Trashing the Classics: Harsh Reviews of Legendary Films

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I’m criticized all the time that I have awful taste in movies, which for a part-time film critic, probably isn’t the best thing to hear. But while that’s mostly based on my occasional praise of The Fast and the Furious series and the scorn that I heap on overrated fluff like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I wouldn’t go so far as these critics have.

I use a combo of IMDB and and Rotten Tomatoes to find movie critics who would go so far out on a limb as to trash movies that are universally beloved and recognized as legends of modern cinema. I look for the one or two lone reviews on RT that didn’t care for the top 5 movies of all time on IMDB (I skipped The Godfather as it had no dissenters).

Yes, the IMDB list is all fan-made, and RT is all rather pompous critics, but at least for the first hundred or so on the “best of” list, the two audiences generally line up. These critics I’ve highlighted are either idiots or very brave to go against the grain the way they did. See for yourself below:

5) Schindler’s List (1993)

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“Already as close to a canonized masterpiece as a film can get a mere ten years after its release, Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List seems to these eyes a misguided failure that aims to please where it should instead be challenging and confronting. In the opening minutes, when we watch the Polish Jews registering after the loss of the war to Germany, the camera is more concerned with the chaos and excitement of the event than the dehumanization. What should be the first in a line of intolerable acts is a snappy set piece. Close-up after close-up of people stating their names to the camera doesn’t dehumanize these people.

It does the opposite. The script demands that the Jews be humanized, though, and since this is an expository scene, it has an apparent function as entertainment to serve before it serves the people it’s portraying. It might be churlish to complain about such things, but these sins are revisited repeatedly throughout the film and come to a head in Schindler’s (or, more accurately, Liam Neeson’s) climactic speech. While it works, somewhat, as an inversion of the God complex that Schindler’s foil Amon Goethe clearly has, it is factually inaccurate, brazenly manipulative, and so capable of presenting Schindler as a saint that it allows the audience feel alright about the horrors they have witnessed over the previous three hours.”

– Jeremy Heilman, MovieMatryr.com

[Full Review]

4) Pulp Fiction (1994)

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“This fictional world, though rendered imaginatively, can’t sustain the movie. The characters undergo no changes whatsoever–which is convenient to this world’s amorality (nothing can get better or worse)–but scarcely cinematically engaging. And Tarantino (“Reservoir Dogs”) keeps repeating his effects. Time and time again, characters are taunted at gunpoint. Time and again, grisly melodrama is played against mundane chitchat–which seems to endorse violence as just another way of shooting the breeze. Time and again, the plot shifts consciously. Interspersed graphics and titles have a certain freshness, but no unifying purpose.

Like last year’s “The Piano,” this one took the Palme d’Or at Cannes. There’s some reason for this honor in the inventive camerawork: Actors are provocatively in and out of the frame, characters are introduced from behind (one with a Band-Aid the size of a two-by-four on his neck). But even these effects are repeated an nauseum. Or maybe it only seems so. When there’s nothing to want, nothing to hope for on behalf of any of the characters, not even the cleverest camera can shoot a movie worth watching.”

– Marc Vincenti, Palo Alto Weekly

[Full Review]

3) The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

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“Bad is the word for the wooden acting, and Leone’s addiction to the cramped values and stretched probabilities of the comic strip. And ugly is his insatiable appetite for beatings, disembowelings and mutilations, complete with closeups of mashed-in faces and death-rattle sound effects.

After liters of fake blood have oozed. dripped, spilled and spouted over the landscape—all three arrive at the cache at the same time. Who gets it? Director Leone doesn’t seem to care very much, and after 161 minutes of mayhem, audiences aren’t likely to either.”

– Uncredited, Time Magazine

[Full Review]

2) The Godfather Part II (1974)

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“The only remarkable thing about Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather, Part II” is the insistent manner in which it recalls how much better his original film was. Among other things, one remembers “The Godfather’s” tremendous narrative drive and the dominating presence of Marlon Brando in the title role, which, though not large, unified the film and transformed a super-gangster movie into a unique family chronicle.

It’s a second movie made largely out of the bits and pieces of Mr. Puzo’s novel that didn’t fit into the first. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster stitched together from leftover parts. It talks. It moves in fits and starts but it has no mind of its own.

The plot defies any rational synopsis, but it allows Mr. Coppola, in his role as director, to rework lots of scenes that were done far better the first time: family reunions, shoot-outs, ambushes and occasional dumb exchanges between Don Michael Corleone and his square, long-suffering wife, Kay (Diane Keaton). “Oh, Michael,” says the slow-to-take- offense Kay when Michael is about to sew up the Vegas rackets, “seven years ago you told me you’d be legitimate in five years.”

– Vincent Canby, The New York Times

[Full Review]

1) The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

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“Speaking of jail, “Shawshank”-the-movie seems to last about half a life sentence. The story, chiefly about the 20-year friendship between Freeman and Robbins, becomes incarcerated in its own labyrinthine sentimentality. It wanders down subplots at every opportunity and ignores an abundance of narrative exit points before settling on the aforementioned finale. And leave it to pandering, first-time director Frank Darabont to ensure no audience member leaves this film unsure of the ending. Heaven forbid a movie should end with a smidgen of mystery!”

-Desson Howe, The Washington Post

[Full Review]

“Darabont’s version of King’s story is gimmicky and schematic and panders to our most contrived sexual anxieties and base notions of revenge and guerrilla justice. By film’s end, the heroic Andy has not only escaped prison, but every villain has been punished.

The film’s naïve sentimentality undermines serious issues of violence, rape, manhood, and male bonding. Indeed, after the Sisters are silenced, Darabont cranks up the unilateral act of hero worship: prison goes from being “mean and scary” to, well, “cute.” Andy writes letters in order to get books into the prison library, starts doing everyone’s taxes, and wins the hearts of guards and prisoners alike. Someone should bake a pie. Oh, wait, they do!”

– Ed Gonzalez, Slant Magazine

[Full Review]

 If you liked this article and want to see me do it with other classics (Star Wars, LOTR, Indiana Jones, etc), let me know in the comments.