5 Recent Movies That Got Way More Praise Than They Deserved
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Especially attentive readers might remember that I listed Magic Mike as my favorite movie of 2012 in the roundup list of such things that Cracked publishes every year. If you read it, you should also realize that I was being sarcastic. Magic Mike is a terrible movie, but much like M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening, its terribleness is also unintentionally hilarious.
People didn't seem to take it that way, though. For example, while being interviewed about award nominations of her own, actress Rachel Weisz was asked who she thought should have received more attention for their work in 2012. One of her answers was Cody Horn, the lead actress in Magic Mike. She wasn't joking, apparently. Here's a quote:
"She wasn't acting. She was real. She was totally real."
While I do believe that to be somewhat true, I think the "not acting" part has more to do with ability than anything. Throughout the entire film, Horn seems to have one job, and that's to stare blankly into space.
This is not what our forefathers had in mind when they first yelled "Action!"
If there were an Oscar for the most aggressive attempt to not act at all in a supporting role, Cody Horn would win uncontested. You know how some movie trailers show every good scene of a movie? This trailer contains every instance of Cody Horn breaking from her trademark stare of disinterest in Magic Mike.
I doubt you could string together two solid minutes of footage showing Cody Horn looking any way other than borderline catatonic. It takes a lot to make Channing Tatum seem like the one with all the personality, but time and again, she somehow makes it happen.
Who doesn't smile at a strip club?
That doesn't make it a good movie, though, and it certainly doesn't make it Oscar-worthy. Nevertheless, all sorts of award buzz kicked up around Magic Mike thanks to Matthew McConaughey's portrayal of Dallas, the club owner/team coach who inserts himself as the "villain" of the movie when he demands that Channing Tatum wear a sailor costume onstage instead of the ATF agent ensemble he's got the gall to think he's going to go out there and dance in. Not with all those Navy wives in the audience, Muchacho!
The Oscar buzz was baffling to me, because every Matthew McConaughey performance is exactly the same. The Lincoln Lawyer was a cowboy hat and leather vest away from being Magic Mike. Yet for some reason, this particular performance got the critics all worked up. If I had to put my finger on why Matt Mac's performance in this flick is so beloved, it's likely because actors give their best performance when they're playing a role that closely resembles who they really are as a person.
Magic Mike is as close as most of us will ever come to knowing the real Matthew McConaughey.
Silver Linings Playbook
Jennifer Lawrence won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Silver Linings Playbook, and she deserved it, because her presence is probably the only thing that kept this movie from being written off as the run-of-the-mill chick flick that it is. Which is fine, by the way. I'm secretly a huge fan of chick flicks. That doesn't mean you can show me 27 Dresses and convince me it's Citizen Kane, though.
It's almost Citizen Kane at best.
Yes, the movie is severely well acted. Bradley Cooper plays a great crazy person, and Jennifer Lawrence plays Jennifer Lawrence like no one else can. Adding DeNiro's name to the mix gives it even more acting chops legitimacy, even if it's been decades since that's been a valid indicator of a film's quality.
So, fine, I'll concede those points, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a stupid fucking movie. Heads up, here come some spoilers, if you care about being alerted to that sort of thing.
The entire climax of the film hinges on a bet DeNiro (Bradley Cooper's father, but only in the movie) places on a dance contest that Lawrence and Cooper are supposed to participate in as a team. He'd lost a ton of money earlier betting on a Philadelphia Eagles game (as most people do) that Bradley Cooper attended with him as a "good luck charm." DeNiro plays a compulsive gambler with a fierce superstitious streak. It's a movie about mental illness, you see.
Which is fitting, because you're crazy if you think this movie isn't dumb as shit.
When all hell breaks loose and the Eagles lose, DeNiro gets all lathered up over the fact that Cooper has been skipping games to practice for this dance contest. That's when Jennifer Lawrence swoops in like Superwoman and diffuses the situation by pointing out that his beloved Eagles actually perform better when Cooper is at dance practice with her. He falls for it and not only gives Cooper the go ahead to participate in the contest but also ends up placing a side bet with his bookie that if the Eagles beat the Cowboys and Team Lawrence/Cooper get at least a five from the judges in their dance contest, he's off the hook for the money he lost betting on the previous game.
Does that sound dumb? That's because it is. For one thing, both of the lead characters are depressed shut-ins who literally have no responsibilities outside of entertaining us by looking adorable onscreen. No jobs or anything of the sort. So why in the fuck can Jennifer Lawrence only practice her dance moves when the Eagles are playing? Is that the only time the dance studio they use is open for business? Nope. The "dance studio" is a room at her house.
Dance practice by appointment only.
And by "house" I mean "the guest house behind her mother's house." Like I said, zero responsibilities. The only reason their dance practice has to happen on football Sunday is because it makes for a convenient way to set up that pivotal bet.
Speaking of that, everything about the bet is dumb, too. This bookie has just taken DeNiro for a huge sum of cash and is now willing to risk it all on the belief that Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper won't get a five from the judges in a dance contest? Did I mention that's a five out of 10? Not five out of five, which would actually make for a bet I imagine most bookies would take. No, five out of 10. Anyone who's ever watched Olympic figure skating or high-diving (yes and yes, religiously) knows that you can break an ankle or crack your skull on the diving platform and still limp to the finish with a five. You get a five for showing up.
They weren't even watching!
No bookie on the planet takes that bet and no one builds a dance studio in their goddamn house so they can only practice two hours per week, conveniently in line with the NFL's always fluctuating schedule of start times. That's absurd. All of it.
Critics ate that shit up though. Roger Ebert described the ridiculous series of circumstances listed above as "ingenious" when he applied that lofty label to the screenplay in his review of the movie. He also called it "so good, it could almost be a terrific old classic."
Reading that kind of makes me wonder if I even watched the same movie. I know I did, though ...
... because it's literally the only place I've seen Chris Tucker in at least 10 years.