I just couldn't contain myself, so today's Friday Five is actually an Awesome Eight. Or whatever. It's Friday; my alliterative powers are a little off. Anyway, here are some popular films I think are wildly overrated (or at least inexplicably beloved) and some superior alternatives. No, I don't like Blade Runner or Breakfast at Tiffany's. I know I'm the only one, but there it is. Happy Friday!
The Period Drama: Pride and Prejudice (2004): Tumblr loves five things. Sherlock, Supernatural, Doctor Who, Hannibal… and this film. It’s everything Tumblr likes, in one over-saturated package: doe-eyed, skinny girls in long dresses, hot guys in period costume, gorgeous landscapes, and sweeping tracking shots over the aforementioned gorgeous landscapes. Gif heaven! But this film is such a terrible adaptation of the book – director Joe Wright’s commentary (reproduced slavishly by the Tumblr P&P superfans) suggests both ignorance of the source material and disdain for the time period, which begs the question: why the fuck did he make this film? If you don’t like empire waists and dudes in hats? Don’t make films set in the Regency period. Anyway, people love this stupid film, and I’d probably like it too… if it weren’t an adaptation of one of the greatest books of all time. (All that, but the worst is the bit where the screenwriter just rewrote Jane Austen’s dialogue. Jane Austen, one of the greatest writers in the English language. When Bowdler ‘cleaned up’ Shakespeare history rewarded his efforts by turning his name into an epithet. I suggest we do the same with this: Joe Wright wrighted P&P. And that’s no good thing.)
Superior alternative: North & South (2004). Smart heroine, hot guy in period costume, gorgeous landscapes and a social conscience. Also, it’s a brilliant adaptation of a brilliant book, which you should go read right now. Go. Right now. (This is not a film, I realize, so if you're going to insist that I suggest a movie alternative, let me steer you towards David Fincher's wonderful Zodiac.)
The Teen Comedy: The Breakfast Club (1985). I know, you all love this film. Y’know what? It sucks. It's trite, overblown, overwritten, and undercooked. The jock has problems! The weird girl is actually cute! The preppy girl gets with the loser guy! Detention rules! Seriously, this is one of the defining teen films of the 80s, itself the defining era of ‘ideas about American teenagers’ (as defined by people who were teens in the 50s, which explains a lot about why it's so problematic.) You guys. This movie is... just not very good. What’s its timeless message? ‘Gosh, we can all get along. We’re not so different!’ Do you remember being a teenager? How people used to say that to you, and you’d roll your eyes and think, ‘whatever, man. You don’t get me at all.’ WHATEVER, THIS FILM. YOU DON’T GET ME AT ALL.
Superior alternative: Grosse Pointe Blank (1998). High school sucks for everyone, and the only answer is to ditch your girlfriend on prom night and become an assassin. And then, ten years later, win her back.
The Romcom: When Harry Met Sally (1988): Men and women can’t be friends; sex always gets in the way. That’s the thesis of this film, which people lined up around the block to see when it came out. The film spends 90% of its run-time having its two characters – best friends Harry and Sally argue about whether or not they can be friends without also sexing, before its crashing, entirely predictable ending where they finally sex. Because they are in loooove and have been all along. Yes, full of iconic scenes. Yes, career-maker. Whatever. Still stupid, still cheesy, and still an utterly regressive, thoughtless take on the war of the sexes. (Just a thought: maybe we'd get somewhere if we stopped thinking of it - whatever it is - as a war?)
Superior alternative: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2003). Not, uh, funny as such. Honestly, I find this film totally heartbreakingly depressing. That’s probably why I like it. Nearly all relationships are probably doomed, but we keep trying, because we've got to. It’s not romantic as such, either. But there’s a grinding kind of ‘we keep going, no matter how many skies have fallen’ hopefulness to it.
The Cult Classic: Blade Runner (1984). I know, I have to turn my nerd-card in right now. To hell with me, I have no taste, what the heck, etc., etc. Seriously, you guys, this film! Sean Young is so terrible. So’s Darryl Hannah, for that matter. Rutger Hauer is fine, but ‘all these moments will be lost in time… like tears in the rain.’ Gag me with a giant spoon, Roy Batty. I know, I know: the tragedy of the human condition, ironically only felt by an inhuman replicant… it’s still an overdark, overdone mess of a film.
Superior alternative: Ed Wood (1994): You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll walk away wondering what happened to the Tim Burton who made this delicate, personal project.
The Action Film: The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Soooooo long. Soooooo dark. (I mean visually. What's even happening? Who knows? The lights are off.) Vigilantism and the 2% win out over law, order and the common man in this successful third instalment of the nine billionth reboot of the Batman franchise. Also, Batman’s batstick ungays lesbian catburglers. We all suspected as much.
Superior alternative: Die Hard (1987): the action film that started it all, in a sense (well, started one strain of action film, anyway.) Everyman hero with quick wits and bare feet takes on a fleet of German terrorists, headed by The Best Villain Ever, Hans Gruber, and wins. I mean, he gets the shit kicked out of him, too. But he kicks more shit than has shit kicked, if you get where I’m going with this. Later instalments drifted away from the things that make Die Hard so great, and action films in general seem to have taken the wrong lessons from it (Evil Europeans and Quippy Heroes instead of smart villains and vulnerable audience-surrogates), but Die Hard still feels fresh and reasonably unique 25 years later.
The Bond film: Skyfall (2012): Seriously? This film is so dumb. I have a hard time working up the head of steam necessary to really get going on how ridiculous this movie is. Why did everyone love it? It’s an film about how scary technology is in a franchise famous for its awesome technology. It’s an film about JAMES MOTHERFUCKING BOND, a dude whose background does not and has never mattered, and it’s all about his background. (Because, gosh, who doesn’t love a ‘poor little rich boy’ backstory, eh?) Skyfall takes all the interesting stuff that the Daniel Craig-era reboot brought to the franchise – like stronger, sharper female characters with actual agency – and killed ‘em all off. Spoilers: by the end of the film, the sixty-year-old status quo is re-established. Ian Flemming would be proud. THANKS, SKYFALL. Thanks for nothing.
Superior alternative: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005). This isn’t a Bond film, you’re yelling. But you Bond obsessives out there (and I absolutely number myself among you) will know that the title of Shawn Black’s 2005 cult hit comes from the 1960s Japanese name for Bond: Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. There are other parallels, too. But I’ll leave them for you to suss out.
The Kids’ Film: Cinderella (1950): But it’s a classic! Is it therefore exempt from discussion? The gender politics are appalling, (‘leave the sewin’ to the women! You go get some trimmin’!’) and Cinderella herself is such a drip. I mean, yes, there are a host of other Disney princess movies with similarly appalling gender politics. Take Sleeping Beauty: Aurora bursts into tears and stops speaking after, like, 45 minutes. And is silent for the rest of the movie. Even the parts where she isn’t asleep. (Also she has a total of nineteen lines in the entire film.) But Maleficient and the three good fairies go a little way toward balancing Sleeping Beauty's many deficiencies. And there’s the dragon. There’s no dragon in Cinderella. Just a fat cat. As a cultural artefact, Cinderella is fascinating. But as a classic film? Yikes.
Superior alternative: The Iron Giant (1999). Released to almost no fanfare, The Iron Giant has slowly developed the fantastic reputation it deserves.
The Inexplicable Favorite: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). I will never understand the out-and-out adoration people have for this film. It’s slow, it’s racist, it’s sexist and it’s ugly. When the crashing climax of a romantic film is ‘you can’t leave; you belong to me’? Call me a cab; I’m outta here. Yes, obviously, Audrey Hepburn is gorgeous. That is not enough. There are a lot of films starring gorgeous people out there. Hot actors do not get a film a pass.
Superior alternative: Harold & Maude. He’s, like, 20. She’s 79. He’s depressed, repressed, has serious mommy issues, and wants to die. She’s exuberant, enthusiastic, and knows the value of life. It’s a heavy-handed film about life and love and growing up, but it’s so deeply weird and so, so heartfelt.
What'd I get wrong? What'd I miss? Tell me what a heartless jerk I am in the comments!