Best Of 10: Frank Oz Versus Ivan Reitman

In Top 10 Films’ newest feature, we are going to let the men and women of Hollywood do battle in a “best of ten films” duel. First up it’s Frank Oz v Ivan Reitman.

It is head-to-head time here at Top 10 Films. Two directors whose careers have included some fabulous comedies that appear on CVs that are sadly just too short. But greed usually ends in tears and wanting more, more, more might well have left us with too many bad apples amongst the pearly gems. So, while Ivan Reitman (16 films as director but everything since 1993’s Dave has been rather disappointing) and Frank Oz (12 films as director) may not be able to hold their own with a top 10 to themselves, their prodigious talent, especially their ability to bring an array of characters to vibrant life against the backdrop of well-oiled comedy, is undoubtedly worth celebrating.

Indeed, I choose these two directors because of their similarities both career-wise and stylistically. From time to time I’ve found myself watching one of their films not knowing the director and thinking it has to be one or the other. Their connection starts at birth – both were born in the 1940s, both were born in Europe before moving to America, both have Jewish backgrounds and come from parents who directly fought the Nazis during World War II. Reitman’s mother actually survived the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

Both began their Hollywood careers during the 1970s but didn’t rise to fame until the 1980s – the heyday for each of them. Stylistically, the two director’s favour a realism that underpins the humour (and this is seen in their fantasy efforts as well), that often has dark undertones which take audiences on an authentic emotional journey usually playing on traditional family values, mixing the ups and downs of living with side-splitting comedy. The two directors have also each used the same actors in leading roles such as Bill Murray (Reitman welcomed him into the cast of Ghostbusters while Oz had him play opposite Richard Dreyfuss in What About Bob?) and Kevin Kline (who appeared in Reitman’s Dave and Oz’s In and Out).

Their penchant for likable, readily familiar characters with stand out traits aids an unassuming route to audiences’ hearts, while the similarly restrained photography reminds of the everyday world with a few unique twists. Glued to classical Hollywood narrative and enjoying a happy ending, Reitman and Oz may favour familiarity over distinction but few can argue their films aren’t memorable. Perhaps that is what really makes them stand out – their films remind us of ourselves or someone we know or someone we aspire to be like and take us on a fun-filled journey of discovery with the warm, comforting thought that it’ll all end up okay by the end. Sometimes, that’s all you really want from a film.

In this head-to-head, while trumpeting the virtues of both directors, Top 10 Films will also discover which of the two is better. With twenty-eight films to choose from and only ten spots, which director will have the most films featured, and who will get the coveted number one position. Read on to find out…

10. Stripes (Reitman, 1981)

Ivan Reitman makes a strong start with a who’s who of 1980s Hollywood cinema. Stripes not only sees Mr Sarcasm himself Bill Murray in the lead role but he’s joined by Harold Ramis, Warren Oates, P. J. Soles, John Candy, John Larroquette, Sean Young, John Diehl, Judge Reinhold and Bill Paxton. The film follows the exploits of a bunch of US Army recruits who don’t really have the country’s best interests at heart.

9. Death at a Funeral (Oz, 2007)

Oz gets into the race with Death at a Funeral, an amusing tale of disparate relatives returning to the funeral of a family member. The smart wit and sharp performances make this a memorable 90 minutes.

8. Little Shop of Horrors (Oz, 1986)

Oz now moves ahead with the Rick Moranis-fronted adaptation of the off-Broadway musical comedy of the same name. The musical was created by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman and loosely based on a 1960 Roger Corman film featuring a very young Jack Nicholson about a florist who cultivates a flesh-eating plant. The fun puppet work, sprightly performances and darkly comic songs make this well worth seeing.

7. Twins (Reitman, 1988)

Reitman is back in the race with this farcical pairing of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny De Vito playing twins who set out to find their birth mother.

6. The Dark Crystal (Oz/Henson, 1982)

With Reitman back in the race Oz gets help from friend Jim Henson who draw on their collective puppetry skills to create the horror-filled fantasy The Dark Crystal. This groundbreaking mix of puppets, animatronics and costumes has to be one of the most frightening family films ever made.

5. Dave (Reitman, 1993)

Not to be outdone, Reitman casts a primed Kevin Kline in the lead role of Dave. Kline is a well meaning, morally wholesome small business owner who looks very much like America’s current President. When the President has a stroke, he is recruited by the White House to pose as the Commander-In-Chief. The film might have one of the most improbable premises but Dave is an ocean of sugar that is bound to smuggle its way into the hearts of even those without a sweet tooth. Kevin Kline is wonderful.

4. What About Bob? (Oz, 1991)

Oz edges back ahead again by hiring two great comic actors to trump Dave’s Kevin Kline. What About Bob? sees egotistical New York psychiatrist Richard Dreyfuss face off against good natured but slightly dim phobic Bill Murray. A great comedy pairing.

3. Bowfinger (Oz, 1999)

Oz moves out in front thanks to the Steve Martin-written Bowfinger about a down-on-his-luck filmmaker (played superbly by Martin) who hires a look-a-like to pose as a A-List Hollywood star in order to add glitter to his low budget production.

2. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Oz, 1988)

Oz dominates the race but comes up short as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the brilliant con artist comedy featuring Steve Martin and Michael Caine in delightful form, loses thanks to a photo finish with Ghostbusters.

1. Ghostbusters (Reitman, 1984)

Reitman may have seen the top 5 dominated by Oz but he beats him to the winner’s post with 1984’s Ghostbusters – singularly many people’s favourite film of each of its main stars Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis (and probably Rick Moranis too!). This joyful marriage of supernatural horror and comedy is a stand out cinematic feature of 1980s Hollywood cinema.

Written and compiled by Daniel Stephens.

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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    Steve Aldersley Reply

    Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is my favourite from those 10, but Jason Reitman’s four films so far blow all those away. He produces stories with a lot more depth than anything his father did.

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    mark Reply

    (1) I always thought part of the success of Stripes was the fact it had what are now erstwhile Second City Television players scattered throughout it (Ramis; Dave Thomas as an MC; Joe Flaherty as a Russian guard). Having said that, Murray is good.

    (2) When you suggest Kline resembles the current prez, are you referring to Obama? Not sure I see this … I think – given the escalation of troops in Afghanistan, the failure to close Gitmo, the propping up of Wall St/car manufacturers, and the erosion of civil liberties in the name of national security – that the “reformist” Barack is far more insidious and pernicious than any sugar coated Kevin Kline character can ever be. Still, thank God for the man – he’s better than W Bush and his evil pit of neocons could ever be.

    (3) Never liked Ghostbusters, despite fact I wanted to. Why? Ernie Hudson as the Bible basher. The film would have been much better as an existential comedy/horror hybrid.

    (4) While both Oz and Reitman have amusing moments in their films, neither are what I’d call rip-roaring. In fact, a lot of their stuff really sucks. I wouldn’t, for example, pay to see either of their films in a multiplex; rather, I would wait until I could pick up a weekly $2 DVD rental. Even then, as I wander down to the local to get my five film special, would I consider watching Rick Moranis for any length of time. He must be one of the most unwatchable and unfunniest geeks to have graced the screen.

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    Evan Crean Reply

    I think the next bout should be John Landis versus Harold Ramis!

  4. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Evan: Ah, good one. It shall be done! 🙂

    …I was going to do Robert Zemeckis versus Joe Dante too.

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    Pete Reply

    Wow I’m behind on the work of these guys! Only one I’ve seen is Ghostbusters! Guess I better start with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels!

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    Rodney Reply

    Those top two films are brilliant, aren’t they? To be honest, I don’t really care who wins this directorial stouch, as long as they both keep making great comedies!

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