Note: This post is presented in partnership with Time Warner Cable
Movies On Demand in support of May’s Indie Film Month.
With today’s On Demand release of “Walk of Shame” — which sees Elizabeth Banks trying to make it to the most important job interview of her career after a drunken one-night stand puts her in a very tough spot — we’ve compiled a list of the best and worst movies to take place over the course of 24 hours. Raging from the raunchiest of comedies to
the most haunting of thrillers, one thing these films all have in common is
that they’ve each given us a day we won’t likely forget — for better or worse.
The 10 Best
“Rashomon” dir. Akira Kurosawa (1950)
Revered international filmmaker Akira Kurosawa never fails to amaze audiences, no matter what part of the world they hail from. And you certainly don’t need to master any particular language to understand the genius behind his groundbreaking film “Rashomon.” The story begins after a murder trial gives little in the form of an actual answer and instead leaves everyone wondering what exactly happened to a murdered samurai. The rest of the day is spent as three men try to discover how the murder in question took place, relying on the testimonies of the only three people who know the truth. Using flashbacks to demonstrate each character’s differing points of view, “Rashomon” remains one of the few bold movies to turn the conventional storytelling structure on its head for a more brilliantly baffling premise. The result is that you, as the viewer, are forced not only to follow along with the story, but to question your own judgment as Kurosawa takes you on a meditative journey through the perils of truth and honesty.
“American Graffiti” dir. George Lucas (1973)
Before “Star Wars” turned George Lucas into a blockbuster god — and long before it turned him into a target for constant spoofing — he made “American Graffiti,” one of the original high school-themed comedies and arguably the greatest to date. Four friends celebrate the end of their high school life with one wild night before each one heads off in a different direction. The story may sound trite given the cheap carbon copies that eventually followed it, but what differentiates this classic gem is the fact that beyond the typical set of shenanigans you’d expect to see from a group of teens is its wrenching sense of nostalgia. And it makes no difference which decade you grew up in. The feeling you get from watching it far transcends the concept of generational gaps. In the end, “American Graffiti” will bring you across that silver screen into a world you can’t help but long for, and, in one way or another, a world to which you’ve already once belonged.
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” dir. Jim Sharman (1975)
What can be said of the immeasurable impact that “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” has had throughout the years? For one thing, it’s got the longest-running theatrical release of any movie in history, in which its famous midnight screenings are always met with a growing cult following who dress up in costumes inspired by the movie and recite every line of the film as they watch along. With the story revolving around a couple whose car breaks down in a bizarre area where they meet a transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania — the single greatest name for a fictional town both in and out of film — the possibilities of where the night will take its lead characters and the audience are positively endless, especially when it involves Dr. Frank N. Furter (played with apt campiness by Tim Curry). Add to that the Frankenstein homage and the wondrous musical numbers and you’ve got one of the most uniquely engaging movie experiences you could possibly hope for.
“Do the Right Thing” dir. Spike Lee (1989)
Say what you will about Spike Lee, but you can’t deny the fact that the man has brought us a few good movies for which he should definitely be thanked. The most significant credit in his directing career was, as most people will attest, the Oscar-nominated “Do the Right Thing,” which follows a young African-American pizza boy (played by Lee himself) and several other residents of a multi-cultural neighborhood on what is obviously the hottest day of the year. The premise is simple. The characters are intense. The build-up is carefully paced. And the ending is absolutely explosive. With racial slurs thrown around from beginning to end and a final showdown that provides no convenient answer, “Do the Right Thing” proves that Lee, who has never been known to veer away from controversy, clearly knows how to light the proper fuse.
“Reservoir Dogs” dir. Quentin Tarantino (1992)
The debut feature film of Quentin Tarantino has no doubt become as iconic as the director himself. Though somewhat upstaged by his sophomore effort two years later (a little gangster movie called “Pulp Fiction”), the power of “Reservoir Dogs” still resonates with movie lovers today. The film revolves around the heart-pounding aftermath of a bank robbery gone horribly wrong, the shock of which leads the gang of bank robbers to suspect that one of them is an undercover cop — but which one? The story’s most infamous scene involves a severed ear at the hands of a sociopath, which immediately drew attention to what can only be referred to as Tarantino’s “style.” The man brought his twisted humor and vibrancy to the forefront of this movie and showed the world what independent cinema could actually be like when the ambition is right. Dedicating the name of his production company A Band Apart to the great independent filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, Tarantino used the engrossing energy Godard flaunted in “Breathless” and added his own personal touch to make it truly one of a kind.
“Clerks” dir. Kevin Smith (1994)
“Clerks” is minimalism at its best, with the movie featuring nothing but two jaded youths who deal with the annoying customers at the stores in which they “work” and discuss topics like movies. They’re hardly the most complex or original characters, but fortunately for us, Smith doesn’t try to present them as anything other than exactly what they are — a couple of buffoons just trying to get through the work day. Shot in black and white, “Clerks” is genuinely stripped down to the thinnest of story and character layers, instead opting to flaunt an attitude that hardly gets depicted enough on the big screen. With that, Dante and Randal’s day feels almost as absurd as the goings-on of the characters on “Seinfeld,” whose constant interactions and discussions amount to a great big ball of nothing — and we couldn’t ask for anything more.
“Before Sunrise” dir. Richard Linklater (1995)
There may be no better example of a one-night plot than the first film in Richard Linklater’s trilogy. “Before Sunrise” helped popularize the idea of a low-concept story in which two people simply pour their hearts out over the course of a single night. The story follows Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), both of them discussing their hopes and concerns about life and love after they find themselves together in Vienna (a sure-fire setting for romance). What’s so engrossing about this story, however, is how relatable the film’s central characters are in everything they talk about, without ever becoming mundane. Added to that is the romantic element involving the saddening notion that these two people may never see each other again, which Linklater aptly uses to heighten the meaningfulness of their budding connection and justify their complete openness with one another that so few of us get the opportunity to experience, ensuring that this one single night is well worth the time of anyone who watches it.
“Funny Games” dir. Michael Haneke (1998)
Haneke’s movies often have a tragic element to them, but this one definitely takes the cake. In “Funny Games,” two sociopathic youths hold an innocent family hostage and torture them just for fun. You may denounce this movie for its violent nature, but the film’s immense power in fact comes from the violence that is merely suggested, allowing for the audience to paint their own picture. The villain’s direct addresses to the camera further manipulate the viewer into trying to guess what’s going to happen next, with a sadistic promise of a happy ending that seems less and less likely as the story progresses. Bonus points go to Haneke for making an American version of the film years later while still keeping the frightening mark it has left on all those who’ve dared to watch it.
“Run Lola Run” dir. Tom Tykwer (1998)
This German caper may have the shortest time setting of any movie before or since. Taking place over the course of merely twenty minutes, “Run Lola Run” features the titular character running to find a bag filled with money that her boyfriend was supposed to give to his murderous boss — until the bag gets lost, leaving Lola with only twenty minutes to find it and get it back to her boyfriend before he robs a supermarket to get the money. You may ask yourself how this plot could possibly occur over the course of such a short time, and the answer to that lies in the film’s crafty narrative, which places Lola in three different scenarios that begin the same way but entail very different developments and outcomes, with each person she encounters on her journey being affected in one way or another, intensifying the pressure and upping the stakes each time our red-headed heroin goes on her crucial run.
“Irreversible” dir. Gaspar Noe (2002)
Harrowing is hardly a strong enough word to describe this harshly violent French crime thriller starring Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel. That doesn’t stop it, though, from being one of the most impactful cinematic experiences in recent film history. Setting the story in reverse chronological order, “Irreversible” begins to show the events surrounding the brutal rape of a beautiful woman and the vengeance that is being sought for it. With its stark cinematography and its general air of fear and despair, the film brings new meaning to the term avant-garde cinema, incorporating some of the cinematic techniques and themes that were often taken for granted in their time. But the fact that such a movie is not for the faint of heart should not deter the fact that not only was it ahead of its time, but it will very likely get much better with age, with its principal themes becoming more and more relevant as the years go on.
The 5 Worst
“Nick of Time” dir. John Badham (1995)
There was a time between his oft-missed indie roles in Tim Burton’s earlier work and his very memorable roles in blockbusters like “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Alice in Wonderland” when Johnny Depp did a couple of movies that seem so far beneath him given his potential. “Nick of Time” is the prime example, featuring Depp as an average Joe whose daughter is kidnapped and won’t be returned to him unless he kills a state governor. The movie was noted for taking place in real time, but that may be the only noteworthy thing about it. The “High Noon” sense of urgency is lost on the fact that the story is terribly formulaic, presenting lame twists where seemingly innocuous characters turn out to be part of the conspiracy. And what’s worse is that this ordinary everyday guy, played by a very un-ordinary Depp, is dull as dirt and fails to become any more interesting throughout the plot, even when he reaches his heroic climax.
“Can’t Hardly Wait” dir. Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan (1998)
Where “American Graffiti” championed, “Can’t Hardly Wait” fell flat on its face. One night of watching a group of teens partying could potentially entertain in the way that so many 80s classics have — if its plot had any form of meaning or style whatsoever. Unfortunately, this film didn’t. Using one cliche after another and presenting an endless number of archetypal and stereotypical characters — the pretty popular girl, the lovable geek, the jerk jock — the only thing we can hardly wait for is the moment this movie either ends or becomes self-aware enough to parody itself, as others have done in later years (watch “Not Another Teen Movie” to understand how this movie went wrong). Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Amanda is especially annoying, and it somehow seems as though we’re expected to feel sorry for her despite how brainy and beautiful — and unbearable whiny — she is throughout the whole film.
“Dude, Where’s My Car?” dir. Danny Leiner (2000)
Remember when “The Hangover” made its way into theaters and became an instant hit? It may owe a lot of credit to “Dude, Where’s My Car?” — which has virtually the same plot — in that it seemed to learn the do’s and don’t’s (mostly don’t’s) of how to make a hangover movie into as much fun as the drunken night that preceded it. In “Dude, Where’s My Car?,” two idiots (played by none other than Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott) try to figure out where they left their car despite their complete lack of memory of the previous night’s events, leading them on a — and I use this term loosely — comical journey to find it. As proven by the aforementioned “Hangover,” the concept definitely has some entertainment value and the element of relevance (who hasn’t gone through exactly the same thing at least once?), but the absurd science-fiction elements in “Dude” and the overabundance of idiocy was more than most people could handle.
“Enter the Void” dir. Gaspar Noe (2009)
The title here speaks really speaks for itself. Gaspar Noe called the film a “psychedelic melodrama,” which may be true if “psychedelic” meant headache-inducing and “melodrama” meant downer. The director certainly brings his own filmmaking style to the film, but that inevitably places it into the frustrating category of “all flash, no substance.” The story details the out-of-body experience of an American drug dealer living in Tokyo the night he’s been shot by the police. What follows is some panoramic cinematography that is supposed to emulate a drug-induced experience and a disturbing (and not in a good way) set of flashbacks of the protagonist in question and his creepy relationship with his sister, which includes a spiritual entry into both her head and her vagina. Naturally.
“Project X” dir. Nima Nourizadeh (2012)
An epic night of fun at a teenager’s birthday party where things — gasp — begin to spiral out of control. That’s the logline for “Project X,” a very wild movie that unfortunately glorifies stupidity as much as it likely influences it. The film’s ill-fitting camera work is enough to make you scratch your head, but the main problem here is the excess of pretty much every form of self-indulgence you can possibly imagine. It’s been described as “Superbad” on crack, when in reality it’s more along the lines of “The Wolf of Wall Street” on crack, only without any character development or deft social commentary that leads you to believe this film may actually have a justification for its existence that doesn’t force you to roll your eyes.
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