One Year, 50 Pop Cultures: #20 – 16
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 25, 2010
Over the next few weeks here at IITS (and if we’re not done by February 1st, feel free to cut off our RSS feed in whatever dramatic fashion you see fit), we’ll be counting down the 50 people, places and things that made pop culture a worthwhile place to be in 2009. Feel free to suggest, prognosticate and criticize in the comments section below or on our Twitter page, but fair warning–we still haven’t caught up on The Great American Road Trip yet.
You know how I always say that the key to ridiculous ad campaigns was to take the general concept way too far and way too seriously? Well, if they’re winning from the get go, maybe sometimes it’s not the worst idea to leave well enough alone, either. Such was the case with Nike’s “Kobe vs. LeBron” puppet series, a campaign that debuted during the weeks where it seemed like the two stars were on a crash course to meeting in the NBA finals. They were fantastically bizarre concoctions, making absolutely no attempt at mimicking the voices or personas of the two stars and portraying their relationship as some kind of Bert-and-Ernie domestic partnership (though which was which depended on the commercial). But then, in the 00s’ equivalent of the Dan and Dave fiasco, LeBron’s Cavs lost to the Magic in the Eastern finals, theoretically killing the series in its tracks. Nike remained undaunted, however, and continued to create new entries in the series into the off-season and even up until the next season, with wildly diminishing returns. Still, there’s no diluting the charm and quotability of the first couple spots, which despite their complete inadherence to character or logic, got everyone suitably pumped for what could have–should have–been the most epic finals in recent memory. Don’t be surprised if they’re still around for the ’10 stretch run. “Say, LeBron, have you seen my FOUR championship rings?”
Inglourious Basterds was a movie that made me very glad that I don’t really read much movie criticism anymore. Most smart people probably went into the movie knowing just about everything there was to know about it, but all I came in with was what I thought I had gleaned from the previews–that it was going to be some nutty slapstick Nazi comedy that also doubled as an old-school star vehicle for Brad Pitt. I knew nothing at all about Christoph Waltz as the quatralingual, charming and gleefully psychotic “Jew Hunter.” From the first scene, an unbearably tense, Leone-esque battle of wills between Waltz and a French harborer of Holocaust fugitives, it was clear that Pitt was not going to be the real star of this movie, but this Austrian dude that I had never heard of before. Turns out that everyone else agreed and had long deemed Waltz as the movie’s breakout star, and a surefire candidate for just about every end-of-year award known to man. Rightfully so, but I’m really glad I didn’t know any of that going in–watching Waltz mentally terrorize suspects, strangle starlets with his bare hands, rave about French desserts (“At-ten-dez la creme!“) and gigglingly mix English metaphors was the most pleasantly unexpected surprise of my movie-watching season. (Well, that and the movie’s use of David Bowie’s “Cat People” before the movie’s climax–underrated song).
The year’s most bewitching advertising vixen was one miss Stephanie Courtney, better known as “Flo,” the bubbly, adorable saleswoman whose love of selling auto insurance simply knew no bounds. We still get more random Google hits searching for more information about Ms. Courtney than on any other subject we’ve ever written, and it makes sense–everyone wants to know more about Flo, because they want to understand why it is they’re so drawn to her. Is she funny? Sort of. Is she hot? In a singular and somewhat perverse way, perhaps. Is she unforgettable? Well, doubtless. But my theory about the appeal of Flo–and she’s become as instantly iconic as any other pitchwoman in recent memory–is that she represents the absolute ideal in employee satisfaction. While you toil away at your desk or retail job, you wish that you could be a hundredth as content in your honest day’s work as Flo is in hers–not only does she have unwavering faith in the product she hawks, but she knows no greater high than in spreading the love to her customers. With an all-white background and no apparent discontent on the premises, she even appears to very literally be working in heaven–maybe not the most comforting imagery if you’re trying to sell auto insurance, but one which makes Flo’s bliss in punching the clock all the more palpable. You might want to hang out with her, you might want to have sex with her, but more than anything else, you want to be her–between the hours of 9:00 and 5:00, anyway.
There was no bettering Super Bowl XLII–just couldn’t happen. The characters weren’t as interesting, the stakes weren’t as high, and the potential for real drama was significantly lesser. The best it could hope to do as a follow-up to Giants 17, Patriots 14 was to provide a kind of cool, sneakily entertaining game that made for some new and unexpected heroes and had you saying at the end of it “Huh, that was a much better game than I expected.” And that’s exactly what the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals gave us on February 1st of last year. If you weren’t a specific fan of one of the two teams, chances are you didn’t really care who won–the Steelers had won a million times already, and the Cardinals were just another Cinderella team in a decade that had seen a couple too many of those to begin with. But as the game went on, you felt yourself getting more and more sucked in to the game’s mini-dramas, and a couple of unforgettable plays–James Harrison’s 100-yard pick six, Larry Fitzgerald’s immortality-sealing breakaway score, and then finally, Santonio Holmes’s seemingly impossible touchdown reception in the corner of the end zone–even gave me a couple flashbacks to the incredible experience of watching the year before. I’d say something like “Here’s hoping that this year’s Super Bowl makes it three-in-a-row,” but after an NFC Championship Game like we had yesterday, there’s basically no chance of that. So here’s just hoping that it isn’t a complete embarrassment by comparison.
As thrilled and as stunned as I was to see Katheryn Bigelow getting something vaguely resembling critical acclaim for her work on The Hurt Locker–still a little hard to believe that the director of Point Break and Strange Days is being discussed in Oscar conversations–I was even more jazzed to see Jeremy Renner finally getting his due. I’d noticed Renner over the years in weird indie roles like the title character in Dahmer, as well as less-nuanced but similarly-satisfying roles like Colin Farrell’s evil ex-partner in S.W.A.T., and there was always something about him I liked, despite the fact that his movies didn’t tend to be career-builders. But Renner got the role of a lifetime as Sgt. William James in Hurt Locker, and he was an absolute killer in it. He did the Psychotic Intensity Bubbling Under the Too-Cool Surface thing like an old-school Western hero, the Clint Eastwood of the Middle East, a film achetype badly needing a real 21st century conversion. But more importantly, when dealing with a subject/setting that makes the great majority of its characters seem like total assholes–I still haven’t watched past episode one of Generation Kill because I couldn’t possibly bring myself to give a shit about any of the characters–he made for a character that was imminently likeable, one who you actually wanted to, y’know, live, and not die. He may or may not get the Oscar for this, but hopefully he’ll at least get a legitimate career out of it this time.
The List So Far (Readable in Chunks of Five Here):
49. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
48. Milton Bradley
47. “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss ‘Em Goodbye”
46. The NBA’s “Where Will Amazing Happen This Year?” Campaign
45. “Need You Now”
44. Party Down
43. Cliff Lee
42. Mariah Carey vs. Eminem
41. Gathering of the Juggalos
38. Important Things with Demetri Martin
37. Asher Roth
36. The Beatles: Rock Band
35. Michelle Beadle
34. Mall Cops
33. Sons of Anarchy
31. Dos Equis’s “The Most Interesting Man in the World” Campaign
30. Joel McHale
27. Lil’ Wayne
26. AL Central Play-In Game
25. “It’s All About the Roosevelts, Baby”
24. “Day n Nite”
23. Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame Speech
22. The Proposal Trailer
20. Kobe vs. LeBron
19. Christoph Waltz
17. Super Bowl XLIII
16. Jeremy Renner