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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

From "It's a Wonderful Life" to "Pleasantville"

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During this season of Advent I have been reflecting on the rapid changes in our culture as they seem to be moving us toward what Richard Rorty called "nihilism with a happy face."

The philosophical canyon between two 20th century films seems to exemplify this ghastly movement: It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and Pleasantville (1998). If you have some free hours, watch them back to back. The first presents true human flourishing as communal and teleological. In It's a Wonderful Life, the hero, George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart), finds his "true self" in a rightly-ordered relationship to others: wife, family, friends, God. Pleasantville presents true human flourishing as the liberation of the self from the communal and the teleological. It is the willful self-discovering dissenter, unencumbered by family, community, or church, who is the hero of Pleasantville. When you watch both films, compare Pleasantville with George Bailey's alternative universe, Pottersville, the city that had once been the real Bailey's Bedford Falls. (For an analysis of Pleasantville's relativism, see Greg Koukl's review).

Comments (57)

What a great review by Koukl. Fascinating.

Did you know that in Disney's _Beauty and the Beast_, when the bad guy is riling up the people to go and attack the Beast's castle, it is done in a clearly anti-conservative way? The bad guy says something to the people like, "He'll come and get your children," and the ugly-looking peasant mothers hug their children paranoically to their breasts. (The Beast is good, of course.) When the people start off to burn the Beast's castle, I swear, one phrase of the marching song they sing is, "We hate anything we don't understand." I was reminded of that when reading Koukl's review of _Pleasantville_.

Do they really chant, "We hate anything we don't understand" in a Disney flick? My God, the propaganda is so crude that illiterates could have devised it.

Well, it's weird: Nobody else I know has ever noticed that line. That movie is pretty old by now. What? Fifteen years, I think. I rented it in a VHS format when my oldest was a baby and watched it with her. I was really shocked, and I'm pretty sure I rewound it to check it and make sure I was hearing correctly, but I may have just watched it once through. I know tons of good Christian families who think it's just the sweetest movie, but overall it has a pretty anti-conservative underlying feel to it, which can be substantiated independently, even without that line and which, consequently, is some evidence that I did hear that line ("We hate anything we don't understand") correctly.

Here we go: A link to the lyrics from the mob scene song.

http://www.stlyrics.com/lyrics/beautyandthebeast/themobsong.htm

The exact line is "We don't like what we don't understand. In fact it scares us." There's more that I didn't notice at the time: "Praise the Lord and here we go"--from the mob. The "subtext" (though I don't like that word) is about as clear as it gets, especially when you consider the following lines, from the bad guy, Gaston: "The beast will make off with your children. He'll come after them in the night." And a woman says, "Set to sacrifice our children to his monstrous appetite."

Anyway, it reminds me of what Koukl says re. the portrayal of people with any morals as horrible bigots in _Pleasantville_. Only the Beauty and the Beast portrayal (and I would say the homosexual agenda subtext, specifically) is more crude.

Jeff Culbreath made the point that the relativistic side of the culture war has so thoroughly triumphed that when writing scripts and stories writers are forced to invent authority figures that no longer meaningfully exist in order for the dissident-hero to have something to buck. Case in point: Chocolat. James Bowman notes in his review that in order to find a place where having a child out of wedlock carried a serious stigma, they had to push the setting back to the 1960's and put it in a remote French village. And still it defies credulity for anyone not oinking for more.

Pleasantville? A more abominable, crdue, flagrantly stupid and unreflective peice of left-wing propaganda does not exist. I've never been more creeped out and insulted by a movie in my life.

The most interesting thing is that "Pleasantville," like all relativist tripe, is defeated by its own message when examined logically. If "there is no way it's supposed to be," then its perfectly alright for the people of Pleasantville to run their town as they see fit and to treat those who become "Technicolored" as menaces to the community. If the "black-and-whites" are wrong, then there must be some standard for "right," i.e. some "way it's supposed to be."

Pleasantville is one of my favorite movies -- it's insanely clever, and it works on so many levels. One, of course, is a lovely homage/reworking of the Adam-and-Eve story: something done with such respect that I couldn't imagine it offending any Christian, let alone inspiring howls of blog-outrage 10 years later. Oh well. Poe's Law wins again.

Brendon: before dismissing something as "tripe," perhaps you should endeavor to understand it first. (Have you seen it, or just read Koukl's insane review?) The point of Pleasantville is emphatically not that "the black-and-whites are wrong" -- the protagonist and (especially) his sister have much to learn from the black-and-whites. I can't imagine how anyone who's actually seen the movie could misinterpret it that badly.

In any event, like all good postmodernism, Pleasantville is a narrative; it doesn't impart a didactic normative. It tells a story, and invites the audience to share in the experience.

Of course, part of what Pleasantville suggests (without explicitly saying -- which is also part of its genius) is that the idealized black-and-white world never really existed, and that no amount of prayer or cultural conservatism can turn New York into "Bedford Falls." Do you disagree with that?

...something done with such respect that I couldn't imagine it offending any Christian,
Yeah, what Christian could possibly object to an "Adam and Eve narrative" as portrayed via black and white teenage lives turned into full living color through fornication?

Andrew T.,

I know you don't share all (many?) of the conservative opinions here at WWWtW, but I think you have been a delightful commenter and intellectual foil for the group. What I'll never understand is how someone with your intellegence and wit could opine that Pleasantville is one of your "favorite movies"? Ebert liked the film when it came out and although I knew his leftist politics clouds his judgement when it comes to "message" films, I went to see it anyway and of course was totally disappointed. As a narrative (and by the way, plenty of great narrative novelists are also moralists -- Dickens, Dreiser, Tolstoy, etc.) it seemed so derivative of every rebel and non-conformist movie that had come before. What Pleasantville seems to suggest to me is that divorce is O.K., sexual pleasure is good whether or not it is part of marriage, nude pictures are good, reading is good (shocking that!), and segregation is bad (another shocking message). The film did feature one last solid performance from the great character actor J.T. Walsh. Other than that, it is just plain silly.

**an "Adam and Eve narrative" as portrayed via black and white teenage lives turned into full living color through fornication**

Zippy, that is priceless.

Have you seen it, or just read Koukl's insane review?

Not only have I seen it, when I first saw it I thought it was brilliant. But I was a teenager. And a fool. (But I repeat myself.) So I despise "Pleasantville" in a way that only one who has been mislead by lies can despise those who lied to him.

Sorry that you can't share in the experience of my narrative.

Having been warned off by reviewers whose opinions I trust, I never saw 'Pleasantville.' Other movies with a similar theme come to mind, however, such as 'Footloose' and 'Grease,' both of which I hate for the same reasons that most of you hate 'Pleasantville.'

Jeff S:

Thanks for the kind words. For the record (?), I consider myself a classical liberal with a quirky Kantian bent -- I like free markets and small government -- so that probably puts me in agreement with a lot of the conservatism going on here (just not the stuff I comment on). I think postmodernism fails as a comprehensive doctrine for the rather facile reason argued by Brandon above: if you are trying to argue that nothing "ought" to be normative, you quickly find yourself in a performative contradiction. I just think it's silly to extend that argument to a phobia of all things postmodern.

I probably did go too far in calling it one of my "favorite" movies, but Pleasantville is an exceptionally clever film. It's not a "message" film, because every single character has -- wait for it -- shades of moral grey. The protagonist is an escapist who doesn't understand that the world of "Bedford Falls" never was and never will be. His sister is a parody of the other extreme -- a modern young woman completely detached from any moral scruples who lives each moment for base pleasure (and immediately regrets it). Both are what they are for a profoundly conservative reason -- the breakup of their family and the narcissistic neglect of their mother. Everyone the film cons you into "rooting" for emotionally is, in turn, deeply flawed, and that's what life is like. (You even feel sorry for the William H. Macy character.) In reality, we're all shades of grey.

Layered onto this outstanding baseline is a stunning use of visuals that builds up to the Biblical theme so subtly that you can't help but laugh when the movie finally hits you over the head with it (during the apple scene). A lesser film would have spoiled the punchline a dozen times before then so as not to lose its audience.

And think about the reason why the Biblical narrative works: because the outsiders are destroying the pristine paradise of Pleasantville. Remember too that there was nothing wrong with the town until the outsiders came. The basketball team *did* win every game. Everyone *was* happy, including the protagonist -- so long as he was on the outside. That's part of why the William H. Macy character is so wonderfully pitiable: Pleasantville was literally perfect before the outsiders contaminated it with their knowledge. By the end of the film, the new Pleasantville may be preferable to the 60s-era-race wars Pleasantville, but it is not obviously superior to the perfect Pleasantville at the start of the film. Paradise lost can never be regained; the best we can do is try to make our lives count for something.

As a narrative (and by the way, plenty of great narrative novelists are also moralists -- Dickens, Dreiser, Tolstoy, etc.) it seemed so derivative of every rebel and non-conformist movie that had come before.

Two things. First, I love moralists. (I like Immanuel freakin' Kant, for goodness sake!) I never suggested that great narratives can't impart a moral message. All I'm saying is that a great story doesn't have to be a morality play. What about The Sting? Isn't that also a great movie?

Second, I would encourage you to go watch the movie again. When Pleasantville celebrates non-conformity, it does so in a way that (as far as I know) is totally unique. The protagonist learns to rebel against the idealized world of the 50s while at the same time, his sister learns to rebel against the anti-idealized world of the 90s.

A derivative rebel movie would have simply suggested that the morality of the 50s was "wrong," and that we're so much smarter, more free, and more liberated today. Pleasantville suggests the opposite. That's part of its genius.

What Pleasantville seems to suggest to me is that divorce is O.K., sexual pleasure is good whether or not it is part of marriage, nude pictures are good, reading is good (shocking that!), and segregation is bad (another shocking message).

Jeff, I would encourage you to rent the movie and watch it again. Divorce ruins the protagonist's family. The Reese Witherspoon character incurs equal parts of pity and scorn until she learns to sleep around less and read more. And nude art can be beautiful! (And I don't know how anyone could view the mural in the movie as pornographic.)

cheers,
-Andrew

Brandon:

Not only have I seen it, when I first saw it I thought it was brilliant. But I was a teenager. And a fool. (But I repeat myself.) So I despise "Pleasantville" in a way that only one who has been mislead by lies can despise those who lied to him.

Wait, you lied to yourself?

Sorry that you can't share in the experience of my narrative.

Of course I can! Why else would I be here?

-Andrew

Wait, you lied to yourself?

To some extent near the end, before I had to make the hard choice of living by my passions or living according to the truth. But that's not really relevant. The fact that I can be blamed for my gullibility, for trusting those who I should not have trusted, and for clinging to the lies for longer than I should have does nothing to absolve those those who deceived me from their deception.

Of course I can! Why else would I be here?

To try to force me into some kind of "unreflective, ignorant religious conservative" meta-narrative before you knew anything about me other than that I though "Pleasantville" was tripe?

Here's the thing: "Pleasantville" is tripe. The movie's point is summed up right at the end, and that point isn't "idealistic 1950's sitcom towns never existed." It's "there is no way it's supposed to be." But there is some way it's supposed to be (though whether that way is the world of idealistic '50's sitcoms, or even the world of idealistic '50's sitcoms as viewed through the lens of post-modern nihilists, is another question). Therefore the point the movie ends hammering you over the head with is false and worthless, i.e. tripe.

Zippy:

Yeah, what Christian could possibly object to an "Adam and Eve narrative" as portrayed via black and white teenage lives turned into full living color through fornication?

So any movie involving sex outside of wedlock is evil? Doesn't it get tiresome watching The Sound of Music over and over again? I mean, even The Sting has the scene where the diner gal is seduced by Robert Redford....

-Andrew

Brendon:

[I asked: Why else would I be here?]

To try to force me into some kind of "unreflective, ignorant religious conservative" meta-narrative before you knew anything about me other than that I though "Pleasantville" was tripe?

No, that's just the paranoia talking. Go read my other comments; you'll see that's not why I'm here. Hint: I'm pretty sure that *I'm* the oddball at a place called "What's Wrong With the World!"

Here's the thing: "Pleasantville" is tripe. The movie's point is summed up right at the end, and that point isn't "idealistic 1950's sitcom towns never existed." It's "there is no way it's supposed to be."

No, no, no! See, it's comments like these that make me seriously wonder if you've even seen the movie. I apologize for firing off a quick, snippy reply earlier, but this is just... way off. The statement you quote is not the movie's point; it's the protagonist's point -- and the protagonist is deeply, wonderfully flawed.

But there is some way it's supposed to be (though whether that way is the world of idealistic '50's sitcoms, or even the world of idealistic '50's sitcoms as viewed through the lens of post-modern nihilists, is another question). Therefore the point the movie ends hammering you over the head with is false and worthless, i.e. tripe.

Again: the movie doesn't "hammer you over the head" with anything. And I realize that you believe, fervently, that there is One True Way for the World To Be, but does it really upset you whenever a movie doesn't reiterate that point every 30 seconds to reassure you that you're right? As I asked Zippy -- doesn't that pretty much restrain your entertainment choices to The Sound of Music and, I don't know, Kirk Cameron movies? That seems kind of sad to me.

cheers,
-Andrew

The statement you quote is not the movie's point; it's the protagonist's point...

I'm sorry, but the entire movie points like an arrow to that "When did my son get so wise?" moment. The answer is, "Never, he isn't wise."

...but does it really upset you whenever a movie doesn't reiterate that point every 30 seconds to reassure you that you're right?

No. I am perfectly comfortable with flawed human beings being portrayed, even portrayed sympathetically. But I get upset when lies are presented as truth and vices are presented as virtues. I'm funny that way.

Bully for Andrew T. -- his defense of the film is really quite good. I still think he elides the too many messages of "sexual repression is bad" (or more generally, "repression" is bad) that the film hits you over the head with, but he is right to point to Reese's character and Toby's mother's broken marriage as instructive counterpoints to the idea that "sleeping around" and/or divorce is O.K (although I wish the film-makers decided to keep Joan Allen married!). He has convinced me the film is worth another viewing.

So any movie involving sex outside of wedlock is evil?
Any movie which presents sex outside of wedlock as a good thing is evil, yes: that is, the people who made the movie did evil to the extent they presented sex outside of wedlock as a good thing, rather than a life- and soul- and society- destroying thing. Pleasantville is particularly egregious in this respect, as a piece of propaganda portraying, as a major theme, sex outside of wedlock as a kind of redemption, presented with cleverness for reasons already discussed here and in the review. Well executed soul-destroying propaganda is more evil than the stupid stuff.
...doesn't that pretty much restrain your entertainment choices to The Sound of Music and, I don't know, Kirk Cameron movies?
That is an entirely different question from what you asked me, actually. Divorce is a despicable soul- and society- destroying crime (I've suggested that it should be taxed, just as we tax many other things which are harmful to society); but that doesn't mean that it is immoral to ever talk to or work with a divorced person. I watch movies with evil stuff in them all the time, just as I interact with people who do evil things all the time. That doesn't make evil into good; and propaganda portraying sex outside of wedlock as something other than wicked and soul-destroying is evil.

On the same general subject, the movie Seven Pounds starring Will Smith is another piece of very well executed propaganda for evil. In it a guilt-ridden man's carefully planned suicide is very, very effectively portrayed as a work of redemption and atonement, as he donates his organs to specific people he has picked out as atonement for negligently killing seven other people, including his fiancee, in a car accident. He even has that moment where he wants to live, because he has fallen in love with the woman he plans to donate his heart to; but in the end he goes through with the suicide because her chances of survival are in the single digits if he does not. The acting, writing, directing - everything about the execution of the film - is very, very well done.

And if I just spoiled the movie for you, I did you a favor.

Pleasantville is a secular minstrel show with the philosophical n**gers in Christian-face.

Compare it to It's a Wonderful Life, as I suggested. Who would you rather be, Toby McGuire or Jimmy Stewart? Reese Witherspoon or Donna Reed? If that's a tough question, then take care of your soul.

The characters in Pleasantille exhibit none of the classical virtues, since those are connected to community, family, self-sacrifice, and the human good, all of which are expendable in Pleasantville for the narcissistic pursuit of consciousness raising self-discovery.

But this is not real life. In real life, we have seen the pathetic and loathsome consequences of this philosophy: broken families, drug addiction, loneliness, depression, heartache, fatherless homes, and an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases. This is the legacy of the baby boomer's endless pursuit to build the ultimate orgasmatron (a device from the Woody Allen movie, Sleeper).

Zippy and Brendon:

Here's something I would find interesting -- why don't each of you post your (say) top 10 favorite movies? I'll happily reciprocate. I think it might be more instructive than my attempt to figure out what your preferences are based on your dislike of a single film.

Francis:

Compare it to It's a Wonderful Life, as I suggested. Who would you rather be, Toby McGuire or Jimmy Stewart? Reese Witherspoon or Donna Reed? If that's a tough question, then take care of your soul.

This is precisely my point. In real life, you don't get to be Jimmy Stewart or Donna Reed! Real people are complex; they're not (ahem) black-and-white.

Jeff S:

Aw, shucks. Thanks again, and I look forward to our continued dialogue.


cheers to all,
-Andrew

"Who would you rather be, Toby McGuire or Jimmy Stewart? Reese Witherspoon or Donna Reed? If that's a tough question, then take care of your soul."

Bingo. I've often asked a similar question to friends who are comfy with modernism: Would you rather live in Mayberry or in the Simpsons' Springfield? In the Cleavers' Mayfield or in Seinfeld's NYC?

Of course, these are extremes, and mostly everyone identifies them so, but still...

I'd rather live in Bloomington, Indiana and win the Little 500.

"This is precisely my point. In real life, you don't get to be Jimmy Stewart or Donna Reed! Real people are complex; they're not (ahem) black-and-white."

It's who you would rather be, not what really is.
Imperfection, incompleteness, is fallen man's testimony to the existence of the Good.

Once and a while, if you're blessed, you may run into a saint, and then you will see that George Bailey is within reach. Virtually none of us are saints, but some are. Commune with them and you just may have some of their holiness rub off on you.

Or, as the Bob puts it, "He not busy being born, is a busy dying." Or this:

I dreamed I saw St. Augustine,

Alive as you or me,

Tearing through these quarters

In the utmost misery,

With a blanket underneath his arm

And a coat of solid gold,

Searching for the very souls

Whom already have been sold.

"Doesn't it get tiresome watching The Sound of Music over and over again?"

Wow- a person would be hard pressed to present a more glaring false dichotomy if they purposefully set out to do so. Our choice is really confined to either corrosive anti-Christian messages or saccharine twaddle? You live in a world were On the Waterfront was never made, apparently. I could go on listing books, music and movies ad nauseum with about 1968 years of culture to choose from.

"why don't each of you post your (say) top 10 favorite movies?"

I will bite, with a couple caveats. Since cinema took a modernist turn in the 60's, with a sea change of sorts coming in terms of both theme and presentation, I will choose the somewhat arbitrary year of 1965 as the turning point, and list my favorite 10 pre-65 films, and my favorite post-65 ones.

Secondly, these movies are personal favorites, not the films I consider the "best" movies, objectively speaking, of the periods. Hence, my list may seem eccentric, perhaps even perverse, to many folks.

Pre 1965 films (in no part. order)
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD -- MULLIGAN
TRACK OF THE CAT -- WELLMAN
VERTIGO -- HITCHCOCK
FALLEN IDOL -- REED
THE THIRD MAN -- REED
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE -- CAPRA
BEN HUR -- WYLER
IKIRU -- KUROSAWA
CITIZEN KANE -- WELLES
GOODBYE MR CHIPS -- WOOD

Post 1965 films
MULHOLLAND DR. -- LYNCH
RAN -- KUROSAWA
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST -- LEONE
SLING BLADE -- THORNTON
THE ROAD HOME -- YIMOU
THE MACHINIST -- ANDERSON
LANTANA -- LAWRENCE
MANHUNTER -- MANN
(those are my top eight; the remaining two would be chosen from these five -- but I can't really decide, as I like them all about equally).
TIME OUT -- CANTET
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN - COEN
CRASH -- HAGGIS
HERO -- YIMOU
ANDREI RUBLEV -- TARKOVSKY


I can't possibly state a ranked list of movies I like, but I can throw out a few unordered names of movies that I enjoyed enough that they made a lasting impression. Odds are that many people could say "but what about..." and I'd say "yeah, that too, I liked it better than ...".

Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne)
The Hindenburg (I've just always loved airships)
Saving Private Ryan
We Were Soldiers
The Hunt for Red October
Jurassic Park
The Gods Must Be Crazy
The Lord of the Rings trilogy (the movies are frankly awful in what they do to the story and characters, on the one hand, and yet are very good relative to what usually comes out of Hollywood, on the other)
The Game
The Bourne Supremacy (my favorite of the three)
Flyboys (a mediocre, historically inaccurate movie; but with awesome airplanes and an airship)
The Fugitive (with Harrison Ford)
Event Horizon
Ocean's Eleven
Fargo

... and my favorite comedian is Brian Regan.

What was this exercise supposed to prove, again?

Frank asked:

Who would you rather be, Toby McGuire or Jimmy Stewart? Reese Witherspoon or Donna Reed? If that's a tough question, then take care of your soul.

Andrew replied:

This is precisely my point. In real life, you don't get to be Jimmy Stewart or Donna Reed! Real people are complex; they're not (ahem) black-and-white.

And Frank replied:

Once and a while, if you're blessed, you may run into a saint, and then you will see that George Bailey is within reach.

I wonder if I'm been watching the same movie as the two of you all these years? Stewart's character is a *very* mixed bag, I've always thought: not at all a pleasant character from a 1950s sitcom, nor anything approaching a saint.

For a little balance (by which I mean: for an equally extreme view, but on the other side), in a recent New York Times review, Wendell Jamieson describes IaWL as "a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife."

George Bailey is extremely admirable in many ways. He has a great sense of duty that he will act in accordance with even under some extremely trying circumstances. He often does the right thing in situations where that's very tough, and many others wouldn't. On the other hand, when things get rough, he does get extremely abusive to those around him, and in many ways doesn't earn high marks for grace under pressure. At his low point, he has indeed been dealt some tough cards. But suicide, already? I always understood him as a great, erratic mixture -- which is certainly how his children must experience him. Through some extraordinary intervention, he's able to gain some perspective on his value and role and much-needed recognition from those around him, and I've always thought there's good hope for his future. It inspires me, as a very mixed bag myself, to seek to gain similar perspective (without the benefit of the extraordinary intervention). So, I've always thought the point was not to reach to be like George Bailey (though, again, he has very admirable character traits that we would do well to emulate), but to reach (hopefully) along with him to be something better.

Although I tend to be a casual observer of threads and rarely, if ever invoke my 'hey I own this domain' rights, dissing The Sound of Music might get you put in a timeout. Just sayin' :)

For what it's worth, here are my top-ten least favorite movies of all time. There have been worse movies made, perhaps, but these are the ones that I really resented having had to sit through.

In no particular order:

1.) Star Wars, Return of the Jedi (This is where George Lucas lost it.)
2.) Like Water for Chocolate (Dreadful, even by chick-flick standards.)
3.) Citizen Kane (Many consider it one of the great films of all time. I must have missed something.)
4.) Menage (French film starring Gerard Depardieu. Nihilistic is too weak a word for this infamy.)
5.) Coma (Starring Michael Douglas. But I’m sure he’d be upset that I’m reminding anybody of it.)
6.) The Godfather III (Put it this way, I thought this movie sucked before the opera scene.)
7.) High Crimes & Misdemeanors by Woody Allen. (I heard Interiors was even worse, but I didn’t see it.)
8.) Titanic
9.) Polyester (Never saw another John Waters film besides this, and never will either.)
10.) 2001: A Space Odyssey (Can somebody, anybody, explain to me what the hell this movie was about?)

Ha ha, now that is a better kind of list to make George. Some of the worst movies - for different reasons - I've ever seen (well parts of -- some I didn't finish watching):

  • Passenger 57 starring Wesley Snipes
  • Seven Pounds starring Will Smith
  • Crank starring Jason Statham
  • Anything starring Steven Segall
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
  • Transformers starring that obnoxious annoying kid from Holes
  • Transporter 2

OK, I give up. The number of really awful movies in my head multiplies with every few seconds I think about it.

So I avoided this thread because I was bored by "Pleasantville", especially compared to "The Truman Show" which knocked my socks off. On the other hand, I really enjoy making these types of lists so these are my ten favorites:

Memento, The Usual Suspects, The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Abyss, Pride and Prejudice, A Beautiful Mind, The Age of Innocence, Unforgiven, The Prestige, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

George R. - although it doesn't explain everything, the sequel does provide some answers.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_(film)

Todd is right and I meant to rush to "Sound of Music"'s defense earlier and got distracted. The actual songs in the film, first and foremost, are delightful (actual melodies that stay with you forever) and the soundtrack has provided many hours of Singer family listening in the car and at home. And the story and acting are about as far from "saccharine twaddle" as you can get (I mean how many other movies can you name that deal with the moral dilemmas faced by responsible Austrians during the Anschluss and at the same time impart timeless wisdom on how to properly raise children!)

One of my ten favorite films of all time.

And how can anyone reading W4 on a regular basis list "MULHOLLAND DR." as one of their favorite films post-1965 is a strange mystery of life that I will never solve.

Keith:

As a good Aristotelean, I look at George Bailey after the movie is over. We can only judge someone's eudamonia posthumously.

It's like Augustine's Confessions or what John Havlicek learned from Red Auerbach, "It's not who starts the game, but who finishes it..."

Frank

Todd and Jeff Singer, you guys get the moral courage award on this thread. I thought, "Hey, I wish people wouldn't talk that way about The Sound of Music" and then didn't say anything out of cowardice. Now I chime in when I have some support, see. It's actually Rogers and Hammerstein's best, IMO. Musically this is especially true. And Plummer and Andrews put in great performances.

Contrast South Pacific--not one of Rogers and Hammerstein's best, IMO, either musically or otherwise. I still remember going out of the room for a moment during SP and coming back while that bizarrely yellow-tinged duet scene was still going on, and my husband said to me, "They're still singing to each other about how they're optimists."

By the way, what's this nonsense (from the review Keith mentioned) about George Bailey's wife being "oppressively perfect"? She is so nice to him she doesn't even ask him to apologize at the end for that nasty line of his, "Why do we have all of these kids?" She's an incredibly supportive wife. I think especially of the scene where she tells him she's pregnant. He's all discouraged and says, "Why did you marry me?" And she answers, in this beautifully matter-of-fact voice, "I wanted my baby to look like you." What guy could fail to be encouraged by that?

Leap of Faith
Places in the Heart
Breaking Away
LA Story
The Milagro Beanfield War
Tender Mercies
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

**how can anyone reading W4 on a regular basis list "MULHOLLAND DR." as one of their favorite films post-1965 is a strange mystery of life that I will never solve.**

Despite its excesses, Lynch managed to make a profoundly anti-Hollywood Hollywood movie. At root, the story is about how the materialistic and success-besotted entertainment culture can crush one's dreams, chewing you up and spitting you out in the process. Although I find some aspects of Lynch's moral vision rather troubling, the fact that he even has one, one that's neither shallow and sentimental, nor predictably and boringly modernist, makes him appealing to me.


Mary does seem saintly. There's much nonsense in the review I mentioned (mostly intentional, I *believe*: it seems something of an exercise in overstating things to give the other side), but I think the reviewer is onto something here -- at least in that George likely *experiences* Mary's perfection [well, I'm sure it's only near-perfection] as oppressive. I've always had the impression that one of George's several great points of insecurity is the worry that he's not good enough for Mary (not as "successful" as the man she deserves, and not as nice to her as she deserves, which, since she is so nearly perfect, is very nice indeed, and beyond George's ability to consistently provide), and has been dragging her down. So I've always felt one of the most important (to him) things shown to George in Counterfactual Land is the rather sad state Mary would be in without him. They seem to have the potential to make a great team, but it's important for George to see that he has a big positive role to play there, and that it isn't just a matter of her being wonderful (I guess that's the adjective to use here!) despite him.

More on 'Mulholland Dr.' -- while I'd never categorize David Lynch as a didactic or "message" filmmaker, one theme of this movie seems to be, "Hollywood is phony, and because it's phony, it is dangerous."

Zippy asks:

What was this exercise supposed to prove, again?

It wasn't supposed to "prove" anything -- I saw that (with my 'Sound of Music' crack) I was running the risk of stereotyping you folks, and assuming that you wouldn't watch anything that contradicted your worldview.

So rather than assume something, I figured I'd ask what you liked. And hey, most people *enjoy* posting their favorite movies.... :)

I'm surprised nobody else mentioned "Pulp Fiction"... don't you agree that's a great film?

"What was this exercise supposed to prove, again?"

**It wasn't supposed to "prove" anything**

Be honest, Andrew. You thought we were all fans of 'sentimental twaddle,' and wanted proof. Hope you were pleasantly surprised. ;-)

I really dislike 'Pulp Fiction' -- to my mind, Tarantino is an overrated hack.

And yes, I dislike 'Fight Club' too.

Rob -- no, seriously: I really did find myself regretting that crack and not wanting to stereotype you further. And yes, I was pleasantly surprised! I think (for example) that Zippy's "Oceans Eleven" choice is really, really interesting given that the movie is overtly culturally relativist. I also share Michael Bauman's love of "LA Story," which in my mind is the best boy-meets-girl movie ever.

I have less to say about your list, Rob, because you're way more educated than I am about classic movies. My favorite pre-1965 movies would include The Sting and The Hustler (and probably anything with Paul Newman in it), and I'd struggle to come up with many others.

I can understand varying opinions about Fight Club -- on the one hand, the violence is disturbingly graphic (and, of course, intentionally so). And the underlying 'lesson' of rejecting consumerism is depressingly shallow, and the number of people who mistake it for real insight is sad. On the other hand, it is the single best movie of its kind in terms of the "surprise" it springs on you, in that (a) you don't see it coming; (b) once it is revealed, it immediately makes sense; and (c) when you watch it again, you catch all of the clues the movie was leaving along the way. How much you value the novelty of what the movie does versus its weaknesses is going to determine where you come out on it.

But I can't wrap my head around someone who could dislike Pulp Fiction! Literally everything about that movie works -- the narrative style, the dialogue, each scene -- it's brilliant!

As for worst movies, I have to enthusaistically second whoever nominated 'Titanic.' There's seventeen hours of my life (or however long it was) I'll never get back again.

I brought up Fight Club because in my experience the same people who "love" Pulp Fiction tend to love it too. My objections to P.F. have to do with the level of nonchalant violence and the film's moral universe, not so much its quality or lack thereof.

"you're way more educated than I am about classic movies"

That's what Netflix is for!

Since becoming a Christian, and especially since becoming a father, my tolerance for casual brutality in movies has diminished. Probably not enough for the good of my soul, but enough to make watching movies that make a sport of depicting wanton slaughter properly discomfiting. As such, I caught a few minutes of Pulp Fiction on TV not long ago, around where Albert (Marvin? can't remember) gets shot in the head, and I just couldn't watch it. I don't think I could watch Reservoir Dogs again, either. Worse still are Tarantino's imitators, who lack Tarantino's verbal felicity but share his nihilism.

I loved, and still love, Fight Club, though I was indifferent to it the first time I saw it. Yes, the movie has a healthy contempt for consumerist, therapeutic culture, but in the end rejects redemptive violence for love and, I think, for simply growing up. That may not be very deep, either, but it is more than just the fascist pornography some of its detractors accused it of being. It is also very clever. Finally it is one of the few movies that is better than the book on which it was (suprisingly closely) based.

George R. - What do you have against Citizen Kane?

Jesus of Nazareth
Lawrence of Arabia
All Quiet on the Western Front
I Confess
TO Kill A Mockingbird
On The Waterfront
The Battle of Algiers
A Man for All Seasons
The Producers
Bells of Saint Mary's
Angels With Dirty Faces
Clockwork Orange

"Rob -- no, seriously: I really did find myself regretting that crack and not wanting to stereotype you further."

Don't worry, forgiveness is pretty easy in this instance.

You might want to question the belief that only a certain type of post-modern message is adult and challenging, though. Personally, I find many of the big "idea" pictures of the last two decades to be overly ideological, didactic and dull. Was anybody honestly surprised by any sentiment or plot twist in American Beauty?

And I have to agree with Cyrus on Pulp Fiction, although it is visually and technically superior as cinema. As somebody who has followed a similar path in life, Pulp Fiction plays for me like an asstr S&M story with all of the sex carefully excised- it has the same tone of leering cruelty.

"tone of leering cruelty"

That's a good way of putting it; I've found that same tone in the other Tarantino movies I've seen as well.


George R. - What do you have against Citizen Kane?

I thought it was boring and pointless. But if you can tell me something good about it that I missed, I'm listening.

Zippy:

Rooster Cogburn? Are you kidding? That movie was just a tired recycling of the plot from "The African Queen," with the Duke in place of Bogie. If you had listed either "The African Queen" itself, or "True Grit" (where the Duke's character first appeared on screen), you might have had a point.

Seamus:

Those are fair criticisms, but sometimes the reasons are sentimental matters of personal history. I saw Rooster Cogburn well before I saw The African Queen or True Grit, and in different company, though I did also enjoy those movies.

When I split my favorite films list above into pre-1965 and post-1965 sublists, citing my belief that there was a sea-change in cinema during that decade, apparently I was onto something. Last night at Barnes & Noble I stumbled across a book called "Pictures at a Revolution," in which author Mark Harris marks 1967 as the year that American film "changed" from Old Hollywood to New -- addressing 'serious' societal issues in film, accepting higher levels of violence, nudity, etc. as influenced by indie and foreign films, and so on.

The author apparently sees this change as a good and necessary thing. Me, not so much. Still, it might be worth a read for informational purposes even if you disagree with its thesis in that regard.

Just had to add two cents here regarding "American Beauty." Possibly the most overrated rubbish I've ever suffered through. Somehow, none of my peers picked up on how many scenes were contrived by having the windows wide open. [Like the scene where KS' character poses as if he is being "serviced" by the stalker kid as his father watches from next door, for instance.] Throw in the disturbing opening scene (KS in the shower) and the nude shot of his daughter (who's real-life parents were pornstars and allowed her to be in the film even though she was only sixteen when it was shot) as the stalker kid films her, and you have a subversive and traumatizing vehicle for nihilsm. The hero is a horrible example for his daughter, and finds happiness before being shot - but how, exactly? By quitting on his family and getting into drugs? And, that is exactly why it won Best Picture.

Sorry if this isn't well-written enough for your taste, dear reader. I'm very tired and just had to get this out.

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