Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Yet Another G*d-D**nmed Top Ten List

Hey, I either give quantity of posts, or...no, really, that's pretty much it. Lots of dreck, or none at all. So without further ado:

The Top Ten Most Overrated Films of All Time:

(Editor's Note: This list is not to be confused with a WORST Films of All Time list--many of the films included herein are quite good indeed, and some are even great--but what is being measured here, with scientific exactitude confirmed by labwork at JPL and Caltech, is the disparity between the actual merit of the film itself, and the critical and popular admiration/adulation it has received. Citizen Kane is not on the list, for instance, because the praise it has received is merited; neither is Battlefield: Earth, because every sane person on the planet agreed that it was a piece of s***. The films here are films that have been wildly overpraised, but that is all that unites them. I expect, I will add, to infuriate a lot of people with this list, which is what warms my black little heart in the cold winter night.)

10. Field of Dreams. Oh, now, calm down!!! I know, I know, I just got challenged to half-a-dozen fist-fights. Guys go nuts for this movie, and hell, I'm one of 'em. But guys, admit it--if you popped in the DVD right now, you'd fast-forward through a lot of this movie. Does anybody give a rip about Amy Madigan taking on the harridan at the PTA meeting? No, we do not. We want to get to the end. Frankly, I'd even skip the parts with James Earl Jones, because that stuff ain't about baseball, and that's what this movie is supposed to be about. Face it: we talk about this movie as if every second is sheer gold, as if it's a lost book of the New Testament, and it isn't--the ending is, in fact, the most important emotional experience of every young man's life, and no one can take that away. But that's a scene, and I'm talking about the movie as a whole. Great film that's been endowed with virtues it does not have, is all I'm saying.

9. Fargo. And again, I'm the victim of a lynch mob. Back off with those pitch forks--it's a great movie, I admit! Really! But...but the thing is, appreciation for the film has obscured the fact that there's a lot of the movie that's less than inspired. Buscemi vowing to shut up and continuing to talk is a gag as old as vaudeville. The scene between Marge and the Japanese guy in the hotel lounge is so jarringly out of place that everyone has to justify it in retrospect--which we do, because we love the movie so. But let's face, it doesn't really belong in an otherwise tightly plotted film. But what highlights Fargo's overratedness is the degree to which it's been praised above and beyond the rest of the Coen films, to which it is equal, not superior, in merit: Miller's Crossing, a dark jewel of a film, has been unjustly ignored--Raising Arizona is near-perfect comic gold--Blood Simple, Barton Fink, and, of course, Lebowski (which started out as one of the most underrated films of all time, but has grown to its proper status--though one fears that if it draws still more worship, it may have to find a place on this list.) In short, Fargo's swell--it's just not the non-stop cinematic orgasm that others would claim.

8. Saving Private Ryan. Possibly the most wincingly cliched war-movie ever, from the sharp-shooter who prays to God with each shot, to the battle-shy coward who pulls it together at the last minute to shoot the one Nazi we've met in the whole film. Oh, and we establish that Tom Hanks's hands shake at the beginning, so that when he dies, we can talk about how they've stopped. Boy, sheer screenwriting genius! But I shan't elaborate--William Goldman, with whom I rarely agree, critically speaking--has produced a pitch-perfect evisceration of this wretched heap of illogical banality masquerading as patriotic iconography in The Big Picture, and I urge you to find it and read it. If you admire this film, it will cure you of this illness. Bad movie! Bad! Bad! No biscuit!

7. Dances With Wolves. I can't sneer enough at those who love this simplistic piece of historically revisionist garbage, except to point out that Kevin Costner gets whacked on the head about 953 times during a 3-hour period--including a running gag about his low doorframe!--and apparently suffers nothing more than a bad headache. Were the Native Americans dicked over by Western Expansionism? Of course. But this is not the way to make the case. Never has one man tried so hard to tug so many heartstrings while proposing that he and he alone is a Good White Man---an act of self-loathing racism that renders him One of The Good Ones. Shooting the wolf, a thuggish soldier (is there any other kind?) using the meticulously kept journal as toilet paper--oh, Christ, do I have to go on? I want my money back. It's been over a decade, and I want my money back.

6. A Beautiful Mind. It should go without saying that just because a movie wins Best Picture, that doesn't make it the best movie of the year. If ever there were a film to prove this truism, it'd be this one. A narrative twist clumsily stolen from Fight Club (among other films), a badly miscast Russell Crowe as a math nerd--sorry, but no, I'm not swallowing that--emetic attempts to depict 'genius' as the ability to see imaginary numbers swirl about your head, and basically nothing to recommend it except the fact that Jennifer Connelly is pretty, if already beginning her nightmare descent into emaciation. And yet this ridiculous sack of tripe won Best Picture, presumably because there wasn't a movie about a Holocaust survivor or a historical epic with a catchy theme song that year. No. Go sit in the corner. No.

5. Manhattan. The nice thing about most Woody Allen movies is the degree of consensus they create. It's just so easy to identify the souffles of his early career, his first few stabs at serious film-making, the disastrous faux-Bergman period, the revival of the late 80s and early 90s, and the period we're stuck in now, when he can make nothing but profoundly hollow and generally unfunny "comedies" in which he casts himself opposite young women a third of his age, a revoltingly creepy trend. But it's generally easy to know which are the good ones (Annie Hall, Hannah & Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Sleeper, Bananas, and so on) and which are the dogs (Stardust Memories, Interiors, Another Woman, September, Curse of the Jade Scorpion, etc.). But for some bizarre reason, folks think that Manhattan is one of his best. And it's not. At all. It's about a bunch of whiny people leading whiny lives of duplicity and shallow self-absorption, and the thing is, that could be the makings of a great satire, except--I've realized on recent viewing--Allen isn't playing it in that key. He actually thinks that these people and their problems matter. That we're actually supposed to care about, say, Diane Keaton's neuroses--not to mention his own. When he played them for laughs in Annie Hall, that was fine. But here, he's giving it to us straight--asking us to want to know what happens to a bunch of horrible people. But we don't. And yet critics tell us that we do. But we don't. No, no, the critics tell us--see, Allen has captured urban angst and the confusion attendant upon the post-modern era and the difficulty of commitment in a world of too many options--so, see, we do care, because these people are us. A., no, they're not. B, No. We. Don't. Apart from the shot of Meryl Streep emerging from that office building--the most stunning shot of a flawlessly beautiful woman onscreen since Grace Kelley came out of the shadows in Rear Window--and the relief we feel at Mariel Hemingway's escape to Europe at the end, Manhattan sucks. We don't care. We really, really don't.

4. The Piano. OK, I'm going to lay it right out: Jane Campion cannot direct. At all. I don't just mean she's incompetent. I mean that she doesn't get to anymore. I get that we need women behind the camera, and I'm all in favor of that, but even an egomaniac like Streisand, though she can't resist shooting herself in the most flattering light possible, for which I really can't blame her--hell, if I were shooting myself, I'd make sure I was damn gorgeous, which would involve prosthetics, a stand-in, and CGI, but still--even Streisand knows to plant the camera right and step back and let the actors do what they do. But Campion? No, no more movies for her. She has the flaw of the mediocre--she cannot summon the confidence to let a shot speak for itself. No, she's gotta fuzzy up that image, smudge a corner of the screen--shoot through a sea-blue filter, twist and move the camera throughout--she is a loud, empty-headed person at a party trying to tell an anecdote and keeps getting drawn off into tangents and unnecessary details and who you eventually want to scream at--but who cannot--shut the f*** up. But hey, that Holly Hunter sure was mute! Yep, she gestured! And one really never can get enough of Harvey Keitel's penis, am I right? Yet somehow this wound up on every critic's "Must Get Wet While Reviewing" list. I shudder for the world.

3. The Passion of the Christ. Oh, come on, I had to. It's actually not a bad movie, if a little (and inevitably) pro forma--and I've discussed it elsewhere on this blog. But...well...you're not going to get into heaven just because you've seen back-to-back-to-back showings for the last year and a half. Sorry.

2. (I bet you thought that Titanic was going to make the list. But no, I think that a few years has given us the distance we need to recognize that Titanic was what it was--two movies, one designed largely for adults, one for teenage girls. Neither had anything to do with the other, and both fulfilled their function. The worst that can be said about the first is that it essentially stole everything from A Night to Remember and updated it with special effects that were, in fact, wicked slick. The best that can be said about the second is that it gave David Warner work, which is always a good thing. Balance the two out, and you have what everyone now sees Titanic as: a mediocre film that, for reasons we're not sure of, everyone wanted to see.) (On the other hand, that popularity was way, way, way in excess of its virtues. And I'm really eager to get to my Number One pick. And I'm lazy. So, f*** it:) Titanic.

1. Forrest Gump. This movie was the reason I created this list. This movie is evil itself, come in the guise of a spiritual panacea, a cinematic trip to a typhus ward disguised as Lourdes. This movie is Jonestown Koolaid--its sugary sweetness disguising the lethal poison lurking within. The story of the Holy Fool, except instead of being told that he's a fool, we're told that he's a genius in fool's clothing. Except that Gump isn't a genius--he's an idiot. Stupidity is Virtue. That is the lesson of this film. Stupidity is the path to fortune, which is the mark of God's reward--"Stupid is as Stupid does," and therefore, if one never does anything stupid, however randomly, however mindlessly, then one is not stupid. Quite the contrary. Gump succeeds because 'wiser' men wouldn't 'listen to their hearts' and so would end up, I don't know, not going into the shrimping business or being good at ping pong or letting someone invest in Apple for them or something. So fie on those who would think their ways through life--fie on those who respond with reason rather than sentiment. Fie on those who can't just see the world with pure eyes of an 'unspoiled' perspective. ("Unspoiled" defined as "untainted by education or informational comprehension.") Gump sees the Kennedy assassination and the murder of John Lennon as having happened "for no particular reason at all," and that's supposed to be profundity, rather than the complacency of a retarded mind's incompetence to deal with complexities. Gump "loves" Jenny, despite the fact that she does not one lovable thing in the entire film--she is, in fact, a rather horrible b*tch--and is rewarded for his steadfastness because...well, because a smarter man would have figured out that she's a horrible b*tch. Gump runs across the country because the screenwriter has run out of things for this mental midget to do, and collects a group of mindless followers (some of whom manage to get him to give them ideas for marketing idiotic crap!), and reveals to them when he's tired that, no, there is no there there. And we laugh at these poor benighted souls, not getting the fact that that's us--that's us up there staring stupidly at one another. Because if we try to "learn" whatever wisdom Gump has to teach us, then we're just as stupid as he is. Bottom line: Gump explains Reagan's canonization and Bush's re-election. Geniality is more important than brains, and the feeble-minded niceness of an idiot who can't understand the world in any meaningful way is better than the virtue of men of intelligence who must wrestle with its complexities. In the Tarot Deck, the figure of the Fool is about to step off a cliff. Folks back then knew to laugh at him, not follow him. But we followed Gump. Gump was truth--Gump was what we should do and see and think. And off the cliff we go, because "it's such a beautiful, beautiful film." I say it again: When the devil comes, he comes in angel's guise--the kinder he seems, the more harm he can do. And Forrest Gump...is the devil. Here endeth the reading, go in peace.


Blogger Jason said...

OK, I'm too swamped in papers to make it through all the wasp theories... It's been a while since I checked in on this most verbose of blogs. I've got 5 more papers to finish before morning and it's bed time. But I did take a minute for the ten most over-rated films. Not a bad list. I'm not sure I want to committ to a theory on The Piano. I liked it when it came out, but haven't seen it since. Field of Dreams sucks. Fargo is great, but it is over-rated. D with W is over-rated. Saving PW is a piece of shit. I'm not a Forrest Gump fan. Basically, I've no problems with it. Good list. Well done. It's far most interesting than the last ten essays I graded. J

7:51 PM  

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