May 3, 2012


Most hardcore cinema fans are known for being meticulous about many things - among them the year a film is released and what studio a film originated from.

These days there are a lot of co-productions thanks to rising production costs and international distribution pacts, but for me a studio logo still ties into a history of Hollywood movies and studio legacies.

We have (sadly) seen some studios go by the wayside like RKO and (even more depressing) Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.  There have also been smaller studios/distribution labels like Orion or Savoy that have come and gone.

These ongoing posts are intended to list my top 20 (or less) movies from an individual studio or distribution label.

Back in the 80s, THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY had the reputation of being primarily a family film company, so to branch out into more adult PG-13 and R rated fare, the studio created TOUCHSTONE PICTURES with its own separate identity.  So while Touchstone pictures may not be a studio per say than it is a division of a much larger entity, it still has managed to stand out on its own.

The first ever TOUCHSTONE release was SPLASH on March 9, 1984.

[Editor note: I had a typo before, accidentally hit 9 instead of an 8 - obviously SPLASH did not come out in 1994]

Directed by Ron Howard, the film was a romantic comedy that saw Tom Hanks romancing mermaid Daryl Hannah.

Later Disney also added Hollywood Pictures (which I believe  is now gone) and took over Miramax which they recently sold.

Today the Disney name has transcended its family-only label to become an all-powerful entertainment brand (and I think, the one with the strongest identity).  Touchstone pictures still exists - and is now also the distribution outlet for Dreamworks live action movies - but doesn't seem to stand out from the parent company as much as it used to.  Still back in the day the Touchstone label was a very identifiable brand - especially in the marketing campaigns - and some very big movies have come out of it.

I tend to tie the heyday of Touchstone pictures in with the reign of studio chief Michael Eisner.

First, some notable Touchstone items:

THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS was originally a Touchstone release, but has since been re-branded as a Walt Disney Pictures release.  I was torn whether to add it to the list because of this - as you will see, I did not.  So consider this an honorable mention.

THE PROGRAM had the misfortune of including a scene of Football players lying in the middle of a busy road while cars zoomed past them - an action some real life Football players tried to copy and subsequently died.  Sad to see that happen, but here's the deal...IT'S ONLY A MOVIE.  A movie shouldn't have to put the message up "kids, don't try this at home".

And now, to my top 20:

1.  WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? (1988, Directed by: Robert Zemeckis)

WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? for me is a movie I can watch time and time again, and even though animation mixed with live action  has gotten more sophisticated, this movie still works on all levels.  I mean come on..Warner Bros. and Disney cartoon icons sharing screen space is truly a monumental moment.  Bugs and Mickey tormenting Bob Hoskins and the piano duel between Donald and Daffy are both great.

Also sports one of my favorite scores from frequent Robert Zemeckis collaborator Alan Silvestri.

2.  DEAD POET'S SOCIETY (1989, Directed by: Peter Weir)
Oh Captain my captain!  I went to the theater expecting to see something else in the jam packed summer of 1989, and ended up at this and wept openly by the end of it.  I ended up going to see it 3 times on the big screen!

Another movie with a fantastic score, this time by the recently departed Maurice Jarre.

3.  THE ROCKETEER (1991, Directed by: Joe Johnston)
THE ROCKETEER has something of a cult following - and is truly a fun movie and Timothy Dalton is the bad guy and Jennifer Connelly is just stunning in it.  The movie is a co-Walt Disney/Touchstone release.

Sports one of James Horner's best scores, and is fairly fresh (last December) on Blu-Ray.

4.  DICK TRACY (1990, Directed by Warren Beatty)

Everywhere I look it's Tracy, Tracy, Tracy - and it sure seemed like it in the summer of 1990.  Touchstone put a lot of marketing push into this film which is a true big screen wonder.  Danny Elfman's score, the teaming of Warren Beatty (and then love interest) Madonna and Al Pacino in true over the top mode as well as the stunning primary color based cinematography.

When this movie opened, the ticket for the midnight screening was a T-Shirt that had the poster art and stated I SAW IT FIRST.  I still have my t-shirt from that night.

Due on Blu-Ray this fall, and should be an amazing title in High Definition.

5.  ED WOOD (1994, Directed by: Tim Burton)

Love this movie so much, and Martin Landau deserved his Oscar for playing Bela Lugosi.

Two days after seeing this movie, I saw Martin Landau in Ralphs on Sunset in the dairy section.  It took all my energy not to say to him PULL THE STRING!  Instead I stayed quiet and let him buy his carton of milk in peace.

6.  THE INSIDER (1999, Directed by: Michael Mann)

7.  O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (2000, Directed by: Joel Coen)

8.  APOCALYPTO (2006, Mel Gibson)
Mel Gibson has taken some pretty gusty career moves (and has dealt with some really not so cool personal demons - but let's pretend those don't exist for the sake of this posting) and making this great action film in a foreign language with subtitles is easily one of them.  This movie came after the controversial THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST.

9.  RUTHLESS PEOPLE (1986, Directed by: Jim Abrahms, David Zucker & Jerry Zucker)

10.  THE COLOR OF MONEY (1986, Directed by: Martin Scorsese)
This is another Blu-Ray that is due from Disney soon (June 5 I believe) and is a sequel to THE HUSTLER which is one of my all-time favorite movies.  Directed by Martin Scorsese, Paul Newman walked home with a Best Actor Oscar for this.

11.  NEW YORK STORIES (1989, Directed by: Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese)

Coming to Blu-Ray on May 15 (from Mill Creek though who has licensed the title from Disney).  Three big directors (Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola) telling very intimate stories.

12.  PRETTY WOMAN  (1990, Directed by: Gary Marshall)
This was a monster hit, and transformed Julia Roberts into a superstar.  Her character is quite possibly the nicest and cleanest hooker in the history of prostitution.  She even flosses!

13.  10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU (1999, Directed by: Gil Junger)

I'm a little biased on this one as I was part of the creative development team and have screen credit - but beyond that this is a really fun teen movie with a solid cast and Heath Ledger became a star plus the writers - Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith - are IMMENSELY talented.  They also have written LEGALLY BLONDE and THE HOUSE BUNNY.

While we were making it, I kept have to describe who Heath was to people and Joseph Gordon-Levitt was the biggest name in the cast.  Not so much after it was released - although Gordon-Levitt is having a fine career these days and will be seen in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.

10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU opened the same weekend as the behemoth THE MATRIX and held its own at the box office.

14.  HIGH FIDELITY (2000, Directed by: Stephen Frears)
I need to buy this movie which I believe is also coming on Blu-Ray in the Fall from Disney.  As a movie obsessed fan and extreme home video collector I really connected with the main character who had the same problem as I did, only with music and albums.

15.  THE HORSE WHISPERER (1998, Directed by: Robert Redford)
I was kind of surprised by how much I liked this film when I first saw it (it was also one of the first brand new releases I purchased on DVD after buying my first player).

Coming on Blu-Ray in June.  Great score by Thomas Newman, and fantastic cinematography by Academy Award winner Robert Richardson (HUGO, THE AVIATOR and my favorite JFK)

16.  ALIVE (1993, Directed by: Frank Marshall)
I remember everyone talking about this movie when it first came out, and it had an effect on me.  I had to fly a few weeks after seeing it, and the images of people being sucked out the plane stuck with me.  Needless to say, I gripped the edges of my seat that entire flight.

17.  RANSOM (1996, Directed by: Ron Howard)
When I was an intern at Universal (and still a young and excitable film student - ok so I'm still excitable), this was one of the first scripts I got to read that was hot since the movie was about to come out - and it's good to boot.  I saw it at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood.

18.  CON AIR (1997, Directed by: Simon West)
I don't know why, but I had such a good time with this movie, and it's one that I revisit every so often because it is so ludicrous - but John Malkovich is so great and same with Nicolas Cage that I just can't help myself.  ("Put the bunny...back in the box")

It's a title too that I refuse to upgrade and keep revisiting my laserdisc edition.  Funny too that I saw it at the AMC in the Century City shopping mall where the crowds often boo and hiss at movies.  I just remember having a really good time with it and still do every time I watch it.  I got my 18 year-old cousin hooked on it too.

19.  25TH HOUR (2003, Directed by: Spike Lee)
One of my favorite movies from Spike Lee and feel that it is very underrated.  Kind of a bizarre ending but it works and Edward Norton gives a solid performance.

20.  SHOOT TO KILL (1988, Directed by: Roger Spottiswoode)
Another movie that I feel has been forgotten, but is just a solid and very fun action movie.  Wild man Tom Berenger leads city-slicker Sidney Poitier into the forest on the trail of a kidnapper/extortionist.  Definitely worth checking out or re-visiting (if you've already seen it).