Movies - Lists postsWednesday July 13, 2016
The Least-Popular Box-Office Smash of All Time
Putting together a post on Steven Spielberg's ubiquity in the 100 highest-grossing domestic films of all time (adjusted for inflation), I often resorted to IMDb to check who directed which box office smash. “Twister,” for example. No clue. (Turns out: Jan de Bont. OK.)
Then I began to notice the IMDb ratings for these films.
Then I began to wonder which had the lowest rating.
In other words, what is the least popular (by IMDb rating) most popular (by adjusted $$) movie ever made? For which movie did we have the greatest buyer's remorse?
Most, to be sure, are still beloved by IMDb users. Two of the top 100 movies are in the nines (“The Godfather,” “Dark Knight”), 33 are in the eights, 51 in the sevens. The average is 7.66. Nothing to sneeze at.
But there are 14 movies with IMDb rankings lower than 7.0. Here they are, from least shitty to most shitty:
|$$ Rank||Movie||Adjusted Gross||Year||IMDb|
|56||The Towering Inferno||$526,603,200||1974||6.9|
|70||Smokey and the Bandit||$487,626,500||1977||6.9|
|97||Duel in the Sun||$437,755,100||1946||6.9|
|49||Around the World in 80 Days||$554,400,000||1956||6.8|
|60||The Greatest Show on Earth||$514,800,000||1952||6.7|
|91||Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones||$458,759,500||2002||6.7|
|18||Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace||$774,877,600||1999||6.5|
|84||Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen||$462,470,000||2009||6.0|
This makes me truly happy. I remember how I recoiled and thrashed around in the summer of '09 when that idiot “Transformers” movie was raking it in at the box office. How I wished revenge on its viewers. How one post was simply titled “Die, Die, Die!” Turns out many agree with me.
Which of these would you watch again? I don't think I've ever seen “Towering Inferno” so that would be on my list. Ditto “Duel in the Sun.” I have fond memories of “Smokey and the Bandit” but haven't seen it since it was in movie theaters. How quaint is “Airport” now? Has anyone put together an “Airport”/“Airplane” double feature? And if you could spoof one of the movies on this list, a la “Airplane,” which would you choose?
My Top 10 Movies of 2015
INTRO. Caveat: I haven't seen some contenders yet, such as “45 Years,” “The Hateful Eight,” “Son of Saul,” but you don't want to wait until February for this kind of thing. Mid-January is already a month behind. I thought it was a weak year, but it ended well, and I had to leave off some deserving candidates: “Ex Machina,” “It Follows,” “Going Clear,” “Of Miracles and Men,” “The Martian,” “Love & Mercy,” “Bridge of Spies,”Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,“ ”Creed.“ Here we go. Your mileage will differ.
10. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. Yes, it's derivative of itself; yes, Rey is a quick study; but my what fun. The torch has been passed to a new generation of Star Warsians, and they have—whaddaya know—personality.
9. CAROL. Not just a love story, not just a coming-of-age story, but a beautiful look back at a bygone era. Between this, ”Brooklyn,“ and ”Bridge of Spies,“ was there any 1950s memorabilia left in the second-hand shops in the New York Metro area?
8. SICARIO. Stunning visually, dramatically, ethically. How true is it? I’m sure liberties were taken. The larger truth is about how thin our veneer of civilization is. Both ways.
7. MEETING DR. SUN. A quirky joy from Taiwan and the Seattle International Film Festival. It's a heist film gone horribly amaterurish. The final, sad wrestling match on the Taipei streets, beneath the gaze of the titular statue, can be read as the two Chinas forever embroiled.
6. BROOKLYN. Something beautiful or unexpected happens in each scene. Watching, it was like I was being handed a rose. By the end of the movie, I felt like I was holding a bouquet.
5. INSIDE OUT. Sadness, and, particularly Bing Bong, take the movie to another level—a level that, in animated films, only Pixar seems to reach. ”Take her to the moon for me“ literally made me stifle a sob in the middle of a packed movie theater. It's the great cinematic sacrifice of 2015.
4. SPOTLIGHT. The best movie about investigative journalism since ”The Insider.“ What's shocking is how undramatic it is, how matter-of-fact. You could almost call it objective.
3. THE BIG SHORT. It's the eat-your-vegetables movie that goes down like an ice-cream sundae. It's a primer on Wall Street, and mortgage derivatives, and the global financial meltdown. You want them to get the bad guys, to prick their bloated self-assurance, even though you know we all fall down. It's tragic, yes, but also fucking hilarious.
2. THE REVENANT. You feel it as much as see it. It's palpable, and beautiful, and exhausting. When it was over I exhaled and thought, ”Great, but I doubt I'll want to see it again.“ The next day, I wanted to see it again.
1. THEEB. It's that rare beast: an art film that is also a harrowing adventure story. It's ”Lawrence of Arabia" from a Bedouin boy's perspective. It's not just about the loss of life but the loss of a way of life.
From the Archives: Top 10 Music Biopics
I wrote the following for MSN back in 2004 in anticipation of “Ray.” Some of it still works. I'll add my new top 10 at the end.
You say you’re a musician and someday you want Hollywood to tell your story? Here’s what you need to do:
- Tell friends and family there’s something “inside you” that needs to get out.
- If you're male, get a drug habit.
- If you’re female, get an abusive husband.
- Die young. Preferably by plane crash.
We don’t know how many of these scenarios are in the two music biopics opening this fall—Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in “Ray,” and Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin in “Beyond The Sea”—but we wouldn’t be surprised to see at least a few. In the meantime enjoy this list of our 10 best music biopics.
Guidelines. No romans a clef, such as “The Rose” or “Eight Mile.” Also no TV movies: “The David Cassidy Story” or “The John Denver Story.” Life’s too short. No documentaries or mockumentaries, either. Finally, the movie has to be about people famous for their music, not musicians famous for their biopic. This eliminates two great films—“The Pianist” and “Shine”—but opens things up to more traditional examples of the genre.
Now let’s rock n’ roll. To the toppermost of the poppermost!
10. “Bird” (1988)
Directed by Clint Eastwood. Written by Joel Oliansky.
Remember the “drug habit” scenario above? Here’s a caveat: If the drug habit is the focus of the film—like in “Lady Sings the Blues,” “Sid and Nancy,” and “The Doors”—it’ll probably kill the film. There's not much that's less dramatic than someone succumbing to addiction. So why is “Bird” on this list? Because Forest Whitaker’s tortured performance as Charlie Parker sticks. Some of the scenes, too, have a spark: traveling through the deep south with “Albino Red,” and in L.A. with Dizzy Gillespie. Too bad the rest of the film doesn’t. Too bad it’s 160 minutes.
Who plays?: Charlie Parker.
Obstacles to success: Cymbals flying through the air.
Problems with success: Drugs. Ulcers. Racism.
Memorable number: Buster Franklin being reintroduced to that kid who couldn’t play in Kansas City.
Academy Awards: Best Sound. Forest Whitaker won Best Actor at Cannes.
Quote: “Chan, comma. Help, period. Charlie Parker.”
9. “La Bamba” (1987)
Written and directed by Luis Valdez.
It’s a bit cartoony. A migrant labor camp never looked so idyllic, and the high school hallways are straight out of “Grease.” The adolescent romance between Ritchie Valens and Donna is, well, adolescent, and Lou Diamond Phillips doesn’t lip-synch particularly well. But the movie is what it sets out to be: a kind of Cain and Abel tale, with Cain carrying a bottle and Abel a guitar. Quick question: on that night in 1959 in Clear Lake, Iowa, three musicians went down in a chartered airplane, and two are on this list: Ritchie Valens (#9) and Buddy Holly (#6). So why is J.P. Richardson getting dissed? Where’s “Hello Baby: The Big Bopper Story”?
Genre: Rock n’ roll
Who sings: Los Lobos.
Obstacles to success: Not many. The kid was seventeen.
Problems with success: His brother. Airplanes.
Memorable number: Singing “Framed” at the American Legion Hall as Bob arrives drunk and ready to fight.
Music cameos: Los Lobos (in a Mexican brothel); Brian Setzer (as Eddie Cochrane); Marshall Crenshaw (as Buddy Holly).
Quote: “I’m gonna be a star. Because stars don’t fall out of the sky, do they?”
8. “Backbeat” (1994)
Directed by Iain Softley. Written by Iain Softley, Michael Thomas, Stephen Ward.
Search the world over and you won’t find anyone who can do a better John Lennon than Ian Hart. “Backbeat” was actually Hart’s second go at John—after the short film “The Hours at the Times”—and once more he’s amazing: looks, sounds, acts just like the former Beatle. Just doesn’t sing. The film focuses on John’s friendship with his art school mate Stuart Sutcliffe, who sold a painting, bought a bass guitar and joined the band. It’s about the Beatles’ Hamburg days, where they honed their talents, and about a love triangle: John, Stuart, and Astrid, the woman who gave the Beatles bangs. But who is John jealous of: Stuart or Astrid? John seems equally confused.
Genre: Rock n’ roll
Who sings: Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs), Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum), Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Don Fleming (Gumball), and Dave Grohl (Nirvana) play the music for the early '60s Beatles. Nice! But let’s face it: If Pete Best pounded the drums the way Grohl does, we never would’ve heard of Ringo Starr.
Obstacles to success: The picture makes it seem the Beatles’ path to success was greased when it wasn’t. Remember “Three-guitar and one-drum groups are on the way out”? You know, as wrong as you’ve ever been in your life, you’ve never been that wrong.
Problems with success: Takes place before the success.
Memorable number: “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” “Twenty Flight Rock,” “Long Tall Sally”: Take your pick.
Academy Awards: Nope. But Hart recognized as Most Promising Newcomer at the BAFTAs.
Quote: “It’s all dick.”
7. “The Benny Goodman Story” (1955)
Written and directed by Valentine Davies.
“I must say Benny does have his own strange kind of integrity,” future wife Alice Hammond says of Goodman in the middle of this biopic, and the picture’s the same way. It’s one of three Hollywood jazz stories made in the 1950s (along with “The Glenn Miller Story” and “The Gene Krupa Story”), but it works better than the other two, in part, because of this integrity. Goodman has a nerd’s courage when confronting mobsters and bland band leaders but none with Hammond, who must take the lead in their relationship. Allen is understated as the jazz clarinetist. Donna Reed is charming as the classical music enthusiast won over to jazz. And the music swings.
Who plays: Benny Goodman. Steve Allen was an accomplished musician/composer, however.
Obstacle to success: The usual unimaginative promoters and businessmen.
Problem with success: She’s gentile, he’s Jewish.
Memorable number: Blowing away the stuffy society folks at Carnegie Hall with “Sing Sing Sing (with a Swing).”
Music cameos: Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa, Ben Pollack, Kid Ory, Harry James, Ziggy Elman, and Martha Tilton.
Quote: “So many things he wants to say. And no clarinet to say them.”
6. “The Buddy Holly Story” (1978)
Directed by Steve Rash. Written by Alan Swyer.
Rock n’ roll has a bit of a complex – it yearns for both street cred and art cred – and two scenes in “The Buddy Holly Story” exemplify this. At one point Holly and the Crickets show up at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and win over a startled black crowd who were expecting black performers. That’s the street cred. Later, a classical violinist compares Holly’s use of strings in “True Love Ways” to Beethoven. That’s the art cred. It helps, too, that Holly shakes his head over the violinist’s comments. You can’t be a true rock n’ roller if you’re seen vying for art cred. The film is a low-key account of rise and crash, with Gary Busey channeling his inner geek to earn an Oscar nom, and Don Stroud and Charles Martin Smith playing great back-up as the Crickets, the band that inspired the naming of the Beatles. Occasionally the 1970s seep through the seams of this period piece, but mostly it works the way Holly’s tunes work: without strain.
Genre: Rock n’ roll
Who sings: Gary Busey. Plays, too.
Obstacles to success: Sponsors and preachers who don’t dig rock n’ roll. Suits who won’t let him produce his own music, man.
Problems with success: The jealousy/homesickness of the Crickets.
Memorable number: Singing “Oh Boy” at the Apollo Theater.
Academy Awards: Best Music. Busey was nominated Best Actor.
Quote: “No white act has ever played the Apollo!”
5. “What’s Love Got to Do with It” (1993)
Directed by Brian Gibson. Written by Kate Lanier.
You watch this thing flinching from anticipated blows. When’s he going to strike? Here? Here? When the first punch lands you find out it’s not the first anyway, and then he rains them down and drags her through the house as friends stare in mute horror and the children scream. One boy holds his ears and cries – so heartbreakingly real you wonder what they did to the kid to get him to act that way. When the abuse continues, year after year, it almost drains your energy away. But when Tina finally fights back in the limousine, and she lands that first blow of her own? Oooh, that one feels good. Too much Buddhism at the end, and Ike keeps popping up like Jason in “Friday the 13th,” but still our most emotionally raw music biopic.
Genre: Rhythm and Blues.
Who sings: Tina Turner.
Obstacles to success: Not many. Well, race.
Problems with success: Ike.
Memorable number: Singing “I Wanna Be Made Over” as she is.
Music cameos: Tina shows up at the end.
Academy Awards: Both Bassett and Fishburne were nominated. Bassett’s so good we think she would’ve won if she’d been able to sing like Tina.
Quote: “Everything’s alright. Just me and your mama talking.”
4. “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1942)
Directed by Michael Curtiz. Written by Robert Bucker and Edmund Joseph.
Yes, cornball, overly patriotic, and the Four Cohans in blackface is embarrassing. But few actors have embodied energy on the screen as well as Cagney, who shed his gangster image (for a New York minute) by quick-talking, tap-dancing, and charming his way through this biopic of George M. Cohan, creator of American myths, and composer of such rousing American standards as “The Yankee Doodle Boy,” “Grand Old Flag,” and “Over There.” We’re a cynical lot, but the scene where he tap-dances down the White House steps still makes us misty.
Genre: Tin Pan Alley
Who sings: Cagney, see?
Obstacles to success: Dietz and Goff.
Problems with success: Critics. Teenagers in jalopies.
Memorable number: “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” What else?
Music cameos: Eddie Foy, Jr. plays Eddie Foy.
Academy Awards: Best Actor (Cagney), Music and Sound. Nominated for five others, including Picture, Director, Script, Editing, and Supporting Actor (Huston)
Quote: “My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I thank you.”
3. “Bound for Glory” (1976)
Directed by Hal Ashby. Written by Robert Getchell.
Ironic title, given it’s one of the few music biopics where the lead character doesn’t seem bound for glory. In fact the young Woody Guthrie seems like a lazy, impractical dreamer. He paints signs, plays fiddle, tells fortunes, fools around. The movie picks up when he picks up and encounters bullying railroad men and uncaring church men on his way to California, the promised land, where things only get worse. The film is like its subject. It has an unhurried, rambling nature. Look for Ronny Cox, the epitome of corporate villainy in films like “Robocop,” as Woody’s mentor, Ozark Bule, the anti-corporate union organizer.
Who sings: David Carradine. Actors sang in the seventies.
Obstacles to success: The dust bowl. The California border patrol.
Problems with success: Sponsors, marketers, and packagers.Memorable number: A sing-along led by Ozark Bule in a migrant labor camp.
Academy Awards: Best Music and Cinematography (Haskell Wexler). Nominated for Film Editing, Costume Design, Writing and Picture. 1976 was a tough year at the Oscars.
Quote: “You sure as hell don’t look like much. How do you sing?” “Makes me happy.”
2. “Coal Miner’s Daughter” (1980)
Directed by Michael Apted. Written by Thomas Rickman.
For a film with abject poverty, a near-rape scene, and a whole lot of bickering and squallering, this movie is pure fun. It’s partly the writing and direction, of course, and it doesn’t hurt to have locals in speaking parts. (When did directors stop doing that?) But the movie really belongs to its two stars. Sissy Spacek plays Loretta Lynn from age 13 to, what, 40? She sings like Loretta. Hell, she should’ve gone to Nashville afterwards and cut herself some records. And with her in nearly every scene is one of the best actors in Hollywood. Tommy Lee Jones’ Doolittle Lynn is a flawed, fascinating man who literally drives his wife to stardom only to discover that by succeeding he’s failed. Her success – their success – has rendered him superfluous. How does he handle this? At first poorly; then like a man.
Who sings: Sissy Spacek. Perhaps the only thing more amazing than Spacek’s pitch-perfect Loretta Lynn is Beverly D’Angelo’s pitch-perfect Patsy Cline.
Obstacles to success: Poverty, obscurity, shyness.
Problems with success: Headaches. Doo.
Memorable number: Quieting a honky-tonk with “There He Goes.”
Music cameos: Ernest Tubb and Minnie Pearl. Levon Helm plays Loretta’s father.
Academy Awards: Best Actress for Spacek. The film was nominated for six others, including Picture, Writing, Art Direction, Cinematography, Editing and Sound. The fact that Tommy Lee Jones wasn’t even nominated discounts for all eternity every awards show everywhere. We’re serious.
Quote: “Stop making that noise! You sound like an old bear growling.”
1. “Amadeus” (1984)
Directed by Milos Foreman. Written by Peter Shaffer.
It’s more than a biopic; it’s a blueprint for how to deal with genius on screen. Simply view the extraordinary (Mozart) through the eyes of the ordinary (Salieri). There’s one glorious scene after another here: Salieri playing his and then Mozart’s music before the innocent priest; Mozart playing back the little march of welcome Salieri composed in his honor (“That doesn’t quite work, does it?”); Salieri looking through Mozart’s first – and only – drafts. And on and on, right up to the very end when Antonio Salieri, the Patron Saint of mediocrities, absolves us all. And the music? “Finished as no music is ever finished.”
Who plays: Neville Marriner
Obstacles to success: Too many notes.
Problems with success: Dead father. Carping wife. Jealous colleague. Not necessarily in that order.
Memorable number: Pick one.
Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director, Writer, Actor (Abraham), Art Direction, Costume Design, Make-up and Sound. Also nominated for Actor (Hulce), Cinematography, and Editing.
Quote: “I was staring through the cage of those meticulous ink strokes – at an absolute beauty.”
Not bad: “The Glenn Miller Story” (1953); “Lady Sings the Blues” (1972); “Sweet Dreams” (1985); “Sid & Nancy” (1986); “Immortal Beloved” (1994);
Not good: “The Gene Krupa Story” (1959); “Mahler” (1974); “Lisztomania (1976); “The Doors” (1991); “Selena” (1997)
Since then? The floodgates. We've gotten, among others, “Ray” (Ray Charles) “Beyond the Sea” (Bobby Darrin) “Walk the Line” (Johnny Cash) “La Vie en Rose” (Edit Piaf) “I'm Not There” (Bob Dylan) “Cadillac Records” (Chess Records) “Jersey Boys” (Frank Valli) “Get On Up” (James Brown) “Jimi: All Is By My Side” (Jimi Hendrix), “Love & Mercy” (Brian Wilson) and “Straight Outta Compton” (NWA).
Some I haven't seen yet. And with some of the top 10 above I'm like, really, Erik? “What's Love Got to Do With It?” at No. 5? I keep thinking that I gave “Bird” short shrift and movies like “La Bamba” too much shrift. I keep remembering being not overwhelmed by “Bound for Glory.” I remember exactly nothing about “The Benny Goodman Story.”
Given all that, here's my new Top 10. Your results will differ:
- Coal Miner's Daughter
- Yankee Doodle Dandy
- La Vie en Rose
- I'm Not There
- Love & Mercy
- Bound for Glory
- Jimi: All Is By My Side
- What's Love Got to Do With It?
- The Buddy Holly Story
Beyond the first two, it's really kind of a crapshoot.
Whose music biopic would you like to see on screen? Or maybe the better question, given the history of the genre, is: Whose story would you LEAST like to see Hollywood screw up?
Patricia recreating a scene from “The Birds” outside the Potter Schoolhouse during a 2011 trip to Bodega, Cal.
On the day of Alfred Hitchcock's 116th birthday, two days ago, some top IndieWire critics, including Anne Thompson, Susan Wloszczyna and John Anderson, ranked their 25 favorite Hitchock films. Twenty-five! “Vertigo,” the new darling, was No. 2, while “Notorious” took the top slot. I saw the list via Jeff Wells, who had some mild disagreements, mostly with the highish ranking (13th) of “Marnie,” which both Wells and I think is the lamest of Hitchcock's work. But it's been revived by the New Yorker's Richard Brody. Too bad. But Wells agrees with IndieWire about the new No. 1.
My history of Hitchcock is sketchy, but of the ones I've seen I'd rank them in this order:
- The 39 Steps
- Rear Window
- The Birds
- North by Northwest
- The Lady Vanishes
- Dial M for Murder
- The Wrong Man
There's a great purity and economy in the storytelling of “The 39 Steps,” not to mention wit. It reminds me of what Fitzgerald and Salinger did with the best of their stories. It's also got one of the great steamy scenes of the 1930s.
I need to see more Hitchcock, obviously.
My Top 10 American Movies, as of July 28, 2015
The dark side of the American dream: war, profits, and the death of the working class. None of these movies wound up on the BBC list.
I'll have a few more posts about that BBC list of the top 100 American movies as chosen by 62 international critics, but, as a reminder, each of the 62 chose their own top 10, with No. 1 being worth 10 points, 2 worth nine points, and so on. Since I'm a bit critical of the list, I thought I'd come up with my own Top 10. Haven't done it in a while. And never from a wholly American perspective.
It's not easy. This is what the BBC says about its process:
What defines an American film? For the purposes of this poll, it is any movie that received funding from a US source. The directors of these films did not have to be born in the United States – in fact, 32 films on the list were directed by film-makers born elsewhere – nor did the films even have to be shot in the US. ... Critics were encouraged to submit lists of the 10 films they feel, on an emotional level, are the greatest in American cinema – not necessarily the most important, just the best. These are the results.
I went after movies that say something deep and real about life. And if they say something deep and real about American life, all the better. “The Godfather,” after all, is about the dark side of the American dream (first line: I believe in America) and so is “All the President's Men.” I guess most of these films are, now that I think about it. Even “Breaking Away.” It's lighthearted in tone but it's about the death of the blue-collar working class. It's about owning your epithet (nothing is more American than that), and, in a very funny way, it's about the American talent for reimagining yourself—in this case as a non-American; as an Italian.
I also tried to pick movies that I've watched at least five times and would like to watch again. Like right now.
|My Rank||Movie||Director||BBC Rank|
|1||The Thin Red Line (1998)||Terrence Malick||n/a|
|2||The Godfather (1972)||Francis Ford Coppola||2|
|3||The Insider (1999)||Michael Mann||n/a|
|4||Casablanca (1943)||Michael Curtiz||9|
|5||Annie Hall (1977)||Woody Allen||23|
|6||Breaking Away (1979)||Peter Yates||n/a|
|7||All the President's Men (1976)||Alan J. Pakula||n/a|
|8||Amadeus (1984)||Milos Forman||n/a|
|9||Singin' in the Rain (1952)||Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly||7|
|10||Monkey Business (1931)||Norman McLeod||n/a|
- It's a very '70s-centric list but it could have been more so: “Chinatown,” “Cuckoo's Nest,” “Love and Death,” “Jaws,” “The Godfather Part II.” The '70s were a good decade for American film and I was coming of age during it.
- Six of my 10 aren't on the BBC's top 100.
- When will “The Thin Red Line” get its due? When will “The Insider”? (I have no hope that “Breaking Away” will ever get its due.)
Feel free to post your Top 10 (or 5, or 3) below.