The Nine Most Overrated Films of 2003

Lost in Translation

After taking a year off, due to there being nothing really being overrated in 2002, I'm happy to say that, thanks to an exceptionally dull year for cinema in which far too many ordinary movies were heralded as near-masterpieces, the Great List of the Overrated is back. Mind you, most of these films are actually fairly decent. But they are not great, and certainly they are not classics. I'm pretty certain all nine of these titles will become mere footnotes in cinema history before the decade closes. My only regret is that I never saw Cold Mountain or The Last Samurai, both of which sound like they'd make this list easily.

  1. Thirteen. Despite a tense performance by Evan Rachel Wood, this "gritty" Sundance darling about a destructive relationship between two teenage girls is little more than a predictable, moralistic After School Special drowning in MTV stylistics.
  2. American Splendor. An even bigger Sundance hit, this biopic about "comic memoirist" Harvey Pekar was kind of cute, but has little of the bite of Pekar's own comics. A real documentary would have been much better than this string of dramatic re-enactments.
  3. Mystic River. The best thing about this film is not its ballyhooed performances but its detective story - which is, most unfortunately, railroaded at the last minute by an unsatisfying "who really dunnit" plot twist. Even worse is the inexplicably misogynistic epilogue, wherein Laura Linney's underwritten character suddenly becomes some sort of Lady Macbeth.
  4. The Cooler. Despite the can't-lose casting of the great William H. Macy as a loveable loser and Alec Baldwin as a thuggish casino owner, The Cooler is amateurishly made, self-important, and sloppily plotted.
  5. The Shape of Things. Little-remembered now, but still winding up on several critics' top ten lists (a sure sign of a slow year), Neil LaBute's adaptation of his stage play feels like filmed theatre and isn't anywhere near as fierce or as troubling as his earlier work.
  6. Lost in Translation. I must give some belated credit to writer/director Sofia Coppola after learning that the film was inspired by her own disintegrating marriage to Spike Jonze. This adds personal depth to her story of two American lonely hearts in Tokyo. Nevertheless, Lost in Translation is frankly kind of boring. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are fine, but their onscreen chemistry isn't strong enough to override the creepiness of their flirtations.
  7. A Mighty Wind. Christopher Guest's forte - the mockumentary - grows more stale with each passing film. I have the impression that the huge cast had a better time improvising their lines than audiences had watching the less-than-hilarious results. Though there is a touching subplot about fading folk singers Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara, it's a poor fit with the rest of the film.
  8. Bad Santa. Critics were falling all over Bad Santa as if they had been yearning for a mean-spirited comedy about Christmas for years, and finally got their wish. But there's nothing here to back up said mean spirit. Too uninspired to be truly funny, Bad Santa is just plain ugly.
  9. Swimming Pool. This was a popular art house hit during the summer of 2003, which I think has more to do with Ludivine Sagnier's nudity than with the film itself, which ruins an intriguing setup with a rushed, confusing third act and a final "shocker" plot twist that plays more like a dumb joke than anything approaching profundity.