Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Six Most Overrated Films of 2011

6. Contagion: 
I like Contagion. I think it’s a well directed, well acted piece of studio filmmaking. But do I think it’s “a hugely gripping blockbuster?” Do I think it “offers the best thrills of 2011?” Do I think it’s “the most gut-grabbing non-zombie pandemic thriller” ever made? 


Look, there’s a lot to like in the movie. Matt Damon, Kate Winslet and Marion Cotillard are all reliably strong, and Jude Law is as slimily compelling as he’s been in a long while. But the story itself? It’s just so...routine. Nothing about the epidemic narrative is especially ambitious or surprising. Director Steven Soderbergh injects an admirable chilliness to the proceedings, but even he can’t mask the film’s familiarity. Like I said: I like Contagion. I think it’s a well constructed example of a well trodden story model. And that’s all.

5. Fast Five: 
Who would have ever thought that I would be including a film from the Fast and the Furious franchise on my overrated list? Funny how that works. Yet Five opened in late April to shockingly glowing reviews, scoring a 67 on Metacritic and an even higher 78% on Rotten Tomatoes. Not too shabby, especially for a franchise that was never exactly a critical darling.

Me? I thought it was fun enough. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a nice addition to the series, and I enjoyed a good deal of the action sequences. But unlike most, the film didn’t stick for me. Perhaps it was the predictable nature of the central heist. Maybe it was the collection of familiar but bland series characters. Whatever the case, Fast Five simply left no impression. I hold no ill will towards those who enjoyed the film–it is certainly entertaining. It simply didn’t leave me with much. 

                                                                          4. Drive: 

Okay, hold the rock-throwing for just a sec. 

I thought Drive was pretty good. I even thought, in moments, that it was great. Okay?

I love Nicholas Winding Refn’s eye for visuals. I love the way that Ryan Gosling is able to convey entire waves of emotion with a simple twitch of the eye. I love Albert Brooks’ turn as the nasty-but-apologetic crime boss Bernie. And man, did I love that opening scene. Cool doesn’t get much cooler than that.

Yet that’s about the only word that I would use to describe Drivecool. The showy visuals were window-dressing in the service of...well, window-dressing. Drive didn’t say anything, it didn’t move one emotionally. I watched it as I might view a great videogame–awed by the skill that went into its making, while ultimately unenthusiastic about anything else it might like to present. Drive has a lot of strengths as a feature, but depth isn’t one of them.
3. Martha Marcy May Marlene: 
This one threw me for a bit of a loop. I liked a lot of what first time director Sean Durkin brought to the table in terms of shots and angles here–he ably creates a world that seems to brink on the edge of a corner, with the fear of what lies around it hanging over anything. And Elizabeth Olsen is fantastic as a young woman damaged by her experiences with a cult.
And...that’s pretty much the movie. The world is creepy; Olsen is damaged. Rinse and repeat. Never does Durkin dare to dig deeper into Olsen’s wounded psyche or trauma. This lack of specificity is apparent also in the film’s Manson-like cult; by not outlining its apparently twisted philosophies, there’s not much to be afraid of, aside from their potential resurgence in Martha’s life. Martha Marcy May Marlene is an effective enough dread-machine; it’s just a shame it wasn’t more than that.
                                                                          2. Captain America: The First Avenger: 
Man, I do not get the love for this movie. Yes, it’s reasonably well directed by Joe Johnston. Yes, it’s admirably old fashioned. Yes, the action is exciting. But the character Captain America himself? A complete bore.

It’s not Chris Evan’s fault–he’s more than proved his worth in films such as Cellular, Sunshine and even the much maligned Fantastic Four entries. It’s the way that Captain America is written that’s the problem. Unlike Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne, there is absolutely nothing to Steve Rogers that is remotely distinctive or interesting, save for the fact that he’s a good ol’ boy who wants to do the right thing. How unique. I liked much of the film’s style, but ultimately it was wrapped around a character as bland as unbuttered toast. 

1. Hugo: 
Man, this one bugged me–how couldn’t I love this movie? It’s directed by Martin Scorsese; it’s adapted from a beloved children’s novel; it stars a huge cast of beloved thespians; and to top it all of, the great Robert Richardson provided the film its cinematography.

And yet, the finished product did absolutely nothing for me. Neither the characters or the story ever took hold. The film’s visuals were pretty, but oddly soulless. The themes of “everyone-has-a-place-in-the-world” are played out. And while I appreciated what Hugo had to say about film preservation, it didn’t exactly translate into riveting cinema. At the end of the day, Hugo’s widespread critical acclaim flummoxed me about as much as the movie did. What can I say, I didn’t go for it.

What were the movies that you found to be overrated this year? Feel free to comment below.


  1. I completely agree on Cap and Contagion, but for my money, movies don't get much better than Drive. The style is the emotion and the medium is the message. Great blog!

  2. Haven't seen anything other than Contagion, but completely agree with you. It was a good movie, but absolutely nothing special. So many other movies in the same vein out there and it didn't do anything to compete with them.

  3. Gotta swing to Cap's defense here. What makes Steve Rogers distinctive is that in an era where every superhero on screen comes with a requisite bundle of issues and internal conflicts, Steve is a genuinely good person trying to do the right thing. His motivations are pure and uncomplicated. Instead of having to earn the powers to become the hero, Steve is already the hero, and the powers are waiting to earn him.

    When was the last time we saw a character like this on screen? Maybe the original Superman?

    Contradiction, baggage, and darkness are great tools for building a compelling character, but they aren't the end all be all. If anything, I felt like the Cap movie proved that a steadfast, confident character can still be compelling and relatable. I still cared about his relationship with Peggy, and his desire to prove his worth on the battlefield.

    What I saw in Steve is a guy I wanted to follow. Someone I admired that I wanted to see succeed. There's nothing boring about that to me, especially in cynical times like these.

    Still love the blog, though! Really intelligent analyses and critiques. I'll keep following.

  4. 1000000% behind you on Contagion. I fell asleep three times but forced myself to go back to it and complete it but I was wholeheartedly unimpressed by the whole thing. To be honest I think Soderbergh is overrated in general.. not many people agree with me on that though.

    Drive and Martha Marcy May Marlene, I think are both quality and unique films. I really don't think it is fair to say they have little depth, as sometimes being so simple in plot/backstory etc.. lets the viewers imagination conjure up its own depth, and I think both do this extraordinarily well.

    Hugo - worst Scorsesse film, not a fan really but still a great effort.

    The rest I have not seen.

    Love the blog, Keep it up! :)