Top 10 Great Movies (That Are Actually Kinda Crap)


#10. Mean Girls

Plot Summary:

Lindsay Lohan moves from Africa to a high school where everybody speaks in memes, encounters a group of popular-girls and infiltrates them at the behest of her new cool-loser friends, only to become one of them herself.

Why is it kinda crap?

I’m pre-emptively hiding from hoards of females in suggesting this movie might not be perfect, as I’m sure they’ll be hunting me down soon to deprive me of my fingers. That said, I’m listing it as number 10, because in terms of the movies to follow, it’s probably the best put-together. But it’s crap for three reasons. The first is Lindsay Lohan. Not that she’s bad in the role (quite the opposite in fact) but that her presence in the film, as a family-friendly actress, and yes let’s all pause for a moment to laugh in hindsight, meant it got toned down a lot. Mean Girls was originally a much raunchier comedy (“wall-to-wall titties” in Tina Fey’s words) and it’s obvious the moments where it’s been toned down a lot. So the next time you’re watching it and someone laughs when Jason asks Cady “is your muffin buttered?” smack them, because that slang doesn’t mean anything. It’s the substitute that sounds tonally similar to the original “is your cherry popped?” Second reason is the ending. The film, even in its lightened-up version is still a pretty caustic film. It’s not quite Heathers, but it’s a lot better than the average kiddy flick – however – the ending is nothing but schmaltz. Yay, they’re all friends again, but it’s a cop out the way it’s done. Tone it down, reign in the cheese and you could’ve had a good ending. It doesn’t need to be an unhappy ending, but it’s just too nice as it is. And I’m never ever going to be able to abide the ending where people at the end of the film share an unspoken bond by nodding at each other. It’s a cliché that has never worked. Third reason is the way it’s been received. You get people quoting every line of it, and yes it’s a quotable film, but not every single line is worthy of a t-shirt. Tweens miss the point of it and it becomes such a misread piece of their culture that that displacement of the film boils up through the ranks up until the point where I don’t get to say “I love this movie,” without saying  “…even though…” afterwards.

Why is it good?

As mentioned above – it’s a way better film than pretty much any of the same genre (that genre being sugary films made for teenage girls about teenage girls). Also, Rachel McAdams and Tina Fey. They’re great actresses (well one is great, the other is very fun) and they bring a certain class and quality to the proceedings. Not to mention, Lindsay Lohan is actually good here, and if she’s delivered any grace from the powers that be, she’ll be remembered for this instead of I Know Who Killed Me when we get the news that her coked-up corpse was found in a nightclub bathroom. And yes, it is an incredibly quotable movie, and despite how badly I think that’s gone for it in the interim, it’s because it is really well written, the jokes are funny, and they stand out even 7 years on. It’s clever, it’s witty, it’s surprisingly non-condescending and that’s even taking into account how much it’s been cleaned up for the kiddies.

#9. Creep

Plot Summary:

Franka Potente gets trapped in the subway with a killer.

Why is it kinda crap?

Well, bless its cotton socks, it’s a B-Grade horror film that thinks it’s original. There’s nothing original here, and it never quite gets the style right. The characters are largely unlikable – I love Franka Potente as an actress, but Kate is still a bitch – and we just don’t really care all that much if they live or die. Also, the setups are predictable, the payoff is rarely frightening, and there’s very little in the film that you haven’t seen done, and seen done better. But it still kicks ass.

Why is it good?

Just because it’s been done before, doesn’t mean it can’t be done again. This film is full of homage, and they do it in a way that doesn’t make you think “Yeah that’s shit.” It’s a lot of fun, because it’s just silly, but still atmospheric at the same time. It loses a few points for a certain scene in the middle, which abandons the goofiness of before and just goes for incredible nastiness, which I’m sure is why it’s rated R18+ here. The rest of the film is not as intense, so that one scene really lets it down. That said, there are still a few good scares, and it’s a really fun flick.

#8. Across The Universe

Plot Summary:

Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturgess fall in love while the quintessentially British Beatles have their songs transposed to an American war.

Why is it kinda crap?

Because it’s a 2-hour long video clip. The story is the most rudimentary telling of the “Boy meets Girl, gets girl, loses girl, gets girl again” storyline, and it doesn’t help that the characters are fleshed out only to the point where they move the story along or allude to the historical musicians they’re based on. There is no depth to the characters…

Why is it good?

…because there doesn’t need to be! The film is a celebration of the notion of”Love is all you need” — this notion is entirely impractical in the real world, but the film is set in a world where it doesn’t matter that you’re scruffy illegal immigrant boyfriend has no job or prospects – because you have love. PTSD from your tenure in Vietnam? Bah! You have love! Becoming an alcoholic while you risk selling out and losing your sexy male guitarist companion? You have love! It’s a film of relentless optimism, and grating though it may be in line with real world, it’s incredibly hard to not get carried away with it. It doesn’t matter that the characters are perfunctory expies of other people, it doesn’t matter that some of the “subtle winks” to the audience are as gently done as someone being curb-stomped, because the films sets out to entertain, and to make you believe in the power of love – whether or not you’ll still be believing it 10 minutes after the credits roll. Plus, some of the covers are vast improvements over the originals.

7. Doomsday

Plot Summary:

Rhona Mitra plays a special forces agent who gets sent to investigate why there are survivors in a decimated Scotland in the future, only to find that they have become fine young cannibals. She also has to race against time to get a cure for the virus before the government gives up on it once and for all.

Why is it kinda crap?

The film is a mess. It has the attention span and coherence of a red-cordialled 10-year-old who can’t decide what story they want to tell. Also, it’s derivative in a way that goes far beyond simple homage. If you took the plots of Escape From New York, Mad Max 2, 28 Days Later and perhaps a little bit of Robin Hood, then you’ve come close to the scenes that make up the movie. It never chooses a single plot to follow to its proper end, and comes across as the hyperactive kid who’s telling you a story and changes it whenever he sees something new.

Why is it good?

It’s fun. I know that covers pretty much the justification for a lot of these films, but it’s such a mess of a film that you can’t help but sit back and enjoy it. It’s like a train that got derailed, but when it crashed turned into some intriguing piece of badass modern art that you look at and go “Well, that’s certainly something!” Also, Rhona Mitra. She could read out volumes on the minutiae of tax law, and everyone who heard her voice would instantly weaken at the knees and need to cross their legs for a while. She’s not the best actress, nor the most convincing action girl – though she does OK – but that voice is enough to make miracles happen. It’s a gloriously stupid movie, but it’s entertaining as hell, even if it can’t decide what story it wants to tell.

6. Southland Tales

Plot Summary:

Well, um…some stuff happens…The Rock is in it…Sarah Michelle Gellar plays a porn star?

Why is it kinda crap?

Well, Richard Kelly had a huge hit with Donnie Darko, and given the film’s incredible acclaim, he was given free license to make whatever he wanted, and he did just that. Southland Tales is an indecipherable mess of a movie that is trying to cash in on everything that made Donnie Darko work so well and ramp up the weirdness factor by a thousand points. If you squint your eyes and tilt your head, the film almost looks like it’s telling a modern version of the Book of Revelation, but it’s not clear, and it’s not meant to be. Characters are meant to be funny and intriguing, but designing them as such without actually making them funny and intriguing leaves you with these weird archetypes who do stuff but you’re not quite sure why,

Why is it good?

The weirdness of this movie is just mesmerising. It wraps itself around you like a psychotic lava lamp taking LSD and riding a unicorn. You have no idea what’s happening, it’s confusing as all hell, and you have a very distinct idea that the people who are meant to be able to give you answers are too busy snorting their coke through the rolled up banknotes the film should make them to think them up. Except of course that the film tanked horribly. It failed in a massive way at Cannes getting booed by the audience and savaged by the critics. Then it got recut, and while it was thought of to be an improvement, people were still scratching their heads asking, “what the fuck?” It’s a bit like having a dream that’s really awesome but you can’t fully remember the details, so you try to write it down and it all goes to hell. But in an awesome way.

#5. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Plot Summary

Angelina Jolie runs across the globe trying to get two pieces of a time-travelling triangle before the — oh fuck it, Angelina Jolie has boobs and fires guns, that’s all the film is concerned with.

Why is it kinda crap?

First off — it’s a video game movie. There has been precisely one good one, and that’s not even based on a video game: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Secondly, it’s a movie that should be full of action, but in its efforts to be a proper movie, spends a lot of time trying to develop characters and set up a storyline, which, though I’ll give it points for efforts, does not work – and this robs it of the blockbuster appeal you look for in video game movies.

Why is it good?

Angelina Jolie. She does a grand ol’ job of playing Lara Croft. The movie is not like the games, but she is like the character. I actually quite like to story and characters too, much as they rely on clichés. It’s a good way to spend a few hours, and it falls nicely into my dual loves of the Tomb Raider games and Angelina Jolie. It’s also the first movie I ever really got behind from production through to release — the birth of my movie nerdiness.

#4. Suspiria

Plot Summary:

Suzie Banyon arrives in Germany (at 10:40 p.m!) to attend a ballet academy only to find it’s being run by witches.

All the rest:

I’ve already written in much more depth about the reasons why I love it and think it’s crap at the same time, so I’ll direct you here instead, but it still gets a place on the list.

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#3. The Cell

Plot Summary:

Jennifer Lopez plays a psychiatrist whose form of therapy involves going into the mind of her patients. When a serial killer falls into a coma after kidnapping a new victim, she enters his mind to try and find where she is holding him.

Why is it kinda crap?

This film almost redefines the term “excuse plot.” Tarsem Singh, the director, is a music video director by trade, which leads to amazing visuals but you don’t need too much in the way of performance. This film is an excuse to see Jennifer Lopez in amazing costumes on amazing sets. The serial killer story means there’s some interesting set pieces, because we expect them to be twisted and psychotic, but in their haste, they’ve combined elements of Silence of the Lambs and SE7EN, then left them on a plate to the side while they prepare the main visual meal. Also, it has Vince Vaughan in it. Return to Paradise and Swingers aside, every one of his performances is pretty lacklustre, and this is no exception. FBI Agent my ass.

Why is it good?

Well first off, that visual meal is awfully tasty. The visuals in this movie are incredible, and they’re exciting. The story doesn’t really make much sense and you’ll be able to point flaws out all over the place, but you’ll love how pretty everything is first. Secondly, people forget that Jennifer Lopez is actually a very decent actress. Sure the likes of Maid in Manhattan and Gigli are excruciating, but then think back to quiet gems like Selena and Out of Sight. Her performance in The Cell is somewhere in the middle. She’s actually quite good at playing a compassionate loner – she’s not remotely convincing as a psychiatrist, but then again, neither is the film’s version of psychiatry. She’s quite good.

#2. The Warriors

Plot Summary:

After being framed for a significant murder, a gang called The Warriors must get home through miles and miles of hostile New York Territory.

Why is it bad?

“Dated well” thy name is not The Warriors. Here is a film made at the height of the 70s, and it shows. The characters are all walking stereotypes, and the acting, across the board, is woeful.

Why is it good?

There’s a certain charm to the dated dialogue, the 7os posturing and the ludicrous style of this film. I also like the episodic structure, the themed gangs, the overall composition of the film. I also have a real penchant for movies that take place at night on the streets of cities while they’re asleep. This is up there with Urbania and City Loop in terms of my favourite night-fuelled cinema.

#1. Commando

Plot Summary:

Arnie’s daughter gets kidnapped, and he proceeds to kill a lot of people while he gets her back.

Why is it kinda crap?

This is every cliché of 80s Action films, and every stereotype we assume about Arnold Schwarzenegger in general. It is possibly the stupidest, most overblown action film in history, with ridiculous dialogue, bad puns, ridiculous shooting scenes and a badguy who is clearly sexually obsessed with Arnie. Bennet, the film’s villain, dresses in leather, has a handlebar moustache and has a perverse obsession with penetrating Arnold with a knife. Even my rejection of reading too much into a movie can’t ignore the signs here.

Why is it good?

This is, without question, the very best film you can call “so bad it’s good.” I can’t really summarise the true awesomeness of this movie in words, so I’m going to let a picture do that for me:

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2 thoughts on “Top 10 Great Movies (That Are Actually Kinda Crap)

  1. You don’t have to hide from me, I’m a girl and I thought Mean Girls was a piece of crap too and how a second one got made (bankrolled by Disney, no less) amazes me.
    Southland Tales and The Cell would both be on my list but for different reasons -ST for Bai Ling’s staunch and badly acted bimbette ass and The Cell for Vince Vaughan (just ‘cos he seems bored in every film he’s ever made). I think Vincent Donofrio’s psycho and J.Lo’s outfits made that film.
    And The Warriors… Paramount are still trying to hold onto that R Rating for this film and it’s definitely nowhere near worth that. Perhaps a PG, after all Shrek with its marjuana/catnip scene only garnered that. Warriors violence isn’t that much more, really.

  2. Yeah, the unpleasantness that is Vince Vaughan is a pretty irritating presence in whatever it is he’s appearing in.

    The Warriors is brilliantly terrible, and yeah the “violence” is probably worthy of an M at most…

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