I have never seen Top Gun, a fact so odd to some people that this is the second time I’ve felt the need to defend it. The reason I’ve never seen it is simple enough: I cannot stand Tom Cruise. Whether it’s the 1980s films that star his teeth, the 1990s films that star his hair, or the 2010s films that star the irresistible gravitational pull of his bottomless yearning for death, watching him always feels like watching a particularly sociopathic double-glazing salesman prepare to fleece your grandmother before taking a big glossy shit in her mailbox for good measure.
So why, then, do I feel like I should see Top Gun? It’s not so I’d finally understand all the references to wingmen or danger zones or whatever bad thing it is that apparently happens to a goose: It’s so I’d appreciate Hot Shots that much more.
I have somewhat schizophrenic taste in comedy, in that I tend to like the extremes of dark and silly, and not so much the stuff in the middle (your Step Brothers, The Hangover(s), et al). On the one hand, I really, really enjoy pitch-black comedies that leave you more depressed than giggling by the time the credits roll — Sorry to Bother You, It’s a Disaster, Ingrid Goes West. At the distant other end of the spectrum, I have seen Spaceballs so many times that I can recite it verbatim and eventually resorted to watching it dubbed into German for a change of pace, and holy God is it funny in German (a language I do not speak).
So I’ve endlessly rewatched Naked Gun, Top Secret, Airplane (impossibly scorching hot take: Airplane II is the funnier film, due to its vastly higher gag count), and, yes, Hot Shots and its even more gloriously silly sequel, Hot Shots: Part Deux, all while laughing in the manner of a recently concussed moose. And I have wondered from time to time whether I’m missing out on something with Hot Shots by not having seen Top Gun, but frankly, to not have to watch two hours of Tom Cruise’s prime “teeth” era, it’s a risk I’m willing to continue taking — after all, there’s literally nothing Cruise could do to improve upon the perfection of Lloyd Bridge’s “I’ll get it, probably for me” gag.
Here are the other movies the MEL staff feel like they should watch, but can’t.
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom
Tim Grierson, Contributing Editor: For most guys I know, it was a manly rite of passage to sit through scary horror movies with your buddies, the more stomach-churning the better. The idea was to prove how tough you were, to show that you could handle anything. If you were squeamish, then you were a wimp, practically ostracized for being a baby. Nobody wanted to be that guy.
I’m pretty lucky that I can handle horror movies — in my line of work, you see a lot of those types of films, so you’d better get used to gore — and I feel like I have a high tolerance for all kinds of disturbing images and subject matter. But the arthouse world has its own version of the hard-to-watch endurance test, and it’s 1975’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. The title alone has become synonymous with unpleasant, horrifying, art-for-art’s-sake cinema. Practically nobody sees Salò because they’re excited about it — it’s because they want to know if it’s really as traumatizing as they’ve heard. I still haven’t had the guts to find out for myself.
Earlier this year, Zach Schonfeld succinctly summarized the film, which has inspired a series of memes recently: “Its plot, set amid the 1944 German occupation of Italy, concerns a crew of sadistic libertines who take captive a group of teenagers and subject them to rape, torture and ungodly forms of humiliation in a debauched palace. Its unflinching portrayal of violence, power, rape, coprophagia (that means shit-eating) and the general human capacity for cruelty has earned it a reputation as one of the most disturbing films of all time. Imagine if 2 Girls 1 Cup were two hours long and endowed with deep historic and artistic significance.”
If Salò was made by some hack, nobody would bother. (That’s why most sane humans avoid exercises in cheap exploitation like Human Centipede and A Serbian Film.) But Salò was made by Pier Paolo Pasolini, one of the most respected (and controversial) provocateurs of his time, and since I’m someone who cares about great movies, I really ought to check it out at some point. But thus far… I just can’t. Just thinking about what I might encounter in Salò is enough to make me the scaredy-cat I never was as a kid.
Miles Klee, Staff Writer: Back before the MCU days, the great Sam Raimi was showing us the cinematic potential of its best hero. Part two of his Spider-Man trilogy features perhaps the single best villain of the genre in Doctor Octopus (introduced in a scene that reminds you of Raimi’s unmatched talent for horror). So you’d think I’d be all in on Spider-Man 3, what with its promise of the alien symbiote/Venom storyline. Unfortunately, that seems to be where the studios overplayed their hand, weighing down the franchise with too many visual effects, bad guys and subplots. After hearing bad reviews from friends, I decided to skip it.
Only years later did its campy elements make it a popular source of memes; Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker apparently starts to express his evil side by swishing around in black clothes and an emo haircut, which makes for some intensely goofy shots and sequences. From what I’ve seen, the performance seems deranged. Am I curious to put all this in the context of a full film? Of course. But I just cannot force myself to commit 139 minutes of my time on this planet to excavating the weird Hollywood ideas of what a “bad boy” was supposed to look and sound like in 2007. I leave it to other cultural anthropologists to explain what the fuck was happening here.
Alyson Lewis, Engagement Editor: There are few actors I love and respect more than Robert De Niro. I previously made it a mission to watch almost all of his movies, but when it came to Taxi Driver, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. At the time, I told my then-boyfriend that I planned to finally watch it, and he responded, “No. You won’t like that.” I asked why, and he responded with those two words a girl like me hates to hear — “psychological thriller.” No. I don’t watch things that have to do with the inner-workings of the mind. Absolutely fucking not. I don’t need to know what’s going on in my own head, let alone the psyche of a fictional character. I’m supposed to watch Taxi Driver and then do what? Think about whatever disturbing shit happens in that movie for the rest of my life? It’s not happening, no matter how much I love De Niro.
Too many movies are an emotional burden. Filmmakers create their little art, and then give it to viewers to shoulder the load. We have to consume, “feel something” and react to it. That’s a lot of work to ask of a stranger. Sometimes we carry these upsetting films with us for the rest of our stupid little lives. No thanks! I don’t want to see Robert De Niro doing all that, and I refuse to see him in my nightmares. I’m not well-rounded when it comes to film, and I don’t have to be. I watch TV to fucking vibe, not to endure trauma or get upset. If I wanted to do either of those things, I’d turn on the news. There’s no reason for me to watch something out of my comfort zone for the sake of cinema when I can eat weed gummies, watch Seinfeld or Half Baked and actually enjoy myself.
The Vietnam War
Ian Lecklitner, Staff Writer: Like many millennial Americans, I read Heart of Darkness, watched Apocalypse Now and listened to Jimi Hendrix shred the national anthem at Woodstock more times than I care to count. Therefore, I know basically everything there is to know about the Vietnam War without actually knowing anything at all about the Vietnam War.
But I feel a certain duty to learn more, which is why The Vietnam War documentary by legendary filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick caught my attention: It reportedly presents the most accurate, unbiased series of events, and I’m a documentary kind of guy, so I was ready to go. Then I saw that it was a 10-part, 18-hour documentary series and realized that I could Ken Burn 20 massive joints and still not have the patience to sit through all of that. What a shame.
Any of the Star Wars Movies
Magdalene Taylor, Staff Writer: I wouldn’t say I really have any desire whatsoever to watch the Star Wars movies. More accurately, I have a strong inclination to maintain my Star Wars inexperience, mostly out of stubbornness. Like, I know who Luke Skywalker is. I could identify Jabba the Hutt in a lineup of sci-fi creatures. I have enough of an understanding of the films and its characters to understand most of the usual references. It just seems pointless to spend several hours becoming properly familiar with a franchise that’s already so culturally saturated.
Still, people often ask me how it’s possible to have not seen any of Star Wars. It’s honestly been pretty freaking easy: My parents weren’t ever into it, and though I’m sure it was on TV plenty growing up, I much preferred to watch SpongeBob. I continue to prefer to watch SpongeBob. Presented with the choice between Star Wars and SpongeBob, I will always pick the latter. Of course, this itself is the problem. Maybe I’d watch Star Wars if there was nothing else to do, but there always is.
At this point, it’s almost a type of party trick. I’m not particularly proud of it, and I’m bored of my whole schtick, but it’s basically a “fun fact” to keep in my pocket for the situations that call for it. What else am I going to define myself by? My hobbies? No! It’s way more fun to define myself as a contrarian bitch with zero personality.
Ernest Crosby III, Video Producer: Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s before the internet, the world was much smaller than it is today. For ideas, fads and news to get around the country, it had to be pretty extreme. And so, as a 12-year-old kid in a random suburb of Houston, I didn’t hear about too many movies from the 1940s. But I definitely heard about Casablanca.
I heard that it was an amazing love story consisting of one the coolest characters to ever become a character, Humphrey Bogart, and the beautiful Ingrid Bergman. As a film lover you’d think that would be enough to get me involved. But nah.
Back then at least, my watching old movies situation came down to what was available at Blockbuster. And at that time, my siblings and I were allotted one movie each. It was hard then to choose Casablanca when your brother picks Terminator. (I went with Commando instead.)
Today, of course, I have less of an excuse. But generally speaking, I’m not that interested in fiction that takes place before 1965. I guess it goes back to the idea of playing the time-machine game — i.e., “If you had a time machine, what year would you go back to?” Well, I’m Black, so anytime before yesterday isn’t the best look. Odds are then I won’t be a fan of some of the ideas in a movie from 1942.