Dear Mr. Smithee: In your recent column on musicals, you said "The Nightmare Before Christmas" is your No. 1. "Nightmare" is a movie I despise (mostly for use of claymation) but one most people I know seem to like. "It's a Wonderful Life" also falls into this I-can't-stand-but-others-love category. It just rubs me the wrong way. With all the lists of movies you love recently, where are those popular "classics" that you just can't stand?
MATTHEW M. COLLIE, ST. PAUL
Dear Thanks So Much for Nothing: Auntie Sarah Smithee used to always proclaim in that aging, cracking soprano of hers, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." In the long-haired '60s, she might greet me with this: "Oh, my dear boy, you'd be so much more attractive with a proper haircut." To which I would lovingly retort: "Perhaps you ought to consider a face-lift."
I would always immediately be punished with a good lashing, which, I must say, Mother Smithee took some sort of extra-special glee in doling out. Such unjust retaliation for so obvious an observation left me bitter, which might explain why so many beloved films make me expunge perfectly good chunks of, say, turkey and stuffing.
Like you, my good friend Matthew, I know what I like. And these are not it:
"Forrest Gump": "Shut up, Forrest! Shut up!"
"An American in Paris": Ballet de Atrocious.
"Love Story": I'd rather watch ... (gulp) ... "The Way We Were."
"The Greatest Show on Earth": I had trepidations about naming my second once-wee son Cecil B. just because of it.
"Big": Everytime I land on it with my remote, I just quickly pass it by.
"The English Patient": Elaine Benes knows of what she spaketh.
"The Sting": It's the gullible public that got stung.
"Mrs. Doubtfire": Robin Williams is less irritating -- but just barely -- in "August Rush."
And, Matthew, I've got two more. These may well land me in hot water with many a fine reader. But what do they really know?
"Gone With the Wind": I can tolerate only a few minutes here and there.
"A Christmas Story": I'd rather watch "White Christmas" or "It's a Wonderful Life" or "The Ref" or "A Midnight Clear" or, naturally, "The Nightmare Before Christmas," or "Die Hard" or even "Home Alone."
P.S. I dare not send you my 60th anniversary "It's a Wonderful Life" bell with Zuzu's petals. So you get my "Beowulf" fake fur piece and an "Ask Alan Smithee" T-shirt.
Dear Mr. Smithee: What actor has appeared (in at least a big enough role to be named in the credits) in the most movies that have won the Oscar for best picture? Morgan Freeman was in at least three: "Driving Miss Daisy," "Unforgiven" and "Million Dollar Baby."
GEORGE BARTON, SHARPSBURG, GA.
Dear Give Credit Where Credit Is Due: Three actors have appeared in five best-picture Oscar winners: Wallis Clark, Franklyn Farnum and Bess Flowers.
And maybe you are right to question the inclusion of Miss Flowers, who was not credited in any of her five ("It Happened One Night," "You Can't Take It With You," "All About Eve," "The Greatest Show on Earth" and "Around the World in 80 Days"). Known as the "Queen of the Hollywood Extras," she appeared in more than 700 films before her death at age 85 in 1984.
Edwin Maxwell appeared in four top Oscar winners: "All Quiet on the Western Front," "Grand Hotel," "The Great Ziegfeld" and "You Can't Take It With You." Mr. Freeman was indeed in three. His total is shared with 24 other actors, including Clark Gable, Dustin Hoffman, Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep.
P.S. You get a plush "Shrek the Third" baby and an "Ask Alan Smithee" T-shirt.
Is there really an Alan Smithee? That's one he won't answer. But he does allow that it's a name used for crediting purposes when directors want to disassociate themselves from a movie that, well, stinks. Have a question for Mr. Smithee? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, city and daytime phone number.