October 22, 2008

10 Great L.A. Movies

LA movies

Trying to describe what it's like to live in Los Angeles is like trying to tie a knot with a fart - nearly impossible.

Many have attempted to explain what it's like, often calling L.A. its own planet, which I totally get. Oftentimes I catch myself using the adjective schizophrenic, probably because of the multitude of attitudes that layer this city more than the smog that blankets it. Here, you'll find that in most circles transplants outnumber the natives, resulting in a mishmosh of values, personalities and Starbucks latte preferences. And the random physical landscape of the city couldn't reflect this more perfectly: beaches, ghetto alleyways, mountain trails, residential streets, deserts, strip malls - and that's all within an hour's drive.

I've picked ten films that, for me at least, successfully encapsulate the L.A. experience. And after living here for six-plus years, I like to think that I have a firm grasp on what that's all about.

These movies aren't necessarily about show business, the industry that practically acts as the lifeline of this sprawled-out metropolis. They are merely films (of recent memory...sorry, Chinatown) that have managed to subtly capture the elusive essence of L.A. life and prove that it's more than just traffic, palm trees and lunchtime auditions that shape the hazy skyline. It's about something more...transcendent, if you will.

So here they are, in no particular order (because I'm indecisive when it comes to ranking things)...

1. Swingers (1996) - The shadowy-yet-sexy bars. The caravan to random parties in the hills (only an Angeleno driver can appreciate). The spontaneity behind a Vegas road trip...Doug Liman's ode to bromances (before bromances even existed) follows two dreamers trying to get by - and get laid - in a city of millions with the same aspirations. If you're an unemployed (and horny) actor/writer looking to summon the spirit of the film, may I suggest getting a window booth at the 101 Cafe on Franklin Avenue on any given weeknight after 10.

2. Go (1999) - One of my all-time favorite movies boasts an energetic score from one of my all-time favorite musicians, BT. Critically lauded as a Pulp Fiction Jr., this joyride from Doug Liman (hello again) through an eventful 24 hours in the lives of young Angelenos is so watchable because, upon every viewing, you discover a new thread in this Red Bull-fueled tapestry (look, it's a pre-brainwashed Katie Holmes!). Go is a high-risk journey through a nocturnal wonderland of supermarket shenanigans, all-night raves and death-defying car chases - the kind of live-on-the-edge thrills most of us would love to experience, substance-free or not:

3. Laurel Canyon (2002) - Frances McDormand is a record producer who's still in love with the 70s. Christian Bale is her conservative doctor son. Kate Beckinsale plays his studious yet budding sexpot of a fiancee. And Alessandro Nivola channels Coldplay's Chris Martin as a singer-songwriter with a fondness for cougars. All of them live, learn, love and lose in L.A.'s near-mythological playground located somewhere between Hollywood and that desolate wasteland known as the Valley.

4. Friends With Money (2006) - Or, What My Life is Starting to Feel Like. Here's another Frances McDormand flick in which she plays one of three friends to Jennifer Aniston's less fortunate gal pal. Writer-director Nicole Holofcener paints a beautiful portrait of disaffected life in West L.A., steering three marriages through bitterness, childcare dilemmas and mistaken sexual preferences while also delivering all-too-real bits of comedy and heartache against a backdrop straight out of a Restoration Hardware catalog:

5. L.A. Story (1991) - Steve Martin's comedy did for Los Angeles what Woody Allen's Manhattan did for the Big Apple. L.A. Story exposes Southern California as the big, bubbled melting pot of controlled lunacy it really is. And that freeway sign that torments Martin's woeful weatherman? One of the best visual gags ever created. Bonus: Catch a young Sarah Jessica Parker, before she moved to that other City.

6. Clueless (1995) - "You get mad if anyone thinks you live below Sunset." That's just one of the many lines that still gets us, along with the inside jokes about the Valley (such was the trend in the 90s). One of those rare "teen" movies loved by both the young and the old, Clueless is sometimes an exaggerated look at what it's like to grow up in an exaggerated city where learning to drive can be considered an extreme sport.

7. Crash (2004) - Here is one of those few movies that doesn't paint the City of Angels as a glossy Shangri-La filled with tanline-obsessed hardbodies. This Oscar-winning ensemble piece nails the melancholy and loneliness that often permeates L.A.'s tense commuter culture...and probably continues to discourage prospective transplants from moving here.

8. Grand Canyon (1991) - More than just "a Big Chill for the 90s," Lawrence Kasdan's masterfully written character study taps into mid-life crises, racial guilt and the frustration over making a left turn on La Cienega at any given hour of the day, perhaps a precursor of P.T. Anderson's Magnolia. Enhancing the script are nuanced performances from Kevin Kline, Danny Glover and a sturdy supporting cast that includes a toned-down Steve Martin who plays a hotshot movie producer learning to re-prioritize his life after getting shot by a gang member.

9. To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) - William Friedkin's kaleidoscope of crime was the antithesis of the then-popular Miami Vice and its glam gunslingers. In the simplest of terms, this cult classic was a cool yet gritty L.A. cop movie - two years before Lethal Weapon came on the scene and reclaimed the title.

10. Less Than Zero (1987) - Sex, coke and pool parties. This is the movie that probably got RDJ started on his infamous drug binges in the 90s (and subsequent legal troubles). Adapted from Bret Easton Ellis's then-controversial novel, LTZ showcased Beverly Hills brats well before Aaron Spelling zoomed in on that ubiquitous zip code. Now, the movie is only great for nostalgic purposes; those Gossip Girl bitches could probably eat these characters for breakfast - and then vomit them up just in time for lunch.

Honorable Mentions: Strange Days (1995), Falling Down (1993), Magnolia (1999), Mullholland Drive (2001), Collateral (2004), The Broken Hearts Club (2000)

Go on and fire up that Netflix queue.


October 20, 2008

At Spike TV's SCREAM Awards

I recently got a shout-out on OhLaLa Magazine:

Hiko on OhLaLa

It was for the kickass weekend I had at Spike TV's SCREAM Awards at the Greek Theater here in L.A.

* Hanging with Seann William Scott and 90210's resident bad girl Annalynne McCord

* Witnessing a Scream reunion between Wes Craven and Neve Campbell

* Crowning a couple of Scream Queens

My extensive coverage for Hot in Hollywood is up and running. Enjoy.

October 14, 2008

Return to the Prep: Part 2


Peeking into dark classrooms and wandering the trophy-lined hallways of Iona Prep on a Saturday night during the Class of '98 Reunion was - in the eloquent words of our valedictorian, Mark Michalowski - "a complete mindfuck."

The flashbacks were in full swing as we four strolled past the rows of polished lockers (yes 4, out of the 198 who graduated ten years ago) - homeroom shenanigans, beating deadlines for the school newspaper, inside jokes during AP Calculus (we bitchslapped logic proofs), rehearsing for weekend speech-and-debate tournaments in Room 209, the hot Italian teacher who had an affair with a senior after graduation...

The reunion wasn't just all about us. The classes of '03, '93, '88, '83, and '78 were in attendance as well. The class of '03, fresh from college - not yet affected by "the real world" - were an eager bunch, enjoying the comeback, happily paying their respects to the school that had sent them off to prestigious universities and into the depths of student loan hell. The class of '83 was loud and obnoxious, most of them drunk from the free beer and wine that flowed throughout the cafeteria, fortysomethings filled up on the best buffet dinner $75 could buy per person.

And then there were the '98ers. Thankfully we had been part of the same circle back in the day. All four of us were speech-and-debate and theater veterans. That night, most of us left our ties at home and dressed in our best jackets and carefully distressed jeans. We did the brief who's-doing-what recap over some shrimp cocktail and white wine. Two of us stayed in New York. One bounced back and forth between Pittsburgh - and Japan. And yours truly was the sole Prepster who had become a West Coaster. Teacher, entrepreneur, scientist and writer.

A framed portrait of our graduating class was on display outside the Tully Gymnasium. Besides commenting on our own photos (that hair! those eyebrows!) we pointed out faces we hadn't seen since 1998, some we never cared to see, and others we had forgotten about ("Where are they now?"). Later, after enjoying some baked ziti and gravy-smothered chicken, we broke away from chatter and music to go on a private tour of our private school. We ended back in the gym, more ginormous than we remembered, and snooped behind the curtains on the stage where we had once embarrassed ourselves in front of friends and family with an a cappella version of My Favorite Year during our senior year (don't ask). We then went on to brave the old locker room where it smelled like several cats had died in a pile of month-old jockstraps covered in vomit.

The night ended shortly after ten. Armed with a souvenir pint glass decorated with the school emblem, I hopped in my mom's car and drove through the streets of New Rochelle, down North Avenue, past old haunts (the Wykagyl Starbucks, where I bought my first mocha frappucino) - just like old times. I made it back to my parents' place in time to catch Anne Hathaway make light of her ex-fiancé drama during her SNL monologue.


I had lowered my expectations during the weeks leading up to this reunion, and I'm glad I did. There was no rekindling of any kind, no grand epiphany by the end of the night, no hooking up with an old flame who would later hold me hostage on a boat so he could smuggle drugs into Mexico, right before shooting him in self-defense and learning that I was pregnant with his child...Way to get my hopes up, Aaron Spelling.

One thing we were able to take away from the night: The crazy fact that Iona Prep's current freshman class was born the year we started our freshman year. Dang.

I could spend paragraphs breaking down the psychology and total strangeness of high school reunions, the reasons why we put ourselves through revisiting a past that's either been too painful or fairly painless (simple curiosity, some kind of closure, research for a screenplay), but why bother? It just happened. We came. We saw. We went back to our regularly scheduled lives. And that's okay.

I plan to hold on to the business cards I collected, the phone numbers I jotted down. Who knows, perhaps we'll meet again. I hear the twenty-year can be a doozy.

But hey, we'll always have Facebook status updates.


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