Now that Sony has canceled their release of "The Interview," some of us are left with several frantic empty hours of time we have to spend with the family this holiday season -- instead of using the now-doomed James Franco/Seth Rogen comedy to fill the void instead.
The movie, originally scheduled to open on December 25th, was pulled after Sony, amid their hacking scandal, received additional threats targeted at movie theaters planning to show it. President Obama called the canceled plans "a mistake," and Sony might be exploring options to release the movie through alternate means, but there's no guarantee the majority of us will be able to lay eyes on the satire any time soon. (UPDATE: Sony has just announced a plan for very limited release.)
So I offer this collection of alternative films for you to watch instead. Some feature a comparable level of satire, others a comparable level of interviews, others a comparable level of politics, and others simply, a comparable level of Franco-Rogen. All of this is in the hopes that it spares you -- for at least a few hours -- from getting hoarse from another prolonged defense of your outrageous political beliefs at the dinner table.
#1. "Wag The Dog:" A fake war created by Hollywood producers is used to distract the public from a presidential sex scandal. If you've never seen it, you must. If you have already, see it again. It gets better the second time around. Especially Dustin Hoffman.
#2. "Thank You For Smoking:" Before "Juno" and "Up In The Air," Jason Reitman directed "Thank You For Smoking," a bleak comedy about a tobacco lobbyist starring Aaron Eckhart. It's cynical in its characters and its story, but especially in its portrayal of the American public. Mario Bello co-stars as an alcohol lobbyist and one of Eckhart's confidantes. Her performance leaves you almost wishing she had the lead, it's that good. And Eckhart is delightfully sinister in his charm, showing that a little spin can make all the difference.
#3. "American Dreamz:" The president appears as a judge on the "American Idol"-like singing competition in order to boost his popularity. It would be ludicrous if it wasn't so completely true-to-life.
#4. "Team America: World Police:" When it was announced that "The Interview" was being yanked, The Alamo Drafthouse was among three theaters that planned to show a substitute screenings of 2004's "Team America: World Police." Both films focus on plots against North Korea, and the marionette-starring satire seemed like a fair substitute for those who had already bought tickets. Paramount, who released "Team America," then canceled their screenings without comment. Luckily, "Team America" is readily available for home viewing. Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the "Book of Mormon" and "South Park" guys, created the movie, a loving spoof of political action thrillers, all using the mechanics and artistry of puppets to make a hilarious and visually awesome film.
#5. "Election:" Reese Witherspoon plays a scary ambitious high schooler running for student council president. It's warped, and it's one of her best performances.
6. "Inglourious Basterds:" An interrogation masquerades as a friendly conversation. As a dairy farmer is questioned in his home by a famous SS colonel, the questions raised are endless. Who was telling the truth? Was this colonel as calm as he seemed? Where could the farmer hide a Jewish family in his small cottage? It's deliberate in the Quentin Tarantino way, with small comments later revealing massive weight.
7. "Good Will Hunting:" So many interview scenes. The boy genius is interviewed by prospective therapists, and he purposely throws each one. Later, he sends his childhood best friend on a job interview for him, and Ben Affleck plays to his comedic strengths with a too-small suit and an attempt at fancy talk.
8. "Primary Colors:" This is a classic -- and an excellently bizarro version of the Clinton administration. Satirical, political, smart.
9. "The Sacrament:" The interview scene in this Ti West movie is the one to beat. A video journalism crew of three descends on a commune, in an attempt to explore what it's about and to convince one of their sisters to return home with them. The crew talks to individual members of the group and all have nothing but glowing words for Father, the leader. But when Sam, the writer, sits down with Father one-on-one in front of all his disciples, the resulting Q&A is perfectly gracious, and given almost entirely through condescending, gritted teeth. It is scary as hell, and super effective because of its realism.
10. "Pineapple Express:" Hey, if you're looking for just a pairing of Franco and Rogen, this is perfection, and they share screen and smoke time equally.
11. "This Is The End:" Another awesome pairing, and on subsequent viewings it doesn't lose its magic. Rogen and Franco play themselves, alongside some of their friends also playing themselves (Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride), and together they try to survive the end of the world. What was marketed as a straight comedy film has some unexpected tone shifts -- adventure, horror, theological debate -- and yet still, a good amount of genuinely funny masturbation jokes.
BONUS: "Freaks and Geeks:" OK, it's TV but it's also the best television show that only lasted one season. Now is the time. Rogen and Franco are practically children, playing early '80s dress up with Linda Cardellini, Busy Philipps, Jason Segel, John Francis Daley, and Martin Starr. I'm kinda stuck on Seth Rogen in particular when it comes to "Freaks and Geeks." Franco is the crush-worthy bad boy, the burnout, and he has the bigger role. But Rogen makes the most of his lesser screen time, and as the season develops you get to see a storyline that evolves his character in a way that makes the cancellation of the show even more heartbreaking.
And if none of these appeal to you, I suppose you could just watch "Christmas Vacation" for the thousandth time.
Do you have any "The Interview" alternatives? And how do you feel about this entire Sony hacking debacle anyway?