Posts Tagged ‘best movies ever’

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Revisiting 1990: Misery

September 26, 2010

“I am your number one fan.”

Considered For: Top 5, Top Horror Film

Plot: Successful author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) traps himself in his car after getting in an accident during a blizzard. He is saved when Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) pulls him out and lets him recover in her home. As Sheldon lies crippled in a bed, Annie slowly starts to unravel and show her true colors, especially after she discovers that Paul plans to kill off his famed heroine Misery in his latest novel, and the author realizes that his life might be in danger.

I can’t think of a Stephen King adaptation I like more than Misery, but that is because none of those films had a performance as strong as Kathy Bates was in this movie. Kathy Bates is this movie. Outside of James Caan, who is pretty limited considering he’s confined to a bed for most of the film, and the sheriff and his wife, there aren’t many characters in Misery to speak of, so Bates really had a lot riding on her performance and she carries that burden like a badge of honor. Deserving of an easy Oscar win, Bates channels her inner psychopath as her character Annie Wilkes goes from happy-go-lucky hick to deranged, violent batterer in sheer seconds. I saw this movie when I was a kid and the only thing I remembered about it was Wilkes taking a sledgehammer to Sheldon’s legs, a testament to how iconic and powerful that scene was. This movie is the epitome of suspense and will have you on edge the whole time. I’m considering it for my top horror movie of 1990, but I’m not really sure if fits my definition of a horror movie. I’d place Misery in the suspense/thriller category and it’s a top notch effort. Highly recommended and a must see for Kathy Bates going completely insane.

Grade: B+
Viewings: 2
Replay Value: Worth revisiting every several years or so.
Sequel Potential: None
Oscars?: A win for Bates
Nudity?: None

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Revisiting 1990: The Grifters

August 27, 2010

Considered For: Top 5

“I looked and I looked and believe me, brother, I kissed a lot of fucking frogs…”

The Grifters has flown under my radar for twenty years now. I had never even heard of this movie until I started looking at the 1990 movie list, but a cast starring Anjelica Huston, John Cusack, and Annette Bening in a movie about con artists sold me immediately. A production credit from Martin Scorsese didn’t hurt it’s resume either. Despite its relative obscurity, The Grifters was immediately bumped to the top of my Netflix queue.

As noted, this is a movie about con artists filmed by then British director Stephen Frears. The story centers around short con man Roy Dillon (Cusack) and the women in his life. It’s clear from the beginning of the film that Roy is into small cons, like showing a bartender a $20 bill and then swapping it out for a $10 when the bartender comes back to make change for him… or using word play to his advantage for small gains against bar customers. His mother, Lily (Huston), is in a different league, however. She makes rounds at the horse tracks to place large bets for a mob-type organization, diving in at the last second to tip the odds. Not being educated on horse racing, it’s a concept that goes over my head, but I suspect she’s playing for high stakes, both in terms of money and her own personal safety. Roy’s girlfriend Myra (Bening) is a bit more of an enigma. She’s not as easy to figure out and Bening initially plays the character as happy-go-lucky and somewhat naive, but something still tells you that it’s the character doing the acting here. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say she might be the biggest con artist of them all. The core of the movie kicks in when Lily and Myra meet after Roy is hospitalized for a life-threatening injury suffered when a con goes wrong. In a way, the two women are threatened and intrigued by each other, an obsession that could have tragic consequences.

The acting in this movie is superb. We get Oscar-nominated performances from Anjelica Huston and Annette Bening. I’ll be revisiting Ghost relatively soon, but I’ll be surprised if Whoopi Goldberg’s performance is really better than Bening’s in this movie. In a lot of ways, Myra was my favorite character. She’s demented to a degree that the Dillons haven’t really reached yet. Myra is more than willing to use her sexuality to her advantage, even trading sex with her undesirable landlord in exchange for rent. Roy is completely ignorant of his woman’s indiscretions and it’s Bening’s performance within a performance that has him none the wiser. Myra has the wool pulled over everyone’s eyes… until she meets Lily. I wouldn’t ever name Anjelica Huston amongst my favorite actresses–she always seems to play every role with a detached and emotionless air, think The Addam’s Family and The Royal Tenenbaums–but it’s hard to say she’s not consistently solid in her roles. Even though Lily had Roy when she was 14 and didn’t have much to do with raising him, you still get a sense that she loves him and feels responsible for what he has become. She recognizes he’s not really cut out for “grifting” and is frequently suggesting he find another career. Speaking of Roy, John Cusack gives a solid performance as well. In fact, it was his character that hooked me into this movie immediately. In a lot of ways, Roy is the mark here, but Cusack’s calm confidence in the opening scenes makes you think he just might have it all figured out. All in all, a great set of performances from every one involved.

While the Academy recognized the acting performances in this movie, The Grifters may have been overlooked in the Best Picture department. Granted, I’m still early in my quest of 1990 movies, but I know for sure it’d rank in my top 5 at the moment, which at least gives it an edge over The Godfather: Part III, which was nominated. The story here is based on a novel, but I’ve never read it, so I have no basis for commenting on the translation to the big screen, but it did get a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay and I’ve read that a lot of the dialogue is taken word for word from the book… dialogue that is often very good. I enjoyed the story here and was highly invested in all the characters. You can’t help but root for Roy in this movie… he’s out of his league dealing with his mother and girlfriend, which in a way, makes him more likable than Lily and Myra. I also can’t help but point out Jeremy Piven’s cameo in this movie. Piven was never a household name until Entourage, so it’s kind of funny seeing him in his earlier days as a relatively unknown. You can still see some of the character tics that Ari’s made famous today.

I’ve never heard one person I know mention this movie, so hopefully this review can open some eyes. The Grifters is a solid film, with an interesting story and some great performances. Bening is terrific here and the movie is fun, despite a noticeably dark tone. Anyone that’s never seen this movie, should at least give it a shot. I highly doubt you’ll walk away disappointed. It’s possible The Grifters will make my final Top 5 of 1990 list, but I can guarantee it will at least be in the Top 10. Check it out.

Grade: A-
Viewings: 1
Replay Value: Maybe not collection worthy, but I’d definitely watch it again.
Sequel Potential: None
Oscars?: Four nominations: Anjelica Huston for Best Actress, Annette Bening for Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Stephen Frears for Best Director.
Nudity?: Annette Bening gets VERY naked… a couple times… and she’s spectacular.

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Revisiting 1990: The Godfather: Part III

August 22, 2010

Considered For: Top 5, Best Sequel

“Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.”

Here are some interesting facts: I own three movies that were released in the year 1990; all of them are sequels; and until last night, I had owned one of them for at least eight years and had never seen it. That movie would be Francis Ford Coppola’s conclusion to his The Godfather trilogy (the other two 1990 movies I own are Die Hard 2 and Child’s Play 2). There are a couple of reasons why I never bothered to watch The Godfather: Part III even though it is a sequel to two of the best films ever made. One, it was released sixteen years after The Godfather: Part II, which is a bad omen in itself. Two, when people talk about the best movies ever made, they always mention the first two Godfather films, but never the last one; it’s almost as if it doesn’t exist. Lastly, I’ve heard a lot of talk over the years that Sofia Coppola’s performance in the movie completely ruined it.

I finally forced myself into watching the last Godfather movie because of this column and after noticing that it actually was nominated for Best Picture, which surprised me because I’ve long thought it was a universally hated film. It was nominated for seven Oscars in total and even has a respectable 7.6 rating on IMDB.com. For all the negative energy surrounding this movie, when I blew the dust off the cover, I discovered that it was actually somewhat critically acclaimed and probably worthy of viewing for my Revisiting 1990 column.

Oh my God, wake me up when it’s over. That pretty much sums up my thoughts on The Godfather: Part III. You have to ask yourself: was that really necessary? It’s been sixteen years… your two Godfather films have been widely accepted as two of the five best films ever made… Mr. Coppola, why are you revisiting this franchise? Did this story really need to be told? After watching it, I’m going to say NO. Unlike the first two films, which have many memorable and iconic characters, this movie doesn’t really make much of an impression. Al Pacino doesn’t even seem like he’s playing the same person. He reminds me nothing of the Michael Corleone I remember and he looks sixty years older. With the exception of Kay (Diane Keaton) and Connie (Talia Shire), and some verbal and visual references to the first two films, this movie might as well have nothing to do with them.

It’s kind of hard to say what the story was here. I honestly had a hard time following it. I don’t know if it was actually confusing or if I just was having difficulty because I didn’t care about it. From what I did manage to retain, Michael Corleone is trying to legitimize his business. He has become estranged from Kay and his children, Mary (Sophia Coppola) and Anthony (Franc D’Ambrosio), and is reunited with them in this film. He’s displeased to hear that his son would rather sing opera than finish his degree in law. His son also wishes to have no part of Michael’s business. Michael is introduced to Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia), who is apparently Michael’s brother Sonny’s illegitimate son and Vincent is more than happy to carry on the family business. Blah blah blah blah blah.

Seriously, who cares? What annoys me the most about this film is that it simply did not have to be made. The story here isn’t nearly strong enough to bring the franchise out of retirement after a sixteen year slumber. Mr. Coppola, you already made two of the greatest films ever, please don’t spoil it with a convoluted third installment. If there was a story dying to be told here, then I’d understand, but in my opinion, the script is the worst part about this movie. It’s not like the extremely belated sequel can’t be done. Toy Story 3 did it extremely well as recently as this year.

While the script was by far the biggest offender for me, the casting of Sofia Coppola is deservedly panned. She honestly does a laughably bad job in this movie. While the immensely talented actors around her naturally deliver their lines, she’s sounds like she’s doing an imitation of bad dialogue. Something about the way she says her lines screams that there is someone in this movie that doesn’t belong. Kudos to Coppola not letting this role ruin her self-esteem and growing up to become a pretty talented filmmaker in her own right. As if the casting of his own daughter wasn’t suspect enough the role called for an incestuous relationship. Sleeping with your first cousin is still considered incest, right? Seriously? Your own daughter? In her first major acting role? Good job, buddy.

While it might seem like I hated everything about The Godfather: Part III, I did enjoy Andy Garcia’s performance as Vincent Mancini. He’s the lone character that seemed like he would’ve been at home in the world created in the first two films and thus, is the really the only character I liked in this movie. He gets to shine in a quite a few scenes, particularly when a couple of would-be hit me break into his apartment and find themselves in an interrogation. I also enjoyed his line to Mary Corleone: “Love someone else.” Garcia was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise cloudy movie.

I don’t really understand how The Godfather: Part III received seven Academy Award nominations. It makes me wonder if these people saw the same film I did. Could they really tell me today, with a straight face, that they would rather watch this movie instead of Miller’s Crossing? I’ll give them credit for recognizing Andy Garcia’s performance, but Best Picture and Best Director for one of the more disappointing sequels of all-time? Really? While Coppola might have gotten a pass based on past credentials at the 1991 Academy Awards, my recommendation to everyone else is to skip this movie (or pretend like it doesn’t exist) and remember the first two Godfather films as the great pillars of film excellence that they are and not let this last entry tarnish their memory.

Grade: C-
Viewings: 1
Replay Value: Not much. I would watch it again someday to see if I can better follow the story.
Sequel Potential? Has it been sixteen years yet? God, let’s hope not.
Oscars: Undeserved nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. Five more nominations, including a deserved nom for Andy Garcia in the Best Supporting Actor category.
Nudity? Bridget Fonda has a decent scene. Not sure if you actually see anything though.

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The Best Movies Of The Past 20 Years

August 1, 2010

I’m going to start a series of posts highlighting the best movies of the past twenty years. I’ve made some pretty solid lists for the 1990s, but I feel there are a lot of important films that I either haven’t seen in forever or just haven’t ever watched. I was eight in 1990 and I didn’t really get into movies until 1999, so there is a bit of catching up to do. I’m going to start with the year 1990 and over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be watching some of the films from that year that I think should be considered and I’ll be posting mini-reviews for all of them. I’m going to start with the past twenty years and see how that goes, but I ultimately want to expand the series to the Best Movies Of My Life, which would date back to 1982.

For each year, I’m going to pick what I think is the best overall film and also include a list of my top 5. Since certain genres are often overlooked in Best Of lists, I’m also going to include my top comedy, horror, and animated movie for each year. Lastly, we all have a movie that we love but isn’t particularly good; something that holds a special spot in our heart anyways. For each year, I’ll be selecting my top guilty pleasure. Stay tuned. I’ll be starting on 1990 this week.