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Top 10 lists

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By Doug Thompson

Does Netflix offer “The Giant Claw,” my son asked.
Somewhat stunned, I said I’d check. Why do you ask?
It’s on somebody’s Internet Top 10 List of all-time favorite giant monster movies, ahead of both “King Kong” and “Godzilla.”
Then somebody’s idea of a great giant monster movie includes a whole lot of high camp, I replied. “The Giant Claw” uses a wooden puppet that is, without question, the silliest monster ever seen in a theatrical release. That would include movies that were made as satires and other comedies.
Have you seen it? Yes, son, I have. I want to see it, he replied.
You know, why not? Netflix had it. We ordered it. It’s included in a triple-feature DVD, along with “The Creature from the Atom Brain” and a 1950s werewolf movie. All of it’s vintage schlockmeister Stan Katzman fare. We’ll have a blast.
It appears, however, that this top 10 or 100 or 1,000 stuff is getting out of hand.
I compiled a list once. Bored, I started marking every four-star movie in Leonard Maltin’s 1990 guide to movies on video. I’d seen hundreds of them before already, some in theaters. I started checking them out in video stores and looking for them on cable. It wasn’t long before I typed the ones left on a list and carried it in my wallet.
I saw some great stuff. I enjoyed some movies that I thought were going to melodramatic failures. “The Best Years of Our Lives” is the prime example of a movie that I dreaded as an “eat your vegetables” bore that turned out to be a particular favorite. That film alone changed my regard for Dana Andrews as an actor.
Hundreds of movies into this enterprise, however, I discovered that I had no taste. I used to have pretty good taste, but I’d lost it.
“Is it on my list?” became more important to me than “I might enjoy that” when picking a movie, or even what to watch on TV.
People would ask me if I’d seen a good movie lately. I’d say yes, of course. Would you recommend it? Well, ah, no. After all, it was a movie about a hit man going through psychotherapy. Oh, like “Analyze This”? Well, no. It’s a very straight drama where he winds up shooting his father and dying himself. Then his widow and his orphan wind up using his therapist, but they don’t know he was seeing a therapist, and certainly not that one. That psychiatrist is also treating a woman. She’d had a tryst with the hitman. She realizes who the widow is after they meet in the waiting room.
That one, believe it or not, was one of my favorites. I’d give the title, but I’ve told too many spoilers already. It’s very well done, especially the part about shooting a squirrel.
Every time I watched something merely enjoyable, I thought of it as a lost opportunity to watch something great. Worse, other things in life started being judged by the same standard. Shall I call my mother, write a letter to an old friend or get another movie crossed off my list? My in-laws took me to a nice dinner once. I was visibly annoyed that they wanted to go before “The Blue Angel” was over while I was watching it through their satellite dish.
Fortunately, this “list” problem had a fail-safe mechanism. A great many four-star movies are severely depressing. If you need to break somebody’s “great movie” addiction, just check to make sure his list includes the Japanese film “Sansho the Bailiff .” Then you can rest easy.
So, it’s better to watch dumb popcorn movies? No, that’s not my point. Here’s my point or two.
I’m going to have more fun watching “The Giant Claw” with my son than I did watching “A Student Prince in Old Hiedelberg” by myself. I’ll have done both by the end of this weekend.
Some things are serious works of art that should be contemplated. Others are an excuse to share something with somebody else, to laugh even if it’s laughing at how bad it is.
Those who can enjoy both are lucky.

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