I’ll Give You Overrated/Underrated Films

So I read Joe Carter’s “110 Overrated/Underrated Films” when he first posted it, but I held back responding to it because (a) I needed to refill several of my prescription sedatives, and (b) I needed to pull my fist out of my computer monitor with a minimum of permanent damage to my dermis.

Now that I have regained my composure, allow me to respond.

Under “Overrated,” Joe lists the following:

Animal House. So Mr. Fancy Pants gets himself a traffic-busting blog over at Patheos and suddenly double secret probation isn’t good enough for him! He wishes this were overrated.

Dr. Strangelove. I almost punched a puppy when I read this. For George C. Scott’s performance alone, this film is a masterpiece. For Sellers’ THREE absolutely unique performances, this film is a masterpiece. For Stanley Kubrick’s perfectly choreographed camerawork in three dedicated spaces, this film is a masterpiece. Then you have Slim Pickens. It’s four frickin’ masterpieces in one! WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT?

Batman. Not a great film—but neither is Batman Begins. That film ends, like, nine times, until you wish Liam Neeson would kill you just so they could finally ship you home. And for the record: Michael Keaton was the best Batman of all. Period. Don’t make me come over there…

Chariots of Fire. I assume he’s trying to amuse by swapping it out for Kingpin, which is only slightly funnier than The Champ. Chariots of Fire remains a touching tribute to personal integrity and Christian fortitude.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Oh just the greatest film ever made with the word “Chainsaw” in it, that’s all. And only supported 18 sequels or something. Hello-o-o-o-o.

2001: A Space Odyssey. This is sheer madness now. That film was so visionary, it sent some of the most brilliant critics into grand mal seizures. Released in 1968, it looks like it was made Tuesday.

Caddyshack. Not as funny as you remember? I remember everything. Everything. Like “How about a Fresca?” I’m laughing right now, Carter. In my mind.

Now, I agree with Joe about the following “Overrated” selections:

Scarface. Which is to The Godfather what The Cheap Detective is to Casablanca, only Scarface is not as good as The Cheap Detective, which is laugh-out-loud funny.

American Beauty. A piece of crap. A phony, two-dimensional cartoon of middle-class American life that says more about the Hollywood Left and its fantasy world than it does about anyone who’s ever lived anywhere ever.

Hannah and Her Sisters. I can name at least eight Woody Allen movies among my all-time faves but this is definitely not one of them. First of all: no one speaks that way. (Someone once quipped that Allen’s dialogue at its worst sounds like a Russian novel in English translation.) And the whole almost-conversion/deconversion scenario was a set-up for jokes and nothing more. It said nothing real about Allen’s character, which became smaller over the course of the film, retreating into his many other film guises.

The Passion of the Christ. The film emphasized what a Roman crucifixion entailed, to demonstrate what Christ endured on Good Friday. Here’s the problem: a lot of people have suffered similar fates, some much worse, if we’re talking strictly about physical suffering. The issue is not how much blood was spilled; it’s Who was doing the bleeding. And that you cannot capture on film — which is to say, Jesus’s divine nature.

For the Underrated films that I think are rated just about right:

Metropolitan. I know Whit Stillman is a darling of conservatives, but allow me to remind everyone what they probably already know but are too polite to say because we have so few artists in our corner: His films are utter bores. The acting is more often than not stiff and clumsy. Oh, and also, from Barcelona:

Fred: “And one of the things that keeps popping up is about “subtext.” Plays, novels, songs — they all have a “subtext,” which I take to mean a hidden message or import of some kind. So subtext we know. But what do you call the message or meaning that’s right there on the surface, completely open and obvious? They never talk about that. What do you call what’s above the subtext?”
Ted: “The text.”
Fred: “OK, that’s right, but they never talk about that. “

Exactly.

The Big Lebowski. How in the name of Rufus T. Firefly can this be construed as underrated when some people would rate this higher than Citizen Kane on All-Time Greatest? Talk about overrated and not as funny as you remember (although I never found it funny to begin with, and I’m a Jeff Bridges fan).

Heathers. Unwatchable. Everyone’s voice goes through my head like a nail.

Total agreement about:

Hellboy, which is an eye-popping gem and very Catholic-friendly.

Some Kind of Wonderful. If I weren’t married I’d admit to how many times I saw this film because of Mary Stuart Masterson. (Many years before I met my wife, for the record, so no letters, please.)

Rope (especially over against The Birds, which is for the birds). While there’s a lot of gimmick about the film (made to appear as one continuous shot, when in fact it is a series of long takes tied together, the cuts hidden with close-ups and blackouts on characters’ backs), it certainly has a sense of urgency and immediacy, which is to say theatricality, that holds up pretty well today.

Take the Money and Run. It certainly tends to get lost in Allen’s oeuvre, yet it remains one of the funniest films ever made. Long before Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries and The Office and its spinoffs, there was the “true-life” story of Virgil Starkwell.

One, Two, Three. What I love about this film is that while never cited as among Cagney’s best performances, it perfectly illustrates why he was such a monumental star. The minute he takes the screen, the energy level gets kicked up to 11. He’s absolutely compelling and funny and can’t help but be the focus of every scene he’s in. Whatever star quality is — Cagney had it.

The General. Now, again, some critics have no problem adding this to their Top 100 Best Films of All Time lists, but Keaton is often overshadowed by Chaplin, and unfairly. Buster Keaton was one of the five best American film directors ever to walk onto a nonsoundstage. And his deadpan characters were infinitely more entertaining than that cloying, teary-eyed loser The Little Tramp. Get a job, you bum…

Now for my own Most Overrated / Underrated Films of All Time.

Overrated: Gone with the Wind. If someone had offered me a deal: You let the South secede and you never have to watch Gone with the Wind, because the book on which it is based will never be written, I’d say, “Rev up the Underground Railroad, but goodbye and good luck.” I’ll never go hungry again . . . I’ll never get those seventeen hours back again.

Underrated: Playtime. Even people who are pretty “well-read” in cinema have never seen a Tati film. Mr. Hulot’s Holiday is his most accessible (and an obvious influence on the career of Rowan Atkinson), and Mon Oncle was an award-winning gem. But Playtime is a remarkable, incomparable accomplishment. A film dedicated simply to negotiating modern spaces and exploring how they alienate us one from another. I think it’s a masterpiece of visual writing, a world unto itself. No one ever agrees with me. Everyone is wrong.

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10 thoughts on “I’ll Give You Overrated/Underrated Films

  1. I re-watched Animal House last night to make sure there was nothing I had missed. There is not a funny scene in that entire movie. It’s like the movie was made before comedy was invented.

    And while I was ready to make a concession on Dr. Strangelove, I had to take it away after you’re claim that “Michael Keaton was the best Batman of all.” What a horrible thing to say. What did Bob Kane ever do to you?

    You’re also wrong about 2001 and Caddyshack, two films for which the term overrated was invented. But there was so much in the rest of your post that I agreed with that I’ll let those slide.

    And since we’re on the subject of overrated, I recently set out to watch every movie made by Hitchcock and Woody Allen. Hitchcock has fewer great movies than I would have expected (only a handful live up to his reputation). And I’m not sure how Allen got his reputation as a “great filmmaker.” With the exception of ‘Match Point’, he hasn’t make a good movie since ‘Radio Days’ in 1987. Even before then he had very few winners.

    I’d be curious to hear what directors you think have made the most movies and still maintained consistency in quality. (The only one I can think of is Spielberg.)

    • Spielberg will always have one more great tale in him, but he’s had his share of mediocrities: 1941, Color Purple, Jurassic Park II, Hook (which was awful, and not in a good way), AI, and I couldn’t bring myself to watch a three-hour movie about the carnage of World War I that focused on saving a horsey. (I’ve also never been a fan of motion-capture movies, so I didn’t bother with Tintin either.) But he’s made so many great films, and fun films, that you expect him to produce a masterpiece or at least a great summer blockbuster every time out.

      Most of the great directors had periods in which they made their name and then faded, which is to be expected. Some artists simply get spent. Think John Ford or Frank Capra or Billy Wilder. (But MAN — look at Ford’s filmography from The Informer to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance!) Even Welles, who is the greatest American director of all time: Don Quixote is probably his last great film — and that’s unfinished! If “F Is for Fake” is any indication of the direction his late career would have gone in had he managed to get studio backing, I doubt his other projects — “The Other Side of the Wind” or “The Cradle Will Rock” — would have touched his early B&W work.

      Robert Altman was all over the place with his career. And no one showed more promise to surpass everyone of his generation than Francis Coppola, and then he just lost his frickin’ mind in the Philippines. Although he directed some small gems along the way: like Tucker and The Rainmaker and Tetro– and then there’s Dracula, a vampire movie turned into a campy (but in a good way) opera, marred only by the calamitously awful performance (and not in a good way) of Keanu Reeves. I do think Youth Without Youth is a smart and beautiful film that will come to be reassessed over time — I just wish he had found someone else for the lead. Tim Roth did not have the chops to pull off something like that.

      The closest I can come to someone who was consistent in his output of good-to-great films is maybe Truffaut. Or Kurosawa. Americans produce at too rapid a rate, and the commercial expectations always dog them.

    • One more thing, in regard to your thoroughly un-patriotic swipes at the great paeon to the American anti-authoritarian independent spirit that is Animal House: If I were going to offer a substitute — AND I SAID “IF” — it would be Back to School with Rodney Dangerfield. Just the scene with Sam Kinison alone is worth the price of admission. It also has one of my favorite gibes: “Hey, the war is over. Get new parts for your head.”

  2. Scarface is the posterchild of overrated. Put that up against a movie like Once Upon a Time in America and it looks like the child’s play it really is. Kid stuff.
    BUT! Big Lebowski is something special and my feathers are all ruffled now.

  3. I had trouble following this post. Toward the end I wasn’t sure whether I was in the section of films Sacramone was defending or attacking. But hey, I love Whit Stillman, so what do I know?

  4. Ok, Mr. Carter is absolutely right about Josie and the Pussycats, but the writers’ previous effort Can’t Hardly Wait was even better and more underrated. He’s right about Ghost World also.

    I’m right there with you on Michael Keaton as the best Batman…and American Beauty is every bit as abysmal as you say.

    I realize I’ll never get you to watch the utterly underrated Black Snake Moan, but that’s your loss.

    And all that Coppola without mentioning Finnian’s Rainbow? Kidding! JUST KIDDING!!

    • “Josie and the Pussycats” — is that the one by Antonioni? (While we’re at it, why not throw in “Hello Down There“?)

      Ghost World is OK. I’d rather rewatch “Crumb.”

      Two more “Most Overrateds”: No Country for Old Men and Fargo.

      And every time I’m about to watch “Black Snake Moan” on Netflix streaming, the lights in my house flicker, a mighty wind begins blowing through the rooms, and a deep resonant voice intones: “Thy soul is in peril. And Christina Ricci’s in it. Think Speed Racer.”

  5. OH my gosh. Playtime! ONe of the benefits of Netflix. Jacques Tati is magnificent in everything he did. WIsh I could see more. Thankyou thankyou

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