Ragged Clown

It's just a shadow you're seeing that he's chasing…

The Curse of the Worthy Movies


When Netflix first started their DVD service, we did what everyone else did. We loaded up our queue with classic movies from the old days and started watching stuff we’d always wanted to see but never gotten around to. Then Netflix recommended “more like this” and the movies we watched got worthier and Worthier and WORTHIER. Before we knew it our queue was full to the brim with Iranian Tragedies and French Kitchen Sink Dramas. It got to be too much and we quit Netflix.

You have to pace yourself.

It’s great to watch the occasional worthy movie—those films are on everyone’s Top Ten list for a reason—but you have to mix in some fun stuff too or it starts to feel too much like hard work.

In my ideal movie club we’d think about movies according to two attributes.

  1. Are they fun?
  2. Are they good quality?

We can plot our movies on a chart with four quadrants. As always, it’s best to be high on the right.

Click chart to embiggen.

Movies that are high on the left are the ones you find on famous people’s top ten lists. It’s Citizen Kane & Battleship Potemkin. It’s Metropolis and The Bicycle Thief. Anything by Shakespeare or Kurosawa.

You can tell you’ve watched a Worthy Movie if, when you get to the end you say “I’m glad I watched that, but I hope I never have to watch it again.”

Watching your worthy movies is something you should do occasionally, like having a colonoscopy, and you should feel good about yourself afterwards. But it’s no fun spending all your time with a tube stuffed up your arse.

Battleship Potempkin

The bottom right has your fun movies that you watch when you don’t want to think too much. They are just good, escapist mind fluff. Think Clint Eastwood and an Orang Utan or gym teachers who howl when you take them to the dirty laundry room. Sex with Pies.

Mindless Enjoyment is a fine thing once in a while but too much of it and you’ll rot your brain.

There’s only one reason to watch a movie in the bottom left quadrant. Remember when you watched a whole bunch of movies that you thought were hilarious when you were twelve. You should watch them one more time as an adult, just to remind yourself how far you’ve come. Farting cowboys are not as funny as they used to be.

There are so many classic movies up in that top right quadrant that you might wonder why anyone would watch anything else—especially in a movie club whose charter requires them to watch classic movies of yesteryear.

There are two reasons why that doesn’t happen.

Cool Hand Luke

First reason: If everyone follows the same algorithm (a worthy movie now again is a good thing), then we’ll all have a worthy movie in mind. We’ll all have to watch everyone’s worthy movie before we get to the good stuff and, in a movie club with 100 members, if we each nominate one worthy movie we should start watching classic movies in about two years.

The other good reason to watch a worthy movie—and we’ve all made this mistake—is to ask someone else for advice. You know, that brother-in-law who loves movies, or the co-worker who went to film school. Or maybe there’s some famous film critic online. Ask any of these people what their favourite movie is and they’re gonna pick a worthy movie. Their reputation depends on it.

They won’t tell you that the movie is no fun of course. After you complain that you just sat through 3 hours of Egyptian Brass Bands wandering around the Israeli desert or Japanese business men held captive in some sand dunes, they’ll say “Oh yeah. It was a bit heavy going in places…” or “Right. It’s a long time since I’ve watched that one.” It was probably an honest mistake but you are not getting those three hours back. Trouble is, we all have a brother-in-law like that and they all want to recommend a worthy movie.

Anyway, so I’ve started a movie club and we got off to a great start. One mindless fun movie to get us started then a couple of classics that are among the top-rightiest movies that have ever been made.

We’re currently lost in The Worthy Zone but I have high hopes that we’ll get back to the top right soon, though we may have to make a slight detour into oh-my-god-no-land before we get there.

This week’s choices fill the quadrants completely. I hope we choose well.

Come join us, why don’t you?