“Take off, you hoser” quickly ushered its way into my lexicon after watching Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas‘ Strange Brew when I was a kid. I was taken in by the over the top Canadian-isms like the usage of “eh?” at the end of many sentences, the term “horked” in place of stealing, and multiple references to back bacon. I was getting culture and didn’t even know it. Little did I know in 1983 (at the age of 8) that this film was based on William Shakespeare‘s Hamlet. Talk about getting some undercover culture, eh?
Strange Brew is also based on the characters from Moranis and Thomas Great White North skits from SCTV.The skits were mostly improvised, really intoxicated and were used to fill the two minutes that Canadian channels had, but US stations didn’t have because of commercials/syndication. Here’s one:
So, what happens when you add these two slackers to a classic Shakespearian tragedy? Hilarity, unbridled hilarity.
This movie was shot in 3B: three beers and it looks good.
The movie opens about as oddly as a movie can, aside from this, which is fucking awesome:
After this, the movie starts out like one of their skits from SCTV and then shows that what we’re seeing is a film within a film. We eventually transition to the world of Bob & Doug when the film reel breaks and we are taken inside the movie theater where the film (The Mutants of 2051 AD) is playing. When one patron remarks that the material has been featured on a previous album, several revolt causing Bob & Doug, who are actually in the theater, to use one of the tricks they had just spoken about on-screen, using moths to sabotage a terrible movie:
So after Bob & Doug escape the theater, we get the real sense of their lives: they live with their mother and father (who is voiced by cartoon God Mel Blanc), have no jobs, eat donuts (is this a Canadian thing as well) and drink beer all day. But didn’t they just come from their own movie premiere? But that doesn’t matter. That’s all scenery. When the boys grab the last three beers in the fridge, they each drink one, but then give the last one to their dog, Hosehead. When their father yells that they better save one for him, they chug those that they have then pour the remains of Hosehead’s into a glass, complete with the remnant of the food that was in his dog bowl in one of the most disgusting images I’ve ever seen in a movie.
When neither one will give the beer to their father, they drop the glass breaking it. Their father tells them to go get more beer, but they can’t because Bob gave the money to a father and two kids who’d been saving their allowance to see The Mutants of 2051 AD. So now they have to figure out how to get beer when they have no money. This is what happens:
So when they go to the Elsinore brewery (Elsinore is the castle in which Hamlet, his mother and stepfather/uncle live), the chain of events unfolds for the rest of the film following the basic storyline of Hamlet. Pamela Elsinore (Lynne Griffin) playing the Hamlet role, is set to inherit the Elsinore brewery under protestation from her uncle Claude (Paul Dooley) and her mother Gertrude (Jill Frappier). Claude has been working with Dr. B.M. Smith (Ingmar Bergman regular and cinematic heavyweight Max von Sydow), resident head of psychiatry at the Royal Canadian Institute for Mentally Insane and brewmeister at the brewery have been working on a plan to control the worlf by putting mind control drugs in their beer. If Pamela takes over, Smith and Claude will be ousted from their jobs an unable to complete their task. Bob and Doug, playing the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern roles, with help from former stud hockey player Jean LaRose (Angus MacInnes) and their wonderdog Hosehead, are able to thwart the plans of Smith and Claude and restore order to their world.
Take off or I’m going to do the steamroller…
This movie really has it all, including maybe the best brother relationship ever committed to film. Even though they annoy the shit out of each other frequently leading to fights and squabbles, the MacKenzie Brothers always have each other’s back. And even in the face of danger and commitment to the Loony Bin (a phrase I picked up watching this movie and one I still use to this day), they still have fun:
And without a doubt, they have my all-time favorite dog in cinema – Hosehead. Why do you ask? Here’s one reason:
And perhaps the best reason:
How many dogs do you know that can surreptitiously drop evidence on a cop from a roof and then slink away, rolling across said roof like a ninja? That’s right…none. Hosehead for President.
And what would a movie from Canada about Canada be without hockey, right? Well, this one’s got that, too. And not only do they have hockey, they have hockey with LUNATICS!
This is still one of the most fun movies I’ve ever seen and still is able to bring the laughs. While the MacKenzie Brothers have been long gone, we will always have this film to remember them. And like the few other 80s classics I’ve written about lately, Strange Brew has a great theme song by Ian Thomas. Like I said, this one’s got it all.
Bill Murray is one of the finest comedic talents this country has seen since he burst onto the scene on Saturday Night Live in 1977. Over the last 36 years, he has charmed us, made us laugh and shown us his more dramatic side in his film work. The bulk of his work has been a resounding success while a few film…not so much (Wild Things, anyone?). Nonetheless, Murray is widely regarded as comedic gold and it’s hard to argue with that. In fact, his oeuvre is proof positive that this state is indeed on point.
Here are a handful of his performances and appearances that have added many pleasurable moments to my life:
Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) “Delirium” – himself
While Murray only appears in one vignette in this film, it is undoubtedly the best of the bunch. That he’s in it with The RZA and The GZA from The Wu Tang Clan (the finest hip-hop group of all-time) makes it all the better. Playing a caffeine junkie, Murray is admonished by the MCs for drinking straight out of the coffee pot while smoking a cigarette – over the top Murray at his finest. That he is able to hold his own onscreen with RZA and GZA is a testament to his talent. Not that they are supremely talented actors, but coming from completely different worlds can stress the connection made. None of that here. Getting to hear Murray called by his full name every time he’s addressed is fucking hilarious. This film came out in 2003 when Murray was starting to break the comedic shell and go for more quirkier and dramatic roles. Lost in Translation, which will be addressed shortly, came out that same year. Working with director Jim Jarmusch in this film as well as 2005’s Broken Flowers upped his street cred tremendously, not to mention his work with Wes Anderson.
Here’s the entire vignette:
Lost in Translation (2003) – Bob Harris
Lost in Translation was Murray‘sfirst real dramatic role since The Razor’s Edge in 1984 aside from his turn as Polonius in Hamlet (although he did have a small part in The Cradle Will Rock) and it was this performance that looked as if it would net Murray an Academy Award. Alas, the voters in the Academy chose to the award to Sean Penn‘s overwrought and heavy-handed performance in the vastly overrated Mystic River instead. Sigh. It’s in this role that we see Murray deliver the full range of his talent, something that is touched on in Groundhog Day as he tries to woo Andie MacDowell‘s character. Moments of loneliness, poignancy and longing are peppered with his signature comedy and Murray really brings to life Bob Harris, his deeply flawed alter-ego. Here’s an example:
That Murray was able to pull this performance off is testament to his ability as an actor, although big ups go to both Scarlett Johansson and Sofia Coppola for their parts in the process as well – no way he is able to do this without them. I frequently imagine him in real life lamenting getting paid seven figures for doing a commercial when he should be doing a play like his character Bob Harris does. The filming of the commercial he’s in Japan to film is priceless and one of the better scenes in the film:
I know a lot of people decry this film for being too slow and boring, but this was the piece of the puzzle that was missing in Murray‘s filmography. He shows here what a full talent he really is. I will also say that his version of Elvis Costello‘s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” is pretty top-notch. This guy can do it all.
Here is the trailer:
Kingpin (1996) – Ernie “Big Ern” McCracken
The most low-brow film on this list (it is a Farrelly Brothers film after all), Kingpin has Murray playing his most loathable character of all-time. A scumbag professional bowler with a killer combover that would make Gene Keady envious, Big Ern McCracken is Roy Munson’s (Woody Harrelson) nemesis. McCracken is responsible for getting Munson into a situation that cost him his right bowling hand and his promising career as a young bowler. Since that day, Munson planned revenge, but the much-loved-by-the-public McCracken proves to be a difficult nut to crack.
Finally, Big Ern is above the law!
That McCracken is so awful is an interesting role for Murray because he never redeems himself like his characters in Scrooged or Groundhog Day. You hate him as much at the end as the first time you meet him. Murray really sells it well, though….all while drinking Tanqueray and Tab.
However, this is vintage Murray and worthy of mention among the fun roles he’s played. While this movie is the typical gross-out affair you’d expect from the Farrellys, Murray cuts above all of it and is able to play the perfect villain. That said, this is a fun movie to watch if you’re looking for mindless entertainment.
Here is the trailer:
You can watch the entire film here:
Ghostbusters (1984) – Dr. Peter Venkman
I doubt that I need to elaborate much on Ghostbusters as it has remained an American comedic/sci-fi centerpiece since it was released in 1984. The premise is three paranormal activity professors (Murray, Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd) get kicked out of the university in which they work and start their own apparition removal and storage business. When Dr. Venkman’s girlfriend, Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), gets possessed by the demon Zuul and announces the coming of Gozer, shit really hits the fan. The Ghostbusters, with new addition Winston (Ernie Hudson), must save humanity and specifically New York City from destruction and domination by Gozer.
All right! This chick is TOAST!
Outside of Caddyshack, this may well be Murray‘s signature role. This movie endures, largely due to Murray, to this day. My own children love this movie and both think Venkman is the best character because he’s so funny. They particularly like it when he gets slimed:
Even in his rarefied profession, Venkman seems to have issues figuring out what to do with Dana/Zuul. As we see at the beginning of the film, Venkman doesn’t put much effort into his job. This passive attitude carries over into his interaction with Zuul, which is among the funniest parts of the entire film. His delivery is perfection and you can see where doing stand-up at Second City in Chicago and working on Saturday Night Live aided him in his comedic film career so well.
I, for one, am glad that Murray is stone-walling the production of a third Ghostbusters movie. To me, trotting the four ‘Busters out again is as sad an attempt to cash in as Lucas and Spielberg doing yet another Indiana Jones film. Please. Stop.
For those of you who have been under a rock for the past 30 years, here’s the trailer:
Groundhog Day (1993) – Phil Connors
Groundhog Day is one of the better screenplays written in the last 20 years and Murray‘s performance as Phil Conners does that script serious justice.The premise of Groundhog Day is a loathsome Pittsburgh television weatherman gets sent to Punxsatawney, Pennsylvsania, on February 2 to cover the annual Groundhog Day ceremony where Punxsatawney Phil (name is a coincidence?) either sees or doesn’t see his shadow predicting the length of what remains of winter. His terrible attitude, general rudeness and overall disdain for his fellow man, especially of those who reside in Punxsatawney, are the likely cause of karma to catch up to him. When he wakes up the next day, he realizes he’s repeating Groundhog Day again. And this happens again, and again, and again, and again. As he desperately tries to break the cycle, he resorts to extreme behavior at first using his dilemma to exploit the circumstances then falls into deep depression trying to kill himself to end the cycle…to no avail.
Seriously, if I have to hear “I Got You Babe” ever again…
In what I can only imagine was a difficult shoot having to do the same scene multiple times but varying actions and dialogue ever so slightly, Murray shines. Witnessing his transformation from grumpy prima donna to a well-intentioned, thoughtful man is pure joy, one of the few times I accept a happy ending in a film. I have to ask myself, would I enjoy the ending to this film if it wasn’t Murray in the Phil Conners role? Likely not, especially since I truly detest Andie MacDowell, or better known as She-Who-Can-Ruin-a-Movie-with-the-Delivery-of-Two-Lines (“Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed”). This is a fun movie which is open to interpretation.
Here’s the trailer:
Stripes (1981) – John Winger
Stripes is one of my favorite Murray films, although not necessarily his best. He plays John Winger, a slacker cab driver who has nothing going for him. His best friend Russell (frequent collaborator Harold Ramis) falls into this camp as well. They both decide that they need a change in their lives, so they decide to join the Army. Winger’s general smartassness immediately gets him in trouble with Drill Sergeant Hulka (Warren Oates), but also endears himself to the rest of the platoon.
After finishing their basic training on their own when Sgt. Hulka is injured, Winger and company are selected for the top secret EM-50/Urban Assault Vehicle (read: Winnebago) project in Europe. When Winger and Russell and their two MP girlfriends (Sean Young and P.J. Soles) take the EM-50 for a spin through West Germany, the rest of the platoon are forced to go after them. When they accidentally end up in communist Czechoslovakia, the platoon are captured leaving Winger and his posse to come to the rescue.
That’s the fact, Jack!
Murray‘s snarkiness is off the charts in Stripes and that’s one of the things that I love best about his characters, and John Winger is no exception. Even though he can be such a shithead, you can’t help but love him. Murray is fortunate to be surrounded by other great actors to play off of – John Candy, Judge Reinhold and John Larroquette – with perhaps my favorite ancillary character, Francis “Psycho” Soyer (Conrad Dunn) who has perhaps the most memorable monologue of the film. This film is fun and what Murray‘s early work was all about. It’s dated because of the fall of the Soviet Union, but gives a glimpse into tensions back in the Cold War…with a comedic spin.
Here’s the trailer:
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) – Steve Zissou
As Murray has gotten older, he played more crotchety and curmudgeonly characters. Steve Zissou is no exception. A once famous ocean explorer/filmmaker a la Jacques Cousteau has hit bottom when his friend Esteban du Plantier (Seymour Cassel) is eaten by a rare jaguar shark. He then motivates his team to track and kill the shark, filming the escapade. When he is about to embark, his producer tells him he has no money for the film. He is saved financially by a son, Ned (Owen Wilson) whom he fathered many years before but never reached out to. As they set out on the journey, they encounter many obstacles – Zissou’s ego, attack by pirates, mutiny by their interns and a feud between Ned and Zissou’s chief of staff Klaus (hilariously played by Willem Dafoe).
Team Zissou discussing the plan.
The whole quest is also being covered by Oceanographic Explorer journalist Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett) for an article on Steve, who falls for her. The only problem is (well, besides that he’s married) is his son Ned has also taken to her, despite her being pregnant with another man’s child. So a lot is at stake with this journey – not only Steve’s personal quest, but also his professional reputation, is under the microscope. So when shit blows up like The Godfather, he steps and tries to right the wrongs that can only be attributed to his poor leadership.
Steve with his ship, The Belafonte.
Steve is another Murray character who isn’t likeable. At all. But Murray somehow gets us to root for him to complete his quest for the jaguar shark, despite being responsible for Ned’s death, the implosion of his team and the bond stooge (Bud Cort) being kidnapped by the pirates. As I noted above, had this been another actor, would we have done so? That’s the mystique that Murray brings with him. As a man who seems like he’s just another one of the guys and very approachable, we tend to identify with him and therefore take his side despite our misgivings about Zissou. This is a shrewd move on director Wes Anderson‘s part. As in most roles where Murray plays a bastard, he does redeem himself. The scene where they finally encounter the elusive jaguar shark is very touching:
I firmly believe 2003-2005 was the golden age of the Murray dramatic comedy with Lost in Translation, Life Aquatic and Broken Flowers. I truly hope that Wes Anderson chooses to use Murray better in any future films. His characters seem like such a throwaways in The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom, especially given the robustness of the performances in both this film and Rushmore.
Here’s the trailer:
Caddyshack (1980) – Carl Spackler
This one is a no-brainer and the role that may be most closely associated with Murray. The reason is he’s fucking hilarious in this movie. Playing Karl Spackler, Murray channels the inbred golf course maintenance worker in a performance that is exaggerated, over-the-top and plainly outrageous – all of which makes the movie better. In a film that has about as many quotable moments as any film in history, it’s Murray/Karl who steal the show, which says quite a bit with comedy heavyweights like Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield also starring. Whether it’s his diatribe about caddying for the Dalai Lama or the Cinderella Storyor he and Ty Webb doing cannonballs, it’s hard to deny the humor of these scenes and the value Murray adds to them.
You wore green so you could hide. I don’t blame you – you’re a tramp!
This movie is so much fun, if a little dated. It’s certainly worth the watch if you’ve never seen it and are a Murray fan. Be the ball.
Here’s the trailer:
Rushmore (1998) – Herman Blume
I’m sure folks are tired of me writing about Rushmore, but it’s hard for me to deny what a damn fine film it is. I’ve highlighted just about every aspect of this film – opening scene, ending scene, usage of Faces’ “Ooh La La”, best Wes Anderson film, etc., – but never touched on Murray‘s performance as Herman Blume with any substance. I think it is his role that has been most deserving of accolades and awards. I also think it is his most surprising performance as well.
I’m a little bit lonely these days…
Murray‘s performance as the steel magnate is filled with surprises – at times it’s comedic, others melancholic, depressive and some full of life. Herman Blume is a fully realized character where flaws abound, but not so many that we can’t empathize with him or his series of plights that crop up throughout the film. Even though his arc is secondary or even tertiary with regards to screen time, it’s no less important. His journey is as important as Max’s and Miss Cross’ as they are all intertwined. His introduction is key to setting up the character and Murray knocks it out of the park (clip runs a little long giving us the introduction to Max Fischer as well):
What rich person tells less fortunate kids to take dead aim on other rich kids and to take them down? This is one reason I love this character, and by extension Bill Murray, so much. As I’ve stated multiple times in this post, without Murray in the role, I just don’t think that this character or this film is as effective as it is. It really is an exquisite performance.
Here’s the trailer:
Since brevity isn’t exactly my strong suit, I think I’ll limit this list to ten. His role as Hunter S. Thompson in Where the Buffalo Roam could easily slide onto this list. He doesn’t play the role as insane as Johnny Deppdid in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but the performance is still quite good. NIXON!The film is uneven to say the least, but it is worth a watch if for only the hotel room scene.
Another that could find its way onto this list is Tripper from Meatballs. While the film plays a little corny these days, Murray is really great in the mentor role at Camp North Star. And as far as I’m concerned, any film that features David Naughton‘s “Makin’ It” and Chris Makepeace‘s sweet hair is pretty badass.
So there you have it – Bill Murray‘s finest. I hope that Murray mixes his roles in the future as he now seems to be gravitating towards more dramatic fare. He does well when he spreads his wings and there is always a comedic angle to the roles he takes, but I miss the pure comedies he’s done in the past. I guess in the end, it just doesn’t matter. Keep doing you, Bill.
What’s your favorite Murray role or performance?
P.S. Thanks for the cameo in Zombieland. Quite amusing.
John Hughes would have been 63 today. His death in 2009 shocked me even though he had been out of the public eye for years and hadn’t directed a film since Curly Sue in 1991. Hughes was the absolute MAYOR of the 80s. His youth/teen films raised the bar for the genre and, in my opinion, have yet to be eclipsed. But he was more than just a teen film director. His adult comedies were as pertinent as anything he did in the teen realm, echoing the same themes of acceptance and understanding all while bringing the funny sprinkled with moments of levity.
I knew you’d come around…
Hughes‘ films are important to me. I hold them as dear to my heart as any film(s) that I’ve ever seen. I saw Weird Science at the Rivoli Theater in downtown Muncie, Indiana, when my parents were in court over visitation rights. I couldn’t imagine a better way to have staved off the nervousness I felt that day. I happily recall watching Sixteen Candles with friends, rewinding about a hundred times the scene where Anthony Michael Hall is dancing with Molly Ringwald and farts, laughing equally hard each time. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off may or may not have been the inspiration for my own two-week school skipping streak in 7th grade. These films helped me with the rough road through adolescence, showing me that insecurity, dysfunction and all of the other problems of youth were the norm, not the exception. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that and I believe that’s why his films resonated so well then and continue to do so to this day.
You know, there’s going to be sex, drugs, rock-n-roll… chips, dips, chains, whips… You know, your basic high school orgy type of thing. I mean, uh, I’m not talking candlewax on the nipples, or witchcraft or anything like that, no, no, no.
I have been trying to rack my brain and I can’t think of another filmmaker that had a run of success in such a short time as John Hughes did from 1983-1987. As prolific as Rainer Werner Fassbinder was (is this the first time Hughes and Fassbinder have been mentioned together, I wonder?), I don’t think he even put up the resume that Hughes has. Woody Allen has had some good runs in his life, but none quite so strong as Hughes. Let’s take a look at the the films that Hughes either wrote or wrote/directed in this time period:
Mr. Mom (1983) – wrote
National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) – wrote
Nate & Hayes (1983) – wrote (I had never heard of this one)
Sixteen Candles (1984) – wrote and directed
The Breakfast Club (1984) – wrote and directed
National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1984) – wrote
Weird Science (1985) – wrote and directed
Pretty in Pink (1986) – wrote
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) – wrote and directed
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)- wrote
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) – wrote and directed
By my count, that’s 11 films, eight of which represent some the most well-known and iconic films of the decade. Hughes only directed three other films past this period – She’s Having a Baby, Uncle Buck and Curly Sue – all fair films, I suppose, but none match the beloved status of the bulk of the list above. While he continued to write mostly family films (Home Alone series, Beethoven series) for years after pulling his best Keyser Söze (And like that, poof. He’s gone), he never quite captured the magic he had from 83-87. That’s a pretty tall order in the grand scheme of things.
As is the norm, here are my 5 (cheated, really 6) favorite works to which John Hughes contributed and why they still rock:
5) Mr. Mom (tie)
The Wall Street Journal just declared the caricature of inept stay-at-home dads depicted in Mr. Mom dead just a couple of weeks ago. However, the appeal of this movie still endures. Michael Keaton‘s portrayal of Jack Butler, the former GM engineer who lost his job and now stays home with the kids, is incredibly funny and I believe was probably pretty spot on for the time. I was raised by my father and I can certainly say that he was far more able to raise three kids than poor Jack, but this would seem more the exception rather than the rule. I think that’s why this is so enjoyable for me as it gives me an insight to what my childhood could have been like with a more maladroit father. Keaton is loveable despite his cringe worthy displays. For example:
All this aside, this film was pretty groundbreaking. Showing a woman, Caroline (played magnificently by Terri Garr), who is out in the workforce while the children are at home, succeeding and moving up the corporate ladder? I can’t recall a single film like it at the time. And as is typical, Hughes gives his characters some really great, memorable lines:
How’d you like a little trim on that moustache, Ron?
If Mr. Moms are indeed dead, then I’m glad we will always have this record to remind us of their haplessness. For that, John Hughes, I say thank you.
Here’s the trailer:
5) National Lampoon’s Vacation (tie)
The first in the Vacation series by National Lampoon, and undoubtedly the best, Hughes adapted a short story he wrote while working for advertising/public relations firm Leo Burnett (you can read it here) to start the journey of the Griswolds on-screen. Hughes seems to be especially hard on fathers in his films, and this one is no exception. Released in the same year (1983) as Mr. Mom, they seem to be perfect companion pieces to one another.
We watch his program… We buy his toys, we go to his movies… he owes us. Doesn’t he owe us, huh? He owes the Griswolds, right? Fucking-A right he owes us!
As most everyone knows, this movie follows the Griswold family – Clark (Chevy Chase), Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and Audrey (Dana Barron) – as they traverse the country from Chicago to California on their way to Wally World, America’s Favorite Family Fun Park. Convinced that driving is the only way to travel, the Griswolds stop at roadside attractions as well as seeing some family. Randy Quaid makes his first appearance as white trash Cousin Eddie and is in fine form. After a series of car breakdowns, getting lost in the ‘hood of St. Louis, nearly getting arrested for animal cruelty, a dead aunt, and a near adulterous encounter, Clark glides the finally happy family into the parking lot of Wally World…only to find out that it’s closed for two weeks. The final punctuation on a road trip where not much else could have gone wrong. So, he takes matters into his own hands…
An homage to all shitty family road trips, National Lampoon’s Vacation hits the proverbial nail on the head. Even as stupid as Clark seems, he still has a the biggest heart and wants nothing but the best for his family. Unfortunately, he fucks it up every time, a motif that plays itself out over the course of the three other films in this series – European Vacation (without a doubt the absolute worst of the bunch – that Hughes had anything to do with this one makes me sad), Christmas Vacation and the awful Vegas Vacation, whose only saving grace is the appearance by Wayne Newton.
Far and away the best part of this movie, I still laugh hysterically each time I see it:
The edited version for TV is nearly as funny: What I look like – Christopher Columbo?
So if you’re preparing to take the kiddos to Disney (as I am in May – God help me) or any other long road trip, give this one a watch and learn what not to do.
Here is the trailer:
4) The Breakfast Club
The quintessential 80s angst film, The Breakfast Club has comedic moments, but this one hits a closer to the bone than the rest of his films. Set in Saturday detention, five seemingly different high school students – a nerd (Anthony Michael Hall), a freak (Ally Sheedy), a popular rich girl (Molly Ringwald), a popular wrestling star (Emilio Estevez) and a hood (Judd Nelson) – are charged with writing an essay telling the tyrannical Assistant Principal Mr. Vernon (Paul Gleeson) who they think they are. As the day progresses, the group of teens go back and forth, attacking one another, reconciling, telling each other their tales of why they are there. The more time they spend together, the more they realize they are alike.
Obscene finger gestures from such a pristine girl…
This was one of the two films (St. Elmo’s Fire being the other) that spawned the term The Brat Pack and solidified Molly Ringwald‘s short-lived status as Hollywood’s “it-girl.” This of all of Hughes‘ films still seems to resonate the most, ring as the most timeless. These characters still exist in today’s high schools (watch Nanette Burstein‘s documentary American Teen for easy examples), so it’s no wonder why Hughes is/was the teenager’s poet laureate. Its anti-authoritarian message certainly helps.
The ending sequence is pretty unforgettable (pun intended), as Vernon reads the essay that the five left behind, Anthony Michael Hall narrating. That Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” plays over it (flush with a Truffaut-like freeze frame) really is the perfect accompaniment, an anthem that all high schoolers echo just wanting to be noticed.
I always adored this moment. Even though I was only in fifth grade when this came out, it struck a chord. While I couldn’t know the rough waters I’d have to tread when in high school, this was a nice primer and one of the many reasons I cherish Hughes‘ oeuvre. I think it was this film that Hughes found his full voice as a writer. You could see traces his craft coming together in his previous films, but this is a fully realized work that melds the comedic and serious perfectly.
Here is the trailer:
3) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
It doesn’t get much more iconic than Ferris Bueller. This movie drips cool, well…with the exception of Cameron’s (Alan Ruck) stupid ass Detroit Red Wings jersey. That sucks. Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick‘s signature role) is the guy everyone wants to know in high school – friend to all, big and small, cool or not.
When Ferris decides to fake being sick (who can be expected to go to school on a day like this?), an elaborate process that dupes his clueless parents, but not Vice Principal Edward R. Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), Rooney decides to catch Ferris and make him an example, in order to show other students that the path Ferris has chosen is wrong. Thus unfolds an epic game of cat and mouse between Rooney, Ferris and Ferris’ girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara),best friend Cameron and his sister Jeanie/sometimes Shawna (Jennifer Grey).
When Cameron was in Egypt’s land…let my Cameron go.
Cameron is actually sick, but Ferris cons him into driving Ferris around for the day. Cameron is also a tight ass (if you stick a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you get a diamond) who needs to have some fun. So they embark on a journey for the ages, taking in the sites of Chicago and breaking through some barriers for each of the characters.
If you didn’t want to be Ferris Bueller in 1986, then I don’t know what to say about you. Who didn’t want to sing Wayne Newton and The Beatles on a float in a German parade through the streets of Chicago?
Incidentally, I lost a bet to my mother on whether the person singing “Danke Schoen” was a man or a woman watching this movie the first time.
This is one of the most fun movies I’ve ever seen and may well be Hughes‘ finest creation. I think it, along with The Breakfast Club, is probably the most enduring as its themes are also universal. As Polonius said to Laertes in Hamlet: “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” I think Ferris followed this advice better than anyone. He never misrepresents himself to anyone he’s with, even to Rooney, and I think that’s why he’s such a relatable character. This was Hughes‘ biggest strength as a writer. It is evident in every film discussed here and why we are still talking about these films.
I hope The rebelliousness of Ferris is alive and well among the youth of today. If not, you must be a bunch of boring bastards…
Here is the trailer:
2) Sixteen Candles
I’m not sure how I originally stumbled upon Sixteen Candles when I was a kid. I can’t remember if we just happened to pick it up at the video store (yes, kids, there used to be actual stores where you could go rent videos, not DVDs) or if we had seen some preview for it. I wasn’t exactly following certain directors’ work back when I was 9. Or was I? Nonetheless, this movie floored me with its humor, its depiction of family as insanely fucked up, and the hope that things you wish for may actually come true.
Well if it isn’t Sammy Baker Davis Jr!
The story centers around Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald in her first real starring role) who turns 16. However, her birthday happens to fall on the day before her older sister Ginny (Blanche Baker) is getting married. Since her family is up to their eyes in wedding details, they forget that it’s Sam’s birthday. An obvious nightmare for anyone, let alone a girl on her sweet sixteen. The scene when she realizes this is perfection, truly setting up each of the family member’s characters in a short 45-second scene. Watch:
Sam has one more big issue in this film as well, and that’s Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling). She has a crush on him, but he is the most popular guy in school, very rich and is dating the hottest girl in school, Caroline Mulford (Haviland Morris). When she passes a note that falls to Jake accidentally, he finds out about this. As she tries to make things happen with Jake, she is followed around by a geek and self-professed “king of the dipshits” named Ted (Anthony Michael Hall), who incessantly tries to pick her up. Couple all of this with being saddled with taking her grandparents foreign exchange student, Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe), to the school dance where Jake will be, and she’s got a lot on her plate.
No more yanky my wanky…the Donger needfood!
One of the biggest successes of this film is that it is also Anthony Michael Hall‘s coming out party. He really established himself as a quality comedic actor in this film. He had obviously worked with Hughes material in National Lampoon’s Vacation before, so perhaps that was to his advantage. His character is so slimy, yet so endearing that you feel sorry for him. Also, he is the chief architect of a few of the film’s funniest scenes, e.g. when he and his friends (one being a young John Cusack) meet Long Duk Dong for the first time at Jake’s party, the aforementioned dance sequence, and when he takes a drunken/passed out Caroline to meet his friends in the middle of the night.
But ultimately, this is Samantha’s journey. We ride the roller coaster with her, and at times, it is difficult. The talk she has with her father (Paul Dooley) after he realizes they forgot her birthday was very real and quite spot-on. Or I imagine it is as I’ve never had this talk with a teenage girl or been a teenage girl, but Hughes situated it where I could empathize. Not an easy task. While this film has its share of juvenile humor (it is a film about high school after all), it has a heart and certain characters end up showing this even when you think that they aren’t able.
This is for you ladies:
Here’s the trailer:
1) Weird Science
So this is number one. With a bullet. This may be one of the three funniest movies I’ve ever seen. A absolute riot from start to finish, this was kind of a surprise from Hughes who with Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club had added more drama to each film leading up to Weird Science. It’s juvenile, filled with raunchy humor and is a departure from the prior formula he employed. And it works. WELL. At least in my opinion. It is far and away the Hughes film that I watch most and that it why it grabbed spot #1 on this list.
The basic premise is two losers, Gary (Anthony Michael Hall in his finest role) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith), can’t fit in. Picked on, abused by cooler kids, and ignored by all girls, they decide to build their own woman using Wyatt’s souped up computer while his parents are away for the weekend. They cull the most beautiful images from Playboy magazines, give her genius intelligence and finish the job by harnessing the electricity from a thunderstorm to give her life a la Dr. Frankenstein all while wearing bras on their heads (ceremonial). And BOOM! They have Lisa (Kelly LeBrock).
What would you little maniacs like to do first?
So it becomes Lisa’s mission to help make the guys transition from being nerds to cool. Not an easy process considering what she has to work with. She starts off with them in a night on the town, which quickly goes from bad to worse. But then, Gary hits his stride amid the funniest scene in the entire film. Watch:
Fats, man…let me tell you my story, man. Were funnier opening words to a story ever uttered? Methinks not.
And let’s credit Hughes for maybe the best part of this film – the creation of Chet (Bill Paxton), Wyatt’s older brother and caretaker while his parents are away. Abusive and gross in every sense of the word, Chet represents what these two are up against every day of their lives. And Wyatt, chicken shit that he is, takes everything Chet has to give, served in a dirty ash tray. Chet extorts him and abuses him verbally and physically. But when Lisa enters the story, things start to change even with Chet. All that aside, I would argue that Chet is the second best movie character next to Reg Dunlop (Paul Newman) in Slap Shot. And Paxton‘s performance pretty much rules. Who else can say, “But first, I’d like to butter your muffin…” any slimier than he does? I dare you to find someone. DARE YOU.
That is a severe behavioral disorder!
The guys have their eyes on two girls, Deb (Suzanne Snyder) and Hilly (Judie Aronson) at school, but they happen to be dating Gary and Wyatt’s arch nemeses, Ian (a very young Robert Downey, Jr.) and Max (Robert Ruslan). Lisa decides to help the guys out and throw a BIIIIG party at Wyatt’s house and invite everyone. When the guys stay in bathroom, Lisa does what she can to coax them out and prove their meddle so Deb and Hilly will see them for who they are. This of course yields two of the funnier parts of the film, but it’s here they make their final transition from nerds to being not necessarily cool, but noticeable, shall we say.
You’re dropping wolf bait, and there’s chicks outside! Light a match, light a fire. I don’t know.
While it doesn’t have quite the same touching ending that both Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club have, Weird Science earns its ending. While Hughes moved on to more adult and family friendly fare after this (with exception of maybe Uncle Buck which treads some of the same water here), I’m so glad he squeezed this one in.
Here’s the trailer:
So as I said before, Hughes left a mark on my childhood – his films helped me navigate the unsteady times of adolescence. These films are signposts that me and many of my friends can point to as we continue to try and make our way through this world. Hughes‘ passing in 2009 was tragic because he gave voice to my generation. While he hadn’t spoken for it in quite some time, he still held that title when he died and I believe he continues to do so. There are rumors that one of his unproduced scripts in moving into production. PLEASE DON’T. Let the man rest. There is a reason that project went unproduced.