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The Anti-Top Whatever List: Well-Regarded But Overrated or Disliked Movies

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    Ahaha, here’s my list of movies that are well-regarded (and which I would admit are well-made movies) that just don’t do it for me, with some commentary.

    First of all, the granddaddy of overrated films, imo, the one I see on or at the top of so many top-10 or top-100 lists that it makes me want to scream: Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. I get that it’s technically accomplished; I get that it’s well-written and well-acted. But it doesn’t get me to care about any of its characters or the plot, which means for me, the movie is a dud.

    Memento, Christopher Nolan — This is another movie where not caring about the characters sinks it. In the end, we learn that neither the main male character nor the main female character is trustworthy. Writing a movie backwards is an interesting notion, but in the end, it comes off as just a gimmick.

    Inception, Christopher Nolan — My husband and I both tried watching this movie (separately) and neither of us made it past the halfway point. I found it boring and hard to follow.

    Rashomon, Akira Kurosawa — I’ll probably be hung in effigy for this, but now that I’ve pretty much gotten past my problems with the movie’s refusal to resolve the discrepancies between the stories (although I still hate the ending with the baby; that ray of hope feels tacked on and a betrayal of all that has come before), the application of reality-is-relative to a rape still bugs me. Great cinematography, great music, great acting (though Mori seems a little wooden; I’m not sure if it’s the role or him), interesting concept, but ultimately, for me anyway, a failure.

    Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg — Admirable for its realism, but way too straightforward in its story-telling. As you can probably tell from other comments of mine, I’m not a big Spielberg fan, although at least he’s a better director and storyteller than George Lucas and he’s more consistent than, say, Francis Ford Coppola. Of all Spielberg’s movies, probably Minority Report is my favorite despite its flaws. I also like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jaws.

    Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg — Also suffers from being too straightforwardly told, although I probably like this movie better than Saving Private Ryan. I appreciate Spielberg tackling the mystery of why someone who’s otherwise morally questionable would save Jews, but part of my disdain for the film is due to my belief that by taking his Jewish employee’s money and investing it in his company, Schindler owed it to them to save their lives. If all his heroics amounted to was repaying a debt, how morally admirable is that?

    Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick — I’d read so much about this movie and how it was a savage comedy about nuclear annihilation, but when I watched it, I thought it was a not terribly funny sendup of easy targets. Such a disappointment. Maybe it’s because I watched it long after it came out in the middle of the Cold War, but I lived through the Cold War. It just didn’t do it for me.

    Oldboy (I’m not looking up the name of the director, okay) — As a famous Korean movie, I really wanted to like this film. It’s not that I hated it, but it was definitely “meh.” Despite the plot twist, I didn’t see what all the excitement was about. Too brutal and too random.

    Wall-E, Pixar — This was another movie I went to with great expectations based on reviews I’d read and past performance. It just didn’t do it for me. Too preachy and too heteronormative/romancey.

    Casablanca — This is actually a movie I like, but I didn’t like it as much as I expected to. I expected to be swept away by it. I found the main plot, with Ingrid Bergman and her Resistance hero husband, a bit bland a boring, and Bogey’s sacrifice annoyed me. I would rather that he have fought for her (emotionally, not physically). I like the Algierian side characters, though, like Sidney Greenstreet and the police captain rounding up the usual suspects.

    ETA: Ugetsu Monogatari — I liked the last half of the movie — the ghost story — but hated the setup. The two brothers come off as cardboard characters who are annoying and only motivated by one thing.




    Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick — …, I thought it was a not terribly funny sendup of easy targets. Such a disappointment. Maybe it’s because I watched it long after it came out in the middle of the Cold War, but I lived through the Cold War. It just didn’t do it for me.

    Since Dr. Strangelove is in my top list, I ought to justify my choice. Satire is obviously a technique that may work for one person and fails for another, as it failed for you. Satirizing nuclear war, one of the most serious threats of the last couple of decades, can easily go wrong. On the other hand, satire might make this highly charged topic more approachable. The choice of names (Bat Guano, King Kong, Jack D. Ripper, etc.) alone is so much over the top (you might call this a cheap effect) that it sets the stage for the wildly exaggerated style of this cynic film. The entire idea, starting out with the erotic first scene of the aerial refueling of a bomber, that nuclear annihilation could be brought upon us by a mentally deranged person like Jack. D. Ripper, is both hilarious and frightening. I like the potshots at somewhat dumb soldiers such as Colonel Bat Guano — and also the way how the film criticizes the capitalist system (“you are going to have to answer to the Coca-Cola company”). Blindly and happily dropping the bomb (Major Kong perfectly played by Slim Pickens) — this is in line with Kurt Vonnegut’s description of the military turning reasonably normal human beings into killing machines, eager to follow the commands of their superiors, possibly truly believing in what they are doing. Maybe all this is oversimplified — but it does match my view of how soldiers might act. If you have a more complex world view and a more thorough understanding of how folks in the military work, the satire would possibly not do its trick for you. I am a simple mind and to me, satire is as good an approach to a serious issue, similar to the “silent talk” between the two old ladies in “Rhapsody in August”. Some events cannot be adequately put into “straight verbal communication” and require silence…. or satire.



    There was a nice discussion thread on this in the Guardian a few months ago. Interesting to see peoples suggestions there.

    Ones for me that come to mind are The Searchers and Once Upon a Time in the West. I’ve never understood why anyone prefers the latter film over The Good, the Bad and the Ugly or Fistful of Dollars. As for The Searchers, while I appreciate that its one of the few westerns to look into the dark heart of the wild west in an intelligent way, and of course its great to see a really good performance from John Wayne, but I found a lot of the film very clunky with some terrible acting in minor parts.

    A film I’ve always struggled with is Chinatown. I like Polanski films a lot, its has a fine script and the ending of the film is great (as are the performances), but I’ve always found it a bit ‘one note’ and the direction/cinematography to be a little too literal. I think there are far better noir films, and I don’t consider it anywhere near the best by Polanski. I’ve always suspected that any film about LA gets excessive love from US cinemaphiles.

    Days of Heaven is another film which gets praise which baffles me. To me, its a fairly poor rerun of Badlands (one of my all time favourites). The first time I watched it I could never get out of my head how it was that the male characters managed to maintain such perfect hair, even after battling locusts with fire for hours on end.



    Awesome and hilarious thread!!! A spinoff could be “worst films to be nominated for Academy Awards”.

    Apropos of that, here are a few horribles:

    Dances with Wolves Ugh, I shudder

    Chicago What a lot of nothing

    Dead Poets Society (Robin Williams makes me want to puke. I sincerely hope he is allright with himself and secure in life…he was a darn good genie in “Aladdin”-that song is unforgettable-but any dramatic role he is in makes me want to do violence to myself or those around me. It’s UNBEARABLE. Also, “What Dreams May Come”, and “Patch Adams” and “Good Will Hunting” and “Good Morning Vietnam” …I’m not even sure I like “Mrs Doubtfire“-in fact, I think I kinda hate the ending of it intensely.

    Now, having said all this, I like Robin Williams a lot. His Genie of the Lamp was awesome. Just not in anything “MEANINGFUL”. Ugh, makes me puke. He’s almost as bad as Spielberg with the “MEANINGFUL”. Who is almost as bad as Kurosawa.



    Having rambled on above, now to address the fun idea of greatly revered and yet, personally repellant or unappreciated….

    Looking at BFI’s list, I got down to #19, Barry Lyndon before I thought, “wow, no, that doesn’t deserve attention”. I got down then, further to #26 “La Strada”-and thought it ought to be higher up…but was pleased to come across “Amarcord” one of my all-time faves at #30…I missed seeing more Ozu…it would have been a happy thing if they had appreciated of “Floating Weeds” or “I Was Born, but…” and, I would have been happy to see others by Kurosawa, and maybe “Nights of Cabiria” by Fellini….but what films would I want out of the list, and double-pace? None. They’re all quite decent films..I haven’t seen Barry Lyndon in so long, (and I was young, so of course it was a boring costume drama…).

    In short-I might value some films more than the list does, but that’s cool. No worries.



    Interesting films here, some of which I agree with, others not necessarily.

    In general, my reaction to well regarded films that I don’t enjoy (and those are numerous) is more that of puzzlement than annoyance. I feel a little left out, maybe. I have mellowed in this over the years: some 15 years ago thinking about Citizen Kane or pretty much any film by Hitchcock made me angry. Now I just shrug my shoulders.

    Citizen Kane is actually once again on my list of films to watch, and based on how I’m progressing with my viewing pile, I should see it by the end of the year. Maybe I’ll like it this time around.

    The latest highly regarded film maker who has left me puzzled is Jean Vigo. I hadn’t seen anything by him, so I recently watched Zero for Conduct and L’Atalante. They felt like student works to me, and I must confess that towards the end of the film I skipped parts of the latter to see whether it would get any more interesting. Again, all I can do is shrug my shoulders and wonder what I’m missing out on again. Although I do wonder how highly regarded his films would be had he not died so young. That tends to help an artist. But I don’t want to insist that it’s the only reason Vigo is so well regarded. Probably I just lack perspective and understanding.

    As for Chinatown, I wonder how much of its status has been helped by Syd Field’s Screenplay, the de facto bible to Hollywood screenwriting. If I remember correctly, Field refers to the film throughout his book as the most perfect example of a well made screenplay. Knowing the influence of his book on the industry, there must be tens if not hundreds of thousands of people who have studied every single little detail in Robert Towne’s screenplay (and Polanski’s film) in order to become better screenwriters. That kind of a thing, like dying young, probably also helps an artist.




    The latest highly regarded film maker who has left me puzzled is Jean Vigo. I hadn’t seen anything by him, so I recently watched Zero for Conduct and L’Atalante. They felt like student works to me, and I must confess that towards the end of the film I skipped parts of the latter to see whether it would get any more interesting.

    Funnily enough, the first time I watched a Vigo film was a few months ago – L’Atalante. I’d read so much about it I couldn’t wait to see it, but in truth I was a bit disappointed. I’m always reluctant to draw too many conclusions when I see a film at home on a poor quality DVD (as this was), and I’m a bit tired (I never seem to get around to watching films until nearly bedtime), but apart from a few lovely scenes I honestly didn’t see what the fuss was about. But I kept quiet about it as I thought maybe I was the only one to think that!

    As for Chinatown, I wonder how much of its status has been helped by Syd Field’s Screenplay, the de facto bible to Hollywood screenwriting.

    Oh, thats interesting, I didn’t know about that. The script is quite obviously outstanding, my problem with the film has always been (for me), its lack of a real noir atmosphere which I put down to somewhat mundane cinematography, and its pedestrian pacing. In every interview I’ve read Polanski always seems a little reluctant and even embarrassed to talk about it, which has always led me to think he saw it as a bit of a throwaway film, not something his heart was really into, and was surprised at its reception. Not that anyone really knows much about what Polanski thinks anyway, he’s a pretty opaque character to put it mildly.



    I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one a little puzzled by Vigo! I know he had a big influence on the French New Wave, which again is not quite my cup of tea. L’Atalante did have a few lovely visual compositions though, as you say.



    So, I watched Citizen Kane once again. I must say that I liked it, certainly more than I did the last time I saw it.

    But I still agree with much of what Lawless wrote. It’s technically a very well made film (apart from some of the acting). It’s clever. It definitely has those moments of “pure cinema” that Kurosawa was aiming for. But I’m not sure if it’s a wise film. It has a message to it, but it seems simplistic, a little hollow. And just like Lawless, I still find it difficult to care about the characters.

    Still, I liked it.

    Looking at the films listed here, I would say that Inception, most Steven Spielberg films (including Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List), Wall-E, The Searchers and Dances with Wolves I like considerably less than what seems to be the general consensus.

    On the other hand, I must defend Dr Strangelove, which I love, and What Dreams May Come, which I really liked as well. The former is just really funny (I think) with a serious point to make, while the latter I thought was, back in the late 90s, very impressive visually and imaginatively. I think I went to see it three times, which is rare for me.

    I can definitely understand though why someone might not be able to stand Robin Williams.

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