Back in my younger, brasher days, Roger, I used to say that if my 10-best list could be your 10-worst and vice versa, it would be a great argument for pluralism in American movie criticism. Since then I think you’ve gotten hipper and I’ve gotten more square, but I haven’t lost my urge to piss you (and others) off. There’s no point in going after movies like Freddie Got Fingered that everyone knows are swill—oops, sorry Tony. I like to target movies that are prime awards candidates. Here are my choices for the year’s Most Overrated:
Road to Perdition. My God, what a lox. I think Sam Mendes has an enormous talent—for taking sentimental clichés, pumping them up, and passing them off as myth. I know that we’re supposed to take this movie as a parable about salvation, not Tommy guns. But it’s illogical, sketchy (the Hanks-Newman father-son relationship is referred to but never actually dramatized), and hypocritical: a by-the-numbers vigilante flick that comes with a handy anti-violence message—delivered with perfect timing, after the bad guys have been blown away.
Signs. Lots of sci-fi pictures use religion to inflate their kiddie-matinee cliffhangers, but the Shyamster is in a league by himself as a huckster. As a scare picture, it’s good enough. As a religious parable, it’s scarier: Its invaders are symbolic of what happens to people—and their children—when they become cynical unbelievers, writing off both the bad and the good as the product of chance. Shyamalan is saying that when you reject God, you kill your kids. The idea that an atheist or agnostic parent could be good parent—could instill values of skepticism and intellectual rigor—is outside this movie’s purview.
Moonlight Mile. The first three-quarters of the movie are merely creepy and shallow (a story of grief for a dead only child and a screwball romantic comedy in one!), but I could let it go as an honest misfire until the last act, in which our hero proves his courage and integrity by telling the truth about his failed relationship with his dead fiancee on the witness stand—while the girl’s mother looks on with shining eyes, her faith restored. The best thing I can say is that the writer-director probably didn’t know what he was doing.
The Hours. I’ve said my piece in Slate this week, but let me add that this is my nominee for Worst Screenplay (David Hare), Worst Score (Philip Glass), and Best Nose.
The Kid Stays in the Picture. A charming storyteller, this Robert Evans. But a delusional narcissist—and a pal of Henry Kissinger, to boot. The best thing you can say about the movie is that it’s beautifully brainless.
Auto Focus. Paul Schrader on the lethal combination of sex and home video: The story of a befuddled pipsqueak, Bob Crane, who picks up a bad habit, sinks into druggy depravity, then leaves this world with no tragic awareness, still clueless. Crane reportedly liked women and had fun with them. One of the creepiest things about this film is that the parade of females who go to bed with Crane seem more interchangeable—and more expendable—to the director than they do to the protagonist.
Adaptation. But only because you all like it so much. I repeat, I think Charlie Kaufman blew the adaptation—he couldn’t find a way into the story without adding himself. He attempts to disarm us by acknowledging this in the film. So why does it seem so very pleased with itself?
C’mon, you cowards! Have at me!