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Top 25: Discussion of Nominations for 2014

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I had nominated God is Brazilian.  It's fairly unheard of (at least outside of South America) but its well made.  The film isn't hilarious, at least according to my cultural tastes (who knows it might be extremely funny to someone from Brazil), but it is amusing.  

 

The film intentionally deals with Christian themes, largely from a Catholic leaning.  Its got a good little story and deals with its themes fairly well, especially near the end.  Plus there is some gorgeous cinematography and a good look at the culture of the region.

 

From a review :  " It turns out that God has decided to take a break from his eternity of presiding over humankind and is actively seeking a temp to take over the position. With Taoca by his side, God traverses the nation in hopes of finding someone saintly enough for the job. Eventually, they comes across a young man with all the right credentials with the exception of one, glaring trait -- he doubts the very existence of a higher power. "

 

 

Here's a trailer.

 

And a Few Links to View it Online.

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In case anyone is interested, I happened to write about comedy (not humor) in the current issue of Image:

http://imagejournal.org/page/journal/editorial-statements/the-steeple-and-the-gargoyle

I enjoyed it. I particularly liked:

"But I believe the single greatest obstacle to reflecting seriously on the meaning of comedy in our time is the widespread conviction that we are living in the golden age of comedy."

and

"... it is necessary to point out that people of faith are often the last to embrace comedy. That’s because at the heart of comedy there is an anarchic energy that subverts all hierarchies, all pretensions to moral authority and rectitude. The quintessence of comedy is the carnival—the feast day that in the middle ages put the bishop’s mitre on the head of a young boy and made masters attend their servants."

It makes what we're trying to do with this list seem like a challenge.

 

... But I take your point — much of it is sheer silliness. (Although I find great "spiritual value," if you will, in silliness... whether it's from Monty Python or Jacques Tati or Chuck Jones.)

I was hoping we wouldn't have to get into the "what qualifies as spiritual themes" debate this time around, but...

And I just enjoy Hot Fuzz because it makes me laugh and forget about the things that bother me for a while, while is the real point of comedy (see Sullivan's Travels).

... I'll second that defense. I think the silliness is a great advantage here (if I manage to come up with a serious defense for Airplane! in the next two months, I'm going to nominate it) - it touches upon spirituality in the ways Jeffrey mentions and is pure goofy fun to boot.

I agree with both of you that sheer silliness can have great spiritual value, but personally I am going to nominate and vote for films that explore spiritual themes much more directly than Holy Grail does. That's also why I haven't nominated any Mel Brooks films. However, I would not be upset at all if any of those films made the final list.

I think handling this proclivity is one of our greatest challenges here. On the one hand, yes, Sullivan's Travels makes the very excellent point that laughter or silliness, merely in and of themselves, hold great spiritual value.  Comedy is a moral good.  Simple cartoons with slapstick gags or Laurel & Hardy trying to move one piano from point A to point B are of spiritual worth.  But, on the other hand, a number of participants here made the argument for "spiritually significant" comedies in order to distinguish our list from other lists just of the best comedies.  I think our voting was informed by this understanding.  Already, I've seen comic films nominated that really explore spiritual ideas.

 

My problem is it does feel contradictory, in a way, to try to force a serious look at spiritual themes into my idea of comedy.  Personally, I'm all for encouraging everyone to temper and limit their selections for this list.  But I'm trying to articulate this without arguing that comedy should be serious.  It leaves with with the mental picture of trying to make an argument that all the greatest comic characters in these films would laugh me out of the room for.  In other words, our Top 25 Divine Comedies is going to be a paradox.  Mere laughter or mere silliness isn't all that what we're going for, but we really are kind of going for them at the same time.

 

Funny that the question I thought I'd be asking myself about some nominees -- Is that really a spiritual comedy? -- has turned into -- Is that even a comedy?

Probably an inevitable question.  Then there's always what I'll admit was a comedy that didn't make me laugh and what made me laugh often but which wasn't a comedy.  There are still a few films that I didn't consider to be comedies when I first saw them, but now I'm finding the argument that that is what they are interesting.  Network didn't seem like a comedy.  But now, the more I think about it, the more I can see the arguments for it.

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I am debating whether to put in a nomination for Kung Fu Hustle.  This is one of the funniest comedies of the last decade, but its spirituality is not that from a Christian worldview.  There's a particular moment, iirc, where the hero is propelled above the clouds from which he sees a giant Buddha (or something to that effect, it's been years).  To me, this puts it over the line to nomination-ville, as it introduces a divine resource to help propel our hero to positive ends.  But is that more me wanting to push an extremely delirious comedy over its spiritual sustenance?

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The British political satire In the Loop is a cleverly witty look at the flaws of political systems (and people, for that matter), with fantastic and smart dialogue. Incredible cast too. While I couldn't find an A&F thread on the film, I seem to recall that it made a few people's top 10 or 20 list of 2009.

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My nominations:

 

1. Ghost Town - Because I remember when I watched it, I found it to be one of the more enjoyable "good hearted comedies" I had seen in quite some time.

 

2. Back to the Future - I feel that this bizarre time-travel sci-fi classic is clearly not taking itself too seriously, giving us plenty of laughs, lots of fun and a feel-good finale. Deserves to be considered.

 

3. Life is Beautiful - In all honesty, I believe this film fits the "Divine comedy" category like a glove. Strongly urge everybody to consider it.

 

4. Three Kings - It's war satire at its very best. If Dr. Strangelove deserves a nod, I believe this does too.

 

5. Fargo - I thought when I nominated it, I may have been stretching a bit (and SDG's comments confirmed this). Perhaps I will withdraw on this one (much as I love the film).

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Quotes imported from the Working Tiers thread (I didn't want to begin monopolizing that thread with further discussion)...

 

 

Tier 2 - Must Be On the List
Adam's Apples (2005) - Anders Thomas Jensen - seconded
Barton Fink (1991) - Joel & Ethan Coen - seconded
Dr. Strangelove (1964) - Stanley Kubrick - seconded
The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980) - Jaime Uys
The Graduate (1967) - Mike Nichols - seconded
Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) - Mike Leigh - seconded
Italian for Beginners (2000) - Lone Scherfig - seconded
The Jerk (1979) - Carl Reiner
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) - John Hughes

Playtime (1967) - Jacques Tati - seconded
Sideways (2004) - Alexander Payne
Underground (1995) - Emir Kusturica - seconded
Win Win (2011) - Thomas McCarthy - seconded
You Can't Take It With You (1938) - Frank Capra - seconded
Young Frankenstein (1979) - Mel Brooks - seconded

 

 
 

Tier 1 - The Most Important
Being There (1979) - Hal Ashby - seconded
The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980) - Jaime Uys
Groundhog Day (1993) - Harold Ramis - seconded
Network (1976) - Sidney Lumet - seconded
The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) - Woody Allen - seconded
Sullivan's Travels (1941) - Preston Sturges – seconded
Time Bandits (1981) - Terry Gilliam - seconded

 
I notice both of you have put The Gods Must Be Crazy fairly high on your tiers, but I also notice that it still hasn't been seconded....  What's stopping you two??? smile.png

BTW, I also noticed in the Working Tiers thread that quite a few who posted there list this as a film they haven't seen.  The link that I placed in the nominations thread is the full length film, which I'll also post here.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5QPL757PPU
 
 

 

 

Tier 6 - Cannot Understand Why It Was Nominated
The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) - Judd Apatow
Cinema Paradiso (1988) - Giuseppe Tornatore
The Fisher King (1991) - Terry Gilliam - seconded
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) - Woody Allen - seconded
Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) - Mike Leigh - seconded
Hot Fuzz (2007) - Edgar Wright
Strictly Ballroom (1992) - Baz Luhrmann – seconded
Three Kings (1999) - David O. Russell

 

Tier 5 - Love the Film, Cannot Understand Its Spiritual Significance
Cinema Paradiso (1988) - Giuseppe Tornatore
The General (1926) - Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman - seconded
Mash (1970) - Robert Altman - seconded
Say Anything (1989) - Cameron Crowe
Shaun of the Dead (2004) - Edgar Wright




 

 
Could I withdraw 'Cinema Paradiso'?

 

 
I wouldn't do that.  Just because it may not fall into one or two (or however many) folk's definition of spiritual, shouldn't make it any less of a spiritual film to the person who nominated it.  The thing to do is make your best case for it.  Last year I nominated quite a few films for the Marriage list that didn't meet with everyone's idea of what should be included on that list, but that didn't stop me from trying to persuade a change of viewpoint.

Edited by John Drew

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I think the working tiers thread is a good idea, but I'm hesitant to participate simply because I'm embarrassed to admit how few of these films I've actually seen.

 

If a lot of people use it, someone should collect some statistics on how the candidates are being ranked. That might even function as a substitute for the additional round of voting we've discussed in the past.

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Quotes imported from the Working Tiers thread (I didn't want to begin monopolizing that thread with further discussion)...

Could I withdraw 'Cinema Paradiso'?

 

I wouldn't do that.  Just because it may not fall into one or two (or however many) folk's definition of spiritual, shouldn't make it any less of a spiritual film to the person who nominated it.  The thing to do is make your best case for it.  Last year I nominated quite a few films for the Marriage list that didn't meet with everyone's idea of what should be included on that list, but that didn't stop me from trying to persuade a change of viewpoint.

I wouldn't do that either.  Try to persuade us how it fits the list.  I placed it under "Can't understand why it was nominated," because I never considered Cinema Paradiso a comedy.  I do like the film a lot, and I do think it has some spiritual content, I just don't view it as a comedy at all.

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I think the working tiers thread is a good idea, but I'm hesitant to participate simply because I'm embarrassed to admit how few of these films I've actually seen.

 

 

 

My 'haven't seen it' tier would also be long. Very long.

But one reason I voted for comedy is that 'memory' evoked a flood of titles for me and I knew nearly all of the films people were suggesting.

I neglect comedy (especially contemporary) and there seemed to be a consensus that A&F has too. One reason for that might be related to the difficulty inherent in this list and in taking a genre seriously whose language and front is levity.  So I like the challenge and paradox of working at comedy.

And I'm used to having huge, strange gaps in my knowledge.

I'm more embarrassed by the size of my 'can't understand its spiritual significance' tier, which I think will  only grow.

For instance, I *love* Kind Hearts and Coronets. The bit with the made-up language would be a shoe-in for my funniest scenes on screen list.

Only I consider KH&C one of the best comedies ever made but not one of the more spiritually significant comedies ever made. And I feel like an argument for its spiritual significance would be shoehorning it in, and heavily subordinate to its perfection as a comedy.

I also love Arsenic and Old Lace, A Shot in the Dark, My Man Godfrey, The Lady Killers, Some Like it Hot, The Bank Dick, the work of Lloyd, Keaton, the Marx Brothers, Tati, Stan Laurel, &c and would plead their worth as great comedy. But I didn't nominate them, as I'm not clear they'd grace a Divine Comedies list. 

So I'm looking forward to learning where others find spiritual meaning in some of these.

 

 

 

 

Quotes imported from the Working Tiers thread (I didn't want to begin monopolizing that thread with further discussion)...

Could I withdraw 'Cinema Paradiso'?

 

I wouldn't do that.  Just because it may not fall into one or two (or however many) folk's definition of spiritual, shouldn't make it any less of a spiritual film to the person who nominated it.  The thing to do is make your best case for it.  Last year I nominated quite a few films for the Marriage list that didn't meet with everyone's idea of what should be included on that list, but that didn't stop me from trying to persuade a change of viewpoint.

I wouldn't do that either.  Try to persuade us how it fits the list.  I placed it under "Can't understand why it was nominated," because I never considered Cinema Paradiso a comedy.  I do like the film a lot, and I do think it has some spiritual content, I just don't view it as a comedy at all.

 

 

Thank you, I appreciate these words (and Christian's, in the tiers thread)! It's more a case of my own confusion and the demurrals persuading me that Cinema Paradiso isn't even a comedy.  So I regret my nomination and really wish it could be struck.

Last year I proposed Rear Window -  to me, a quintessential film about marriage. Having to explain why I'd even nominated it made me realize that films about marriage could mean films expressly about a married couple.  This isn't like that though.

I could only make a hollow , intellectual-exercise case for CP as a divine comedy. 

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In case anyone is interested, I happened to write about comedy (not humor) in the current issue of Image:

 

http://imagejournal.org/page/journal/editorial-statements/the-steeple-and-the-gargoyle

 

I just caught this linked in Jeremy's post; it's lovely and for me, relevant to this project. 

 

I'm struck by this 

 

The nineteenth-century critic William Hazlitt came close to a definition of both the comic and the tragic when he said: “Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be.”

 

 

(The awareness of the parity between comedy and tragedy and their illumination of humanity really precedes Hazlitt, and I think we've since lost sight of it.)

 

and this

 

Hazlitt’s statement put me in mind of the twentieth-century British journalist and Christian convert Malcolm Muggeridge. Muggeridge once discussed comedy on a television show with William F. Buckley Jr.: “Let’s think of the steeple and the gargoyle. The steeple is this beautiful thing reaching up into the sky admitting, as it were, its own inadequacy—attempting something utterly impossible—to climb up to heaven through a steeple. The gargoyle is this little man grinning and laughing at the absurd behavior of men on earth, and these two things [are] both built into this building to the glory of God.”

 

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I haven't officially nominated anything yet; maybe I will. If I do I would attempt to foreground those films that literally engage the divine or are explicitly spiritual in subject matter; that is, films that diagetically engage the supernatural (Blithe Spirit, A Matter of Life and Death, The Exterminating Angel), or, at the very least, cleverly suggest some kind of metaphysical presence or design. (In terms of mise-en-scene, Powell & Pressburger's comedies--A Canterbury Tale, I Know Where I'm Going!--accomplish this brilliantly.) 

 

Heaven Can Wait and Groundhog Day seem to me ideal candidates; Gilliam's films often have this elusive quality, too. If Christians are by definition otherworldly ("for here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come...") then our lists should reflect that reality.

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I would think that "A Matter of Life and Death" _would_ be fantastic, save for the fact that, in spite of all the levity in many, many scenes, it doesn't seem to qualify as a comedy. 

 

Also note:  the Heaven Can Wait that has been nominated is from the 1940s, not the one from the 1970s... which, if you ask me, isn't quite "divine" enough.

 

This could change, but I find it striking that no Tom Shadyac films have yet to be nominated.  Bruce Almighty, Evan Almighty and Liar Liar could be shoo-ins, but I'm saving my nominations to films that I happened to like better.

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Quick question: IIRC. You can vote for any title you like, and it somehow doesn't weigh it against the titles you haven't seen.

Is that correct?

I just want to make sure on this before I begin diving into the nominations -- I am not a comedy guy by any means, and would like to be involved and see a few of the nominations and perhaps even vote -- but I have no desire to tip the scales.

Sort of. You do not vote one way or another for films you haven't seen. So a nonvote, in and of itself, does not weigh against a film. We will probably do a ranking system of 1 to 5 where voting a 1 will weigh against a film (unlike a nonvote).

On the other hand, voting for a film does give that film an advantage over films that haven't been voted for. But that's normal. Every year some good films don't make it simply because hardly no one here has seen them.

Personally, there's no way I'm going to be able to see all the nominations. But that is one of the reasons I started up the new experimental tiers thread for those who want to try using it. When deciding which films to see that I haven't seen before, I'm going to try to start with everyone's 1st and 2nd tiers and then work my way down from there.

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I think the working tiers thread is a good idea, but I'm hesitant to participate simply because I'm embarrassed to admit how few of these films I've actually seen.

Don't be. It's not for making that kind of comparison.

In the meantime, I nominated the Shakespeare comedies. Here's some brief introductions on why:

- A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935/1999) - If you haven't seen one of these yet, I envy you because you are in for a real treat. Really, there is a reason why this is one of the best loved comedies in all of literature. It contains both some of Shakespeare's most beautiful writing and some of his most comical characters. Both film versions are very well done. I do prefer the 1935 version. James Cagney is energetically fantastic as Bottom, and the magic has a quality that is hard for me to describe, but I've always been profoundly affected by it. But I also nominated the 1999 version because it also captures the spirit of the play, and I suspect that more here may have seen it. What is this film about, really? It's about the spiritual world interacting with the physical world. It's about otherwordly influences, and these influences are strongly and inherently tied to romance and the same moral order that we find ourselves in. The play shows how selfishness, thoughtlessness, and impulse all have the potential to be very destructive. But kindness, good cheer and sheer joy exist here too.

- As You Like It (2006) - This film is another work of beauty. It's almost as if Branagh was paying homage to both Shakespeare and Akira Kurosawa at the same time.  This is a comedy that is ultimately about forgiveness.  The play is full of religious symbolism.  For example, Orlando nails his poems to the trees, proclaiming Rosalind to be perfection incarnate.  At the same time his poems are badly written, and the contrast between idealized romantic love and real world love is made clear as the story progresses.  (This film also can boast excellent performances by Bryce Dallas Howard, Alfred Molina and Kevin Kline.)

 

- Chimes at Midnight (1965) - Does it mix tragedy with comedy?  Yes.  But come one, this film is the distillation from three plays of all the best of Sir John Falstaff, the greatest comic character that Shakespeare ever created.  Theodore Dalrymple wrote: "Falstaff, you will remember, is a man who is lazy, a coward, a boaster, a fornicator, a would-be thief, a sponger on others, a glutton and a drunk.  There is not much virtue in him, and he casts doubt on the very possibility of virtue: ‘What is honour?’ he asks, and replies, ‘A word.  What is in that word honour?  What is that honour?  Air.’  And yet, far from hating or despising him, we feel the deepest affection for him.  When he says, ‘Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world,’ we not only know exactly what he means, but agree with him.  It is the perfect rejoinder to the puritan or moral enthusiast who wants a world that is perfect, without the slightest moral blemish, for whom peccadilloes are indistinguishable from mortal sin or radical evil."  Also, have you ever seen another film where Welles looked so happy?

 

- The Taming of the Shrew (1967) - It satirizes and makes fun of patriarchy.  It explores internal character vs. outward appearances far more deeply than it's given credit for.  It pits two extravagant characters who are considered strange by everyone else because they do not pretend to be anything other than what they are.  The ability to change, transformation and humility are all arguably the spiritual themes of the play.  Burton and Taylor both fill their parts with a great amount of energy.  Somehow they make their turbulent insult-trading relationship seem tender.

 

- Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990) - It's a story about free will and determinism that mixes the writing of Shakespeare with that of Tom Stoppard.  It's uproariously funny.  Roth and Oldman are both perfect for their roles.  It has both philosophical and theological debates, including discussions of the meanings of value and certainty.  And, in the face of an inexplicable higher power, it makes our own smallness and insignificance both sad and funny at the same time.

 

- Much Ado About Nothing (1993) - The humor is more in the dialogue than in the story.  Branagh's version is ... well, it's joyous.  The characters are delighting in their roles, in their language and in their world.  Beatrice and Benedick romanticize a tougher love than that of the idealized fragile one of Hero and Claudio.  And as funny as Dogberry and his compatriots are, they also raise some questions about justice vs. mercy that, in their own way, are perhaps even wiser than all the other smart people around them.

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icon_thinking.gif  Stardust as a comedy? I know they lightened the tone for the movie, but I really don't get that one.

Edited by Tyler

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I just nominated the Frisco Kid and Blazing Saddles.  For those who have seen the Frisco Kid it should be fairly self evident why.

 

I suspect though that some would wonder what is spiritually significant enough about Blazing Saddles for it to be nominated.  I nominated it mainly because of the huge statement that it made about slavery and prejudice in its time, and the impact it had.  It's not thought of as much now but for a good 10 or 15 years after it was made it was considered to be one of the great comedy films of its time.

 

Blazing Saddles really charted new territory in how it dealt with some of these issues in a comedic way.  So even if the film didn't directly deal with spiritual matters I think it might be worth considering for its spiritual impact on people's hearts and society.

Edited by Attica

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Title: Stardust (2007)

Seconded. Because it's better than The Princess Bride.

 

WHAT!?!?! I enjoy Stardust and find it a lot of fun, but not spiritual at all. And if it's eligible, then...

Title: The Princess Bride

 

Stardust as a comedy? I know they lightened the tone for the movie, but I really don't get that one.

I was just preparing a defense of it when I saw this.

First, I'm coming from a point of view where I think fairy tales, mythology and the otherworldly are how spiritual themes very often enter the best stories. (Thus my nominations of A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Canterbury Ghost, Harvey, Heart and Souls and Stardust.) Another term for this is the mythopoeic. Maybe it's not for everyone, but anything that mixes in the mythopoeic, for me, seems more strongly interacting with the spiritual than just regular, more realistic tales.

Second, comparing something like Stardust directly to something like The Princess Bride, what do we find?  Both are comedies in tone where even much of the action is played for laughs. The majority of characters in both films are comic characters. Stardust even has a sort of Kind Hearts and Coronets storyline.  But consider the source material - Neil Gaiman is far more interested in spiritual themes than William Goldman seems to be.  Stardust concerns breaking into the "fairie world"/spiritual world while The Princess Bride is instead more interested in action/adventure.  In Stardust, besides the love story, there is a whole storyline about the pursuit of power and how it could affect each character.  In The Princess Bride, besides the love story, there is ... well, there's a revenge story I guess.  Honestly, the one is interested in a world of ghosts, witches, faeries, higher powers and the naiad/dryad equivalent to a star.  The other is interested in a world with the power of "true love."

So I'm with Christian on this one. Without criticizing The Princess Bride, without even denying that it's a creative, witty and enjoyable film, for purposes of this list, Stardust beats it on this ground. Neil Gaiman tries to do things with his story that William Goldman doesn't. And Matthew Vaughn's film, while not terribly profound, does explore more complicated spiritual themes than Rob Reiner's film ever touches on.

On a separate note: I just saw Adam's Apples (which is available on Netflix instant viewing). Great nomination!

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Nobel prize winner

I've already made almost my limit of nominations. I'm saving a handful, but here's my quick defenses of those I've nominated. I want to at least have them all in the discussion, but I'm going to highlight those I will strongly advocate for with an asterisk (*):

 

* 2. Henry Fool - Someone, I can't find the quote - was it Walker Percy? Malcolm Muggeridge? C.S. Leiws? G.K. Chesterton? - said (I'm paraphrasing) the scatological is ignored and under-appreciated in talk of the spiritual. Henry Fool embraces it, makes it funny and serious at the same time and at the same time completely embraces the mysterious, the miraculous. It's very stylized, but somehow also very human. As my two-year-old son will tell you, poo-poo is funny. So is seeing his dad in his underwear. And what makes him laugh, makes me laugh. Henry Fool is a bit more serious than all of that last, but in conjunction have given me an appreciation for scatological humor I didn't have before.

 

 

 

 

This is the only Hartley film I've seen and the 1st scenes were so uncomfortable I almost stopped watching. I think I mistook its darkness for repulsion towards its own characters, that I would be invited to share. And Henry Fool's posturing, cliched speech for the film's. 

But then it became like the poem at its core: outside art that can't be placed or shaken, naive and brave (the poem that we never hear, widely reviled as scatological and pornographic, that stirs a mute girl to song and is called beautiful).

 

I want to write more about why/how I understand the nomination. (If it's out of place here, I'll move or delete it!) I couldn't find a dedicated thread on Henry Fool, or muchdiscussion of Hartley's work, and I'd like to know how others feel about this film. Or just to encourage people to give it a chance, or a second chance. I shy away from dark (black, blue) comedy, so this was a revelation, so deadpan and humanistic.

 

It's full of fallen and slumming angels, grace emergent from refuse. The garbage man 'walking through shit' and the

Nobel prize winner

are one. The ring plucked from the maw of the compactor is scrap metal and pure gold: a fitting from a junked fridge or a wedding ring. The dump also yields Wordsworth's Prelude and at one point Pearl - of the Medieval Poem or Hester's daughter - or just a little girl with a dirt-smeared face, who is left behind, neglected and

abused

. Scenes of  conception, death, proposal, marriage,  like Henry Fool, combine the grotesque and even obscene with the poignant and radiant. I doubt I'll ever appreciate scatological humor but all the pieces that were ugly and Rabelaisian and excessive seemed to belong, to be unruly rather than gratuitous. They were part of the story of lives spiralling downward and rising stars, precious gifts rubbished and redeemed, how we mistreat and spare ourselves and each other.  And for all the times he's filmed looking away or ducking from confrontation, Simon is a witness. His art bears witness and he's attacked, sometimes physically, for seeing the unvarnished truth:  two people having sex, his sister's promiscuity, his friend's past. But his own gift might be to recognize worth in its defiled and debased state. Or if you want, in Christian terms, to see the divine imprint on each face. I need to stop but I could go on and on because it's endlessly readable (and for me, full of literary evocations: The Ballad of Peckham Rye, The Horse's Mouth, Faust, Joyce, Maupassant. . . )

 

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So I'm with Christian on this one. Without criticizing The Princess Bride, without even denying that it's a creative, witty and enjoyable film, for purposes of this list, Stardust beats it on this ground. Neil Gaiman tries to do things with his story that William Goldman doesn't. And Matthew Vaughn's film, while not terribly profound, does explore more complicated spiritual themes than Rob Reiner's film ever touches on.

Case for The Princess Bride over Stardust:

 

First of all, I don't think the inclusion of fairies, ghosts, and witches automatically makes a story spiritual.  While a fantasy world is often a great setting for exploring spiritual themes (a la Tolkien, Lewis, and Chesterton to name a few authors), I think for a story to be spiritual it has to do something more than just use that setting.  I don't think the film of Stardust explores divine themes beyond, "Isn't Tristan and Yvaine's relationship sweet," and "Their selfless love is powerful enough to overcome all obstacles."  And the fantasy elements are more for fun special effects.  (The book did explore more spiritual themes, but I'm considering the movie on its own.)

 

To be fair, in The Princess Bride, the depiction of Westley and Buttercup's love is not much different.  However, the reason I think it surpasses Stardust for this list is Peter Falk's depiction of love towards his grandson, and teaching him that someday he might feel differently about "kissing stories."  The Princess Bride also demonstrates different types of love: eros (Westley and Buttercup), philia (Fezzik and Inigo), and agape (Grandfather), which I think is much more impressive than merely being about "twue (romantic) love."

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I've not seen Stardust, but I've seen The Princess Bride and read its source material.  I concur wholeheartedly (insofar as it relates to PB).  There's not a whole lot of deeper themes there, although there's great satire.

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I've already made almost my limit of nominations. I'm saving a handful, but here's my quick defenses of those I've nominated. I want to at least have them all in the discussion, but I'm going to highlight those I will strongly advocate for with an asterisk (*):

 

* 2. Henry Fool - Someone, I can't find the quote - was it Walker Percy? Malcolm Muggeridge? C.S. Leiws? G.K. Chesterton? - said (I'm paraphrasing) the scatological is ignored and under-appreciated in talk of the spiritual. Henry Fool embraces it, makes it funny and serious at the same time and at the same time completely embraces the mysterious, the miraculous. It's very stylized, but somehow also very human. As my two-year-old son will tell you, poo-poo is funny. So is seeing his dad in his underwear. And what makes him laugh, makes me laugh. Henry Fool is a bit more serious than all of that last, but in conjunction have given me an appreciation for scatological humor I didn't have before.

 

 

This is the only Hartley film I've seen and the 1st scenes were so uncomfortable I almost stopped watching. I think I mistook its darkness for repulsion towards its own characters, that I would be invited to share. And Henry Fool's posturing, cliched speech for the film's. But then it became like the poem at its core: outside art that can't be placed or shaken, naive and brave (the poem that we never hear, widely reviled as scatological and pornographic, that stirs a mute girl to song and is called beautiful).

 

I want to write more about why/how I understand the nomination. (If it's out of place here, I'll move or delete it!) I couldn't find a dedicated thread on Henry Fool, or much discussion of Hartley's work, and I'd like to know how others feel about this film. Or just to encourage people to give it a chance, or a second chance. I shy away from dark (black, blue) comedy, so this was a revelation, so deadpan and humanistic.

 

It's full of fallen and slumming angels, grace emergent from refuse. The garbage man 'walking through shit' and the

Nobel prize winner

are one. The ring plucked from the maw of the compactor is scrap metal and pure gold: a fitting from a junked fridge or a wedding ring. The dump also yields Wordsworth's Prelude and at one point Pearl - of the Medieval Poem or Hester's daughter - or just a little girl with a dirt-smeared face, who is left behind, neglected and

abused

. Scenes of  conception, death, proposal, marriage,  like Henry Fool, combine the grotesque and even obscene with the poignant and radiant. I doubt I'll ever appreciate scatological humor but all the pieces that were ugly and Rabelaisian and excessive seemed to belong, to be unruly rather than gratuitous. They were part of the story of lives spiralling downward and rising stars, precious gifts rubbished and redeemed, how we mistreat and spare ourselves and each other.  And for all the times he's filmed looking away or ducking from confrontation, Simon is a witness. His art bears witness and he's attacked, sometimes physically, for seeing the unvarnished truth:  two people having sex, his sister's promiscuity, his friend's past. But his own gift might be to recognize worth in its defiled and debased state. Or if you want, in Christian terms, to see the divine imprint on each face. I need to stop but I could go on and on because it's endlessly readable (and for me, full of literary evocations: The Ballad of Peckham Rye, The Horse's Mouth, Faust, Joyce, Maupassant. . . )

 

Wonderful Josie! I've been meaning to write a rumination on this film for years. You hit exactly on many of the points that stand out to me. The film is a wonderful blend of comedy and tragedy, filth and holiness, the mundane and the miraculous.

 

It's also very stylized - and I think that is what many initially find off-putting (besides the scatological humor). Hartley almost always films his movies in what I would call, for lack of a better term, stage blocking which feels very odd when watching a film that has all the ornamentation of being set in a "real world." But once you get used to that, I've found it usually enhances the films for me.

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Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) - An angel makes a mistake and takes Robert Montgomery's soul 50 years too early.  This is just the beginning of a comedy of errors as they decide to find him a new healthy body (from someone who has just recently died).  Going together with the laughs are reflections on how moral choices shape how a life is lived, how the spiritual is both higher than the physical but intrinsically in need of it, and on the possibility for goodness to take evil by surprise.

The Canterville Ghost (1944) - I don't know how the film would have been without Charles Laughton, but his performance makes this film.  Laughton plays a blustering coward who is doomed to haunt his family castle until at least one single member of his family can perform an act of bravery.  After centuries, Margaret O'Brien's character gives him someone he can communicate with again.  I'm not sure how he does it, but Laughton plays the ghost as both comic and profoundly tragic.  Themes in the film include the eternal and timeless nature of good and evil actions, the against all odds hope for redemption, and the possibility of propitiatory acts.

Angel on My Shoulder (1946) - This film is worth watching for Paul Muni alone.  He was always fun as a gangster.  Here, Muni is an assassinated gangster who makes a deal with the devil to ruin the reputation of a good judge by, due to the judge's poor health, somehow taking over his body and acting through him.  The story turns into an illustration of Habakkuk 1:12-2:5 and Romans 8:28 where no matter what evil tries to accomplish, God can still use it for good.

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J.A.A. Purves said:

 

:On a separate note: I just saw Adam's Apples (which is available on Netflix instant viewing). Great nomination!

 

 

It's a great film isn't it.  One of the catches with comedy is that if one goes too dark it can become offensive and the comedy falls apart, or yet if one goes to silly then any drama falls apart.  Adam's apples manages to get extremely dark in its humour which works because of its silliness, but then it still manages to make the drama really effective.  It really is an exceptionally made film.

 

Plus.  The spiritual themes and questions are superb.

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In Bruges is one of the 5 or so funniest movies of this century (darkest, too, but I'm okay with that). Beyond that, it also becomes a profound examination of spiritual themes like loyalty, trust, punishment, and free will. I don't agree with the conclusions it comes to on those issues, but the energy and desperation it employs in raising them made me consider them in ways that most movies don't.

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Wow, I had no idea what y'all had picked for the theme until just now. I can't wait. People have been itching to do a comedy list for quite awhile now, yeah? Glad we finally did it.

 

I will peruse the list and see if I have any nominations.

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