(Each day I like to post around a thousand words of original content here to the CCLaP website; the days I don't have a review of a contemporary book or movie ready, I like to try other ideas, like this new series of hopefully funny, hyper-specialized themed movie lists. For the full list of "Ten Movies About..." entries, click here.)
Today: Ten great movies about sexy nerds. As will often be the case, listed in chronological order.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai (1984)
Good God, where do we even start? Starring Peter Weller in his sexy '80s phase, reason enough for this to be on the list, he also plays a guy who's a neurosurgeon, physicist, secret agent, and rock star, who has his own fan club/volunteer army and comic-book line as well. Outrageous outfits, an even more outrageous screenplay, classic early-career turns by Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd, John Lithgow and more, if this doesn't get you wanting to join up with a band of roving quantum scientists with their own tour bus/mobile lab...it should.
Real Genius (1985)
The textbook example of the sexy nerd movie, really; starring a very young Val Kilmer, as well as several staples of '80s alternative odd cinema (such as Michelle Meyrink, for example, who also starred in 1987's surprisingly good Nice Girls Don't Explode), this tale of super-smart prodigies at a fictional tech university, and the various corporate and military interests who hound after them, is a cultural touchstone for all nerds in training. Featuring a number of those crazy undergraduate stunts you hear about that happen at brilliant tech universities, including the freezing of the hallways for sledding, and the disassembling and reassembling of a car in a dorm room. A must-see if you like the things I recommend at this site; think of it as part of the CCLaP Primer to the Underground Arts.
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
I saw this again not too long ago, for the first time since all the way back when it first came out (my senior year of high school, incidentally), down at a packed Music Box Theatre here in Chicago for a midnight screening; it's held up surprisingly well, actually, and turned out to be just as good as my teenage mind remembered it. One of the several classic teamings between underground director John Carpenter and former Disney child star Kurt Russell, this movie takes a fairly ridiculous plot as a great excuse to dive down into the bottomless pits and winding back alleys of San Francisco's Chinatown. Featuring glorious low-budget cinematography, several great martial-arts sequences, and Russell in one of his finest smartass hours.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
So why is this on the list? Well, because it stars Jodie Foster, queen of the nerds, playing an FBI rookie who makes a series of very bad mistakes that almost get her killed, also pretty nerdy, in one of the very first movies to explain and popularize the act of criminal profiling, undeniably nerdy too. Plus, who is the only person in the whole movie that Foster's character flirts with? That's right, the creepy cross-eyed graveyard-shift moth expert at the museum! A rare example of a big crowdpleaser that's also a critical favorite and a highly respected film among intellectuals, it's also director Jonathan Demme at almost his finest, and of course what finally gave Anthony Hopkins the respect and paychecks he deserves. And we'll just try to forget about all the pointless sequels that came afterwards, shall we?
Oh, admit it; you kind of fell in love with the nerdy losers on display here, despite there being no obvious sex appeal to any of them, despite their foul mouths and lousy low-wage jobs, despite the ways they constantly self-sabotage any opportunities they get to better their lives. Hey, just like writer/director Kevin Smith! One of the holy trinity of the early-'90s slacker set (along with Richard Linklater and Douglas Coupland), Smith's explosive debut here is a legendary tale of maxxed-out credit cards and guerrilla shooting schedules, an example of "get the damn thing made by any means possible" that has inspired countless underground artists since. And it's funny to boot; so, so funny. See what all the fuss is about, if you never have before.
Well okay, maybe he's sexy in an offbeat way, but Sean Gullette as the tortured computer genius Max Cohen, in this monumental debut by Darren Aranofsky (who unfortunately went on to make Requiem for a Dream, then fortunately again made The Fountain), is kind of a hottie in this film, you have to admit. After overcooking a mysterious cutting-edge computer processor one day, the board spits out a random number before going kaput; turns out it might just be the secret number that explains the universe, according to a group of mystical Jews who start obsessively following him, as well as a mysterious computer corporation that gets more sinister around every turn. Featuring enough visual gimmicks to give any film-major undergrad a nocturnal emission, there's something about the sweaty lower-class New York on display here that goes well with its cutting-edge story of codes, numbers, math and Kabbalah.
Run Lola Run (1998)
Ja ja! Schnell, scheisse, schnell! This classic rave-age German thriller was not the first big hit for director Tom Tykwer and star Franka Potente (who were dating at the time this was made), but was certainly the first film to bring them both international attention, as well as a huge American audience. (At the time, in fact, it was the largest-grossing German film ever made, and maybe still is.) About as simple as a movie gets, the entire plot is about the desperate attempt by Potente's character to get a bag of cash across the city of Berlin in thirty minutes, before her boyfriend is killed by a mobster he owes the money to; three different versions of the story are presented, wherein tiny differences in timing spell out giant consequences by the ends, all of them synchronized to a dark techno beat and almost no dialogue, part of what made it so popular internationally to begin with. By the way, Americans, Germans aren't nearly as entranced with this film as we are; when you ask for directions there to various famous intersections from the movie (such as where Manny makes his phone calls, which by the way is the intersection of Osnabruecker and Tauroggener Strassen), they just give you this look like, "Why would you possibly want to know that?"
She's a computer programmer! And videogame designer! Playing around inside her latest creation, the most elaborately realistic game ever made, which requires a semi-biological console and surgery on the behalf of the player to even access! And now she's stuck inside of it while everything's going wrong! Although you're never quite sure if that's true or not, since virtual reality in their world looks the exact same as physical reality! And she's played by Jennifer Jason Leigh! And it's directed by David Cronenberg! Oh Lord, oh Lord, I can feel all the nerds getting weak at the knees as we speak. Yes, this movie really is as good as it sounds (if what you just read sounds good to you, that is); yes, it is just as mindblowing as you would expect from Cronenberg at the top of his game, and yes, just as gross at points. Destined to be one of those "visionary" movies twenty years from now, when computers will be partly biological, according to such futurists as Ray Kurzweil. Long Live the Singularity!
Ghost World (2001)
Funny now, how when this film first came out, Thora Birch being in it was all that anyone could talk about (with her just coming off a great debut in American Beauty); while what it'll be remembered for in the future is the debut of Scarlett Johansson instead, who in her mid-twenties as I write this has already created an amazing career for herself. Based on a series of comics by CCLaP favorite Dan Clowes, this was the fiction-film debut as well of director Terry Zwigoff, he of the fellow underground classic Crumb; the results are a little uneven, definitely not as good as the comics themselves, but it's undeniable that not only Birch and Johansson but Steve Buscemi are at pretty much their nerdy-sexiest here. Definitely worth a look, especially on one of those video plans where you can rent out as many DVDs as you want for a fixed price.
Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)
Who knew that one of the funniest and smartest stoner comedies ever made would also be Hollywood's first-ever film to have two Asian actors as its main stars? Or that they'd both be nerds as well? Or that NUMBERS' David Krumholtz could be so amazing as a neurotic Jewish mid-level pot dealer? Or that former child actor Neil Patrick Harris could be so damn mean and funny? Surprisingly touching at points, the writers of this film are notorious for claiming in public that they never meant to address "Asian issues" in this movie, but that's simply not true; see the ongoing storyline, for example, about the Indian character's dad and their continual fights over family job traditions, something I associate a lot more with Asian culture than American. A film that will literally make you pee in your pants at points; highly recommended.
Got your own suggestion for a great movie about sexy nerds? By all means, leave it as a comment!