Thursday, March 10, 2016
The 50 highest ranked movies by the users of IMDB reads like a typical list of the usual suspects -- The Usual Suspects actually being one of them, at #25.
And then there's the one that comes in at #38, which I suspect most of the fans of the other 49 have only heard of because of its inclusion on this list.
It's Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache's The Intouchables, a heartwarming French dramedy from 2011 starring mostly people that IMDB's heavily American viewership have never heard of, which would also describe the film's co-directors. Or so we would think it was heavily American, if The Intouchables didn't prove to the exception to that rule.
I myself had actually heard of these directors, as I have seen their follow-up film, 2014's Samba, which also stars the outrageously charming and charismatic Omar Sy. But before yesterday, The Intouchables was one of only two of the IMDB top 50 I had yet to see, the other being The Green Mile just behind it at #40.
In fact, I'd guess most viewers would figure this as a French remake of Brian De Palma's 1987 film, The Untouchables, about Elliot Ness and Al Capone. The two have nothing to do with one another, of course. This is a story of a French billionaire paralyzed from the neck down, who invites one of the least likely candidates for the job -- a Senegalese immigrant with a healthy distrust of authority and a wicked sense of humor -- to be his arms and legs, as it were.
Having now finally seen the movie, I can understand why its broad populism would have earned it a place on this list -- but only just. There are certainly far more effective crowd pleasers that are nowhere near this list, and that were made in Hollywood, seemingly making them far more likely to climb a list featuring the likes of Star Wars, The Dark Knight and The Godfather in the top ten. In fact, its 8.5 star rating makes The Intouchables the fifth highest ranked foreign language film on IMDB, behind only Seven Samurai, City of God (itself an unusual inclusion), Life is Beautiful and Spirited Away (though many were likely to have experienced this last with an English language dub). But even if we narrow it down to French language films based on real-life paralyzed people, I'd like to see The Diving Bell and the Butterfly a lot higher than this.
So what, did a bunch of French viewers just stuff the ballot boxes for what became the country's second biggest box office hit of all time?
Something like that must be the case, but if so, why don't we see that phenomenon occur more with Bollywood films? We already know that Indians represent a powerful voting bloc on IMDB, as more than 44,000 of them engaged in a movement to make a movie called Gunday the all-time lowest rated on IMDB -- not because of the film's astounding ineptitude, but because it had some political affiliations that they found objectionable. Yet their best efforts have only managed to push a nearly three-hour 2009 comedy called 3 Idiots to #113 on IMDB. (For reference, Deadpool is already up at #78).
A little googling might discover the answer for me, but for now I'm just interested in musing about these statistical anomalies. They always fascinate me. Some movies' successes in an open and democratic forum like this are just kind of inexplicable, as are some movies' total failures. At #67, Citizen Kane seems to have claimed a particularly low spot on this list, since it is almost always in the top five of any critics' list of all-time great movies. Though that said, Vertigo -- the current title holder for best film of all time in the 2012 Sight & Sound poll -- is three slots lower than that at #70. If you go four slots lower, you get 1957's Witness for the Prosecution, a film I've heard of but am not even really embarrassed about not having seen. Before clicking on it just now, I could not even have told you its director (Billy Wilder) or any of its stars (Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Laughton). Who can explain it? Not I.
As I said earlier, though, I can explain the appeal of The Intouchables. It's a warm and fun movie. Still, it's a bit broad and does almost nothing unexpected, other than delivering us an absolutely joyous Omar Sy performance. Given how predictable it is, I gave it "only" 3.5 stars on Letterboxd.
I guess people's love for this movie is one of its intouchable aspects.