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Critic-adored movies that I despise

American Beauty

Boy, suburban people are awful -- breaking marriage vows, having sex with inappropriate partners, self-obsessing with their bodies, being hateful to everyone around them. Oh, wait, that's how Hollywood is! Once again, Hollywood falsely accuses normal American families of being as vile as Hollywood actually is, and then awards themselves for this clever hypocrisy.


A wonderful true story ruined by politically correct hypocrisy. In the real world, those escaped slaves stayed alive long enough to get a fair trial only because of the public agitation and political and legal maneuvering of deeply religious Christians who hated slavery and truly believed, for religious reasons, in the brotherhood and equality of human beings. But this movie can't say good things about Christians -- so when Christians show up in this film, they are mocked and lied about. The worst lie is that the white Christian leader of defense is accused of doing it for his own benefit, when the opposite is demonstrably true. In other words, Spielberg had to lie about a truly Christian Christian in order to feel good about his own story -- even though it did not change the actual story in any way! Add to this the incoherence of the speech they gave to John Quincy Adams, and this film is not only a tapestry of unnecessary lies that benefit only the current ruling elite, but also a boring film. How you can get from the exciting, moving true story to this stupid, boring, dishonest film and still be considered the genius of American filmmaking is beyond me.

Citizen Kane

The ultimate vanity project, designed, not to move or thrill anyone, but to impress people with how intelligent and arty Orson Welles was. He even did the old trick of slapping his own name on the screenplay as co-author -- the best analysis I've heard is that by current Writers Guild arbitration rules, he would never get a credit for his contribution to the writing. And hasn't anyone noticed how shallow and uninteresting Welles's own acting is? Once again proving that the director who casts himself proves himself unfit to direct the film. Oh, and Rosebud is not only the name of the sled, but also the traditional Middle English slang for the female pudenda. Isn't that clever? And isn't it also completely stupid, to have an entire film hinge around a point that is both too obvious to be impressed with and too obscure to have any effect?


This film is actually well made (though does anyone for a moment think they would send Tom Skerrit up into space?), but what I hate is the way critics gave it credit for being serious about religion. What religion? Every actual religion depicted is shown as being a breeding ground for fanatics and fools. The Matthew McConaughey character is a priest who doesn't keep any of his vows except the politically correct ones -- which makes one wonder why he chose to be a priest, and why his hypocrisy is not condemned the way Tom Skerrit's character's was -- and the actual "religious" ideas that are affirmed are the kind of religious ideas that even an atheist could embrace: There's this aspect of the universe that we call "God," but it never did anything, will never do anything, and doesn't do anything now, and our behavior need not change in any way because we notice it "exists." In fact, of course, this is as good a description of nonexistence as you're likely to find -- it causes nothing and affects nothing and leaves no evidence of its existence. Only complete idiots -- or arty elitist atheists -- could see this film and call it a "serious religious statement." In fact it's a paean to atheism and a savage attack on religion. The worst lie: After all that the Jodie Foster character has experienced, when schoolkids ask her, "Did it really happen?" she answers, "You have to decide for yourself." Excuse me, but if she had any responsibility after such an experience it was to bear witness of it! But no, she has to effectively deny her own testimony, and join in the lies of those trying to suppress it. It adds nothing to the story -- it's just there to take away the last tiny shred of religious affirmation that had survived to this point in the movie. Leaving us with exactly nothing.

Emma (Gwyneth Paltrow version)

Based on Jane Austen's most difficult novel, this movie makes the unforgivable mistake of not understanding the story.  Gwyneth Paltrow didn't understand her character, and the director didn't understand anything. As a result, the key moral decision in the movie -- Emma's inadvertent shaming of a silly spinster during the picnic scene -- is played completely wrong, absolutely false to the character. And because of that, nothing afterward makes any sense at all. Stupid people should not try to play complicated characters or make morally complex films unless they first get a smart person to explain it to them in small words so they actually understand.

The English Patient

A pretentious novel whose story evaporates into tedious cliche and overwrought melodrama the moment you get what's going on, it only "worked" because of the same gimmick as Pulp Fiction -- it's told out of order. Here's a thought: There's nothing noble about adultery, and nothing tragic about the unbelievably stupid things that people in this movie do. And there's apparently no limit to the amount of shallow material that the elite culture can tolerate as long as it does obeisance to the elitists' love of cheap literary tricks.

Good Will Hunting

Everything good about this movie was already done better in Ordinary People. The rest is silly and empty. Only the fact that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are terrific actors makes this mess watchable. Oh, and for the record -- it is his fault. Not his fault that he's filled with rage, but his fault that he doesn't control it and treat other people decently. I'm sick of pop psychology telling people that it's not their fault. In Ordinary People, it really wasn't the Timothy Hutton character's fault that his brother died. But in Good Will Hunting it is absolutely the Matt Damon character's fault that he's a complete asshole.

Out of Africa

Pretty pictu.....ZZZZZZZzzzzzzzz. Oh, yeah, and Streep does another obvious and semi-accurate accent that only succeeds in making her the most mechanical prima donna on the screen. Here's a clue: If you can see how wonderful her acting is, it's not good acting.

The Philadelphia Story

See my long essay on Pleasantville elsewhere on this site.

The Piano

It takes a genius filmmaker to shoot an entire movie on location in New Zealand and make it so ugly you want to move to Clovis, New Mexico just to get some beauty back into your life. The only thing uglier than the scenery (as shot) is the story, a completely contrived, pretentiously symbolic film about how evil men are -- especially religious white men. If such slanders had been leveled against almost any other group, this film would have been excoriated as the mess of hate and bigotry that it is. Oh, yeah ... Holly Hunter got her Oscar for this. In Broadcast News she actually carried the movie. In this one, she could have been replaced by an animatronic puppet. One thing, though: The Piano proves that there is no story so stupid that elitists can't swallow it as long as somebody has told them that this is what all the cool people like. Naked emperors still parade through the streets every day. The only thing that keeps this movie from being in the worst-movies-ever list is Sam Neill. He manages to make the villain real despite the way the script works against him, even as the actors playing the heroes fail to accomplish the same task. (And Anna Paquin got the Oscar for this? The writer created everything that anyone liked about her character. All she had to do was stand on her mark and not blow her lines. There have been brilliant performances by children -- Haley Joel Osment in Sixth Sense, for instance, and Margaret O'Brien in Meet Me in St. Louis, and Roddy McDowell in How Green Was My Valley. But if you're going to give Oscars to little children, at least give them out for roles where the child actually has to demonstrate some talent.)


See my long essay elsewhere on this site.

Pulp Fiction

What a cute gimmick -- tell the story out of order. What a cute style -- have the characters talk about whatever pathetic lame cultural detail happens to be on the author's mind, even if it has nothing at all to do with anything the characters would actually know or do or say. Am I the only one that noticed that apart from a couple of scenes, this thing was derivative crap told in an adolescent writing style? I have yet to see the slightest evidence of talent or understanding in any work by Quentin Tarantino, as writer, director, or actor.

Schindler's List

Spielberg got credit for his honest portrayal of the flawed Schindler. But that was as big a lie as every film made by Oliver Stone. The real Schindler got away with a box of diamonds. There could not possibly have been that over-the-top, monstrously false scene where Schindler weeps, "If I'd sold this diamond stickpin, I could have saved two more; If I'd sold this car, I could have saved ten more." Someday there might be a good movie made about Schindler. But Spielberg has only made three films that didn't reach for a false, mawkish, condescending emotional climax: Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (the original release, not the lousy director's cut, which adds a false, mawkish etc. ending), and Empire of the Sun. And those were a long, long time ago.

The Truman Show

By rights this should have been brilliant -- terrific script, wonderful supporting cast, sharp direction, perfect production design. The trouble? Jim Carrey. Am I the only one who noticed that he was hideous from the first moment? Not for a second was it believable because Jim Carrey is incapable of having an honest moment on screen. He is always showing off. As a result, a character who should have been played by an absolutely real actor -- for instance, John Cusack or Matt Damon or the kid who played the lead in "That Thing You Do" -- is made so false that the story is destroyed before it has a breath of a chance. Whenever Carrey isn't talking or mugging for the camera, we get glimpses of what the movie could have been. But this is the clearest evidence of how the Hollywood star system destroys good storytelling.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Elizabeth Taylor absolutely wrecked this fragile play by pounding on the subtext from the very beginning. The point they should reach by the end is where she starts, leaving the story in wreckage, with nowhere to go. Burton, as usual, does his best to try to save it, but he gets no help from the rest of the cast. The saddest trashing of a great play that has ever been put on the screen, leaving A Lion in Winter as the only good film adaptation of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Everything by Woody Allen after "Love and Death."

Has anybody noticed that Woody Allen can't act? And that nobody but Woody Allen can play the Woody Allen part? (Look at the embarrassment of John Cusack as he gets every line reading wrong in "Bullets over Broadway" -- and Cusack is a good actor. You just can't play Woody Allen unless you do a Woody Allen imitation and what actor wants to do that?) Worst of all, though, Woody Allen is a lousy director of actors. Nobody does their best work for him. He can't direct children. (I shudder at his bad writing of children and hideous direction of them in "Hannah and Her Sisters.") He can't direct adults. How the hell did he ever get his reputation, and how the hell does he keep it? Critics are such sheep. Suckers for hype and peer pressure. Just like junior high.

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