Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Great films, terrible reviews

Following on from my posting on worst literary reviews I've been turning my attention to what the critics have said over the years about the best movies to come to the screen. Here's a sample of some where the critics got it wrong:

Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Poster for 'Bringing up Baby'

A Howard Hawks comedy starring Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. It was a box office failure and led to some in the industry labelling Hepburn 'box office poison', but it's now regarded as a comic classic, with both film and star performances appearing regularly on '100 greatest of all time' lists.

"Mechanical, forced and full of overly obvious and off-key jokes."  (Film Weekly)

Casablanca (1942)

Romantic drama directed by Michael Curtiz, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Did pretty well though not spectacularly at the box office, but won three Oscars at the 16th Academy Awards (best picture, best director, best screenplay) and was nominated in five more. Appears more than any other film on 'best of all time' lists.

"A very mediocre film." (Umberto Eco)

"Pretty tolerable." (The New Yorker)

Psycho (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock horror starring Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins. The public loved it and it is now generally regarded as one of Hitchcock's best. The shower scene is arguably the most famous movie moment ever - most famous murder, anyway.

"Merely one of those schlocky horror television shows padded out to two hours." (Esquire)

"The experienced Hitchcock fan might reasonably expect the unreasonable... What is offered instead is merely gruesome. Little should be said of the plot... Director Hitchcock bears down too heavily on this one, and the delicate illusion of reality... becomes, instead, a spectacle of stomach-churning horror." (Time Magazine)

"There is not an abundance of subtlety... in this obviously low-budget job." (New York Times)

The film critic of The Observer, C A Lejeune, was so offended by 'Psycho' that she not only walked out but permanently resigned her job as film critic for the paper.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Peter O' Toole as T E Lawrence

Epic British film directed by David Lean and starring Peter O' Toole in the title role. Widely considered a masterpiece, it won seven of the ten Oscars it was nominated for, as well as five Golden Globes and four BAFTAs.

"Just a huge, thundering camel-opera that tends to run down rather badly as it rolls on into its third hour." (New York Times)

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966 Italian version; 1967 in English)

Spaghetti western directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood (the Good), Lee Van Cleef (the Bad) and Eli Wallach (the Ugly). Consistently popular since its release, now generally regarded as a classic. Quentin Tarintino has called it "the best-directed film every made".

"Director Leone doesn't seem to care very much, and after 161 minutes of mayhem, audiences aren't likely to either." (Time Magazine)

"Must be the most expensive, pious and repellent movie in the history of its peculiar genre."  (New York Times)

"The temptation is hereby proved irresistible to call 'The Good, The Bad and the Ugly'... 'The Bad, The Dull and the Interminable' only because it is."  (Los Angeles Times)

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Crime film directed by Arthur Penn, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. A double Oscar winner, it is regarded as a taboo-breaking landmark film and one of the first of the 'New Hollywood' era.

"Squalid shoot-'em-up for the moron trade." (Newsweek) 

New York Times critic Bosley Crowther slated the film and started a campaign against its 'brutality'. He was subsequently fired by the paper for being 'out of touch' with the public.

The Godfather Part II (1974)

American gangster film directed by Francis Ford Coppola from a script co-written with Mario Puzo. Stars include Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall and Robert De Niro. Nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won six. It's generally regarded as an artistic masterpiece, with many critics placing it equal with or superior to its acclaimed predecessor 'The Godfather'... but not this one.

"The only remarkable thing about Francis Ford Coppola's 'The Godfather, Part II' is the insistent manner in which it recalls how much better the original was. Even if 'Part II' were a lot more cohesive, revealing and exciting than it is, it probably would have run the risk of appearing to be the self-parody it now seems." (New York Times)

Taxi Driver (1976)

Poster for 'Taxi Driver'
Martin Scorsese drama starring Robert De Niro. A huge financial and critical success, it was chosen by Time as one of its 100 greatest movies of all time, which is ironic given what its film critic said on release.

"Too heavy with easy sociologizing to be truly moving. Yawningly predictable." (Time Magazine)

Apocalypse Now (1979)

American war film directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Stars include Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall. It did well at the box office and is now seen as a classic of its type, regarded as the quintessential Vietnam movie.

"While much of the footage is breathtaking, it is emotionally obtuse and intellectually empty. An especially upsetting letdown, which is not so much an epic account of a gruelling war as an incongruous, extravagant monument to artistic self-defeat." (Time Magazine)

The Shining (1980)

Psychological horror film from the Stephen King novel, directed by Stanley Kubric, starring Jack Nicholson. Martin Scorsese regarded it one of the eleven scariest horror films of all time. Despite its status now as a horror masterpiece, it was nominated for no major award at the time but nominated for two 'Razzies' as Worst Director and Worst Actress (Shelley Duvall) in the first year that anti-award was given.

"With everything to work with, they've destroyed all that was so terrifying about the Stephen King bestseller it's based on." (Variety)

"If you go to see this adaptation of Stephen King's novel expecting to see a horror movie, you will be disappointed... The setting is promising enough - an empty, isolated hotel in dead-of-winter Colorado - but Kubrick makes it warm, well-lit and devoid of threat." (Time Out)

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Poster for 'The Empire Strikes Back'
Adventure space drama, directed by Irvin Kershner. Stars include Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. One of the biggest box-office successes of all time, this episode of the 'Star Wars' series is highly regarded as perhaps the best of the franchise.

"Confession: When I went to see 'The Empire Strikes Back' I found myself glancing at my watch. The Force is with us, indeed, and a lot of it is hot air. It's a measure of my mixed feelings about 'The Empire Strikes Back' that I'm not at all sure that I undersand the plot. 'The Empire Strikes Back' is about as personal as a Christmas card from a bank."  (New York Times)

Ghostbusters (1984)

Science fiction comedy directed by Ivan Reitman and written by two of the 'ghostbuster' stars, Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis. The lead ghostbuster was Bill Murray, and the film also starred Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis. Another tremendous box office success, the film has been much acclaimed for its wit, originality and special effects. The American Film Institute placed it at 28th in its '100 Laughs' list of  film comedies. The theme song from the film was a huge worldwide hit.

"Murray's lines fall on dead air."  (New Yorker)

"Its jokes, characters and story line are as wispy as the ghosts themselves, and a good deal less substantial... Mr Murray would be even more welcome if his talents were used in the service of something genuinely witty and coherent, rather than as an end in themselves."  (New York Times)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Prison drama directed by Frank Darabont, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. It was nominated for seven Oscars, but lost out in the year of big winner 'Forrest Gump'. Regulary seen on Top 100 lists, the film was voted by BBC Radio 1 listeners in March 2011 as their favourite film of all time.

"The movie seems to last about half a life sentence... becomes incarcerated in its own labyrinthine sentimentality... 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."  (Washington Post)

The Matrix (1999)

Poster for 'The Matrix'
Science fiction action film directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski, starring Keanu Reeves. This was the first instalment in a series of lucrative movies, video games, comic books and animation.  The film won four Oscars and two BAFTAs for its brilliant effects in both sound and vision, and has been lauded by critics for its excellence within its genre.

"It's astonishing that so much money, talent, technical expertise and visual imagination can be put in the service of something so stupid." (San Francisco Chronicle)

Fight Club (1999)

Drama directed by David Fincher, starring Edward Norton, Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter. The film's apparent glorification of violence made it controversial in the way that 'Clockwork Orange' was in its time, but if became a cult classic and is now very favourably regarded. Total Film named it their 'Greatest Film of our Lifetime' in 2007.

"An outrageous mixture of brilliant technique, puerile philosophising, trenchant satire and sensory overload... Pretentious." (Newsweek)

"Conventionally gimmicky" (Time Magazine)

"By the end it has unravelled catastrophically into a strident, shallow, pretentious bore with a 'twist' ending that doesn't work. It never has the balls really to take responsibility for the nihilism, rage and despair it appears to be gesturing towards." (Guardian)

If you have any bad reviews of great films to share, or a comment about these ones, I'd love to hear from you.

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