancing the formula of weird and quirky (they were usually too much of one and not enough the other). Even this movie wobbles a bit in the third act as it tries to maintain its abstract composure. Even so, it still Malkovich to be the Malkovich Malkovich that had yet to Malkovich.
12. The Green Mile
Preachy. Vulgar. Manipulative. Overwrought. Without these characteristics, it's would've been a pretty ho-hum piece of puff, but instead it's the Scifi Shawshank mashup we didn't know we needed till it set our heads ablaze. Weirder, punk rock Stephen King never gets this much exposure or prestige (those're left to the made-for-TV folks), but if this is the result of big studio doings, there needs to be more of it.
13. The Straight Story
This wasn't an entirely new shade of Lynch, but this is two coats of broad strokes of his fascination with his Middle American roots. There's still plenty of smoke and flames and electricity and astronomy and dead animals to keep us oriented, but its core value is that the guy always knew and still knows how to tell a 'straight story' without any abstractions or dark subject matter.
14. The Iron Giant
It's not a Disney/Warner Bros. coproduction, but it sure-as-shit could be - and that's a great thing. A nostalgic ambience permeates this entire thing (as was shamelessly intended), and the effects are both comforting and engrossing -- and both of those sentiments are put to the test with a climax that separates the men from the boys.
Very few movies capture the true flavor of high school - and Election is not one of those few. But, that's what makes it what it is: its hyperrealism steps so far over the line that this supposed Teen Comedy (full of teens and comedy) is so absurd and existentially painful that you can't actually define it.
On second thought, maybe it is like high school.
16. The Talented Mr. Ripley
The Paranoid Thriller genre had started to dry up by the end of the decade -- which made this jazzy approach to the formula so stimulating. Though its greatest accomplishment is that it's told through the eyes of a disturbed character, and so, logically, the story itself is often convoluted and disorienting - and very few movies support character development in such a challenging, ballsy way.
17. Fight Club
I don't care how closely it follows the book: the final act of this movie is pretty tedious and unmemorable. In fact, the middle sags pretty low to the ground as well. But it is on this list, because, even to this day, the first 30 minutes is some of the most fun I've ever had at the movies. And while I don't think it would have been wise to keep that pace for an entire feature, I'd just wished it'd gone in any other direction than the one it took.
18. Three Kings
A little less Platoon and a little more Catch-22 is an equation I'm usually down for - and disregarding all strengths and weaknesses, that's a fair observation of this decidedly cute war picture.
Despite its Desert Storm setting, this is the most "1999" movie on this list - it's shot & cut like a Sugar Ray video - but it's most notable to me as the first time I started to notice Clooney and Wahlberg as not just solid thespians, but also clearly interested in doing only cool and/or important stuff. (This assessment would eventually prove to be only sorta true.)
19. Felicia's Journey
So rarely has "journey" been such a prolific forewarning. The biggest bite this movie has is that however it was sold to us couldn't possibly scratch the surface of the path it takes; it picks us up & then drops us off somewhere with no hope of ever finding our way back.
& that's all I wanna disclose.
The movie's not that great. Actually, it's kinda lame. Which is a shame, because the list of great Phil Hoffman performances is so extensive that it's hard to pick favorites. But I gotta say, if someone ever needed proof of his talents, I think this is the movie I'd show 'em.
We're Bennett Media. We cover the world.
Not really. But there is much to discuss, and while we'd so like to dedicate 1,500 words to every single obsession that soils our britches, there's simply not always enough road to get up to 88. So, in an all-out cleansing of cobwebs and strange, we've compiled some kinda list or quiz as a way to cover some more sacred ground without moving the bodies or the headstones.
We've kept it pretty accessible, and we encourage anyone & everyone to join in: feel free to copy & paste the topics into your various social medias, accompanied by your own answers (or steal ours - fuck it, it's the internet) and link it or tag friends or hashtag it or whatever vanilla bullshit gets more people involved is all the more fun.
And fun is the best thing to have.
Post-ALIEN Ridley Scott
Paul: American Gangster
Jess: Blade Runner
Dance hit of the 90s
Paul: "All Around the World," Lisa Stansfield
Jess: "The Sign," Ace of Base
Ben & Jerry Flavor
Paul: Chunky Monkey
Jess: Salted Carmel Core
Paul: The Invisible Man
90s John Carpenter
Paul: Memoirs of an Invisible Man
Jess: In the Mouth of Madness
Which Street Fighter II warrior do you play as?
Paul: E. Honda
Movie from the year you were born
Paul: The Right Stuff
Jess: Terms of Endearment
80s Elton John
Paul: "I'm Still Standing"
Jess: "Sad Songs Say So Much"
Paul: Sporty Spice
Jess: Posh Spice
David Bowie movie role:
Paul: The Last Temptation of Christ
Jess: The Man Who Fell to Earth
90s Geena Davis
Paul: A League of Their Own
Jess: A League of Their Own
Movie you're afraid to watch again
Paul: Bone Tomahawk
Clarissa Explains It All or Blossom
Paul: Clarissa Explains It All
Jess: Clarissa Explains It All
Clarissa Darling or Blossom Russo
Paul: Blossom Russo
Jess: Clarissa Darling
Wings or Plastic Ono Band
Halloween candy or Christmas music
Paul: Christmas music
Jess: Halloween candy
Demons or Night of the Demons
60s Garage or 80s New Wave
Paul: 80s New Wave
Jess: 80s New Wave
Freeze Pops or Hoodsie Cups
Paul: Freeze Pops
Jess: Hoodsie Cups
Are You Afraid of the Dark? or Goosebumps
Paul: Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Jess: Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Imperial Stormtroopers or The Foot Clan
Paul: The Foot Clan
Jess: Imperial Stormtroopers
Rupert Pupkin or Annie Wilkes
Paul: Rupert Pupkin
Jess: Annie Wilkes
Halloween II (1981) or Halloween II (2009)
Extra cheese or extra bacon
Paul: Extra cheese
Jess: Extra cheese
Debbie Harry or Pat Benatar
Paul: Pat Benatar
Jess: Debbie Harry
The Master or Phantom Thread
Paul: Phantom Thread
Jess: The Master
Toto or Kansas
Luico Fulci or Dario Argento
Sex, drugs, or rock 'n' roll
Cool Ranch or Nacho Cheese
Paul: Nacho Cheese
Jess: Nacho Cheese
Gremlins 2: The New Batch or Aliens
Paul: Gremlins 2: The New Batch
The Goonies or The Monster Squad
Paul: The Monster Squad
Jess: The Monster Squad
Songs by The Rolling Stones
"Under My Thumb"
"Let It Loose"
"I Am Waiting"
"Play With Fire"
Dan Hedaya roles
The Addams Family
The Addams Family
Edward Scissorhands - Danny Elfman
Glory - James Horner
Bram Stoker's Dracula - Wojciech Kilar
Edward Scissorhands - Danny Elfman
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial - John Williams
Beetlejuice - Danny Elfman
Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson
The Road, Cormac McCarthy
Little Children, Tom Perrotta
Girlfriend in a Coma, Douglas Coupland
TV theme songs
The Dick Van Dyke Show
True Detective, season one
Mad About You
The Adventures of Pete & Pete
The Simpsons supporting characters
C. Montgomery Burns
Directed by Woody Allen
Love and Death
Hannah and Her Sisters
The Purple Rose of Cairo
Mystery Science Theater 3000 experiments
Riding With Death
The Final Sacrifice
It was my first Red Sox game at Fenway Park, and it was bigger and brighter and greener (and colder) than it'd ever been at home on TV38. We'd arrived irrationally early (as we did for any scheduled attendance) - early enough to sneak down to the front to watch warm-ups. And as cool as it was to see folks like Oil Can Boyd and Wade Boggs come to life, I was mostly taken with the crisp, white uniforms and the bright red numbers - particularly #20 -- again, not because of the ballplayer wearing it, but the number itself. It'd already been a favorite number of mine: I liked the curve of the numerals and the way they looked next to each other. And a $20 bill was like the largest denomination to a 5-year-old, so it had a wholeness to it. But to see it contrasted against that glowing uniform gave it a nearly psychedelic dimension.
And it was the first of several coincidences that my attention was fixed in that direction, and shortly before the game was about to begin, #20 strolled over to me, and placed the practice ball in my open hand before jogging back to the dugout. It was the most American, Norman Rockwell-type thing I'd ever experienced; the stands were lined with fans & plenty of other kids my age, but somehow I won this voluntary lottery. Those around me who had a deeper knowledge of the lineup informed me that #20 was John Marzano, the Sox' catcher.
I spent the rest of the game trying to be excited about what had transpired, while also trying to keep an eye on the guy who made my inaugural baseball game that much more memorable. But it was too damn cold. The team was getting crushed by Detroit as the sun fell, so it just got colder and more depressing as the evening pressed on. But the ball was the thing, and the number 20 now head greater context.
We left early, and of course the Sox came from behind and won the game. Didn't matter - no one was able to endure that weather, and we were happy to leave and be warm.
The End? Please. Now the question in my life was, "Who is John Marzano?" Pre-internet days left me with the Sports pages, televised Sportscasters, ballpark programs, and the best and most useful to me: trading cards. I can't be sure if this incident is what sparked by obsession with card collecting, but I certainly wasn't eBaying Marzano cards in '88, so I was forced to buy packs like folks did - only hoping to get that one I needed. Topps, Donruss, Fleer, Score, Bowman, and the rest were consumed at an alarming rate - to the point that my interests began to expand beyond the initial quest. But that's another story...
I'd acquired a handful of different Marzano cards very quickly as a result of this blitz, and each one was a pristine trophy that acted as a reminder that what happened actually happened.
Cards always provided player statistics - which were of some relevance to me - and some even had some biographical stuff. But beyond the batting averages and RBIs and Minor League background, some sports cards series included players' birthdays, and John Marzano's happened to be February 14th -- which, as it happens, is also my birthday. Now, to anyone, it's always interesting or even exciting to share a birthday with a celebrity, but to a child it's just too cool. And how weird? What were the odds that a famous person I'd actually kinda met had my birthday...? But this exclamation point only lasted seconds, as the real weirdness gradually came into focus: Marzano was born in '63. I was born in '83. To the day, there was exactly 20 years between us.
What the hell... why? 20? What was the relevance of this? Was there any? The numbers on their own were an astronomical coincidence, but I'd interacted with this man, this stranger, in what was already a serendipitous circumstance. Why, out of dozens of kids within his reach, did he hand me this baseball? Why did the number on his back indicate the precise period of time between our births? This is a mesmerizing beehive of psychic energy when you're 5, but as an adult, it's only become more confounding. Like Roy Neary is Close Encounters, I was aesthetically drawn to this number for reasons that weren't entirely clear to me. And when it suddenly inhabited more meaning, it somehow simultaneously carried more weight and became less clear.
Was the number relevant, or was it the man? Which brought my attention to the other? John Marzano died at the age of 45 on April 19, 2008, supposedly from falling down a flight of stairs alone in his home. Are these dates or numbers meant to be important to me? What about the mysterious cause of death? Is any or all of this an ominous prediction of my own fate? I should note he died exactly 20 years to the month of our brief encounter. Is that also important? Will I only live to be 45 years of age? Or worse: what will the year 2020 bring for me?
And while these strange things happen all the time, I'm often moved to believe that some kinda knowledge was being imparted, while at the same time, I feel inadequate in my perception, because, in the end, I've learned nothing. Nothing notable happened to me at the age of 20. Same goes for the year he died. The connection doesn't hafta mean anything beyond the connection itself -- but there is one, and it appears to be inescapable.
If I should fall, remember what you've read here today.
I loved action figures. But it was a very superficial romance as my lust was based purely on looks. I never "played" with them like the kids in the commercials: throwing them around a miniature facsimile of a city street, putting words into their frozen grimaces that they would never say - "Take that, Flattop!" No no, I displayed them, rank & file, like a regimented army with the most prominent players out front. They were to be looked at, not touched, and God help you if you touched them, because most of them (especially the odder-shaped ones) were not designed for standing stationary; some had to be placed in various Kama Sutra poses to maintain some sorta balance. Equally frustrating was their stubbornness to grasp any of the weapons they came with - and if you could get 'em to hold something in their firm, pointy fists, trying to depict them in a natural 'action' pose usually resulted in Batman giving a fascist salute.
These were the hardships of youth, and they didn't deter me from amassing these beautiful sculptures. And in the time I was collecting most (late 80s, early 90s), the fashions of the figures would change with the times - this was particularly evident in the seemingly-endless Ninja Turtles series. By 1991, characters like Ray Fillet, Pizzaface, Groundchuck, Scumbug, and many more who looked like mascots for a Super Soaker that squirted Dunkaroos frosting were packaged and sold to me on the basis of the Turtles brand alone. Well, not really "alone" - I may've had no contextual connection to them, but their radical concepts and gnarly colors couldn't keep me away.
And there was a tipping of the scale there a bit: my relationship with this plastic was purely aesthetic - it didn't matter what they were affiliated with. They'd become art.
Any kid who'd ever had to endure hanging out in a drugstore while a parent or guardian waited on a prescription was well aware of the 8-foot toy section, which consisted mostly of marbles, Slinkies, and other generic and bootleg playthings. And I don't know if they were exclusive to CVS Pharmacy or what, but at some point in 1991 I discovered Savage Mondo Blitzers - a shocking streak of glam punk plastic and metal that slashed & burned its way through the shelves of these drab grandma toys. And knowledgable as I was about all things kids culture, I quickly recognized that these weren't any kinda tie-in to any previously published institution; there was no built-in audience to be a part of - this shit was original, and I think that was a turn on.
They were tiny, surrealistic pop art creations on wheels. (I could've done without the wheels - they took away from the overall beauty of each piece, and I had zero interest in the skateboarding 'angle' they were pushing. But - and it's a big juicy 'but' - the wheels guaranteed that they would stand upright with no effort at all!) They had a unified, punny cleverness to them that tapped into my childlike sensibility that I had & still have: there was a skeleton with a knife, a rock star, a gun with human features, a giant eyeball, an armored knight, and various other freaks and caricatures with badass names. Had they been the villains (or even the heroes) of a comic book, movie, or video game, it woulda been my favorite comic book, movie, or video game.
Don't think the connection is lost on me: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was not the first ballgame to assemble a longwinded handle full of kid-friendly vernacular, but it was certainly the most popular at the time. And you can almost picture the ad meeting at Kenner as they mad-libbed their way through all the awesome, tubular, radical words to finally land on that one perfect counterfeit cowabunga combination: "Savage Mondo Blitzers!"
But the poetry doesn't end there: each "gang" (they came in blister packs of four) had their own menacing moniker.
Like Dick Tracy or Street Fighter, each 'Blitzer' had a unique design, color scheme, weapon/fighting style, genetic makeup, and (presumably) motivation. Really, what it was is that they all looked different, and that too was attractive. They may've all been unified in size and function, but each concept looked like the invention of a different artist. Entirely assembled, it was a rainbow of a cyberpunk sculpture gallery.
I've seen plenty of variations and other things like these over the past few decades, and there's always been some glaring hangup that obstructs any possible interest I'd have in them: they're all too similar looking from one to the next, they're not very detailed, they're part of some larger 'game' that I have no interest in, they're blind-boxed so I don't know which one I'm getting, they talk or squirt water or perform some other stunt that distracts from the fact that they're poorly realized and aesthetically lazy.
These guys were a culmination of every Horror, SciFi, Fantasy, and Action genre-related piece of pop from that very specific time; not reimagined, not rebooted, just direct inspiration taken from extreme vibes and an empowered youth.
You ever ask these questions? You should. Howard Beale woulda wanted you to. It'd probably be good for you - not like an "all the time" thing, just in moderation. I still haven't seen the third Matrix or Lord of the Rings movies and I wake up every morning with clear sinuses and little-to-no stiffness in my neck and shoulders.
The saying goes, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, Tokyo Drift."
We got a buncha fav threes here: Die Hard 3, Batman 3, Star Wars 3, Night of the Living Dead 3, The Amigos 3. The internet has already told us how much we love Ghostbusters 3, so we're already ahead of the game.
How 'bout them thirds that use money to replace the boring, cheap stuff of their predecessors: Army of Darkness, Beyond Thunderdome, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Debbie Does Dallas: The Final Chapter.
You always compare them to the original or the second one (or in many cases, the fourth, the fifth, to infinity and beyond), so they'll always be in the shadows, acting forced and barely functional.
I know what you're thinking: "Toxic masculinity is a strain on our culture." But we're talking movies here - particularly Part 3s, and you need to pay attention because there's a list coming.
There have been a few that have been more competent, more vile, more musical, more different, more better. Or, less superfluous, less transparent, less intrusive, less Ewoks.
I wouldn't apply any asinine, presumptuous 'blog list' words or phrases like "underrated" or "reconsider these" - but here's a bowlful of Threes for you & me that tend to get overlooked by the census bureau (and sometimes that's a good thing).
Watch them or don't. At least now you'll know. Stay woke.
The role of the demented Sawyer brother (originated by Edwin Neal) doesn't leave a lotta room for interpretation, but it certainly doesn't require any restraint - and they've only ever cast the perfect guy for the role (Bill Moseley, McConaughey). Following suit, Viggo Mortensen brings a quieter menace to his version, which only adds to the standout qualities of this installment. B+
The Faltermeyer theme has been reworked into a more traditional 'movie score' that sounds like a computer game from 1991. The stunts are replaced with slapstick. There's a fully choreographed song & dance number to a Supremes song 5 minutes into the film. This is 90s John Landis. And you know what? I guess it's alright. Eddie's funnier than he'd been in a while, and the plot is about as much fun as a good coloring book. Had it been called something else with no relationship to any other movie, we might've had a winner. B
Carol Anne is living with her aunt & uncle in a Chicago skyscraper apartment, which serves as a gothic, towering beehive of the zombies and ghosts that follow her everywhere. The movie's famous for two things: not being as good as the original, and its bodacious practical FX - literally done largely with smoke and mirrors. The elegant, upscale settings deny the movie of any color - or a cohesive story, which, those two elements together make for one creepy-weird good time. B
We saw this in a theater packed with kids who were amped up for whatever-the-fuck movie you could've thrown at them (think of the Bride of the Monster premiere in Ed Wood); they screamed, they laughed, they cheered, they shouted things at the movie, they were completely taken with the jump scares and spooky trees and whatever else happened in this lemon. I've not seen it since, because their joy became ours for that single viewing, and without them, I'm afraid we have nothing more to talk about. D+
"Indulgent" is so often used as some kinda put-down, though it's really just an observation - and a misguided one at that. After all, if that isn't the singular characteristic of art, I don't know what is; I can't imagine folks like Van Gough or Salinger catering to critical or commercial success.
So, there's that.
And if you've read or will read any press for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the phrase you're going to see over & over again is "love letter" (and now, readers, you've even read it here), and despite whatever other words you wrap around that, that's an accurate (if not lazily obvious) observation. But the punchline here is that the phrase describes Tarantino's entire body of work, which makes it laughably redundant to point out yet again.
So, there's also that.
The movie isn't just for Quentin fans (no good movie is that esoteric), but if you're at all familiar with his stuff, you'll get what you paid for and then some. That's not to say he's become entirely predictable (though there are major plot developments that didn't come as a huge surprise to me), but he clearly doesn't intend on too many lateral maneuvers in his career. Folks, what I'm saying is that he's been consistently good, and we can nitpick the details (because, let's face it, he's continuously blessed us with an endless array of details), but in the end, he's yet to truly slip up.
This movie is not the exception.
I liked it more than Hateful Eight - though his Western phase hasn't completely left his system. But, then again, that's part of the prize: his obsessions become ours - either for the duration of the film, or as much as we choose to take with us. Having said that, there was no way he would accurately depict the last gasp of 1960s Hollywood without diving deep into the decline of the genre (especially on television). And deep we do dive into those aforementioned details: not just into fringe-jacket-cowboys with sideburns, but the entire Hollywood machine of that particular moment in time.
There are huge, sprawling wide shots of city street that are painstakingly dressed in vintage cars, period clothing, and recreated storefronts that overwhelmed my eyes simply with the magnitude of production value. So rarely nowadays do I marvel at the craftsmanship of a shot (no pun intended, though it may be a Freudian slip). And that's just the big stuff; the movie is packed wall-to-wall with decor and technology, product packages and magazines, TV and radio commercials, billboards and movie posters - all of the period, all of the time, all creating a sensory bombardment of the most decadent nostalgia since Forrest Gump. (Go figure.) Most movies throw us some funny hairstyles and a couple pop songs and we're supposed to be magically whisked away to whenever their story takes place; this movie is relentless in its vibes - largely because the desired effect isn't to necessarily place us in that time, but rather perpetuate the momentum of the idea that this is, fer sure, some kinda fairytale. A "love letter," if you will.
The movie isn't all TV Guides and beer cans; it has countless other strengths (and some weaknesses).
At this point in life, hasn't it become tedious to call attention to the more-than-competent skills of Brad and Leo? Still though, it's hard to ignore that simple fact that both of them really manage to transcend their usual efforts when they let Quentin take the wheel.
And, again, this movie is not the exception.
The two actors play a "duo" in the most primetime television sense of the word: Leo is Rick Dalton, the pampered film & TV star who's struggling (with a viscous degree of intensity) to remain relevant in a changing world. Brad is Cliff Booth, Rick's stuntman, wingman, and compadre who, without the comforts of the moviestar lifestyle, struggles with nothing, appears both physically and intellectually indestructible, and just seems to have it all figured out. And, refreshingly, there is never a conflict between the two chums. More than brothers, but less than a wife.
If these sound like caricatures, they're not - not in a Tarantino movie. Pshaw! What they go through is less of a traditional character arch and more of a magic show: both characters, as honest and raw as they're depicted, really only show us one card at a time, until it dawns on us that they've kinda been a coupla Clark Kents the whole time - eventually revealing to us the American folk heroes they'd been all along; keeping in line with the suggestion of the fantastical.
The most pointed element of this supposed storybook is the "character" of Sharon Tate, whose main function is to literally dance & twirl around the edges of the movie like a live action Tinkerbell. There was and is a sorta unanimous observation that Margot Robbie is given very little to say or do, but even after one casually perceptive viewing, it feels pretty clear what her purpose is in this "once upon a time" structure: she is the most important player in the story, because she is the Princess in need of rescue; she is Sleeping Beauty, unaware of the dangers lurking and transpiring around her. To suggest she deserved more screen time or added dimension would've ultimately made it an entirely different story altogether. Also, I think y'all could be more respectful to Ms. Robbie's craft as an actor and her intelligence as a person for taking a role with the understanding that her mere presence would simply be symbolic, and that's a game she'd have to bring (and she brung it). Besides, I don't think her sparse screen time will hurt her career at this point.
In the end, I think Margot will be just fine...
Quentin still loves his onscreen text and title cards (Thank God this wasn't broken up into chapter titles), but his usage was minimal here. Additionally, he employs two other clunky gimmicks he's not shy about using: timestamping and voiceover. My least favorite segment of Jackie Brown was the money exchange at the mall, structured out by showing the hour & minute in the lower third of the opening shot of each new scene - a bizarre bit of exposition from the Pulp Fiction guy. I hated it, and it confused me more than it informed me. He uses it here again in Once Upon a Time for the purposes of tension and "historical accuracy," which ultimately became a confrontational dare to the audience - a lazy manipulation of a red herring. It was a cutesy, amateurish practical joke - and aesthetically, it looks like crap.
I've got a love/hate thing with voiceover (yes, it's both extremes). For my taste, it can be done right or it can be done wrong. When it's used sporadically to explain a small handful of expository scenes, that's wrong; it's a benign imperfection that, were it removed, the scene or sequence would only be improved - heck, it'd probably make it more comprehensible without. By my count, he's done it in Basterds, Hateful Eight, and now this, and each movie has suffered for it.
Nitpick the details.
My favorite Tarantino movies have been Pulp Fiction and Death Proof - for many reasons each, but a big one is their strict simplicity. The guy can clearly do big action and layered epics, but we're getting way into personal taste here. Point is, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is an ambitious balance between the two sensibilities. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Brad & Leo's characters were a conscious metaphor for the marriage of the two extremes.
He's made a small, intimate picture with dozens of speaking parts, historical context, the longest soundtrack he's ever compiled, and too many shooting locations to count. I'm not sure that it's the best marriage, but making it work for the rest of our years should prove to be a lotta fun.
'94 was a confusin' time. I was struggling: physically, emotionally, intellectually. I was 11. School was a daunting sociological parody. I was on the cusp of an eating disorder that I still struggle with today.
But we don't need to talk about any of that.
The biggest songs were "Cotton-Eyed Joe" and a ballad from a Three Musketeers movie that no one saw. O. J. Simpson had become a prime suspect in the murder of his ex-wife. Clinton was running a scandal-free administration. Comic book movies weren't hitting the highs of the recent Batman and Turtles franchises (The Crow, The Mask, Richie Rich, Timecop).
But we don't need to talk about any of that.
In all our yearly roundup anniversary stuff, we've tried to illustrate a general tone & texture for that year through acid wash memories of music, TV, fashion, and food. But we don't need to talk about any of that, because 1994 was really only about two things, and those two things contextually became one thing.
The year gave us an exceptionally high volume of awesome mainstream movies, which on its own merits were enough to make it memorable. And there've been good years in the past that still managed to produce a "front-runner" - or two, or even several. At a glance, you could say 1994 certainly fits in with that sporadic trend, and with the passage of time, that may be the only way it's thought of - without the larger-scale influence of what it was like to be there at the time.
Ah, to be there at the time. To be honest, my age mixed with my interests mixed with whatever else was going on in my life/head, placed me square in a unique bracket for digesting the two most notable, most confrontational cinematic steeples of the year, the decade, and probably all time.
What it boiled down to was that Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction both received wide theatrical release just a few months apart: two creatively ambitious epics, steeped in blatant irony and a broad color spectrum of humor, while both maintaining the criteria of a standard blockbuster, while simultaneously defying its conventions. To use an incredibly morbid analogy, it was like losing MLK and RFK just a couple months apart; one did not desensitize us for the next - it maybe, in fact, heightened our awareness without giving us a chance to catch our breath. To further analogize this odd comparison, the culture of the very moment could be largely responsible for such an incidental one-two punch, because once these two juggernauts were in the bloodstream, people began to gleefully point out the sharp contrast in subject matter between the two films, and how this must be relevant to something -- and in at least one way, it was.
In a real 'chicken and the egg' situation, vocal advocates for one movie were sometimes vehemently anti- the other movie. And so this yin and yang competition thing started. (Momentum grew when 'awards season' started to take shape.)
Some folks didn't care for either flick; Kenneth Turan of the LA Times observed of Gump: "Although Hanks never breaks through to the point where we forget that we are watching a performance, however expert, Forrest Gump would be in serious trouble without him."
And on Pulp: "The word "tedious" has not been much used in describing Pulp Fiction, but there are extended moments when it fits rather too well."
There was a bit of a gap in time between the two movies for me - I didn't see Pulp until its first week of release on video in mid-to-late '95 (and if you think that spoils the continuity of this '1994 retrospective,' lotsa luck, gentleman). Even still, I saw them close enough together that the impact didn't leave me enough time to ever hit the ground. And I think like everyone else at the time, I didn't see it coming.
A new Tom Hanks movie was a big deal in my household - though by this time that was probably a global sentiment. And if you weren't there for the first round, just try & imagine selling this movie via commercials and trailers: the premise is so fast and loose that it's amazing people showed up even before the word-of-mouth exploded. (Of course, it's that very abstraction that helps to make it the movie that it is.) To be fair, the previews were an accurate representation of its fast pace and multi-facetted "story": shots of Southern US landscapes and shrimpin' boats and Vietnam and explosions and Tom standing next to John Kennedy all piled into a dizzying reaction of "What in the holy hell is this movie anyway?" But that's exactly what it was: all the aforementioned set pieces sculpted together in a linear casserole of historical fiction, crowd-pleasing irony, and 20th century pathos. It's broad strokes of primary colors as a background for finer, competent attention to detail. Major events and big emotions are all simplified as it's filtered through the eyes of a simple character -- that's not a gimmick, that's literally the story, take it or leave it.
I can't really talk about any of the supposed hate for it upon its release because I wasn't really aware of it - I was under the impression that the world loved it & I was happy to be a part of it. And I can't really talk about the hate some folks have for it today because I don't fully understand it - though I do often come across regurgitated buzzwords like "boomer," "saccharine," and "superficial," which I find to be plainly wrong, even on an objective level, as they illustrate some of the worst of the best examples of cynicism for the sake of faux-intellectuality. Even further still, with the passage of a quarter century and solidified familiarity, I can't really talk about exactly why I love the movie. On the most basic level, it is a big, loud, colorful spectacle of sound & vision, which, when you melt it down to those terms, I assume it's why people keep coming back to the car chase and superhero movies of right now. But beyond that: the ambitious premise, the Top 40 songtrack, the presence of Tom, the state-of-the-art visual effects, Alan Silvestri's score, the fistful of legitimately moving scenes, the luscious landscapes, the Dickensian serendipity of Quantum Leaping to major historical events and depicting them in ironic ways - all this and more got me back into theater seats 6 or 7 times total before the end of its run.
It's the first time I'd heard the phrase "feel-good movie of the year" as a selling point, which, since then, has never felt more accurate to me, because for all its grand movements and small moments, what I took (and still take) from it is an inarticulate 'good feeling' that will probably remain unmolested so long as I never overanalyze this Hollywood Popcorn Movie beyond what it was always intended to be.
Besides, this isn't a review-review of the film (not for lack of trying) because, even more importantly, what can I really add to one of the most popular, talked-about movies that has refused to leave our hearts and minds for 25 years...?
I was bitter about the weird, violent, pretentious indie film that was a potential upset come Oscar night. (I was wrong about everything I thought there.) There had been a spike in ultraviolent cinema around that time, and word on the street was that not only did Pulp Fiction fit in with that fashion, but it was its crown jewel; a glowing briefcase of shock-value schlock. (They were wrong about everything they thought there.) My parents were particularly turned off by such subject matter, which on the one hand was difficult because I only saw whatever they saw, but was also a blessing because they were incredibly knowledgeable about film and saw just about everything else. And while stuff like Terminator, Goodfellas, and Silence of the Lambs were apparently acceptable based on their intelligent substance, Pulp had a misguided shortwave reputation of style over substance; solely based on advertising and entertainment news, my mother deemed it as most likely being "too disturbing" to consider. She also had no interest because she though Quentin was "ugly." (My mother, folks.)
At the time of its video release in late summer/early fall of '95, mom (along with myself on non-school days) worked at Adopt-a-Video - one of the few stragglers left during Blockbuster's reign of terror. And so, we were granted free rentals, and late fees weren't a thing. After nearly a year of probably stumbling across more & more intelligent acclaim for the movie, combined with the temptation and convenience of free videos and just a general curiosity for a new film that was supposedly 'very good,' we tensed up & brought home this apparent orgy of blood & guts - agreeing we could turn it off were it too gratuitous or dumb (this was mostly put forth by mom). She & I watched it together in my bedroom - my father remained too dubious or uninterested at the time to give it a chance.
I've encountered many people in my life who, through some set of circumstances, weren't able to go into Pulp Fiction as fresh as I did; they'd already seen some of it on TV, their friends spoiled key moments, they'd already seen other Quentin stuff, etc.
Myself? - I don't know that I'd ever seen the trailer prior; the interest wasn't there. Until it was.
And once again, for a movie I've seen 1,000+ times, it's tough to remember exactly what I took away from viewing number one.
We laughed, we cringed, we laughed some more, we were tense, we were enthralled, we were engrossed. All the praise and attention was the mystery that was finally solved (though the film was decidedly not violent). Later that day we watched it again in the presence of dad, who was ensured, "Trust us."
In the months that followed, we practically owned that "rented" videotape; we fell into a domestic tradition: every Friday night, at the end of the school/work week, we'd get McDonald's (I'd promoted myself from regular cheeseburgers to Quarter Pounders, naturally), bring it home, and watch the movie. And every following Saturday morning, I'd watch it again, alone in my room, with Blueberry Eggo Waffles and coffee. I bought the soundtrack, I bought the screenplay, I bought the poster. I even acquired the seven-foot-tall standee from the video store, which all but blotted out the sunlight in my room. I was immersed in depths I hadn't reached since Batman or Queen a few years prior. (Maybe more so.)
So, with some nearsighted hindsight, I was already in a position to look back at 1994 - the year that gave us two heavyweights of cinema that managed to lap themselves over the same watermark of popular culture. I'd already been aware of a mild artistic contest during their theatrical run, but I began to become peripherally aware of a full-blown, Guns of Navarone battle in the court of public (and professional) opinion. Through critics and 'film historians' and magazines and onscreen talking heads and parodies and anything regarding the year that was 1994, one movie could not be mentioned without the other, and, more notably, the differences between them. On the surface, one was a lighthearted romantic drama, the other a dark crime saga. One was about the innocence of simplicity and overcoming your limitations to achieve great things. The other was about burgers. Beyond the novelty of pointing out what these movies were about, there was never anything substantial enough to draw a physical line in the sand. In an actual conversation between Tarantino and Zemeckis, Quentin made the observation, "...is it just me, or is everybody completely misreading your movie?"
Both pictures made their mark: Pulp changed the world of moviemaking, Gump more or less changed the world - not in any political or spiritual way, but in abstract ways through vernacular, sentiment, and a shared sensibility for one's lasting effect on the world around them.
Maybe. Possibly - for a short time. You had to be there.
All I know is that two monumental films in my life found their way to me in a very short period of time - at the right time - and whatever divisive scenario the media was trying to sell us couldn't interrupt the joy I felt over having two new great movies around, and I think most people felt the same. A short time ago, I jabbered on like a monkey in a tree about the spiritualism of theater attendance in the summer of '94 and the good vibes brought on by the promise of great cinema in my future. Pulp Fiction would soon thereafter fulfill and also perpetuate that prophecy with an almost divine intervention, and marking 1994 as The Promise Land.
And when all is said and done, and someone were to compile a list of the Top 25 movies from 25 years ago, what would take the top spot?
Here's one man's opinion...
1. Pulp Fiction
I would sit in school, during class, thinking about the movie - even then trying to pinpoint what the draw to this weird, original piece of art actually was. And the mild conclusions I drew ended up being the criticisms that plagued Quentin's career as it pressed on: the fact was that it wasn't that weird and original; it barely stepped outside the conventions of a mainstream Hollywood Action picture... It was that it was considerably better than most that had come before it, and that was original. It has all the basic elements of conflict and intrigue, and there are endlessly clever devices for character development. But it was true then as much as it is today: his complete and unique understanding of narrative cinema has consistently enabled him to adapt all the characteristics of great movies and consolidate them into one outstanding, cohesive picture. Comparing his creative process to whatever reheats the cream of wheat they pour into theaters every week, I find it nearly impossible to negatively criticize the former.
2. Forrest Gump
The gimmickry of Forrest's intervention with history, meeting public figures, influencing major events, etc. was never exactly the 'heart' of the movie - it got some laughs and maybe a few eye rolls. For me, in the beginning at least, I was totally taken with the concept that movies were allowed to take these liberties, and that the oxymoron "Historical Fiction" could tip toward either extreme. (Coincidentally, Quentin would eventually utilize and expand on this magic in Inglourious Basterds).
But more than that, when I thought of the movie, and when I think of the movie, it's Forrest running across America: a sequence that, both structurally to the film and to the character, comes outta nowhere. This is the kinda storytelling I dig: an excuse to shoot locations, an excuse to use music, an excuse to create cinema - free of the constraints of a narrative thread, character conflict, and that pedestrian requirement to "move the story forward." After the first time I saw it, my father & I agreed to race across the theater parking lot to the car.
3. Ed Wood
Tim's first trek into maturity would prove to be his best thing - all without the use of stop-motion creatures, demonic clowns, and whatever the hell he does nowadays. Great performances and a great script, sure, but with all the cartoonish frills stripped away, it left us with some indisputable proof that he truly was a great film artist.
4. The Paper
I'd say it's Ron Howard's best movie, but Ron's contributions (from what I can tell) contribute very little to this A-bomb of ensemble acting that's marinated in one of the best screenplays ever. A dramedy of this nature can often go off the rails, veering too far into one lane or the other; you watch it enough times and the joy becomes the momentum of the balancing act.
5. Quiz Show
Underneath the veneer of 1950s Americana is scandal (as usual), but this is an obscure bit of history with a dramatic thread built right in. As a kid, I was excited to have a movie about smart people who weren't depicted as a running joke. As an adult, my appreciation goes on. And I don't care what the locals say: Rob Morrow's New England accent is wicked good!
When big budget action tries to do "simple," they still end up stumbling over extra speaking parts, backstories, and subplots. Not the case with The Bus That Couldn't Slow Down - there's a new set piece every five minutes, and it only ever involves the main players.
When it came out I was enthralled and obsessed with Dennis Hopper's mad bomber (I loved all villains, but this ham was extra salty). As time grew on, I began to appreciate Sandy & Keanu a whole lot more: they took two laughably underwhelming, underwritten characters and made them indispensable to the movie we know & love today.
7. Swimming With Sharks
This came out on video out during my 'Kevin Spacey phase,' and it was exciting to see a movie that allowed him all the smarmy room he needed to yell, throw things, and belittle Frank Whaley.
I also immediately recognized the finesse of a strong script that intentionally required zero budget, which is generally an equation for a great flick.
I've done this move to death on this site, though I've never called attention to British director Jonathan Lynn (who cameos as well). Surprisingly, his directing career consisted primarily of broad American comedies that usually did well (Clue, My Cousin Vinny, The Whole Nine Yards). It's fascinating to detect a style in even the lightest fare.
9. The Ref
I went into it solely on the prospect of, "It's that guy from MTV." What I got was a jet-black comedy populated with stage veterans and dialogue by Richard LaGravenese. It was also a stepping stone on the right path for director Ted Demme, who would most likely be doing interesting stuff today had he not died in '02 at the age of 38.
10. True Lies
From the opening gun fight down the mountain slope, I became aware of the sense of humor this movie had, which expertly set the tone for the rest of it. The film has, like, five action sequences (including Jamie Lee's dance) that last for 20+ minutes each with little correlation between them, and it's great! And no lies, this was really the first movie that turned me onto the idea that Arnold's a really good actor.
11. Blown Away
I'm under the impression that Tommy Lee Jones crushed his Fugitive Oscar into a fine powder, ingested it, and rode the wave for the next three years until the effects wore off. Some good stuff came out of that time. Some really not good stuff came out of it. This is one of the good stuff.
I love ticking time bomb material, and this is still some of the best there ever was. (Sorry, Speed.)
12. Camp Nowhere
When it came out, it looked like I was past the recommended age - I'm of the mind that little kids wanna watch older kids, and older kids wanna watch adults. Once the movie made its way into heavy rotation on HBO, I started to catch parts here & there and started to recognize that it's pretty well-crafted and embraces the 90s pop art revival that was floating around youth culture at the time. And it's a great summertime flavor.
13. Dumb and Dumber
You can be a funny writer or a funny performer, but how does one be a funny director? How do you convey comedy with a camera? Jerry Lewis could do it. Woody Allen could do it. The Farrellys could do it. It's such an abstract sensibility that you can't help but be in awe of the comic timing the movie has.
14. Wes Craven's New Nightmare
Objectively, 'Freddy for the 90s' sounds like tricky business (see: Freddy's Dead). Surprisingly, it took Wes Craven of all people to bring some new menace and muscle to the Man of Your Dreams. Even more surprising is that it's the sinister pacing and Fellini-esque premise that're even more engrossing than the monster.
Probably Wes's best movie.
15. The Hudsucker Proxy
I wasn't full-tilt aware of the Coens at the time - I knew Raising Arizona but made no connection. I also wasn't aware that it was kind of a flop and didn't attract many fans. I don't know if that makes it 'cult,' but I'm part of it.
'Snappy dialogue' can be one of the most irritating things God ever invented, but from the pens of two of the greatest screenwriters God ever invented, I found it to be charming, funny, even exciting.
16. The Professional
At the time, it felt like 'lesser Tarantino.' 'Abel Ferrara lite.' Seeing it now (as it's more widely now known as Léon), I'm aware what an unfair estimation that was. In the first half of the 90s, 'Ultra Violent' was its own subgenre, and they kinda coagulated in an indiscernible way. Though The Professional was one of the sweetest, smartest examples to rise out of the bloodbath.
It may've been wrapped in some convoluted plot about book publishing and job promotions, but at its core, it's the contemporary Wolfman story we deserved. And evaluating all the attempts to revive the Universal Monster stable since its release, it only solidifies it more as a modest model of what works and what don't.
18. The River Wild
Curtis Hanson was quite the maestro of mystery & suspense for a time - and he was better at it than most. This is a formula you still see once in a while: a team of A-listers hamming their way through semi-original thrillers - and when I see new movies like this, my first thought is "man, that is so 90s." And it's refreshing because I enjoy it. And when you got David Strathairn and John C. Reilly, I enjoy it more.
19. Blank Check
Some kids wanted to befriend an alien or blow up the Death Star. I was more realistic (and probably too old for this movie) - a million bucks, a date with Karen Duffy, and befriending Rick Ducommun felt like more practical, attainable goals.
Seeing this was out of total desperation to go to the theater that weekend for any reason, and I'm guessing the lineup musta been pretty skimpy. To this day, my father playfully reminds me of the time I dragged him to this -- but I got what I wanted out of it. And still do.
20. Little Women
I feel like there's been a dozen film & television adaptations of this story, and I feel like there's a dozen more on the way. And for any of its deviations and cheap sets and fake snow, this version is still tops in 19th century New England vibes - which is really the selling point on this one for me.
Honorable mention to the stellar cast & Thomas Newman's score.
21. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Probably the most (or more) faithful adaptation from the Gothic Horror boom of that time - and that's a positive thing. It's not as sleek and clever as Wolf, and certainly not as gory and gorgeous and Bram Stoker's Dracula, but it is a ridiculously satisfying Frankenstein movie that pays subtle homage to previous versions, integrates grotesque scifi qualities into it, and makes logical changes to the original structure that, I think, improve upon it.
22. The Shawshank Redemption
It's not hard to understand why it's so popular - it doesn't present a single challenge to the audience. It was certainly strict competition for Gump as tangible 'feel-good' fodder, because the good feelings come at you big & hard in this one. Heartfelt performances and source material from a master storyteller certainly give it some strength, but Frank Darabont's adaptation and his melancholic pace make this the most mature, relevant achievement of his wildly uneven career.
There are times when a subject you're interested in helps to hold your attention through an otherwise poor or mediocre book or film. Crumb is a miracle of science, as its bizarre and fascinating content is held together in an exceptional piece of moviemaking by Terry Zwigoff. An even more in-depth observation reveals that the filmmaker actually understands the subject matter as much as he understands the subject(s) that created it.
24. Interview With the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles
It's amazing how sprawling and viscous the backlash was against casting Tom Cruise in this very "important film" (*snore*), and he ended up being the best part of it. Like, he's why the movie's on the list. In fact, his absence from the already-lackluster third act makes it that much more strenuous to cross the finish line, because, rounding up the Horror stats of the decade, Tom was probably one of the best movie monsters of the 1990s.
Remember when Hollywood was drawing creative energy from old TV shows instead of comic books? No? A lot of them certainly missed the mark, though this one was good.
The Lethal Weapon movies stumbled once in a while in their Action/Comedy/Drama juggling act -- Donner & Co. stripped away the Drama and were clearly more comfortable with straight Action/Comedy... which made us all more comfortable. I think.