#25 Training Day “The Learning Process”
Denzel, much like DeNiro and Pacino, was such a good actor for so long and so noted for his skills that he now acts on auto-pilot, namely taking whatever character is on the page and “Denzel-ing” it: the heavy shoulder strut, the million dollar grin and smile, the direct and cutting glare, the heavy and stern delivery of monologues. This was never more evident in 2007’s American Gangster as he played Frank Lucas, a 70’s drug boss who quietly pushed all the mobsters and suppliers out of business in New York City. You see Frank Lucas is a living person, and most notably, if you ever see or hear him speak, he’s as country as a chicken coop. Yet Denzel relayed none of this; Denzel just Denzeled the role as always. This isn’t a bad thing for moviegoers who support the Denzel Brand; let Johnny Depp do the makeovers and weird vocal tics. Denzel is gonna be a bad mafucka, straight up. Subtelty and character transformation seemed to have been swept off the table for the bulk of this decade in Mr. Washington’s resume.
The last time we saw Denzel not coasting through an enjoyable movie was 2001’s Training Day. Playing Alonzo Harris, a renegade sociopath detective who believes in punishing criminals by operating in the same no holds barred fashion as they do, Washington was so terrorizing and audacious that he yapped up Russell Crowe and A Beautiful Mind from outright sweeping the Oscar’s. Training Day was far from Washington’s best on-screen performance (cough cough Malcolm X cough cough). No wonder Washington has been on record of saying Alonzo is his favorite character of all the roles he’s played — it shows.
The #25 Movie Scene of the Decade sets the tone for Training Day beautifully: Alonzo and new recruit Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) are riding around LA in a black rimmed out 1979 Monte Carlo. After agreeing to a moral contract he can’t quite possibly fulfill, Hoyt is riding shotgun next to the King Kong of Narcotics, a man who will lash out on anyone suspected of tainting his jungle. Alonzo offers Hoyt a hit of a weed pipe:
“You gon’ smoke it?”
“Naw man, I became a narc to rid the streets of dopers, not become one”
“Come on man, take a hit”
SLAMS BRAKES, POINTS GUN AT HOYT’S FACE IN THE MIDDLE OF AN INTERSECTION
“All right, I’ll smoke it.”
When King Kong points a pistol at your face and waves a pipe stuffed to the gills with weed in your direction in broad daylight as his black leather jacket proudly compliments his police badge dangling around his neck, YOU TAKE A HIT!
#24 Hustle and Flow “I Can Pimp Skinny”
Let’s be real: 2005’s Hustle and Flow would not have been a critical smash, a launching pad for Terrance Howard, and a gateway for Three 6 Mafia to hypnotize minds from the Oscar’s to MTV without 8 Mile breaking through three years earlier. 8 Mile was to hip hop films as Spider-Man or Batman Begins were to comic book movies: it made money, won over critics, and enabled moviegoers to take movies about rap seriously. Hustle and Flow is more gritty and lovable and was thankfully welcomed upon arrival. You don’t have to an ironic appreciaton of Paul Wall or Mike Jones to like Terrance Howard’s DJay as a rapper and broker-than-a-joke pimp trying to keep the AC on for his snowflake hoe.
DJay’s shining moment comes after he’s laid down his demos to cassette tape, literally spilling sweat in the hot-ass makeshift studio soundproofed by egg cartons, and sees local superstar Skinny Black (played sharply by Ludacris) in the spot, the potential Puffy to his potential Biggie. It’s where DJay, much like Eminem in the final battle sequence of 8 Mile, decides to put up or shut up, to risk public humiliation for his dream or duck away because it’s easier to pretend like he wasn’t all that serious to begin with. Unlike B. Rabbit puking in a toilet due to nerves, DJay simply says to himself “If I can pimp $20 hoes out the back of this motherfucking Chevy, I can pimp Skinny.” Howard reportedly spent 2 months living in Memphis hanging out with and interviews almost hundreds of pimps and prostitutes. Pimpin’ really ain’t easy, even on-screen.
*SPOILER* DJay approaches Skinny Black like a vulture. While Skinny is concerned with liquors, hoes, and bro’s, DJay is skillfully casual and confrontational, respectfully blunt while kissing the ass of his apparent hero. He gains respect by challenging Skinny Black while he’s working him like a $10 hoe in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Thinking back on the scene now, it’s no coincidence why so many southern (and west coast rappers for that matter) emulate and glorify pimps: they are master salesman who just happen to live right down the street from you. They can sweetly and expertly talk you out of a quick $40, or in the case of Hustle and Flow they can sidestep an A&R, manager, and a posse to hand off a damn cassette tape filled with tales of broke ass pimpin’ and serenades to tricks yet to be whupped.
#23 The Wrestler “Half pound of egg salad comin’ up!”
Mickey Rourke, face like a heavy bag, dingy winter coat kept alive by duct tape and staples. Fake tan, stringy weathered blonde hair, hanging with former wrestlers at an autograph signing that resembled a wake or a senior home with merch and photo opps. Banging twenty somethings with beefcake fetishes then retreating back to his rusted trailer on the edge of town, letting down his forgotten daughter for the LAST time but never the few remaining diehard fans that give him an air of invincibility and duty from his formerly famous and currently pitied celebrity. Marisa Tomei, the hands of time reminding her she can maybe pull off 32 years old on the pole but some wise ass frat boy will see the truth and announce it after getting turned down by the younger hotter pieces of ass.
This is the world of 2008’s The Wrestler, a feel-good tragedy by Darren Aronofsky. Much has been made about Rourke’s return to Hollywood after a decade plus of exile and boxing, weightlifting, and plastic surgeries gone awry. I thought his role as Marv in Sin City was more charming and damning as a comic book super freak with the heart of a saint, but Randy “The Ram” Robinson, well, you see guys like him everyday — you just might not know what they once were. You see The Ram driving a tractor trailer or doing demolition downtown. You see him working the forklift at Loew’s or delivering pizza in a busted up Lincoln. But Rourke’s character will have none of that. He belongs in the ring.
The Wrestler asks this question: if your calling in life will eventually kill you, do you know the ledge or are you obligated to keep going? Is death the ultimate price or the grand prize? The badge of honor or the body bag? Cause The Ram will tell you for sure, living like this ain’t no prize.
The #23 scene of the decade gives you a glimpse of Randy combining his wrestling persona with his everyday life of eating shit to pay the bills: working part time at the deli counter at a supermarket. He’s alive. He’s charismatic. He’s slicing up a half pound of roast beef. He’s charming the pants off old ladies like they’re eye candy at Royal Rumble. He’s writing up orders, breaking balls, recommending lunch meats, and oblivious to the ridiculous scene of a beefed up animal in a hairnet pulling out chicken salad in the freezer. Go deep! he says as he floats a package of cold cuts to a guy’s basket. He’s joyful because he’s losing himself in something so sad and entertaining, the same way he does earlier in the film when a freak is stapling five dollar bills to his body in the ring.
You watch this seen and realize that Randy just needs an audience, whether it’s on pay-per-view or at the deli counter. That’s the feel good. The tragedy is knowing that moments like these cannot sustain The Ram, that he cannot walk away from that which he is built for, even when it almost guarantees a painful death. Maybe it all could be different if the damn manager at Acme would toss the Ram a couple more hours each week behind the counter. I mean really, what exactly is The Iron Sheik up to these days anyway?