There’s a scene in “Annie Hall” when Alvy and Annie are waiting in line at a movie theater. Behind them is a Columbia University film professor who obnoxiously pontificates to his date about the “lack of cohesive structure” in Fellini’s latest film, absolutely infuriating Alvy, as it would any cinephile. All of us have run into those pseudo-intellectual types who go out of their way to disparage the works of even the most genius filmmakers. But sometimes, much to our chagrin, we are those pseudo-intellectual types. This is Unpopular Opinions: Cinematic Classics.
Ali Zimmerman, Deputy Arts Editor
I guess I’m breaking the first rule, but let’s talk about “Fight Club.” I first watched this movie a couple of years ago after a good bit of convincing from a friend — I tend to avoid movies about sports, wars (with some exceptions) or fighting, because frankly I can’t be bothered to see a bunch of angry men rip each other to shreds then tell some sob story about the human spirit. Boring. But I finally decided to sit down to watch “Fight Club” and see what all the hype was about, and while the movie was certainly a roller coaster ride and in many ways defied my expectations, it was bizarre and presented a twisted, sardonic view of reality I couldn’t place. And maybe it’s just me, but if I’m going to sit through two and half hours of Hollywood hot shots getting their faces punched in, I would hope to at least have some take away. The film did manage to drag me in and keep me engaged throughout, so I’ll give it points for entertainment value. I felt bad at the start for the unnamed narrator (Edward Norton), a troubled insomniac who finds solace in attending daily support groups for conditions he doesn’t have. I was still intrigued when he met Marla (Helena Bonham Carter), a woman he begins seeing at support groups and discovers is doing the same thing as him. But the plot got slightly too bizarre when Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) entered the picture. Suddenly Norton’s sad face of distress was morphed to anger and violence when Durden encourages him to release himself through fist fighting. The film just kept escalating once the fight club spiraled out of control and transformed into an anti-capitalist terrorist organization led by the narrator and Durden. The movie unfolds with plenty of action and plot twists, but in a way that drives it almost completely off the rails. I won’t totally spoil the ending, but if the message of the movie was to point out materialism’s flaws, it’s oddly executed and lost on me. To me, “Fight Club” is little more than a strange movie with a twisted conclusion that serves as its own distraction from the big picture take-away.
Guru Ramanathan, Film & TV Editor
There are countless youth adventure movies, ranging from “The Wizard of Oz” to numerous Disney animated films, that have inspired generations of children. Yet, one movie has consistently remained on this list as years go on is Richard Donner’s “The Goonies.” But let’s take the nostalgia goggles off for a second. “The Goonies” is a mediocre adventure movie that has some decent child performances but randomly escalates to fantasy because story writer Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Chris Columbus were unsure how to thicken the plot. This movie lacks the jaw-dropping visuals of 1978’s “Superman,” the charm of “E.T.” or the magnetic child performances of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” — quintessential classics from Donner, Spielberg and Columbus respectively. The scenes are great individually, but when put together they feel like disjointed fragments and the child actors aren’t all that impressive. The movie starts off on a serious note (the kids face the foreclosure of their homes) and then they end up fighting pirates. It becomes hard to keep watching after the first hour, but thankfully the movie did launch the careers of Josh Brolin and Sean Astin who have gone on to deliver really incredible performances in films like “No Country for Old Men” and “The Lord of the Rings” franchise, respectively. If you’re looking for something fun, cute and adventurous to watch, just take a look at any of the other movies I previously mentioned.
Nicole Rosenthal, Music Editor
For some, “Forrest Gump” may be as fun and sweet as a box of chocolates. Sure, this part-U.S. history lesson and part-dramedy found a place in the hearts of families everywhere, but I think “Forrest Gump” is one of the most irritating films ever made.
“Forrest Gump” plays as a self-indulgent pat on the back to baby boomers. Centered around an average American with a low IQ who is obedient to the system, the sappy melodrama blatantly rewards those who pass through life idly. However, Jenny, who is provocative, independent and questions authority ends up with AIDS and dies. Forrest Gump as a character is boring and unrelatable, and frankly the villain was my favorite character. For a movie whose only saving grace is its soundtrack, “Forrest Gump” would have been an exponentially better film if it had been centred around Jenny.
Daniella Nichinson, Arts Editor
Okay, I cheated. It’s a near consensus that “The Shining” is a masterpiece of a film and arguably Stanley Kubrick’s most cryptic work. But when it was released in 1980, it didn’t receive outright praise. A review by the Variety Staff in “Variety” wrote, “[the] crazier Nicholson gets, the more idiotic he looks. Shelley Duvall transforms the warm sympathetic wife of the book into a simpering, semi-retarded hysteric.” If that’s not harsh enough, the film was also nominated for two Razzies (a mock celebration of the worst films every year): worst actress for Duvall and worst director for Kubrick. Pretend this is 1980 and in the wake of scathing reviews, my unpopular opinion is that “The Shining” is cinematic genius. Kubrick deviated from Stephen King’s original novel to such an extent that it seems the only common thread was the title. To King’s vexation, this allowed Kubrick to pursue a psychologically-driven and enigmatic vision that elevated the mental horror of the film. It’s filled with haunting imagery and unexplained symbols that have since left audiences scrambling for answers. The typically suave and handsome Nicholson impeccably portrays the descent into insanity and Duvall captures the inescapable fear and stress of being confined to sheer madness. “The Shining” is a picture that lures you into its mysterious realm and deceives your own sanity, forcing you to question everything that is depicted on screen.
“West Side Story”
Alex Cullina, Books & Theater Editor
Stephen Sondheim’s 1957 Broadway musical “West Side Story,” a retelling of “Romeo and Juliet” as the story of two rival teen gangs in New York City, is one of the most beloved and influential shows to ever grace the Great White Way. Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’ 1961 film adaptation surely helped the show secure that status — the film was a box office success, and cleaned up nicely at the Academy Awards, winning 11 awards out of 12 nominations, including best picture and best director. But even for someone like me who is not particularly enthusiastic about movie musicals to begin with, the film version of “West Side Story” is too much to handle. Sondheim himself wasn’t pleased with the adaptation, and his concerns — that the film merely transplants the musical to the screen instead of truly reconceiving the work for a different medium — are spot on. Compounded with lackluster performances from Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer in the lead roles of Maria and Tony, the end result falls flat. Even Rita Moreno’s iconic turn as Anita, which won her an Oscar, could not lift “West Side Story” above mediocrity for more than a song or two.
“2001: A Space Odyssey”
Ryan Mikel, Arts Editor
Yes, I am aware of how historically and aesthetically significant this 20th century space epic is. I am also aware of the influential genius that is filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. But after paying to see “2001: A Space Odyssey” twice in its remastered format at Village East Cinema, and falling asleep an hour in during subsequent screenings at home, I shamefully admit that I cannot get behind this painfully slow, self-indulgent, overrated circle jerk from Kubrick and company. Don’t get me wrong, “2001” is a visual feast, with some of the most pristine and enigmatic cinematography in the history of cinema, but the nearly-three-hour spectacle of longshots of apes and space — not apes in space — is blown out of proportion and hardly merits the myriad of analyses and interpretations from scholars, critics and filmmakers that it has received over the decades. Neon shots of Jupiter and a sassy robot, HAL 9000, are simply not that deep. And the incomprehensible ending — which I’ve never made to and have only ever read about — is essentially Kubrick yelling to the world that he values style over substance, and you can quote me on that any day.
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