Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Power Rankings: Most Bankable Hollywood Actors

Seeing how Moneyball is set to make a scorcher at the box office for no reason other than the fact that Brad Pitt is the lead, it got me thinking about who the most bankable actors are in the industry currently. By bankable, I am referring to box office guarantee, in terms of return on investment. The actors on this list can appear in almost anything and turn it into a box office smash. Every one of them has at least one flop, though, proving that it is impossible for anyone to be a complete guarantee. I am not holding independent films or supporting roles against them, since those films are reliant more on distribution and other actors than their own contribution to the film. For each actor, I will do a rundown of the past ten years or so, and I will give what I think is their single most impressive box office gross of their career as well as a notable flop. Note: I am only including actors (not actresses) because it would just be too difficult to combine them (meaning putting Sandra Bullock on the list).

Others receiving votes: Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tyler Perry, Seth Rogen, Denzel Washington

10. Tom Hanks

Most Impressive Box Office: Forrest Gump: $673 million ($55 million budget)

Notable Flop: Angels and Demons: $133 million ($150 million budget)

Ten years ago, Tom Hanks might have been topped this list. Now, however, since he is doing a lot more production work and less acting, his star has fallen a bit. Still, whenever he makes a movie, people want to see it. Larry Crowne had a decent run at the box office, despite not being all that good. His last big hit was The Terminal (excluding Toy Story 3), and that was 7 years ago. Angels and Demons was nowhere near as big as Da Vinci Code, but I feel like if he started making one or two movies per year again, he could be right back up there near the top.

9. George Clooney

Most Impressive Box Office: Ocean’s Eleven: $450 million ($85 million budget)

Notable Flop: Leatherheads: $31 million ($58 million budget)

George Clooney seems to be a lot more reliable in determining what is going to be awards-friendly than what is going to make a lot of money, but it is obvious that when he does appear in a movie, there is hype around it. His stardom has gotten to and perhaps surpassed Cary Grant-territory. His persona on and off screen has turned him into one of the most beloved celebrities around, and in all cases other than Leatherheads and The Good German (neither are good movies), he can pull in a $100 million box office in his sleep.

8. Jim Carrey

Most Impressive Box Office: Bruce Almighty: $484 million ($81 million budget)

Notable Flop: The Majestic: $37 million ($72 million budget)

Some of you may have a problem with my inclusion of Jim Carrey on this list, but it is undeniable that he can still pull the audiences in by the truckload. His star may not be as bright as it was 10-15 years ago, but Yes Man still pulled in over $200 million, and that was all him. Nothing about that movie could have been sold without his name attached to it. Mr. Popper’s Penguins is another example ($170+ million). These movies would not be made without Carrey. He is still as big of a star as anyone. I am not holding the horrible marketing of I Love You Phillip Morris against him. The Majestic is his only real flop, which only recovered about half of its budget. That was more of a problem with the fact that the movie is misunderstood than poor. Carrey is going to continue to make his movies and continue to tear up the box office as long as he wants to.

7. Ben Stiller

Most Impressive Box Office: Night at the Museum: $574 million ($110 million budget)

Notable Flop: Envy: $12 million ($40 million budget)

It is always interesting to see who actually the biggest stars in Hollywood are. Ben Stiller has to be on that shortlist. He does not have the movie star looks, voice, or persona. He is like the normal guy who cannot make a movie without people wanting to see it. Everything he does is a hit, and he always is playing more or less the same character. Night at the Museum is his single most impressive hit, mainly because it is the Ben Stiller show the entire time. Plus it got a sequel. His flops were Envy and Duplex, the two lame romantic comedies he tried to make in the middle of last decade that no one really saw and that never really got advertised. Now, however, even something as small as Greenberg gets its audience. He definitely deserves his spot on this list.

6. Shia LaBeouf

Most Impressive Box Office: Transformers: $706 million ($151 million budget)

Notable Flop: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps: $70 million ($52 million budget)

Why does everyone love Shia LaBeouf? No, really that was a question. I can’t figure it out, but it would be ignorant to not include him in this conversation. Everything the guy touches turns to gold. Holes, Disturbia, Transformers, Eagle Eye. Everything he appears in gets a huge audience. The only one that didn’t was by far his best movie, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, which I think was just too smart for mass audiences. The fact that Transformers pulled in over $700 million with that first film was probably 25% subject matter, 25% Michael Bay excessive advertising, and the rest was split between LaBeouf, the reviews, and Megan Fox’s midriff. It was he who got the audiences in the seats, because let’s face it, if the movie was animated or starred some other young actor, not everyone would want to see it. LaBeouf is just one of those unique personalities that people can relate to, even when he is as pissed off and annoying as he is in all three of those ridiculously loud and obnoxious movies.

5. Tom Cruise

Most Impressive Box Office: The Firm: $262 million ($42 million budget)

Notable Flop: Lions for Lambs: $14 million ($30 million budget)

That’s right. He will not go away. It doesn’t even matter what the movie is about. Nazis, aliens, assassins… He makes everything a box office smash. It was difficult to find both a most impressive box office and a notable snub. I had to settle with Lions for Lambs, which was definitely not his fault, and I went with The Firm, mainly because it is the one film that would not have been anything without him in the lead role. It was 154 minute Tom Cruise show, and it became a huge $250+ million hit. Even now, he does Knight and Day, Valkyrie, a small part in Tropic Thunder. Each one of them nearly doubled their money. It is pretty smart of him to not make so many movies anymore, since people tend to not like him. But when he finally puts out another movie, people cannot avoid it. He leaves everyone wanting more.

4. Brad Pitt

Most Impressive Box Office: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: $329 million ($150 million budget)

Notable Flop: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford: $3 million ($30 million budget)

So, the man of the hour finally comes up. The decisions that this guy makes astound me. He works with every major director, turning each one of their films into one of the most talked about movies of the year. He had a very public Hollywood breakup with America’s sweetheart, and that does not touch his popularity like it would any other actor. In fact, people love him so much that they just blame it on the girl instead. It couldn’t have been his fault. Benjamin Button is his most impressive box office because that subject matter is so strange that I am not sure if anyone else could have made it that big. Jesse James was one of the worst advertised movies I have ever witnessed, so that had one horrible and short run at the box office after about 2 years of previews. But, he can still churn out movie after movie and make each one interesting. He is the definition of bankable. It is almost like directors cast him to ensure that their movie will be seen. Not a bad idea, actually…

3. Johnny Depp

Most Impressive Box Office: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: $652 million ($140 million budget)

Notable Flop: The Tourist: $67 million ($100 million budget)

One of the obvious choices on this list was the inclusion of Johnny Depp. Every time anyone sees him in a preview, it is hard to not want to see what he is up to. He has done everything from a Willy Wonka remake, a bloody musical about a demon barber, to an animated movie about a lizard. He has done it all, and everything he touches is monumentally popular. That is except The Tourist, which oddly got no audience despite Depp and arguably the second most marketable actress Angelina Jolie. Depp will continue to make his own strange movies and turn them all into worldwide hits. He is unstoppable.

2. Adam Sandler

Most Impressive Box Office: Big Daddy: $163 million ($34 million budget)

Notable Flop: Little Nicky: $39 million ($80 million budget)

Before you jump on me, just think about this. It is true. Adam Sandler has a massive army of fans who will go see whatever movie he makes no matter how horrible it is. He has made 6 movies in the last 4 years that have all been just Sandler and his buddies acting like little kids. And they all made money. His only movies that do not break even are his good movies (Funny People, Punch-Drunk Love, and Spanglish). But those are not Sandler movies. Those are signs that he actually wants to be an actor, not just a funny movie star spewing out fart jokes in dumb movies twice a year. But hey, he can keep making more and more of these movies and people will see them. As horrifying as Jack and Jill looks, I can assure you that it will get a critical thrashing and open to $30 million or more in the opening weekend. That’s just the way it works.

1. Will Smith

Most Impressive Box Office: The Pursuit of Happyness: $304 million ($55 million budget)

Notable Flop: Ali: $87 million ($107 million budget)

Yeah, no surprise here. It is crazy to think about how far Will Smith has come since being on Fresh Prince. He had that incredible $200+ million streak that ended with Seven Pounds, which somehow still made a bunch of money. Seriously, Will Smith can do whatever he wants. He is the coolest guy out there, and he is probably the most likable and down to earth celebrity on this list. His divorce may take a bit of his charm away, but it cannot touch his box office success. In the words of Tom Luginbill (and almost any other ESPN football analyst), “what he has been able to accomplish is remarkable”. The Pursuit of Happyness is a movie that exists solely because Smith wanted to make it. Place any actor in that role, and it is just an indie flick that no one sees. Insert Will Smith, and we have a $300 million monster hit and an Oscar nomination. It is astonishing. Ali is his only movie to not break even, but that is one of his acting roles, not his entertainment pictures. And it was before his streak started. Try to argue with Will Smith being the top of this list. I dare you.

So, what do you make of this? Did I miss anyone? What is your top 5? Let me know.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Leo’s Quest for an Oscar

For the past 10 years or so, 3-time Oscar nominee Leonardo DiCaprio has been trying to win an Oscar. That is indisputable. Look at the movies he has attached himself to. He has been the lead in four true stories during the span. He has taken on several actors’ acting roles. The one thing that I believe is holding him back from finally winning his Oscar that he deserves is his perception. There are still a large portion of filmgoers that believe that he cannot act, going all the way back to his love or hate work in Titanic. He is also very opinionated about the environment and other social issues. Some people just do not like him, but it is almost impossible to say that he has not deserved to win an Oscar based solely on performance. It is also ignorant to think that quality of acting is the only variable in Academy voting. When will Leo finally win his Oscar? Will it be this year? I will try to figure that out.

Starting back in 1993, DiCaprio had his showiest role of his career, playing the mentally-challenged kid in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Four years later, he was cast as the lead in Titanic, which turned everyone off to DiCaprio for some reason, thinking that he was too soft and could not hold a dramatic role in the biggest movie ever. Who else that age could have done that, by the way? I am part of the minority that thinks that he was actually quite good in that movie. It was totally a role that should have gotten Oscar love, but apparently being the lead in the most beloved movie of the year and being a past nominee wasn’t enough.

After that, flops came his way until he got the chance to work with Scorsese and Spielberg in the same year. Gangs of New York and Catch Me If You Can marked the beginning of modern day Leo. He was tremendous and critically-acclaimed in the latter and mired in mediocre reviews in the former. But it was obvious that he was maturing as an actor. Those critical of him still had the complaint that he cannot hold a movie on his own.

Then came The Aviator, his best performance to date and the one that should have won the Oscar. Why did the Academy not eat it up? Well, who knows? They went with the gimmicky Jaime Foxx role in Ray. But, he had to have won everyone over by this point, right? Not exactly. It was not until 2006, when The Departed came out that everyone sort of warmed up to him, or most people did. It was like when Paul Rudd watches Bourne in The 40 Year Old Virgin and goes, “I always thought that he was sort of a Streisand, but I think he’s rockin the shit in this one…” It was like Leo’s coming out party. Everyone loved him in that tough, gritty role that should have won him another Oscar. But, unfortunately, he was nominated for his more Academy-friendly role in the surprise hit Blood Diamond.

Following that, he had a Ridley Scott role in Body of Lies, an actor’s wet dream in Revolutionary Road, a couple showy roles in Shutter Island and Inception. You would have thought that Winslet and DiCaprio, both looking for Oscars, could have won together in 2008. That would have been a great story, but no. They give Leo the finger by nominating Winslet for another role, and shafting Leo’s movie completely.

Now, this year, it appears to be Leo’s year. But, I do not think so. He has the great physical transformation and makeup work, he plays a character whose role spans a long time, he probably dies in the movie, and it is Clint Eastwood. But, the backlash has already started it seems. I almost want Leo to not win. He is so talented that I want him to win for a really great role, not one begging to win. I think he will obviously be nominated this year, but a win will have to wait.

Next year, Leo will be busy. He has three movies that could get him that Oscar. He plays a slave runner in Tarantino’s Django Unchained. This would be awesome to see him win the Oscar for. You know his character is going to be vicious and brutal, and for him to get recognized for something like this, his reputation may change forever. He also has a Todd Field movie and a reunion with Baz Luhrmann playing the title role in The Great Gatsby. Any of those he could totally shine in. But, I have the feeling that his OScar will have to wait for him to get one more important role in a Scorsese picture. They are the perfect team, and whenever that Teddy Roosevelt film finally gets made, it could be nearing the end of Scorsese’s career, and Leo’s Oscar snubbing could be nearing a mythical status. How awesome would it be if Leo gets his due and Marty gets a parting gift at the same time? That would be so cool to see.

So, we will see what critics and audiences think of Leo in J. Edgar. It very well could sweep everything, but the trailer was a little weak, and I already know exactly what to expect from DiCaprio. If he wins the Oscar this year, good for him. I will be happy that he is no longer called Oscar-less. But to really become the kind of actor that he can be and be viewed as one of the best actors of his generation (which he is), he needs to stop with the shameless Oscar-hunting and do something crazy. A villain role (the Tarantino film might be that), some supporting work, some independent dramas, or an unlikable character. Those are the kinds that win Oscars and the kinds that make critics, Academy voters, and mass audiences most connect with them. He has made some pretty great decisions recently, working with some of the best living directors and being part of some really big hits, but he needs to take a couple risks.

So, that turned out to be more of a rant than an informative article, which I did not intend to happen. But, do you agree? What kinds of roles do you want to see DiCaprio take on in the coming years? Will he win the Oscar this year? Next year? Let me know in the comments.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Movie Milestones: 10 Years of A Beautiful Mind

Looking back 10 years ago, 2001 was a year that will be remembered in our nation's history for the 9/11 attacks. However, the historical tragedy often overshadows the incredible year in film that 2001 turned out to be. There were so many great films that are celebrating their 10 year anniversary this year, and some of them may get commemorated on this site later, however I want to start out with the film that was my favorite from that year: A Beautiful Mind.
Ron Howard directed Best Picture winner that explored the real life of John Nash, one of the great minds of our time that was haunted by his battle with schizophrenia. Russell Crowe portrays Nash in what should have been an Oscar-winning role if he hadn't have won one the year before for the inferior Gladiator. Jennifer Connelly won the Oscar for playing Nash's wife that stands by his side through thick and thin. Paul Bettany and Ed Harris portray two of Nash's hallucinations; Bettany as his college roommate and best friend, Harris as a government official hiring Nash to investigate conspiracy theories. It was these investigations that finally forced Nash to question what was real. You get to follow Nash from college to old age as he excels, loses his grip on reality, struggles with finding it again, and eventually wins a Nobel Prize after finding peace and balance. It has become a standard in real life biopics.
Best Scene: There are few scenes in film that bring tears to my eyes, no matter how many times I have seen them. The closing scene of A Beautiful Mind is one of them. You go through this whole incredible ordeal with John Nash as he puts it "through the physical, the metaphysical, the delusional, and back." Then at the end you see Nash finally get the recognition for his original idea that he had always sought by winning the Nobel Prize. He gets up to give his acceptance speech, and points to his wife to say the only reason he was there was because of her. Through everything Nash experienced, his wife remained the rock that kept him stable. He finishes his speech by wiping his face with the handkerchief she gave him on their first date. I really don't know why, but it brings a tear to my eye every time.
Best Line: Although this is a complex human drama, there are definitely some lighter moments. Watching Nash try and pick up a girl at a bar by asking to skip the boring conversation and go straight to the "exchanging of fluids" would be one of those. Or when Bettany's Charles explains why dying of thirst in a desert would feel like a hangover. Or when Nash tells a friend he sat on one of his imaginary friends to which Nash follows up "What's the point of being crazy if you can't have a little fun?" However, my favorite quote is one of the only stand-alone one-liners in the whole movie. In the opening scene, as the new Princeton students are meeting each other, John Nash looks intently at one of his fellow students and simply states, "There must be a mathematical equation for how bad your tie is." I must say this line comes to mind every time a see a tie worthy of a mathematical equation.
Most Iconic Moment: Before Nash went crazy thinking he was doing top secret CIA code breaking, he actually did some top secret CIA code breaking which certainly fed his hallucination. The first scene we get to see Nash in this capacity he walks into a room with code printed all over the walls that he is asked to decode. As he stares at the code, you get a glimpse into the beautiful mind of John Nash as the code illuminates and surrounds him as it all gets put together in his mind. It is one of the only special effects in the movie, and it is very tastefully done. It is also the shot you see most often to represent this movie. An honorable mention would be Nash outlining shapes in the stars with his future wife by his side.
The Time Tester: With A Beautiful Mind just being 10 years old, there has not been too much time that has passed to see if it has stood the test of time. However, the time tester for me in this film is the high level of intelligence it brings to a common story. There are many stories out there that follow this model of "flawed protagonist that must overcome adversity to better himself or herself." However, few films are able to portray this story arc with the intelligence and thought provoking detail that A Beautiful Mind brings. In many ways, to fully understand the film and all its nuances, you have to be more than just a casual moviegoer. It is a thinking man's movie with a feel good plot line. Few films have been able to combine the two quite like A Beautiful Mind.
The Lasting Impact: I believe this film has had great lasting impact on film over the last 10 years. First, from what I have seen (and there are a few I have not seen) this is still the greatest performance of Russell Crowe's career to date. It was his third Oscar nomination in a row, and if Gladiator made him a household name, A Beautiful Mind solidified him as a go-to dramatic actor over the last decade. It also helped put Ron Howard in a similar career position. Although Howard had been around for awhile, this is the film that had earned him his Oscar. This film, along with Apollo 13, also made Ron Howard the go-to director for 20th Century historical dramas. Add to that list 2008's Frost/Nixon and it is easy to see that a trend of excellence has started for Howard in that genre. It also launched the careers of Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany into superstar status, as well as launched their romance that culminated in a 2003 wedding. The fact that they are still married might be the most lasting impact of them all.
A Beautiful Mind Movie Wallpaper
Looking back on 2001 a decade later, I see one of the greatest years of film in my lifetime with this being one of the crown jewels of the year and the decade. It certainly is one of my favorites. I love a well-made feel good movie that I can relate to. I also love a film that makes me think. This film fulfills all these and will be one I revisit for a long time to come.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Casting my own movie: Barry

In addition to my power rankings as a way of looking forward to Moneyball, I also decided to cast my own baseball movie that will inevitably be told at some point, which is the story of the steroid era. So, why not focus the movie on the poster boy of the scandal, Barry Bonds? If that movie were to be made today (I hope it would wait for all the dust to completely settle like 61*) here is what I would want it to look like:

Title: Barry

There are definitely more creative and interesting titles out there, but something about just calling it Barry just makes it sound very serious, which is what I want the movie to be. I want it to take risks and be as respectful, dramatic, and heartbreaking as possible. Calling it Game of Shadows, the name of a book about the steroid era, would be good, but since the new Sherlock movie has that title, I cannot warrant calling it that. Barry it is.

Directed by: Ben Affleck

There are a lot of possibilities for the director, but Ben Affleck has suddenly become one of the most respected filmmakers in the industry after just two films. Also, he is a famed baseball fanatic. He is all about Boston, which is another reason why he should be involved. He will not give a glowing portrait of Bonds, and he will not be overly critical. He will be unbiased and want to show the story how it really was. Realism would be the key in this movie.

Written by: Tom Verducci and Ron Shelton

This is a completely random pair of writers. Tom Verducci has never written a screenplay, but due to his Sports Illustrated career, he probably knows more about Bonds and the steroid era than any other writer. His most famous and best articles were all based on this shamed time in the game's pastime. Ron Shelton is probably most qualified because he may be the best and most consistent sports film writer/director out there. This movie would have the historical accuracy and true dramatic touch it would need to be a great film.


Barry Bonds: Vin Diesel

This was the most difficult spot to cast. I agonized over this for quite some time, and Diesel just has to be the best option. His skin is too light, but his body size is almost identical, and as seen in Strays and other films, it has been proven that he can carry a film by himself in a drama. If the movie was more about the early part of Bonds's career, it would have to be Mehcad Brooks as the lead. But for the group of years in question, Diesel has to be the choice.

Dusty Baker: Laurence Fishburne

Finding a Dusty Baker is not all that difficult. There are several that would fit. Fishburne just seemed like the right age and right demeanor to capture Baker at his essence.

Bruce Bochy: Gabriel Byrne

I would love to see Gabriel Byrne in this kind of role. Bochy is such an odd manager, and it is a crucial part of the Bonds saga. Byrne could absolutely own it.

Greg Anderson: Ryan Phillippe

This was another difficult decision. For some reason Phillippe could not get out of my head. He plays a great victim, but Anderson was as much to blame as anyone in the case. He can really let out a great rage-filled performance when required. I am thinking of Phillippe in Crash or Breach.

Jeff Kent: Edward Norton

The rivalry and feud between Bonds and Kent was a major part of the late portion of their careers. Kent seemed like the one guy who was willing to call Bonds out. This part might be difficult, so I chose perhaps the most talented actor of his generation: Edward Norton. I would love to see some clubhouse verbal battles between Diesel and Norton.

Willie Mays: James Earl Jones

Old Willie Mays is a vital part of the Bonds demise. He was one of the only reasons that people were holding out hope that Bonds was still clean. Who better than the baseball film legend himself, James Earl Jones?

Bud Selig: Scott Glenn

This one was obvious. Everyone hates Bud Selig, and Scott Glenn plays a "great criminal in the background" type of role. Plus he looks exactly like him, right?

So, what do you think of this idea? Any better casting decisions? What other movie ideas would you like to see an article on? Let me know!

Power Rankings: Baseball Movies

In honor of the highly-anticipated upcoming baseball movie Moneyball, I decided to do a rundown of the best baseball movies of all time. Baseball movies, other than perhaps boxing movies, are the most likely sports films to garner acclaim and awards. Why is this? Maybe it is just because the sport has been around forever. The stars are bigger and brighter than the other sports. The pastime is as storied and interesting as history itself. Baseball movies are the most common sports film, and they normally are the best films overall. Here are what I think are the all time greatest.

Note: I have not seen acclaimed films The Pride of the Yankees, For the Love of the Game, Ken Burns Baseball, or The Bronx is Burning. Oh, and The Natural is not included because it is not a good movie. Just so you know…

Others receiving votes: The Bad News Bears (both versions)

10. Field of Dreams (1989)

Field of Dreams is definitely one of the mass audience favorites in the category. The Best Picture-nominated fantasy film featuring Shoeless Joe Jackson and other classic players is definitely a movie-lovers baseball movie. It is not one of my elite picks, but it is hard not to love this movie and get caught up in the emotion of it all. Great performances all around, and just a beautiful story that is well told.

9. Major League (1989)

Major League is basically the Slap Shot of baseball movies. It is a ridiculous underdog tale that sort of made a star out of Charlie Sheen in his classic “Wild Thing” Ricky Vaughn role. This is another film that you do not really need to like baseball to like the movie, mainly because the movie doesn’t know much about baseball itself. It is more of a mainstream comedy (a successful one) than a true baseball comedy. It is terrific entertainment nonetheless.

8. The Sandlot (1993)

If there is a baseball movie that can appeal to any age group of any generation, it is The Sandlot. It is the story of a neighborhood baseball team who get themselves in a pickle when the new kid unwittingly blasts a ball into the backyard of a notorious loner who they are all scared of. Oh, and the ball was signed by Babe Ruth and belonged to his stepdad. It is such a fun movie that is hilarious when watched as a child and nostalgic when watched as an adult. I love it.

7. A League of Their Own (1992)

A League of Their Own might very well be the best baseball-lovers baseball movie other than Bull Durham. It is the story of the All American Women’s Baseball League during World War II, and it is both funny and sometimes quite dramatic. It has the most memorable and most quotable baseball quote of all time (“There’s no crying in baseball!”), and it is just a really realistic and charming take on a story that is very seldom told. I love the movie, but I know Terry will claim that this is far too low on the list.

6. Fear Strikes Out (1957)

The wrenching story of Jimmy Piersall, a former Red Sox star with mental illness is told with unflinching honesty in the brilliant film Fear Strikes Out. This movie may be centered on the baseball player, but this movie could have been told about anybody and been just as effective. Anthony Perkins gives one of his best performances in this, really embodying Piersall and forcing the audience to get emotionally-involved in the story. It really is not about baseball or success, but more about fathers and sons, the drive to make your father proud, and the toll it takes on both parties.

5. Sugar (2009)

I was surprised at how much I ended up loving Sugar. It is the best dose of reality of any sports movie that is not a true story. It is centered on a Dominican baseball player who is discovered and recruited to play in the Minor Leagues. It is an extremely accurate portrayal of what it is like to be in the minors and traveling by bus across the country in hopes that someday the player will get the call to play on the big club. This movie is a really dramatic and beautiful story that does not wind up where the audience expects it to. It does not follow any of the rules of the typical baseball movie, and that originality is what sets it apart. It is a brilliant little film.

4. 61* (2001)

I was always skeptical of watching 61*, but I could not have been more satisfied after I finally did. It is the superb story of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle and their chase of Babe Ruth’s record 60 home runs in a single season. The media hated the soft-spoken and shy Maris, who was taking the spotlight away from the league’s most popular superstar Mantle. Maris was the bad guy, and Mantle was the one that everyone was rooting for. Their rivalry and friendship is the focus of the movie, but the pressure to succeed and the toll of unwarranted criticism is vital to the story as well.

3. Bull Durham (1988)

I always loved what Roger Ebert said about Bull Durham, which was that the reason why it works so well is that it knows so much about baseball and so little about love. That is the best way to describe this movie, the best baseball comedy of all time. It is a hilarious baseball movie, a good-hearted romantic comedy, and just an overall smart and witty film. The relationships portrayed are believable, the performances are top notch, and the baseball conversations are as finely-tuned as any sports conversations in movies. I love every bit of this movie, and it is probably the film I revisit most often when it is on television.

2. Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)

Stated as being the baseball version of Brian’s Song, Bang the Drum Slowly is the most gut-wrenching baseball movie ever made. This movie perhaps more than any other on this list is more about relationships and drama than about baseball. It centers on a star pitcher and lonely catcher dealing with the latter’s terminal illness throughout the season. Surprisingly, the movie is not overly melodramatic or weepy. It is more of an unsettling drama that earns the tears of its audience. The movie explores baseball from all angles, and it is rather poetic in structure. It is just a brilliant film.

1. Eight Men Out (1988)

The best baseball movie I have ever come across is Eight Men Out. This movie tells perhaps the most important story in the in the history of the sport: the Black Sox Scandal. It does not let anyone off the hook. For someone who is unfamiliar with the story, this film is as eye-opening as you could imagine. As a big baseball fan, it was a brilliant retelling of the scandalous story. It plays like a conspiracy drama, but it has the backdrop of the golden days of baseball, making it even more intriguing. It is the most perfect baseball movie there is, and ranks with the top 10 or so sports films ever made.

So, with Moneyball coming out this weekend and taking into account initial critical reviews, it is clear that it will probably warrant placement somewhere on this list. It tells such an unlikely story, but one that has crossed over to other sports and other areas of business. I cannot wait to see it.

So, what do you think? What baseball movies did I miss? What does your list look like? Let me know.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Recognizing Directors’ Styles

Honestly, I do not know where this came from, but it has been swirling in my mind for about a week. I do not even know if it is worth posting, but here it goes. Upon watching Warrior last weekend, I notice about halfway through that the movie is basically a parallel with Pride and Glory, UFC-style. The further the movie went along, the more I realized that the movies are so similar. The emotional brother trying to connect with the hotshot brother, the somewhat estranged father, the final fight scene between the brothers beating years and years of frustration out of each other. The movies are so alike. Little did I know that the two movies had the same director at the helm.

Gavin O’Connor, a director who I am not exactly unfamiliar with, is a quite interesting director. In 1999, he directed Janet McTeer to an Oscar nomination. He directed Miracle, the movie I most identify him with. The connections between Warrior and Miracle are obvious, but Warrior and Pride and Glory are two completely opposite genres. How I made that connection, I have no idea, but upon a bit of brainstorming, it is not the first time that I have done such a thing.

The main example that comes to mind in this vein is the first time I saw It’s Complicated. A few scenes in, I made the connection to Something’s Gotta Give. Terry thought I was just being facetious, knowing that it was the same filmmaker, but I had no idea. Nancy Meyers is the director. She has done mostly all romantic comedies, and now that I look at her filmography, it makes sense that she directed What Women Want as well. She is a talented director of those types of films. Her characters aren’t exactly what make them similar; it is more the realistic and unplugged nature of the script. She lets her actors freely roam around in their characters. Something’s Gotta Give and It’s Complicated are similar in that the romance is between older characters, but they are also similar in the flair of the dialogue and how genuine the relationships are. The visual style is almost non-existent in these films, but for some reason I was still able to make the connection between them.

Finally, this week I watched Gigli (don’t judge me, but honestly, it isn't that bad). There was a certain scene in the movie where Gigli’s boss Louis is chewing him out on the phone, and that distinctly reminded me of a scene in Midnight Run where Joe Pantoliano is screaming at De Niro. The way the character was yelling and banging his phone on the phone booth, the way the camera was facing the character. The scenes were almost mirrors of each other. The further I went into the movie, the more I recognized similarities in the narrative. The car ride scenes with Lopez, Affleck, and Bartha reminded me of De Niro and Grodin riding cross-country. The character traits of Affleck and De Niro are more than a little alike. The kidnapping plot is obviously a connection. Martin Brest is the director. I actually know his work. Scent of a Woman and Beverly Hills Cop are his most notable films. I guess I didn’t remember him directing Midnight Run, and I had no clue that he directed Gigli until the end credits.

Directors, no matter the budget, plot, or actors all have their unique style. That is a given, though. What makes these three cases stand out to me is that these are not directors with visual trademarks. Terry always says that you can pick an Eastwood movie out of a hat, which is true. His movies are always so much bluer than other movies. Fincher movies all are incredibly dark and moody. Scorsese’s films are marked with tracking shots. Gus Van Sant has odd, creative camera angles. Martin Brest’s films look quite plain. Gavin O’Connor’s films may be a bit dark, but nothing to really stand out. Nancy Meyer’s films look extremely ordinary. What these films have in common is how the directors tell the stories. Of course there are similar camera angles, a few characters that are reminiscent of ones in their other films, but it is the story arches and mood of the films that is where the directors leave their mark.

So, what does this all mean? I really do not know. Maybe it just means that I watch a lot of movies. Or I just got lucky in these instances. I wrote this more out of curiosity than out of insight. Has this ever happened to you? What other directors have you noticed have a unique style other than strictly visual? This could be an interesting conversation if we get it going.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Movie Milestones: 25 Years of Top Gun

Can you believe it's been 25 years?!? One of the most iconic, quotable, and all-around fun movies of the 80's has over the years become one of my personal favorites. With one of the greatest casts top to bottom and some of the most memorable scenes in history, Top Gun definitely deserves the title of a "Movie Milestone."

This Tony Scott classic (don't get to put those three words together that often) stars a 24 year-old Tom Cruise as Pete "Maverick" Mitchell as a fighter pilot sent to Top Gun to train and hone his dog fighting skills and become one of the navy's top pilots. His co-pilot is Goose (Anthony Edwards with a full head of hair and a cheesy mustache). His top competitor at Top Gun is Iceman (Val Kilmer), a bleach-haired, cocky hot shot that is out to take down Maverick. Along the way, Maverick falls for one of his instructors, Charlie (Kelly McGillis).
Best scene: This is so hard to choose. There are so many iconic scenes in this that can be quoted endlessly. Scenes like the first classroom scene where Maverick has to explain his stunt with the MIG. Or the volleyball scene as Maverick and Goose take their rivalry with Iceman and Slider to the volleyball court. Or any scene that takes place in the air as they fight each other and the enemies. However, if pressed to pick one best scene, it would have to be the bar scene. We get our first glimpse of the quirky relationship between Maverick and Goose, as well as get introduced to Iceman and his RIO Slider, who becomes the brunt of many of Goose's one-liners. You see how Iceman resents Maverick immediately for taking his best friend's spot at Top Gun, and you see Maverick's supreme arrogance that makes him such a great and often dangerous pilot. ("That's right, Ice . . . Man, I am dangerous.") We also get introduced to a game that, who knows how many times, Maverick and Goose have played. "OK, you have to have carnal knowledge, of a lady this time, on the premises." He makes his introduction to his target, who happens to be Charlie, by informing her that she has lost that loving feeling (a declaration that makes me worrisome about Tom Cruise starring in the musical Rock of Ages next year). I could watch that scene start to finish over and over and over . . .
Best line: I could quote this movie all day. "Your ego is writing checks your body can't cash." "I feel the need. The need for speed." "The plaque for the alternates is in the ladies' room." "I'm gonna hit the brakes, he'll blow right by us." "Negative Ghost Rider, the pattern is full." "Slider, you stink." "I could go on forever, baby." (Wrong movie, but I find it applicable to the current situation.) The line I have to go with as my favorite is actually a series of banter between Maverick and Goose as they explain to Charlie what they were doing inverted over the top of a MIG. "Communicating . . . Keeping up with foreign relations . . . Giving him the bird." Then Goose butts in while demonstrating, "You know, the finger!" Charlie replies, "Yes, I know the finger, Goose." Goose's response as he retracts his finger: "Oh, I'm sorry. I hate it when it does that." Classic.
Most Iconic Moment: Maverick is finally finding a way to cope with the death of Goose after a terrible accident in the air. He stands on the back of his air craft carrier with Goose's dog tags in his hand, the same dog tags he hadn't let go of since the accident. He is finally ready to move on which he shows by hurling Goose's dog tags in the ocean. For as action-packed as this movie is, it is hard to make it through that moment with Maverick with a dry eye.
The Time Tester: This is where we look at what, if anything, from this film has stood the test of time the best. For Top Gun, this answer is easy: the score and soundtrack. After 25 years, this remains one of my all-time favorite scores from top to bottom. Featuring such classic 80's anthems like "Danger Zone" and "Playing With the Boys," and ending with the classic score theme. The only way to describe it is, "Dum-dum-dum, duh-duh-duh-duh-dum-dum, duh-duh-dum, duh-duh-dum, duh-duh-dum-dum-dum." You know what I'm talking about! Put on top of that the boys belting at the top of their lungs "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" and the Oscar-winning love song "Take My Breath Away," wow. I can't imagine ever topping that.
The Lasting Impact: Looking back on Top Gun, one of the biggest lasting impacts is the amount of careers it shot into superstar status. Tom Cruise had already been made a star after Risky Business, but this film made him a bankable legitimate movie star, following this up with a run of films no other actor can claim to their resume. This film also saw the launch of Val Kilmer's career, who has become one of the most eccentric talents of the last 25 years. Add to that supporting performances by Kelly McGillis, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt, Michael Ironside, Tim Robbins, and Meg Ryan, you have what turned out to be one of the most stacked casts of the 80's. After you look at the careers Top Gun launched, you then have to look at its lasting effect on movie making itself. Now I know it's no Citizen Kane or Casablanca, but to say it had no lasting effect on the way these types of films were made is simply pathetic. In many ways, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Tony Scott have been trying to recreate something that brings about the iconic status that Top Gun has using the same formula, but nothing can ever quite match a standard-setter.

After 25 years, this film has definitely stood the test of time. I actually had this film running in the background while I wrote this article. Some things are a little dated. Top Gun takes place at the end of the Cold War, and we see a nameless, faceless enemy we could only assume is someone from the Cold War. However, one thing that makes it unique is the nameless, faceless enemy. The focus is not at all on the enemy, but on the people and the relationships built through the experiences they had at Top Gun and beyond.

Movie Milestones

I'll admit it. I haven't gotten to the movie theatre much this summer. This is partially budgetary reasons (I don't make the fortune it now costs to go to the movie theatre on a regular basis or have the connections Todd has), and partially because not a ton of movies this summer have caught my interest (I've also been really busy, but that's another story entirely). Because of this, I haven't been able to write much about the movies that have been coming out this summer. Instead, I have decided to write about some great achievements in film that celebrate major birthdays this year. These segments on the site will be entitled "Movie Milestones." Be on the lookout for future installments.

Emma Stone: Rising Star

Emma Stone is one of the most interesting cases of instant stardom in Hollywood in recent memory. Just four years ago, she was in her first movie. Now, she may be the most bankable young star out there. How did we get to this point? Where did her crazy popularity come from? Yeah, I am not sure either. I have been trying to figure that out.

In 2007, after doing just 12 television episodes as an actor, Emma Stone got her break by getting cast as one of the supporting females in Superbad. From the first time I saw her on screen, I knew there was something different about her. She had these huge, beautiful eyes and her voice had a raspiness to it that made her sound different than anyone else on screen. I had no idea, though, that in four years that she would be a big star. I assumed she would become one of the underused, underrated supporting comedy actresses, adding to the list that includes the likes of Leslie Mann, Kristen Wiig, Jenna Fischer, and Elizabeth Banks.

In 2008 and 2009, Ms. Stone started to get a few more roles. She had small parts in The Rocker, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, The House Bunny, and Paper Man. She was starting to become more of a familiar face, but still to everyone she was just “Jules from Superbad”. Later in ’09 she got one of the female leads in the surprise hit Zombieland. This movie is where she really came into her own. She played a character that was not quite like what we had seen her as before, and she looked smoking hot. As shallow as it sounds, one of the requirements for an actress to really be taken seriously as a big star, they need to be eye candy. I was not sure that she could have that quality until this movie. It wasn’t until after this that I finally cared enough to learn her name.

Now, obviously Emma Stone’s star-making role was Easy A. At no point did I think the movie would be good, until I started watching it. It was such a fresh movie, and I wasn’t really sure why. It was a fairly clich├ęd script with some good actors and some annoying characters. But it was Stone as the main character that gave the movie its heart and appeal. The way she appears on screen in all of her movies is so grounded and real. You cannot really take your eyes off her. There is something in those eyes, something in that voice that intrigues us all. Her Golden Globe nomination was well-deserved. She probably should have won. I would almost compare her acclaim, appeal, and impact of this role on her career to Terrence Howard’s part in Hustle & Flow.

After some voice work, we get to 2011, a monster year for Ms. Stone. We start out with Friends with Benefits, which is only a cameo, but isn’t the fact that she has a cameo proof that she has arrived? It is not like it is just a bit part, it is sort of crucial, with the male parallel character being played by Andy Samberg. Later in the summer came Crazy, Stupid, Love, which is another really strong character for her. She played basically the one character that everyone can relate to in the film, and brought an undeniable amount of heart to it.

Finally, we have the current megahit The Help. In that brilliant ensemble cast, it is Emma Stone that got the lead role. The film is such a strange case in the industry right now. It has won the box office for the third straight weekend. It had a fairly corny, lame trailer, so I am not exactly sure how it shot onto the scene so rapidly. The movie is pretty good, but very slight and unchallenging. How is this movie so successful and widely appealing? The only answer I can come up with is Emma Stone. She is to that level already. Everyone goes to see this movie: young, old, guys, girls, black, white… It does not matter. It isn’t one of the new faces Jessica Chastain or Octavia Spencer. It isn’t the bit part specialist Viola Davis. It may be the subject matter in some circles, but it can’t be for all of them. It is the director’s second film, so it can’t be that. All I can think of is that Emma Stone is getting the people in the seats. Other than some glowing reviews (and let’s be honest, that has no bearing on box office success), Ms. Stone is the main reason why I was intrigued by the movie. It is crazy to think that a girl can be planted on the scene one year, then four years and one leading role later she can simply appear and make her film into $100 million hit in a few weeks. The movie is not a blockbuster and it is not a normal August release. It is a November-type release, and one that under normal circumstances would not have gotten too far off the ground. Some people may differ with me on this, but that is exactly how I view this phenomenon.

So, what is next for The Help and Ms. Stone? I view The Help as being this year’s The Blind Side. If there were 10 spots at the Oscars still, it would be a lock for a nomination. Now, it is less of a sure-thing, but still very possible. Recently, the Oscars have been focusing on nominating more films for, about, and/or by women, so it will certainly get its share of votes. They cannot ignore that box office number either, which will most likely pass $200 million by the time its theatrical run is done. Viola Davis will be nominated, and I would put Stone right there in the running for a Best Actress nomination. The Golden Globe nod is almost assured, but the Oscar is really possible.

When I think of Emma Stone’s rising star and how rapidly it got there, I can’t think of any other comparison than Julia Roberts. Within three years of her acting career starting, she had already been named Hollywood’s sweetheart and gotten two Oscar nominations. Ms. Stone has a similarly pretty face and is becoming the female movie-goer’s next favorite star. She is incredibly likable and very down-to-earth. I can totally see her being one of this generation’s top actresses in 5-10 years. And if people still do not know who she is, I guarantee that they will after her appearance as the female lead in the new Spider-Man flick next year.

So, does anyone agree? What do you like most about Emma Stone and/or The Help? Can she be as big of a star as I indicated?