Rolling Stone drops the ball on stoner classics – another meta-review

Today, Rolling Stone published what they consider the “10 Best Stoner Movies of All Time“. As with any internet comedy list, there are always going to be omissions or inclusions that baffle people or enrage them to the point of caps-lock fury (just ask Cracked) and there are always going to be alternate lists claiming to be the One True List (to be honest, you’re kind of asking for schisms if you imply your list is definitive by calling it “The 10 Best [whatevers] Of All Time“). Well, I’m neither baffled or enraged, I’m not seeking to set the record straight and I do, for the record, agree with a good number of Rolling Stone’s selections. That said, I would sympathise with anyone who thought this list was America-heavy to the point of obscurity in places (come on – How High? Soul Plane? Stoner chuckle-fests they may well be, but ten best of all time-worthy? Please – they’re not even on the same level as Dude, Where’s My Car? Hell, including True Romance might even be pushing it a little).

Rolling Stone missed an opportunity here. They appear to have used a very narrow definition of stoner film: “American comedies where Americans get stoned and act funny.” It’s a shortsighted and unimaginative list, possibly revealing more about the biases (or perhaps simple laziness) of Rolling Stone’s editorial staff than about the history of what people like to watch when they get toasted.

I happen to think we can do better than this. For starters, we can look (hold on to your Stetsons) outside America. There is an entire planet of art and entertainment beyond those borders and it’s been completely overlooked, either through incompetence or ignorance. I hereby present some stoner classics that aren’t (a) American and (ii) aren’t just funny flicks about stoned guys doing stoned shit.

Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii
It’s 1972: Pink Floyd are playing a live set of some of their most psychedelic material in an ancient Roman amphitheatre – to an audience of noone. But they’re filming it. And thank crap they did.

Akira
This revered classic from 1988 is credited as being a major contributor to the Western obsession with Japanese animation and still holds up as a cinematic and technical masterpiece (not to mention an awesome mind-frack). Hard to believe people drew Neo-Tokyo with their hands; even harder to believe Hollywood want to remake it in live-action with white people.

Mad Max (1979)
Could you get any more stoner-friendly than George Miller’s beautifully-shot psychopathic muscle-car revenge-road-movie set in post-apocalypse rural Australia? There are reasons this is one of Tarantino’s favourite movies (they’re listed in the previous sentence).

Stone (1974)
Australian 1970s motorcycle cult classic, full of tripping bikies and trippier motorcycle faring. Even if you watch this cold sober, by the end you’ll be jonesing for a Chiko Roll and a Fanta.

Any Monty Python film (And Now For Something Completely Different, The Meaning of Life, The Life of Brian, Monty Python and The Holy Grail, Live at The Hollywood Bowl)
These should require no further explanation.

Any Godzilla (GOJIRA) film (except that late ’90s one with the Led Zeppelin song Flap Diddy murdered). These started in 1954 and have never really stopped, becoming an industry in themselves, setting the standard for enormous monster movies and creating several spinoff franchises. Schlock-horror monster films don’t get any better.

And you know what? If you really do want to stick to American movies, here are some that are definitely worthy of being called top ten stoner classics:

Clerks (1994)
Kevin Smith’s bargain-basement game-changer, strewn with pop-culture references, smart dialogue, loveable slackers and endlessly quotable lines, is an inexcusable omission from RS’ list.

Vanishing Point (1971)
A sparsely-filmed and even more sparsely-spoken road movie about nothing more than a guy delivering a 1970 Dodge Challenger across a few hundred miles of wilderness and getting into ever-increasing amounts of trouble. Cleavon Little’s turn as the pirate radio DJ is a master class in scene-theft.

Duel (1971)
What could be more paranoia-inducing than being stalked by a mysterious semi-trailer while on a solo road trip? Stephen Spielberg (in his feature debut) hit all the right notes in this near-silent road-thriller.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Kubrick’s sci-fi masterpiece (written with SF legend Arthur C Clarke) is still worshipped (to the point where you’re probably missed about 99% of the references made to it by other movies and shows, especially The Simpsons) and still held up by many as THE science fiction film, THE space opera, THE special effects master class. And why shouldn’t it be? Computers in 1968 could barely fit in a single cupboard, let alone render near-flawless 3D realism in a billion colours. Kubrick had to rely on full-size sets, models, camera tricks and his infuriating obsession with perfection. And the psychedelic ending still has stoners going “Wooah – wuh?” to this day.

Reefer Madness (1936)
What list of stoner gold could possibly be complete without the chuckle-inducing irony of paranoid 1930s anti-hemp propaganda repurposed as a uni-student stoner film-festival mainstay?

To conclude, I’m not suggesting my list is superior or more definitive (to qualify an absolute) or even complete (frankly, I barely even got started). I’m just saying Rolling Stone could’ve done what I just did – spend a half-hour thinking outside of the Hollywood machine. Stoners may be, well, stoned, but give them a little credit – they can handle a touch more stimulation than some cheap giggles at other people getting stoned.

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2 thoughts on “Rolling Stone drops the ball on stoner classics – another meta-review

    • I would’ve thought so. I’m not going to be one of those guys who complains that the writers of a List missed such-and-such a film; I just think Rolling Stone made the mistake of defining “stoner films” really narrowly. The end result speaks for itself: a really uninspiring list comprised almost entirely of light Hollywood comedies where dudes get baked (and including a couple of B-grade straight-to-DVD flops). Some of their inclusions were no-brainers (Bill & Ted!) but they missed an opportunity to think outside the j-bag and not just pick films about stoners.

      My main gripe: no scifi or horror, no animation, no car films, no cult schlocksters like Ed Wood or old-school geniuses like French comedy genius Jacques Tati. And hey – not a single highly quotable ’80s Schwarzenegger flick either! Ditto Bruce Lee, Jet Li or the whole Hong Kong kung fu genre. I could go on.

      Rolling Stone simply didn’t give stoners enough credit 🙂

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