Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Anti-Thanksgiving Movies


Think back to that paper you wrote about Thanksgiving in fourth grade, it probably went something like this: 'Thanksgiving is a time when we give thanks for all we're thankful for, and I'm thankful that I can give thanks for the things I'm thankful for.' Yes, Thanksgiving is about everything that's good in life, but unfortunately, these movies are not. These are the films you walk out of in a dark mood, wanting nothing more than to sink your head into a jello mold and watch the final minutes of your life slip by in a gelatin reflection. Below are the ten movies best representatives from the genre you will not be giving thanks for, simply because thinking about them may cause you to start sobbing in your cranberry sauce.

10. The Bicycle Thief
This was a slow-burn movie for me. It wasn't until later that night that The Bicycle Thief really sank in and I had to explain to my future wife why I had spontaneously started crying. It's one of the better stomach-punch movies because it sneaks up on you, it lulls you into thinking this tale of a father and son searching for a bicycle that was stolen, a machine that will provide precious employment in post-war Italy, is nothing more than an entertaining example of neo-realism. But when the father reaches the end of his rope and steals someone else's bicycle, while his son watches him get hauled away, the tears start flowing grease drips off pizza.

9. Glengarry Glen Ross
After Alec Baldwin's ball-busting speech that opens Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet's script takes us into the filthy, smarmy, mean, back-stabbing and greedy world of desperate salesmen. In one of Jack Lemmon's all-time best performance's, he plays Shelly (known to some of you as 'Gill' on 'The Simpsons') who is the guy that calls you at 8 a.m. on a Sunday trying to get you to invest in some piece of property you're allegedly interested in. Shelly used to close sales, now he just sees closed doors. He's willing to do anything to get back in the game. He's worse than any used car salesman, he's your worst friend ... he's an asshole. And when he finds out his big sale is a sham, you'll find yourself quietly laughing.

8. Bully
You know when you're watching a Larry Clark movie, it's not going to be something that'll exactly perk your spirits about. Like Clark's Kids, Bully shows the viewer just how dangerous bored, naive teens can be. 'Bully' gives us end-all-asshole Bobby (a young and imposing Nick Stahl), who constantly torments his childhood friend Marty, ultimately to the point that Marty and Co. decide it's best to put him out of his misery. Their 'perfect crime' comes undone so easily and by the time they're all in court in-fighting while each of their long prison sentences are handed down, you find yourself covering your mouth much like the court audience in the movie. Most depressing part? It's based on a true story.

7. The Ox-Bow Incident
On the surface this is a dark western, but The Ox-Bow Incident is at its core an extremely liberal (for the time) indignation of lynching, which was still prevalent. When a small Nevada town gets word that a popular rancher was murdered and his cattle herd rustled, a band of 'justice' seekers set out to catch the band. They find three worthy-enough suspects in the mountains and convict them in the court of mob justice before stringing them up, just minutes before the sheriff rides up and informs them that they're all murderers. Damn! As Henry Fonda reads the letter a suspect wrote to his wife minutes before being executed, you find yourself wondering why you had to be born human.

6. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
Almost any Sam Peckinpah movie could be included here, but I chose Alfredo Garcia is his most dark entry (probably because it was the only one without any studio interference). When a Mexican general puts a hefty bounty for the head of the man that knocked up his daughter, Bennie (Peckinpah stalwart Warren Oates, who else?) wises up, because he knows Alfredo is dead and he knows his hooker girlfriend will help him find the body. Lots of gut-wrenching moments here, like when Bennie and gal's romantic outdoor dinner is interrupted by bikers (one being Kris Kristofferson) who want to rape her, Bennie tries to be the hero for her, but is turned away because she's "been here before." Yikes. Did I mention for the last third of the movie, our hero totes around a fly-infested bag containing ole' Al's head?

5. Native Son
Few have seen this Oprah movie from 1986, fewer should have to. Native Son is the warming tale of Bigger Thomas, a do-good black teen from the slums of 1940s Chicago who tries to care for his family by getting a job as a chauffer for a wealthy family. He drives the daughter around a lot, one night she gets drunk and Bigger tries to keep her quiet in the house so her father doesn't scold her, but there's one problem: he inadvertantly suffocates her in the process. Whoops. Time to save his hide so he dumps her body in the house's incinerator. Of course the authorities wise up and find her bones, and young Bigger is sent to the chair while mother Oprah looks on. Ain't life grand?

4. Requiem for a Dream
I'm convinced that most heroin addicts aren't big movie or music buffs. Because if they had seen any good smack movies (The Basketball Diaries anyone?), or heard any of the seemingly hundreds of rock 'n roll songs about the horrors of the drug (Black Sabbath's Hand of Doom is a good one) I think they would be scared straight. But if I'm ever some kind of teacher, when it comes to drug education, I would just show them Requiem for a Dream, which depicts the thrills of hard core drug use in such a way that you're pretty much numb to the multi-pronged 'you can't unsee this' ending.

3. Last House on the Left
This doesn't make the list just because it tried to shock audiences with graphic depictions of violence (mostly against women), rather because once the completely ridiculous ending is finally over, you find yourself wondering why you just spent 90 mins of your life on such a terrible movie. No, Wes Craven's early effort is not one of the best horror movies of the 70s, it is just a very bad movie. Why does all the dialogue sound like something a 7th grader would write on their skateboard (yes, we realize she's a young woman, we don't need 5 lines in the opening 10 mins about her breasts), why does the supposed realism devolve into antics that would make Leslie Neilsen's eyes bleed (oh you're hooking that up to the doorknob so he'll get shocked, yes we all saw that on Tom and Jerry). You've been warned.

2. Mask
Let's be quite clear on something, only two movies have made me cry: The Bicycle Thief and the No.1 movie on this list. But only one movie has made me cry twice (also the number of times I've seen it), and that is Mask. Frankly, if you don't at least fake some tears at the end of this one, you're kind of an asshole. Come on people, sure he has a deformed head, but he's still a nice guy! Damn the only person outside of mom Cher's biker gang who treats him normally is a blind Laura Dern, and then her parents won't let her even talk to him! And come on mom, all he wanted to do was travel a little, couldn't you drop the loser boyfriends for a weekend before he dies! Oh, yeah he dies at the end, as if you didn't see that coming! Excuse me, it's getting dusty in here ...

1. Grave of the Fireflies
Now while Mask is a tearjerker, it is also a very good movie. The makers of Grave of the Fireflies appeared to have an agenda: to make the most sickeningly depressing movie ever. By the end you can barely see the credits through your tears, but you feel as if the filmmakers had you in a full nelson throughout the movie, hoping it will get tears out of you. And I realize Roger Ebert has given this his great movie treatment, but there was no enjoyment in this movie for me. This anime tale gives us two WWII orphans in Japan, who just watched their mother die from firebomb burns, and have to live with cruel relatives. They take their money and chastise the son for not working, even though he's like 7. So they move out and live in a cave, surviving on what big bro can steal. If you don't know by now what will happen at the end, I'll give you a hint: people (especially young children) need to eat.

17 comments:

Marianna said...

Grave of the Fireflies really is the most depressing movie I've ever seen. You keep expecting someone to swoop in and rescue the children but they never do and then it's over and you feel helpless!

Mike Sheffler said...

Of these, I've only seen Glengarry Glen Ross and Requiem for a Dream. I can't really comment on your larger thesis of these movies being anti-Thanksgiving, but I certainly wouldn't classify them as being expressly designed to promote Thanksgiving.

On one of my first days of work, I went into the kitchen to fill my water bottle. Somebody was getting coffee. I yelled at them, "Put that coffee down! Coffee's for closers only!" I don't think they got it.

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