My Favorite Movies of 2015 – Part 4: “99 Homes” and “The Big Short”

(Content warning for a description of suicide)

To call these movies, “Favorites” is probably silly, for often these movies hit very rough, very uncomfortable patches based on real, fucked up events. Also, by the usual rules of what makes a ‘good movie’, both, “99 Homes” and, “The Big Short” break those rules with impunity. They’re unsubtle, searingly dramatic, and “The Big Short” in particular has celebrities breaking the fourth wall just to tell you, “THE THINGS THAT ARE HAPPENING ARE VERY, VERY BAD AND YOU SHOULD BE PISSED OFF ABOUT THEM BECAUSE THEY ARE STILL HAPPENING RIGHT NOW!” These are movies that emphasize over and over again how the things that these movies are based on, the crash of the housing market and the aftermath of umemployment, poverty and citizen displacement, are horrible things. They are in your face, shoving these human-made disasters (or, as Devin Faraci put it best, white male-made disasters) in your face to the point where it approaches, “Reality TV” or Michael Moore-directed documentary levels of righteous, explicit, maudlin, and distressing.

Good.

There’s a pervasive view that the first job of movies is to entertain, to be engrossing, and then to be done with (wait, that’s three jobs. Whatever). I don’t necessarily have a problem with that, for few things are more insufferable than someone who thinks they have a point and/or is the smartest person in the room who then proceeds to just waste your time with pretentious bullshit. Thing is, what makes movies engrossing in the first place is how they relate to life and actual people (or at least life as we know it). Yes, by that very low standard Michael Bay’s, “Transformers” movies qualify, but what about years from now? What about the period when people are done playing bean counter and measuring a movie’s relavance by questionable sales metrics that are being affected by currency inflation, or the equally questionable metric of a bunch of stuck up morons handing out trophies to movies that they don’t even fucking watch? Yes, plunging Anglo-Saxon history or literary works is cool for a great movie or two, but what of the shit going on RIGHT NOW? Why shield yourself from the real world in a medium that would not exist if not for the people, technologies and even creeds/politics of that real world?

Now, I’m not going to go all Neil Postman on you and lambast you for finding pleasure through one’s computer, smartphone, TV or tablet. I just want to point out that it is the unwavering focus on the real world, particularly the consequences of housing deregulation that The Tea Party and the Koch Brothers try to paper over but which Occupy Wall Street, CounterPunch and various other left-leaning movements/people have been pissed off about for a long time, that makes, “The Big Short” and, “99 Homes” so fucking great. While, “The Big Short” makes one laugh and gaffaw while documenting Capitalism’s Latest Tragedy (amongst others) and, “99 Homes” proves once again that Michael Shannon is the fucking man while clearing the blight of, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” from Andrew Garfield’s resume, these movies are the equivalent of ripping off dirty bandages and looking at the festering wound underneath for the first time in…well, a long time, if our tendency to shield ourselves from such consequences is any indication.

But each movie has a different approach. The Ramin Bahrani directed movie, “99 Homes”, co-written with Amir Naderi and Bahareh Azimi, begins with the suicide of a man whose home has been foreclosed, his remaining family grieving WHILE they are being evicted, the man’s corpse and blood being cleaned up by paramedics. But the focus is on a monster more terrifying than the shape from, “It Follows”: Michael Shannon, playing a zealous and nasty real estate agent picking the vacated corpses of devastated neighborhoods and turning a profit through dirty means. They and the system they work for victimize another family, played by Andrew Garfield, Laura Dern and Noah Lomax, and we see in almost real-time their eviction, despite months of them trying to fight it. Desperate for work, Garfield’s character starts working for Shannon’s character while trying to recover some tools stolen by their workers, and then…well a story of compromise in the name of survival begins, most of it from the point of view of Garfield’s Conner Nash, a man trying to give his family a home again while screwing over his own kind, ending in a way that seems redeeming on the surface but ultimately leaves the same system that caused this mess to begin with alive. Karl Marx doesn’t rise from the grave and kick Michael Shannon’s ass, Conner Nash’s family is gone because of his moral compromise, but at least a kid smiles at them. Cut to end credits.

As for the Adam McKay writen/directed adaptation of Michael Lewis’ book, “The Big Short”…well, basically, it’s a dialogue-heavy heist movie. A bunch of people involved in finances/real-estate begin to suspect that while the market is high, it won’t stay high forever (for reasons that the movie stops everything just to go into in some cases). So, realizing this, they decided to bet against the market, holding the people they bet with to promises of big pay days. Then things go to shit. Finally, they get paid…even though they could’ve told other people about this incoming disaster rather than just profiting off of the misery of millions of civilians worldwide (though, to be fair, the movie does show two would-be profiteers trying to report all of this to the Wall Street Journal only to get brushed off). Just insert a bunch of celebrities to deliver facts directly to the camera, hire Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt to play major male characters. Bam, bam, boom, you have a movie that will make one laugh and then make you leave the theater angry (as it should).

As real as movies can be while looking at the damage late capitalism has wrecked upon the world with an unflinching eye, these movies are not meant to lose would-be cinephiles into another world, these are movies meant to wake you the fuck up. Forget, “The Matrix” (a movie I happen to like, don’t get me wrong), this is the true red pill society needs, and while watching these movies may ultimately just be another act of consumption measured by bean counters and privacy-destroying tracking software, the way each movie approaches the same subject engenders hopelessness, despair, and pain…emotions that have been sublimated into world-changing movements before, and will need to be so again if there is to be any hope for the human race.

Or you could just gaffaw at Devastator’s robo-testicles in, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” while posting shitty Donald Trump/”Minions” memes and harassing people on the internet. The choice is yours, Neo.

 


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