5 Phenomenal Movies from 1990

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A while ago I did a series of Phenomenal 5 lists looking at the best movies from each year of the 1980’s. I’m not sure why it took me so long, but now it’s time to jump into the 90’s. Of course we begin with 1990, a year that typically doesn’t come to mind as a great for movies. Still there were several films that stood out and while I wouldn’t call this the definitive list, there’s no denying that these five movies are phenomenal.

#5 – “Total Recall”

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On the surface it could be easy to dismiss “Total Recall” as another meat-headed action flick from Arnold Schwarzenegger. Actually Paul Verhoeven’s ultra-violent sci-fi romp plays with several meaningful themes and manages to subvert practically every expectation. It’s loaded with great special effects, good humor, a fun supporting cast and just enough satire to set it apart.

#4 –  “Die Hard 2”

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It’s quite the task the make a satisfying sequel to a movie that many consider to be one of the best action films of all-time. It’s another Christmas and another terrorist attack, this time at Washington’s Dulles International Airport. Thankfully Bruce Willis recaptures all of John McClane’s wit and attitude while several other fun familiar faces from the first film return. Certainly not as good as 1988’s “Die Hard”, but still a ton of fun.

#3 – “Goodfellas”

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I can hear a lot of people already challenging me for not having this Martin Scorsese crime epic in the #1 slot. I completely understand because it truly is an amazing piece of cinema. Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, and Joe Pesci wonderfully navigate several years of mob life – the ups, downs, the friendships, and the violence. Scorsese’s signature style and trademark characterizations make this one of the quintessential mob movies.

#2 – “Miller’s Crossing”

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Speaking of gangster pictures, the third film from Joel and Ethan Coen happened to be one of my favorites from the brothers. “Miller’s Crossing” drips with neo-noir flavor, touches of dark comedy, and showcases some brilliant performances particularly from Albert Finney and Gabriel Byrne. It’s a movie armed with that rich sense of style both narratively and visually that the Coens have sense become known for. I love it.

#1 – “Dances with Wolves”

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Kevin Costner’s Oscar-winning epic has taken its share of low blows. Nonsensical ‘white savior’ accusations and general discontent for it winning Best Picture over “Goodfellas” has soured many opinions. But “Dances with Wolves” deserves better. It’s a gorgeous, sprawling film teeming with classic filmmaking spirit and a grand artistry that captures both the beauty and ugliness of its subject. I’ll stand up for this film any day.

There you have my picks for the best films of 1990. What say you? Agree or disagree? Please hit the comments below and let me know what I got right and what I got wrong. Can’t wait to hear from you.

5 Phenomenal Movie Remakes Which are Better Than the Original

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It goes without saying that movie remakes are currently all the rage in Hollywood. We’ve gotten many over the last few years and a lot more are slated for the near future. It’s something I generally push back on but there are several instances where remaking an older movie wasn’t a bad thing. Today’s Phenomenal 5 takes a look at remakes that are actually better than the film they are based on. I tried to stick with movies remade from fairly well known originals. So nothing too obscure. As always I wouldn’t call this the definitive list, but there’s no denying that these five movie remakes are nothing short of phenomenal.

#5 – “A Star is Born” (2018)

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Here’s a case of a remake that’s actually better than not one, not two, but three movies that came before it. “A Star is Born” tells a story that people over the years have proven to be drawn to. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga form the core of this musical/romantic drama about one music star on the rise, another whose star is fading, and the tumultuous romance they share. It’s a movie full of great performances and even better songs.

#4 – “Cape Fear” (1991)

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Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro have had several high-profile collaborations. One that many forget about is their remake of 1962’s “Cape Fear”. De Niro takes the role of Max Cady, memorably played in the original by Robert Mitchum. It features a great supporting cast and Scorsese’s signature cinematic craftsmanship. It’s a tense and gritty thriller and a surprising step up from its well-made inspiration.

#3 – “3:10 to Yuma” (2007)

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I’ve always liked 1957’s “3:10 to Yuma”, but I truly love James Mangold’s 2007 remake. The action, the tension, the stunning cinematography all helps make this a great film. But ultimately it’s the fantastic chemistry between Christian Bale and Russell Crowe that stands out the most. Their performances drive the movie and add a layer of humanity to the already intriguing story.

#2 – “True Grit” (2010)

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To be honest I’m not what you would call the biggest fan of John Wayne westerns. But I’m a huge fan of the Coen brothers and their stylish 2010 remake of Wayne’s “True Grit” highlights why I believe they are among the greatest filmmakers working today. Their version is filled with Coen brothers signatures: a knack for great dialogue and the use of language, unique and intriguing characters, and their special brand of humor. It’s better than the original in every way.

#1 – “The Thing” (1982)

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First off, I’m a big fan of Howard Hawks’ 1951 science-fiction classic “The Thing from Another World”. But for my money it pales in comparison to John Carpenter’s savagely good 1982 remake simply titled “The Thing”. Carpenter (a huge fan of the Hawks film) took the tension and suspense from the original movie and updated it in a variety of ways. It was first met with harsh reactions from critics, but over time it has received a much-deserved critical reassessment. Now far more people appreciate this sci-fi/horror gem and the great genre filmmaking it represents.

And there you have my list. I know there are several I missed and that’s where you come in. Let me know what I got right and what I got wrong in the comments section below. I would love to hear the movies that you would include.

5 Phenomenal Dinner Table Scenes

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The dinner table is such a great place, right? Think about it – good food (hopefully), family, and/or good friends. What’s not to love. Leave it to the movies the show us the other side. Today we’re looking at dinner table scenes and let’s just say none of these choices are what you would call traditional. As always, with so many choices I wouldn’t call this the definitive list, but there’s no denying that these five dinner table scenes are nothing short of phenomenal.

#5 – “Christmas Vacation”

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Who would have guessed that “Christmas Vacation” would become a perennial holiday favorite? It’s for good reason. The film is loaded with great scenes few better than the Christmas Eve dinner. It’s the culmination of Clark Griswold’s efforts to have a good old-fashioned Christmas. But does anything go as planned when the name Griswold is attached?

#4 – “The Lost Boys”

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If I suspected my mom’s new boyfriend of being a vampire what better place to test the theory than at the dinner table? Sam and the Frog brothers try everything – a splash of holy water, garlic disguised as parmesan cheese, even a breath test. It all amounts to a hysterical series of mishaps that cracks me up to this day.

#3 – “Eraserhead”

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Having dinner with your girlfriend’s parents can be a bit nerve-racking on its own. But in the hands of David Fincher it becomes anything but conventional. This specific sequence is bizarre, a bit creepy, and absolutely hilarious. A numb arm, a bleeding miniature chicken, convulsions, weird stares, weirder questions all make me want to stay home and eat.

#2 – “Sicario”

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I’ll try my best to keep this spoiler-free, but this particular sequence comes at the end of this fantastic border thriller. Where the previous picks have had a sense of humor, this choice is deadly serious. Throughout the movie we learn that hitman Benicio del Toro has a very sharp ax to grind with a Mexican cartel boss. It all comes to a head in a dinner table encounter that’s both intense and shocking.

#1 – “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”

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It was almost impossible to narrow this list down, but this scene was on my mind from the very start. Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror classic features the mother of all dinner table scenes. Lots of screams, a hammer, an innocent captive, and a family of sadistic, murderous cannibals. It’s horrific and unsettling but at the same time it’s intertwined with a twisted sense of humor. Truly unforgettable.

So those are my choices. What say you? Please share your thoughts and picks in the comments section below. I’m hoping you all will mention the great many scenes that just missed my list.

5 Phenomenal Opening Scenes

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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”

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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”

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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”

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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”

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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”

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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.

5 Phenomenal John Candy Characters

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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”)

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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”)

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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”)

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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”)

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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”)

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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.

KENOSHA RIP

John Candy (1950-1994)

5 Phenomenal Movie Mullets

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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”)

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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”)

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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”)

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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”)

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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”)

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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.