Best Year’s Ever

As one year turns to the next in short order, it got me thinking. What are some examples of actors and directors who had remarkable calendar frames over the past few decades? The guidelines are pretty simple – the individual must have had two (and in a couple of cases, three or more) pictures that made an impact during 19(fill in the blank) or 20(fill in the blank).

And wouldn’t you know it? My ruminations quickly turned into a lengthy list that I’ve paired down to a top 25. Let’s call this Best Year’s Ever and count down from #25 to #1!

25. Channing Tatum (2012)

It was a busy year for the performer to say the least. Tatum was in Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, but three major roles made him the star he is today. There was the hit romance The Vow, hit comedy 21 Jump Street, and his signature and semi-autobiographical title role in the summer sleeper Magic Mike (also from Mr. Soderbergh).

24. John Travolta (1996)

Two years following his major comeback in Pulp Fiction and a year following his Golden Globe nominated lead in Get Shorty, Travolta’s hot streak continued with three hits: John Woo’s action thriller Broken Arrow and fantasy dramas Phenomenon and Michael.

23. Clint Eastwood (1971)

The last two months of 1971 were fruitful for the legend. In November, he made his directorial debut with the well-reviewed psychological thriller Play Misty for Me. This began a career of dozens of behind the camera works, including Best Picture winners Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. In December, Eastwood starred as Dirty Harry which spawned his lucky cop franchise.

22. Sigourney Weaver (1988)

Weaver won two Golden Globes 30 years ago – Best Actress (Drama) for Gorillas in the Mist and Supporting Actress for Working Girl. She would be nominated for two Oscars as well, but come up short. All part of a remarkable decade that included Ghostbusters and Aliens.

21. Joe Pesci (1990)

Pesci won an Oscar for his unforgettable supporting work in Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas. That same fall, he was a burglar terrorizing Macaulay Culkin in the holiday classic Home Alone.

20. Kevin Spacey (1995)

Current scandals aside, there’s no denying Spacey was the movie villain of 1995. He won an Academy Award as (spoiler alert!) Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects and as a demented serial killer in Seven. Earlier in the year, he costarred with Dustin Hoffman and Morgan Freeman in  Outbreak and headlined the critically approved indie comedy Swimming with Sharks.

19. Nicolas Cage (1997)

Leaving Las Vegas awarded Cage his Oscar two years prior. By the summer of 1997, he was a full-fledged action hero with two blockbusters in the same month: Con Air and Face/Off.

18. Will Ferrell (2003)

Ferrell’s transformation from SNL favorite to movie star happened here with the spring’s Old School as Frank the Tank and in the winter as Buddy in Elf.

17. Morgan Freeman (1989)

The nation’s Narrator-in-Chief had a trio of significant roles nearly three decades ago – his Oscar nominated chauffeur in the Best Picture winner Driving Miss Daisy, a dedicated and stern principal in Lean on Me, and a Civil War officer in Glory.

16. Steven Soderbergh (2000)

The prolific filmmaker made two Best Picture nominees with Erin Brockovich and Traffic (he would win Best Director for the latter). Both surpassed the century mark at the box office and Julia Roberts won Best Actress for Brockovich and Benicio del Toro took Supporting Actor in Traffic.

15. Halle Berry (2001)

Ms. Berry had a revealing role in the summer action fest Swordfish. She then became the first (and thus far only) African-American to win Best Actress for Monster’s Ball. This was all sandwiched between XMen hits.

14. Hugh Jackman (2017)

Berry’s XMen cast mate Jackman retired his Wolverine character to critical and audience admiration with Logan in the spring. At the end of the year, his musical The Greatest Showman was an unexpected smash.

13. Leonardo DiCaprio (2002)

Five years after Titanic, the jury was still out as to whether DiCaprio’s leading man status would hold up. His roles in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can left little doubt. He’s been one of Hollywood’s most dependable stars since.

12. Francis Ford Coppola (1974)

In 1972, Coppola made perhaps the greatest American film of all time with The Godfather. Two years later, its sequel came with enormous expectations and exceeded them. Like part one, it won Best Picture. As if that weren’t enough, he made another Picture nominee in ‘74 with the Gene Hackman surveillance thriller The Conversation.

11. Michael Douglas (1987)

His signature role as greedy tycoon Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street won him an Oscar and gave him one of the most famous cinematic speeches ever. He also lit up the screen in the blockbuster thriller Fatal Attraction, which was the year’s second largest grosser.

10. Julia Roberts (1999)

She started the decade with a smash star making turn in Pretty Woman. Julia Roberts ended it with two romantic comedy summer $100 million plus earners: Notting Hill with Hugh Grant and Runaway Bride (which reunited her with Pretty costar Richard Gere). She’d win her Oscar the next year for Erin Brockovich.

9. Tom Cruise (1996)

1986 wasn’t too shabby either with Top Gun and The Color of Money. Yet it’s a decade later that serves as Cruise’s year with the franchise starter Mission: Impossible in the summer and Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire, which earned Cruise a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nod. They were the third and fourth biggest hits of the year, respectively.

8. Sandra Bullock (2013)

Nearly two decades after her breakout role in Speed, Bullock had a banner 2013 alongside Melissa McCarthy in the summer comedy The Heat and her Oscar nominated turn as a stranded astronaut in the fall’s Gravity.

7. Sylvester Stallone (1985)

Sly was the undisputed champion of the box office (not to mention sequels and Roman numerals) in 1985, notching the second and third top hits of the year behind Back to the Future. They were for his two signature characters with Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rocky IV.

6. Robert Downey Jr. (2008)

A decade after all the wrong kind of headlines for his drug addiction, Downey Jr. pulled off perhaps the most impressive comeback in movie history. 2008 saw him as Tony Stark in Iron Man, the film that kicked off the MCU in grand fashion. Later that summer came Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder, which earned Downey a rare Oscar nod for a comedic performance.

5. Tom Hanks (1993)

There’s more than one year to consider for Hanks… 1995 (Apollo 13, Toy Story) comes to mind. Yet 1993 saw him with Meg Ryan in the now classic Sleepless in Seattle and winning an Oscar in Philadelphia as a lawyer diagnosed with AIDS. His status as a romantic and dramatic lead was solidified in a matter of months. A consecutive Academy Award followed in 1994 for Forrest Gump.

4. Mel Brooks (1974)

The director managed to make two of the most beloved comedies of all time in one year… Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. The two features combined contain some of the funniest scenes ever filmed.

3. Jennifer Lawrence (2012)

Already an Oscar nominee two years prior for Winter’s Bone, Lawrence’s road to superstardom was paved in 2012. In March came The Hunger Games, the year’s third top earner that spawned three sequels. In December came Silver Linings Playbook, where she won Best Actress.

2. Jim Carrey (1994)

In 1993, Carrey was known as a great cast member of Fox’s groundbreaking sketch show “In Living Color”. By the end of 1994, he was the most bankable comedic star in America as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber all hit screens.

1. Steven Spielberg (1993)

In a list filled with lots of choices, the #1 selection was rather easy. The highest grossing filmmaker of all time’s 1993 was astonishing. Dino tale Jurassic Park in the summer was a marvel technical achievement that began a franchise. At the time of its release, it became the largest grosser in history with the top opening weekend yet seen. Six months later, Holocaust epic Schindler’s List won seven Academy Awards (including Picture and for Spielberg’s direction).

I hope your New Year is your best yet, readers! Have a happy one…

Bird Box Movie Review

Susanne Bier’s Bird Box, based on a 2014 novel by Josh Malerman, imagines a post apocalyptic world where we all must develop a blind side. How fitting, I suppose, that Sandra Bullock is the headliner. It is she and some of her cast mates that holds this concoction together, at least for a while.

We first meet Bullock’s Malorie as she instructs two young children that they are about to embark on a dangerous trip with her. She is soon rowing and rowing and rowing a boat not so gently down a choppy stream to an unknown destination. They’re all blindfolded.

A flashback to five years earlier finds the pregnant Malorie getting a checkup with her sister (Sarah Paulson). She seems none too excited about her impending delivery. Different complications arise as people start committing suicide suddenly all over the globe. It’s soon discovered opening your eyes and looking at some never seen creatures brings on the self violence.

Our soon to be parent manages to hole up with a group of strangers that includes the home’s boozy owner (John Malkovich), another expectant mom (Danielle Macdonald), and a war vet (Trevante Rhodes) who connects with Malorie. It’s in these initial scenes where Bird Box is at its most engrossing. There’s nothing terribly fresh here as the group figures out how to survive, but there’s some interesting characters and actors playing them to make it worthwhile. Jacki Weaver, Lil Rel Howery, and rapper Machine Gun Kelly are part of the eclectic mix as well.

This gets about an hour’s worth of mileage from its premise and the wrinkle of the sighted having to go blind is a newish twist once they venture out (thank goodness for GPS). Eric Heisserer’s screenplay never concerns itself with what the heck really happened to cause this anyway. We do know birds can sense the monsters. The unexplained phenomena of what did happen isn’t all that important, but total ignorance is a tad surprising. Heisserer did significantly superior work with his adapted script for Arrival.

The picture is as much an allegory about motherhood than it is a science fiction horror thriller. There’s also elements of M. Night Shyamalan’s unfortunate The Happening. It had more unintentional laughs than this, but it also found cooler ways for spellbound victims to off themselves.

Bullock’s performance is committed and she certainly makes this watchable. The Oscar winner has played maternal instinct impressively before (the already mentioned The Blind Side, Gravity) and we see it here. Yet the true gravity of this whole situation never feels as suspenseful as it quite should. Maybe it’s the details left unseen or maybe it’s the familiar themes we’ve seen plenty of times already.

**1/2 (out of four)

2018: The Year of Josh Brolin

He’s been an Oscar nominee for Milk, the star of Best Picture winner No Country for Old Men, a Man in Black for the third entry of that franchise, and (of course) the big brother in The Goonies. And in 2018, Josh Brolin was unquestionably the king of the summer sequel, setting up roles that will continue for some time.

It all started with the summer season’s biggest blockbuster – Avengers: Infinity War. As villainous Thanos, Brolin pretty much stole the show against the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. A few weeks later, the actor starred alongside Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool 2, which stands as the year’s fifth top earner. Sicario: Day of the Soldado followed shortly after that with Brolin reprising his role as a CIA agent barking orders to Benicio del Toro. That follow-up managed to top the gross of its 2015 predecessor.

We can expect to see him in all three of these parts again. In summer 2019, Thanos will be back in Avengers: Endgame. He’s signed a four picture deal to be Cable in that cinematic universe. A third Sicario feature is planned.

In a career that kicked off over three decades ago alongside One-Eyed Willy and Sloth, Brolin established a trio of characters that we’ll likely see onscreen for the foreseeable future.

2018: The Year of Emily Blunt

Emily Blunt has had a decade filled with acclaimed performances in high-profile features including Looper, Edge of Tomorrow, Sicario (she sat out its sequel this summer), and The Girl on the Train. In 2018, this rose to an even greater level with a pair of very different titles.

In April, Blunt headlined the horror pic of the year with A Quiet Place directed by her husband John Krasinski. Her role as an expectant mother trying to protect her unborn baby and other children from monsters drew critical raves. The film debuted to a stunning $50 million and took in $188 million domestically.

This month, she took on the iconic role made famous over 50 years ago by Julie Andrews in the Disney sequel Mary Poppins Returns. Reviews were mostly strong for it as well, especially for Blunt’s take on the British nanny. It, too, should leg out to a stateside gross approaching $200 million.

2019 is expected to be a quiet one for the actress while she’ll star alongside Dwayne Johnson in the summer of 2020 with the Mouse Factory’s Jungle Cruise. As for this year, it was anything but quiet for Ms. Blunt.

2018: The Year of Crazy Rich Asians

Over 16 years ago, My Big Fat Greek Wedding unexpectedly became the highest grossing romantic comedy of all time with its focus on culture and love. That chord was struck once again in the summer of 2018 with Crazy Rich Asians. Based on the bestseller by Kevin Kwan and directed by Jon M. Chu, Asians received rave reviews and audiences turned out to the tune of a $174 million domestic haul.

The film made a little history along the way by becoming the first major Hollywood studio production to feature a predominantly Asian-American cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club. This allowed for star making roles for leads Henry Golding and Constance Wu, as well as actress/rapper Awkwafina. For veteran Michelle Yeoh, best known to stateside moviegoers for Tomorrow Never Dies and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, her potential mother-in-law role garnered awards chatter.

Asians certainly achieved its status as the summer’s giant sleeper and is the largest earning rom com since 2005’s Hitch. It also changed the faces we normally see in the genre (like Greek Wedding) and that earns it a place atop the year’s major cinematic stories.

Escape Room Box Office Prediction

Six strangers attempt to survive a deadly series of the title here in the horror pic Escape Room, out next Friday. It’s my first box office prediction for a 2019 feature and it comes from Adam Robitel, best known for directing 2018’s sequel Insidious: The Last Key (which was my first projection for this current year). Cast members include Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Taylor Russell, Tyler Labine, Jay Ellis, and Nik Dodani.

The market could certainly be ready for a fright fest, but whether Escape Room hits that spot for genre fans is questionable (especially with Glass coming two weeks later). The aforementioned Insidious entry had the benefit of being part of a successful franchise. It opened to just over $29 million almost one year ago.

I’ll estimate that this achieves less than half of that number with the caveat that horror flicks can manage to outdo expectations in January.

Escape Room opening weekend prediction: $13.8 million

The Predator Movie Review

There are moments in The Predator where it feels like the franchise went the route of 80s slasher series when Freddy, Jason, and Michael ruled the day. With the alien creatures roaming the suburbs for a brief stretch and with some deliriously gory bits and extreme profanity, I could imagine this is as the fifth installment when the well is running dry. This could maybe be Predator V following Predator In Harlem or something. It’s a time in the series when ridiculous and probably offensive characters like an autistic kid who’s actually deemed an enhancement in human evolution is introduced. The main protagonist would be dull and boring, not close to matching Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1987 original or even Danny Glover’s overburdened LAPD officer in the 1990 sequel. And the one-liners would harken back to the rock solid first one but generally be lamer.

Strangely enough, it’s some of that which makes the 2018 edition mindless fun in the first half. This isn’t anything of quality, but it serves as an occasional guilty pleasure VHS throwback that would have filled the shelves of those defunct rental institutions. I think director Shane Black and co-writer Fred Dekker know that. Black has turned into a fine filmmaker with action comedies like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys. He’s known mostly for his behind the scenes work, but he memorably played the role of Hawkins in Predator’s big screen debut 31 years ago.

The screenplay makes some downright bizarre choices. Jacob Tremblay’s aforementioned autistic kid is one of them. His Special Forces dad Quinn (Boyd Holbrook) is that forgettable head alien battler. Holbrook discovers a title character on a mission and ships some evidence of its existence to his boy. That leads the extraterrestrial to the ‘burbs to retrieve his property. Quinn finds himself detained by the government led by shady Sterling K. Brown and in the company of a motley crew of PTSD soldiers. They include Trevante Rhodes (whose primary character trait is that he smokes), Thomas Jane (he has Tourette’s), and Keegan-Michael Key (yo mama jokes). They’re the guys, along with Olivia Munn’s biologist, who fight not only two Predators, but the space dogs that accompany them. That’s another odd visual choice.

I couldn’t help but be fascinated by Black and Dekker’s outright nuttiness with their take on The Predator. However, it doesn’t last. By the third act, the pic moves to a jungle looking setting with some dodgy effects. We’re hammered with familiarity. That’s what made famous predators like Freddy and Jason and Michael grow stale, but their countless sequels were punctuated with an inspired sequence here and there. We see that early in this reboot and then not really again.

** (out of four)