Disaster or masterpiece? That distinction can hinge on the razor’s edge sometimes, especially when an ambitious, talented and possibly crazy filmmaker is involved. Case in point: Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola’s effort to encapsulate the war in Vietnam as seen through a variation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The shoot was infamous for its delays, debacles and outright danger, including a heart attack from star Martin Sheen, a hurricane that destroyed the set and Marlon Brando in full-bore Marlon Brando mode. Despite that, and despite a shoot that apparently brought Coppola himself to the brink of madness, the film remains one of the definitive statements on Vietnam and the insanity of war in general. It opened today in 1979.
Coming in just behind it is Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee’s swan song and the single most enduring testament to his extraordinary talent. As a story, it barely holds water, but as a showcase to watch the master do his thing, it has absolutely no peer. Enter the Dragon opened today in 1973.
If you asked me which David Cronenberg film I would hold above all others, I’d probably end up choosing his most commercial. The Fly, a reimagined version of the 1950s classic (itself based on a chilling short story by George Langelaan). It focuses on Cronenberg’s obsessive infusion on flesh and technology, wrapped in — of all things — a surprisingly good romantic comedy that absolutely disarms us just in time for the horror show to begin. The Fly opened today in 1986 and hasn’t lost a single ounce of its power.
While Silence of the Lambs made Hannibal Lecter a household name, he actually first appeared five years earlier in Michael Mann’s superb thriller Manhunter. Drenched in the director’s Miami Vice style, it nonetheless found the same intense connections between hunter and prey that Silence did, and Bryan Cox’s turn as Lecter, while distinct from Anthony Hopkins (to whom the character will always belong), is enough to cause some sleepless nights. Manhunter opened today in 1986.
Finally, there’s Event Horizon. Okay, yeah, forget I mentioned it. Except… Event Horizon… the most awesomely awful movie ever! It opened today in 1997, making it the second-best Laurence Fishburne movie to be released today.