And how THE SIMPSONS made me a better film fan.

The best movie references are the ones that will go over the head of the viewer without making them aware that they're missing out on something. If it's TOO specific, they'll know they're in the dark, and it will affect their enjoyment of the piece, not unlike hearing two friends share an in-joke that you're not privy to. There needs to be enough context for it to exist in the first place to work properly, which is something Seth MacFarlane and those Epic Movie morons will never figure out (or at least, care enough to correct). The writers on The Simpsons, at least back in the day (I haven't kept up enough with the recent seasons to judge) did it the right way, and that's why I had no idea that Barney smothering Homer, then picking up a "bubbler" (that's what we call water fountains in Massachusetts) and smashing it through a window in the fourth season episode "So It's Come To This: A Simpsons Clip Show" was a direct spoof of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest until I saw the movie later that year.

I forget what inspired me to watch Cuckoo's; I know I watched it with my dad who already knew/loved the movie, so it was probably just him asking if I wanted to watch it and me not having anything better to do (in my memory it's summer, so there's no homework, and by this point I was tired of my NES and not yet a Sega Genesis owner - what else was there to do?). I knew who Brad Dourif was at that point thanks to the Child's Play movies, and obviously Jack Nicholson because of Batman (and, er, Man Trouble), but I remember being quite surprised to see Christopher Lloyd and Danny DeVito in the cast as well - that was the sort of thing that kept my 13-year-old self entertained with this more adult movie. That is, until we got to the climax, where (spoiler) the character of Chief ("The guy from Poltergeist II!") smothers a lobotomized Nicholson with a pillow before escaping, just as I had seen Barney do on The Simpsons. Instead of Moe's comment, the response is wonderful and uplifting: Lloyd and the other inmates cheering at the Chief's victory.

Now, the show was on its fourth season by that point, so I'm sure I had to have been aware that the show often had direct references to movies; I would have to have been dumb not to catch a reprise of the "hands on the face" gag in the "Homer Alone" episode, and I highly doubt I missed the little nod to Hannibal Lecter in "Marge vs. The Monorail." But this was the first time that I saw a movie after seeing the joke on the The Simpsons, and realizing that it was even funnier than I originally thought. What was once a pretty amusing throwaway gag at how weird Barney was had become a fairly genius use of a Cuckoo's Nest plot point, something far more creative than having a bitchy character get referred to as "Nurse Ratched" (which would be the usual way one would reference Cuckoo's, I eventually grew to realize). In other words, it made me realize that I'd get more enjoyment out of the show if I improved my exposure to film history.

Now, I had seen a few "adult" movies at that point; if I was in the mood to watch something I'd just join my parents for whatever they rented, often not really enjoying them for the obvious reason: I was 11 or 12 years old and thus a courtroom drama like Class Action simply had no appeal to me (and didn't help me understand more Simpsons jokes, sadly). But Cuckoo's proved to be a gateway for appreciating far more films, as I started joining my dad for more of his favorites, which, as it turns out, were usually pretty great movies. The Godfather and Cool Hand Luke would follow in Cuckoo's footsteps of being "Hey, this Dad movie is actually really good" and also "Oh now I get that Simpsons joke," and so I'd check out more and more. On my own I watched Citizen Kane, which is practically essential for understanding a good chunk of jokes about Monty Burns, and the writers also seemed to love Kubrick and Hitchcock, both filmmakers I'd grow to admire as I got further along in my teens and entered high school and later college. For a while there it seemed every older classic I'd check out would not only make me a better movie fan, but also yield one or two "ohhhh" moments for Simpsons gags that had been cemented in my brain for one reason or another. And in turn, revisiting older episodes yielded fresh appreciation for forgotten gags that had gone over my head the first time around, like the references to Full Metal Jacket in "Bart the General," as I didn't see Jacket until 1999 or so, and only rewatched that not-great first season of Simpsons once, in 2001 when it came out on DVD.

Of course, I probably would have seen a lot/all of these eventually anyway, but I definitely got a better head start thanks to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, since I liked it a lot more than you'd expect from a 13-year-old who mostly wanted to watch horror stuff and was still laughing at Police Academy movies. Mac's genuine concern for his fellow inmates was endearing to me, and seeing his minor triumphs over Nurse Ratched entertained just as much as some guy getting hit in the nuts or whatever I found funny about Sgt. Mahoney and his pals. And to this day I'm an easy sucker for movies that feature someone making something joyous out of a shitty situation; Andy putting on the record in Shawshank Redemption, or Benigni's nutty explanations to hide the real situation from his son in Life Is Beautiful would hit me just as hard as Mac making up the World Series game they weren't allowed to watch.

Hell, it's so good that even though it beat out Jaws for Best Picture, no one really whines about it like they do for Dances With Wolves winning over Goodfellas, or basically any of the other nominees (usually Pulp Fiction) losing to Gump. Jaws might be one of the most beloved movies of all time (and rightfully so), but ol' Bruce losing out to Randle Patrick McMurphy is hardly something to complain about. The Academy had a tough choice, no doubt, but you can't say they were wrong.