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Home » Culture and Criticism

Cinemarch Madness: Herman Division Poll

Submitted by on March 14, 2013 – 11:53 AM16 Comments

grunge film background

The inevitable division in which I haven't seen much, alas. A very few words about the films I know, then, starting with Double Indemnity. I watched it for the first time recently (…I know, I know), and what I don't know about noir is a lot, but I can't call it depressing or bleak, even though everyone's fucked as befits the genre — partly because it's so much goddamn fun, especially Edward G. Robinson. I'd vote for another Stanwyck picture, Sorry, Wrong Number, before I'd vote for this one.

I haven't seen Drugstore Cowboy in ages, and the end is in the neighborhood, but I also recall pinwheeling cows? In the sky? More weird and "Platonic ideal of '90s indie" than hopeless, in my opinion.

Eternal Sunshine…I think maybe it does well here. BSD is my witness: I was drenched watching this in the theater, but there are good arguments to be made on both sides that it's either optimistic or very very sad. I'd go the former, but at the same time I have difficulty watching it.

I also sobbed at A Single Man, and that one I could watch again, but it gets more heartbreaking the more you think about it, so I'll stand behind that one.

And that brings us to Star 80, a movie that only gets harder to watch on re-viewings. The physical picture, the film stock, is grimy-looking, and because Bob Fosse starts at the end and then jumps back, the narrative is under a cloud the entire time. (Fosse's film work generally is…gleefully grim. I love All That Jazz, but it is basically a study of a man avoiding eye contact with his own dead self. Not super-cheery.) Any knowledge of the real story only adds to the skin-crawling compulsion to pause the film and do something wholesome like butter-churning ASAP. Eric Roberts is fucking brilliant; you will be unable to look at him or his little sister for weeks afterwards.

Now it's for y'all to argue in the comments. The Road and Brief Encounter got enough play in the nominations that I think they proceed; what are you voting for? (And which of these should I Netflix? Murder on a Sunday Morning, by the same filmmaker who brought us the brilliant The Staircase, is already at the head of the queue.)

Herman Division: Vote for the THREE (3) harshest films.

  • The Road (21%, 101 Votes)
  • A Single Man (17%, 80 Votes)
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (15%, 74 Votes)
  • The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (13%, 61 Votes)
  • Star 80 (12%, 60 Votes)
  • Drugstore Cowboy (7%, 33 Votes)
  • Double Indemnity (3%, 16 Votes)
  • Walkabout (3%, 13 Votes)
  • Threads (2%, 11 Votes)
  • The Power of One (2%, 9 Votes)
  • Brief Encounter (2%, 8 Votes)
  • Murder on a Sunday Morning (1%, 5 Votes)
  • Japanese Story (1%, 5 Votes)
  • Closet Land (1%, 4 Votes)
  • London River (0%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 193

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Not sure what's going on? You'll fit right in around here (heh) but in the meantime, the Cinemarch Madness FAQ is here, and a poll overview is here.

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  • attica says:

    Your expliction of Star 80 swayed my third vote. I haven't seen that movie since it was released, but my, the memories come back! Um, thanks?

    Otherwise, Striped PJs and Road. Holocaust and post-apocolyptic hellscape. Eeeny, meenie.

    I can't vote for Single Man. Firth is just too lovely. Even when terrible things happen to him, he stays pretty. How can that be bleak? Wearing Tom Ford, fer pete's sake! (Which may be another way to say I was totally distracted by something shiny to notice the sad.)

  • Tarn says:

    I agree that Eternal Sunshine is heartbreaking, but ultimately too sweet and hopeful to fit in this category for me.

    A Single Man goes in my "I want to see it but I just can't see myself ever being in the mood to watch something that depressing" category, which is vote-worthy for me. I'm sure Colin Firth is amazing in it though.

  • cayenne says:

    The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas is another of the how-isn't-a-Holocaust-movie-bleak ilk, but almost harsher in that kids are involved (see: Fateless). Prozac, please.

    I remember coming out of The Road convinced the people at the end would eat the kid. It's just that draining.

  • Jennifer A. says:

    Did something change between book and film withThe Boy in the Striped Pajamas? Because that book made me furious – the most manipulative, obnoxiously easy sympathy-baiting in a poorly thought out concept I've read in recent years.

  • rab01 says:

    I loved Eternal Sunshine but I'm in the optimistic camp so no vote from me in this bracket. (And, I really don't want to be argued out of that reading of it; I liked the characters too much.)

  • Kat says:

    OH seriously, A Japanese Story. This movie pops into my head every few months and I just want to make it go away. Definitely felt like life was pointless (and so was the movie) after I watched it.

  • Andrea says:

    I had to give a vote to Eternal Sunshine. Just thinking about that film lately reduces me to a sobbing mess. Of course that could just be because my relationship ended in a spectacularly awful fashion recently, causing me to wonder often whether I would erase those memories if I had the chance.

  • Rbelle says:

    I've seen Eternal Sunshine a few times, and am surprised to see it here, much less near the top of the poll. I've always viewed it as a romantic dramedy or black comedy more than truly bleak. I can see it hitting triggers for people, but even at the depths of break-up blues, I found it quite hopeful. Maybe it's because much of the cast seems to be having so much fun making it. Or because the topic itself is so very relatable, watching the film is cathartic (unlike a movie like Sohpie's Choice that makes me squirm and shudder to even contemplate).

    Of the others I've only seen A Single Man. That one's beautiful, but no, I will not be watching it again, especially since I suspect if you take away some of the tense half-excitement/half-anxiety over what's going to happen you get from the first viewing, what you're left with is nothing but the gloom of knowing what comes at the end.

  • Jack says:

    I agree with Rbelle. Eternal Sunshine is way too inventive and, I mean, just too fun at times, to be on this list. Plus, I mean, it has a happy-ish ending! I love that movie and will watch it pretty much any time it's on. YMMV, but I don't see how it fits in here.

  • Anlyn says:

    Even though I nominated it, I'm a little surprised to see "Eternal Sunshine…" make the list, because most people I talk to view it as optimistic. But the ending is so ambiguous…are they going to live happily ever after, or are they going to repeat the same patterns that messed them up to begin with? What I took away from it was that they were meant for each other, but that was the worst thing for both of them.

    Plus, there's one scene, where a woman is waiting to have her memories erased, and she has a box of items belonging to her cat. It completely breaks my heart.

  • Sandman says:

    I'm tempted to agree that ultimately Eternal Sunshine is hopeful, too, but then I think, "oh, except for that whole brain damage thing."

  • Erin W says:

    My read on Eternal Sunshine is not optimistic necessarily, but not bleak either. They will end up together again and again, I think that's clear, and they will probably fall into the same patterns again and again, BUT the fact that they are willing, at the end, to step into the possibility of being together again is growth. They know it might hurt them, but they're going to try again.

    Also, when Jim Carrey's mind is being erased, and he starts to remember good things, and he's begging, "No, not that one. Keep that one!"

    That's the end of Annie Hall too, right? "I need the eggs." That's a very positive sentiment for me.

  • Erin W says:

    @Sandman: On a par with a night of heavy drinking. Nothing you'll miss.

  • Donna says:

    @Jennifer A. I had the same reaction to the movie version of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

  • Bo says:

    ESotSM ripped my heart out. But in the end it changed my life. All the years I'd spent trying to block out the memories of the seven years with the soulmate? NO! After ESotSM, I realized without those seven years of memories, those years would have been a wasteland. Best to have the memories and the loss than nothingness.

  • Jennifer A. says:

    @Donna Okay, good to know I don't need to watch it.

    I, too, view Eternal Sunshine as ultimately optimistic and, like Bo, it helped me snap out of a post-relationship blackout.

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