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 Almost Famous is Overrated
Your guide: Andre Dellamorte
Its Legacy: Let Cameron Crowe think he was just poorly marketed, which led to Elizabethtown. Led to too many “Sshh, you are home” jokes. Gave people the impression Kate Hudson was a worthwhile talent. Was another in the all-too-long line of films that didn’t make Billy Crudup a star. Further proved that Say Anything should be regarded as anomalous. Was one of the first major chinks in the Dreamworks armor once they got their Oscar train rolling.
Why It’s Here:
“You wanna be a true friend to them? Be honest, and unmerciful.” Those are the words spoken by Lester Bangs (as played brilliantly by Phillip Seymour Hoffman), and they ring out because Bangs was one of the few critics of music who actually said something while writing about music, who had insight and could provoke an interesting response in his reader. He tried to cut the shit, and tell it like he felt it. And every scene with Hoffman’s Bangs are pretty splendid in 2000’s Almost Famous. You feel like Crowe actually captured some of the spirit of Bangs (though likely he was simply transcribing), and the piss and vinegar of Bangs’s commentary (knocking The Doors, Bangs opines “Give me The Guess Who. They got the courage to be drunken buffoons, which makes them poetic.”) is very much a part of this list.
Writing about the dead is easy, though. They don’t sue, and likely the problem with Cameron Crowe’s autobiographical Almost Famous is that Crowe knew he couldn’t hew too close to the horrible shit he must have witnessed or he might piss off some seriously awesome and powerful living legends, or (the worse alternative) he let his happiest times being the most luckiest plus-one cloud his judgment, and not reflect the words that reverberate through the film: “Be honest, and unmerciful.” The story follows Crowe-surrogate William Miller (Patrick Fugit) as he bluffs his way into a job with Rolling Stone, and onto the tour bus with the fictional band Stillwater. Their singer is Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee), but the true talent behind the band is Russell Hamond (Billy Crudup), who is slightly brooding. The film is then a collection of anecdotes as the band are shadowed by the groupie pu…posse, headed up by Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), who’s always been into Hammond. But their relationship is not exactly equal, and William gets a crush on Lane, though the sexuality of it is never dwelled upon.
When young William Miller loses his virginity to three groupies (in what looks to be a group sex encounter) it’s symbolized by floating handkerchiefs and slow motion. I’m sure no young boy would mind being deflowered in such a way, but it’s downpedling what must have been an important and partly traumatic event – at no point does the reality of having three women pleasure a virginal teenager become real. It showcases that for a film about sex, drugs and rock and roll, there’s very little of the former, and not so much of the middle either – drugs mostly show up for a comic scene where Hammond declares himself a Golden God, and the scene only comes to life when Hammond gets momentarily angry. But the rough side of things seems to be something that Crowe has no interest in, and so he chooses to gloss over most of the worst of it, to the point that even the most horrible things the characters do seem modest and trivial. Even Penny Lane’s OD is played for laughs. And as for rock n’ roll, the longest bit of sustained music is when Southern rock stars are hanging out on a bus singing along to Elton John. A scene that might have worked better if it was in contrast to the shiny happy people that make up much of the movie.
On the commentary track for Say Anything, Crowe talks about his ideal for John Cusack’s Lloyd Dobbler as a Southern kid he knew who was 100% positive and would not let anything get in his way. Cusack then comments that what he added to the character was that Dobbler knew the bad places, had experienced them, and that fueled his positivity, that for that character it was a choice. In doing so, Cusack made both the film and the character a classic. And when you look at the failings of Elizabethtown – even more than the miscastings – it’s apparent that the material (or more to the point, Crowe) never embraced the true dark side of a character who was on the verge of suicide and found life because his father’s death shocked him out of his own narcissism. Almost Famous is a sweet movie, and surely that’s enough for many, but by glamming it up it robs the portrait of any sort of teeth, and in doing so robs the film of earning its sweetness. But when Cameron Crowe wrote the book and script for Fast Times at Ridgemont High, he was not afraid of showing the dark edges of humans, of people dealing with problems. For Almost Famous, his “autobiography,” he wrote a film so nice that his mother appears on the commentary track. That’s far too much mercy.
A Moment of Piss:
An O.D. and stomach purging scored to Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour.” That’s LOL Cats cute.
These Ain’t Chopped Liver Alternatives: Say Anything, Dazed and Confused, The Last Waltz, Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Jeremy Smith Agrees: Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous is a beautifully shot, exquisitely scored, seductively performed ode to a 1970s that didn’t exist. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that: a few years prior, Paul Thomas Anderson went Crowe one better with Boogie Nights and gave us two decades of bullshit in the name of pure cinema. The difference is that Anderson was writing about the porn industry as an outsider; Crowe was trafficking in semi-autobiography, and, as such, he was lying. Granted, it’s a luminous lie: John Toll’s cinematography lulls you into a state of bliss, while the carefully selected music (Crowe’s taste is unerring in this department) keeps hitting your soft spots. But, I’m sorry, if Crowe expects us to believe that the worst transgression committed by the Allman Brothers or Led Zeppelin during their 1970s heyday was, *gasp*, trading a group of loyal band-aids to Humble Pie for fifty bucks and a case of beer… well, ’tis a pity he wasn’t at Altamont (“The Hells Angels just spilled a beer on Marty Balin’s guitar case!”). I tried like hell to fall in love with Almost Famous like so many of my friends did during its initial release, and I gave Untitled multiple opportunities to charm me as well (they’re both insanely rewatchable), but I could never buy into Crowe’s sentimentalization of such a relentlessly unsentimental world. Clearly, Crowe loved his time on the road, and he loved the unique personalities he befriended and covered. But with Almost Famous/Untitled, he sold out everyone’s integrity, including his own, for two-and-a-half hours of warm fuzzies and cloying, epigrammatical dialogue. And he ruined “Tiny Dancer”, the bastard.
Nick Nunziata Disagrees: Wrong! Tiny Dancer never worked for me until this movie! Almost Famous is a gooey but amazingly effective love note to a period and cross-section that Cameron Crowe was intimately involved with and the film’s goal wasn’t to embody an entire era or be a mirror to all of the 70’s musical scene. It was a fairy tale of sorts, a rose-colored memory built on reality but obviously seasoned heavily with revisionist thinking from a filmmaker who had been there, made his name, sold out a little, and was coming back to pay his respects. Almost Famous is something exquisite, and I think its heart on sleeve demeanor doesn’t sit as well with a percentage of the film community who would much rather see the alienation and coldness that makes films like American Beauty or The Ice Storm critical darlings while this little gem has followers not unlike those of the bands portrayed. Fiercely loyal but powerless.
Plus, unlike movies like Dazed and Confused and Boogie Nights [undisputed classics both], this isn’t coasting on nostalgia or aiming for broad entertainment or relying on shock tactics or the taboo. It’s something all its own, hardwired to its author and in many ways this is the ultimate Cameron Crowe movie. The sum of his career. I think it’s why we got the empty shell that is Elizabethtown and why Vanilla Sky is so atypical to the rest of his ouvre.
It’s a litmus test movie for me. One I show to folks to gauge their willingness to be swept away by it. I’m not saying Dre and Jeremy are dead inside… but I wouldn’t be averse to checking their pulse during this film’s running time.
Though there are moments where I don’t buy Patrick Fugit, everyone in this film (even Kate Hudson, whom I loathe) is superb and though it’s sort of like imitation leather, it’s so effective and so full of life and golden light it’s impossible not to fall madly in love with it each and every time it’s on.