32. Weiner

Emotional brutality when Anthony Weiner takes his 1-year-old to the voting booth. It should be sweet – he’s running for mayor, voting for himself, wants his little boy there. But his wife Huma isn’t going; he whines about having always dreamed of running for mayor, but she stays behind watching with numb disapproval as they set off. He shouldn’t be doing this. His baby, upset by the flashing cameras, shrieks. Why is he doing this?

The title is funny. It’s funny that he pronounces it like “wiener,” and that he keeps posting cell-phone photos of his wiener on the internet. It’s funny that gay men line the streets for Weiner and chant his name joyously as he strolls past with a huge banner that says “WEINER!”

But the humor is dark. The theme might be hopelessness.

Weiner hits at a moment in American history when corrupt hack celebrities have taken over politics. It’s impossible to overstate the problem. Nineteen Republicans just ran for the presidential nomination; not one was honest. Congresspeople spend an average of six hours per day raising money. They practice dodging reporters’ questions. It’s madness. It’s farce.

Don’t their consciences itch? Do they care about other people’s kids?

The answer is some politicians can’t help it. Compulsion. Weiner has connections, charisma, and ambition. All he had to do was not take pictures of his wiener. That he couldn’t stop says everything. It is an answer.

When he’s off to vote, pushing his son in a stroller, Weiner gets on his phone and says “Hey I’ve got a brilliant idea,” and spitballs lies for the press on why his wife is not with him. Always lying, he thinks his bullshit is brilliant.

“Why did you let me film this?” the documentarian finally asks. Weiner shrugs. Huma eats pizza behind him, eyes down. Earlier he called her “someone who’s graceful, someone who’s interesting, someone who’s got ideas, who’s got experience, someone who’s glamorous and an amazing mom. Someone who’s just amazing.”

Yet he turned his back on her to snap and send dick pics. They do sick shit because they must.



31. Psycho

Psycho starts with sex, or as close to sex as a mainstream movie could skirt in 1960. Marion Crane is in a hotel room, in her underwear, with her boyfriend, and their dialogue indicates they aren’t married and it’s lunchtime.

If you have sex in a horror movie, you die. It’s the first rule. And Psycho is raw, pure horror. It cultivates karmic culpability – a pious sense that the main character deserves to be punished, like so many of us, and then cranks it further when she steals $40,000 from her boss. Double sin!

A haunted-as-hell-seeming house looms above Bates Motel’s empty cabins, where the cruel gods of horror see fit to strand our doomed sinner. Norman Bates bounds, childlike, out of that horrible house and into our lives. From here the movie spins unique, his fractured psyche so strong it twists the plot schizophrenic. What other film kills the character we’ve followed since the beginning, halfway through? Then another shocking murder and we jump to our third protagonist. The first time you watch Pyscho there’s no knowing what happens next, because while it embraces genre tropes it doesn’t conform to a formula. (Ab)Norman murders main characters. No one is safe.

And this monster taps real fear. Psycho killers exist; if you get lost, one might stab you. Bates is tame, in fact, compared to his inspiration – the true story of Ed Gein, a necrophiliac grave robber who kept body parts as trophies.

Psycho was the legend Alfred Hitchcock’s biggest hit, and he clearly relishes spinning some of the trademarks he became known for. He liked to put blondes in danger… well, here he stabs one with a huge knife 100 times and displays her corpse. He liked subversive McGuffins (objects driving plot)… well, here a stack of money is not only not the motivation for the titular psycho, he doesn’t even know it exists.

What better genre for a timeless artist to toy with? Taboos like sex and gore have gone vastly further on film since 1960, yet Psycho remains thrilling, a meticulous splatter as cold and damp as the grave.


30. A Face in the Crowd

Angry TV newsman Keith Olbermann often spoke on his old show of Glenn Beck, the McCarthyite extremist talk show host who compared Obama to Hitler. Olberman didn’t call him “Glenn Beck,” though. He called him “Glenn ‘Lonesome Rhodes’ Beck.” Every time.

Andy Griffith plays Lonesome Rhodes in A Face in the Crowd, and though the movie came out in 1957, this is a timeless character, important to remember at wacky political moments. Rhodes is a drifter when we meet him, jailed and mean as a beat dog. He loves to talk, though, and has a huge laugh. He sings for a radio host and gets sprung early. The radio station hires him for an hour every morning. He sings songs, tells stories, and everyone loves him.

His brand explodes. Bigger cities. Then TV. Advertisers – especially a pharmaceutical giant hocking placebos – hire him as their pitch man. Politics comes calling next. Lonesome, see, quite simply connects with the common man, which is useful on TV, the greatest tool to communicate ever invented. A stuffed suit helpfully explains that “the mass,” meaning us, “has to be guided by the strong hand of a responsible elite.” It’s like mind control.

How does Lonesome do it? “He’s got the courage of his ignorance,” a writer (Walter Matthau!) says. Lonesome lies constantly, without a scintilla of remorse. “On a stack of Bibles,” he likes to say. He doesn’t understand cruelty, and seems to believe what he’s saying in the moment but then forgets it forever. A liar that skilled can conquer media if politics is involved.

Also, importantly, he hates his audience. Pointing to an everyman, Lonesome tells an image-challenged senator, “He’s stupid. He’s got no mentality. He thinks with his feet. But I trust those feet.”

Trust those feet. Give the slobbering masses what they think they want and watch the dough, or the votes, roll in. Glenn Beck isn’t the only bloviating political opportunist. There are loads, like Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity and maybe one-fifth of Congress. They give their audience garbage. They hate them. But they trust those feet, and power is sweet.


29. Any Given Sunday

Any Given Sunday attacks, attacks, attacks. The monstrous linebackers who knock out two Miami Sharks quarterbacks feel real. When third-stringer Willie Beamen gets his turn, we line up too. The quaking camera goes tight on threatening details, and the sound won’t settle. It’s like an NFL game filmed from inside the QB’s head. Crowd, coaches, teammates, bloodthirsty opponents vowing pain… The intensity makes Beamen puke.

Director Oliver Stone is not subtle. He cuts to a random lightning storm, or a shot of Earth from deep space, and incorporates into game action the ghosts of 100-year-old players. Stone slows a shot of Al Pacino, as the coach, screaming, and dubs in a lion’s roar. Scenes run in split screen, or are spliced with showy music videos and, during a key confrontation, the Ben-Hur chariot race.

Frenetic styling does not belie a love of football. This flick loooooooves football. Dick Butkus and Johnny Unitas play coaches. Lawrence Taylor plays a sad version of his quarterback-crushing self, and Jim Brown has a drunken bar chat about how the game has slipped since players took second jobs and were grateful just to play. (“The first time they cut away to some fucking commercial, that was the end of it.”)

And years after its 1999 release, AGS remains a stunning simulation of ostentatious NFL games, from the line of scrimmage to the TV announcers’ booth. Sports movies are rarely this big.

The arc is Beamen’s sudden rise from third-stringer to superstar, his hubris-addled fall, and ultimate redemption. This is not, however, a tight story. Perhaps a dozen characters have major roles. They’re walking tropes (Cliches? Except that sounds pejorative) who add vital context. The dirty doctor, meddling owner, showboat running back who won’t block, douchey shock jock. There’s gold-digger wives and a cocky agent and a dramatic speech at the end.

But what a speech. Pacino tells his men “We can climb out of hell one inch at a time.” We buy it because the alternate universe where this team exists feels real. Pro football is egos, violence, and fleeting glory. It’s insane and so entertaining.