September 26, 2019

The 20 Most Must-See Movies of the 90s: Part 3

The countdown continues with numbers 10 through 6. Also, be sure to check out The 20 Most Must-See Movies of the 90s, Part 1 and Part 2

10. The Silence of the Lambs

Directed by Jonathan Demme
Written by Thomas Harris, Ted Tally (Based on the novel by Thomas Harris)
Starring: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glen

A more chilling film, you will not find. A sexually ambiguous serial killer named Buffalo Bob lives in a dank, isolated backwoods home, keeps his female victims in a dungeon, fattens them up, and then skins them so he can wear their flesh as a woman suit... Oh, and this guy's not even the main villain! It's actually Dr. Hannibal Lechter, a brilliant but insane psychiatrist who, when he isn’t murdering and eating the livers of his colleagues, enjoys playing head games with his fellow asylum inmates and coercing them into suicide. Thrust into all of this is Jodie Foster as rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling, working against the clock to track down Buffalo Bob and his latest victim, the daughter of a US Senator, before it’s too late.

Foster and Hopkins give riveting performances as Clarice has to let Lechter inside her head in exchange for his assistance in finding the killer. Taught with suspense and utterly creepy, this film paved the way for a slew of similar psychological thrillers including Final Analysis, Seven, The Bone Collector, Kiss the Girls, and Taking Lives.

Killer Sequence: Lechter breaks Clarice down and forces her to recall haunting childhood memories of what happened on her uncle’s farm.

9. The Rock
Directed by Michael Bay
Written by David Weisberg and Douglas Cook & Mark Rosner
Starring Nicholas Cage, Sean Connery, Ed Harris

Despite two unlikely heroes -- quirky Nicholas Cage and a pushing seventy Sean Connery -- this picture serves as the measuring stick for 1990s action movies. Screenwriters Weisberg, Cook and Rosner flipped the tables by having the two protagonists break in to Alcatraz prison to stop a rogue general (Ed Harris) from wiping out San Francisco with a stolen cache of chemical weapons. Since this film’s release, Hollywood has sought to duplicate director Michael Bay’s heart racing “can-you-top-this” action sequences, but the two films that come closest may very well be Bay's own Armageddon and his latest effort, Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Killer Sequence: General Hummel makes his demands, and sets off nearly two solid hours of edge of your seat action and suspense.

8. American History X
Directed by Tony Kaye
Written by David McKenna
Starring Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Avery Brooks

Ed Norton, who holds the edge over Johnny Depp as the best young actor to emerge during the 1990s, gives a commanding performance as Derek, an intelligent, but disillusioned Venice, California youth who rises to a prominent position in a neo-Nazi skinhead organization. After serving time in prison, Derek reforms, but upon his release finds that his younger brother is making the same mistakes he did. The film shifts back and forth in time, showing us how Derek was initially drawn into the group, his rise to power, and his eventual rehabilitation and release from prison. The film offers a frighteningly authentic depiction of exactly how hate groups recruit and convert their members and infuse them with their doctrines of prejudice and intolerance.

Killer Sequence: A flashback where Derek murders a black car thief, and a family
confrontation where he fully reveals his philosophies of white supremacy to his mother and her Jewish boyfriend are both powerfully disturbing.

7. The Shawshank Redemption
Directed by Tim Robbins
Written by Stephen King, Frank Darabont (Based on the short story Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King)
Starring: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman

This tremendously moving film, based on one of Stephen King’s lesser known short stories, stars Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne, justafiably imprisoned for the murder of his adulterous wife, and traces his experiences through the 30 years he spends in a New England prison. Fine supporting performances by Bob Gunton as the prison warden and the always reliable Morgan Freeman as Andy’s best friend Red, help make this film an engrossing testament to the indominitability of the human spirit. Had it not been released the same year as Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction, this film would have walked away with Best Picture and Best Director Oscars.

Killer Sequence: Andy fulfills the film's credo, "Get busy living, or get busy dying", by carrying out a long-planned, daring and ingenius escape.

6. There’s Something About Mary
Directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly
Written by Ed Decter and John J. Strauss & Bobby and Peter Farrelly
Starring: Ben Stiller, Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon

The Farrelly Brothers had given us a couple of films that featured good old fashioned, gross-out humor (Dumb and Dumber and the underrated Kingpin) but they scored a box office smash with TSAM, which sprinkled in healthy doses of sentimental romance and hilarious slapstick alongside its’ over-the-top bathroom humor.

Stiller plays straight man through most of the film (whether it’s to Mary’s mentally challenged brother, Warren; Dillon’s sleazy private dick; a homicidal hitchhiker; or Puffy, the border terrier on speed) as he seeks to track down his one and only true love from high school.

Though some found it's scatalogical humor a bit much, TSAM features BIG laughs from start to finish and the film's success kicked off a trend among contemporary American comedies to see how far they could push the raunchiness envelope (see American Pie, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Superbad, Borat, etc.)

Killer Sequence: The “hair gel” scene gave the 90s the same thing the diner scene from When Harry Met Sally gave the 80s -- the single funniest screen moment of the decade.

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May 19, 2012

With the Success of The Avengers, Is a Justice League of America Movie Next?

Do we really need to look past the success of The Avengers, which is well on its way to becoming the highest grossing film of all time, for a reason to get a Justice League of America movie into the production pipeline? Give Marvel Studios, parent company Disney, and everyone else involved credit -- they played it perfectly. Beginning with the first Hulk movie, they introduced the characters, gave us the backstories, teased audiences, and most importantly, got us all emotionally invested in the individual heroes and franchises (The Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America.) 

Part of the reason The Avengers is doing so well is because it was the result of a slow and well planned and executed build -- one character at a time; one movie at a time. And even as they were making gobs of money with the individual films, everything was being set up for a big team-up. We knew years ahead of time that a mega-movie featuring ALL of these characters was growing ever closer.

So can someone tell me why Hollywood isn't more aggressive in their partnering with DC Comics to achieve the same thing? Dating back to 1960, the Justice League of America is older and has FAR more backstory than The Avengers ever did. In large part, this is because the JLA has a deeper roster of characters with rich histories that predate (by decades) all of the Avengers -- with the exception of Captain America. And few would argue that the JLA counts among its members, two of the three single most recognizable comic book heroes in history -- Superman and Batman (the third would be Spiderman.) 

So why no JLA movie? 

Maybe because apart from the Superman movies and the two separate Batman franchises, the top DC characters have never really been given a chance on the big screen. Instead, we've inexplicably seen lesser characters like Catwoman, Jonah Hex, and Swamp Thing. Sure, we got Green Lantern last year -- but why no Flash movie? Why no Aquaman movie? How about Green Arrow and Black Canary? (They're at least as movie-worthy as their Marvel equivalents, Hawkeye and Black Widow.) And why no Wonder Woman? All are great characters, fully capable of carrying one (or more) films on their own. If Hollywood would do these movies right, and then put these characters together with Superman and Batman in a Justice League of America movie, you'd have a film property that could rival, perhaps even surpass The Avengers

Yet a quick search of the web for DC Comic movies gives us very little to hang our hopes on. Green Lantern 2 appears to be on track, but Aquaman can't seem to make it off the small screen. The Aquaman TV series that spun-off of Smallville a few years ago never got picked up by a network and was released on iTunes. A movie version (reportedly attached to Leonardo DiCaprio's production company) remains little more than a rumor -- one slated for 2015 at the earliest. 

Screenwriter David S. Goyer, to his credit, has completed scripts for both The Flash and Green Arrow and has fought to get them into production. Both are (or at least were) close to being official, but The Flash (if and when it is ever confirmed) now seems more likely to come from Green Lantern writer Greg Berlanti. And a Wonder Woman movie, despite tons of rumors about Megan Fox starring in the title role, also seems a long ways off. (Even the updated TV series got shelved.) Serious web searching finds the film in the always-vague "in development" stage. 

Maybe the new Superman movie, Man of Steel, starring Henry Cavill and set for release next June, will do well and serve as the first step towards a JLA movie. All signs point to Man of Steel being a can't miss hit. Let's face it, if you can't get a hit superhero movie by teaming director Zack Snyder (Watchmen) with screenwriter Goyer and producer Christopher Nolan (the duo behind Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises) then there's just no hope. 

Odds are, with such a stellar creative team, and an all-star cast that includes Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner and Michael Shannon, Man of Steel WILL do well and hopefully jump start the aforementioned Flash, Wonder Woman and Aquaman productions. From there, it would make sense for Martian Manhunter to make an appearance in Green Lantern 2 and/or a Man of Steel sequel. Then, with the core members of the JLA having all been introduced, best case scenario, we could finally get a JLA movie sometime around 2017... 

One can only hope...

May 8, 2012

Proof That Even Really Bad Comedies Usually Have At Least One Good Laugh: Skin Deep Edition

Dueling condoms scene.

John Ritter, one of the best physical comedians and television actors we've seen, is best known for his role as Jack Tripper on Three's Company. Though he never really made it big in movies, if you're a fan, you should catch Real Men and this film, Skin Deep. Ritter plays a boozy womanizer who in this scene is about to bed yet another conquest while wearing a glow-in-the-dark condom. When the girl's boyfriend pays a surprise visit and then dons his own glow-in-the-dark condom, hilarious chaos ensues. Director Blake Edwards shot this scene with just the right mix of raunchiness and reserve.

Related Posts:
Proof That Even Really Bad Comedies Usually Have At Least One Good Laugh: Dude, Where's My Car Edition
Proof That Even Really Bad Comedies Usually Have At Least One Good Laugh: Coup De Ville Edition

May 6, 2012

10 OTHER Summer Movies You May Want to See

So maybe you're wondering where've I been the past 3 months. Sorry, but I've been doing rewrites on one of my screenplays. There's some encouraging things happening and I've made new connections that could perhaps lead to getting something sold and maybe even into production. I'm also about halfway through a new screenplay and that will be taking up most of my time -- probably until mid-summer. Still, I'll try to find time to blog and I want to start by talking about this year's crop of summer movies, which I think is unequivocally the best slate of summer films in more than a decade.

No exaggeration, Hollywood has outdone itself. I look at this lineup of summer releases and I see over a dozen films that I would put on my "Definitely Must See" list. I'm especially stoked for Snow White and the Huntsman, Prometheus, The Avengers, Ted, Rock of Ages, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

But for this blog entry, I'm not even gonna waste your time going over the list of hugely anticipated and hyped movies that you can read about on a thousand other websites. What I'm going to focus on here are some of the "under the radar" pics that won't have as much hype, expectation, or marketing push behind them as The Amazing Spider-Man, The Dark Knight Rises or G.I. Joe: Retaliation, for example.

So here it is, a list I'm calling:

10 OTHER Summer Movies You May Want to See

May 4

Just dropped the grandkids off to see The Avengers? Don't worry old-timer, you can stick around and catch...

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Directed by John Madden (the guy who did Shakespeare in Love, not that fat football announcer) it's an English dramedy about a group of senior citizens who retire, move to India and find it's not all they thought it would be. 
See it for its all-star cast of British film legends – Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson and Peter O'Toole (Yes, he's still alive!)

May 18

Go ahead and see Battleship (the movie based on a 45-year-old board game) but also consider...

What to Expect When You're Expecting (the movie based on a 28-year-old pregnancy guide.)

Cameron Diaz, Elizabeth Banks, and Jennifer Lopez (Average age: 40... Just sayin') play expectant mothers in a film that traces several interconnected couples as they prepare to welcome their new babies. See it for its ensemble cast that also includes Chris Rock, Anna Kendrick, Dennis Quaid, and Glee's Matthew Morrison.

May 25

Why force yourself to see Men in Black III -- you know the ship has sailed on that franchise. Instead, take a chance on...

Chernobyl Diaries

Fans of the Resident Evil and Walking Dead series might enjoy this horror flick about six tourists who visit the abandoned Soviet city of Pripyat (site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster) which turns out to be not entirely abandoned after all. See it because director Oren Peli's track record (Paranormal Activity, Insidious) shows he's definitely an expert in the thriller/horror genre.

June 8

Director Ridley Scott's Prometheus is a much-anticipated sci-fi thriller. But if you like your sci-fi mixed with comedy buy a ticket for...

Safety Not Guaranteed

Three magazine employees answer the following ad:
*WANTED* Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before. 

See it because of the intriguingly amusing premise and because it killed at the Sundance Film Festival.

June 22

If you've already seen the film adaptation of the 80s jukebox musical Rock of Ages (scheduled for release a week earlier) then check out...

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

The Underworld movies, True Blood, Vampire Diaries, Priest, Fright Night, Dark Shadows, Breaking Dawn... Still no end in site for all this vampire crap. But the historical backdrop this film is set against offers something different. Honest Abe fights to win the Civil War and reunite the nation... while battling hordes of vampires looking to take over the country. See it because it's one of those rare instances where there's no other information needed –- the film's title gives you the concept, the plot and the hook.

also June 22

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

With an asteroid about to destroy life on Earth, a man (Steve Carell) hits the road to find his high school sweetheart before the world ends. See it because it's the first (and likely the last) apocalyptic/road-trip/romantic-comedy you'll ever see.

July 6

What's that Mr. Pimply-faced teen selling movie tickets in the box office?... The Amazing Spider-Man is sold out?... Okay, then give me one for...


It's Scarface meets Blow with a smattering of Breaking Bad. A murderous Mexican drug cartel tries to move in on three friends running a small marijuana business. See it if you're an Oliver Stone fan (he co-wrote and directed) and are in the mood for a WHOLE lot of killing.

July 13

The big release this week is the latest in the Ice Age franchise, Ice Age: Continental Drift. Or, you can ditch the kids and go see the adult comedy...


Mark Wahlberg stars as a grown man whose teddy bear came to life when he was a child... and hasn't left his side since. See it to find out what Seth (Family Guy) MacFarlane can do when he's freed from the constraints of network television and allowed to sink his teeth into an R-rated feature.

July 27

Summer will be winding down and pickings will be slim, but you'll get at least one more chance at a decent comedy with...

Neighborhood Watch

Suburban dads who formed a neighborhood watch group as an excuse to get out of the house find themselves facing an alien invasion. See it for its cast featuring a triumvirate of comedy masters -- Jonah Hill, Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller.

August 17

Just when you thought The Expendables included every last action hero ever born, The Expendables 2 adds Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme to the cast. You can enjoy that one with the guys but take your wife to see...


American Idol winner Jordin Sparks hopes this remake of the black cinema classic will do for her what Dreamgirls did for Jennifer Hudson. See it if you want to see the late Whitney Houston's final film performance.

February 14, 2012

Hollywood Increasingly Turning to Fairytales for Source Material

Since the early days of cinema, Hollywood has repeatedly looked to a variety of "proven" source material in favor of stories written directly for the screen. Many of the early silent-era classics, including Birth of a Nation (1915) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), were based on successful novels. But contemporary filmmakers now look beyond books for material on which to base what they hope will be their next blockbuster. Sources for highly-anticipated 2012 releases include Broadway plays (Rock of Ages), old TV shows (21 Jump Street), really old TV shows (Dark Shadows), comic books (The Amazing Spider Man, The Avengers), and even children's games (Battleship.)

Still, the source material of choice for Hollywood producers these days seems to be fairytales. It began in earnest in 2010 with the success of Tim Burton's adaptation of Alice in Wonderland and continued last year with the release of Red Riding Hood and Beastly (a modern day retelling of Beauty and the Beast.) Last fall saw the debut of two new TV series based on fairytales (Grimm and Once Upon a Time) and the trend seems to be peaking this year with not one, but TWO soon-to-be-released Snow White features -- the campy Mirror Mirror, and the darker, edgier Snow White and the Huntsman. (The spec screenplay for the latter sparked a bidding war in Hollywood and eventually sold for an astonishing $3 million, one of the highest figures ever paid for a movie script.) Both of the Snow White films are big budget productions starring Academy Award winners (Julia Roberts and Charlize Theron, respectively) and SWATH in particular is a summer release that's already being aggressively marketed, so the film's producers are clearly counting on it being a hit.

Also in the can and ready to go is Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (which like SWATH, adds a vigilante spin to the traditional fairy tale) and Warner Bothers' Jack the Giant Killer. Other fairy tale-based movies in various stages of production include Enchanted 2, Pan, which turns the tables and casts Peter Pan as a kidnapper and Captain Hook as a police officer on his trail; Beauty and the Beast directed by Guillermo del Toro and starring Harry Potter alum Emma Watson; and a new adaptation of Pinocchio with director Tim Burton and star Robert Downey Jr. attached. And just confirmed yesterday was Maleficent, a Sleeping Beauty retelling with Angelina Jolie in the title role as the evil queen.

You wonder what took Hollywood so long to begin what looks to be an exhaustive development of fairytale-based movies. Sure, they've been producing animated features for decades -- in Disney's case, for more than 70 years. But with a built in audience already familiar with the characters and stories, and with nearly all of literature's most well known fables and fairytales (including those by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson) now in the public domain (meaning producers are free to make movie versions without having to pay out licensing fees or royalties) it's surprising that Tinseltown hasn't begun pumping out live action versions in sooner than now.