Behind the Scenes: Movies: A geographic, hysterical landscape

Caroline Goldfarb

Pretty much the only thing I’m sure of is that I’m smarter than everyone else. I’ve seen “Freaks and Geeks,” I’ve read “The Sound and the Fury” and have an ironic appreciation Selena Gomez’s new single “Naturally.” I am therefore certain my taste in movies is far better than the rest of the world’s.

This fact is something I frequently remind myself of using Netflix’s convenient and self-esteem boosting “Local Favorites” feature. Basically, someone at Netflix had a stroke of genius in creating an algorithm that allows me to look up any city and see what rentals are currently most popular, a potentially strong tool for the budding social scientist-do regional stereotypes truly exist? Will certain cities in the U.S. defy our expectations? Most importantly, will any city elevate “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” to its top 10?

I began by half-heartedly Googling “America’s Smartest City.” Lo and behold, the answer is Raleigh-Durham, N.C. I was expecting their favorite movie to be some stuck-up feature from the Criterion Collection or perhaps an especially elitist “Waltz With Bashir.” Color me horrified when I learned the most popular rental in the area is “Nanny McPhee.” What? Is “Nanny McPhee,” according to the transitive property, indeed the smartest movie in the country? Should I have seen this jacked-up and sad version of Mary Poppins? Seems like we should all be looking forward to the August 2010 release of the sequel, “Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang.” The geniuses in Raleigh certainly are!

According to a recent Advocate article, Atlanta holds the fabulous title of “Gayest City in America.” I do not care about that, but I do care about finding out if any Madonna concert DVDs made their top 10. Unfortunately, Madonna does not make an appearance, but a veritable list of what’s what in weird, gay docu-dramas does. Perhaps you’d be interested in their #1, “The Butch Factor,” an intimate portrait of contemporary gay culture?” Or maybe their No. 2, “Shank,” a beautiful modern day Romeo and Juliet story whose summary speaks for itself: “Though gang member Cal hides his sexuality, he secretly yearns for fellow thug Jonno.” Is it wrong for me to say it would be less gay to shove Liberace’s lifeless corpse fist up my booty hole?

Let’s do some quick-fire ones. America’s whitest city (Altoona, Pa.): “The Christmas Cottage,” a made-for-TV biopic about the artist Thomas Kinkade starring Jared Padalecki. This is so white, the color has drained from my face, and NPR just started playing in my head. America’s blackest city (Detroit.): two Tyler Perry movies are in the top five (yes, apparently his genius extends to the theater). I guess when you’ve seen all the hits, you move on to the B-sides.

Finally, in our titular climax, America’s most stupidest city: Fresno, Calif. Throw whatever preconceived notions you had right out the window, because Fresno rounds out its top 10 with the devastatingly surprising No. 9, “Harry and the Hendersons,” the 1987 classic starring John Lithgow and a giant, muppet, anthropomorphic Bigfoot (which I’d like to add, is currently at position 300 in my own queue). Is Fresno still the dumbest city in America, or are they now the most wonderful place in the world?

Whether my ground-breaking discoveries have unrooted some of your deepest prejudices or inspired you to do some IMDb research on “Harry and the Hendersons,” I hope you at least look up your own hometown on Netflix’s Local Favorites. And I sincerely hope the results shake you to your core.