Or, “Time to Piss Off a Lot of People”.
Just as there are a great many films I think are underrated (here’s a list of 100 of them), so there are quite a few films I think are praised beyond their actual worth. I will only cite 25 films at present, for the following reasons:
– 1. Many of the films I consider overrated are recent releases which may find their proper level of obscurity in due time.
– 2. A lot of films I consider overpraised I have yet to give a second chance to, and in many of those cases (especially films I saw when I was fairly young), I have left them off the list.
– 3. The criteria for determining a truly overrated film is actually quite strict. For each film I’ll offer an explanation as to why I consider it so overrated.
– 4. There’s a lot of canonical cinema I still need to see/rewatch, so I can’t yet make a definitive listing of what I consider overrated.
Argo – People may come around on this one yet, but this won the Oscar for Best Picture, so I’m not cutting it any slack. It’s like my old roommate said, “There’s dramatic license and there’s bullshit.” And Argo is clearly burdened by bullshit. The third act–the absurd obstacles which detain Siegel (Alan Arkin) and Westmore (John Goodman), the runway chase, all the last-minute hiccups that nearly derail the whole plan–is so obviously calculated that it becomes absurd.
And the rest of it isn’t so incredible either. “Argo fuck yourself” is one of the lamer attempts at a catchphrase I’ve encountered, especially from an Oscar-winning screenplay. Its not a bad film–it’s a decent Hollywood thriller–but it is not even remotely worthy of Oscar nominations, let alone wins.
Boogie Nights – I love P.T. Anderson films, I enjoy this film, I probably need to see it again, but…at least three of the films he made after this were better, and this doesn’t hold up as well as I’d like; in particular, it seems undecided as to whether it’s a farce or a more grounded black comedy, and as a result I found it somewhat unsatisfying. Maybe another time.
Casablanca – Oh, boy. This will get ugly in the comments section, I’m sure. But I really don’t see (and I recently rewatched this one) why this one of the greatest films ever made. A good Hollywood romance? Absolutely. One of the greatest films ever made? Not even. It just doesn’t do anything more for me besides being decent entertainment. In of itself, that’s no issue. But when you’re calling a film an actual top-10-best-ever masterpiece, it doesn’t cut the mustard.
Cat Ballou – Fuck this movie. I probably need to see it again to see if it’s really that bad, but…this was painful to watch. So many lame gags, so clearly desperate for audience approval, so mediocre throughout…and people still like it. It’s the Farrelly brothers’ favorite. The American Film Institute put it in their top 10 Westerns. It won Best Actor for Lee Marvin (one of my favorite actors), and was nominated for, among other things, its script–one of the worst nominations in Academy history. It’s just a lame, thin, desperate-for-approval Western comedy that got no laughs from me.
Chinatown – Yeah, I just don’t see why this is a greatest-films-of-all-time masterpiece. It’s a good neo-noir, very well made, but…what really makes it better than an actual 40s noir? Plus, honestly, it really shows that the ending of the film wasn’t the ending of the original script. Polanski may have gotten the bleak ending he wanted, but it plays pretty badly (it’s really badly staged), and it kind of exemplifies the gratuitous bleakness that mars a lot of 70s cinema for me.
The Dark Crystal – I haven’t seen this in a few years, but I remember finding it incredibly boring on at least two viewings. And it has a strong cult, so that’s sufficient grounds for putting it on the list.
Downhill Racer – This one, admittedly, is on the fence, just because I’m not sure how well-regarded it really is (though Criterion released it on DVD, which should tell you something), but I think it’s pretty blah, one of those late 60s/early 70s films that tries for profundity and doesn’t nail it.
Field of Dreams – I saw this once, in a class in high school, and I hated it utterly. I hate the mythologizing of baseball, especially when it’s done as ham-handedly as it is here. At least The Natural has something of a pedigree. This was just nonsense. James Earl Jones was the one redeeming feature. And this was nominated for Best Picture over Do the Right Thing, Glory, Henry V, and Road House.
Ghostbusters – Fun movie and all, but I don’t see, aside from nostalgia, why it’s that remarkable. The Ghostbusters themselves don’t really have much chemistry as a team, and Bill Murray’s smug wiseass bit didn’t really work for me here. I probably owe it another shot, but I think calling it overrated is justifiable.
Gravity – Beautifully made, but there’s really nothing beneath the surface. Which isn’t really that big of a deal, but when you start lavishing praise on it, calling it a masterpiece, giving it 7 Oscars…then we have an issue.
Heaven Can Wait (1978) – Huge hit. 9 Oscar nominations. Bland tripe.
Juno – Read the “Memorable Quotes” section of this film’s IMDb page and try not to vomit. The depiction of teenage pregnancy is also unlike any case I’ve encountered, but that’s beside the point. And to think, this script won an Oscar.
The Knack…and How to Get It – It won the fucking Palme d’Or. I like Richard Lester, and there are some good moments here, but for the most part it’s an incoherent “mod” mess, with some jokes being especially off-putting now and most being lame as shit.
The Last Emperor – Haven’t seen this in years. Maybe I’d be more favorably disposed to it now (though my experiences with Bertolucci since have not given me much cause for hope), but I just remember it being massively boring. Pretty, but boring. Also, Best Picture winner, so that costs it points. (Update: I’ve seen this again, and while it’s not massively boring (I have it as a high ***), the writing and editing really undermine the strengths in the direction and overall filmmaking. It’s a good film, but it’s definitely overrated.)
Melvin and Howard – This script won an Oscar. Why? No clue. It’s the type of social satire which doesn’t age well at all, like a hangover of the lame anti-establishment humor of the 60s and early 70s. Also, too much Melvin, not enough Howard.
Midnight in Paris – Way too cutesy, plus the main character is such a whiny jackass that the thought of him being admired by and inspiring the literary greats (also Buñuel) of the 20s is nauseating. Aside from Owen Wilson’s performance it’s not so bad, but one wishes Allen had just made a film about the Lost Generation and left well enough alone. Another Oscar-winning screenplay that doesn’t hold up.
My Darling Clementine – I hate to do this, since this was apparently a favorite of my late aunt’s, but I really didn’t think this was that great. It was apparently recut by the studio, and it shows; it’s kind of a mess a lot of the time. It does have some fine moments, but it’s a problematic whole.
National Lampoon’s Animal House – I’ve seen this twice, and honestly…meh. It’s got its funny parts, but overall I just don’t care. The Blues Brothers is a better film on every conceivable level.
Network – I can see why people like this, but I thought it was preachy as hell (as Paddy Chayefsky had a tendency to be). I’ll just sum it up thusly:
(long-lost meme here of Howard Beale saying “GRR TELEVISION BAD”)
Office Space – I think it was the lack of strong characters that really did this one in for me. It’s not that the humor itself is unrelatable, so much as it’s delivered in what I considered a pretty bland package. Not enough flair, if you will.
Stagecoach – It’s good and all, but there are so many better Westerns out there. If you want a great Ford-Wayne western, I say go with The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (I’m withholding comment on The Searchers until a second viewing).
The Sting – Fun? Yes. Clever? Absolutely. But it’s also really overlong, kind of blandly directed, and I don’t really think it works as a Best Picture winner. To put it another way, it’s no Butch Cassidy. (Update: I’ve warmed to this one somewhat. I still wouldn’t call it unequivocally great, but it does achieve its modest ambitions quite well, and it holds up very well to repeat viewing. So whenever I update this list it’ll come off – and another 1973 Oscar contender, The Exorcist, might just come on.)
Tom Jones – Another comedic Best Picture winner that didn’t deserve it, beating the beautiful, hugely underrated America America, It might have been daring at the time, but now it just looks silly. Oh, and it won Best Director over 8½. Think about that for a second.
The Truman Show – Great idea, but the execution really isn’t that great. It feels rushed–perhaps there was some intention to satirize the short attention span of the modern era, but if that was the intent, it came at the cost of really letting the story breathe. It’s still a good film, just not at all a masterpiece.
Vertigo – A Sight & Sound poll voted this the greatest film ever made. I don’t think it’s even the best Hitchcock film of the 50s (Rear Window is much, much better). The first third is really draggy, and the climax is kind of bungled in terms of staging. In between, it is really, really good, but it just has too many flaws for me to embrace it as a masterpiece. Maybe someday.
The Pink Panther – Disqualified because I haven’t seen the whole thing. But that was because I quite after 45 minutes out of sheer boredom. Blake Edwards’ style of humor is just so desperate and wants so badly to be clever that it’s painful.
Gladiator – Haven’t seen it in so long and remember it so vaguely that I can’t, in good conscience, cite it. But I recall being underwhelmed.
American Beauty– I’ve seen a fair amount of it, though not the whole thing. Enough, though, to assume I wouldn’t like it much.
Blue is the Warmest Color – Three hours long, and by my count half of that is total filler. I’ll see how this one’s reputation holds up over the next couple of years, but this will probably make a future rendition of this list.
The Eel – Palme d’Or winner. Forgettable little character drama. Not bad, just completely unnotable.
The Fighter – David O. Russell’s films tend to get overrated. Not that they’re bad, but…he’s not really that distinctive of a director. This is a solid boxing biopic, but did it really deserve to be a Best Picture contender? I don’t think so. Plus, Melissa Leo beating Hailee Steinfeld (for True Grit) for Best Supporting Actress is ridiculous.
True Grit (1969) – Maybe it’s because I love the Coens’ version so much, but this is really not that good of a film. It’s really just another John Wayne film, but he won an Oscar for it. I don’t know how highly this is regarded anymore (at the time, Ebert wrote a 4-star rave), but the 2010 version is better by several orders of magnitude.
The Odd Couple – Iconic premise, Lemmon and Matthau, but it doesn’t really do enough with either. Its structure is too wedded to that of the play, and as a result it feels kind of undernourished. My review at the time said the script itself wasn’t all that funny either (I don’t remember it well enough to confirm or disprove that). So it goes on the runner-up list.
Wild at Heart – Maybe I just need to give this another chance, but I thought this was nowhere near as good as Blue Velvet. And it won the Palme!
Heat (1995) – I have this idea of Michael Mann as making films that are way too somber for their own good. This certainly qualifies, plus it’s three hours long for no good reason.