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Friday, December 29, 2006

Celluloitering’s Top 20 Most Overrated Films of All Time (part one)

Premiere Magazine just put out their list of the 20 most overrated films. I agree with some of their picks, but not with others, so I thought I would make my own list, complete with explanations for why I chose them. Before anyone sees one of their favorites on this list and writes me an angry e-mail, be warned: [almost] every movie on this list is a good movie. This list isn’t a list of bad films, but rather films that didn’t live up to their hype, their awards, etc. Today I’m posting the first ten; next week, I’ll post the rest.

The Sixth Sense: M. Night Shyamalan’s first major studio success is frightening and atmospheric, but it’s also cheap and mawkish. I saw the end coming a mile away. That said I enjoyed watching it anyway; it’s an entertaining film. The way people talked about it when it came out, however, I thought it was going to be another Exorcist or Suspiria. The Sixth Sense also irritates me because it seems to have given Shyamalan the idea that he can do no wrong, no matter how many crappy movies he makes.

The Greatest Show on Earth: This 1952 Best Picture winner from acclaimed director Cecil B. DeMille is…not that good, especially when you consider it won over John Ford's The Quiet Man and Stanley Donen’s Singin’ in the Rain. This drama about circus performers has an all-star cast including Cornel Wilde, Dorothy Lamour and Charlton Heston, but it fails to be anything more than an annoying, overblown melodrama with a truly laughable climax.

Napoleon Dynamite: This movie never lived up to its hype, Gosh! Jon Heder’s funny little film about awkward adolescence is just that: a funny little film. It’s got some great site gags and one-liners, but it hardly deserved the rabid fanaticism it inspired. If I see one more Vote for Pedro t-shirt I am going to hurl.

Garden State: I love Zach Braff, and I thought Garden State was really cute, but its Emo McHipster chic was hardly deserving of the indi lovefest it inspired. It was hailed as a landmark film for my generation, but it didn’t break any ground that Harold and Maude and The Graduate didn’t break first.

Crash: People are diverse! This corny Hollywood civics lesson about race and prejudice is very well acted but so mediocre in every other way that its Best Picture win is a total mystery to me. Don Cheadle=awesome, but you’d be better off renting Hotel Rwanda.

Moulin Rouge!: I'm going to get hate mail for this one. I liked Moulin Rouge! I really did. I appreciated the intense, polychromatic musical numbers and clever anachronistic humor. John Leguizamo's Toulouse-Lautrec is hilarious and the Roxanne tango is truly a spectacle to behold, but in the end, it's nothing more than an MTV version of Camille.

A Man For All Seasons: Brilliant acting from stars Paul Scofield and Wendy Hiller? Sure. Great screenplay adapted by Robert Bolt from his original play? Definitely. Deserving of two-dozen film awards, including and Oscar for Best Picture? Not really. This 1966 film about Sir Thomas More was soporifically under-directed by Fred Zinneman; its two-hour length feels more like three hours.

Forest Gump: When I was thirteen, my mother took me to see both Forest Gump and Pulp Fiction, both of which were later nominated for Best Picture. Even at that young age, I thought that Pulp Fiction was better than Forest Gump and was confused by Gump’s win. The film, like its protagonist, is sweet, good-natured and simple. Zemekis tries to force us to identify with mentally disabled Forest, instead of focusing on the dark irony of an idiot making millions of dollars by being in the right place at the right time. It shoots for brilliance, but it’s just one more decent film with a good cast. Stupid is as stupid does, indeed.

Magnolia: This movie hit me in all the right places; I laughed, I smiled, I blubbered. BUT, the three-hour character study is a little too sprawling and self-indulgent to qualify as one of the greatest films of all time (it’s #175 on IMDB’s top 250).

Monster’s Ball: Halle Barry, Peter Boyle and Billy Bob Thornton are all fabulous in this gothic southern melodrama. The plot, however, is so emotionally overwrought that watching it is like watching a very long Tennessee William’s play, only with lousy dialogue and ham-fisted symbolism.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Volver (2006)

Part zany telenovela, part classic Hollywood melodrama, Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film, Volver, is a sweet, funny film about mother-daughter relationships and the resiliency of women. Penelope Cruz plays Raimunda, a hard-working woman juggling a boorish, unemployed husband, a teenage daughter and an invalid aunt. She is also haunted by the deaths of her mother (Carmen Maura) and father in a tragic fire.

Raimunda’s troubles only grow when her husband takes a carving knife to the gut and bleeds out all over the kitchen floor. The scene in which Raimunda furiously mops up his blood is both horrifying and comic. In media res, Raimunda is interrupted by a neighbor at the front door. He notices a streak of blood on her neck and asks if she’s all right. “Women’s troubles,” she says with a smile. Boy, she’s not kidding.

Women’s troubles are, indeed, the theme throughout the film. Almodóvar focuses on the special kinship and friendship that exists between women in patriarchal, gender-separated societies. The details of the film, which include death, cancer, sexual abuse, teen pregnancy, betrayal, parental abandonment and yes, more death, make it sound like one long dirge, but it’s not. Volver is upbeat without being flip and serious without being grim, making it an easy pill to swallow.

There has been a lot of Oscar buzz around Penelope Cruz this year, and after seen Volver I can say it is justified. Cruz exhibits a kind of raw, sensual performance reminiscent of Sophia Loren's early film work (Two Women, Il Segno di Venere) and her performance in Volver is very real and engaging. Almodóvar could have done a better job dubbing Cruz's voice for her titular musical number, though; the poor dubbing distracts from one of the film's big dramatic moments.

The amount of money I’d pay to see this film: $7