The Greatest Film of All Time

February 3, 2004 | 114 comments
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I’ve felt rather guilty about not posting more during my guest stint here. My e-mail has been on the fritz, I have been out of town, and . . . Well, anyway, even though it’s really late at the moment, I simply have to post something to salve my conscience.

We’ve just completed Groundhog Day 2004. Which, naturally, leads us to contemplation of the greatest film ever made: the eponymous “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell. (I know, I know. Some prefer “What about Bob?” I’m sympathetic, and can certainly understand the preference. But, for personal reasons, I simply can’t endorse it. I’ve had several students who were remarkably like “Bob,” and I find the film profoundly unnerving.)

I’ve been going through some American film noire recently. Over this past weekend, for example, the menu was “The Big Sleep,” “Double Indemnity,” and “The Third Man.” Great stuff, of course. But in terms of sheer power to inspire existential dread, nothing can possibly surpass the thought of a radio alarm playing Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You, Babe” every morning at 6 AM for all eternity. “No Exit,” indeed.

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114 Responses to The Greatest Film of All Time

  1. Matt Evans on February 3, 2004 at 10:05 am

    Groundhog Day is one of my favorites, too. It’s especially fun to watch back-to-back.

    Groundhog Day is one of my favorites, too. It’s especially fun to watch back-to-back.

  2. Matt Evans on February 3, 2004 at 10:08 am

    I didn’t like What About Bob? for the same reason: I identified far too closely with Dreyfuss’s character.

  3. Nate on February 3, 2004 at 11:09 am

    Thanks for the reminder of the season. Incidentally, Punxsutawney Phil has his own website — http://www.groundhog.org — which reports that he did indeed see his shadow yesterday.

  4. cooper on February 3, 2004 at 11:27 am

    I love Ground Hog Day. In fact I use the term to describe incidents (people) who can’t seem to catch on to simple mundane tasks at work. “It’s like Ground Hog Day” to them everyday.

    What About Bob has special place in our home as my husband is a therapist. Eeeek!

    Favorite all time movie though has to be Brother Sun, Sister Moon. It’s about the life of St Francis of Assisi, and has been a constant of reminder of “throwing your sceptor in the mud” and giving all to God. Great movie for those who haven’t seen it. It is a 70s hippie production in the same vein as Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet.

    Another is Immortal Beloved.

  5. Adam Greenwood on February 3, 2004 at 11:45 am

    I used to like Groundhog Day, until I found myself singing ‘Babe! I’ve got you, Babe!’ at all the wrong times.

  6. lyle on February 3, 2004 at 11:53 am

    cooper:
    so…what good movie would be in the same vein as Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet? Now that I would like to see…

  7. Russell Arben Fox on February 3, 2004 at 12:12 pm

    The greatest movie of all time? Feh–you’re not serious. “2001: A Space Odyssey.” “Singin’ in the Rain.” “The Godfather.” “Notorious.” “Some Like It Hot.” “Lawrence of Arabia.” “Wings of Desire.” “My Fair Lady.” “Reservoir Dogs.” “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” “Pinnocchio.” “Rear Window.” “Ran.” “The Right Stuff.” “Dr. Strangelove.” I agree with “The Third Man” and “Double Indemnity,” but I think “To Have and Have Not” has “The Big Sleep” beat–a duller story, perhaps, but “Sleep” is fundamentally incoherent (the plot derails before you’re halfway through the movie). Plus, as hot as Bogart and Bacall were in “Sleep,” “To Have” has the bonus of them not only being crazy about each other, but having just discovered each other. It’s electric.

    Regarding “I Got You Babe”: I think you may have been traumatized by your California upbringing, Dan. The song doesn’t generate existential dread so much as presumed embarrassment at admitting to any enjoyment of the So-Cal middlebrow hipster attitude of the 70s. Get that out of your system, and you’ll realize it’s actually a pretty sweet little pop tune. (See also: the Bee Gees and “Saturday Night Fever”–a damn fine soundtrack, if you just give it a chance.)

  8. brayden on February 3, 2004 at 12:21 pm

    Pinnochio?

  9. Russell Arben Fox on February 3, 2004 at 12:42 pm

    Walt Disney’s greatest achievement Brayden. A humble yet morally sophisticated story, beautiful animation, and killer songs. Top ten list material, all the way.

  10. Bob Caswell on February 3, 2004 at 12:55 pm

    If we’re going to talk killer songs, Russell, Beauty and Beast hands down. It has all the other elements you described as well.

    But don’t get me wrong, I liked Pinnochio too.

  11. Ryan S. on February 3, 2004 at 1:03 pm

    “Groundhog Day” is a really, really great movie. I really, really liked it. A lot.

    [Long time reader, first time poster].

  12. Russell Arben Fox on February 3, 2004 at 1:08 pm

    Granted, Beauty and the Beast is near the very top of the Disney canon. Snow White, Dumbo, Cinderella, Aristocats, Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, and The Lion King are all there, though I still would put Pinnocchio on top. (Fantasia–the original and the 2000 versions–both deserve high marks too, but they’re a different sort of film.)

  13. Nate Oman on February 3, 2004 at 1:09 pm

    “The song doesn’t generate existential dread so much as presumed embarrassment at admitting to any enjoyment of the So-Cal middlebrow hipster attitude of the 70s.”

    Russell, there are certain things that one SHOULD be embarrassed about.

  14. cooper on February 3, 2004 at 1:17 pm

    lyle – Baz did such a great job of bringing the next generation their R&J. I simply love the fact that each generation has their own version to enjoy and connect to. Baz can’t be beat. (in fact I have tickets for his version of La Boheme! 50s setting – amazing) A movie to rival it??? None so far that I’ve found for this generation. Trouble with most current movies, it seems, is that they’re all sizzle and no substance. Unlike, R&J.

    Russell, I like your list. I would have left off The Big Sleep completely. One to add – Empire of the Sun.

    And, all – I forgot one of the best – Oh Brother Where art thou?

  15. Russell Arben Fox on February 3, 2004 at 1:27 pm

    Don’t make me get all 70s on you, Nate. Taunt me, and I’ll throw Poco and the Commodores and Glenn Campbell and Barry Manilow and Linda Rondstadt and Neil Diamond and KC and the Sunshine Band and Hot Chocolate and the Bee Gees at you like your worst nightmare. The 70s: politically, a terrible time, I grant you. But artistically? A misunderstood decade, and an honorable one.

  16. Jeremiah J. on February 3, 2004 at 1:39 pm

    The list of film noir excluded two of the greatest movies ever period, Chinatown and Touch of Evil.

    The Disney list must include the Jungle Book; even though the snake is played by Winnie the Pooh, the music is great and the basic Roussaeuian plot rivals that of the original book, perhaps it is even better.

  17. Nate Oman on February 3, 2004 at 1:40 pm

    Russell: Artistically the 70s was an unmitigated disaster on virtually every front. Name me a single piece of 70s architecture that should not be dynamited immediately! Disco! The Bee Gees! Gerald Ford! Polyester loung suits!

    I was born in the 1970s, but I am pleased to say that I exited the decade as fast as I possibly could. Alas, it took me five years!

  18. Russell Arben Fox on February 3, 2004 at 1:50 pm

    “Artistically the 70s was an unmitigated disaster on virtually every front.”

    Hmm. Ok, let’s begin with film….

    Raging Bull
    Mean Streets
    The French Connection
    The Godfather
    The Godfather II
    A Clockwork Orange
    Taxi Driver
    Apocalypse Now
    Midnight Cowboy
    Chinatown
    Jaws
    McCable & Mrs. Miller
    Deliverance
    One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
    M*A*S*H
    Annie Hall
    Nashville
    Badlands
    Days of Heaven
    Sleeper
    Enter the Dragon
    Alien

    Your response?

  19. Nate Oman on February 3, 2004 at 1:54 pm

    “virtually every front”

    Don’t parse words with a lawyer unless you REALLY want to parse. ;->

  20. Kaimi on February 3, 2004 at 2:00 pm

    Nate,

    One doesn’t have to be a believer in disco to think that the 70′s were not an artistic disaster. After all, there’s Creedence, Simon & Garfunkel, Hendrix, and Zep, for serious music lovers; Three Dog Night, Moody Blues, and early Aerosmith and AC/DC for fun; and Billy Joel to sing along to. Plus a few fun tunes from punk groups like the Ramones.

  21. Russell Arben Fox on February 3, 2004 at 2:11 pm

    Kaimi, Jimi Hendrix overdosed in 1970; he doesn’t count as 1970s figure. Still, I’ll give it to you for CCR and Led Zeppelin. Also don’t forget that the Rolling Stones best albums (Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Some Girls, Tattoo You) were released in the 70s. And how could I have forgotten Mr. Joel? I have brothers who practically worship the man.

  22. brayden on February 3, 2004 at 2:13 pm

    Kaimi – Most of those bands are holdovers from the sixties. In fact, I can’t think of one good CCR song that wasn’t released in the sixties. I could be wrong with that though.

    Russell – As for Pinnocchio, I can’t think of any movie that has persistently irritated me upon viewing or thinking about it. I’m not even sure why except that I’m sure it has something to do with Pinnocchio’s voice.

    Greatest movie not mentioned – Raising Arizona

  23. Kaimi on February 3, 2004 at 2:24 pm

    Brayden,

    According to a discography I located online, a number of worthy CCR songs were first released in 1970: Have You Ever Seen the Rain?, Traveling Band, Who’ll Stop the Rain, Looking Out my Back Door, Up Around the Bend. See http://www.johnfogerty.com/discography.php

    (Does 1970 count as the 70′s? I guess it’s a potentially vague definition).

    Also, I forgot to mention Pink Floyd (The Wall, 1979; Dark Side of the Moon, 1973). (And the Stones, as Russell noted — oops).

  24. Russell Arben Fox on February 3, 2004 at 2:24 pm

    Brayden: “I can’t think of one good CCR song that wasn’t released in the sixties.”

    “Travelin’ Band”
    “Lookin’ Out Your Back Door”
    “Who’ll Stop the Rain?”
    “Run Through the Jungle”
    “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”
    “Hey Tonight”

    You’re correct, though, in that their best work spanned both decades.

  25. Matt J on February 3, 2004 at 2:25 pm

    There are lots of good movies in the world, many already mentioned. Occassionally I run into one that makes me want to see it again right away or buy it. A couple recommendations that you might not have seen already:

    Un Coeur En Hiver – great music, love triangle involving a man who cannot love
    Grave of the Fireflies – autobiographical anime, tragic story of two children during WWII
    Ponette – 4-year old girl dealing with the death of her mother (best actress cesar)
    Shall We Dance? – japanese ballroom dancing comedy

    While on the subject of foreign films, you can disregard the youth restricted viewing (YRV) stickers at blockbuster. It seems that they usually put these things on any movie that is not subjected to MPAA ratings. You’ll need to get content information from a more reliable source. For example, Ponette and Un Coeur En Hiver both had the sticker at my local blockbuster, but I would rate them G and PG.

  26. Kaimi on February 3, 2004 at 2:29 pm

    (I must confess, the mass of evidence _against_ the idea that the 1970′s were an artistic wasteland is so large that I’m leaving out some obvious examples out of simple inadvertence. Still, I shouldn’t have missed this one.)

    Possibly the greatest rock song of all time: Hotel california. Date of release: 1976.

  27. Grasshopper on February 3, 2004 at 2:39 pm

    I heartily second Matt J’s recommendation of “Shall We Dance”, though it’s pretty serious, IMO, for a comedy. :-)

  28. Nate Oman on February 3, 2004 at 2:41 pm

    The Godfather and the Godfather II, I will grant you are masterpieces. (The Godfather is possiblity my favorite movie.) But Hotel California?!?!

    Also, I am not convince that the continued existence of some good bands from the 1960s and Bill Joel is sufficient to redeem the decade from its unholy facination with polyester, bell bottoms, afros, Paul Erlich, Barry Manilow, and sequins.

    And don’t even get me started on the politics! The Khemer Rouge, boat people, the invasion of Afghinstan, Watergate, The McGovern Commission, Harry Blackmun, etc. etc.

    BTW, if you want a great movie send up of 70s culture AND politics, I suggest “Dick.”

  29. Greg Call on February 3, 2004 at 2:53 pm

    As a pitiful pop/rock junkie, I must say that 70s bands mentioned, with the possible exceptions of Led Zeppelin and the Ramones (maybe AC/DC), simply do not stand the test of time. But many other artists do. To wit, the following artists released their best stuff in the 70s:

    Bruce Springsteen
    Neil Young
    Iggy Pop
    Big Star
    The Clash
    Bob Marley
    The Sex Pistols
    John Lennon
    Joni Mitchell
    Patti Smith
    Stevie Wonder
    David Bowie
    Bob Dylan (granted his best stuff was in the 60s but Blood on the Tracks was 70s)

  30. Russell Arben Fox on February 3, 2004 at 3:07 pm

    Nate–

    Heaven save us from the young. (The first time you voted would have been for, let’s think, Gingrich’s Contract With America, perhaps?) Let’s take these in order…

    1) “But Hotel California?!?!”

    I won’t defend Kaimi’s specific claim that this is “possibly the greatest rock song of all time.” But the Eagles were a tremendous band; the California country-rock mix was a heady one. You can’t just write them off with a witticism.

    2) “I am not convince that the continued existence of some good bands from the 1960s and Bill[y] Joel is sufficient to redeem the decade from its unholy facination with polyester, bell bottoms, afros, Paul Erlich, Barry Manilow, and sequins.”

    Re: Barry Manilow–a superb tunesmith and musical technician, comparable to Burt Bacharach or Phil Spector. “Weekend in New England,” “Daybreak,” “Could It Be Magic” and “Mandy” are pretty nearly pop masterpieces.

    Re: Paul Ehrlich–yep, he was an idiot. But if we’re talking public intellectuals, the 70s also gave us Christopher Lasch, Neil Postman, and many others. And please: the 1980s us Donald Trump.

    Re: “polyester, bell bottoms, afros…and sequins.” All your other complaints have to do with fashion. To which I can only respond: you have a point. Still, let me see…. born in ’75…I suppose Nate that in high school you were wearing, what, hiking boots, cast-off army jackets, unbuttoned wool sweaters, those ridiculous Nepalese caps? All while listening to, what, Sonic Youth (snicker)? No doubt you believe that grunge was a real “statement,” a rebuke to the powers that be, a way of “gettin’ it real.” Yes, yes, fine, whatever.

    3) “And don’t even get me started on the politics! The Khemer Rouge, boat people, the invasion of Afghinstan, Watergate, The McGovern Commission, Harry Blackmun, etc. etc.”

    I already acknowledged that it was a terrible decade insofar as politics is concerned. However, shall we bring up Oliver North and his cabal?

  31. Russell Arben Fox on February 3, 2004 at 3:11 pm

    Greg–I would add all those artists you mention to my list, with only a couple of possible exceptions. 1) The Sex Pistols were never any good; they were always crap. 2) To claim that John Lennon’s “best stuff” was released post-Beatles is madness. Was he a decent solo artist? Better than most, maybe. But hardly worth celebration. 3) I’m actually one of those rare Bruce Springsteen fans that think he got better as he got older; I consider 1987′s Tunnel of Love to be his best album.

  32. lyle on February 3, 2004 at 3:12 pm

    Russell:

    Yes, please bring up Col. North. Having recently listened to his latest speech, and seen his inspiring and competent journalism, and his efforts to support those that are paying the highest cost in this war…i.e. the families of the combatants…yes, let us bring him up. his most recent excellent advice:
    1. be extra nice, moreso than legally required (see the policy of sears) to those that were activated and return home (i.e. comply plus give raises, bonus’, extra time off, etc).
    2. hire those that fought during this war. soldiers are the ultimate leaders and doers in the info age.

  33. Nate Oman on February 3, 2004 at 3:19 pm

    Russell: I grew up in suburban SLC. There was very little grunge. You are simply placing yourself in Washington with that one. I actually don’t remember what I wore in high school. I suspect it was jeans and a sweat shirt. Also, in high school I mainly listened to the Chieftains and Handel. (I am a geek, afterall.) As for the Eagles, my wife is a fan so I think that I can dismiss them from an informed position.

    The Khemer Rouge was worse than Oliver North.

    As for your statement, “Heaven save us from the young.” I suspect that given your massively advanced age you are simply sitting on the doorstep of death and looking back out us care-free 28-year-olds with unmitigated envy.

  34. Kaimi on February 3, 2004 at 3:33 pm

    Nate,

    I’m a fan of guitar, and Hotel Cali. is generally recognized as one of the best guitar solos in rock. And it’s one that I particularly like :) (though other very good solos, like Comfortably Numb or Cliffs of Dover, are also very fun to listen to).

    I looked for just a bit on line; the only poll I located in my abbreviated search was this Guitar World magazine poll, which lists Hotel Cali as the eighth best guitar solo. See http://guitar.about.com/library/bl100greatest.htm . There are other polls and lists, inevitably involving many of the same songs, but none that I could locate quickly through google.

  35. Kristine on February 3, 2004 at 3:33 pm

    Nate,
    What instrument did you play?

  36. cooper on February 3, 2004 at 3:34 pm

    Hotel California??????? Ugh! Gross. Blech! From a true rock fan, the Eagles did far greater than that entry.

    It seems we have quite the music discussion going on — Finny how the ones I listened to aren’t even on the list. Pink Floyd (mentioned – Obscured by Clouds my fav), Hawkwind anyone? Uriah Heep? King Crimson? Fripp was probably the most musically talented of his genre. Progressive rock was not only entertaining for the ear, but also visually stimulating. The drum cage Bruford had was a sight to behold. Then there was the lighter side: Van Morrison. There’s not a brown eyed girl alive that doesn’t love that song. And Rod the Mod!

    My taste in music is very ecletic. I listened to my mom’s music and gained an appreciation for opera, pop, folk, bluegrass and then moved to rock and roll. Country wasn’t appreciated until the 90s. The 60s were great. The seventies were so so and then we go downhill from there. And end up with the like sof American Idol trying to spin out stars signing throught their noses and writhing about. No musicianship at all.

    And I will admit, being 18 in 1972 and getting to vote was great. My brother voted for Nixon. And I will sheepishly admit to voting for, uh, uh, McGovern. (shudder)

    It was a great time to be a kid.

  37. Mary on February 3, 2004 at 3:35 pm

    Mmmm, The Clash! Wouldn’t you like to see them live? Joe Strummer is missed!

    And The Talking Heads and Blondie started in the 70′s.

  38. Greg Call on February 3, 2004 at 3:44 pm

    Russell,
    This is getting way off topic, but here goes:

    1) Never Mind the Bollocks has some truly great songs, and while the fellas admittedly weren’t musical virtuosos, and were as much a marketing tool as a real band, they did manage to spark the musical movement toward tightly constructed, energetic and realist/political songs (after the bloated Pink Floyd/Eagles/Yes days).

    2) As for John Lennon, I meant that as a solo artist he released some great stuff in the 70s. Clearly none was superior to his best Beatles stuff (though some was much better than his worst Beatles stuff).

    3) As for the Boss, its a hard call. I’ll stick with Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town as his best, but he has also put out some comparably great stuff in the last 25 years (I’ll take Ghost of Tom Joad over Tunnel of Love, though).

  39. Kaimi on February 3, 2004 at 3:48 pm

    Nate,

    You’re correct to chide Russell for applying grunge steroetypes to you. Very few people I knew actually bought into the whole grunge thing. (Though of course grunge made all the media headlines).

    But aren’t you applying a double standard here? You’re critiquing the 70′s for the over-the-top media images of bell bottoms, but asking Russell not to base his comments on media images, but staid reality.

    I suspect that the ratio of lounge suit wearers to general populace in 1976 is probably about the same as the ratio of torn-army-jacket wearers to general populace in 1992.

  40. Nate Oman on February 3, 2004 at 3:49 pm

    Kristine: the stereo.

  41. brayden on February 3, 2004 at 3:52 pm

    One more final bash on the 70′s: ABBA. ‘Nuff said.

    The great thing about the 70′s: Movies from Martin Scorcese and Francis Ford Coppolla

    The not-so-great thing about the 80′s: same as above

    I’ll refrain from casting this as a decade issue, but I can’t let Russell get away with lauding Barry Manilow as a superb tunesmith. Sure, he’s great, if you like the melodies from tv advertisements. Blech!

  42. Greg Call on February 3, 2004 at 3:58 pm

    Just for fun (the only remaining function for this thread) here are the top 25 singles from the 70s (compiled from critics reviews and lists using a ridiculously complex algorithm (see http://hem.bredband.net/b132682/ for more info)):

    1 Sex Pistols
    Anarchy in the U.K.
    1976

    2 Marvin Gaye
    What’s Going On
    1971

    3 Bruce Springsteen
    Born to Run
    1975

    4 Stevie Wonder
    Superstition
    1972

    5 John Lennon
    Imagine
    1971

    6 Sex Pistols
    God Save the Queen
    1977

    7 The Clash
    London Calling
    1979

    8 Derek and The Dominos
    Layla
    1970

    9 Lou Reed
    Walk on the Wild Side/Perfect Day
    1972

    10 Al Green
    Let’s Stay Together
    1971

    11 The Eagles
    Hotel California
    1977

    12 Simon and Garfunkel
    Bridge Over Troubled Water
    1970

    13 Chic
    Good Times
    1979

    14 Queen
    Bohemian Rhapsody
    1975

    15 Rod Stewart
    Reason to Believe/Maggie May
    1971

    16 David Bowie
    Heroes
    1977

    17 Bob Marley and The Wailers
    No Woman No Cry (Live)
    1975

    18 The Bee Gees
    Stayin’ Alive
    1977

    19 Sly and the Family Stone
    Family Affair
    1971

    20 The Rolling Stones
    Brown Sugar
    1971

    21 The Clash
    (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais
    1978

    22 Roxy Music
    Virginia Plain
    1972

    23 The Temptations
    Papa Was a Rolling Stone
    1972

    24 T. Rex
    Get It On (Bang a Gong)
    1971

    25 The Who
    Won’t Get Fooled Again

  43. Greg Call on February 3, 2004 at 4:00 pm

    (Apologies for the long post, I didn’t realize it was formatted that way.)

  44. Russell Arben Fox on February 3, 2004 at 4:08 pm

    Thanks Greg. I can’t believe I forgot Lou Reed and the Who.

  45. Kaimi on February 3, 2004 at 4:08 pm

    I know it’s been employed as a tactic by most of the people here, but I’m not sure exactly how much is proved (if anything) by rolling out a parade of horribles. The fact is that cheesy, pop music has existed for a long time.

    If the 70′s have to answer for ABBA, Barry, and Disco, then the 80′s have to answer for Olivia Newton John, Wham, and Milli Vanilli; the 90′s have to answer for a lot — far too much Bryan Adams, Celine Dion, and Boyz II Men, the country “crossover”, and the Macarena; and of course the 00′s have Britney, Christina, and Justin. And so on . . .

  46. Adam Greenwood on February 3, 2004 at 4:16 pm

    The Chieftains! Huzzah!

  47. cooper on February 3, 2004 at 4:22 pm

    OOOoooooo! Maggie May! I remember it so well.

    Imagine was our Senior Song.

    There is just too much good music out there. I define good music: Myself, husband, three daughters, and my mom listening to the same stuf,f whether it be Nat King Cole to Bush, and everyone liking it.

  48. Scott on February 3, 2004 at 5:16 pm

    Nate,

    I recognize that tastes may differ. But I think a lot of interesting structures were built in the ’70s, especially in my neck of the woods, including Philip Johnson’s Pennzoil Place in Houston and his water gardens in Fort Worth, I.M. Pei’s design for Dallas City Hall, and Louis Kahn’s Kimball Museum in Fort Worth.

    Scott

  49. Kristine on February 3, 2004 at 5:41 pm

    Will I be banned from all future discussions of anything aesthetic if I confess that I loved ABBA?

    (In my defense, I had never heard any music written post-Mahler (well, maybe a little Copland, when my folks were really letting their hair down) until I was 12, when someone put on “Money, Money, Money” at a sleepover party. I was instantly hooked, but it might just be a function of the prior deprivation… )

  50. Russell Arben Fox on February 3, 2004 at 5:56 pm

    Count on me to back you up, Kristine. ABBA was and is fun, fun, fun; great lazy Saturday afternoon or road-trip music. I won’t defend them as I will many other much-derided 70s icons (Manilow, the Jackson 5, John Denver, Supertramp), but I’m happy to say we own ABBA Gold, and play it when the mood strikes us.

  51. Randy on February 3, 2004 at 6:05 pm

    I can’t say I’m a big fan of ABBA, though my wife certainly is. I did, however, get roped (coerced) into singing “Tragedy” several years back at a ward talent show. Humiliating for me — hysterical for everyone else.

  52. Dan Peterson on February 4, 2004 at 12:08 am

    To my horror, I realize that I spelled “film noir” with an unnecessary and incorrect final “e,” which unmasks me beyond redemption as an uncultured poseur.

    Oh well. There’s an exhilarating sense of freedom in being, as it were, “out of the closet.”

    What I really wanted to do, though, was to endorse “A Touch of Evil” as another of the all-time greats — though nowhere near “Groundhog Day” — and to agree with the complaint about the too-intricate plot in “The Big Sleep.” Oh yes: And such movies as “The Seventh Seal” and “Citizen Kane” and “On the Waterfront” are pretty nice, too.

  53. Mardell on February 4, 2004 at 4:43 pm

    Is this a post about music or movies.
    To get back on the subject of good movies. My two favorite movies are While You Were sleeping starring Bill Pullman and Sandra Bullock and Speechlessn starring Gena Davis and Micheal Keaton. They are great because they have moments in them that you could rewind about ten times and still laugh. Like the bike scence in While You Were Sleeping, or the speech in Speechless which includes the song “I’ve been workin on the Railroad.”
    My other favorites are almost all of the movies Alfred Hitchcock made. I think Vertigo in my favorite.

  54. Jack on November 22, 2004 at 10:29 am

    I never knew this thread existed, but I’ll throw in my belated two cents worth in anyway.

    Russell, Pinocchio is second only to Bambi.

    Beauty and the Beast simply does not compare to the Disney greats that came out of the forties and fifties. It is a shollow, even adolescent, reflection of Walt’s way with the yarn.

    The Third Man is by far a greater movie than Double Indemnity and Double Indemnity is by far a greater movie than The Big Sleep. (though I enjoy anything that features Bogart)

  55. D. Fletcher on November 22, 2004 at 10:39 am

    The greatest film of all time is probably Rules of the Game, by Jean Renoir. A close second is The Passion of Joan of Arc, by Carl Dreyer.

    The greatest U.S. film is undoubtedly Citizen Kane, directed by Orson Welles.

    The greatest Hitchcock film is Vertigo, with Psycho the most influential.

    The greatest Disney animated film is Pinocchio.

    My particular favorite Hollywood director is William Wyler, who made masterpiece after masterpiece, and my favorite of his works is The Best Years of Our Lives.

    The most popular film of all time, literally a historic artifact, is Gone With The Wind.

  56. Jack on November 22, 2004 at 11:00 am

    D. I like your picks.

    I personally feel that Renoir is overrated, though undoubtedly a master.

    I too admire Citizen Kane for it’s sheer ingenuity in all aspects of film-making, though I think there are movies that go beyond it in ways that only a more “seasoned” artist can discover.

  57. Russell Arben Fox on November 22, 2004 at 11:12 am

    Hey, a long-dead thread resurrected! These are always fun.

    “Pinocchio is second only to Bambi.”

    I have complete respect for the people who would rank Bambi has Disney’s greatest achievement. A moody and very mature film (though the less-well characterized animals, like Mr. Owl, grate on me). I don’t think it’s superior to Pinocchio, but certainly it’s a close call.

    “Beauty and the Beast simply does not compare to the Disney greats that came out of the forties and fifties. It is a shollow, even adolescent, reflection of Walt’s way with the yarn.”

    I’m not willing to bash the Disney revival of the late 80s-early 90s too much in comparison with the classics. For one thing, the form of excellence they were striving for changed; they were taking the Broadway musical as their template, rather than trying to come up with their own style. I don’t begrudge them looking around for different models; it’s arguable that the Disney way was completely played out, stylistically, by the time Sleeping Beauty rolled around. I wouldn’t put Beauty and the Beast anywhere near my top ten, as I do Pinocchio, but I think it stands on its own as a terrific bit of Broadway-style entertainment, and as such, stands above a lot of lesser efforts to come out of Disney studios over the decades.

    “The Third Man is by far a greater movie than Double Indemnity and Double Indemnity is by far a greater movie than The Big Sleep.”

    I agree that Double Indemnity is better than The Big Sleep, but that’s partly because The Big Sleep is massively overrated. Honest, the movie makes no sense; by the end, no one (not even the main characters) know who is killing who or why. As for The Third Man, that flick is so stylistically adventuresome that it’s barely noir anymore. It’s almost like a weird Hollywood foreshadowing of Italian neorealist cinema: so existential, with the noir elements so strained to work in a post-WWII setting.

    “The greatest film of all time is probably Rules of the Game, by Jean Renoir.”

    Which I must confess with some embarrassment I simply didn’t enjoy. I like The Grand Illusion much more.

    “The greatest Hitchcock film is Vertigo.”

    Yes. But not an easy film to watch; Hitchcock lays the paranoia and creepiness on so thick that the “thriller” elements of the film almost get buried. If you watch Hitchcock for the sake of seeing a master craftsman put together his thrillers/romances/adventures and then let them unwind, his greatest films are probably Rear Window and Nortorious.

    “My particular favorite Hollywood director is William Wyler, who made masterpiece after masterpiece, and my favorite of his works is The Best Years of Our Lives.”

    I’ve never seen that movie, though it’s been on my “to see” list for years. One of these days.

  58. Melissa on November 22, 2004 at 11:33 am

    Both Vertigo and The Birds are great thrillers (I always think of The Birds about this time of year when the birds in New England really do seem to swarm as they fly south). The problem with both of those movies, however, is Tippy Hedron. I can only take her hysteria, affectation and large forehead once every ten years or so at Halloween.

    Grace Kelley in both Rear Window and To Catch a Thief is more of a real person than Tippy ever gets to be so both of these movies rate higher in my book.

    I really can’t stand Disney movies and would never let any child of mine watch the likes of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty or The Little Mermaid. I loved Nemo (about father love) and Monsters, Inc (about friendship) but I chock that up to Pixar’s magic more than Disney’s drivel.

  59. Jack on November 22, 2004 at 11:39 am

    Oh Melissa! I weep for you! How can one go through life without experiencing the magic of Disney!

    (I do agree that most of what followed Walt’s death is drivel)

  60. D. Fletcher on November 22, 2004 at 11:44 am

    Tippi Hedren did not appear in Vertigo, Melissa, so I don’t know how seriously I can receive your criticism of her. The actress here was Kim Novak, who was never more mysterious and alluring. I find Vertigo to be Hitchcock’s most personal and deeply psychological of his movies. It isn’t terribly satisfying as a “thriller,” but as a statement about Hitch’s own obsession about making all actresses over in the image of Grace Kelly, it is… fascinating.

    I write musicals myself, and so I love the Disney versions of Broadway style musicals. Something about Beauty and the Beast, though, does rub me the wrong way. The traditional story has been deconstructed into politically-correct material. In the original story, the Beast is nothing but kind and smitten with Beauty, and because her selfishness, he is nearly destroyed. The Beast tames Beauty, and the Disney movie contradicts this. Additionally, at the end of the movie, the Beast is transformed back into the blond, white adonis he always was! I think this is a very disappointing message.

  61. Russell Arben Fox on November 22, 2004 at 11:54 am

    “Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty or The Little Mermaid” = “drivel”? I don’t see it. If you can embrace the rhetoric of friendship enunciated through the actions of furry monsters responding to a multidimensional plot to kidnap and scare children to death, or if you can discern an insightful take on the interplay of parental responsibility and growing up in the quest of Marlin of find his son despite the interference of sharks, jellyfish and stoned sea turtles, then surely finding the redemptive lesson of hope and loving kindness in the midst of the unapologetic presention of cruel family dynamics which characterizes Cinderella should be a snap.

    I won’t defend Sleeping Beauty, which isn’t drivel (that would be Peter Pan) but ain’t great either. And Little Mermaid has some creepy stuff going on that I’m not sure was particularly well thought out. However, the music in Little Mermaid was fabulous, assuming you don’t instinctively loathe mainstream Broadway stuff. (Pat Carroll’s voice! The wrong song won the Oscar from Little Mermaid; “Poor Unfortunate Souls” was a blockbuster.)

    As for The Birds, that’s one of my Hitchcock guilty pleasures. I think it’s simply wonderful the way Hitchcock constructed and cast a movie that had all the dialogue, plotting, and scene-setting typical of an early 60s “sophisticated” romance, complete with innuendos and a weird sexual backstory and bitter ex-girlfriend confrontating one another, all as a way eat up about 40 minutes of screen time and keep the audience distracted UNTIL THE BIRDS ATTACK!!. Hitchcock had a sneaky (and very dark) sense of humor.

  62. Russell Arben Fox on November 22, 2004 at 11:59 am

    “Additionally, at the end of the movie, the Beast is transformed back into the blond, white adonis he always was! I think this is a very disappointing message.”

    The ending didn’t deliver at the same level the rest of the film did, that’s absolutely true. From one thing, it’s not clear enough what kind of corner the Beast had turned in letting Gaston go (you have some very dim musical cues, hearkening back to the beginning of the film when the prince himself was a Gaston-type character, but it’s not enough). And the transformation of the Beast was overwrought. Far better if he just would have opened his eyes again at the end, and they ended it there. (Incidentally, my younger sister, who was probably 10 when she first saw Beauty and the Beast, didn’t like the transformation because she actually thought the Beast was cuter than the prince he became; she didn’t like the “hero” turning into someone less attractive at the very end! I’m sure she’s not the only one to have this reaction, given that the prince was a flat, undeveloped drawing that they probably spent all of day animating.)

  63. Melissa on November 22, 2004 at 12:01 pm

    D.,

    My mistake. You are right, of course. It was Kim Novak in Vertigo, not Tippy Hedron. I saw The Birds a few years ago on Halloween and was disappointed. Hedron must have reminded me of Novak in some way since I inserted her into my memory of Vertigo.

    Your comment about Hitch’s obsession with making all actresses over in the image of Grace Kelly is interesting to me. Did he say this at some point or is this your interpretation? It certainly seems like you could make the case. Of course, Kelly herself is in at least three of them (the two I’ve mentioned and Dial M for Murder). But then there’s Doris Day in The Man Who Knew Too Much and Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest. Both of these resemble Kelly (although neither has her grace :)). Still, my favorite Hitchcock heroine is Audrey Hepburn (Charade). Her best role, however, is in Wait Until Dark, which is not a Hitchcock.

  64. Jack on November 22, 2004 at 12:01 pm

    D. Wonderful critique of Beauty and the Beast!

    Russell, I’m not bashing the whole of the new Disney genre. I think Mermaid is about as perfect as perfect can be. (though there are a few PC elements in it that get on my nerves) Aladdin is a gem (except for the frightful coincidences toward the beginning of the plot and the fact the Howard Ashman is ten times the lyricist that Tim Rice is – who finished the job after Ashman’s death)

    I love Toy Story! Pixar is certainly a wonderful addition to the Disney legacy.

  65. Russell Arben Fox on November 22, 2004 at 12:06 pm

    “Still, my favorite Hitchcock heroine is Audrey Hepburn (Charade). Her best role, however, is in Wait Until Dark, which is not a Hitchcock.”

    Charade (a great, fun flick, I agree) wasn’t directed by Hitchcock either; it’s a Stanley Donen movie.

  66. D. Fletcher on November 22, 2004 at 12:07 pm

    The ending of Shrek 2 repudiates Beauty and the Beast, and as such, is far more satisfying to me (the message). Fiona has the opportunity to choose Shrek and herself as beautiful, but she says, “I want the ogre I married.” Beauty and the Beast is about accepting the “other,” the other sex, for individuality but also for strangeness, i.e., warts and all.

  67. Blake on November 22, 2004 at 12:09 pm

    No question — it is the Life of Brian.

  68. D. Fletcher on November 22, 2004 at 12:09 pm

    As to my last comment, that’s what Beauty and the Beast, the story, is about. The Disney movie changed this around, and arguably diminished the real message with bland pc-doings. I like the music, though.

  69. Melissa on November 22, 2004 at 12:11 pm

    Alright, I’m not going to play with *real* movie buffs anymore :)

  70. a random John on November 22, 2004 at 12:23 pm

    For me Beauty and the Beast is ruined not only by the aspect of the ending mentioned above, but also by what I have come to call the “Disney ending.” In it, the hero and villain engage in a battle to the death. The hero wins fairly, and the villain begs for mercy. Once mercy is granted the villain waits till the hero has let down his guard and then attempts to kill him and in the process falls to his death or dies in some other way. Thus the hero is victorious, the vilain is dead, and there is no blood on the hero’s hands. Examples abound, but the first that come to mind are Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Spider-Man, and that Jennifer Lopez film in which she kills her ex-husband.

    Contrast this to Superman II in which Superman renders his enemies powerless and then all three are thrown into an icy pit or even The Incredibles, in which
    (SPOILER ALERT!)
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .

    the hero throws an automobile at the villain, who is a normal human, which results in the villain being sucked into a turbine with obvious fatal consequences.

    I know there are only so many ways to can end a movie, especially when much of the audience is composed of children, but I have problems with the repetitiveness of it.

  71. Rosalynde Welch on November 22, 2004 at 12:23 pm

    I love to read film criticism, but I don’t really understand the grammar of filmmaking, and I’m a distractible viewer, so I rarely have anything useful to say about films. I will weigh in on the Disney princesses, though: I don’t have too much of a problem with the films themselves, and I have allowed my daughter to watch them at grandma’s house. But I *loathe* Disney’s aggressive (and unbearably tawdry) marketing of the “princess” theme. I don’t want Elena to become obsessed with any of the princess films and thus begin to desire the merchandise (as many of the other little girls in her preschool and church classes seem to), so for that reason I refuse to buy them. (Actually, I don’t buy any children’s videos–we just rent from the library.) So far my manipulative plan is working….

  72. Keith on November 22, 2004 at 12:49 pm

    Three on my classic list that I don’t remember anyone mentioning on this thread:

    Babbette’s Feast (If I was limited to watching one film once a year for the rest of my life, this would be it.)

    Chariots of Fire

    The Muppet’s Christmas Carol

  73. Russell Arben Fox on November 22, 2004 at 1:26 pm

    “The Muppet’s Christmas Carol”

    It’s actually a pretty good take on the story; it’s Melissa’s favorite version, and we watch it every year. (The inevitable self-promotion: if you want to read an old review of mine of about various different adaptations of A Christmas Carol, click here.)

  74. D. Fletcher on November 22, 2004 at 1:49 pm

    Russell, your list of Christmas Carol adaptations misses a very important one: Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.

    Also, I don’t agree about Scrooge, though I do enjoy the music. It’s too much like Oliver!, merry villagers in colorful costumes and fun music.

    Unfortunately, David Lean didn’t try his hand at adapting this one, like Oliver Twist and Great Expectations.

  75. David King Landrith on November 22, 2004 at 3:14 pm

    The two best movies are…

    1. “Harvey,” the James Stewart movie adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Mary Chase.

    James Stewart plays Elliot P. Dowd, an eccentric millionaire-by-inheritance who’s forsaken his ambition and promise in life to become a washed up alcoholic whose best friend is a 6’ 3” invisible white rabbit named Harvey. It’s too bad for Elliot that he’s surrounded by scheming and resentful relatives and an establishment bent on punishing his aberrations, but Elliot makes his heroic stand and carries the day. James Stewart’s brilliant performance makes the surprisingly uncommon point that, whatever his flaws, man is at his finest when he is kind, gentle, unpretentious, and willing to follow his priorities whatever the cost.

    2. “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the personal favorite of James Stewart (the star) and Frank Capra (the directory); based on the short story “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren Stern.

    This movie is a serious study of middle-class (aka bourgeois) values that is darker than most people realize. James Stewart plays George Bailey, an ambitious man who watches in silent disappointment as his peers pass him by on the road of life while he sacrifices his own oppurtunities to fulfil obligations to family, friends, and community. When he faces financial ruin, disgrace, and jail at the hands of enemies, his frustration leads him to the brink of suicide. But before he can act, his guardian angel saves him. In the end, George will probably never realize his ambition or defeat the bad guy (Mr. Potter), but he is left with a sure knowledge that he has more important things to do.

  76. David Carlson on November 22, 2004 at 5:11 pm

    I agree about the message that the Disney version of B&B sends; it’s troubling to suggest the attainment of beauty is tantamount to the attainment of virtue (especially to children), though I don’t think Disney invented this version of events.

    I’m not sure how to link, but here’s a site with a French version of the story (apparently it’s a major source for later adaptations) from the mid 18th century, which is on the whole, similar in form to Disney’s. At least, Beauty is bookish and good and the Beast’s transformation to his former state of youth and beauty is their mutual reward for her virtuous decision to love him despite his ugliness.

    http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/beauty.html

    Fairy tales are always changing, and they tend to reflect the times and culture in which they appear.

    Personally, I think I like Dumbo best of the Disney movies.

  77. D. Fletcher on November 23, 2004 at 12:00 am

    http://www.balletmet.org/Notes/StoryOrigin.html

    I concede that Disney’s story isn’t so different than what I’d imagined was the original. But I’m still uncomfortable with the ending, more than in the Cocteau movie and other things I’ve read, and I suppose this has to do with the modernization of the story, the addition of the boorish boyfriend, etc., that adds up to a politically-correct reading, all except for the ending. If Beauty loves the Beast, wouldn’t she be disappointed in his “beautiful” appearance?

    Speaking of which, I’m sure that marrying a Beast would go against the Proclamation on the Family.

    :)

  78. Shannon Keeley on November 23, 2004 at 12:34 am

    Being married to someone who considers himself a “film expert� has it perks and its frustrations. He has been doing his best to give me a proper film education, and I admit, he’s done a good job of converting me to be a follower of great directors like Kubrick (Dr. Strangelove, Paths of Glory), Woody Allen (Annie Hall, Manhattan) and the Cohen Brothers (Blood Simple, Raising Arizona). (Obviously my examples aren’t exhaustive of these directors’ work, just my favorites of the what I’ve seen).

    But try as he might, my favorite movie of all time remains:

    Tommy Boy.
    When Chris Farley died, I wept.

    All Christopher Guest movies are brilliant, (Best in show is my favorite) and would follow close behind in my opinion.

    But, alas, comedies are always doomed to play second fiddle dramas!

    PS: Nate, in regards to the whole “was the 70’s a rich artistic period or just an era of bad clothes� debate that’s been going on. . .
    There is a school of thought among film scholars that ALL the great movies were made before “Jaws� (1975). I am not sure exactly what all the arguments are, but the idea has something to do with the fact that “Jaws� was the first big “blockbuster� film and changed they way films were marketed, developed, etc., forever. I don’t know how that fits into the great 70’s debate of this thread, but I thought I’d mention it in an effort to sound smart.

  79. Jack on November 23, 2004 at 4:25 am

    DKL,

    “It’s a Wonderful Life” is truely one of the all time greats, but “Harvey”???

    D.,

    Beauty and the Beast is lousy for any number of reasons, including the end. Beauty is basically a wench who sets herself above those in her “provincial” neighborhood. Gaston is an idiot who really doesn’t serve as a powerful antagonist because there’s nothing about him that’s attractive to Beauty. (not that this is the only possible function of a good antagonist in the story. It’s just that Disney’s take on the story begs for it) There’s not enough pain in the Beast’s character. He carries it on his sleeve – too superficial.

    Rosalynde,

    I have five daughters (five daughters!) and my advice is to give them a heavy dose of the princesses that are portrayed in the Disney features that were made when Walt was still alive so as to counter-act the me me me me me selfish wench-like characteristics of the “new generation” princesses. One can incapsulate their characters in lines/lyrics such as: “I WANT MORE….” or, “I am not a prize to be won!!!” or, “there must be more than this provincial life!” or, etc. Somehow this kind of selfseeking has become virtuous in female characters. IMO it’s a great disservice to women inasmuch as it demonstrates weakness rather than strength. I think there are better ways to give women a fair shot in film narratives.

    Russell,

    Re., Hitchcock’s way with the plot. “Psycho” IMO goes farther than “The Birds” in terms of setting in motion a viable plot which is interrupted or over-taken by extraneous elements. We are truely engaged in the (to be) victim’s circumstances. We want to see her get away with the money! And then, all at once, that narrative is extinguished when she is murdered. I think Hitchcock was striving to convey a real sense of death by killing the narrative.

  80. David King Landrith on November 23, 2004 at 5:14 am

    Yes, Jack. “Harvey.” Watch it again, and you’ll see why it was such a celebrated play.

    And the best Disney movie is “The Jungle Book.” Who can pass up a movie where the main voice is portrayed by Sebastian Cabot (the Butler from “Family Affair” and the narrator from the “Winnie the Pooh” films)? Phil Harris’ rendition of “Bear Necessities” beats any of the songs in Mary Poppins. Moreover, the Louis Prima and Phil Harris scat duet at the end of “I Wanna’ Be Like You” is a real gem (not to mention the fact that a song with such an obvious segregationist subtext is still considered mainstream is good for at least a few chuckles). And in the end, the guy leaves everything behind to follow the girl.

  81. Russell Arben Fox on November 23, 2004 at 7:30 am

    “When Chris Farley died, I wept.”

    Whenever anyone in my presence praises the work of Chris Farley, Shannon, I always think of that line from the Simpsons, which I think sums up his stupid charm so well: (Homer chuckling to himself before a movie screen in which killer bees are attacking) “Oh Dave, why do you always let Chris watch the bees?”

    “One can incapsulate their characters in lines/lyrics such as: ‘I WANT MORE….’ or, ‘I am not a prize to be won!!!’ or, ‘there must be more than this provincial life!’ or, etc.”

    I notice, Jack, that your examples of the “new generation” of Disney princesses all come from the Alan Menken/Howard Ashman triumverate: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. While I think their musical accomplishments are wonderful, I agree that their lyrical perspective drove the characterization of the princesses to a certain degree. Do you think the same charge applies to the princess of the ten years since? Pocahontas? Mulan?

    “‘Psycho’ IMO goes farther than ‘The Birds’ in terms of setting in motion a viable plot which is interrupted or over-taken by extraneous elements.”

    I don’t disagree Jack; that’s one of the reasons Psycho, while not Hitchcock’s greatest movie, is his most copied: stylistically and narratively, it’s his most adventuresome and pathbreaking (Truffaut called it “a filmmaker’s film”). But I’ll stick with The Birds as my example because 1) birds attacking a whole city and pecking out eyeballs right and left is just way more over the top than Norman Bates turning out to be crazy, and 2) because Hitchcock brings this boring expert on screen at the end of Psycho to “explain” Norman, whereas at the end of The Birds the main characters just flee, no explanation given, which I think works better.

    “And the best Disney movie is ‘The Jungle Book.’”

    I think the story in The Jungle Book is actually pretty lazy and undeveloped, David, but I agree that the music and vocal characterizations are top-notch.

  82. David King Landrith on November 23, 2004 at 9:59 am

    Russell Arben FoxI think the story in The Jungle Book is actually pretty lazy and undeveloped,

    Fair enough, but this is a problem with Disney animated movies more generally; Disney ain’t Pixar.

  83. D. Fletcher on November 23, 2004 at 10:18 am

    I suppose one must list the criteria for deeming something “great.” For me, the movie must make solid intellectual points, have unusual and terrific production values (sound and visuals), develop its drama properly (meaning exposition, climax, denoument, etc.), and finally, live up to its reputation in repeated viewings over years and decades.

    Using these fairly banal criteria, I suggest once again that Citizen Kane is the greatest American film. It has solid political and sociological points to make, it is freshly and unusually inventive cinematically, and it is so damn entertaining that it continues to excite me though I’ve seen it more than 25 times. There are very few other movies at this level.

    One of the reasons that I started down the road of different categories of “great” films, is that comparing them is clearly a no-win situation — Pinocchio vs. Citizen Kane?

  84. David King Landrith on November 23, 2004 at 10:19 am

    “Citizen Kane” is much better than “Pinocchio.”

  85. Ivan Wolfe on November 23, 2004 at 10:36 am

    The greatest movie of all time is “O Brother, Where art Thou.”

    It’s a fact and I don’t need to defend this claims. If you don’t see it, you are blind. BLIND, I tell you!!!!

    ;)

  86. Jack on November 23, 2004 at 10:54 am

    “Do you think the same charge applies to the princess of the ten years since? Pocahontas? Mulan?”

    Well, I think it’s comparing apples and oranges. While children may want to emulate any of the Disney female lead characters for any number of good reasons, the first three of the “new generation” are of a tradition that is closer to those influenced by Walt himself, and therefore will be lumped together in the minds of children with respect to emulating princesses.

    With respect to the “charge”, IMO the death of Howard Ashman was the death of the “new generation” of Disney features. While the first three showed great promise, what follows them is a deluge of PCism that I can hardly stomach – not that “art” shouldn’t reflect current cultural stresses – but Ashman, as a producer as well as a lyricist, had his hand on the pulse of the “story”. And that, I think, made all the difference. The slip-shod story telling of “Lion King” and beyond openned the door wide to socially diven narratives rather than character driven narratives.

    All that said, the “Emperors New Groove” is a breath of fresh air.

    Lastly, what is this strange fixation that so many around here have on the “Jungle Book”? While I agree that it is delightful for the reasons mentioned above (and more), it does NOT attain to the level of “masterpiece” as do the features from the forties.

    Oh yeah, lastly lastly, Russell you say that “Peter Pan” is drivel. Well, while it is a departure from the book, it is certainly a masterful work of in its own right. My kind of drivel :)

  87. Brian on November 23, 2004 at 10:54 am

    Jack,

    With all due respect, I have to disagree with your characterization of the new Disney heroines as selfish and “wench-like.� I find it far from selfish or self-seeking to want more, not consider yourself a prize up for winning, or to want more than a provincial life.

    All great characters in film and drama must want something. Usually, they seek something on an external level and an internal level both. The new Disney heroines wanting fulfillment is a vast improvement on the older Disney heroines both in terms of storytelling and providing role models for young girls in my opinion.

    In terms of storytelling, the earlier Disney characters, Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty are all passive, flat characters, that don’t grow or change much and don’t have character arcs. By giving the newer characters goals they have a larger role in the story and are undeniably more active in overcoming obstacles and driving the story forward. As a result, the older Disney heroines are essentially interchangeable—they’re all passive, boring, bland, and incidentally White.

    I admire the fact you have five daughters. I have my hands full with one, but I think I’ll be okay with her admiring Belle who desires a little more culture and goes after it than say a Sleeping Beauty (literally sleeping, waiting for the Prince to arrive, etc.) or a Cinderella that needs an external force (a fairy Godmother) to achieve any transformation.

    I find it disturbing that when a male character yearns for more or wants to escape a provincial life, no one would ever call this selfish, but rather just a normal male motivation. We certainly wouldn’t call it “wench-like� or whatever the male equivalent for that term would be. The perfect example is Luke Skywalker, the hero of millions of adolescent boys of my generation. Luke had the same basic motivation as Belle in “Beauty and the Beast� (i.e. get out of my podunk farming community, see the world, and live a little). No one considers Luke’s yearning as weak or selfish.

    Male characters have had such motivations in countless stories throughout human history and no one has an issue. Female characters have such motivations in a few recent Disney films and you get all worked up. I don’t get it.

  88. Russell Arben Fox on November 23, 2004 at 10:56 am

    “Using these fairly banal criteria, I suggest once again that Citizen Kane is the greatest American film.”

    Citizen Kane is on my list as one of the finest films I’ve ever seen, but not on my list of favorite films. Obviously one would hope for a certain overlap between the two lists, given that one might expect that people would like whatever it is that they also happen to think is excellent, but perfect overlap isn’t something to anticipate, because “liking” something depends only partly upon our apprehension of a thing’s elements; there’s also the subjective appreciation of the experience of viewing, tasting, etc. So, while Citizen Kane is indisputedly great, there are numerous other equally great films that I’d rather watch than it.

    “One of the reasons that I started down the road of different categories of ‘great’ films, is that comparing them is clearly a no-win situation – Pinocchio vs. Citizen Kane?”

    I agree. One could just as easily ask, Citizen Kane vs. Singin’ in the Rain? Or Singin’ in the Rain vs. Jaws? Or Jaws vs. The African Queen? Radically different genres, target audiences, agendas and standards of excellence all the way through. My favorite movies list is a mish-mash of all sorts of different categories, and I have a hard time coming up with any single overall hierarchy. Books and all other forms of art are the same way, of course.

    “The greatest movie of all time is ‘O Brother, Where art Thou.’”

    I might go for greastest soundtrack of all time, but not movie. Though admittedly it is a terrific film; it’s Melissa’s favorite Coen brothers movie (mine is Barton Fink). Really, the Coen brothers could do no wrong for about ten or fifteen years. Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo, The Big Lebowski–I didn’t like them all equally, but all were remarkable (and remarkably odd) works of art. Too bad they’ve tanked.

  89. Russell Arben Fox on November 23, 2004 at 11:06 am

    Jack–

    “The slip-shod story telling of ‘Lion King’ and beyond openned the door wide to socially diven narratives rather than character driven narratives.”

    Huh? I can see that comment working with any number of different Disney features from the last fifteen or twenty years, but Lion King? “Slip-shod” storytelling? Narratively, it’s as tight as a drum. Probably the best, most straightforward, morally coherent, uncluttered story Disney had presented in decades.

    “Oh yeah, lastly lastly, Russell you say that ‘Peter Pan’ is drivel. Well, while it is a departure from the book, it is certainly a masterful work of in its own right. My kind of drivel.”

    This confuses me Jack. You complain about the Disney princess cult, yet you like Peter Pan? Good grief, look at how they present Tinkerbell. Every other scene is some embarrasing gag about the size of her butt. Peter treats her like a tramp, and she keeps crawling back to him. Also, while unrelated to the princess theme, please note the ugly hook-nosed caricatures which pass for “Indians” in that movie. No thanks, Walt bottomed out on that one (pun intended).

  90. David King Landrith on November 23, 2004 at 11:12 am

    “The Lion King” deserves scorn for simply being the patently worst retelling of Hamlet ever.

  91. Jack on November 23, 2004 at 11:14 am

    “Citizen Kane� is much better than “Pinocchio.�

    Disney was just as innovative as Wells (if not more so!) in his own way. The level of artistry he achieved in the forties (speaking of animated features – which was a completely new phenomenon!) has never been surpassed. But again, we are comparing apples with oranges.

    DKL, Pixar features are not musicals and therefore follow a more “tight as a drum” movie-like narrative, while the Disney Classics (and I mean Walt!) have a perfection of their own in the way they balance the elements of score and lyric with other “core” elements.

  92. David King Landrith on November 23, 2004 at 11:18 am

    And speaking of cartoon remakes/portrayals, “A Bug’s Life” (which is a cartoon version of The Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Sever) is the best.

  93. David King Landrith on November 23, 2004 at 11:23 am

    Jack, Disney animated movies are really overrated, and few of them stand up the test of time. Sure “Snow White” is ground breaking for several reasons, but it puts me to sleep, and doesn’t even hold my children’s attention. But they can watch Kenneth Branagh’s “Much Ado about Nothing” over and over.

    Pinocchio is the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” of Disney cartoons. It’s downright freaky.

  94. Jack on November 23, 2004 at 12:07 pm

    uh oh, I think I openned an undesirable can of worms. Sorry folks.

    Why is it that when we start talking about PCism that all our more “subtle” reasoning goes out the door?

    Brian you say: “I find it disturbing that when a male character yearns for more or wants to escape a provincial life, no one would ever call this selfish, but rather just a normal male motivation.”

    Conitinuing with the example of “Luke Skywalker”; I don’t think we like him because he wants to “get away” from his provincial circumstances. In the end we love him because he is “purified” (speaking of character arc) from his selfseeking and engages himself in a cause which requires self-sacrifice. In that sense his desires to “get away” are not considered “virtuous” in and of them selves.

    And furthermore, I don’t know if I can think of any truely great movies that sport a self-seeking male lead character – self-seeking in the sense that it’s “virtuous” to be so.

    Russell, yes Disney liked “butts”. And with regard to TinkerBell’s “shapeliness”, she was patterned after Marilyn Monroe and full advantage was taken of the, er, shape. (and it worked back in the days when we had a sense of humor)

    You say: “Peter treats her like a tramp, and she keeps crawling back to him”

    Again I ask, is this virtuous? No!!! They’re children for crying out loud! And children can be brutal as J. M. Barry demonstrates so well in the book. And don’t forget the reconciliation between the two in the end.

    As for the caricaturizing of Indians (and pirates and lost boys and parents and mermaids and etc) – let alone the fact that Disney makes it clear that they’re more intelligent than the lost boys – let alone the fact that Peter Pan receives the highest honor by being dubbed a “chief” – let alone the fact that Tiger Lilly is a babe and there are no cultural bounderies between Pan and her – we can’t seem to get the idea through our heads that the whole thing is an IRONY! Disney was well aware of the stereo-types of his day and was, in fact, working against them by LOUDLY suggesting that there is much more to “indians” than the concurrent stereo-types suggested.

  95. D. Fletcher on November 23, 2004 at 12:19 pm

    I wish I could better articulate my feelings about those later Disney films. I like them OK, but I do think they are far inferior to the early classics (of Disney animated films) and it’s really difficult to say why.

    First of all, let me say what they did right. I don’t know whose decision it was to choose Howard Ashman, nor whose idea to return to animating humans (as opposed to magical talking animals) but these are clearly the best choices here, along with integrating the songs like musicals.

    But something about the style of the material, the commercial “pop” style chosen, dates these movies and diminishes the impact of their primal stories. Yes, I think that’s it — Beauty and the Beast is suddenly a pop opera, which places it far beneath its direct ancestor, the Cocteau film. And worse is Aladdin (which at the time was the most fun of them) which will be incoherent to most children and adults in only a few years.

    Snow White, Pinocchio, and Bambi will always retain their status, because they don’t have these pop elements (or at least, ones that I recognize beyond some of the designs for the women’s dresses) to ruin their mythic and primal stories.

    Someone has said that The Lion King is “morally coherent.” I really differ on this one. The Lion King presents a world where, if you’re not defending your animal friend, you’re eating him.

  96. D. Fletcher on November 23, 2004 at 12:28 pm

    Compare Aladdin to its pro-genitor, the great Technicolor movie, The Thief of Bagdad. It’s amazing how similar they are, in plot and fun visual choices, like humanoid flying carpets. The old movie seems classic, capturing the soul of the ages. The newer one is funnier, smarter, and it will date far more quickly.

  97. Russell Arben Fox on November 23, 2004 at 12:30 pm

    “And worse is Aladdin (which at the time was the most fun of them) which will be incoherent to most children and adults in only a few years.”

    That’s dead-on, D. Weaving all sorts of pop tropes and references into songs and actions make for a fun viewing experience, but also sap it of whatever might last and develop a real following on its own terms. That’s why, for example, while I think both the Shrek movies were a ton of fun, neither are going to have any sort of shelf-life; they’re simply too derivative, too winking (a Mission Impossible reference! a Joan Rivers reference! a subtle gay joke! we’re rolling in the aisle!) to have much appeal once all the other stuff grows stale.

    “Someone has said that The Lion King is ‘morally coherent.’ I really differ on this one. The Lion King presents a world where, if you’re not defending your animal friend, you’re eating him.”

    Just because it’s morally coherent doesn’t mean that one has to respect or agree with the morality in question. The whole “circle of life” thing is weak stuff, insofar as moral thinking goes. But it is sustained consistently throughout the film; every one acts in response to it, even if their response is to reject it. Considering how often movie characters, animated and otherwise, frequently take actions that show no cognizance of their presented intellectual and/or moral development, simply because the script demands such and such a scene, finding a movie where there is actually an unbroken theme to how everyone talks and acts is worth celebrating.

    Lion King isn’t by any stretch my favorite Disney movie, but it’s a fine bit of filmmaking all the same.

  98. Bryce I on November 23, 2004 at 12:42 pm

    For children’s animation, you simply can’t beat Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli. I haven’t seen all of Miyazaki’s films, but we regularly rent “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service” at our house, and will add “Spirited Away” to the rotation when the kids get a bit older (I’m not sure about “Princess Mononoke”).

    One thing I really like about “My Neighbor Totoro” is the setting of the story. The characters are human girls facing challenges that are real and identifiable — moving to a new place, a mother sick in the hospital — who encounter both human and fantastical friends as they try to make sense of their surroundings. The adults are important in the children’s lives, but the children drive the story. The adults do not interact directly with the fantastical world, but neither do they deny its existence when the children describe it. There are no identifiable bad guys in the story, just situations to be dealt with, but the story never flags. The artwork is beautiful to look at. You have to see it to appreciate it, as I am not doing a good job here. Overall, one of the greatest children’s movies ever made.

    Here’s Roger Ebert’s review, for what it’s worth.

  99. David King Landrith on November 23, 2004 at 12:44 pm

    How did this thread start getting going again after an 8 months hibernation?

  100. Bryce I on November 23, 2004 at 12:47 pm

    A memory: My first week back at BYU after my mission, my roommate (Jonathan Green) dragged me out to the JSB to a screening of “Aladdin” for moral support (there was something about girls and roommates involved that I don’t completely recall, nor do I want to). At any rate, I was utterly bored to tears, and we spent most of the time muttering comments a la “Beavis and Butthead” under our breath (“What this movie needs is more half-naked chicks, huh-uh-huh”).

    My kids still haven’t seen Aladdin.

  101. D. Fletcher on November 23, 2004 at 12:51 pm

    Bryce, go and rent the DVD of The Thief of Bagdad, directed by Michael Powell. It’s a great movie, great for kids!

    David,

    For whatever reason, one is grateful for a thread talking about movies, and not same-sex marriage.

  102. David King Landrith on November 23, 2004 at 12:55 pm

    Fair enough. I though it might be because one of the spam robots posted a link to their online gambling site, putting it back in the recent posts column for a short while.

  103. Russell Arben Fox on November 23, 2004 at 12:55 pm

    “At any rate, I was utterly bored to tears, and we spent most of the time muttering comments a la “Beavis and Buttheadâ€? under our breath (“What this movie needs is more half-naked chicks, huh-uh-huh”).”

    You didn’t even get a kick out of Robin Williams’s William F. Buckley impersonation? That was the highlight of that film.

    What did you think of Spirited Away, Bryce? I didn’t think the film’s final act did justice to the outrageous myth he’d spun earlier in the film; the first two-thirds of the movie are animated fantasy at its very best.

  104. Bryce I on November 23, 2004 at 1:25 pm

    D. Fletcher –

    Will do.

    Russell–

    At least a part of my dissatisfaction with Aladdin had to do with the strange circumstances under which I saw it. If I ever see it again, I imagine my opinion would be different.

    As for Spirited Away, the ending, while a bit pat, didn’t bother me too much. The scene in Zeniba’s hut (Yubaba’s twin sister) does a lot to make the connection back to the conventional world as a fantastic place with real-world sensibilities. The good twin/bad twin thing actually works in the film, I think. Part of the reason why is that Yubaba isn’t actually evil — she simply has her own set of principles that she lives by.

    The way I read the movie, by the end of the story Sen/Chihiro has conquered the world of the spirits, and it is no longer strange or fearsome. The outrageousness is gone because it has been made familiar, the wild parts tamed, all in preparation for her reentry back into the world of humans.

    Of course, I’ve only seen it once, so I could be misremembering things. I do recall thinking about the ending, however.

  105. Shannon Keeley on November 23, 2004 at 6:54 pm

    Bryce,
    If you liked Spirited Away, you would also probably like Grave of the Fireflies (made also by Ghibli ).
    It may be too intense for young kids, but it’s a really powerful story.
    ~Shannon

  106. Steve Evans on November 23, 2004 at 8:24 pm

    Amen to Grave of the Fireflies, but would also recommend My Neighbor Totoro, as well as anything else by Miyazaki…

  107. Jonathan Green on November 23, 2004 at 10:38 pm

    I was about to write, “Come on, admit it, the real reason you dislike a Disney movie is because of a bad group date experience in the Varsity II theater,” when I saw Bryce’s post about the very experience I had in mind.

    For the record:
    –it was the first post-mission(s) social event that both I and my wife participated in together;
    –I had understood that it would be me and my roommate, along with her and her roommate (and maybe a few others);
    –about 30 people showed up, some of whome weren’t really my idea of a good time;
    –I sat next to Bryce and nowhere near Rose;
    –having recently watched “Aladdin” on DVD, I stand by every Beavis-voiced comment I made about it. It really is that bad;
    –Rose and I eventually started dating, and movies played a significant role in our relationship, but not any Disney movie;
    –Bryce, Rose says she’s sorry about the Aladdin group date fiasco.

  108. Jack on November 24, 2004 at 2:17 am

    D. your a sage. :)

  109. Jack on November 24, 2004 at 9:52 pm

    Sheesh! Even with a sentence that has only four words, I can’t pull it off without a misspell.

    D., [you're] a sage.

    Well, I guess this thread is dead again. Maybe we can start it up again in a couple of months after everyone’s gotten over my crazy ideas. Sorry if I offended anyone.

  110. D. Fletcher on November 24, 2004 at 10:06 pm

    No one is offended, Jack, and some of us are highly complimented. We’re talking about movies, still, over at the other…place. Check it out!

  111. Jack on November 24, 2004 at 10:11 pm

    D., where’s the other place?!

  112. D. Fletcher on November 24, 2004 at 10:15 pm
  113. Larry on November 24, 2004 at 10:55 pm

    One of the best movies ever made was The Man Who Would Be King starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine.
    It has everything in it.

  114. Larry on November 24, 2004 at 11:58 pm

    How Green Was My Valley was also a great movie. Shenendoah was another one.