Alphabetical Movie – The Hangover
A recent office conversation revolved around the question of whether or not there have been any truly great movies in the last five years. I’m terrible at remembering which year a movie came out so for me, the question was hard to answer. Of course I did what any geek with internet access would do and I looked it up.
When you actually look up what movies have been released over a five year period, you will probably come across a great man films that you liked or even loved. The question then becomes – what constitutes a “great” movie? If you don’t define your terms, you are pretty stuck.
I bring all this up because as we compiled our lists, The Hangover was suggested as fitting in the category of “great” films. I’m not sure that I agree but it could depend more on my definition than on anything else.
Great comedy is, I think, far harder to identify than a great film in any other genre. Comedy is so subjective and it is frequently very sensitive to the time in which it was produced. What people found funny in the 1940′s is frequently lost on audiences of today.
The Hangover is definitely a funny film to me and, more important, it was funny on repeat viewings. Because I am who I am and I get all the pop culture references that are in the film, I’m going to think it is funny twenty years from now. The question is – will my children think it is funny twenty years from now.
If they do, I think you can start to think of the film as a great film. Until then, I think the judgement may be a bit premature.
So how do I personally define a movie as great? Here’s a handy six point scale:
1) It is just as good or better when I watch it again? Some movies lose a lot of their impact when re-watch them. The Sixth Sense is a movie I still enjoy but I admit that it has lost a bit of it’s lustre with repeated viewings. My enjoyment of films like Casablanca, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Pulp Fiction grows each time I watch them.
2) Is it something that goes beyond a personal favorite? I mean, I love some real trash. If I’m the only person to love it, I can’t define it as “great.” I mean, I will defend A.I. to the ends of the earth but I don’t think it is a great film because it is flawed and because there is not a solid consensus on the film.
3) Is there someone out there who is going to bitch to high hell that the movie isn’t all that good? If a movie can’t inspire some passion, it isn’t all that great. You cannot make a movie that will make everyone happy. If you can make one that will inspire passion, you have something. Citizen Kane inspires passionate people to talk about how great it is even as other equally passionate people complain that it isn’t all that great. Good art gets a reaction and there is no requirement that reaction be positive.
4) Does it have staying power? I’ve had this conversation a lot. When you look at the films nominated for best picture in 1996, there are two films that I would think are considered “great” – Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption. The Best Picture Oscar went to Forrest Gump. Now I liked Gump when it came out and I will defend it as a good film. However, given the benefit of hindsight, Gump is nowhere near the cultural touchstone of those two other films. You don’t often hear someone say “You haven’t seen Forrest Gump??? You are coming over to my house tomorrow night and we are going to fix that!”
5) Can it exist separate from the era in which it was created? This is different than asking if a film has staying power. One of the issues with Gump is the extent to which it relies on current pop culture references. It is anchored in a time and place and also reliant on that time and place. I think Shrek has the same problem. The Toy Story trilogy, on the other hand, is careful to avoid any but the most universal pop culture references (Mr. Potatohead and Barbie f’rinstance). Looking at classic films like Singin’ in the Rain, you really see nothing that prevents a modern audience from appreciating the film. If there is no universal gateway for an audience, I have a hard time saying it is “great.”
6) Did it actually accomplish what it was trying to do? I remember watching Closer several years ago and thinking it was a terrific movie peopled with characters I didn’t like. Thing is, I wasn’t supposed to like those characters. I wasn’t supposed to identify with them. I was supposed to think they were selfish and annoying. Is that a failure? No. That was the point. I don’t have to enjoy watching a film about people I dislike but it is unfair to judge the quality of the film as poor when that was the idea in the first place.
Now, a movie can be challenging and still be great. It can have a limited audience and still be great. Most people won’t take the time to really explore Kurosawa films. That doesn’t make The Seven Samurai a bad film.
So getting back to The Hangover, is it a great film. Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t think that it quite reaches that level. We’ll see what I think in ten years.