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When Celebrated Directors Lose The Plot: Interesting Left Turns And Failures In An Auteur's Oeuvre

by The Playlist Staff
July 21, 2011 6:55 AM
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Even the greatest of auteurs in cinema generally take one or two big missteps in their careers, either early on -- as happened to a lot of the Easy Riders/Raging Bulls generation of American filmmakers, bringing their hirsute hubris down to earth with a bump -- or later, when poor judgement and a degree of fossilisation can cloud a director’s vision -- see Quentin Tarantino’s remarks, for example, about not wanting to be a "geriatric" filmmaker, making films deep into his old age because this is when filmmakers generally lose their mojo, or Steven Soderbergh’s early retirement plans, which he hopes will see him exit filmmaking at the top of his game.

The latter factors were at play in Otto Preminger’s “Skidoo,” a wacky ill-conceived project meant to capture the ‘60s counter-culture zeitgeist, that instead, like an embarrassing Dad trying to be hip, possibly demonstrated the early symptoms of senility it was so out of touch. This week finally sees the release of “Skidoo” on DVD -- a film that is long-awaited by those who have heard about its legendary awfulness, but haven't to date had a chance to witness it first-hand. Preminger was, on balance, a wonderful journeyman of a director whose oeuvre we covered last week, but this thing is so hilariously bad, it borders on ironically, hilariously good; if you're in the mood and have copious amounts of alcohol and some like-minded friends to hand, its sheer, whimsical dreadfulness can turn out to be an absurdist treat.

A film we loathe and perversely love in equal measure (though some may just want to skip the metaphorical masochism and go straight to stabbing their eyes and ears out instead), it got us thinking about other venerable directors' cinematic indiscretions, missteps, gigantic blunders, and outright colossal failures: from those that threatened to derail hitherto promising careers (and in the cases of people like Peter Bogdanovich or William Friedkin, gaffes serious enough to ensure their careers never fully got back on track), to those that came later in life due to complacency or, in some cases, the failing cerebral functions of old age. Thus, we present to you "When Directors Lose the Plot," a by-no-means definitive collection of interesting left turns, mistakes and flat-out failures by some of cinema’s greatest auteurs.

1941” (1979) - Steven Spielberg
“I will spend the rest of my life disowning this movie,” reportedly confessed legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg to the New York Times, thereby admitting his film's failings with honesty and a smidge of regret. But how bad is this 1979 war-comedy, featuring the stacked cast of Dan Aykroyd, Ned Beatty, John Belushi, John Candy, and many others? That depends on your tolerance for comedies that aren't funny. Proceedings kick off with a parody of the director's own "Jaws," in which a skinny-dipping woman discovers a Japanese submarine lurking in American waters. Then, following a decision to bomb Hollywood (one can almost hear the in-jokey off- camera laughter), the narrative is immediately carved into myriad tiny little stories: Wally (Bobby Di Cicco) would rather dance than fight and hopes to prove himself at an upcoming dance; Captain Birkhead (Tim Matheson) pines for the loins every woman he sees; Ward Douglas (Beatty) is forced to house an anti-aircraft millitary weapon; Wild Bill Kelso (Belushi) accidentally blows up a gasoline station... and so on and so forth. The set up is ripe enough for the respective narratives to take on their own tones and beats, but Spielberg shoots them all in his signature style, using as few cuts as he can and moving the camera whenever possible. Unfortunately, nothing ever meshes together, comic timing is seemingly absent, and the filmmaker's penchant for theatrical set pieces and explosions only makes things worse -- we maybe could have accepted the unamusing direction had he not insisted on throwing things in our faces for an alarming 2+ hours. But without berating it too much, the film was only a "flop" in comparison to its preceding films (which would be "Jaws" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," try to follow that) and it is, by all means, a very competently constructed movie -- it's not like the man had a lapse in skill for a year. Even so, its "cult status" is a little too forgiving (and, at worst, delusional), with most giving props to its lack of sentimentality, in counterpoint to the usual criticism of the director's gooey-centredness. But we like when Steven makes us feel all warm and fuzzy, don't we? The Academy-friendly director is welcome to dabble in schmaltz so long as he means it. That said, if he ever again gives us anything as awful as the opening which involves a Japanese-native soldier proclaiming an American woman's bare-ass to be "Hollywood!!", we shall devise an appropriately hideous punishment.

At Long Last Love” (1975) - Peter Bogdonavich
At one point, Peter Bogdanovich looked to be the most bulletproof of the 1970s gang. He followed taut B-movie “Targets” with three back-to-back critical and commercial hits: "The Last Picture Show," which picked up ten Oscar nominations and launched the careers of Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd (who would become the director's lover), screwball comedy throwback "What's Up Doc?," a giant hit, and "Paper Moon," a funny, touching Depression-era father-daughter tale. But then things to started to unravel. 1974 brought "Daisy Miller," an ill-conceived Henry James adaptation with a disastrously miscast Shepherd in the lead role, but that was nothing compared to "At Long Last Love." Once again paying homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood, it was a full-blown 1930s musical, using a whole series of classic Cole Porter tunes, and getting stars Burt Reynolds, Cybill Shepherd and Madeline Kahn to shoot the numbers live, rather than syncing to playback. Bogdanovich was never a rebel like his 70s compatriots, and that was his undoing; critics loathed the film (particularly singling out Reynolds and Shepherd, with many claiming neither could sing), it tanked at the box office, and until this year, when it was made available on Netflix Streaming, it had barely been seen. In fact, it's nowhere near as bad as its reputation suggests: it's fluff, certainly, but so was "Top Hat," and the superficiality of the characters and their relationships is part of Bogdonavich's point. The star's voices aren't helped by the on-set singing, but compared to, say, Pierce Brosnan in "Mamma Mia," they're fine, and Reynolds and Kahn are actually quite good in the film, hitting the right tone (Shepherd, less so). And the ending, without spoiling it, is kind of fascinating. Was it a folly, out of step with the times, and one big enough to more-or-less permanently derail the director's career (he sort-of-apologized for the picture in a trade ad)? Sure. Is it one of the worst movies ever made? Absolutely not. It wasn't even the worst musical of the year it was released -- "Funny Lady" is a much more painful sit.

Bonfire of the Vanities” (1990) - Brian De Palma
In retrospect, "Bonfire of the Vanities" is the perfect swirl of hubris, cultural intrigue, and creative compromise that makes for the boldest, most fascinating flops. You have a director (Brian De Palma) -- coming off "Casualties of War," a bleak but very good film that was a personal triumph but a commercial flop -- desperate for a studio smash, taking on the hottest and most talked-about property in the country, Tom Wolfe's 1987 bestseller. The studio (Warner Bros), almost immediately became skittish about some of the book's more questionable passages and began a series of crippling concessions, notably from a casting point of view where we get Bruce Willis as a John Cleese-esque English novelist, and in an effort to ease the more offensive, race-bait-y material, a blowhard Jewish judge becomes, in the name of good taste, Morgan Freeman. Maybe most disastrous was the film's release date – by December 1990, the class politics of the 1980s that the book so savagely skewered had begun to seem musty and dated. While the film does contain a handful of brilliant moments, mostly thanks to De Palma's unparalleled visual prowess (like the opening, unbroken shot that follows Willis into a reception and the famous shot of the Concord landing), it's an absolute slog to try and sit through again, wrongheaded and tone-deaf on almost every level. The one good thing that the movie did produce, though, was one of the all-time great making-of film books, Julie Salamon's "The Devil's Candy." De Palma had agreed that Salamon could meticulously chronicle the making of his next film, not knowing the fiasco she would ultimately end up capturing. It's fascinating, insightful, probing, and proves that sometimes, everything that can go wrong, does. (De Palma would arguably never recover, either. Sure, he made the brilliant "Carlito's Way" and still holds sway over his adoring cult of fans, but in the years since has largely been ignored by critics and audiences.) Even more LOL-worthy than Salamon's book is a segment from the documentary "Boffo" (about surprise box office hits and disasters), wherein Freeman is asked about the failure of "Bonfire of the Vanities." His answer is so wry, so deadpan, and so clearly annoyed – he says he knew it was happening and that it was so rotten due to a series of poor decisions. You can tell, after all these years, that this horrible movie is still nagging at him. It's still nagging at us, too.

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  • Jakdolesa | November 12, 2013 12:43 PMReply

    Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" would fit nice in here...

  • Anhedonia | July 26, 2012 7:39 PMReply

    Whoa, Playlist! Popeye is a good movie.

  • Eleanor of Aquataine | July 25, 2011 6:08 AMReply

    Not a bad list (that is, a pretty good list of bad), but:

    Zardoz? A misfire to you; a guilty pleasure to me.

    but then I thought Batman Begins was great and The Dark Knight execrable (and Inception a pretentious load of old tosh).

  • Gavin James | July 25, 2011 3:22 AMReply

    "Bruce Willis plays a plastic surgeon who spends much of the last act of the movie trying to kill everyone." I'm not sure which Bruce Willis movie you watched, but based on that comment, it's easy to tell that you did not watch Death Becomes Her, a very funny black comedy. It also brings into question whether you watched any of the other movies, either.

  • Greg L | July 25, 2011 2:29 AMReply

    I'm with you 95% on your picks. But I have to defend Gilliam's "Tideland". A child's-eye-view of a gritty world, and Gilliam's skills are just as good as "Fear and Loathing" or "12 Monkeys"; it's just one of his least whimsical films, but it's consistent with his themes and tenor. I'd consider "Baron Munchausen" or "Brothers Grimm" closer to hiccups in his oeuvre...

  • katia | July 25, 2011 1:37 AMReply

    I would argue that after Planet of the Apes Tim Burton did recover with Big Fish, and Sweeney Todd. While some may not agree with me concerning Sweeney Todd, Big Fish was critically acclaimed.

  • Winner | July 24, 2011 12:35 PMReply

    Here's an alternate headline (which might work for many Indiewire articles).

    These Are Films That People Hate: I Will Also Say I Hate Them So That People Think I'm A Good Critic Instead Of Someone Who Merely Follows The Pack, But I Will Do It In A Drawn-Out, Incredibly Smug Article While Trying Very Hard To Be Witty

    I guess that wouldn't all fit on the banner, though.

  • Woogy | July 24, 2011 8:24 AMReply

    Intolerable Cruelty is not a dud. I think its needs a rewatch (I'll give you the Ladykillers remake)

  • Fairportfan | July 24, 2011 7:46 AMReply

    Speaking as a long-time reader of comics (and anything else with words on, generally), Altman's "Popeye" is absolutely a perfect transcription of what made "Thimble Theatre" (the actual title of the strip) enduringly popular, and what every other filmic adaptation (even the Fleischer Bros' wonderful cartoons) has pretty well missed.

    Feiffer's script, BTW, is an excellent adaptation of an actual "Thimble Theatre" continuity.

  • matt | July 24, 2011 7:29 AMReply

    I've only seen the 3-hour cut of Dune, and I thought it was a good adaptation. though clearly not without it's flaws. I mean it takes them the first two hours to get 1/3 of the way through the story, so despite the first 2 hours being excellent, the 3rd hour feels rushed. Not to mention the special effects are laughable. I'll always have mixed feelings about this one, but in some ways it's still better than the Space miniseries.

  • Brendan | July 24, 2011 5:27 AMReply

    Interested Observer:

    Hope I'm not too late coming back to this! It's true that A New Leaf had a troubled production and the film we got isn't necessarily pure Elaine May, but regardless how it arrived it's a fantastic dark comedy with tons of warmth and hilariously constructed individual scenes. Now, I don't know how everyone else feels about The Heartbreak Kid, but to me it's an instance of perfect casting all across the board, with some fine music, one of the best scripts ever, and it totally doesn't need to be beautifully shot, but it is. I think everyone I know who's seen Mikey & Nicky agrees with me that it's the best film Cassavetes never made, and I think it's one of his best performances too.

  • The Playlist | July 23, 2011 12:58 PMReply

    Read the write-up on Skidoo, we might not have affection for ALL the films on this list -- again, Death Becomes Her CERTAINLY belongs here -- but we too have a lot of love for them too. Otherwise, we wouldn't be here. I think One From The Heart is beautifully flawed and that's the sentiment of many of our takes on this film, fyi.

    And yes, lots of other good choices here. We could easily do a part 2.

  • Profoblivion | July 23, 2011 12:53 PMReply

    Strange, that I love almost 50% of the films on this list. Maybe because most of them were made during the '80's, when I was still prepubescent, and joyfully unburdened of any critical faculty. Damn you for adding an extra layer of guilt to these cinematic pleasures.

  • Javier Bonafont | July 23, 2011 12:16 PMReply

    Okay, while you are mostly spot-on here, I cannot let the slight to One From the Heart go by. This film is so brilliant to watch I have seen it as many times as I've seen anything. First problem is that most people never saw the movie correctly as it was shot in 4:3 and projectionists would cut off the top and bottom of the frame to fill the conventional widescreen. Its gorgeously composed and the soundtrack is a work of art. Its different, its difficult, and maybe it doesnt speak to everybody, but on its own terms its pitch perfect. NOT a musical, its a "film with music". I Love This Movie.

  • olli1966 | July 23, 2011 11:17 AMReply

    Wonderful article. I actually like some of those movies quite a lot, especially the fantastic looking Dune, 1941 just for it's onscreen excess and Star Trek despite its strange story and bad pacing.
    Zardoz is completely nuts but kind of funny and reading John Boormans name reminds me of his other crazy failure that is Exorcist II - The heretic.
    Regarding Brian de Palma - he lost the ball again with Mission to Mars and Black Dahlia. Both films were visually slick and watchable with de Palmas signature style, but otherwise nearly nothing really worked.

  • Jordan | July 23, 2011 8:21 AMReply

    Wow great article, but couldn't disagree more about Krull and Dune, two of my favorite fantasy films. I felt the staked in Krull, especially when Corwin stuck his hand into molten lava (name another hero who did that?) to retrieve the Glaive. I thought the plot was more than followable. Dune was purposefully hard to understand which gave it it's own logic and other worldliness. I thought Toto's guitar licks especially the credits were a highlight. Star Wars uses electric guitars in a few movies and it seemed to work. Awesome insights.

  • Armak | July 23, 2011 7:58 AMReply

    "…One of Steven Soderbergh‘s rare misses"? Have you forgotten "Full Frontal," "Bubble," "Schizopolis," "Solaris," "Che," "King of the Hill," and "The Girlfriend Experience"?

    I agree with the other posters' objections with "Death Becomes Her" being on the list. It holds up well.

  • pokkooni | July 23, 2011 7:56 AMReply

    many movies that i haven't seen (so i can't comment those) and some that i agree you with, but all credibility was lost at the mention of tideland. the only time gilliam has failed (that i remember of) was jabberwocky and imaginarium of doctor parnassus. tideland is one of his best.

  • Ron Cerabona | July 23, 2011 7:28 AMReply

    Interesting piece. "Bedazzled" was not a thriller but a comic version of the Faust legend with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Lumet did make some good non-New York movies eg The Hill, Murder on the Orient Express.
    Lesson: nobody's perfect!

  • L. Marcus Williams | July 23, 2011 7:01 AMReply

    enjoyed this article immensely, and agreed with most of it. but what is nolan doing in the company of kubrick and hitchcock?

  • simplysimon2 | July 23, 2011 3:57 AMReply

    Far from a failure, but the wandering plot of Hawk's "The Big Sleep" is still the best pairing of Bogey and Bacall with Hawk's "To Have and Have Not" and Huston's "Key Largo" close behind.

  • MM | July 23, 2011 3:42 AMReply

    Nice article!

  • Mike Sweeney | July 23, 2011 3:28 AMReply

    I think Blake Edwards merits an honorable mention on this list. Brilliant early films like "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "Days of Wine and Roses," and "A Shot in the Dark," are bookended by the much dimmer "Skin Deep" and "Son of the Pink Panther" late in his career.

  • Steven Flores | July 23, 2011 2:37 AMReply

    "1941" rocked! It is meant to be overblown but it's so damn funny. I liked all of the craziness of that film. "One from the Heart" may not have a strong plot but it's still an entertaining film with lots of pizazz, great dance music, and amazing supporting performances from Raul Julia and Nastassja Kinski.

    Spielberg lost the plot with "Lost World: Jurassic Park 2" and Coppola lost it with "Jack". Another director who recently just lost the plot is David Gordon Green with "Your Highness".

  • J. Smith | July 23, 2011 2:27 AMReply

    Krull! One of my favorites. Especially when the lead guy isn't in the scene.

  • Jaime N. Christley | July 23, 2011 2:08 AMReply

    Mark, there are many, including myself, who view EYES WIDE SHUT as one of Kubrick's greatest films. It's not as easy to dismiss as you seem to think.

  • Mark | July 23, 2011 1:54 AMReply

    The fact that Death Becomes Her is on that list is a joke. Its a classic black comedy. It went down badly with critics at the time but so what? So did Scott Pilgrim and Blade Runner (not that its nearly as good as either). Seems like the writers of this article just skimmed over old, negative reviews, rather than actually watching the films.

  • Mark E | July 23, 2011 1:46 AMReply

    New York, New York is a pretty good movie. As for directors with failures, Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut is a complete failure, the only one he ever had and, although I know many will disagree, Tarentino's Kill Bill 1 and 2 are irredeemable pieces of trash, unwatchable really.

  • Jaime N. Christley | July 23, 2011 1:20 AMReply

    Has it been three months already? That's how often this kind of article appears, slagging off failed films and reaffirming the peer-pressure rule of film history. Because hey, if it lost money, it must have been bad. And if it's eccentric or tries anything not already pre-sold (like the current run of Marvel heroes), it must be really bad. And if its first few notices set off a tidal wave of critical disapproval, well, great! All the thinking is done for us, no need to challenge the bleating sheep that decided the movie's fate 10, 20, 30, or even 70 years ago.

    Big, Hollywood (or internationally co-produced) failures are the easiest, laziest targets in movie history. It's so hard to get people to take any of them seriously, because the first few notices are what matters most. Often, when the NY Times or the New Yorker made a little cut in a film's flesh, there's blood in the water and it's over.

    Failures that matter enormously to me: John Ford's MARY OF SCOTLAND, Michael Cimino's HEAVEN'S GATE, Elaine May's ISHTAR, Blake Edwards's SUNSET, Michelangelo Antonioni's ZABRISKIE POINT, Alfred Hitchcock's UNDER CAPRICORN, Howard Hawks's LAND OF THE PHARAOHS, Steven Spielberg's 1941, David Fincher's THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, Brian De Palma's REDACTED, Francis Coppola's ONE FROM THE HEART, etc.

    And I'm not alone. Indiewire, you live up to half of your name: you plug yourselves into whatever will get traffic milling through your site, and you lie down. As for "Indie," well, it's just a badge, it doesn't have anything to do with "independent."

  • Eric W | July 22, 2011 12:58 PMReply

    In defense of Death Becomes Her - it made back it's budget + half again at the box office and still scores 53% among critics at Rotten Tomatoes.

    That's not really worthy of being in the company of most of the other films on this list.

  • TimParker | July 22, 2011 12:57 PMReply

    Call me crazy but I actually like My Blueberry Nights. David Strathairn was great and Norah Jones wasn't awful. Great mood, music, etc. Maybe most people inc. critics who didnt like it are comparing it to Wong's other films, which I unfortunately haven't seen enough of. Either way, I'd cut some slack for My Blueberry Nights

  • Interested Observer | July 22, 2011 12:35 PMReply

    Brendan: What streak of 3 near perfect movies from Elaine May??

    A New Leaf was a great desperate edit by Robert Evans of a grand mess of Heaven's Gate (or more specifically Ishtar) proportions in the works when the plug was pulled on her over budget opus headed for a three hour run time. She did not finish and tried unsuccessfully to get removed from the credits for the A New Leaf that we see. If she had made it the statement would be accurate and Ishtar would be an inexplicable lapse. We have no idea what HER A New Leaf would have been like.

    I have not seen the other two movies she directed so I will have to trust you on that.

  • blap | July 22, 2011 11:50 AMReply

    Death Becomes Her is a hilarious movie. I feel sorry for anyone who doesn't think that.

  • james | July 22, 2011 11:42 AMReply

    We now that Preminger was stricken with Alzheimer's, and I wonder now whether he was in the early stages with Skidoo.

  • Silverdolphin | July 22, 2011 11:27 AMReply

    Gangs Of New York is much worse by Scorsese - while Daniel Day Lewis is his reliable self, Leonardo DiCaprio is bland and lifeless and Cameron Diaz miscast. The film is also lifeless which is odd for a pet project. It's as if, once he started filming, Scorsese didn't seem to know what to do.

  • Alexandra | July 22, 2011 11:20 AMReply

    The problem with Carpenter is that somewhere around Village of the Dammed he stopped making any good movies.

    And nice on the Tim Burton honorable mention. I really liked every movie of his up until Planet of the Apes and I've really disliked every one since. somehow I blame this on Helena Bonham Carter.

  • Rufus | July 22, 2011 10:41 AMReply

    Brewster's Millions? I'll Do Anything? O.C. and Stiggs? Southland Tales?

    I would gladly trade you one of these for Death Becomes Her.

    All kidding aside good list.

  • Arthur S. | July 22, 2011 10:17 AMReply

    I have to say that a lot of the films here are actually very good and some are in fact among the director's best films. I personally would say Scorsese lost the plot with THE AVIATOR and consider NEW YORK, NEW YORK with some of its(minor) flaws among his six or seven best films.

    Same with Coppola's ONE FROM THE HEART, 1941, SKIDOO, ZABRISKIE POINT and others. These films are just different and unusual, on their own terms they are excellent works.

  • olicats | July 22, 2011 9:16 AMReply

    congratulations! you suck!

  • Commander Adams | July 22, 2011 8:51 AMReply

    Village of the Damned is far from John Carpenter's only misstep. ALL of his films are ridiculously overrated and that includes The Thing, but at least it's not utter garbage the way They Live, Prince of Darkness, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Ghosts of Mars and Escape from LA all are.

  • CF | July 22, 2011 8:20 AMReply

    Christopher Nolan "never went off the boil, or at least haven’t yet"? Did no one watch that godawful GWoT-wank-fest which was _The Dark Knight_?

  • Filipe | July 22, 2011 8:14 AMReply

    Did you just put Nolan on the same level os Hitchcock and Kubrick? You gotta be fucking kidding me.

  • Brian | July 22, 2011 8:11 AMReply

    In defense of Death Becomes Her, it almost seems to have been made with a cult audience in mind. It never was a film that was going to appeal to a mass crowd, but rather a "select group".

    Of course test audiences were going to balk, and Zemeckis himself wanted the ending redone after seeing it, calling the original too "saccharine" and not in keeping with the tone of the rest of the film.

    Compared to today's films, the special effects are not too obtrusive, and still hold up well today. It was a remarkable technical achievement, and Hawn and Streep were an incredible duo.

  • Kyle Milner | July 22, 2011 8:01 AMReply

    Hitchcock actually has had missteps in his career - Marnie is pretty bad, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) isn't very good, The Wrong Man is pretty boring at times and I bet nobody gives a shit (except for historical reasons) for his EARLY films....except for The 39 Steps of course

    Also, on Kubrick, I think the first half of Full Metal Jacket is a real masterpiece whereas the second half is the same old, same old. Eyes Wide Shut is pretty bad as well.

    As of now, I'd say PTA hasn't had any missteps and I'll agree that Nolan hasn't either (although Memento, while good, is highly overrated IMO!)

  • Markus | July 22, 2011 7:53 AMReply

    I would add M. Night Shyamalan to the list. From Oscar nominated writer-director to... Village/Lady/Happening/Airbender...

  • chris | July 22, 2011 7:15 AMReply

    I have to disagree a bit on Rio Lobo. While it's not nearly as good as Hawks' other westerns, it's still quite watchable.

  • David Konow | July 22, 2011 7:12 AMReply

    You gotta admire Boorman and Altman, they weren't afraid to fail, and with Zardoz and Exorcist II, Boorman failed big. He also made at least three of my all time favorite movies, Point Blank, Hell in the Pacific, and Excalibur. (Deliverance is great too, but I'm not fanatical about it.)

    Popeye's actually a pretty fun movie, not perfect but enjoyable, and one of the most perfectly cast films you'll ever see. Everyone was perfect for the roles they were picked for. Friedkin's Sorcerer also has an undeserved bad rap, it's his best film.

    With 1941, at least Spielberg learned from his mistakes, and came back stronger than ever. Sadly, with a lot of directors, a big bomb or two or three and they never recover, which is really too bad for some of them. Bogdanovich will never live down At Long Last Love, though Nickelodeon's much better than its rep, and Saint Jack is considered his lost gem.

  • Tommy K | July 22, 2011 6:38 AMReply

    A good article but this-
    "One can safely argue that whenever the great Sidney Lumet left New York, his films felt unmoored, out of place or uneven ."?
    I call bullshit. You've clearly never seen / forgotten about 'The Hill' (1965)- Filmed in Africa with an almost entirely british cast. It is, unquestionably, one of his greatest cinematic accomplishments.
    If I had to add to the list, I'd go for Fincher's 'Benjamin Button'- an absolute stinker of a film, a blemish (alonside the distinctly average Alien 3) on an otherwise outstanding filmography.

  • Alfred | July 22, 2011 6:02 AMReply

    in defense of 1941 I offer a re-write:
    “I will spend the rest of my life disowning this movie,” confessed legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg to the New York Times. WAIT A MINUTE, Steve. Maybe the flick was disjointed here and there, but I have this 1979 war-comedy in my private collection, and still like to watch it. The film was instantly compared to his wildly popular preceding films (Jaws and Close Encounters) and condemned by many as a flop. WAIT A MINUTE, try to follow that act. In the first place, war-comedy is a difficult genre to portray to the general public. War is deadly serious business, and certainly not at all funny to the 1941 Americans at Pearl Harbor, or the American Navy preparing to meet the Japs at Midway. To be more forgiving, consider this one in the only-in-California genre. I loved the opening scene which parodies the director’s two previous hit movies. A gorgeous skinny-dipping lady has a close encounter with a Japanese submarine lurking off the California coastline. When you see a joyous Jap sailor howling, “Hollywooood” at the sight of her bare bottom, it was worth the price of admission. Sure the movie stomps on today’s delicate PC toes, but that’s not my problem.
    And remember, this flick features some of the best SNL clowns in their prime. RIP John Belushi

  • Tim | July 22, 2011 4:46 AMReply

    Well, I really dig Zardoz but I can see how some people wouldn't. The biggest problem I have with this (otherwise good) article is the praise for The Dresser-one of the worst films I've ever seen. I think at least nine of the top ten most gratingly histrionic speeches in film history can be found in this too stagy melodrama. By comparison, the merely mediocre Krull looks like a masterwork.

  • Edward Davis | July 22, 2011 4:23 AMReply

    Damn guys ,if any film DOES belong on this list that we're not apologetic at all about it's Death Becomes Her. Was there a convention in town for this film that we missed? Christ

  • Jeremy | July 22, 2011 4:21 AMReply

    "Death Becomes Her" on this list? It was a great black comedy that at the time seemed quite relevant...and still resonates in a nostalgic way today. I don't think just because something is off beat, it should be relegated to the turd pile.

  • Oliver Lyttelton | July 22, 2011 3:44 AMReply


    Agreed on Ashby, but we covered his career fairly extensively a few weeks ago, and didn't want to repeat ourselves so soon.

  • Edward Davis | July 22, 2011 3:44 AMReply

    Ashby's first plot loss is "Second-Hand Hearts." Plus as we said, we'll eventually do another one. This was at good first overview.

  • Kevin Jagernauth | July 22, 2011 3:43 AMReply

    Hey Meebly, you might dig this:

  • meebly | July 22, 2011 3:42 AMReply

    One very notable omission is the one truly great director of the 70s who seemed to implode (most likely in a drug-and-alcohol binge) on 1/1/1980 and never made another even passable film.

    This would, of course, be Hal Ashby, who gave us "The Landlord", "Harold and Maude", "The Last Detail", the overpraised but still memorable "Shampoo", "Coming Home" and "Being There" all between '70 and '79.

    Then studios and the blockbuster ethos took over (thanks, George), and Ashby retreated from bold risk-taking and gave us "Second Hand Hearts", "Lookin' to Get Out", "The Slugger's Wife", a boring rockdoc on the Stones and, finally, the absolute worst of his career, "8 Million Ways to Die".

    Apart from maybe Frank Capra, this was the most tragic fall ever for a once-great auteur.

  • Amy | July 22, 2011 3:26 AMReply

    I have to disagree with The Lovely Bones for Peter Jackson. While it wasn't nearly as good as it should have been given the source material (one of my favorite books) and the talent involved, I maintain that it was a decent movie and that, regardless of missed opportunities, Jackson was the right director for the job. The problem wasn't a lack of emotion - especially on a rewatch, I actually found the movie quite touching - and honestly, it annoys me that people act like Lord of the Rings was all about the action and epic-ness, ignoring the fact that what really made LOTR stand out from other fantasies was its ability to make you care about its characters. Anyway, the real problem with The Lovely Bones was that, despite a number of good, memorable scenes, the movie as a whole felt rather clumsy and not-quite-there. It really made me wonder whether the book is truly unfilmable. And by the way, I still don't know why people have such a problem with the rape scene. I thought it was one of the movie's most well-executed and imaginative scenes.

  • deekay | July 22, 2011 2:47 AMReply

    Why isn't HEAVEN'S GATE on this list?

  • dementadoom | July 22, 2011 1:32 AMReply

    It's very genre-snobby to insist that a director of fantasy can't handle "human emotion." Typical of wannabes.

    And seriously, you chastise Coppola for “One From The Heart” and not the overblown oversexed hamfisted monstrosity that is "Bram Stoker's Dracula"? For shame!

  • Morgan Morgan | July 22, 2011 1:12 AMReply

    1941 is not really that bad of a movie once you realize it's a MAD Magazine version of a John Ford movie.

  • Jon | July 22, 2011 1:05 AMReply

    The fact that I was cracking up just reading your summary of Death Becomes Her proves that movie doesn't belong on this list!

  • Chris Bell | July 21, 2011 12:13 PMReply

    Do people really hate Kafka? I thought it was wonderful. Up there with Haneke's "The Castle" for Kafka interpretations... also didn't think Good German or Full Frontal were bad in any way, though for this kind of article I'd say Frontal fits well.

  • actionman | July 21, 2011 11:12 AMReply

    Domino is a masterpiece.

  • Fede | July 21, 2011 11:07 AMReply

    Death Becomes Her it's a great movie IMO, Should not be in this list... I agree with the rest.

  • fanny bunz | July 21, 2011 9:59 AMReply

    John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars might actually be worse and more batshit insane than Village of the Damned, but that's neither here nor there - this is a great article. a fun list to read. thanks.

  • shark | July 21, 2011 9:57 AMReply

    I love Death Becomes Her. It's so goddamn insane, and Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn are an incredible comic duo.

  • MDL | July 21, 2011 9:50 AMReply

    One From The Heart is a better movie than The Godfather Part III. There, I said it.

  • Monty | July 21, 2011 9:43 AMReply

    what the FUCK is "death becomes her" doing on this list?!
    i guess to each it's own...

  • The Playlist | July 21, 2011 9:31 AMReply

    Also, the guy who bitched about DUNE clearly did actually READ the piece as its probably the most affectionate (and kindest) assessment of all the films here. I think the elements Jess points out are valuable too.

  • The Playlist | July 21, 2011 9:30 AMReply

    You guys should read a little bit before you think we outright hate these films. Clue into "interesting left turns" in the headline.

    We all have -- or at least to some degree -- some affection for every film we're writing about. If we truly loathed these films we wouldn't bother. I wrote Popeye. it's certainly not great, but it has a few charms for sure which i noted.

    Same goes for a lot of these. See @Tristan's comment about Zardoz. It's pretty spot-on.

    Even an interesting failure has value. I wrote Zabriskie Park too and while it's for sure a "losing the plot" film it does have some interesting value too.

    I also personally like Krull a lot more than Jess did, but she's right -- for Yates its a complete misfire.

    And as for the other suggestions other people gave. Yeah, we could be here all day and maybe one day we'll do another, these are fun for sure.

  • Fred | July 21, 2011 9:18 AMReply

    Correct dates: New York, New York (1977); One From The Heart (1982)...if you're gonna knock them at least get their age right.

  • Thomasi | July 21, 2011 8:31 AMReply

    "Popeye"? Seriously? It's joyous and weird and completely satisfying. It's a great film.

  • Ian | July 21, 2011 8:29 AMReply

    Michael Bay's Transformer movies bare a striking resemblance to 1941:

    A multitude of disjoined characters and elements loaded with loud and shrill misguided attempts at humor while massive action sequences are interspersed throughout.

    The only difference is that 1941 is watchable and has a certain charm despite being so misguided. All Transformers provides is a headache.

  • Brendan | July 21, 2011 8:20 AMReply

    Popeye becomes really great when viewed as a companion piece to McCabe & Mrs. Miller. There are some truly magical moments. Also, what about Ishtar? A flop that ended a streak of three near-perfect films from Elaine May.

  • hmm | July 21, 2011 8:05 AMReply

    Another point in favor of "Saturn 3" being one of the most awkward mish-mashes of actually talented people: It was written by MARTIN AMIS.

  • Peter Labuza | July 21, 2011 7:50 AMReply

    Great list, though I'll defend New York, New York any day of the week as one of Scorsese's best films.

  • Zack | July 21, 2011 7:45 AMReply

    "She Hate Me" belongs in the Honorable Mentions too.

  • rake | July 21, 2011 7:44 AMReply

    I happen to like NYNY, One from the Heart, Popeye, and Zabriskie Point.

  • Mark | July 21, 2011 7:37 AMReply

    @Nolan: Time to watch Carrie, Blow Out, Dressed To Kill, Scarface, The Untouchables, Casualties of War, Raising Cain, Carlito's Way and Femme Fatale then.

  • Mark | July 21, 2011 7:34 AMReply

    Dune and 1492 are two of my favourite films. Sad we live in a world where these beautifully artistic films are criticised for doing something different, yet JJ Abrams' mundane efforts are lapped up.

    Just watch the final confrontation in 1492 between Depardieu and Assante. Brilliant.

  • Edward Davis | July 21, 2011 7:25 AMReply

    "I'm not that familiar with De Palma, but having sat through the most agonizing 2+ hours of my life in "The Black Dahlia" I find it difficult to believe he was ever a respected director."

    Damn son, watch some movies.

  • Nolan | July 21, 2011 7:23 AMReply

    I think Intolerable Cruelty and/or The Lady Killers should be on the list proper. It's rare to see filmmakers like the Coens make two gigantic duds smack in the middle of a very successful career.

    I'm not that familiar with De Palma, but having sat through the most agonizing 2+ hours of my life in "The Black Dahlia" I find it difficult to believe he was ever a respected director.

  • Edward Davis | July 21, 2011 7:22 AMReply

    Kafka is good. Better than the other two.

  • Kevin Jagernauth | July 21, 2011 7:21 AMReply

    I kind of liked "Zabriskie Point." In a way.

  • Glass | July 21, 2011 7:15 AMReply

    Holy hell, amazing article! I need to keep coming back to this throughout the day to continue reading it.

    As far as wacky misfires from Soderbergh, Full Frontal would be more deserving of that distinction than The Good German, but they're both pretty bad (not counting Kafka and Underneath from his early days).

    I'd say True Lies for James Cameron, but that's undeniably fun to watch - which is what it set out to do.

  • tristan eldritch | July 21, 2011 7:05 AMReply

    Zardoz is so enjoyable and insane it defies easy categorization as either good or bad. Does certainly quality as a director losing the plot, though.

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