Friday, October 17, 2014

The Brad Pitt and War Movies Lists

With FURY blasting its way into cinemas this weekend, we couldn't decide between doing The Brad Pitt Lists or The War Movie Lists. So we doubled up and did both! Here are our quick thoughts and links on the stellar career of one of Hollywood's most beloved actors and one of its richest genres . . .

               The Brad Pitt and War Movies Lists

Dan's Lists

Brad Pitt

4. Moneyball- Aaron Sorkin is just awesome. Will watch anything he writes.
3. Spy Game- So underrated. The training montage and the score? Super dope.
1. Snatch- Mickey doesn't lose. Ever.

Honorable Mention:
Fight Club, Seven, The Ocean's Series and Burn After Reading

                  dance animated GIF

War Movies
5. The Last Of The Mohicans- The French and Indian War just got awesome.
4. Apocalypse Now- I enjoy the "making of" stories as much as the actual film. 
2. The Deer Hunter- Mao!
1. Saving Private Ryan- I hate you Upham!

Honorable Mention:
The Bridge On The River Kwai, Black Hawk Down and The Guns Of Navarone

                                           Matt Damon Saving Private Ryan animated GIF

Chris's Lists

Brad Pitt

5 - Twelve Monkeys - La Jetee. That''s all I'm sayingLa Jetée.
4 - Ocean's Eleven - Just such a fun movie. You can't not like Clooney, Pitt, & Co.
3 - Seven - Covered in our David Fincher list a few weeks back. Just a great, grimy, and stylish noir.
2 - Inglourious Basterds - "I am the di-rect descendant of the mountain man Jim Bridger, which means I've got a 'lil injun in me..."
1 - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - No contest. My favorite film.

Honorable Mention: 
True Romance, Moneyball, and the highly underrated Killing Them Softly 

War Movies

5 - Platoon - Back when Stone was great. Such a killer '80s cast. Ham-fisted at times, but great.
4 - MASH - So funny and completely surprising. Altman's amazingly unique style on full display.
3 - Apocalypse Now - Masterful editing. Poetic imagery. Copolla, Brando, Duvall, and Sheen.
2 - Paths of Glory - Kirk Douglas. Early Kubrick. One of the very few great WWI films.
1 - Saving Private Ryan - The opening scene, the brotherhood, the stories they shared. All great.

Honorable Mention:
The Thin Red Line. Black Hawk Down, The Dirty Dozen, Kelly's Heroes, and the satire Starship Troopers

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Thursday, October 16, 2014


William Gates.
Arthur Agee.
They may not be household names, but that depends on your household.
In my house and in some others, these names are a part of basketball and film history.

In the 1994 documentary, HOOP DREAMS, we see these two Chicago teenagers' sports dreams and nightmares play out over a three hour film that has stood up over the last 20 years as one of the greatest pieces of American filmmaking. The human drama that took place over the five plus years of filming is so compelling that it could not possibly have been scripted. The film documents much more than two kids who want to play professional basketball. It delves into the structure of our country in terms of race, economics and the institutions we prioritize and idolize.

I could write all day about the beauty and sadness of HOOP DREAMS. From the crushed dreams of William's older brother Curtis, to Arthur's father Bo, basically selling drugs on camera, to the triumph of Marshall High School going "down state". From Shannon, to TUSS on the sneakers, to Earl Smith, to Sheila Agee. This film is an absolute treasure and an incredible thing to experience.

The man who truly propelled this film into the American consciousness was none other than our hero, Roger Ebert. In an unprecedented move, Roger and Gene Siskel reviewed the film on their television show before the film even had a distributor. When HOOP DREAMS was not nominated for a Best Documentary Academy Award, Mr. Ebert let everyone know the snub was an absolute travesty.

Below are links to writings on HOOP DREAMS that I've complied from
They are in chronological order, from Ebert's first thoughts about the film, to a recent interview with filmmaker Steve James, who made HOOP DREAMS and the documentary about Roger Ebert, LIFE ITSELF. Read through the links to see the profound impact this documentary made on Mr. Ebert and countless others.

And oh yeah, "It's Raining, Bo!"

Original Thoughts - 2/13/1994

Jounal Entry - 10/6/1994

Original Review - 10/21/1994

On The Academy Awards Snub - 2/26/1995

10 Best Movies Of The 1990s - 2/23/2000

Entry From "The Great Movies" - 7/8/2001

Final Journal Entry - 11/5/2009

Steve James Interview - 7/2/2014

From North/South Film: The Past Ebert Archive

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Chris's Review: ‘Dracula Untold’ removes everything that makes the legend great

Whether a direct adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic novel, F.W. Murnau’s not-so-sly variation (or Werner Herzog’s remake of that variation), Béla Lugosi or Christopher Lee’s legendary turns, Mel Brooks’ spoof, or horror legend Dario Argento’s recent 3-D disaster, the story of Dracula has been told countless times throughout cinema history. More often than not (probably?), that story has found an origin in the legendary real life figure of Vlad the Impaler, a fascinating character regardless of who is telling the story.

This bad ass

So when Universal Pictures decided to reboot their legendary horror movie monsters (Dracula, Wolf Man, The Mummy, etc.), they chose none other than the immortal vampire, the most famous and resilient of the motley crew, to kick things off. With that, Universal promised a new take on the classic Vlad-becomes-Dracula story with Dracula Untold, the dreaded “dark re-imagining” that Hollywood (and apparently movie-going audiences everywhere are obsessed with these days).

The Robert Downey Jr. Lists

Beloved by many, hated by few, the sometimes controversial, but always stellar Robert Downey Jr. has done just about everything an actor in Hollywood can hope to accomplish. He has conquered the box-office with multiple franchises, been nominated for two Academy Awards, won three Golden Globe Awards and turned in a ton of great work in the last three decades.

His latest film, The Judge, hits theaters today. Simple math will tell you: Downey plus Robert Duvall plus courtroom drama equals a must-see film. So it's time to revisit the career of one of the best around with . . .

The Robert Downey Jr. Lists

Dan's List

5. Sherlock Holmes
I really enjoy both of his Sherlock films.
Downey is the perfect blend of witty and mercurial, and easily ranks among the best Sherlocks ever.
It's been 3 years since he's solved mysteries with Dr. Watson, however a third Sherlock film has been announced so pack up the pipes and learn your olde-timey alchemy because Sherlock is coming for you!

4. Tropic Thunder
I still don't love this movie, but RDJ is amazing in it. Kirk Lazarus is one of those characters that could only be played by a master actor, in lesser hands it could be a career killer. If you watch this more than once it is because of Downey, not the Tom Cruise dance routine. It got him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and gave us one of the great Commentary Tracks of all-time.

3. Less Than Zero
Downey's descent into drug hell is one of the great 80s angst roles.
Julian's is a cautionary tale and the scariest part about him: his life is even worse in the book.

2. Chaplin
In another year Downey may have won the Oscar for Best Actor, but he had to settle for a nomination after Al Pacino Hooah-ed his way to a big win. This career altering performance proved he could carry a film and launched him into the big time. This is a biopic that should definitely be seen and enjoyed.

1. Iron Man
I went into the theater expecting to laugh at attempt by Marvel to launch a lesser comic book franchise, but forgot that RDJ is the man and that Tony Stark is the perfect character for someone with his bravado.
After two more Iron Man films, The Avengers and cameos in other Marvel movies it is safe to say that Tony Stark will define Downey's career and cemented him as one of the biggest draws in Hollywood.

iron man animated GIF

Chris's List 

5 – Natural Born Killers
This movie. This freakin' movie. Oliver Stone's highly controversial, throw-everything-at-the-audience bastardization of an early Tarantino script. I almost hate that I love this so much. Almost. Downey, as an over-the-top, narcissistic tabloid reporter, is one of many fascinating supporting characters that make this film so bizarrely watchable. And it was a great preview of that spot-on Australian accent moviegoers will see from him again later.

4 – Iron Man / The Avengers
Studio blockbuster casting just does not get any better than this. A perfect match of actor and character. And just think, the now insanely popular and profitable Marvel Cinematic Universe completely hinged on this first film and eventually culminated in the Avengers crossover.

3 – Tropic Thunder
For my money, Downey's best performance, hands down. As hilarious as it is controversial, Downey as Kirk Lazarus elevated this movie to comedic and satirical greatness.

2 – Zodiac
I already professed my love for this film on our David Fincher Lists last week, but I am more than happy to reiterate it here. As the alcoholic, increasingly disillusioned and paranoid Paul Avery, Downey shines in just one of many terrific performances in this fantastically moody and atmospheric film. 

1 – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
I love this movie. It is so damn funny and clever. It is no surprise Iron Man 3 was a big success after Downey and writer/director Shane Black proved they were a great team with this film nearly a decade earlier.

And finally, I can’t not mention Wonder Boys and Less Than Zero because they are adapted from two books I really, really like and Downey is great in them. Also, special shout-outs to Weird Science, which is ridiculous '80s movie, but I remember it fondly, and Sherlock Holmes, which I didn’t care for at first, but now have to watch every time it comes on TV (which is quite often), mainly because Downey is the man.

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Friday, October 3, 2014

The David Fincher Lists

With his tenth directorial feature, Gone Girl, hitting theaters today, David Fincher is a name and director you should know. I love the fact that when you turn on one of his films, you can almost instantly tell it's from his world: the blue and green color tints, the low key lighting, and the low angles. He cut his teeth making many classic music videos, leading others (*cough* Michael Bay) to imitate his work. He then proceeded to conquer Hollywood with a basically spotless record of hit after hit and two Oscar nominations for directing.

When Fincher is at his best he's tough to beat, so we ranked all of his features with . . .

The David Fincher Lists

Chris's List

9 – Alien³ (1992)

8 – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

7 – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Let's start with the bottom three . . . I actually don't hate any of these films, but I don't particularly care for any of them either. Alien³ isn't bad for a music-video-director-turned-first-time-film-director in over his head with a big franchise and bad script. Dragon Tattoo was a disappointment and derivative of his previous work. While Benjamin Button is a heavily flawed and overlong Forrest Gump remake that is beautifully shot and has only a few really great moments. 

6 – The Game (1997)

5 – Panic Room (2002)

4 – Fight Club (1999)

I always lump these three together in the Fincher filmography – films #4, 5, and 6 for him. I really like all of them (Panic Room & Fight Club could have flip-flopped too). The Game is a sharp example of a filmmaker really coming into his own. Panic Room is a taut and clever thriller. And Fight Club is a sly, but dated deconstruction of modern society and masculinity almost weighed down now by its immense cult status.

3 – Seven (1994)

Now we are getting to the really great stuff of Fincher’s career. This is a truly fantastic, grisly neo-noir armed with an enthralling and disturbing plot, career-defining performances from its three stars (Pitt, Freeman, and Spacey), and a grimy, scum-of-the-Earth look and feel that just gives you the creeps watching it.

2 – Zodiac (2007)

Fincher is a master of the moody, tense serial killer/detective drama, as he more than proved again over decade after Seven, with Zodiac, an even better entry into the overcrowded genre. The film’s opening and the scene with Jake Gyllenhaal’s character in the basement are utterly fantastic. Top notch performances from Gyllenhaal, Ruffalo, Downey Jr., and John Carroll Lynch.

1 – The Social Network (2010)

Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers and other major critics called The Social Network “the film of a generation” and one that “defines the decade.” Now while that may be pushing it a tad far by attempting to quantify something that cannot really by judged in those terms, I can see where they are going with it - beyond creating buzzworthy grabs for the movie’s poster. The film really is epic, beautifully written, directed, edited, and scored, and full of surprisingly terrific performances. Fincher himself likened the film to a modern-day Citizen Kane, which is also a lofty, but apt comparison.

Dan's List

N/A. The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Somehow I never saw this movie!
Well not entirely true, I saw most of it on TV and wasn't impressed.
However, I can't pass a final judgement without seeing the entire product.
Also, I'm pretty sure I own it on DVD so that's just sheer apathy on my part.

8. Panic Room
I straight up loathe Panic Room.
Saw it in the theater expecting a "taught and clever thriller," as Chris just proclaimed.
And instead got a meandering bore-fest leading me to spew hate speech about it ever since.
Chris saying that it could have been #4 on his list makes me question our friendship.
If Forrest Whitaker can't make me like it, shut it down.
By far Fincher's worst flick.

7. Zodiac
Can't imagine how much this ranking will infuriate Chris.
He's such a Zodiac Fan Boy.
Saw it once and thought it was completely forgettable.
Never picked up on the "genius" parts I guess.
I've been promising Chris that'd I'll give it a second viewing/chance, but I've been saying that for five years. No but seriously Chris, I'll watch it again (no I won't).

6. Alien³ 
Why is The Alien Trilogy so terribly underrated in film history?
Empire put The Bourne Trilogy six spots ahead of it on their all time list.
Alien is obviously incredible.
Aliens is a bad ass James Cameron action flick.
And then we have Fincher's: it's darker and nastier and a very respectable directorial debut.
"You look tired Pam" over Ripley dominating?

 5. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
The series was absolutely perfect for Fincher.
It's a shame that the business side of Hollywood got in the way of the entire trilogy happening.
I would love to see his version of The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest.
Dragon Tattoo was legit and had one of the best opening title sequences in years.

4. The Game
One of the most underrated films of the late 90s.
How good is this film?
Well they came up with nine taglines for it, so you know it's gotta be amazing!
My favorite and obviously one of the worst taglines in history:
The object of the game is to discover the object of . . . The Game

3. Seven
David Fincher, Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey.
Today, on paper, that's an absolute homerun, but in 1995, none of them had achieved even a tenth of the fame they have currently. Fincher was best known for directing music videos, Freeman was mostly a supporting actor, Pitt was just "that guy from Legends Of The Fall" and Kevin Spacey was on the verge of becoming a mega star. The Usual Suspects was out for a month before Seven, but it made less than a quarter of the money. After this film all four of these guys became industry giants and have not looked back.

2. Fight Club
The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.

1. The Social Network
A perfect film and the David Fincher film.
As I type this, I'm walking over to pick it off the shelf and put it on.
The combination of Fincher, Aaron Sorkin and The Cast was exactly why I go to the movies:
To see great filmmakers, writers, and actors produce an exciting, unique experience.
It made the Final 4 of our Best Films From 2000 To Now, losing to the overall winner.
It's a great one to watch again and again with that being said . . .


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Friday, September 26, 2014

The Denzel Washington Lists

Denzel Washington is a terrific actor with a career spanning 30 plus years and over 40 films. In that time, he has turned in numerous standout performances and netted 6 Oscar nominations with 2 wins. He's had hits, misses, pay check flicks, and the uncanny ability to deliver fantastic performances just when you've almost forgotten he is one of the best actors alive.

With his new film The Equalizer hitting theaters today, North/South takes a look back at his career:    

The Denzel Washington Lists

Chris's List

5 - (tie) Malcolm X and Inside Man
These two Spike Lee joints tie here... I really like Inside Man, but it is tough to call the ensemble film a true "Denzel Washington movie." It's pretty great regardless. And while I don't love Malcolm X as much, it really is one of Washington's best overall performances.

4 - Man on Fire
Co-star Christopher Walken said it best, "A man can be an artist... in anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasey's art is death. He's about to paint his masterpiece."

3 - Glory
Denzel's real breakout film and his first Oscar win. 
In a film full emotional and powerful performances, he stood out.

2 - Remember the TitanS
I'll admit, this is not a great film, but I just can't help but love it. It's Denzel being Denzel (at his best), and the film is the absolute gold-standard of formulaic Disney sports movies.

 1 - Training Day
I have always loved this film. Denzel's larger-than-life performance, as well as standout turns from Ethan Hawke and Scott Glenn. The story is engrossing and the action is enthralling. Denzel has probably, and director, Antoine Fuqua, has definitely not, done anything as good since. We'll see if their re-team this week can live up to it (possible spoiler alert - I doubt it).

Dan's List

5. Training Day
When a character says stuff like "King Kong ain't got nothing on me." it's hard to keep the lack of subtly from becoming absurd. Denzel manages to go the edge of crazy without becoming comical and won an Oscar for his performance. He is great in it, but Training Day became heavily overrated after his win and a huge second life on DVD and TV. End Of Watch makes Training Day look like Cop And A Half.

4. Malcom X
We often associate Denzel Washington with director Tony Scott (Crimson Tide, Man On Fire and three others), but he has also had huge success with Spike Lee at the helm.
He has starred in four Spike Lee Joints, including two on my list.
Malcom X is a heavy film. It strips away any kind of made for TV version of the civil rights movement and captures the bleakness of the time. It’s powerful and worth watching if you've got three and a half hours.

3. Remember The Titans
"Coach Boone is the new head coach in town. They tried to make him leave, but Denzel ain't no clown." Those immortal words from Froggy Fresh's epic song "Denzel Washington" say it all.
He wouldn't let hatred, crooked referees or the loss of a star player derail him from winning a title.
"Fake 23 Blast with a Backside George Reverse" is such a great play call in that spot. My sandlot go to was the Double Reverse Pass with the throw going to the original Quarterback . . . great minds thinks alike.

2. Flight
One of the aforementioned "comeback" performances, Denzel proved he could still bring it with this role. I liked Flight as a nice Saturday matinee. Sure, it was predictable and had a bad ending, but it was far better than average. And this scene was well worth the price of admission.

1. He Got Game
I love He Got Game and Jake Shuttlesworth.
Sure, he's the definition of an overbearing sports parent, but he is magnetic.
Denzel takes the tortured soul of Jake and redeems him as much as possible.
It's a movie about New York basketball from the most famous New York basketball fan alive.
I'm not sure if it's my favorite Spike Lee movie, but it's my favorite Denzel and I will forever drop
"I think I'll go around again" during games of one on one . . .

Now Cue The Track!

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And Check Out Our Other Best Of Lists:
Robin WilliamsChristian Bale – Matt Damon – Johnny Depp – Jamie Foxx
Wes Anderson - Ron Howard – Tony Scott – Michael Bay – Stanley Kubrick 
Badass Ladies – Movie Lawyers – Movie Bars – Concert Movies
Baseball Movies – Films From 2000-Now – Movie/Video Game Combos - Kill Bill 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Chris's Review: ‘Frank’ - You’re just gonna to have to go with this

Frank has a big head. Not in an egotistical way, but in an actual big head way. Well, not an actual head, but a giant papier-mâché head that he wears over his real head (which he refuses to let anyone see). Sounds weird, right? Well it is, but strangely enough, it is also kind of endearing.

As one of the film’s characters explains early on, “Frank, even with all his issues, is without a doubt, 100% the sanest cat I’ve ever met.” He continues, “Look, you’re just gonna have to have to go with this.” Of course, this advice comes from a guy with a serious fetish for mannequins, but that’s just the kind of film Frank is, and as an audience, we are just gonna have to go with it.