6. The Stepford Wives (Bryan Forbes, 1975)
Walter and Joanna Eberhart relocate from Manhattan to the cozy town of Stepford, Connecticut. Joanna is a ‘new woman’ of the second wave feminism variety and so putting her dreams of being a photographer behind her and living in a place where the other wives are domestic goddesses leaves her feeling alienated. She befriends two other recent arrivals and tries to start a women’s group but when her friends become just like the Stepford Wives, she sets about revealing a dark secret.
This is a landmark entry in the creepy suburb theme. Without it there would be no Blue Velvet, nor Edward Scissorhands. To be a Stepford Wife has entered everyday usage to describe a woman who seems blithely conformist and subservient to her husband. The idea of Stepford as a place where everything is too perfect to be real speaks to audience anxieties about modernity.
This quality is most directly noticeable in The World’s End when the quaint village of youth has become a sterile perfection. There is an uncanny feeling in the setting that puts the returning sons of the village on edge. The threat is just below detection until the bathroom fight. The same dynamic was used in Hot Fuzz where the town leaders conspire to kill anyone who might compromise their status as a perfect English village.
A key element in all these creepy suburb or rural settings is that the threat is not the network of conspirators but the interloping outsiders that brings on conflict. The Stepford Wives makes Joanna’s feminism the threat to Stepford’s soft oppression. In Hot Fuzz it is Nicholas Angel’s loyalty to justice.
The World’s End presents the technological innovations of the modern world as the benefits of alien culture gained at the expense of human riotousness. The boring world is boring because boring is safe and orderly and…inhuman. That becomes the truly unsettling aspect of uncanny settings, the intervening characters are the threat to the local majority.
7. Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985)
A nameless bureaucrat smashes a bug, altering a name that goes through the labyrinth of a future government complex regulating the lives of all the citizens consumers it serves. Terrorist acts are banal and our little man in the machine will be caught in the gears.
No, no, I’ll try again.
When Sam Lowry discovers that the girl from his dreams is a real woman, he’ll stop at nothing to be a part of her world, even at the cost of his own.
Brazil has a habit of defying easy summation. Edgar Wright gladly shills this movie for Criterion Collection by calling it “confounding” and unlike anything made since. The sensibility of Brazil that flies between whimsical fantasy to cruel satire is in much of Wright’s work. In truth, Brazil is a soul-crushing movie. It is a hilarious movie. It contains multitudes.
8. The Warriors (Walter Hill, 1979)
The gangs of New York gather to hear gangbanger-prophet Cyrus preach the setting aside of turf wars to collectively take over the city. When he is murdered by a rival gang leader, the blame falls on the Warriors. The Warriors need to get back to their home turf in Coney Island, but the whole gangland of NYC is after them.
The Warriors was a cult classic before its theatrical release ended. Cinemas were offered extra security during screenings because violence tended to break out afterwards. Unlike previous teen gang films, The Warriors was unburdened with addressing the serious, moral issues of gangs. It was allowed to revel in the drama of gang violence. Survival is the motive. Accepted on the terms of the movie, the gang members are allowed to pursue that motive entirely.
The solipsistic struggles of teens and early twenty-somethings is hardly a social ill equal to gang culture and street violence. Treating it as seriously and in proportion to what it feels like for the characters is what makes Scott Pilgrim vs. The World into an insightful comedy. Wright knows how to make a film’s world in sympathy with the characters.
9. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (John Hughes, 1986)
Hughes’ pop sensibilities make this comedy about the most appealing teenager’s most outrageous day of skipping school into the kind of story and protagonist everyone can somehow relate to without identifying with. Ferris Bueller is the kind of cocky mischief maker that appeals across the rigid social borders of high schools. His carpe diem attitude is reckless but innocent. He embodies the joy of youth when the possibilities seem limitless.
To be poppy as a filmmaker requires a keen understanding of how other’s judge. Rather than appealing to the broadest possible spectrum of audience, the pop film maker transcends the limits of demographics by finding where we all have an exception to the rules we judge others by. Ferris Bueller gets a lot of leeway with the world and he uses it to the fullest, without stepping over the line into sociopathy.
Edgar Wright plays with this Ferris-like character in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World by aging the would-be Ferris. Scott is still a teenager but his friends have grown and gotten tired of him. He’s managed to piss off nearly everyone he knows.
Same is true with Gary King, but he’s even older and sadder and more dangerously close to sociopathy. Gary King steps over that line but somehow the fragility of his arrested development makes The World’s End into more than a cautionary tale. Behind the grin and solipsistic misunderstanding of other people is a character who genuinely wants to be in touch with the world. His failing is in trying to be in touch like a teenager, but the confidence of a teenager becomes mental illness in an adult.
Edgar Wright’s pop sensibility is not generally moralistic. His sense of what exceptions are made for the damaged and cunning characters of his stories gives impudence free rein. It is more that the will to be bold emboldens the characters and the audience simultaneously to take Ferris’ advice and not miss out.
10. Domino (Tony Scott, 2005)
Go for Broke
This movie is supposedly about a model who quit the life of glamour to become a bounty hunter but one doubts that the filmmakers were aware of it. Structurally, it is a mess. Several plot lines get spun out for their splashy, effects-laden scenes but nothing builds on anything else until a mescaline ride through the desert ends in an RV crash and a sex scene. The characters are at such loose ends after this they lie around waiting for some kind of direction to bring the third act into focus.
Enter Tom Waits in a Cadillac. Like some ne’er-do-well man of God, the famous songwriter and sometimes actor sits down with the bounty hunters and tells them that the story is about saving a sick child who needs money for an operation. This was introduced somewhere back in act one. And so they go for the big heist, save the child and beat the bad guy.
As Edgar Wright put it: Who knows where the line is until it’s crossed?
Mess that it is, Domino is a prime example of the credo behind Edgar Wright’s faith in excess. Keeping things in line and under control can make for elegant cinema but not the rollicking good time that an Edgar Wright movie offers.
Author Bio: Chris is a 29 year old grant-writer for a meditation retreat center in the Colorado Rockies, but he came here first to make short videos about the center. His favorite directors are Federico Fellini, Kurosawa, Billy Wilder, the Coen Bros., Stanley Kubrick, and Edgar Wright.