Overrated Films of the Noughties

1 01 2010

 

'Babel'

Last time, I wrote a little bit about some of the greatest films of the Noughties. This week, filled with the spirit of Scrooge, I give you a list of the most overrated films of the decade: 

Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2006)

As Peter Griffin says of The Godfather, this is a film that insists upon itself. The story of the two Moroccan boys and the gun is quite interesting, and there are some nice moments here and there, particularly in the U.S.-Mexico segment. But take away the zeitgeist-y, Continent-hopping structure of Babel and what are you left with? One-and-a-half decent short films maybe, and an awful lot of padding.

The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001)

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, 2004)

The Darjeeling Limited (Wes Anderson, 2007)

American cultural imperialism: sometimes it works out well, and the rest of the world gets to enjoy Miles Davis or HBO or rock ‘n’ roll. And other times it all goes tits up, and we find ourselves gagging on an unordered Oprah Winfrey burger or a Wes-Anderson-on-rye.

OK, so maybe that’s a little harsh.  But the fact is that it’s difficult to make any great claims – or indeed any claims at all – for Wes Anderson’s work. The films listed above are all perfectly affable, charming family dramas from an artist who ultimately seems to have very little to say about the world in which he lives. The Royal Tenenbaums was eccentric and occasionally funny and, erm, very little else. The Life Aquatic… and The Darjeeling Limited were so flat and hollow as to almost not qualify as cinema at all. Don’t get me wrong, cinematic minimalism can be great (Jim Jarmusch, Yasujiro Ozu, Hou Hsiao-hsien). But Anderson doesn’t seem to be aiming for any convincing kind of poetry or insight in his minimalism. His films seem empty because they are.

If Anderson were Spanish or Japanese would his work be distributed so widely? I suspect not.   

(In all fairness, I must admit that I haven’t yet seen The Fantastic Mr. Fox, which could conceivably force me to take back everything that I’ve just said.)

Match Point (Woody Allen, 2005)

If Woody Allen had hired a dialogue consultant, this might have been the dark, Dostoevskian return-to-form that many U.S. critics were all too keen to see. As it is, Match Point is a film hamstrung by its writer-director’s insistence on a form of English that bears very little resemblance to any spoken at any time anywhere in the British Isles. He doesn’t just get the odd word wrong, he gets the whole pattern and rhythm of British-English speech completely arse-about-tit, as we say around these parts. Particularly painful to watch in this regard is the scene where Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ character is questioned by the police. Sort it out Woody!    

'Match Point'

Amélie / Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)

Because I’m a miserable bastard! But seriously, if Amélie were set in London and directed by Richard Curtis, everyone would hate it. As it is, it’s set in Paris and features the admittedly charming Audrey Tautou gurning for all she’s worth into the camera while solving other people’s problems and pursuing true love. So basically, just Love Actually with some flashy camera work. Not to mention a level of emotional manipulation that would make even Spielberg blush. Bof! I say. Bof!  

The Motorcycle Diaries / Diarios de motocicleta (Walter Salles, 2004)

The landscape of South America is both varied and beautiful. And Gael García Bernal is a very handsome fellow. That’s about the sum of what this film has to tell us.

Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)

Cleverness is overrated in the cinema. Discuss. (But watch Memento first.)

In the Mood For Love / Fa yeung nin wa (Wong Kar Wai, 2000)

As I wrote earlier when discussing Wes Anderson, minimalism in cinema can be great, it really can. But this… This seemed to me to be a triumph of surface over content, an elaborate excuse for Tony Leung to mope around smoking cigarettes and looking cool.  A peacock show, a vehicle for the cigarettes and the pattern dresses and the Sixties suits. Admittedly, I’ve seen this only once, when it first came out, so possibly a second viewing is in order. 

'The Diving Bell & The Butterfly'

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly / Le scaphandre et le papillon (Julian Schnabel, 2007)

Nyah! is all I have to say. By which I mean I was underwhelmed by this much-fêted tale of paralysis and redemption from director Julian Schnabel. It certainly has surface beauty in abundance, but take that away and you have (I’ll whisper it) something quite ordinary – a well-made, unremarkable film about a man who loses everything but finds himself. Four stars at a push, but not the full five.

Bad Education / La mala educación (Pedro Almodóvar, 2004)

Regular readers will know that I have a few problems with Pedro Almodóvar’s whole aesthetic (see https://matineeidle.wordpress.com/2009/09/17/almodovar-and-me/). We’ll be having an arm-wrestling contest later in the year to resolve our differences, but in the meantime this seems to me to be the film in which all of the contradictions in this much-admired director’s approach to film-making come to a head. Put simply: what kind of a film does he want to make? A serious piece about child abuse, memory and friendship, or a gaudy, soap-opera-inspired melodrama with pantomime villains? You might argue that it’s possible to do both at the same time, but I’ve yet to see any evidence of this in Almodóvar’s work. 

No Country For Old Men (The Coen Brothers, 2007)

A well-made, entertaining film, and a cut above the genre parody and too-broad comedy to which the brothers are too often prone. And yet still, occasionally, you almost catch the Coens smirking off-camera, and you wonder how much any of this matters to them. Do they genuinely care about their characters? Are they interested in showing us a world without easy answers or archetypes? For me, No Country… – while good – was a fair few strides behind There Will Be Blood or About Schmidt or any of the other truly great American movies of the decade.

Pan’s Labyrinth  / El laberinto del fauno (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)

Actually, I liked this film a lot. And it’s a little unfair to have it on this list. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel that it was a teensy-weensy bit overrated by many critics. For a start, it pales into insignificance next to the very similar 1973 film The Spirit of the Beehive. And then there’s the deeply odd and unsatisfactory finale, which gives the Spanish Republican guerrillas a much-needed victory, but at the cost of implying that, counter to history, they managed to oust Franco in the Forties. It was a little too slick for my tastes too. (Just watch The Spirit of the Beehive and you’ll see what I mean.)

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9 responses

1 01 2010
Jonathan McCalmont

Nope… Fantastic Mr Fox is just as empty as Anderson’s other films. In fact, it end with this bizarre image of supermarkets as some kind of psychological holy land. Kind of like a mirror image of the ending to The Hurt Locker.

1 01 2010
Paul Wiseman

Another truly, well-observed list that I (mostly) completely agree with Mr Clark. Ditto – particularly with Wes Anderson, Diving Bell & Pan’s Lab though I would have to argue about the inclusion of No Country For Old Men. I’ve never been a big fan of the Coens and have always seen through all the hype about their films. Prior to this my favourite of theirs was The Man Who Wasn’t There but this was the first time I felt the hype was deserved. I saw it in the same week as Their Will Be Blood and as with that, I left the cinema feeling totally inspired and that I’d seen a really great film. What a good week that was.

1 01 2010
kieronclark

Yeah, I did enjoy No Country For Old Men , apart from maybe the last scene. I just feel that’s it’s more of a First Division film (with very little chance of promotion) than a true Premiere League classic. But maybe I need to see it again.

1 01 2010
imajez

“he gets the whole pattern and rhythm of British-English speech completely arse-about-tit, as we say around these parts.”
Never heard that expression myself in these parts, ‘arse over tit’ when taking a tumble maybe. But we’re from slightly different parts anyway!

Babel is yet another Iñárritu movie, with the same quirky structure as his previous two, which is not so much a quirky device anymore, but an unimaginative way of trying to make up for a weak story. Not that it was that original the first time he did it.

Memento is however probably my favourite film ever and in a large part due to its cleverness, which is an extremely rare and not an over rated cinema trait. Part of the reason I like it so much is that it starts in a way I usually really dislike in films – with the end and then shows you what happens leading up to the end you’ve already seen and yet still manages to keep its mystery/suspense, unlike say Carlito’s Way’, which would have had a great end chase sequence, except for the fact you know the ending and which defeats the will he/won’t he escape aspect of the chase.

‘Love Actually’ is typically RIchard Curtis and ‘Amelie’ is anything but and it’s not just location and camera work.

I found ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ quite interesting and illuminating about the origins of the most famous graphic image of the 20th Century and had an incredible soundtrack to boot.

You missed one vastly over rated stinker, ‘The Dark Knight’ which started with dreadful on the nose dialogue and was simply boring after that. A great disappointment after the excellent ‘Batman Begins’.

1 01 2010
kieronclark

Hi Jeremy. Actually, I rather liked The Dark Knight, and certainly preferred it to Memento… But we could argue about that until the cows come home. (Or maybe I could argue with the cows until you come home.) Thanks for taking a look at my ramblings anyway. And maybe I will take another look at Memento. (I still contend that The Motorcycle Diaries is the cinematic equivalent of goat’s cheese flan though.) Happy New Year!

4 01 2010
imajez

Part of the problem with reviewing films, like any critical appraisal of an art form is that it is fundamentally no different to arguing over which is the nicest colour, as it is personal taste that informs what we decide what is good or bad. And as we all have differing tastes…..
Yet it’s always other people who have bad taste – in our opinion!
But good critical writing can be illuminating about the subject, though I only ever read reviews after seeing a film/TV show etcs I’ve seen highly praised [to my mind] rubbish and thoroughly enjoyed slated films.

Not to mention that one’s mood or when you see a film can affect one’s appraisal – try watching a fun comedy straight after seeing ‘Nil by Mouth’ – not a good combination!
Also if you like Goat’s chees flan and are also in the mood for it, then The MotorCycle Diaries will be spot on. As it happens I really like goats’s cheese, whereas my other half loathes it – it’s all purely subjective.

You liked ‘The Dark Knight’!! So to continue the food analogy – it was to my mind an 9 course MacDonalds feast of a film. Though the recent Transformers sequel was more like 15 courses at MacDonalds. But I did enjoy both first films [Pret A Manger Avocado wraps].

4 01 2010
paul baxter

mmm-hmmm. yep-yep-yep. Spot on with the Wes Anderson comments, though I do have a very soft spot for Rushmore.

“So you were in Vietnam?”
“Yeah.”
“Were you in the shit?”
“Yeah, I was in the shit.”

As for No Country…Caught this on rental not too long ago and was hugely disappointed by a film that had a reputation as a There Will Be Blood beater.

Put me down as a Memento fan. I like the way that my own short term memory of the film’s earlier scenes fades as time goes on and confusion soon reigns – mirroring the condition of the main character. Or is that just me?!?

Happy new year y’all!

4 01 2010
kieronclark

And a very merry 2010 to you too sir!

(P.S. You might want to have a butcher’s at my ‘Notable Films of the Noughties’ for a more positive appraisal of the decade’s cinema.)

7 01 2010
Michael Russell

I’m glad to see I’m not the only one left cold by In The Mood For Love.

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