Hey, have you noticed how every movie blows right now? Well, maybe not every movie, but I only add that qualifier because I can't possibly see every movie. Some of them must be alright, at least. As for the stuff I have seen over the past couple of years though, it's been mostly awful. Things have gotten so bad from a quality standpoint that even the films getting showered with Oscar buzz and box office profits are, for the most part, pretty damn terrible.
Looking for examples? Good, because I have some. Here are five recent movies that got way more praise than they deserved.
#5. Zero Dark Thirty
Look, I love America as much as the next man, provided the next man isn't a man who loves America more than I do, which is totally possible. So don't bother trying to label me as some kind of traitor just because I'm kicking off this list with everyone's favorite "fact-based" account of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. As Americans, we're allowed to disagree with the actions of our government. There's no reason that freedom shouldn't extend to disliking the movies they make.
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Zero Dark Thirty director Kathryn Bigelow, seen here accepting the most government-y-looking movie award ever.
I'm sorry if it hurts your flag-waving arm to read it, but for all intents and purposes, Zero Dark Thirty is the Titanic of war movies, and I definitely don't mean that as a compliment.
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And you're a jerk if you were expecting a compliment in an entry about your ex-wife anyway, James Cameron.
The only difference is that with the latter film there's at least some semblance of a story in the two-and-a-half hours preceding the 20 minutes worth of action. The first three-quarters of Zero Dark Thirty, on the other hand, consist mostly of Jessica Chastain telling various government officials that she knows where Bin Laden is hiding. Not in a cool way like breaking into song or something, either. Just talking. Any "Will they believe her in time?" drama is destroyed by the fact that every single person watching knows exactly how the movie is going to end.
Donald Kravitz / AFP / Stringer / Al Rai Al Aam / Getty
Still, if nothing else, it has some historical significance as a document of an important moment in American history, right? No, not really. The film plays like one long endorsement for the use of waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques" as crucial weapons in the war on terrorism. Meanwhile, in a speech delivered to the Senate, John McCain went so far as to say that the interrogation methods depicted in the film not only didn't lead to the capture of Bin Laden, they actually produced false information. After watching Zero Dark Thirty, though, you'd think Bin Laden would still be out there if not for the healing magic of simulated drowning.
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Has freedom ever been this refreshing?
Zero Dark Thirty isn't a fact-based account of the hunt for the most wanted terrorist of all time, it's the Saw franchise for Toby Keith fans.
#4. Pitch Perfect
In 2012, Pitch Perfect was probably recommended to me by more people than any other movie. After I finally got around to watching, I decided to stop being friends with all of those people. In fact, I disliked it so much I actually had to watch it again for the sake of this column because I turned it off without finishing it the last time I tried. During that first go-round, I gave up somewhere around the point where Anna Kendrick starts rapping.
I don't know if a white person rapping has ever been more awkward, and, yes, I'm taking this terrible Brian Wilson song into consideration also when I make that statement.
Beyond Anna Kendrick making me feel ashamed of my racial heritage, the other big problem is that Pitch Perfect is an obvious ripoff of the Fox TV show Glee, except it has its priorities all wrong. With Glee, at least for the first couple of seasons, the songs, prominently placed as they may be, still play second string to the actual storylines in the show. The music acts more as a supplement than anything.
It's the exact opposite with Pitch Perfect. This movie is a 90-minute infomercial for a soundtrack filled with a capella covers of modern hit songs. To make it look believable they lazily toss in every single cliche from every "fish out of water" teen comedy you can name.
Don't worry, Anna Kendrick doesn't remain the disheveled outsider you see here for most of the movie.
I'm sure it's meant to be a satirical takedown of the genre, kind of like what The Cabin In the Woods did with horror movies, but they don't do a great job with that part. There's a huge difference between exploiting well-worn cliches for comedic effect and just merely acknowledging that you know they exist, which is mostly what Pitch Perfect does.
There are a few funny moments, but they're mostly the scenes where the bite-sized guy from Workaholics is onscreen, and chances are most of his antics are improvised, so don't give the filmmakers too much credit just yet. When an absurd turn of events sends him packing before the big climax (in order to set up the most obvious "plot twist" possible), he takes most of the fun with him.
Because comedy is the first thing you cut when your movie about a pretentious, entitled laptop DJ starts to drag.
Listen, I get that seeing the chorus geeks cast as the popular kids on campus probably feels like therapy to a lot of people, but if you go around letting your residual bitterness about being an outcast in high school lull you into appreciating shitty movies like Pitch Perfect, the bullies still win.
The Ryan Gosling "classic" Drive is one of the most inappropriately named films of all time. Something along the lines of Sit or Wait would have been a way more accurate representation of the "action" in this movie.
Don't get me wrong, it's a beautiful movie to look at. The soundtrack is pretty wonderful, as well. None of that makes it a particularly interesting movie, though. If you've never seen it, Ryan Gosling's character plays one of the best getaway drivers in the world. In a frustrating twist, he proves it in the film's fantastic opening sequence, which could possibly be my favorite five or ten minutes of any movie ever (presented with helpful Czech subtitles below).
Unfortunately, watching a master getaway driver silently contemplate his next career move is a lot less thrilling, and that's all you see for the next hour or so of the movie.
I know it's commonly laughed at as an example of frivolous lawsuits taken to crazy extremes, but the woman who filed a class action suit because Drive didn't have the Fast and Furious-level automotive action that the trailer promised ...
... kind of had a point. Selling a movie based on the pulse-pounding car chases is a direct appeal to that segment of the movie-going public that only shows up to see shit explode. Promising that and then delivering what Drive ultimately was is about as close as Hollywood gets to an actual bait and switch scheme.
Then again, maybe it's for the best. When Gosling and Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn teamed up again for this year's Only God Forgives, they apparently went the opposite route, keeping dialogue limited but adding in all sorts of gory, violent action. The results were apparently disastrous. I haven't seen the movie myself, but this "awesome fight scene" that needlessly wraps four minutes of slow motion footage of people doing mundane shit like walking ...
... rolling up sleeves ...
... and just kind of standing there ...
... along with two acid trip-worthy shots ...
... of this ridiculous statue ...
... around 45 otherwise super satisfying seconds of Ryan Gosling taking blows to the face ...
... doesn't give me a lot of hope.
"Nicholas Winding Refn's 'Only God Forgives' is world-class in its repulsiveness, and it goes way beyond being a time-waster. The fumes from this oppressively violent Asian macho bullshit sword-slicing fantasy will sink into your system and your soul and leave you off-kilter -- tainted in ways that may be hard to pinpoint at first but are no less real -- for weeks after seeing it. Or months. Or eternally."
So that was harsh. I don't know if you can describe the oppressive boredom that dominates most of Drive in such colorful terms, but it's certainly deserving of the same fury.