We’re starting today with a pair of very different superhero movies. The obvious candidate for the pole position is The Incredibles, Brad Bird’s marvelous riff on the Fantastic Four that posits a super-powered family trying to blend into suburban life after costumed heroes are declared illegal. It’s typically brilliant work from Bird and helped Pixar set the standard for animation in the 21st Century. It opened today in 2004.
Dreamworks’ Megamind isn’t quite in the same league as The Incredibles. But it offers its own subversive take on the comic book genre, and the results are delightful in and of themselves. It involves a hapless supervillain (voiced by Will Ferrell) who suddenly gets everything he wants and finds it makes him miserable. It’s a sly bit of fun, and its iconoclastic tone allows it to take more chances than The Incredibles did. It opened today in 2010.
Today also saw a the release of a pair of significant Oscar contenders that have stood the test of time to become classics in and of themselves. I consider The Remains of the Day to be the best of the Merchant-Ivory collaborations, despite the fact that it went 0-for-8 on Oscar night. (Five of those losses went to Schindler’s List, so it was more a matter of tough luck than theft.) But its tale of a butler (Anthony Hopkins) so devoted to duty that he ignores his master’s active embrace of fascism holds terrifyingly pertinent lessons for today, while avoiding the stodgy self-importance that dogs many of Merchant-Ivory’s other efforts. It opened today in 1993.
We’ll close with The Insider: Michael Mann’s searing portrayal of Big Tobacco whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) who got hung out to dry by 60 Minutes. With typical stylish mastery from Mann and top-notch performances form both Crowe and Al Pacino as 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman, it’s a powerful reminder not only of the difficulty of doing the right thing, but the corrosion of journalism by corporate interests. It opened today in 1999.