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The Definitive, 100% Objective Guide to Modern Cinema
By Lindy West
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**Your Favorite Movies, Re-Watched**
From Forrest Gump, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and Bad Boys II, to Face/Off, Top Gun, and The Notebook, Lindy combines her razor-sharp wit and trademark humor with a genuine adoration for nostalgic trash to shed new critical light on some of our defining cultural touchstones-the stories we've long been telling ourselves about who we are. At once outrageously funny and piercingly incisive, Shit, Actually reminds us to pause and ask, "How does this movie hold up?", all while teaching us how to laugh at the things we love without ever letting them or ourselves off the hook.
Shit, Actually is a love letter and a break-up note all in one: to the films that shaped us and the ones that ruined us. More often than not, Lindy finds, they're one and the same.
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I love making fun of movies. I love turning a piece of criticism into a piece of entertainment. I love pointing out a plot hole that makes a superfan write me an angry e-mail. I love turning my unsophistication into a tool. I love being hyperbolically, cathartically angry for no reason. I love being flippant and careless and earnest and meticulous all at once.
Shit, Actually is inspired by a series of essays I started at Jezebel, in which I’d rewatch successful movies from the past to see how they hold up to our shifting modern sensibilities. That concept has grown even more relevant in recent years, as grappling with those shifts has become something of a national obsession. What do we do now with beloved cultural works that don’t hold up? What do we do with the oeuvre of beloved people who fail us? Are we “allowed” to like imperfect things that mean something to us?
A few of those Jezebel pieces became extremely popular, none more so than my Love Actually rewatch, which to my great joy still makes the rounds online every December (I’m told that some families now read it aloud each year à la “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”). Love Actually is in here, along with some other favorites from that series, spruced up and expanded for freshness.
But I’ve also added a whole bunch of new ones! If you’re wondering about my methodology for those, I selected movies that fit at least one of three categories: 1) cultural phenomena that took over the Earth, 2) movies I was personally obsessed with, or 3) movies I picked because it seemed like someone should talk about them. Lots of things are missing. Don’t think about it too hard.
I started my career as a snotty twenty-three-year-old (!) film critic who was, to be honest, less interested in film than in exploiting my column inches to write jokes. As I grew older (I am thirty-eight now) and graduated from a local to a national platform, I shifted from writing about movies to writing about politics, and my writing, of necessity, became increasingly serious. After the bone-deep vulnerability of my memoir, Shrill, the exhaustion of writing political columns both during and after the 2016 election, and the careworn scream of my second essay collection, The Witches Are Coming, I am excited to be writing some goofy jokes about movies again.
And Shit, Actually is that! But what I began working on as a silly book for release into a darkness I understood—the demoralizing grind of public life under Donald Trump—is now to be a silly book for release into a darkness I don’t.
I finished writing Shit, Actually six weeks into the COVID-19 stay-at-home order—six weeks of trying to think of funny things to say about Face/Off while worrying about a friend on a ventilator, six weeks of mustering comical outrage over Harry Potter plot holes while the president went on television to suggest that the ill try drinking bleach. Meanwhile, Trump and his party (whom, in a previous book, in a previous life, I might have described as morally bankrupt but now feel comfortable calling FULLY FUCKING DEMONIC) have been flagrantly funneling taxpayer-funded relief money to the richest and least deserving while the rest of us sit, isolated, trapped in our homes, as everything we know and love crumbles into uncertainty.
As shelter-in-place stretched on and I began adjusting to my new, smaller, lonelier life, I started to find a strange comfort in the task of making this book for you and thinking about it in your hands and homes—this silly, inconsequential, ornery, joyful, obsessive, rude, and extremely stupid book.
More than anything I want this book to make you feel like you are at a movie night with your best friend (me). I had no way of knowing, when I proposed Shit, Actually back in 2017, that I’d be writing it in a time when movie nights with your best friend no longer existed.
Writing this, in a way I could not have guessed, has made me feel less alone. Thank you for being my friends. It kept me afloat knowing you were there.
The Fugitive Is
The Only Good Movie
Objectively, there’s only one good movie, and it’s The Fugitive. The Fugitive is the only good movie. Now, if you think I’m being capricious, know that I have had this feeling before about other things—I remember when I first read Island of the Blue Dolphins, I was like, “Shut it down, no need to write more books.” Ditto with “The Sign” by Ace of Base—but those feelings didn’t last because eventually I heard “Poison” by Bell Biv DeVoe and read a little story you might have heard of called THE BIBLE? But when it comes to The Fugitive, I have never wavered. The Fugitive is the only good movie. We didn’t need any more movies after The Fugitive. We didn’t need any movies before it either. We should erase those.
I wanted to call this whole book The Fugitive Is the Only Good Movie, but my publisher wouldn’t let me, probably because they’re deep in the pocket of Big Gump. Undeterred, I shall be rating every movie in this book on a scale of zero to ten DVDs of The Fugitive. I rate The Fugitive thirteen out of ten DVDs of The Fugitive.
In case you haven’t seen The Fugitive and have somehow escaped prosecution under my regime, The Fugitive is the terrible tale of Dr. Ser Richard Kimble, American hero, America’s sweetheart, America’s Next Top Daddy Doctor, Heir of Isildur and King of All the Dúnedain.
Richard Kimble is a respected Chicago vascular surgeon who, after a long day vasculating, is having a well-earned glamorous night out with his sexy ’90s wife and his doctor friends at a sexy fashion show benefit for the Children’s Research Fund. (You want a children’s benefit to be as sexy as possible!) All the other doctors agree that Richard Kimble’s wife, Helen, is the number-one coolest and hottest wife of all the doctor wives. Kimble is on top.
Kimble and Wife Helen head home, erotically, and they love each other very much in the car. Kimble touches his wife’s face; it’s so cute. Suddenly, Kimble is called in for emergency surgery! He’s gotta go. “I’ll wait up for you,” says Wife Helen.
Flash-forward. What’s this? Two cops are interrogating Kimble, and it is just like The First 48! Just like The First 48 (and, incidentally, all police departments worldwide), there’s two cops: glasses cop and grumpy cop. Also like The First 48, the cops arrest Kimble on the Husband Did It principle because—WOW—someone went and murdered Mrs. Helen in the night while Richard was at the hospital!
The cops ask Richard questions about what he remembers, insinuating that he, the Husband, Did It and is planning to collect megabucks from his Helen insurance. Things are not looking good: “His fingerprints are all over the lamp, gun, and the bullets. And the good doctor’s skin is under her fingernails.” Now, I watch a lot of murder shows if you have any questions about how murder works. Did you know that if your DNA is under a murder victim’s fingernails, they don’t even have to give you a trial? The sheriff just yells, “Geeee-ilty!” and then his dog chases you all the way to prison! Richard’s boned!
Also, on Wife Helen’s 911 call, she’s like, “Richard, Richard, he’s trying to kill me!” And the cops are like, “Hmmmm, YOUR name’s Richard. Do you think maybe she meant…you?” Which, to be fair, and I know this is tacky because she’s a corpse, but Helen could not have done a worse job here. Like, watch ONE Dateline, Helen! You have to say, “A large, upsetting Greek man with a perm, a large, upsetting Greek man with a perm, HE’S trying to kill me! Not Richard, who is nice!”
Fortunately, Richard has an extremely compelling explanation for the cops: “When I came home there was a man in my house. I fought with this man. He had a mechanical arm. You find this man. You find this man!”
They…don’t love it.
Richard gets sentenced to death by lethal injection, and keep in mind that this is only twelve minutes and forty-nine seconds into the movie!!!!!!!!!!
Kimble boards the prisoner bus, which features all four types of prisoners: spooky white guy, great big Black guy, Latino guy, and Richard Kimble. Spooky white guy does a bad plan and stabs the guard with a whittled toothbrush, causing the bus to crash into the train tracks. A train is coming! Could this day get any worse???? The other guard reveals his cowardly heart by running away while Richard, an earth angel, is the only one who cares to stay and try to save toothbrush guard, which he DOES. Would a guy who killed his wife do something nice like that??? (Yes, absolutely, humanity is infinitely complex!)
Richard jumps from the bus right when it gets hit by the train, which derails the train, and now the train is chasing Richard down the hill. Richard runs in a straight line away from the train (idea: turn!). He manages to escape and get his handcuffs off, but I guess in vascular surgery school they don’t teach you to THROW THE HANDCUFFS INTO THE RIVER SO THE COPS DON’T FIND THEM AND START MANHUNTING YOU INSTANTLY, GIVING YOU LITERALLY UNLIMITED NON-BEING-CHASED LEISURE TIME TO INVESTIGATE WHO KILLED YOUR WIFE, RICHARD.
Instead, US Marshal Tommy Lee Jones shows up to investigate, and he’s like, “My, my, my, what a mess,” and you just know he’s thinking about Al Gore in the dorm room.
Here’s a fun Tommy Lee Jones trivia game you can play with your friends: it’s called “Is Tommy Lee Jones 20 or 100 in This Movie?”
As a person who is interested in someday becoming good at my job, it is inspiring how good US Marshal Tommy Lee Jones is at his job. He has assembled an incredible team, which he leads with a just, firm, fatherly hand. You know where nobody is ever competent or assembles an incredible team, which they lead with a just, firm, fatherly hand? Real life! Which makes this basically sci-fi, which I think maybe makes it okay to love a cop?
Kimble needs to get out of his prison jumpsuit ASAP, and luckily he sees a dude take off all his clothes and leave them in the front seat of his car with the windows down in the middle of winter in Chicago. He then sneaks into the hospital, sews up his wound, shaves his beard, steals Mr. Johnson’s breakfast sandwich and big shirt, stops to save the life of toothbrush guard real quick AGAIN, and narrowly escapes detection with thrilling audacity.
I mean, is there a better moment in all of cinema than this???
State Trooper: Hey, Doc! We’re looking for a prisoner from that bus/train wreck a couple of hours ago. Might be hurt.
Dr. Richard Kimble: Uh, what does he look like?
State Trooper: 6′1″, 180, brown hair, brown eyes, beard. See anyone like that around?
Dr. Richard Kimble: Every time I look in the mirror, pal. Except for the beard, of course!
Reader, I just had sex with that dialogue!!!! And it rocked!
Kimble steals an ambulance to get away because when you’re trying to escape detection, it’s good to put your body inside something covered in flashing lights that is instantly missed. Now he’s on the run in an ambulance!
Of course it must be acknowledged that The Fugitive is a movie all about men, where women don’t do very much except die or sometimes hold a clipboard. It’s all men who are the boss, but who is the most boss of the men??? Is it the Harrison Ford kind of boss, or the Tommy Lee Jones kind of boss? They’re both your dad, but which is the best spanker?????
This is allowed because in 1993 it was still okay to make movies all about men, as their contract wasn’t up yet.
Now Kimble is trapped in a tunnel, but he tricks the cops by crawling on the floor and into the sewer and the cops have never heard of holes before. But Tommy has! Now Tommy chases Richard through the sewers! Tommy drops the gun, now Richard has the gun! Oops, now Tommy has another gun! He’s a two-gun Jones!
THIS IS THE WHOLE MOVIE RIGHT HERE:
“I didn’t kill my wife!”
“I don’t care!”
Tommy Lee Jones is a guy that can tell you to shut up and you don’t mind.
Okay, now the sewer is also a dam. Kimble is trapped and he’s gotta make a choice. Get shot, get lethal injected, or jump off the dam. He jumps off the dam.
Tommy’s team wants to go home and lie down straightaway, but Tommy says no. He’s got a feeling this guy knows how to jump off a dam and be fine.
WELL, HE’S RIGHT.
Richard is very cold but he is alive. He wakes up and he knows what he has to do: You find that man! You find that man! Richard gets some hair dye and becomes Dark & Natural. Now Richard is on top again. And the one-armed man? Is on bottom.
Meanwhile, the marshals raid a house because they think Kimble is there, but whoops, it’s one of the other guys from the prisoner bus, who they kill, which I hate. Wait, so someone called the cops and said, “There’s a fugitive from that prison bus accident hiding at this address, but I WON’T TELL YOU WHICH ONE! Hee-hee!” Who’s the whistleblower? Rumpelstiltskin?
Anyway, Tommy Lee Jones shoots the guy and it makes his friend Curly Boy deaf, which is confusing because surely Tommy was way closer to the gun? Because he was shooting it? Tommy hates it when people on his team get hurt, but also he lives by a code.
Curly Boy: It’s terrible. I’m going to have permanent hearing damage. [WHY??]
Tommy: I don’t bargain.
Tommy Lee Jones is the hero and the villain! This is the gorgeous umami flavor of The Fugitive!
Richard sneaks into another hospital to infiltrate the prosthetics department and steal their one-armed files. The marshals hear from Kimble’s rat lawyer that Kimble hasn’t left Chicago, which gets Tommy’s Tommy sense aflame. He starts to wonder: What is this guy’s deal? Why isn’t he leaving Chicago? Why would he kill his wife in the first place? The dumb cops say it was for the money, but Tommy knows that a vascular king like Richard doesn’t need insurance bucks: “What do you mean he did it for the money? He’s a doctor, he’s rich!” Haven’t you seen his truly breathtaking modern staircase? At this point, on The First 48, one of the detectives would say, “I dunno, Fingerman, I don’t like this guy for this.” Tommy is starting to not like this guy for this. Unfortunately, that’s not Tommy’s job. He “don’t care.”
Or do he???????????????????????????????
Tommy interviews Richard’s colleague Chuck, who tells him, “If you want help, gentlemen, you’ve come to the wrong man. Richard is innocent.” Wow! What a loyal and trustworthy best friend! I would happily place my liver in Chuck’s tender care any day.
Kimble has rented a room from an old woman and he falls asleep reading Atlas of Limb Prosthetics, which sounds impossible, I know. Suddenly, uh-oh! The cops are raiding another house, and this time it is Richard’s! You think it’s all over for Kimble, but it turns out they’re just looking for the old woman’s gross Polish son.
;) <—-—-—-—- tfw u think the cops found u but it’s just the gross polish son
Rick heads back to the hospital, where he impersonates a janitor. Using his years of being janitored upon as reference, he does the job of janitor with surprising success. Way more successful than the time the janitor had to pretend to be a surgeon!1
He sneaks into an office and searches a prosthetics database for one-armed men. Only five results. One of them has GOT to be Helen’s murderer. Are you sure this is how computers work? What if the murderer got his prosthetic arm at a different hospital? Or not in Chicago? What if you remembered his number of arms wrong? Or which arm it was?
On his way out, he encounters an influx of trauma patients to the ER. There has been a school bus crash. Richard jumps in to help because even though he absolutely needs to get the heck out of there, his perfect heart won’t let him! Dr. Julianne Moore conscripts him to bring a kid down to observation room 2, and on the way, Richard sneaks a cheeky look at the film and sees that he’s been misdiagnosed. He changes the kid’s chart, saving his damn life. Julianne Moore notices the janitor changing the chart and calls for security because normally janitors are not preeminent vascular surgeons in disguise, and I get that. Richard runs away.
Skreeeet! Here comes Jones!
GODDAMN, THIS MOVIE’S GOOD. You know, I approached this essay from the semi-joking, hyperbolic premise that The Fugitive is the best movie ever made, and assumed I was setting myself up for disappointment. But then it turned out that I was right and it’s literally true! The Fugitive IS the best movie ever made! I set myself up for appointment!!!!
Tommy talks to Julianne Moore about the mysterious janitor who changed the charts.
Tommy: How’s the boy doing?
Jules: He saved his life.
This just isn’t adding up for Tom-Tom. “What I can’t figure is the place is crawling with cops, everybody’s looking for Richard Kimble, so why would the guy be stupid enough to come hang out in a trauma ward, pretending like he’s Mother Teresa?”
THEN A ONE-ARMED GUY GOES BY and he’s like KABOIIIIIING! Oh yeah! Richard said a one-armed man killed his wife, so now he is trying to find the one-armed man! Why would a guy who killed his wife go to so much risk and trouble trying to track down a fictional man he made up? He wouldn’t, dumbass! Now Tommy is looking for the one-armed man too. That lil bitch doesn’t stand a chance!
Kimble goes to the jail to visit Clive Driscoll, one of the one-armed men from the one-armed computer. When he gets there he realizes that Clive Driscoll is a Black person, and he definitely remembers Helen being murdered by a one-armed white. Wrong guy! Richard hops up to leave so he can move on to the next guy on his one-armed list. Clive Driscoll doesn’t care that they don’t know each other, though—he wants to chat! “Ain’t no cable in this damn place!” But Richard (who is stressed out about being a fugitive in a building full of law enforcement I guess yeah whatever) is like, “Sorry, bye,” and leaves Clive disappointed and lonely, right at the moment when his wounded heart thought he finally had a visitor. This is Richard’s only flaw as a man.
Tommy Jones gets to the jail just as Richard is exiting and they do a chase. To buy some time, Richard yells, “There’s a man waving a gun and screaming!” so the cops tackle Tommy instead of him. This is a good prank that you should try on your little brother the next time he’s chasing you with a gun.
Richard escapes outside into the St. Patrick’s Day parade, which is the one where they dye the Chicago River green, and this is unrelated to the movie but it seems like they shouldn’t do that. Richard steals a green bowler hat from some idiot and joins the parade. He is having a blast.
He sneaks into the house of another one-armed man from his list, and bazinga, it’s a spicy meatball. This is the guy. Not only that, but there are a bunch of pics of this dickhead hanging out with Richard’s two best friends, Lenz and a big fish, without Richard! He doesn’t let the hurt show on his face, but you know it stings. One time in middle school, my three best friends all went trick-or-treating together as Dorothy, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow, and they didn’t invite me, even though they didn’t even have a lion. And then, crazy story, they murdered my wife!
Turns out, the one-armed man, Sykes, is on the payroll of Devlin MacGregor Pharmaceuticals, which is just about to launch a new drug called Provasic. VERY INTERESTING. Richard calls up Tommy. “I am trying to solve a puzzle and I just found a big piece.”
Back when he was a doctor and not a doctor/fugitive, Richard found out that Provasic caused liver damage and he told everyone. He told Chuck. He told Lenz. He told the big fish. He told the mayor of the Munchkin City. So why was Devlin MacGregor releasing Provasic to the public anyway? How did it get approved by the FDA? Richard goes back to the hospital and gets the old Provasic-damaged liver samples from his friend in the samples basement. He takes them to lanky cherub Jane Lynch, who discovers, “not only did they all come from healthy livers, they all came from the same liver.” DANG! That’s not how liver samples are supposed to work! Somebody must have switched the fucked-up samples with healthy samples so that Devlin MacGregor could make $7.5 billion in net sales last year alone! (Only a hunch, but maybe Devlin MacGregor?)
Co-inka-dinka, Richard runs into Sykes on the street and Sykes is like, “Bad news, Mr. Kimble! My gun works on husbands too!” They fight on a train and Sykes shoots a train cop, but ultimately Richard wins and handcuffs Sykes to the train. Then he says one of those zingers that were cool as hell in the ’90s: “You missed your stop.” It’s so badass that Sykes’s other arm falls off.
In another weird coincidence, Devlin MacGregor is having a Provasic gala literally right now. Richard toots over there. Crashing a pharmaceutical gala when you are a fugitive positively drenched in blood? This movie is from 1993, but that’s a 2020 mood.
Richard gets to the gala and who’s up there at the podium pampering Provasic’s dong? Who just got appointed to the board of directors of Devlin MacGregor?? Wow, it’s only CHUCK! Richard’s “loyal” and “European” “best friend” who told Tommy Jones earlier that Richard is an innocent man. I guess he would know, if you know what I mean.
This bitch is literally like, “Provasic is remarkably effective and has no side effects whatsoever.” Excuse me??? Richard can’t take it and he recites the verse for which he became poet laureate of Chicago:
You almost got away with it, didn’t you? I know all about it, I can prove it!
You changed the samples,
You switched the samples after Lenz
I’m sorry, I’m in the middle
of this speech.
After Lenz died, you were the only one who had the access.
You switched the samples
And the pathology report!
Did you kill Lenz too?
So Devlin MacGregor could give you
Chuck is like, “Heh-heh, uh, hey, come back to the greenroom with me, Ricardo, heh-heh-heh,” then as soon as they get back there he’s like, U CANNOT DEFEAT ME I HAVE THE POWER OF PROVASIC!!!!! They fight and Richard chases Chuck up to the roof. They fall through a skylight and end up in the hotel’s laundry dungeon. At this point, Tommy and Joey Pants show up (I shouldn’t have to tell you that Joey Pants is in this movie—you should always assume), and everyone is chasing one another around and around.
I was going to say that they don’t make movies like this anymore, where the last thirty minutes is just one continuous incredible chase, except they do, all the time, but they make it all CGI so it’s impossible to care about. Who cares about a drawing of a very fast exploding truck that a computer made? Not me! I care about Joey Pants getting bonked in his actual head with an actual steel beam on a zip line that is somehow an integral part of washing hotel sheets! Real cinema!
Tommy yells out to Richard to let him know that he figured it out about Chuck and how he sent the one-armed man to kill Richard to cover up the Provasic side effects so he could keep damaging people’s livers for money, but then the one-armed man accidentally killed Helen instead, which turned into a whole thing.
BookRiot, "Book Recommendations for October 2020"Fortune, "Five New Books to Read in October"SeattleMet, "11 Localish Books to Read This Autumn"Up News Info, "5 new books to read in October"
- "TWO THUMBS UP."—SAMANTHAIRBY
- "Oh God, I hope something I make is skewered by Lindy West--what an honor!"—ELIZABETHBANKS
- "It's annoying how many good, funny, and laser-precise books Lindy has written. Here's another damn great book! It's the opposite of shit, actually."—AIDYBRYANT
- "[A] laugh out loud romp... [these essays are] warmhearted, acutely self-aware, and surprisingly timely, providing insight into modern society through movies first sold on VHS... Like catching up with a dear and funny friend, this insightful and irreverent book is a soothing balm for turbulent times."—Kirkus Reviews
- "Queen of keenly observed, hilariously rendered cultural criticism, West offers this delicious distraction from reality....a cathartic, joyful exploration of entertainment....in true West form she reads like your smartest, funniest, and warmest friend. A perfect blend of substance, escapism, and laughter - a gift from West to the rest of us."—Booklist Review (starred)
- "It's a no-holds-barred romp through modern movie-making."—LitHub
- "[A] hilarious, sharp collection..."—BookRiot
- "In our opinion, Lindy West is the ultimate authority, and we agree with her on all matters--including her assessments of beloved iconic movies... Shit, Actually is the ultimate read for the pop culture-obsessed."—Hello Giggles
- On Sale
- Oct 20, 2020
- Page Count
- 272 pages
- Hachette Books