5 Phenomenal Western Shootouts

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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“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

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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.

#1 – “THE PETRIFIED FOREST” (1936)

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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.

5 Phenomenal Movie Mob Bosses

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Vito Corleone, a name every movie fan knows. It’s also a name that would obviously top a list of great movie mob bosses. For that reason you won’t find him here. Still it was pretty easy finding other mob bosses that deserve a tip of the hat. That is what we are looking at in today’s Phenomenal 5. The movies have been fascinated with mobsters for decades which means I had a ton of bosses to choose from. With that in mind I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But there is no denying that these five movie mob bosses are nothing short of phenomenal.

#5 – Frank Costello (“The Departed”)

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In Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” Jack Nicholson plays Frank Costello. No, not the real-life Italian mob boss who once ran the Luciano crime family. A fictional Irish mob boss based on “Whitey” Bulger. As you would expect, Nicholson is calm, cool, and charismatic. He gives us a streetwise Boston mob boss who is trusted by his men but who also holds a pretty big and significant secret. It should be no surprise that Scorsese knows how to portray a mob boss or that Nicholson can deliver that vision in spades.

#4 – Al Capone (“The Untouchables”)

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Robert De Niro as a mob boss. Talk about a formula ripe with potential. Brian De Palma gives it to us in his 1987 Chicago gangster picture “The Untouchables”. This is a very different mob boss depiction from any others on this list. In many ways it is a stylized portrayal. De Niro is asked to go big and he REALLY goes big. But that is one reason his Al Capone is so much fun. “The Untouchables” is a great movie and Eliot Ness is its focus. But De Niro nails every scene he has and he always leaves you anxious for him to show up again.

#3 – Leo O’Bannon (“Miller’s Crossing”)

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Most fans of the Coen brothers hold “Miller’s Crossing” in pretty high regard. This neo-noir gangster movie from 1990 takes its inspiration from a number of sources, but ultimately it is a Coen brothers movie through and through. In the film we are introduced to Irish mob boss Leo O’Bannon (played with such controlled energy by Albert Finney). Leo knows how things work in the Prohibition era and he’ll push his weight around whether it’s with bullets, brawn, or his brain. Finney is superb and the Coens give him so many great scenes to define his character.

#2 – Bill the Butcher (“Gangs of New York”)

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It’s Martin Scorsese again. Instead of Boston this time he is in Lower Manhattan’s Five Points. It’s 1846 and the territory is ran by William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting. His influence and power reaches all through Five Points and beyond and he’s not afraid to flex his muscle sometimes in incredibly violent fashion. Bill the Butcher is such an intriguing character but what makes him shine is the performance by Daniel Day-Lewis. He wears the bizarre suits, top hats, and the curly mustache with gusto. But while he sometimes seems otherworldly, he slams us back to reality with his bonafide mean side. A great character.

#1 – Caesar “Rico” Bandello (“Little Caesar”)

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He simply had to be at the top of the list. “Little Caesar” was Edward G. Robinson’s star making role. It granted him instant fame and started what would be a long line of gangster pictures for an actor with one of cinema’s most recognizable mugs. “Little Caesar” is also important because it is widely considered to be one of the first straight up gangster movies. Robinson is so perfect as Rico, a small-time hood who joins a gang and rises through the ranks by any means necessary. That sometimes means stealing and sometimes killing. His time at the top isn’t without conflict both externally and internally. It all leads to one fantastic finish. Little Caesar himself was an easy choice for #1.

So what do you think? Agree or disagree with my picks? I would love to hear why. Also be sure to share some of your favorite choices of movie mob bosses. Head down the comments section below and sound off.

5 Phenomenal Movie Songs from the 80s

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It could be said of the 1980s that it was the best time for pop songs in the movies. Popular, playful, and sometimes just goofy, so many huge music hits in the 80s came from movie soundtracks and found massive popularity via radio and music videos. Today’s Phenomenal 5 is focusing on them. Now these may not be the “best” songs in the literal sense, but they were so much fun and such a key part of their movie during that time. To narrow it down a bit I’m mainly focusing on the very biggest songs. Now with so many to consider I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. Still, I have no problem calling these five movie songs from the 80s absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life (“Dirty Dancing”)

Without question, one of the biggest crazes of the 80s surrounded “Dirty Dancing”. In 1987 it blew up the box office. Its soundtrack was equally popular releasing TWO multi-platinum albums. The music was led by (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life and it wasn’t just young girls who were into it. Women of all ages were singing along with Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes. The song would go on to win a Grammy, a Golden Globe, and an Academy Award.

#4 – Ghostbusters (“Ghostbusters”)

When Ray Parker, Jr. agreed to do the theme for “Ghostbusters” he wasn’t given much time. Short on ideas, he saw a late night infomercial which inspired the immensely popular Ghostbusters theme. It is an incredibly playful song which would reach #1 on Billboard’s charts and be nominated for an Oscar. It’s probably best known for its full blown 80s-styled video which was directed by Ivan Reitman. It featured loads of cameos, loads of cheese, and loads of good silly fun.

#3 – Danger Zone (“Top Gun”)

I remember sitting at home in 1986 when the video for Danger Zone came on MTV. I had seen it before, but I had something else in mind. I called my dad into the room. He watched the video and that afternoon we were in the theater watching “Top Gun”. Mission accomplished. Danger Zone was such a cool and energetic song from Kenny Loggins. And while it never received any major award nominations, its amazing how often it still pops up on television, in commercials, in trailers, and even in other films.

#2 – Flashdance – What a Feeling (“Flashdance”)

The accolades for Irene Cara’s fantastic “Flashdance” theme song are most impressive. The song topped twelve global charts. It won the Oscar for Best Original Song. It won a Golden Globe. It won Cara the Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. “Flashdance” was a box office hit despite a generally negative reception from critics. But over the years the music may be what people remember more than the movie. The soundtrack released several hit songs but none better than this one.

#1 – Footloose (“Footloose”)

It was February 17, 1984 and Kevin Norwood Bacon was about to see his career explode. That was day “Footloose” hit theaters. The film and Bacon garnered a lot of attention. But so did the soundtrack, particularly the theme song from Kenny Loggins. The song became legendary among 80s movie music and the video endeared Kevin Bacon to a generation just as much as the movie did. It hit #1 on the charts, was nominated for an Oscar, and won the Grammy for Song of the Year. I still start tapping my toe every time I hear it.

So there are just a few of the many great movie songs from the 80s. So many others come to mind – Eye of the Tiger, The Power of Love, Don’t You Forget About Me. What else did I miss? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

5 Phenomenal Box Office Bombs That Deserved Better

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Just a few weeks ago The Phenomenal 5 list looked at bad movies that were huge box office hits. This time we are doing it a little different. I thought it would be fun to look at box office bombs that are actually much better films than their theater earnings indicate. These are movies that deserved the audiences that films like “Avatar”, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”, and “Transformers” brought in. I tried to focus on films that have still never gotten over the box office drumming they took. The number of good movies brutalized by poor theater showings is pretty astonishing therefore I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But there is no denying that these five box office bombs truly deserved better.

#5 – “Serenity”

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It may surprise some but Joss Whedon was indeed directing movies prior to “The Avengers”. One such film was “Serenity” based on his science-fiction television series “Firefly”. The film follows the events of the series and brought back the entire cast led by Nathan Fillion. Actually I had not watched the series so I wasn’t expecting much from the film. I was wrong. This is fun, engaging, quip-filled sci-fi but it never caught much of an audience. It barely made back its budget and any possibly followups were quickly tossed out. What a shame.

#4 – “Waterworld”

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To this day “Waterworld” is remembered for its cost controversy and its failures to cover its budget at the box office. At the time it was the most expensive movie ever made and the news focused more on that than the film itself. The movie deserved a lot better. There are some rough patches but overall the  dystopian vision of a flooded earth is very compelling. The movie does several interesting things within the setting and there are several scenes that still stick with me. Not a perfect film but one that doesn’t deserve the pounding it has taken over the years.

#3 – “John Carter”

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Yet another science-fiction movie with a mammoth-sized budget that fell well short of box office expectations. Disney went all-in with “John Carter”, a move that proved very costly. The film needed to make $600 million globally to break even. It didn’t even manage $290 million. Did Disney overspend? Absolutely. Is “John Carter” a bad movie? Absolutely not. It’s too long. It has a fairly stiff lead performance. It sometimes gets a bit too cheesy. But I think “John Carter” is a lot of fun. It’s filled with some amazing effects, jaw-dropping set pieces, and it lays the foundation for what could have been a strong sequel. That certainly isn’t happening now.

#2 – “Once Upon a Time in America”

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There is a frustrating and shameful story behind the American release of Sergio Leone’s fabulous gangster epic “Once Upon a Time in America”. This was the final movie in Leone’s brilliant filmmaking career. It was set to release with a running time of 229 minutes. It did so in Europe. Panicking over some early screening reactions, it was decided to not only cut the American version down to 139 minutes, but also to rearrange numerous scenes. This was all done without Leone’s consent and the results were disastrous. The film bombed and to this day the brilliant original 229 minute version doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves.

#1 – “Hugo”

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Movie fans often talk about Martin Scorsese movies. In those conversations you rarely hear any mention of “Hugo”. The 2011 film based on the Brian Selznick novel was generally applauded by critics and well represented at the Academy Award ceremony. But it is generally known as a box office flop and as a result it has been forgotten. Overall the film is believed to have lost around $100 million mostly due to the stiff competition it faced in the theaters (“Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1” and “The Muppets”). In reality it is a charming, stimulating, and poignant story told through the lens of a true filmmaking great. The fact that “Hugo” has been forgotten by many is discouraging. It was one of my favorite films of 2011 and it holds up remarkably well today.

So there are five good movies (in some cases great movies) that performed poorly at the box office and have never fully recovered. Each deserved a much better fate. Agree or disagree? Please let me know in the comments section below.

5 Phenomenal Road Trip Comedies

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I had originally set out to list 5 phenomenal road trip movies but the list grew too big and there were too many films I simply couldn’t leave off. To remedy my predicament I decided to break them down between comedy and drama. We are starting with some of the funnier cross-country journeys. Doing it this way proved to be chore. There are so many to choose from. For that reason I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. Still there’s no denying that these five road trip comedies are nothing short of phenomenal.

#5 – “Tommy Boy”

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Let me start off by saying that I have a genuine soft spot for this nutty 1995 Chris Farley and David Spade vehicle. The two Saturday Night Live vets were known for their chemistry. Spade was the sour, sarcastic, stick-in-the-mud while Farley was the klutzy, lovable goofball. Here they set off on a cross-country sales trip to try and save his father’s company. Obviously things don’t go well and most of it is due to Farley’s idiocy. But it is one hysterical trip mainly thanks to the clashing personalities of the two characters.

#4 – “Smokey and the Bandit”

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There are so many things I equate with “Smokey and the Bandit”. The popular Jerry Reed song “East Bound and Down”. The cute-as-a-button Sally Fields. That black Pontiac Trans Am that I still wish I had. But in terms of comedy it introduced us to one of film’s funniest characters – Sheriff Buford T. Justice. The late and great Jackie Gleason played the role and to say he stole much of the movie wouldn’t be a stretch. This surly, Texas Sheriff’s determination to catch Bandit is only overshadowed by his blindness to his own ineptitude. It makes for some truly hilarious encounters and several classic Gleason lines.

#3 – “Dumb and Dumber”

There is a mind-numbing quality to the humor of this 1994 Farrelly brothers road trip romp. But unlike the awful prequel and sequel, “Dumb and Dumber” had a certain charm and it never felt as if it was forcing itself to be funny. In it we get Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels playing two well-meaning (well, sometimes) idiots traveling from Rhode Island to Aspen, Colorado to return a briefcase. Obviously when you have characters with the IQ’s of a sock there will be obstacles. Carrey and Daniels have a blast and there are so many funny moments. Consider me a member of the film’s substantial cult following.

#2 – “The Blues Brothers”

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The only reason this musical comedy from 1980 isn’t tops on the list is because it may not be a road trip movie in the purest sense (whatever that means). But I feel it does fit here and it is simply too good to leave off. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd set off on their “mission from God” to save the orphanage they grew up in. To do that they have to find and put back together their old blues band to earn the money to save their childhood home. Hysterical characters, wild car chases, great song and dance numbers – they all play a part in this high-energy and truly funny movie.

#1 – “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”

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There are so many movies that could have made and even topped this list (“Vacation” will surely come to mind), but I have such an affection for this 1987 gem (one of John Hughes’ best films). Steve Martin plays a high strung executive trying to get from New York City to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving. A missed taxi cab, a blizzard, and a flight delay threaten that. Thankfully there is John Candy who plays a chatty traveling shower curtain ring salesman. The two are polar opposites yet they keep crossing paths often times with very funny results. Martin and Candy play off of each other like experts and deliver one great scene after another.

There are my five road trip comedies. Do you have any thoughts on these or any others I didn’t mention? Please take time to share your thoughts in the comments section below.