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…

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.

2018: The Year of Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga

The buzz got loud in late summer when A Star Is Born held its first screenings across the ocean at the Venice Film Festival. The third remake of the rags to riches Hollywood story that began in 1937, the musical drama marked the directorial debut of Bradley Cooper and the first headlining acting role for pop superstar Lady Gaga (after a smaller part in Machete Kills). It soon became clear that audiences and critics found the tragic romance between the pair as anything but shallow.

Star now shines with a domestic gross of $200 million and the status as a front-runner for Best Picture at the Oscars. If Mr. Cooper’s inaugural behind the camera effort manages to do that, he would follow in the footsteps of well-known actors like Robert Redford (1980’s Ordinary People) and Kevin Costner (1990’s Dances with Wolves) whose debuts won the Academy’s biggest prize. Theoretically Cooper coukd win as many as four gold statues – Picture for producing, directing, lead Actor, and Adapted Screenplay. And while he technically wouldn’t be nominated for his duet “Shallow” with Gaga since he doesn’t share writing credit, the tune will probably emerge victorious in that race. To add even more to Cooper’s dynamic year, he costars with his American Sniper director Clint Eastwood in The Mule, which is performing well.

As for Gaga, her splashy foray on the silver screen certainly rivals others such as Prince and Whitney Houston to name a couple. She stands a real shot at winning Best Actress in a competitive category. Cooper likely has an even stronger chance for his performance.

In 2018, Cooper and Gaga are responsible for creating perhaps the year’s most memorable couple. They could be generously rewarded for it.

2018: The Year of Ryan Coogler

To kick off my series on the people that made significant contributions in cinema for 2018, the first post is the easiest to choose from. In a year filled with many successful tales, Black Panther is undoubtedly THE story. The Marvel Cinematic Universe saga took a superhero not nearly as known as others and the result was a surprising and smashing record breaker.

The man behind it is Ryan Coogler. A 32-year-old Oakland native, Coogler made his directorial debut with 2013’s acclaimed Fruitvale Station. Two years later, he invigorated another franchise with Creed. And in February of this year, Panther was unleashed worldwide. With Chadwick Boseman in the title role, Michael B. Jordan as one of the MCU’s most memorable villains, and Lupita Nyong’o and Letitia Wright providing dynamic support, the film immediately struck a chord with moviegoers and critics. With a 97% Rotten Tomatoes score, Panther took in $700 million domestically at the box office.

Let us count the records, shall we? That’s the top hit of the year. It’s the third biggest domestic grosser of all time behind only Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Avatar. Obviously, that designation means it’s Marvel’s #1 earner. One year ago, if anyone had told you this would make more than Avengers: Infinity War (which followed a few weeks later), you wouldn’t have believed it.

For Coogler, he’s made the biggest comic book adaptation ever in a century filled with them. The sky is the limit for him as he’s likely being offered every tent pole project in sight. He’s already struck a deal to direct the Panther sequel. Additionally, this stands an excellent chance to be the first pic of its genre to receive a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.

In 2018, Coogler made history by making the #1 picture ever directed by an African-American and introduced a hero already beloved by all. He’s an unquestionable entry in the people that mattered onscreen this year.

Oscar Watch: Mary Poppins Returns

Disney’s Christmas box office smash is expected to be Mary Poppins Returns, the sequel to the 1964 classic original. It comes from Rob Marshall, who directed 2002’s Best Picture winner Chicago. Even with the Oscar pedigree behind it, it was a legitimate question as to whether this would garner any awards chatter or just settle for raking in tons of dough.

The film has screened for the Screen Actors Guild and journalists. While official reviews are under embargo, the buzz indicates it’s in many ways a worthy follow-up to what came over a half century prior. This especially applies to Emily Blunt, taking over the iconic title role from Julie Andrews (who won the Oscar as Poppins). Best Actress is crowded this year. At this juncture, I’d say Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born), Glenn Close (The Wife), and Olivia Colman (The Favourite) are locks or darn close to it. That leaves two spots and plenty of contenders to fill them. The showings for Poppins indicate Blunt is a prime contender to get one. As a side note, she could be in excellent shape for Actress at the Golden Globes for Musical/Comedy.

As for other performers, it’s certainly possible Blunt gets all the attention. Lin-Manuel Miranda seems a longshot in Supporting Actor. In Supporting Actress, it’s another category that is already filling up. Yet if anyone could sneak in, it’s Meryl Streep (who would be going for an unprecedented 22nd nod). Marshall has already directed her to one of them before in Supporting Actress for 2014’s Into the Woods.

Before its unveiling, the pic was already thought to be a contender in numerous down the line races: Costume Design, Production Design, Score, Original Song, Visual Effects and both Sound categories. That still holds true.

When it comes to Best Picture, that’s much more of a question mark. I’d say chances have undoubtedly improved, but it could depend on how others rise and fall in the coming weeks.

Bottom line: with Blunt leading the charge, Mary Poppins Returns could have awards voters singing its praises. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…