People tend to dismiss the word “overrated” as convenient shorthand for writers to tell other people that their opinions are wrong and that they should feel bad for having them. And... yeah, that about sums it up. So without further ado, here are my annual picks for the 10 most “overrated” movies of the year!
#10.) THE HUNGER GAMES
Why People Liked It: Because you always thought that Battle Royale could have used Miley Cyrus’ fiancé and some mutant CG dogs, or maybe your name is Bumblethatch Hoggledeuce, and you’ve finally found a movie to vindicate decades of merciless mockery. More likely, a tripod killed your parents and Gary Ross’ incomprehensible direction is the closest thing you’ll ever get to revenge.
Why It’s on the List: I think this about covers it.
Why People Liked It: Because Rian Johnson is one of the most promising genre filmmakers we have, and this pulpy blast of speculative noir lands somewhere between the worlds of Rod Serling and Mickey Spillane. Because original sci-fi is hard to come by these days, and it’s almost never this smart and muscular. Or perhaps you liked Looper because you’re J.J. Abrams, and your mind was completely blown by a vision of the future in which even the light from a refrigerator causes lens flare. More likely, however, you enjoyed Looper because the projector exploded before this happened:
Why It’s on the List: Because after a brilliantly economical first hour, in which Johnson makes his themes sing for him, the movie completely loses its footing. It’s wise plotting to separate young Joe from old Joe, but Looper never recovers from its jarring shift into a domestic farmland drama, and the relationship between the two men (the two man?) begins to dissipate. Ultimately, I just don’t buy that Joe’s final sacrifice is going to pave the way for a brighter tomorrow, especially 110 minutes into a movie that has taken pains to prove that people -- even tiny ones -- aren't quite so simple.
#8.) WRECK-IT RALPH
Why People Liked It: Because it was an animated film in which the main character’s mother didn’t suddenly turn into a bear during the second act. Really, that’s like the principle rule of storytelling: “Don’t have the heroine’s mother turn into a bear just when things are getting interesting.” That’s stuff from day one of film school, 8 a.m. Not quite sure how the gurus over at Pixar managed to overlook something like that.
People also liked Wreck-It Ralph because it’s Toy Story on cocaine, and if Flight taught me anything (and you better believe it did), it’s that cocaine makes everything better. The film has a lot of fun exploring the (invariably tragic) inner lives of video game avatars, and even more fun rewarding the nerdiness of video game players. Seriously, during the villains anonymous meeting I spontaneously squealed, “Zangief!” I mean, Zero Dark Thirty was great and all, but there isn’t a single Street Fighter II reference in that entire 150-minute movie. And Mark Boal has the nerve to call himself a reporter...
Why It’s on the List: Because the candy-coated world of “Sugar Rush” is a dreadfully dull and familiar place to anchor this story. Numbingly overstimulated and diabetically saccharine, the kart-racing video game into which Ralph crash-lands is the perfect environment to jettison nearly everything that makes the film’s premise exciting and unique, opting to spin a typical tale of lovable misfits and lazily reverting to the idea of a “glitch” instead of probing the unique narrative possibilities of a self-aware video game world. Also, Wreck-It Ralph fundamentally misunderstand how kart racers work: You do nothing until the last lap, and then ride a blue shell/lightning/star combo to glory. Duh.
#7.) THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER
Why People Liked It: Because the movie spoke to them!
Why It’s on the List: Because the movie spoke to everyone. It’s a nostalgia trip as a Rorschach test, a coming-of-age story with all the insight of a horoscope. It’s important for kids to realize that they’re not the only one who feels like an outcast and has a crush on the enigmatic pixie chick, but it’s also important for kids to realize that they can’t go through life like they’re the protagonist of a memoir, as if a staunch refusal to engage with the world will magnetically attract people to their story. The Perks of Being a Wallflower was also the only film of the year with a conflict that could have been resolved with Shazam, and while I appreciate that the film is set in the dark ages before the advent of song-recognition technology, it’s really hard to care about characters who don’t instantly recognize David Bowie’s “Heroes.” Also, the stilted romance between Logan Lerman and Emma Watson was the least believable relationship in a year that included a movie about a hunky teenage werewolf falling in love at first sight with a vampire baby.
It’s clear that all of this stuff comes from a place of pain and catharsis, especially as the movie careens into an unfortunately bungled profile of abuse trauma, but The Perks of Being a Wallflower relies on mood to convey the truths that it understands but can’t articulate -- it’s not like high school so much as it’s like a high schooler.
#6.) LES MISERABLES
Why People Liked It: Because of Anne Hathaway. Or maybe it’s because your neck is constantly stuck at a 135-degree angle due to an unfortunate childhood accident, and now that Tom Hooper shot a movie exclusively with canted angles, you can finally enjoy a lavish slice of Oscar bait in comfort. Or perhaps you are an alien from the fictional planet of Tralfamadore, and -- uniquely imbued with the ability to access any point in the history of time at will -- aren’t bothered by a 12-hour movie that somehow still manages to skimp over most of the Broadway musical’s pivotal plot developments.
Note: I understand that it’s hard to call a film “overrated” if it hasn’t actually been released yet. I’m from the future. Go to China (where the censors will have cut all the revolutionary stuff from the film, thus making it almost watchable).
Why It’s on the List: Because of the parts without Anne Hathaway. Ostensibly, the idea behind Hooper’s merciless close-ups is that they offer audiences an intimacy impossible for a Broadway show to achieve, but Hooper doesn’t seem to understand that movies can combine several different kinds of shots, and that his camera isolates the characters to the extent that none of them feel as if they’re in the same film -- that they’re singing to strangers.
While the driving artistic impetus behind this film’s existence is to expand the story beyond the confines of a single Broadway stage, the ramparts consist of about 10 chairs stacked on top of each other. I couldn’t tell if I was watching the French Revolution or the inside of a closed Starbucks. It’s on the list because I literally blinked and missed the immortal love story that’s supposed to drive the back half of this movie, and because Hooper inexplicably introduces the second act with 20 minutes of Sweeney Todd outtakes (you should probably consider cutting a number from your film when Seinfeld did it better). Oh, and the new song that’s shamelessly stuffed in there just so the film can score an additional Oscar nomination? Yeah, that’s when I would have walked out if, by that point, my leg muscles hadn’t already deteriorated from neglect like Bruce Wayne’s. And speaking of Bruce Wayne...
#5.) THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
Why People Liked It: Anne Hathaway. Also, because high school philosophy definitely would have been more fun if your teacher had worn a cape and cowl, and because we can probably all agree that football games could stand to be a little shorter. Or perhaps people liked The Dark Knight Rises because they always felt that Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher’s Batman films were just a touch too subtle. Some folks probably were able to enjoy the film because it snowballs stupid so fast that eventually you’re left with no choice but to roll with it. Also, thanks to Bane, we finally know what it would sound like if Sean Connery had a kid with Temple Grandin. Oh, and I suppose that some people liked this movie because they desperately needed to in order for life to continue making any sort of sense.
Why It’s on the List: Because Bane has the most ludicrous plan this side of the Cylons. Seriously dude, Rube Goldberg called and he was like, “Hey man... simplify.” Also, it’s important to note that all of those sticklers pointing out “plot holes” were missing the point -- the question isn’t how Bruce Wayne got back to Gotham from a sadistic desert-hell prison, but why anyone thought it was a good idea to put him there in the first place. Because the script makes absolutely no effort to avoid simply telling you its themes (“No one cared about me until I put on the mask!” says Bane with absolutely zero prompting), which effectively communicates how simplistic they really are. That may work in a graphic novel, but it sure is dopey on-screen. Oh, and will someone please teach Chris Nolan how to use Marion Cotillard? Seriously, at this point it’s like someone gave him the Mona Lisa and he insists on hanging it backwards in his basement.
Also, I have to give a shout out to that scene where Selena Kyle comes home and her roommate is all “Storm’s coming!” (referring, of course, to Gotham’s imminent and systematic socioeconomic collapse). Pay attention, Lena Dunham, this is how girls talk to each other when they’re hanging out at home.
Why People Liked It: Because “Zero Dark Thirty yourself!” just isn’t as catchy. Because it’s a breathlessly tense re-creation of a recently declassified CIA operation, but it’s also totally silly! Because you work for the T.S.A., and Argo makes people realize that going through security at the airport isn’t nearly as stressful as it could be.
Why It’s on the List: It’s not that Argo is a bad movie, it’s just that it’s a textbook case of the Hollywood machine positioning a solid but unexceptional entertainment as an awards contender. Listen, I love Ben Affleck as much as the next heterosexual guy who sometimes grapples with confusing feelings when they look at Ben Affleck, think about Ben Affleck, or so much as see Aflac commercials on TV, but let’s not confuse a solid political thriller for a masterpiece (like The Town). I mean, one of the major sources of suspense in the third act is whether or not John Goodman can walk somewhere in a reasonable amount of time. I’m not denying that that’s a legitimate concern, but it’s one of the several regards in which Argo gently chides Hollywood while so transparently being a product of the industry.
Why People Liked It: Because Daniel Day-Lewis practically resurrected our country’s most beloved president. Seriously, his performance is less emancipator than it is re-animator (after seeing the way Day-Lewis clothes himself in it, I think immense power might be the new black). Because it’s nice to be reminded that justice can survive our maddening political process every once in a while. Because watching a pivotal amendment get passed into law is actually riveting stuff, despite what C-Span might have you believe. Or perhaps you just enjoyed gawking at the most wonderful assortment of beards we’ve seen since the last Republican primary.
Why It’s on the List: Because Tony Kushner’s script, which opens with a scene that could make Frank Capra blush, is by turns warm and oppressively didactic -- the film is so perfectly comfortable as a courtroom drama in the vein of Otto Preminger, but it diverts its attention to a number of impeachable subplots due to a misguided need for fresh air. The way the movie handles its tangential passages, it feels as if Spielberg saw The Dark Knight Rises, and said to Chris Nolan: “No, you amateur, this is how you waste Joseph Gordon-Levitt!”
Because Daniel Day-Lewis so disappears into his character that he reveals the inauthenticity of everyone around him -- he’s like human 48 fps, and Sally Field’s performance winds up reeking with overdone community theater. Or maybe because Steven Spielberg shouldn’t be making movies for substitute teachers. Although, to be fair, Lincoln is certainly educational: For example, I had no idea that our 16th president had massive floodlights installed outside every window of the White House (translation: the otherwise brilliant cinematographer Janusz Kaminski lights the place like the dude has already ascended to Heaven). And, if a movie called Lincoln has to bungle the ending, it should probably err on the side of ending too soon.
#2.) SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Why People Liked It: Because they are Chris Tucker’s agent. Others enjoyed David O. Russell’s latest screwball drama because they’re horribly addicted to gambling and appreciated that a warm slice of Hollywood entertainment came along to validate their behavior (moral of the story here: just keep gambling until you win!) Because if a guy who has no job or prospects for the future can run around his neighborhood in a trash bag and nab Jennifer Lawrence, there might be hope for the rest of us. Or perhaps people liked it because the series of third-act contrivances reminded them of their favorite Saved by the Bell episodes (you know the one where Kelly is a substitute teacher for some reason and all the jocks have to pass her test in order to play in the big game? It’s kinda like that).
Why It’s on the List: Because I didn’t need to pay $15 to see what Garden State would have been like had Zach Braff been from Pennsylvania, instead. Because Silver Linings Playbook is such an unconvincing portrait of mental illness it makes The Other Sister look like a documentary shot by Frederick Wiseman. And so far as Jennifer Lawrence’s character is concerned, there’s a difference between seeing your own flaws reflected in a potential boyfriend, and thinking “Hey, that dude’s ex-wife took out a restraining order on him? I gotta get me a piece of that!” I love me a good fairy tale, but they’re much better when you can believe in them.
#1.) BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
Why People Liked It: Because Benh Zeitlin’s Sundance sensation tries oh so hard to make you feel good. Because nothing is cuter than a fatalistic six year old who thinks animals are talking to her about how they have to poop (“I’m a little piece of a big big universe, and that makes it right”). Because you’ve yearned to see Terry Gilliam’s Tideland remade as an overlong and politically facile Levi’s ad, or maybe you always thought that the voiceover from Days of Heaven would be better if it were narrated by the adorably impoverished girl version of Jonathan Lipnicki. Because it’s hard to dislike any movie in which the protagonist says things like: “I hope you die, and when you die I’m gonna go to your grave and eat birthday cake.”
Why It’s on the List: Because Hayao Miyazaki has already made this film 10 times, and his environmentally concerned animated worlds were infinitely more believable than the waterlogged fantasyland that Beasts of the Southern Wild has to offer (a little girl living in a flooded world who confuses forces of nature for her dead mother? I’m pretty sure that “Hushpuppy” is Bathtub speak for “Ponyo”).
Zeitlin asks you to believe in the validity of the Bathtub as a community, as a culture that doesn’t require outside intervention so much as it does outside understanding, and yet everything feels suffocatingly instructional. The whole thing is so precious it feels like the film might break if you make any sudden movements. And since when did tears become a measure of quality? Either making people cry isn’t a hallmark of great art, or there are about 50 Buzzfeed listicles that deserve a Pulitzer.
Zeitlin desperately wants to reconcile nature’s apathy for its own creations, but he's even more interested in landing its empty emotional bombast. As a result, its ecstatic “feel-good” drone feels deeply demented, like a Herzog film that ecstatically removes everything true until things are positively buoyant, the movie saying everything that’s on its mind during a hazily euphoric prologue, before spending 75 minutes treading water as it spins a politically facile fable. Beast it!
More: The Most Overrated Movies of 2011