Tired of putting on your going-out sweatpants during the pandemic, only to find yourself out in public with nothing to do except buy some groceries and wish you back in front of the television in your comfy sweatpants? I’m here to offer a few more reasons to cozy up and just have them groceries delivered! I offer five throwback films guaranteed to blow your hair back to stream over the holidays quarantine. These fine examples of American Cinema were chosen as the best of the best from a laundry list of late 90’s and early 2000’s under-the-radar smash hits. If you like romantic films with a soft, caring main character who has to suffer the ups and downs of finding love in the big city… better look elsewhere. The following films are easy to find on streaming services, and are also geared up for gore, stress, tension and glorious action- the type of film that blows your hair back.
Before we begin, the honorable mentions are: Fight Club, Memento and Natural Born Killers.
Beautiful mid-18th century scenery in the California mountains provides the setting for this merry jaunt down the meandering lanes of war, wilderness, false heroism and cannibalism. Boasting the incredible talents of Guy Pierce and Robert Carlysle at the absolute top of their games, Ravenous is a 1999 little-known gem from even littler-known director and producer Antonia Bird. She leans in softly to tell you a quick secret based in an ancient Native American myth, but before you know it, some folks are dead and the driving, intense soundtrack and high-caliber acting and directing has you hooked through both lips. Once started, this movie demands your attention until the last two warriors standing enter into love’s final embrace. Dim the lights, settle in, and be ready for this film to rattle around in your brain for the next few days.
In some circles, setting your rocks glass on the table, standing with authority and blaring out, “Vince Vaughn is the greatest actor of the last 20 years!” might get you thrown out of church, but where I like to commiserate, you might be met with sage nods of agreement. Clay Pigeons is an example and argument that supports just such a hard line drawn in the sand. Vince is his usual gentlemanly self, but the role he plays in this 1998 head trip directed by David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers) makes him the dude of his time. He fits the character with perfection, and when Vince gets to bounce his deplorable excess of personality off the reserved and berated Joaquin Phoenix with floating corpses and adultery and big open spaces in the background, you’ve got yourself a must-see film. I didn’t even get to Janeane Garofalo as a sorta stoned, sorta clueless, but maybe really smart cop — she adds interruption and a mock stability to the plot twists that feels awkward but right, like lemonade mixed with iced tea.
Just in case you’ve ever asked yourself, “What’s so bad about meth?” The Salton Sea is here to remind you that indeed, that entire drug scene was a very bad one. This film explores the intricacies of drug-fueled lifestyle with a stylish and goofy-character cinematic grace that ends mostly badly for everyone. Val Kilmer doesn’t have to reach very far back to fill the role of cool kid with a secret past, but if Vincent D’Onofrio as drug kingpin Pooh Bear doesn’t mind meld with you based solely on his character transformation into pure evil with a sidekick of humor, you might have to check your pulse. His authentic recreation of the Kennedy Assassination using pigeons is a scene to behold. Head over to the local auto parts store and grab yourself a seatbelt and install that puppy according to manufacturer specifications to your recliner before you watch this tense thriller. Buckle. Up.
With apologies, I simply do not possess the talents to wordsmith descriptions to accurately depict how much of an impact this movie made on the early 2000’s. I personally know of two folks who converted to Catholicism, bought a pea coat, and moved to the east coast in the months following this film’s release. From start to finish, the whip crack dialogue meshed with incredible action scenes push this one right up to the fold of ridiculous, only to ease off the gas and allow a few breaths before plunging back into the frenetic pace. Willem Dafoe… this is the movie that made his career with the new generation of cinema buffs. His frequent emotional breakdowns are the stuff of acting legend, and I certainly hope up-and-coming students of the craft break this performance down and take notes.
Boondock Saints boasted a scant $6M budget and grossed only $40K at its first cinema run. When news began to trickle out about the quality of this film, it had already become available on video, and proceeded to yank in $50M in sales. A true cult classic, this vigilante brothers-meets-russian mafia film fires on all cylinders: cool Irish soundtrack, a simplistic plot that graciously allows for a few Christmas Brandy eggnogs while you watch and fight scenes you won’t soon forget. The ssssymbolism is right on, the rope is safely stowed, and all you have to do is sign into your device, get streaming and have yourself a GD turkey shoot.
And then there were zombies and survivors and yadda yadda yadda… Not. So. Fast. Not many youngin horror buffs know that 28 Days Later fundamentally changed the genre. Did you know zombies in horror movies used to be slow? Shuffling around, swarming the earth inch by slow inch to find brains? Director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) and writer Alex Garland (Ex Machina) partnered on this genuinely tense, scary and exciting film that vaulted the slow and hapless zombie into the sprinting, screeching and brutal monsters they are today. One would be hard pressed indeed to find a film that so radically changed an entire category of films as 28 Days Later did in 2002. Cillian Murphy and Brendan Gleeson carry this film with superb acting delivery, and because of the trailblazing nature of this film, it ages with an exquisite grace. Make sure you can view this film of horror perfection with the sound up and the lights low — it’s guaranteed to put a scared little shimmy in your nether regions.
These five were chosen based on a loose criteria of being genre-changing, mind-altering and generally innovative to the film industry. If I missed one that sticks out to you, be sure to mention in the comment section below!
Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox, Gramercy Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Franchise Pictures and Fox Searchlight Pictures; Edits by Movie Nooz