Anyone who sets out to do a list of “most overrated” films is, almost by definition, asking to be clobbered—it really is kind of a dick move to declare your taste superior to that of the apparent majority. With that caveat, let’s acknowledge that a decade is ending, and that this decade brought us many overrated films. Here are my candidates; I’m sure there are omissions.
1. The New World Terrence Malick’s gloss on the Pocahontas story is, for me, the most painful kind of overrated movie: the work of a director you’ve loved in the past and wanted to love again, but didn’t—which made it all the more frustrating to see others praise it to the skies. But while even the masterful Thin Red Line was a provocative exploration of war’s impact on nature and the psyche, The New World never finds a rhythm for its inchoate themes. Colin Farrell’s bland John Smith is a liability, but Malick’s voiceover (“Love—shall we deny it when it visits us? Shall we not take what we are given?”) falls well short of profound in any case. Simplistic, mawkish and—as critic Dave Kehr is fond of pointing out—seemingly infinitely rearrangeable, it suggests, horrifyingly, that the director of Days of Heaven may always have been spinning his wheels.
2.Sideways Perhaps it’s telling that Alexander Payne’s almost universally admired comedy isn’t showing up on a lot of best-of-decade lists. Remember when it swept the critics’ groups in 2004? (The New York Times’ A.O. Scott went so far as to suggest that reviewers liked it because they could relate to its portrait of a middle-aged shlub-snob.) That said, I think Thomas Haden Church’s performance is superior to anything in 2002’s About Schmidt, Payne’s other wildly overpraised—and more uneven—film this decade.
3.Crash This would be No. 1 except for the fact that it wasn’t overrated by critics, per se—at least not all critics. (“I think it’s easily the strongest American film since Clint Eastwood's Mystic River”—David Denby) But it did shock the film world when it won the Best Picture Oscar over the infinitely subtler and more trenchant Brokeback Mountain. Anyway, Paul Haggis’s sledgehammer treatise on how everyone’s a little bit racist is surely the strangest response that anyone has ever had to getting his car jacked, the purported inspiration for this project.
4.Lost in Translation Yes, Bill Murray is awesome. Yes, Sofia Coppola knows how to party in Tokyo. Yes, I admire Scarlett Johansson’s behind. No, there is no plausible defense of the “lip my stocking” scene.
5.Match Point Speaking of ScarJo, Woody Allen’s alleged comeback was anything but. Most of his cultural references may have ossified in the 1970s, but his view of British class seems strictly 19th century. The characters have all this inherited wealth and not one HDTV? Fortunately, Allen had a legitimate return to form three years later, with Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I even liked Whatever Works.
6.Little Miss Sunshine I’ll give a half-point to Steve Carell’s attempt to console Paul Dano (“Think of the suffering you're gonna miss!”), but this wan road-trip comedy may be the ultimate in Sundance overhype. (To be fair, Juno may have been the ultimate in Toronto overhype—but Ellen Page is still awesome.)
7.Million Dollar Baby Clint Eastwood’s foursquare direction is almost good enough to make me not mind the stuff involving the trailer-trash family—and for that matter, much of the movie’s second half. Now for the real brickbats: I think Changeling is the decade’s most underrated Eastwood film.
8.The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Julian Schnabel indulges in a ludicrously romanticized vision of poststroke rehab, in which each shot is prettier than the last and each nurse is hotter than the last.
9.I’m Not There Todd Haynes is at his best in films like Safe and Far From Heaven, which put his semiotic analysis in service of his drama rather than the other way around. Like his last musical,Velvet Goldmine, this insanely ambitious Bob Dylan pastiche suffers from too many competing conceptual gambits, and it finally collapses once Richard Gere moseys onscreen.
10.Apocalypse Now Redux The original Apocalypse Now is one of the great modern war films; Redux shows you that it was saved in the editing room. Beating the “Charlie don’t surf” joke to death is bad enough, but that French Plantation sequence stops the movie dead in its tracks.