Saturday, April 4, 2015

#FiveStarFlicksPredicts THE FINAL FOUR

Basketball fans rejoice, the Final Four is here! March Madness has now flowed over to April, and today and Monday we find out who the best of the best really is in College Basketball. Three of the four #1 seeds are in (Kentucky, Wisconsin and Duke) joined by perennial postseason powerhouse Michigan State, making this an incredibly tough foursome to choose a winner from.

Like I've done in the past with the Super Bowl and the World Series, I'll be choosing winners based on the team's cinema legacy, not their performance on the court. Basically what I'm telling you is don't place your bets based on my choices, they've got nothing to do with the coaches, teams and players involved, just the school's most famous alumni!

First up, Michigan State's James Caan versus Duke's Robert Yeoman...

James Caan has been acting on the stage and on screen for over fifty years now. Born in 1940, Caan briefly attended Michigan State University before transferring to Hofstra to major in theater. In the early 1960's he worked on Broadway and many appearances on Television, including episodes of The UntouchablesDr. Kildare, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and Wagon Train. One of his first big movie roles was El Dorado with John Wayne and Robert Mitchum in 1966. His breakthrough was starring opposite Billy Dee William in the 1971 TV Movie classic Brian's Song, a weeper where he stars as a dying football player. The very next year he would become a superstar, starring as Sonny Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's magnum opus The Godfather, for which he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award along with co-stars Al Pacino and Robert Duvall.

He would go on to star in a string of commercial and critical success as well as cult classics in the 1970's and 1980's, including The Gambler, The Godfather Part II, Funny Lady, Rollerball, A Bridge Too FarThief and Alien Nation. He had a mini comeback in the early 1990's with a string of hits including Dick Tracy, Honeymoon in Vegas and The Program, and of course his turn opposite Kathy Bates in Misery (his poor legs). He helped launch the career of Wes Anderson by agreeing to a small role in his first feature Bottle Rocket in 1996. That same year he also starred opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in Eraser. The last big success on film was starring as Will Ferrell's begrudging father in Elf. From 2003-2007 he was the star of the TV Series Las Vegas. He continues to work to this day, with three projects coming out in 2015 and three more slated for next year. Not bad for a 75 year old.

Caan's competition this round is Duke alumnus and Cinematographer extraordinaire Robert Yeoman. He is best known for his work with Wes Anderson, acting as Director of Photography on every single one of Anderson's feature films. Having worked as a cinematographer since the early 1980's, Yeoman's work was first noticed by the cinema world when he shot Gus Van Sant's 1989 indie hit Drugstore Cowboy. That same year he shot the Fred Savage video game film The Wizard. He shot numerous other now forgotten films over the next few years, getting his next big break when Wes Anderson sent him a letter asking him to shoot his first feature, 1996's Bottle Rocket. Anderson was a fan of Yeoman's work on Drugstore Cowboy, which inspired his letter asking to work with him.

Since joining forces with Anderson they have gone on to create some of the most visually stunning work in cinema over the last twenty years, including Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeerling Limited, Moonrise Kingdom, and last year's sublime The Grand Budapest Hotel, for which Yeoman was finally nominated for an Academy Award. His work outside of Anderson's is also quite varied, including Kevin Smith's Dogma, Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale, Wes Craven's Red Eye, the Jim Carrey comedy Yes Man, Drew Barymore's Whip It, the Jonah Hill comedy Get Him to the Greek, as well as Paul Feig's mega-hits Bridemaids and The Heat. That's a pretty stellar career spanning over thirty years.

When all is said and done though, Caan's career has flown higher and spanned longer distances, so he wins a close one.


Next up, Kentucky's Ashley Judd versus Wisconsin's Michael Mann...

There might not be a more outspoken college basketball fan than the University of Kentucky's Ashley Judd. A fixture in the stands, Judd wears her love for UK right out on her sleeves. She is also an outspoken champion of women's rights all over the world, making her an awesome human being as well as a sensational actress. Her work on television and the movies has been quite impressive as well, having appeared in over forty films and television shows since her career began in the early nineties. Her first screen role was on a couple of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1991. She then began to pop up as a regular on Sela Ward's TV show Sisters. One of her first roles in a big film was in Michael Mann's Heat in 1995. The next year she would have her breakthrough role, starring as a pre-fame Marilyn Monroe in the TV movie Norma Jean and Marilyn, for which she earned both Emmy and Golden Globe nominations.

That same year she appeared alongside Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock and Samuel L. Jackson in the John Grisham thriller A Time To Kill. Her breakout lead film role was opposite Morgan Freeman in the James Patterson-Alex Cross thriller Kiss the Girls. Over the next decade she would star in a string of midsize hits, including Simon Birch, Double Jeopardy, Where the Heart Is, Someone Like You..., High Crimes, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Frida, and De-Lovely, for which would receive another Golden Globe nomination. Since then her work has been mainly in supporting roles in films like The Tooth Fairy, Dolphin Tale 1 & 2, Olympus Has Fallen, and the Divergent franchise. Her work on film is commendable, but it's her work as a woman's rights advocate that makes her truly special.

Judd's competition in the Final Four is University of Wisconsin alumnus and TV and Film maestro Michael Mann. His career has included work as a cameramen, a writer, a producer, a director, and a TV series creator, starting back in the late sixties and all the way up until this year's Blackhat starring Chris Hemsworth. Mann's first steady gigs in the entertainment industry were writing for such 1970's hit TV shows as Starsky and Hutch and Police Show, where he made a name as a master storyteller. In 1978 he created the series Vega$ starring Robert Urich, which ran until 1981, the same year he wrote and directed the James Caan action-drama Thief. Mann hit it big serving as an Executive Producer and the driving force behind the definitive 1980's crime drama series Miami Vice.

His filmography is short but runs deep on acclaim. Mann's projects are few and far between, making only nine films from 1986's Hannibal Lecktor (that's how they spelled it) thriller Manhunter to 2015's Blackhat. They included some incredible works, like the 1992 Daniel Day-Lewis historical drama The Last of the Mohicans, 1995's DeNiro vs Pacino crime drama Heat, and the "Big Tobacco" expose The Insider with Russell Crowe and Al Pacino, for which Mann earned three Oscar nominations, for writing, directing and producing.  Mann directed the Muhammad Ali biopic Ali, starring Will Smith and Jamie Foxx, and made one of his big contributions to modern film with his landmark use of digital photography in the Tom Cruise-Jamie Foxx thriller Collateral, shot mostly at night across much of Los Angeles. In 2006 he brought Miami Vice to the big screen with Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx and in 2009 he tackled the gangster genre with Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. Mann has also acted as producer on several other high profile projects, like Martin Scorsese's The Aviator starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Will Smith's blockbuster Hancock.

When you look at the careers of Judd and Mann, it's clear that Mann has made a bigger impact on the industry as a whole, so he's the winner.


That sets up an all Big 10 final, with #7 Michigan State (James Caan) up against #1 Wisconsin (Michael Mann). By the end of tonight, we'll see if I was correct (don't bet on it). I'll see you Monday for the National Championship Game.

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