5. Joel Schumacher – Falling Down
Two words: bat nipples. You know what I’m talking about. Joel Schumacher is the man who has made so many forgettable features that there is no doubt that he himself would be forgotten if it wasn’t for the fact that he made the god-awful and franchise-killing Batman & Robin, which will forever be remembered as the movie that brought us bat nipples. Granted, Phone Booth wasn’t bad for the type of film it was but apart from that one, you’d be hard pressed to find anything even half-decent in Schumacher’s lengthy filmography with the one glaring exception being 1993’s Falling Down.
Falling Down is a great little flick. It has a stand-out central performance by Michael Douglas as a laid off defence worker who is having a really bad day and just snaps as he’s trying to make his way through LA to get to his daughter’s birthday party at his estranged ex-wife’s house.
A clear social commentary on the disappearing middle class and the pressures of modern capitalist society, Falling Down manages to be a serious and dramatic yet also a highly entertaining film. Douglas is fantastic as the guy who has had enough and isn’t going to take it any more as he explodes in violence against the flawed society he sees all around him, whilst the always great Robert Duvall is fantastic as the cop on the brink of retirement who needs to bring him in.
I can see this movie over and over again and never get bored whereas all of Schumacher’s other films are hard to sit through the first (and hopefully last) time you watch them. And don’t tell me that early in his career he did some noteworthy films like St. Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys and Flatliners. You liked those movies when you were 15 years old and that’s how it should remain. Just don’t watch them again. Some memories are better left alone and untarnished.
4. John Singleton – Boyz N the Hood
John Singleton hit the ground running with his debut Boyz N the Hood but stumbled immediately after and never managed to get up again. After Spike Lee opened the floodgates with Do The Right Thing two years earlier, Boyz N the Hood was seen as part of a new black film movement and it was the first mainstream movie to deal with gang violence in LA. It received lots of praise and nominations whilst also winning quite a few awards throughout the United States. And just like in it was John Singleton’s debut and only great work, it also featured the debut of rapper Ice Cube, who gave a memorable performance but would never reach those heights as an actor again.
Hell, all of its three leads seem to have suffered a similar fate. The movie was the first lead role for Cuba Gooding Jr, who soon after completely fell from grace, whilst the other main character was played by Morris Chestnut. Who the hell is that? Good question. Point made. What is it with this movie?
Singleton followed up his success with a few less than average movies dealing with inner-city violence relating to black communities until he finally completely lost me with the unnecessary and plain bad remake of Shaft. This signalled the beginning of a new part in his career in which he tried his luck at making more mainstream action movies like 2 Fast 2 Furious, Four Brothers and Abduction, all of which weren’t all that great either, especially that last stinker featuring Taylor Lautner.
Still, we always have his debut Boyz N the Hood, a gritty and thoughtful drama, which will forever remain one of the best films to deal with LA gang culture and its consequences and which spawned a whole lot of lesser imitations in its wake.
3. Tony Scott – True Romance
In all fairness you could do a lot worse than Tony Scott when it comes to brainless Hollywood action fare. That being said, you could do a whole lot better too. He has the classic Top Gun to his name, not a high-mark in the history of cinema but it does have its merits for the type of film it is, and Crimson Tide with Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington (there he is again!), which was watchable although I’ll take The Hunt for the Red October over it any day, as well as Enemy of the State, which is sort of a decent spy flick.
But films like Beverly Hills Cop II, Revenge, Days of Thunder, The Last Boyscout, The Fan and every film he has made with Denzel since, not to mention the tragically bad Domino, really make you wish he had made more films like True Romance.
Where the hell did True Romance come from in a filmography like that? Well, I guess it has a lot to do with the fact that the screenplay was written by Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary, the same guys who one year later would bring us Pulp Fiction. It was sold to the studio before the now renowned director made Reservoir Dogs but released afterward. The dialogues are 100% classic Tarantino (before there even was such a thing as classic Tarantino) and endlessly enjoyable and quotable.
The fact that Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs had caused a tremendous buzz must also have contributed to the genuinely fantastic cast that participated in this film. Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette as the main characters and love birds, Clarance and Alabama, Gary Oldman as her Rastafarian pimp (go figure), Dennis Hopper as Clarence’s dad, Christopher Walken as a bad-ass Sicilian mafioso, Michael Rapaport as Clarence’s goofy actor friend, Brad Pitt as his stoner house mate, Tom Sizemore and Chris Penn as two hilarious cops, Saul Rubinek as real a-hole movie producer, Bronson Pinchot (Balki!) as his assistant, James Gandolfini as a mafia tough guy (way before Sopranos fame), Val Kilmer as Elvis himself (albeit in Clarence’s head only) and cameos from Victor Argo and Samuel L Jackson to boot.
And the most remarkable thing is that Tony Scott more than likely gave his own spin to the screenplay by sort of treating as a romantic fairy tale. It’s doubtful that Tarantino would have taken this approach but the result is a truly unique action-packed violent romantic comedy thriller. It’s like Tarantino-light and that’s not meant as diss. It’s simply wonderful.
2. Jan De Bont – Speed
Another fantastic directorial debut, which was followed by a bunch or mediocre to just plain awful films, Jan de Bont’s Speed remains a highlight of Hollywood action film. De Bont had been a very talented and successful cinematographer for many years in his native Holland and a frequent collaborator with that other Dutch director who made it big in Hollywood, Paul Verhoeven, before making it big in Hollywood by being the cinematographer on films like Die Hard, The Hunt for the Red October and Basic Instinct.
In 1994 he decided to make the jump to the director’s chair and delivered Speed, a film which was a box-office as well as a critical sensation and a really lean and tightly directed piece of action cinema. It might also have helped that even though he did not write the script, Joss Whedon (that guy who made The Avengers) was brought in as a script doctor and wrote about all of the dialogue for the movie.
Unfortunately, Jan de Bont has made the most amazing string of stinkers ever since. His follow-up Twister was still passable (although highly forgettable and more than likely a hit because of its early use of effective CGI effects) but from there on in it’s been pretty disastrous, starting with Speed 2: Cruise Control, which might be the other contender for most horrid sequel ever on this list (the other being the aforementioned Highlander 2).
He followed that one up with a completely silly, unnecessary and plain disrespectful remake of the classic horror film The Haunting and did the second Tomb Raider film in 2003, which was worse than the first one and has been his last directorial credit so far. Let’s hope he keeps it that way and starts making movies, directed by more talented people, look good as their cinematographer again.
1. M. Night Shyamalan – The Sixth Sense
It’s an obvious number one but this guy so deserves to be here. M Night Shyamalan burst onto the scene in 1999 with The Sixth Sense. It wasn’t his debut but it sure as hell felt like one as no one had ever heard of this guy before. The movie became a box-office sensation and even a critical darling, being nominated for a whole bunch of awards, although ultimately not winning that many of significance. Everybody seemed to love the movie and its notorious twist, a trick Shyamalan would later become infamous for. A friend of mine even claimed that we were witnessing the birth of a new Hitchcock and then it all went to hell.
And don’t give me no sob stories about how Unbreakable was a cool film too. It wasn’t. It was stupid and only when compared to everything that came after can one argue that it wasn’t plain awful. People were just still on the Shamalama-ding-dong train and had trouble getting off. That was the case at least until his third movie, as the general public was starting to get divided over Signs and by the time The Village was released people seemed finally willing to admit that they were dealing with a potential fraud here.
But things got worse and his next movie, The Lady in the Water, was completely disastrous. Somehow I don’t hear people complain about this movie much, in fact, they don’t seem to mention it all, which leads me to believe nobody actually bothered seeing it. I unfortunately wasn’t that smart and let me tell you now that The Lady in the Water is by far Shyamalan’s worst film (although I haven’t seen The Last Airbender), which really says a lot. I even thought that the much reviled The Happening, which came next, was better than that incomprehensibly horrendous excuse of a movie.
Shyamalan’s last two movies, The Last Airbender and After Earth, were also completely panned by critics and box-office disappointments, although it remains a mystery why they weren’t complete box-office failures instead.
Quite frankly, I never thought The Sixth Sense was a great film anyway. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad film but it always surprised me how much people would rave about it and how big of a hit it became. I guess somehow the movie was hyped and everybody got onto the bandwagon. Too bad it took everybody way too long to get off it.
Emilio has been a movie buff for as long as he can remember and holds a Masters Degree in Cinema Studies from the University of Amsterdam. Critical and eclectic in taste, he has been described to “love film but hate all movies”. For daily suggestions on what to watch, check out his Just Good Movies Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/goodmoviesuggestions.