Friday, December 8, 2006

Three're very well known

Finally I finish. I love reading lists, but this list was a huge mistake from start to finish. It took forever, and I ended up making sweeping generalizations and overviews of movies I hadn't seen in years. I stand behind my opinions, but this site was supposed to be about thinking hard about culture, not trying to extrapolate from distant memories of things I didn't like when I watched them. Now that I have said it is unimportant, here are thousands of words to read:

Terrible Oscar Winner I somehow dropped off my list

Driving Miss Daisy (1989) – This is a very sweet movie, with a benignly positive message that everyone gets and everyone leaves the theater with that “I just drank a warm cup of America-coco with little marshmallows of vague humanism in it” after glow. The obvious charge against this movie is that Morgan Freeman’s character is reminiscent of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s most famous character. I don’t want to go there, because I think it is revisionist to say that Sidney Poitier played regressive characters, when he was always the most educated, well spoken and heroic character in every movie he was in. It is simply absurd to say that every black character who is civil in the face of white abuse is an “Uncle Tom.” There is nothing wrong with maintaining your composure and not sinking to the level of the small minded; of course, there is also nothing wrong with standing up for yourself with force and conviction. In Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee addresses the MLK-Malcolm X dichotomy far more poetically than anything I can add, but I will note that most of the characteristics typifying an “Uncle Tom” are found in peaceful nonviolent protest.

That said, at best this movie doesn’t have much of a racial point to make and so it becomes the limited story of twilight friendship. Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy are both fantastic and it is generally well done, but it probably shouldn’t have won for Best Picture (though it was in a mediocre field of Field of Dreams, My Left Foot-which I haven’t seen, The Dead Poets Society, and Born on the Fourth of July- which I also missed/avoided). I would have given the award to Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)- AKA Matchpoint, the Prequel- but I’m a sucker for Woody Allen.

Terrible Oscar nominees

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) – Terrible is a strong word, E.T. is just a nothing of a movie that became a classic like sentimental weepers often do. Don McKellen, of the Village Voice, destroys the movie in one of the best-written film criticisms I’ve read. An excerpt:

"E.T. is a dog movie. Genre-wise, I mean. It's about a boy meeting a dog, naming it, taming it, learning from it, and growing up. Of course, the genre is superficially disguised as science fiction, as was the fashion at the time. Star Wars, Alien, Outland, and Blade Runner are among the many other films of the period that were deliberate sci-fi updates of established genres. But, in the case of E.T., there's no way to overlook the dog-yarn genealogy. The script makes things quite clear with lines like "I found him, I'm keeping him!" "He's trying to tell us something," and "E.T. phone home," a repeated refrain that evokes that most famous of canine titles, Lassie Come Home. "

I can’t top that, so you should just read the article.

The Prince of Tides (1991) - Oscar Nominee. I never really got into the Godess New York Singer/Actresses, Babs, Bette Milder, Liza Minelli et al, so the female lead doesn’t get any sentimentality points from me. The ultimate story is one of sacrifice, where the leading man leaves the love of his life to return home to his wife and child. To top it off, Nolte is Bab’s therapy patient, so their intimacy compounded because they really got to know each other on the couch before they got to know each other Biblically, on the couch. I guess this was edgy in the 80s, of course The Sopranos does a better job with this subject every episode and tops that by not telling the viewer everything expressly. Whatever, I wasn’t this one’s target demographic anyway.

The Sixth Sense (1999) - Oscar Nominee. For the purposes of full disclosure, I knew the ending before I saw the movie, so I didn’t get the big shock that I guess everyone else did. That said, a great movie should be reliant on more than just a twist, something that M. Night Shymalan should learn before making “Big Twist 6: She’s really your Sister” or whatever. I know that this one was a big hit back in the day, but it is just a tightly written genre movie, it doesn’t improve, redefine, subvert or do any of the other things that great genre movies do. This is Rooster Cogburn, not The Searchers.

Erin Brockovich (2000) - Oscar Nominee. This out is more Movie-of-Week's than The Prince of Tides. I can hear it now: “Erin Brockovich is a struggling single mom just trying to support her family, yet she takes on the biggest water company in the country because she can’t stand to see them getting away with with murder. Will she let the good looking motorcycle rider next door distract her from her quest? With Julia Roberts, Albert Finney and Aaron Eckhart as Generic bad boy, join Lifetime on Saturday for this unbelievable tale.” Pass.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) - Oscar Nominee. On first viewing, I enjoyed this movie for all the exciting derringdo and seamanship. That said, the plot is weak, including a scene where Captain Jack (not the cool one, the literary one) learns a tactic from a bug. I think Russell Crowe was just a guarantee for a Best Picture nod in this period, because this was the third year in a row featuring one of his movies up for the highest honor this side of a Moonman. It is an excellent portrayal of life at sea, but the Discovery Channel makes those three times a month and it only gets a .025 rating for its troubles. Period pieces always get overrated come Oscar time.

Finding Neverland (2004) - Oscar Nominee. In an infamous, and amazing, response to Crash winning Best Picture, Annie Proulx, the writer of the short story “Brokeback Mountain”- the basis for the movie of the same name, stated:

The prize, as expected, went to Philip Seymour Hoff-man for his brilliant portrayal of Capote, but in the months preceding the awards thing, there has been little discussion of acting styles and various approaches to character development by this year's nominees. Hollywood loves mimicry, the conversion of a film actor into the spittin' image of a once-living celeb. But which takes more skill, acting a person who strolled the boulevard a few decades ago and who left behind tapes, film, photographs, voice recordings and friends with strong memories, or the construction of characters from imagination and a few cold words on the page?”

I often wonder the same thing as four of the past six Best Actor/Actress wins have been for people playing real people. Biopics are my least favorite genre of movies (well, second least favorite. Musicals are the worst. THE WORST!). They have such a clear-cut structures that they are entirely predictable, and the focus is generally on mimicry rather than innovation. I don’t read biographies (well, actually I was reading a kid’s bio- well, maybe it was for adults, but you couldn’t tell by the idiotic writing- of Andy Warhol, all I wanted to know about was Edie Sedgewick and Bob Dylan and they covered that in no detail 10 pages. I knew it was a mistake to read anything but fiction) for the same reason. I don’t really care how some famous person overcame various obstacles to become famous, which is of course the plot of every biopic, biography and auto-bio. Finding Neverland doesn’t elevate the discussion of Peter Pan, if anything it turns it into something small and cliche, instead of a subversive classic. On top of that, the real J.M. Barrie was slightly pedophilic and the villain of the piece is a woman who is worried because a man starts spending his time with her grandchildren. Boring, pointless, inaccurate, cliched and nominated for Best Picture. Par for the course.

So to conclude, here is a numbered list of the most overrated movies of our (my) time. Note, this is a list of disparity between actually quality and esteem. Both values are subjective and I am just going with my guy. By the way, I somehow ended up with 26 movies, which is better since there are 26 years covered in my poll (27 really, but whatever, 2006-1980=26 so there it is).

1. Forrest Gump (1994) - Oscar Winner.
2. Dances with Wolves (1990) - Oscar Winner.
3. Braveheart (1995) Oscar Winner.
4. Crash (2005) - Oscar Winner.
5. A Beautiful Mind (2001) - Oscar Winner.
6. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983) -
7. Titanic (1997) - Oscar Winner.
8. Driving Miss Daisy (1989) - Oscar Winner.
9. A Few Good Men (1992)
10. Gladiator (2000) - Oscar Winner.
11. American History X (1998)
12. Erin Brockovich (2000) - Oscar Nominee.
13. The Prince of Tides (1991) - Oscar Nominee.
14. The Sixth Sense (1999) - Oscar Nominee.
15. Scent of a Woman (1992) - Oscar Nominee.
16. As Good As It Gets (1997) - Oscar Nominee.
17. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) – Oscar Nominee
18. Finding Neverland (2004) - Oscar Nominee.
19. Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989)
20. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) – Oscar Nominee
21. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) – Oscar Winner
22. American Beauty (1999) - Oscar Winner.
23. Kagemusha (1980) - Palme d'Or Winner.
24. Magnolia (1999)
25. Scarface (1983)
26. Goodfellas (1990) - Oscar Nominee

Thursday, December 7, 2006

A date that will live in infamy (times two)

No new posting today, besides this one, because today is my birthday! I have a long standing tradition of getting depressed and/or/consequently drunk on my birthday and today will be no exception. Happy Pearl Harbor Day to me and you too!

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

This is our receptionist, Pam. If you think she's cute now, you should have seen her a couple years ago.

I watch a lot of TV and among all the shows I watch, which I will go over once I finish the list of overrated movies, "The Office" is my favorite. Not only that, but I think the British version of "The Office", might be the best and smartest television comedy of all time. Not necessarily the funniest, but the existential drama of the show is something I have never seen in a comedy. The American Office might be consistently more funny, though the "Training" episode of the British Office is the funniest and most rewatchable thing I have ever seen on TV, but the price is that it does not quite mirror real life as truly. I am going to get into this subject in far greater detail in the future, but I just wanted post something and then point out some excellent links on the subject:

Tad Friend of The New Yorker discusses both shows. (from

Travis Hoover of Film Freak Central (my go to place for movie reviews) reviews seasons one, two and the Christmas Special of the British Office. I don't necessarily agree with his opinion of the Christmas Special, but it is all a great read.

Best of all, here is David Brent showing the chops that allowed him to open for a little Scottish outfit called Texas.

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 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.

Monday, December 4, 2006

My Crane Wife

I am almost finished with the other 15 movies on my overrated list. Having a blog is a lot of work!
I just wanted to post that by far my favorite album of the year is the new one by the Decemberists, The Crane Wife. It is a gorgeous album that sounds as pretty up from a distance as it does up close. By that I mean, if you pay attention to the lyrics and the music it is mind boggling, but even if you just put it on in the background it puts you in a good mood. Plus, it is 100% kid friendly and they might even learn something as this is probably the most literate band around right now. The Decemberists have been a great band for awhile, but this one is a real topper. They have three songs posted on Hear Ya, check em out.