Posted tagged ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’

Decade in Review – 10 Most Overrated Films of the Aughts

December 26, 2009

It’s that time of the year when all of the “Best/Worst of” lists start to appear and, of course, this year we get the “Best/Worst of the Decade” lists.  Usually, these appear in the format of “10 Best” and “5 Worst,” but, here at The Movie Hater’s Movie Blog I like to focus on my disdain, so I’m flipping it around.

So I’ll start with my “10 Worst” list.  Actually, this first list isn’t about the “10 Worst Films of the Decade” so much as the “10 Most Over-rated Films of the Decade.”  These are movies that achieved high levels of critical acclaim, box-office success, or Academy Award attention, but that didn’t deserve any of it.  I didn’t rank the films in order of their overall awfulness but, instead, ranked them by the gap between the level of adoration for the film and my level of derision.  So, while Slumdog Millionaire is a better movie than Transformers (though just barely), it still ranks #1 on my list because Transformers didn’t achieve quite the same widespread celebration that Slumdog did.

But enough with the explanations – here is the list:

#10.  The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005)

 

I had heard so much about this movie before I saw it that I couldn’t wait to join the “in” crowd who had seen and loved it.  Turns out, this was a mildly amusing comedy, not the groundbreaking, side-splitting romp that everyone made it out to be.  By the end, I just kept thinking, “okay, I get it, he’s forty and he hasn’t had sex – what else you got?”  The answer, unfortunately, was “not much.”

#9.  Transformers (2007)

Sure, critics were pretty harsh towards this movie and, for once, they got it right (although this one was kind of a no-brainer), but the box-office draw was astounding – and unexplainable.  This movie exemplifies two of the reasons I hate movies – I had very low expectations, and yet it still managed to disappoint.  I expected nothing more than cool scenes of giant robots fighting and transforming with a loose plot holding it together.  Instead, I saw frantic, unintelligible action scenes that didn’t make creative use of the robots ability to transform, and really no plot to speak of.  I left assuming that this movie would be a Van Helsing sized flop but instead it turned into one of the top grossing franchises of the decade.

#8.  Avatar (2009)

This one slipped in right under the wire – too bad for the aughts.  Avatar wanted so badly to be an imaginative epic that would change the way films were made.  Instead, it rehashed a bunch of racist stereotypes from the 18th century, wrapped them up in a CGI Smurf suit, put them through a bunch of clichéd blockbuster narratives, and took three hours to do it to boot.

#7.  Gladiator (2000)

The winner of the decade’s Award for Most Undeserving Academy Award goes to Gladiator.  The whole thing is just a cheap knockoff of Braveheart.  While Braveheart’s battle scenes succeeded in creating excitement through jarring depictions of war’s brutality, Gladiator tried to create excitement through choppy camera work and frantic editing.  While Breaveheart told a moving story of a man who channels his love of his wife into fighting for his country’s freedom, Gladiator used a screaming Russell Crowe to tell a clichéd story of a man seeking revenge.  I could have rented Braveheart, saved a trip to the theater, and had a better time.

#6.  Crash (2004)

This was easily the most heavy-handed, contrived, and poorly made film to ever win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.  I have my theories about why it won, but, regardless, it was undeserving.  The plot lines were manipulative and yet completely predictable, the comments on race felt like they were coming from a college freshman who’s just seen Roots for the first time, and the editing felt like a chaffing two hours of filmic masturbation.

#5.  O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

I, of course, have my on-going issues with the Coen Brothers, but the bottom line here is that Homer told this story way better.  I can only assume that the legions of fans either never read the original, blindly allow the Coen Brothers to dictate to them what clever film-making is, and/or love bluegrass music.  None of those things applies to me, so I reacted to the movie with what it deserves – a great big “EH.”

#4. Pirates of the Caribbean – Trilogy (2003, 2006, 2007)

If you ever want to get trashed one afternoon, watch the first Pirates movie and take a drink every time there’s an underwater shot showing someone falling from a boat into the ocean.  If you ever don’t want to get trashed one afternoon, take a drink every time Pirates 2 takes a break from elaborate action sequences to actually offer some plot and/or character development.  If you want to watch Pirates 3 one afternoon, make sure you get trashed first.  How these movies became one of the biggest franchises of the decade, and how the first film even garnered critical acclaim, is beyond me.

#3.  Napolean Dynamite (2004)

Before I got around to seeing this movie I often heard its fans reciting various lines from the film and would inevitably think to myself, “I don’t understand why that’s funny but, I haven’t seen the film, so I’m not in on the joke.”  Then I saw the film.  I still don’t understand why it’s funny.  I chuckled briefly a couple of times, but that doesn’t even come close to warranting the kind of cultish devotion that this film ended up achieving.

#2.  The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

As I’ve said before, Wes Anderson puts me in mind of a line from the Simpsons: “the whole thing smacks of effort.”  Anderson’s audacity as a filmmaker works when his characters follow suit (as in Rushmore and Fantastic Mr. Fox), but the painstaking earnestness of his style just felt jarringly out of whack with the detached, morose insincerity that drives the narrative of the this film and its characters.

#1.  Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Sometimes it feels like I’m the only person in the world who doesn’t like this movie.  Sure, the kids were cute and their Dickensian struggle was charming, but then they grew into bad actors with no chemistry.  Meanwhile the central contrivance of the whole film (the game show) was, well, contrived.  The best thing I can say about the film is that it makes abject poverty cute.  How that translates into an Academy Award for Best Picture is beyond me.

So that’s that.  In my next post, I’ll try to enter the unfamiliar territory of positivity by giving my five favorite films of the decade.

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Fantastic Mr. Fox – Review

December 12, 2009

Remember, I generally hate movies.

That being said, I actually quite enjoyed Fantastic Mr. Fox.  I’m not sure that it’s as “groundbreaking” as some are claiming, but in the end I came away happy to have seen it.  After watching Disney butcher such Dr. Seuss classics as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Cat in the Hat, and Horton Hears a Who, it’s great to see two successful film adaptations of “children’s” literature in one year (the other, of course, being Spike Jonze’s brilliant adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are).

That I liked Fantastic Mr. Fox was surprising because my track record with Wes Anderson is almost as bad as my track record with the Coen Brothers.  I liked (didn’t love, but liked) Rushmore, didn’t like The Royal Tenenbaums, and absolutely detested A Life Aquatic – seriously, it was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.

One of the problems I have with Wes Anderson films is his insistence on and obsession with style.  It’s not that I mind stylized film making, but style alone isn’t enough to make me enjoy a film.  For Anderson, though, it seems that style is the top priority – that the characters and the narrative are there only as an excuse to execute a specific visual style.  I find this tedious and uninteresting because, as a Simpsons character whose name I don’t know once said: “the whole thing smacks of effort.”

But that effort worked in Fantastic Mr. Fox, in large part because it uses stop-motion animation – a technique that already wears its effort on its sleeve.  As a viewer, the slight jerkiness of the motion on screen acts as a constant reminder of the artificiality of what we’re seeing – something that a stylish director like Anderson takes full advantage of.  In fact, one of the strengths of the film is the way that Anderson manages to match form to content.

After all, one of the liberties that the film takes with Dahl’s book is to use Mr. Fox’s plight to comment on the increasing artificiality of our world.  At one point, Mr. Fox tears into his dinner with all of the recklessness and fervor of a wild animal (which, of course, he is).  His motions are so fast that the stop-motion animation can’t keep up – the artificiality of the film-making is unable to contain the wildness of Mr. Fox.  But as the story progresses (warning – a few mild spoilers follow), Mr. Fox starts to realize the negative consequences of his wildness and his eventual ability to outwit his nemeses, Boggis, Bunce, and Bean stems from his gradual assimilation into their comfortable, civilized (but less exciting) world.  While this brings with it a palpable sense of loss, Fox’s dance with his family at the end – a dance that seems in perfect step with the 12 frames-per-second of the animation – reflects his acceptance of his new lifestyle and, at the same time, justifies the explicit stylization that bogs down most of Anderson’s other films.

All of this being said, the film is far from perfect.  As I already mentioned, Anderson does take some substantial liberties with his source material on both a narrative and thematic level.  While that isn’t an inherently bad thing, sometimes the deviations felt less original than the parts that followed the book more closely.

The second half of the film begins to rely less on Dahl’s brilliant storytelling and more on some of the conventions of contemporary animation, especially in its raucous final action sequence. By entering into these conventions, Anderson is placing himself in competition with other, more experienced animation teams, especially Pixar – a company that has found a formula for fast paced final action sequences that eludes Anderson.  Instead of a tight blending of action and story, a lot of the last half of Mr. Fox made me feel as though I was watching a kid who had lost track of the story he was trying to tell and was instead just having fun with his toys.  There’s a certain joy to be had in this, but it still weakened the overall impact of what starts off as a very original and compelling re-interpretation of a very original and compelling book.

The result is a film that is never boring (and I’m easily bored), and, at times, is deeply interesting.  Some Roald Dahl fans will hate it for the liberties it takes (after all, the film’s grudging endorsement of modern civilization is almost directly contrary to Dahl’s celebration of Mr. Fox’s refusal to be tamed), but others (like myself) will admire the way Anderson’s version of the story engages the spirit of Dahl’s overall literary daring even if he doesn’t stick to the spirit of this particular book.  In its best moments, Fantastic Mr. Fox shows us that stop-motion animation can do things that computer animation simply cannot, but at others it made me painfully aware of stop-motion’s limitations in the digital age.

Most strikingly, though, the film demonstrates that Anderson’s investment in style doesn’t have to overwhelm the other aspects of his film-making.  Maybe if it had been in stop-motion animation, The Royal Tenenbaums would have been more interesting.  I’m not sure anything could save A Life Aquatic.