Without question, the greatest media invention of the past quarter-century is The List. You know, the Top 100 Movie Comedies, the Top 10 Intersections for Accidents in Tucson, the Top One song by Vanilla Ice. Last week, Entertainment Weekly magazine ran its latest list, this one of "The 25 Most Controversial Films of All Time." How can we resist a tease like that?
When I see a headline like that, I immediately try to come up with what I think should be No. 1. I guessed Napoleon Dynamite, but I wasn't even close. I'll skip some of the more boring ones.
At No. 25 is the Disney animated feature Aladdin. I had to double-check to make sure I was reading the right article. As it turns out, some anti-defamation league got all twisted up over the portrayal of genies or Arabs or something. First the porn scenes in The Little Mermaid, then Bush administration propaganda in Aladdin. What's next?
At 24 is Caligula, which is about a crazy Roman emperor and the horse he rode in on. So to speak.
At 22 is Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing. I remember the controversy about Mookie throwing the trash can through the window of Sal's Pizzeria. I always wondered why he hadn't used the trash can earlier to beat Radio Raheem's ass for playing his music so damn loud. I understand that Chuck D says you have to fight the power (and mustn't Chuck be so proud of how Flava Flav has turned out on VH1?), but what good is it if before you fight the power, you have to first fight the migraine?
At No. 19 is Basic Instinct, about which the only controversial thing is how Joe Eszterhas keeps getting writing jobs in Hollywood.
Nos. 17 and 18 are 1932's Freaks and 1969's I Am Curious (Yellow), which showed midgets and penises, respectively, neither of which, apparently, was acceptable for its time.
At No. 16 is United 93, which is a true story of a group of average Americans who choose to die valiantly on one of the bleakest days in U.S. history. Moviegoers flock to crap like Saw and Saw II, yet avoid this because it's too intense? People are idiots.
Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi rah-rah flick Triumph of the Will comes in at 15. Pretty scary stuff, even today. Those who icily praise her camera techniques while shrugging at the subject matter are charter members of the "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?" society.
We also have:
14. The Warriors. Sorry, loved this movie. Still do. "Oh War-r-i-o-r-s, come out and play-yay ..."
13. The Da Vinci Code. Haven't read the book; haven't seen the movie. If Mary Magdalene had been at the Last Supper, Mel Brooks, who was the waiter at the affair, would've told us. "Jesus!" "Yes?" "What?" "Jesus!" "Yes?"
12. The Deer Hunter. Great Russian roulette scene. Cemented Robert De Niro's greatness and introduced most of us to Christopher Walken. What's the controversy?
11. The Message, a 1977 telling of the origins of Islam. It prompted a hostage situation in Washington, D.C., in which future mayor and noted crackhead Marion Barry was actually shot. Oddly enough, the film's director, Moustapha Akkad, died in an al-Qaida hotel bombing last fall in Jordan.
9. Last Tango in Paris. Marlon Brando naked and having sex. Not controversial, just ewwwwww!
8. Natural Born Killers. A really, really, really, really bad attempt at satire by Oliver Stone that actually inspired a dozen or so copycat killings in the United States. I've heard of dying for art, but what about dying for crap?
7. The Birth of a Nation. The 1915 D.W. Griffith film depicted African Americans as unintellectual and sex-addicted, and KKK members as heroic. Mel Brooks did the same thing in Blazing Saddles and got lots of laughs.
6. The Last Temptation of Christ. Again with Mary Madgelene. Boy, does that harpy get around!
5. JFK. This time, Oliver Stone combines brilliant cinematic techniques with a shaky premise, that being that there was some kind of conspiracy surrounding the John F. Kennedy assassination. Hasn't he heard of the Warren Commission Report?
4. Deep Throat. A cheesy porn flick that sparked a First Amendment battle and gave us a code name for the Watergate informant. After we waited 30 years to learn that guy's identity, how many of us actually remember his name six months after he outed himself?
3. Fahrenheit 9/11. A slanted political documentary that sparked a firestorm but ultimately failed to convince a plurality that George W. Bush is a bumbling fool. Oddly enough, even though most Americans now realize he was right, many still despise Michael Moore.
2. A Clockwork Orange. One of only three X-rated movies ever nominated for Best Picture (along with Last Tango in Paris and, ahem, Midnight Cowboy) and one of Stanley Kubrick's best movies. Millions of teenage boys still dress up as Alex de Large for Halloween.
And at No. 1, The Passion of the Christ. I never saw this movie. Some blabbermouth told me the plot and ruined the whole thing for me.