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…

Best Supporting Actor: A Look Back

Continuing on with my look back at the major categories from 1990 to the present at the Oscars, we arrive at Best Supporting Actor! If you missed my post regarding Supporting Actress, you can find it right here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

As I did with that blog entry, I’m picking the top 3 least surprising winners (performers who essentially sailed right through awards season) and the 3 biggest upsets in each race. I am also selecting the strongest and weakest fields overall.

As a primer, here are the 28 actors whose support earned them a golden statue:

1990 – Joe Pesci, GoodFellas

1991 – Jack Palance, City Slickers

1992 – Gene Hackman, Unforgiven

1993 – Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive

1994 – Martin Landau, Ed Wood

1995 – Kevin Spacey, The Usual Suspects

1996 – Cuba Gooding Jr., Jerry Maguire

1997 – Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting

1998 – James Coburn, Affliction

1999 – Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules

2000 – Benicio del Toro, Traffic

2001 – Jim Broadbent, Iris

2002 – Chris Cooper, Adaptation

2003 – Tim Robbins, Mystic River

2004 – Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby

2005 – George Clooney, Syriana

2006 – Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine

2007 – Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men

2008 – Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

2009 – Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

2010 – Christian Bale, The Fighter

2011 – Christopher Plummer, Beginners

2012 – Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

2013 – Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

2014 – J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

2015 – Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

2016 – Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

2017 – Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 

There are plenty to choose from as far least surprising winners, but here’s my top ones:

3. Gene Hackman, Unforgiven

Clint Eastwood’s Western picked up a slew of awards on Oscar night and Hackman’s inclusion in that race was never really in doubt. It was his second statue after winning Best Actor 21 years previously for The French Connection.

2. Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

It was director Christopher Nolan giving numerous awards speeches on behalf of the late Ledger, as his work playing the iconic villain swept all precursors as well. This remains not only the only win in the omnipresent superhero genre in the 21st century, but the only nomination.

1. Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men

Like Ledger, Bardem created a bad guy for the ages in the Coen Brothers Oscar-winning picture. He picked up all the precursors as well for his role.

And now the upsets!

3. James Coburn, Affliction

There was clearly no front-runner in 1998 as a different actor was honored in each preceding awards show. Ed Harris took the Golden Globe for The Truman Show, Billy Bob Thornton (A Simple Plan) was victorious at the Critics Choice Awards, Robert Duvall’s role in A Civil Action was honored at SAG, and Geoffrey Rush (Elizabeth) was the BAFTA recipient. Surely one of them would win the Oscar, but it instead went to Mr. Coburn.

2. Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

In 2015, the general consensus was that Sylvester Stallone would punch out the competition in his signature role for Creed. That would have been quite a feat after Rocky took Best Picture in 1976 – nearly four decades prior. Yet it didn’t materialize when Rylance made the trip to the podium.

1. Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine

Along the same lines, Eddie Murphy was the strong favorite for his rare dramatic work in Dreamgirls. With Jennifer Hudson as a sure thing for Supporting Actress (which did happen), the musical looked safe for a supporting sweep. The Academy surprisingly went another route by honoring Arkin.

And now to the fields overall and choosing a strongest and weakest. For the least impressive of the bunch, I’m going with 2011. Here were the nominees:

Christopher Plummer, Beginners (winner)

Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn

Jonah Hill, Moneyball

Nick Nolte, Warrior

Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

When it comes to best overall field, I chose 1993. This is the year that Tommy Lee Jones got the gold in The Fugitive. That’s a rare acting win for an action flick. It was deserved in my view and the other four nominees were very strong as well. They were:

Leonardo DiCaprio, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

Ralph Fiennes, Schindler’s List

John Malkovich, In the Line of Fire

Pete Postlethwaite, In the Name of the Father

Furthermore, I could keep going with other deserving actors that year, including Val Kilmer in Tombstone and Sean Penn for Carlito’s Way. 

The next trip down memory lane will be Best Actress and it will be up soon!

Summer 1995: The Top Ten Hits and More

We are now smack dab in the middle of the 2015 summer movie season and we’ve seen our share of massive hits (hello Jurassic World) and big flops (goodbye Tomorrowland). As has become tradition on this blog, I will now take a look back at the same season from 20 years ago – giving you the top ten hits of that summer plus other notable pictures and the flops that also populated the calendar. I’ll be following up shortly with a post about the summer of 2005, one decade ago.

One thing that stands out for the summer of 1995 is that an astonishing four of the five eventual Best Picture nominees for that year came out in the summer. This is unheard of due to the fact that, typically, Oscar bait is released in the fall months. All four of those movies will be discussed in this post.

And now – let us revisit the titles that got us in the theaters during the hot months in 1995 (and some that didn’t).

10. Braveheart

Domestic Gross: $75 million

The 10th highest grosser of the season also happens to be the one that would go onto win Best Picture at the Oscars and earn director/star Mel Gibson a gold statue for his work behind the camera. The medieval war epic would win a total of five Oscars and mark a high point in Gibson’s filmography.

9. Congo

Domestic Gross: $81 million

Two summers earlier, an adventure film based on a Michael Crichton novel came out. It was called Jurassic Park and the rest is history. Expectations for the Crichton based Congo were high and it came from Spielberg protege Frank Marshall. Its $81 million gross was on the low end of expectations and critics were not kind (22% on Rotten Tomatoes).

8. Dangerous Minds

Domestic Gross: $84 million

One of the sleeper hits of the season was this urban classroom drama starring Michelle Pfeiffer. Now I could certainly attach a clip of the film or its trailer, but let’s be honest. The reason we remember this movie is three words: “Gangsta’s Paradise, Coolio!” Enjoy…

7. Waterworld

Domestic Gross: $88 million

The Kevin Costner adventure is widely considered to be the Heaven’s Gate of its decade. The production was a disaster with cost overruns (a budget of $172 million, which was crazy at the time) and highly mixed critical reaction. Also, like Gate, its reputation has improved over time. Yet in the summer of 1995, it was considered the season’s big belly flop.

6. Crimson Tide

Domestic Gross: $91 million

This Tony Scott directed submarine action thriller struck a chord with audiences and critics. Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman costarred with an impressive supporting cast that included Viggo Mortensen, James Gandolfini, and Steve Zahn.

5. Die Hard with a Vengeance

Domestic Gross: $100 million

Bruce Willis’s third go round as John McClane costarred Samuel L. Jackson and Jeremy Irons. It couldn’t quite match the $117M take of the 1990’s Die Hard 2, but the franchise would spawn two more entries years later.

4. Casper

Domestic Gross: $100 million

Despite mixed critical reaction, this live action version of America’s favorite friendly ghost starring Christina Ricci, Bill Pullman and lots of special effects was quite the family hit.

3. Pocahontas

Domestic Gross: $141 million

While not coming close box office wise to what Disney accomplished the previous summer with The Lion King, families still turned this retelling of the Pocahontas tale into a nice hit for the studio.

2. Apollo 13

Domestic Gross: $172 million

Ron Howard’s true life space epic starring Tom Hanks earned a Best Picture nomination and the admiration of audiences and critics alike, giving its star his fourth summer blockbuster in a row after A League of their Own, Sleepless in Seattle, and Forrest Gump.

1. Batman Forever

Domestic Gross: $184 million

The third flick in the Caped Crusader franchise marked the end of the Tim Burton/Michael Keaton era and the beginning of the Joel Schumacher version of the series. While Forever (which cast Val Kilmer as the title character and Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones as villains The Riddler and Two Face) held bragging rights for the season’s largest grosser, it would all crumble two summers later when the disastrous Batman and Robin sunk the franchise until Chris Nolan rescued it.

And now – some other notable pictures from the summer of 1995 that didn’t make the top ten:

13. Nine Months

Domestic Gross: $69 million

This Hugh Grant comedy didn’t make much of an impression in the critical community, but audiences turned out partly because of the media swarm surrounding its star’s tabloid status involving picking up a prostitute.

14. Babe

Domestic Gross: $63 million

George Miller’s talking pig tale not only became one of the season’s sleeper hits, it also managed an unexpected Oscar nod for Best Picture.

16. Clueless

Domestic Gross: $56 million

Alicia Silverstone became a household name in this Valley Girl comedy which spawned endless catchphrases.

31. The Usual Suspects

Domestic Gross: $23 million

This indie thriller with its shocking ending started the career of director Bryan Singer and earned Kevin Spacey an Oscar for Supporting Actor.

32. Il Postino

Domestic Gross: $21 million

This Italian import was an art house favorite and is the fourth summer release in 1995 to nab a Best Picture nomination. If you’re wondering, the fifth was Ang Lee’s adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, which came out in the fall.

And now, the flops of summer 1995:

Steven Seagal’s Under Siege 2: Dark Territory managed only $50 million at the domestic box office, not coming close to the $83M earned by its predecessor.

It may have been a hit kids show, but the film version of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers sputtered with only $38 million.

While Braveheart had audiences in period piece action movie approval mode, the Richard Gere/Sean Connery King Arthur retelling First Knight flopped with just $37 million.

Comic book fans soundly rejected Sylvester Stallone’s wrong headed Judge Dredd to the tune of a paltry $34 million take.

Two films attempting to capitalize on the virtual reality craze at the time did virtually no box office business. Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe’s Virtuosity and Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Mnemonic made $24M and $19M, respectively.

Finally, while crowds loved that Babe pig, another family tale about the same animal – Gordy – came in 52nd for the summer earning just $3.9M. That’s not exactly bringing home the bacon! (I’m sorry)

And that’ll do it for my recap of the summer of 1995, folks! I’ll have 2005 up later this week…