5 Phenomenal Movie Beach Scenes


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.

5 Phenomenal “Red” Movies


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”


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”


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”


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”


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


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”)


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”)


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”)


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”)


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”)


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


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”


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”


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”


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”


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?”


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.

5 Phenomenal Western Shootouts


There have been so many classic western shootouts that it’s unfair to call this the top 5. But each one of these certainly capture exactly want I love about movie gunfights. Unlike a gun duel, a shootout isn’t just about having a quick draw. These five westerns flat-out let the bullets fly and their signature shootouts are ones to remember. As always, I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But there’s no denying that these 5 western shootouts are absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – “3:10 TO YUMA” (Heading to the Train Station)


There wasn’t a lot of appreciation for “3:10 to Yuma”, director James Mangold’s remake of the 1957 western. But I loved the film especially the final shootout as Dan (Christian Bale) tries to get his prisoner Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) from the hotel to the train station and ultimately to Yuma Prison. But Wade’s gang is waiting and a firefight erupts as Dan runs through town trying to get Wade on the 3:10. The interesting dynamic between Dan and Wade make the final bullets all the more significant.

#4 – “TOMBSTONE” (Gunfight at the O.K. Corral)


Wyatt Earp, his brothers Virgil and Morgan, and Doc Holliday make their way to the O.K. Corral where members of the Cowboys gang are breaking the law by carrying weapons. Of course it ends up being a fierce firefight which ignites the already existing tension between the Earps and the Cowboys. What makes this scene even better is the buildup leading to the first shot. Incredibly intense and beautifully filmed.

#3 – “THE WILD BUNCH” (Going Out in a Blaze of Glory)


This band of wanted outlaws find themselves up against a crooked Mexican general and his army in the final scene of  Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch”. Bullets fly and the bodies pile up in what has been called one of the greatest shootouts in movie history. It’s bloody and hyper violent especially for a 1969 western. But it’s also the only way you would expect this film to end.

#2 – “MY NAME IS NOBODY” (Jack Beauregard Versus a Different Wild Bunch)


While “My Name if Nobody” is one of the quirkiest spaghetti westerns made. It’s also one of the best. It features a truly classic shootout even though it’s pretty one-sided. As a chance to stage his last showdown, Jack Beauregard takes on The Wild Bunch (obviously not the same as the #3 on this list), a massive gang of bandits. As they approach on horseback, Jack let’s them have it and let’s just say the results are “explosive”. It’s beautifully filmed and the great Ennio Morricone’s score makes the scene even better.

#1 – “OPEN RANGE” (Showdown Against Baxter’s Boys)


“Open Range” ends with one of the most intense and realistic gunfights you’ll see as Charley and Boss take on Baxter and his gang in the middle of town. One thing that makes it so effective is the complete absence of music once the guns start firing. There is also some clever camera work that gives the scene a really slick and gritty look. Kevin Costner not only starred in the film but directed it and his eye for a shootout is impeccable. Don’t believe me? Then just give the final 15 minutes of “Open Range” another look. It’s amazing.

Agree or disagree? Do you have a western shootout that I should have included? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts or your favorite western shootout.

5 Phenomenal Hostage Movies


When considering “hostage movies” there is a such wide variety of films to consider. I found myself filling up a page with movies worth considering. I started narrowing the list down by choosing to omit any military or P.O.W. scenario. I also took out any individual kidnapping. Still the list was large, but there is only room for five. So as always, I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But there’s no denying that these 5 hostage films are absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – “AIR FORCE ONE (1997)


This is certainly one of the more unique hostage movies. U.S. President Harrison Ford, his family, and staff are held hostage aboard Air Force One by Russian terrorists led by Gary Oldman. The fact that the movie is confined to an airborne plane adds several interesting dynamics. Ford is a believable president and Oldman, while a little hammy at times, once again plays a deviously fun baddie. Sure, “Air Force One” requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but it’s still a hostage movie that is a hoot to watch.

#4 – “THE DELTA FORCE” (1986)


Ok, I know “The Delta Force” is sometimes emotionally manipulative and features several preposterous action scenes. But it also nicely melds elements of the 1980’s action pictures with the real-life hijacking of a TWA jet in 1985. Chuck Norris is as wooden as ever, but a nice supporting cast featuring Lee Marvin, Joey Bishop, Shelly Winters, Robert Vaughn, Martin Balsam, and Robert Forster make up for it. The film incorporates several true-to-life incidents surrounding the hijacking which makes the movie feel more grounded even in the midst of motorcycle rocket launchers and Chuck Norris one-liners. Call it a nostalgic pick, but “The Delta Force” is a solid hostage film.

#3 – “KEY LARGO” (1948)


John Huston’s “Key Largo” marked the final time Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall worked together onscreen.  It’s also one of the best hostage movies ever. Bogart visits a Key Largo hotel ran by a deceased army buddy’s father and falls for Bacall. But things really amp up when some hotel guests turn out to be gangsters led by Edward G. Robinson. Once their identity is revealed, the gang takes over the hotel. To make things worse a hurricane hits which keeps them stuck there while giving the audience some fantastic and memorable moments. This isn’t just a great hostage movie, it is one of Bogart’s best.

#2 – “DIE HARD” (1988)


1988’s “Die Hard” is the movie that made Bruce Willis a true big screen movie star. It could be argued that this is the quintessential hostage movie. Willis’ John McClane attends a Christmas party with his estranged wife at the Nakatomi Plaza skyscraper. A group of terrorists led by Hans Gruber (played wonderfully by the late Alan Rickman) take over the building and hold the partygoers hostage with the exception of a barefooted McClane. He picks off Gruber’s men from the ground floor to the rooftop and gives us memorable scene after memorable scene. “Die Hard” is a straightforward picture that is the near perfect mix of hard-nosed action, well placed humor, and great side characters. No hostage movie list would be complete without it.



Yep, it’s Humphrey Bogart’s second appearance on the list but it is certainly well deserved. In “The Petrified Forest” he plays Duke Mantee, a gangster on the run from a massive police manhunt. Duke and his gang end up busting into an Arizona diner and hold everyone hostage. Some of the film’s best moments involve Bogart sitting in the diner verbally sparring back and forth with the hostages including Leslie Howard and Bette Davis. Edward G. Robinson was the first choice to play Duke, but Howard pushed for Bogart who eventually got the part. And thank goodness he did. There are a lot of good hostage films, but for me “The Petrified Forest” is the best of the bunch.

Agree or disagree? Do you have a hostage movie that I should have included? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts or tell me your favorite hostage movie.