Films of the decade: "Southland Tales"

Richard Kelly's much-maligned second feature reminds me of the dirty, daring, imperfect country that birthed it

By Thomas Rogers

Published December 22, 2009 4:22PM (EST)

Still from "Southland Tales"
Still from "Southland Tales"

"Southland Tales," Richard Kelly's epic film about the end of the world, is by no means a perfect film. Characters appear and disappear with little explanation, the plot is muddled to the point of self-parody, and the tone shifts wildly from slapstick comedy to pathos and back again. I saw the film at a late-night, near-empty screening in New York's Angelika Film Center, during which approximately two-thirds of the audience left by the end of the second act. I can't really blame them -- but I can gloat that they missed out on my favorite film of the past decade. From the first appearance of Sarah Michelle Gellar's pop-tart porn star, Krysta Now (with a hit single called "Horniness Is Not a Crime"), to the film's climactic modern-dance routine, I was utterly enraptured by "Southland Tales."

For me, the film not only embodies what I like so much about American pop culture, but what I love about America itself: Kelly's film is ambitious (a nearly three-hour modern-day adaptation of the Book of Revelation), filled with big ideas (about capitalism, pornography, cable news and privacy, among many other things), a mishmash of clashing elements (sketch comedy, film noir, Justin Timberlake song-and-dance routines), relentlessly populist (Stiffler from "American Pie" plays, basically, Jesus) and an incredible amount of fun. And if, like America, the film doesn't always live up to what it tries to be, that's OK with me too. There's nobility in failure if, like Richard Kelly, you're aspiring for something truly great.

Film Salon has invited a group of special guests to write about their favorite film(s) of the 2000s. To read the entire series, go here.

Thomas Rogers

Thomas Rogers is Salon's former Arts Editor. He has written for the Globe & Mail, the Village Voice and other publications. He can be reached at @thomasmaxrogers.

MORE FROM Thomas Rogers

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Best Of The Decade Film Salon Films Of The Decade Movies The Box