Tuesday, March 21, 2006

ETC: Do You Know the Difference Between a Smart Stupid Movie and a Stupid Smart Movie?

Spring is in the air, new life is all a-bud, and I've got a hankering to make a list.

Now, you might not guess this to look at me, but I may be the only non-pothead in the western world who likes stoner movies. I saw Wayne's World in the theatre, like, five times. Don't believe me? Ask Glark. He was there, too.

I've seen
Dude, Where's My Car? more times than I can count, and not just, as
Rusty attests, in order to watch Ashton Kutcher and Seann "All My Names are First Names, but My First First Name Has a Mysteriously Superfluous 'N'" William Scott making out. I also really liked Dude, Where's My Car? II aka Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.

I even liked Pootie Tang.

Here's my theory. Pretty much all movies can be slotted into four categories:
  • smart smart - a movie that wants to be smart and succeeds, i.e. The Philadelphia Story
  • stupid smart - a movie that tries to be smart and fails, i.e. almost anything by Steven Soderbergh
  • smart stupid - an entertainingly stupid movie made by smart people, i.e. Super Troopers
  • stupid stupid - an unentertainingly stupid movie made by stupid people, i.e. anything starring Rob Schneider
Since there are tragically few smart smart movies in the entire history of film production, your best value for your movie dollar is smart stupid. These are predominantly the movies I like.

Okay. So maybe by now some of you regular visitors to this site have a bead on my literary habits and tastes. And maybe you can even correlate mine to yours, and figure out if you'll like or hate anything I've read based on your previous comparisons of our tastes. So let's take this exercise one step further and play the Amazon "Customers who bought this also bought..." game with our respective movie libraries. I'll show you mine if you show me yours.

The Big Lebowski
This isn't exactly a smart smart movie and it isn't quite a smart stupid movie. It's a smart movie about a simple guy. (Get your life jacket! Things are getting deep over here!) I've found that the Coen brothers' movies that I end up loving the most are the ones that seemed most messy the first time I watched them. The Big Lebowski is a classic example.

Super Troopers
Based on the trailer, I so expected this to be an irredeemably dumb movie. Which just goes to show that trailers cannot be trusted, because Super Troopers redeemed itself within the first five minutes. It's a textbook example of a smart stupid movie.

Wet Hot American Summer
And here's another textbook example. I would never have even glanced at this movie without Wing Chun's adamant recommendation. You know that moment when you're watching a movie and something happens onscreen to reassure you that you're in more than capable hands and all you have to do is sit back, relax, and wait to be entertained? Where the movie is so easy to enjoy that you get the sense that, if they could, the filmmakers would reach through the screen and administer direct firm-yet-gentle pressure onto your diaphragm to make it even easier for you to laugh? For me that moment comes at about the one-third point in this movie, during a musical montage of the counsellors going into town for a break. Funneee!

Raising Arizona
I was sixteen when I saw this movie in the theatre, and man, did I
ever miss the joke. I did not get the overdone characters. I did not get the convoluted plot. I did not get the post-ironic sentimentality. I wish I could remember what thoughts were going through my head as I watched it. Probably trying to figure out which matching-neon-socks-and-shirt combo I was going to wear to school on Monday.

American Graffiti
This was the movie that made me realize that Richard Dreyfuss wasn't always histrionic and irritating. I'd always thought he was born that way. Rusty tells me that I would've realized this earlier if I'd watched Jaws, but I like swimming in the ocean too much to do that to myself. Not to get all film-nerdy, but this movie does the most amazing thing with its soundtrack by weaving it in and out of the actual action of the film. Rent it and pay attention to that aspect. It'll blow your mind. I think this movie may actually be smart smart, but I can't get past my girlish crush on John Milner to figure it out.

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
Yes, the South Park TV series bugs. But don't even tell me you don't like this movie. I don't want to hear it. And if I tell you that this is one of the most important, meaningful movies to come out in recent years, you just nod and smile, okay? And if you tell me that Satan's stirring rendition of "Up There" isn't one of the best songs you've ever heard in a musical, you're going to make me weep a single picturesque tear. For you. Because you're dead inside.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Maybe it's just because I haven't left the house to see a movie in over a year, but I loved this movie SO much. I was expecting it to be stupid, yes. And funny, of course. But I wasn't expecting it to have heart. I'm a sucker for heart. Steve Carell is my new secret boyfriend. If you want to share him with me, that's cool, because I've got Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen here for backup.

The Royal Tenenbaums
Like The Big Lebowski, this is a messy movie that I wasn't sure I even liked the first time I saw it. But multiple watchings (and re-watchings) have changed my tune. And years from now, when Ben Stiller has finally degenerated into Richard Dreyfuss Lite, as seems to be his destiny, let's all remember his moving portrayal of Chas Tenenbaum and sigh a little sigh together.

The Philadelphia Story
Hey, when did this list stop being about stupid movies? Well, too late now. I loveloveLOVE this movie. In fact, it might be my favourite movie of all time. Katherine Hepburn! Cary Grant! James Stewart! Witty dialogue and a snappy plot! And what's that over there? A social message, albeit a somewhat charmingly dated one? This was probably the last smart smart movie ever to be made.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Is this a smart stupid movie? Smart smart? Who the hell knows. Who cares? Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges! We don't have to show you no stinkin' badges!

27 comments:

K Jones said...

A couple others that I lump into that category as well.

Best of Show--There's just something about Fred Willard talking about dogs in heat that I love.

Office Space--I don't know where this fits in on the continuum you established but three nerds pounding a copier into oblivion is good fun.

Zoolander--yes, it is overtly dumb/smart, but it has its laugh out loud moments.

Doppelganger said...

K Jones, you are a man/woman/entity after my own heart. I should have stated in my original post that I was confining my list to movies I own. All the movies you mentioned are movies I've rented over and over and over again.

"It says here you've been missing a lot of work."
"Oh, I wouldn't say I've been missing it."

harafish said...

Well this is gonna be embarassing. I'm not a big movie purchaser. I own one DVD which I bought because it was super cheap and I hadn't seen it and I thought it was time I owned at least one: Tadpole. Which I then realized I actually had seen.
The only videos I own are:

The Princess Bride - which maybe qualifies as Smart Stupid depending on who you ask. Infinitely quotable, I used to have the entire "to the pain" spiel memorized pathetically enough. The movie isn't perfect but it's definitely enjoyable.

Grease - I haaaate musicals but this movie proved to me that musicals don't have to be cringingly bad (but good lord was Corpse Bride, the last musical I watched, - which I didn't even know was a musical beforehand - unfortunate) Does it even need to be said that I own and love the soundtrack as well?

Forrest Gump (and I don't even remember buying/being given that one) and I'm not going to try to defend it.
I watch a LOT of movies but I'm not much of a movie purchaser.
I second Best of Show and Office Space. Perhaps Office Space would have been a better choice for my first purchase.

--Deb said...

I adore Philadelphia Story. (Really, as you say, what's not to love?) And Jaws? My mother abhors horror films of all kinds, but she watches this for the scenery because it was filmed in her favorite place in the world, Martha's Vineyard. My favorite movies, though? They tend to be romantic comedies--When Harry Met Sally is hard, hard to beat.

harafish said...

Oops, forgot my main reason for commenting: to profess my undying love for Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd (who I have been in love with ever since Clueless - dont judge me)
Carell's a bit out of my age range but give me 15 years. Of course, Rudd's not much younger but he looks young so I can pretend.
A combination of Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd would probably be my ideal man, who knows what that says about me.

Karen said...

Yay! I love the mart stupid movies! I love Wayne's World SO MUCH, and Dude, Where's My Car?, and Scooby Doo, and Clue and Clueless and now I am just starting to list every movie I own so I'll stop.

Except The Philadelphia Story was indeed one of the greatest movies of all time, and if I ever have to choose between Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart I can die right then a happy woman.

Diablevert said...

No The Thin Man?

I can only you assume you haven't seen it. Which probably sounds pompous, but you haven't seen it. Then you'd know.

Zil said...

This is a great distinction. Some smart stupid (at least to me) movies that I own and adore: Bottle Rocket and Dazed and Confused. I remember seeing Bottle Rocket in the theater when it first came out and laughing until I could hardly breathe. I know the movie hasn't aged well for others, but for me it'll always be golden. (And yes, apparently I am that other non-stoner stoner movie lover you've been wondering about.)

Hazel Stone said...

Almost unheard of, but PLEASE believe me. You must find "Safe Men."

Wacky, bizarre and full of heart without being cheesy.

Actually it is cheesy as hell, but in a good way. Damn people, it has Harvey Fierstein as a Jewish Mob Boss.

Angie said...

The 40 Year Old Virgin is the funniest damn movie EVER. My boyfriend and I watched it while we were in a hotel in Ohio visiting his grandparents, and we loved it all the way through and then the end came with Aquarius and we called our friends in Indiana to tell them to go out THAT MINUTE to buy it. I love it more than just about any "funny" movie I've seen in an age.

Also, 50 First Dates was way funnier than it had any right to be ever. It was definitely smart stupid funny.

Smart Smart awesome was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Office Space, Best in Show, oh definitely yes. Anything Christopher Guest touches is gold to me.

Oh, your taste in movies makes me happy.

Lisa said...

Any of the Christopher Guest movies: Best of Show, Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind. Love them all.

Wet Hot American Summer is one of my favorite movies. I've rented it a dozen times---and not just to see Will Tippen and Michael Ian Black make out. I really should buy it. If you like this movie, watch The Baxter. Almost all the same cast. Definitely a smart stupid movie.

If I ever break up with my current imaginary boyfriend, I'm absolutely having an imaginary rebound with Seth Rogen.

Anonymous said...

Ahhhhhhh, The Philadelphia Story. Best movie of all time, and the reason that Katharine Hepburn is my eternal girlcrush; the skill of her line delivery when she is first meeting, and goading, Jimmy Stewart is one of the great joys of the movies.

And another vote here for "Dazed and Confused" as smart stupid.

What you were saying about that feeling when a movie lets you know you can relax, you're in good hands? The reason I love "Blood Simple" more than any other Coen Brothers movie is that I got that feeling 30 damn seconds into the film, and never once lost it.

Anonymous said...

Smart Stupid? Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion anyone?

Jessie said...

I love Philadelphia Story so much that my friend wrote a poem comparing me to Tracy Lord (I laugh every time I speak that name). I think she just liked the idea of me naked howling at the moon.

Rae said...

Never seen Philadelphia Story, but it's on my list. I watch movies very rarely.

You might well like:

- Witness For the Prosecution. (Original version.) Brilliantly performed, brilliant script, every key role filled by a legend. They don't make 'em this good any more.

- Le Diner de Cons (aka The Dinner Game). Assuming you like movies in French. It's mostly smart-stupid, even though it's in French and therefore swanky; a farce that manages to carry witty dialogue across even with subtitles. And stars Thierry Lhermitte, so you can see what sort of man passes for a heartthrob in France.

- Bad Eggs. This is an Australian film, so your video shop is highly unlikely to have it, but you might like it if ever it comes your way.

Kristen said...

Dude, "Airplane!" Am I really the first with this one? I've probably seen in 50 times and it still makes me laugh 'til I pee. Even though the first time I saw it I was 7 and terrified that the plane was going to crash and everyone would die.

Another old classic: "What's Up, Doc?" starring Ryan O'Neal and, Barbra Streisand. No, really, she's funny! Plus it's Madeline Kahn's first movie! Seriously, you'll be achy and weeping. In a good way.

And because I'm an editor who adores this movie -- it's "Best in Show." I apologize for my schoolmarmery. I just can't sustain another desk-shaped dent in my skull.

Marg said...

Oh yes - Philadelphia Story is the greatest!

I also have a hopeless weakness for anything by Kevin Smith, especially Clerks (a few years of working retail will do that for you).

I also have a deep and abiding love of Clue (the multiple endings are so fun) and Simply Irresistible (apparently panned everywhere, but loved by me!).

Jagosaurus said...

1. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead: Tim Roth, Gary Oldman, Richard Dreyfuss ... written by Tom Stoppard ... favorite movie ever.

2. Waiting for Guffman: I just love Christopher Guest.

3. The Princess Bride: Beware the ROUSes y'all.

4. Passion Fish: My friends and I say "It's a joke, Precious." all the time.

5. Alien Vs. Predator: Two great tastes that taste great together andnd some staggeringly bad dialogue and acting. But when that Predator comes flying through the air near the end of the movie ... it's cinematic magic.

Mandy said...

Oh my, when Jimmy Stewart starts talking about hearthfires and holocausts, I just want to melt. I think Bringing Up Baby is a great smart stupid movie showing screwball comedy doesn't have to be cringe inducing. Young Frankenstein is also fantastic, as is Zoolander, which improved on repeated viewings. "What is this, a center for ants?"

A. Estella Sassypants said...

I haven't been reading your blog long, but I now know, without a shade of a doubt, that we are kindred spirits. Steve Carell is affectionately referred to as "baby daddy" around my house. I'll share. And my backups: Steve Buscemi and Jake Gyllenhaal (how polar opposite, eh?).

Cap'n Ganch said...

I could put Young Frankenstein on a loop and laugh every time.

Marty Feldman is so my hero in that movie, that I once wrote a poem from the scene where he bites Madeline Kahn's stole ... and had it accepted into my college's annual literature publication.

"Say nothing ... act casual."

Robin said...

That montage was the only part of Wet Hot American Summer that really worked for me, but I was in stitches. It was even better for me because I used to vacation in that town (Waterville, Maine) every summer growing up (to visit family friends).

Michelle said...

What about "Top Secret"? It's supposed to be a spoof on various war movies (...uh, I think) and I find it totally hilarious, especially considering the fact that I was fully expecting to hate it.

I think that "Clue", however, takes the cake for my most favourite movie of all time.

... said...

Pee Wee Herman's Big Adventure - "...a-and knitting and knitting and ..." Come on! That's brilliant.

Cable Guy - I looooved this movie. This film is a deal breaker for me. But don't get me wrong - I hated Ace Ventura.

Caddyshack - I loved this movie when I was young and loved it even more when I got older and understood it better.

What About Bob? - good stuff all around.

Cabin Boy - this movie was...retarded. Excellent.

Okay, here's my most favourite and this will likely make me infinitely unlikeable, so...deal.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail - this is the best of the best for me and normally I loathe those Python nerds who memorize lines and whatnot - but there is something about this movie that gives me pure pleasure. A clean, white high.

As you were.

gina c said...

Clerks.
This is Spinal Tap.
O Brother Where art thou?

all watchable again and again for decades past and to come.

Office Space-the music to the scene where the guys killed the copier has become my anthem.

Shadowspun said...

I saw Young Frankenstein making it into someone else's list, but I just have to add Spaceballs, Blazing Saddles and Mel Brooks' History of the World, Part 1.

"The Inquisition, What a show!"

Can you tell I like Mel Brooks?

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