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Movies of 1998 Bracket Game: The Big Lebowski Vs. Pleasantville

Well, here we are in our 1998 bracket final four! Are these the four best movies of 1998? Mehh…maybe not, but it looks like we’ve got a good chance at a championship round that will well represent how we feel about the movies of the year twenty years later. After a general review of the origins and reactions to each movie in the first round, followed by some inspection of the music involved in the second round, I’ll be covering some of the supporting performers who helped make these movies as deep and well-rounded as they are. These are the faces and voices that continue to pop up over and over again, but maybe never become full-fledged stars all on their own. As a modicum of consolation, we’ll be honoring four of them here at LeBlog over the next couple of days.

For all intents and purposes, what we have here is the championship match for the comedy portion of our 1998 bracket. At the same time, I don’t think there’s much debate that one of these movies is funnier than the other. The Big Lebowski is a goofy slacker comedy filtered through classic noir and western tropes and directed by the Coen brothers, while Pleasantville is set up with a comedic premise, but then evolves into an examination of more serious themes. But of course, we’re not here to decide based on the constraints of a given genre, simply based on our perception of the quality of what we’re seeing. Join us in taking a look at a couple of the veteran actors who show up in these two excellent films.

In yesterday’s first semi-final we had what was one of our most lopsided results in recent memory, with Out of Sight handing Disney’s Mulan a pretty humbling defeat. Our Disney readers appeared to take the day off – – or maybe most of them just like Out of Sighta lot. Next up, we find an opponent for George Clooney and company in tomorrow’s final.

It has been said at times that Sam Elliott is an actor who was born too late or that he is “the last of the cowboy actors.” His rugged visage, deep voice, and drawl have undoubtedly led to his casting in a long series of blue collar and rough neck parts, including, at times, as a cowboy. In fact, one of his first credits was as “Card Player #2” in 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. For a good fifteen years following that appearance, Elliott made most of his bones on television westerns, crime dramas, and other action-oriented shows. He even had a recurring role on the fifth season of Mission: Impossible and played the lead in a television miniseries based on the novel Once An Eagle in 1976-77. It wasn’t until his supporting role alongside Cher, Eric Stoltz, and Laura Dern in the Peter Bogdanovich-directed drama Mask in 1985 that Elliott began to become widely known as a presence on the big screen. He parlayed the attention from that role into parts in flimsy movies like Fatal Beauty and Road House, but patience paid off nicely when prestige struck in the early ’90s with Rush, Tombstone alongside Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer, and Gettysburg in which he got a truly substantive scene and just about knocked it out of the park. Take a look.

His credentials were now set as the go-to guy if you needed a grizzled cowboy or soldier, and the Coen brothers couldn’t have found a better choice for the role of the Stranger in The Big Lebowski if they’d actually reached into the past. The movie’s cowboy narrator lends western flair to the stylistic confusion the brothers so carefully orchestrated.

Although Joan Allen had popped up in small roles in major motion pictures like Compromising Positions, Peggy Sue Got Married, and Manhunter, she really made her big first impressions on the stage as a member of the famous Chicago theatre company Steppenwolf, joining in 1977 on invite from John Malkovich and helping to make up the core of the company along with Gary Sinise and Glenne Headley. By the end of the decade the group was drowning in awards and accolades, including a Tony Award for Best Actress in “Burn This.” Directors appear to have been lining up to cast Allen, as she in short order worked with Francis Ford Coppola, Norman Jewison, Steven Zallian, Oliver Stone, Ang Lee, and even John Woo. It seemed that overnight she became the sort of veteran actress that had always been great, and nobody blinked when she was heaped with three Academy Award nominations. A quick look back at a scene from Manhunter supports this opinion.

Unfortunately, she also was apparently given a single chance at a true lead role in The Contender in 2000 and was then relegated largely to supporting roles after that film failed to make back its budget. Over the following fifteen years her most notable roles were in films like The Notebook, two of the Bourne sequels, and The Upside of Anger. She appeared to make a bit of a comeback with an excellent supporting turn in the Oscar-nominated film Room, but her following television series The Family, received underwhelming ratings and was cancelled after just a single season. That was two years ago, and IMDb isn’t showing any coming projects for Allen, so we can only hope that we will get to see her again soon.

Allen and Elliott actually appeared together in The Contender, but this time only one of them can have the outcome they’d hope for. One of these movies is going to face Out Of Sight in the final tomorrow. Vote here and tell us about how much you like these two excellent actors in the comments section.

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Posted on January 30, 2018, in Bracket Game, Movies and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. Of course I went for the Dude.

    Looking at the numbers, it isn’t surprising that the Dude is winning. But Pleasantville still has its fans.

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    • Apparently more fans that I ever would have imagined. It seems like there is always one movie that is either way more or less popular with readers than I expected. I was way off on Pleasantville this time.

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      • I was tool That was one film that I thought would have something of a cult following. But would likely be eliminated early on. I thought for sure The Truman Show would take that bracket. In some ways I suspect that it may have lost some of its luster over the past 20 years. I still like it a lot. But I can understand why some people may have felt it was a tad overpraised at the time. Rushmore in some ways I can understand it getting beat. Wes Anderson is an acquired taste.

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        • Outside of Daffy, I don’t know anyone with a strong opinion of Pleasantville. Most people I talk to either don’t remember it very well, haven’t seen it or weren’t all that impressed by it.

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  2. I hope and expect THE BIG LEBOWSKI to vanquish this PLEASANTVILLE pest.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Voting for the Dude to abide for one more round.

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  4. When it comes down to it, we’re a pretty small operation here so it really doesn’t take much to skew any of these votes one way or the other. We had a single spike in participation in the Rushmore/Pleasantville matchup with twice as many votes as usual following very typical participation in the Truman Show/Pleasantville matchup. So far that spike isn’t showing up in this round. Whatever happened, it appears so far to have been a one time thing. I’m not sure why we had so many more hits that day.

    I fully expect Big Lebowski to perform really well with our readers both today and, win or lose, in the championship round if the current score holds.

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    • I hinted at this yesterday, but I suspect there may be a single Pleasantville fan out there stuffing the ballot box. Like you said, it doesn’t take that many votes to sway the outcome. The number of voters is pretty consistent from day to day so if every round featuring one movie has higher-than-usual participation, that’s suspicious.

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      • It sure is! There’s no way THAT many people could prefer PLEASANTVILLE over much better movies.

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      • And yet Pleasantville beat The Truman Show with very average participation.

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        • I’m certainly not concerned about a little funny business with bracket games as long as it doesn’t invalidate everyone else’s votes. The first contest involving Pleasantville was decided by two votes which means someone could have cast just a couple extra votes to get their way. Or maybe that was a completely legitimate victory. The fact that Pleasantville then won in the second round with apparently twice as many votes as we usually get has me suspicious. I posted a comment yesterday to let anyone who might be up to no good know that I am watching now. Keep this round clean. If Pleasantville squeaks out an upset victory and our participation breaks previous records, I would question those results.

          If the second round contest was monkeyed with but this one is clean, I figure no harm, no foul. And of course it’s always possible that an extra 30 or so people showed up for one vote…

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        • It is obvious that something unusual happened in the second round, but it’s unsupportable to then lump in the first round match as a similar event. Today so far looks like what I would expect from this pairing – a reasonably comfortable win for Big Lebowski, with Pleasantville still getting more than a couple pity votes. Either way, it looks like we’ll be getting the final I had anticipated when I put this bracket together with Out of Sight v Big Lebowski.

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        • I don’t know about “unsupportable”. I have my doubts about the outcome of the first round, but there’s no smoking gun. And really, who cares? Whoever won those rounds was just going to come up against TBL anyway, so it doesn’t much matter. I have mentally put an asterix next to all of Pleasantville’s victories but it’s not the first time that has happened in a bracket game (I have doubts about the legitimacy of some of the votes cast in the 1988 game as well) nor will it be the last. As long as the final outcome reflects the will of the readers, it’s all good.

          Extra votes mean extra hits for the site, right? 😉

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        • I don’t know. Clearly we run in different circles. Pleasantville is much more fondly remembered among my friends than The Truman Show, which was basically shrugged at by most people I know. As one of the commenters here said, tTS was considered overrated. But like you say, neither would have beaten The Big Lebowski anyway.

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        • I can’t say as I know anyone who is an especially big fan of The Truman Show or Pleasantville (present company excepted). I don’t question the results of the first round on the merits of the movies. Retroactively, after what happened in the second round, it raises my suspicions about the first. But I’m a skeptic by nature. Plus, everyone knows Putin loves Tobey Maguire.

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        • Ha! I’m not sure Putin would favor either of those movies. Maybe he would admire the Ed Harris character’s ability to pull off such a big production to mollify the masses and subjugate a single man for so long.

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        • That’s a good point. I don’t remember, at any point in The Truman Show was Harris shown shirtless? Preferably riding a horse?

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        • I don’t think so, but he was shown to be a respected manipulator of long standing and the alpha in most situations.

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        • I do know a few major fans of The Truman Show. It’s one of those movies that still has fans. But its audience is more hardcore film buffs than the general public.

          Pleasantville, not so much. In some ways, it’s been mostly forgotten except by a few. Like I noted before, it has its flaws. But it’s one I like to revisit every once in a while. Maybe once a year at the most. But I still do like it despite the aforementioned flaws.

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