The film: Four lady-friends are bored with their town. They do what any bored college student would do: Rob a diner and use that money to go down to Florida for their spring break. Once in the state of Florida, the girls get into some trouble and are bailed out by Alien (James Franco), a self-described “gangster with a heart of gold.” Both Alien and the girls share a love of being total weirdos and going on violent power trips, and we see how far some of them will go to have fun.
Why it wasn’t nominated: Spring Breakers is unapologetically explicit. The first minute alone is filled with shots of beach babes bouncing their exposed boobs around, and that sets the tone for the entire film. Other than nudity, there’s a whole lot of weed-smoking, coke-snorting, and violence: Basically anything a kid shouldn’t see is in this movie. It’s easy to assume that voters were just turned off by the raunchiness of the film, but then again, we’re talking about voters who are actually in the industry and who maybe shouldn’t be surprised by obscenity. But voters could have been okay with the raunchiness and just not seen a point to it.
It doesn’t help that Korine is controversial. His 1997 film Gummo was similar to Spring Breakers in it showed young people bored with their lives and doing crazy things to cure that boredom. Also similar to Spring Breakers, people either loved it or they hated it. Some said it was completely missing any point, others thought it was a genius portrayal of white poverty. Korine is a director who excels in detailed depictions of life, and that can be great: Movies are a powerful way to see how others live, and Korine tries to show us that. But sometimes, like when two boys kill cats for fun in Gummo and when cameras glide over naked bodies in Spring Breakers, it can be seen as provocation instead of art. And any voters who thought Korine was just trying to get a rise out of them weren’t about to say Spring Breakers deserved a prestigious award, no matter its positive qualities.
Why history will remember it better than Philomena: Three words: Spraaang break forever. Franco drawls this refrain in voiceover multiple times toward the end of the film, effectively getting it stuck in our heads forever and also reminding us that spring break is more than just a week out of the year for him. Alien loves the life spring break promises, with its intoxicated benders and crime and sex, and wants it to last forever—just like the girls.
But Spring Breakers isn’t just a movie about spring break. Sure, it shows—in great detail—the stereotypes of a crazy spring break vacation, but it’s so much darker than Girls Gone Wild could ever be. And this contrast, between the fun vibes of spring break partying and the violence of the characters, is what makes Spring Breakers something to remember. It’s not just “four girls go to Florida for spring break, have a good time, and suffer the consequences. It’s “four girls go to Florida for spring break and two of them indulge in a way that’s beyond partying.” Cotty (Rachel Korine) does end up getting shot in the arm and going home, and we find out Alien’s fate in the final scene, but Brit (Ashley Benson) and Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) suffer no consequences. They keep pushing moral limits until they become amoral, which is scarier (and more interesting) to watch than them going to jail or getting a flesh wound.
James Franco’s performance as Alien stuck out the most, and there was even a much-talked-about campaign to get him an Oscar nod for it. As we now know, that didn’t work out so well. But Alien will be remembered, Oscar nomination or not, because he manages to be both threatening (guns cover his entire bed) and hilarious (he thinks he’s an alien). It’s hard to take him seriously, with his talk of how many colors of shorts he has and how he’s got Scarface on repeat, but when we see glimpses of blood on his hands it’s clear that he’s not just a silly guy. He’s serious about his love of danger.
Most importantly though, Spring Breakers gave us the gift of hearing Franco perform a moving rendition of Britney Spears’ ballad “Everytime” as images alternate between a bloody robbery scene and three girls dancing with rifles next to his outdoor piano. And what a gift it was.