In the late 80’s and early 1990’s Kevin Costner was arguably the most popular actor in the world, a string of big successes gave him a can do no wrong vibe. Until the double whammy of mega flops Waterworld (1995) and The Postman (1997) put his career seriously on the back foot. An actor of Costner’s skill recovered quickly enough and these days can be relied on for lead roles in smallish scale movies such as the excellent Draft Day (2014) and McFarland, USA (2015) as well as supporting roles in epics such as the superman movie Man of Steel. Here though is our pick of five of his all time best movies.
The Untouchables (1987)
Although the history is pure fiction, director De Palma accurately re-creates 1920s Chicago, and David Mamet’s tough-as-nails script breathes life into the legendary Elliot Ness and his band of incorruptible (or untouchable”) lawmen as they take on ruthless bootleggers. De Niro is electrifying as Al Capone and Connery, playing a street-hardened cop, won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, but De Palma’s frenetic camerawork, authentic sets and a robust score distinguish the film. Although director Brian De Palma is known for his many visual homages to Alfred Hitchcock, in The Untouchables he couldn’t resist a nod to Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein. De Palma’s slow-motion shot of a baby carriage rolling down a staircase during a gunfight echoes a famous scene from Eisenstein’s classic Battleship Potemkin (1925). Academy Award nominations: Best Score, Art Direction and Costume Design.”
Director: Brian De Palma
Cast: Sean Connery, Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro, Andy Garcia, Charles Martin Smith
Field of Dreams (1989)
Kevin Costner stars in this beloved baseball drama about dreams, innocence, faith and passion. In response to the mysterious voices he hears on his Iowa farm, Ray Kinsella (Costner) plows away his failing crops and builds a baseball diamond. A true believer, he can see the spirits of baseball greats like Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), as well as those who weren’t so great, playing as equals on his field. Ray also heeds the calls of the spirits to visit an embittered novelist (James Earl Jones) and journey back in time to visit Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster), a big-leaguer who never got to bat. The now-famous scene in which Shoeless Joe disappears into the cornfields was shot while a thick misty fog just happened to roll into the fields. No fog machines or digital effects; just very good luck. Based on the novel Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella. Nominated for three Oscars: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Score.”
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Cast: Dwier Brown, Timothy Busfield, Kevin Costner, Gaby Hoffman, James Earl Jones, Burt Lancaster, Ray Liotta, Amy Madigan, Frank Whaley
Dances with Wolves (1990)
Sickened by Civil War carnage, heroic Union officer Lt. John Dunbar (Kevin Costner) opts for a new assignment at the farthest reaches of the frontier, in the unsettled Dakota plains. He develops a bond with nature and the local Sioux tribes, earning the title moniker after he befriends and cavorts with a wolf. When ruthless white settlers encroach on their territory, Dunbar joins his new friends in resistance. Earnest, elegiac, sweeping and wry, Costner’s three-hour epic, his directorial debut, won seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Director.
Cast: Maury Chaykin, Kevin Costner, Rodney A. Grant, Graham Greene, Mary McDonnell
Director: Kevin Costner
Writer/director Oliver Stone’s blistering take on the Kennedy assassination stars Costner as New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison. Convinced that accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman) didn’t act alone, Garrison conducts an investigation that casts a cloud of suspicion over such institutions as the CIA, the military, and the Mafia. Brilliantly conceived and shot, and often scarily convincing.
Director: Oliver Stone
Cast: Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Joe Pesci, Sissy Spacek, Donald Sutherland
Wyatt Earp (1994)
Writer/director Lawrence Kasdan and Costner joined forces to produce this Western epic, a darkly realistic retelling of the life of legendary lawman Wyatt Earp (Costner). Earp’s bitterness begins when his young pregnant wife (Annabeth Gish) dies of typhus; wandering through the West, he has brief careers as a horse thief and buffalo hunter, then joins forces with brothers Morgan (Linden Ashby) and Virgil (Michael Madsen) as deputies in Wichita. Soon they’re recruited by authorities from dicey Dodge City, where they encounter the charming but dangerously ill Doc Holliday (Dennis Quaid). They then move on to the even more dangerous Tombstone. There, Wyatt lives with one woman (Mare Winningham) but longs for another (Joanna Going), while he and his cohorts find themselves involved in a simmering feud with the vicious gang led by Ike Clanton (Jeff Fahey).
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Cast: Kevin Costner, Jeff Fahey, Gene Hackman, Mark Harmon, Michael Madsen, Catherine O’Hara, Bill Pullman, Dennis Quaid, Isabella Rossellini, Tom Sizemore, JoBeth Williams, Mare Winningham
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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