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…

A Supporting Actor Oscar History

In the eight decades of Oscar history, we have seen the Supporting Actor category honor actors from the same picture about one-fifth of the time. It’s a fairly rare occurrence, but it’s been especially so as of late. It’s been 26 years since the Academy last did so and that serves as the longest gap by a lot. 2017 could change that.

Before we get to that, a little history lesson…

The first multiple Supporting Actor nominees happened in 1939 when Harry Carey and Claude Rains were nominated for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. 

It was 14 years before it happened again with 1953’s Shane bestowing nods for Jack Palance and Brandon deWilde. The following year gave us our first three actor nominations when Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, and Rod Steiger all had their names up for On the Waterfront. The 1950s would do this twice more – in 1957’s Peyton Place for Arthur Kennedy and Russ Tamblyn and 1959’s Anatomy of a Murder for Arthur O’Connell and George C. Scott.

1961 would bring Scott another nod for The Hustler, along with Jackie Gleason. 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde nominated both Gene Hackman and Michael J. Pollard.

1971 was the first year when one of the multiple picture nominees actually won. Ben Johnson emerged victorious for The Last Picture Show, while costar Jeff Bridges was nominated.

The Godfather saga would bestow six nominations among its two classic films. The 1972 original nominated James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Al Pacino. The 1974 sequel had Robert De Niro winning the statue, along with the nominated Michael V. Gazzo and Lee Strasberg. 1976’s Rocky nominated both Mick (Burgess Meredith) and Paulie (Burt Young) while Jason Robards won for 1977’s Julia with Maximillian Schell getting a nod.

Timothy Hutton would win for Ordinary People in 1980 with costar Judd Hirsch nominated. Jack Nicholson won for 1983’s Terms of Endearment with John Lithgow getting recognition. 1986’s Platoon was granted two nominees – Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger.

And in 1991 – Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley were nominated for Bugsy. 

That is the 16th and final time this has happened.

As mentioned, this year could potentially change that and there’s a surprising four ways for it to happen.

The least likely of the four scenarios in my opinion would be Jason Mitchell or Garrett Hedlund for Mudbound. Perhaps Mitchell could sneak in, but even that’s a long shot and the chances of both getting in seems non-existent.

The other three scenarios are all plausible. There’s Michael Shannon and Richard Jenkins for The Shape of Water. We have Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg for Call Me by Your Name. It wouldn’t shock me for either to occur, but maybe the best chance is Sam Rockwell (a lock for a nod) and Woody Harrelson (less so) for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. 

It’s been a quarter century since two actors from the same film heard the names called in Supporting Actor. Will 2017 change that?

Stay tuned…

A Most Violent Year Movie Review

JC Chandor’s A Most Violent Year finds our central character succeeding and struggling to achieve the American dream. It is a journey hampered by time, place, and competition. It is one helped by his own drive and tireless ambition and a genuine belief that he is always attempting to do the right thing.

That person is Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) circa New York City 1981. He owns Standard Heating Oil Company and he’s already taken it from a small operation to a growing one. The time and place troubles he faces is a metropolis plagued by high crime rates. His trucks are frequently being hijacked. The competition troubles comes from his suspicions that his rivals are responsible. And that attempting to always do the right thing business doesn’t mean an ambitious District Attorney (David Oyelowo) isn’t breathing down his neck.

Abel’s professional endeavors are assisted by two key individuals: his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) and his attorney (Albert Brooks) who seems to rarely give him good news. Anna is a fascinating character and Chastain’s performance only accentuates her. We are told she comes from a known family with a Brooklyn gangster father. We see flashes of ruthlessness in her that likely came from that upbringing. There are times when you wonder if Abel’s burgeoning yet troubled enterprise would run more smoothly (and probably with more bloodshed involved) if she were CEO.

We’ve seen plenty of crime dramas where our subject is a bad guy attempting to go good. Abel is more of a protagonist trying not to turn antagonist. Isaac is terrific. There are absolutely times where his acting reminds us of Pacino in the first Godfather. He’s a man surrounded by corruption, but with a moral compass that allows him to sleep at night.

For a movie called A Most Violent Year, we see little of it. A subplot involving one of Abel’s drivers (Elyes Gabel) provides some suspenseful and unexpected moments. There is thematically nothing very new here, but I welcomed this Sidney Lumet influenced character study and the first rate acting. Its early 80s NYC vibe doesn’t feel retro. More pleasingly, Year just feels like it could have made in 1981 when we would have watched it in old school VHS glory.

*** (out of four)

Dre Day

For a hip hop fan like myself, I recognize that I’m lucky to have grown up in what I consider the golden age of the genre: the early to middle portion of the 1990s. It was a time of Wu Tang Clan and the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. It’s when Outkast and Jay Z and Nas started their careers. It’s also the unforgettable era of Death Row Records – with its notorious co-founder Suge Knight. It is, of course, the label that gave us Snoop Doggy Dogg and Tha Dogg Pound. Most notably, it’s other founder is Dr. Dre, the beat maker behind legendary rap group N.W.A. That rap quintet will be the subject of Straight Outta Compton, out August 14th. The pic is already generating positive buzz.

Speaking of positive buzz, the first release on the Death Row label was The Chronic, released in late 1992. It is a Dre solo album, though none of his works actually are. It featured a smorgasbord of guest stars that Dre allowed to shine – Snoop, Kurupt, Daz, Nate Dogg, Lady of Rage and more. It gave us classics like “Ain’t Nuthin But a G Thang”, “Dre Day”, “Let Me Ride” and more. The funk drenched gangsta rap epic is often called the finest rap album of all time. I don’t disagree.

Flash forward to 1999. Dre had left Death Row three years prior amid issues with Suge and formed new label Aftermath. The long wait between Dre albums had been made easier with his production work in between – on Snoop’s brilliant debut Doggystyle, Pac’s All Eyez on Me album and others. Chronic 2001 came in late 1999 with a difficult charge to keep – holding up compared to his first “solo” work. It did. Chronic 2001 was another masterpiece, complete with assists from Dre’s new protégés Eminem and Xzhibit, as well as Snoop. Singles like “Still DRE”, “Forgot About Dre”, and “What’s the Difference?” tore up the charts.

And then… The music stopped. Sort of. While rap’s most ingenious producer kept putting out hits from Eminem works to Mary J. Blige’s “Family Affair” to 50 Cent’s anthem “In Da Club”, the music community kept waiting for Dre’s promised album Detox. And waiting. And waiting.

Detox was announced as his first final solo album. Official word of its eventual release was first discussed in 2001. Known as an extreme perfectionist, fans just assumed he was taking his time. A lot of time. Finally it late 2010, it seemed Dre’s long gestating project was finally coming to fruition. A first single featuring Snoop – “Kush” – was put out. A follow up track “I Need a Doctor” with Eminem quickly followed. And then radio silence again.

In recent years, Dre has been known more for his successful line of headphones that’s made him a billionaire. The hope of a new album with his name on it seemed unlikely at best. And then… some news broke over the weekend from the Doctor himself. He has made a brand spanking new album called Compton – The Soundtrack, inspired by the film out in two weeks. It features, among others, previous collaborators like Snoop, Ice Cube, and Eminem. And after 16 years of anticipation – Dre casually announced that it’ll be out Friday. As in THIS Friday, August 7th!! For hip hop lovers, it’s tough to properly describe how exciting this news is.

I’ll sort of try. The first two Chronic albums are essentially the rap version of the first two Godfather movies. They’re untouchable and pretty much perfect master works that hold up as well today as when they were released. For many who proclaimed hip hop a fad and “not real music”, Dre provided a prescription of stunning production that made their argument tougher to make. The Godfather comparison is not one I would make lightly, but the comparison is deserved.

And the news that we are at last getting another album from this certified genius was music to my ears. We shall learn Friday if it’s worth the wait. The Godfather comparisons continue. Sixteen years passed between the release of part II and the much lesser received Part III. It will be coincidentally be the same passage of time between Chronic 2001 and Compton. I am hopeful the Doc has some more wonderful work left in him. Frankly, he rarely disappoints. Therefore, I will be his willing patient on August 7. Friday, to be sure, will be Dre Day.

This Day in Movie History: December 25

It’s a very special day in our collective history, blog readers, as we celebrate the holiday season today and get to spend time with our loved ones and count our blessings.

Today – December 25 – in Movie History gives us the 20th anniversary of Grumpy Old Men, which turned into an unexpected comedy hit for Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, a full 25 years following their landmark laugher The Odd Couple. It earned $70 million domestically following its Christmas 1993 debut.

23 years ago in 1990 brought the long gestating sequel The Godfather Part III, Francis Ford Coppola’s third and final chapter of the series. Released 16 years after part II, Part III had its share of negative critical reaction, especially for the performance of Sofia Coppola as Michael Corleone’s (Al Pacino) daughter. It still managed to nab a Best Picture nomination and gross a strong $66 million domestically. And Sofia moved onto an acclaimed career as a director, with quality material like The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation to her credit.

And five years ago today was Marley & Me, the tearjerker dog flick with Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston that set the Christmas Day opening record at the time on its way to a terrific $143 million domestic tally. Based on the bestselling memoir by John Grogan, Marley touched a nerve with pet lovers all across the country and was the breakout hit of that year’s holiday time frame.

As for celebrity birthdays, one of the most iconic actors of all time Humphrey Bogart would be 114 years old today. His contribution to cinema is immeasurable with classics such as Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, The African Queen, and The Treasure of Sierra Madre, to name just some.

And its Sissy Spacek’s 64th birthday today. She’s had one of the most impressive filmographies of any actress, from playing the title character in 1976’s Carrie, to an Oscar win as Loretta Lynn in 1980’s Coal Miner’s Daughter, and Oscar nominated turns in Missing (1982), The River (1984), Crimes of the Heart (1986), and In the Bedroom (2001). Recently she’s been seen in Get Low and The Help.

As for Six Degrees of Separation between the two performers:

Humphrey Bogart was in The African Queen with Katherine Hepburn

Katherine Hepburn was in Love Affair with Annette Bening

Annette Bening was in The Great Outdoors with John Candy

John Candy was in JFK with Sissy Spacek

And there you have Christmas in Movie History! Once again, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.