By Matt Singer | Criticwire July 16, 2012 at 10:00AM
Q: Last week, a few critics -- like New York's David Edelstein -- publicly reversed their original opinions about Kenneth Lonergan's "Margaret." This week, I invite you to issue your own critical mea culpa: what movie did you get wrong on first viewing?
The critics' answers:
"Of the many films I got wrong on my first viewing (and no, 'Margaret' was not one -- I recognized its epic deplorability from the first) two recent examples come to mind: 'The New World' and 'Inglourious Basterds.' In the case of the former, I had a problem deciphering the logic behind the montage, and in the latter I had difficulty with its cinephilic colonization of Western history. In re-seeing both, in preparing to teach each for a Film and American History course that I have taught on a couple of occasions, I gained a much better appreciation of the narrative and focalization structures of the former, and stopped worrying about the rhetorical implications of the latter."
"I don't have a tendency to change my opinions of a film: first impressions seem to leave a lasting legacy. But I was surprised when I revisited 'Hot Fuzz' recently to discover that my initial reaction to the film, which I thought was bloated and over-done, had been emphatically wrong. It's not necessarily a film of multitudes that deserves rediscovery, as was the case in critical discourse for, say, 'Blade Runner,' but it is a fine companion to the excellent (and one must say superior) 'Shaun of the Dead.' More than fine, I suppose. It's really rather great."
"My greatest retrospective rebuttal is more of a retrospective red-face: 'The Magnificent Ambersons.' Watched outside of the context of its treacherous path to the screen, and unaware of just how punishing the whole situation was for Welles I struggled with the film as it exists today upon first viewing some ten years ago. Now a staunch Wellesian, I find it difficult to look back at my initial review of a film that I quite literally didn't 'get' to use a terribly unflattering term."
"I've been putting off a second viewing of 'Super 8,' because I strongly suspect that it would repudiate my review for Tor.com, which was a little embarrassingly gushy in light of subsequent reflection and thus be my answer to this question. But, not having revisited it yet, I have to answer -- more positively -- with 'Ocean's 12.' The first time I saw it I saw the same listlessly hacky paycheck picture as its many detractors, but, weirdly, knowing how it was going to end cast the second viewing some time later in a different light. The second (and third, fourth, et cetera) time around the whole thing became a remarkably clever and subversive piece of filmmaking where the form of the movie itself was employed to pull the same kind of misdirection on the audience as Ocean et. al. pulled on their shadowy bete noire. As for the charge that it was a heist movie with no heist, it should be noted that Soderbergh and the cast got Warner Bros to give them almost a hundred million dollars to go hang out at George Clooney's house in Italy, if you want to get really meta. Essentially, it went from an immensely disappointing bit of hangover exacerbation the first time to my favorite non-'Godfather' sequel of all time the next, which is the biggest swing I've ever had."
"Pretty much any film I was told I’m supposed to like or think is brilliant in my earliest years of film school were immediately hard to enjoy. That was just my age, attitude, and ignorance of the time. These films of my freshman year include 'Citizen Kane,' 'Seven Samurai,' 'Strangers on a Train,' 'Casablanca and anything by Bergman, Ozu and anything silent that wasn’t comedy, including Griffith and Eisenstein. Some took longer to warm up to than others. Some I’m still not totally in love with, but I’ve since gained appreciation for them all. In spite of my comment last week about rarely re-watching movies, I’ll give anything another shot if urged or invited to do so. Last year, for instance, I attended the 92Y screening of Jonathan Caouette’s 'Tarnation' in spite of despising it on first viewing years ago. And, of course, I was a different person, it seemed like a different film as a result, and I came away with a whole new, positive opinion, which you can read about on Indiewire’s defunct Spout blog. My next planned film to revisit and see if I was wrong is Rian Johnson’s 'Brick,' which I hated the first time, in advance of the release of 'Looper.'"
"'The Passion of the Christ' is the film that springs to mind. I'm sure most critics have seen it just once as it's not the kind of flick that encourages repeated viewing but your own spiritual baggage, preconceptions and personal prejudices have such a strong influence over your initial reaction to the picture that I reckon reactions at the time, either positive or negative, were not as unbiased as they should be. I spent my first viewing rolling my eyes and praying for the end but a couple of years later I decided to give it another shot. Now I think it's up there amongst the greatest art-house horror films of all time."
"I flip-flopped on the David Cronenberg film 'Spider.' I suppose it was my fault that I viewed a screener at 5 in the morning, exponentially difficult considering that what's taking place shouldn't be taken for face value. We are looking not in the P.O.V, of the camera as with most movies, but through the P.O.V. of Ralph Fiennes' mentally challenged mumbler. This isn't a joy to watch, but on subsequent viewings, I came around and admired its cerebral gifts -- it's a puzzler where you deconstruct the meaning behind Fiennes' madness."
"My name is Michael Dalton... and I liked 'Spider-Man 3.' One of the first reviews I ever wrote, as an 11-year-old, was a four star rave of Sam Raimi’s final 'Spider-Man' film. However over the years I realized that my initial reaction was not shared by many. With the release of 'The Amazing Spider-Man,' I felt compelled to revisit Raimi’s original trilogy and discover whether my four star rave was a sign of my age at the time, or a reflection of how I truly felt about this much maligned film. While I still don’t find the film to be as terrible as some internet forums may proclaim, my four star rave turned into a two star rant. I wanted to maintain my four star stance, admittedly out of a childish desire to be contrary, however it appears my 11-year-old self and initial review was blind to the film’s frustrating missed opportunities. Viewed as a singular work, 'Spider-Man 3' is disposable, overly long, and convoluted; acceptable, not crushingly disappointing blockbuster fare. However when viewed as the third part of a trilogy, it becomes an unforgivable mess of wasted dramatic and thematic potential. Having lost my initial review I cannot provide the exact reasons I gave for my initial praise, however I will use that lack of evidence to brush it off as a product of my age and then-cineliterate infancy. While some may still defend 'Spider-Man 3,' I doubt anybody could stand behind my overly enthusiastic, initial review. Perhaps in five more years, when I am even more cineliterate, other candidates will emerge. Potential future critical mea culpas rest in 'The Tree of Life' and 'Toy Story 3,' both films I gave mediocre-to-poor reviews and have yet to give another day in court. Regardless of the initial review’s content however, with 'Spider-Man 3' I learned that in being a film critic, with great power... comes great responsibility."
"I got 'Shaun of the Dead' wrong on my first viewing. I enjoyed it OK initially, but didn't see it for the modern comedy classic I now know it to be. I think I didn't immediately respond to the dynamic between Shaun and Ed, and felt the film, like many comedies, sag a bit after the first act. But 'Shaun of the Dead' holds up to multiple rewatches, and each time I see it I notice something new that enriches it for me. It's completely packed with clever lines and callbacks, but all of that is just a bonus on top of a great spoof and a really nice story of friendship and (im)maturity."
"Nothing recent comes to mind, but my first summer as a professional movie critic (even though it was a minimum-wage gig) was 1982, a season now being celebrated as halcyon by the folks at Alamo Drafthouse. I was so enthralled by the German New Wave at the time that I pretty much panned every box-office favorite now regarded as some sort of classic. John Carpenter's 'The Thing' survived my wrath, but it was thumbs down for both 'Blade Runner' and 'Conan the Barbarian.' I totally missed the boat on both of those, but 30 years is luxurious hindsight."
"Well, let's be clear that Edelstein didn't reverse his opinion -- he didn't like the theatrical version of 'Margaret,' and he did like the director's cut. My biggest reversal has probably been about a filmmaker rather than an individual movie. This is my most alone-in-the-cold opinion, but I've never liked 'Pulp Fiction.' For me, it's badly paced, overly satisfied with itself and generally obnoxious and vacuous. As such, I decided I was over Quentin Tarantino and completely avoided both 'Jackie Brown' and 'Kill Bill.' But I was so intrigued by the premise of 'Grindhouse' that I couldn't stay away, and I found myself amused, thrilled, and delighted by 'Death Proof.' In the years since, I've gone back and seen both 'Jackie' and 'Bill' (the "Whole Bloody Affair" cut) at L.A.'s New Beverly Cinema (QT is the landlord), and I thought they were terrific. So as it turns out, I like Quentin Tarantino -- but I still hate 'Pulp Fiction.'
"Last year we received a triumvirate of super-hero films: 'Thor,' 'Captain America,' and 'Green Lantern.' Back in June of 2011, I gave the latter film a positive review in a sea of negative ones. I found 'Green Lantern' to be a joyful expedition that didn’t take itself too seriously and contained a whole lot of charisma due to its sterling young cast. Upon a second viewing on Blu-ray, I had a nearly polar opposite reaction. Martin Campbell’s action-jammed adventure felt uninspired, filled with artifice and combatant sequences that emulated 'Transformers' rather than 'The Avengers.' The alluring cast was still intact, but couldn’t quite elevate the film’s subpar narrative. Admittedly, I was wrong about 'Green Lantern.' But not 'Bridesmaids' -- that’s still a worthless and demeaning anti-comedy."
"I've changed my mind on a number of films over the course of my brief career, but when it comes to a serious reversal in opinion, one sticks out: ‘The Departed.’ Obviously still beloved by many, the film had such an impeccable pedigree and so much critical adulation that upon theatrical release I ignored my instincts and gave it a 4/5 in my university’s paper. But for a litany of reasons, I was uncomfortable with the film, and subsequent viewings on video convinced me that it’s not only unworthy of its myriad awards, but is actually downright bad. I was fortunate enough to be allowed to retract that score in print, but my initial endorsement of ‘The Departed’ remains my only major reviewing regret."
"I don't do complete 180s on movies that often, but one of those handful of exceptions is 'Miller's Crossing.' To be honest, my admiration of the films of the Coen Brothers didn't come immediately; I initially sided with the likes of, say, Jonathan Rosenbaum in seeing them as merely smug jokesters, and 'Miller's Crossing' at first struck me as mostly above-it-all '30s noir poses, too satisfied with the artificial world they constructed for it to resonate in a wider emotional context. And then I watched the film a second time; I don't know what happened in between the first and second viewings (they weren't too far apart), but suddenly, on that second viewing of 'Miller's Crossing,' I found myself not only more comfortable with the film's world, but moved by its solemn and above all heartfelt evocation of a man who tragically learns the personal value of closing himself off from the world emotionally after his one gesture toward human empathy comes back to, well, bite him in the ass, to put it crudely. What I once found irritating had suddenly become deeply affecting; furthermore, my skepticism toward the Coens transformed into admiration and even genuine affection."
"I don't think I've ever had a huge change in appreciation for a film. My initial reactions usually stick."
"My major recent mea culpa was Joe Wright's 'Hanna.' I was nearly at the point of openly mocking people who said they enjoyed it. When I took the time for a second viewing, I had the option of openly mocking myself or admitting I was very, very wrong the first time around. 'Hi, my name is Eric and I admit that 'Hanna' beautifully plays with, and combines, the action movie and fairy tale formula.'"
"There must be dozens but two recent examples spring to mind, each going in a different direction. When I first saw 'There Will Be Blood' I thought it was merely good. I am now on board with most people and recognize it as a masterpiece. I don't know where my head was the first time. Similarly, I came out of 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' arguing with people 'It ain't that bad, it ain't that bad.' Actually, it IS that bad."
"The first time I saw Steven Soderbergh's 'Ocean's 11,' I completely wrote it off as major studio nonsense. I arrived at the film after breezing through his early work -- which, of course, I adored -- and I remember feeling nothing short of incredulous when I saw his name attached to not only the first 'Ocean''s movie, but the entire franchise as well. I considered the big budget, cavalcade of movie stars, and (seemingly) easily digestible premise to be completely out of character. When I actually sat down to watch the film, I had already formed a negative opinion. But as Soderbergh entered the latter half of his career, and films like 'The Girlfriend Experience,' 'Bubble,' and 'Che' began to pop up amid his studio projects, including the other 'Ocean''s movies, his methodology began to crystallize for me. Now, I clearly see 'Ocean's 11' as integral to Soderbergh's work as a whole. It possesses his preoccupation with the mechanisms and connectivity of group behavior ('Contagion,' 'Traffic'); the psychology of professional criminals ('The Limey,' 'Out of Sight'); class politics ('Erin Brockovich,' 'Magic Mike'); and interest in narrative discontinuity and self-reflexivity ('The Girlfriend Experience,' 'Schizopolis'). On top of all that, it also cements Soderbergh as perhaps our greatest living Hollywood classicist. The way he embraces commercial filmmaking while also subverting many of its ingrained expectations has become his stylistic trademark. His penchant for genre and reverence for movie stars -- my friend and colleague Ben Sachs recently pointed out that Soderbergh has more or less made George Clooney's career -- makes me think he would have fit well in the old studio system."
"'Battle Royale.' I first saw it at a theater on a DVD projection after the theater had closed. The combination of a late start time and underlit projection made me sleepy, basically. Watching it later on DVD in the afternoon and in bright beautiful color felt like watching it for the first time and I loved it. So to extrapolate this, the light loss and headache induced by 3-D may require I watch 'My Bloody Valentine' again. Actually, no it doesn't."
"There are always going to be movies you see a second time and realize you didn't properly appreciate -- or appreciated a little too much. For me it's usually the former; 'Moneyball' is one that I've recently chided myself for not all-out raving about and I remember writing a 2.5 star review of Steven Soderbergh's 'Ocean's Eleven' that in retrospect should have been a 3.5. It just all seemed too slick, with Clooney and his crew never really in danger of failing, and the rat-a-tat dialogue didn't land as frequently as I hoped. After several re-viewings, I've come to recognize and accept that the slickness is more or less the point, and the one-liners almost always deliver. 'Look, we all go way back and uh, I owe you from the thing with the guy in the place and I'll never forget it... That was our pleasure... I'd never been to Belize.'"
"I imagine you'll get this a lot, at least from those survey participants who weren't twelve at the time, but I rather egregiously overrated 'American Beauty' on its release, to the extent that it's the one reason I have to be glad of the fact that the print version of Premiere never got digitized, because I overrated the film not just egregiously, but fulsomely as well. Which isn't to say that I would take back everything I said about it. One of my own worst tendencies as a critic is that I'm frequently blindsided by a facile deftness. Something can be both accurate in its perceptions and a little on-the-nose about it -- 'Network' remains the most notable example of this sort of thing -- but a lot of the time 'Beauty' isn't even actually RIGHT. But the thing has an energy, in all of its particulars, that made it seem a lot more impressive to me on very first blush than it turned out to actually be. And if I may confess to some incidental professional quasi-corruption, I seem to recall at the time we were struggling to build a more robust reviews section at the magazine, so being chuffed that DreamWorks was willing and eager to screen the thing for us before its big Toronto International Film Festival might have also contributed to my overstated enthusiasm. Recently I was paging through some of my DVD files and I saw 'Dear Wendy' in one of the file pages and I cringed and thought, 'Christ, I sure creamed all over THAT thing.' And this interior mental revision wasn't even based on a new viewing of it. I just took myself through the whole process of seeing it at Sundance, being REALLY EXCITED, writing it up; and now the film's been sitting in my head all these years, and the souring on it just... happened. And I'm pretty confident in it. Funny how the mind works that way sometimes.
"I actually can't think of anything I ever panned that I 'came around' on. If anything I'm frequently too kind to some films and then I'm a bit embarrassed by that in retrospect. But it's not as if I'm gonna wake suddenly in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and mutter, 'Holy crap, 'Very Bad Things'/'Up In The Villa'/'Vatel' was actually A MASTERPIECE.' So I commend Mr. Edelstein. And confidently state that someday all the rest of youse are gonna come around to my (and Kent Jones' and Lee Siegel's) way of thinking about 'Eyes Wide Shut,' so there."
"'Inglorious Basterds.' I saw it for the first time at 8:30am at the first Cannes press screening and was quick to write it off as a largely unsatisfying pile-up of pastiche that didn't amount to much more than a stylistic lark -- and a far less exciting or ambitious one than 'Kill Bill,' to boot. I saw the movie months later and enjoyed it a lot more, appreciating Tarantino's carefree approach to toying with history and tapping into the entertainment value of a classic men-on-a-mission formula with renewed (and radical) context."
"It's an obvious pick, but the first time I saw 'Citizen Kane,' I thought it was a good movie, but I didn't understand its position as the 'greatest film of all time.' I was probably too young at the time, so I was paying attention to the wrong things. Seeing it now is like getting hit with cinematic lightning. The problem with a lot of young cinephiles watching 'Kane' is they don't have the cinematic vocabulary to understand why that film is so great. They get too wrapped up the story to see how many daring techniques Welles uses with the camera (this is a problem not just with 'Kane,' but with many films and the film critics who review them today). The last time I saw 'Kane' in a theater, there were at least 10 moments I wanted to jump up and scream and tell the projectionist to go back a reel so I could explain to everyone what Welles just did there."
"It must have been the gospel music. I am a sucker for terrific, soulful choirs. Otherwise, why did I lose my heart to 'Joyful Noise,' the I-should-have-known-better package that I felt pushed a lot of buttons when, in reality, it barely had the energy to tap them? On paper, the pairing of Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton should work, but, even though I like the two stars, seeing them reduced to a cat fight in a diner is just embarrassing. And the 'story?' There's been tougher stuff on 'Glee.' I still like the music. Maybe my positive review was actually for the soundtrack, not the movie itself."
"'The Big Lebowski.' The cognitive dissonance of this coming right the heels of 'Fargo' jarred me. I was young, and I imagined the Coen Brothers morphing into some sort of 'serious' mode after it. When this came, I just didn't know what to do with it. As always, they're four or five steps ahead of me."
"It's not the most sophisticated choice but I have to go with 'Pootie Tang.' I'll admit I totally did not get it when I went to a screening of it for review. I trashed it. And then years later, I'd find myself stopping to watch it whenever it popped up on TV -- and laughing. Repeatedly. I actually wrote an open letter to Chris Rock, apologizing and saying how wrong I was the first time. I'm sure he cared."
"The one I always cite is 'Donnie Brasco,' which was instructive to me because I over-prepared for it: reading the book, doing background research, getting actually excited. The film was already a masterpiece in my head before I saw it, so when it was merely a good (maybe very good) film, it disappointed me, and I gave it, I think, 2.5 stars. I was nagged by that response almost immediately, but working on the short deadline I had, I was stuck with it. When I watched the film again a few years later, sans baggage, I thought it much better. Of course, I might have been compensating in the OTHER direction, but I don't think so. I've since learned that advance research and (especially) expectations are traps. Knowledge of the subject matter/film background is one thing; doing enough work to make your own movie in your head is another."
"'Funny Ha-Ha.' It took a long time for me to get on board the wagon with Andrew Bujalski, partially because I was an ignorant 19-year old when I reviewed the movie for my college paper. In fact, it actually caused a now-friend of mine to track me down and explain how utterly wrong I was about everything in the film. I immediately came around on 'Mutual Appreciation' and took an hour-and-a-half-bus ride in Los Angeles to watch 'Beeswax.' I got sucked into his Brooklyn and Austin as I got older: I also grew to appreciate being cynical and that generally terrible things will happen while remaining funny to at least someone. So, who knows if that's an improvement or not? Also, scorpion bowls are great (and, just to awkwardly stick my neck out, here's the original review)."
"Oddly enough, for me it's 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.' On my initial viewing, I didn't quite get what the fuss was about. I liked it just fine, but the outpouring of love it was receiving puzzled me a little. Then, when it hit DVD I gave it another shot, not expecting to change my mind much, and on the first viewing, I actually fell asleep. Granted, it was about 4 in the morning, but still not a good sign. The next morning though, I started it over and definitely liked it better, but hadn't yet fully embraced it. Another watch or two later, I was hooked, and now I recently cited it as one of my 10 favorite films of all time, and in retrospect the best film of its release year (originally I had given that honor to 'Garden State,' believe it or not). Basically, it took me almost a year to come around to it, and the more I watch it, the more I continue to fall under its spell."
"I gave a mixed-to-negative review to 'Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery' when it first came out in 1997. The scenes with Dr. Evil made me laugh, but not much else did. Oddly though, I found that I couldn't stop quoting the movie, even the parts I allegedly didn't find humorous. After I bought my first DVD player a year later, I went looking for a disc that had a ton of bonus features to test it out with. The only one I could find was 'Austin Powers.' Giving it a second watch, I found that I was laughing hysterically throughout. Suddenly, all the lines I'd been quoting seemed like comedic gems. The humor in that film was an acquired taste for me, but once it sank in, I was officially a big fan. On our wedding day, my wife and I even walked into the reception to Quincy Jones' 'Soul Bossa Nova,' which famously served as the movie's theme. It was groovy, baby, yeah."
"Though most of the people reevaluating 'Margaret' underrated it the first time around, most of my critical mea culpas are films that I’ve initially overrated. When I look over my shelf, the DVD that embarrasses me the most is the 'recut, extended, unrated' version of 'Sin City.' I was in high school when 'Sin City' first hit theaters, and I was wowed by its distinctive visual style and huge ensemble cast. But like the rest of Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s 'adult-oriented' work, 'Sin City' plays best when you’re in high school. In retrospect, 'Sin City' is, at best, a mediocre noir pastiche: lots of visual flair without anything substantial to hold it together (and it doesn’t help that Frank Miller’s awful adaptation of Will Eisner’s 'The Spirit,' which came a few years later, replicated 'Sin City''s look without any of its already-shaky style or wit). When I rewatched 'Sin City' with some friends last year, I found myself cringing at the awkward tough-guy dialogue, the weird, regressive gender roles, and the corny, gratuitous violence. 'Sin City' isn’t completely without merit -- Mickey Rourke’s performance is still pretty great -- but it seems a lot emptier and dumber to me now than it did when it first came out."
"I'm ashamed to admit that upon my first viewing of Tim Burton's 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' I actually thought it was quite funny. I've forever been a big fan of Gene Wilder's Wonka, but some traitorous lapse in taste occurred the night I saw Burton's remake, causing me to believe it was actually enjoyable. That is until my second viewing, when I shamefully purchased the DVD. Boy, was I off. Watching it now is like enduring an endless loop of that robotic band from Chuck E. Cheese's that emotionally scarred me as a child. Lifeless manipulation. I'll take Wilder every day of the week. I apologize for my indiscretion."
"The first instance I can remember getting a film 'wrong' is, surprisingly enough, when I first watched my now-favorite movie of all-time. In 2000, I watched Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Magnolia.' This was a movie I was looking forward to watching. I loved 'Boogie Nights' and I was sure I'd love 'Magnolia' as well. I was wrong. I thought this movie was arrogant, pompous, and pretentious. A movie full of wonderful actors and set pieces that ultimately didn't add up to anything. The ending was the real standout for me and would always be my argument for why 'Magnolia' was a horrible movie. A year later, during the summer of 2001, I re-watched 'Magnolia' because I bought a wonderful thing called a DVD player. I popped in the disc and was in complete awe for three hours. I loved it! Everything about the movie resonated with me and I couldn't get enough. I re-watched it as soon as it was over. I spent another three hours trying to piece together the puzzle Paul Thomas Anderson laid before me. I became obsessed. I re-watched 'Magnolia' almost every day that summer. I have read the script, essays, and books on the film. The making-of documentary on the bonus disc, 'That Moment,' was on a constant loop on my TV. How could I be so wrong about a movie? What happened to me in the course of a year that made me feel differently about 'Magnolia?' Almost every conversation I had with friends during that summer involved 'Magnolia.' Almost every date I went on, 'Magnolia' would be the sticking point for me to see if a second date would be in order. Today, 'Magnolia' is my favorite movie of all-time, not only for its quality, but how it shaped the way I watch movies. It showed me to always give a movie a second chance."
"If there's one contemporary film that I waffle back on forth on, it's Nolan's 'The Dark Knight.' When I saw it in theaters originally, at a packed-out midnight screening in Montreal, I loved it. The film kicks along so briskly, and I was totally seduced by Heath Ledger's performance and one of the best action set-pieces in recent American film history (the police transport siege/chase scene). After viewing it a couple of times, though, the film began to nag. It's broad gesturing to the American social/political climate, its nodding to domestic terrorism (in the form of the Joker) and some sort of elevated moral stance that transcends democratic process and indulges a spurious 'greater good' politics (in the form of Batman's willful self-scapegoating) really got under my skin. The things that made 'The Dark Knight' a 'mature' superhero film seemed stupid and ideologically incoherent. Why should I have to endure a scene of someone lecturing about the evils of post-Patriot Act hijacking of personal cell phone signals and then be asked to enjoy subsequent scenes using this morally dubious tech? Why so serious, Christopher Nolan? 'The Dark Knight' also set a pretty miserable tone for superhero movies and action cinema, favoring brooding over wise-cracking, self-seriousness over levity. Nolan's excellent (and, to my mind, superior) 'Batman Begins' felt grown up and 'gritty' without making such a maudlin show of its maturity. As I half-ambivalently await 'The Dark Knight Rises,' I worry that this weighty, grimacing dourness will mar the film. Still, if Nolan can string together another sequence as gripping as that underpass chase, it may well be worth some eye-rolling at all the morose, preachy political supertext."
"Even as a longtime Robert Altman fan, I was viscerally repulsed the first time I saw 'Brewster McCloud' back in 1999. I found its performances cartoonish, its retelling of the Icarus myth obvious and silly, and the zoom-laden cinematography rudderless and unhinged. But possibly the worst aspect -- the dealbreaker, at the time -- was the professorial narration, in which Rene Auberjonois continually appears before a blackboard, gradually turning into a bird. I hated this film with a red hot passion until, on the fourth viewing, it finally clicked. The mannerism, the aggression, the bizarre use of the Houston Astrodome as some kind of backhanded emblem of architectural aspiration -- I could now see 'Brewster McCloud' as part Southern farce, part Kaspar Hauser tale, and mostly a broadside against petty authority. The Astrodome, an ugly concrete baseball stadium that pompously called itself 'the eighth wonder of the world,' exemplifies the puny, circumscribed dreams of post-60s America. Little Brewster wants to fly, but only indoors."
"As I considered this question, a lot of movies came up, both films I initially loved that I now find dated or plain lacking (the 'Austin Powers' trilogy, specifically 'The Spy Who Shagged Me' comes to mind) and films I had to revisit to realize their power. My official answer is from the latter camp: Paul Thomas Anderson’s 'Magnolia.' I remember distinctly that my first experience with the film was colored by the last 20 minutes. No matter how powerful the performances from the ensemble were, specifically Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Melora Walters, and John C. Reilly, no matter how weirdly propulsive and intense the pacing was, no matter the discordant, haunting score, all I kept thinking after the film ended was, 'What the hell is with the damn frogs?' I couldn’t get behind 'Magnolia' because that ending pissed me off so much. However, a couple years later in college, I revisited the film and was as engrossed as I had been the first time. If anything changed, it’s that I accepted the ending for what it is: an inexplicable, epic moment that unites the disparate characters, one that makes as much sense to them as it does to the audience. I admit, 'Magnolia'’s not my favorite Anderson film ('There Will Be Blood' takes the honor), but the scope, performances, and style of filmmaking were enough to push those frogs out of my mind after future viewings."
"Although there are quite a few that spring to mind (for instance, I like 'Collateral' and 'Day of the Dead' a helluva lot more now than I did when I first saw them), there's one that I keep coming back to -- Jim Jarmusch's 'Dead Man.' I saw it right at the beginning of my film course at university -- I think it was in the second week, after 'The Searchers' -- and didn't quite know what to expect; all I knew was that Johnny Depp was the lead. Maybe it was the hangover (it was freshman year, after all), or the uncomfortable chair, but I really didn't get on with it. Too slow, too pretentious, too boring. After becoming a bit more learned in the Western's characteristics and William Blake's poetry, I stumbled across it by chance and decided to give it another go. Good job, too, as I finally realized just how intelligent Jarmusch's deconstruction of the genre was; it's now my favorite Western not directed by Sergio Leone. The black-and-white cinematography is beautifully poetic, as is the Blake-laden script, and the cast is one of the best ensembles I can think of. Lots of big names in weird, small parts, but the cumulative flavor they (and Neil Young's semi-improvised soundtrack) give 'Dead Man' is unique, strangely hypnotic, and dream-like. I can't recommend it enough, just go in with no expectations and an open mind."
"The movie that comes immediately to mind is Wes Anderson's 'Rushmore.' Initially I thought it was mean-spirited or pessimistic. Now, after multiple viewings of it and the rest of Anderson's films, I'm not sure how I ever thought that. His movies champion community and maturity over selfishness; any detour away from these exists to jolt the main character into an awareness of his or her need for forgiveness, humility, or the support of family, extended or otherwise. That's a complete 180-degree turn, and I've never looked back."
"When I first saw 'American Beauty,' I thought it was a masterpiece. Its jokes were funny, its dramatic scenes were touching, and I thought it had an important message. Upon recent viewings, however, I can't help but wonder what I was thinking. Every scene, especially the ones with Wes Bentley, feel like a silly cliche. Of the Academy Award nominees for Best Picture from 1999, 'The Insider' holds up a lot better."
The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on July 16, 2012: