Here are films that have been acclaimed by critics to be among the best of all time, but tend to fall flat with audiences. While some classics have lasting and broad appeal, like The Wizard of Oz or Gone With the Wind, some take a bit more effort from the viewer and are often criticized by audiences for going over their heads or being too boring. The following movies are must-sees for those interested in film, but maybe are not the best choices to show friends of the non-film buff variety.
1. Bonnie and Clyde
While on its surface Bonnie and Clyde is a sexy crime story about a couple who were bent on living fast and dying young together, the final product is slow moving and the characters are unsympathetic. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway make for a gorgeous couple as Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, except the movie hardly gives us any sex, since Barrow is impotent.
Dunaway opens the movie with a masterful nude scene that reveals the character’s boredom, frustration, and restlessness so that we understand why she takes up with Clyde without having to speak a single line. While the two characters are in love, they seem so disconnected from everything around them except each other that it’s difficult to read them. The final product is a beautiful piece of cinema, but it can leave viewers feeling confused about what they’re supposed to take from Bonnie and Clyde’s story.
2. The Deer Hunter
The 1978 Vietnam War film The Deer Hunter has received high acclaim for excellent performances from Robert DeNiro, Meryl Streep, and Christopher Walken, but has also been criticized for its one-sided vision of the North Vietnamese as blood-crazed killers. The film is a three-hour long violence-filled meditation on war, with the central metaphor being the game of Russian roulette. War journalists scorned that metaphor because there was not a single case in the whole of the Vietnam War ever found about the Viet Cong forcing American prisoners to play Russian roulette, as is portrayed in the movie.
In an article about Hollywood’s treatment of the Vietnam War, Vanity Fair discusses the backlash to the film from people who actually experienced the war firsthand. Los Angeles Times Pulitzer Prize-winning war journalist Peter Arnett wrote: “In its 20 years of war, there was not a single recorded case of Russian roulette. … The central metaphor of the movie is simply a bloody lie.” The New York Times published an opinion piece from war journalist John Pilger, who said: “Hollywood sensed that a lot of money could be made with a movie that appealed directly to those racial instincts that cause wars and that allowed the Vietnam war to endure for so long. … The Deer Hunter and its apologists insult the memory of every American who died in Vietnam.” Despite the backlash, The Deer Hunter is still considered to be one of the greatest films of all time, showing legendary actors DeNiro, Streep, and Walken at the top of their games.
3. Lawrence of Arabia
Lawrence of Arabia is a four-hour-long sweeping epic — which for some people puts it on a must-watch list while others squirm at thought of spending that much time concentrating on a difficult plot and viewing sweeping scenes of the desert landscape. The film has also been questioned for not representing people of Middle Eastern descent in casting, but this is a common issue for films made in the early 1960s. New York Times critic Bowley Crowther criticized the movie for not portraying Lawrence’s humanity enough and focusing too much on the scenery, which he did admit is breathtaking. Experts on the life of British army officer T.E. Lawrence say that the movie takes liberties with his life, which partially came from Lawrence’s own exaggerations in his autobiography, Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey
2001: A Space Odyssey is widely considered to be one of the most important films of all time and perhaps the visionary director Stanley Kubrick’s greatest achievement. The movie is visually impressive and hugely imaginative, but it’s also a long and rather arduous undertaking to watch. An incredibly long scene in which a spaceship docks is one complaint from viewers about the film. Another is the stilted dialogue and the lack of emotion the audience feels toward the characters, in particular Poole, whose death elicits little emotion from viewers. While it is considered by the American Film Institute to be the greatest science fiction movie of all time, it was not a crowd pleaser when it was released and likely never will be.
5. Birth of a Nation
D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation is one of the most controversial films in cinema history. The 1915 silent movie is credited with being one of the most groundbreaking films of all time, inventing standard film techniques like close-ups, camera pans, and eye-line matches, as well as pioneering nighttime photography and the use of extras. But the movie is a highly racist depiction of American history that romanticized the Ku Klux Klan and is even credited with starting a revival of the KKK. With Birth, Griffith was “single-handedly responsible for codifying the language of cinema and shattering the world’s notions of what a film could be,” according to film critic Eric M. Armstrong, but the filmmaker would never live down the legacy of bigotry and racism left by the movie.
This 1959 three-hour Biblical epic starring Charlton Heston broke records for biggest budget, biggest sets, box office gross, and most Oscar wins when it premiered in 1959, but many today consider the film to be too uneven and too boring. A famous chariot race scene halfway through the film is cited as one of the greatest action sequences ever filmed, but the rest of the movie suffers from mediocre, preachy writing, and all that spectacle wears itself out quickly. Film critic Gary Giddins wrote in The New York Sun, “Watching Ben-Hur all at once is like sitting down to a 10-course meal and finding that every course consists of potato dumplings, except for the seventh, which is strawberry shortcake (that would be the chariot race).”
7. Citizen Kane
Given that Orson Welles’s Kane is drooled over by movie lovers and critics and has been repeatedly ranked as the greatest movie of all time by a variety of sources, it’s a movie that any film buff would want to share. Unfortunately, those less appreciative of the art of film and simply looking for an entertaining movie to watch will likely not be so impressed. Citizen Kane is long, moves slowly, and tells the story of greedy newspaper owner William Randolph Hearst, a man who isn’t exactly a very familiar part of our country’s history. Film buffs can point out the groundbreaking camera work and Welles’s suburb performance as Charles Foster Kane, but this is a movie that goes over the heads of many a casual viewer.
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