While I'm still one of those cranky contrarians who counts years from 1 to 10 and not 0 to 9, and thus resisting a Best of Decade list, since everyone else is musing on the last 10 years and the best and worst of it, I gotta throw a few shekels into the conversation.
A couple weeks back, David Wain, a frustratingly hot-and-cold type responsible for both the brilliant DIGGERS and ROLE MODELS, and the absolutely reprehensible WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER, decided to indulge his weakness for predictably tired snark by posting his "Middle 10 Neither Best Nor Worst Movies of the Decade". Get it? They're the most mediocre! No, they're not even the most mediocre, because they're in the middle! And once again, fish are dumped into a barrel and fired at with tommy guns, because God and Godard decree that middlebrow entertainment is a capital crime, and those rubes in fly-over country must be ridiculed for even enjoying it. Apparently to Wain and his progeny, ironic detachment is valued in the same measurements most men apply to penis size.
But to give Insipid Caesar what is his, his list did provoke me to consider that elusive median of pleasure and the time I spent with it in the past ten years. I'm not talking about "comfort food" movies per se, because to me comfort food still involves home cooking, i.e. a degree of personal style and achievement. No, we are in the realm of fast food and empty calories here. Stuff that isn't quite good enough to merit serious acclaim, not bad enough to receive my angriest rebuke, and that overall, I consumed with enthusiasm, time and again. Because in my movie regimen, there's been Porterhouse steak, there's been crisp spicy vegetables, there's been large overstuffed club sandwiches with home fries...and then, as those geniuses at 7-Eleven know so well, sometimes you just need a dog. Not some gourmet concoction from the hipster truck-du-jour, or the scarred and charred soldier from the home grill, not even Frank Zappa's beloved Burnt Weeny Sandwich. No, that lonesome brown tube that's been rolling on the silver rods since half-past-who's-watching-the-clock.
So, without ranking since this is all about the middle, here are a few of the best of the ordinary, the benchwarmers that made waiting for the big-ticket players better than bearable:
THE AMERICAN PIE TRILOGY
Teen sex comedies may not have been around as long as there's been teen sex, or not even as long as when the cops stopped shining flashlights in parked cars, but the cliches surely feel like they've been around that long: jocks are stupid, nerds are desperate, and nobody seems to have any outside interests beyond the next lay. John Hughes and Cameron Crowe gave teenagers dignity, but they focused on Really Deep Thoughts of love and the future, and put a sanctity to the sex act. Back in 1999 (talk about fudging that decade timeline, huh?), the Weitz brothers had no illusions about their modern-day wild rumpus, calling it "Untitled Teenage Sex Comedy That Can Be Made For Under $10 Million That Most Readers Will Probably Hate But I Think You Will Love." But the film that resulted, and the two theatrically-released sequels that followed, sent a subtle message amidst all the shenanigans: Good kids like to fuck. It is possible to be smart, hard-working, have good moral character and a bright future and still enjoy hot, clumsy sex that doesn't result in anything more troubling than a bruised ego. And every few years later, in the dying days of summer, a visit with this gang was always a welcome opportunity. I've chosen not to watch any of the made-for-DVD "presentations" so as to not tarnish my memory, but I won't slag on them sight unseen; far be it from me to deny good guys like Eugene Levy and the Sherminator a paycheck.
THE BROKEN LIZARD GANG
They're not the funniest collective in the business. They'll never have the brains of Monty Python, or the brazenness of the Kids in the Hall, or the depth of Judd Apatow's extended company. Their movies are silly and predictable at best, uneven and sloppy at their worst. But syrup bottles on the table: while I saw tighter comedies like TROPIC THUNDER or SUPERBAD only once in theatres, I went to see BEERFEST three times, dragging a first-time viewer with me each visit. And if SUPER TROOPERS is on cable, you'll stay a while and revisit it; you or someone you know still giggles a little when the word "shenanigans" is used. Their newest movie, THE SLAMMIN' SALMON is again, not the most clever or polished comedy out there, but I laughed a lot. Ambition and danger are important to the evolution of good comedy, but never underestimate the simplicity of a funny line reading or a bonk on the head. Broken Lizard truly is good enough to fuck your mother.
Again, to give propers to Mr. Wain, it's not difficult to make a competent but forgettable movie. To fling poo at Michael Bay, it's not difficult either to make an incompetent but forgettable movie. But to have the absolute lack of restraint, shame, guile, or sense to make a movie that is both incompetent and unforgettable, something that if its name is uttered it brings a secret guilty smile to your face because you strangely respected the effort but enjoyed the chaotic disaster even more...now that is an achievement! Genial author and critic Alonso Duralde likes to call this "So Bad They're Brilliant." The equally jovial Dave White prefers the mantle "Awful is the New Awesome." The subversive geniuses at L.A.'s CineFamily even devote a monthly series to this notion calling it "HOLY FUCKING SHIT!" And there was an abundance of This Fucking Shit like no other these years. Whether it was the late John S. Rad damning the hardship of meshing incongruent storylines shot 20 years apart in DANGEROUS MEN, or the mysterious (and possibly pseudonymous) "Mark Region" making an MRI machine out of cardboard and offering copiers you could use in AFTER LAST SEASON, or the Ed Woodian manipulation of emotionally and/or literally dead actors in ROYAL KILL...oh what the hell, I'll tip the hat to that emblem of PoMo douchebaggery gone berserk THE ROOM...peculiar people with a dream and a four-wall contract made deliciously distasteful fusion cuisine in an otherwise bland food court of film.
THE ATONEMENT OF JEAN CLAUDE VAN DAMME
As the new century began, while there was no shortage of action adventure and big shit exploding, there was a noticeable lack of Greco-Roman Crud-Out-of-Beating in theatre auditoriums; the dependable mid-card manly-man programmer was being cast aside for higher-priced main eventers, and thus to answer Paula Cole, all the cowboys went straight to DVD. But while Wesley Snipes burned money, reputation, and weed and Steven Segal seemed to spend more time in the restaurant than the gym, the Muscles from Brussels was using his time in purgatory to quietly and steadily become a better actor, usually with the help of a director as half-mad as himself (Ringo Lam, IN HELL) or with a solid co-star as his antagonist (Stephen Rea, UNTIL DEATH). His hard work paid off with a miraculous return to theatres in the mythbusting JCVD, where an initial comic self-deprecation turned to a legitimately moving drama about humiliation and redemption, complete with a ballsy fourth-wall-breaking confession.
THE ASCENSION OF JASON STATHAM
And speaking of breaking walls, bones, and appliances, a bald brawny bloke who was already proving to be a game ensemble player in SNATCH and THE ITALIAN JOB can thank the French for putting him in a shiny car and a sharp suit and making him a name-above-the-title kinda guy. THE TRANSPORTER begat two sequels, and THE BANK JOB, and DEATH RACE, and CRANK. Patton Oswalt was one of the first to openly declare himself as "gay-tham for Statham", and yes homo, I'm in that uncampy camp as well. So much so I can forgive being tortured by the worst film of 2009, CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE; what's a relationship that can't survive a big blunder?
So, fellow junk food junkies, who would you like to add to the roster? This is hardly complete. I already know I'm going to get flamed for not including, say, the chitlin cinema of Tyler Perry and T.D. Jakes (never seen one, can't pass judgment), and sorry to say the whole Asian horror thing kinda wore out its welcome hence the latter's absence here. So how about some more tips on where to get some hot juicy nitrates and preservatives?
Underrated '87 - Ira Brooker
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