Here are my ten must-watch postmodern movies…
You can also read by 5 must watch postmodern TV shows here if you so wish!
“There are certain RULES that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie.”
Wes Craven, ignoring the fact that since Scream his only contribution to the horror genre is the atrociously shit film My Soul to Take, cleverly mocks the horror genre and points out everything wrong with stalk and slash films (mocking his own franchise A Nightmare on Elm Street in the process). Scream is a brilliant postmodern horror film and is very clever. The characters use their knowledge of existing horror films to muddle through their own real life stalk and slash scenario with hilarious outcomes. The entire film mocks and celebrates the genre and points out all the stupid conventions that we would otherwise overlook. As Sidney Prescott puts it ” They’re all the same. some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door.”
An homage to film noir, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is an underrated, under-watched favourite of mine. Film noir films were often based on crime novels, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is similar to Scream in a way, with the characters using their knowledge of a set of fictional ‘Johnny Gossamer’ crime novels. The film is also reminiscent of buddy comedies like Lethal Weapon and the chemistry between the two lead characters (played by Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer) is brilliantly funny. The film pays homage to these genres rather than mocking them, and it has a self aware/hyperconscious feel throughout that refuses to let the audience just sit back and let the film wash over them; Robert Downey Jr narrates the entire film, makes mistakes in his story, comments about how much of a terrible narrator he is and continually reminds the audience that what they’re watching is a film and not reality, which is a common feature of postmodernism. It has to be watched to be understood (although the story makes very little sense, and I’ve seen the film about five times!…another postmodern feature is that the story doesn’t necessarily have to make sense, which seems like a bit of a cop out but there we go!)
3. The Truman Show
If you’re a reality TV show hater like me, this one might be an interesting watch. It’s also a bit of an eye opener for those media illiterates out there who watch reality TV and genuinely believe it’s reality (wisen up you lot!) The Truman Show tells the heart breaking story of a baby adopted by a TV company to make a reality show about his life. Truman (Jim Carrey…one of few of his performances that aren’t ridiculously irritating) has grown up in a little town and has never had the opportunity to explore the world around him. He’s never had a reason to doubt his reality until one day a set-light falls from the sky. The message in the film is a strong one, and anyone familiar with the theories of Baudrillard will get the impact that hyperreality in the media has on society (you can also read my earlier article on hyperreality, if you like) Definitely one to watch, The Truman Show will really make you question reality. As the producer of The Truman Show (the TV show within the film) says ‘we accept the reality with which we are presented’.
This is very much a Scream–influenced film although in this case it actually changes the genre rather than doing what Wes Craven did and mock how crap the conventions of horror are without making an attempt to improve or change them (bit of a cop out). The ending is surprising and alters traditional horror conventions with a Hostel like theme in which people are killed in the name of entertainment for an office of weird sickos placing bets on who dies first. Although for some it might be too far fetched, the whole idea is very clever and like Scream, The Cabin in the Woods mocks the genre conventions with a hyperconscious script and characters.
This one isn’t as well known as a postmodern film but it’s got some great postmodern elements in that I thought were worth mentioning. The best one by far is the reference to Can’t Buy Me Love, a well known 80’s rom com with Patrick Dempsey. In it there’s quite a famous scene where Dempsey‘s character stands on his ride-on lawn mower under the window of the object of his affections with a pair of speakers to play her a song and get her attention. In Easy A they replicate this scene and Emma Stone‘s character talks a lot about various rom com films. One of the more clever rom com’s I’ve seen in a long time, very funny and Emma Stone is easily one of the best comedy actresses at the moment!
I previously didn’t think of American Beauty as a particularly great example of postmodern film, but it’s one of my favourites and one of the best dramas I’ve ever seen and loosely it is postmodern. It explores the way the media tells us what beauty is, and is about a man pursuing a high school girl because that’s what the media has told him beauty really is. It brushes over true beauty too and how we should look closer, but the main theme of the film is pursuing this perfect life that the media advocates; the perfect marriage, beauty, riches and the idea of the perfect, happy life. It shows the detrimental effects that this media ideology has on society and individuals in a clever and very moving way. This film is a must-watch even if you’re not interested in postmodernism.
A film about a film, one of the most enjoyable types of postmodern film, in my humble opinion. Tropic Thunder pokes fun at the big-wigs in the film industry and the idiots that blindly follow (ie the actors) and also again express what Baudrillard (the theorist) fears to be society’s dependence on the reality provided by the media. It shows the actors unable to distinguish between reality and the film set which is something that Baudrillard fears to be happening to the audience too. Tropic Thunder garners comedy from the different types of people in the film industry, and the stupidity of a lot of them. It exposes the film industry in a way that didn’t happen before the postmodern movement; back when films presented themselves as a reality and didn’t include the audience or expose their medium. Exposing the film as just a film opens up a dialogue between audience and text known as breaking down the fourth wall; think of the fourth wall as the curtain between the audience and the workings of the film itself (ie: the bits that we don’t usually see like the camera) when it’s taken away, the film exposes itself as just a film and allows the audience to interact with it differently, which is what postmodernism is all about. Tropic Thunder dabbles with all these ideas and makes a very funny action comedy out of it.
Be Kind Rewind is full of silliness that parodies loads of films all at once. When they have to recreate lots of famous films after wiping videos in a video store completely, Jack Black and Mos Def make some stupid costumes and reenact famous movie scenes, one of the funniest being their reenactments of Ghostbusters. It’s an out and out parody of various different films and it’s laugh out loud funny. Not full of integrity like a lot of postmodern films and certainly not one for a chin-stroking critic or someone looking to find deep meaning in a film but it is very funny and shows that those knowing winks and nudges to the audience can be really successful comedy tools.
10. Shaun of the Dead
I thought I might as well do the write up for these two together, since the idea behind them is pretty much the same. Both these films are parodies of the zombie horror genre. Both make fun of zombies and serious zombie films with a humorous script that makes light of the end-of-the-world situation. Zombieland was branded the American version of Shaun of the Dead but as a huge fan of both films I don’t think that’s entirely fair. They’re both very different despite their similar premises, both with different yet equally enjoyable and relatable characters and totally different sub stories. In Zombieland much of the humour comes from Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson)’s quest to find a twinky in the post-apocalyptic world, and his rage (mostly aimed at the zombies) comes from his dismay at not being able to locate one while Shaun of the Dead‘s humour is mainly down to the two bumbling characters and Shaun (Simon Pegg)’s desperate attempts to get his girlfriend back. Shaun of the Dead, in my opinion, trumps Zombieland with the inventive killing methods, and Pegg and Frost‘s skit trying to kill zombies with records and discussing which records they did and didn’t want to throw is comedy genius. Zombieland is every bit American; it’s bigger, more colourful and shinier but Shaun of the Dead wins. Regardless, they’re both very different and both brilliant parody films in their own right and definitely need to be on the must watch list!