Hey Schmoedown. The Boss here. As we careen towards the unbelievable showdown that I will be a part of this weekend at the 3rd ever SchmoeDown Spectacular, I’ve been fortunate enough to be asked to contribute to the the “favorite slice” column. As one of the exciting new additions to the SD ecosystem in 2018, this article series has brought a tremendous amount of interesting insight into each competitor’s mind, both for the fans as well as for the other competitors. Reading through the slices that had already been selected I noticed that the category my face was synonymous with for so long was still on the table. That category is of course ‘Movie Release Dates.’
The first question you might be asking is why I love this category. It’s a solid question considering the lack of genre or structure when considering a group of movies. The easiest way I can answer is that my mind is pleased by the rote nature of memorization and its application to organizing information. When I visualize a movie, one of the images that comes into my mind is the 4 digit year that appears after the title on IMDB.com. Somehow, at some age, that association became an essential part of understanding and categorizing the the parts of film history that I’m most fascinated by. Whether I’m deep diving into the career of Paul Newman, or trying to understand the way the studio system staggers its sequel releases to maximize box office potential, the years and their significance bring a smile to my face and get my wheels turning.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to take a different approach to this article. Today, I will share with each of you the 10 most significant years of my life, the reason for the years significance, and my personal favorite film from each of those years. Without further adieu, here we go.
1988 – Die Hard and the Year of My Birth
I was born on June 6th 1988 in Seattle Washington to a family that included two men with a great love for movies. My older brother Damon is nine years my senior, and gave me a VHS copy of Point Break for my 12th birthday, while my dad printed out and put the AFI Top 100 on our fridge when I was 12. Among the hundreds of movies I watched as a teen was the most ambiguously categorized Christmas movie ever made. Much has been written over the years about what Die Hard did for the action genre, as well as cinema on the whole. Willis was barely a known commodity at the time, and the late great Alan Rickman pretty much defined the action movie villain after coming out of total obscurity. Something abut the relatable physique of John McClane, the fresh one liners, and the fact that you could imagine John or Al as your dad made this movie an instant classic. Though 1995’s second sequel gives it a run for it’s money, Die Hard will forever live on as an essential piece of it’s both its era and genre.
1995 – Heat & The Year My Older Brother Taught Me To Play Magic The Gathering
A couple years ago I did a retrospective review of this film on the 100th episode of Action Movie Anatomy and I was struck by how unique the trailer was. The promotional campaign was truly selling the importance of DeNiro and Pacino and their impact on film history rather than the plot. While DeNiro vs. Pacino and the infamous diner scene are special parts of the film, it’s really the depth of the story and the stakes that make this my favorite film in a ridiculously stacked year. Just to name a few, Se7ev, Toy Story, Tommy Boy, Billy Madison, Casino, Apollo 13, Braveheart and the Usual Suspects are all the same year. I love every small, cameo, the crisp white shirt and grey suit worn my DeNiro, and most notably the shootout. The sound design is breathtaking, and Val Kilmer is maybe his most badass ever. I’ve seen this movie probably 25 times and it still feels eternally cool.
1998 – The Truman Show and My Parents’ Divorce
If you’re my age or close to it then it’s impossible to ignore the impact that Jim Carrey had on your childhood. His 1994 is on the Mt. Rushmore for comedians, as he starred in Dumb & Dumber, The Mask and Ace Ventura all in the span of just over 10 months. This is why The Truman show was such a surprising departure from what we had come to expect at that point. I recall seeing it in theaters with my older brother, and not knowing how to react at the time. I thought it was good, but at 10 years old I found myself remembering the ‘Carreyisms’ and physical comedy more than anything else. In retrospect it was one of the last great films from the wonderful mind of Australian director Peter Weir, and the performance by Ed Harris stands out as one of the softest and best in a career full of stoic masculinity. I’m also partial to the supporting roles played convincingly by Laura Linney and Noah Emmerich, as well as the score which I’m now listening to as I write these words. When someone uses the phrase “feel good movie,” this is what they should be referring to.
1999 – Magnolia and My Father Introducing Me To The AFI Top 100
Last year I put together my personal top 50 favorite movies of all time list. As I got closer and closer to the top, Boogie Nights ended up landing at #2, but PT Anderson’s epic follow up ensemble film Magnolia was floating in limbo. I deliberated over its position for a number of weeks until finally in the end I decided that it felt too connected to BN to leave it anywhere lower on the list than #3. 1999 is arguably the greatest year for film in my lifetime, so if not for a top three slot my ’99 selection could easily be The Matrix, The Insider, Fight Club, American Beauty, Toy Story 2 or any number of other classics. However, Magnolia is just. That. Good.
It’s a film with such a wide array of masterclass performances, that it’s hard to even know where to begin. Several of the strongest performers would go on to win Oscars later in their careers, including Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Julianne Moore, while veteran standout Jason Robards had already been twice decorated earlier in his. Unsurprisingly though, it’s my man Tom Cruise that stands out in this one as dating coach Frank TJ Mackey, a role that is often discussed as Cruise’s best. Playing seriously against his normal type, Cruise constructed a character as deeply hurt, confused and frightening as any that year (or most others). Somehow, that period in his career marked a different willingness to confront darker characters, and for that we were all rewarded with this one. Looking back all these years later, the idea that Michael Caine in the Cider House rules was a superior performance just seems silly.
2005 – Brokeback Mountain and My First Move to Los Angeles:
Some years are better than others for film, and some are notorious for a weak crop. In looking back at 2005 I was struck by just how mediocre the year felt. Not to say that there aren’t great films that year, but for me the decision was really quite simple. When Heath Ledger won his posthumous Oscar for the most iconic film role of the 21st century, its huge affectations and constant relationship to hyperbole overshadowed his other most impressive performance from just three years earlier. While Hollywood and the rest of the world move at different speeds when it comes to their acceptance of what they don’t understand, it’s sad that Brokeback Mountain was notable enough to win Ang Lee an Oscar, but not acceptable enough to the mainstream to beat out Crash for Best Picture. This film has arguably gotten better with age, and its haunting score by Gustavo Santaolala has also become a staple in my personal rotation. Standout early appearances from future stars Anne Hathaway and Kate Mara breezed past us at the time, but great directors have a knack for spotting great talent, so they’re hardly a surprise looking back now. Gyllenhaal hadn’t yet reached his prime, but across from Ledger, he fills his role wonderfully. Also, the Rachel Weisz vs. Michelle Williams conversation that year seemed stupid at the the time, let alone thirteen years later.
2006 – The Prestige and My First Adult Job at Nordstrom
In 2006 Christopher Nolan was great, but not legendary. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman were movie stars, but not yet generational icons, and as an audience we were trying to decide whether to watch the Illusionist or The Prestige. Twelve years later, the natural selection of Hollywood has shaken each of those out to their proper outcome and The Prestige is many people’s favorite Nolan film. Its use of misdirection and non-linear storytelling suits Nolan perfectly, and the parallels between the two magicians make for some of the most complex and compelling scenes I can remember. This is one of the most rewatchable films of the 2010’s, with appearances by pre-Black Widow ScarJo, David bowie, Patton Oswalt, Rebecca Hall and even Andy Serkis. The pacing is terrific, and the quiet rage played by Hugh Jackman was great reminder to all the Wolverine fans out there that this was a man made famous by drama and musicals. The adamantium claws and sweet hair came later. Maybe you’re one of the few that’s heard about it and missed it somehow, but I urge you to stop what you’re doing and watch it. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
2009 – Up and Moving Back to LA for Good
In 2009 I decided to give LA a second shot and packed up my stuff. I drove down the coast with the girl I had just met and started chasing the dream. Looking back almost ten years later, I get a little teary eyed. Or maybe it’s just thinking about the first 10 minutes of UP. Pixar’s first ever ‘Best Picture’ nomination came the first year the academy expanded to 10 films instead of 5, and to this day the opening sequence may be the greatest piece of filmmaking the studio has ever produced. While some of Pixar’s greatest hits have aged clumsily, this one is still pure gold. Ed Asner steals the show and Chris Plummer plays a diabolical villain in this brilliantly colored, beautiful adventure. The film captures perfectly the weight of dreams and imagination as we watch rainbow balloons literally carrying those dreams and imagination through the sky. The Disney-owned studio has had a few classic runs, but 2007 to 2010 is arguably the critical golden age, beginning with Ratatouille, then Wall-E, followed by UP and finally another best picture nomination in Toy Story 3. By all accounts they were hitting home runs, and UP is maybe their grand slam of the bunch.
2013 – Prisoners and My First Major Adult Breakup
In 2013 I was focused on all the things you do in your mid 20’s after a major breakup: working out, writing music, going hiking trips to Yosemite and searching for a new career. What I wasn’t doing was watching movies. That turned out to be a mistake as Prisoners passed me completely by. Back then Denis Villenueve hadn’t yet become a household name to film enthusiasts, and the upsetting subject matter in this film was unfortunately a turn off for a number of people. Today, this film climbs higher and higher on my list every time I watch it. The casting is brilliant, and even though Hugh Jackman plays rage like we’ve never seen him play before or since, it’s actually Jake Gyllenhaal’s unreal performance as a young idealistic cop that stands out in memory. This film manages to be violent, suspenseful and unsettling all throughout, while boasting almost a half dozen additional incredible performances by Oscar season mainstays Paul Dano, Viola Davis, Mario Bello, Terrence Howard and most incredibly Melissa Leo. Just don’t let your kids watch this movie without you unless you want to pay for years of therapy.
2015 – The Big Short & The Beginning of Team Action
2015 was the most significant year of my career to date, as I fully embraced multimedia hosting and launched two different weekly shows that I’m still hosting today. I began my career as a celebrity interviewer and started dating someone that shaped my life and inspired me in more ways than I can count. The Team Action brand and the Movie Trivia Schmoedown were still years away, but it was also the year my on camera partnership with Andrew Ghai began and for that I’ll always remember the year fondly.
The Big Short was nominated for a number Oscars in 2016 and had the unique distinction of being directed by Adam McKay. McKay was well known for his work on comedy films, patterning primarily with Will Ferrell on several very successful films. One of those films had been released in 2010 and was called ‘The Other Guys.’ While the Other Guys is my personal favorite Ferrell film for a number of reasons, I mention it here for another purpose entirely; buried beneath the usual McKay comedy was a seriously intelligent film with very adept commentary on our country’s political and financial structure. Even the credits quote facts regarding post recession bailouts for the big banks in a way that makes you wonder whether or not you’re still supposed to be laughing. The harrowing reality of the financial crisis paired with some matter of fact humor made for the perfect storm of styles, and in 2015 McKay blew everyone away with a cross genre film that has aged better than almost any movie that year. Whether its Ryan Gosling’s hyper intelligent frat boy Jared Vennett, Steve Carell’s manic portrayal of real life asshole Mark Baum, or Christian Bale’s eccentric Michael Burry, this movie does not fail to entertain or educate.
2017 – LOGAN
In 2017 I joined the Movie Trivia Schmoedown, competing for the first time against the now defunct ‘Night Sisters.’ It’s seems a particularly relevant year considering it brought me here to each of you. The film that stuck with me more than any other last year was Logan. As the alleged final appearance of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, this film spoke to me and broke my heart in a way no superhero film ever had before. Arguably the greatest performance by an actor that I’ve often referred to as the “best living entertainer” puts this movie into rarified air. Patrick Stewart also turns one of the great unsung acting performances of the year. James Mangold returning to to the Western genre a decade after 3:10 to Yuma to show us just how comfortable he truly is there was a tremendous career decision and even garnered him an Oscar nomination for his writing. Finally, this movie has one of the most haunting trailers you’ll ever watch, using the now classic Johnny Cash rendition of Hurt to illicit tears from anyone with a soul. It’s possible the trailer even outdoes the movie. Cue it up if you wanna get all the feels.
Alright guys, thanks for reading “My Favorite Slice!” It’s been a pleasure to share some words on my favorite films and I hope the personal info aided rather than distracted. Feel free to tweet me any time with any questions or opinions and I’ll see you Friday at the Spectacular!
— The Boss