6 Degrees of Film Fall Newsletter 2013

6 Degrees of Film Fall Newsletter 2013
Here’s a short list of some Upcoming Fall Films that look promising!

THE FAMILY-Dark comic turn on a Mafia-informant in a witness protection program that is relocated to a small French town. Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer star. Luc Besson directs …. Promising because….Luc Besson directed “The Professional” and De Niro is never better than when he plays to type-in this case-a Mafia informant.

PRISONERS – Hugh Jackman stars as a father of a missing child who decides to take the law in his own hands. Promising because…the promo describes this as less of a Charles Bronson take and more of a psychological journey.

ALL IS BRIGHT –A comedy with Paul Rudd and Paul Giamatta, the two sell Christmas trees in this one. Not enough information, but promising because… both actors are proven funny guys.

GRAVITY- A thriller in space starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. Alfonso Cuaron-Children of Men director-is the director here. Bullock is the astronaut stranded in space after losing sight of her ship and co-pilot, played by Clooney. Promising because…some of the promotion on this film emphasizes the emotional depth of the characters. In other words, it’s not just another “kick-ass” space film, but one where they are looking for something more than just sci-fi and action combined.

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS-Tom Hanks stars, in this movie based on a true life adventure about a cargo ship hijacked by Somalian pirates. Hanks plays the part of the Captain. Promising because…an A-list actor was so enthused about this story. The director, Paul Greengrass, said this film, “wasn’t about crime…it has its roots historically in poverty.”

ALL IS LOST-Robert Redford plays an old man alone on a sailboat that is sinking in the Indian Ocean. One can only think of The Old Man and the Sea, and in this case, they were working with just a 30-page script. Promising because…Redford agreed to star in this, and at 76, he has to carry literally every frame.

THE COUNSELOR-Michael Fassbender stars in this Ridley Scott directed film about a lawyer,( Fassbender), who is drawn into a drug running operation with a group of shady characters, played by Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt, among others. Promising because…Ridley Scott is a great director and lately, Michael Fassbender has starred in some of the most interesting parts that would challenge any actor.

ABOUT TIME: A young man learns that the men in the family have the ability to travel through time. Promising because…the director, Richard Curtis, swears, “this is actually an ANTI-time travel movie.” Thank God!

THE BOOK THIEF: Based on the 2006 novel, this is about a young girl in Nazi Germany who steals to support her family. A dark theme but with an interesting twist in that the film is narrated by Death. The director of Downton Abbey, Brian Percival, is director here. Promising because…Geoffrey Rush, great in almost everything he stars in, is in this, and the subject matter is so dark and has been done to death (pardon the pun), so one would hope they can spin this into something a little bit different.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET-DiCaprio and Scorsese team up again to bring us this real-life story of a high-flying stockbroker, Jordan Belfort, (DiCaprio), who made millions of dollars through securities fraud and spent 22 months in jail. The excess of Wall Street is shown in the early 90’s time frame, complete with yachts, cocaine and lots of Gatsby-esque excess. Promising because…the team of DiCaprio and Scorsese rarely fail. This subject is one that, in the capable hands of a first-rate director, can explore territory that hasn’t been plumbed sufficiently by any Hollywood filmmaker.

HER: Joaquin Phoenix plays a newly divorced writer who falls in love with Samantha: the twist is that Samantha is a computer. Promising because…it could be an interesting concept. On the other hand, this could be a dud.

FROZEN: Disney’s animated musical based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, The Snow Queen. Promising because…Disney does this so well. And because so many of the children’s films of late have more imagination and energy than five or ten adult major theatrical releases combined.

THE HUNGER GAMES:Catching Fire: Katniss and Peeta return to fight to the death once more in an all-star edition of the Hunger Games. Promising because…those who are waiting for another sequel to another hit film may have the bonus of watching a good movie and seeing many of their favorite characters return.

ENDER’S GAME: The much-awaited film adaptation of author Orson Scott Card’s popular 1985 novel of the same name. The plot involves a young man recruited by the military to lead the human race in a last stand against an evil alien invasion force. Much of the action revolves around young soldiers being trained to fight the aliens in a zero-gravity Battle Room under intense combat simulations. Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley also star. Promising because…the hype is so intriguing surrounding the making of this movie. The author of the book, Card, is purported to have made homophobic comments, but apart from that, the visual effects on this are said to be quite “eye-popping.” We shall see.

MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM: This is a biopic of Mandela based on his own 1995 autobiography, focusing on his early life before jail, where he was a young lawyer, an admitted womanizer, an outlaw and a saboteur. Promising because…hopefully rather than simply making a “puff piece” about an iconic figure, they have chosen to scratch beneath the surface to portray Mandela as a living, breathing man, complete with flaws.

OUT OF THE FURNACE – A mystery-thriller starring Christian Bale. Promising because…of the Oscar buzz that surrounds Bale’s performance. Maybe/Maybe not…

SAVING MR BANKS: Tom Hanks is Walt Disney and Emma Thompson is the recalcitrant writer, P.L. Travers of Mary Poppins fame. He must convince Travers to allow him to film the classic story. Promising because…in taking on a beloved institution that is “Mary Poppins”, we get a glimpse of what went on behind the scenes with the curmudgeonly female writer, Travers, and the legendary figure of Walt Disney-played in turn by the iconic Tom Hanks!

THE MONUMENTS MEN: A “Great Escape” style adventure pic starring George Clooney and Matt Damon. Based on the 2009 nonfiction book about a daring Allied rescue of art that was stolen by the Nazis. George Clooney also directs.
Promising because…any movie that bills itself as a “Great Escape” style film is intriguing to those among us who love great action-adventure films. The story sounds credible and the cast of supporting players is enough to reel you in-John Goodman, Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett.

ANCHORMAN 2: Hilarious trailers lead to the story of the long-awaited return of Ron Burgundy/Will Farrell in this sequel to Anchorman. This time around, Ron Burgundy is ready to launch himself into the new found world of 24 hour cable news broadcasting.. Promising because…Will Ferrell is Ron Burgundy! Other cast members returning for the sequel, include Steve Carrell, Paul Rudd and Christina Applegate.

47 RONIN: The half-Japanese, half English tracker who joins a band of ronin warriors in 18th century Japan is played by Keanu Reeves. The cast is primarily Japanese, and is hugely anticipated with a budget of 175 million dollars. Promising because…the amount of money alone makes one suspicious, but the star of the Matrix is enough of a draw for action-adventure devotees. This film is already one year past its planned release date, so…who knows?

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN: Ralph Fiennes plays Charles Dickens, and the invisible woman is the secret, young mistress and muse that is kept by the 45 year old Dickens. Promising because…Ralph Fiennes is also directing this film about the illicit love affair between the esteemed writer and the much younger woman.

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY: Ben Stiller is the lead and also directs this adaptation of the familiar James Thurber classic short story, filmed before with Danny Kaye. Promising because…lovers of Thurber are always suckers for this classic story. And Ben Stiller hopefully, is true to the material without veering off into the realm of the ridiculous.

Film Noir: An excerpt from the upcoming book “6 Degrees of Film”:

In 1941, the film that most historians agree is the first definitive noir film was made—The Maltese Falcon. In it, Humphrey Bogart starred as Detective Sam Spade, and John Huston made his directorial debut. The film Murder, My Sweet followed in 1944, and before the end of World War II, most film historians agree that the genre film noir was well under way. The French were the first to recognize the genre and helped to popularize the films. The meaning of the word noir is closer to the word dark rather than to black; consequently, the closest translation of film noir would be something like dark films of America.
Film noir is characteristic of stories where the hero is not heroic, the lines between good and evil are blurred at times, and the main characters espouse a nihilistic and often cynical view of the world.
Before noir, there had been the gangster genre. Cagney and Bogart played men who were charismatic, cynical, and often cruelly realistic real-world models for Depression-era audiences. After the war, people felt the need to express the doubt and confusion and the chaos that the veterans had experienced.
The heroes in noir were seen as disillusioned loners facing an uncertain future. Nothing is as it seems. People who seem nice are actually louses and liars, and those who indulge in petty crime often have more heart than the upstanding citizens in society. Such is the paradox of noir.
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Comic-Tragic Actors of our Time

There are many stories that reveal the old adage, “Laughin’ on the outside, cryin’ on the inside” is more than just a bad cliché.

Recently, I happened upon some of the personal stories surrounding many of America’s most famous comic personalities. They reveal the dark side and the sad histories behind many of the lives of America’s greatest comics. In the case of Fatty Arbuckle, the renowned comic actor of the 1920’s, it was no secret that his life was irrevocably changed by his rape trial and the subsequent loss of his fame and fortune.

But, few people know that Jackie Gleason’s father left his family when Jackie was just 14 years old. It was reported that the father removed his photos from all the family albums and frames the night before he left.

In the case of Oliver Hardy, the portly half of the famous comic duo of Laurel & Hardy, Oliver never knew his father. Oliver Hardy’s father was a Civil War hero who died when Hardy was just a year old. Another tragedy in Hardy’s youth occurred when his young brother died while the two of them were swimming. Although he tried to save him, his brother died in his arms.

Lou Costello, another famous comic of Abbott & Costello fame, lost his young son when the toddler drowned in the family pool. Some of the stories surrounding the comics we have seen on screen reveal a glimpse of another world that shapes the funny men who always managed to make us laugh. There is a fine line between pathos and humor that has always been held up as a mirror for our society. It is remarkable that they were able to channel their sadness and mold themselves into these characters that gave us some of the funniest classic moments in film history.

**Capsule Review for “2 Guns”

Wholeheartedly this movie is endorsed. It has a level of violence that far exceeds what was the norm twenty or even ten years ago. But the writing is crisp, and reminiscent of “Pulp Fiction”, as we hear the two leads, Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, bantering back and forth in the beginning of the movie.

It’s best not to pay attention to every detail, but only to know that this is a film with several plot twists and the two leads carry off a remarkably watchable version of the conventional buddy cop movie. And that is no small feat in this day and age of rock ‘em, sock ‘em style action films

The story centers around the events unfolding after the two men hold up a bank early in the film. From that point, the action moves the plot at a fairly rapid pace, but it’s not so disjointed that you cannot comprehend or go along with the storyline unfolding. There are bad guys and noted supporting roles, first with Edward James Olmos who plays “Papi”, a Mexican drug lord. And there’s an impressive performance from Bill Paxton, who is terrifyingly convincing as a “heavy” in this film.

Denzel Washington portrays an undercover DEA agent. He is never better in this part playing an older, yet still driven law enforcement officer who befriends Mark Wahlberg. There is too much that can spoil this plot to go into details, but it’s worth a visit to the theater to see this one. And lately, that has not been the case for many movie releases.

Although the film has received mixed reviews, most notably for the amount of violence seen, it has the added advantage of a well-scripted story and two appealing leads to bring this one above the level of “just average” in summer film fare.

Denzel Washington: A Filmography

Malcolm X- 1992-Denzel Washington owns this role and makes Malcolm X a figure of dignity and a sympathetic character, no small feat considering the reputation shared by both the controversial leader AND director Spike Lee.
The Great Debaters-2007 – A small film, which tends to be overlooked, but an important one in that this is not a typical Denzel Washington action film vehicle, but rather a chance for him to shine as a leader and mentor. This role allowed him to show a very real side of the actor, one who inspires others…In this part, he plays Melvin B. Tolson, a teacher who inspired his students to take risks. Based on a true story, the team of African-American college students from Wiley College struggled to gain acceptance in the 1930’s while battling prejudice and stereotyping in the Jim Crow world of the
Old South.
Taking of Pelham 123-2009 – In this we see an older version of Denzel Washington. He plays the older and mellower part of the unfortunate transit worker who happens to be on duty when a crazed psychopath, played by John Travolta, hi-jacks a New York Subway train and proceeds to terrorize the city. This remake was executed well and moved at a fast pace.
Man on Fire 2004– Washington was never better than in this portrayal of a slightly down and out former CIA operative turned bodyguard who becomes a man with a mission. He is “on fire” to retrieve his lost charge, a young girl played by Dakota Fanning, who is abducted while under his watch.
Bogart for Beginners
I remember watching Bogart at an early age. One of the first films I saw of his was “Sabrina” with Audrey Hepburn. He was hilarious, albeit much older than Hepburn, but that was really part of the joke. The self-deprecating humor he used, with lines like: “Joe College with a touch of arthritis”, and the deadpan face while attempting to find a word to rhyme with “glass” were enough to keep me riveted. The plot has his brother, played by William Holden, at one point sitting on two strategically-placed champagne glasses, located in his back pockets. The look on Bogart’s face when asked by Holden, “What rhymes with glass?” as he finally says with a poker face, “Ah! Alas!” is priceless. There was never any mention of the word, “Ass” but it was so much funnier as the unspoken punch line.
Only Bogart could get away with it. He has been seen on more college campuses and has redefined the stereotypical definition of what it means to be “cool” than any other actor before or since. He is someone who worked against all odds in the category of “romantic lead.” For starters, he was short and had a lisp. He wasn’t particularly athletic-looking, and he had a sad sort of expression and a droll humor that drove his character.
If you are seeing Bogart for the first time, it’s probably best to begin with “Casablanca”. That was the tipping point in his career and it sent him into the leading man category. Before that, he had mostly played the “heavy”, the bad guy with the Tommy gun. But his career evolved, and he moved into the romantic lead category which led him to the first of his films with his greatest romantic pairing both on and off screen-Lauren Bacall.
You should watch “To Have & Have Not” to see the chemistry light up the screen between Bogart and Bacall. This is the role where Bacall says, “You know how to whistle don’t you? Just put your lips together and blow,” as she saunters out the door. One of the funniest parts has Bogart carrying another woman while Bacall snipes jealously, ‘What are you trying to do? Guess her weight?!”
Next up is “The Big Sleep”. one of the best film noir movies ever made. And even if you don’t like film noir, you can appreciate Bogart as Philip Marlowe. Even the scriptwriters admitted they weren’t exactly sure about some of the details concerning “who killed who” by the end of this movie, but even with the convoluted plot it’s worth catching this classic film with Bogart,
By the 1950’s, “Bogie” was a household name. And his portrayal of Charlie Allnut, a small-time boater who delivered supplies in East Africa during World War I, in “The African Queen” was his role of a lifetime. He seemed born to play this bedraggled, down on his luck guy who falls for the spinster-ish and upright Rose, played by Katherine Hepburn.
There are many more wonderful performances from Bogie. And he is at times poignant and defiant, at times violent and even surprisingly tender. That was his mastery of the craft. But for beginners, you are invited to enjoy a life-long love affair with this iconic actor, and these are the films I’d recommend to start you on your way.

Lessons From Lawrence of Arabia
“Lawrence of Arabia” starring Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness and Omar Sharif, and directed by David Lean is one of my favorite films. Watching coverage of the continuing crises in the Middle East makes me realize that all we need to understand about the Middle East region can be found in this classic film.
1. About the ARAB SPRING: “THE TRICK IS NOT MINDING”

You will be burnt! Playing with matches at the beginning of the film, an officer exclaims loudly that it really hurts when you are burnt by a match. “Of course it hurts. The trick is not minding” replies Lawrence. You are going to have to take some good solid licks when mucking around in the Middle East.
Not in the same sense, hopefully, as described by George C. Scott, portraying a General in “Dr. Strangelove”, who exclaims in an animated tone when chastised for advocating nuclear war, “Well, of course I’m not saying we aren’t going to get our hair mussed a little bit!”
We don’t want to go quite as far as the deranged General, but in keeping with tradition, the policy is that you must take some hits before you will begin to recover when dealing with the Arab states.

2. “YOU ARE ONE OF THOSE DESERT-LOVING ENGLISH..WE DO NOT LOVE THE DESERT-WE LOVE GREEN GRASS, WATER, “ENGLISH WILL NEVER KNOW THE EASTERN MIND-SET”

You are one of those desert-loving English”…I believe the Arabs are quietly amused, or maybe openly laughing at the Western mythos that romanticizes the Eastern philosophy. Are they so different from you and I? Don’t they want the same things for their children, for their people? If you cut them, do they not bleed?…Why do we persist in pigeon-holing this race of people into one that is not of this earth? They are humans, and they do bleed.

3. IDEALISTIC YOUNG LAWRENCE VS THE BADDIES: THE ESTABLISHMENT GOVERNMENT WHO DIVVIED UP THE SPOILS OF WAR

In the same vein, the people of the state of Palestine, and of Syria and Lebanon, cannot seriously believe that our people have elected to spy on them at all costs. That we believe that killing innocent people in drone strikes is a good thing. We do not. We are not our government. Governments always play head-games with the people. We are ALL pawns in the game of war and the international monetary fund. Yet somehow, the American is seen as the Ugly American in the same way we see the East as some double-speaking, untrustworthy member of a terrorist organization. It can’t all be true.
No wonder no-one trusts anyone anymore. There is an attitude that seeps through the cracks that inspires mass chaos. The general mood is not one of order and function, but of despair and death. We are caught up in the world of the internet, and at times, begin to believe our own press

4. DISILLUSIONMENT SETS IN, FOLLOWED BY DESPAIR, DEPRESSION, NOT CARING IF YOU LIVE OR DIE…

Sometime a Great Notion can take you far. But gambling sometimes turns on you and bites you when you least expect it. You cannot govern lurching from crisis to crisis, and if we decide to institute a long-term foreign policy that encourages global co-operation and openness in government, that might get us farther in the long run

5. A DEVIL MAY CARE ATTITUDE CAN GET YOU FAR/AND IT MAY GET YOU KILLED. DO WE EVER REALLY KNOW ANOTHER HUMAN BEING? HOW CAN WE KNOW THE MIND OF A COUNTRY AT WAR?

Why do we persist in thinking we know how other peoples think and feel? (See #2)

6. PEACE IS NOT IN OUR NATURE:

Sadly, Jesus Christ was crucified. If he came to the Middle East today and started energetically advocating a peaceful global solution, he would most probably die another type of horrific death. Peace is really a four letter word to many humans. It’s not in the nature of some men. (yes, and women too!)

7. WE WILL THINGS TO HAPPEN-BUT THE BEST LAID PLANS-GOD WILL SET THEM ASUNDER

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men…you know the saying!

8. IT IS IN EACH ONE OF US TO CHANGE THE TABLET-NOTHING IS WRITTEN IN STONE-BUT…BIG BUT!…THERE ARE SOME THINGS THAT WE CANNOT CHANGE-SO WE SHOULD LEARN THE SERENITY PRAYER WHEN DEALING WITH THE MIDEAST: ACCEPT THOSE THINGS WE CANNOT CHANGE AND HAVE THE WISDOM TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE!

If we keep doing what we have always done, we will keep getting the same results. Is it madness or just Government and global mind-think?

If our lives were a movie, we would know how it ends… In “Lawrence of Arabia”, they began at the end so we had foreknowledge of Lawrence’s sad and ironic death. .But we do not, unfortunately, have the benefit of looking into the future and working our way back from the point of no return. That is our challenge today throughout the world, whether it is climate change, nuclear disarmament or the prospects of Middle East peace. All challenges must be faced with the attitude of those who would plant trees under which they will never enjoy shade. We must go all-in for the future to be viable for the next generation, yet unborn.

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Denzel Washington-A Filmography

Denzel WashingtonMalcolm X- 1992-Denzel Washington owns this role and makes Malcolm X a figure of dignity and a sympathetic character, no small feat considering the reputation shared by both the controversial leader AND director Spike Lee.

The Great Debaters-2007 – A small film, which tends to be overlooked, but an important one in that this is not a typical Denzel Washington action film vehicle, but rather a chance for him to shine as a leader and mentor. This role allowed him to show a very real side of the actor, one who inspires others…In this part, he plays Melvin B. Tolson, a teacher who inspired his students to take risks. Based on a true story, the team of African-American college students from Wiley College struggled to gain acceptance in the 1930’s while battling prejudice and stereotyping in the Jim Crow world of the
Old South.

Taking of Pelham 123-2009 – In this we see an older version of Denzel Washington. He plays the older and mellower part of the unfortunate transit worker who happens to be on duty when a crazed psychopath, played by John Travolta, hi-jacks a New York Subway train and proceeds to terrorize the city. This remake was executed well and moved at a fast pace.

Man on Fire 2004– Washington was never better than in this portrayal of a slightly down and out former CIA operative turned bodyguard who becomes a man with a mission. He is “on fire” to retrieve his lost charge, a young girl played by Dakota Fanning, who is abducted while under his watch.

Bogart for Beginners

I remember watching Bogart at an early age. One of the first films I saw of his was “Sabrina” with Audrey Hepburn. He was hilarious, albeit much older than Hepburn, but that was really part of the joke. The self-deprecating humor he used, with lines like: “Joe College with a touch of arthritis”, and the deadpan face while attempting to find a word to rhyme with “glass” were enough to keep me riveted. The plot has his brother, played by William Holden, at one point sitting on two strategically-placed champagne glasses, located in his back pockets. The look on Bogart’s face when asked by Holden, “What rhymes with glass?” as he finally says with a poker face, “Ah! Alas!” is priceless. There was never any mention of the word, “Ass” but it was so much funnier as the unspoken punch line.
Only Bogart could get away with it. He has been seen on more college campuses and has redefined the stereotypical definition of what it means to be “cool” than any other actor before or since..He is someone who worked against all odds in the category of “romantic lead.” For starters, he was short and had a lisp. He wasn’t particularly athletic-looking, and he had a sad sort of expression and a droll humor that drove his character.

If you are seeing Bogart for the first time, it’s probably best to begin with “Casablanca”. That was the tipping point in his career and it sent him into the leading man category. Before that, he had mostly played the “heavy”, the bad guy with the Tommy gun. But his career evolved, and he moved into the romantic lead category which led him to the first of his films with his greatest romantic pairing both on and off screen-Lauren Bacall.

You should watch “To Have & Have Not” to see the chemistry light up the screen between Bogart and Bacall. This is the role where Bacall says, “You know how to whistle don’t you? Just put your lips together and blow,” as she saunters out the door. One of the funniest parts has Bogart carrying another woman while Bacall snipes jealously, ‘What are you trying to do? Guess her weight?!”

Next up is “The Big Sleep”. one of the best film noir movies ever made. And even if you don’t like film noir, you can appreciate Bogart as Philip Marlowe. Even the scriptwriters admitted they weren’t exactly sure about some of the details concerning “who killed who” by the end of this movie, but even with the convoluted plot it’s worth catching this classic film with Bogart,

By the 1950’s, “Bogie” was a household name. And his portrayal of Charlie Allnut, a small-time boater who delivered supplies in East Africa during World War I, in “The African Queen” was his role of a lifetime. He seemed born to play this bedraggled, down on his luck guy who falls for the spinster-ish and upright Rose, played by Katherine Hepburn.

There are many more wonderful performances from Bogie. And he is at times poignant and defiant, at times violent and even surprisingly tender. That was his mastery of the craft. But for beginners, you are invited to enjoy a life-long love affair with this iconic actor, and these are the films I’d recommend to start you on your way.

Timeline for the highest-grossing films in history: The past 100 years

Timeline of the highest-grossing film record
Established Title Record

Beginning in 1915 thru 1940-The Birth of a Nation

1940 thru 1966-Gone with the Wind

1966 – 1971-The Sound of Music

1971-Gone with the Wind

1972-1976-The Godfather

1976-1978-Jaws

1978-1983 –Star Wars

1983-1993 – E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

1993-1998-Jurassic Park

1998-2010-Titanic

 2010-Avatar
**Timeline for 1st 100 years of film:
For 25 years, 1915-1940, “Birth of a Nation” was the highest grossing film.
From 1940-66-and again in 1971, “Gone with the Wind” was in the top spot. “Gone with the Wind” still holds the record for being the highest grossing film of all time for the longest period of time…over 25 years. And it also re-gained the title in its re-release early in the seventies!
From 1915 through 1966, the highest-grossing films were both about the Civil War and its aftermath. One had the Klansmen as heroes, and the second was made with African-Americans depicted as slaves or servants.
The Sound of Music, the only musical to hold the top spot-was the highest grossing film from 1966-1971. Although made in the waning days of the musical, it spent five years in the top spot. Robert Wise, the director, was partially responsible. The beautiful location shots coupled with one of the most memorable screen openings in the history of cinema helped make this one stick. Julie Andrews voice and the memorable songs also made a difference.
The Godfather, one of the greatest films of all time according to many critics lists, was in the top spot from 1972 thru 1976. The Godfather, which I recently wrote about in the post “About the Great Gatsby…” is arguably THE Great American Film (as opposed to The Great Gatsby as the Great American Novel). The book was great, but in a rare turn of events, the film was even better.
It was displaced by “Jaws”, another impressive early film from Steven Spielberg, which held the top spot for just two years, from 1978 through 1978.. Jaws was an anomaly, as it was a big budget film, without major stars and it told a story that was part thriller, part horror movie, part fantasy. But it had that wonderful score by John Williams and it was directed so skillfully that you really were afraid of a shark attack upon leaving the theater!
Then came “Star Wars”, from George Lucas. The phenomenon that was Star Wars has been well documented. In my book, Six Degrees of Film, the last chapter deals with the story of George Lucas, and his multi-talented Industrial Light & Magic crew. ILM turned the film industry on its head in regard to their cutting-edge use of special effects. They literally took some old, used equipment from the fifties (Anybody remember VistaVision?) and re-invented the special effects department by introducing the world to the digital age of film. The original Star Wars film held the top spot for five years, from 1978-1982.

“ET, the Extra-Terrestrial”, from Spielberg, was really a children’s movie. It was a fantasy and a science-fiction film, and it had huge appeal for both young and old. It took the spot in ’82 and held it for an impressive 10 years. Although I was never personally a huge fan of this film, the director Steven Spielberg, was able to touch the right chord between fantasy and reality to create a touchingly vulnerable alien that people fell in love with.
In 1993, Spielberg knocked himself off the pedestal for first place with “Jurassic Park”, another sci-fi classic. This one was helped along by ILM, the same crew that created the Star Wars special effects in the late seventies. But by this time, they had perfected the art of digitalized shots and there was so much more they could do! (Also documented in Six Degrees of Film) The animators had a field day as they created this life-like dinosaurs that were demanded by Spielberg. What they came up with was so realistic, even he had to acknowledge they had surpassed his powerful imagination!
Jurassic Park held the spot for five years, from 1993 through 1998, losing the highest grossing title to “Titanic”, a film from James Cameron.
Based on the true historical story of the sinking of the Titanic, this was a romantic love story starring a hot new leading man named Leonardo DiCaprio. Titanic held the # 1 spot for an impressive 12 years. And again, it was knocked from its perch by the same director, James Cameron.
In 2010, “Avatar” became the highest-grossing film of all time. It was a sci-fi fantasy with few big name leads. Most of the action was centered on the race of blue people who were being displaced by the U. S. Army. A complete turn-around from a century before, this film spoke of the need for racial intolerance, inclusion, and it had an environmental message that caused some controversy during the initial distribution.
But the main attraction in Avatar was again, the special effects. And you would be correct in surmising that some of the original Industrial Light & Magic team was brought in to achieve the special effects advancements seen in this film. James Cameron had a vision for a unique look and quality to the animation, really making it come to life. This is the only film that was specifically made in 3-D that took the top spot. Cameron took years developing the right look and cinematography to create the images he wanted. His gamble paid off, as this was the first film to gross more than $2 billion dollars world-wide.
What can we take away when we look at the content and the composition of these films?
In the formative years of a very new industry, many of the films looked to the past for their content and development. As Marshall McCluhan said, “We look at the present through a rear view mirror. We march backwards into the future.”
From 100 years earlier, there was a film about the glories of the Klansmen and then a very nostalgic look at the Civil War- Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind. These films dominated the first half of the twentieth century. And now we have arrived in a new century. The films are now global in nature and speak of a newer, younger audience that is not mired in the past.
Audiences look for positive messages of inclusion and yet, are still suckers for a good love story. That seems to be the message from the highest grossing films. Good writing, original stories and cutting edge special effects have always sold tickets and continue to be the wave of the future.
James Cameron, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are still making movies. But chances are there is a new generation waiting to knock these legendary directors off of the pedestal. These young directors may have conceived their idea or it may still be floating around in their head. There may be a young woman out there who is waiting. And he or she may or may not be an American Citizen. We can only speculate. However, there is one thing we do know.
When it comes to film, it is much like the monarchy. We live to see another generation of film royalty and metaphorically say, “The King is Dead. Long Live the King (or Queen!)”

Capsule Review: 2 Guns

2 gunsWholeheartedly this movie is endorsed. It has a level of violence that far exceeds what was the norm twenty or even ten years ago. But the writing is crisp, and reminiscent of “Pulp Fiction”, as we hear the two leads, Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, bantering back and forth in the beginning of the movie.

It’s best not to pay attention to every detail, but only to know that this is a film with several plot twists and the two leads carry off a remarkably watchable version of the conventional buddy cop movie. And that is no small feat in this day and age of rock ‘em, sock ‘em style action films

The story centers around the events unfolding after the two men hold up a bank early in the film. From that point, the action moves the plot at a fairly rapid pace, but it’s not so disjointed that you cannot comprehend or go along with the storyline unfolding. There are bad guys and noted supporting roles, first with Edward James Olmos who plays “Papi”, a Mexican drug lord. And there’s an impressive performance from Bill Paxton, who is terrifyingly convincing as a “heavy” in this film.

Denzel Washington portrays an undercover DEA agent. He is never better in this part playing an older, yet still driven law enforcement officer who befriends Mark Wahlberg. There is too much that can spoil this plot to go into details, but it’s worth a visit to the theater to see this one. And lately, that has not been the case for many movie releases.

Although the film has received mixed reviews, most notably for the amount of violence seen, it has the added advantage of a well-scripted story and two appealing leads to bring this one above the level of “just average” in summer film fare