The Best Fun-Stupid Movie Of The Silent Era, Part One: On The Pleasures (And Necessities) Of The Fun-Stupid Movie
One of the things I like about Roger Ebert, the long-time film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, is that he can appreciate a fun, stupid Saturday night popcorn movie just like anybody. He'll judge it by its own merits and is just as likely to give a four-star rating to the latest bit of Nicolas Cage action claptrap as to an Oscar-bait art film.
Nevertheless, Ebert has professed to be amused and mystified by an exchange he had with a couple in 1973 who were thinking of going to the movies and asked what he thought about Cries And Whispers.
"I thought it was the best movie of the year," Ebert said.
"Oh," they answered, "we wouldn't want to see anything like that."
Now, don't get me wrong. I think Cries And Whispers, an Ingmar Bergman classic about a dying woman and the two sisters who care (or, more to the point, don't care) for her, is a magnificent movie. But it's also emotionally wrenching, filled with difficult to interpret symbolism and, oh, did I mention it's in Swedish?
This is not to say you should watch nothing but a steady diet of fun-stupid movies. Just as a steady diet of booze can damage your liver, destroy your family and numb you to all of life's sensations, so too can a diet of fun-stupid movies leave you incapable of enjoying the subtler pleasures a variety of movies can offer.
But there are times when you're in desperate need of a movie that does nothing but numb your brain, silence the anxious voices in your head and let you unwind enough that you can get up again on Monday morning and start worrying all over again. And any film critic who doesn't recognize that is doing his readers a grave disservice.
But the question is: wouldn't you rather see a good fun-stupid movie than a bad fun-stupid movie?
Well, anyway, I would.
I mean, it's like you can get drunk on champagne or you can drunk on sterno. Take a little care in choosing your poison. (You can also, as I found out while living in England, get drunk on absinthe, a drink made from wormwood with alleged psychoactive side-effects, but good lord, children, I wouldn't recommend it.)
So for all you fans of booze, tranquilizers and Saturday night popcorn movies, I'm hereby officially adopting what is often referred to as The Fun-Stupid Scale to recommend any given year's best fun-stupid movie—if there is one—in addition to the usual collection of high-toned, award-winning films I frequently write about.
It's a ten-point must-system (or ten point musk-melon, as my friend Bellotoot would say), just like in boxing, with 10/10 being, say, Die Hard, a very fun and stupid-in-the-best-way-possible classic from 1988, and 0/10 being Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, a movie so lame, so idiotic and so devoid of the most minimal of campy pleasure that even Ed Wood would have been ashamed to make it.
Next up: The Best Fun-Stupid Movie Of The Silent Era, Part Two.
Named for Katie-Bar-The-Door, the Katies are "alternate Oscars"—who should have been nominated, who should have won—but really they're just an excuse to write a history of the movies from the Silent Era to the present day.
To see a list of nominees and winners as well as links to my essays about them, click here.
Remember: There are no wrong answers, only movies you haven't seen yet.
The Silent Oscars
And don't forget to check out the Silent Oscars—my year-by-year choices for best picture, director and all four acting categories for the pre-Oscar years, 1902-1927.
Look at me—Joe College, with a touch of arthritis. Are my eyes really brown? Uh, no, they're green. Would we have the nerve to dive into the icy water and save a person from drowning? That's a key question. I, of course, can't swim, so I never have to face it. Say, haven't you anything better to do than to keep popping in here early every morning and asking a lot of fool questions?