The Most Disappointing Movies of 2005

Since I’m struggling to find ten movies worth recommending in a Top Ten List, I realize now that I’m far more prepared to serve up a different kind of list…

No, not the ten worst movies… but the ten movies that SHOULD have been GREAT.

THE BROTHERS GRIMM. Terry Gilliam’s first bad movie. And yikes, is it awful! If he doesn’t get back on the horse and show us he can still ride, Lost in La Mancha‘s going to look more and more like the story of a director who’s lost his touch. And I say that as a wild-and-crazy fan of Terry Gilliam.

WAR OF THE WORLDS. Spielberg’s first truly unpleasant movie. Capped off with a scene that feels like a complete joke… like a parody of Spielbergian sentimentality.

KING KONG. He dreamed of making this movie for so many years, and yet he could only develop one interesting and engaging character… Kong himself.

WALK THE LINE. Given the life story of Johnny Cash, they decided that his real triumphs were album sales and a glorious infidelity? Come on.

THE CONSTANT GARDENER. Fernando Mereilles’ masterful first film City of God made me eager to see this. Why did his first film about Europeans have to include cheap and easy shots at Dubya? Did it have to gaze romantically at cheap sex between “heroes” who have just met and implausibly fallen in love? Did it have to be another bleeding-heart story that oversimplifies things to a Michael-Moore level of CORPORATIONS BAD/TRUTHSEEKERS GOOD?

IN MY COUNTRY. How do you take a film about the South African reconciliation hearings… one of our recent history’s most important and heartbreaking events… and turn it into a movie that sends people out of the theater focused on the fact that they can’t believe they just watched Samuel Jackson and Juliette Binoche having sex?

MADISON. Can a film about hydroplane racing really be disappointing? Yes.

BE COOL. The sequel that sucks most when compared to its predecessor.

THE NEW WORLD. What’s disappointing? The fact that it’s probably the BEST movie of 2005, but it’s going to be released too late to stand any chance of winning the Oscars it will deserve. I haven’t seen it yet, but everything I’m hearing suggests it may be the first movie of the year that I love to the point of sheer enthusiasm. Release this movie!!

ALIAS. Okay, that doesn’t count. It’s a television show. But it’s just pure torture to watch what started as one of television’s all-time-greatest shows devolve into one of television’s all-time-worst shows, heading into a final season where it will die gasping and writhing from malnourishment. Jennifer Garner, how I once loved thee. J.J. Abrams, if you let Lost die like this, I’m coming after you… with some of those torture weapons you used in Alias.

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  • Gary Scott

    Whew, I’m only slightly evangelical! Of course, I didn’t need to take the EQ quiz to know that…

    The Church franchise article was a hoot considering our church is going to a multi-site model!

  • Martin

    Methinks The Field Guide to Evangelicals sounds like a swell birthday present for Dick Cheney.

  • Nicholas

    Well, I still love the film, but I have a better understanding of why you wouldn’t recommend it. It appears that your take on this film is pretty similar to my take on Sin City (which you were wise to avoid, if memory serves correct). I know the majority of people get a lot out of Sin City, but it seems like the “King’s Buffet” to me. In the case of Kong, I am siding with the majority.
    I admire you for sticking to your guns, though. That Nicolosi thing was just a joke…(not even a little downgrading, though?… haha!)

  • Jeffrey Overstreet


    My rating has nothing to do with Barbara. I’ve never downgraded a film to make anbody happy. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. I came away from the Kong film feeling a bit disgusted, which is a far cry from wanting to see it again. The bug scene was indulgent and repulsive. Jack Black’s character was indulgent and repulsive, and I can’t believe he gets the last “profound” line. The theme of “beauty” is lost. The storytelling as a whole is buried under chaotic action. I know that there are some honorable ideas at work in the story, but the film just kept punching me backward instead of drawing me in, and I really have no desire to ever sit through that again.

    “For any flaws you find in the character development, pacing, or tone, wouldn’t this film be worth seeing on the sole basis that there is nothing else like it?”

    No. And I wouldn’t recommend getting mugged by a guy high on drugs either… and yet I can testify from personal experience that there is nothing else like it.

    “Where else can one see special effects on such display?”

    I *am* telling people that if they want to see the best special effects scenes ever, they should see it for that reason.

    “What other film has a computer generated character that evokes such sympathy from an audience?”

    Kong is the most convincing animated character, but I didn’t feel for him as much as I felt for Gollum.

    “What other film is just so big!”

    Size matters not. I don’t rate a Thanksgiving dinner by its size, but by its quality.

    My grandparents used to think the most exciting dining-out event was a trip to the King’s Table All-You-Can-Eat Buffet in Portland. I used to look forward to it as a kid, until I realized that it didn’t really matter if it was “all-you-can-eat” when none of the food was particularly good.

  • Nicholas

    Okay, I just saw Kong…
    And I loved it.
    This isn’t an accusation- just a question:
    Are you sure you didn’t give Kong a less than stellar review just to prove to Barbara Nicolosi that you aren’t a tool of Peter Jackson?
    If so, I can respect that. Well, I can respect your complaints about the film, regardless, but after reading your review, I wasn’t sure if you were talking about the film I have just seen.
    KONG-SIZED SPOILERS: I was especially surprised to see you gave the film a ‘not honorable’ tag. Don’t you think the underlying themes inherent to the story came across?-for instance, the theme that a being like Kong does not deserve to die anymore than the victims lying in his wake? In the scene where Kong searches for Darrow, did you notice how Jackson never sensationalizes the ‘fake’ Darrows’ deaths? At the same time, Jackson doesn’t mourn them-he doesn’t judge Kong’s actions, but he doesn’t glorify them. Kong is only a wild animal.
    I found that the violence in the film, the deaths of humans, always seemed to be handled in a way to convey the theme of man being a peon in the wake of nature-not that this is something to celebrate-only that it is a fact. I actually found Kong’s destruction of New York’s streets (and citizens) to be thought-provoking- not titalating.
    Also, you gave a ‘no’ to the “time, money, and effort” section. I can understand your opinions differ from mine on this film, but this one thing just seems unacceptable. For any flaws you find in the character development, pacing, or tone, wouldn’t this film be worth seeing on the sole basis that there is nothing else like it? Where else can one see special effects on such display? What other film has a computer generated character that evokes such sympathy from an audience? What other film is just so big! For any problems one has with the film, I still can’t see how one could say the film was not worth seeing.
    I can understand how the film disappointed you, but I am baffled on this last point. I don’t hold it against you, I still think you’re a good guy, and I really appreciate your work on this site, but I strongly disagree with you on this.

  • Anonymous

    Wallace + Grommit

  • Danny

    I think Hitchhiker’s Guide and Domino should be added to this list.

  • Scott Derrickson

    Hi Jeffrey…and, uh…hi, Peter.

    Jeffrey, I’ve been reading your blog pretty regularly — it’s great. Because of you I’ve been listening to “Ohio” by Over the Rhine for the last six weeks. Wim Wenders stayed at my house a few weeks back, and said that it’s one of his current favs, and I bought him a copy of Drunkards Prayer before he went back home to Germany.

    As for this list, I’d put Jarhead at the top of mine. You know David Blane — the self-impressed, good-looking, pretentious magician who doesn’t actually do any tricks? Jarhead is the David Blane of war movies: self-impressed, good-looking, pretentious war movie without any fighting. Two and half hours about tedium is, well, tedious. Profoundly disappointing given Sam Mendes talent and the fact that the trailer was one of the best I’ve ever seen.

  • Nicholas

    “pure torture”
    C’mon, Jeff. This final season of Alias has been on par with seasons three and four.
    You’ve got:
    1. Sydney’s pregnancy, which brings out new aspects in the Sydney/Jack relationship.
    2. The interesting contrasts between new girl, Rachel, and early Sydney.
    3. Amy. Acker. Is. Awesome.
    4. Every character’s history swirling around, just waiting to explode.
    Look at tonight’s episode.
    What other show could have done what Alias did at the fifty-minute mark with an equal impact?
    Season five is not up to the standard set by the first two seasons, but how could it be? Those two seasons were like lightning striking twice in the same bottle. No show could keep that kind of momentum. Alias is still fun, exciting, and ridiculous. I think they picked the perfect time to end the show, and I don’t think it’s gasping for air. If they keep this momentum, I think they will be going out in style.

    As to your number one and two, though, I couldn’t agree more. “Grimm” was almost unbelievably disappointing. Gilliam did say he only did it for the money, though, right? If true, still no excuse, but at least that gives more hope for the future.
    And “War of the Worlds”…*sighs* Some friends and I did our own MST3K while watching this film last week, and I really think there were more opportunities for jokes than “Hercules Against the Moon Men”.

  • jasdye

    Did the Chronicles I not deserve to make even this list?

  • Adam Walter

    Wow, I’ve managed to avoid all of these–due largely to my uncommon good sense, plus a little help from this blog.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Although — aha! — a parallel just occurred to me. One of the few mainstream critics to critique King Kong, the Boston Globe‘s Ty Burr (“So why did I come away feeling something was missing? . . . [Peter Jackson’s] love for hollow extravaganza proves to be larger than his love for a great big monkey or a great old movie”) is also the same critic who, seven years ago, put the words “Thin Red Line” and “an hour of unusually gripping combat scenes surrounded by two hours of utter and total wank” together in my mind for the first time.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Hmmm, well, I guess we could say that I am to The Thin Red Line what Barbara is to The Lord of the Rings … not that I’m saying The New World is Malick’s King Kong or anything, I’m just kind of imagining what sorts of conversations we might have when you do see it … not so much yanking your chain as, um, thinking of yanking it … :)

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    No. But I love Malick, and from everything I’m hearing, this is another masterpiece. That’s what I meant by “it’s probably the best movie of 2005.”

    I cannot wait. I refuse to publish my top ten until I’ve seen it. In a year of disappointments, I haven’t found a single film that I’d be happy calling “my favorite.” I think this is going to be it. High expectations? I can’t help it.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Jeff, have you actually seen The New World yet?