Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Hall of Fame


Right off the bat, I will be writing this entry in first-person, something that I am usually opposed to but for the purpose of this article, I think it works. Also, this entry is excessively long but it doesn’t feel that long and is totally worth it for you, the reader. Trust me. Why would I lie about that?

This time of year has historically been one of my favorite times of the year and I am not talking about the holiday season. (Working in retail for seven years has ruined the holidays for me.) No, what I’m talking about is the time when new members are elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
As a student of history, literally (I have a BA in History), I love discussing the history of just about anything but especially the history of baseball. Because the rules of the game have basically stayed the same for more than a century, players can be compared to one another relatively simply. Sure, the game has changed some over the years. Eventually, minorities were allowed to play. The mound got smaller and the players got bigger and stronger and faster but ultimately everything is the same. A pitcher still throws the ball from a distance of 60 feet, 6 inches. A hitter still has three strikes or four balls to do something and nine people play the field.

In much the same way, movies can be compared to one another. Sure, technology has improved and 
censorship has lessened but at its core, the essence of film has remained the same. There is a reason that the works of Shakespeare still get remade and re-imagined for a modern audience. People want drama. People want laughs. People don’t want their intelligence insulted with contrivedplot devices. Good entertainment is good entertainment now and will always be good entertainment.

Because of its timeless nature, I have decided that if anything lends itself to a Hall of Fame as much as baseball does, it would be movies. In an effort to keep things parallel, I will be inducting five movies into the inaugural class of the Times Herald Movie Blog Hall of Fame.

In the 75-plus years that the Baseball Hall of Fame has existed, some less-than-ideal players have been inducted. However, that first class included five of the greatest players to ever lace up a pair of cleats. With that precedent set, the bar is almost impossibly high for the THMB Hall of Fame. Much like Cobb and Ruth and Mathewson and Wagner and Johnson are among the best ever, it is my hope that history will look back (or continue to look back) favorably on the following five films.

I used a wide variety of criteria to determine which films would be part of the Class of 2012, including Rotten Tomatoes percentage, which is the easiest way I know of to find a conglomeration of critical reviews; awards and recognition which are an easy gauge of the opinion of those in the industry; and watchability, which is my attempt to weed out the films that may be critical darlings and widely respected in the industry but do not have mass appeal. (One of the best examples of this type of film is “2001: A Space Odyssey, which has achieved critical and commercial success despite being widely regarded as incredibly, unbelievably boring.)

Without any further ado, allow me, the official Keeper of the Times Herald Movie Blog, to introduce the first class of the THMB Hall of Fame, arranged alphabetically.

Beauty and the Beast Disney has been making movies for more than 70 years and in that time have made some real unforgettable pieces of cinema, starting with their very first feature “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Since that time, the company is responsible for the movies that helped to define the childhood for generations of young people. With great films such as “Bambi,” “The Lion King,” and “Cinderella,” the contributions of Disney to film cannot be overstated. And that is before they partnered with Pixar to churn out instant classics such as “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” and “The Incredibles.” However, as classic as these movies may be, none of them was able to do what “Beauty and the Beast” did: get nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.

In the 60 years prior to the release of “Beauty and the Beast,” no animated movie had ever got nominated for Best Picture. In the 20 years since, only one other animated feature has nominated for Best Picture and it took an expanded field of 10 for “Up” to earn that nomination.

Being nominated for Best Picture, on its own, is probably not enough to warrant induction in the inaugural class of the THMB Hall of Fame, which is why Beauty and Beast’s other major contribution needs to be noted: it revolutionized the use of computer animation, through a program called “Computer Animation Production System,” or CAPS, which opened the door for the Pixar/Disney juggernaut to completely change the nature of animated features.

Since its release, “Beauty and the Beast” has made more than $345 million at the box office, won numerous awards, and even spawned a Broadway musical. Not since “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” has an animated movie broken as much ground as “Beauty and the Beast” and that is before you take awards into consideration. When all is said and done, there is no doubt that “Beauty and the Beast” deserves to be in the THMB Hall of Fame.

Citizen Kane I wrote the following about this film when describing why it needed to be watched before the Mayan Apocalypse:

It may seem clichéd to put this film on the list, but there is a reason that basically everything ever created considers this one of the best, if not the best, movie ever made. Orson Welles life story of Charles Foster Kane, which *wink, wink* was only loosely based on the life William Randolph Hearst *wink, wink*, completely revolutionized film making, from using non-linear storytelling to the way in which it was shot. Without “Citizen Kane,” it is probable that many of the other movies on this list would either not have been made or been made very differently.

Luckily, the Mayans appear to have missed the mark with that one. Or the whole thing was a media creation and blown way out of proportion. Either way, we are still here and now have a potentially infinite amount of time to watch this flick. The reasons that “Citizen Kane” needed to be seen before the end of days are the same reasons that this film warrants its spot in the THMB Hall of Fame’s inaugural class.

In addition to its groundbreaking impact on the film, the film was added to the National Film Registry in 1989, “Rosebud” was ranked by the American Film Institute (AFI) as the 17th best quote in film history, and it likely would have won the Best Picture Oscar in 1941 were William Randolph Hearst started a smearcampaign and essentially crushed the film that was “loosely” based on his life. Orson Welles got the last laugh, though, when AFI named it the greatest film of all time. Its spot in the THMB Hall of Fame is about as close to a slam dunk as you can get.

The Dark Knight A potentially controversial choice, Christopher Nolan’s 2008 film doesn't have the history that several of the other choices have and it doesn't have as grand of an award pedigree that other films have. What it does have, however, is a legacy as long as any other film, despite being put on celluloid only five years ago.

First, and perhaps most noteworthy, The Dark Knight is almost solely responsible for the first change in rules to the Best Picture in more than 60 years. Because The Dark Knight failed to garner what many considered to be a well-deserved nomination for Best Picture (It made more than a billion dollars worldwide, was named Movie of the Year by AFI, and came in with a robust 94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, or the same score as eventual winner “Slumdog Millionaire.”) After the public outcry over the perceived snub, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences changed the rules to allow for up to 10 nominees.

“The Dark Knight,” for better or worse, also redefined several genres of movie.

First and most often cited, superhero movies not only became the new vogue but only if the film takes a serious and realistic approach to the subject. Gone are the days when superhero movies include scenes of Batman pulling an American Express card out of his utility belt or Superman going back in time by flying around the planet and reversing its rotation. Instead, superhero movies feature rich guys using high-tech, but realistic, technology and the perceived magic is kept to a minimum. 

Even broader was the impact that the Dark Knight had on films with established characters that were being “rebooted.” These reboots required darker, more serious versions of the characters in a darker, more sinister environment. Although this trend began with “The Dark Knight’s” predecessor, “Batman Begins,” it was not until the Joker burned a stack of money pushed as he pushed the Caped Crusader to his limits did the bleakness of society fully take shape.

As if changing the rules of the art and award were not enough, the film also featured one of the most captivating performances of one of the most captivating villains in the history of cinema in the form of Heath Ledger’s Joker.

Because of all of these factors, “The Dark Knight,” despite not having an extended run in the culture thus far, deserves to be in the inaugural class of the THMB Hall of Fame.

The Godfather: Part II Choosing between “The Godfather” and “The Godfather: Part II” may seem like a fool’s errand. The former redefined what a gangster movie is capable of while the latter expanded upon that while also introducing the notion of a sequel that is equal to, if not better than, the original.  Ultimately, the sequel wins it because it is everything that the original is, but is also a stylistic expansion to Welles’ “Citizen Kane” and features one of the greatest film performances in the history of the medium, launching one of the greatest careers in history, as well, when Robert DeNiro portrayed young Vito Corleone.

For those who have not seen either film, “The Godfather” was perhaps the first film to show the mafia as a calculating, meticulous organization rather than the previously-portrayed “bang, bang, shoot’em up” type that had been seen in film before. The films focused on the rise and eventual fall of Michael Corleone, who had no interest in the family business but ultimately gave in and took it over, which is where Part II picks up.

Because the original did all of those things, it certainly warrants consideration for the THMB Hall of Fame. However, what sets it sequel apart is the fact that it is a sequel. Upon its release, “The Godfather: Part II” became the first sequel in history to win Best Picture and since that time, only one other sequel, “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” has won Best Picture.

In addition to winning Best Picture, “The Godfather: Part II” also won five other Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actor for DeNiro; is ranked as the third best film of all time according to the IMDB 250; and was named the second best sequel in film history, behind only “The Empire Strikes Back,” by Grantland.com.

This selection will not be without its controversy as its predecessor is also considered one of the greatest films ever made. However, as previously stated, it is because this film is a sequel that it ultimately earns its spot in the inaugural class.

Jaws It is hard to classify what kind of movie this is because it covers so many different areas. It’s a horror movie about a giant shark that eats people. It’s a suspense movie about finding shark and waiting for it to strike. It’s a classic buddy comedy with tough guy Quint and nerdy scientist Hooper. And it excels in all of this.

Even more importantly, however, it launched the career of arguably the greatest American director of all time in Steven Spielberg. Without “Jaws,” it is quite possible that Spielberg’s career would have been completely different and other Hall of Fame films may not have ever been made.

The launch of Spielberg’s career was not even the biggest cultural impact of this film, though. The film was so terrified the culture after it was released that Great White Sharks began to behunted, devastating the global population to the point that the fish was on the brink of extinction and the population has still not recovered.
Its impact on film can still be felt, as well. The less-is-more approach to showing the creature is something that modern horror films continue to emulate and composer John Williams’ minimalist score added to the tension so much that musical cues continue to dominate film.
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­­­­­­­­­­­­­­The THMB Hall of Fame class may not be perfect. I tried to avoid clichéd picks, but there is certainly a reason that these films are so widely viewed as great works. When there are more than a century of films to choose from, narrowing it down to just five selections can be daunting. Ultimately, though, the five films above are all no-doubt Hall of Famers and that is really all that can be asked out of an inaugural class.

How’d I do? What should or should not have been on the list? Send me an email at afioriglio@timesherald.com or get at me on Twitter @TheTonyFiorigli and let me know.

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