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The 365 Best Films of the 2000s

Heroes of the Zeroes: Hustle and Flow

Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Hustle and Flow”
Rated R
2005

“8 Mile” was a cinematic sidecar, incapable of movement without the Eminem album it was hitched to. If its success is to be commended for anything beyond good synergy and great rhymes, it’s clearing a theatrical path for Craig Brewer.

Brewer’s dramas about improved living through music — “Black Snake Moan” and 2005’s “Hustle and Flow” — chose discomfiting, winding routes of passion and tenacity over convoluted melodrama.

DJay (Oscar-nominated Terrence Howard) is a Memphis pimp of modest stature refashioning himself as a rapper with the help of a producer (Anthony Anderson), a beat peddler (D.J. Qualls), top earner Nola (Taryn Manning) and unrequited love Shug (Taraji P. Henson).

Of all the exuberantly built-up beats, Henson’s beautiful reaction to unexpectedly forming the nucleus of “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” gave “Hustle” its soul and won that song an Oscar. Voters no doubt responded to Shug’s shock, surprise and elation at taking part in something bigger than herself.

More than DJay making it, “Hustle” is about him accepting that actualization must ripple through the ladies around him. (None really wants prostitution, and Manning becomes a wrecking-ball business partner.) But DJay is a pimp whose aggressive petulance occasionally lapses into verbal violence and bad decisions.

Shrinking studio margins are likely to diminish such risky, rough-edged films about music. Brewer is now attached to a long-gestating “Footloose” remake, giving said remake its only reason to exist. If Brewer can give it half of “Hustle’s” burning focus, intensity, ruthlessness and triumph, cut loose, indeed.

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8 Responses to “Heroes of the Zeroes: Hustle and Flow”

  1. Nick Rogers says:

    Joe: I’ll second Timberlake’s actor cred. He’s the only good thing about "Alpha Dog," and I’m sort of hoping he turns up in "Macgruber" somehow. (No spoilers, as I know you’re going tonight.)

    mia: Then you probably won’t want to read this, then:

    http://www.thefilmyap.com/2010/03/16/heroes-of-the-zeroes-the-curious-case-of-benjamin-button/

    I think the fifth would have been David Strathairn for "Good Night, and Good Luck," right? That was a year when all five performances were truly deserving. And yes, Howard was one of few bright spots in "Crash." (Yeah, you’ll notice we’re past "C." There are a few Paul Haggis-related movies on here, though.) "Alpha Dog" really isn’t worth seeing unless you’re a Timberlake completist or enjoy laughing at ridiculously bad fat-suit prosthetics. And I’ve not seen "Crossroads," nor will I likely catch up with that one. But if Manning can be as good as in "Hustle & Flow," by all means a TV series …

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  3. I forgot that Henson was nominated for Button, on account of the fact that I HATED that movie. (I’m in the minority, I know.) And yeah, I forgot that Ledger was nominated in the same year as Phoenix, Hoffman and Howard. Who was the other dude? I remember it was someone just as strong, and that I saw that film. I also remember Howard being one of the few redeeming parts of Crash, in a role that was a complete 180 from DJay.

    Joe: I’m in complete agreement re: Timberlake. His SNL hosting gigs alone show that he’s ripe for another juicy role. I didn’t see Alpha Dog–I thought the previews made it look like a glamorization of a really horrible, tragic, and nasty incident–but I remember reading very positive reviews about his performance.

    Nick: Taryn Manning was also in Crossroads, opposite a wooden Britney Spears and a pre-Star Wars/Avatar Zoe Saldana. Manning and Saldana both made the most of a terrible script and showed considerable star power–it’s sad that only Saldana has reaped the benefits of a solid film career. I could see Manning doing some really interesting HBO or Showtime series–maybe someday.

  4. Joe Shearer says:

    Nope, you’re definitely not the only one who loves it. Nick, agreed that Brewer is underrated. "Black Snake Moan" is another one that is lost in the shuffle, but is very good on a number of levels.

    BTW, "Moan" stars an actor who is somewhat unheralded himself in one Justin Timberlake. Every movie I’ve seen him in, from "Moan" to the otherwise crappy "Alpha Dog," he’s done a great job in. Plus "D*ck in a Box" and his comments about winning a Grammy over Johnny Cash’s "Hurt" several years back ("This is a travesty," he said) has earned me a lot of respect for him as an actor (I’m still pretty "meh" on his music, but that’s just me).

    Anyway, you guys are right that it was Taraji P. Henson who really made that scene, and the Button nom was probably a make-up nomination. She was good in that, but her part was small and honestly not very earth-shattering. But she was incredible in Hustle and Flow, and "shy command" is a great way to describe her in that scene. I love how when she finally pulled it off the look on her face. And DJay yelling at her was as much encouraging as it was frustration at her for holding back, because she was scared to really cut loose.

  5. Nick Rogers says:

    mia: I think Craig Brewer is a severely underrated director. Again, his involvement with any sort of "Footloose" redux is the only reason for any fans of film to be interested in that project.

    I’d go so far as to say Taraji P. Henson got robbed of a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod that year – I don’t even remember Frances McDormand in "North Country." (The "Button" nomination, methinks, was a make-good.)

    I think Heath Ledger was sort of in a dead heat with Hoffman depending on how far the Academy’s love for "Brokeback" would go. When he lost, I remember thinking at the time that he’d probably never again be in a position to win an Oscar. How glad I am that I was wrong, how sad I am that it was posthumous. But, to go back to your point, I agree that in a less-crowded year, Howard would have been a major frontrunner.

    And I don’t think I’ve even seen anything Taryn Manning’s done since this film. She’s astounding here, and her Boomkat song in the remake of "The Italian Job" is a kick-ass track.

  6. Oh my God, I thought I was the only person on Earth who loved this movie. Thanks, Nick and Joe!

    I third the love of the aforementioned Shug scene. The creation of art in the most dirty and dire of circumstances always brings tears to my eyes, but Taraji P. Henson’s shy command took that to a whole new level.

    I think in another year, Howard may have won the Oscar (remember, this was when Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman were also nominated, with Hoffman as the clear frontrunner). He was ridiculously brilliant as DJay. I remember reading an interview where he said that the character was almost sub-human at times, and he had to really work to find the little bits of humanity and sympathy in DJay–mainly, his love of music.

    Also, Taryn Manning deserves a better career. "I’m in charge!"

  7. Nick Rogers says:

    Likewise, I didn’t catch up with it until DVD. Its spell of empowerment, and the potency of that message, really hits in unexpectedly moving ways. And I’d agree with you on the "It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp" scene. Everyone is almost ready to just give up at that point, but the payoff is perfect.

  8. Joe Shearer says:

    I remember when this movie first came out I completely dismissed it at my own peril as just another hip hop movie. Today I count it among my favorite movies of any genre.

    It is unique in that it takes a potentially ridiculous premise (being about a pimp and prostitutes) and turns it into a wonderful story of pulling yourself up and carving out your place in the world and making yourself something more than you ever thought you could be.

    Nick, the scene you cited with Shug becoming the center for "It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp" was frankly one of my favorite scenes of the past decade.