Today in Movie History: August 21

The top spot today belongs to An American Werewolf in London: John Landis’s groundbreaking horror-comedy that deftly redefined the genre. Aided by Rick Baker’s Oscar-winning make-up effects (and a transformation scene that may never be topped), it routinely dukes it out with the immortal The Wolfman for the greatest werewolf movie ever made. It opened today in 1981, and please people: whatever you do, stay off the moors.

Look, I don’t get Dirty Dancing. I just don’t. I’ve looked at it maybe three times in the course of my life, and while Patrick Swayze can, in fact, lay it down, the rest of the movie just doesn’t speak to me. It does, however, speak to a LOT of people out there, helping to make it a beloved 80s cult classic. I don’t share your love, Dirty Dancing fans, but I will acknowledge and celebrate it. It’s part of what makes the movies so wonderful. Dirty Dancing  opened today in 1987.

Quentin Tarantino has reached the stage where he doesn’t need to cut a single frame of his films if he doesn’t want to. That indulgence has turned his later efforts into bloated curiosities more than effective films, and nowhere is this more apparent than Inglourious Basterds, a fascinating wreck of a film that stretched a 100-minute masterpiece into 153 completely unnecessary minutes. I contains Tarantino’s usual signature of sharp dialog and unforgettable characters — topped by Christoph Waltz’s Oscar-winning turn as a surprisingly conversation Nazi — but they do an awful lot of wandering through an awful lot of dead space before getting to the point. Inglourious Basterds opened today in 2009.

The Coen Brothers have produced their share of shaggy dogs too, but they tend to stick to task better than Tarantino does, and their cleverness is employed for reasons other than reminding us how cool they are. Barton Fink remains one of their better efforts: an examination of the horrors of writer’s block and how creative neurosis crashes hard against the needs of a paying gig. Coen favorites John Turturro and John Goodman headline a cast of favorites, and if nothing else, it demonstrates just how hard the simple act of writing can be sometimes. It opened today in 1991.

We’ll close with Blade, the Wesley-Snipes-kills-vampires outing that turned into a minor hit when it opened despite being no damn good. We included it for the strange and simple reason that it’s the first Marvel character to achieve mainstream success — predating the first X-Men movie by two years — and yet was neither a traditional superhero film nor a figure that anyone could generate a lot of passion for. (The sequels, it must be said, are a marked improvement.) Blade first opened in 1998.

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