Funny You Should Ask: Gulf widens in cinema fare between the interesting and insipid

I chuckled about a wire service report that pop idol Britney Spears walked out of last month's Sundance Film Festival with the comment that the fare was too difficult for her to digest.

Although Sundance, like Cannes, has become a place for celebrities to be seen, the presence of a Velveeta-like product of homogenized marketing such as Spears still must have seemed an anathema to the festival's celebrity founder, Robert Redford – Sundance being the haven and sometimes launching pad for unusual, genre-busting films that rely less on special effects or sex appeal of stars and more on, ummm … presentation.

I retreated, albeit briefly, to the thought that people watch movies to be entertained without having to think.

I couldn't square that with the idea that my wife and I (irreverent as we are about ourselves and each other) were really a pair of stuffed shirts because we enjoyed discussing a thought-provoking, dialogue-laden film during the drive home from Bullhead City or Lake Havasu City.

A couple of films shown in metropolitan areas, "About Schmidt" and "The Hours," we hadn't expected to see for a while, even with their added publicity because of the upcoming Academy Awards.

Not even with Nicole Kidman, given her celebrity status as Tom Cruise's ex-wife; or Jack Nicholson, perhaps better known as the omnipresent Los Angeles Lakers fan with sunglasses.

My gloom about cinematic gulf between the even-mildly interesting and mostly insipid deepened further with the recent Academy Awards nominations, seeing Michael Caine nominated for best actor in what could be the best film no one has seen, "The Quiet American." The studio, Miramax, kept it in the can because of the September 2001 terrorist attacks, fearing the background story – the CIA's surreptitious role in smoldering 1950s' Vietnam – would be perceived as too anti-American.

The film was released just in time for Oscars consideration and is being shown in "select cities."

Caine won the 1999 Oscar for supporting actor for his portrayal of a very American character, a Maine doctor running an orphanage, in "The Cider House Rules."

I'm pulling for him as a long shot for best actor this time, even if I never see "The Quiet American" until it comes out on video.

I've yet to watch a lousy British actor (even Pierce Brosnan can be passable with a decent, non-James Bond script), and most of them can out-act their American counterparts (save for Nicholson, Newman, Hackman, Dreyfuss and Jones, as in James Earl … Hanks.

… ).

Caine, of course, has had his bombs – a sequel to "Jaws" an example – and his self-described "silly" roles such as the etiquette coach in the parody of the Miss America competition, "Miss Congeniality."

Even his detractors could say he has range.

It reminds me of Ben Kingsley, the Britisher of Indian descent who won a 1982 Oscar for his portrayal of the scholarly nationalist who helped India gain independence, Mohandas Gandhi.

Though I'd seen only snippets of that movie, I had seen enough snippets of Kingsley in the meantime to be drawn to his role a few years ago of a mercurial Cockney crook trying to talk a retired friend into one last bank job.

Strange movie, yes, but Kingley's dynamism! I replied to a fellow moviegoer.

Like most, he was shaking his head about a film that had drawn art-house notice for its subtle, cinematic qualities but otherwise was deigned a dud.

My making sense of it may well have had my interlocutor wondering why I wasn't wearing tweed and carrying a pipe, or casual all-black attire on my way to the local university coffeehouse.

The title "Sexy Beast" alone would have convinced someone it was not suitable for someone wanting "two adults, two children."

So a ticket seller told a woman in Lake Havasu City this past Sunday about the adult-themed musical "Chicago." With "About Schmidt" and "The Hours," the theater had an Oscar-contending trifecta and a parking lot devoid of spaces, except for the space my wife and I backed into in front of a nonplused SUV mother.

Letting bygones be bygones, the woman smiled as she walked past us in the ticket line, sniggering about my "purple shirt" (a shade of periwinkle, actually, and a sweatshirt).

Beastly as she thought I had been for taking her space, being tweedy or a man in black would not have saved me.