Rightwing Film Geek

2-on-1 tag team

I’ve been tagged by two different friends — Dale Price and Steve Skojec — for the same meme  — the “Top-Five Critically-Lauded Movies I Simply Detest.”

Since I generally only see movies that have at least some critical acclaim, I could probably do this for any given year. For example, in 2006, none of the films that won the world’s three top juried festivals were IMHO worth recommending — GRBAVICA (Berlin, 5), THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY (Cannes, 2) and STILL LIFE (Venice, 3).

Since Dale and Steve are both papistbuds who have named some truly detestable films, and often on grounds I’d choose (see Dale on CHOCOLAT and DEAD POETS SOCIETY), I’m gonna restrict myself to “Religious or Moral/Spiritual Films” that are widely liked in St. Blogs; several are on the Arts and Faith listing of 100 Spiritually Significant Films. Some of these films would not be considered critically praised in some of the FilmSnob circles I hang around, but well …

(1) A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (Fred Zinneman, USA, 1966) — This is the sort of film that causes many religious people to confuse the subject matter with the movie. Thomas More is a saint; this movie is a sin. It’s all respectable and britcostumey and sincere and stiffupperlippy, a lengthy episode of Masterpiece Theatuh (I can’t decide whether Orson Welles as Cardinal Wolsey is brilliant or just a kitchen sink gesture, SOUTLAND TALES avant la lettre). Robert Bolt never found a way to make this play into a film. And while I have a high tolerance for lengthy intellectual debates, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS just bogs down in them because that’s all there is once the basic situation is set up — there isn’t any real drama until the trial, just a lot of talk, staking out positions. And when we get to the trial, Paul Scofield’s performance is far too voicy and Zinneman’s direction far too stagy.

(2) PICKPOCKET (Robert Bresson, France, 1959) — Just about any Bresson, the cinematic Jansenist, would do here (COUNTRY PRIEST, JOAN OF ARC, BALTHAZAR, L’ARGENT) — the same somnambulent, inexpressive and unpsychological style that the uncharitable heathen (that would be me) insists on seeing as just plain empty tedium — events without drama, behavior without character. The acting would disgrace a middle-school play, even one about zombies, which is how Bresson deliberately gets his “models” to “perform.” For example, the police catch our so-called Dostoyevskian hero in a crime (imagine Crime and Punishment with Raskolnikov as an obscurely interior mumbler for a sense of how bad this is), but then immediately drop the charges **in the next scene.** He escapes a police crackdown at another point by going abroad and making a fortune and losing it all on gambling and women — we learn all that in a voiceover introducing the very next shot after he leaves Paris, which is of him returning to Paris. He doesn’t act (sic) any differently or make any reference to his foreign sojourn — so wtf is the point of our learning of it?

(3) LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy (Peter Jackson, USA/New Zealand, 2001-3) — Neither Tolkien nor swords-and-sorcery fantasy are things I’ve ever been able to get into — never had either a Dungeons and Dragons or a comic-fanboy phase as a boy. Yeah … I’ve been a stuffed shirt for 35 years, all right. I’ve tried to read the Middle Earth novels, but not gotten past 40 or 50 pages because Tolkien is too in love with coining names and inventing creatures and laboriously laying out a whole universe, as if the real one isn’t good enough, so the artist-god has to create ex nihilo, that my mind’s and eye’s reaction — film and book — was just to let it pass through me like prune juice. The first film was eye-popping, but spectacle doesn’t last in my mind, and the symbology felt childishly obvious, and without a “reality” to anchor it, it could only function as symbology. The second was just “ehhh.” I couldn’t even drag myself to see the third.

(4) WINTER LIGHT (Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1963) — Homer nods — maybe if I could believe a depressive collapse into suicide because China has the bomb, I could halfway credit this overschematicized whinge (though typically brilliantly made and acted). The faithlessness of Gunnar Bjornstrand’s pastor isn’t convincingly dramatized — if it’s ever shown how he got that way, I’ve forgotten it (plus GB usually played a skeptic in Bergman’s movies and so his ever being a priest didn’t convince me). With some notable bravura exceptions — Ingrid Thulin’s teacher reading her note to the camera being the most obvious example — the film feels cinematically static as though this material would work better as a play or novella.

(5) SONG OF BERNADETTE (Henry King, USA, 1943) — Typifies everything wrong with Hollywood studio-era religious movies, offensive in its calculated inoffensiveness — full of what Flannery O’Connor called “the pious voice” and what St. Josemaria Escriva derided as plaster saints. Also see above re A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS and subject matter — as long as neither holiness nor sainthood is imputed through a camera lens, subject-matter per se will never impress me. Seeing this movie is not a pilgrimage to Lourdes and the notion that it is, or relatedly, that a work of art can be judged on the basis of its subject matter is one I frankly find morally offensive. Add to that the typical dramatic shapelessness of the biopic, which gets deadly at 160 minutes, and a 25-year-old woman playing a 14-year-old girl (though that is actually kinda funny)

I tag James Frazier, Adam Villani, Donna Bowman, Barbara Nicolosi, and Peter Chattaway.

April 1, 2008 - Posted by | Memes


  1. Thanks for trashing a couple of my favorite movies. I’m hoping that’s just an April Fool’s joke on your part. Probably not.


    You might enjoy the post on IFC at my blog today.

    Comment by Jay Anderson | April 1, 2008 | Reply

  2. Oh, and thanks for trashing my favorite author, to boot.

    Comment by Jay Anderson | April 1, 2008 | Reply

  3. I like this topic, but I think it’s tiresome how often it degenerates into an anti-Hollywood Left bitch fest (see the liberty thread). A movie’s not bad just because you don’t like its message.

    Even though I wasn’t tagged, I will impertinently offer my choices here nontheless:

    1) Natural Born Killers — an evil movie that glorifies serial killers (after all, at least they’re not repressed like middle Americans), except when they kill an American Indian man– that’s just over the line!!

    2) American Beauty– repression is bad, homosexuality is good, religious/military men are closet Nazi homosexuals, teenage fornication is good, blah blah blah etc etc etc.

    3) Titanic- it took me nearly a decade to forgive Kate Winslet after seeing her in this. The biggest movie of all time? Peopla are indeed stupid. Don’t blame the elitist leftist critics for everything.

    4) Funny Games– evil, sadistic and pretentious.

    5) Dances With Wolves– PC to the max and boring to boot.

    Comment by Andy Nowicki | April 1, 2008 | Reply

  4. Jay:

    It’s not an April Fool’s joke at all, but I didn’t realize you were such a fan of WINTER LIGHT and PICKPOCKET.

    And actually I’ve never had IFC … all the cable systems I’ve ever been on have gone with the Sundance Network.


    Yes, that thread at Liberty Film Fest was depressing, which is part of why I deliberately restricted myself to a different type of films, without a single reference to PC liberal Hollywoof.

    And BEAUTY is not just “teenage fornication is good,” it’s “dirty old man slobbering over daughter’s teen friends is good.” BTW … isn’t it interesting [sic] how Hollywoof always sees homosexuality as good except when conservatives do it?

    And what prompted you to forgive Kate? LITTLE CHILDREN? (which was a good movie, and she was brilliant in it, but I kinda doubt it)

    Comment by vjmorton | April 1, 2008 | Reply

  5. “Hollywoof?” Is this an inside joke or a typo?

    Yes, quite right: homosexuality is bad when conservatives do it– hence no gay rights group leapt to the defense of Larry Craig (R) after his public restroom shenanigans.

    I think it was ENIGMA that enabled me to like Miss Winslet again. So, not quite a decade later, but close. I thought she was good in LITTLE CHILDREN (with a flawless American accent), but found the movie quite dull.

    Comment by Andy Nowicki | April 1, 2008 | Reply

  6. The faithlessness of Gunnar Bjornstrand’s pastor isn’t convincingly dramatized — if it’s ever shown how he got that way, I’ve forgotten it

    I’ve seen the film recently and I felt the same way at first — that the moment of rupture is not sufficiently explained, though Bergman makes the moment very clear (it’s at the point when the sun shines through the window, and the pastor throws himself on the floor in front of the altar, and the teacher holds him, kisses and caresses him, softening the existential impact of losing the faith). However, I’ve changed my mind. The point is that the pastor’s faith has never had anything to do with reality — he believed in an idol that only ruled over an imagined world. Recall his story of living at the margins of the Spanish Civil War, and not doing anything to help; also his disgust at the teacher’s bleeding hands, how ineffectual and weak his faith was before the cold face of reality. That is the point that Bergman is making, and it’s a point that is subtle enough that most people have not noticed it, and today we are stuck with sociological analyses of the causes and effects of contemporary European secularization, when Bergman was already warning us about it 50 years ago. If the faith doesn’t help me live in the real world, then we may as well shirk it off.

    You’re right that *dramatically*, there is no one event that causes the pastor to lose his faith. But there are reasons for it, reasons that are in the past and that are related in two monologues (the pastor’s reminiscing about Portugal, the teacher’s letter). There is also the suicide, which is a dramatic event that is caused by the faithlessness. But the mundane, anticlimactic way that the pastor experiences the loss of faith, the dread with which he goes through the loss, and the lack of any feeling of “liberation” which supposedly accompanies the atheist, are all keen insights on the part of Bergman. Insights that I wish Christopher Hitchens would absorb, but I have a feeling that he wouldn’t be able to appreciate this movie.

    The China thing was *supposed* to be somewhat silly — without faith, we have no moorings, we are pathetic, we can’t deal with our fears, petty or real.

    Comment by Santiago | April 2, 2008 | Reply

  7. […] Morton calls it one of the “critically-lauded” religious films he hates. I don’t entirely […]

    Pingback by It’s a Horrible Life? | The American Conservative | August 16, 2012 | Reply

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