Alone: when you hate a movie everyone else seems to love

Posted by · 11:16 am · September 2nd, 2008

Miramax Films\' The English PatientIn 1996 I remember sitting in a packed screening room watching “The English Patient”; it was close to the end when Ralph Fiennes leaves Kristin Scott-Thomas in the cave, promising to come back, never to return, leaving her (through no fault of his own) to perish.

I couldn’t help thinking at the time: “For fuck’s sake woman, DIE so we can all go home.”  I hated the film — hated it, hated it, hated it — and yet the reviewes were pretty much raves.  Of course the damned thing won nine Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director. I did not believe the love connection between the leads (there was no heat) nor that anyone, quite frankly, could fall for an ice queen like Scott-Thomas, much less risk their life for her.

And yet all around me was this avalanche of praise.  Even the person I did a TV show with named the film the best of the year.  I went with “Trainspotting.”  “The English Patient” was being hailed as this great historical epic while I championed “The Crucible,” which Fox fumbled in releasing, and as the critic who disliked the film, I looked very silly.

I admire the craftsmanship with which Anthony Mingehlla made his film, but I think he surpassed it with “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and the wonderful “Cold Mountain.”  And of course “The Englsih Patient” was not the first critically acclaimed film I disliked, nor will it be the last, but it does put one in an odd position. You second guess yourself (sometimes) and wonder if you missed something along the way.

Among the other heavily-lauded films that missed this boat were “From Here to Eternity,” a sadly over-appreciated soap opera set against the backdrop of Pearl Harbor and the days leading up to December 7.

I did not care for “Chariots of Fire” (at all) and stand by my opinion that “Gandhi” was grossly overrated. A great Ben Kingsley performance does not a great film make.

“The Last Emperor,” though beautiful to look at at, left me curiously unmoved. Yes, Vittorio Storaro’s images were divine, but I do not go to the movies to look at postcards.

I remember seeing “Chicago” for the first time and being entirely unimpressed by the film as a whole, liking aspects of it and listening to the praise of other critics as I left the screening, knowing I was going to be among the minority of those who was not bowled over by the film. The same thing happened when I saw “Crash” for the first time, some stuning moments, but is it a great film? I did not think so, but some people certainly did.

And hey, if we want to reach further back let’s go there. I know why “Citizen Kane” is considered the greatest film of all time, and I get that, but I disagree. In my opinion other films have surpassed “Kane” and it is now for me the most innovative film of all time. I fail to see why people fall over themselves searching for superlatives to describe the work…brilliant yes, the most brilliant?? Nope, not for this critic.

And please do not even get me started on Laurence Olivier’s “Hamlet,” potentially the most over-praised film of the 1940s.  You want great “Hamlet” watch Kenneth Branagh’s magnificent work.

Do these opinions get me in hot water from time to time?  Sure.  But we all have them and I love provoking the discussion so tell me, what films to you feel are over-appreciated, over-praised, left you cold?




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34 responses so far

  • 1 9-02-2008 at 11:31 am

    Bing147 said...

    I’m with you on more than a few of these, particularly the Last Emperor, the English Patient, Chariots of Fire, Chicago and Hamlet. Have to disagree on From Here to Eternity though and though its no masterpiece I probably like Crash a bit more than you. Citizen Kane is up there, top 20 at least. I’ll also champion Mr Ripley over English Patient any day, though I find Cold Mountain only slightly better and also pretty poor, its much better when only one of the couple are on screen because I find them to have less heat than even Fiennes/Scott Thomas.

  • 2 9-02-2008 at 11:34 am

    M.Harris said...

    I sort of felt that way with “A Beautiful Mind”,although I didn’t hate it I just found it to be an okay film,(even though I’m a big fan of Crowe )not a great one.But like they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  • 3 9-02-2008 at 11:36 am

    Martin Edwards said...

    I’ve felt the same way about “Citizen Kane” for a long time. I get WHY it’s lauded as the best ever, but I personally just don’t respond to it with quite as much enthusiasm.

    This isn’t a movie that I hate, I actually really like it, but one that people seem to praise to no end is “The Shawshank Redemption.” It’s hardly one of the best movies of all time, like I’ve heard people say ad nauseam. It’s been praised so much I find myself arguing why I dislike it more often than why I like it because I just can’t see what makes it that FANTASTIC!!!

  • 4 9-02-2008 at 11:53 am

    M.Harris said...

    I do agree with you on “Crash” I saw it before all the praise came out for it,I thought that it was a good soild movie but not worty of all the praise it received.I would recomend it though on the subject matter alone but I think that Spike Lee’s ‘Do The Right Thing” was a better movie dealing with similiar subject matter.

  • 5 9-02-2008 at 12:11 pm

    Casey said...

    I agree with nearly evry film you mentioned John expect for From Here to Eternity. What can I say I like every cast member and it did affect me but I see where you’re coming from. Love Citizen Kane but I’ll agree with the “most innovative” being a better tag. Hated English Patient, love both Trainspotting and The Crucible.
    Titanic. what can I say about thee? Titanic, imo, is the single most over-rated film ever. and I know it isn’t aging well so this may not be original. but talk about a soap opera. Winslet giving the weakest performance of her career to my viewing (I love her.) Leo wasn’t great. the writing was amateur at best. the special effects went way too far in my opinion. the only tolerable members of the ridiculously huge ensemble for me were Victor Garber, Billy Zane, and Kathy Bates in a small role.
    also hated Dreamgirls a lot. useless movie. only component of that movie that was passable was eddie murphy. and he was still nowhere near nomination territory in my mind

  • 6 9-02-2008 at 12:35 pm

    noveltyhat said...

    the most recent film this happened to me with was Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. i thought it was one of least-inspired, most crudely written things i’d seen in a while. i can only agree that psh gave a great performance.

  • 7 9-02-2008 at 1:16 pm

    Chad said...

    It would be much shorter and easier to list the films I did like that the Academy and most critics embrace. Just in the last two years I had major problems with Be Kind Rewind, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Gone Baby Gone, Hot Fuzz, Persepolis, The Savages, Snow Angels, Son of Rambow and Young@Heart.

  • 8 9-02-2008 at 2:19 pm

    Jack said...

    I completely agree with you on The English Patient and Chicago…two of the most overrated best picture winners in recent memory for me. Although I don’t think Crash deserved its Best Picture (that belongs to the unnominated Pride and Prejudice) I do think it’s one of that years best films.

  • 9 9-02-2008 at 2:53 pm

    David said...

    Right there with you. The English Patient main story was cold and unmoving except for the Juliet Binoche sections. Hamlet with Olivier? Terrible. Hated Renee Zellweger in Cold Mountain. Didn’t like Chicago either…. On a more recent experience, we just saw Frozen River after lathering at the mouth raves from friends about Melissa Leo and the film, and I gotta say for my taste it left me unmoved. I appreciated everything in parts but from a distance.

  • 10 9-02-2008 at 2:55 pm

    Walter said...

    This one always gets me a concerned look from a few friends, but: I hate The Pianist. I was bored the entire time, I was not convinced by Adrien Brody’s performance, and there were more than a few times where I just kept looking at my watch, wondering if we were going to experience the entire war in real time.

  • 11 9-02-2008 at 3:09 pm

    Bryan said...

    Pride and Prejudice did indeed deserve best picture. Juno was vastly overrated and I was continually irritated by the constantly too-sharp dialogue. And since you mentioned it, Branagh’s Hamlet grates me too (I prefer Zeffirelli’s), and I think Branagh is the most overrated director working today. He’s not that good.

  • 12 9-02-2008 at 3:44 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Funny you say “The English Patient” John, because as you can see from all the previous comments, that film gets nothing but hate nowadays. It pisses me off, as I was nothing but floored and in awe the first time I saw that masterpiece. Talk about an absorbing, rich, lush, romantic, beautifully sweeping epic. One of my favorite films of all time to be sure.

    And not to be a contrarian or anything but I pretty much disagree with you on every film you mentioned. LOL.

    For me the film would be “The Piano,” an ugly, borderline misogynistic film that brought me absolutely no joy watching. I found that a dull and completely lifeless excursion that’s way BEYOND overpraised. It has somehow managed to fool everyone, and outside of the lead performance and some techs I just majorly DISLIKE that garbage.

  • 13 9-02-2008 at 3:53 pm

    Björn said...

    I think The English Patient is a brilliant, layered and intelligent piece of art. And I think Kristin Scott-Thomas’ performance is one of the most engaging I’ve seen on screen. But if tastes we’re all the same, no one would have the fun of discussing them.

    Crash! Now there’s a blatant piece of pooh. It has LEARNING MOMENT! smeared all over it and the film’s point is common knowledge. Not that there aren’t any lovely scenes, it’s just a way too obvious piece of work.

    By the way, Rain Man?
    Uehh…

  • 14 9-02-2008 at 4:04 pm

    John K said...

    God, I hate “The Royal Tenenbaums.”

  • 15 9-02-2008 at 5:25 pm

    Adrianna said...

    Every time I think I’ve learned my lesson to keep my mouth shut about popular/acclaimed movies I CANNOT stand, I slip up and mention one. I always, always regret it. There’s always someone I respect who LOVES the movie. Even when I think enough time has passed, nope, it’s someone’s favorite of all time.

  • 16 9-02-2008 at 6:41 pm

    Aaron said...

    I can’t say for sure about The English Patient…I didn’t sit all the way through it, so maybe that’s a sign it was bad haha….but i disagree about Chicago. I LOVED that movie! I saw it twice in theatres!

    Citizen Kane is a great film, but I firmly agree that is one of the most overrated films of all time. Yes, like you said, I can see why it’s praised and admired so much, but it still isn’t the greatest film ever made. I’d take any of the Godfathers over CK.

    I’ll go further in saying that Crash is one of the most overrated movies ever—ALL the nominees for best picture that year were absurdly overpraised. Capote??? OMG, I felt like slitting my wrists by the end of it. I felt Philip Seymour Hoffman, a great actor, gave a good impersonation of Truman Capote but he had no emotional and/or personal connection to the script.And Catherine Keener—don’t get me started on her Supporting Actress nomination. A waste of a nomination slot if there ever was! Good Night, and Good Luck? It was probably the best out of the five, but still, it probably wouldn’t have made my top ten films of the year. Munich? Although it asked some serious questions about revenge and dedication, it was entirely muddled and unfocused. Brokeback Mountain? It’s a beautiful film, gorgeous scenery, fine performances…but that was about it (it was a cultural milestone though)

    What happened to King Kong, Walk the Line, Match Point, or A History of Violence? Those were GREAT films that year!

  • 17 9-02-2008 at 6:46 pm

    Aaron said...

    O, I forgot to mention my most hated film of all time that I am still shocked to this day why everyone liked it so much…

    Lost in Translation

    I sat through the whole movie waiting for the actors to open their mouths and actually speak! I even tried watching it a second time to give it another chance and I ended up falling asleep! I remember some film critic (condescendingly) commenting that those who didn’t like Lost in Translation were indirectly saying something about themselves…aka they’re STUPID. That really pissed me off…

  • 18 9-02-2008 at 7:09 pm

    Speaking English said...

    No… what that film critic was saying was that not liking the movie says more about YOU than it does about the movie at hand. And that’s absolutely true. It’s not meant to be an insult, it’s just… the truth.

  • 19 9-02-2008 at 7:17 pm

    Roman said...

    I have a theory about why some people dislike “Crash”. It mostly has to do with those people being dolts…

    Oh and I loved “Lost in Translation” so much I saw it in the theaters four times.

  • 20 9-02-2008 at 7:21 pm

    Anonymous said...

    The Godfather, nuff said.

  • 21 9-02-2008 at 8:16 pm

    kate said...

    Mine is that utterly pretentious bore known as American Beauty. And Crash is Sesame Street for adults. The writing is so laughable.

  • 22 9-02-2008 at 11:55 pm

    Matthew Lucas said...

    For me it’s BEN HUR, which I’ve always found to be hokey and overwrought. The chariot race sequence is brilliant of course, but I find the rest of the film laborious and ham-handed.

  • 23 9-02-2008 at 11:59 pm

    Matthew Lucas said...

    @ Martin – I definitely agree about THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. It’s a good film but I’ve always found the praise people heap upon it to be overkill. I prefer THE GREEN MILE.

    @ Speaking English – I couldn’t agree more about THE PIANO. I hate that film, I can’t believe that some trumpeted it over SCHINDLER’S LIST in 1993.

  • 24 9-03-2008 at 12:55 am

    Sound Designer Dan said...

    “I couldn’t help thinking at the time: “For fuck’s sake woman, DIE so we can all go home.'”

    Isn’t that what Elaine says in the Seinfeld episode, “The English Patient”?

  • 25 9-03-2008 at 1:43 am

    Patrick said...

    I am shocked at your dismissal of ‘The English Patient’, my favourite Best Picture win of the 90s.

    I thought Kristin Scott-Thomas in particular was amazing in the film; and I, like Fiennes’ character, fell in love with her about 10 minutes after she appeared on screen. She was effervescent. One of my favourite leading actress performances.

    Last year I hated Juno, and wasn’t overly in love with No Country For Old Men. I much preferred Atonement and There Will Be Blood.

    And I know it’s not an Oscar film, but I have full unbridled hatred for Garden State, a film I consider to be actually offensive. Praise for it never ceases to amaze me.

  • 26 9-03-2008 at 2:41 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Walter, I’m right with you on The Pianist – from the artificial, creaky writing to the frankly wooden supporting cast, I was left thoroughly unmoved. It was all the more disappointing as I really expected Polanski to bring something edgier, something more raw, to the Holocaust film genre.

    On another note, I never got The Lord of the Rings films.

  • 27 9-03-2008 at 9:47 am

    mike said...

    I feel the same with with Brokeback Mountain, just don’t like the film and understand what the hoopla about it is, there are good performances but its a snoozer tome…

  • 28 9-03-2008 at 10:16 am

    Fincher said...

    I have never understood the praise of Goodfellas which I thought was boring and annoying. And Fargo…..not not funny. Another annoying masterpiece for me

    The English Patient is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen on and the characters are wonderfully written. The editing, music and cinematography along with the acting is INCREDIBLE.

  • 29 9-03-2008 at 3:08 pm

    Chad said...

    The Lives of Others and Hotel Rwanda are terrible films.

    City of God and The Departed are incomprehensibly overpraised as well.

  • 30 9-04-2008 at 8:39 am

    Carlos said...

    I am sorry to disagree about The English Patient. It´s still my favourite film of all time. It was the movie that woke me to the wonders of cinema when I was a young boy of 16 years old. It has a lavishing and wonderfully written love story, perfect cinematography and envoloping score, and above all some of the greatest performances of the last decade. Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott-Thomas and Juliette Binoche play unforgettable characters. I know it is a very long film but it needs its time to develop. When you leave the theater you feel like you´ve been punched in the stomach for life.
    The English Patient was a work of love and devotion for everyone involved, specially Minghella, a project nobody believed in.
    The only thing I suggest to everyone who hates it is to give it a second try. It happened to me a couple of times before, not being able to appreciate a movie for not being in the mood in a particular day or sometimes not being mature enough to appreciate it.

  • 31 9-04-2008 at 8:47 am

    Joel said...

    John (got it right this time!), I completely, 100% agree with you on “Chicago”. I know it’s a musical, but there were almost TOO MANY NUMBERS! There’s a line, and “Chicago” crossed it.

    As for others, I didn’t like “Atonement”.

    And…that’s all I got right now.

  • 32 9-04-2008 at 9:50 am

    Evelyn Garver said...

    I agree about THE ENGLISH PATIENT. It was also maddening in 96-97 how admiring the film became some sort of litmus test of taste and sophistication. The true classic that year was FARGO. The insufferable DANCES WITH WOLVES was also hell for me.

  • 33 12-26-2008 at 7:41 pm

    Dean Treadway said...

    Let’s face it: as fun as it is to talk about the Oscars, it’s essentially a waste of time, because usually the best film of the year is only nominated for one or two awards. So it’s no surprise that THE ENGLISH PATIENT gets the award (and 8 others), while the very best movie of 1996 BREAKING THE WAVES gets only one nod. Basically, ever since the onslaught of the Reagan era, when movies began to be permanantly fucked-up, the Oscars have been wrong, wrong, wrong. In my opinion, in the last twenty years, there have only been two Best Picture winners that were ACTUALLY the Best Pictures of that year: Clint Eastwood’s UNFORGIVEN in 1992 and Steven Spielberg’s SCHINDLER’S LIST in 1993.

    Witness:
    1988: RAIN MAN (over UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, TUCKER, or THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST?)
    1989: DRIVING MISS DAISY (over DRUGSTORE COWBOY or DO THE RIGHT THING?)
    1990: DANCES WITH WOLVES (over GOODFELLAS?)
    1991: THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (over BARTON FINK, EUROPA EUROPA or THE COMMITTMENTS?)
    1992: They got it right with UNFORGIVEN
    1993: They got it right with SCHINDLER’S LIST
    1994: FORREST GUMP (over PULP FICTION, RED, ED WOOD, and SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION?)
    1995: BRAVEHEART (over TOY STORY, BABE and LEAVING LAS VEGAS?)
    1996: THE ENGLISH PATIENT (over BREAKING THE WAVES, SLING BLADE, FARGO and TRAINSPOTTING?)
    1997: TITANIC (over THE SWEET HEREAFTER and L.A CONFIDENTIAL?)

    and on and on it goes up until today. The best movie of 2007? THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES. Number of noms: 2. Best of 2008? THE FALL. Number of noms likely: 3 (if its lucky!). The Oscars are very much more about what they get wrong these days than what they get right.

    This stands in stark contrast to their standing in the Golden Era of the 1970s. Out of that decades winners PATTON, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, THE GODFATHER, THE STING, THE GODFATHER PART II, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, ROCKY, ANNIE HALL, THE DEER HUNTER, and KRAMER VS. KRAMER, five titles (GF, GF II, CUCKOO, ANNIE, and DEER) were indeed the best movies of their years, and with three others (KRAMER, FRENCH and THE STING) they were at least the second or third best movies of their respective years. Only the selection of PATTON is a downright terrible one. And ROCKY certainly deserves to be among the nominated top five–but to win against ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, TAXI DRIVER, BOUND FOR GLORY and NETWORK? No way.

    The fact is that movies are getting worse and worse, so they’re finding it harder and harder to solidify concencuses among their viewers, who are desperate, desperate, desperate to love anything!

    That said, the wonderful thing about movies is that they can spark debate. I like this but you don’t? You like this but I don’t? Hey! It’s democracy in action!

  • 34 12-26-2008 at 7:59 pm

    Dean Treadway said...

    By the way, in response to the critic who said not like LOST IN TRANSLATION (which I DO like) says more about you than it does the movie…well, duh. Saying whether you like or dislike something ALWAYS says something about you (particularly if you can articulate WHY you like or dislike it, which most people can’t).