Nerds! Geeks! For years, they bore the brunt of hostility from all the cool kids -- but now, in a turn of events that would have infuriated Fred "The Ogre" Palowakski, they are the cool kids, and this week they're celebrating their ascendance with the ultimate annual pilgrimage of nerddom and geekitude. Yes, friends, we're talking about Comic-Con, and in honor of the total geekout scheduled to take place in San Diego between tomorrow and Sunday, we decided to devote this week's list to some of our favorite nerd- and geek-dedicated films. Hike up those floodwaters, Poindexter, because it's time for Total Recall!
Judd Apatow and Steve Carell co-wrote the script for The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which gave Carell his long worked-for star-making role: action figure-collecting geek Andy Stitzer, whose quest to end his virginity sets up two hours of raunchy gags, Michael McDonald bashing, and inspired lunacy from Jane Lynch. $177 million in worldwide grosses later, Apatow and Carell were household names -- and "Kelly Clarkson!" was an acceptable epithet -- thanks in part to critical praise from writers like Paul Greenwood of Future Movies, who wrote, "It's a joy to be in the hands of filmmakers who intuitively know the difference between rude and crude, who know that horny and heartfelt can exist in tandem and that jokes about race and sexuality are not the same as racism and homophobia."
Perhaps you've noticed that when Hollywood wants to make a movie about nerds or geeks, they tend to focus on male characters. Not so Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World, a bleakly funny adaptation of the Daniel Clowes comic book about a pair of teenage misfits (Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch) whose casually mean-spirited prank on a lonely middle-aged man (Steve Buscemi) has unforeseen consequences on their friendship. A cult and critical favorite, Ghost World resonated with scribes like Angie Errigo of Empire, who wrote, "This is 'teen comedy' of startling sophistication -- with horribly funny bits as well. A true original, with sharp humour, subtle detail and painfully realistic characters."
Boasting the tagline "Boot up or shut up! On line this fall," posters for 1995's Hackers promised slick, futuristic action -- and, as is so dreadfully often the case, delivered a muddled assortment of computer culture cliches and plot points whose wild implausibility indicated a complete misunderstanding of the way technology works. However unlikely the events of the storyline, some critics enjoyed this tale of teen computer whizzes (led by Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie) and their battle against a swindling security expert (Fisher Stevens) -- including Christopher Null of Filmcritic, who chuckled, "The real draw to Hackers is that it is so unexpectedly funny. Really funny. The comic scenes with the kids (and there are lots of them) are totally hilarious. The 'serious' scenes are too, because they are often so ridiculous."
With all due respect to Eddie Murphy's very funny update, for this week's list we have to give the nod to the original Nutty Professor, because nobody nerds out quite like Jerry Lewis in his 1960s prime. Acting out a revenge fantasy for spurned nerds everywhere while delivering a brilliant dual performance, Lewis starred as the brilliant-yet-socially-inept scientist Julius F. Kelp and his suave, chemically induced alter ego, Buddy Love -- while also directing and co-writing the script. "Credit the effervescent Mr. Lewis for trying something different -- a comical character study, with an edge of pathos," urged A.H. Weiler of the New York Times. "The surprising, rather disturbing result is less of a showcase for a clown than the revelation (and not for the first time) of a superb actor."
Combining elements of Old Testament mysticism, psychological thriller, and noir, Darren Aronofsky's Pi marked his directorial debut with distinctive flair, plunging viewers into the intensely paranoid world of an unstable genius (Sean Gullette) whose fascination with numbers makes him the target of two shadowy groups -- one that wants to manipulate the stock market, and one that wants to fulfill Biblical prophecy. Unlike any other film on this list (or any other film anywhere, really), Pi entranced critics like TIME's Richard Corliss, who called Aronofsky "that rare indie filmmaker who doesn't want to make hip romantic sitcoms. He's a genuine experimenter with a spooky visual style."