Top 25 SNL Alumni Performances: Numbers 5-1

The list of my personal top 25 cinematic performances from the many alumni at Saturday Night Live reaches the top 5 today! If you missed my previous entries covering numbers 25-6, you can find them all at the following links:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/06/21/top-25-snl-alumni-movie-performances-numbers-25-21/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/06/22/top-25-snl-alumni-movie-performances-numbers-20-16/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/06/24/top-25-snl-alumni-performances-numbers-15-11/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/06/25/top-25-snl-alumni-performances-numbers-10-6/

Let’s get to my overall favorites, shall we?

5. Chevy Chase, National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

Chase’s finest and funniest work belongs to his doofus dad role as Clark Griswold in this classic that spawned three sequels, including the cherished Christmas Vacation. This is one of the pictures that can be rewatched endlessly and much of that is due to Chase’s signature performance.

4. Mike Myers, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)

Myers successfully translated his SNL character Wayne Campbell to the silver screen in 1992’s blockbuster Wayne’s World alongside his costar Dana Carvey (who nearly made the list for his work in that film). Yet the most hilarious work from Myers comes here as both the title character and (especially) nemesis Dr. Evil. Two sequels would give Myers an opportunity to play even more deliriously over the top parts.

3. Will Ferrell, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)

After the back to back hits of Old School and Elf, Ferrell developed his most iconic character with his arrogant and clueless news anchor. Anchorman has deservedly became an all-time comedy classic.

2. Eddie Murphy, Coming to America (1988)

Let’s face it – this list could have been dominated by Eddie. I had Trading Places and The Nutty Professor in the top 25, but could have included 48 Hrs., Beverly Hills Cop, Bowfinger, Shrek, Dreamgirls, or Dolemite Is My Name as well. However, my personal favorite is this 1988 humorous fairy tale when Murphy was at the peak of his power. This is the first pic that gave him the opportunity to portray multiple characters and he certainly makes the most of it.

1. Bill Murray, Groundhog Day (1993)

Just as with Murphy, many movies from Murray could have made the cut. You already saw Ghostbusters and Lost in Translation on here and other contenders included Caddyshack, Scrooged, What About Bob?, Kingpin, Rushmore, and Zombieland. Overall, I go with Groundhog Day as his finest hour and #1 on the whole list. Simply put, I find Groundhog Day to be perfection and the quintessential vehicle for its versatile star.

And there you have it, folks! It’s been fun putting together the list and I hope you enjoyed reading it…

Top 25 SNL Alumni Performances: Numbers 15-11

My top 25 personal favorite cinematic performances by the alumni of Saturday Night Live continues with part 3 covering numbers 15-11! If you missed the first two posts, you can find them right here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/06/21/top-25-snl-alumni-movie-performances-numbers-25-21/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/06/22/top-25-snl-alumni-movie-performances-numbers-20-16/

Let’s get to it!

15. Dan Aykroyd & John Belushi, The Blues Brothers (1980)

This is the first spin-off movie from the show and it’s certainly one of the best. Aykroyd and Belushi sold out stadiums with their musical act and their car chase friendly comedy was a major box office success as they embarked on their mission from God.

14. Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems (2019)

Now is the time to address what many might consider to be oversights on the list. This is the only Sandler entry. That’s right – no Billy Madison or Happy Gilmore or The Wedding Singer or any of his other blockbusters. While I certainly admire some of his work in those features, my Sandler preferences lie with his rare dramatic work. I could have given the nod to 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love, but last year’s Gems absolutely floored me and I believe it represents his best performance yet on the big screen.

13. Bill Murray, Lost in Translation (2003)

Speaking of comedic actors doing less humorous work, Murray nabbed his only Oscar nomination here. The Sofia Coppola directed critically acclaimed pic perfectly pairs its star with Scarlett Johansson and is further evidence of just how versatile Murray is. And he’s not done on this list…

12. Chevy Chase, Caddyshack (1980)

Be the ball.

At his best, no one pulls off smarmy charm better than Mr. Chase. I could have gone with Fletch as the selection, but he’s at his smarmy peak in this now revered classic.

11. Christopher Guest, Waiting for Guffman (1997)

Guest was only on SNL for one season alongside Billy Crystal and Martin Short. He had already starred in the fantastic mockumentary This is Spinal Tap, which set the standard for that type of film. Guest would go on to direct his own treasured pics in the genre including Best in Show and A Mighty Wind. As far as his own performances, my favorite is his dedicated community theater director Corky St. Clair.

We’ll get to the top ten in short order! Until then…

Summer 1988: The Top 10 Hits and More

We are in the midst of the blockbuster summer season of 2018. As I do every year on the blog, I’m recounting the summers of 30, 20, and 10 years ago with the top 10 moneymakers and other notable features and flops. We begin with 1988 and unlike the current 2018 crop that is dominated by big-budget sequels, it was surprising to find that there were a host of follow-up flops three decades ago. Sequels make up just 20% of the top ten here.

The seasons of 1998 and 2008 will be posted shortly, but here’s what what was happening 30 years ago at the cinema:

10. Bull Durham

Domestic Gross: $50 million

Writer/director Ron Shelton’s sports comedy came as Kevin Costner was experiencing a string of hits in the late 80s and early 90s. Considered one of the finest sports films ever made, it also featured showcase roles for Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

9. Rambo III

Domestic Gross: $53 million

The third go-round for Sylvester Stallone as John Rambo earned only a third of what Rambo: First Blood Part II achieved three summers prior and received mostly negative reviews. The star would revise the character 20 years later in Rambo.

8. Willow

Domestic Gross: $57 million

Ron Howard’s fantasy adventure (with a story conceived by George Lucas) was considered only a moderate success at time of its release and critical notices were mixed. It has since gone on to garner cult status.

7. A Fish Called Wanda

Domestic Gross: $62 million

This acclaimed heist comedy was an unexpected critical and audience darling with a screenplay from the legendary John Cleese. Both he and “Monty Python” cohort Michael Palin starred alongside Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline, in a rare comedic role that won an Oscar for Supporting Actor. Nine years later, the cast reunited for the less regarded Fierce Creatures. 

6. Cocktail

Domestic Gross: $78 million

Coming off his iconic role in Top Gun two years earlier, Tom Cruise propelled this bartender tale to major success despite poor reviews (even Cruise admitted it wasn’t so good years later). It did provide The Beach Boys with a big comeback hit in the form of “Kokomo”.

5. Die Hard

Domestic Gross: $83 million

It might be #5 on the list, but Die Hard is easily the most influential film of the summer of ’88. Rightfully considered the quintessential action movie, it served as a springboard for Bruce Willis’s film career and gave us an unforgettable villain in Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber. Four sequels and numerous knock-offs would follow.

4. Crocodile Dundee II

Domestic Gross: $109 million

Paul Hogan’s Aussie creation struck box office gold in 1986 when the first Dundee made $174 million and was an unexpected smash. The sequel didn’t measure up to the first commercially or critically, but it still managed to edge past the $100 million mark.

3. Big

Domestic Gross: $114 million

Tom Hanks earned his first Oscar nomination (several would follow) for Penny Marshall’s classic comedy about a teenager wanting to be an adult. It also earned an Original Screenplay nomination.

2. Coming to America

Domestic Gross: $128 million

Eddie Murphy was about the biggest box office draw in the world circa 1988 and this serves as one of his classics. There’s been long rumored plans for a sequel, but whether or not it ever materializes is a legit question three decades later.

1. Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Domestic Gross: $156 million

This landmark blending of live-action and animation from director Robert Zemeckis combined beloved characters from the Warner Bros and Disney catalogs, winning three technical Oscars. The title character would appear in some animated shorts in the following years, but a traditional sequel surprisingly never followed.

And now for some other notable features from the summer:

Young Guns

Domestic Gross: $45 million

This Western about Billy the Kid and his gang cast many of the hot young stars of the day, including Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Charlie Sheen. A sequel would follow two years later.

Midnight Run

Domestic Gross: $38 million

Serving as Robert De Niro’s first major foray into comedy (blended with action), Midnight Run found him brilliantly cast alongside Charles Grodin in this effort from Beverly Hills Cop director Martin Brest. Its status has only grown in subsequent years.

And now we arrive at some of the pictures that didn’t fare so well and we have 5 sequels that couldn’t match the potency of what came before them:

The Dead Pool

Domestic Gross: $37 million

Clint Eastwood’s fifth and final appearance as Dirty Harry was met with mixed reviews and lackluster box office. It’s got perhaps the best supporting cast of the lot, however, including Patricia Clarkson, Liam Neeson, and Jim Carrey a few years before he became a phenomenon.

Big Top Pee-Wee

Domestic Gross: $15 million

While Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure earned $40 million and introduced moviegoers to Tim Burton, this sequel underwhelmed. Star Paul Reubens would, um, pick up notoriety three years later for another experience in a movie theater.

Arthur 2: On the Rocks

Domestic Gross: $14 million

The 1981 original earned Academy Award nominations and a fantastic $95 million domestic haul. By the time the sequel followed seven years later, audiences weren’t interested in the comedy starring Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli.

Poltergeist III

Domestic Gross: $14 million

The franchise began in 1982 with acclaim and huge dollars. A sequel diminished those returns and by the time part 3 hit screens, crowds were tuned out. Tragically, Heather O’Rourke (who famously played Carol Anne) died months before its release at the age of 12.

Caddyshack II

Domestic Gross: $11 million

Part 1 was a comedy classic. Part 2 was anything but. Chevy Chase was the only returning cast member to return and there was no repeating the magic with Jackie Mason, Robert Stack, Randy Quaid, and Dan Aykroyd.

And finally…

Mac and Me

Domestic Gross: $6 million

A notorious bomb, this E.T. rip-off received plenty of ink on account of its awfulness. There is a silver lining, however, as Paul Rudd has hilariously incorporated it into segments on Conan O’Brien’s show over the years.

And there you have the summer of 1988 in a nutshell! I’ll be back with 1998 soon…

A Futile and Stupid Gesture Movie Review

David Wain’s A Futile and Stupid Gesture centers on a Golden Age of comedy while attempting to tell a conventional biopic story line somewhat unconventionally. At times, it succeeds. In others, it strains itself. The overall effect is a retelling of moments that led millions of us to some of our biggest laughs in print and onscreen, even if the humor here is hit or miss.

The film’s central figure is Doug Kenney (Will Forte) of Chagrin Falls, Ohio (as he constantly reminds us). He grew up in that affluent Ohio suburban setting in the 1950s with uppity parents and a family tragedy that seems to inform his feeling of self-worth. However, he’s got one whip smart sense of humor and it translates to his time at Harvard. He partners with fellow humorist – the ironically pipe smoking Henry Beard (Domhnall Gleeson) and they excel at producing the “Lampoon”, the university’s premier comedy publication. While this Ivy League duo could pretty much get any job, Doug convinces Henry to expand the magazine nationally. Hence the “National Lampoon” and the treasure trove of history that follows.

Kenney and Beard’s venture turns out to be a runaway success that provides a platform for brilliant writers such as Michael O’Donoghue and P.J. O’Rourke and performers Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, John Belushi, and Bill Murray to shine. It’s obvious to say that “Saturday Night Live” never would have existed without Kenney and Beard and that’s acknowledged here. Some of these later famous faces are given seconds of screen time and others considerably more. In a movie about the advent of ironic comedy in many respects, there’s some casting irony here. Joel McHale is Chevy Chase, an actor who dealt with the well-documented difficult nature of Chevy himself on the set of “Community”. Martin Mull is the narrator of Gesture as the older man who Kenney himself never became. The screenplay gleefully acknowledges the many clichés that come with making a biopic. The drug use, strained romantic relationships, and family drama are presented here, but with a winking eye.

The picture often plays like a greatest hits of Kenney’s accomplishments. His contributions to the big screen were short but monumental with National Lampoon’s Animal House and Caddyshack. The screenplay doesn’t linger long on either and perhaps it could have benefited with more minutes spent on the party atmosphere of the former and the coke fueled chaos of the latter.

A Futile and Stupid Gesture is clearly made by a team who reveres its central subject. It doesn’t delve too far into Kenney’s considerable issues in an attempt to keep the tone fairly light. Yet it also doesn’t fully enjoy the opportunities to spend time with these young upstarts who would become comedy legends. That creates a sometimes unwieldy mix. Forte certainly impresses in the lead and there’s a few memorable supporting turns, including Matt Walsh as the magazine’s beleaguered financier and Ed Helms in a brief, but devastatingly biting scene as interviewer Tom Snyder.

There are segments of Gesture that remind us to thank our lucky stars for the existence of the people chronicled here. It doesn’t fully succeed as a stand-alone movie that ironically apes the biopic genre that it finds itself in, though it tries hard. In fact, it sometimes tries a little too hard to be ironic. The makers of the “Lampoon” shown here probably would have known how to make it a little funnier and let the serious moments be a tad more subtly rewarding.

**1/2 (out of four)