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The Quest of 1990: The Single Finest Film of Our Generation?

What a day. Made a honker of an open-faced breakfast sandwich with fresh Farmer's Market salsa, edited like twenty pages of my thesis, met with the guy who's going to record my band's album, went to an awesome concert where two vocalists wrestled each other and various audience members while they sang, and got threatened with legal action. That's what we here in the blogosphere call "a big day." You people hovering just outside our sphere of blogodom prolly also call it that, but that is neither here nor there. But this is the kind of rump-rattling course of events that really gets me revved up and excited to write about movies. Especially when said movies are in contention for the oh so honorable title of "Single Finest Film of Our Generation." Yes, last week I ran down the criteria for the nominees and listed five potential winners for each year 1990-1998, which I ruled the essential years of pure unadulterated cinema obsession. A gamut of years that saw little to no intellectual oversight put into the film experience and in which my trips to the theater were heightened with a visceral kind of pleasure unfound past the age of 16 or before the age of 7. Tonight I am here to discuss the first year in question: 1990. It is your job to read my findings (aka ramblings) and present your own arguments in the comments section of this here post. After each year is examined in a few months or so, we will have one final duke-it-out for the crown and glory. But for now, here are the nominees for 1990...

Home Alone: Now I considered going through and YouTubing a crapload of clips and trailers for these films, but ultimately decided against it for two reasons. 1) I am, at the moment, too lazy to operate a rudimentary search engine, and 2) this is about memory, people. Memories: they're all we have, you know. Can't Hardly Wait, which if I saw it in theaters and had a higher box office tally (don't forget, I also handpicked these nominees based on iconic blockbuster status, to make the game as universal as possible), would be in this contest's running, taught me that. This isn't just about what movie, if watched today, we'd have the most fun with. That's definitely part of it, but especially with a film like Home Alone, I feel like I know it so well (certainly more so than any of the others listed below), that the re-familiarizing experience (either via YouTube or a holiday screening party or what have you) would both be incredibly pleasurable because all my memories would come flooding back in a very predictable way, but also it would be unfair to what initiated this quest in the first place. The pitter patter in my heart over matinees with Mom after school when I was knee high to a grasshopper, the tingle in my mind grapes over sleepovers with friends wearing out VHS tapes while staring from under blanket forts, that's what this is about just as much as it is "how well does this hold up today." And that's what is so intense and notable when I think of things like "Is that all you got or are you thirsty for more?" or that awesome dramatic choral Christmas song that I never remember the name of that plays throughout the movie. It's about memories, people. When we are left naked and without possessions, they really are all we have.

Ghost: Now I definitely also have recollections of watching this one as a child too. They're definitely not as joyful and kid-like as they are with Home Alone, but they are similarly vivid in that I remember being scared, titillated, and straight up wowed by this movie. It was made for adults, clearly, but I got a sneak peek at it because it wasn't rated R and my mom loved Whoopie. And I got lost in the story because it was about a freaking ghost. I loved ghost stories. Ghost Dad, which also came out in 1990, would definitely win out over Ghost if it had the box office prowess behind it, because when I saw that, it not only interested me, it got personal and made me cry in the theater because I wished my dad could come back and be wacky like Bill Cosby. Damn I still remember my Ma bawling at the end of that, telling me she wishes he could come back too. Frak, I'm gonna tear up now too. Now I don't want to make Ghost a surrogate for Ghost Dad because they're two very different films, but I definitely got a similar vibe from it, especially seeing it so close in temporal proximity to Ghost Dad. Plus it wasn't just a goofy family comedy (actually it wasn't that at all, despite Whoopie's presence), it was a romance (I can admit to getting aroused as I also got nervous during the infamous pottery scene as a young'un), it was a scary movie, and it was a melodrama. Plus nowadays it's also an unintentional comedy, which makes it perfect for this kind of race. Plus Mr. Road House himself, Patrick Swayze, is our protagonist, so it would make sense that he'd continue from the previous generation's single finest film to the new one. He might be the glue that holds this world together.

Dick Tracy: The movie that inspired me both to get a flat-top haircut and tell some girl on the playground to "go suck an egg." It also indirectly influenced my eventual obsession with collecting comic books. I remember some lame comic adaptation (not a real Dick Tracy comic) of the movie fell into my hands around my birthday and I was entranced by the sight of both words and pictures on the page together, working in tandem to tell me a story. It was frickin' cool. And though this is a case where I have little to no remembrance of the film today, from what I do recall, it is one of the few instances to this day where (at least to me as a kid) the visual aesthetic felt both cartoony and dark. The only other example that comes to mind is Batman Returns. I remember sitting in the theater and feeling both creeped out by the realness of what was happening on screen and also that I was transported to a world where suit colors were bold and shadows engulfed every street corner. It may have been the first time I experienced a surreal film. And while it's surely laughable today, what with Madonna and the guy with no face and what have you, I bet it's also damn entertaining. This is where my original belief about memory vs. revisitation may break down. But if I haven't made Dick Tracy re-viewings a priority in my life up to this point I probably won't anytime soon, though writing this may indeed change that.

Problem Child: I think we can rule this one out pretty easily since on last week's post, Blogulator friend and reader Christine rightly pointed out that the urine-drinking scene not only DIDN'T feature John Ritter drinking said urine, but also that the scene in question didn't even occur until the sequel. Sadness. Regardless, there's still a special place in my heart for the kind of obnoxious and abrasive kid humor I remember being so prevalent in Problem Child. It was almost the anti-Home Alone in that it wasn't an inviting or heartwarming film at all. Despite its studio-required happy ending, its protagonist was truly crude and vicious before his obligatory transformation. And to the rebel inside of all of us children who wished we could unionize against adults everywhere, this was the version of Kevin McAllister we aspired to be. Not the mild-mannered snot who squinted and made booby traps for bad guys, but the bold and reckless asshat that ruined the lives of well-meaning parents and authority figures everywhere. The brash and disgusting iconography of Problem Child is vastly more important in my mind than the film itself, of which I remember nothing but John Ritter screaming for mercy, a redheaded brat with a horribly evil smile, and someone drinking urine. Oh wait, I forgot again. That was the second installment in the failed franchise.

Arachnophobia: Speaking of fears and nightmares, this ultimately I think was the one to beat in 1990. Sure Ghost had a mean antagonist that certainly gave me the chills, the faces of The Rodent and The Brow in Dick Tracy are burned forever into my skull as logos of Lazarus, and the Problem Child was an annoying kind of terrifyingness, but EFFING SPIDERS, dude. And when all you got is John Goodman to fight them, you are certifiably screwed. And unlike all of which was mentioned above, those eight-legged creepy crawlies are real. Like realer than real. They could have been lurking quietly under your theater seat as you watched the film in that dingy non-stadium seating auditorium when you were seven like me. And some are hairy. And some are poisonous. And all of them are WEIRD LOOKING. Unfortunately, the power of Arachnophobia ends here. I recall nothing else about this film other than it making my insides feel like I had eaten the metal Krusty-O. And when you're 7, sometimes that's enough to make a movie stick with you throughout the year. But prolly not enough to earn the title...

The Single Finest Film of Our Generation. The Quest continues in two weeks-ish.

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  1. Blogger DoktorPeace | 4:29 AM |  

    If Home Alone the SNES game were included under the movie umbrella, I would have to choose that based on the nostalgia of playing it all night at a great birthday party sleepover.

    However, Dick Tracy I somehow recollect actually seeing in theaters and being freaked out by the weird bad guys. I don't know where I first saw Home Alone, and I still haven't seen any of the others, so my uninformed, memories-are-all-etc.-based choice is easy.

  2. Blogger chris | 8:47 AM |  

    Votes from the gut are what this quest is all about, Doktor. Thank you for your contribution and I look forward to your thoughts throughout this epic journey.

    Tally: 1 for Home Alone, 1 for Dick Tracy.

  3. Blogger Papa Thor | 8:50 AM |  

    Haha, of course I can only enjoy this feature vicariously, through vicarious memories as well as memories of vicariism. I retain a truly satisfying image of little JJ, after having viewed Home Alone, drawing out a meticulous map of our Texas home on an oversized sheet of beige wrapping paper, her active mind calculating the various mayhem to be induced on any villain foolish enough to try to invade. Kevin was the embodiment of the youthful discovery of personal empowerment, as iconic as Huck Finn or Scout Finch. His showdown with the basement furnace, where he decides to simply not be afraid anymore, should be shown yearly at elementary school orientations. Even as an adult(?) I identified with Kevin more than his haplessly clueless parents.

  4. Blogger qualler | 8:57 AM |  

    Easy pick - Home Alone. Kevin McAllister is up there with Kirby Puckett in terms of people I looked up to in 1990.

  5. Blogger Unspar! | 9:47 AM |  

    Totally Home Alone. None of the others really have the cultural resonance that Home Alone does (for reasons I can't understand). I just watched Arachnophobia at Qualler's house a couple months ago, and it definitely doesn't hold up as it did back in the day.

  6. Blogger chris | 11:34 PM |  

    Okay I believe it's safe to say voting is closed for 1990. Thx to all who participated!

    HOME ALONE is our clear champ for Round 1. Let's close out this successful first stop on The Quest with a quote from the film that just may be our Single Finest Film of Our Generation...

    "I took a shower washing every body part with actual soap; including all my major crevices; including in between my toes and in my belly button which I never did before but sort of enjoyed."

  7. Blogger qualler | 9:33 AM |  

    Just as important as that monologue is what he does during the monologue, including using spray deodorant. I SO WANTED TO USE SPRAY DEODORANT AFTER THAT TOO! Then I tried it when I was a teenager and it was gross. Oh, Hollyweird.

  8. Blogger Christine | 10:58 AM |  

    Voting is closed! I would've voted for Home Alone anyway. Though I was thisclose to voting for Problem Child.

    I am blogging about this wonderful competition, Chris.

  9. Blogger Evil Lincoln | 7:46 AM |  

    My only comment is that "Dick Tracy" should not be included for consideration. The only redeeming quality of that wretched film is Dustin Hoffman as "Mumbles." To this day no one gets the reference when I respond "Bigboydidit" to some drunk slurring something incoherently at me @ a bar. Le sigh.

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