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…

Oscar History: 2012

It’s been quite some time since I’ve done an Oscar History post (about two and a half years) and I’m at 2012. It was a year in which Seth MacFarlane hosted the show – fresh off his comedy smash Ted. Here’s what transpired in the major categories with some other pictures and performers I might have considered:

The year saw nine nominees for Best Picture in which Ben Affleck’s Argo took the top prize. Other nominees: Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook (my personal favorite of the year), and Zero Dark Thirty. 

Many Wes Anderson fans would contend that Moonrise Kingdom should have made the cut. And I could certainly argue that The Avengers (perhaps the greatest comic book flick and the year’s biggest grosser) was worth a nod.

The nominations in Best Director were a huge surprise at the time. While Argo won the top prize of all, Affleck was not nominated for his behind the camera efforts. It was the first time since Driving Miss Daisy‘s Bruce Beresford where an Oscar-winning Picture didn’t see its filmmaker nominated.

Instead it was Ang Lee who was victorious for Life of Pi over Michael Haneke (Amour), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild).

In addition to Affleck, it was surprising that Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) was not included. And I certainly would have put in Tarantino for Django.

The race for Best Actor seemed over when the casting of Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln was announced. And that’s exactly how it played out as he won his third Oscar over a strong slate of Bradley Cooper (Playbook), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), and Denzel Washington (Flight).

The exclusion of John Hawkes in The Sessions could have been welcomed, but I’ll admit that’s a solid group.

Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress for Silver Linings over Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts), and Naomi Watts (The Impossible).

Again, no major qualms here. I did enjoy the work of Helen Mirren in Hitchcock (for which she did get a Golden Globe nod).

Supporting Actor was competitive as Christoph Waltz won his second statue for Django (three years after Inglourious Basterds). He was a bit of a surprise winner over Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln. Other nominees: Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert De Niro (Playbook), and Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master).

Here’s a year where there’s a lot of others I thought of. Waltz won, but I think the work of Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson in Django was equally impressive. There’s Javier Bardem as one of the greatest Bond villains ever in Skyfall. Or John Goodman’s showy role in Flight. As for some other blockbusters that year, how about Tom Hiddleston in The Avengers or Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike? And my favorite comedic scene of that year was due to Giovanni Ribisi in Ted…

In Supporting Actress, Anne Hathaway was a front-runner for Les Miserables and there was no upset. Other nominees: Amy Adams (The Master), Sally Field (Lincoln), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), and Jacki Weaver (Playbook).

Judi Dench had more heft to her part as M in Skyfall that year and I’ll also give a shout-out to Salma Hayek’s performance in Oliver Stone’s Savages.

And there’s your Oscar history for 2012! I’ll have 2013 up… hopefully in less than two and a half years!

Snowden Movie Review

Maybe there’s something to the notion that the passage of time when it comes to Oliver Stone’s political dramas is an asset. After all, JFK and Nixon are two of his most riveting and they took place a couple of decades beyond the events. Whether or not you agreed with the director’s conspiracy theories or characterizations, they both flourished on separate terms. The former crackled with energy as a legal and courtroom procedural. The latter felt like a glorious Shakespearean tragedy.

In these more recent years, Stone’s films of the genre have been concerned with issues in the fierce urgency of now. His third picture named after a President – 2008’s W. – was released while Bush 43 was still sitting in the Oval and it was unimpressive. His newest is Snowden, centering on the man who turned the American intelligence universe on its axis in 2013 and beyond. The common feeling I had for both? That a solid documentary about both stories would’ve been more effective. In this case, it actually was. The director’s visual flourishes and creative editing are here in spots, just as they were in his finest works. They’re welcome on occasion, yet 2014’s Oscar winning documentary Citizenfour essentially told the same story and didn’t need Stone’s talents to tell it in an interesting way.

Joseph Gordon Levitt is Edward Snowden, who worked for both the CIA and NSA and very famously grew disillusioned with their data mining practices. His disclosures of their content and of agency practice have given him both hero and traitor status, depending on who you’re talking to. The film opens in 2013 as he’s holed up in a Hong Kong hotel with three journalists as he prepares to reveal his secrets.

Snowden then traces about a decade of his journey through government employment, government frustration, and, finally, fleeing from the government. His relationship with girlfriend Lindsay (Shailene Woodley) is also explored, from the happy times to difficult ones as he can’t really talk about what happened at the office, ever. There are also a host of familiar actors playing reporters and federal employees, though the lens is firmly trained on the title character.

Stone’s biopic presents its subject as whip smart, patriotic, and determined to right perceived wrongs. That Mr. Snowden himself makes an appearance towards the conclusion stamps his approval. Levitt does a fine job mimicking his cadence and mannerisms and his low-key persona. For those who didn’t catch watching the real man in Citizenfour, this could serve as an OK telling of the tale as Stone sees it. Yet I could not completely escape the thought of that filmmaker who’s done much better dramatically when longer political seasons passed between their happenings.

**1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Snowden

Oliver Stone has won two Best Director Oscars for 1986’s Platoon and 1989’s Born on the Fourth of July. He’s received little love from the Academy for the past two decades and his new true life political thriller Snowden hits screen next weekend.

It screened at the Toronto Film Festival this weekend. The verdict? Look for the lack of Oscar attention to continue. Some reviews marked it as a return to form for Mr. Stone, but others weren’t impressed. The tale of CIA analyst Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon Levitt) had originally been scheduled to open late last year before being delayed.

The buzz is muted enough that I don’t expect any nominations for it, including its director, lead, and supporting cast that includes Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Tom Wilkinson, Zachary Quinto, and Nicolas Cage.

As the Toronto Festival rolls along, so will my Oscar Watch posts.

Snowden Box Office Prediction

Four have passed since Oliver Stone released his last picture and it’s been eight years since he’s gotten political. That changes next weekend when Snowden hits theaters. This is a biopic of former CIA analyst Edward Snowden with Joseph Gordon -Levitt in the title role. A stellar supporting cast includes Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Tom Wilkinson, Zachary Quinto, Scott Eastwood, Timothy Olyphant, Rhys Ifans, and Nicolas Cage.

The thriller was originally set for release in December of last year before being pushed to May and, finally, September. Snowden will be a test as to whether audiences wish to spend over two hours witnessing a story well-publicized in the press and already covered in the recent documentary Citizenfour.

My feeling is the answer will be no. Political dramas often struggle at the box office and I don’t see that as an exception. My prediction is Snowden doesn’t reach double digits in its debut as many moviegoers may be getting their fill of current events on the small screen.

Snowden opening weekend prediction: $6.8 million

For my Blair Witch prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/09/07/blair-witch-box-office-prediction/

For my Bridget Jones’s Baby prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/09/07/bridget-joness-baby-box-office-prediction/

For my Hillsong – Let Hope Rise prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/09/12/hillsong-let-hope-rise-box-office-prediction/

This Day in Movie History: December 20

Continuing with my new blog series – This Day in Movie History – December 20th brings us three more important films celebrating their anniversaries and two celebrity birthdays.

It was seventeen years ago today that the influential horror flick Scream opened. Wes Craven was already a legend in the horror genre for The Last House on the Left and especially A Nightmare on Elm Street. Scream would turn into a smash unexpected hit that spawned three sequels and injected some much needed humor and irony into a genre that was growing stale.

22 years ago today marked the opening of Oliver Stone’s controversial JFK. The picture, no matter what you think of its abundant conspiracy theories, is brauvura filmmaking at a high level and earned Oscar nominations for Picture, Director, and Supporting Actor for Tommy Lee Jones.

Another heavily Oscar nominated pic, Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, debuted eleven years ago today. It was considered an Academy heavyweight, but lost Picture and Director to Chicago. It would be four years later before Marty would finally be recognized at the ceremony for The Departed. The film is also notable for beginning the Scorsese/DiCaprio partnership that has since spanned to five films thus far.

Today marks Jonah Hill’s big 3-0! You may know him from some of your favorite comedies of the past near decade – The 40 Yr. Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, 21 Jump Street, and This is The End. He also broke out dramatically in 2011 with an Oscar nominated turn in Moneyball and is again receiving Academy buzz for his role in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. He’ll be seen next summer in the sequel 22 Jump Street.

Finally, today would have marked the 67th birthday of character actor John Spencer. Known to most viewers as Leo McGarry from TV’s “The West Wing”, Spencer also had a successful film career. He turned up in well-known titles including Sea of Love, Presumed Innocent, The Rock, and Cop Land.

Keeping with my theme of connecting the birthday actors in Six Degrees of Separation:

Jonah Hill was in This is the End with James Franco

James Franco was in City by the Sea with Robert De Niro

Robert De Niro was in Cop Land with John Spencer

And that’s today, December 20, in Movie History!

Savages Movie Review

In Savages, director Oliver Stone take a rare break from making films about politics and instead concentrates on a fairly straightforward drug crime flick. There’s no grand statements about the drug war (this isn’t Traffic), but there is one fascinating subtext. A corrupt DEA agent (John Travolta) explains at one point that eventually the U.S. is going to legalize pot and it got me thinking about how all the bloody mayhem involved in this picture probably wouldn’t happen if that occurred. However, that’s a discussion for another day and it’s not the primary focus here.

Savages centers on two independent marijuana dealers – one is short fused Afghanistan War vet Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and the other is Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a Buddhist and more of a pacifist. Together, they make a fortune out of developing a potent product with highly elevated THC levels. Other than a successful business, they also share something else: Ophelia (known as O), played by Blake Lively, a beach babe who loves them both.

Naturally, Chon and Ben’s thriving company attracts the fascination of the Mexican drug cartels, who look to buy out the boys. When things don’t go as planned, O is kidnapped and thy must figure out a way to get her back.

We meet the disreputable cast of characters who make up the cartel. It’s headed by Elena (Salma Hayek), who inherited the business through her dead husband. She’s lost some of her children in brutal fashion as well and her daughter (who lives in the States) wants nothing to do with her. This is actually a fact that makes Elena proud. If you’ve been lucky enough to watch the documentary Cocaine Cowboys (if not, watch it immediately), you’ll notice that Elena’s character is very similar to Griselda Blanco, a real-life drug kingpin who was just recently assassinated. Elena is the best character in Savages – so much so that I wish the entire movie had been about her.

Elena’s enforcer Lado is played in a typically solid and slightly bizarre performance by Benicio Del Toro. He has a memorable scene with Travolta’s DEA agent that comes towards the end. Once again, the fine acting of Hayek, Del Toro, and Travolta and their dynamic could have been one unique picture.

Alas, Savages is more about Chon, Ben, and O. And therein lies the central flaw of the film… it’s central characters aren’t very special. Especially O. I will not blame Lively wholly for this, even though her performance is lackluster. It’s more that her character is written as nothing more than a dull pothead beach babe. Frankly, with her being the character in the most danger, it’s hard to really care much about what happens.

Savages is no doubt a stylish feast for the eyes. Stone is, of course, a heckuva director. And the secondary performances mentioned above are noteworthy. It’s the main troika of characters and their relationship that makes Savages a bit of a letdown, albeit a good looking one.

**1/2 (out of four)