On Movies and Suction

The guy who happens to be my best bud here in Mondoville and I were talking at lunch today, and as it often does, the conversation turned to movies (Other frequent topics include music, showbiz references that neither of us are old enough to make, and various other bits of pop culture detritus.) In any case, we were talking about the various Best Picture Academy Award winners and nominees over the years, plucking the low-hanging fruit like the insane way The Greatest Show On Earth beat High Noon in 1952, and how 1939 was easily the greatest year in cinema history (Gone With the Wind, Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Goodbye Mr. Chips? You can try to come up with a better year — 1950 wasn’t shabby at all, and ’41 was even better —  but you’ll lose.)

From there, we started talking about how weak the past 30 or so years have been by comparison. Not that they’ve all sucked, but come on — Gladiator ain’t Ben-Hur, and Chicago can’t even compare to nominees (not winners) like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers or The King and I (although to be fair, it was better than nominee Dr. Dolittle.) And that led us to wonder when the big dropoff really happened.

Well, we agreed that it was sometime circa 1980 (I’d take 1979, where Kramer vs. Kramer won, but YMMV.) As it happens, my buddy and I weren’t the only ones having this conversation today. Your take on all this, as always, is welcome. When did even “Good Movies” start to suck and why?

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About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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14 Responses to On Movies and Suction

  1. Kate Marie says:

    I want to come back later and comment more at length, because I love movies and questions like this, but for now, let me link to this post from my old blog:

    http://whatstherumpus.blogspot.com/2007/01/indie-guignol.html

    The long quotation about the state of “indie guignol” gets at some of what I think has gone wrong with movies (even, for the most part, with good movies, as you point out). I would locate the beginning of the “suction” at about the mid to late Seventies, when filmmakers were “freed” and proceeded to make sh*&%y films, as Francois Truffaut puts it.

    It’s because they seem to have an “old-fashioned” sense of working within the limitations and conventions of a particular form, for instance, that I think the Coen brothers are far and away the best contemporary American filmmakers. But that’s not exactly a contrarian view, so perhaps I should reexamine it.

  2. Andrew Stevens says:

    Wizard of Oz and Stagecoach are great. Goodbye, Mr. Chips and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington are decent. Gone With the Wind is execrable, the most overrated film in history. (I say this, I think, purely for aesthetic reasons though I confess to having extremely grave political objections to the film as well, so I can’t completely ignore the argument that this is overriding my aesthetic judgment.)

    I don’t think ’39 was all that great compared to later years, though ’39 was when filmmaking finally matured into what we know it today. Sound movies from only a few years earlier are almost unwatchable today while ’39 films are practically modern films. I’ll take ’41 over ’39. Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon easily overmatch Wizard and Stagecoach, in my opinion. And Suspicion, while not a great Hitchcock film, is still a Hitchcock film and can go toe-to-toe with Mr. Smith. I’m not sure there’s a #4 to go up against Mr. Chips, but with the advantages in the 1 and 2 slots, I’ve got to give the nod to ’41.

    • Kate Marie says:

      How about How Green Was My Valley? Wasn’t that ’41? We may disagree about whether that’s a great movie, though, since I see we disagree about The Wizard of Oz, and about Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It’s beautiful cinematography; grant it that, at least. 🙂

      • Andrew Stevens says:

        How Green Was My Valley is a decent film. Most John Ford films are at least beautiful, but I’m not sure it can beat any of the four films from ’39, but adding it only strengthens my case. But speaking of beauty, why the disagreement on Wizard? A remarkable film for its time – it could have been made 30 years later and still been a remarkable film. Personal taste is personal taste and my wife isn’t a big fan of Wizard either, so I understand that, but it’s still a great film. This is not necessarily to endorse Prof Mondo’s take on Gone, though I do sympathize with the argument.

  3. profmondo says:

    Kane skews things for ’41. And reprehensible politics (racial and sexual) aside, I still think Gw/tW is mammoth — the definitive blockbuster for decades. It’s like Johnny Unitas: Other quarterbacks are compared to Unitas, but no one compares Unitas to anyone. Like it or not — and I don’t really number it among my favorites — Gw/tW is essential.

  4. Kate Marie says:

    Sorry, Andrew. I misread your comment. I thought you were calling Wizard of Oz execrable. Tired-blogging does that to me, I guess. We agree on the Wizard of Oz then.

  5. Andrew Stevens says:

    Oh, because I’m a Hitchcock buff, I’ll put in a plug for 1954. You’ve got one Hitchcock classic, Rear Window, and another decent offering from him, Dial M for Murder. It also has On the Waterfront and The Caine Mutiny (I’m also a Bogart fan). You mentioned another film from that year in this post (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), though I haven’t seen that film since I was a kid so I couldn’t possibly comment on its quality. Now, if I’m allowed to add in Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, it’s got to be right up there. I am torn on whether 1954 beats 1950. 1950 was a great year, even though Hitchcock only offered up the disappointing Stage Fright. But it does have All About Eve, Sunset Boulevard, and Kurosawa made Rashomon.

  6. 1959 might be worth a look as well. North by Northwest, Anatomy of a Murder, Some Like it Hot, Rio Bravo, Ben-Hur, Breathless and Truffaut’s breakout film The 400 Blows plus Cassavetes’s debut Shadows. Tough year to beat.

    I’ve been considering something similar recently. June of 1982 was arguably the greatest month in American movies, and certainly the greatest month in science fiction. Poltergeist, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Blade Runner and The Thing were all released within three weeks of each other.

    http://1001plus.blogspot.com/2011/02/best-month-ever-june-1982-part-1.html
    http://1001plus.blogspot.com/2011/02/best-month-ever-june-1982-part-2.html

    • profmondo says:

      1959 came up in our lunch conversation as well, and though our particular discussion was Hollywoodcentric, I’m glad to see a number of my foreign favorites showing up as we continue. Thanks for dropping by, and don’t be a stranger!

  7. nightfly says:

    1989 was huge on the blockbusters, though you’d be hard-pressed to put any of them within shouting distance of the cinematic class of The Wizard of Oz or Citizen Kane. But lesser-grossing films such as Glory, Driving Miss Daisy, My Left Foot, Branagh’s Henry V, even goofy stuff like Christmas Vacation and Major League… and then, of course, an Indiana Jones flick, the first Batman with Michael Keaton, When Harry Met Sally, and Born on the Fourth of July. Fairly deep field.

    And a small sympathy vote for UHF… it tested very well for Orion Pictures, who tossed it out into that tempest and watched it promptly sent to the bottom, with the company soon to follow. I’m sorry – but I like the thing.

  8. How about 1988? Bull Durham, Big, A Fish Called Wanda, The Naked Gun, Die Hard, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Beetlejuice, Dangerous Liaisons, Rain Man, and the underrated Dead Ringers and Talk Radio. On the international front, Akira, Spoorloos, Graveyard of the Fireflies, and Cinema Paradiso.

    Hmmm…this one might be better than 1959.

  9. Kate Marie says:

    Movie Guy Steve, I like your website and your 1001 project, and I’m looking forward to reading through your reviews.

    On the question of 1988 versus 1959, I think 1959 wins hands down. Of all the 1988 movies you mentioned, the only ones I liked unequivocally were Dangerous Liaisons, A Fish Called Wanda, and Cinema Paradiso (I haven’t seen the other foreign films, though). Nowadays I’m sometimes inclined to think that Cinema Paradiso is probably just a very nice film that hits above its weight because of a sublime ending, and A Fish Called Wanda — which seemed hilarious in all respects when I first saw it — doesn’t really age well, except in Kevin Kline’s performance, which is one of the funniest of all time. And I think it has to be to stave off the gag reflex I feel every time John Cleese makes goo-goo eyes at Jamie Lee Curtis in the movie.

    Just sayin’.

  10. Hey, if we all agreed on everything, what fun would there be?

    I really like Bull Durham a lot. Perhaps more than I should, but that film works on all levels for me. Talk Radio has become more and more relevant every year.

    As for A Fish Called Wanda, at least 75% of my love for that movie is Kevin Kline. Most of the remaining 25% is Michael Palin. The remaining bits are Jamie Lee Curtis in a bra and panties. Predictable? Sure, guilty as charged, but at least I’m honest.

    Spoorloos was inexplicably remade in the U.S. a few years later as The Vanishing, and by the same director. The remake changes the fantastic (and absolutely terrifying) ending. Go with the original; avoid the craptastic remake.

    • Kate Marie says:

      Oh, I have seen Spoorloos! You’re right — that was one of the most terrifying and disturbing movie endings I’ve ever seen (right up there with Don’t Look Now).

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