Dec 9, 2013

Listmania: 20 Reasons That "Spring Breakers" Was the Most Memorable Movie of 2013

Left to right: Rachel Korine, Selena Gomez,
Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens
In 20 years, maybe even five, Spring Breakers will most likely be forgotten by everyone except those that lives in 2013 and fell onto its radar. For many, it is a bafflement of cinematic excess. To everyone, however, it was essentially a hangover of a movie in which the dizzying colors and dubstep soundtrack left a massive headache chased with confusion. What was this thing that we just saw? In fact, it is arguable that even those defenders out there have no idea how to answer it. Despite all of the issues, the confusion, and certain level of vitriol, Spring Breakers will go down as 2013's most memorable movie.

1. Did Harmony Korine Troll a Generation? 

To sum up what is the biggest, most enduring appeal of Spring Breakers for me is the way that public felt screwed over. The quintessential article was posted by in which they collected Twitter posts of people who went to see a brothel of naked people guzzling beer and left with an arthouse film by way of an Andy Kaufman prank. It remains outside the pantheon of traditional cinema and it is suggestive that the marketing is itself meta commentary. It got everyone to talk about it, but much like the film itself, it was done in the most vapid, asinine ways possible. Nobody gets teenagers and teenagers don't get Spring Breakers, which has been argued as commentary on the youth of America (you decide). It is the perfect example of mind-messing in ways that may piss most viewers off, but will stay with them long after they left. It is especially humorous to hear these detractors' other favorite movies, which may even be more stupid than the dumbest element of Spring Breakers.

2. That Britney Spears scene

There is a reason that the first Youtube video on the internet was leaked footage of the scene set to Britney Spears' "Everytime." While written as one of the worst movie scenes ever, it actually may be the contrary. A violent, perverse fantasy of innocence lost as the characters begin robbing people, crashing weddings, and smoking with guns firmly placed in their hands. It is poetic, disturbing, and according to the director, funny. It works on a visceral level that transcends arthouse films and becomes the one feature of the film that many consider its only decent scene. However, it reflects director Harmony Korine's ability to juxtapose violence over peacefulness almost in a way that suggests mental decay. If nothing else, Spring Breakers remains the best thing that Spears has been associated with in the past 10 years regarding artistic merit, which is a compliment unto itself.

3. Benoit Debie's Cinematography

For those unaware, cinematographer Benoit Debie is brilliant at his job and contributed to one of the trippiest, most surreal films of the past decade with Enter the Void. His splattering of colors onto a canvas is one of the most beautiful, authentic techniques in cinema and Harmony Korine was smart when he announced that he wanted Spring Breakers to feel like a candy confection. With colors bouncing all over the place and the bikinis looking edible, the look of this film was so bright that when the darkness started popping into it, it felt more like a rush of sugar bringing on hallucinations. It is no doubt that the cinematography here is unique and gives the film more of a surreal, mind-melting feeling that helped it to be one of the most delicious-looking arthouse films of the year.

4. James Franco's Oscar Campaign

In years down the line, this will be the story of epics. While majority of people right now aren't aware, this Oscars campaign dates back to a year ago when in December there was speculation of an early release just to qualify James Franco for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. This was before any footage had been released, save for a picture of Franco holding guns with two of the stars of the film scantily clad on either side of him. The campaign continues and remains the pinnacle of pranks that this film has pulled. While nobody was expecting it to get any awards, the idea that Franco's foul mouthed rapper who does felatio on a gun would even be considered. True, it continues to prove why he is one of the most versatile actors today, but this probably is so against the pretentious, buttoned-up clan of voters that it almost feels like an Andy Kaufman prank fully realized over the course of months and even a year. To Harmony Korine and Franco, I say congratulations.

5. Selena Gomez Audition Story

Early on, Harmony Korine and actress Rachel Korine had a strange idea to make their film have an iconic cast of perceptibly innocent girls playing really trashy roles. One of the first to accept was Selena Gomez, who auditioned in Korine's living room. He had to take down some racy, erotic art as to keep her from feeling uncomfortable. While she has the most limited screen time of the four main characters, she seems to be the biggest fan. As this year's SXSW, she stated during a Q&A that she was a fan of his previous film Trash Humpers. Take that into consideration when you see just about everything else that Gomez has done before or since. While Vanessa Hudgens is also on record of claiming that he enjoyed how uncomfortable his work made her feel, it is these comments from the most innocent-seeming one of the bunch. It also makes you realize that these actresses also seem to have an awareness of more arthouse-like cinema.

6. Harmony Korine's AMA

There hasn't been a better AMA on Reddit since Harmony Korine's. It probably has to do with most of the world having no idea who he is, but he gave some of the loopiest, most confusing and cryptic answers of all time. It only makes me wish that he did more interviews (like this classic David Letterman appearance). However, the moment to beat shall forever remain the most confusing answer that probably didn't answer the question:

Q: Who was Gucci Mane's sex scene with?
A: It was a sex scene with Gucci.

If only we had more smart-alec responses like that, then maybe the world of press junkets would be far more entertaining.

7. "Scary Monsters on Strings" by Skrillex and Cliff Martinez

While it is true that Cliff Martinez's Only God Forgives is streets ahead better, there has yet to be a better composition this year than "Scary Monsters on Strings." In a way bookending the film, it took the Skrillex piece "Scary Monsters" and added classical strings to it, adding poetic value and an aura of transcendence. In fact, the paring of Skrillex and Martinez may be one of the most ingenious pairings on a soundtrack this year, just as they mix lo-fi thuds with vibrant, aggressive sounds. The soundtrack has that appeal and it works strangely well, much like most of the film does. Of course, Skrillex's rise to popularity in cinema has been baffling unto itself (he contributed and appeared in Wreck-It Ralph), but with Spring Breakers, he has seemed to have found his magnum opus and calling.

8. "A Crack-Up at the Race Riots" re-release

I don't even know if this is true, but the book did seem to come out on the heels of Spring Breakers' whirlwind of success. It worked on me and I am now a proud owner of his strange, morose book of poetry, thoughts, and whatever goes through his head. Say what you will about his films, but he is effectively bizarre and having a collection of his insights only makes him come across more aloof and fascinating.

9. The Terrence Malick comparisons

It is hard to believe that in January, director Terrence Malick was posed to release three films in 2013. While he managed to get one, To the Wonder, out into the world, it seems like there was something that kept him more in the conversation. The bizarre, lack of tradition to Harmony Korine's style meant that he got compared to the mack daddy of arthouse cinema: Malick himself. Not that these comparisons were ever pleasant, but almost seen as an excuse to put Malick and drugs in the same sentence. To sum it up, the best came from Pajiba with this descriptor: "Girls Gone Wild as Directed by Terrence Malick on Drugs." If you find a more accurate summation, let me know.

10. Selena Gomez tells fans not to see the film

While it didn't keep her fans from actually seeing it and hating it, Selena Gomez told her fans not to see Spring Breakers. This was mostly geared at the younger, more impressionable audiences. She didn't want them seeing the debauchery of drugs, nudity, and guns sprayed across a Florida landscape. In a way, it could be seen as a detractor and dismissing of the film, but it also makes her seem like more of a role model than she could have been. The film is bizarre and it would definitely hurt those who still frequent the Disney Channel. Even if the film could be meta commentary on good girls (read: Disney stars) going bad, there isn't any reason that tweens need to see that. Bravo, Selena Gomez, on being responsible at the expense of a few tickets.

11. Harmony Korine's most successful film

The film debuted in the Top 10 and earned $31 million worldwide. By comparison, his film Mister Lonely had a budget of $8.2 million and earned $393,813. Spring Breakers literally did 100 times better. It may have just been really great marketing, but it is unlikely that after losing mainstream audiences the second week that Korine will ever come close to this level of success again. Cherish the moment. On the bright side, it got those who actually appreciate the film to check out his other films.

12. From the director of Trash Humpers

I mean honestly. While Selena Gomez liked the film, there is a reason that this piece of his resume was left out of promos. It would have been too much of a tip-off to where Spring Breakers was going. However, that didn't stop every single critic to ever review the film to ironically make a joke about Trash Humpers along the lines of "What do you expect from this guy?" Of course, that is just a title that is unforgettable no matter what the reaction, even if you haven't seen it. 

13. The Disney Princess meta commentary

As stated earlier, one of the many interpretations of Spring Breakers is that it is a meta commentary on Disney stars gone bad. In a way, the general set-up is the exact thing. Selena Gomez is a religious type and everyone seems rebellious, but actually come across as innocent. The film is very much sexploitation and can be read as asking what we look for in entertainment while also choosing to wonder why this is acceptable. The film forces you to make tough decisions and you may feel dirty with what you feel. However, it is an effective film because of this parallel because it almost gives the performers a right to act naughty without having public personas of being trashy. As seen later in the year by Miley Cyrus, maybe this is just catharsis for performers who have been repressed for too long. Even if this seems like it is a metaphor for cultural downward spiral, all of the pieces are there to either find depth, or just bask in the bodies of naked people.

14. The Riff Raff lawsuit

I wouldn't blame you if you didn't know who rapper Riff Raff was before this lawsuit. Maybe even watching the video above of him getting jealous would make you believe that he is the basis of James Franco's character. However, his attempt to raise his profile by wanting to form a lawsuit against Franco for plagiarizing his style is hilarious. Franco has gone on record as claiming to have been inspired by rapper Dangeruss, who appears on the soundtrack with the song "Hanging with the Dopeboys." It is a comical piece of advertisement that maybe just adds to the bizarre nature of this film in general. 

15. Sexist or Feminist?

There are polarizing viewpoints on the depiction of women in the film. While Rolling Stone claims that it is a feminist portrayal of women working together to get what they want, The Guardian suggests that it "reinforces rape culture." While the latter seems a little extreme, there are valid points in both that itself beg the question. These characters aren't necessarily smart or the ideal independent women, but they do spend an awful lot of time appearing to be sex objects, having fun and loads of drugs. The film is a blurry depiction that is probably as confused as this generation is on the guidelines for feminism and while should never be considered a standard for these means, does raise the question far more effectively than the other Vanessa Hudgens film of exploitative females: Sucker Punch.

16. Harmony Korine's Most Critically Acclaimed Movie

The film currently sits at 66% on Rotten Tomatoes. Considering that as a director, Harmony Korine's other films are way below this rating, that shows some success. It is funny that it also seems to be unclassifiable as a drama, action & adventure, art house, international, comedy, and cult movies are all on its genre section. The film has ended up on the Best of list by several critics, including Caheirs du Cinema, John Waters, and's David Ehrlich. It is likely that even more will be talking about it in the next few weeks as more end of year lists are revealed. However, it is important to note that this is probably a fluke and this will be the last that we hear of Harmony Korine being this universally beloved, even if it seems like it is only by a modicum of audiences.

17. Look at My Shit scene

As ridiculous as the chances are that James Franco could get an Oscar nomination, there is some truth behind its attempt. He is the charismatic core to the film and his confidence as this rapper who only dreamed about living with lush, materialistic goods and being bad is enduring. He is insatiable and quotable. He is everything that a memorable character should be. It mostly all comes true in a scene that feels like the thesis for the story in which he claims that the American Dream is being bad and selling drugs while having Scarface on repeat. He has no pretensions to who he is and while it could be sad, he sells every second of it because we really must look at his shit. It's just so fascinating.

18. The masks and costumes

Okay, there aren't really any costumes, save for James Franco's Alien costume. However, a big selling point of the film seemed to be mixing scantily clad girls in neon-colored bikinis with pink ski-masks. It is effective, iconic imagery that has yet to be mistaken with any other film. Even if this film fades into obscurity over time, the ski-masks and Alien's outfit will remain the legacy that people will remember as they shout "Spring break" into the night air. It mixes innocence and violence so well that it makes the messages more blurred and the results all the more cryptic and satisfying.

19. The first robbery scene

There is something enduring about this shot that comes back later in the movie. In order to pay for Spring Break, the girls rob a restaurant. We never go inside and instead watch as a car circles that building. From the passenger's seat, we watch the gritty events go down inside and they are the first sign of horror to come in this film. Most impressively, it is shot in one take and is later shown almost shot for shot from inside the place. While the Britney Spears scene remains more poetic, there isn't a more established and focused scene in the entire film besides that robbery scene. It is so full of life and animosity that it sets the tone for everything to come, which at very least is a vision of a life in which innocence is lost. 

20. Narrative incoherency

Probably more than anything, the reaction this film will forever get is "What did I just watch?" For many, this film will only be picked up in each proceeding year by fans of the stars, not because of the marketing that promised bikinis and guns. That will only make discovering this film a far more fascinating prospect in that they will be even more confused than the trailers ever would have you believe. Even the box art will probably be baffling. Most of all, the Cliff Martinez/Skrillex score of ambient chaos set to Benoit Debie's cinematography and repetitive dialogue all will be hypnotic, but probably not understood. People will probably continue to write puff pieces on why the film is overrated. Even the idea that there is ominous sounds mixed with occasional gun clicks won't be seen as art to those who don't look for art. Most of all, this film will continue to seem like a prank and people won't get it. While I argue this is a good thing, it doesn't rub certain audiences the right way and thus proves once and for all why this will probably remain Harmony Korine's magnum opus.

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