Southland Tales (2006)
The film: If there’s ever been a worthy successor to Paul Verhoeven’s mad satire of excess, it might as well be this. At the very least, Richard Kelly’s confusing, messy, fascinating follow-up to Donnie Darko features the craziest fake car commercial since Robocop. With an all-star (and confused-seeming) cast of pop actors like The Rock, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Seann William Scott, and Justin Timberlake, Southland Tales resists summary and is many things at once -- SoCal Satyricon, semiotics seminar, multimedia meta-experiment, and a post-9/11 fever dream. Oh, and the only place to see Jon Lovitz playing a terrifying badass.
Why the bad rap: Unsurprisingly, the film collapses under its own weight almost immediately. More sprawling and incomprehensible than Los Angeles itself, no one knew how to make heads or tails of it (including, one gets the sense, Kelly himself). When it debuted at Cannes, at the peak of Donnie Darko’s cult rehabilitation but missing a number of finished effects, it received a chorus of French-inflected boos.
Why it deserves a second chance: I won’t pretend to tell you I know exactly what’s going on and anyway I’m generally not a fan of movies that require reams of homework to figure out the plot basics, but Southland Tales offers more than just narrative. It’s a dreamy, trippy prophecy from a beach-dude Cassandra that managed to predict and reflect a decade of national anxieties, including the influence of reality TV, political balkanization, surveillance culture, and paramilitary police. Plus, where else are you going to get to see Amy Poehler and Wood Harris play Neo-Marxist pop stars or Mandy Moore hiss at Sarah Michelle Gellar?