5 Phenomenal Cold Weather Movies

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”

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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”

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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”

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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”

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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”

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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.

5 Phenomenal Bicycle Scenes

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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”

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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”

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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”

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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”

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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”

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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.

5 Phenomenal Movie Beach Scenes

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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”

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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”

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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”

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“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”

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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”

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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.

5 Phenomenal “Red” Movies

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Throughout my many Phenomenal 5 lists I’ve never been beyond putting together lists that are completely random or arbitrary. And why not? It adds to the fun. This is definitely one of those lists. By “Red” movies the criteria is simple – it must be a movie with “Red” in the title. Simple enough. Now obviously there are many films that fit so I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. Still, there’s no denying that these five “Red” movies are certainly phenomenal.

#5 – “Red River”

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Even if you aren’t a fan of Western movies there is so much to love about Howard Hawk’s 1948 classic “Red River”. This story of an arduous cattle drive gone wrong stood out for bucking many of the genre’s common tropes. Sticking with that “out of the norm” uniqueness was John Wayne’s character, a considerably different role for an actor recognized for his rugged heroic manliness. Aside from its new take on Wayne’s persona, it’s also one of his best performances.

# 4 – “The Thin Red Line”

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In 1998 Terrence Malick made an epic return to filmmaking after a 20 year hiatus. It came in the form of his ensemble war film “The Thin Red Line”. Armed with an extensive cast and Malick’s incredible eye for visual flair, the movie is unorthodox yet captivating. It features some of Malick’s most stunning imagery and is contemplative even during some of its more intense sequences. The carousel of cameos can be a little distracting, but it doesn’t take away from the film’s visual and narrative power.

#3 – “Red Dawn”

RED DAWN, Charlie Sheen, Patrick Swayze, 1984, (c)MGM/courtesy Everett Collection

Go ahead and laugh at me. Rib me all you want. But I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that I love 1984’s homeland war movie “Red Dawn”. I’ve often said “Red Dawn” is too easily dismissed by many as some lightweight, teen-oriented fluff. I couldn’t disagree more. Unlike the abysmal remake, the original didn’t turn its kids into superheroes. They were scared, uncertain, and in way over their heads. It was also deeply grounded into the politics of its day which may make it harder for some audiences to embrace. I still find it exciting and entertaining.

#2 – “The Red Balloon”

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Albert Lamorisse’s 34 minute short “The Red Balloon” from 1956 has several impressive distinctions. Perhaps its best is being the only film short ever to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Its simple tale of a young boy and his relationship with a seemingly sentient bright red balloon is both playful and heartbreaking. But there are also several other implications Lamorisse may be dealing with. It’s beautifully shot around Paris’ 20th arrondissement and its dialogue is supplanted by a thoughtful Maurice Le Roux score. Ultimately it is both delicate and brutal in capturing both the joys and sorrows of being a kid.

#1 – “Three Colors: Red”

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My recent exploration of Krystof Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy was the inspiration of this Phenomenal 5. “Red” was the final film of the trilogy and a perfect ending to Kieslowski’s project. This a film of many moving narrative parts – parallel storylines, deep thought-provoking themes, and thoughtful explorations of the human experience. Two great performances from Irene Jacob and Jean-Louis Trintignant anchor the film and Piotr Sobociński’s gorgeous red-tinted cinematography is warm and meaningful. “Red” is such a rich movie full of intelligence and craft and a great ending to Kieslowski’s brilliant career.

And those are my five phenomenal ‘red’ movies. Agree or disagree? See something I missed? Please take time to share your thoughts below.

5 Phenomenal Movie Dogs

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Who doesn’t like dogs? Sure, some of us may be more of a cat person than a dog person, but it’s hard to deny the charms of cute canines. The same applies to the movies. Even the biggest sourpuss has to enjoy it when movies use dogs well within their stories. Today I’m looking at five of my favorite movie pups. Obviously there have been many so to cut down the choices I’ve left out some obvious ones. Benji, Old Yeller, Toto – some names too obvious to mention. I also ruled out dogs that were the stars of their movies. Because of that I wouldn’t call this the definitive list, but there’s no denying that these five movie dogs are absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – Pard (“High Sierra”)

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In Humphrey Bogart’s fantastic crime thriller “High Sierra” the cute little puppy Pard was more mischievous than helpful. Funny thing is Pard was played by Bogie’s own dog Zero. Pard brings such a fun injection of energy but also plenty of heart. That’s especially evident in the film’s inevitable but moving final scene. That alone seals Pard’s place on this list.

#4 – Fred (“Smokey and the Bandit”)

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The road comedy “Smokey and the Bandit” is fun for several reasons. One is Jerry Reed’s character Snowman and his Basset Hound best friend Fred. It’s said Burt Reynolds personally chose the dog to play Fred because of its unruly attitude. It was a key personality trait because Fred’s unruliness is part of his hilarious charm. And also the great chemistry he has with Reed.

#3 – Milo (“The Mask”)

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While you may be able to argue against “The Mask” as a movie (I still happen to enjoy it), you can’t argue against the film’s little Jack Russell terrier named Milo. He’s cute, adorable, and one heck of a four-legged comedian. Look no further than the scene where helps his owner Stanley (Jim Carrey) bust out of prison. It’s a hysterical moment that by itself makes Milo worthy of this list.

#2 – Flike (“Umberto D”)

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Sure dogs can be cute and funny attention-getters. Many movies have used them that way. But in “Umberto D” by the great Vittorio De Sica, its dog is simply a companion – faithful, loving, and a true lifesaver. Flike certainly has his adorable moments, but what makes him so wonderful is his steady presence by his owner’s side even through difficult circumstances. Their relationship is sometimes heavy with sadness but it’s often tender and heartwarming which ultimately is what the owner desperately needs.

#1 – Jack (“The Artist”)

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There is another Jack Russell terrier that absolutely had to make this list. Jack was not only adorable but was also a bona fide hero in the Best Picture winning “The Artist”. Jack was wonderfully played by Uggie and there was a campaign to get him recognized by the Academy. In the film Jack’s companionship proves to be vital and in the film’s big climactic scene Jack is a pivotal player. Sadly Uggie died in 2015, but I’ll always remember this energetic little scene-stealer.

There you have my picks for five of the best movie dogs. Obviously there are a number not included. What would have made your list? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

5 Phenomenally Volatile Movie Romances

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A year or so ago I did a Phenomenal 5 list focused on movie romances. Today we are again looking at romances but this time with a twist. These are five movie relationships known more for their fire and volatility than love and kisses. It didn’t take long for a big number to come to mind so I certainly wouldn’t call this the definitive list. Still, there is no denying that these five movie romances are not only volatile but also phenomenal.

# 5 – “War of the Roses”

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In the 1989 Danny DeVito directed “War of the Roses” everything starts reasonably well. Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner meet in college, fall in love, and eventually marry. Oh but how quickly it turns into one of the most outrageous and darkest black comedies of its decade. Their relationship sours, their marriage crumbles, and the Roses bring new meaning to “ugly divorce”.

#4 – “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”

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The marriage between Paul Newman’s Brick and Elizabeth Taylor’s Maggie seemed destined for trouble. It becomes abundantly clear as “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” moves forward, slowly shedding light on their feelings toward each other and on destructive secrets from their pasts. Alcoholism, deception, dysfunction – all factors that influence this stormy, bitter relationship between two deeply flawed people.

#3 – “Kalifornia”

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Adding a much different flavor to the list is “Kalifornia”, a twisted road thriller featuring a particularly tempestuous relationship between the violent, aggressive Early (Brad Pitt) and the simple, naive Adele (Juliette Lewis). The abuse we witness ranges from subtle and manipulative to fiercely physical. Incredibly the film makes the couple fascinating, even sweet on occasions. Perhaps that’s what makes the abusive side of their relationship even more disturbing.

#2 – “A Streetcar Named Desire”

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A second Tennessee Williams adaptation makes the list but with a twist. It’s impossible to consider one specific relationship in “Streetcar” without factoring in the three main players – Stanley, Stella, and Blanche. The depression and dysfunction of these three characters are so intrinsically intertwined and manifests itself through various degrees of mental and physical abuse. Sure, this may be a cheat, but the volatility of this three-headed relationship is too profound to exclude.

#1 – “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

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Relentlessly nasty, toxic, and brutal. Those are just a few adjectives which perfectly describe 1966’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”. Perhaps no film has presented a more hateful, venomous relationship than the one shared between George (Richard Burton) and Martha (Elizabeth Taylor). As the film moves forward we get more alcohol, more insults, and more pain until these two severely damaged people simply have nothing left.

So there are my five volatile movie romances. What do you think of my picks? See something I missed? Please let me know in the comments section below.