Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Lovable losers: My favorite movie misfits

I was gonna call this list favorite f***ups, but this blog is, after all, still linked from a family newspaper.

In case anyone wonders where I get the idea for these lists from, it doesn't take much. This morning it was simply thinking of one of my favorite movies that I hadn't seen for several years, the one that happens to top this list. I'm sure there are many other movie freaks and geeks out there that have captured your hearts, so please feel free to add any I have snubbed in the comments (and, for the record, I didn't include "Napoleon Dynamite" because Napoleon is, of course, far too cool to ever be called a loser.

1. "You Can Count on Me"
When, under duress, I'm requested to name a single favorite film, this little Kenneth Lonergan gem has been known to top the list from time to time (though if you ask me 10 times, you might just get 10 different answers.) This charming take on the prodigal son tale introduced me to both Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, and I can't ask for much more from a movie than that. I thought Kenneth Lonergan had just disappeared, but a visit to the IMDB revealed this welcome fact: He has a new movie, called "Margaret" and starring Anna Paquin, listed as completed. Welcome back, Mr. Lonergan.

2. Jesus' Son
Count this one as both one of my favorite books and movies. The flick by Allison Maclean (another once-promising director who has seemed to just disappear) captures all of the desperation of Dennis Lehane's novel, and Billy Crudup, Samantha Morton and, particularly, Holly Hunter as the angel/savior are all fantastic.

3. Ghost World
Thora Birch may just be the perfect example of a lovable loser. In "Ghost World," her Enid flunks out of art class, tries and fails to find love with Steve Buscemi and then, possibly, commits suicide (I really hope I'm not giving anything away here, but if you haven't seen this great Terry Zwigoff film, do so right away, and the ending is wonderfully ambiguous enough that I'm almost certain you won't be mad at me.)

4. Manhattan
Just how in the world did Woody Allen con so many beautiful women into being pawns in his often-twisted romantic movie world? Though you can argue that even Woody's best flicks follow a familiar path, this one is always my favorite because of just how far his Isaac Davis actually falls: By the time he's standing in that apartment building lobby, rejected for the last time by his 17-year-old muse Mariel Hemingway, it's just movie perfection.

5. Rushmore
It seems wierd to call a character as confident in his geekhood as Max Fischer a loser, but look at what happens to him in this great Wes Anderson flick. He starts by flunking hard out of Rushmore Academy and then is barely even able to make a go of it in the wild world of public high school. Like the best losers, however, Max gets the last laugh (and dance), of course, to the always-welcome strains of the Faces' "Ooo La La."

6. Charlie Brown
You could pick any of poor Charlie's tales, but when I was a kid the one that always got me the most excited was "Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown." I guess it was the idea of kids getting to race down through rapids on rafts, against their pets, no less, that really got me jazzed.

7. Amelie
Can you call someone as adorable as Audrey Tautou a loser? Though Amelie Poulain eventually finds love in this thoroughly charming flick from Jean-Pierre Jeunet, look at how far she had to journey to get there: At the beginning of the movie, she's living all alone in an apartment building full of old folks and is barely a functioning member of society. I know many people find this flick just way too sappy to stomach, but it gets me every time.

8. After Hours
Martin Scorsese has surely made better movies than this silly little flick, but it still remains my favorite of all his works. As Griffin Dunne's Paul Hackett sees his night go from bad to worse to even worse, it's both a valentine to New York City and, even better, Martin Scorsese clearly having fun.

9. Rocket Science
I'll close with one from this year that I'm virtually certain almost nobody saw. As the follow-up to his documentary debut, "Spellbound," Jeffrey Blitz made this autobiographical flick about his experiences as a stuttering teen growing up in New Jersey. Despite the rather horrendous title, it features excellent performances from Reece Thompson and Broadway veteran Anna Kendrick, and co-star Nicholas D'Agosto can currently be seen as Claire's new boytoy on "Heroes." If you missed this one, look for it on DVD soon and enjoy one of my favorite flicks of 2007.

So, there you have it. A fun enough way to begin a Wednesday, I must say. Peace out.

19 comments:

Bob said...

That's a good list. Choices that I didn't see coming but make a lot of sense. It never occurred to me that Enid might be about to commit suicide at the end of "Ghost World." Not my interpretation of the ending but I'll buy that take.
I would have to add to the list another Scorsese character, Rupert Pupkin in "The King of Comedy" and of course both Withnail and Marwood (or I if you prefer :)).

Fletch said...

Good post all around, though I don't agree with your depiction of some of these characters as losers (and it sounds like you weren't totally sure of doing so, either).

Max Fischer's great - he might be a dork or a geek, but I wouldn't call him a loser. He was just going through some hard times, brought upon by a lady. Nothing new there.

As for Amelie, she was just shy, and needed help breaking out of her shell. She had a nice apartment, some friends (and some other imaginary ones) and was beautiful - doesn't sound like a loser to me. But I love the film as well.

renee said...

Oh, there are so many loveable losers in the movies. Maybe I just identify with them so strongly. Two popped immediately to mind for me: Fredo in The Godfather movies. My all time favorites, no matter how many times you ask me. Fredo is such a classic loser that my heart just goes out to - when he's bumbling with his gun while his father is getting shot in the first movie or when he's trying to party it up with Michael and Mo Green in the second. Also, Paul Giamatti in Sideways. He plays such great schmoes in many movies, but this is my favorite of his.

Reel Fanatic said...

Perhaps you're right that the term "loser" way too harsh for Amelie at any state of her movie existence, fletch, so I probably should have just stuck with the more accurate descriptor of "misfit"

And I'll definitely take both Rupert Pupkin and Paul Giamatti in Sideways, both of which might have made this list if I had had a littl more caffeine before writing it

lylee said...

Great list. I wouldn't have thought of "You Can Count on Me," but it totally fits, even if (or perhaps because) it made me fall for Mark Ruffalo as the lovable f***up. Such a great movie - definitely among the best to come out in the last ten years.

As actors go, my favorite lovable loser is probably William H. Macy, though his films tend not to be as good as he is

Vasta said...

So glad you included Rocket Science. Very few people have seen, or even heard of, this wonderful film, and I'm hoping it gets a lot more publicity when it finally comes out on DVD.

Chalupa said...

What about characters that Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays in P.T. Anderson movies or as Brandt in The Big Lebowski or his character in Love Liza?

Reel Fanatic said...

Mr. Macy does indeed seem to be on a bad streak of late, at least in his big budget, but I certainly wouldn't blame that on him, so he's a welcome addition ... And, though I haven't seen Love Liza, I'll certainly take Philip Seymour Hoffman's roles in the other flicks too

Linda said...

I saw Rocket Science and loved it! People forget that losers are often smart, so watch out for the revenge factor!!!! Great list and an interesting topic. chalupa is right about Hoffman in Love Liza, well worth a rental.

Divinity said...

I automatically thought of my favourite 80s films - Back to the Future, Real Genius, Adventures in Babysitting, and Weird Science. I'll go now...

Reel Fanatic said...

I probably shouldn't have dismissed the '80s flicks so fast, Divinity, but I did because, even though all the main characters are usually geeks, I don't usually lump the geeks in with the "losers"

Kimberly Nichols said...

Great post. You talked about some of my favorite films. My friend and I made fun of Amelie, went to see it anyway, and were completely charmed.

Fletch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fletch said...

PSH as Scotty in Boogie Nights is probably one of my favorite lovable losers. So, so pathetic...

Reel Fanatic said...

You're certainly right about Scotty, Fletch ... I've probably seen that flick 10 times now, and I still fell more than a little uncomfortable each time I see him have his big meltdown

JMW said...

You Can Count On Me has been known to top my list, too. (It's always either that or Annie Hall, with Spinal Tap rounding ou the top three).

Just for the record (and sorry to be That Guy), Jesus' Son was written by Denis Johnson, not Dennis Lehane. (Honest mistake, with all of the Lehane stories that have come to the screen lately...)

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks for the correction, JMW .. it is indeed embarrassing that I can't even get the author of a book I adore right, but in my defense I often do write these very early in the morning before I've had much caffeine at all

Nell Minow said...

Great list -- I loved "Rocket Science" and had a blast interviewing the director.

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks for the link, Nell ... The documentary about lottery winners should be fascinating, albeit probably more than a little depressing