The Slate Movie Club this week has noted more than once that 2013 was not only full of good films, but also full of very contentious arguments about those very same films. “It was,” as Wesley Morris put it, “a deeply satisfying year for the movies, both in terms of how very good the good ones were and how crazy the allegedly bad ones made everybody.”
No matter how unassailable you think your favorite movie from 2013 is, rest assured that somebody out there hated it. Or, to put on a more positive spin on this: If you feel lonely in your loathing for, say, Captain Phillips or Gravity or Her, don’t! There are other people out there, professional writers and critics even, who hated it just as much as you did.
So read on, and find your kindred spirits.
12 Years a Slave
A movie on such an indisputably important topic, made with care and populated with terrific actors, might appear critic-proof. But no. Adam Nayman, reviewing 12 Years for Reverse Shot, twice declared it a “bad movie”—in the course, it should be noted, of a sophisticated argument about McQueen’s aesthetic choices. For some, those choices were simply too aesthetic, so to speak: Stephanie Zacharek described one particularly brutal moment in the movie as “weirdly antiseptic, history made safe through art.” And here on Slate, Peter Malamud Smith argued that 12 Years, by focusing on a man who was, in many ways, exceptional, implied (unintentionally) “that everyone else, in some sense, belongs in slavery.” He didn’t like it either.
The negative takes on American Hustle appeared right on the heels of the movie’s many raves—and, indeed, seemed to take those raves as an affront. (And those 10 Oscar nominations? Don’t even ask.) “How has Hustle conned so many intelligent people into declaring it a masterpiece?” Peter DeBruge asked in Variety. “This is a messy C-minus movie at best, one that makes Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain look downright disciplined by comparison.” But the more frequent comparison has been with The Wolf of Wall Street—as in a piece for the Dissolve by Andrew Lapin, who declared that Hustle “plays like a bid for the campaign ticket of mass-market respectability, and … comes off like another brand of bullshit.”
The New Yorker sounded a sour note among many hosannas: “How does a left-wing conscience find room to maneuver in a right-wing form?” asked Anthony Lane in his review. The answer: not very well! “The screenplay, by Billy Ray, is not much help,” he wrote, arguing that the hijackers were given “the thinnest of backgrounds.” Andrew O’Hehir in Salon also had complaints about the film’s depiction of the Somalis, and concluded that “Captain Phillips is less an adventure yarn about the daring rescue of a captured American than a celebration of a huge and expensive machine that crushes disorder.”
Dallas Buyers Club
A man dying of AIDS fights a fierce battle to bring better medicine to his fellow sufferers, learning an important lesson about tolerance along the way? And it’s based on a true story? And stars Matthew McConaughey? What’s not to like? Well, “There’s a whiff of Suzanne Somers-style pseudoscience about the proceedings,” said Daniel D’Addario in Salon, calling it a “simplistic impression of a remarkably complicated time.” Deadspin labeled it “gay history for straight people,” and its reviewers, Will Leitch and Tim Grierson, deemed the film “obnoxious hokum, an important story so distilled and stripped of its essence that by the end, it’s not about AIDS and the fight for new drugs at all.”
Gravity, with its 96 score on Metacritic, might be the least hated Best Picture nominee this year. But fear not: Some people hate it. “No matter how perfectly-orchestrated the sound, no matter how artistically-chiseled the graphics, no matter how hair-trigger the gameplay,” Rick Paulas wrote for the Awl, “watching someone else play a video game is boring.” And that, Paulas says, “is exactly what watching Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is like.”
Most critics loved this movie more than Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) loves his phone (Scarlett Johansson). But not all: “The film, with its dewy tone and gentle manners, plays like a feature-length kitten video,” wrote The New Yorker’s Richard Brody, “leaving viewers to coo at the cute humans who live like pets in a world-scale safe house.” He went on to decry its “facile humanism” and “artificially sweetened” characters. Here on Slate, I offered similar complaints on a podcast.
Was this a subtly grand movie that tackled not only one father-son relationship but a whole complicated breed of American men? Not according to Keith Uhlich, who labeled it “a rank exercise in hicksploitation sentimentalism.” A.A. Dowd of the A.V. Club agreed: “the actual people populating this rural wasteland are so grotesquely buffoonish, so designed for ridicule, that it’s hard to take the melancholy seriously.” And in The New Yorker, David Denby declared it “far from a work of art.”
Kyle Smith of the New York Post really hated this movie. To be fair, though, he did think some people would like it: “if 90 minutes of organized hate brings you joy,” he wrote, “go and buy your ticket now.” (Put that on the poster, Weinstein Co.!) The movie has “no other purpose” than to “simultaneously attack Catholics and Republicans,” according to Smith. Writing for Slant, Jesse Cataldo derided the film for teaching “a Very Important Lesson about humanism” to the character played by Steve Coogan, and concluded that it “never comes close to understanding [the] complexities” of its title character (played by Judi Dench).
The Wolf of Wall Street
A lot of people hated The Wolf of Wall Street. And some (though not all!) had even seen the movie. Reviewing it for The New Yorker, David Denby called it “manic and forced,” an “attempt to out-Tarantino Tarantino.” Lou Lumenick in the New York Post called the film “bloated, redundant, vulgar, shapeless, and pointless.” David Edelstein in New York declared it “thumpingly insipid.” I could go on, but this would become just as repetitive as these critics found The Wolf of Wall Street to be. (It’s great, by the way—you should see it.)
TODAY IN SLATE
Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case
The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race
Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion
The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented
Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy
It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?
Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada
An All-Female Mission to Mars
As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.