From Fight Club to The Lord of the Rings, James Oliver tears into the films you love (and offers some viable alternatives). 

Just because a film is one of the greatest movies ever made doesn’t mean it’s any good: those lists which purport to detail the best flicks of all time are stuffed with titles which are, frankly, bobbins.

Well, enough. Sometimes received wisdom must be challenged. Here are ten films much less good than their exalted reputations suggest.

Of course, all taste is subjective, so it’s likely—indeed probable—that you won’t agree. But even if this list outrages you, hopefully it also encourages you to think more deeply about these films, and why you like them. After all, what good is an opinion if we’re not able to defend it?

 

Fight Club 

Fight Club has been described as one of the great statements about modern masculinity; a film "about" young men’s anger and nihilism.

The trouble is, it does a poor job of exploring them. This is a profoundly adolescent film, one that desperately wants to be thought of as profound but lacks the necessary wisdom: its understanding of violence and the impulses that lead there (including depression) is utterly facile. This is a shallow, posturing and pretentious movie, and no amount of clever CGI trickery can disguise that.

Watch this instead:

Made for the BBC, Alan Clarke’s The Firm (1989), a story of football hooligans, is the best study ever made of the allure, and the perils, of violence (and yes, that includes Raging Bull). It leaves Fight Club metaphorically lying in the gutter, bloody and twitching.

 

 

Life Is Beautiful 

After Schindler’s List, more and more filmmakers felt emboldened to tackle the Holocaust (let us pray it wasn’t because they thought it was good box-office...)

Life is Beautiful is the very dodgiest of those movies. In it, Roberto Benigni and his son are taken to a death camp; there, the father protects his child by making it all a game.

Never mind the flights of fancy (it takes place in the cleanest, most hygienic death camp that the Nazis ever built). The problem is the relentless gooey sentimentality; there's something deplorable about staging a heartwarming comedy-drama against the industrial butchery of 6 million souls.

Watch this instead:

If you want "heart-warming", watch Shawshank again. If you want to brave the Holocaust, then Son of Saul is another film set inside the death mills about a man and his son, a somewhat less rosy vision than Benigni’s.

 

 

12 Angry Men 

To be fair, 12 Angry Men isn’t a bad film. If you haven’t seen it and it shows up on TV, give it a watch—it’s well-crafted by debutant director Sidney Lumet and performed with conviction by a cast that includes Henry Fonda and Lee J Cobb.

But to claim more for it, as those who have voted it to sixth place on the Internet Movie Database’s list of all-time greats have done, is to demand a critical spotlight be shone upon it, one under which it shrivels.

This is the very definition of "middle brow" entertainment—it raises Important-with-a-capital-I Issues (about the legal system, about prejudice), then runs away from actually dealing with them, neatly tidying things up with well-meaning platitudes. (Plus, no one even gets that angry.)

Watch this instead: 

The obvious choice is this, of course:

And once you’ve finished watching Hancock, check out Anatomy of a Murder, a film that really interrogates America’s judicial process and which also features that sainted Jimmy Stewart saying "panties".

 

 

The Matrix 

As with 12 Angry Men, The Matrix is not a bad film. It’s alright. The fights pall next to the Kung Fu flicks that inspired them, but they’re alright. The fabled "bullet time" is alright. That likeable actor Keanu Reeves is alright. Like I say, it’s alright.

The trouble is, some people take The Matrix very seriously, don’t they? While some of us saw the underlying conceit—in which what we understand as reality is revealed to be a computer simulation—as the sort of thing intoxicated students might ponder at 3am before moving on to trying to remember the theme tunes of the children’s programmes of their youth, others actually saw this as in some way profound.

This has given the film an entirely undeserved reputation for being "philosophical" which is... over-generous, to say the least; watching The Matrix for metaphysical insight is like watching Terence Malick’s movies for their kick-ass action sequences.

Watch this instead:

Doubtless Cypher only got a green light because of the success of The Matrix but it certainly shouldn’t be overshadowed by it: it’s another film about what’s real and what isn’t but far more inventive and surprising than the better-known movie; it’s only 96 minutes long but pulls the rug from under you repeatedly in that time.

 

 

The Lord of the Rings 

After 40-odd years in which literary types moaned about J R R  Tolkien’s bloated and boring books, Peter Jackson decided to give cinephiles the same opportunity.

The resultant trilogy is very grave and self-important, with brows a-furrowed and important dialogue delivered in that half-whisper that betokens extreme seriousness. It's bombastic and utterly pompous—a faithful rendering of Professor Tolkien’s work, in other words.

The worst of it is that it’s ruined Peter Jackson: the Oscar-winning Sir Peter has turned his back on the delightful horror comedies that made his name in favour of grandiose epics. This is a crying shame: there's more joy in five minutes of Braindead or The Frighteners than there is in the entire nine hours of Lord of The Rings. Or the 12-plus hours extended cuts either.

Watch this instead:

In the absence of Peter Jackson’s early work, try flimsy fantasy Hawk The Slayer. It’s not "good", exactly, but it’s tremendous fun, with hokey special effects and a nostril-flaring turn from Jack Palance as the evil villain.

 

 

The Shining 

Some call The Shining the best horror film of all time, but it’s a very crude affair, as dependent on cheap jump scares and spooky music as many cheap-jack slashers that get a fraction of the attention.

But is The Shining really a horror film? Certainly Kubrick doesn’t seem to have much faith in the genre; look at how he keeps pushing Jack Nicholson to go broader and broader and broader still. Watch the movie with a decent sized audience and it becomes clear from the laughter that Kubrick wasn’t taking it especially seriously.

...which is awkward because one of the threads of the film is family dysfunction: Nicholson’s character Jack Torrance is an abusive husband and father. That Kubrick invites us to chuckle at his final rampage is, frankly, unconscionable—domestic violence as comedy? No thanks.

Watch this instead: 

The ultimate cheap-jack slasher—The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. A much better candidate for the title "best horror film of all time".

 

 

Some Like It Hot 

Some Like It Hot is a regular feature on lists of funniest films ever made and there are many who’ll tell you it’s their favourite. All of which is bewildering for those immune to its charms.

At the risk of sounding like Mr. Spock, where’s the joke here? I’ll grant that last line is indeed a cracker but to get there you have to sit through two hours of laboured farce, much of which is predicated on the notion that men wearing women’s clothing is a source of near-boundless hilarity.

If, however, one does not think that men wearing women’s clothing is a source of boundless hilarity (even if they put balloons up their jumper and everything), one is doomed not to enjoy Some Like It Hot. It means you won’t enjoy Benny Hill either, but it’s probably heresy to point out there’s not much to choose between them.

Watch this instead:

From a year later, The Apartment was made by the same director (Billy Wilder) and has the same star (Jack Lemmon) and the only person wearing women’s clothing is Shirley MacLaine. It’s loads better.

 

 

Cinema Paradiso

Italy boasts one of the great film heritages—directors like Rossellini, Fellini, Leone, Bertolucci and major movements like Neo-Realism, the Spaghetti Western and the Giallo. Unfortunately, there's a collective national weakness for mawkish sentimentality, especially if it involves bambina.

Cinema Paradiso is the most egregious example of this, as an adorable little tyke melts the heart of gruff cinema projectionist Philippe Noiret. It's undeniably effective but so manipulative that you’ll feel dirty afterwards.

Watch this instead:

Terence Davies’ semi-autobiographical The Long Day Closes, a far better film about kids going to the pictures.

 

 

The Graduate

Few films better caught their times than The Graduate. It was immediately hailed as a landmark when it was released in 1968 and was credited not simply as a portrait of the zeitgeist but a film that would sweep away Hollywood’s old-timers, whose films had nothing to say to the hip young generation that made The Graduate such a success.

Needless to say, it doesn’t look like that today: few films have dated so visibly as The Graduate. It isn’t simply that the once innovative technique looks laboured and ineffectual; this is a glib film that’s empty at its core. The central character is a prig and Mrs. Robinson treated without consideration (it doesn’t help that Anne Bancroft, playing the definitive cougar, was only six years older than Dustin Hoffman). How quickly the flavour of the month goes off!

Watch this instead:

It’s from a different generation but Rushmore is another film about young men and older women. Obviously influenced by The Graduate, it nonetheless shows far greater insight and is altogether fresher.

 

 

Four Weddings and a Funeral 

It seems wrong to criticise Richard Curtis, such a transparently decent fellow is he. Even if he’d done nothing but his work for Comic Relief, he would be due every honour this country has to bestow. That he is also (partially) responsible for Blackadder means he is due our gratitude too.

His film work, though, is altogether less accomplished. While most of the opprobrium gets heaped on the later films, the likes of About Time or The Boat That Rocked, evidence of the rot was visible from the start. Four Weddings and a Funeral established the Curtis film-template and it’s awful: cloying and self-absorbed and devoid of the wit he evidenced in Blackadder (and even The Vicar of Dibley). Friendly advice to the writer: Rich—mate—stick to the telly...

Watch this instead:

Leprechaun 2. No, there’s no thematic connection but it was re-titled One Wedding and Lots of Funerals for the video release and it’s a good deal funnier.

 

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