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.

5 Phenomenally Bad Movies That Were Major Box Office Successes 

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Watching a movie’s success can be astounding. Watching a film ride an unstoppable wave of popularity to the point of making just below or above $1 billion is incredible. It’s even more astounding when the movie is bad! Today’s Phenomenal 5 looks at bad movies that raked in insane amounts of money despite their quality. To narrow it down I kept my choices within the top 60 grossers of all time and surprisingly there were plenty to choose from. So considering that I wouldn’t call this the definitive list, but in my mind these five top movie grossers are simply and plainly bad.

#5 – “The Da Vinci Code”

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In 2006 “The Da Vinci Code” was a hot topic. I had absolutely no interest in Dan Brown’s best-selling novel so obviously the movie adaptation wasn’t high on my list either. The controversies and the film’s popularity eventually lead me to check it out. That was a mistake. Ron Howard’s long, absurd, bore of a movie plods along trying hard to be a provocative thriller. It fails. But despite that “The Da Vinci Code” made $758 million at the box office. Don’t ask me. I can’t figure it out either.

#4 – “Spider-Man 3”

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Its hard to believe that a movie which made $890 million at the box office would push a studio to pull the plug and completely reboot the series. That doesn’t happen often, but it reveals just how bad the film is. “Spider-Man 3” is a prime example of a movie trying to do too much. Too many side stories, too many villains, too many half-baked relationships, and too many flimsy characters. Apparently people loved it enough to see it again and tell their friends. I thought it was a complete mess.

#3 – “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”

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Take a quick look through the top grossing movies and you will see all four Transformers films. That blows my mind. The first installment was pretty decent but after that it was all downhill. I didn’t want to make this all about Transformers so I just chose the second film “Revenge of the Fallen”. Talk about a loud, dopey, bloated up movie. Sure Michael Bay’s movies look great but this thing doesn’t know when to end. It goes on and on and on. Apparently some people didn’t mind sitting through the brain-frying cerebral bombardment. It made $836 million worldwide.

#2 – “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”

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This one is personal. What should have been a monumental moment for Indy fans turned into one of the most frustrating and rage-inducing movie experiences. The thought of Indiana Jones returning to the big screen was a big deal to me. How could it be bad? Ford, Allen, Lucas, and Spielberg were all on board. Not only was it bad, it was offensively stupid. Yet despite its crappiness the film would go on to rake in $786 million. I’m sure much of that is due to the name in the title, but screw-ups like this don’t deserve that kind of attention. Rant complete…

#1 – “Avatar”

Let me honest, not everything about “Avatar” is bad. No one can argue that the special effects and the cutting edge use of 3-D were groundbreaking and something to behold. But everything good I could say is restricted to the technical side because Avatar’s characters and overall story was absolutely horrible. James Cameron’s career project swipes story points from so many other films. This is literally “Dances with Wolves” in another galaxy. Completely predictable, awkward acting (Stephen Lang gives one of the worst performances in history), and insanely lame and heavy-handed political messaging. Yet despite its glaring story problems “Avatar” stands as the highest grossing film of all time – $2.8 billion. For that tragic reason it is my #1.

There they are in all of their dubious glory. Agree or disagree? Please let me know in the comments section below.

5 Phenomenal Scenes from “Raiders of the Lost Ark”

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I originally planned on doing a Phenomenal 5 list of great Indiana Jones moments. It turned out that limiting that list to only five was absurd and impossible. So to solve the problem I decided to break it down by the three true Indiana Jones movies (sorry “Crystal Skulls”, you are absolutely terrible). It starts with Steven Spielberg’s adventure classic “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. One of my very favorite films, “Raiders” has stuck with me since I first saw it in theaters way back in 1981. Now limiting the list to five was quite the chore and I certainly wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But there is no denying that these five “Raiders of the Lost Ark” scenes are absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – Marion in a Basket

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When Indy and Marion arrive in Cairo they quickly learn that the Nazis are aware of their presence. The two are separated and Marion heads into the back alleys before hiding in a straw basket. Indy fights off some thugs and gives us one of the franchise’s most memorable scenes. He then sets out to find Marion but realizes that there are hundreds of these straw baskets all over the city. The sequence ends with a bang. It’s such a clever mix of action and humor – something the entire series would become known for.

#4 – Horse versus Truck

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There is a spectacular action sequence centered around Indy’s pursuit of the Ark. Indy had the Ark in his grasp but the Nazis quickly steal it away. Indy first has a great fight with a Nazi heavyweight around a German bomber. But the excitement really amps up when Indy commandeers a horse and chases after the caravan of trucks loaded with soldiers and the Ark. A high-speed fight in trucks, on trucks, and under trucks ensues offering up one of the film’s most exhilarating action scenes.

#3 – The Bar Fight

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The bar fight in “Raiders” is great for numerous reasons. First it starts with the rocky reunion between Indy and Marion. Second it gives us one of my very favorite exchanges. The devilish Gestapo investigator Major Toht comes in search of a medallion in Marion’s possession. Toht’s interrogation plans are…unpleasant but luckily Indy busts in and a wild bar fight and shootout follows. As before, the scene is mixed with great action and several clever slices of humor. It is also the scene that forces Indy and Marion together and sets them off on their wild globetrotting adventure.

#2 – The Well of Souls

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Indy, Sallah, and their crew work in an Egyptian desert uncovering the entrance to the mysterious Well of Souls. Just a few paces away the Nazis are also digging but in the wrong place. Indy and Sallah enter the snake-filled chamber. Indy faces his fear of snakes and obtains the Ark. Unfortunately the Nazis are waiting on Sallah as he exits. They take the Ark, throw Marion into the Well with Indy, and seals them in. But never to be outdone, Indy comes up with a clever but unorthodox way out and it sets in motion the next leg of his journey to get the Ark.

#1 – The Peruvian Temple

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How on earth could any scene top the Well of Souls? For me the answer is found in one of the best movie openings of all time. Spielberg perfectly launches this fabulous franchise by introducing us to Indiana Jones in one of his most dangerous environments. He and a very young Alfred Molina enter a booby-trapped Peruvian Temple to grab a mystical golden idol. The sequence works on so many levels. It reveals to us the type of fun and adventurous character at the center of the film. But it also reveals the tone and quality these movies became known for. I can’t imagine the movie or the series kicking off any better.

There is my list. Obviously there are other great scenes that I had to leave out. Now tell me, which would have made your list? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.