The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

The CC2k pre-Oscar round-up

Written by: Robert Wambold, special to CC2k

Looking over the movies I liked this year, I noticed a common theme—a lot of them are really, really depressing. I’m serious. Assess-every-aspect-of-your-life depressing. The-sun-isn’t-coming-out-tomorrow depressing. Turn-out-the-light and-whimper-softly depressing.
See, I’m normally such a sunny guy. Is this a reflection on me or the movies getting made? Am I stuck in a post-9/11 world? Is the world stuck in a post-9/11 world? When will it stop being post-9/11? I’ve heard some say post-Katrina. Will some say post-Bush in 2008? Please let me know what I should look out for so that I can be “post-” it.

Anyways, onto the list. In accordance with the depressing theme, I have added a cynical “MORAL TO THE STORY” section to each movie in my top ten list. Feel free to stop reading now.

1. HISTORY OF VIOLENCE – “How do you fuck that up?”
This is what I’m talking about. Last year, a Pixar movie had this slot. What happened? Is it my diet? The air? Do I own too many Adidaseseses? Help me find a way. Back to the movie. Some have ripped it for basically being a trumped-up Steven Seagal movie. To me, it’s a modern-day (i.e. cynical) Western about America in a post-9/11 worl—err, wait a second. Alright. Viggo, who I strangely associate with the word “man-meat”, kills a lot of dudes with his bare hands. What makes all of this really effective is that Viggo comes off as a really gentle guy (think gentle man-meat) and as such you root for him. And you take pleasure when he kills these men. And then you hate yourself because you’re not violent. And then he kills more people and you take more pride in it. And then you’re alright with a rape scene. And then William Hurt does his best Al Pacino-with-Lincoln-beard imitation and the movie’s over. Rent it and you’ll see what I mean. About the man-meat part at least.
SCENE TO REMEMBER: Tom (Joey?) goes to meet Richie.
MORAL TO THE STORY: As long as you brutally kill every single person threatening your family, you can still rape your wife and keep your spot at the dinner table.

2. CACHE – Something in French.
Finally, a movie that lived up to the “Hitchcockian” moniker. What I really loved about this movie was that you sit down thinking you’re going to watch a self-satisfied French thriller that is going to piss you off because it’s a self-satisfied French thriller. Then you realize that the main character is a Charlie Rose-like character, the epitome of self-satisfied high-minded literati, and that he’s a putz. So you end up enjoying the self-satisfaction of watching a self-satisfied snob squirm. And then there’s some stuff about French/Algerian relations, which I know is on everyone’s mind.
SCENE TO REMEMBER: The final shot.
MORAL TO THE STORY: When in doubt, blame everything on the Algerian orphan who briefly stayed with your family during your childhood.

3. THE SQUID AND THE WHALE – “I’m a Philistine.”
Of all the movies I saw this year, this was the one to which I had the strongest reaction. Yes, this was the turn-out-the-lights-and-whimper-softly movie. And you think I’m kidding. I didn’t react as much to the divorce stuff because divorce is an experience with which I am thankfully unacquainted. It was the ineffectual male stuff. That’s what got me. The idea that if you’re a novelist, you’re not going to make that much money even if you’re published. But the kicker was my experience after the movie. I saw it at one of those multiplexes/strip malls where you get a parking ticket when you pull in the structure. After the movie, I realized (and this is the only time this has happened to me) that I had lost the ticket. And that I had maybe a dollar in my wallet. I then went down to the ATM to try to take out some money, but it was broken. I then turned to Leah, my girlfriend, and asked if she could pay the sixteen dollars for the lost ticket. This after seeing a movie about the quintessential ineffectual male. Unfortunately, I can’t pin 9/11 on this one. Still reading?
SCENE TO REMEMBER: Bernard allows his son’s girlfriend to pay for her share of dinner.
MORAL TO THE STORY: You will do nothing right in life and everyone around you is loathsome. Also, there is a reason why a lot of library books are sticky.

4. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN – “I wish I knew how to quit you!”
I know the line quoted above is already cliché, but I had to put it there. It wouldn’t have been right otherwise. Alright. Now its time for a fun movie! Oh wait. Mother-f****r!  Two guys fall in love. They hide it from everyone. One guy gets killed for hitting on the wrong guy. The other guy seemingly lives a lonely, sad life from then on. Take your kids, buy some popcorn, and soak it up, fellas. This is this year’s Best Picture. Yippie kay yay.
SCENE TO REMEMBER: Ennis hugs Jack’s shirt.
MORAL TO THE STORY: Don’t be gay or you will die.

5. THE NEW WORLD – Unimportant, in fact turn off the dialogue track.
Though a difficult movie to get into initially, I plead with all of you to see it in the movie theatres. It’s simply one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen in some time. Imagine that you lived in a world full of trees, grass, and sunlight and that’s all you knew. Now imagine that strange men come and, among doing some bad things, decide to take you to their home. And you discover a world that you never saw. A world where the trees are sculpted, the grass is cut to a half-inch, and buildings have been built higher than you can imagine. Since the movie mostly takes place in America, you get accustomed to the natural world. And when Pocahontas gets off that ship, you see the Old World truly through her eyes—it’s the New World to her. It sneaks up on you, but it’s very effective and astounding.
SCENE TO REMEMBER: Pocahontas steps off the boat and sees the Old World, which is new to her. (I know I’m repeating myself, but it’s a great scene.)
MORAL TO THE STORY: Don’t have relations with a white man (or specifically Colin Farrell) or you will die.

6. KING KONG – Monkey noises.
Cut the first hour and this is a perfect popcorn movie. Make you laugh, make you cry, make you wring your hands. Make you eat popcorn. Needless to say, the first hour remains and the movie irrevocably suffers. It’s a shame since the King Kong/T-Rex fight and the Empire State Building scenes are two of the best action scenes I’ve seen put to film. And that, along with the strangely moving love story, is why this movie is on this list.
SCENE TO REMEMBER: The Empire State Building.
MORAL TO THE STORY: Don’t fall in love with a huge monkey or the huge monkey will die.

7. IN HER SHOES – “I am talking to – my – friend!”
After seeing how Curtis Hanson incorporated Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Detroit into L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, WONDER BOYS, and 8 MILE, respectively, I became hopeful that he would eventually make his way around to setting a movie in Philadelphia. It was really a pipe dream. After all, Real World – Philadelphia was maybe the tenth season of that show. I think they did New York twice before they got around to Philadelphia. And when they did the show in Philadelphia, the unions almost shut the production down. Anyways, I sat down to watch IN HER SHOES not realizing that half of it was set in my proverbial hometown. And I couldn’t have been more disappointed with the use of the city. First of all, no local runs up the Art Museum steps like Rocky. Not a single one. It doesn’t happen. In this movie it happens twice—and with dogs! (NOTE: I hate dogs.) Second, there is an extraordinarily lame conversation about the Sixers in front of Geno’s that is too bewildering to describe. Third, everything happens at the Jamaican Jerk Hut. Okay, all of this pisses me off because the location scout went on a basic tour of Philadelphia and incorporated those easy/touristy locations into the story. Los Angeles had the sunny sprawl, Pittsburgh had the preponderance of bridges, Detroit had the burned-out houses. Philadelphia has the frickin’ Rocky steps, a lame sports conversation, and the Jamaican Jerk Hut. Maybe this is what is depressing me. Anyways, the movie is funny, touching, and will make you cry. And oh yeah, it’s a chick flick for guys, seriously.
SCENE TO REMEMBER: The real story about how they drove to New York City and bought a dog.
MORAL TO THE STORY: Lose weight and make sure you’re literate.

8. THE WEATHER MAN – “Do the kids at school call you names? Y’know like dummy or…camel toe?”
Oddly, I saw this movie in a post-SATW/PTF world and still enjoyed it. (By the way, SATW/PTF = SQUID AND THE WHALE/Parking Ticket Fiasco.) It’s a comedy about misunderstandings and bad timing. There isn’t much plot and you don’t really care about any of the characters, but I probably laughed the most at this movie than any other this year. It’s another movie about an ineffectual male. But I don’t have any desire to be a weather man, so we’re good on this one.
SCENE TO REMEMBER: The opening shot in which we see Lake Michigan as waves of broken ice sheets.
MORAL TO THE STORY: Take the money and move away—you can’t put your family back together.

9. THE 40 YEAR-OLD VIRGIN – “You know how when you grab a woman’s breast…it feels like…a bag of sand.”
A lot of this movie was improvised, and you can really tell. And even though it’s a basically a two hour TV show, it was consistently the funniest comedy of the year. You actually care about Steve Carell’s character, which is more than you can say about any of the other Frat Pack movies (OLD SCHOOL, ANCHORMAN, WEDDING CRASHERS, etc.). If nothing else, the running Michael McDonald jokes are worth the price of admission.
SCENE TO REMEMBER: The Age of Aquarius.
MORAL TO THE STORY: Wait until you’re 40 to lose your virginity and make sure it’s with an ice queen like Catherine Keener.

Gromit, the dog, is a modern-day (not being cynical here) Charlie Chaplin. Most of our animated movies are big, showy displays of visual delight that want to impress you as much as they want to entertain you. Who would have thought that a dog that communicates with only his eyes and his brow would be one of the more compelling animated characters in animation history? And that there’d be three shorts and a movie made starring said character. I know I said I hate dogs. I do, but I like Gromit. I think he understands me. You know what? I’m altering my praise. Gromit is Chaplin with a little Jack Benny thrown in. Yeah, I know you stopped reading a while ago.
SCENE TO REMEMBER: Knowing the Were-Rabbit is about to present itself, Gromit locks the truck door ever so gently.
MORAL TO THE STORY: Don’t create a rabbit trap dependent on reading rabbits’ minds. Bad stuff will happen if you do.