Box Office Blockbuster Tourney: Even-Numbered Years Conference, Round One

So as explained previously, we are playing a seeded tournament-style elimination game amongst each of the US domestic box office champion movies from the last 32 years.  Seeding was done via Rotten Tomatoes scores, with ties broken with Metacritic scores.  Three of our six judges will vote on each match-up of two films, with the winner advancing to the next round and the loser skulking off into obscurity, until we have our overall Champion!

American Sniper.jpg

I only just noticed that for some reason, I was calling these posts “Block Office Blockbusters” rather than “Box Office Blockbusters.”  Not sure where that came from.  Anyway, I went back and corrected the posts so far!

We continue things with our Even-Numbered Years Conference, Round One!  As I write this out, I’m struck that this list includes some of the longest and most punctuated movie titles ever, and that amongst them is a head-to-head battle between two consecutive Star Wars movies, even though those films have 10 years and 3 episode between them.  Weird.

See Round One of the Odd-Numbered Years Conference here and an introduction to this whole process here.

1. Toy Story 3 (2010)

vs.

16. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Rod:  Jim Carrey’s Grinch movie was lame and worthless. I was not a big fan of Toy Story 3, but I recognised that quality of the film, and it was much more enjoyable…though I wouldn’t want to watch it again. Nevertheless, the 2000 Grinch movie has almost no redeeming qualities.

My Vote: Toy Story 3

Bruce: I can’t remember much I enjoyed about Ron Howard’s Grinch aside from Carrey’s usual antics on occasion. Most of it felt like a set on a stage instead of a living mountain town, which further made it feel disingenuous from the cartoon I watched as a kid. The Grinch is a truly awful character who’s redemption is only barely earned in the end.  While part 3 to the Toy Story franchise has a much darker tone than the two previous installments it’s still backed by the same likable characters we’ve grown to love. And when does a strong story and well defined characters not become something to appreciate, at least on the surface? The Christmas tree burns up in flames on this one as Woody, Buzz and friends lay waste to their foe for the easy win. 

My Vote:  Toy Story 3

Ben: Actually, I have never seen How the Grinch Stole the Christmas.  Due to a misunderstanding, it turned out we only had two of our six judges who had seen it, and I’m not one of them.  I was planning on seeing it if I had to cast a deciding vote, but fortunately, for the sake of peace and sanity, both Bruce and Rod agreed that Toy Story 3 was the clear winner and now I don’t have to worry about it.  Phew!

My Vote:  –-Abstained

The Winner: Toy Story 3

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8. Shrek 2 (2004)

vs.

9. Rain Man (1988)

Ben:  Overall, this would have to be the match-up I’m voting in which I have the least investment in.  Both of these films are fine, but not ones I remember well.  I think Shrek 2 is pretty respected as far as animated sequels are concerned, but I’m not a particular fan of it–amusing enough, but nothing special.  Rain Man was an interesting project which featured good performances from both Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise.  Even though it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, I recall the movie’s amusing references to QANTAS (before I moved to Australia!), The People’s Court, and “K-Mart sucks.”  I think in the end Barry Levinson’s drama gets the nod.

My Vote:  Rain Man

Josh M: The Shrek movies were fun, kind of a feature-length “Fractured Fairy Tales.” And they ushered in the trend of children’s animated movies that use pop-culture references as a substitute for actual writing, so that’s a point against it. Rain Man is memorable for Dustin Hoffman’s performance and … nothing else, really.

My Vote:  Shrek 2

Josh L: As fun as Shrek is I’ve got to go with Rain Man for contrasting characters and brilliant performances creating believable, motivated conflict, interest and character transformation.

My Vote:  Rain Man

The Winner: Rain Man

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5. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

vs.

12. American Sniper (2014)

Ben:  We didn’t have enough voters who had seen American Sniper, so I recently watched both films in order to facilitate this.  Saving Private Ryan is obviously an impressive piece of work, featuring a genuinely epic opening sequence and good plot to carry us through the set pieces.  However, it suffers from the same thing that I think many of Steven Spielberg’s more dramatic films do, which is a too-obvious feeling of contrivance when,   it comes to the more intimate, character focused sequences, and to its plot twists.  In other words, things just don’t feel fully authentic to me.  American Sniper, creates an environment that is just as immersive, but benefits from Clint Eastwood’s more restrained touch as a director, and a powerfully committed performance from Bradley Cooper.  It’s full of challenging material which leaves me uncertain how to feel about its subject matter and tone, but as a film it squeaks a win.

My Vote:  American Sniper, but with a lot of respect to its competition

Josh L: It’s a tough matchup. Both do a good job of not glorifying war but rather exposing the inner conflict and resulting emotional and psychological damage it creates. Saving Private Ryan has a greater sense of distance travelled from a character perspective and has more of an epic tone which I am more drawn to.

My Vote:  Saving Private Ryan

Bruce: I can really appreciate American Sniper. What it might take to stand up against an enemy at such distance and so impersonal? Eastwood’s direction is solid with some tense action sequences that even manage to pose tough questions about a man’s moral code. And while the book gives better insight to who Chris Kyle was and why he became a sniper, the film still builds a strong connection to the man–even shedding a couple tears after his death.

The ever-likable Spielberg. Does this man ever make a bad movie? May be not one we enjoy but dare I say he’s one of the best ever at crafting strong stories with characters we all connect with on some level. My father, uncles, grandfather and many friends all have said something similar to the experience of war. The first thing you fight for is the man next to you in your foxhole.  And this captures that idea to perfection. It’s a photo finish for the winner.

My Vote:  Saving Private Ryan

The Winner: Saving Private Ryan

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4. The Dark Knight (2008)

vs

13. Home Alone (1990)

Rod: Home Alone hasn’t aged well. But it really does not matter in this argument. The Dark Knight is one of the best films of its era. It transcended super hero films to be an excellent crime drama. Excellent performances, depth in story telling, great characterisation. It wins. So far ahead of the other movie it’s against…..

My Vote:  The Dark Knight wins…everything

Pete: The Dark Knight and Home Alone are both films about a parentless vigilante who is in over his head trying to foil the machinations of criminal masterminds. While The Dark Knight is the more brutal of the two, both protagonists at various points are under the threat of death. As I write this I realise that, they are in fact the same film. So in due course I am going to choose the film with the best performance.

 Catherine O’Hara wins guns blazing. Sorry Heath.

My Vote:  Home Alone

Josh M: I generally don’t like when super-hero movies shoehorn two villains into a single storyline, but Dark Knight stands as the one time I thought it actually worked. A great script, solid direction, and of course Heath Ledger’s iconic Joker, make this the pinnacle of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Home Alone is way out of its league here.

My Vote:  The Dark Knight

The Winner: The Dark Knight

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6. The Avengers (2012)

vs.

11. Forrest Gump (1994)

Ben:  Forrest Gump, even though it’s got some quite good performances going for it , is on my list of highly overrated movies.  The Avengers, even though it’s got some weak spots, is a successful validation of what Marvel was going for with its whole “shared universe” experiment which has literally changed the business plans of many big studios.  It showed the studio knew how to handle multiple major heroes in one movie, and offered thrills associated with that that now are a bit commonplace, but at the time were sort of revolutionary.

My Vote:  The Avengers

Josh L: While Avengers is enjoyable, in the context of the Marvel Cinemascape it has become bland in a way that Forrest Gump never will. Forrest Gump does a pretty impressive job at retelling American history from a unique and illuminating perspective, focusing the audience on a beautiful message of simple love in a complicated world.

My Vote:  Forrest Gump

Pete: While Forrest Gump is far better than the book it’s based off, it wallows in it’s own self-importance. While I don’t like the way it cheapens history, the clincher is that they didn’t include Forrest and Dan’s male orangutan named ‘Sue’.

The Avengers wins by default, but it does deserve props for having great characterisation and interaction (being the first time seeing these characters together as a group on film) and as Roger Ebert once said, “No movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad.” You may have missed it, but The Avengers pretty much abides by that rule.

My Vote:  The Avengers

The Winner: The Avengers

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3. Aladdin (1992)

vs.

14. Independence Day (1996)

Josh M:  This is an interesting pairing — two movies that were lots of fun but ultimately mostly forgettable fluff. Except that Aladdin gave Disney animators the chance to riff off of Robin Williams’ manic improvisations.

My Vote:  Aladdin

Josh L: A tough choice. Independence Day had me laughing and crying when I first saw it, as did Aladdin. Both took you on a grand adventure but I have to give it to Aladdin. The escape from the cave of wonders made you believe you were on that carpet, the Genie was one of the most lovable and quotable characters in the school yard in ‘92 and Aladdin made you feel like anything was possible.

My Vote:  Aladdin

Bruce: Letting Robin Williams out of the lantern to ad lib whatever tickles his funny bone, versus aliens, explosions, a script trampled on by anyone called a writer and the occasionally engaging Smith. Produced by a bank printing funny money and stocking their toilet with it. Hmmm, I’ll go with the blue guy. 

My Vote:  Aladdin

The Winner: Aladdin

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7. Spider-Man (2002)

vs.

10. Rogue One:  A Star Wars Story (2016)

Rod:  Oooooh well, this is almost tricky. I don’t think Rogue One is “bad” but I would make the case that if you take away the Star Wars universe setting, then its a pretty boring, by-the-numbers film. Spider-Man, on the other hand, has its weaknesses, and if you watch it now, it hasn’t exactly aged well, but at the time, it was PHENOMENAL. And Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin was fantastic (until he puts the lame armour on). They would ultimately make a superb Spider-man film with the sequel (I would say–easily–the best Spider-Man movie still…and one of the best superhero movies still) but Spider-Man one deserves some love.

My Vote:  Spider-Man

Josh M: Rogue One is probably my favorite of the recent crop of new Star Wars movies, but it does suffer a bit from over-reliance on CGI to bring back characters who did not look as convincing and realistic as maybe they thought they did. Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film also relied to much on CGI, and inexplicably hid Willem Dafoe under a hard plastic mask. (Why hire an actor who looks like the Green Goblin if you’re not going to make use of that face?) Still, Raimi brought my favorite super-hero to the big screen and clearly had as much fun with it as I had watching it.

My Vote:  Spider-Man

Pete: Sam Raimi’s sweet, corny, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes a little freaky, (I’m looking at you Willem) occasionally moving superhero tale Spider-Man was so surprisingly good that they made a sequel which is exactly the same, except a little better. Now, I don’t mind the tone going all over the place, it’s a quirk I occasionally enjoy when it works for me; I much prefer that to the dour, almost just sad and pathetic tone of Rogue One.

Rogue One has it’s merits, don’t get me wrong. But underusing Donnie Yen wasn’t one of them.

My Vote:  Spider-Man

The Winner: Spider-Man

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2. Black Panther (2018)

vs.

15. Pirates of the Caribbean:  Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

Rod:  I saw Pirate 2, but couldn’t really remember it. It just blends in with the other Pirates movies. I liked the first one but never saw the point of any of the sequels (obviously the point was $$$$…I just mean, storywise…..there just wasn’t much interesting or meaningful stories to tell with these characters.)

And in the case of Black Panther, it was so over-hyped I want to vote against it. It is not a particularly good film or superhero film. Still its better than any Pirates movie after the first. So….

My Vote:  Black Panther

Bruce: The first chapter in the demise of Depp’s quality traded for extra zero’s on the paycheck. Oh, and he wanted to make films his “kids could watch”! The effects, grand set pieces and wild characters hadn’t lost all it’s luster at this point but the wheels are well lubricated and the slope is steep. Going in I knew very little about the Black Panther character origin story or current state of affairs in the MCU. What a refreshing introduction director Coogler and company crafted, with all the basic food groups well represented…
…Well defined characters–Michael B Jordan is probably the strongest villain to date.
…A clearly defined narrative path, with each lookout point packed with action and ingenuity.
…The themes are current and well connected with today’s social mob rules.
…And it fits perfectly within the juggernaut of puppet master Feige and his boss, the Mouse House, helping to push the bigger picture while sharing a great new character to know and love.

My Vote:  Black Panther

Pete: Black Panther is set up to be a powerhouse of a film: you have Michael B. Jordan putting in a fantastic performance as the embittered outcast, Andy Serkis shines as always, while the group of protagonists are the kind of characters you could follow anywhere, but like most Marvel films I don’t feel like it offers much more than that. I liked how the themes are nowhere near as on the nose as in Captain Marvel, but the whole third act falls apart for me as these characters I like suddenly start breaking character for the sake of plot. Nevertheless, I do appreciate the fact that you can watch this film on it’s own, in direct contrast to most Marvel films.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest on the other hand, despite not being part of an extended universe, is impossible to watch on it’s own. It’s only two acts, making the next sequel in the franchise just a overly long third act. It has Johnny Depp doing Johnny Depp stuff, and despite being grand, I really have to stretch my brain to remember details. It doesn’t work.

But it does have Bill Nighy.

My Vote:  Black Panther

The Winner: Black Panther

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And there we go!  Round One is finished!  Some interesting results, but nothing too shocking.  I found Pete’s comments on the connections between Home Alone and The Dark Knight to be kind of amusing, and I even took a moment to ask him if he was serious about his vote, and he said he stood by it.  We’ll get Round Two’s voting out there now, and will be back once it’s all complete.  Just in case you are curious, these are the battles that we’ll be looking at:

Odd-Numbered Years Conference

1. Toy Story vs. 8. The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire

4. Terminator 2 vs. 5. Star Wars–Episode VII:  The Force Awakens

3. The Lord of the Rings:  The Return of the King vs. 11. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s / Philosopher’s Stone

2. Harry Potter & the Curse of the Deathly Hallows part two vs. 10. Avatar

The highest seeded film to be eliminated in this conference was #6–Star Wars Episode VIII:  The Last Jedi which lost to the first Harry Potter film.

Even-Numbered Years Conference

1. Toy Story 3 vs. 9. Rain Man

4. The Dark Knight vs. 5. Saving Private Ryan

3. Aladdin vs. 6. The Avengers

2. Black Panther vs. 7. Spider-Man

The highest seeded film to be eliminated was #8. Shrek 2, which lost to #9. Rain Man.

Are we having fun?  I’m having fun, and I’m looking forward to see how this all falls out!

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