This Thanksgiving, I thought about all the movies I’m thankful for. These aren’t just movies I like. These are movies that by all accounts should not exist at all, yet somehow they persevered through development, studio notes, critical derision and often box office failure, yet exist for eternity thanks to some filmmakers’ determination. Even in the last 10 years, there are 12 movies to relish on Black Friday morning when everybody’s up early shopping.
South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut
10 years later, the South Park series has gotten profoundly far by addressing social issues like Terry Schiavo. Still, in its day, the movie took meta to a new level. Trey Parker and Matt Stone made a movie about the controversy that would ensue over their own movie. The kids sneak into an R rated movie where they learn to swear, so their parents protest the movie, ultimately declaring war on the country that produced it. It’s also a rockin’ musical with songs about f***ing your uncle. Something tells me the Paramount brass was looking the other way when this slipped through.
For now, this only exists in my memory, although Starz has aired it as the theatrical double feature with trailers. There is no Planet Terror. There is no Death Proof. There is only Grindhouse, an ode to being outrageous. Two of Hollywood’s most powerhouse independents put together their ultimate double feature of awesome. They played with way more Weinstein money than they had any right to given the source of inspiration, but now we get machine gun amputees and helicopters chopping zombie hordes. The reason Death Proof works in this format is that if you’ve ever been to a grindhouse double feature, you know the second film is the low rent sidekick to the first, the one that pads out its running time with talking because they only have one money shot. And Death Proof has a better money shot than any real grindhouse movie.
Look, The Matrix was groundbreaking, provocative and awesome. It was about time someone brought wirework martial arts to America. But Hollywood took it way too seriously after that so someone needed to take the piss out of “serious” martial arts. Letting the hot babes of a Charlie’s Angels remake do it was awesome, and the fight scenes are pretty damn good. Add to that the blatant sexual ogling and it was a huge party. It’s well reported that the studio wasn’t happy with what they were getting. You know what happens when the studio does get what they want? Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.
The Big Hit
A personal favorite of mine, this movie came out exactly at a time when it defined me personally. I was having some trouble with the ladies (not much has changed), so to see an action movie about a guy paralyzed by the fear that a woman wouldn’t like him was awesome. I’m not talking about the remorseful hitman in love type of movie like Grosse Point Blank (another favorite of mine but for commonly acknowledged brilliance). This was a batsh*t crazy expression of insecurity via Hong Kong action. In this guy’s world, returning a videotape of King Kong Lives to the video store requires running from a flipping car and kung fu’ing it out between the rental shelves. They did Hong Kong style action before The Matrix and comedy action before Rush Hour brought it to the states. There’s Jewish in-laws in the middle of a shootout and a character obsessed with masturbation. Check it out.
Almost any Jackie Chan movie defies existence itself. Especially his Hong Kong movies, where he doesn’t have American insurance standards to rein him in. Somehow, in his mid-50s, Jackie Chan can still come up with sequences that blow my mind. All of The Myth is good, but one scene in particular would be worth 10 mediocre Rush Hour sequels. Jackie and the bad guys find themselves on a conveyor belt stuck with glue. Every time part of them touches the belt, their limb gets stuck. Chan constructs a breathtaking, hilarious, tension-filled fight as the players move closer and closer to a chopping blade. Thanks to The Myth, this sequence exists forever.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
Now, who could get away with overtly making one big inside joke? Will Smith has a lot of fans, but I don’t see anyone greenlighting a movie that’s all ID4 and MIB references. Somehow Kevin Smith got the Weinsteins to fund a movie that was purely a love letter to his own fans. Centered on characters that nobody outside of his circle would know, the story requires that you know what has happened in Smith’s four previous films and remember all the specific jokes from it. Of course, I follow those films intimately, so I’m right there. And actually, 8 years later this movie still holds up.
Across the Universe
Here’s my highbrow entry for this list, but I’ve felt this way ever since I saw it. After reported battles and recuts with the studio, it seemed the Beatles musical was unreleasable. Its perfunctory exhibition revealed why. Despite a catalog of guaranteed soundtrack hits, Julie Taymor did not make the movie Joe Roth wanted. He probably wanted the Mamma Mia version of Beatles music, not a surreal anti-war drama with abstract visuals. Somehow Taymor got away with it, and though she did not get it in 4,000 theaters, the movie exists.
Crank: High Voltage
I don’t know if Neveldine/Taylor are going to get to make another movie, but they sure blew their wad in the best way on their third (though it was released before Gamer, you can tell it’s the natural evolution.) Crank was crazy, but only action movie crazy. Yeah, Jason Statham can keep going and not get hurt because he’s the hero. High Voltage just breaks every rule imaginable. It cuts to a Japanese monster interlude, it flashes back to young Chev Chelios on a talk show and it ends with a blatant F U to the audience. I can’t even believe the things they got Amy Smart to do for this anarchy, but I’m sure glad to have it on my shelf.
These were both total gifts to the fans. We wanted to see our iconic ‘80s heroes one more time, and Stallone did what it took to bring them back for us. It was so nice of Stallone to take HGH just for us, so he could do Rocky and Rambo at 60. That was for us. He got himself all jacked and did the training montages, the boxing fights, ran through the jungle and blew people limb from limb. The fact that Rambo actually has a legitimate political message without ever breaking the ultraviolent jingoistic slant of the franchise is brilliant. Thank God he’s not done yet.
Live Free or Die Hard
Again, I wanted to see another Die Hard. I wasn’t satisfied by With a Vengeance. So big bald Bruce came back to fight a fighter jet with a Mack truck. At least they realized that the only way to pay proper homage to the original, a film that’s so perfect it remains suspenseful no matter how well you have it memorized, was to just get crazy. It’s really expensive to blow up freeways and crash trucks into jets. I can’t afford to do that. Hollywood has to do that so I can pay my $10 share. I really appreciate that they did that for me. Thank you.
Snakes on a Plane
I still love those motherf***in’ snakes on that motherf***in’ plane. I stand behind this movie. It was the highest concept movie ever, which is what movies should be. Just take an idea so ridiculous that it sounds funny, and do it. They made it work. You watch and it make perfect sense that a drug lord put snakes on a plane and they got loose and bit people’s private parts until everyone trampled each other to death. So what if the hype backfired. It’s actually pretty awesome.
Shoot ‘Em Up
Seriously, anyone who knows action movies should worship Michael Davis for coming up with the cleverest sequences in film history. What, are peopl hung up on you can’t shoot props for yourself to jump and roll from or survive head-on car collisions? This is a movie. It’s not supposed to be real. As long as it’s awesome, do whatever the hell you want! This movie has sequences that I imagined as a kid and thought nobody would ever get away with doing in a movie. Clive Owen launches himself through his windshield to get leverage on the bad guys and take them all out. Then he came up with stuff I’m just not creative enough for. This is the essence of what every movie should be. Come up with a creative solution for conflict, unbounded by “reality” because the very idea of a movie is fantasy. The world might not be ready for it, but when they are, Shoot ‘Em Up is there.
Tell us what movies you’re thankful for this Thanksgiving season.