I used to do this "overrated" list every year. But over the last few years I've had no reason to write such a list, as other critics have been agreeing that today's movies are rather weak. Then all of a sudden, everyone has been hailing 2007 as a watershed year for American cinema. What are they smoking? Are they desperate? Because based on man-on-the-street reactions, as well as the slightly more informed opinions of unpaid cinephiles like yours truly, there's an "emperor's new clothes" quality to many of the highly-praised releases from 2007, including these nine:
- Zodiac. A frequent sight on many critics' Ten Best lists for the year, this saga about the journalists obsessed with the never-caught Zodiac Killer in early '70s San Francisco has a good look to it, and some tense scenes, but it's overlong, Jake Gyllenhaal is not a compelling leading man, and the story fizzles out. The film offers no believable reason why any of these men would sacrifice their livelihoods and relationships over finding the press-hungry murderer, even a decade after his final kill. But admittedly, David Fincher's films tend to leave me dissatisfied.
- I'm Not There. Todd Haynes's overdone multi-actor portrait of Bob Dylan in the 1960s seemed to have been made only to appeal to art and/or film and/or music critics. While Cate Blanchett is stunning in her take on Dylan, most of the rest of the film is meandering, oblique, and irrelevant.
- Superbad. This so-so comedy about three geeky high schoolers and their raunchy quest for adventure was improbably hailed as "tender and believable", despite its tiresome scenes of co-screenwriter Seth Rogen and Bill Hader as strident, unfunny cops. I suppose Superbad's sweetly awkward last ten minutes made everybody forget the rather run-of-the-mill teen movie that preceded it.
- La Vie en Rose. Marion Cotillard was given a lot of awards and nominations for her ability to disappear under heavy makeup and lip-synch Edith Piaf tunes in this by-the-numbers, unaffecting biopic about the legendary French singer. However, the cinematography is outstanding.
- Once. A truly unqualified independent success, this shot-for-nothing Irish film about two Dublin musicians quietly falling for each other is a nice enough experience, but star Glen Hansard's whiny, undistinguished songs did nothing for me. Music is even more subjective than cinema, though, so I won't deny other people falling in love with the Once soundtrack.
- Michael Clayton. Tony Gilroy's drama about a corporate lawyer (George Clooney) who supposedly "finds his soul" – though honestly, I think the character is just tired of all the crap he's had to deal with – might have been a great film if its script was not full of unexplained plot holes and implausibilities. "Why does Michael Clayton randomly get out of his car to look at some horses on the road, conveniently at the exact moment when somebody blows up his car?" is a question that no one, not even Gilroy, has been able to answer.
- Eastern Promises. Viggo Mortensen is impressive as a Russian mob chauffeur in London, but this crime drama's screenplay is plodding and obvious, and costar Naomi Watts sleepwalks through her role. This is a really bland film, a disappointment from David Cronenberg.
- 2 Days in Paris. Although critics were rightfully annoyed by it, for some reason this grating "comedy" about an uptight American guy (Adam Goldberg, insufferable) and his French girlfriend (writer-director Julie Delpy) slowly breaking apart while in Paris kept packing the art houses in a Paris-friendly movie year.
- Sicko. There were many 2007 "classics" that didn't do as much for me as they did for others – There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Sweeney Todd – but I'll opt for an overrated documentary instead. Michael Moore's much-anticipated look at the sorry state of health care in the US promised to be incendiary, but it only really told us, with a shrug, what we already know: that it would be better to have a national health system paid for by taxes than to have a for-profit, insurance industry-driven system like we do now. Is this really news?