George Clooney's new film Up in the Air, in which he plays a slick hatchet man jetting around the country firing people with unctuous back-slappy bromides (until, of course, he begins to contemplate the inevitability of his own comeuppance), has emerged as an acclaimed Oscar front-runner. This is good news for Clooney, yeah, but it's also good news for the American man, because it represents the revival of a beloved cinematic genre that's fallen into disuse over the past few years: the dude-in-a-spiritual-crisis movie. For years this kind of film was a Hollywood fixture. During the eighties, you couldn't walk into a theater without seeing some mournful-eyed Babbitt standing in the rain and holding his briefcase at his side while ruminating on the rotten state of his soul and deciding to get back to what really matters. If Up in the Air's success suggests that seize-the-day Sad Yuppie flicks are ripe for a return, we couldn't be more psyched. In the meantime, here are eight landmark moments from the carpe diem canon:
La Dolce Vita: In Fellini's dawn-of-the-sixties masterpiece, Marcello Mastroianni's debauched Roman tabloid hack can keep chasing tail and writing schlock, or he can try to get his soul back. Guess which choice wins.
The Passenger: A burned-out international correspondent (played with dashing dishevelment by Jack Nicholson) decides to escape the trap of his life by switching identities with a dead man. It's not clear who gets the better end of the deal.
Something Wild: Jeff Daniels plays a bored New York yupster who recharges his Benetton-era batteries with a weekend of bondage and petty thievery. Along the way he discovers, amazingly, that Melanie Griffith used to be kind of cool.
The Mosquito Coast: Harrison Ford can't take any more of this American bullshit, damn it! So he sells everything and moves his family down to some sweltering, vermin-infested jungle, where he intends to build . . . an ice factory. D'oh.
Lost in America: Albert Brooks can't take any more of this American bullshit, either, damn it! So he sells everything and goads his wife into hitting the road in a Winnebago, which makes him feel alive again! . . . for the first time in years! . . . until he happens to lose the nest egg. D'oh.
Brazil: In the future, the office will still suck. Jonathan Pryce plays a sci-fi Bartleby, dodging the drudgeries of being an Orwellian desk jockey by slipping into reveries of daydreamy lust in which he happens to wear a huge pair of wings.
American Beauty: After getting shit-canned, suburban shlub Kevin Spacey starts smoking weed, lifting weights, and jonesing for jailbait while beautiful plastic bags float by in the wind.