The best and worst movies ever made in San Diego
Traffic (2000) is perhaps the best film made and set in San Diego and Tijuana. Former UCSD grad Benicio Del Toro won an Oscar for playing a TJ cop who tries to avoid corruption (perhaps the only unrealistic plot element) and Catherine Zeta-Jones earned raves for playing a La Jolla housewife who has no idea her hubby is selling drugs but jumps in with both feet to save her lifestyle.
The film earned raves from Hillcrest barflies because of a scene that takes place in Nunuís and people who worked downtown enjoyed seeing people get murdered right in front of their office buildings.
Almost Famous (2000) is Cameron Croweís look back to his days as a Rolling Stone writer and itís also a love letter to the laid back San Diego that still exists in the homes that arenít being used for meth labs.
Kitten with a Whip (1964) is an Ann-Margret cheese classic about a wild young woman who stabs a staff member at a detention center, sets the place on fire, escapes, kidnaps a politician and forces him to drive her and a wounded accomplice to Tijuana.
It tries so hard to express the untamed feelings of beatniks in San Diego and fails horribly. Thatís why it made for a particularly good Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode. One scene of interest to local lookieloos is a car driving scene that features stock footage of Chatsworth Avenue in Point Loma behind Margret and co-star John Forsythe.
Sailor Beware (1952) is a Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis military comedy set in San Diego but with no actual footage of the city. Still, itís a funny cornball look back to when your biggest concern in the military was being shot down by a dame, not by enemy aircraft.
Hereís one line of dialogue that explains it all:
If you want a Jerry Lewis movie actually filmed in San Diego, try The Big Mouth (1967), which has scenes shot at Sea World and the Hilton Hotel. Itís a fairly funny, corny spy spoof.
Tumbleweeds (1999) is about a woman played by Janet McTeer who constantly runs from town to town with her 12 year old daughter to escape failed relationships. A lot of the film takes place in San Diego and features lots of scenes in Ocean Beach. McTeer, a British actress, was nominated for an Oscar for her ability to play white trash.
When Scavenger Hunt (1979) first came out, it was a big deal in San Diego because much of the film was shot here and it had big stars like Richard Benjamin, Cleavon Little and Scatman Crothers (not to mention Willie Aames. In fact, please donít mention him).
The film is bad slapstick about the antics of greedy people to win a large sum of money but features some wacky car chases down one of the hills that lead to San Diego Harbor.
Tentacles aka Tentacoli (1977) is perhaps the worst film ever made in San Diego but has the best tagline: ďEach year 10,000 tourists visit Ocean Beach. This summer Ocean Beach has attracted SOMETHING ELSE!Ē
Sadly, theyíre talking about a giant octopus and not an even bigger scourge: Dirty hippie kids begging for change. The film stars Academy Award winning director John Huston and Academy Award winning actors Shelley Winters and Henry Fonda. Even though the octopus has suckers, they arenít nearly as big as the ones who paid money to see this piece of crap.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! (1978) is now fondly remembered as a bad movie that tried to be bad and didnít quite succeed enough to be the good kind of bad, nor the bad kind of good. Itís funny in parts and has an on-the-cheap charm that makes it a popular rental.
The film inspired a bushel of sequels including Return Of The Killer Tomatoes, which features a pre-E.R. George Clooney and a pre-Chandra Levy Gary Condit.
Some Like It Hot (1959) is another candidate for best film shot in San Diego and it features Marilyn Monroe cavorting around the Hotel Del Coronado. Since Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon appear in drag, itís been argued that has inspired generations of transgendered folks to drag themselves down to Americaís Finest City.
Top Gun (1986) is another film that has been good for San Diego tourism. In fact, the Kansas City Barbecue has been coasting on its brief scene for the last two decades. The place attracts tourists for some reason (and it ainít for the BBQ).
One film that should inspire visitors is the 2004 comedy classic Anchorman, which is the most truthful film about San Diego ever made. After all, the main event among the newsmakers is who gets to cover the Panda birth at the Zoo. Some people call this film a spoof but anyone whoís grown up on San Diego newscasts knows itís 100 percent truthful.
Sideways (2004) has inspired a new generation of pathetic drunks to switch from beer to martinis to Pinot Noir and while only a few scenes are shot in San Diego, it definitely picks up the loveable loser vibe many locals feel, especially those with relatives in Los Angeles.
Running on Empty (1988) is a River Phoenix drama about the child of hippies who blew up a napalm lab and have been running ever since. A couple scenes were filmed in La Mesa but since there are no jokes about Santee or El Cajon, I can only assume itís not set there.
Losin' It (1983) is one of those teen sex comedies thatís not really sexy, not really funny and features actors who are too old to play teens. It concerns a trio of kids who go to Tijuana and learn important life lessons (like how to have sex with Shelley Long).
It was directed by L.A. Confidential helmsman Curtis Hanson and he makes sure that the Mexican actors have lines about annoying the American tourists are but, eventually, everyone becomes friends.
Tom Cruise is the star but Jackie Earle Haley steals the picture. This film is set in the 60ís but, if remade, it should be set in the 1980ís when girls as well as guys started converging on TJ in order to drink and screw.
One final note: Titanic (1997) was filmed in Rosarito Beach and cast members like Leonardo DiCaprio used to come up north to party. (Thatís a switch, because usually the Americans go south to party) At one point, he used to hang out at Dakota Grill and Spirits and once asked my future wife, ďWhat are spirits?Ē My wife told him and heís had a reputation as a party animal ever since. But does he thank her publicly? Noooooo!
David Moye is a freelance writer in San Diego.
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