Monday, May 7, 2012

Sight and Sound Movie List - Der Koosh

Overrated Movies

Disclaimer: I don’t think these are the worst films of all time. That’s why Avatar, The Notebook, and Mad Men aren’t on this list (well, that, and because the last isn’t a movie…and Evan asked me not to go on an anti-Mad Men rant on his blog because he slobbers all over it like a bulldog in heat...LOVE YOU).

That, and movies like that…well, they’re too easy. It’s like the list equivalent of a pot-shot. Everyone knows these films are bad; I’m not saying a film is “overrated” because it does well at the box office; otherwise, Titanic, Twlight, etc. would dominate this list, and that’s not the point. The point is “what films do most people like that they really, really shouldn’t?”

5. Easy Rider (1969 - dir. Peter Fonda)

My first reaction to this movie was to text Evan the following: “What the hell just happened in the last twenty minutes of Easy Rider?” (I didn’t italicize the original text). His response: “You understood everything leading up to the last twenty minutes?”

Maybe because it’s I possess a visceral hatred for the Jack Kerouac, On the Road again biker culture types (Get a job, dirty hippies!), but I didn’t understand what’s supposed to make this movie so great. Is it the dull monotone of these characters cycling across the country, interacting with all these different groups but not really being part of them? Is their general listlessness and zero focus / motivation to do anything a feature, rather than a bug? Either way, feh.

4. Napoleon Dynamite (2004 dir. Joshua Hess)

Growing up in Seattle, the first thing you learn is that “All Dirt Roads Lead to Pullman [the town in which UW rival WSU is located].” Well, as bad as Eastern Washington is in the minds of Western Washingtonians, the only thing that truly separates civilization from barbarism is the Washington-Idaho border. So it’s with that mindset that I approached Napoleon Dynamite…and boy, does it conform to each and every stereotype Western Washingtonians have about Idahoans. The setting, characters (yes, even Pedro), plot, and relationships are all incredibly dull and lifeless. Again, maybe that’s the point, because Idaho’s about as boring as it gets…but all that says to me is that this movie should’ve never been made.

3. Blade Runner (1982 dir. Ridley Scott)

I love science fiction. I even had a dystopia phase in 2009. I like a good mindfuck as much as the next guy. I like Philip K. Dick. All that being said, I don’t like Blade Runner, and I don’t understand why it’s supposed to be such a classic. It’s not a particularly novel look at the world (at least for anyone who’s read Asimov’s Robot Trilogy). Nor are the questions posed (“What does it mean to be human?”) particularly addressed in a new or interesting way. Very little in the film actually seems to happen, and the multitude of cityscape shots seems more to show off the CGI than actually tell us anything about the world itself. Given the fact that this was an adaptation, there shouldn’t have been such a shortage of source material to work with.

2. Lost in Translation (2003 dir. Sofia Coppola)

Yes, I know that the fact that everything’s in dull monotone except for the bustling bright lights of Tokyo is supposed to reflect the inner torment and loneliness of the characters. Their fundamental inability to connect with each other on anything more than a fleeting basis is further evidence of that inherent incompleteness in their souls.

Guess what? Boring, dull, monotone characters = boring, dull, monotone movie. I don’t care if it’s a movie so many people “identify” with. Quoth one of the great philosophers of our time (it’s a short list, shut up), “Somebody throw a pie already!”

1. Forrest Gump (1994 dir. Robert Zemeckis)

My parents are Baby Boomers. I love my parents dearly. That being said, the Baby Boomers are the most selfish, egotistical, narcissistic, parasitic, self-destructive, rats-that-brought-the-ship-of-state-down generation this country has ever spawned (yes, even more than the Facebook generation). I won’t get into all the reasons, save the ticking time-bomb of Medicare. In any event, I think that looking back on America in a few decades, we’ll finger the Baby Boomers as the generation who broke the Social Compact of American society.

What does all this have to do with Forrest Gump, you ask? Forrest Gump is not just the Baby Boomer-isation of the American Dream (Instead of hard work, dedication, creativity, ingenuity, etc., just muddle through and everything’ll turn up Milhouse!), but a celebration of the country’s social order tearing itself to pieces with a happy-go-lucky drummer leading the way to chaos and collapse.

So yes. Run, Forrest, Run…because if you don’t, I’ll beat you with a shovel. I will, you know, because you’re such a dreadful role model for anyone. And why are you such a dreadful role model? Because you’re such a perfect one for the most dreadful generation this country has ever spawned.

Top Ten Movies: 

In 9th Grade, my favorite book was "Who’s Afraid of Schrodinger’s Cat?" No joke. It made me want to become a physicist: such a fascinating universe we lived in! Then I hit 11th grade and actually took honors physics. “What do you mean physics has math? And Newtonian physics is the simplest?!!”

That soured me on it really quickly. My boyish dalliances with physics aside, I did retain a few of the concepts I learned from my favorite book (at the time). One of them was Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle: the notion that one cannot know both the position and vector (magnitude/direction) of a subatomic particle at any given point in time. Eventually, I hit college and took a hobby to economics and philosophy, which helped me connect concepts to people.

Thinking back on my top ten list, I realized what made these films my top ten was that I had seen them at different parts of my life and loved them…for completely different reasons at each “stage.” Like Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, this top ten list is almost certainly not the top ten list I would have had a few years ago, and it’s unlikely that it will be in its current form a few years from now.

All I can do is figure out what my top ten list is like at this moment (position) in time. I couldn’t tell you where I was going in the years to come.

10. M*A*S*H* (1970 dir. Robert Altman)

One of the few circumstances in which the movie is better than the book. The book is almost too dreary about the horrors of “meatball surgery.” The movie goes further into what men and women will do to adapt to the hellish circumstances they find themselves thrust into. This movie speaks more to the human condition than war itself and I like that.

9. The Sting (1973 dir. George Roy Hill)

One of those movies that is full of such intricate planning that at first it makes you think, “This is ludicrous, no one could possibly pull off such a complex caper.” Then, when said caper actually is pulled, you’re more impressed than ever. Repeated viewings don’t diminish the brilliance of the characters, and the bromance betwixt Paul Newman and Robert Redford is truly a gem.

8. The Odd Couple (1968 dir. Gene Saks)

Another stellar bromance flick. Lemmon and Matthau at the height of their comedic powers and using them to full effect. There are so many quotable lines for this movie that my father and I could probably spend the better part of an afternoon speaking purely in conversation lines from this flick. This film works at physical and intellectual comedy levels while simultaneously showing us an experience we’ve all had at least once before: living with our best friend and hating every minute of it.

7. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966 dir. Sergio Leone)

Eastwood, Van Cleef, and Wallach providing masterful performances in the greatest shootout scene of all time. These three characters (two of which don’t have actual names in the movie, the third only having one) are so interlinked that even as they try to escape from each other, they find themselves inexorably drawn back together. Their relationships are so nuanced and enthralling that any amateur writer could only hope to emulate such dynamism.

6. Duck Soup (1933 dir. Leo McCarey)

This film is the basis of so much knockoff comedy today (anyone who’s seen Looney Toons would recognize it immediately) that I simply can’t put into words how groundbreaking it must have been when it first came out. Razor sharp wit mixed with hilarious physical comedy, all bound up in a musical that hilariously satirizes the jingoism and lunatic diplomacy gripping Europe through the first quarter of the twentieth century.

5. Bull Durham (1988 dir. Ron Shelton)

A smarmy Kevin Costner, a sultry Susan Sarandon, and a stupefied Tim Robbins intermix in roles that are so ridiculously removed from themselves as individual people that you can’t help but be amused. A great look at the culture of minor league baseball in the South, with such ridiculous non-sequiturs (“Sears sucks. Had to sell Lady Kenmores. Nasty!”) that make you bust your gut laughing. At the same time, it ably demonstrates the lengths that we go to to stave off that demon of boredom, and the rat race that ensues from all those Left Behind (by the MLB).

4. Radio Days (1987 dir. Woody Allen)

Without a doubt, my favorite Woody Allen film (yes, even eclipsing Annie Hall). The writing is crisp, the characters so wonderfully unique (and yet, all too familiar, especially for Jews), and the grasp of the setting (pre- and during-WWII in lower-middle class New York) so complete that you can’t help but be drawn in. There’s also such a fine veneer of nostalgia crystallized so beautifully by the music present throughout and the ending narration that you realize that you haven’t just been watching a movie, but a life.

3. The Great Race (1965 dir. Blake Edwards)

Five words: Most expensive pie fight ever. A few more: Jack Lemmon absolutely steals the show in a way that no actor does in any other movie this stacked with talent. Not only is the acting across the board phenomenal (when the “supporting actors” are Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, and Peter Falk, you know you’ve got the All-Star Team), but the sets are gorgeous, the music superb (Henry Mancini), and the direction spectacular. I love the hilarious adventure these characters find themselves in, and each scene really gives you a strong sense of place that too many adventure movies lack.

2. To Have and Have Not (1944 dir. Howard Hawks)

With all due respect to Le Malon’s #1 pick, I Casablanca’s weaknesses are To Have and Have Not’s strengths. Casablanca is too dreamlike and idealist; there’s very little indication that there’s any suffering going on at all (the worst injury in the movie is someone cutting their hand breaking a window). To Have and Have Not is a far better representation of what was probably going outside the direct theaters of war: midnight boat rides to pick up otherwise anonymous strangers who have the job of finding someone else, then doing your damndest to hide them from the Gestapo. Lauren Bacall is such a stronger woman than Ingrid Bergman that the comparison is almost laughable.

1. The Thomas Crown Affair (1999 dir. John McTiernan)

That’s right, my favorite film breaks two rules of mine that every other movie on this list adheres to: 1) I never saw it as a child, and 2) it’s a remake. You know what? I don’t care, because I love everything about this film. I love when smart characters take turns outwitting each other, only to themselves to be outwitted later on as part of a larger plan. I love the set design, the costuming (Bull Durham’s not higher on this list because it’s far too much an ‘80s film), and of course, the final scene. I’m such a Magritte fan that I actually dressed up for Halloween (and a wedding) as Magritte’s Son of Man, and that’s featured prominently in this movie. That I enjoy it so much despite breaking both the rules mentioned above makes me love it more.

Click here for Le Malon's List
Click here for The McClure's List
Click here for Der Fersko's List
Click here for an increasingly inadequate list

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