TV Party is a Friday feature in which Film Editors Dominick Mayer and Justin Gerber alongside Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman suggest one movie apiece to enjoy over the weekend. Joining them each week will be two rotating film staff writers to help round out the selections. Seek out any of the films via Netflix, Amazon, Redbox, Hulu, OnDemand, or abandoned Blockbuster and Hollywood Video stores — however you crazy kids watch movies these days! Enjoy ’em for the first time, a second, or maybe a redemptive third.
For a film nominated for six Academy Awards last year, it’s upsetting to see how quickly Alexander Payne’s Nebraska has fallen out of the cultural conversation already. To an extent, it’s understandable; it’s a deliberately slow, patient movie, one that follows the rhythms of the nondescript middle American towns in which it takes place. For the most part, the film unfolds in the small, rural town of Hawthorne, Nebraska, where David (Will Forte) and his father Woody (Bruce Dern in a phenomenal turn) stop en route to Lincoln, where the increasingly senile Woody believes that a clearinghouse prize of one million dollars is waiting for him.
Hawthorne is Woody’s hometown, and the painful memories of things Woody once did as a drunker, younger man still hang over the lifelong residents, in particular a former business associate of Woody’s who repeatedly did wrong by him and looks to do so again; he’s played by Stacy Keach in a performance equal parts dryly hilarious and menacing. The film, likewise, sees Hawthorne as a dying land, but not in an inhumane sense. Nebraska recognizes that the fast-paced modern world is increasingly abandoning places like Hawthorne, and more importantly, the people who still inhabit towns like it. It’s a quiet film on the surface, but also a deceptively powerful one, and one that will linger if you give it the chance to do so.
Yup, yup. I wrote about this earlier in the year, but I have to mention it again since it was recently released on Netflix Instant. It’s the end of the world as we know it, and only Chris Evans can save what remains of humanity. Making matters worse, the rest of the world now lives on a moving train, which sees its passengers broken into class systems. The goal is to reach the engine, and that means passing through trained henchmen, decadent nightclubs, elegant ballrooms, warped classrooms, and Tilda Swinton’s fake teeth.
It’s the action sequel to Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle that no one knew they wanted, or at the very least believed possible. Walking to a front of a train is easy. Not so in Snowpiercer. It’s a brutal look at an apocalyptic future, as our own Justin Gerber (hey, that’s me!) wrote back in July: “With its direction, witty dialogue, introspection, and chock-full of bizarre train cars, Bong’s Snowpiercer rebels against the norms of summer blockbusters — overthrowing them all.” I was right!
Boyz n the Hood
Director John Singleton’s Academy Award-nominated drama isn’t your average coming-of-age tale. Set in South Central Los Angeles, the 1991 film follows the life of a young and naive Tre Styles (Desi Arnez Hines II), who moves in with his father, Furious (Laurence Fishburne), in hopes that he’ll learn the proper life lessons to become a man. Literally overnight, he confronts crime, corruption, and death as he reunites with his childhood pals, waits an hour for the cops to arrive following a home invasion, and encounters a rotting corpse, respectively.
From there, the film skips ahead seven years, tosses in Cuba Gooding, Jr., and unfolds into a survival tale of young black teens hoping to live for the next day. As Ice Cube’s Dough Boy nihilistically postulates: “It just goes on and on, you know. Next thing you know, somebody might try and smoke me. Don’t matter, doe. We all gotta go sometime, huh?” It’s a sobering thought and a call to action for Tre, who’s trying to find his own identity amidst a world of chaos.
What makes Boyz n the Hood so accessible is the way Singleton carves out his cast. Similar to Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me, each character is magnified by their weaknesses to define their underlying strengths. Gooding, Jr. and Morris Chestnut are the film’s good-natured protagonists — admittedly, the cookie cutter, focused types of afternoon specials — but they’re just as flawed as the immoral Doughboy. This irregular chemistry adds to each of their struggles and fuels the film’s exhaustive tension. At any moment, something might happen, and it’s that fear that keeps your eyes glued over their shoulders.
Although at times slightly histrionic, at least by today’s standards, the film haunts with its gritty imagery and unforgiving storyline. Upon its release, most of America had only known about South Central through shocking headlines and startling statistics. By connecting audiences with a character like Tre, or even a reckless soul like Doughboy, Singleton offered a vital perspective on American life that few would ever see otherwise.
It helps that Boyz is partly autobiographical. The relationship between Tre and Furious mirrors Singleton’s own upbringing, which explains why the scenes with Gooding, Jr. and Fishburne are the film’s strongest. (To be fair, Fishburne also delivered the performance of his career, but to each their own.) And to think, Columbia Pictures wanted to bring in someone else to direct, an idea that didn’t sit too well with the young filmmaker at the time.
“Hell, no, I’m not gonna let somebody from Idaho or Encino direct a movie about living in south-central Los Angeles,” Singleton said. “They can’t come in here and cast it and go through the rewrites and know exactly what aesthetics are unique to this film.” Of course, Singleton prevailed and would go on to become the youngest person and first African-American to be nominated for Best Director and Best Screenplay. No lie: He was only 23.
Can you tell this is a personal favorite, or what?
You’ve Got Mail
Back when we had AOL Dial Up, profitable mega-bookstores, and Nora Ephron (RIP), we also had You’ve Got Mail, a totally dated rom-com from 1998 that still plucks the heartstrings and inspires consummate Tinder pranks. Why? Because all of the elements are in place for optimal chick flick detonation: “Dreams” by The Cranberries as the opening song; a clean and gorgeous New York that looks exactly how a middle-aged white woman would imagine it to look like for a romantic weekend getaway; and, of course, the king and queen of ‘90s nostalgia movies, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, as our star-crossed paramours.
Kathleen Kelly (Ryan) is a Pride and Prejudice-loving independent bookstore owner fearful of being run out of business by the big bad corporation that is Fox Books, helmed by Joe Fox (Hanks) and his moneyed Republican family. When the two meet in real life, they are physically attracted but loathe one another on principle. They also have disposable partners of their own, played by Greg Kinnear and Parker Posey, respectively. Except (twist!) little do Joe and Kathleen know, they have been falling in love online for months, meeting in an anonymous AOL chat room (remember those?) and proceeding to send esoteric e-mails back and forth regarding Starbucks, The Godfather, and butterflies on the subway. They’re clearly meant to be!
Yes, You’ve Got Mail is more antiquated than She’s All That, but adorably so. Based on the black-and-white classic The Shop Around the Corner with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan and flush with signature Ephron dialogue — “Don’t you love New York in the fall? I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address” — You’ve Got Mail is as cozy and charming as egg nog and an oversized sweater, both of which I recommend as accompaniment to watching this film by the holiday hearth.
All The King’s Men
If you’re not completely exhausted by 2014 elections yet (this writer certainly is here in Chicago with the ill-fated Rauner v. Quinn race, among others), be sure to check out Robert Rossen’s Academy Award-winning All the King’s Men, your grandpa’s political farce. It’s an old-school, cynical, hard-nosed cautionary fable with a now classic message: power corrupts.
Broderick Crawford is Willie Stark. Good lord can this man shout. Just a real sonuvabitch. You can’t turn away because of this. He’s the “hick candidate” who endears himself to a nation looking for real people in office. You know the stump speech, about average fellas looking to make a difference? Stark practically invented then blew the lid on that shtick.
What makes King’s Men special is that it came not long after the joyous Capraganda that was Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which showed that truth, integrity, and democracy can find a way. Willie Stark would have loved that movie, made speeches about it, had screenings, then completely ignore the film’s messages with his corrupt and hungry practices. That’s why Stark endures – he’s a shade closer to every American politician of the last century. That’s not an indictment, but rather a head’s up.