My impression is that comedies, children’s films, musicals and some Hollywood genre pictures have a much tougher time making an all-time great list. They have to really do something extraordinary or have a serious element to them (e.g., a darker or tragic side) to make the list, certainly to receive a high ranking. Do people agree with that and do you think that is appropriate? Is there an unfair prejudice against films that are simply fun and light—even when the films are exceptional in both? I’m interested in hearing arguments on both sides of the issue.
You can also include superhero movies, action movies, and others.
The most respected genres (most represented on lists) are probably film noire, crime/gangster, and western.
Well, I think this is just like asking if there is a bias against comic book illustrators when considering great artists.
Great art involves two things, in my opinion: technical mastery, and the ability to hold the mirror up to nature, so to speak-to portray humanity as it really is-this often leads to more serious or darker films.
Now, there are times where a film with seemingly light subject matter can be so technically astonishing that we would still call it a great work of art-films like Singing in the Rain or Spirited Away, perhaps; but for your average musical of children’s movie; I don’t think that they make the viewer look deeper into his own self in the same way as a good drama does.
I personally don’t have a prejudice against these films. I don’t find shame in adding nostalgia in with a rating or ranking. But I don’t get paid for my expertise on film or anything. It’s all for me :) (also, I think I’ve said this before, but you think too much, Jazz ;).
I do think that genre films that deserve to be on lists are often held guilty by association with the millions that don’t.
I think somewhere subconsciously they go against the feeling of progress. You start out watching children’s films, comedies and superhero movies, then you move on to serious movies. So then when you encounter a genre film which does belong on the same level as more serious movies you are more skeptical because it reminds you of what you ‘moved on’ from to get to where you are now.
I feel even films that represent genuinely serious issues are ignored when it comes to all time great movies.
Jirin, give us some examples.
Great art encompasses all moods. To limit subject matter worthy of that distinction to the dark and serious to limit the scope that great art can achieve. Some of the greatest films of all time are comedies, musicals and family films.
Well, Brad and Jirin; I won’t disagree with your premise, but lets talk about some examples and what makes them worthy of being called masterpieces.
Do you want me to make your argument for you?
I will submit to you A Hard Day’s Night as an example of a lighthearted comic masterpiece (others I could mention would be City Lights, The Wizard of Oz, Young Frankenstein and This is Spinal Tap.) Here we have joy conveyed through every tool of film from witty dialogue and beautiful visuals to expert editing and (of course) truly great music. All these elements come together (sorry) as a complete piece worthy of any best of list.
Even if we accept this definition (and I don’t), humanity as it really is, isn’t all serious and dark, right?
I don’t think that they make the viewer look deeper into his own self in the same way as a good drama does.
Here’s a genuine question: is making people look deeper into their selves more important than bringing joy into someone’s life? making someone laugh? Or if that’s too frivolous—what about bringing beauty into someone’s life? How do we know that the high value we place on serious and dark subject matter isn’t just a bias for these qualities and a bias against that lighter, happier subject matter?
I personally don’t have a prejudice against these films.
But if you were to make a list of the all-time greatest movies, would you favor films that were more serious and even dark than those that were mostly fun?
(also, I think I’ve said this before, but you think too much, Jazz ;).
And as I replied: I’ve been called much worse, so I can live with this.
So then when you encounter a genre film which does belong on the same level as more serious movies you are more skeptical because it reminds you of what you ‘moved on’ from to get to where you are now.
There might be something to this. I would imagine a lot of cinephiles started out liking entertainment-oriented films and then moved to “serious” movies. In that process, perhaps, they began to view serious films as “real” or “better” art, while the films they previously enjoyed are “lesser” or not even art at all. But I don’t think it’s the evolution from one type of film to another; instead, I think people who are serious about art have a prejudice against entertainment and fun—as if these qualities automatically disqualify a film from greatness.
Brad said, I will submit to you A Hard Day’s Night as an example of a lighthearted comic masterpiece (others I could mention would be City Lights, The Wizard of Oz, Young Frankenstein and This is Spinal Tap.) Here we have joy conveyed through every tool of film from witty dialogue and beautiful visuals to expert editing and (of course) truly great music. All these elements come together (sorry) as a complete piece worthy of any best of list.
I’m not sure I’d pick A Hard Day’s Night as a great film, but I wouldn’t rule it out, either. But if I were defending that choice, here’s what I add to what Brad said:
>Judging a film on its own terms is important. We shouldn’t judge a film for something it isn’t trying to do. AHDN isn’t trying to be serious or dark (not that I recall, anyway). Given what it’s trying to achieve, it’s doing a good, if not great, job.
>If we could make a case for the originality of the film (and I think we might be able to—it was pretty different—maybe starting a new genre), then I think that would be another basis for its greatness.
Brad mentioned the quality of the different components of the film (e.g., music, visuals, dialogue, etc.) and the way these come together in a unified way are a basis for greatness, imo.
no, you are right, that the entire human experience is not dark and serious, and though the great films tend toward that, some of them do have levity as well-Children of Paradise and The Searchers are way up my list.
John Ford always had some kind of comedy in most of his films.
Also, I count about half or more of Miyazaki’s films among my top 200 or so.
I tend to think that overall, the significant moments in life may lean toward the serious, but that doesn’t mean that I want my life or my movies to be without joy.
While I may be biased against films whose only intention is to entertain or make one happy, it does not keep me from including them.
Perhaps we do need more serious films are about joy-if that makes sense, but I’m not going to subtract points from Sansho the Bailiff because it is all tragic.
FYI—I put Monty Python and the Holy Grail in my personal, insignificant Top 20 (cause DiB made me do one) specifically because I thought a comedy had to be represented.
And also because of all the llamas. There can’t be enough llamas in cinema.
I think it’s the other way around, in this recent poll we can see Singing in the rain and Some like it hot in the top50, a comedy and a musical both can be seen by children. What we never see in this kind of all-time-great-lists are black comedies or adult comedies.
Yeah, Alex. You beat me to it. The General, Singin in the Rain, City Lights all ranked favoarbly. Rules of the Game is technically a comedy in structure at least.
In terms of black comedies, you might make a claim for Zero de Conduite which just missed the 1962 poll.
Perhaps we do need more serious films are about joy-if that makes sense,…
Yeah, I think I do. You mean, we need more films about joy—even ones that are mostly just entertaining—that are well-done.
…but I’m not going to subtract points from Sansho the Bailiff because it is all tragic.
Well, that would be going too far in the other direction.
Nada said, Yeah, Alex. You beat me to it. The General, Singin in the Rain, City Lights all ranked favoarbly. Rules of the Game is technically a comedy in structure at least.
But if you compare the number of comedies to more serious films, it’s not even close, right? There are so many more serious dramas that comedies—especially purer, sillier comedies like Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Chaplin’s films and some of Keaton’s have pathos and poignant, and sometimes dark, moments. Seeing a film like Holy Grail high up in the rankings would be extremely unlikable, I would think. What would it take for a film like that to make it close to the top?
Comedies, children’s movies and musicals don’t really make you invest too much. They aren’t as draining…which makes them so easy to watch but just as easy to forget.
Some do however. Examples already given: The Wizard of Oz and Miyazaki’s films but for the most part they don’t
It also enables them to be perfect holiday movies when you don’t want to be drained and are just looking for a relaxing time. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched Planes, Trains and Automobiles or Christmas Vacation. I’ll probably watch them both again this year during the holiday season. But I’d never think to put them in a Top movie list.
I don’t think this is a bias however. They were written and directed to be light-hearted films.
What would it take for a film like that to make it close to the top?
Dunno….more pie? purer silliness or a sillier purity?
is there a meaning/value dynamic here anywhere?
I think we will find the answer has to do with matters of the heart i.e. depth.
To make someone happy or tap their feet is far more worthwhile than making them sad plus a film of any genre can inspire and even prove life changing under the right circumstances .
If I have a bias it goes the other way
@Jazz : I think my top list would have lots of comedies and musicals.
There IS a bias and here are some reasons:
Genre films (and I’m including horror on this one because it is by far the most maligned genre) tend to not be taken that seriously when they’re MADE, so how would we perceive them as such. For example, a studio will roll out their top billed stars and talent to adapt some popular novel like Gone With the Wind or Grapes of Wrath, whereas most screwball comedies have limited budgets and aren’t taken seriously by the people making them. Even films like Wizard of Oz and Singin’ in the Rain which many people love don’t show well on Sight and Sound’s poll (Singin’ in the Rain dropped a full ten spots from the poll in 2002).
Horror is even worse in this regard because for decades (roughly Bride of Frankenstein in 1935 until maybe The Haunting in 1963) horror films were handled by b-list directors and given low rent talent and no budgets. Some managed to transcend their meager limitations (the Lewton films for instance) but most were mass produced cheaply made garbage hence why the genre as a hole isn’t taken seriously. By contrast it’s harder for people take films like The Exorcist or The Shining seriously because of the bad rap the genre got for decades.
Look at the Academy who only seemed capable of rewarding a musical for best picture if it was pretentious, overly long, and tried to somehow be serious (Oliver, West Side Story, Sound of Music, etc). The much better musicals like Singin’ in the Rain, The Bandwagon, On the Town, or Funny Face weren’t taken seriously at all by critics or Academy voters in their day. Hell the only reason Anchors Aweigh got a best picture nomination was for its then groundbreaking mix of live action and animation for one sequence.
Now personally I will say I don’t have that bias. I love The Incredibles, Holy Grail, Singin’ in the Rain and each of these would be well represented on any top 100 list, but perhaps you can have some bias by asking why Singin’ in the Rain is #10 when Citizen Kane is #1? That said I probably would list Holy Grail as the best film of 1974, which means I think it’s better than Godfather II and Chinatown, but Holy Grail is probably the funniest film ever made.
It’s the same way in literature. Genre’s are often interpreted as gimmicks by critics and to a large degree said critics are correct. By the same token however, very few filmmakers make great childrens/comedies/musicals nowadays.
I think it stems from the idea that approval promotes emulation. If a filmmaker is looking to be taken seriously, he’ll draw inspiration from films that are critically acclaimed. And then the next generation will look at that directors work and try to emulate that. Its an endless cycle.
Some directors however do stray from the beaten path. I think Cuaron did an excellent job with both A Little Princess and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Childrens films). Lars Von Trier had a musical (Dancer in the Dark) that received positive responses from critics like Ebert “It smashes down the walls of habit that surround so many movies. It returns to the wellsprings. It is a bold, reckless gesture.” In terms of comedy I think Wes Anderson’s pictures could be interpreted as dark comedies, they are for the most part critically successful.
Documentaries are usually lacking as well and they have plenty of serious brooding material.
Probably there is a bit of a prejudice. Personally, I have had comedies on my top ten, the most recent being The Party, which I removed about a year ago; I don’t think it had anything to do with prejudice.
As for comedies, last I heard Tati, Keaton, and Chaplin were comedic filmmakers and they clearly don’t have trouble being canonized, nor do Dr. Strangelove and Annie Hall. Okay, the latter two didn’t make the S&S top 100, but still. Also, The Red Balloon is a children’s film, and it’s exquisite. Oh, and let’s not forget Some Like It Hot or the Marx Brothers. Also, Fellini had a label attached to the camera during the shooting of 8 1/2 reminding him something along the lines of “Remember, it’s a comedy”, or so I hear that was the case.
Jirin said: "I think somewhere subconsciously they go against the feeling of progress. You start out watching children’s films, comedies and superhero movies, then you move on to serious movies. "
Haha, I remember being, I dunno, about 10 or so, and one of my parents actually had to tell me that there are some movies that don’t have happy endings, where the good guys don’t win :)
There’s certianly a prejudice again musicals!
How many times has “I just can’t believe it when they sudeenly break into song” been posted in here?
Well I can’t believe it when they DON’T!!!!
I don’t go to the movies for “realism.” I get enough of that in life.
I feel sorry for you if you don’t have the now-out-of-print Masters of Cinema dvd of Savage Innocents, because that’s where David E sings!
Honestly, I can’t stand musicals. For the most part. It’s like they’re just filling time in because they don’t have a story. Tapping a foot or not… I do like seeing musicals on stage. On screen no. There are a handful that I think are good. I’ll watch a musical when my girlfriend wants to and…well, that’s the only time. Is it a bias? I don’t think so. A bias is when it’s unfair. I’ve seen enough that I know I’m not being unfair. I’m up for a jingle here and there. A good tune. But a whole movie based on being musical I usually have to pass on.
Dance, magic dance, magic dance…now that’s a groove I can get down to…