5/14/2010

Top 6 Words: Meet

Posted in Top 6 Words at 5:00 am by Sam

“Meet” is the word for this entry in the Top 6 Words series. This word, along with the third person singular form “meet” and the abbreviation “Vs,” is a great word for franchise cross-overs.

My favorite movies with the word “meet” in the title follow the jump, but try thinking up some “meet” titles on your own before peeking. Chime in with your own list in the comments section.

A full Top 6 list could be made just with Abbott and Costello. They met the Mummy, Captain Kidd, Boris Karloff, and the Keystone Kops, among others. But only one made my list.

You can meet a lot of people in the movies, including some you don’t want to. You don’t really want to meet the Fockers, for example, or Wally Sparks. But meeting seems to be good, on balance.

6. Meet Joe Black (1998)

What would happen if Death took a vacation, hung around on Earth for a while, and fell in love? I would think a lot more would happen than happens in this film, and I would have liked to have seen a movie that explored the ramifications of such a premise in more detail. But that’s not the kind of movie Meet Joe Black is, and I can’t fault a movie for not being what it never intended to be.

Instead, the movie is a romance, a character study, and an exploration of human virtues. When an otherwise unfeeling supernatural agent enters the foreign world of humanity and is suddenly confronted with human emotions, what does he learn, and what does it say about humanity in general?

Death, played by Brad Pitt, is an alternately amusing and frustrating character we don’t know whether to love or hate. That I liked — rather than doing our thinking for us, the movie puts the burden of decision on the viewer. You can’t lie back and enjoy the ride: you have to figure out where you’re going and how you feel about it yourself.

What didn’t quite ring true was Death’s understanding of humanity. It stands to reason that a foreign being that nevertheless works closely with humankind would have a fractured understanding of us — he’d be profound about some things and ignorant about others. And indeed, that’s how he’s portrayed. But what he’s knowledgeable about and what he isn’t doesn’t always make sense.

But I enjoyed the story, and I even enjoyed its leisurely — make that very leisurely — pace. When all was said and done, I was moved and satisfied, but perhaps not as much as I would have liked to have been. What put the movie over the top for me was a magnificent performance by Anthony Hopkins, as the man scheduled to die that Death uses to introduce him to the human world. Hopkins has an amazing screen presence; he can portray a starkly realized, tangible, feeling character without even appearing to try. Amidst the plot (which is a busy one, though the leisurely pace may suggest otherwise) and all the ideas and themes, Hopkins’ elegant performance was the highlight for me.

5. Meet the Parents (2000)

Robert De Niro is wonderful as a hopeful suitor’s worst nightmare of a prospective father-in-law in this all-out comedy. As in There’s Something About Mary, Ben Stiller is great as a guy with good intentions and a knack for getting into absurdly escalating trouble. Meet the Parents is less gross and less funny, not that the two are correlated, but it still has a lot more comic energy than most modern comedies, and it knows how to channel it. It understands that what’s funny is people, not people trying to be funny.

The sequel, Meet the Fockers, unfortunately lacks this understanding. It’s a big dumb charmless gross-out comedy and nothing more.

4. Meet John Doe (1941)

Frank Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (1936) and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939) were about ordinary American citizens stumbling into a position where they could redeem or thwart jaded officials and turn society and government on its head. Meet John Doe is another in that vein. It stars Gary Cooper as a guy hired to impersonate someone who doesn’t actually exist but was invented by a journalist as part of a scheme to get even after being fired. If that sounds complicated, well, this movie is only just getting started.

Modern audiences frequently find Capra’s films too sentimental, but I think he earns the sentiment. Maybe it’s because his heroes aren’t the perfect role models of moral integrity people remember them as: they are touched by society’s corruption too. They straighten out in the end, but not without fighting hard for it and making sacrifices. If we are too cynical to believe that men like this can singlehandedly reform society, never mind. We can believe they’d change themselves, and that’s enough.

3. Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)

Judy Garland heads an ensemble cast for this nostalgic turn-of-the-century musical about a large family. They live in St. Louis and prepare to move to New York. That appears to be all the movie is about, but only because the characters themselves miss the meat of the film, which is about how families work: how they split apart, stick together, feud, and reconcile; how they interact with society at large; how they establish their place in the world. If the portrayal of the American family seems dated now, well, it was dated in 1944, too. The world this movie portrays was nothing at all like the World War II era audiences knew, though some would have remembered. We might not remember 1903 today, but the movie is so warm and human, it feels like we do.

2. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Abbott and Costello’s best film is this one, the first time Abbott and Costello were put up against Universal’s distinguished line of movie monsters. Not only does the comic duo face Frankenstein’s monster but Dracula and the Wolf Man as well. This odd collision of universes injected some freshness back into Abbott and Costello’s film career, and the monsters (all three played by actors who had played them in the proper series: Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., and Glenn Strange) are not compromised by directly participating in the slapstick shenanigans themselves. Follow-up Abbott and Costello Meets films never quite reproduced the success had here, but how could they? It was done right the first time.

1. Meet the Robinsons (2007)

Disney animation sadly hasn’t been as reliable in the last ten years or so as it used to be, or as Pixar is now. But they hit it out of the park with Meet the Robinsons, an unrelenting joy ride through a world of time travel, black-hatted villains, crazy inventions, and — why not? — dinosaurs. This is surely one of the most energetic movies I’ve ever seen; there is simply no upper bound on its creativity. It’s the kind of thing that could easily be laid on too thick, but the movie never forgets that its environment isn’t what the story is about, only where it takes place. In an age where so many animated movies are hyperactive noise, here is one that…well, it is hyperactive, but there’s a real story and a heart driving it all.

5 Comments »

  1. Nyperold (116) said,

    May 14, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    The A&C I remember the best is Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man, and the part I remember the best is the running gag about this guy who keeps seeing Abbott and Costello doing something that heavily suggests the presence of a human, but he can’t see the guy, so we dissolve to him talking to his psychiatrist, trying to say what it is he saw. “I saw two men carrying no man.” If you (the other readers) haven’t heard of this one, you might be led to think that this is one of those “Abbott & Costello meet a movie monster” things. Well, it’s not quite one. The invisible man in this film is a man who becomes invisible so he can investigate a crime of which he has been accused, rather than someone who becomes invisible so he can commit crimes.

    You’ve got Meet John Doe, no surprise there.

    I don’t think I remember having seen Meet Me In St. Louis, but the title line of the title song is earworming me as I type this.

  2. joem18b (231) said,

    May 16, 2010 at 3:04 am

    Meet Me in St. Louis is in my hall of fame, so I can’t pick it. And anyway, there are also Meet Me in Las Vegas and Meet Me in Miami. Is St. Louis really the destination of choice here?

    Meet my Meet list:

    6. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (2004) - An intense young clerk at Blockbuster recommended this one to me. I read the book and enjoyed the movie. Yeah, it’s clunky, but forget Avatar - in TFPYMIH you get Jeff Daniels working blue.

    5. Over the Top (Meet Me Half Way) (1987) - I have no idea where the alternative MMHW title came from, but I’ll take it! Stallone, arm wrasslin’, using his special truck-cabin arm-wrasslin’-practice weight machine as he drives, in between poppin steroids! Will he win the new rig that is the prize?? What do you think? Rocky, boiled down to one bicep.

    4. Meet Boston Blackie (1941) - My first favorite TV show, so this earlier movie must make my list. As I recall, my mom forbade me watching the show but was lax in the application of her ban.

    3. Meet the Applegates (1990) - Any movie about South American preying mantises that move into the neighborhood automatically qualifies for my list.

    2. ‘Til We Meet Again (1940) - Out of all the Till/’Til/Until We Meet Agains, I’m choosing the Merle Oberon/George Brent vehicle for this list.
    A remake of One Way Passage (1932). On a one-way trip together: he, heading for the Chair; her, with a flukey ticker.

    1. The Fortune Cookie (aka “Meet Whiplash Willie” - UK) (1966) - This is the one where Matthau starts up the stairs and emerges at the top 40 lbs lighter because he had a heart attack on the way up while shooting the scene.

    Worth a mention:

    Meet Danny Wilson (1951) - Number 6 on my list. Sinatra and Winters, with Burr as the bad guy. I’ve always had a fondness for Sinatra onscreen.

    Meet Dave (2008) - All I can remember is, what, a spaceship flying out of his mouth, or his mouth flying out of the Washington Monument, or something… Eddy Murphy. That’s what I get for watching the movie before the glue fumes cleared.

    Meet the Spartans (2008) - Wha…? Only 2.4 in IMDB?!? That can’t be right!

    Ghosts on the Loose (aka “The East Side Kids Meet Bela Lugosi) (1943) - Gorcey and Hall. Why, I oughta put this up in my list.

    Strangers When We Meet (1960) - Tip of the hat to Evan Hunter (RIP), who wrote this in his early 30s.

  3. Sam (405) said,

    May 16, 2010 at 8:21 am

    joem: I don’t understand your lists. How is it a “Top 6″ list if the movies at the top are ineligible?

  4. joem18b (231) said,

    May 16, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    A while back I noticed that all my Top lists were listing the same movies over and over again. Boring. What about all those other movies that I like? When do they get a chance? So I tossed all my top movies into a Hall of Fame. If I mention that a movie is in my HOF, you can rest assured that I recommend it. Meanwhile, the movies on my Top lists are the top movies that the reader might not have seen and might enjoy.

    And speaking of enjoyment, my top picks are the movies that I’d prefer to watch this very afternoon. Sure, I like Meet Joe Black fine, but today maybe I’d rather watch Jayne Mansfield (for obvious reasons) and Cameron Mitchell (whom I liked in all 97 episodes of The High Chaparral back in the 60s. What a career the guy had.) in Dog Eat Dog (When Strangers Meet - UK) (1964).

    Or maybe I’m just jealous and don’t want a pick on my list appearing in the lists of others, like some common tramp.

  5. Jaguar (22) said,

    May 17, 2010 at 10:56 am

    Meet the Robinsons wouldn’t have made my list… too hyperactive and inane.

    Meet the Parents wouldn’t have made my list either. Seeing Ben Stiller with his good intentions constantly failing and failing and failing! It was so frustrating that I couldn’t enjoy the movie.

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