Monday, July 4, 2011


The Most Overrated Movies of All Time 

          These are the movies bound to come off the tongue of 88% of the people you ever talk to when you bring up the Favorite-Movie Question. For me, these aren’t simply bad movies, but movies so unduly lavished with praise that I have no choice but to judge the entire character and moral compass of the person who likes them.

6. Easy Rider 

               The 60’s were a wild time for movies: Directors began breaking free from the confines of major studios, unconventional-looking actors were taking on leading roles, and everyone was on so many drugs they actually thought Dennis Hopper was talented. Easy Rider probably has the thinnest story of any movie on the AFI TOP 100 List: Two coke-peddling hippies named after legendary outlaws head down South on motorcycles, meet a soused lawyer played with early-in-his-career mania by Nicholson, and up getting killed for having long hair, or for searching for America, or for being just too damn cool to live. I’m not exactly sure why they get killed, but let’s face it, do rednecks ever need a reason to test out their shotguns on other people? At least this is what this self-glorifying, You’re-only-cool-if-you’re-a-hippie, Master(batory) piece wants us to believe. The whole movie is an homage to itself, Fonda and Hopper acting out their own martyrdom at the end- sacrificing themselves in the name of Non-conformity. But what they both never realize is that martyrdom is a two-step process: you have to do something good first, and then get killed for it. And while they both end up getting killed, I don’t recall them ever doing any good in the world. In fact, I don’t recall them doing much of anything but riding down the highway on their Harleys, trying to look cool.

5. Good Will Hunting 
             So what if Will Hunting was viciously beaten as a child, even to the point of cigarettes being burned into his chest,  he was blessed with the most enviable combo: dashing good looks and a brain to rival Einstein’s. To be good-looking and brilliant are the two best cards you can ever be dealt, which is why if someone happens to be dealt one they're probably not dealt the other. As for me, I’d gladly have Will’s movie star looks and effortless genius than be some ordinary-looking guy with average intelligence whose parents were decent enough to use an ash tray whenever they finished smoking a cigarette. Because the sad truth is, most people do not want to see a movie about a so-so-looking guy who isn’t very good at anything, because well...that sounds too much like most people. Good Will Hunting is uplifting precisely because it’s not relatable. It allows us to indulge in the very comforting fantasy that we too are not living up to our genius potential because of unresolved emotional issues (and that in the right light, we look like Matt Damon). Real inspiration in movies comes from real hardships, and Damon’s genius is so innate and effortless, all the obstacles he faces in the movie seem easily solvable: Just get a couple of hugs from Robin Williams, have one good cry about your abusive step dad, then walk into a NASA, show them your IQ Score, and take over the desk of whoever is getting paid the highest salary. But what about the rest of us? Even if we’re lucky enough to have a psychiatrist as warm as Robin Williams help us untangle all the repressed emotions that keep us from moving on in life, we still have to find out what, if anything, we’re good at, and work really hard at that one thing our whole life. Good Will Hunting is about as inspirational as the story of Paris Hilton’s rise to success.


          If the message in Easy Rider is, “You’re only cool if you’re a hippie,” then in Juno it’s been altered to fit with the times: “You’re only cool if you’re a hipster.” So if you don't want to be sneered at as “One of them”, you better start saying quirky phrases with spoonfuls of ironic enthusiasm (Yo-yo- yiggady-yo), have a witty, pre-written line ready to fire back at all times, sprinkle your conversations with references to both main stream and obscure culture (this way you show that you are far too complex to be pigeon-holed as either a populist or a snob), pretend to smoke a pipe because it makes you look kooky, mix youthful colloquialism with archaic/big words (Basically, I’m completely smitten with you...Dude, it’s just so totally atavistic, you know?) and care so little what other people think that walking through a high school hallway seven months into your pregnancy doesn’t phase you in the least. The movie is a girl’s revision of her high school days, all the awkwardness, insecurities, and desperate need for approval conveniently replaced with self-assurance and wit. People can watch this movie and pretend they were just as clever and aloof as Juno back in their day, totally forgetting that no one in high school wasn’t at least a little tempted to be accepted by the Popular Crowd. And yet, for all its hip posturing, the movie has some pretty conservative values: All women are incomplete without children, Jason Bateman’s character is a bad man because he doesn’t want one, and when Juno’s precocious resilience finally gives way to doubt, she naturally goes to her father for some Wise Adult Platitudes: “My opinion is, you should love someone because they see you exactly the way you are.” (And I always thought you should love someone because of their completely distorted image of you).
          Juno is elitist the way that J.D. Salinger was. Everyone outside of her small circle of friends are lumped together as dull conformists, and the movie invites the audience to join in on this kind of snobbish compartmentalizing, so they too can feel like Outcasts, the few rare individuals who would actually get such non-mainstream humor. And the joke’s on them, because everyone fucking likes this movie.


      When Fight Club came out in 1999, it became an instant classic among adolescent males, always a safe sign that a movie isn’t very good. While Fincher has matured a lot since then, at the time of Fight Club he was still suffering from Oliver Stone Syndrome, which is defined in the American Journal of Psychiatry as: “The delusion that your thoughts are so lofty and urgent they must be hammered repetitively into the audience’s head, subtlety being the kind of risk only shallower artists can afford to take, like Beckett or Shakespeare.”
       In Fight Club, this Chinese-water-torture type of didacticism is achieved by Edward Norton’s narration, which is constantly telling you what to think with the same kind of brainwashing numbness found in the Consumer culture its constantly telling you to think about. This could be excused if the ideas in Fight Club were as exciting as Fincher thinks they are. But try as I might, I don’t see how our reliance on material possessions- which is annoying, at best- somehow justifies terrorism. Instead of blowing everything up at the end of 
the movie, can’t Edward Norton’s character just, you know, try not to depend so heavily on things?


      Shawshank Redemption is in the tradition of movies that use a modern day institution as the setting for an overt Christian allegory; other stories in this genre include Cool Hand Luke, One Flew Over A Cuckoo’s Nest, and Mel Gibson’s inflated view of himself in Hollywood. One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest is the best of the bunch, mainly because director Milos Forman wisely evades the heavy-handedness of the book and focuses instead on amping up all the fun and mischief. McMurphy might die a carpenter’s death, but it’s for Earthily pleasures; the liberation of the libido from religious and societal guilt.
      Shawshank Redemption, on the other hand, is about as self-important and austere as the original story in the Bible. This is not to say Darabont is a Christian writer, just that he sticks so close to the ascetic tone of the New Testament, it makes you wonder why he’s even updating it in the first place.
      Where McMurphy slowly grew into the Savior’s Shoes, Tim Robbin’s Andy Dufresne walks into Shawshank a saint. He’s a symbol in prison garb, so how are we expected to identify with him? The movie is as pedantic as the Bible too. For instance, in 
the unlikely event the film’s message slips past the audience, Darabont makes sure to have the word Hope repeated five hundred thousand times in the movie. And if people are still confused as to what this movie is about, near the end Andy writes in a letter to Red, “Remember...hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.” If, at this point, people still have trouble wrapping their heads around the movie’s intricate theme, the last line is: “I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams...I hope.” If people are still having difficulty figuring out what this movie is about, then they probably have a lot in common with the  main character in the next movie. 



         Life is like a box of chocolates: most of them have a really nasty filling inside, but none are quite as nasty as Forrest Gump. Robert Zemeckis’ 1994 Oscar-Sweeper is considered the feel-good movie of the decade, an odd term since, shouldn’t seeing any great movie in this parade of cinematic swill we are constantly being made to swallow, feel pretty good? But of course what feel-good actually means is that when the lights in the theater start to dim, our painful awareness of the hardships of day-to-day life are quickly drowned out in the sweet, sweet sound of sentiment. Feel good movies typically preach such messages as “If you try your hard, you will succeed” and “The love you get is equal to the love you give” and other phrases that aren’t true. At the beginning of the movie, Forrest’s Mom reminds him that “he is no different or worse than any other person.” If those other people are borderline retarded, I would have to agree, but this movie seems to forget an important point: recognizing that the mentally handicapped have been dealt a worse hand than you is not the same as being unsympathetic towards them. But this movie wants us to pretend otherwise, that all obstacles are relative. Some might think at a slower rate than others, severely limiting their options in life, while others can’t grow hair on their chest- you see, everyone has problems. And while it’s true that we all have crosses to bear, some are much heavier than others.
       But the movie goes one step further, having the audacity to suggest mental retardation is an enviable trait, a gift from God. For you see, Gump’s slow brain has allowed him to transcend all the pretty judging and racism everyone else is constantly engaged in. (This is a much cherished tradition in Hollywood- placing a halo on the head of the mentally and physically handicapped. As if it’s not bad enough they got dealt such a bad hand in life, we have to condescend to them too). Children and adults may pretend the seat on the bus is taken, but such a hurtful thought would never enter Gump’s angelic, pea-sized brain. Zemeckis has managed to make the first crowd-pleaser that views intelligence as a negative attribute. John Keats said a similar thing in Ode to a Nightingale, but at least he seemed a little upset by the idea. Gump’s quirky tone is disturbingly incongruous with its message, like listening to a campfire sing-along of Kumbaya and noticing all the lyrics have been replaced with passages from Becket.
       If people love this movie as much as they say they do, if they actually take its message to heart, then I think they should prove it by running out and getting a Lobotomy- a sure-fire way to rid yourself of all the sins your big old brain has burdened you with.
        Forrest Gump, albeit just a schmaltzy, bogus Hollywood movie, is really no different than all the sentiment passed off as wisdom by Christianity. People love Jesus for the same reason they love Forrest- they both lack all the imperfections and shortcomings that make real people so hard to like. But liking real people is the great challenge, in movies and in life.

1 comment:

  1. Gump has one realistic element though - the love of his life doesn't marry him until after she has AIDS.