Sometimes a great opening sequence can set the tone for the entire movie. In today’s Phenomenal 5 we are going to look at some of the very best of them. Narrowing it down to just five is brutal but those are my self-inflicted rules. While I wouldn’t call this the definitive list, there is no denying that these five opening scenes are nothing short of phenomenal.
#5 – “Saving Private Ryan”
Of all the films on this list this is probably the most heralded movie opening of the bunch. Steven Spielberg ratchets locks in on battlefield realism in giving us what many have called the most authentic depiction of combat ever put on screen. From the very first frame we understand Spielberg wants to immerse us in the tension and horror of D-Day. The result is a gripping and visceral cinematic account unlike anything we’ve seen.
#4 – “The Dark Knight”
There are many things I love about Christopher Nolan’s unforgettable opening to “The Dark Knight”. First and foremost it serves as our first introduction to Heath Ledger’s iconic Joker. It begins with an eerie opening shot of him holding a mask on a street corner. From there Nolan takes us through a bank heist that’s deftly shot and edited, has such sharp pacing, and features some of the best moments from Hans Zimmer’s score. It’s a superb scene.
#3 – “Touch of Evil”
There are many examples you can point to that shows off Orson Welles’ brilliance as a filmmaker. One is found in the opening scene of his 1958 gem “Touch of Evil”. The movie opens with one of cinema’s great uninterrupted tracking shots. For over three minutes the camera weaves back and forth between two newlyweds walking and a second couple slowly navigating their convertible down a crowded street. Talking about it doesn’t do it justice. It is truly a must-see sequence for any movie fan.
#2 – Inglourious Basterds”
While I may not have been blown away by every aspect of Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds”, the opening of his alternate-reality World War 2 film may be his very best work. It features Nazi Colonel Hans Landa (Oscar winner Christoph Waltz) questioning a French farmer (Denis Ménochet) about the whereabouts of missing Jewish families. The white-knuckled interrogation ratchets up the intensity unlike anything I’ve seen on screen.
#1 – “Once Upon A Time in the West”
An absolute masterclass on the use of image and sound to build atmosphere and tension. This Sergio Leone classic is my favorite western for a host a reasons, one being Leone’s unmatched technique. The opening train station scene encapsulates Leone’s breathtaking artistry. From the first look into Jack Elam’s eyes to the echo of Charles Bronson’s revolver. It’s pure cinematic brilliance and the perfect way to open Leone’s masterpiece.
There were several big ones I hated to leave off so I’m counting on the comments section to help me out. C’mon readers, don’t let me down.
It’s really hard to believe, but it has been 25 years since the late great John Candy passed away. I have and will always have a soft spot in my heart for Candy. He hit the big screen and rose to his peak during my youth. In other words I grew up watching his films and his lovable assortment of characters. Today we are looking at five of his best roles. As always I wouldn’t call this the definitive list, but there’s no denying that these five John Candy characters are nothing short of phenomenal.
#5 – Harry Crumb (“Who’s Harry Crumb”)
Okay, I fully admit to there being a sentimental tug deep within me to put this film on the list. I’ll be the first to admit it’s not a great movie and some of the gags will leave you cringing. But Candy also delivers some big laughs playing a bumbling private investigator ineptly trying to solve a kidnapping case. When he’s tapping into that classic Candy personality, Harry Crumb is at his best.
#4 – Chet Ripley (“The Great Outdoors”)
In this John Hughes ‘summer vacation gone wrong’ movie Candy and his family rent out a cabin at a lake resort only to have it crashed by his obnoxious brother-in-law Roman (played by Dan Aykroyd). Candy’s Chet is the film’s lovable punching bag which is something Candy could do in his sleep. Chet is goodhearted but gets caught up in trying to one-up the annoying Roman. Some good laughs follow.
#3 – Gus Polinski (“Home Alone”)
While John Candy had numerous starring roles, some of his memorable characters can be found in small supporting parts. Take Gus Polinski in “Home Alone”. I still crack up every time I hear Gus introduce himself as “The Polka King of the Midwest”. And don’t forget his band the Kenosha Kickers. “Very big in Sheboygan.” This is signature Candy – awkward, lovable, and genuinely hilarious.
#2 – Buck Russell (“Uncle Buck”)
I mean come on, Buck Russell had to be included, right? This is John Candy fully tapping into what made him such a fun and enjoyable actor. Desperate and out of options, Buck’s brother and sister-in-law reluctantly ask him to watch their three kids who he has barely met. He hits it off with the youngest two but not so much with the rebellious teenaged daughter. Turns out Buck is willing but ill-equipped for keeping kids which makes for some of Candy’s very best movie moments.
#1 – Del Griffith (“Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”)
Of the several great collaborations Candy had with John Hughes it’s hard to find one that tops “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”. In it Candy plays Del Griffith, a happy-go-lucky shower curtain ring salesman (of course). He repeatedly crosses paths with Steve Martin’s Neal who just wants to get home for Thanksgiving. Del is the talkative, ever-positive optimist and the perfect burr in Neal’s saddle. I think it’s Candy’s best character and his best performance.
So what are your thoughts on the late John Candy? Agree or disagree with my list? I would love to hear your picks in the comments section below.
John Candy (1950-1994)
Who doesn’t love a good mullet? Okay, that’s probably not the best question since most of us can do without them. How about this: Who could forget the mullet? You remember, the hairstyle that is “short on top with a party in the back”. Well if you don’t know the mullet (consider yourself fortunate) thankfully movies have recorded them so that we may never forget. This prestigious Phenomenal 5 will look at the best mullets in cinema history. Why? Heck if I know. Just go with it.
#5 – Kurt Russell (“Big Trouble in Little China”)
Why not start the list with a quintessential movie mullet. Kurt Russell let his locks flow in the wacky 1986 action-comedy romp “Big Trouble in Little China”. It’s really hard to imagine such an important and distinguished list such as this without it.
#4 – Mel Gibson (“Lethal Weapon”)
Think of this one as an unorthodox mullet on steroids. Mel Gibson’s untamable hair in 1987’s “Lethal Weapon” was as crazy as his Martin Riggs character. Think of it as the mullet with a little 80’s ‘big hair’ tossed in. Let’s hope that style never comes back.
#3 – Nicolas Cage (“Con Air”)
Leave it to good ‘ol Nic Cage to not only give us a slightly more traditional mullet but to take it all the way. I mean look at the length. In “Con Air” he takes the ludicrous phrase “party in the back” to absurd levels. Good job Mr. Cage.
#2 – Jean-Claude Van Damme (“Hard Target”)
Throughout most of career Jean-Claude Van Damme kept his hair under control. You could say his hair was consistently normal with one enormous exception. In John Woo’s “Hard Target” JCVD sported a mullet for the ages. And he left no questions about it.
#1 – Kiefer Sutherland (“The Lost Boys”)
Now lets talk about a perfect amalgamation of textbook and style. In “The Lost Boys” not only was Kiefer Sutherland a great bad guy, but he rocked a textbook mullet – short top and sides with a train in the back. But it peppered it with a little style. Look at that spiked top. Sure we laugh now but at least his mullet made him tops on this list.
So there you have it. Several other killer/terrible mullets came to mind but didn’t quite make the list. Tell me what I missed in the comments section below.
I don’t know about where you are, but August heat in the deep south can be pretty brutal. Maybe that’s why I’ve been thinking about (and in some cases yearning for) cold weather. And since I’ve been behind on Phenomenal 5 lists what better summer topic than cold weather movies? I shouldn’t need to say that the number of worthy movies is large. To narrow it down I’ve focused on films where the cold weather plays a significant part. Also no Christmas movies. Now with so many candidates I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But there is no denying that these five cold weather movies are most certainly phenomenal.
#5 – “Snowpiercer”
In Bong Joon-ho’s dystopian science-fiction thriller “Snowpiercer” cold weather has a rather huge effect. An attempt to end global warming has turned the planet into a uninhabitable frozen wasteland. As a result the remains of humanity are trapped inside a non-stop globe-trotting train. It sounds silly but the themes it wrestles with and the visual style of the auteur behind it make it an easy choice for this list.
#4 – “The Shining”
It’s kinda hard to imagine this list even existing without including Stanley Kubrick’s beloved “The Shining”. The film’s iconic setting needs little introduction – The Overlook Hotel high up in the Colorado Rockies. Off-season caretaker and struggling writer Jack Nicholson burrows in for the winter, but as he spirals towards insanity his wife and son are trapped inside with him by the frigid elements. And to say things get a little chilly for Jack in the final act is an understatement.
#3 – “Alive”
Frank Marshall’s 1993 survival drama “Alive” was based on the true story of a Uraguayan rugby team’s fight to survive following their plane crashing high in the Andes Mountains. Isolated and with no ability to communicate, no food and amid brutally cold conditions, the group was pushed to their limits and the life-or-death decisions they made changed them forever.
#2 – “The Thing”
I adore John Carpenter’s 1982 sci-fi horror classic “The Thing” and cold weather definitely has a role to play. Kurt Russell and his team trudge through snow and sub-zero temperatures to uncover answers to a violent encounter at a research base in Antarctica. Parasitic monsters and paranoia take center stage, but the harsh weather is an ever-present threat that makes for the ideal setting.
#1 – “Fargo”
When it comes to the #1 pick how could it be anything other than this Coen Brothers gem. “Fargo” is a movie that encapsulates everything that makes the Coens both unique and extraordinary. This bizarrely delicious crime comedy spans from icy Minneapolis, Minnesota to icier Fargo, North Dakota. And while “Fargo” is all about the characters, the cold weather supplies the perfect backdrop.
Now it’s your turn. How about my choices? See something I missed? Please let me hear your picks in the comments section below.
Isn’t it amazing how something as simple as a bicycle can leave such a mark when it comes to movies. Okay, so maybe I’m stretching things a bit but you get where I’m going. It’s actually good filmmakers who make these things stick with us. Today we are looking at five instances where filmmakers have used bicycles in ways movie fans should appreciate. With so many bicycle scenes I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But there’s no denying that these five bicycle scenes are certainly phenomenal.
#5 – “Napoleon Dynamite”
Some of you may be tempted to immediately discredit this list as hogwash after seeing this choice. Well, it probably is, but I still stand by the hilarious bicycle scene in the 2004 comedy “Napoleon Dynamite”. You know the one. Pedro shows off his Sledgehammer (complete with pegs and shocks) by taking it off a “sweet jump”. Of course Napoleon has to try. For those who haven’t seen it, let’s just say it’s not the most graceful thing. But it sure is funny.
#4 – “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”
Here’s a scene that should instantly come to many minds. Paul Newman riding around with Katharine Ross sitting on the front of his bike while B.J. Thomas sings “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”. It’s really quite lovely despite being whimsical and a little corny. But that’s really Newman riding through an apple orchard, weaving through cows, and doing bike tricks around a barn (well, not the final trick). It’s such an odd but charming sequence.
#3 – “A Thousand Clowns”
This bicycle scene comes from a seemingly forgotten 1965 Oscar-nominated movie starring Jason Robards. “A Thousand Clowns” and its story of a purposeless nonconformist isn’t the most cuddly film but there is a wonderful bicycle scene featuring Robards and Barbara Harris. The two bike through different New York City locations while the music strangely shifts between “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby”. It’s a beautifully shot sequence.
#2 – “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial”
Let’s be serious, how can it not be on the list, right? The bicycle getaway is one of my favorite scenes from “E.T.” and easily one of the best bike scenes ever shot. With E.T. in his basket, Elliott and friends head for the forest with police and federal agents hot on the heels. They race through a housing development and just as they’re about to be nabbed, off they fly into the sunset. It features one of the most iconic movie shots from the 80s. The effects may not hold up that well but it’s still just as thrilling as when I first saw it in 1982.
#1 – “Bicycle Thieves”
This pick isn’t as flashy. It isn’t action-packed. It’s effect is based completely on the genuine emotional punch it delivers. In De Sica’s classic a man struggling to provide for his family has his bicycle stolen (a requirement for his new job). He sets out with his young son to find it. No bike, no job. SPOILER! The film ends with a heart-crushing scene. After failing to find his bicycle and with little hope, the father and son stand outside a crowded sports arena – bicycles everywhere. I’ll just say the internal conflict is excruciating and the decision he eventually makes cuts deep.
So those are my choices for the best bicycle scenes. Agree or disagree with my picks? What would have made your list? Please let me know in the comments section below.
Fresh off a week-long vacation on the Atlantic Ocean what better time to do a Phenomenal 5 based on movie beach scenes? I’ve been a bit lax with this long-running feature but here’s to getting back on track. There are a ton of beach scenes to consider and some are just too obvious to include. For instance who wouldn’t have “From Here to Eternity” on their list? I’m also shooting for a bit of variety. Therefore (as always) I wouldn’t call this a definitive list, but there is no denying that these five movie beach scenes are nothing short of phenomenal.
#5 – “Chariots of Fire”
This may have been the first movie I ever saw in the theater as a kid that truly felt outside of the blockbuster box. And while much of the film went over my 9 year-old head, I’ve always remembered that brilliant tone-setting opening. The team running along the beach to the iconic electronic theme music from Oscar-winning composer Vangelis. It’s truly magical and has remained one of cinema’s most memorable title sequences.
#4 – “The Shawshank Redemption”
Spoilers for those who haven’t seen it, but I’ve always found the final scene in “Shawshank” to contain a most beautiful emotional release. After everything Tim Robbins’ Andy and Morgan Freeman’s Red go through, to finally reconnect on a remote Mexican beach in what is a brief but pitch-perfect final shot ends the film in the best possible way. I love the narration’s buildup and I love the camera decisions. It’s a great scene.
#3 – “The 400 Blows”
“The 400 Blows” is one of my favorite films, not only from the French New Wave, but of all-time and it is one of cinema’s greatest directorial debuts. It’s a piercing, unorthodox coming-of-age story that doesn’t follow any blueprint particularly with its ending. SPOILER – In the final shot Truffaut’s semi-autobiographical lead character escapes a juvenile home. The young boy’s long run takes him to the ocean, a place he’s dreamt of seeing. As his feet hit the beach and he jogs towards the water it almost feels triumphant. But his feet meet the water, he turns around, and Truffaut ends with an audacious freeze-frame shot of the boy’s face. I’ll let you determine the meaning for yourself but it is bold filmmaking at its finest.
#2 – “Saving Private Ryan”
While this would probably qualify as an obvious choice, it’s one I simply couldn’t leave off this list. Steven Spielberg’s brutal and intense re-creation of the Allied invasion of Normandy has been heralded as the most authentic depiction of the horrors of war. So many young men died before setting a foot on the sands of Omaha beach, but the scene doesn’t stop there. With unflinching visceral detail Spielberg marches us up that bloody beach right alongside the soldiers, never allowing us to miss the horrible cost. It is incredible filmmaking and a scene you’ll never forget seeing.
#1 – “Jaws”
Apparently Steven Spielberg really knows how to do beach scenes. There are a couple that could have easily owned a spot on this list but for me there is one true standout. It’s a bright and beautiful sunny day. The Amity beach is full of vacationers and townsfolk. Sunbathers bask on the beach while children play in the ocean. No one has a care in the world except for a tense and concerned Sheriff Brody. That’s when the shark attacks and chaos ensues. Spielberg’s scene boils with tension from the nerve-racking early teases to the heart-wrenching final shot of a mother desperately looking for her child. It’s pure cinematic brilliance.
There you have five of the best movie beach scenes. There are so many others that could’ve made this list. Please share your choices in the comments section below.