because the personal is cultural
Imitation of Life (1959), directed by Douglas Sirk / written by Eleanore Griffin & Allan Scott
Du côté de la côte (1958) & Oncle Yanco (1967), directed & written by Agnès Varda
The Things I Cannot Change (1967), directed by Tanya Ballantyne
Alucarda (1978), directed by Juan López Moctezuma / written by Alexis Arroyo & Juan López Moctezuma
Miele di donna (1981), directed by Gianfranco Angelucci / written by Gianfranco Angelucci & Liliane Betti
Charades [aka Felons] (1998), directed by Stephen Eckelberry / written by Richmond Riedel & Karen Black
Bedevilled (2010), directed by Cheol-soo Jang / written by Kwang-young Choi
The Act of Killing (2012), directed by Joshua Oppenheimer / co-directed by Christine Cynn
Stories We Tell (2012), directed by Sarah Polley / written by Sarah Polley & Michael Polley
Moonlight (2016), directed by Barry Jenkins / written by Barry Jenkins & Tarell Alvin McCraney
As a critic, I’m well aware that critics are full of shit. And who can blame us? What we do isn’t a science. We are human subjectivities reacting to artistic subjectivities and trying to translate the heat of our emotions into the coldness of words. Good fucking luck. So it’s not surprising that critics sometimes miss the mark. Fortunately, here I am to set the record straight about ten instances where film critics got it wrong…
10. Final Destination 2 (2003)
Metacritic: 38 / Rotten Tomatoes: 48
Let’s face it: Final Destination is the best, most fun horror series since Scream. So in about four years, which in movie time is the equivalent of forever. The storyline is more original than most in its genre, presenting death not as a result of evil, but simply as something inevitable. Plus how many series can claim that the sequel is even better than the original, something both the critics and I agree on.
9. The Wicker Man (2006)
Metacritic: 36 / Rotten Tomatoes: 15
The original The Wicker Man is a weird British mystery that takes the piss out of English puritanism. I’m not his shrink, so I’m not sure what Neil LaBute’s issue with women is; but, for his American remake, he turns the whole premise around and The Wicker Man becomes some straight male paranoia about being the victim of women. Who knows? Maybe we’re still supposed to laugh at the male protagonist. As such, Nicholas Cage is perfectly cast as an actor overacting. The scene where he highjacks a woman’s bicycle at gunpoint is a piece of anthology.
8. Weekend at Bernie’s (1989)
Metacritic: -- / Rotten Tomatoes: 50
Weekend at Bernie’s is a brilliant black comedy about two schmucks who need to carry around the corpse of capitalism in order to stay alive (or so they think). It’s a satirical portrait of the vacuous 80s that plays like slapstick written by Bret Easton Ellis. As a dead body, Terry Kiser gives one of the most underrated comedic performances in cinema.
7. Vanilla Sky (2001)
Metacritic: 45 / Rotten Tomatoes: 41
Along with all the other unpopular opinions I’m dishing out here, might as well add one more: I think Vanilla Sky is better than the movie it is based on, Alejandro Amenábar’s Open Your Eyes. It might be one of the few instances where a bigger budget has a positive influence. It gets you from the stunning opening sequence when Tom Cruise runs through an eerily empty Times Square. In the original, after the protagonist’s car accident, Penelope Cruz’s character just comes across as an asshole, whereas in the remake she remains more satisfyingly ambiguous.
6. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)
Metacritic: 28 / Rotten Tomatoes: 61
Some suggest that the Twin Peaks prequel was unpopular because it didn’t have the humour of the TV series, as though that’s relevant. The movie has the benefit of being as unsettling as its subject matter. As a still alive Laura Palmer, Sheryl Lee gives one of the best dramatic performances ever.
5. Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)
Metacritic: 28 / Rotten Tomatoes: 45
This satire of beauty pageants is simply one of the funniest comedies of the 90s. There is a scene where the former winner is so weak from her eating disorder that she has to perform her musical number while being pushed around the stage in a wheelchair. My jaw drops just thinking about it.
4. Showgirls (1995)
Metacritic: 16 / Rotten Tomatoes: 17
I suspect that critics dislike Showgirls so profoundly because they don’t know whether to take it seriously or not, when the answer should be both. Showgirls is a candy apple with a rotten core. Another reason why I suspect people hate it is because every single character, including the protagonist, is the worst kind of human garbage. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the filmmakers save the worst fate for the only likeable character. Much like Bret Easton Ellis had with American Psycho, Showgirls draws a line between nihilism and success (the main character’s name is Naomi, i.e. “no me”). Still, it’s hard to see what’s not to like here: Elizabeth Berkley’s giving her all, clearly hoping to be the next Sharon Stone; the hilarious dance numbers look like they’re choreographed by high school girls, but performed by grown-ass naked women; “It must be weird, not having anybody cum on you” is an actual line in the movie; and Kyle MacLachlan has a convulsion-inducing penis. All in all, Showgirls is a compelling allegory of Hollywood/capitalism/America/take your pick.
3. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
Metacritic: -- / Rotten Tomatoes: 42
The sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street is widely regarded as one of the worst in the series; yet it’s the kind of movie that is utterly fascinating to watch. It is simultaneously the most homophobic and the gayest mainstream horror movie of all time. Freddy becomes a symbol for the protagonist’s latent homosexuality and our hero defeats him by kissing a girl. No shit. It’s like watching a horror flick written by a born again Christian. Plus it’s refreshing to see shirtless men in a slasher instead of women for once.
2. The Rules of Attraction (2002)
Metacritic: 50 / Rotten Tomatoes: 43
Out of all the movies based on his novels, Bret Easton Ellis considers The Rules of Attraction to be the best. Yes, even better than American Psycho. From its compelling opening sequence that plays in reverse, The Rules of Attraction avoids the usual downfalls of adaptations and becomes downright cinematic. Screenwriter/director Roger Avary keeps the characters’ bleak sense that nothing they do matters, yet manages to derive some unexpected meaning from their antics. That’s no easy feat when you consider the author of the source material.
1. Nowhere (1997)
Metacritic: -- / Rotten Tomatoes: 27
Out of all his movies, Gregg Araki’s Nowhere has the lowest rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet I personally think it’s his best. Not surprisingly, critics prefer what is probably his most conventional one, Mysterious Skin (though it's great too). However, Nowhere is the quintessential portrait of the 90s, with a generation that thinks the end of the world is imminent and ineffectively deals with it by fucking. Despite being ridiculously over the top, its ending is one of the most depressing of any movie out there.
Are there any movies trashed by critics that you think are actually good?
I stopped going to the movies around the same time I finished my master in film studies. It’s probably because 1) I’m poor and 2) I’d rather spend what little money I have on live performance. I saw fewer movies released in 2013 than I have from any other year since 1951. But I still saw quite a few on video and here are the ones that had the biggest impact on me.
Life in a Day, Kevin Macdonald (2011)
Carnival of Souls, Herk Harvey (1962)
The Trip, Roger Corman (1967)
Cruising, William Friedkin (1980)
Commando, Mark L. Lester (1985)
Samsara, Ron Fricke (2011)
Children of the Damned, Anton M. Leader (1963)
Village of the Damned, Wolf Rilla (1960)
Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn (2011)
Reality Bites, Ben Stiller (1994)
Weekend, Andrew Haigh (2011)
Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine (2012)
has an MA in Film Studies and works in contemporary dance. His fiction has appeared in Headlight Anthology, Cactus Heart, and Birkensnake.