Category Archives: Top 5

Top 5: Ridley Scott Movies

“Okay, Russell just don’t sing anymore.”
Ridley Scott has had one of the longest, most successful, and diverse careers of any modern director. He can hop between genres and themes with absolutely no problem. He takes his time between films so every time one comes out, it feels like an event, even if it turns out to be terrible (I’m looking at you, “Robin Hood”). 

“The Counselor,” directed by Scott and penned by Cormac McCarthy, comes out today. Reviews have been mixed so far, but I still look forward to seeing it. Basically, I will see any movie that has a third act filled with monologues as well as Javier Bardem dressed like Hunter S. Thompson.

After the jump, check out my five favorite Ridley Scott movies:

5. Gladiator

So far, this is the only film by Ridley Scott to win Best Picture. Unfortunately, it did not come with a Best Director prize as well. People like to rip on “Gladiator” nowadays. In fact, Roger Ebert called it the worst Best Picture winner ever. I will not join the hate party. “Gladiator” is a perfectly good sword-and-sandals epic, filled with as many terrific battle scenes as there are historical inaccuracies. This is sincerely the best acting work Russell Crowe has done, “Les Mis” singing notwithstanding. “Gladiator” is something of a minor classic now. Yelling “are you not entertained?” at humans and animals is still fun.

4. American Gangster

“American Gangster” doesn’t get the credit it deserves. It’s a great portrait of corruption, racial identity, and 1970s America. Scott gets some nearly flawless acting out of the likes of Denzel Washington and Josh Brolin, who are both than I ever could have imagined at playing villains. Play close attention to the ending: its a really memorable one.

3. Thelma & Louise

Ridley Scott is known more for handling epics. While there are many car chases in “Thelma & Louise,” you’d be surprised at what a human film it is. It’s a fine slice of Americana from an English director, with great performances from Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis. Then comes the end, where you can’t help but feel both dread and exhilaration: no matter what, you just know the two of them can’t make it out in one piece. Never has doom felt so entertaining.

2. Blade Runner

It was a long, hard path for “Blade Runner” to raise to prominence, but it has truly earned its title as a cult masterpiece. Nearly every modern futuristic film can point to “Blade Runner” as a source of influence, whether or not those films based on Philip K. Dick novels as well. “Blade Runner” is a visual tour-de-force, Atari billboards notwithstanding. It is also Ridley Scott’s most thoughtful and philosophical film; Rutger Hauer’s final monologue (which was completely improvised) will haunt you for days. It only took about three different cuts (the original version is almost unwatchable) for “Blade Runner” to reach perfection.

1. Alien

“Alien” put Ridley Scott on the map, and its still his best film to date. Being alone in space is scary enough (a certain other film this year played off this idea), but then add in an alien that grows at an exponential rate. It hasn’t lost its touch after all of these years; “Alien” still has the power to scare the living crap out of me. Everything from Sigourney Weaver’s performance to the alien itself are now the stuff of cinematic legend. Plus, it spurned one of the greatest sequels of all time (“Aliens”). Without “Alien,” how would we know what it looks like when a baby alien bursts out of a man’s stomach? It’s gross, and adorable!

Runner Up: Prometheus

Top 5: Jack Nicholson Movies

Hold on, getting a poster of this in my room right now.
According to some recent reports, Jack Nicholson has retired from acting. Then, according to some other reports, Jack Nicholson hasn’t retired from acting. I’m not sure which is true, but I really want to write this article.
It has been nearly three years since Nicholson has been credited in a movie and it doesn’t look like has any projects planned for the future. And at the Oscars this year he seemed, well, old (apparently, his retirement is due to memory loss). I’d love some more Nicholson but if he decided to call it quits now, he’d be leaving behind an amazing legacy. Besides maybe Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Newman, few actors have had such consistent records. And most importantly, “The Bucket List” isn’t the last credit listed on his IMDB page.
So I don’t know if this is the end of his career or not but either way, it’s never a bad time to celebrate Jack Nicholson. Also, this is a really fun way to put off my homework. 
Read On After the Jump: (Movies are sorted in order of the year that they came out).

Easy Rider (1969)

Before “Easy Rider” roared into theaters and announced that the hippies had taken over Hollywood, Jack Nicholson was getting a lot of small parts in a lot of B-movies which I still want to watch. “Easy Rider” wasn’t supposed to be much, but it subdued all expectations, as did Nicholson as alcoholic lawyer George Hanson. As George, Nicholson embodies Southern Hospitality. While he always seems a little sketchy, he is also nice enough to get a drink with. Nicholson burst with spontaneous little movements, giving the sense that he has as little control over his performance as George has over his own actions. Nicholson turned a small role into an Oscar nominated performance. It was the first of many to come. 

Chinatown (1974)

Nicholson’s filmography reads like a list of some of my favorite movies of all time. Perhaps Nicholson’s performances were always so consistently outstanding during the 70s because he was given the best material that Hollywood had to offer. Yet, Nicholson made every character he played his own. As Jake Gittes, Nicholson churned out a snarky version of a film noir detective. While they would usually be a little more reserved and mysterious, Gittes was instead abrasive and sneaky in his snooping methods. “Chinatown” is one of the darkest movies ever made, yet not enough people seem to give Nicholson credit for being both the protagonist and the comic relief. You better believe that after watching “Chinatown,” you’ll know exactly how to “screw like a Chinaman.”  
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Speaking of making characters his own, Nicholson did the same but this time with a character that had already been invented in literature. Nicholson makes R.P. McMurphy the gold standard for all Hollywood anti-heroes. From the second he enters the institution, jumping around and kissing doctors, he immediately lights up the room. Sure, he’s a repeated offender, but he’s so relatable because he’s so honest and real and doesn’t let anyone get the best of him. He’s the kind of person everyone wishes they were confident enough to be. He even stood up to Nurse Ratched. Now that was one scary lady. 

The Shining (1980)

This most remarkable aspect of this horror classic is Stanley Kubrick’s direction. However, Nicholson’s performance is just as important, as it stays away from hamminess and instead he gives a frightening portrayal of one man’s descent into madness. Just like the entire movie, watching Nicholson is a slow build. It’s even more frightening because the motives are so hazy. Fun fact: the now legendary “Here’s Johnny!” line was improvised by Nicholson.

About Schmidt (2003)

This is one of Nicholson’s most un-Jack performances. Instead of just playing Jack Nicholson, he instead played Warren Schmidt, a schlubby Midwestern man who suddenly feels alone and useless after he retires from his job and loses his wife. It’s a quiet, understated performance that’s equal parts awkward, funny, and moving. It was another well deserved Oscar nomination for somebody who probably didn’t need another one, but deserved it anyway.
Guilty Pleasure: Anger Management (2003)- I’m sorry (but not really). This is the only time we’ll ever see Jack Nicholson sing “I Feel Pretty” on film. Don’t take this for granted, people!

Top 5: Summer Movies

We live in a weird time for movies. The phrase “TV is better than movies” gets thrown around constantly. While this statement is accurate most of the time, with “Breaking Bad” and “Orange is the New Black” providing hours of entertainment, there is still a beauty in telling a complete story in 120 minutes or less. While this summer had its share of mind-numbing blockbusters, it was also as good as ever. Summer is the time when all the movies that got distribution deals and big praise at Sundance get released so if you look closely enough, you’ll find a slew of great films every summer. So here it is, the top six films of the summer of 2013. I chose six because numbers.

6. The Heat

“The Heat” was by far the best surprise of the summer. Then again, I was wrong to ever doubt the meeting of the minds of Paul Feig (“Freaks and Geeks,” “Bridesmaids”) and Katie Dippold (“Parks and Recreation”). The fact that this is a female buddy cop movie doesn’t make it special, it’s the fact that it holds nothing back. In its third act, “The Heat” suddenly goes balls-to-the-wall. Never in my life did I think a tracheotomy could be so funny. There are also scenes of never-ending banter that never feel too long. In the end, the surprisingly palpable chemistry between Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy helps to keep the film afloat and funny.

5. Frances Ha

Note to the brave men and women out there who cut movie trailers together everyday: try and hold back on the ukelele scenes, they tend to be misleading. “Frances Ha” is less a pretentious little indie than a truthful look at the lives of confused, pretentious twentysomethings. “Frances Ha” is the most satisfying film of Noah Baumbach’s oeuvre so far. Maybe it’s because him and Greta Gerwig have such a natural chemistry as a director-writer-actress team, or maybe its because this is the first one of his films that has a satisfying ending. Also, listen for one of the most diverse and catchiest soundtracks of the year.

Soundtrack sample:

4. Blackfish

I cannot tell a lie: I’m not quite sure how to review a documentary. What makes a good documentary anyway? Is it because you agree with the point its making? Or is it because of the way it’s gotten that point across? I guess it’s a little bit of both. Regardless, “Blackfish” is one of the most terrifying documentaries I’ve ever seen. “Jaws” made people never want to go back to the beach again. “Blackfish” guarantees that you’ll never want to step anywhere close to a Sea World for the rest of your life. “Blackfish” has an argument (keeping orcas in a tiny tank is dangerous on their physical and mental health) and it presents it in such a way that its impossible to dispute it. “Blackfish” has haunted me all summer long, but what people aren’t talking about is the detailed way that it focuses on the beauty of the orcas.

See the top three after the jump:

3. This is the End

They say that once you go meta, you can never go back. Then why do I still want to see movies written and directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg? “This is the End” is the funniest movie so far this year. It includes some of the best comedians and actors out there skewing their personas. It’s the only place this summer that you’ll see Michael Cera get impaled by a flagpole. What really makes “This is the End” a winner is that despite the apocalyptic explosions and demons, this is a very sweet, very human comedy, mainly because the friendship between Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel is the true focal point here. Think of it as “Superbad,” but with well endowed demons.

2. Blue Jasmine

Woody Allen makes so many movies that it seems like he has a comeback every few years. “Blue Jasmine” is the darkest and sharpest he’s been in years, as he chronicles broken middle-aged people dealing with the fallout of the financial crisis. Allen navigates a new territory (San Francisco) well as well as a flashback structure that he hasn’t dealt with in years. As the disturbed and broken Jasmine, Cate Blanchett gives the best performance so far this year. She’s equal parts frightening and heartbreaking and I wager a lot of Reel Deal posts praising her performance that she’ll be on the Oscar ballot next year.

1. The Kings of Summer

This was one of the first films I saw this summer and it is still my favorite. “The Kings of Summer” managed to avoid all of the cliches of the teen summer comedy. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts delivers a comedy that is fresh and original. While it is often light and fun, it deals with some heavy issues in a mature way. Think of it as a more grounded version of “Moonrise Kingdom.” “The Kings of Summer” includes tremendous breakout performances from the three teen leads, especially Moises Arias as Biaggio, one of the most memorable characters of the summer. The film also has some of the strongest performances of the year from the likes of Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally as well as a variety of great cameos (Hannibal Buress, Kumail Nanjiani). Inexplicably, “The Kings of Summer” couldn’t find an audience this summer. However, in terms of comedies about a group of friends running away from home for a life in the woods, “The Kings of Summer” is up there with “Stand By Me.”

Honorable Mention: The Spectacular Now

Top 5: Stand-Up Specials of 2012

My interests have taken me in a weird, unexpected place in the past few months. Since last summer, I have found myself greatly exploring and obsessing over comedy. It is something that I’ve always liked my whole life, but never thought I could actually see myself becoming a disciple of. But after an improv class and a few shots at standup at various open mics (they are hard to come by in Upstate New York), that is starting to change. I find quotes from Louis C.K. floating around in my head as often as lines of dialogue from “Pulp Fiction.”

Many believe you can’t overanalyze comedy too much. This is true. Sometimes, you can’t explain laughter. However, I believe you can mine out deeper meaning in comedy. Stand-Up began to change in my eyes as I began to watch and listen to entire albums. The more you do that, the more you pay attention to themes and transitions as well as jokes. Here I have a list of five stand-up specials from this year that shocked me, moved me, made me think, and most importantly made me laugh uncontrollably:

5. Animal Furnace (Hannibal Buress)

Like the great show he once wrote for (“30 Rock”), Hannibal Buress is a joke-spewing machine. “Animal Furnace” is Buress’ second hour-long special, and his next leap into becoming one of the funniest people in America. Buress has honed his act beyond just a lot of jokes and he proves that he is a fantastic storyteller. He mocks himself a lot for being overly angry about a lot of issues that don’t matter, but the first few tracks have some pretty thorough takedowns of TSA agents and a bunch of cops in Montreal who gave him a ticket for jaywalking. Then his beat-by-beat commentary on an article written about him at a college that he performed at shows that he would make a great roastmaster. Many have compared Buress’ voice and delivery to that of Mitch Hedberg. It’s an apt comparison: Buress can pick apart the mundane and make it funny in ways you never imagined.

4. The Special Special Special (Maria Bamford)
If I ever meet Maria Bamford, I’d like to give her a hug, because she seems likes the nicest person imaginable. She’s also one of the funniest and most original comedians of our time. Bamford’s latest special, appropriately and hilariously titled In “The Special Special Special,” Bamford doesn’t perform in a theater, or even a comedy club, but rather in her own home, with an audience made up of only her parents. I have never seen stand-up so dependent on the audience’s reaction. Bamford goes through her usual manic routine of impersonations, which is made even more awkward by the fact that the targets of much of her ridicule are sitting right in front of her. Then, Bamford goes into darker territory than ever before, as she chronicles her ongoing battle with Depression in a way that is both funny and inspiring. In a few meta moments, she completely stops the show so she can go to the bathroom, take cookies out of the oven, and give her beloved pug his medicine. With her stand-up, Bamford invites us into her brain. With “The Special Special Special,” she invites us to be a part of her life. Buy it here

See the top 3 after the jump:

3. Live (Tig Notaro)

“Hello! I have cancer!” That’s how Tig Notaro opens up her set that accidentally became legendary. Notaro was scheduled to open for Louis C.K. at Largo. She was supposed to open with a half hour of her usual material. Instead, she takes her audience into a dark and brilliant trip into the tragic past few months of her life. C.K. was so moved by it that he posted it on his website. “Live” is exactly what comedy should be, but rarely is: raw, honest, and uncomfortable. Sometimes, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or shutter at Tig’s jokes, but it’s so inviting because she feels just as uncomfortable as the audience. The half hour is as dark as dark humor can get. Tig chronicles a rough few months in her life which include a brush with death, cancer diagnosis, and the death of her mother. Most of her jokes seem improvised, and she feeds off of the audiences reactions like a master. At one point, she asks if she should cut out the tragedy and tell the jokes she originally wanted to. The audience objects, with one member shouting, “this is fucking amazing!” Indeed.

2. Mr. Universe (Jim Gaffigan)
Jim Gaffigan begins “Mr. Universe” by saying, “oh, he’s doing that voice already?” in his trademark audience member voice. This is exactly what “Mr. Universe” is: Gaffigan takes the routine he has worked so hard to established and brings it to the next level. Here, he is funnier and more insightful than ever. He has a nearly genius monologue that both lampoons and defends McDonalds which turns his love of food into a social statement. Gaffigan also ventures into some new territories besides food. He also wonders why people ignore how gross hotels can be and then he breaks down why it sucks to go on vacation if you’re a father. These turn into more than just silly observations because there is meaning to them. But of course, some musings are there just to make us laugh (see: his joke about whale’s blowholes). Gaffigan is the rare comedian who can be accesible to a large crowd without pandering.

1. New in Town (John Mulaney)

John Mulaney is a comedy prodigy. He’s been participating in sketch groups and stand-up since he was a child. That is why, even before the age of 30, he has been able to establish himself as one of the funniest people working in comedy today. “New in Town” may only be Mulaney’s second special (after 2009′s overlooked “The Top Part”), but he shows off the comedic skills of an old pro. Mulaney is a master at blending sharp observations about Jewish women and 13-year-olds with long stories that never get dull. Wit and buildup have never gone together so well. Mulaney brings us into his world of pop culture obsessions which may not be timely, but as his act projects, he is the guy on stage so he gets to talk about whatever he wants. Indignation over “Home Alone 2″ and jokes about “Law & Order” never get old, but Mulaney is at his best when he’s being self-deprecating. Anyone who was ever bullied in their life will sympathize with Mulaney’s tales of being bullied as a child for looking Chinese (“Daddy, today I met a boy with no eyes”) and sounding like a woman (“I had a voice like a little flute”). Unlike a lot of comedians, Mulaney veers away from being cynical, even when he’s tackling his demons such as his past drinking problem, which he discusses with the story of a high school party gone spectacularly wrong (one word: “Scatter!”), and his anxiety, which culminates into a hilarious doctor’s visit gone wrong that I dare not spoil for you. Even with all its sillines, “New in Town” is a meaningful and infinitely rewatchable hour of comedy about the weirdness of adult life as seen through the eyes of someone who views himself as a “tall child.” As Mulaney gets older, his stand-up will get better and better. I just hope he never feels the urge to actually grow up.

Choosing one bit to represent all of “New in Town” was nearly impossible, but I went with this one because it uses the phrase “playfully anti-Semitic.”

Top 5: Most Anticipated Holiday Movies

December is an exciting time. Not only because everyone is decorating their trees, lighting their Menorahs, or doing whatever people who celebrate Kwanza do. This is the time when studios release the very best films they have to offer. Often, the closer we get to the Oscars, the better the quality of movies get, until the dumping ground season of January begins. Here now is my list of films that will make December 2012 memorable, even if the world doesn’t end:

5. Les Miserables

I’ve never been a big fan of musicals, but the history buff in me really wants to see a big, epic musical about the French Revolution. I never saw “Les Miserables” on Broadway, but seeing that the French Revolution was not a very happy time in world history, this definitely won’t be a musical where people sing and dance and suddenly all of their problems disappear. A song certainly can’t stop a guillotine. “Les Miserables” is directed by Tom Hooper. I still think it’s unfair that his “The King’s Speech” beat out both “Black Swan” and “The Social Network” for Best Picture, but that guy truly has a gift for bringing the past to life.

Coming to Theaters: December 28

4. Not Fade Away

“Not Fade Away” is David Chase’s directorial debut in film. If you don’t know who David Chase is, you really should: he created “The Sopranos.” “Not Fade Away” brings him back to New Jersey, and even reunites Chase with the state of New Jersey Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) himself. But those expecting a profanity-laden tale of gangsters might be disappointed, as this is instead a coming-of-age story about a rock and roll band. I saw another coming-of-age story about a band earlier this year  called “Fat Kid Rules the World.” I was thoroughly disappointed by it, but I have a feeling that “Not Fade Away” will be infinitely better. It has “Almost Famous” potential. Plus, with a title inspired by a Rolling Stones song, it seems that “Not Fade Away” has its head in the right place.

Coming to Theaters: December 21

View the top 3 after the jump:

3. This Is 40

Judd Apatow is still the reigning king of comedy. I admire the ambition of his last feature, “Funny People,” even if it could have used another visit to the editing room. Luckily, “This Is 40″ is a spinoff of Apatow’s superior “Knocked Up.” It follows married couple Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie) a few years down the road. This seems to be Apatow’s most personal film yet, and it even stars his two daughters. This may be more mature than Apatow’s other works, but the fact that the poster has Paul Rudd on a toilet gives me faith that he hasn’t totally abandoned his sense of dirty hilarity. Over the past two decades, Apatow has altered comedy in both film and television. Could the Oscars be the next step for him?

Coming to Theaters: December 21

2. Zero Dark Thirty

“Zero Dark Thirty” is Kathryn Bigelow’s first feature since she made history and won an Oscar for “The Hurt Locker.” Back during the 2010 Oscar season, I dissed “The Hurt Locker” so much that people might have the impression that I didn’t like it. I did very much, I just thought that every award it won belonged to “Inglourious Basterds.” But I digress. Bigelow has a talent for realism, which makes her the perfect candidate to capture the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden on film. I was worried that this film seemed a little rushed to be released, but the trailer gives me chills every time I watch the soldiers stand outside Bin Laden’s compound. I am not expecting to have fun watching “Zero Dark Thirty,” but I am expecting a seriously dark thriller that pulls absolutely no punches.*

Coming to Theaters: December 21

1. Django Unchained

I’ve expressed my love of Quentin Tarantino films way too much on this blog, so I won’t bore you with that. But I will say that “Django Unchained” looks about as spectacular as I expected it to be. I nearly stood up and cheered when the trailer started blasting the theme from the original “Django.”** I think it’s about time that Quentin teamed up with Leonardo DiCaprio. Maybe he can finally get DiCaprio his first Oscar. Only Quentin can turn a dark time in our nation’s history into something exploitative, entertaining, and hilarious. This is also the first time that Quentin is working in a time period before movies existed. What will his characters banter about? If Quentin can pull off a full film without his signature pop culture talk, then he can officially be cemented as a master. Not that he wasn’t one already.

Coming to Theaters: December 28

*Can’t wait to see who shouts “AMERICA!” in the theater after Bin Laden is brought down.
**”Django Unchained” is not a remake. Qunetin Tarantino just loves to steal. He is an artistic kleptomaniac.

Top 5: James Bond Movies

The jetpack from “Thunderball”: the peak of bad special effects humor.

This weekend, “Skyfall” opens in theaters. “Skyfall” marks a remarkable 50 years of the existence of James Bond onscreen. Directed by Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Road to Perdition”), “Skyfall” has already been receiving early raves.

No matter how repetitive or ridiculous it gets, I will have a strong fondness for the Bond series. Thanksgivings of my childhood were usually marked by watching the Bond marathons on AMC or TNT (or whatever other network showed them) with my dad and brother. From my years of watching, I compiled a list of my favorite Bond films, building up to number one. Here are my five favorite Bond films:

5. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

It’s hard to fill the shoes of Sean Connery, but I believe Roger Moore did as good a job at it as anyone could. This is my favorite Moore installment, and it certainly doesn’t shy away from the Cold War inspired madness of the time. While the villain’s objective of creating a new civilization under the ocean should be completely ludicrous, it doesn’t feel as unrealistic in light of climate change. Plus it’s got a hot Bond girl, and Jaws, one of the few villains in the Bond series who got to come back for another film. If only Oddjob didn’t meet his end in “Goldfinger,” him and Jaws would have made a great team of villains.

4. Dr. No (1962)

This is where it all began. Bond had much less weapons to use, so he mainly relied on his own cunning. And while ejecting car seats are cool, it’s even cooler to see Bond having to use his own wits, like watching “Spider-Man” try and scale the city when his web blasters run out. And speaking of spiders, there’s a great scene where Bond battles a tarantula, which has the kind of slow-burning suspense rarely seen in movies anymore. I had the distinct pleasure to go to a beach screening of “Dr. No” while at Cannes this summer. To say that “Dr. No” has aged is an understatement. To say that because of that “Dr. No” is no longer funny or exciting to watch would be a lie.

See my Top 3 after the jump:

3. You Only Live Twice (1967)

“You Only Live Twice” might be one of the most insane Bond films, yet it still manages to keep its cool. It’s hard to disagree with an intoxicating theme song by Nancy Sinatra. This one has a space ship that steals other spaceships, a secret volcano lair, and Bond pretending to be Japanese. It is also the first glimpse we got of bald, kitty-loving bad guy Blofeld. “You Only Live Twice” was one of the Bond films I would always watch the whole way through every time there was a Thanksgiving marathon. But it is hard to deny, without “You Only Live Twice,” there might not have been “Austin Powers.”

2. Casino Royale (2006)

In 2006, “Casino Royale” both brought Bond back to his roots and reinvented the Cold War spy for the modern age. Many balked at the idea of a blonde Bond, but Daniel Craig effortlessly fit into the role. This was a much grittier Bond film, and the first time our hero actually seemed like a vulnerable human being. Plus, the gravity-defying opening chase is absolutely magnificent. Not to mention, the action replaces implausible death rays and such with the simplicity of guns and knives. Its greatest achievement, however, is turning a poker tournament into a breathless life or death situation. “Quantum of Solace” couldn’t quite follow in its footsteps, but I have a good feeling that “Skyfall” will bring back the Bond promised to us by “Casino Royale.”

1. Goldfinger (1964)

This seems too obvious but the more I think about it, the harder it is for me to put any other Bond film first. This was the first time Bond went high tech, but there is more to it than just that. It has one of the most simply sadistic villains in the entire series (he kills people by painting them gold!). It also had the audacity to (SPOILER) kill off the girl early on and replace her with another one. If anyone needs a perfect example of the witty intelligence of James Bond and the awesomeness of Sean Connery, look no further than “Goldfinger.”

Most Underrated: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

George Lazenby was the first Bond after Connery and he only got one shot at 007. He’s definitely not on top in the Bond caliber, because “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is actually a classic. It has a famous ski chase in which no one can remember which Bond film its actually from. Most notable about “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is that it is the most self-aware Bond has ever been. At the beginning  after the girl gets away, he turns to the camera and says, “this never happened to the other fellow.”

Worst: Die Another Day (2002)

I was close to choosing “Moonraker,” both for its “it’s like “The Spy Who Loved Me” in space” premise and the fact that it gave Jaws a love story. Yet, “Moonraker” is campy fun. “Die Another Day” represented the breaking point of Bond. The series had gone too ove-the-top for its own good. The need to see shiny lasers totally overshadows the plot. The only things I could pick up were a beam that harnessed the power of the sun, a hotel made of ice, and a Korean dude who was reincarnated as a white dude. Sure, it tried to be relevant by making the bad guys North Korean. Yet, it didn’t tap into any plausible fears like the Bond of the Soviet Era. Pierce Brosnan, who actually fit the Bond label very well, deserved better than this. And we ended up getting better. Four years after the mess of “Die Another Day,” Bond arose from the ashes in the form of “Casino Royale.”

Top 5: Films to Watch on the Fourth of July

This list was almost going to be a list of the top 5 “America Movies.” It made sense in my head, but not on paper. Then, it was going to be the most patriotic movies. However, every movie that came to mind seemed to involve Mel Gibson. Instead, I’ve decided to make a list that is a little bit of both. The following list contains films that may either evoke a deep sense of patriotsism, or just portray everything America is capable of in the best way possible (that can be in either a positive or negative light). Some involve criminals, bloodshed, and comically excessive vomiting. Here is a list of five great movies (presented in alphabetical order) to watch on the Fourth of July:

Back to the Future

“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” And so “Back to the Future” ends with the greatest sequel teasing line of all time. This sci-fi comedy from 1985 has only improved over the years into what people do not feel ashamed to label as a masterpiece. “Back to the Future” is a fine example of just how good American storytelling can be, and shows off our ability to create smart genre benders (Tarantino wasn’t the first one, apparently). It provides a great, finely detailed view of how this country changed from the 1950s to the 1980s, and we get to beat the Libyans. Plus, there are a few very good jabs that are still very relevant today. For example, the farmland being replaced with a shopping mall, and Marty McFly being mistaken for Calvin Klein because the brand name is written on his underwear. Great Scott, indeed.

Once Upon a Time in America

It’s got the name of our home and native land right in the title. “Once Upon a Time in America” is a time commitment, and you may not have enough time to see it all and have a barbecue all in one day. But sit through it at least once in your life, it is well worth the four and a half hours of your time that must be invested in it. I include it above many other American gangster movies, even those that I believe are superior, because this one challenges everything that feels right about a film. Through its span, it chronicles the rise and fall of criminals, and the rising and falling cycle of America. I guess it took an Italian director to best capture this idea.


I talk about a lot of downers on this website, but “Rocky” deserves a spot on this list because it actually follows the basic premise of the American Dream: in America, if you work hard enough, you can become successful. However, it shows that success doesn’t always come in the form of winning, something that underdog stories tend to forget. Call it a lot of blind optimism, but “Rocky” still has the power to make you want to run up the steepest staircase you can find.

The Sandlot

This might be an odd choice. However, it follows the Fourth of July theme quite well. And what’s more American than Baseball? After all, it is our national past time. Baseball is to America what Cricket is to England: it’s a long, slow game with a lot of rules that don’t make a lot of sense, yet people still love it. That is why I’m happy that this childhood classic is more about a group of kids trying to get their ball back from a supposedly monstrous dog. There’s also a nice little Independence Day scene here, and a hilarious one involving chewing tobacco. Not to mention, Squints (Chauncey Leopardi) pulling the moves on a lifeguard by pretending to drown. This is a bold and admirable pickup line that no one should ever attempt to repeat.

Team America: World Police

It’s hard to believe how overlooked this was when it first debuted in theaters. I think it was misunderstood as merely a gross-out picture, rather than the extremely sharp skewering of both bloated patriotism and apologetic liberalism that it is. It does so only in a way that “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker could, by going as far as possible and making no stops along the way. “Team America” has only gotten better with time. It is the perfect American satire, but it is also at its best when it is sending up the entire movie formula itself. Everyone remembers “America F**k Yeah” from its soundtrack, but the tracks “Montage” as well as “The End of an Act,” which questions why “Pearl Harbor” was made, show that you can draw in seemingly irrelevant pop culture references without distracting from the story at hand.

Top 5: Movies I will Watch to Completion Whenever They are on TV

You know that feeling. You’re cruising through the channels and suddenly, you come across a movie. Maybe the game is on in 10 minutes, or you’re just in commercial break from [insert reality show that everyone watches here] and it’s that one movie that you’ve seen so many times. You can recite every line to it and yet, you can watch it again and again. Even though it has been on for an hour, watching it to completion feels necessary. I would like to present with you now my list of movies that I will watch anytime I find them on TV. Some have been acknowledged as masterpieces. Others, meanwhile, may have you questioning my credibility. Read the complete list after the jump.

1. Goodfellas

“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” “Goodfellas” has what is, in my humble opinion, the most flawless opening a movie has ever had. It is exciting, hilarious, and most importantly, captivating. It gives you enough information to get into the world, but not enough so you feel the need to find out more. Once you’ve started it, you’ll just want to keep watching. Even after seeing it so many times, watching the opening again re-invigorates the curiosity I felt the very first time I ever watched it. Good luck changing the channel now.

2. The Godfather (I & II)

The first two parts of the “Godfather” saga are over three hours a piece. With commercials, that puts both of them at close to five hours each. Once you’ve seen them, they are the kinds of movies you can pick up at any point and keep watching. AMC typically plays the first two movies every Thanksgiving, and “Arrested Development” marathons notwithstanding, I will always tune in.

3. The Big Lebowski

This spot nearly went to “Pulp Fiction,” until I realized that it was time to set limits on how often that movie could be discussed on this site. As “Lebowski” gets better on repeat viewings, it is fitting that I will always want to watch it on TV the whole way through. Like any great Coen Brothers movie, there is always more humor to be found in scenes that you never thought could ever be funny. And while I usually hate the way that networks censor movies, the infamous re-dubbing of “The Big Lebowski” is the stuff of unintentional comic genius. Unfortunately, I cannot find the footage online, but just picture the phrase “f**k a stranger in the ass!” being replaced with the supposedly much gentler “find a stranger in the Alps” and the weirdly fitting, if nonsensical ,”feed a stoner scrambled eggs.”

4. Anchorman

The collective viewing public has seen “Anchorman” enough times that it can recite the whole movie by heart. While it is not as funny as it was to me years ago, I will still drop what I am doing and watch “Anchorman” whenever TBS makes room for it in its busy Tyler Perry-packed schedule. I speak for the whole world when I say, that sequel cannot come soon enough.

5. 3 Ninjas

What has The Reel Deal come to? How do I begin with one of the AFI’s top 10 movies, and end with this throwaway family film from the 90s? It is hard to pinpoint one answer. Maybe because it brings back some very nice nostalgia. Or, perhaps it is still fun to shout “Rocky loves Emily!” repeatedly. While “3 Ninjas” contains plenty of the “nutshot,” perhaps the lowest point any comedy can sink to, there is something so infinitely watchable and hysterical about the break-in scene. I’ve laughed at it over and over again for nearly 20 years. When your film diet consists largely of foreign films, Martin Scorsese, and Charlie Kaufman, it is nice to have something like “3 Ninjas” to look back on, in order to keep your sanity and immaturity intact.

Editor’s Note: The 90s are underrated.