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Staff Picks: The Internet
A watchlist for films about the world wide web.
Feature Presentation’s Staff Picks is not a best-of list. How do you even craft a list of the best of something as subjective as film? This is a list designed to highlight films (and occasionally television shows or other mediums of entertainment) of a certain theme or topic. It’s a watchlist, they are suggestions. Movies on this list will very in quality, length, genre, and home video or streaming availability.
This list’s theme: The Internet, or Social Media
Feels Good Man (2020)
When indie comic character Pepe the Frog becomes an unwitting icon of hate, his creator, artist Matt Furie, fights to bring Pepe back from the darkness and navigate America’s cultural divide.
When I was a freshman in college, I was in a Facebook group with a few friends where all we did was post pictures of Pepe the Frog. Peppermint Pepe, My Little Pepe, Titanic Pepe — all in good fun.
Then he became a symbol for the alt-right and it wasn’t fun anymore.
How did that happen?
That’s the exact question this 2020 documentary grapples with. He was just an innocent cartoon frog who liked to pee with his pants all the way down and now he’s on Alex Jones t-shirts and proudly displayed by Neo-Nazis?
How do we uncorrupt innocence? Is that even possible?
Who owns a meme? Who decided what it means?
The best documentaries set up all of the question dominos and wait until just the right time to knock them down. This journey is a fascinating one through the depths of 4chan and the hallowed halls of the White House during the Trump Presidency. And this film knows how to take you on that journey.
Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)
Video game bad guy Ralph and fellow misfit Vanellope von Schweetz must risk it all by traveling to the World Wide Web in search of a replacement part to save Vanellope’s video game, Sugar Rush. In way over their heads, Ralph and Vanellope rely on the citizens of the internet — the netizens — to help navigate their way, including an entrepreneur named Yesss, who is the head algorithm and the heart and soul of trend-making site BuzzzTube.
2018 was a great year for animation: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Incredibles 2, Isle of Dogs, and a film that I believe to be underrated: Ralph Breaks the Internet.
I never saw the first film, Wreck It Ralph, but somehow I’ve become an apologist for its sequel. On paper, it’s an excuse for Disney to prance around their favorite properties, cleanse the record of mega-corporations, and lighten the weight about internet spaces unfriendly for children. Are there varying degrees of that going on here? A little, yes,
But it’s a movie for kids.
One of my least favorite online film discourses is how the saying, “It’s for kids” is an excuse for, “It’s bad but who cares because kids are dumb.” For some reason, film Twitter has decided that those things are synonymous. The problem with that is that it’s a good thing when something is made for children. Films that remember their young audiences find ways to convey messages at an appropriate altitude so that they can receive the message without getting lost. Media literacy lessons, like the adverse effects of advertising (yes, I believe Disney is self-aware of this) or the shelf life of virality, are played out here with charming characters in heartwarming, humorous moments.
The Circle (2020-)
Status and strategy collide in this social experiment and competition show where online players flirt, befriend and catfish their way toward $100,000.
The Circle very well might be my favorite reality-competition show of all time.
As contestants are isolated in their own apartments with only the “highly advanced” Circle social media app to provide interaction with other players, they form alliances, break hearts, and disguise themselves in an effort to become the Influencers, send other people packing, and stick around long enough to win the game.
We have watched every Netflix season of the US (currently in the midst of Season 3), France, and Brazil versions of the show and each season has lovable losers, memeable moments, and clumsy catfish. Every season flies by in only 13 episodes and I always wish there were more.
If you’ve never seen the show before, I’m so jealous of you. You get to experience it all for the first time. We love it so much in my house that we are going to watch every season again. Catch up so you can watch upcoming seasons as they are released and follow the excellent Twitter and TikTok discourse that accompanies it.
Industrious high school senior, Vee Delmonico, has had it with living life on the sidelines. When pressured by friends to join the popular online game Nerve, Vee decides to sign up for just one dare in what seems like harmless fun. But as she finds herself caught up in the thrill of the adrenaline-fueled competition partnered with a mysterious stranger, the game begins to take a sinister turn with increasingly dangerous acts, leading her into a high stakes finale that will determine her entire future.
Nerve is a film designed for teenagers. It’s based on a young adult novel, it follows a group of teenage protagonists, and Co-Director Ariel Schulman is even quoted saying, “We wanted to make sure that younger teenagers could see it. We think it has an important message and they’ll dig it.”
You can intensely feel the PG-13 rating as none of the “insane dares” really take it too, too far— one of them involves walking across a ladder wedged between the windows of two fairly close buildings. Don’t try it at home, but never impossible.
However, that adolescent quality, when washed over with a neon pink and blue aesthetic, gives the film a certain charm only young adult films can have. It’s crazy, but not too crazy. It’s dangerous, but not too dangerous.
It’s a fun family movie with a message that teenagers won’t roll their eyes at and might actually enjoy talking about with their parents.
Credit: Each plot synopsis comes from Letterboxd via TMDb.