The MTV Studios produced Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa led the box-office this weekend, so I thought we’d take a look back at some of the better offerings from MTV SStudios over the years. It hasn’t all been Britney Spears’ feature films (Crossroad), Justin Beiber or Katy Perry concert movies, or even Save the Last Dance (NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT). The studio has actually produced and distributed a few really great movies, since it’s inception (with the awful Joe’s Apartment). Here’s a look at their ten best.
Election — The brilliance of the film is in telling the story from exactly the wrong angle. You think Tracy is manipulative? Election manages the feat of making the audience root against the unpopular, intelligent and hard working kid in favor of the popular idiot football player backed by a teacher rigging student elections and trying to screw around on his wife. The film is either a fantastic exercise in irony, or a propaganda salvo for idiocracy. Steven Lloyd Wilson
Murderball — Rubin and Shapiro have created one hell of a good ride and easily the best sports movie of the Aughts (except, of course, for Mighty Ducks 4: Emilio’s Revenge). The fact that it’s a documentary is going to scare some people off, and that’s a shame; it’s got the pacing, structure and immediacy of a feature. Murderball does what movies should do: it involves us in a story with interesting characters we care about and the complex issues they face. Their lives aren’t picnics, but they’re survivable; with time, most things are. — Daniel Carlson
Varsity Blues — A testosterone-addled guilty pleasure that does nothing but revel in cheap stereotypes for two hours while the Foo Fighters blast in the background. The mid- to late-’90s were a heyday of modern teen films to rival the Hughes-era 1980s, and just as before, it seemed that the same half-a-dozen kids were in every movie. Granted, having James Van Der Beek play a football hero was a bit of a stretch, but his anointing on Dawson’s Creek made him a natural fit for a film about an angsty teen. It instantly launched into the teen stratosphere by playing up horribly broad stereotypes and offering up moments of such inanity they were destined to become iconic. Who could forget Ali Larter’s whipped cream bikini? The high school sex-education teacher who moonlighted as a stripper? Jon Voight’s off-the-charts nutjob of a coach chewed scenery like there was no tomorrow, but it was Van Der Beek’s impassioned plea to his father that was seared into the hearts and minds of a generation: “I. Don’t want. Your life” became an automatic catchphrase. — Daniel Carlson
Beavis and Butthead Do America! — A hilariously dumb animated feature that remains faithful to the MTV series, Beavis managed to combine dumb humor with sharp satire and mix it better than you’d think with a genuine look at what it’s like to be a geeky teenager trapped in a hideous body trying to make the best of it. Underneath the masturbation jokes and the tastelessness, Beavis and Butthead were actually insightful cultural critics, and that burns through the idiocy of Beavis and Butthead.
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa Consider this a catch-all for all the Jackass movies, but Bad Grandpa is actually the best, not because it attempts to stitch the Jackass pranks into a narrative, but because this installment brings a satirical element to the franchise and Johnny Knoxville puts on an Oscar-caliber performance. No, really.
Original Kings of Comedy — Spike Lee’s stand-up film documented the stand-up acts of Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Bernie Mac, and Cedric The Entertainer in their heydays, and in addition to being flat-out hilarious, it was a smart, and politically incorrect look at race-relations in the late 90s.
Hustle and Flow — Craig Brewer has fashioned a modern-day tale about coming of age and taking charge of your life, cobbling together a mix of Death of a Salesman, the non-crappy parts of The Big Chill (there are a few in there, trust me), and everything I wanted 8 Mile to be. Eminem’s feature debut was a one-note trick meant to sell his latest album, but Brewer’s story of one man trying to overcome his fears and change his life carries far greater weight, mainly because Terrence Howard more than rises to the challenge of carrying the movie. — Daniel Carlson
Orange County — Not a particularly well-received film upon its release, the Colin Hanks/Jack Black stoner comedy has become something of a cult guilty pleasure that plays incredibly well on a Saturday afternoon on Comedy Central. It’s a mild, second-rate teen comedy, but director Jake Kasdan’s reins Jack Black in, and weaves through the formula with sure-footedness. There are even a few witty moments, and enough heart to make Orange County a thoroughly enjoyable layabout comedy.
Napoleon Dynamite — Though the film has not stood the test of time (at all), upon its release, Napoleon Dynamite was a charming and eccentric debut by 24-year-old Brigham Young University film grad Jared Hess, which was supplemented an already winning comedy with artistic sophistication. Combining the deadpan humor of Jim Jarmusch with the expositional nonchalance of Wes Anderson, the film works as a character study that’s so bent on accepting misfits that it doesn’t commit the sin of compromising their uniqueness. The completely indeterminate time in which the movie is set also helps to expand its accessibility; 90s technology combines with 80s popular culture amid a backdrop of 70s faux-fashion to create a microcosm of the American high school experience. — PS
Stop-Loss — As a political statement, Stop-Loss is a failure, reducing the bureaucratic manipulation of good men and women by an uncaring administration into a simple, knee-jerk moral outcry. The film wears its message, like its heart, proudly on its sleeve. But where the message may fail, the heart does not; Peirce finds an emotional resonance in this story that most films on the Iraqi imbroglio have not, depicting the terrible burden faced by the families of those serving there. Rather than championing a cause, Peirce discovered the real consequences of war — that the responsibility of taking lives, whether with your guns or your orders, is a weight one will carry forever. Stop-Loss shows just how monstrous the manipulation of the men and women who voluntarily shoulder this burden is; perhaps the film is a more impressive piece of agit-prop than I realize. — PS