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My McArdle bad-movies list

See here for terms (and other nominees).

Worst well-regarded film: Psycho
Everybody talks about the shower scene; no one ever talks about the Encyclopedia Britannica Educational Filmstrips Inc. bit at the end where the psychiatrist spends about ten minutes explaining What We've Just Witnessed. Bears a superficial resemblance to real case histories of serial killers, but is in thrall to psychiatric notions since consigned to history's scrap heap. Ruined Janet Leigh's acting career, and inaugurated Hitchcock's rapid descent into torture pornography. What's up with the detour in the middle with Martin Balsam's character?

Most overhyped film: Citizen Kane
The pioneering work of the "tidy psychological explanations" school of filmmaking. A piece of nose-thumbing playground satire that opened technical doors someone else would have gotten around to soon enough.

Worst film to win a Best Picture Oscar: Kramer vs. Kramer
Contains, and exemplifies, the dirty little secret of the Baby Boomers: they despise and resent their own children because they believe history should have ground to a halt with them still at the centre of the universe.

Most disappointing film: Barton Fink
What's next in this mathematical series: Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing...? You say it's a Dada horror/comedy about Clifford Odets? C'mon, you have to be shittin' me. (Would be less disappointing now, simply because we've since learned that the Coen Brothers have to work this stuff out of their conjoined systems every so often and if we're patient they'll eventually deliver with a Fargo.)

Worst movie: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Worst movie with good direction: Aronofsky's π (haven't seen The Fountain but it sounds like it would take this cake pretty easily)
Biggest unknown treasure: Quick Change (1990)

(þ: BoA)


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Comments (19)

You're right about The Fountain - it's absolutely horrendous. A messy amalgam of pretension and gimmickry with nothing actually interesting to say. And it's all drenched in maudlin sentimentality.

Im glad you brought up Lynch as well. He's consistently awful.


Where is the commentary about the Twin Peaks movie? It can't be that bad, right? It's not like after seeing the movie you nearly physically assaulted someone who said they didn't hate it.

Consistently awful?

It's not like after seeing the movie you nearly physically assaulted someone who said they didn't hate it.

I think my mistake was not just going ahead and turning into the Incredible Hulk in the theatre, while the movie was still running.

Nose-thumbing is no substitute for understanding, Colby. And you have completely misunderstood Citizen Kane. The "tidy psychological explanations" offered by those who knew Kane are unavailing because other people are ultimately unknowable. This is the point of the film.
You are, however, right about Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

I am guilty of getting slightly more glib about Citizen Kane every time I refer to it. But on your logic, isn't the conclusion of the film, in which the viewer is actually let in on the ultimate secret, a negation of the rest?

Rosebud is more of a MacGuffin than anything else. Yes, Kane was wounded by his childhood, but then who isn't? Citizen Kane purports to be a mystery story, but the payoff is that Kane is a sphinx without a secret. If we presume that a sled is the key to unlocking his character, then we are no more wise than all the others who claimed to "know" him. The film deliberately suggests such a facile solution, but that is its genius.

Crid [cridcridatgmail]:

Quibbling: The Coens paid off with Lebowski, not Fargo, and all the rest are rot. (Leigh as Hepburn in Hudsucker was fun to watch, though... The surrounding actors could in no sense keep up with her)


I just popped in to take a stand against A History of Violence wherein an otherwise promising film is utterly and unforgivably bootfucked by nauseating dialogue and attendant overacting.

Half Canadian:

I just want to say that the time I spent watching "The Fountain" was, from my perception, longer than the time I spent in junior high getting gaunch pulls and shoulder bruises for 3 years.

Yes, it was that bad.

Sean Phelan:

I've never seen Kramer vs. Kramer, but the worst movie ever to win Best Picture HAS to be "A Beautiful Mind".

The Coen Bros made two duds. Barton Fink and The Man Who Wasn't There. The rest are all American classics.


It's refreshing to hear someone give an objective commentary on Citizen Kane. Students of film have an unreasoning worship of that movie driven into their heads from the earliest stages of their education, and the way that each successive generation reads more into it than is actually there has always struck me as more than a little irritating.

Mind you, my favorite movie is Stephen Spielburg's Duel. ;p


I enjoyed these comments and those at Megan McCardle's place; a treasure trove of cinematic memories and tips. I was surprised and rather gratified by how many of the unknown treasures I'd managed to see.

For my money, the worst well-regarded film has to be Mon Oncle Antoine. Unmitigated crap, praised only out of craven political correctness.

Most overhyped: Monty Python's Meaning of Life. Not by any means a bad film, but nowhere near great or even memorable, and far below their standards. (Of course, this assessment is on world-wide reputation. In Canada, Mon Oncle Antoine takes the cake. Frequently praised as the greatest ever Canadian film, a view which is justifiable only if you've never seen another Canadian film, and really only if you've never seen another film, period.)

It's a contender for most disappointing, but I'd go with Howard the Duck. I actually kind of liked it, which will call my judgment into question, but I think we can all agree that it really could and should have been great, and wasn't.

If it's possible to make a worse film than Plan 9 From Outer Space, I'm happier not knowing about it.

I'm not sure if this counts as a bad film with good direction, or rather as a film which is vastly better than it has any conceivable right to be in the circumstances, but there's a horror film called "The Keep" (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085780/)
which was rather obviously conceived, produced and marketed as abject exploitative rubbish, and yet is remarkably watchable and gets surprisingly close to worthwhile for extended periods. It may be disqualified for having more going for it than just good direction, notably a memorable score by Tangerine Dream.

Unknown treasures? There are so many. I once saw a double bill of "The Missouri Breaks" and "Smile", which I've treasured as the best double bill I've ever seen. Although they're very different films they have thematic similarities which complement and seem to illuminate each other. I'm not sure either film would be as impressive seen for the first time on its own, and I'm inclined to think not, because neither was particularly successful, but "Smile" does have a bit of a reputation. And "Paperback Hero" is the best film ever made in Saskatchewan, but more to the point, it's actually pretty good.

For my money, the worst well-regarded film has to be Mon Oncle Antoine. Unmitigated crap, praised only out of craven political correctness.

I enjoyed it. In the sense that, if the opportunity came along at the right time, I would happily watch it again.

Technically it's really excellent and the feel is very natural. BUT the movie is not generally seen in Quebec as Jutra's best, that is true.

Garth Wood:

My vote?

Picnic at Hanging Rock.  Yes, yes, I've read the reviews, yes, I get all the psycho-babble about it.  It was, and remains, the only film I ever walked out of the theatre thinking to myself, "Seriously, WTF?"

And I've seen some very strange films in the last 40 years or so...

Worst Well-Regarded Film : The Matrix. I thought it was silly, pretentious twaddle and found the "action" boring. The fact that I hate all the characters doesn't help (the fact that I love Larry Fishburne does, and he comes close to engaging me on occasion). The fact that I was with my wife and friends was the only thing that kept me from walking out. The fact I hated it has made friends force me to rewatch it twice. Maybe I just grew up on too many cartoons, but it didn't grab me at all and I disliked it more every time. The same filmmaking techniques in a different setting (like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or even Fearless) I found captivating.

Overhyped : The first two Terminator movies. These should be better than they are, and they're not only dragged down by Schwarzenegger. I think that both of these movies drag. If we're talking about film-school "hype", can I put a word in for Taxi Driver? It's a good movie, but take away one awesomely good acting performance and you've got pretty thin gruel. Maybe it's just me, but I find the movie barely rewatchable despite De Niro's landmark.

Worst Best Picture : Around The World In Eighty Days is so thin you could watch another movie through it. I am not a fan of Braveheart, which I think is so-bad-it's-almost-good (the next generation after us will defintely do a MST3000-type parody of it) but ATWI80D deserves special citation for not even trying.

Most Disappointing : Fight Club. To my eternal discredit, I took an unconscionable amount of time to see this. It had bulked up rather large in my mind that I had not, and everyone had given me the impression that I was missing at least a minor classic. I was almost crestfallen at the retardedness of that movie, although it was pretty funny where it tried to be. Would have made a better comedy. The book was ten times worse - risible.

Don't get me wrong... Fight Club is silly, but it's not bad. It's just that I was expecting it to be so good, and then... it did nothing for me.

Special honorable mention goes to Kill Bill Vol. 1. I thought and still think that Jackie Brown is one of the best movies I had ever seen, so I did harbor high hopes and aspirations for Kill Bill. I shut it off after thirty minutes. I saw more later, but I still haven't seen the end. What a pointless crapfest. However, I can't call it most disappointing, because I kind of suspected it was going to suck even though I hoped it wouldn't... to the point where I didn't bother to see it in the theatre. It remains the worst movie in my DVD collection.

Worst Movie : I have long had a special hatred for Regarding Henry (i.e. "bad man gets shot in the head and becomes good") for what I think was a specially fucked-up moral message. But it's not really that bad, I just don't like it. Armageddon was spectacularly awful, bringing to mind nothing so much as a dogshit on a stick. But the worst is probably one of the endless string of teen movies that my teenaged niece and nephew watch, one of those Disney Channel things or something. That stuff is really, really bad.

Worst Movie With Good Direction : That is tough. Maybe the aforementioned Kill Bill Vol. 1? I remember saying to my wife "this is like folk art, only the exact polar opposite."

Unknown Treasure : I'll go with a Canadian one... Margaret's Museum, and a truly great British TV movie, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. Slightly less unknown, Project Grizzly is consistently underrated. A fantastic entertainment film.


Just to reassure you, Tybalt, our differences over Mon Oncle Antoine mean at worst that we have differing tastes; and, given your list of films, it seems more likely that you have better taste than I do. I mean, I actually did kind of like Howard the Duck, so there's obviously real limits to how seriously I can be taken on these matters. But it's all fun.


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