Once a day, until Dec. 25, we'll be highlighting a specific small, good thing that happened in popular culture this year. And we do mean small: a moment or image from a film or TV show, a panel from a comic, a brief exchange from a podcast, or a passage from a book.
That photo right there? Up above? Is not a shot of the expression on the face of Hank's Dad (Richard Gross) at the conclusion of this year's most egregiously and defiantly odd indie film, Swiss Army Man.
That's because showing it to you would spoil it. It's too good. And it wouldn't make sense — much less possess any real power — unless you've seen the film that leads up to it.
You may not recognize the title Swiss Army Man. Your friends probably didn't call it that; few people did. Not that you can blame them. After all, Swiss Army Man, as titles go, wreathes itself in a stubborn cloud of inessential mystery.
No, most folks, if and when the subject of this weird little film comes up, go for a moniker that's more practical, more plainspoken, more true:
"That Daniel Radcliffe Farting Corpse Movie."
It works, that name, because ... well. It's a film that stars Daniel Radcliffe as a flatulent dead body. QED.
Here's the plot, such as it is: A young man named Hank (Paul Dano), marooned on an island, discovers said corpse, realizes that it possesses various supernatural abilities (including — crucially, it turns out — the ability to talk about feelings, both its own and Hank's). The two friends attempt to make their way back to civilization.
It's a standard buddy comedy, really. If you replaced "soon-to-retire cop" and "wide-eyed rookie" with "dead guy" and "dude with serious boner-shame."
Directed by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan (collectively called DANIELS), Swiss Army Man stakes out some of the same visual and emotional real estate previously claimed by Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze.
Which means, essentially, that if you like it, you'll call it "whimsical," and if you don't, you'll call it "twee."
Me, I liked it. And even as I felt it building to its ending, I realized I had no earthly idea what that ending might look like. Which is a feeling to be treasured.
And when the film's climax came, much of it rested on the shoulders — well, the face, anyway — of character actor Richard Gross, whom the script refers to only as "Hank's Dad."
A thing happens, and we expect a certain reaction from Hank's Dad. We don't get it. We get something else. Something surprising, and affecting, and, given what we've been watching for the previous hour and change, absolutely hilarious.
It was the hardest I've laughed in a movie theater this year. Your mileage, as always with such things, may vary. OK: It likely will vary. But no calendar sampling the standout moments in the popular culture of 2016 would be complete without it.
Previous Pop Culture Advent Calendar Entries
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