RIP Bill Paxton

Sadly, this morning I write a post I didn’t expect to with the news that Bill Paxton has passed away at age 61. For even casual movie fans, Paxton was a very familiar face that starred and co-starred in blockbusters such as Aliens, True Lies, Twister, and Titanic.

Upon hearing the news of his death, I began to realize just how present he’s been in my movie watching existence over the last three decades plus. I first knew of him as Chet, the bullying older brother in Weird Science. If that is a guilty pleasure pic, his performance is one of the best pleasures in it. It’s a terrific comedic performance.

Just one year later, his role in Aliens stuck out in that fantastic sequel with one-liners like “Game Over, Man!” That same year, he starred in Kathryn Bigelow’s vampire cult classic Near Dark.

All told, Mr. Paxton has about a dozen DVDs and Blu-Rays sitting on my shelf. Like I said, he was truly a part of many of our collective filmgoing experiences from the 1980s on. He was alongside Tom Cruise just three years ago in the solid Edge of Tomorrow and was a rival tabloid cameraman to Jake Gyllenhaal in my favorite picture of 2014, Nightcrawler.

His TV credits include headlining HBO’s “Big Love” and just a few weeks ago, his CBS crime drama “Training Day” (based on the 2001 Denzel Washington film) premiered. His final movie will be The Circle with Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. It opens in April.

Other notable onscreen efforts range from Predator 2 to Tombstone to A Simple Plan and U571. Today I wish to highlight a trio of lesser known titles worth seeking out:

Two are from 1992. Trespass finds him and William Sadler as firefighters who find a treasure map that┬ápits them against drug dealers Ice Cube and Ice-T. It’s great gritty fun. One False Move is an intense crime thriller from director Carl Franklin and written by Billy Bob Thornton. Gene Siskel named it as his favorite movie of that year and it is impressive.

Paxton turned to directing himself in 2001 with Frailty, an underrated and effective thriller where the actor plays a religiously fanatical father. I just watched it again recently and it made me wish Paxton had directed more.

What Bill Paxton did leave us with is his own treasure trove of performances to enjoy. He will be missed.

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This Day in Movie History: December 31

As you could probably imagine, not many movies open on New Year’s Eve so I’ll use today – December 31 – in Movie History to briefly discuss something happening right now.

2013 will turn out to be Hollywood’s biggest year yet, by just a hair. When all is said and done, box office receipts for the year should come in at approximately $10.9 billion, edging out 2012’s $10.8 billion. Per usual, the top grossing features of the year were filled with sequels (Iron Man 3, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Fast and Furious 6) and animated titles and sequels (Despicable Me 2, Monsters University, Frozen), and remakes and reboots of franchises (Man of Steel, Oz the Great and Powerful). The only truly original title in the top ten is Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, which could win Best Picture at the Oscars (though 12 Years a Slave may have something to say about that).

It’ll be interesting to see if 2014 can top 2013. When you look over the list of big pics coming out next year, it seems as if it may not but you never know. One early prediction: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I (out in November) is a strong contender for highest grosser next year.

As for birthdays, Anthony Hopkins is 76 today. The actor broke through in a huge way to American audiences in 1991 with his Oscar winning performance as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. Hopkins would reprise the role twice more in 2001’s Hannibal and 2002’s Red Dragon. He’s also played more real-life people than practically anyone – from C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands to Dr. Kellogg in The Road to Wellville to Richard Nixon in Oliver Stone’s Nixon to Pablo Picasso in Surviving Picasso to John Quincy Adams in Amistad to Alfred Hitchcock in Hitchcock last year. Hopkins was also a favorite of the Merchant/Ivory team with acclaimed performances in Howards End and The Remains of the Day. Other notables roles: Magic, The Elephant Man, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Legends of the Fall, The Edge, The Mask of Zorro, Meet Joe Black, Mission Impossible II, The Human Stain, The Wolfman, and Thor and its sequel.

Val Kilmer is 54 on this New Year’s Eve. He’s played a few real-life people as well, most notably as Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s The Doors. There’s also his bit role as Elvis Presley in True Romance and porn star John Holmes in Wonderland. Then there’s his amazing performance as Doc Holliday in Tombstone. I’m still mad he didn’t get a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for that movie. There’s also Top Gun and his turn as the Caped Crusader in Batman Forever. Other notables: Top Secret!, Real Genius, Willow, Thundeheart, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Ghost and the Darkness, The Saint, Spartan, Deja Vu, and MacGruber. A personal favorite of mine: his wickedly funny comedic turn in 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang alongside Robert Downey, Jr.

As for Six Degrees of Separation between the birthday boys, it’s an easy one:

Hopkins and Kilmer were both in Oliver Stone’s Alexander

And that’s today – New Year’s Eve – in Movie History! This will be my last blog post of 2013, my friends, and I appreciate your readership so much. See you in 2014 and have a safe New Year’s!