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The Touchstone Pictures label arrived on the Hollywood scene in 1984 with the release of Splash. The fantasy comedy was the first of many adult-themed motion pictures produced by the Disney subsidiary to take advantage of every possible film market.
Over time, Touchstone planted roots in every film genre drawing attention to subjects often explored by its parent company but with a twist of adult content allowing them to go beyond a G-rating. Some of the first examples included anti-war satire Good Morning Vietnam, starring the eccentric comedian Robin Williams, who followed up a few years later with Dead Poets Society, a serious coming of age drama.
10 Good Morning Vietnam (1987) – 7.3
Armed Forces radio shock jock, Adrian Cronauer, storms onto the airwaves in 1965 with his sharp and witty comedy. The trouble is that his superior officers disagree with his content choices, his jokes, or his music. He is often censored when he attempts to relay real-world news about the American “police action” in Vietnam. While on suspension for “unpatriotic behavior,” Cronauer witnesses the horrors of war firsthand while pursuing a local Saigon student.
Barry Levinson directed this satire about war on par with Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H, which showcases Williams’ improv-heavy persona as Cronauer. Williams dazzled audiences with his thoughtful and often crude impressions of real and made-up personalities, including “Richard Nixon’s gonads.” Like its predecessor, the film takes a hard right turn when the bombs start dropping and the jokes suddenly stop.
9 Enemy Of The State (1998) – 7.3
When hotshot attorney, Robert Dean (Will Smith), comes into possession of sensitive material implicating a high-ranking U.S. intelligence official (Jon Voight) in the cold-blooded murder of a politician, he must evade operatives from the National Security Agency using illegal surveillance technology. His only ally is Brill (Gene Hackman), who coincidently was disavowed from the agency over his objections to their tactics.
Before Edward Snowden or the Patriot Act, Enemy of the State attempted to paint a picture of a world ruled by the proverbial “on the grounds of national security” argument in terms of individual privacy. The film predicted the implementation of facial recognition software before it was proven true, more than a decade later.
8 Lincoln (2012) – 7.3
While named for the United States’ 16th president, Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis), Steven Spielberg opts not for a biopic but rather a fixed point in time when the “Great Emancipator” pursued every course of action, called in every last favor, and schemed to pass the 13th amendment to the Constitution formally abolishing slavery in early 1865, whilst managing a brutal civil war between the States.
The film is adapted from historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.” For the casual observer of history, they may not be aware that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation declaring an end to slavery was only the beginning. The story focuses on the divisive political battle to make his decree the law of the land.
7 The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) – 7.6
A family once separated by the actions of its patriarch, Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman), suddenly are thrust back together again along with Mrs. Tenenbaum (Angelica Huston) and their three eccentric children, Chris (Ben Stiller), Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), and Richie (Luke Wilson). Their conflicting personalities living under the same roof, once again, makes Royal’s wish to make amends difficult to fulfill.
Director Wes Anderson channels classic Hollywood in The Royal Tenenbaums with a distinct color motif that is detail-oriented and emerges distinctly. He garnered an Oscar nomination for the film’s script and later as director of the acclaimed The Grand Budapest Hotel (2015).
6 Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) – 7.7
Private Detective Eddie Valient (Bob Hoskins) is hired by a cartoon studio for its top star, Roger Rabbit, to ascertain if his girlfriend Jessica is stepping out on him. When her alleged suitor turns up dead, all evidence points to Roger’s guilt prompting him to pair with Valient to prove his innocence while being pursued by a tenacious Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd).
In this unique mash-up of live-action interaction with animated personalities, director Robert Zemeckis reunites with Back to the Future star Lloyd to produce an improved formula of a technique championed by Mary Poppins. With the help of producer Steven Spielberg, classic animated Disney characters and others from Warner Brothers, Universal Pictures, and others were licensed for the film under the promise of equal screen time.
5 Ed Wood (1994) – 7.9
Hollywood golden-age director Edward Wood (Johnny Depp) struggles to combat a divisive Tinseltown establishment that is unaccepting of his work and bares him no respect. His aspirations are kept alive by his loyal crew and collaboration with Bela Legosi (Martin Landeau), known to millions as Dracula. Despite his unorthodox methods and strange ideas, he is able to produce several enduring feature films such as Plan 9 From Outer Space (1957) and Bride of the Monster (1955).
Ed Wood brought together director Tim Burton and star Johnny Depp for the second time behind Edward Scissorhands. The maverick filmmaker’s career path resembled that of another dreamer in the business, Walt Disney. When advised that one of their visions couldn’t come to fruition whether it be Wood or Disney, both defied their critics and forged ahead unapologetically.
4 The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) – 8.0
Jack Skellington, the unofficial lead citizen of Halloweentown longs for a change from his daily spooky routine. One day, he discovers a place called Christmastown and is enamored with its charm and tradition of gift-giving and togetherness. He decides to introduce the concept to his flock but is met with resistance and must call upon his love Sally and faithful pooch Zero to help spread Christmas cheer in a place devoid of jolliness.
In a reverse take on Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas blended with Tim Burton’s gothic style and (animated) stick figure characters, Skellington’s well-intentioned gift falls flat motivating him to introduce the Christmas spirit by dressing up as Santa Claus. The animated feature marked the beginning of a long-standing partnership between Burton and Disney most recently with 2019’s live-action adaptation of Dumbo.
3 The Help (2011) – 8.1
A white privileged woman, Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone), wanting to become a writer, engages with Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis), a former Black house servant, to gain perspective on her experiences, irking members of her community. Aibileen is also from a proud conclave untrusting of Phelan’s motives. Together, they inspire other underprivileged workers to come forward and communicate their misgivings of living in the shadow of their white employers in 1960s Mississippi.
The Help was met with mixed reviews upon release regarding the depiction of its main characters’ treatment, as opposed to the established history of Black American subjugates of rich white folk. Despite the criticism, its subject matter brought meaningful discussion on racism into public discourse and resulted in co-star Octavia Spencer receiving a golden statue for Best Supporting Actress.
2 Dead Poets Society (1989) – 8.1
A 1950s prep school teacher, John Keating (Robin Williams), encourages his students to look beyond his syllabus and class textbook to dive deep into their creative soul by resurrecting a secret society he started known as the Dead Poets Society where its members recite their favorite examples of poetry. His radical teaching style comes under fire when tragedy strikes from within, and the wealthy parents of the students demand action.
Williams’ propensity for shinning in comedic and dramatic roles added a spark of inspiration to this insightful film from Peter Weir. He earned his second academy award nomination for playing Keating but did not capture the prize until 1997’s Good Will Hunting as Best Supporting Actor.
1 The Prestige (2006) – 8.5
Magicians Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) are bitter rivals. When the latter suffers a personal loss during a difficult trick, he is driven to prove his methods can produce the desired effect, turning to Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) for inspiration. At the same time, he becomes obsessed with exposing Borden’s mysterious style on the stage.
“The trick. The turn. And The Prestige.” The art of creating a mesmerizing magic show, a popular form of entertainment in the pre-radio and television era, at the close of the 19th century, sets the stage for this Christopher Nolan suspense thriller. The film’s final twist proved Nolan’s talent for clever unpredictable plots to audiences.
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