Since we’re not a hive mind, what movie from our Best Films list doesn’t deserve to be on there?
I was excited to see Computer Chess, because it sounded like something I’d be into: kind of geeky, mumblecore-ish, and concerned with ’80s computer nerds. But the story of a confluence of computer-chess programmers and some sort of spiritual group at a cheap hotel didn’t resonate with me at all. It was billed as somewhat improvised, but to me it came across as unrehearsed and poorly thought through—up to and including the sigh-inducing “twist” at the end. I’ll take the infinitely more thought-provoking Primer any day of the week.
The Cabin In The Woods was overrated when it came out in 2012 and it’s still overrated. As a lover of horror, I wanted to enjoy this, especially after my go-to horror buffs revered it. But the “horror comedy” that writers Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon described to the press as an attempt to “revitalize” the slasher movie (I’ve seen better) and a critical satire on torture porn failed to make me snicker or scream. Instead, it reminded me of my early college years, surrounded by film majors thinking they understood the entire universe simply because they could grasp the concept of meta. I’ll pass on the pretension and take ParaNorman over this any day.
I’ve seen all but one of the films that made our final list (soon, A Field In England, soon) and can say with all honesty that there’s nothing on there that I downright despise. There are, however, a few whose popularity vexes me a little, and at the risk of inciting a riot, I’m here to confess that Toy Story 3 is one of them. Look, I grew up with Woody and Buzz, and still cherish the first two entries in Pixar’s flagship franchise. But to my eyes, everything that part three accomplishes—all its sentiment, all its insight into relationships—is right there in the hanging implication of the previous film’s ending. The third film just seems redundant to me, in that familiar sequel way. And if I can forgive some of my minor issues with it—Buzz’s language-setting shtick, which is DreamWorks grade; the curious gay-panic jokes at Ken’s expense—I still can’t shake how calculated much of the film’s emotional button-pressing feels. As a tearful goodbye to these characters, Toy Story 3 gets the job done. I just said my goodbyes to them back in ’99. Now bring on the torches and pitchforks.
I feel like a special kind of jerk saying this as a film contributor, but I really hate The Deep Blue Sea—the Terence Davies movie about the end of an ill-fated affair, not the Renny Harlin movie about genetically engineered sharks. I know Davies has a major following, and he does some beautiful camerawork here. But mostly The Deep Blue Sea is a dour, miserablist slog that barely dramatizes one woman’s choice between a loveless marriage and the risks of passion. Turns out, they both involve suffering! Who knew? Melancholia, from further up the list, gets at some of the same themes with a lot more verve, while this one strands the gifted Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston in an endless duet of desperation (her) and anger (him). It was the worst movie I saw back in 2012, at least by the metric of how badly I wanted it to end so I could leave the screening room. Honestly, the shark one is a lot better.
I went into Gone Girl with a completely open mind. I avoided spoilers, but was obviously previously aware of the book’s phenomena, and while David Fincher is hit or miss for me, I was mildly excited by the buzz surrounding the project. I emphasize that I’m not a Ben Affleck hater, so there was nothing to put me off going in. All was well for the first hour, but when Rosamund Pike seeks out and meets Neil Patrick Harris, I cringed. For the next hour, that cringing grew into outright anger. Pike’s killing of Neil Patrick Harris is Basic Instinct-level lurid, completely at odds with the established tone. Second, when Pike shows up back home covered in blood, she is taken to a hospital and not cleaned off. She gives a goddamn press conference covered in blood, and then goes home covered in blood! The ending is also pure insanity, with Affleck choosing to live with a complete psychopath for the sake of an unborn child. It’s pure airport potboiler garbage, and everyone involved should be ashamed for rolling in this muck.
I love Paul Thomas Anderson movies, really I do. I’m also big into the extensive psychological power and damage caused by strong personalities and the cults that can rise up around them. And I think Philip Seymour Hoffman was (the “was” still stings) one of the greatest actors to appear in movies in my lifetime. The Master should’ve been a slam dunk for me, but while I didn’t dislike the film, I left it at the end feeling like it was a collection of fascinating scenes that never quite added up to a complete picture. There’s plenty to write about Hoffman’s masterful turn as an L. Ron Hubbard-esque personality, or Joaquin Phoenix’s work as a representative of humanity at its more brutish and vulnerable, and individual moments throughout still stay with me. But ultimately, the movie was too opaque, the work of a director reaching the endpoint of a phase in his artistic career and lingering there longer than he should. I still hope I’ll find what I’m missing on a re-watch, but right now, it plays like a two-hour version of pointing at a place in the distance and driving towards it, without any great insight into why.
I say this as a guy who loves Wes Anderson, who cites Rushmore as his favorite movie, and who derived the vast majority of his musical taste from the director’s masterful approach to soundtracks: The Grand Budapest Hotel doesn’t belong on this list. While watching it, I finally understood all those people I used to hate, the ones who accuse Anderson of valuing form over substance and getting lost in his own little dollhouse worlds. The director’s best works (for example, the vastly superior Moonrise Kingdom) ground his quirks in raw human emotions capable of justifying the heightened realities they exist in. But Grand Budapest forgoes human relationships in favor of nostalgia and pining for an idea of pre-war Europe, and that’s an idea too remote from my life to support whimsy like stop-motion skiing or a secret society of concierges. I don’t begrudge Anderson for taking time off from making masterpieces to play with his toys—the last time he did it, he made the utterly charming Fantastic Mr. Fox—but I also don’t think he deserves to be lauded when he chooses not to play at the top of his form.
There’s not a single person’s choice of response that won’t make someone else scream, “Blasphemer!” but I expect many will light their torches and begin storming the gates when they see my pick: The Wolf Of Wall Street. From a cinematic standpoint, I don’t deny that it’s a film that looks good, is directed well, and features several outstanding performances, but I found Jordan Belfort to be such an absolutely repellant character that it’s one of the few films I’ve seen in my life that I not only wanted it to be over but also wished I could block the entire memory of watching it out of my mind. Even as I’m typing this, I’m getting angry thinking about how many people watched that film and, even at the end, doubtlessly still wanted to be Jordan Belfort, so I’d certainly never put it on a best-of list. (It’s bad enough that I’m giving it press by writing about it here!) I don’t have a problem with antiheroes, but spending 180 minutes spotlighting a morally repugnant asshole? No, thanks.
Look, there are plenty of movies on the list that I’m not crazy about, but I’ll single out one of the higher placed ones, the widely acclaimed Best Picture winner that The A.V. Club once named the second-best film of 2013: 12 Years A Slave. I know I’m in the minority on this, but, while I like Steve McQueen’s debut, Hunger, and think that he has a knack for conceptually interesting, installation-type long takes, I think he’s essentially tone-deaf when it comes to performance, and skirts by on casting. There are scenes I like (e.g., Alfre Woodard on the porch) and I can’t help but admire the way McQueen’s arthouse instincts guide the movie away from prestige-pic gloss (the long takes of the hanging and the spiritual), but it lacks a necessary emotional continuity. I don’t think it’s something the movie is denying in the way it intentionally denies so many other conventions; it’s still structured around an ending that’s supposed to function as a release, but because it can’t organize that sense of catharsis it so badly needs, it just feels as though McQueen is scurrying for an exit. Also: The cast is wildly uneven. Count me as one of those folks who thinks that the movie, while interesting, is no great shakes.