Tuesday, December 5, 2006

They're Well Known, two.

The other movies were all Oscar winners and won movie that won Cannes. Today I will have themes to group together similarly overrated movies. I still have 6 7 left to go, this is taking forever unfortunately (and I miscounted)

Important, but not very good.

Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989) - This is an incredibly important movie, but not for what is on the screen. When this movie became a breakout hit and made more than twenty times its 1.2 million dollar budget, Hollywood took an interest and the age of "independent" movies made by major corporations began. I find the movie itself creepy and weirdly plotted. I have heard people describe James Spader as "magnetic" in the movie, but if I had kids I would want to be warned if he moved into the neighborhood. Andie MacDowell is one of my least favorite actresses and she is wooden and awkward in the movie, though maybe her character is supposed to act that way. The romance that builds between the two of them is inexplicable. Do girls really like the quiet guy who smiles awkwardly and has a huge collection of homemade porn in his living room? Perhaps I have been going about this all wrong. Meanwhile, the two characters we are supposed to hate, Sandy from "the OC" and that girl from "Just Shoot Me", are exciting and interesting. Laura San Giacomo actually is brilliant in the movie, easily my favorite thing about it, but that isn't saying much.

Good, but overrated.

Scarface (1983) - I am not quite as sold on Brian de Palma as the guys at 24 Lies a Second, sure he has his moments, but he can go pretty far afield. However, Scarface is in general an excellent movie, great acting, interesting story, ect, so why put it on an overrated list? Well, call it the "MTV Cribs" backlash. Every rapper on "Cribs" has the same favorite movie and for the same reason. The rise of Tony Montana from penniless immigrant to drug kingpin is seen as an inspirational tale, or at least the correct movie to maintain street-cred. It might seem bizarre to denigrate a movie because other people like it, but this is a list of overrated movies and in some circles Scarface is way overrated.

Magnolia (1999) - Paul Thomas Anderson is kind of a genius and definitely an asshole. One of his movies, Boogie Nights, is a modern classic, his last one, Punch-Drunk Love, was even better in my opinion and, from what I hear, the one I didn't see, Hard Eight, was the best of all (someone on Film Freak Central said they loved it, but I couldn't find the link). On the other hand he ripped into Fight Club using the Columbine argument:

I think John [Reilly] and I have both had a good laugh many times about this argument that movies don’t cause violence. But movies do cause violence. … Movies absolutely promote violence. I don’t particularly want to see a whole lot of guns in the rest of my movies. I’m not really interested in it anymore. I’m sick of it. I think a movie like Fight Club is an incredibly iresponsible film.

Beyond the fact that Fight Club is a work of art and making art beholden to imposed moral standards is a dangerous path to start out on, the violent character in Fight Club ultimately becomes the "villain" for lack of a better word and the violence is shown as a negative. In Boogie Nights and Punch-Drunk Love some of Anderson's characters engage in drug use, prostitution and extortion, but all of it is portrayed negatively, surely P.T.A. wouldn't argue that Magnolia encourages people to kill frogs.

On that note, let me finally get to the movie in question. Magnolia is brilliant at times (the opening especially), but its grand climax which allows Anderson to get himself out of all the corners the messy scripts writes itself into isn't anything like the grand design stories at the beginning of the movie. This is a movie for people, who love movies, but it isn't a classic and it doesn't stick with you like Anderson at his best.

Scenery Chewing 101

A Few Good Men (1992) - Oscar Nominee. Jack Nicholson has become a cartoon, a caricature actor playing the high energy version of the actor he used to be every role and A Few Good Men shows that it isn't a recent development- I personally think he is still playing the Joker after all these years. Nicholson was the worst part about The Departed, and I was left wondering what Ray Winstone, Mr. French, might have done a better job (someone else online suggested this before me, but I can't member who). I have a general tendency to discredit all of Tom Cruise's movies, but he is fairly solid here, this was back when he was more than a big smile hiding miles and miles of crazy. The movie is just ho-hum, like a special episode of "J.A.G" or "Law and Order: Military Police". I honestly can't understand how this movie became a "classic" or an Oscar Nominee- fortunately one of my favorite movies of all time, Unforgiven, beat it out for the statue.

Scent of a Woman (1992) - Oscar Nominee. I have a good friend who loves this movie and credits Al Pacino's performance as his favorite of all time. To that all I can say is: Hoo-ah! It is quite a scene when the blind Colonel yells at Prep School, but of course that scene is mirrored by Chris O'Donnell rescuing him from himself. The cliches of that scene, committing suicide on a dark rainy night in full uniform, only to be interrupted by the one person who could talk you out of it, pale in comparison to the execution. "You can dance the tango and drive a Ferrari better than anyone I've ever seen" says the simpering youth and apparently that was enough to live for. The aforementioned Ferrari scene being as Hollywood a moment as anything I have ever seen. But that is what this is, a Hollywood father-son movie, where the son redeems the father so the father can protect the son. The topper, of course, is Pacino turning the ham up to an 11. This movie is a nice Friday night date movie, but it should have been lost to the sands of early Saturday morning cable programming by now.

As Good As It Gets (1997) - Oscar Nominee. Jack Nicholson plays perhaps the least likable protagonist in the history and yet because the genre demands it, he ends up with the girl at the end. Understand, Jack plays a racist, misogynist, homophobic, anti-semite, with O.C.D; plus, he is several decades older than Hunt and somehow more offensive than any of the bigot words connote. Sure, the dialogue is snappy, but where exactly does anyone start to like Melvin the misanthrope in this movie? Every year a movie or four gets nominated needlessly for Best Picture and an actor like Jack wins for what he once did, instead of the movie he or she is nominated for.

Psuedo Important Subjects done with Sledgehammer subtlety.

American History X (1998) - Did you know that being a Nazi is bad? In case you were wavering on the subject, American History X goes to great lengths to prove that racism is wrong. Ed Norton puts in a solid performance, but he can't carry a movie this sloppy and pointless. All flashbacks are shot in black in white, either as a silly metaphor or just to make sure that we understand it's a flashback. Spike Lee has commented that this movie features the worst shot basketball sequence he has ever seen, but I will go further and say nearly everything in the movie is the worst shot I have ever seen. The climax is the real topper when we find out that racism is wrong, but black people will kill you. The movie fortunately never won anything, but it is held in high regard at imdb.com and in the minds of the people (at least people I know). I think the "curbing" scene is responsible for 90% of this film's popularity.

Overrated by its Inclusion in a Beloved Series

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983) - I am not a Star Wars fan by any stretch of the imagination, so perhaps I just don't get "it". The last three movies (aka the first three) are horrible and lots of people run around acting like George Lucas betrayed the proud legacy of his original trilogy with these sub-par follow ups. However, the original Star Wars was pretty clunky in the plot department (George Lucas ripped off Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces structure point by point and even word for word) and only became a classic because of its then state of the art special effects. Empire Strikes Back is the trendy pick as the "good" or "best" movie, mostly because it avoids the Huck Finn quandary (how to end a story) by leaving everything open. E.S.B. (the movie, not the ale) ends on a down note, so people think it feels less cheesy than the others, and I agree. However, Lucas quickly undid that by making Return of the Jedi, which is bad enough that no one should be surprised that the prequels sucked. The Ewoks became Jar-jar Binks, the dialogue was always bad, so nothing has changed there, and the sickly sweet, cringe inducing romance in the prequels mirrors the idiotic Luke-Darth dynamic in this movie. Beyond that, the climax of this movie is exactly the same as in the first movie, they do a bunch of random shit and the Death Star blows up. Like I said, maybe I don't get "it", but from where I'm sitting, this movie sucks. George Lucas makes merchandising advertisements, not cinema.
Tomorrow or next week, one day, the final six and a ranking.
Goodfellas (1990) - This is a bona fide great movie. It is a classic in every sense of the word and it would be a career defining movie for almost any director, besides the director who directed it. What Goodfellas isn't, is the greatest movie of all time. It isn't the best movie of its genre, it isn't the best movie by its director, it isn't the defining movie of the decade... it just isn't in the pantheon. The clumsy use of narration and the weak third act hold the movie back from such a status, which is no insult.

No comments: