10 Bad Movies by Great Directors

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It’s amazing that great directors don’t make bad movies more often. Sure, they’re well regarded visionaries, but the pressure to make an incredibly expensive project, and to make it on a tight schedule, can be overwhelming – it’s amazing that these auteurs don’t phone it in more than they do.

Follow me on a tribute to what amounts to the relatable humanity of film legends, where the best intentions and a reputation for success lead to the same kind of dreck us regular mortals know all too well.

 

10. Tim Burton, Big Fish (2003)

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You Know Him Better For: Batman/Batman Returns (1989/1992), Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Beetlejuice (1988), basically that trademark mix of childlike imagination, macabre doom and subtle quirkiness.

Why This Film Is No Good: Self-congratulatory sentimentality that seems to run on a loop for two hours straight. It doesn’t help that the plot is basically a seemingly unending series of unrealistic tall tales that just sort of wrap up when Billy Crudup arbitrarily decides that his dying dad (Albert Finney) told lies because he loved him. For someone who made a career out of embracing surrealistic fantasy, this is like pulling back the curtain on the wizard and telling the audience “hey, let me tell you how to feel about this, you better get teary eyed.” I’m inclined to tell a tall tale that the movie was five hours long, because it certainly felt like it in the theater.

 

09. Spike Lee, Clockers (1995)

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You Know Him Better For: Do The Right Thing (1989), Malcolm X (1992), Mo Better Blues (1990), and any other number of stylistically recognizable classics that are meticulously crafted vibrant art pieces about human connections and racial tension.

Why This Film Is No Good: A depressingly large number of Lee’s movies could’ve made this list. It’s hard to understand why, but starting with this rambling, meandering, Harvey Keitel southern accent sporting crime drama, Spike lost his meticulous and eye popping approach to cinema, and his career has been in a sort of doldrums ever since. Girl 6 (1996), Get On The Bus (1996), and others of his movies exhibit less energy and originality than his original hot streak.

It’s hard to imagine what one is supposed to glean from this film, other than Spike Lee has a real strong love for soft focus cinematography, and that maybe Mekhi Phifer isn’t the greatest actor in the world to ask to emote on camera when you run out of other ideas like story and dialogue.

 

08. Woody Allen, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (2010)

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You Know Him Better For: Aside from being the hero to any number of neurotic writer/directors, Take The Money And Run (1969), Annie Hall (1977), Hannah And Her Sisters (1986), Bullets Over Broadway (1994), basically witty, urbane, irreverent 50s/60s style jokes that are kind of amazing.

Why This Film Is No Good: And you thought Spike Lee had a long drought of bad movies! The reasons for his decline, as difficult to pin down as they are, seem similar to Lee’s. For whatever reason, the imagination that made Woody special simply went away. A movie like Annie Hall addressed a broad variety of topics, jumped around in time, used talking to the camera, etc. But due to what may have been budgetary concerns, or maybe his aging sensibilities, the movies got less funny, less original and less interesting to watch.

…Tall Dark Stranger is more emblematic than necessarily the worst movie of his career, but it is quite a doozy. The movie is already less funny than mildly ironic in its relationships, key word mildly. But combine that with Anthony Hopkins seeming sort of tired in his line delivery, basically sleepwalking through anxiety in his relationship with a call girl (Lucy Punch). And Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin do their best, but the rigorous banality of Allen’s dialogue amounts to well performed readings of lines that are close to being things like “hi, how are you?” and “of course”.

07. Orson Welles, The Trial (1962)

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You Know Him Better For: A little movie called Citizen Kane(!) (1941), Touch Of Evil (1958), F For Fake (1973), for being that visually inventive pompous auteur that you end up talking about in one way or another in any film class.

Why This Film Is No Good: I think it was ambitious but probably foolhardy to try and make a compelling film out of such an imaginative author as Franz Kafka, especially considering the budget limitations of an Orson Welles exiled from mainstream studio pictures.

The movie is visually vague, taking great license of the metaphorical apparatuses of a Kafka story, forcing the audience to wonder what exactly they’re looking at. The confusion is not helped by the performance of the usually at least interesting Anthony Perkins as Josef K, left to basically scream against a blank wall for most of the film, taking an intriguing and anxiety rendering storyline and basically making it monotonous and boring.

06. Christopher Nolan, Insomnia (2002)

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You Know Him Better For: Memento (2000), a certain Batman trilogy (2005-2012), for making the big ticket, most popular and innovative 3D/IMAX cinema this side of James Cameron.

Why This Film Is No Good: Speaking of innovative, old Al Pacino. Not just that, old Al Pacino suffering from the titular insomnia in Alaska. I guess it’s a little more exciting than that description, but not by a whole lot. Awkwardly nostalgic for better cop movies, Pacino “stars” as a washed up cop feeling the heat from a lifetime of being corrupt. Plodding, emotional posturing that pats itself on the back for putting a halo on Pacino’s head.

And what a waste of Hilary Swank, and especially of Robin Williams as the conniving bad guy who just sort of becomes a less conniving, more generic bad guy.

A definite outlier on Nolan’s career trend of artistic imagination.

05. Robert Altman, Images (1972)

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You Know Him Better For: M*A*S*H* (1970), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), Nashville (1975), The Player (1992), the quintessential alternative/independent film director, with a weird sort of organic sense of humor

Why This Film Is No Good: The story is about a woman (Susannah York), schizophrenic, who has a hard time distinguishing if a murderous guy is in her house or not. The cartoonish handling of mental illness already imbues the story with a sense of uncomfortable dread, like “this isn’t right, is it?”, and all the jump scares and the shock horror twist ending that just seems exploitative in hindsight does not help. “This is an Altman movie?” you’ll ask yourself, and the answer is yes, but in reality, it just isn’t up to par with his classics.

04. John Carpenter, Village Of The Damned (1995)

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You Know Him Better For: Halloween (1978), Escape From New York (1981), The Thing (1982), for really taking B-movie science fiction/horror and making it an art form.

Why This Film Is No Good: The basic story is the interesting science fiction stuff that Carpenter aficionados are used to. Aliens immaculately conceive a bunch of human-ish babies that take over a small town. But oh my God, so much repetitive images of the children marching around, using their psychic powers, the audience has to wait till almost the end of the movie for the alien offspring or our protagonists to try anything.

Christopher Reeve does his best as the well meaning doctor protagonist, Mark Hamill shows up, but the movie is so slow and stiff in its approach, it really puts any attempts at acting to waste.

03. John Landis, Beverly Hills Cop 3 (1994)

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You Know Him Better For: Animal House (1978), The Blues Brothers (1980), An American Werewolf In London (1981), Coming To America (1988), for being incredibly apt at making those funny movies that you either chuckle at or memorize ever line of.

Why This Film Is No Good: Martin Brest’s Beverly Hills Cop (1984) was a mildly funny fish out of water story, benefiting from Eddie Murphy at the zenith of his prime.

Tony Scott’s Beverly Hills Cop 2 (1987) avoided being a completely terrible idea by the characters being an okay simulacrum of the first one, and some clever action sequences.

And this movie…well, is it a defense of Landis that Murphy and Judge Reinhold give boring performances that seem to avoid the energy that made the first film work, or isn’t it Landis’s job to build a certain level of energy on set? In any case, yawn. The action takes place at a theme park, and the movie takes a lot of comfort in the fact that Murphy gets to run around in what looks like the tram tour at Universal Studios, because maybe the visual flair of animatronic robots mean good scene work?

The one segment of the movie that worked, basically Bronson Pinchot reprising his gay character from the first movie to ramble about consumer weapons sales, really ends up hurting the movie in hindsight. You have one actor who’s actually delivering on his performance, and is funny and interesting, and he’s in one scene and then goes away. So frustratingly inconsistent, just like Eddie Murphy’s career from this point onward.

02. Oliver Stone, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)

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You Know Him Better For: Platoon (1986), Wall Street (1987), JFK (1991), for being the guy who really loves stirring up some kind of controversy, and when he’s at his best, can actually maybe at least get you interested in what the hell he’s talking about.

Why This Film Is No Good: Stone has made some questionable movies in his career, but as far as I know, Shia LaBeouf only stars in one of them. While the aforementioned Images is unsettling, it doesn’t feature Shia yelling “YOU COULD BE SUPERMAN!” to Carey Mulligan in a somehow convincing way to get her to invest money in Gordon Gekko’s (Michael Douglas) economic schemes.

Speaking of the first Wall Street, what we basically get is a rehashing of the first film, not really satisfying but reminiscent enough to make you think you should’ve just watched the first one again. The plot is like a depressing roller coaster of “Shia LeBeouf is not going to do the same thing Charlie Sheen did in the first one, oh, he is, well, maybe it’s not going to follow the exact same beats…oh, it is”.

Even original music by Talking Heads frontman David Byrne is meandering and boring on arrival….Sell, sell, sell!

01. Martin Scorsese, The Color Of Money (1986)

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You Know Him Better For: Being Martin Scorsese. More specifically, Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), The Last Temptation Of Christ (1988), Goodfellas (1990), Casino (1995), The Departed (2006), and maybe ten either great or good films, for real.

Why This Film Is No Good: It’s a testament to Scorsese’s artistry that even his colossal mediocrities have such a unique way to suck. Like a Picasso of puke.

First of all, Scorsese’s usually skillful use of light and color palette took some kind of drug before shooting. Such diffused light and overly bright colors, it’s not very pleasant to look at.

Second of all, the movie that this is a sequel/character continuation of, Robert Rossen’s The Hustler (1961) is a brilliant drama, a testament to Paul Newman’s subtle skills as an actor. So comparison is already stiff against Color…

And Newman does at least reprise his role here as an aging “Fast” Eddie Felsen, but unfortunately Tom Cruise shows up as his protege/sidekick. Tom Cruise is not necessarily the worst actor, but his mere presence and Scorsese’s apparent dying need to give in to it sucks the life of out of the Felsen storyline. Now we’re in some weird hybrid that’s part sports drama, part cheesy Tom Cruise teen comedy and part tie-in music video for Eric Clapton’s “It’s In The Way That You Use It” (ok, that last one isn’t exactly fair. But another unfortunate strike by association for this film. If “Citizen Kane” came with Eric Clapton phoning it in on top, I think the AFI would take back its ranking.)

I remember the opening narration from the movie, where Scorsese himself describes the rudimentary elements to a game of pool. And it was really simple, and I found myself hoping that the movie would elevate into any kind of subtlety, and it never quite did. Paul Newman won the Oscar for Best Actor, but didn’t even think to attend the ceremony (another unfair strike by association, but still…)

 

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Author: Jason Luna

Jason Luna is currently getting an MFA in Film Directing, and is also an actor, a film critic, a screenwriter, a print/video editor, and anything else creative you need. A winner of 1 million dollars on NBC’s “1 vs. 100” in 2008, Jason has written about game shows, tv, movies, and books for About.com, Geek Speak Magazine, and Boston University’s “The Comment” Magazine (which he also co-edited). He likes to think of himself as a feminist, thinks dogs are better than people, and really, really likes John Waters.

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1 Comment

  1. Well-written, great list, except for “The Trial.” I thought it captured Kafka’s mood well and considering the film was made for about $85. Otherwise, well-done. Great list.

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