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10 great moments in Madonna cinema

Madonna has actively stoked the fires of cinema scorn for over 20 years, and the prevailing critical consensus about the Madge oeuvre is that she’s a pretty good dancer.
/ Source: contributor

Poor Madonna. Why can’t she get a little film world respect?

It’s not like she’s the worst actress ever. She’d have to be Colleen Haskell from the first season of “Survivor” opposite Rob Schneider in “The Animal” to earn that distinction. But Colleen didn’t make any more movies afterward.

Madonna, on the other hand, has continued to actively stoke the fires of scorn for over 20 years, and the prevailing critical consensus about the Madge oeuvre is that she’s a pretty good dancer.

This week’s release of “Filth and Wisdom,” her directorial debut (that’s right, she directed a feature), isn’t going to help change anyone’s mind, either. It’s so bad it’s already made the loop past so-bad-it’s-good all the way back to plain old bad again. Twice. It’s the kind of fractured accident of a movie that history looks back at and wonders if Jerry Lewis’ nazi flick, “The Day The Clown Cried,” might not have been such a bad idea after all.

But my job today isn’t to crank up the chorus that raises its voice every time Mrs. Ritchie commits another crime against cinema. I’m here to dress her up in my love. Therefore the following list of great Madonna movie moments is incredibly subjective and sometimes includes awesome flutters of decency in otherwise worthless crap and will, I warn you now, display a genuine appreciation for “Who’s That Girl?”

1. “A Certain Sacrifice” (1985)
Best part:
When she gets an egg fried on her stomach. They just put a fried egg on her stomach and then… I don’t know. It’s a grimy little “art” film made during the time in her life when she did a lot of dumpster diving. Basically anything you do when you’re poor you get to call “art.” Not enough people take advantage of that universal truth. After she got famous, this movie allowed her to publicly smirk at people who thought it was porn. You always want that upper hand.

2. “Desperately Seeking Susan” (1985)
Best part:
People forget that it was really Roseanna Arquette who carried this entire movie. And you know why? Because of the scene where Madonna blow dries her armpits in a public restroom. And then the whole world got to see her do it a million gnarly times over because they put that same clip in the “Into The Groove” video. Already a pop music sex symbol by the time the movie came out, this one moment, all by itself, upped her ante and made lots of men wonder if this hot chick was genuinely dirty and also sometimes had B.O.

3. “Who’s That Girl?” (1987)
Best part
: Am I the lone human being in the world who laughed while watching this sub-ridiculous, live-action Betty Boop-ish, “Bringing Up Baby” rip-off in its initial theatrical release? And it’s not that I saw it in a theater full of unlaughing people. There simply were no other people in the theater. Wait, maybe I’m the only person who ever saw it! That would be weird.

Anyway, the best part comes when devil-may-care Madonna accompanies straight-laced Griffin Dunne to an interview with a snooty co-op board. Then she tells a knock-knock joke that no one will even dare to respond “Who’s there?” to until she forces them. And then no one laughs. Except Dunne, who’s falling for her wacky ways. It’s sweet. And even the knock-knock joke is funny. The moral: If Madonna says, “Knock knock” then you better play along or she’ll go off and make “Shanghai Surprise.”

4. “Bloodhounds of Broadway” (1989)
Best part:
It’s not a bad movie at all. And her role was small (she and Jennifer Grey play chorus girls in a 1920’s speakeasy), so it’s not a lie to say that her best moments are all the ones where she’s on screen. It’s like someone took her aside and hypnotized her long enough to make her forget she was ever in “Shanghai Surprise.” (If only that entire film could had been footage of her and Sean Penn beating up paparazzi, then it would have been incredible — remember how much fun they were then?) Whatever happened to her on that set, it got her to loosen up again so she could saunter through it like she owned the place, same as she did in “Desperately Seeking Susan.”

5. “Truth or Dare” (1991)
Best part:
Impossible to choose. The bit where Warren Beatty berates her for never allowing the cameras to be turned off? Hilarious. The part where she “bed-dances” to “Like a Virgin?” Heartwarming. The scene where they close down Chanel so she can shop? Justified. The moment where she makes a throw-up face when meeting Kevin Costner? He deserved it.  So what if it’s a documentary? It’s still acting, especially if you believe the part in her brother’s book — I forget the title, something like “My Sister, the Meanie” — where he reveals that the part where they visit her mother’s grave was in the can in only seven takes.

6. “A League of Their Own” (1992)
Best part:
By this point in her career it had become easy to see what Madonna’s acting strengths were. If she could be part of an ensemble and just breeze on through and basically play the most laid-back version of herself, out for a goof, then the audience had nothing to worry about. So that’s what happened here. All her scenes are nice because her job is to vamp around and flirt with Lori Petty and Rosie O’Donnell.

But the best moment — and this is genuinely moving, no lie — comes when the real women’s baseball team the movie portrayed shows up (all of them now senior citizens). Then they all wander around hugging each other during the closing credits while M sings “This Used to Be My Playground.” Super Kleenexy, so be ready for it.

7. “Body of Evidence” (1993)
Best part:
Much like “Truth or Dare,” this documentary about Madonna’s more intimate travails is — oh, it’s not a documentary? It was all made up? So you mean she never had sex with a guy and killed him with her weapon-body just to get some cash? And Willem Dafoe never was a part-time lawyer who crafted opening arguments like, “It’s not a crime to be a great lay” and then later decided to test that theory by engaging in not-crime with the defendant? Several times? I kinda have less respect for her now. I thought she was just keeping it real, you know? But that part where she drips candle wax on Dafoe’s chest is great. That part can’t be fake. It just can’t.

8. “Evita” (1996)Best part: I have had exactly two dreams involving Madonna. The first one happened two weeks after “Evita” opened. I dreamed that Madonna knocked on my apartment door and I said, “Hey Madonna, what’s up?” and then she goes, “Don’t ‘what’s up’ me. Why haven’t you been to see ‘Evita’ yet, you jerk?” and I go, “OK, OK, OK, I’ll go it. Geez. Leave me alone!” Then I woke up from the dream.

Then a couple weeks later I went to see the movie and I really liked the part where she throws money at people. You can see her grinning there, really identifying with Eva Peron, knowing that she basically controls every single thing in her own existence and has the closest thing to a superpower the real world has to offer: a mountain of cash that she can use to make or break people.

My other favorite part was when she sings “You Must Love Me” because it’s tenderhearted and hesitant and broken, a side of her you just don’t get to see very often. Still, though, my second dream was of her throwing money at me.

9. “The Next Best Thing” (2000)Best part: When she does yoga. These scenes are a bracing tonic of reality combating the usual public perception of the world’s most grueling form of exercise. You think it’s all soft and hippy-dippy and about stretching and finding your core. But tossed into this movie’s insanely ugly blender of deception, mean-spirited competitiveness and custody battle viciousness, Madonna’s show-offy version of yoga makes her and it look monstrous. You will feel like you’re in a horror movie, and that’s awesome. At one point in the film Madonna’s kid extols the virtues of yoga, saying that “it’ll relieve your stress,” but it all comes out like “Redrum! Redrum!”

10.  “Die Another Day” (2002)Best part: Her cameo as a fencing instructor. Nothing really happens. You just know she thought she’d look cool in a fencing outfit. And she does. What more do you want from the woman? She’s giving you everything here. Well, okay, she could also be throwing money at you and frying an egg on her stomach at the same time. There’s always room for improvement.

Dave White is the author of "Exile in Guyville" and can be found at .