Saturday, December 2, 2006

They're Well Known

Since I shot fish in a barrel last post, I thought I would aim for a sacred cow with my next post. Actually, 25 sacred cows, as this is my list of the 25 most overrated movies of the past 26 years (everything since 1980, which I guess is technically 27 years, but whatever). In order to determine what exactly is a highly rated movie, I looked at the Academy Award nominations, the AFI top 100 list of nominations, Cannes prize winners and IMDB's top 250. Obviously some highly regarded movies might not make these lists, but then how overrated could they be? Just about every Oscar winner could be listed as overrated, so for the record I haven't seen Terms of Endearment (1983), Out of Africa (1985), The Last Emperor(1987), The English Patient (1996) or Chicago (2002) ; so, probably a few of them would be on the list if I bothered to watch them.

Dances with Wolves (1990) - Oscar Winner. - So boring, so heavy handed, so long. This movie won for being very obviously about the exploitation of Indians and thus it made people feel good about themselves to vote for it. See Crash for further examples.

Forrest Gump (1994) - Oscar Winner. It beat out Pulp Fiction for Best Picture and enabled assholes to yell "Run, Forrest, Run!" anytime they saw someone running (hey, I was 10 when this movie came out, it was a major pet peave at the time). The plot is endearing, even if it is a dumbed down, historical version of Being There. However, the political message of the movie is not only overbearingly conservative, but, it goes the extra mile by making liberals the product of child abuse and, consequently, making liberalism a inflicted psychological disorder. The twin fates of Forrest, the good hearted man who went to war and became a millionaire, and Jenny, the whore who protested, eventually got AIDS and finally found redemption by getting pregnant, reinforce the most repressive concepts of gender, race (Forrest was scorned from the Black Panther Party, but Bubba's Mammy gets a big pile of money from whitey to rescue her from the plantations in Alabama), class and justice. There is even a funny commentary on John Kerry's political career, since the anti-war speeches that launched it were successfully replicated by a mentally handicapped man. If you are the sort of person who roots for America like it is your favorite football team, then this is the movie for you, otherwise it's an embarrassment.

Braveheart (1995) - Oscar Winner. Famous for its "ultra realistic" battle scenes that look like they were filmed by someone having a seizure. Grossly historically inaccurate, with a scene chewing villain without a speck of humanity and a script of thunderous lines, it is a solid action flick that got a Golden Statue because people were unwilling to vote for a movie about a pig. It did feature Sophie Marceau looking incredibly sexy in period clothes, so that is something.

Titanic (1997) - Oscar Winner. I make the case that this is the worst movie ever to win Best Picture, with its only saving grace being its relative lack of ambition. Sure, it cost 200 million dollars, but at least we didn't have to wade through an obvious message- unless the message is ships don't do well when they hit icebergs (thank you Paul Haggis!). It is a straightforward, weepy love story, with a huge action section jammed in the middle (or maybe the love is jammed around the action, I mean you could make Titanic without Jack and Rose, but not without the ship sinking). It's your basic summer blockbuster that made huge sums of money by having enough romance to get the girls and some nudity and violence for the guys. There are two problems: Hollywood rewarded the movie with a Best Picture Oscar for making a lot of money and the screenplay is simply terrible. The meandering plot includes a boring frame story that serves to distance the viewer from the real story- culminating in the heroine throwing away a priceless jewel in an act of selfishness that presumably is an attempt to pay tribute to her lost love by making the people looking for the jewel suffer- and, best of all, a sequence involving the Billy Zane chasing and shooting at our starcrossed lovers as the Titanic is sinking! In short, this movie features terrible dialogue, mediocre acting, and a miserable plot, but at least they went for realism by building a big, big boat. To be fair, this movie doesn't make a lot of "best of" lists anymore.

American Beauty (1999) - Oscar Winner. This actually was my favorite movie for years. Most of the characters feel alienated and unfulfilled, and the broadly anti-suburban motif really resonated with my wannabe-edgy teenage mindset. I didn't watch the movie for a couple of years and then came back after actually learning a little about film and to my surprise A.B. had tarnished in the meantime. The central plot of the middle-aged Lester waking up from his malaise and realizing his life is unhappy and inauthentic is completely betrayed by his adolescent response to this epiphany. Lester doesn't like his job, wife, car or body, so he starts smoking weed and working at a fast food restaurant, he buys a muscle car and idolizes one of his daughter's friends. Just like the creepy drug dealer next door finds incredible beauty in a plastic bag, the movie finds the antidote to modern alienation in living like a 16 year old. No wonder it was my favorite movie back then.

Gladiator (2000) - Oscar Winner. Won in an incredibly weak field that featured another movie on this list, two foreign movies (those sure aren't going to win) and Traffic, which should have won by default, though movies like Momento and Snatch were better that year. This is a more exciting version of Braveheart, with even more violence and Joaquin Phoenix playing the role of scenery eater. It has a great score and the speeches definitely give you that warm and fuzzy feeling, but ultimately it is an action flick about "honor and glory". Specifically, the honor and glory of killing everyone in the way of your quest for revenge, making this a period version of Death Wish (a badass movie in its own right, though certainly not an Oscar winner). At least Braveheart was about how the English are evil and soulless, while Gladiator just demonstrates how effective the death penalty would be as a deterrent if it was executed (punny) with swords in front of a big crowd.

A Beautiful Mind (2001) - Oscar Winner. Russell Crow pulled off his second dupe in a row with this by the by the numbers drama that managed to beat Gosford Park and the first Lord of the Rings. Someone at the academy likes a good twist (see the nomination of The Sixth Sense), since all this move had not much going for it was the revelation that *SPOILERS AHEAD* he was crazy *END SPOILERS* (did I mention that Rosebud is the sled?). This is fine fare for boring night, but a best picture? Not even close.

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) - Oscar Winner. I really enjoyed the first two movies and this one was awesome for the first three hours and fifteen endings. I realize that the movie won because of the strength of the entire series, the special effects and the huge piles of money, but come on! This was a kid's movie that was yawn inducing for the last hour. The series is incredibly popular and should have taken all that money as its own reward, but it got greedy and it got overrated.

Crash (2005) - Oscar Winner. - In his acceptance speech for "Best Original Screenplay"PaulHaggis said the following: "Bertolt Brecht said that art is not a mirror, but it is a hammer. Not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer in which to shape it. So I guess this is ours." In other words, Haggis used his bully pulpit to bludgeon us to death with the never before seen message that some people are racists! Haggis takes no chances that we might not catch this subtle theme, so he has the characters say expressly that, in between demonstrating it over and over again. Beyond that, I hate that this movie won over Brokeback Mountain which ultimately fell victim to its own success, despite having a much more interesting message (the high cost of keeping homosexuality private), a far more moving conclusion and superior cinematography and acting. Crash's win is proof positive that the Academy Awards are just the best attended television event of the year and have no credibility at choosing the best movie of any given year.

Kagemusha (1980) - Palme d'Or Winner. I had no intention of attacking this movie, until I saw that it won the grand prize (no, not the Grand Prix, that is second place...) at Canne's. I think this movie is insufferably boring and plays even longer than its 3 hours since almost nothing happens in the movie. Kurosawa's body of work is untouchable, but this smells like a lifetime achievement award, like the Oscar Marty is going to get this year for The Departed (which I loved). This is a beautiful movie to look at, with a full palette of gorgeous colors in scenes of wading through rainbows of paint and legions of different colored flags aligned and blowing in the breeze. Unfortunately, sometimes scenes take several minutes to set up while we see soldier after soldier march into position. This movie could be trimmed down an hour without losing a scene or line of dialogue. Only a renowned master like Kurosawa would be allowed to make a movie this fat.

The other 15 tomorrow.

1 comment:

Biby Cletus said...

Nice post, its a really cool blog that you have here, keep up the good work, will be back.

Warm Regards

Biby Cletus - Kagemusha Movie Review