“25th Hour” (2002) dir. Spike Lee / scr. David Benioff

One of the best films of the 2000s, one of director Spike Lee’s best films, and one that is … sadly … almost completely forgotten these days, “25th Hour” is a tremendously powerful drama about the last day of freedom for a drug dealer, played by Edward Norton, before going to prison for 7 years.  Based on David Benioff’s novel (who also wrote the screenplay), “25th Hour” is an incredibly complex look at family, friendship, morals, the legal system, and culture … specifically a post-9/11 New York City. The performances by Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, Brian Cox, and Anna Paquin are all extraordinary and Oscar-worthy.  The editing is superb, the script is intense, and the ominous music composed by Terrence Blanchard is one of the finest scores I’ve ever heard for a dramatic film.

Despite how great this movie is, I can understand why it’s not that popular.  Despite many moments of dark humor, it’s an extremely troubling and depressing film.  Because it’s about guilt … it’s about regret … its about that feeling where you wish life had a rewind button for actions or inactions.   But this is truly an amazing film and worthy of your attention.

Probably the best scene in the film is when Norton’s character delivers an angry, beyond politically incorrect 5-minute diatribe about every social, ethnic, and economic groups in New York City.  It was part of the original novel, and ironically, Benioff said it was inspired by a similar rant from Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.”  However, when he wrote the original draft of the script, he sheepishly left it out because he was afraid of what Lee would say.  However, Lee loved it and insisted it be put back in.  The rant may be considered highly offensive, but you must watch it until the end when Norton’s character turns the anger back on himself and realizes he’s the one responsible for his fate.  Again, powerful stuff.

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The ending of “Fight Club” (1999) dir. David Fincher

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This has to be the strangest “happy” ending in film history … a declaration of mature love amidst massive destruction and mayhem … while the Pixies’ legendary “Where Is My Mind?” plays in the background. I realize this is a perverse selection here given my last entry about “United 93,” but to be fair, “Fight Club” was written / filmed pre-9/11. And just because some of the angst of “Fight Club” was rendered obsolete by the subsequent “war on terror”  doesn’t mean that “Fight Club” still doesn’t raise several excellent issues about our culture. If there’s a film that summarized my mental state in my early 20s, this is it. Fortunately, I saw this in my late 20s after I was married and settled down … so the film left me with the weirdest, most perverse grin on my face I’ve ever had watching a film. Especially during the “Sixth Sense” – level plot twist that occurs 3/4 of the way through.  Between this and David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome,” my all-time favorite film.

Sorry ladies … and maybe some gents … the infamous subliminal “pickle” shot has been edited out.

2. “Fight Club” (1999) dir. David Fincher

Number 2 on Dave’s Strange World’s all-time favorite films is director David Fincher’s infamous, hyper-violent, extremely funny, anti-consumerist satire “Fight Club.” Sometimes, the greatest films aren’t made or released … they escape. To this day, I still find it shocking that a major corporation (in this case News Corporation who owns 20th Century Fox … and Fox News) financed and released this big-budget rock to the bloated head of consumerism. Wait, this stars Brad Pitt … so … I guess this means that if the star is big enough (ala Warren Beatty’s “Reds”), major studios will write a check for anything. By the way, no disrespect to Pitt. He’s absolutely perfect in the role of Tyler Durden and the fact that his star power got “Fight Club” made, makes me even more grateful for his presence here.

Anyway, star Ed Norton once referred to this as Generation X’s “The Graduate,” which I thought was ridiculous back in 1999, but the more I’ve grown to love and appreciate “The Graduate” over the years, the more I’ve realized that Norton’s statement is a very astute and accurate observation.

Coincidentally (or not coincidentally), “Fight Club” was released around the same time as Susan Faludi’s terrific book about the plight of modern manhood “Stiffed.” Both “Stiffed” and “Fight Club” have taken on more resonance post 9-11. Arguably, the men in both texts finally got the test of manhood their generation was waiting for and, as they say, “Be careful what you wish for …” However, I don’t think “Fight Club” promotes this attitude at all. It identifies and plays with it, but it rejects the mindless macho BS that many in our society think defines manhood, as much as it rejects the consumerism that replaced the macho BS. I’m not sure what the solution is (and I don’t think the filmmakers know either), but there is something better than beating the snot out of each other or buying objects. What that is, is up to you, your sense of intelligence, and your sense of courage to be yourself.