It has been called to my attention lately that I don’t like a lot of movies. And while I’ll cop to the fact that an early eye roll from me usually damns the person I’m with to a two-hour post-movie screed about the evils of everything from computer animation to Val Kilmer, I take grave offense at the accusation that I dislike certain popular films just to be contrary to the mainstream. Because that is a claim against far more than my critical feelings about certain films; that is a straightforward character judgment, one that accuses me of thinking that my opinion of the movie is more important than the movie itself. Just because I don’t like a movie that you loved doesn’t mean I’m doing it on purpose. It’s not meant as a personal affront that I think Good Will Hunting is one of the most overwrought movies in the history of filmmaking, essentially a study of pitiful straight men so locked into their societal roles as men that it’s rendered them so emotionally bereft as to not know how to tell a woman “I love you.” Wah, wah.
But it’s not like I hate the thing, and in some universe I would even go so far as to nod my head half-heartedly and admit, “Yeah, that movie was okay.” Because really, overall, it was okay. But unfortunately for me and those who anything less than bowed at the altar of Ben Affleck’s crack writing skills (or whoever it is that actually wrote the screenplay) here’s where the above accusation gets leveled at me, albeit incorrectly. When I first went to see Good Will Hunting in the theater way back in the 90s, the group of people I went to see it with laughed, cried, hugged, and ultimately carried each other out of the theater on their shoulders screaming, “I love America!” They really loved the film, which is fine. What wasn’t fine at all was their vehemence against my somewhat ambivalent response overall.
“Wow!” said they.
“Yeah, that was okay,” I said.
“What?” they countered. “WHAT? Truly, in the vast history of American filmmaking — nay, of ALL filmmaking, ever — there has never been a film quite so well-acted, so well-conceived, quite so important as this. You mean to say you did not feel this way about the best images burned onto celluloid since the Lumiere Brother unspooled film of a train pulling into a station in nineteenth century France?”
“No, no. I surely didn’t like it THAT much. There were some really strong parts, but overall…”
“NAY, foul critic! Nay, ye wily cur. Your gray areas are the stuff of a muddied mind. Say naught but that you adored it.”
“I thought it was fine.”
“You HATED it, as you hate all movies that endeavor to bring a stitch of joy to the lives of those who dwell so briefly on earth before shaking off this mortal coil.”
The response to the film was so out of step with the quality of the film that I still fight with people about it to this day. My half-hearted “meh” was taken really personally.
And thus, I bring to you The Five Most Overrated Movies Of All Time.
Okay. Think of an XY-axis. Label one side of the graph (I don’t know which side…I ain’t no mathgician) “Quality Of A Given Movie.” On the other axis, label it “Critical And Audience Response To Said Movie.” The gulf between the quality of the film and the widespread response to the film — when I’m actually baffled into having to take a contrary position to the unconditional adoration — is a measure of how overrated a movie is. An overrated movie is by no means a bad movie, and I believe most overrated films (including all five below) have some incredibly positive elements. Well, except for #3. It’s just that when the phrase “I liked it, but…” inspires such rage in others, you’re dwelling in the lair of the overrated movie.
Titanic, Forrest Gump, and Gladiator don’t count. Yes, they drowned in awards, but that’s a totally different measure than the vast mainstream hug the five below were given. Don’t you think?
And now, the five most overrated movies of all time:
1) Adaptation – Are you kidding me? No, seriously. Are you? I mean, it was fine, right? But only fine. I loved Meryl Streep in She-Devil, so clearly I believe her skills never to be overrated, but the movie overall…yeesh. A fate-ordained alliance between the most important writer and director working in contemporary film? A meta-commentary on the art of creation? Robbed of every Oscar it wasn’t even nominated for? No, no, and no. Adaptation is wildly overrated, and not nearly good enough to qualify for the amount of praise it received. Critics were hoodwinked. And why? Well, I hate to be old-fashioned, but you know what’s even better than finding yourself unable to adapt a film and then brilliantly inserting yourself into said film as a means of laying bare your insecurities about adapting a hard-to-adapt film? Here’s what: SUCCESSFULLY ADAPTING THE GODDAMN FILM. I saw The Hours the day before I saw Adaptation. Talk about source material that doesn’t exactly rely on a narrative thread. And you know what the creators of The Hours did with that slight, lovely, not-so-plot-driven novel? THEY ADAPTED IT. And made it into a movie. And they shut the hell up about how hard it was. Of course it was hard. Writing is hard. We get it, and we don’t need Nicholas Cage to teach it to us. And what’s worse than Nicolas Cage? Two of Nicholas Cage. I weep for Sue Orleans.
2) Lost In Translation – Stop. Don’t post about what I moron I am. Remember, it’s called an overrated movie because you, the viewer, can’t imagine one person in the world who doesn’t agree with you about this being the best movie ever. And there were parts of this film I just loved. The karaoke sequence I loved. The press conference I loved. Bill Murray receiving carpet swatches via FedEx from halfway around the world I loved. But overall, those were just nice touches in a movie that’s two hours of nice touches. It just didn’t add up. I felt like it was being made up as it went along. From a screenplay that felt like it was eight pages long. I don’t think it was a “young auteur’s vision.” I think it was privileged rich kids being given a camera and set loose in Tokyo. Both the film and the people responsible for it. I just didn’t care about the characters and their problems. I don’t know why they didn’t just get out of the hotel and go to a museum. I really don’t.
3) Shrek – This movie is shit. Just shit. Irony For Dummies. Two-year-old Matrix jokes that had already been lampooned in everything from award shows to margarine commercials? Mike Myers doing his one voice that isn’t his speaking voice? Hard-hitting Disney skewering in the form of…light, inoffensive comedy that tickled even Eisner? Ech. You want brilliant animation? Rent a Pixar movie. Even the worst of them — and they’re all incredible — is better than Shrek at its best moment. And what is that best moment, anyway? I’m not sure. But it has nothing to do with Smash Mouth.
4) Good Will Hunting – See above.
5) Dead Man Walking – This one beat out The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and countless other angsty prison movies vying for Most Self-Important Lesson Movie Ever. Lesson Movies tend to get to me, even the ones that don’t take place in prison. In The Name Of The Father, I’m looking in your direction.
You feel differently. I’m sure of it. You think Magnolia or Pulp Fiction is overrated and you can’t believe audiences so much as sat through them, much less memorized them by playing them in the background while they do light chores and housework. You think entire genres of overrated movies trump every one of the above; you think Twee Unchallenging Indie Films (in the ilk of The Full Monty, Waking Ned Devine, and anything Big, Fat, or Greek) are hell on earth. You secretly burn that you’re not allowed to artistically critique Schindler’s List because of its somewhat sensitive subject matter. And you’re right too, and I’m not going to make your life harder by disagreeing with your opinions. Which means you can’t get mad at mine. Because Shrek just wasn’t funny. And you’ll never convince me that it was.
Keep it up, Eternal Sunshine. You’re next.