The key word here is “my.” This list is purely subjective; these are the films which were praised, honored, and loved by others, but which left me cold, disappointed, or simply scratching my head. This was a trickier year than usual to compile this list, in part because I saw fewer films, but in part because there wasn’t a major critical/awards juggernaut I was itching to take down – there wasn’t a La La Land for me to vent about.
The overrated films of this year, for the most part, frustrated or disappointed in more complex ways, and so I hope this list is relatively light on bile; I felt most of these films were overrated because I saw how I felt they could be so much better – and too many fellow viewers didn’t see that or let it slide.
- Baby Driver
I left this film knowing that it was good, but feeling underwhelmed regardless. Objectively, it’s a fine piece of filmmaking (its three Oscar nominations are well deserved), but subjectively, I found it fading from my memory rather quickly. It simply lacks the invention and wit of Edgar Wright’s best work (the wonderful credits sequence aside), instead having a fairly standard crime/caper narrative and a rather bland protagonist. There are plenty of good things in it – Jamie Foxx steals his scenes quite thoroughly – but I’m a little baffled as to why this got some of the best reviews and easily the best box-office of Wright’s career.
- Darkest Hour
The Best Picture nomination sealed its place on this list. We all knew Gary Oldman was getting on, and Makeup seemed like a safe bet, but…Picture? Really? The Oldman performance is the only part of this film that’ll be remembered. And he’s really good in it – he’ll be a solid winner. And the film itself is fine – it’s solidly made all around. But it’s just so…safe. I didn’t like Anna Karenina and hated Pan, but each at least tried something new with its well-worn material. Here, Wright (Joe, not Edgar) sticks pretty much to the historical-drama playbook and is acclaimed once more. And I have to wonder how he feels about that.
- The Disaster Artist
During the end credits, there’s a montage comparing the scenes from the original The Room with Franco and company’s painstaking recreations. And to my mind, it’s the biggest miscalculation in the film; the recreations are always just slightly off, always just a hair too competent or polished, always just shy of capturing the demented soul of Tommy Wiseau’s original. And ultimately, this film feels more like a feature-length reminder of how iconic The Room is, rather than a film which really stands on its own. It’s not bad by any means, but watch the original film and read Greg Sestero’s wonderful book and you’ll have a much more rewarding experience.
- The Greatest Showman
This wouldn’t be here if it were just for the reviews (they weren’t that good). This is here because not only has it turned out to be a big hit ($126 million and counting), but it was so well-liked they’re actually doing a sing-along version! I’m fine with an original musical being successful, and I’m fine with people enjoying themselves, but…my God, sing-alongs? For those songs? Maybe I just don’t get Pasek & Paul, but I find their melodies trite, their lyrics vapid, and their orchestrations (or whoever orchestrated these things) overbearing. And the film itself isn’t good; it’s horribly edited, badly written, and is so divorced from history that they really shouldn’t have bothered naming the protagonist “P.T. Barnum.” It looks nice, that’s for sure. But the kindest thing I can say is that it’s not for me.
This one is stretching it a little bit, but it was just that kind of a year. It’s a pretty solid movie, no question, with a very good ensemble cast and some effectively creepy moments. But I feel like it trades pretty heavily on nostalgia for the 1990 version and the original novel, and there are a lot of little touches which clearly are meant to be resonant if you’re familiar with the material, but which will mean little to newcomers. As a newcomer, I was never lost…but I felt like I was missing something. And really, I wanted a lot more of Pennywise as an actual character rather than just a CGI menace, but I guess that one’s on the source material.
Another one that’s a bit of a stretch, but I can certainly make the case for it. I’ve admittedly never been a big X-Men fan – Days of Future Past was absurdly overrated in my view – but this one I liked reasonably well, especially thanks to Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and Dafne Keen’s performances. But I can’t say it wasn’t overhyped. 93% on Rotten Tomatoes is one thing, but an Oscar nomination for Adapted Screenplay? The first superhero film to get a nomination for its writing, and it’s this one? And a spot on the NBR Top 10 list? Sorry, but I think that’s all a bit much. It’s not a game-changer. It’s not The Dark Knight. It’s a very good movie, yes, but it’s not even the best (or most significant) superhero film this year. (One guess as to what was.)
I feel kind of bad about this one. I was really excited for this: a film about the Hasidic experience, with almost all the dialogue in Yiddish, and critically acclaimed to boot? Sign me up. But the actual film, while certainly good, was just that. I just never felt that invested in Menashe’s tribulations, nor did I really gain as much insight as I hoped into the Hasidic world. It all felt just a bit detached to me (and overly episodic; at the time I wrote that “too many of its episodes seem to take place in a vacuum”). It’s still a solid little film and one I would suggest checking out, but it just didn’t resonate with me.
Most of these films I felt were at least good, if overhyped or overpraised. This one, however, I actively disliked. Since I loved Snowpiercer, I figured I’d give this a chance (despite some trepidations), and…what a letdown. Incredibly clichéd, endlessly predictable, heavy-handed in the extreme, with tiresome characters (even the pig isn’t that compelling), bad writing, stupid humor, and nowhere near enough style or invention to compensate. I soon found myself not caring at all what happened or who it happened to. It was possibly the single biggest letdown of the year for me, and yet…85% on Rotten Tomatoes.
- The Square
I’d been a huge fan of Force Majeure, and this won the Palme d’Or, so I figured it would be a winner, right? Well…not quite. There’s a lot of great stuff here, yes, but it’s a unwieldy, disjointed, and frankly considerably overlong film. And while I’m just fine with a movie asking you to do a little mental legwork in parsing out its themes, I’m not really sure if the themes in this case were all that subtle, or if Östlund just wasn’t getting them across clearly. So for a lot of the film’s running time, I was saying to myself “This is amusing and all…but what does it have to do with what it’s all about? And what is it all about?” Maybe on a second viewing I’ll appreciate it more fully – there’s a lot to unpack there – but for now I feel like it asks more of the viewer than it really gives back.
- Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
The first time I saw this film, I felt it came very near greatness but fell somehow short, and the more I meditated upon it, the shorter it fell. So I saw it again, and the second time I realized – it’s a film with a lot of issues. The acting is marvelous, no doubt about it; Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell will be very deserving winners if they both take home Oscars. But Martin McDonagh’s script, which might also win big, is to my mind a house of cards which collapses under even mild scrutiny. Lapses in logic abound, both great (how is Dixon not instantly arrested for throwing Red Welby out a window?) and small (why is a middle-aged small-town sheriff in Missouri married to an Australian woman 20 years his junior?). It’s a tonal mess, veering between satire and farce at McDonagh’s whim, subtle one minute and ham-fisted the next. There’s the whole issue of how the film uses its black characters – certainly it’s hard not to see how it treats them as props more than people.
I could go on, but I just want to give you an idea of why this particular film, one of the year’s most acclaimed and awarded, ended up on this list – and not out of simple contrarianism. Fittingly, this is where I’ll wrap up this article, and return tomorrow on a more positive note – to discuss my most underrated films of the year.