Looks like we've made it through another year. Today marks the third anniversary since the launch of The Oscar Buzz. So much continues to happen in each year that makes me grateful to have this as an outlet. One of the highlights was expanding my coverage to include occasional dives into Oscar history as well as various think pieces that has inspired more frequent audience participation. I hope in the year ahead to achieve the same amount of success, increasing the output along the way. To commemorate this anniversary, I keep true to past years by establishing a theme. This year, I have chosen to tackle the "triple threat." More specifically, I am going to list 20 great films in which there is someone involved who acted, directed, and wrote at least a portion of the script. It's a lot harder than you'd think.
As most people know, the triple threat is an astounding achievement that reflects an artist at their most control. They control every word and movement, telling the audience a specified story that matters to them. While a lot of these aren't immediately associated with Oscar nominations, very few of my anniversary pieces have been relevant to this. The following is a Top 20 of sorts, compiled from research that proved to be difficult. This was mostly in the writing fields, where most director-actors (specifically Clint Eastwood) failed to qualify. Also, in order to get diversity and not just make this a ranking of Woody Allen movies, I am limiting every filmmaker to one entry. Trust me, it will make things easier. Also, I am only recognizing Triple Threats that have significant roles in their movie, thus disqualifying Alfred Hitchcock.
1. Annie Hall (1977)
Triple Threat: Woody Allen
It would be near impossible to not predict Annie Hall for this list. It's currently my favorite movie and has already received extensive retrospective coverage on The Oscar Buzz. For good reason, too. This is Woody Allen at his most realized, choosing to piece together every visual technique from his kitschy slapstick days with his growing maturity that would continue to evolve. Add in his greatest collaborator Diane Keaton and a cast of very familiar faces (Jeff Goldblum! Paul Simon! Christopher Walken! Shelley Duvall!), and you get one of the best romantic comedies in film history. It's a wonderful film with Allen's best moments of jokes and wisdom. Good luck finding any film that even compares.
2. Modern Times (1936)
Triple Threat: Charles Chaplin
Here's another scenario where the Triple Threat is too much of an auteur to just pick one. To say the least, there hasn't been anyone as assured in early cinema as Charles Chaplin. He was an entertainer who understood the importance of movement. His visuals added rich metaphors, especially as he continued to thrive in silent film techniques in the sound era. With all of this said, I think that Modern Times is his genuine masterpiece, capturing a story that is still timely while providing some of his best physical comedy to date. It was one of those first films where his high concepts turned into art, thus creating something that transcended the medium and pushed him ahead of his peers. In fact, it's likely that Modern Times would be more art house than mainstream in contemporary society. That's saying something.
3. Citizen Kane (1941)
Triple Threat: Orson Welles
You likely thought that I forgot about the king of the Triple Threat: Orson Welles. He's a man that came blaring out of the gate with a masterpiece that remains synonymous with perfection. Even if his acting is a little too cocky, he still brings something special to most of his filmography, including The Lady From Shanghai, The Trial, and F for Fake. He was an artist who is both surprising and predictable that his proceeding career wasn't as successful as his films. He was fraught with conflicts for most of his life. It is why, despite admiring his work, I think of Welles as a tragic figure; a factor that grew distracting in his older and more robust stage of life. Still, the man had talent, and I didn't need to tell you a single thing about Citizen Kane for you to have already known that.
4. I'm Still Here (2010)
Triple Threat: Casey Affleck
This is where things go from predictable greats to more adventurous titles. If you've followed most of The Oscar Buzz's anniversary pieces, you'll already know my affinity for this Casey Affleck film. Is it a mockumentary? Is it real life? Why can't it be both? What the film does is perfectly lampoon celebrity life with one of Joaquin Phoenix's best performances with a very absurd premise: a retired actor who becomes a rapper. While many are likely annoyed that the film turned out to be fake and that most of it hit the news cycle years in advance, it still feels like Affleck and Phoenix created the perfect Andy Kaufman-esque prank film that highlighted everything wrong with idol worship and what it means to be famous in general. It may never get its due for the brilliant satire it is, but I do hope that Affleck makes another film as director. I'm dying to see if this was a fluke or just the start of a guerrilla film making genius.
5. Chasing Amy (1997)
Triple Threat: Kevin Smith
It is getting increasingly hard to make audiences understand how influential Kevin Smith was to me as a teenager. Alongside Annie Hall, he was a director who made me understand the potential of cinema outside of the big spectacle genres that I would never thrive in. He taught me that life could be about so much more and that characters could be fleshed out by pop culture references. While his films of the past decade aren't the most assuring examples of this, I do maintain that Chasing Amy is one of those films that still resonates. It's arguably his best and makes me long for another film in which he explores relationships with his vulgar heart with as much clarity as this. Also, notice the cameo by fellow Triple Threat inductee Casey Affleck early on.
6. This is Spinal Tap (1984)
Triple Threat: Rob Reiner
In the past year, I have come to discover one truth: Rob Reiner used to be an amazing director. That may sound facetious, but consider that he's also made The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally..., Stand By Me, A Few Good Men, and Misery. Those are all amazing movies. However, he started with probably his best work and the one with the most lasting impact: This is Spinal Tap. The fictional band's story has pretty much become nothing but references in pop culture, even having a unique 1-11 star rating on IMDb. This film is iconic in every sense of the word and I cannot think of too much bad to say about it. I do wish that Reiner was still this sharp because if you only know him from films like Flipped and The Magic of Belle Isle, then you will probably be laughing your head off at any positive description of him.
7. The Ides of March (2011)
Triple Threat: George Clooney
He may be known for a lot of other things, but I personally think that George Clooney's greatest work is as director. With a small filmography, he tackles his stories with a confident clarity that is thankfully matched by his often precise scripts. Among his best films is the oftern overlooked political thriller The Ides of March, which features an interesting take on presidential campaigning that turns Roman history into contemporary tragedy. It may be dense, but it is also very sharp and scandalous in a nature that gets you invested in every scene. Even if Clooney is reduced to a supporting role, he gives his co-stars juicy material that serves as a fascinating and unique allegory for modern politics that will probably resonate in the future. The rest of his filmography may be more hit and miss, but his assurance makes me at least confident enough to check out every one of his films.
8. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Triple Threat: Quentin Tarantino
It may be a controversial opinion, but I prefer Quentin Tarantino's debut over the more acclaimed Reservoir Dogs. While neither are my favorite (Inglourious Basterds), I do find that there's something more focused and immediate about his debut. Beyond the look, there's the dialogue and rich soundtrack that only add a bigger personality to everything. This feels like the birth of cool. It's also ingeniously simple in a lot of respects with a very basic twist on the crime spree genre. This allows everyone to have at least some moment to shine and give that Tarantino dialogue a chance to enter the zeitgeist. These may not become his most iconic characters, but I think it was evidence of a brilliant voice to develop in the decades to come.
9. Blazing Saddles (1974)
Triple Threat: Mel Brooks
Just consider for a moment that Mel Brooks is an EGOT. You likely think that he's merely a comedian who made the spoof genre viable. He's obviously so much more. I think what's also more indicative of why his work continues to resonate is found not in the jokes, but in the production design of his films. Yes, he has the precision of the best of vaudeville that makes even the most dated of jokes age well enough. However, Blazing Saddles is a clever film to watch from the way that he uses sound design. Every audible cue has a purpose that elevates an already funny joke. Even the production design has a lot of inspiring aspects, helping the film to not just parody westerns, but look rather convincingly like one. There's so much that can be said about Blazing Saddles, but I think that a lot more should be given to the production behind it. That's where Brooks' real genius can be found.
10. Waiting for Guffman (1997)
Triple Threat: Christopher Guest
Here's the one truth that is unmistakable: Christopher Guest is the king of the mockumentary. Nobody comes close. He's so good that many likely even mistake This is Spinal Tap for one of his own. While there may be a clearly cinematic and spoof aspect to his work, he makes his mostly improv films work with characters that are often very dry and absurd in scenarios that feel very real. It does help that he has his own stable of actors that continually pop up to provide their own brand of humor to the project. For my money, there hasn't been any as good as Waiting for Guffman, which at very least gives us his most iconic character - which is also evidence that he is one of the great modern character actors. Good luck forgetting Corky St. Clair. It's impossible.
11. Tropic Thunder (2008)
Triple Threat: Ben Stiller
How great is this war movie satire? In my growing appreciation of war films, I often come to them with the familiar feeling that I have seen those shots before. Yes, Tropic Thunder may juxtapose every popular war movie into their own insane, politically incorrect landscape, but they do it so amazingly well that you can't help but admire the shot. Thankfully, the cast is strong and the script is stronger. You'll come away admiring the film for a lot of reasons. I may not be the biggest Ben Stiller fan out there, but he clearly knew what he was doing when it came to lampooning celebrity culture in the 21st century. There's a reason people still quote it. It's smart, even when it's really dumb.
12. Defending Your Life (1992)
Triple Threat: Albert Brooks
When it comes to the illustrious Brooks surname, I think that Albert Brooks is often overlooked. He isn't as sweet as James L. Brooks nor deliberately hilarious as Mel Brooks. What he is is the existential middle that finds ways to evoke thought in his humor. Among his best work is Defending Your Life, which is a very sweet movie that looks at the value of life and wonders what it all means. Yes, there's plenty of comedy, but the film is also rich with subtext and ingenuity that makes you appreciate Brooks as an artist. He may be having a comeback in recent years as the gruff type in Drive and A Most Violent Year, but I still prefer the sweet and sensitive Brooks because even if it doesn't seem like it, he is far more challenging to comedy than he is to drama.
13. Grizzly Man (2005)
Triple Threat: Werner Herzog
By this point, Werner Herzog is more line an infinite threat. He has made a name in fictional films as well as documentaries on top of appearing in countless films as an actor and voice over artist. His work is so massive and immersive that it is impossible to nail down one specific film to commemorate him for. However, Grizzly Man probably ranks among his most important, especially as it captures his beliefs on nature and man's conflicting relationship. Yes, it has the familiar voice over and dour circumstances, but it also has some of his most perplexing commentary on the subject. If you had to see one documentary by Herzog that captured his essence, this would be a pretty good one to choose.
14. Tiny Furniture (2010)
Triple Threat: Lena Dunham
I know that it is more fashionable to disapprove of Lena Dunham. I am aware that Girls gets needless controversy on a weekly basis. However, I am still too much of a staunch apologist to argue against her. I think that her work is genius and that shes brings a much needed voice to the world of film and TV. Even if this film feels a little uneven compared to her later work, it captures a frankness towards life and sexuality that is often uncommon in contemporary film. While I don't have too many contemporary indie filmmakers on this list (it was too hard to narrow down), I do think that she is among the most assured at the moment. She is smart, funny, and undeserving of her criticism. Maybe she isn't everyone's cup of tea, but she's also more tolerable than a lot of artists currently out there.
Triple Threat: Warren Beatty
I am not a big fan of Warren Beatty, but I'll admit that the man knows how to make an epic. Even if he is better known as an actor, I do think that his bigger strengths are behind the camera. To witness Reds is to see the progression of a political drama about journalists in Russia unfold over some of the most beautiful scenery in American film during the 1980's. He is so assured, even adding a charismatic touch as the lead character with an equally enthralling cast. I may not have found too much in his other films to admire, but I cannot fully write him off because he is just so ambitious and awe-inspiring to watch when he gets it right. If he never made a film as good as Reds again, I wouldn't mind. It's just so encapsulating and underrated in every way.
16. Malcolm X (1992)
Triple Threat: Spike Lee
I will admit that Spike Lee shares a lot with Quentin Tarantino in that both aren't great actors. In fact, his role as Malcom X's best friend may be rather egregious. However, Lee had a strong decade of experience under his belt by the time he took on his passion project. It was an epic that not only served as a milestone of his career, but is probably Denzel Washington's finest performance. It is a film that may be daunting in length, but serves as a thorough and exciting look into a controversial leader's life from early beginnings into his later years. Even if Lee is nowadays more hit and miss, it's hard to discredit a man whose passion and skills were so perfectly on display as they were for this film.
17. Appropriate Behavior (2015)
Triple Threat: Desiree Akhavan
This may be a tough sell, especially as I am sure you don't know who Desiree Akhavan is. However, I do think that her film is a rather enjoyable and funny film about finding your identity in America. From the perspective of Akhavan's Persian ancestry, she explores a lot of sides that gave her early comparisons to Lena Dunham. However, I do think that she is probably more promising and assured in this film in ways that make me curious to check out her work further down the line. Yes, it is raunchy and occasionally crass. However, it is assured and smart about its approach in ways that made some label it the "pansexual Annie Hall." It may not be the most apt description, but it's a pretty adequate selling point.
18. The General (1926)
Triple Threat: Buster Keaton
Here's the truth: I love Buster Keaton more than Charles Chaplin. It's just that a lot of Keaton's best work involved other directors. While The General is often considered to be among his best work, I think that it should serve more as a gateway to his vastly superior films like Steamboat Bill, Jr.. But there's no fault that he is indeed a mad man who took chances and made captivating cinema that is far more ambitious than Chaplin's deepest metaphor. This film may be his calling card to most, but I think that it serves more as an example of what he did best. He took the simple premise and found fresh ways to mind laughter from it. Keaton's an unspoken (literally) genius.
19. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Triple Threat: Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam
It is one of those rare double Triple Threats. Then again, Monty Python was never one to do things normally. Even if Terry Gilliam would take up more responsibilities later on, including a very impressive solo career, there's a certain madness to this film that works on so many levels. There's the twist ending. There's the absurd gags done merely because of budget constraints. There's the accuracy of the humor. It's very much just a Monty Python sketch show, but with a vague plot wrapped around it. I will admit that maybe the film is often better when referenced nowadays than seen, but it still has enough charm to make newcomers enjoy it. There's nothing like that, and that's very much a compliment.
20. Stories We Tell (2012)
Triple Threat: Sarah Polley
If you must know who is an underrated director, it is Sarah Polley. She isn't too far off from the one-two punch of Take This Waltz and Stories We Tell. However, both reflect a certain ambition as a director that makes me wish she was more talked about. In the case of Stories We Tell, she challenges the documentary format by choosing to explore how families pass down stories of relatives that may not be who they seemed to be. I think that it reflects a certain skill on Polley's part that even if it was partially fictionalized in footage, it still managed to tell a captivating story. I cannot wait to see what else she does because it's a lot more exciting than most non-Triple Threats currently working.