There’s a certain kind of movie that everyone spends all of their time applauding and talking about how great it is when, in fact, everybody secretly knows the movie pretty much sucked or doesn’t totally suck but is incredibly overrated and it’s just something people have to pretend to love.
This may be because of the hype surrounding a movie (Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, anyone?), or the context in which the movie came out (like the Manchurian Candidate being released during the Red Scare of the 50s and 60s), or even because of the content- think the politically correct storm of applause that greets movies like Brokeback Mountain or Schindler’s List.
Now I’m not saying that the movies on this list are bad movies, necessarily (well, except for Avatar). It’s just that they are not the world-shaking, incredible pieces of art that need to be worshipped by critics and public alike that everyone makes them out to be. A lot of the movies on this list are movies that I actually do sort-of like. But would I make a special point of showing them to my children someday as cultural artifacts or something that’s “important?” Not by a long shot. Would I tell friends and family that they just have to see these movies if they haven’t already? Probably not. Would I watch part of one of them if I were flipping through the channels and stumbled across it? Well, yeah, my standards aren’t that high! But I sure wouldn’t be raving on my social media accounts about how incredible the whole experience was.
These, then, are fifteen movies that everyone has decided to enshrine as avatars of the medium. You did see what I did there, right? I’m sure there are other overrated wonders out there as well but these are the ones that consistently get the most votes.
I wanted to put Avatar a lot further up this list, based on my general revulsion for its incredibly simplistic “Noble savages against the evils of civilization” theme and it’s awful, wooden acting, stilted and infantile dialogue, and run-of-the-mill action scenes. I wanted to but I couldn’t- there’s still hope that James Cameron can redeem himself with the 50 or so sequels he’s planned for the movie (if that ever really happens). After all, this is the man who brought us both The Terminator and Aliens– if anyone can do it, it’s him. But Avatar is just so freaking awful. There’s a reason nobody gives a sh*t about Sam Worthington’s career and it’s because he’s a bad actor. I mean, when it comes to sci-fi heroes he’s better than Hayden Christensen but that’s not really saying much now, is it? Do you even remember him in the equally epically awful Titans movies as Perseus? I thought not. Poor Zoe Saldana– she is way too good to have to deal with him again for like 100 sequels but I guess a monster paycheck is a monster paycheck. Knowing that Avatar is the number one box office hit of all time is like waking up and finding out that Donald Trump is the president- they both seem like a dream but they’re both true- how strange.
I know, I know. Juno is a sweet coming of age story with a hip, artsy, indie vibe. Please. Rather, Juno is a whitebread, middle-of-the-road teen “dramedy” that everyone and their anti-Hollywood establishment hippie brother claim to love because it’s just so “real.” Nah. It’s just so…OK. Average. Adequate. Frankly, the inclusion of Michael Cera in anything tends to bring a movie down. That whole loveable nerd thing with the man-child voice and eyes is so over, isn’t it? Well, except for Superbad– I give him props for that one. But overall, Juno is the kind of movie that, if you were of a certain age when it came out, you’re kind of required to pretend you love it. But you know deep down in your dirty little heart that it’s basically just an overwrought Lifetime movie, right? This movie won an Oscar for best screenplay and had a whole raft of other nominations- how, I don’t know. Although pretending to love it while never having to actually watch it seems pretty smart, now that I think of it…
13. Citizen Kane
This one is the original “masterpiece” that everybody in the world claims to not only have seen and loved but also understood all of its deep “complexities.” Saying that you don’t like Citizen Kane is like saying you hate America- people are gonna look at you strangely and they are not going to like you. I mean, the American Film Institute voted it the number one movie of all time! I suppose there’s no way it couldn’t be overrated with such a designation but seriously? The movie is long, ponderous, and has interminable dialogue. The movie did revolutionize certain technical aspects of moviemaking, like the use of “deep focus” but Ken Burns revolutionized documentary film with the static “Burns Effect” and now anyone with a laptop can do the same to pictures of their dog. So count me unimpressed in the technical virtuosity department. Oh, did I mention Citizen Kane is long and slow, yet? Sorry, I fell asleep writing about it. And don’t get me started on the supposed “metaphorical” aspect of it all- gag. This is a marginally good movie whose greatness is perpetuated by film students with berets and Van Dykes and nobody in their right mind has ever really watched it all the way through.
12. Donnie Darko
Raise your hand if you really, actually, totally love Donnie Darko and think it’s a brilliant exploration of the troubled inner world of your average suburban teen? Anyone? Bueller…Bueller…? Or maybe you love it because it explores the fragile web of consensual reality and the formlessness of our attempts to control the continuum of space-time? No? But you’ve definitely watched it at least 25 times, haven’t you? OK, well maybe not. I’ll let you in on a little secret- I haven’t either. Or even more than once, for that matter. Why not, you ask? Well, because it’s a weird and stupid movie, and not in a good way. Your average Star Trek episode (pick a series, any series) deals with the whole notion of moving back and forth through time way better than this movie does. And if you really want to spend your viewing hours with a giant, hallucinatory movie-rabbit, I would suggest watching Harvey, with good old Jimmy Stewart. Now that, my friends, is what movie-making is all about, not this pretentious load of crap.
11. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Here’s one that’s going to tick a whole bunch of people off. It’s not that the movie itself is so awful. Well, actually, it is kind of awful but unintentionally-intentionally so, which kind of makes it OK. It’s that so many people feel like they have to pretend to love it to such an extreme. At its heart, Rocky Horror is just a parody of bad sci-fi and horror B-movies. It’s not even a strikingly original one, although the songs from the movie have a certain something. Not that I won’t slap you if you come up behind me and sing “It’s just a step to the left…” mind you. But seriously, it is totally amazing to me the cult that has grown up around this movie- it’s the longest running theatrical release of all-time, if you can believe it. In fact, perhaps Rocky Horror shouldn’t even be on this list since its true cultish following doesn’t pretend to love it, they really, really do love it. Of course, the great mass of you straight-edgers out there who pretend to love it but are secretly confused by the whole thing know exactly who you are.
10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
OK, so I feel kind of bad about including this mega-hit here. It was fairly enjoyable in an average sci-fi, space opera kind of way. But the truth of the matter is that this movie could have been an utter pile of horse dung and the entire universe, including galaxies far, far away, would have still pretended to rave about it. But really, who didn’t know that Kylo Ren was Han and Leia’s kid about one parsec after he appeared onscreen? And yes, my nerdish brethren, I know a parsec is a measurement of distance not time- it’s called creative license. But if you want to know the real reason why everyone pretends to love this flick it’s simple- Episodes I-III. Those three movies were so utterly, truly, horrendously awful, that Star Wars fans everywhere, and there a lot of those people around, let me tell you, took up the lightsaber for The Force Awakens with vast relief. There was just no way people weren’t gonna act like they loved this movie after the previous fiascos.
9. The Cider House Rules
There’s a ton of people out there who still, to this day, claim to love this movie- you know who you are, don’t try to pretend you don’t. It certainly has got the all-star cast and the stamp of supposed brilliance by virtue of being adapted by novelist John Irving from his book. But that’s about it, as far as I’m concerned. It’s basically just a tear-jerker in a kind of Dead Poet’s Society or Prince of Tides style- both better movies, by the way. And don’t get me started on the fatuous ending. If you’re looking for a good John Irving inspired film, try The World According to Garp. If you’re looking for a great Tobey Maguire movie, try Wonder Boys. And if you need a dose of Michael Caine, well then the sky’s the limit. Just don’t pretend to yourself anymore that this movie is anything more than vaguely serviceable.
Remember this one? It was all the rage a couple of years ago. Everybody in the world was raving about what an incredible process it was, making a movie starring the same kid, over the span of twelve years. You weren’t even allowed to say anything bad about it when it came out, for fear of seeming stupid. Here’s a news flash for ya’ll. Movies aren’t supposed to take twelve freaking years to make. Especially movies starring Ethan Hawke. I mean I like the guy and all but twelve years? This movie should’ve cured cancer and colonized Mars, it took so long to make and was greeted with such gravitas. I’ll tell you a little secret- I haven’t even seen it and I’m not going to. Twelve years to make a movie? Go blow.
I do kind of like this one but, truth be told, everyone, myself included, is too worried that we’ll appear to be idiots if we say we don’t like it. Or God forbid, that we don’t understand it. But here’s the thing- I didn’t really understand it at all, even after supposedly smart people tried to explain it to me. And I’m no moron. Well, OK, maybe I am but I’m not that moronic. If everyone loves a movie because they’re too afraid to look stupid if they don’t, then maybe the fault doesn’t lie with the viewing public. Maybe the writer and director, in this case the usually spot-on Christopher Nolan, didn’t do quite as good a job of explaining things as everyone thought they did. Just a theory. In any case, Inception is way overrated.
6. Lost In Translation
I know I’m not supposed to say this but Lost in Translation is a pretty sh*tty movie. Really, it is. You just don’t want to admit that it is because we have all been force-fed this line that “it’s brilliant.” Nobody wants to look like the hayseed who doesn’t understand movies that are “artsy” or “meaningful.” But really, artsy and meaningful are sometimes just ways of saying inaccessible and overly-complicated. That’s this one, in a nutshell. Don’t get me wrong, Bill Murray deserved an Oscar nomination at some point (and an Oscar someday) but for this dreck? Everybody gets lonely. Everybody has a crappy life sometimes. Everybody has a midlife crisis. Most of us don’t get to rage against it by partying with Scarlett Johansson in Tokyo. I can think of about ten movies without even trying where both Murray and Johansson were better, like Rushmore or Don Jon, right off the top of my head. But we’re not allowed to talk about those ones, are we? No, we have to pretend that this boring gab-fest is all that. No thank you.
5. Napoleon Dynamite
Well, now we get to it- this one is a heavy hitter in the “Man, that was the most awesome movie ever department.” Everybody (including and especially your anti-Hollywood establishment hippie brother) rave about this movie. I still see people wearing “Vote for Pedro” t-shirts all the time. I have to ask though; do these people even know what that t-shirt references? Or did they figure out in a vague sort of way that wearing that shirt from that movie is a totally hip thing to do. Here’s a news flash, hipsters- the movie kind of sucks. And wearing a dumb tee isn’t gonna make it better. Why does everyone pretend to love it so, you ask? Well my research, which consisted of watching a few minutes of the movie (yeah, I own it- I’m not immune to pretending I love total crap, I guess) indicates that this plucky tale of a group of nerdish, social outcasts struck a chord with nerdish, social outcasts everywhere. It also probably made all the a-holes out there who made the high school careers of nerdish, social outcasts a living hell feel good about their older selves for finally getting it. Here’s a news flash- movies that end with every single character getting what they want aren’t usually great movies. Just a thought.
4. The Polar Express
I admit it, I freaking love Tom Hanks. There’s not a single Tom Hanks movie I can’t watch over and over, from Private Ryan to The ‘Burbs (“Take me to the hospital, I’m sick-” comedy gold). Except this one. Why Hanks and director Robert Zemeckis thought taking a much-loved Christmas classic picture book and turning it into a freaky, animated nightmare, starring Hanks in about 30 different but equally scary roles, was a good thing is beyond me. And now we all have to pretend that we love it because it’s a kid’s Christmas movie made by famous people. Personally, I don’t know a single kid who doesn’t run screaming from the room if you put this on the big screen and I don’t blame them. Well, at least it’s not Jingle All The Way. On the other hand, nobody has to pretend that they actually like Jingle All The Way.
I think there’s an actual law that you have to pretend to love this one. First of all, it’s about Abraham Lincoln- we’re not allowed to not love anything about the “Great Emancipator.” Second, it’s directed by Steven Spielberg. We’re certainly not allowed to dislike anything he does. Only the Academy can do that and even they finally fell prey to his insidious ways. And third, it stars Daniel Day-Lewis, who the Academy does love, even if half of his movies should be on this list (how about There Will Be Blood for starters?). The book that Lincoln was based upon, Team of Rivals, by White House historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, is awesome. But books are different. Watching a bunch of old white guys argue about governance for almost three hours is…well, it’s what C-Span is for, honestly. But we all know if this movie comes up in conversation that we’ll pretend it was a life-changing event for us.
2. Every Terrence Malick Movie Ever
Let’s face it, the only reason Terrence Malick is still making movies is because everyone in Hollywood has convinced themselves that he’s an utter genius. This just in- he’s not. I mean, just because a guy went to Harvard, majored in philosophy, and then worked on his doctorate at Oxford, doesn’t mean he’s brilliant. Or maybe it does but it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a great director. The best move Malick ever made was quitting Hollywood for twenty years. That gave all the suck-ups plenty of time to worship him from afar. When he came back he made The Thin Red Line, The New World and The Tree of Life, which ruined World War II, the discovery of the New World, and Brad Pitt, respectively. Anyone who craves ridiculously long, boring, wide angle shots of trees, bugs, mountain streams, and Colin Farrell are welcome to this guy’s work. The rest of us will just continue to pretend he’s all that and never watch any of his flicks ever again.
1. American Beauty
This is the movie that made Kevin Spacey. OK, it’s the movie that Kevin Spacey was allowed to make after The Usual Suspects made him. And please, don’t even get me started on that topic, since I still can’t decide if that movie should be on this list or in a list of movies that everyone pretends are overrated but really loves. But anyway, American Beauty was hailed as a contemporary masterpiece upon its release- it was deep yet tender, artsy and mainstream and oh so intelligent. Professors at liberal arts course were including it in their courses and critics were drooling over the performances of Spacey and Mena Suvari– or maybe just drooling, in the case of the latter. Everyone claimed they loved it and that it was so amazing and blah, blah, blah. But what’s to love, actually? Spacey’s character is not only kind of a perv but also doesn’t like being rich? Color me stupid but I don’t get it. Why should I care about this guy? Raise your hand if you’ve watched this movie since you saw it the first time… I rest my case.