It is never at all wise to react very much to posts in a kneejerk reaction, but I constantly see either posts or articles or lists of movies that are overrated and – like in any writing where the thoughts communicated are inarguably subjective – I always find something to disagree with. Most of the time they’re movies that won arbitrary Oscars that have been long-forgotten by now and many of them are restrained to American films from 1990 onward. It’s like they’re unaware of a whole canon of film to back in the 1910s or afraid to approach it critically… The latest of these lists that actually incited a reaction out of me was by Rigers Avdo on the site Taste of Cinema, though he wisely titled it The 10 Most Overrated Movies of the Last Decade.
Not only because I am of the ancient philosophy that anybody who calls The Tree of Life overrated is not somebody I want to hang with, but many of the films he mentions have almost immediately washed out of public conversation – The Blind Side lives in Miami-Dade County Jury Pool and that’s it; The King’s Speech and The Hurt Locker I like and still recognize as not entirely deserving of their Best Picture Oscars, but I’ve never heard them mentioned even when one of them had the first female Best Director winner attached to it. Some of them are actually not very much praised – Taken fulfills itself as an action-thriller, nobody calls it anything else. Some of the criticism comes to “there’s not enough script” like with Gravity. And then there’s this gem about 12 Years a Slave:
And speaking of Spielberg, even Amistad (1997), may be better then 12 Years A Slave. It is an all black movie, the producer, director and main actors are black. The result is: Too much violence and less art.
First of all, Steve McQueen is the only black person out of the eight producers credited for 12 Years. Second of all… like, what the fuck?!
Anyway, as much as it’d fulfill to a very unimpressive and embarrassing degree to rip apart another online post that’s more glorified than mine, I’ve decided to join in and dump my own cynicism towards cinema by making this my first post in a series of four…
I’m going to make my own list of 10 Overrated Movies from 2005-2015 (this very post) and then from the beginning of cinema-2005. Why the separation? Because we have to recognize that there is still the test of time that movies do go through and that the same movies we grant onto the canon now may not be the same in ten years. A decade is a good round amount of time to allow for it simmer in public sensibilities and see how our thoughts have changed altogether. And it’s much easier to react to immediate reception than it is to reflect on how film history has complimented a motion picture.
BUT I will offset that cynicism by also listing my ten most underrated films by each temporal grouping as well. So I can be nice and smile and like movies too, I promise.
Needless to say, it will entirely be based on my surrounding experiences. Not only in my response to the film itself or in retrospect of it, but how often I hear praises or credit given and whether or not I agree with that sentiment (I feel like this list will give away how much time I spent on reddit). If I’m being honest, most of these movies are good. Fantastic, even. I know of one movie that will probably get a “no fucking way you put that here” response from anyone who follows this blog. But I wanted to measure the balance between assessing its qualities and how amplified its praises seem to be.
STinG’s TOP TEN OVERRATED MOVIES (2005-2015)
The Departed (2006, dir. Martin Scorsese)
Behold we’re already on a movie I like, but not yet on a movie I love. The Departed was seen as the giant return of Scorsese at the time and wasn’t wrong to earn that praise. But it is perhaps Scorsese’s most style-over-substance picture (largely because the script services itself) – Rolling Stones drops, sudden freeze frames, audio cues all announce themselves in boisterous ways to remind Marty what kind of filmmaker he is and it feels less complimentary here than it felt back in his heyday of the 70s to Goodfellas. Maybe it’s because Infernal Affairs was able to pull beat-for-beat the exact same pressures out of its actors and situation without being so loud about it (save for the Elevator scene – the ONE moment I prefer in The Departed than I do in IA). God damn, I was really trying not to compare it to IA, but it IS a remake.
And if I’m being frank, Thelma Schoonmaker seems to have just given up since 2002 (maybe sooner, but she is a legend for a reason, remember). The shootouts are a distractingly obstructive clusterfuck in the most excitement-killing way and I want to pretend that says something about its themes, but what? What does it say about lapsed Catholicism?
… I promise I like the movie, though.
P.S. – I forgot Shutter Island until well into writing this… it is maybe my least favorite Scorsese other than Boxcar Bertha and had I remembered it, THAT movie would find its way here instead of The Departed.
The Dark Knight (2008, dir. Christopher Nolan)
Perhaps the hype of hypes, but it has died down a bit since ’08 when it was being around proclaimed as the Second Coming and the greatest thing humanity has ever been granted. Now, it’s just the people who REALLY liked it that want to toss it around as a flawless masterpiece.
I’ll give them one thing: Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker IS flawless. Believe that. I wouldn’t call it a Top Ten performance of all time, but it’d be in the conversation. He builds the Joker as an absolute to the point that he is, well, a cartoon as far as motivation is concerned, but still takes the dripping darkness at the Joker’s core to give him physical weight and grounding in a movie dedicated to realism.
Aye, that’s the big one. The “realism” is why The Dark Knight is praised as much as it is, yet it stands as the reason I don’t feel like 100% realism is a true virtue in any movie. Especially with the boat climax being easily called out as a “deus ex machina”, but my primary gripe is perhaps how Gotham is not Gotham here. It’s Chicago. We know it’s Chicago.
I prefer Batman Begins for so many reasons (it is my favorite Nolan film yet) but the biggest one is that The Dark Knight is more concerned with narrative escalation (which isn’t a bad thing – it’s a really thrilling film no matter how many times you watch) than world building and exploring the way that Begins was when it literally built its noir nightmare out of the Gallows.
Watchmen (2009, dir. Zack Snyder)
Oh boy, the first film I actually didn’t like on this list.
Have you guys seen Gus van Sant’s Psycho? Heralded as a shot-by-shot remake of Hitchcock’s classic but condemned for missing the point kind of? That’s kind of how I feel about Watchmen the graphic novel. Same set design to a T – all praises to Alex McDowell for that, although at points it feels more like a comic book representation of 1985 Manhattan than actually 1985 Manhattan and that hurts it for a couple of times. Most of the actors know what the hell synecdoche they are meant to embody – Patrick Wilson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Billy Crudup really impressed me. I don’t even need to say that Jackie Earle Haley is Rorschach. Can’t say the same for the stone-faced Malin Akerman or the overly theatrical in Matthew Goode, but my point is the cast and design for the most part worked.
But Snyder’s stylized violence and aimless in-the-moment direction (what the jiminy fuck is that soundtrack on about?) removes the gravity of most of the situations in Watchmen and especially makes its characters less grounded than they ought to be. Instead of being pathetic shlubbs or rabid paranoics, they are only so on-surface until they get to break bones and be superhuman for scenes too numerous to count.
And here’s my thing: As a very rabid fan of Alan Moore’s, Glycon bless him, but if he were adapted into a film, he’d hate himself. I call bullshit on his claim that Watchmen is unfilmable. In fact, I think there’s a lot to gain from a Watchmen movie. Many of the comic book panel-work compliments and challenges moviemaking. The idea of somebody who might be dedicated enough to work out how to translate these two visual mediums in a blur without going Sin City on it is exciting to me. But it wasn’t Snyder’s Watchmen and we only had the one shot.
And one more thing, I don’t agree with the movie ending working at all. Not for the reason you’d think for an Alan Moore purist: I agree that the squid does not work in the film (especially when you have no time to build it up). I think making Dr. Manhattan the perpetrator is just worse, though. Because it ignores that the entire runtime of the film – the whole reason that the Cold War is so fucking on in Watchmen – is because of Dr. Manhattan’s existence and apparent allegiance to the American Flag. Having THE American Weapon appear to have destroyed and attacked Earth is not going to remove Russia’s finger off the trigger.
They’re going to pull it.
The Social Network (2010, dir. David Fincher)
When a movie is considered a zeitgeist of any generation, it’s going to be a given that more people will love it than anticipated and that it will be put on a higher platform than it probably deserves. Easy Rider is maybe most famous for getting away with this, and behold another popular choice. The Social Network is one of two movies on here that is not any less than a great movie which simply is listed for the imbalance it has for its praise. I’m serious, this is shit I wouldn’t even let Citizen Kane get away with and I love that movie more than I love The Social Network.
But I can’t just list this here, say “it’s cause too many people like it”, and move on (I can, but I’d be an idiot), what really makes me pull The Social Network back to earth from the heavens is beyond any flaw with its craft. Baxter/Wall, Reznor/Ross, Sorkin, Eisenberg… they’re all hard-core on top of their game. I just don’t agree that it’s “generation-defining”. And as far as I’ve seen, Fincher and co. don’t think so either, though I’m not going to back them. The truth is The Social Network registered to me as simply a small personal story of a guy too inadvertently odious to have friends and all the things he does to try to make it not matter. It just happens to be Mark Zuckerberg that is that guy. It’s less communal than we really recognize the movie for and it is hard to believe most of the audience – least of all the real Zuckerberg – would be able to relate to the character Eisenberg plays brilliantly.
Although unlike another movie to be later showing up here, Zuckerberg is thankfully not the only “real” person in The Social Network and so the movie feels full of a lot more life and is quite a breeze to watch. But now that movie’s floating back to the heavens when I say that. Get back here!
The Master (2012, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
First of all, believe the hype about it’s acting. Believe it, Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are at their career best in giving their all to having their reactions to each other become a duel character study of sociology and psychology way too dense and complex for me to go into without babbling more than I already am. I’d maybe add Amy Adams as a career-best if I hadn’t developed into an extreme American Hustle apologist.
But… and this is wholly me at this point, I don’t think a lot of people could nor should see where I’m going with this… there’s nothing this film says that I don’t think could be said, louder… stronger even… if this were simply an intimate black box theatrical production.
I don’t think there’s anything outright at fault with it being a movie in itself (on the contrary, I think Mihai Malaimaire Jr. and especially Leslie Jones and Peter McNulty’s work provide a lot of character), but its main core is how we are spending time with these two individuals and not much else. There’s no real plot or momentum to drive us for the nearly 2 and a half hours, it’s a story about people and how they grow off of their ideas and actions.
I think there’s a lot more potency in removing the screen from dividing the audience and the performance. Now we’re in the actual room, without bits of poetic and inspired but distracted discontinuity that Jones and McNulty gives it at its most intense moments… I’d love to have seen it as a stage production.
And then I remember Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead and begin drinking moonshine with paint thinner mixed in.
Spring Breakers (2012, dir. Harmony Korine)
Possibly the only film that I simply would not call a good movie. I mean, let’s get one thing straight: it looks flat-out gorgeous. Nobody gets to deny to Benoit Debie’s pop-neon lens work adds wonders to the movie’s enjoyability and is in itself probably worth the watch. It’s the only real gateway the film gives us to entering the film as an experience and Debie’s camera movements feel drunken enough to mesh with the atmosphere without being so distracting it pulls us out of the film.
But while the consensus seems to be that movie is a masterpiece of subversion… what is it subverting? Because I’ve heard it said both ways. If it’s subverting the male gaze-y way every girl in the movie is objectified, there’s never a point where it says so. In fact, it seems to more be concerned with showcasing the girls’ flaws as people than the boys at the party. There is no doubt that the script hates its characters too much to pretend they don’t deserve it. If it’s subverting the party culture, it loses grasp of that the moment the film decides to go into a clownish crime thriller and even then ludicrously holds up the idea of “partying all the time” as a verbal MacGuffin by a performance that never made me want to punch James Franco harder than I ever did.
Sorry, but there also seems to be some sort of unspoken law that if you want your thoughts on cinema to be taken seriously, you gotta kowtow to Harmony Korine as a filmmaker and that can just fuck right off. I don’t have time for a filmmaker who attempts to have his cake and eat it too by making provocative films and pretending they just mock the current panic without actually having it within the text.
Prisoners (2013, dir. Denis Villeneuve)
Ahhhhh, the reddit choice. Prisoners is a movie I enjoyed at the time I watched it and the more I look back on it, the more I don’t find any depth in it at all, no real themes or intellectual anchor save for (maybe) the whole Abu Ghraib mirror of the situation. It’s really just a surface-level thriller overall with some great performances and Roger Deakins being no less than the smart sharp photographer he is, no different from a quick airport read novel like Gone Girl and the like.
And there’s honestly nothing wrong with that being the case.
It’s more that I personally see more slavish praise given to this and (but I’ll get into it later) Sicario as complex discussions of morality and ethics and they’re both just not that. Villeneuve’s thrillers paint their lines broadly and make it clear that characters cross lines and means don’t justify ends, leaving no real discussion or musings possible beyond “Oh look how far they went” – especially in the case of Prisoners where the actions of Hugh Jackman’s character are more ludicrous than the revelations discovered afterwards.
They’re of course made by craftsman who want to movie to look and sound good and deliver a decent watchable film, they’re just not anymore rewarding thematically than an episode of Law and Order. It’s quick pop entertainment. Even as dark as it is. Very very dark.
Whiplash (2014, dir. Damien Chazelle)
Ooooh boy, this one is gonna get me attacked. It’s only been a year but this movie is still held high on a pedestal as the ARTIST’s picture and… I know I sound like a broken record since I just used this same claim about The Social Network and Prisoners, but bring it down, guys. It’s not that heavy. It’s a tug-o-war between two characters, not a metaphor for the crafting of talent. Even the dissenters of the film who claim “it’s not accurate to jazz or music”, as one jazz drummer to another, chill out with that shit.
It’s an impressive enough debut for Damien Chazelle. It really is. It functions. It gets its plot from A to B without falling apart on itself in any real way. But it also falls into a lot of pitfalls like most feature debuts do. To begin with, the only character who feels like a real flesh-and-blood human being is Andrew. Nobody else is anything below the surface. That’s fine for Fletcher… the point of the movie is how hard it is to get a bead on him, but every other character is just a meat puppet to feed Andrew into an argumentative scenario (for fuck’s sake, that dinner table scene was just… unreal. It was like watching a second-tier Aaron Sorkin scene) or let Andrew grow more into an asshole without any reason for us to feel sorry for said character (namely his girlfriend or dad). It’s all surface. And then there’s the really contrived stuff – like the lead-up to the ending where we are meant to believe a character whose reputation is on the line would risk said reputation simply to sabotage somebody else’s appearance at Carnegie fucking Hall!
Dat ending doe. That ending is the one moment where I realized Chazelle might just know how to really take control of every aspect of the cinematic medium and make it pop right out into the viewer’s chest. Dude just needs to get the amount of control he had then and keep hold of it for his next film.
Big Hero 6 (2014, prod. Walt Disney Animation Studios)
I get that Frozen is everywhere but I constantly see it getting slammed by everyone as much as possible while Big Hero 6 is the main Disney Renaissance 2.0 flick given an enormous amount of praise which just blows my mind. Quality-wise, it’s frankly no contest – the animation in Frozen does beautifully subtle things with the cold air (complimented by the sound design) that make me shudder in my seat and parody the Disney Princess Love Story formule while Big Hero 6 gives bold and poppy colors (appealingly) to a boilerplate superhero story and uses the bare stock personalities and plot points to set up what will most certainly be a Disney 😄 tv series and franchise as soon as possible.
And if most of those Frozen woes feel more pointed towards the character of Olaf and how obvious he is something made to sell merchandise and toys, guys… Baymax! Hell, the robotic designs of the characters and the faux-ensemble presentation of them – plus the fact that it’s obviously Disney just pulling a superhero property bought under Marvel that wouldn’t have fans outcrying and synergizing it – basically makes Big Hero 6 feel like one gigantic Saturday Morning Cartoon action figure line-up rather than a movie.
I know that’s a lot of bad will to dedicate to just a movie’s existence than the movie itself, but these wouldn’t hurt me as much if Big Hero 6 just wasn’t disappointingly sparse and didn’t pretend there was more to it than itself than how it’s just one 90 minute pilot.
And if people didn’t call it the best of the Disney Renaissance 2.0 when it’s so far the emptiest. The worst.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, dir. George Miller)
Yes. Yes. Listen, every single bit of praise I gave Mad Max: Fury Road I’d give again in a heartbeat. Every single amount of strengths it has have been hitting hard all five times that I’ve seen the movie already. I would absolutely standby calling Mad Max: Fury Road a masterpiece. I don’t give a fuck.
But of course, I’m part of the hype and the fact is… hype kills. Ideally it kills the perspective than the film, but of course, that doesn’t help in a subjective manner as film criticism. Mad Max is not ruling any Oscar conversations, but it’s still in those conversations. It’s still finding its way to being held up as the finest action cinema in decades, of all time, and most voices against it are being drowned out.
But of course, if you’re asking me to talk about what’s wrong with the movie, I wouldn’t even be able to tell you. I love the movie truly madly deeply. I just wanted to point out the still over-inflated reception of the movie in the same manner as every other film on this list to both humble myself after spending time pointing out flaws in every movie and say that the minority opinion doesn’t make it the wrong opinion. I await the moment when we all calm down enough about the movie to consider it maybe a worthwhile watch, maybe a masterpiece, maybe even in retrospect it becomes dismissed. We’ll give it the test of time.
And that’s about all she wrote.