Neighbors, starring Zac Efron and Rose Byrne, was one of the best comedies of 2014.

The 2014 Movie Club

I’m Going on the Record Predicting Future Oscars for Zac Efron

The 2014 Movie Club

I’m Going on the Record Predicting Future Oscars for Zac Efron
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 5 2015 11:17 AM

The 2014 Movie Club

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Entry 2: I’m going on the record predicting future Oscars for Zac Efron.

Rose Byrne, Seth Rogen and Zac Efron in Neighbors (2014).
Zac Efron, Seth Rogen, and Rose Byrne in Neighbors.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Glen Wilson/Universal Pictures

Hello and Happy 2015, Movie Clubbers!

For a moment, I thought about putting on some Wagner so I could pound the keyboard as furiously as Rex Harrison waves his baton, but that would require turning off the new D’Angelo album. Not even Kim Jong-un can censor my groove.

I’m a grinch, so I spent Christmas Eve at a midnight showing of The Interview here at the Cinefamily in Los Angeles, a gonzo-fun independent theater that I’d love to take each of you to the next time you visit. (Ice cream sandwiches and smuggled-in beer on me.) It was the first screening in the city and it felt like an invented Hollywood holiday. Outside, Santa Claus and Uncle Sam handed out T-shirts next to a troupe of ye olde Victorian carolers and a glowing wall of news vans and cameras, some from as far away as Japan. It was a media mob scene. Had the terrorists made good on their violent threats, Nightcrawler’s Lou Bloom would have burst out singing “Joy to the World.”

I’d seen The Interview in October back when it was just a Seth Rogen film and not the Symbol of Freedom in America and/or the opening salvo of World War III. As a Seth Rogen comedy, it’s fine. As everything larger, it can’t help but be a letdown. (To be fair, Archduke Ferdinand never won an Oscar either.) Honestly, the satire felt smarter the second go-round. Not the jabs at Randall Park’s delightful Kim Jong-un, but the attack on American TV journalists, whom Rogen and Franco play as misguided mouth-breathers huffing after the dumbest scoops. And their real-life representatives weren’t helping. As we exited the theater, an army of cameras swarmed us, screeching, “What did you think of the movie?!!!”

Still, at least for a week we critics all got to puff out our chests and insist that film matters. Even though the film in question wasn’t even the best Seth Rogen movie of the year. That was Neighbors, which I loved and placed in my top 10. Because of Rose Byrne’s badass, action-driving wife for sure, but also for the shagginess of its jokes. A Robert De Niro–costumed kegger? Yes, Nicholas Stoller, you are talking to me.

You’re right, Dana—in a perfect world, it would feel less revolutionary that Byrne wasn’t a ball-squeezing nag. Are we so drained by bland love interests and shrewish wives that the absence of an insult is worthy of applause? (Related: For the love of God, why didn’t Leslie Mann in This Is 40 just stop bringing home cupcakes?) Watching Neighbors felt like standing in front of a funhouse mirror: Suddenly, you could see how everything else was warped.

Am I alone in predicting future Oscars for Zac Efron? He can sing, dance, and act. He can clue you into what his characters are too shallow to notice. And more importantly, he’s game to take bold risks (even though he didn’t take any this year). He was marvelous in Neighbors as a preening frat boy, and emerged unscathed from the sex comedy That Awkward Moment, which criminally squandered a crop of young talents with great potential: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Imogen Poots and Mackenzie Davis. A decade from now, when Efron is accepting his statuette for The Paperboy 2That Awkward Moment could be an ironic touchstone of millennial Hollywood, the equivalent of us sniggering that Academy Award winners Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey once co-starred in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation.

But I want to jump back to Dana’s description of Rose Byrne’s character as a “one-of-the-guys hot mom and wife,” which reminds me of Rosamund Pike’s Cool Girl Lament in Gone Girl. There were several legitimately cool girls in cinemas this year—Byrne included. Not just Gillian Flynn’s “cool girl,” who’s under the surface a phony man-pleaser, but on-screen heroines who showed the effort it takes to be—and stay—awesome, especially when boys get involved. Our gang’s top 10 lists don’t overlap a ton, but we’ve all got our favorite females: the preteen punks of We are the Best!, Tilda Swinton in Only Lovers Left Alive (who had centuries to perfect her swagger), the chador-clad vampire sk8r chick of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and even plastic-ponytailed Wyldstyle of The Lego Movie.

They give me hope. Not so much Scarlett Johansson’s twin roles in Lucy and Under the Skin, which felt like leering male directors mistaking aggression for strength. I can’t get over Luc Besson making the so-called smartest woman on Earth wear spike heels to a gunfight. But I’m clearly in the minority on the Johansson sexpot killer genre—what am missing? And where on the spectrum would you put Stacy Martin and Charlotte Gainsbourg in Nymphomaniac Vol. I and II? And why aren’t these cool girls conquering comedies? Are cool guys so fragile that they can’t risk being the butt of the joke? 

As a heads-up, David, I expect any defense of Lucy to be waged in 5-inch Louboutins. I like the leopard-print pair you keep by your standing desk.

Cheerio,
A