"A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it."
So says Tommy Lee Jones' Agent K in Men In Black, a movie that knew what it was about.
Unfortunately, a great many other blockbusters lack the self-awareness of that sci-fi comedy – and what's worse – have managed to convince great numbers of people they are far smarter than they really are.
It's time those of us who disagree raised our heads above the parapet and called these so-called classics out for what they really are: pretentious claptrap designed to impress the impressionable, think pieces for the unthinking, art for the artless.
Because if cinema teaches us anything, it's that Agent K was right. 'People' really don't know what the hell they're talking about.
In the winter of 1999, a curious phenemonen swept Britain as groups of young men took to the streets to thump each other in an expression of existential angst. The reason? Misinterpretating David Fincher’s satirical Chuck Palahniuk adaptation Fight Club as an anti-capitalist call-to-arms and all-round life guide.
"I was very cautious to say that this Nietzschean uberman is a great idea for high school seniors, but it doesn’t really work in the real world beyond that, you know?” said the director in a later interview. If only he'd said it sooner, a lot of black eyes and embarrassing 6th form politics could have been avoided.
– Sam Parker
To criticize Christopher Nolan’s Inception to a twentysomething man who works in the media is tantamount to questioning their mother’s birthline. Fanboys want to layer on all kinds of depth, mystery and maverick genius. But could it be the profundity they want – we all want – is just a dazzling mirage with very little under the bonnet other than some stylized visuals and deliberately baffling plotting?
“You just didn’t get it” they’ll say. My hunch is there’s nothing much to get, and either way, it bored the life out of me. That means the joke’s on you. “You need to watch it again” they’ll say. Please, no, I respond with imploring eyes, remembering the scene where the whole cast seems to be lying about in a hotel room that seems to go on forever.
- Will Hersey
There are plenty of things to recommend Sam Mendes’ 1999 drama – Annette Bening’s meltdowns, Kevin Spacey’s surprising comic touch, Mena Suvari dancing in a cheerleader costume – but the film’s faux-poetic posturing was not one of them.
Striving but failing to be the cinematic equivilent of great American surburbia novels like Revolutionary Road or Rabbit, Run, American Beauty hit dizzying heights of pretention when Wes Bentley’s sensitive oddball teen sat weeping at the sight of a plastic bag blowing in the wind, and was nowhere near as clever as it – or the Oscar board, for that matter – thought it was.
– Sam Parker
If The Departed wasn’t directed by Martin Scorsese it would be seen for what it is – a watchable, well-intentioned, half-decent crime thriller, perfect for a Sunday night. But Marty did direct it, nicking the plot from the bargain bin section of Blockbusters, and suddenly it’s a genre masterpiece.
And it’s sad to say that Scorsese is a big part of the problem, never managing to suck you into its barely credible plot and characters.
Nicholson phones in his Batman performance from 20 years earlier leaving you puzzled as to how this crazy-eyed alcoholic would still be top dog of a slick criminal gang. Di Caprio and Damon go through the motions as the respective double agent cop and crim. Wahlberg hams it up in a bizarre cameo that many cite as the film’s highlight. Maybe it is.
Having spent the first 120 minutes watching the key players whisper and connive and play it cool, the film suddenly descends into a ludicrous A-Team-style shootout. The very last shot is of a rat scurrying along the balcony with the state house behind. For Scorsese this symbolism is media A-level stuff, but by then we’re past caring.
- Will Hersey
No film from the past ten years has more to answer for than part two of Christopher Nolan’s Batman reboot. As fine a film as it was for 2 hours – encompassing Heath Ledger’s spectacularly deranged Joker and some excellent set pieces – the other 45 minutes of portentous ruminating meant every comic book film since has had to take itself more seriously than a chess match between Marcel Proust and Immanuel Kant.
Realising there was money to be made out of comic book blockbusters masquerading as serious cinema, Hollywood has been ruining fun stories about losers with superpowers by injecting them with ‘dark themes’ and cod philosophy ever since.
– Sam Parker
The movie that convinced a generation of internet geeks they were the first people to discover metaphysics, The Matrix is a classic case of a decent action film ruined by overwrought dialogue, and a plot that borrows from so many sci-fi sources at once watching it feels like working the door at Comic-Con.
Playing Neo is generally seen as the peak of Keanu Reeves' now faltering career, though anyone with half a brain could tell you there is far more wisdom and insight to be found in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.
– Sam Parker
They look pretty, they have watchable and talented casts, they contain interesting ideas and I so want to like them. But there’s a problem with the films of Wes Anderson. They’re so smug, they make me want to cry.
And it’s a neat trick. By becoming known as a maker of claustrophobically twee films that pay scant attention to mere details like structure, characterization and dialogue, it seems you swiftly reach auteur status amongst the urban elite. Bill Murray in a bobble hat can only forgive so much. He should lend it to Wes Anderson – modern day cinema's true emperor with no clothes.
- Will Hersey
Often cited as “my absolute favourite movie” by people who collect cuddly toys and probably still support the death penalty.
Shawshank famously became a sleeper hit on DVD sales after bombing in the cinema. Because of this, it has acquired a reputation as ‘The People’s Choice’. And this just makes it even more irritating.
Fans will tell you how they’ve seen it 17 times and talk about its deeper themes that touch on hope, identity and what it is to be human.
In reality its Clinton Cards cod philosophizing is laid on so thick it’s like being waterboarded with Dairylea triangles, while its hokey and unrelenting voiceover, that punctuates the action like pins and needles, should have won Morgan Freeman a Werther’s Originals contract.
The cartoonish 1D characters – saintly, good-hearted folk who get kicked around by the cartoonish devils oppressing them and its facile depiction of prison life it makes The Wonder Years look like Angela’s Ashes.
Time drags as if you’re doing a sentence of your own. Remember this was adapted from a short story and boy does it show. And the twist? Like the film itself, it thinks it's clever but ultimately just feels like a cheap trick to distract you from how dull the previous two hours have been.
– Will Hersey