You and I and all those people out there with a vocal love of film have ruined it for everyone, pimping movies up, falling in love with mediocre films and championing them to near-legendary status. We’ve embraced turkeys, legitimized borderline movies, and elevated modest films in our favorite franchises above and beyond realistic standards. We’ve even embraced the films everyone likes, somehow adding a credibility to them that transcends the mainstream. Sacred cows, little flicks, and everything in between. It’s time we took a look inward and came clean with 25 movies we think need to be taken down a peg or two.
These are our four categories for this list:
These guys have had it too easy. Far too easy. Don’t believe the insane hype.
Good flicks that have gotten too damn big for their britches.
Asshole, you love this film for all the wrong reasons.
WHAT THE FUCK
Something went horribly wrong here and it’s carried over the the fans, who are blinded by shizer.
Why The Big Lebowski is Overblown
Your guide: Jeremy Smith
Its Legacy: Brought the Coens back to quirky disrepute after the prestige success of Fargo. Did not make Jeff Bridges a star, but turned independent film advocate Jeff Dowd into a counterculture icon. Answered emphatically, and in the affirmative, the question, “Is John Turturro quite insane?” Gave Tara Reid a sexy, distinguished introduction which she would quickly squander. Put Kenny Rogers on many a hipster hangout’s jukebox. Emboldened Richard Kelly. Quoted slightly less frequently than The Bible. Lebowski Fest.
Why It’s Here: As a true believer in the power of nonsensical narratives stuffed with ceaseless non-sequitur and bizarro characters, I couldn’t be much more ensconced in the highly specialized target demographic for The Big Lebowski (except that I stopped smoking pot because it got in the way of my alcoholism). So why am I done with the movie after two viewings?
Sustaining lunacy of this scatterbrained nature is impossible enough at ninety minutes, but the Coens, ever confident in their own shared genius (and rightfully so), reach for filmmaking immortality by stretching their digressive, amorphous narrative out to nearly two hours. The length isn’t unjustified: The Dude’s Chandler-ian quest to avenge his soiled rug (which really tied the room together) and – additionally, haphazadly – track down the kidnapped wife of his mob-entangled namesake is nuttily, engagingly labyrinthine; at the outset, you want the story to stretch out into forever – kinda like a righteous high. Unfortunately, once the Coens get around to “resolving” their smoked-out yarn, forever is where you feel you’ve been for the last fifty minutes.
The abrupt comedown of The Big Lebowski‘s second-half is like the arduous dying-off of a mid-afternoon alcohol buzz; what seemed like a good idea at lunchtime is slowly turning the remainder of your workday into a headache-y, dry-mouthed agony. Though the Coens have peopled their film with enough eccentrics to fill fifty Raising Arizonas (Jesus Quintana, Walter Sobchak, Knox Harrington, the nihilists, etc.), they apparently crammed their best material into the first few reels. And while it’s fine for a story to go clattering off the rails, the resulting mayhem better be inspired to justify the lack of discipline. In Lebowski, the bloodshot shenanigans are just increasingly desperate.
Regardless of its cult reputation, I don’t really see The Big Lebowski as a stoner comedy (like the afore-busted-down Friday), and I definitely don’t think the Coens do either. This is their L.A.-based, Raymond Chandler answer to the Dashiell Hammett-infused Miller’s Crossing; if anything, it’s an affectionate parodying of Robert Altman’s ambling The Long Goodbye. And that’s a huge part of Lebowski‘s problem: the central joke is that Chandler’s plots were so convoluted and laden with incident that they didn’t often add up; ergo, “Let’s bid farewell to reality and indulge our every stylistic whim.” But the Coens come up short because they’ve jettisoned the most essential element of Chandler: morality. Phillip Marlowe gave a shit. Lebowski can’t be bothered. That’s all well and good conceptually, but it throws the universe askew. And while the idea of Marlowe tearing out into the big smoggy to get satisfaction for his urine-stained rug is hysterical in theory, it’s nothing more than a jumping off point into unrewarding, under-thought meaninglessness.
But if it would’ve ended with Lebowski gunning down Jackie Treehorn as anguished recompense for the act of incivility, maybe it’d be my favorite movie of all time.
A Moment of Pissing Excellence: The pedestrian-for-the-Coens ash-scattering gag.
These Ain’t Chopped Liver Alternatives: The Long Goodbye, The Big Sleep, Miller’s Crossing, The President’s Analyst, Shampoo
Andre Dellamorte Agrees: There is so much to love in The Big Lebowski that it’s a shame it never gets all the way there. The chemistry between Bridges and Goodman is excellent, the supporting cast is note-perfect, and a number of the non-sequiturs are as good as they come. But where Raising Arizona has an honest-to-goodness heart, Lebowski suffers – much like Hudsucker Proxy - from being too much homage and not enough substance to justify the time spent on it. If you get what they’re doing, the approach becomes a bit mechanical, because once you spot that it’s a riff on The Big Sleep (as much the novel as the Howard Hawks adaptation), it becomes the cinematic equivalent to Devo’s cover of “Satisfaction”. The film is simply too aware of itself – it even has two different characters that show up to break the fourth wall. Granted, there’s something perfect about the narrator, and Sam Elliot’s rusty twang, but this is one of those films where it feels still wedded to the page and – too often for my tastes – you get the joke without laughing. Also, let it be said here and forever more: Flea is terrible in this.
Russ Fischer Disagrees: As the guy who wrote up the film for our Essentials list, I’m more or less obliged to chime in here for the opposition, but that’s a task I’ve got no problems doing. I’ll give Beaks one thing: the movie is a tad long. But I’m the guy that thinks anything over 85 minutes has to make a real case for itself with every scene. Berlin Alexanderplatz? Great jokes in the 15th reel aside, it’s kind of a stretch. I’ll also agree with the Chandler-esque estimation, and specifically the resemblance to The Long Goodbye. But where Beaks and I diverge is the notion of morality. Because Lebowski has morality in spades…well, in shorts and sunglasses. The Dude and Walter are two halves of a whole (Freudians feel free to chime in on Donnie’s role in what might actually be a 3-way incarnation of a single identity) and Walter is definitely the moral voice of the film. As such, he’s not always likable, or even rational, but he’s the guy pushing to do some semblance of the right thing. That he’s so confused and easily turned around…well, it’s LA. And who among us isn’t susceptible to lapses of judgment and reason under the guise of morality? Five years ago I might have gone along with tagging the film as ‘overblown’. But the fervor that saw college kids building entire conversations out of the film’s dialogue, being transient as most popular film fascinations are, has subsided and the movie can now hold a place that it has handily earned..