Thursday, September 28, 2006

Please Upset This Poll: Best American Film in Past 25 Years

I. The Heart Cannot Lie

Film blogger Andy Horbal asks you to vote for "the single best American fiction film made during the last 25 years". Do it. And don't vote with your head, conscience, or sense of decorum, but with your wild, burning, movie-loving heart.

The inspiration was the New York Times' survey, earlier this year, asking literati to choose "the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years." It was not an award per se, but the kind of harmless list-making that boils my egg for no reason.

The primary thing wrong, among many things wrong, with the Times poll, is the primary thing wrong with the Academy Awards. The votes are spineless, the votes are boring, the votes are cowardly, the votes are not forward-thinking, the votes are political: the votes are not honest. The voters may not be tasteless in their personal entertainment choices, but the perceived pressures of helping to build the New Canon prove too much, and they lapse. Esteemed peers are rewarded, even if they are dull, and genre fiction, though it has proven time and time again, decade after decade, to be the lifeblood of our national artistic history, is ghettoized, punished, shunned. Even though it endures longer than the choices of mainstream literary tastemakers and middlebrow film critics.

So: Confederacy of Dunces, you are too silly, to broad, too New Orleans, and never mind that you look to be the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn of our time. No Best Picture for you 2001, for you are about outer space, and Oliver! will obviously remain in glory for all of cinema history. A.O. Scott, in an essay accompanying the results, seems to hint that Stephen King didn't even vote for himself, and that clearly the results reveal "the baby boom... has not produced a great novel", a kind of disgusting and kind of ignorant and kind of goofy thing to say. The explanation is likely that they didn't vote for themselves, so they wouldn't look like assholes. So pity poor Mr. King, whose Dark Tower is of wilder imagination than anything on display, whose The Stand, Cujo and Christine document our late-century American lives more vividly and pointedly than Updike, whose It is written in prose as innovative and personal as DeLillo's. Pity him for being more fun to read than anyone else on the list, a more passionate artist, and a humble country boy. Guess he'll have to be happy with the National Book Award instead of the Times's pretend accolade.

Except it's pretty cool that Blood Meridian was the runner-up.

II. The Vote

I play a game with myself called "The 100". Write "The 100" at the top of a page, list your 100 favorite films as fast as you can. It clears your head, it gets you thinking about film, and takes the length of a cup of coffee and a cigarette. It's informal: you can crumple it up and throw it away, or do it again in an hour. So before voting I played "The 100", and eliminated the unqualified films. My list was weak on American films made since 1981. But there was one as high as #4. Below is my vote as submitted.

Pulp Fiction. It was always going to be Pulp Fiction, and I knew that. I agonized for awhile, because David Lynch is the American film artist I most want to see rewarded with the top spot. My favorite film, Eraserhead, did not qualify. The chance to vote for his challenging, mystical, luxuriant and frightening Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me stares me in the face. So for the record, I guess it is the equally-best American film in 25 years.

But that means nothing when you're watching Pulp Fiction. The film's importance in the history of independent pictures (Disney-owned? C'mon...), seminal but unreproducable cultural impact, and saturation of pop consciousness aren't what I'm voting for here. I'm voting for the Pulp Fiction I couldn't stop running to the theater to see. A vast tapestry of story, characters and perfect, fresh images; a giant kaleidoscope of colors, music, thrills of style, thrills of narrative technique, thrills of language and glimmering moments out of time; Pulp Fiction, both vulgar and sophisticated, but always punch-drunk, wants to have everything a movie can have, and mostly does. We dive into the deepest moral quandaries of the soul, laugh warmly, laugh bitterly, scream and maybe cry. Pop references and visual and verbal film quotes are not go-nowhere in-jokes for Tarantino, and there are sights on display you have not seen; Pulp Fiction, whatever you feel it says about our spiritual dilemmas, is a bottomless bag of goodies and surprises: We move from macro-ultra close-up of blood clouding water to wide, deserted Leonian LA streets at night. Charly Varrick quotes are for mortal threats, Flintstones references for flirting. The merits of gourmet coffee angrily announced as defense of domesticity. Hell breaks loose when you just want to get stoned, eat cereal and watch Three Stooges movies. The worst thing about murdering a man is when you have to change your clothes in the chilly Toluca Lake morning. Even psycho rapist kidnappers are concerned about parking tickets on street cleaning days. The most awesome thing to say when a girl asks you for a cigarette is: "You can have this one, cowgirl." A strain of heroin named after Mario Bava. Vincent Vega blows Mia Wallace a kiss.

America is the funniest, crudest, scrappiest, funkiest, most culturally diverse superpower. Here is a movie where every character is in competition to be the coolest cat on the planet. We invented cool. Pulp Fiction brash, confident, energetic, reminds the world of that, the title we should value most, and reinvents cool, reinvigorates it. It is a joy to behold. It is a wild Twist dance of love. I dunno if it's worth five dollars, but it's pretty fuckin' good.

And I really need for LA Confidential not to top this poll.

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