Before there was Judd Apatow and before there was Cameron Crowe, there was John Hughes, living it up for the bumbling everyman’s pining over beautiful women they could never have and shower curtain rods they couldn’t possibly use as weapons to fend off the Wet Bandits. He made simple, down-to-earth clichés and dug deeper and deeper until you saw these goofy dweebs and hardass outcasts and self-absorbed princesses and nefarious principals as more than just stock placeholders. They were hypochondriac Redwing fan best friends who needed to grow up and tell their fathers they deserved more than living museums; they were surly-faced, lonely snow-shoveling neighbors who had falling outs with their sons and maybe, just needed someone to talk to sometimes, especially around the holidays. These stereotypes of horny teenage boys and sad polka kings of Milwaukee exist because they’re out there. The teenage girl usually chooses the handsome rich guy over Anthony Michael Hall. The pigeon ladies usually have mellow, nice old woman advice if you’d take the time to listen. John Hughes was realistic enough to let the stories ring true, but audacious enough to ask why they happened. And he even added in a few jokes to make the whole thing not feel like learning.
Even before he died, John Hughes had been gone for awhile. He hadn’t directed a film since 1991, but while he was alive, I could at least nurture the hope he might return, with a camera and a cocksucker grin, saving us from all the Fired Up!’s and Not Another Teen Movies‘ trying to laugh themselves out the easy way. But that point’s moot. He died visiting his family in New York, fitting since he was one of the good guys. So, now it’s up to a new generation of filmmakers. Not to be John Hughes but to take his ideas, his sincerity and show the world they’re not just 80s nostalgia but the heart, compassion and forward momentum of any worthy piece of art. Below are ten films with at least glimpses of the John Hughes magic. They‘re not the ten best films because John Hughes didn’t make Schindler’s List’s or American Beauty’s, he made movies to watch with your family during the holidays. He made goofy, touching loveable flicks so universal they could feel like home outside Shermer, Illinois. He never glossed over the heartache, the pain one can feel after giving away too many smiles, but he never lost his unrelenting optimism. John Hughes was one of us, a chubby, sheepish good guy, the type you look at and just know that dude probably loves a good piece of bacon, taking his shoes off after a long day and holding his wife’s hand at the movies. The world needs more of that. And while the following films aren’t Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, they’re at least clear signs you can still have fun at the movies. These are ten movies which did things the John Hughes way in a decade without John Hughes.
I used to think I loved music. I thought this because I owned Nick Drake albums, had Blondie posters on my wall and preferred the Big Joe Turner version of “Shake, Rattle and Roll”. But I was wrong. I only greatly enjoy music. I’ve met people who love music, and these goofy psychos are a different sort all together. They leave home to become stewardesses because of Simon & Garfunkel, drink cough syrup so they can stay up all night writing about Coltrane, scream like seven year old girls at across-the-lobby glimpses of David Bowie, and make movies like Almost Famous. Cameron Crowe’s 2000 masterwork is about music: the flawed characters who need to make it, the girls who need to feel a part of it and the outsiders who need to endlessly dissect it. Whether performing acoustic versions of “Something In The Air” or mending fences with “Tiny Dancer”, the characters in Almost Famous interpret the world through music, for better or for worse, and if the plane goes down, well, might as well go out in a fiery, truth-laden serenade to pretty Peggy Sue.
Growing up can suck. You close your eyes for a second, one fucking second, and it feels like the whole world has passed you by. Out of nowhere, some of your friends start drinking, having sex, acting a fool; your other friends start despising them, overtly judging the new seedy characters they started bringing around. And then you’re caught in this debilitating middle ground where part of you desperately wants to join the party and part of you sorta just wishes everyone still had birthday parties involving bowling. Seth, he wants to join the party. Evan, he’s pretty happy just hanging out. And McLovin is, of course, McLovin. That these friends are desperately trying to cling together as life propels them in different directions is an intuitively simple concept, but one fraught with too many layers and too much pent-up emotion for your run of the mill high school hormone picture. Greg Matolla’s Superbad embraces the sketchy gray area and isn’t afraid to let Seth feel betrayed by Evan and McLovin’s housing plans. Life is messy but a few shots of green alcohol can certainly take the edge off.
Like a rabid wolfpack trolling the streets of Las Vegas for strippers, cocaine and payphone banks, Doug, Stuart, Phil, Alan and Black Doug are the five best friends anyone could have, perhaps because they’re the five best friend personality types we’ve been encountering since long before Dorothy assembled a flying monkey defense force. Stuart is the successful, upwardly-mobile pussy, Phil the selfish and handsome conman, Alan the disconnected and inappropriately affectionate schlub and Black Doug, the black guy. I guess Doug is the guy we’re supposed to sympathize with on account of him not having personality disorders, but who roots for sane dude? Get a motley crue of freshly-tazered hooligans together and shit’s bound to happen. It’s like the laws of nature, guy code and Jaiger all pooled their resources to destroy Caesar’s Palace. Personally, I’m holding out for the sequel where Carlos marries Lola Sheen. It’s gonna be Classic Phil, which based on our limited sample size means it may or may not involve stealing field trip money, humping tigers and laughing uproariously when your buddies wake up with less teeth.
You might think you like someone, but you could be wrong. You might think you can keep the girls here all night, but, really, you can only keep them until four. You might think your new best friend is sabotaging the Queen Bee, but she’s actually just grown infatuated with the big-haired secrets and “Jingle Bell Rock” of girl world. Tina Fey’s Mean Girls has a lot of advice to offer on handling other girls, seducing boys, finding your place in the high school cesspool, but perhaps more importantly, it’s hysterical in totally sensible, realistic ways. Ugly band kids do fuck each other like rabbits. There is always one mathlete who thinks he’s a badass M.C. And as much as you might despise every last thing about their bitchy demeanors, coordinated outfits and threeway call attacks, there’s something mesmerizing, entrancing about the most popular chicks in school. They may be a merciless pack of life-ruining mean girls, but, as Damian can attest to, they always look fierce. P.S. I want my pink shirt back.
Remember The Titans
Most people seem to think Saved! is a cute little satire about Jesus-loving nut jobs taking their religious zeal to exciting, bitchy new levels. This is both true and misleading. Saved is, in fact, a satirical look at contemporary ultra-Christianity (and it works if examined on simply that level), but more than that, especially for all us Holy Rollers who got down with G-O-D at an early age, it’s a cathartic middle finger toward the good-intentioned spiritual machine which has made so many kids feel like absolute shit for growing up. You know that scene where everyone has a glow stick? They give those out at church camps for rededicating your life to the Lord. Do you have any idea what it feels like to walk around all day without a glowstick around your neck while all the hypocritical, glowstick-wearing fucks, your friends, reproachfully chastise you with their eyes because you’re starting to question and unwilling to make promises you‘re not sure you can keep? It’s horrifying. Maybe not horrifying enough to make me try and de-gayify the Sodomites, but certainly horrifying enough to call out bitches who say shit like, “you’re just jealous of my success in the Lord.“ Yeah, that really does happen. So, when I chortle at the thought of good Christian girls planting pipe bombs at Planned Parenthood, please know it’s an involuntary response to years of indoctrination. Saved! is my favorite inside joke of all time, that it works and works well amongst the heathens who never bothered asking Jesus into their hearts is a testament to how truly well the whole thing is put together.
Catch Me If You Can
You know how there’s a totem pole in prison? I don’t really know that. I’ve never been to jail, never sat atop that fiendish pecking order or groveled in its wake, but I have seen The Shawshank Redemption, that shitty Dax Sheppard movie and way too many episodes of Lockup: Extended Stay. And these things have told me there’s a hierarchy, one which places people who fuck with children on its bottom rung. Well, there’s a totem pole with public opinion too. Break into someone’s house to steal shit and you’re a loathsome bastard occupying one of the seedier circles of hell; concoct some ingenious scheme to defraud numerous major corporations of a few million dollars to finance your own extravagant lifestyle and you’re an intelligent good-ol-boy who couldn’t help himself. We love the Robin Hoods, the John Dillingers, the Frank Abagnale’s because they stick it to the system when the rest of us are feeling too responsible for such tomfoolery. There’s something to be said for a man who flies by night with a cocktail in his hand and his balls flapping in the breeze, just daring the world to outsmart him.
If a film is wildly overrated by some and wildly underrated by others, does that mean, through the sheer zealot lunacy nature of people’s love it or hate it opinions, it somehow becomes accurately rated? I’m not sure, but Garden State, while consistently pretentious and in no way shape or form as good as The Graduate, is pretty damn good. And I say this not because Natalie Portman drones on about making weird noises to feel totally original or because she tapdances by a fireplace because it seems easier than actually responding to intimate conversation, I say this because someone writes “balls” on Zach Braff’s face. I say this because Peter Sarsgaard exploits Handy World’s returns and exchanges policy. I say this because he collects Desert Storm Trading Cards and because sidecars are for bitches. I say this because despite itself, when Garden State is in the zone, it’s in the fucking zone. And if you have to listen to conversation about exploring the infinite abyss along the way, tough shit. Garden State is a funny movie that asks real questions and doesn’t answer them with recycled bullshit. Maybe more movies should be recklessly indulgent.
There’s a certain liveliness which permeates through Pixar movies. It’s an almost bi-polar, nothing-is-more-important-than-this-moment zest which forces the reader to not only emotionally invest but also interact with the characters on screen. Nothing has ever felt more devastating than the look in Ellie’s eyes after she found out she couldn’t have children, just as nothing has ever felt more euphoric than Carl sticking out his tongue at the world after a hundred thousand balloons carried his dusty home to freedom. Up lives for the moment, chasing squirrels and earning merit badges without ever really losing its overarching goal. Carl is going to South America because it’s what Ellie wanted. He made a promise and by God, he’s a man who keeps his word. You want to root for these characters, not because you want to see their goals accomplished but because you want the characters themselves to accomplish their goals. It somehow makes the whole thing less selfish, as if you wanted your favorite team to win not because of how happy it would make you but because of how proud it would make your favorite player to call his mother and tell her he did it.
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