Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Top Ten Underdog Movies

One could argue that I spent yesterday's post focusing on the loser, not on the winner. At the outset of this 18 month primary process, everyone assumed that Hillary Clinton would end up as the nominee. She led by wide margins in every poll, had the most money and the best name recognition since, well, OK, since 2000. But Obama and his team ran a brilliant campaign and somehow persevered over the presumptive winner. The skinny African-American kid with the funny name is now the standard-bearer for the Democratic party. And he's probably going to be our next president. It's certainly amazing. Some are calling it the greatest political upset in history.

In honor of Obama's incredible accomplishment, today we present Fighting the Youth's ten favorite movies where the underdog comes out on top (and borrowing the format from Scene Stealers as a respectful homage). NOTE: some spoilers here.

10. The Killing Fields (1984)

First time actor Haing S. Ngor had plenty of personal history to call upon in his depiction of Cambodian War journalist Dith Pran. Left behind by American counterpart Sydney Schanberg, Pran is forced to pretend a lack of education and loyalty to the brutal Khmer Rouge. Through personal deception, luck, and a sympathetic general, Pran makes his escape via a harrowing 40 mile journey. Against all odds, his survival allowed his story to be told to the world.

Dith Pran: The wind whispers of fear and hate. The war has killed love. And those that confess to the Angka are punished, and no one dare ask where they go. Here, only the silent survive.

9. True Romance (1993)

Clarence is a lowly comic book store employee when a sexy blonde named Alabama comes into his life. That she turns out to be a prostitute does nothing to stifle their connection. They marry and Clarence, guided by his internal spiritual adviser, Elvis Presley, confronts her pimp. In the process, he accidentally steals a suitcase full of cocaine. Running from the mafia and later, the feds, Clarence and Alabama head to Los Angeles to sell their windfall as quickly as possible before fleeing the country.

Drexl Spivey: He must have thought it was white boy day. It ain't white boy day, is it?
Marty: No, man. It ain't white boy day.

8. Ratatouille (2007)

A story about a rat that becomes a gourmet chef. Okaaaaay. When we find Remy, he's in the country, living with a huge family of rats, scrounging for food, constantly in fear of people. But Remy is special. He was born with a refined sense of taste and smell. When separated from his family, he ends up in Paris and, guided by his internal spiritual adviser, Gusteau, he quickly finds Gusteau's renowned restaurant. Obsessed with the craft of cooking, he infiltrates and manages to partner together with a bumbling kid named Linguini to not only turn the culinary world on its ear, but save Gusteau's from certain irrelevant mediocrity.

Collette: You waste energy and time! You think cooking is a cute job, eh? Like mommy in the kitchen? Well, mommy never had to face the dinner rush while the orders come flooding in, and every dish is different and not that simple at all, and all different cooking time, but must arrive at the customer's table at exactly the same time. I am chopping! Every second counts and you cannot be mommied!

7. Babe (1995)

OK, I have to be honest here. I haven't seen this movie in forever. But frequent commenter PMaz would've killed me if I didn't include it. Babe is a piglet won by Farmer Hoggett at a fair. Instead of behaving like and befriending the other pigs, he grows attached to the sheepdogs on the farm. Babe soon begins to wrangle sheep along with the dogs. When Babe is entered into sheepherding competitions, people scoff at him and Farmer Hoggett. But in the end, this little piggy went to the winners' circle.

Rex: You and I are descended from the great sheepdogs. We carry the bloodline of the ancient Bahou. We stand for something! And today I watched in shame as all that was betrayed.
Fly: Rex, he's just a little pig.
Rex: All the greater the insult!

6. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-03)

Not much explanation need here, is there? Frodo Baggins, a halfling from the Shire took on black riders, orcs, goblins, trolls, Uruk Hai, Nazgul, a gigantic spider, and Gollum. Avoiding mortal harm from all of them, he delivered the one ring to the fires of mount doom, thus saving the day and the future of middle earth.

Pippin: Is there any hope, Gandalf, for Frodo and Sam?
Gandalf: There never was much hope. Just a fool's hope.

5. Delicatessen (1991)

In a surreal, post-apocalyptic future where food and work are scarce, Louison, a former clown, is hired on as a maintenance man at an apartment building owned by Clapet, the butcher who runs the shop on the ground floor. Little does the sweet-hearted Louison know that every time a new maintenance man is hired, he ends up as meat sold by the butcher. As a romance with Clapet's daughter blossoms, she looks out for Louison, aiding his survival. A physical confrontation with Clapet is unavoidable. Louison is able to come out on top through a remarkable string of good fortune and perseverance.

Louision: Nobody is entirely evil. It's the circumstances that make them evil, or they don't know they are doing evil.

4. Hoop Dreams (1994)

The best documentary I've ever seen is about two boys, two families, and their pursuit of happiness and prosperity. Sure, it's about basketball, but the underdog theme in this case works on so many levels. Being talented gives both William Gates and Arthur Agee opportunities that most kids in their situations don't have. But they're still climbing uphill. The hope of an NBA career rises above all other dreams, but even attending a better high school and going to college are longshots. The penultimate chapter, an unexpected triumph on the court, is only surpassed by the final resolution - that both boys have made it to college with a chance for a better future.

William Gates: People ask me, will I remember them if I make it. I tell 'em, will you remember me if I don't?

3. 12 Angry Men (1957)

Sidney Lumet's first feature film begins with Henry Fonda in a steamy room with 11 fellow jurors who are determined that the boy on trial is guilty of murder. After stating his case, he is willing to concede his position if, on a revote, nobody joins him. When one juror wants to discuss things further, he begins to persuade the rest of the jury of his reasonable doubts. What seemed like an open-and-shut case will be debated long into the night. Eventually, the last dissenter falls and the verdict is changed: not guilty.

Juror #2: It's hard to put into words. I just think he's guilty. I thought it was obvious from the word, 'Go'. Nobody proved otherwise.
Juror #8: Nobody has to prove otherwise. The burden of proof is on the prosecution. The defendant doesn't even have to open his mouth. That's in the Constitution.

2. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

You've seen this one, right? You don't need a reminder of how strongly the deck was stacked against Andy Dufresne. Warden Norton ruled his prison with an iron hand, providing little chance for dignity, let alone freedom. When Dufresne had the opportunity to reopen his trial, Norton murdered the problem away. Sentenced to life in Shawshank prison, he scrapes and claws his way out slowly over his 19 years of incarceration. As he escapes, he also dismantles Norton's sinister regime. Such a remarkable tale of hope triumphing over despair, it's no wonder that it is the IMDb's #2 movie of all time.

Andy Dufresne: Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.
(Come on, how fitting is that?)

1. Star Wars (1977)

Of all the underdogs on this list, none had a steeper climb to the mountaintop than Luke Skywalker and the Rebel Alliance. As far as he knew, he was just a kid farming a desert on a crappy planet, and that was all he'd ever be. But fate soon intervened. Outgunned, outmanned, and certainly outfunded, they used the light side of the force, banded together and blew up the death star. And there was much rejoicing.

Luke: Come on. Why don't you take a look around. You know what's about to happen, what they're up against. They could use a good pilot like you, you're turning your back on them.
Han Solo: What good is a reward if you ain't around to use it? Besides, attacking that battle station is not my idea of courage. It's more like, suicide.
Luke: Okay. Take care of yourself Han. I guess that's what you're best at isn't it?
Han Solo: Hey, Luke. May the force be with you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Andrew, thanks for stopping by my spot. I like this list, but you forgot Karate Kid.)