Category Archives: Top 3

2001 Best Movie Bracket

When you mention the year 2001, one event comes to most Americans’ minds. The events of September 11, 2001 changed the course of history and things have never been the same. It was also the year that I graduated from high school and left for college. When 9/11 happened, I was in my first semester of college and was over 200 miles from the only home I had ever known.

Little did we know that our little college campus would be rocked with a tragedy less than two week afterwards that felt more significant than towers falling. There was a van accident which killed three of my peers as they were returning from a ministry event. It was a very sad time, but it drew me closer to the beautiful woman that would become my wife. We grieved together and drew strength from each other’s faith.

Film was one of the last thing on my mind during that time, but it seemed that just a few months after this tragedy many Americans were finding refuge from the pain of reality through the imagination of a handful of master storytellers. Two film franchises were born during this year and they would persist for many years following. I’m speaking of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

While both of these were good films and left a lasting impression on film, they are merely footnotes or honorable mentions in this competition for the best film of the year. Before I get to my top 3 films of the year, you should know that the Academy Award for Best Picture went to my 4th best movie of the year, A Beautiful Mind. Other honorable mentions are: AmelieThe Others, Donnie Darko, Training DayThe Royal Tenenbaums, and Ocean’s Eleven. All of my Top 3 are at least a bit surreal and dive into and out of the deepest and most intimate place in all of us, our memory. That is appropriate since I have such deep memories of this year.

#1 – Spirited Away

The first time you watch Spirited Away you are blown away by the visuals. Hayao Mizayaki’s decadent hand drawn animation is always moving and is totally beautiful. You are left thinking about the meaning and the symbolism that is deep under the surface of this story of a young girl who gets lost in a spirit world and has to find her way back. Every time after that, you will be sucked deeper into the symbolism until you realize that this is a commentary on growing up in a Capitalist culture but not losing the innocent wonder of childhood.

Chihiro means “thousand questions.” It means that she is inquisitive and takes nothing for granted. We see this wide eyed girl lose her parents to greed and consumerism. She gets a job at a bath house and trades away part of her name. The name is a symbol of a person’s character and she becomes Sen which means “thousand.” Literally, the questions have been removed. She is warned not to forget her name because that is the secret for her escape. I won’t go any deeper than that in case you haven’t seen it, but I just might do a full spoiler laden breakdown at some point.

#2 – Memento

Technically, Memento was released in 2000 but it wasn’t seen on US soil until 2001, so I had to put it in this year. Long before Christoper Nolan started diving into the brains of his characters and viewers in Inception, he was beginning at the end with Memento. Simply put, it is the non-simple, non-linear story of Leonard who suffers from a Dory-like version of short-term memory loss. He retains memories from before his accident but cannot create any new memories. Instead, he litters his jacket pockets with Polaroid pictures and scraps of note paper, and covers the canvas of his body with tattoos to remind him of his overall purpose.

We learn through 22 vignettes that Leonard is hunting a man called John G. who is behind the rape and murder of his wife. I don’t want to spoil too much because it is such a fun puzzle to put together, but let me just say that you will be engaged and guessing with the story until the very end. This is one of the films that made Christopher Nolan the brand name that he is today.

#3 – Mulholland Drive

Have you ever had a dream that freaked you out and left you gasping for breath as you rushed back to consciousness? When your loved ones come in the room to check if you are okay all you can say is I had a bad dream. Invariably, they will ask what it was about, but we can’t say because the dream is quickly retreating into our sub conscience, and because no matter how well you explain what happened in the dream you sound psychotic. Mulholland Dr. is that creepy dream.

More people have become familiar with David Lynch since the new Twin Peaks was released. I would recommend this movie as a good starting place, but I would encourage you not to analyze too much. To truly enjoy it, you must surrender yourself to it. As Roger Ebert said, “If you require logic, see something else.” David Lynch loves to make films which defy logic, but Mulholland Dr. follows no conventional plot structure, it simply ebbs and flows like a dream.

Did I get something wrong? What would you change? Have you seen any of these three? Let me know in the comments or on social media.

2002 Best Movie Bracket

Welcome to 2002. It was a pretty awful year. If you don’t remember, it was the year following the most terrible terrorist attack on human soil. The papal sex abuse scandal was uncovered, President Bush created the Department of Homeland Security, the DC snipers killed 10 people, No Child Left Behind became law, the world was in political upheaval, wars were beginning, and Chicago won best picture over The Pianist. But at least we found water on Mars.

Perhaps the Academy chose the more brightly colored and glitzy musical over the gritty story of a man who survived the Holocaust because they needed something happy. If you recall, there were talks of cancelling the event or postponing it because we had just invaded Iraq and it didn’t seem right to have a glamorous celebration while we sent our children off to war. Eventually they decided that the show must go on, but they decided to forgo the red carpet with security concerns too high.

#1 – The Pianist

But I see it from the other side. Chicago was the favorite going into the awards. It had 13 nominations and was riding high much like La La Land did last year. However, The Pianist sneaked in to surprise everyone, taking home three of the major prizes of the night: Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. I’m not sure if it would have ever stolen away the Best Picture, it was a big enough surprise that Roman Polanski bested Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. The Pianist might be a bleak story, but it is undeniably beautiful and shows the power of the human spirit to overcome adversity. It is truly the film that America needed to weather the dark times.

#2 – Gangs of New York

Some people think this isn’t one of Martin Scorsese’s best films. But what does that say when it was nominated for 10 Oscars. Granted, it was snubbed for all of them but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. Daniel Day Lewis is so impressive with his method acting skills. There is a scene where Bill the Butcher taps his glass eye with a knife, Daniel Day Lewis has prosthetic glass put on his eye and learned to actually tap it! That is dedication to your craft.

This also marked the first time that  Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio worked together. That relationship obviously developed and he has gone on to work with him on four more films so far (The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island, and The Wolf of Wall Street).

#3 – City of God

This could have been called “The Gangs of Rio De Janerio,” because Martin Scorsese seems to have had a big influence on the director of this film, Fernando Meirelles. He uses close ups,  freeze-and-zoom shots, long takes and other trademarks that are easily recognizable to any fan of Scorsese’s work. The film is told through narration by Rocket, a young photographer in the slums. The story charts the growth of several members of the gangs from their childhood as young hoodlums through their transformation into adult drug barons. The final parts of the story focus on the battle within the Cidade De Deus “City of God” between two different groups pressed into an unavoidable confrontation. The result is a powerful story based around real-life events.

City of God is powerful and should be seen by everyone. If you are looking to start watching more foreign language films, start here. It is easily accessible and quickly digestible. In short, this is a superb achievement, and is easily one of the best films of the year.

Just outside the top 3, I have 2 films from legendary director Steven Spielberg, Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can. I’m sad that I couldn’t fit either of these gems in my top 3. The fact is that I have rated them exactly the same as City of God and Gangs of New York (4 stars). They are both excellent and worth your time if you haven’t seen them. I chose to put the other two higher precisely because I think that less people have seen them and I always want to encourage people to reach outside of their comfort zones to watch movies that they wouldn’t otherwise be likely to see.

So, that’s the Top 5 of the year, but you know I can’t leave you with just that. There are a number of honorable mentions: Adaptation, Punch Drunk Love, Signs, The Bourne Identity, and Bowling for Columbine.

It was also the start of a number of big franchises: Spider-Man, The Bourne Identity, 28 Days Later, Ice Age, Resident Evil, Transporter, and Jackass. But it marked the continuation of even more: Lord of the Rings: Two Towers, Star Wars Episode IIHarry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsMen in Black II, Austin Powers Goldmember, Blade II, and Spy Kids 2.

Did I miss something? Am I way off? let me know in the comments below or on Social media. See you in 2001!

2003 Best Movie Bracket

Sorry it has been so long since I’ve posted. I want to get back on track with my Best Movie Bracket. 2003 was a bit of a weak year for film. There were some memorable gems which floated to the surface, but overall it left avoid that would be filled by a fantasy film. These films generally get very little credit, but 2003 was the perfect year for this film to take home far more awards than it normally would.

Before I can get to that film though, I need to let you know about my runners up.  Honorable mentions include Kill Bill: Volume 1, Oldboy (the good one in Korean), X2: X-Men United, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, and Dogville. With that being said, here is my top 3 of 2003. You may have others that you adore from this year that I left off the list. But that’s why it’s my list. I’d love to hear your opinions, and then I will tell you to go make your own site where your opinions can reign supreme.

#3 – Mystic River

Mystic River is a sad movie. It is about three boys who grow up to be damaged people. Jimmy (Sean Penn), who is a former convict, Sean (Kevin Bacon) who’s wife recently left him and Dave (Tim Robbins) who… Have you seen the film? I better keep my mouth shut about the plot.

The acting in this movie is phenomenal, especially from Tim Robbins who very much deserved his supporting actor Oscar. Sean Penn is fantastic as well in his very best performance. Kevin Bacon is also very good, though he does get overshadowed by the other two leads. They are flanked by a very capable supporting cast including Laurence Fishburne, Laura Linney and even Eli Wallach also shine in this movie.

The story is very well told, tense, and dramatic. The writing is very good as well. Brian Helgeland, who penned L.A. Confidential and A Knight’s Tale, elevates the novel by Dennis Lehane who is no stranger to film adaptations (Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island, and others). It also has great cinematography and excellent music. I haven’t even mentioned that it is directed by the inimitable Clint Eastwood. In fact, along with Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, this may be Eastwood’s best directed movie.

If all of that is true, then why is this #3. It is my main problem with all of Dennis Lehane’s stories. I tend to figure out the ending before the big reveal. Maybe it is because I’ve seen so many movies, but I pretty much see it right away. Also, I like a little more ambiguity in my endings, so I wish the movie had ended about 10 minutes earlier. It’s not the ending is bad, it’s just if it had ended earlier, I just feel like it would have been more powerful.

#2 – Finding Nemo

Not since 1995 and Toy Story had Pixar done something so revolutionary. They tackled so much with the visual textures and light patterns that we only see underwater. This film was a visual feast, but it is also funny and emotionally rich. I also believe this film has the absolute best sound design of any Pixar film.

This film deserves acclaim for more than its audio visual achievements. Marlin (Albert Brooks) goes down in my book as one of the best fathers in cinematic history. I mean, they essentially stole the plot of this film to make the entire Taken series. Marlin traversed the oceans over thousands of miles filled with sharks, jellyfish, angler fish, and ravenous seagulls, battling all his own fears, just to rescue his son. His adventure is filled with some of the most memorable moments and quotable lines of any film I’ve seen, and I still love it to this day.

As a father myself with 2 sons, it teaches me the undying love a father will have for his son, and the distances he will go to ensure his utmost protection. It helps to understand just how much a father cares for his son, no matter how harsh he may seem to be. It just goes to show how universal Pixar films really are.

#1 – Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Extended Edition)

As far as I’m concerned, Return of the King can be as long, as indulgent and end as many times as it wants to. It deserves it. This 263 minute monster of a film manages to round out an epic trilogy by bringing all the characters and plot lines to a gripping and joyful conclusion. It takes the emotional resonance of the first film and marries it to the epic warfare of the second. When all is said and done, we get something as close to perfect as a film can possibly get.

The scope of the film is staggering. Combining fantasy politics, multitudes of different species for our imaginations to go wild with and stunningly vast geography. This is an epic in every possible sense of the word. The assault on Minas Tirith and the ensuing Battle of Pelenor Fields is visceral action-cinema at its very pinnacle. It is very hard to find fault in this film because of my inability to criticize Tolkien’s phenomenal source material and because of the sheer spectacle of it all.

This is Jackson’s true labor of love, and you can tell that he’s poured his heart and soul into every second of it all. He has an evident adoration and respect for the story and characters. That is what marks Lord of the Rings out from the other blockbuster franchises as a true and heartfelt film that effortlessly elevates itself to legendary status.

You can tell that the actors are clearly in love with the material too. The relationship between Frodo and Sam, while undeniably sentimental, is always touching and pleasant without descending into obvious schmaltz. Elijah Wood and Sean Astin are remarkable here, with Wood in particular maneuvering nicely out of the tricky spot of becoming evil while under the influence of the Ring. There’s some scene-stealing from John Noble as the emotionally-imbalanced Steward of Gondor, Denethor, while Theoden (Bernard Hill) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) make the most of their meaty inspirational speeches.

And as I said before, I don’t have any problem with the endings. Why would you not want to stretch out your goodbyes with the dense and lovable characters you’ve just spent 11 hours of your life with? There is no problem with how the trilogy closes, as every character is given their little moment to savor. It’s touching and a good way to close this series.

2011 Best Movie Bracket

Continuing our search for the Best Movie of all time, we come to 2011. Marching backwards to near the dawn of the decade, we saw some brave and creative work coming out of Hollywood. The Artist, a silent black and white film, swept five of the top awards at the Oscars including best picture, best director, and best actor. However, I did not see it as a brilliant work so much as a bit of nostalgia to feed to an industry which is extremely narcissistic.

Plenty of others could have made this list including three great Marvel properties (Captain America – The First Avenger, X-Men – First Class, and Thor) which set things running for the current spate of superhero films which we are all enjoying. We also had the end of the canonical Harry Potter franchise with The Deathly Hallows Part 2 even though Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is trying to recapture that magic later this year. And I can’t forget Super 8, Melancholia, Moneyball, Source Code, The Intouchables, and The Help just to name a few. It was a good year, but let’s take a look at my top 3.

Continue reading 2011 Best Movie Bracket

2012 – Best Movie Bracket

It is so hard to distinguish between the best movies of the year and the ones that I like to watch repeatedly. Sometimes they are one and the same. I absolutely loved The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but I have a feeling that my enjoyment of the movie is more about my personal connection than the actual worth of the film.

There are also several very good films that I consider extremely worthy of being considered the best of the year, such as; LincolnLife of PiThe Master, and Silver Linings Playbook. They are honorable mentions, but unfortunately I had to cut it down to three.

Continue reading 2012 – Best Movie Bracket

2014 – Best Movie Bracket

As I have been looking at my top films for a given year, I needed a method for looking at a large number of films for the year so that I could compare them. In my search, I came across Letterboxd. I tried Letterboxd a few years back before it had the number of users that it does today. They have made significant improvements and the user community is phenomenal. I would encourage any movie lover to keep their film diary at Letterboxd.

The site has also let me look at a number of films from any given year and sort them in a multitude of ways. Letterboxd has 12,585 films listed with a release date of 2014. This is also where the featured image comes from and where I will pull the featured image from all of my annual entries. This is to give you a chance to see some of the other films that I had to pass over to get my favorites. According to the site, I have seen 63 of those films. So with that, let’s look at my top 3 films of 2014.

Continue reading 2014 – Best Movie Bracket

2015 – Best Movie Bracket

From start to finish, many of 2015’s biggest news stories were centered around violence and terror threats and they showed a general sense of fear. The year began with a targeted terror strike in Paris and closed out with another planned attack in San Bernandino, California, proving that threats around the globe remain an issue for all.

However, much of the world found a place of solace at the theater amidst the fear and violence. 2015 featured a variety of films that showed the triumph of the spirit in the face of adversity, bigotry, and evil. Movies like: Southpaw, The Good Dinosaur, Joy, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Room, Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Revenant, The Martian, Mad Max: Fury Road, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Inside Out.

As fun and epic as the continuations of Mad Max, Star Wars, and Avengers were, there was not enough to set them apart and leave a lasting legacy. Leonardo Dicaprio deserved an Oscar for what Innaritu put him through in The Revenant, but the movie itself though stark and piercing didn’t create the effect in viewers that you expect from the best. The Martian was alternatively hilarious and harrowing, and Room ripped my heart out and slowly put it back together again, but there were a lot of really good movies in 2015. I keep coming back to three films from the year that will have some staying power. Here are my top 3 films of the year. Continue reading 2015 – Best Movie Bracket

Top 3 – Road Trip Movies

It is Summer! Well not officially, but it is hot outside and the kids are out of school, so that means that lots of families will be embarking on a classic staple of my childhood… the road trip. I have so many memories sitting in the back of my aunt’s suburban as we traveled all over the Southeastern United States visiting campgrounds, state parks, beaches, springs, and caverns. I hope to instill plenty of these memories in my kids as well.

But perhaps you are like me and you have to work most of the summer and don’t get to participate in a lot of the fun. That’s okay, you can live vicariously through some movie characters in some great road trip movies. I will say that these are probably not the best movies to watch while you are on a road trip, that is a list for another day. There are so many that I will share a couple of honorable mentions, but these are my top 3. Please share your favorites in the comments below.

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Honorable mentions (in no particular order):

The Blues Brothers (1980) – a quotable cult classic, they were on a mission from God.

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) – Come rain, shine, dead relatives, or dragged dogs, the Griswolds were determined to get to Walley World. Skip the sequels and watch the original.

Thelma & Louise (1991) – They just wanted a girls’ weekend away. And instead they got a modern landmark of feminism on film.

Dumb and Dumber (1994) – Clearly not the smartest film on the list, but just try to keep a straight face as Lloyd and Harry rumble through America in their dog-shaped “shaggin’ wagon.”

Zombieland (2009) – Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) emerges from a World of Warcraft marathon to find zombies have taken over America. When Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) shows up, Columbus joins his quest for Twinkies and zombie annihilation.

3. Rain Man (1988)

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When car dealer Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) learns that his estranged father has died, he returns home to Cincinnati, where he discovers that he has an autistic older brother named Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) and that his father’s $3 million fortune is being left to the mental institution in which Raymond lives. Motivated by his father’s money, Charlie checks Raymond out of the facility in order to return with him to Los Angeles. The brothers’ cross-country trip ends up changing both their lives.

This was the highest-grossing film of 1988 and won four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Hoffman, Best Director for Barry Levinson, and Best Original Screenplay. IMDb users rated it 8.0 out of 10. It is so much more than a road-trip movie, it is just good cinema.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

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Years after the collapse of civilization, the tyrannical Immortan Joe enslaves apocalypse survivors inside the desert fortress the Citadel. When the warrior Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) leads the despot’s five wives in a daring escape, she forges an alliance with Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a loner and former captive. Fortified in the massive, armored truck the War Rig, they try to outrun the ruthless warlord and his henchmen in a deadly high-speed chase through the Wasteland.

You might say that it is more of a chase movie than a road trip movie (especially since there are no actual roads just desert wasteland) but I think it should get a pass for such a large vision from George Miller being pulled off in nearly flawless fashion. It is a technical masterpiece and a great piece of storytelling. It is sitting at an 8.1 on IMDb.

1. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

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The Hoover family — a man (Greg Kinnear), his wife (Toni Collette), an uncle (Steve Carell), a brother (Paul Dano) and a grandfather (Alan Arkin) — piles into a VW bus and heads to California to support a daughter (Abigail Breslin) in her bid to win the Little Miss Sunshine Contest. The sanity of everyone involved is stretched to the limit as the group’s quirks cause epic problems as they travel along their interstate route.

I can’t even think of another movie that I would consider at #1. When I think of a road trip story this is what comes into my head now. The comedy and tragedy are so intertwined. This is one seriously messed up family, but the close quarters of the van and the superb storytelling makes it feel like its your messed up family.

So what do you think? Sound off in the comments below! We’ll argue about it until dad threatens to turn the car around.

Top 3 Actors Who Could Replace Hugh Jackman as Wolverine

It was inevitable, of course, but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept when the tragedy finally arrives. Actor Hugh Jackman, who rose to fame for his iconic portrayal of the superhero Wolverine in the X-Men blockbuster franchise, announced he will play the hairy claw-sporting mutant for “one last time.”

His revelation of planned retirement from the character came via Instagram and Twitter. A follow-up tweet from director James Mangold, who directed Jackman’s previous solo outing The Wolverine in 2013, confirmed the “one last time” in question is another Wolverine solo sequel, not his crowd pleasing cameo in X-Men: Age of Apocalypse. So yes, Jackman’s awesome stint as Wolverine is coming to an end soon.

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Having appeared as Wolverine in eight films so far —X-Men, X2, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class, The Wolverine, X-Men: Days of Future Past , and X-Men: Apocalypse – Jackman has appeared as the same superhero longer and more often than any other actor has portrayed a single superhero (although Robert Downey Jr. is catching up fast, with seven films under his Iron Man belt as of last month’s Captain America: Civil War). He’s the only live-action Wolverine we’ve ever known, and has embodied the character perfectly for 16 years, so his departure is going to leave a major hole in the franchise.

Now consider that the series is actually gaining in popularity and expanding, so that besides the third Wolverine solo movie, there is a Deadpool film currently filming and a Gambit solo spin-off planned. For now, let’s just take him at his word that the next solo Wolverine film will really be his last. If that’s true, then what should Fox do once Jackman has ridden off into the sunset?

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Recast, of course. They can’t just drop Wolverine as a character from the series, well, they could kill him off and go with X-23 but I think there would be riots. So the only option is recasting. Which brings us to the gist of this piece — who should play the new Wolverine? I’ve got my top 3 options for you here, so read on and see which actors might turn up on the shortlist for the franchise’s most beloved and most stabby superhero!

1. Tom Hardy — A terrific actor who is also great at physical roles. Tom would bring a new approach to Wolverine and instill the character with even more of the brooding sensibilities and short temper we’re familiar with from the comics. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine was more of a heroic and mostly nice guy with a sly sense of humor, whereas Tom might give us the anti-hero approach who resides more often in the grayest shades of morality.

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2. Penn Badgley — Let’s establish that yes, Badgley has not only the right looks for Wolverine, but also particularly for the existing cinematic version of the character. So if we’re just casting based on appearance, Penn surely ends up as a top finalist to play Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. But Penn is also a really top-notch actor, receiving praise for his performances in the series Gossip Girl and more recently for his role in the film Margin Call, making his more than just physically suited to play Wolverine.

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3. Kit Harington — With a loyal fanbase among geek culture already, Kit has both the strong acting chops and the right look to continue a Wolverine portrayal in keeping with the legacy Hugh Jackman will leave behind. Brooding yet always honorable, angry but good at heart — that’s not only Wolverine, it’s Jon Snow from Game of Thrones, and he’s done a remarkable job for several years with that character. While Kit previously made remarks about wanting to do a superhero film that is more campy and doesn’t take the material so seriously, I’m sure he’d have no trouble jumping into the Wolverine role and approaching the performance just as seriously as he has in Game of Thrones’ fantasy storyline.

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Alright, I know I said top 3, but there are so many possibilities and I kept coming back to this one.

4. Scott Caan — Son of the great James Caan, Scott is an award-winning actor best known for his excellent performances in Entourage and Hawaii Five-O (the latter bringing him a Golden Globe nomination). He’s got the charisma and presence to bring us a different take on Wolverine that bridges the rougher comic persona with the more classically heroic film incarnation. And to be blunt, Scott’s height and build make him physically a great choice more suited to the source material’s depiction and reputation. At 38, Scott is older than the other names on this list, so he’s perhaps also best able to continue the “grizzled veteran” aspect of the character that Hugh Jackman has perfected.

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And there you have it, dear readers, the top three best choices to take over the role of Wolverine if and when Hugh Jackman leaves the franchise! Of course there are a lot of others who could have been on this list from Garrett Hedlund to Jake Gyllenhaal, but I think this list provides a range of ages and types that gives us plenty to think about.

What do you think of these suggestions, and who would you add to the list? Do you think they should go with a different storyline and leave Wolverine out? Are you excited about the idea of Hugh Jackman coming out of retirement in another 15 years to play Old Man Logan? Let me know in the comments below!