Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Self Portrait

A couple of weeks ago, the LA Times compiled a list of the top 25 movies from the past 25 years set in Los Angeles. They acknowledged in the original story that the list was likely to stir up debate and anger among film buffs and Angelenos, and they were, of course, correct in their prediction.

At first glance at the choices, I myself was enraged by the list as it seemed to focus on some really shallow crap (pardon my francais, s'il vous plait) but once I read the full article including the reviewers' explanations for their choices, I was only half enraged. Furthermore, I was mildly delighted by some of the selections that I had previously pooh-poohed. Of course, some of the arguments were still cringe-worthy, and I can't let those go unpunished.

Indulge me, won't you, and take a stroll through the list once more so that I may point out the high- and low-lights:
  • A quote by director Curtis Hanson about Kim Basinger's character justifies LA Confidential's inclusion on the list and expresses a more nuanced point of view than the typical "sunshine with a seamy underbelly" chestnut: "She's a natural beauty with a phony image, a disguise that's all about selling it to the suckers. But when you go beyond the image, as when you go beyond L.A. as the city of manufactured illusion, the character is not only beautiful but totally self-aware. Underneath, she knows the truth about who she is. Everybody else is struggling to figure it out."
  • I'm fine with Jackie Brown being on this list. I'm fine with any Quentin Tarantino film being on this list.
  • Beverly Hills Cop? No. Just no. You might as well choose Down & Out in Beverly Hills. If Los Angeles had an anti-LA defamation league, this film would have been picketed. I don't care if this was the first "real guy from elsewhere vs. shallow effete LA snobs" film (and it wasn't), it is a tiresome schtick. It was tiresome when Aesop did it with his city mouse and country mouse, and it's tiresome now.
  • Robert Altman has done Los Angeles much better than in The Player. I nominate Three Women, for instance. Okay, that wasn't made in the past 25 years. I still nominate Three Women.
  • LA Story covers similar ground as The Player with the terrible "industry" folk, and one might think I would hate it for Sarah Jessica Parker's aerobics airhead character pitted against a "real" intelligent woman from England, but it does have a little more depth in the story. As the LA Times notes, "L.A.-haters will have their worst suspicions confirmed by the film's view of restaurant culture and insane commutes. However, underneath the white, upper-middle class flakiness, there's a steady hum of magic, possibility and surprise that can be appreciated only by those who love the city as much as Martin does."
  • Clueless. I love this movie, though it hurts me. It presents a hilarious view of a very small slice of the population, but it's one of those movies that LA haters point to as an example of what LA is. Same goes for Valley Girl. Give me Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
  • I unfortunately can't discuss Collateral or Training Day because I couldn't watch them. I simply can't abide Tom Cruise or Ethan Hawke.
  • From the article: '"Mulholland Drive" could just as easily be called "Boulevard of Broken Dreams."' Ick. Ten point penalty to list contributor Mark Olsen for that observation.
  • To Live and Die in LA. Yes. Well done. I mean, the car chase.
  • Less Than Zero - the film adaptation of a shallow book that felt the idea that "(in Los Angeles) people are afraid to merge" was a brilliant insight. New York gets American Psycho and LA gets Less Than Zero. Thanks a lot, Bret.
  • Fletch - there are only 25 spaces on this list and you fill one with Fletch? I smell a rat.
  • Crash instead of Falling Down? And furthermore, list contributor Mark Olsen comes up with this tidbit about the inspiration for the film: "Haggis had his Porsche carjacked outside a video store on Wilshire Boulevard in 1991. How L.A. is that?" How LA is that? Screw you, Paul Haggis, and screw you, Mark Olsen. That's another ten point penalty to you. In fact, you get a red card. You're ejected from the game.
Finally, I'd like to suggest one more film: Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Yes, it's mainly set in Vegas, but it starts out in Los Angeles, and I find it wonderful that a director so well known for his fanciful dream worlds can so masterfully portray a Los Angeles that I can actually recognize. Well done, Munchausen. Now come back and give us a whole movie, will you?

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