SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – Because of the current crop of crappy movies being released from Hollywood and out of desperation for some entertainment, we recently went to see a flick called World War Z about a planet-wide attack by zombies. I said we were desperate. Oddly enough this was a really engrossing movie and certainly a cut above what we expected. The zombies didn’t look like the pop-eyed sleep walking stiffs in the grade-B movies of our youth, and there was a decent plot that actually made sense. It’s not going to win any Oscars or be ranked among the 100 Best Movies of all time along with Casablanca, Citizen Kane, The Godfather, The Wizard of Oz, or Gone With the Wind, but it still was better than some of the turkeys we’ve had the misfortune of witnessing lately.
Of course everyone’s tastes vary and what is appealing to me may not be your cup of tea, such as Gone With the Wind that I mentioned above. While it’s near the top of most people’s list of all-time favorites I thought it was a most tedious and boring picture, just as I hated having to read Tolstoy’s 1,000 page soap opera War and Peace that others consider a masterpiece.
But getting back to films, not every so-called big budget blockbuster is good or successful no matter how much it’s hyped, while some of my personal favorites were low cost releases that fell into the category of off-beat films which most folks probably never heard of or at best don’t remember. You probably have your own pets but the ones that immediately come to my mind are A Thousand Clowns with Jason Robards, Bye Bye Braverman with George Segal, Harold and Maude with Ruth Gordon, and A Boy Ten Feet Tall with Edward G. Robinson. Each was well written and had one or two famous actors, but calling them off-beat is an understatement for their storylines, while resonating with me for some reason, were anything but run of the mill.
A Thousand Clowns is about a reclusive TV comedy writer who is taken care of and mentored by a precocious kid who’s supposed to be his ward. Bye Bye Braverman basically has a bunch of profound, funny, but meaningless conversations between four intellectuals in a Volkswagen while trying to find their way to the funeral of one of their colleagues. Harold and Maude are the odd couple of all odd couples, a suicidal teen in a love affair with an 80 year old woman. A Boy Ten Feet Tall follows the lone exploits of a youth through the wilds of the “Dark Continent” as he tries to reach his aunt in South Africa after his parents are killed in a terrorist attack in Kenya. Odd-ball stuff but surely not boring.
My one complaint about all Top 100 Movie lists is that they never include British films which have been some of the best ever made. A Christmas Carol with Alistair Sim, The Importance of Being Earnest with Michael Redgrave, Four Feathers with Ralph Richardson, Great Expectations with Alec Guinness, and The Picture of Dorian Gray with George Sanders (actually made by MGM) are films that I’ve watched many times over the years and of which I never tire. Since those stories were written by the likes of Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde it’s no surprise they’ve been adapted for the screen dozens of times, but the specific ones I mentioned are far and away the best, at least in my opinion.
I wish that Hollywood would make more of these quality type movies instead of the mindless ones full of noise and special effects, though I have to admit they do have the advantage that in spite of my hearing loss I never miss a word of dialog. Dialog, what dialog?