#41: The Last Boy Scout — dir. Tony Scott
Shane Black. If there’s a fault to my writing, it’s that I’ve been spending my entire career trying to balance myself between Kevin Smith and Shane Black. I love snappy fucking dialogue that’s way too clever and precious for its own good. I don’t care. I don’t care if it’s pretentious. I don’t care if it’s stylistically suspect. I just don’t care. I love it.
The Last Boy Scout is such a dark fucking movie. Holy Christ. It opens with a football player committing suicide. Danielle Harris as Darien Hollenback is a foul-mouthed ball of wretchness and hormones. The quote that leads this piece pretty much sums up the whole movie. It’s a buddy comedy where the concept of “adjusting to one another” takes on a whole nother dimension. I had such a hard time coming up with a quote because most of the dialogue requires exchanges. It’s lightning fast and smart-ass as fuck. Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans spend the entire film carving each other to ribbons. Almost everything out of anyone’s mouth is cutting and acidic. It’s such a brutal amazing flick.
So yeah, it trumps the other Tony Scott films on my list. I’m a sucker for witty, high octane action. Shit, Michael Bay almost found his way on the list because of Bad Boys. Most of the time, action is formulaic, and clearly assembled from popular merchandise that needs to be sold. But this, this is almost a giant fuck you to formula. Strangely enough, this follows the same formulaic road, but it seems to be doing it by climbing outside the car and giving the finger to the driver inside the whole ride. Maybe Shane Black is just Tarantino without the kung-fu boner, but goddamn do I love his movies.
#42 Nine to Five — dir. Colin Higgins.
I remember hearing complaints in our screenwriting class that we never screened films with strong female leads. And as always people said, “Well, Thelma and Louise. ” Which is true and awesome. But that should also include comedies. And Nine to Five, is perfect. It’s a workplace comedy, it’s got hilarious performances, and it’s nothing short of brilliant. It’s so well constructed, and even when the stakes get crazy/zany, it still stays on track. Plus, I get sick of people trotting out Thelma and Louise like it’s their black friend that proves they aren’t racist. Congratulations. You tried really hard and you found one that meets your quotas. TRY HARDER.
And I love Lily Tomlin and Dabney Coleman in this film. But Dolly Parton is a national treasure. And that’s no kind of bullshit, big boobs joke. Dolly Parton is amazing. She’s incredible. And she’s so fantastic in this film. Between this and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, she’s done the crossover aptly.
#43: Caddyshack — dir. Harold Ramis
Do I need to explain this one? I don’t need to explain this, right? It’s kind of like Jimmy Buffett music. I’m always going to like it because of college. Same as I will always love Uncle Buck and cigars. It’s just going to happen because of my days at Washington and Lee. My father’s a golfer, and neither of his sons inherited his skill or desire. We were known as Splash and Divot. Todd chunked drives with great fury. If you put a cup of water anywhere on the course, I would hook my ball directly into it.
But this movie. So endlessly quotable. Ted Knight’s amazing. Rodney Dangerfield basically playing his comic persona set to 15 and it’s hilarious. I suspect that Witness was the first time I saw boobs on film, but I think Caddyshack (or maybe Police Academy) were my first parent sanctioned boobs. Intentional or otherwise. But honestly, I forgot about the nudity. I just remember driving the flowers with the rake, and the pool poop.
I find myself quoting this movie when I perform outdoor activities more than any other. It’s in the hole, or I don’t think the heavy stuff’s coming down for quite some time, or NOONAN. It’s a more potent psyche out than STEVE PERRY anyday.
#44: The King of Comedy — dir. Martin Scorsese
Yes, THIS is the Scorsese flick I picked. And YES, it’s this far down the list. But, the deal is, have you seen this film? You may have seen the references on Family Guy or in other pop culture. Meg tying up Brian with a ton of masking tape while she’s in her underwear talking about “good, clean fun.” This is such a dark, creepy, well-assembled flick. This is an almost insane mix of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. DeNiro’s performance here is incredibly unsettling, because it is so desperate and determined.
Most people regale his Travis Bickle or Jake Lamotta, but DAMN his Rupert Pupkin is startling. I guess it’s because DeNiro typically plays tough guys. That’s his thing. And Pupkin isn’t tough, he’s the farthest from it. He’s a schmuck, a yutz, a dork. But a fucking dangerous dork. Totally mentally unstable. He sets up that basement with all the cardboard cutouts, which is almost sadder than imaginary friends. Sandra Bernhard as Masha, who’s just as fucking bonkers. And Jerry Lewis as Jerry Langford is astounding. A man known for playing zany slapsticky goofy comedy just goes totally dark. Just eerie and serious and just as menacing.
I watched this as part of the syllabus for a first-level screenwriting class I was T.A.ing. I ended up watching it four times. And each time, you see the unsettling build. It’s so put together. And while I love Scorsese’s “mafia work”, it’s easy to forget what a goddamn surrealist he was.
#45: Audition (Odishon) — dir. Takashi Miike
Miike had to make the list. He was my foray into Asian horror, a terribly limiting term that encompasses Thai, Korean and Japanese horror. (I don’t think I’ve seen any Chinese horror, but maybe.) And of course it would be Audition, a film that to this day, I can make Sarah Diamond squirm and gag by simply going “Di-di-di-di-di!”
Like Oldboy and other Asian horrors, it’s about the every day macabre. The monsters are people, monsters who hurt each other not in grand guignol splatterfests, but with simple, simple, horrifying torture. There are two things that stand out for me from this movie, that have been permanently etched in my psyche and that make me shake and twitch even recalling them. The wire. And the bag. For those who have seen the film, yeeeeeaaaaaahhh. For those who haven’t. Well. Good luck. Bring a barf bag.
#46: Bloodsport — dir. Newt Arnold
A Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme film was ending up on this list, bar none. My father, my brother and I would watch these all the time. My father studied aikido, so he was always a fan of the early Seagal. Before he went all manatee — both spiritually and physically. Early Seagal is fucking amazing. Above the Law, Hard to Kill, Marked for Death, Out for Justice, and Under Siege. Ridiculously fun, bad ass films where he’s basically spending the entire time just flipping people over tables and beating the unmerciful fuck out of them.
Then there’s JCVD. I get the early flicks mixed because he spends the entire time doing the splits across the floor and fighting either of the Qissi brothers or Bolo Yeung. Bolo Yeung is Chong Li, not to be confused with Tong Po of the Kickboxer fame. What? Exactly. JCVD would get the goddamn hell booted out of him and Seagal rarely got touched. That’s why I prefer JCVD. I like my heroes roughed up.
Bloodsport is probably, assuredly bullshit. Frank Dux was proven endlessly to be an exaggerator on a massive scale. That’s me being nice. But it’s a great story. The Kumate was the world’s greatest fighters coming together to whoop each others asses in a battle royale. And Dux, an American, supposedly won it. So JCVD plays Dux. And Donald Gibb, Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds, plays his best friend who gets beat up and then Dux has to go and hit two home runs in the big game so he can live again. It doesn’t matter. It’s just the over blown slow motion full split kicks and fighting blind at the end that make this winner.
And Newt Arnold directed. While not much on his resume as a director, he was involved with some of the greatest films of all time. Not the ones on my list mind you, but the ones that sane people qualify as the greatest. IMDb him. You’ll see.
#47: Teeth — dir. Mitchell Lichtenstein
Vagina dentata! What a wonderful phrase! Vagina dentata! Ain’t no passing craze!
I think it’s the experience of seeing this movie that will always endear it to my heart. Don’t get me wrong, watching Jess Weixler go from innocent, purity ring fundamentalist to stalker of sexual deviants with the only weapon at her disposal is hilarious. Almost as good as watch John Hensley play rebellious thug.
Plus, I absolutely love the reversal of roles. I don’t dare get into feminist discourse. It’s more dangerous than fingerbanging Dawn, and less rewarding. But I adore the fact that what Teeth ultimately is is the origin story of a monster. It’s also a horror film embracing sexuality and discovery and experimentation rather than the typical trope/unspoken rule of the virginal girl is pure enough to survive the evils outside the campfire. The satire is spot on, the story is gory and hilarious, and it’s a charmingly squishy film.
But as I said, it was the experience of watching it the first time that filled me with pure joy. Higginbottom and I were in the middle of our old tradition of a shotgun movie experience. We were wandering Pasadena, back when it still had the Laemmle in Old Pasadena, and we went to see five films in one day, walking from the Laemmle to the Paseo before it went Arclight, to the Regency Cheapo at the end. It’s only a mile, but what a damn mile. Anyway, we went to see the film at the Laemmle Old Pasadena, in the little basement theatre there. It was a crowd of mostly older skeevy looking dudes by themselves. They were clearly there to see nubile young flesh. And they got it. But there were way more peens in the flick that they were expecting or comfortable with. Higginbottom and I were cackling with glee. And they were all silent and horrified, as if Mitchell Lichtenstein had broken a covenant. Sluts must be punished! But it was the teen boys who were. Dawn of the dawn.
Lichtenstein’s second effort didn’t do much for me. It was like a weak-tea version of a good Nicole Holofcener flick. And it decidedly wasn’t a horror flick. He’s returned to the macabre with his period piece Angelica, so I’m curious to see how that turns out.