Five Good Movies I Hated
This is a companion piece to my last blog, Five Bad Movies I Liked. This list is eclectic and not inclusive, just like the other list.
I can understand why some of these are beloved, but others…well, you’ll see.
Gone With the Wind
I know, I know. This movie has signature performances by Gable and Vivian Leigh. There is the awesome Oscar-winning performance by Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American to be nominated for an Oscar, let alone win one. Max Steiner wrote the incredible score. There is so much to love from a technical standpoint about this film. But I just cannot watch it. It’s the same with Birth of a Nation. The pervasive racism and a script that’s an unquestioning love-letter to the slave-holding culture that’s “gone with the wind” is more than my blood pressure can stand.
This has to be the most boring three weeks I ever spent in a movie theater. Oh, wait. This movie only lasts 168 minutes in real time. It just seems like it lasts three weeks. Don’t get me wrong: I like Quentin Tarrantino’s other movies. Reservoir Dogs is full of drama, suspense and humor. This movie though, from the very first scenes, is just smarmy. The characters weren’t interesting enough to engage me in what little plot there was. I don’t have to like the characters, but I they do have to be at least interesting. These characters were boring, in somewhat the same way that Hannah Arendt talked about the banality of evil. I get that this was a turn-around performance for Travolta that reinvigorated his career. In fact, I’m happy for him: I’ve always felt he was an under-appreciated actor. But this is a movie that the critics loved and I absolutely loathed.
I was eighteen when this movie came out. According to everyone, it has a stupendous performances by Ann Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman. I have no reason to doubt this. They seem to always turn in awesome performances. The soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel has many of my favorite songs from my favorite group of the era. It’s supposed to be the signature movie of my generation. I first tried to watch it on a date with the woman who was to become my wife. I fell asleep about a quarter of the way through. Later, after we were married, she insisted I see again, this time at a drive-in. Same result. When we could rent it on VHS, we tried again. Zzzzz. Since then, I’ve tried two more times, on DVD. I just cannot stay awake through this movie. I had to watch the famous bedroom scene with Bancroft and Hoffman on Youtube.
I imagine this must be a good movie. Everyone who stays awake through the whole thing agrees. For sure I cannot say whether it’s good or not. I can attest that it’s my ideal cure for insomnia.
How Green Was My Valley
This much-loved film by John Ford from 1942 won the Best Picture Oscar. It stars the ineffable Walter Pigeon, Maureen O’Hara, and a young Roddy McDowell.
I understand that the artistic approach to cinema has changed over time, but dammit it’s a visual medium. It’s all about showing your story, not telling it. By 1942 everyone knew that, except apparently John Ford and the Academy. This movie starts out with an establishing shot of the valley and an extended voice-over telling the audience stuff. Lots of stuff. Boring, out-of-context stuff. The dialogue and plot were so trite my eyes threatened to roll out of my head. It was so awful, I stopped watching, and I sat through Look Who’s Talking 2. Twice.
Maybe this gloppy stinker won Best Picture because the competition was weak. After all, the other nominees included films no one has ever heard of, like Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon, and Hitchcock’s Suspicion. Oh, wait, I bet you have heard of those. Even Here Comes Mr. Jordan–remade by Warren Beatty in 1978 as Heaven Can Wait–was better than the winner. The Academy must have been even more brain-dead than usual that year.
Okay, I love Robert Heinlein’s science fiction novels. I grew up with them, looking forward each year to snatching up and devouring the latest one. He wrote, or co-wrote, the screenplay for this movie. In his semi-authobiography, Grumbles from the Grave, he complained bitterly about how awful it was working in Hollywood and how even the second director’s girlfriend wrote dialogue. Maybe. But he was also involved in developing other projects for film and TV, and they were even worse: they had all the narrative flaws of How Green Was My Valley. Voice-overs telling the story instead of showing it. Hackneyed characters, and even more hackneyed dialogue. Indeed, it’s astonishing how bad this movie is just from a story-telling standpoint, since the flaws apparent in the movie are absent–except for occasional political rants–from his books. This movie seems to be widely praised because (a) Heinlein, the Dean of Science Fiction, was involved; and (b) it has ground-breaking and Oscar-winning special effects for the era. Still, I’d definitely pass on this period piece.