Thirty-eight Worst Movie Endings

by Tin_ear | created - 12 Apr 2011 | updated - 17 Aug 2015 | Public

Think of it as jumping the shark. Perhaps the scriptwriters simply ran out of ideas. Maybe a director got a tad too overzealous with his "artistic vision." Perhaps it was simply a bold move gone disastrously wrong or studio interference. Whatever it may be, the movies below illustrate how a single ill-advised plotting decision can sabotage otherwise great films.

And if you have enough free time on your hands to read this you might as well give some feedback. Your Barbara Streisand fan-page updates and Facebook personality quizzes can wait a few minutes, Kyle.

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1. The Dark Knight (2008)

PG-13 | 152 min | Action, Crime, Drama

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82 Metascore

When the menace known as the Joker emerges from his mysterious past, he wreaks havoc and chaos on the people of Gotham, the Dark Knight must accept one of the greatest psychological and physical tests of his ability to fight injustice.

Director: Christopher Nolan | Stars: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine

Votes: 1,877,011 | Gross: $534.86M

The Two-Face subplot is painfully shoehorned amid a story that is bloated, contrived, and deadfully written. Most obvious is the demise of the two villains, which is almost restaged verbatim from two previous Batman movies. The Joker's showdown with Batman is prettied up with the standard special effects and some absurdly epic & explicit dialogue, but the effect is conventional action shlock. The film collapses under the weight of its own conceits. It aspires toward mythology but settles for freshman psychology. Anytime the main character has to spell out the message of a film at the end, something has gone wrong in the writing process. On a different note, none of the primary characters are provided any depth outside their role in the plot, so their deaths don't mean much unless you invested emotionally in them from the first film.

Perhaps the stupidest moment is the climactic decision by Batman, which is counterintuitive and contradicts the purpose of the 'Prisoner's Dilemma' set piece involving the ferries. Only slightly bothered by violating Gothamites' civil liberties -- in the form of a deus ex machina cell-phone-thing-a-ma-jig -- Batman has no moral qualms implementing an elaborate cover-up, which the aforementioned ferry set piece showed unnecessary, counterproductive, (proved by events within this film and the sequel) impossible to maintain, and even immoral. This depressingly stupid and patronizing ultimatum originating in an ungainly foreshadowing device, a sarcastic quip by Two-Face (in which heroes will ultimately become villains) Batman confuses for sardonic realpolitik. Batman understandably losing track of Rachel's advice 'not to lose faith in people' amid the blur of continuous action sequences and plot twists in the last hour. The humorlessness and logical contortion of this thought-process pretty much epitomizes a movie in which the only discernible character arc is a near instantaneous 180 degree turn.

2. The Departed (2006)

R | 151 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

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85 Metascore

An undercover cop and a mole in the police attempt to identify each other while infiltrating an Irish gang in South Boston.

Director: Martin Scorsese | Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg

Votes: 981,985 | Gross: $132.38M

The original movie this Scorsese Oscar winner is based is actually far superior. Here Scorsese ..........spoiler......... chooses to take his film's end sequence in another direction, to an absurd degree. Unlike the original Hong Kong film, in Scorsese's apex the characters simply all shoot each other in the face.

3. Ordet (1955)

Not Rated | 126 min | Drama, Fantasy

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  

Follows the lives of the Borgen family, as they deal with inner conflict, as well as religious conflict with each other, and the rest of the town.

Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer | Stars: Henrik Malberg, Emil Hass Christensen, Preben Lerdorff Rye, Hanne Aagesen

Votes: 11,065

The most egregious ending is perhaps the least known ending in cinematic history. This odd and sentimental twist from Ordet is matched only by its religious heavy-handedness. Both implausible and unsatisfying, this bizarre misstep derailed an otherwise intriguing art house film.

4. District 9 (2009)

R | 112 min | Sci-Fi, Thriller

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81 Metascore

An extraterrestrial race forced to live in slum-like conditions on Earth suddenly finds a kindred spirit in a government agent who is exposed to their biotechnology.

Director: Neill Blomkamp | Stars: Sharlto Copley, David James, Jason Cope, Nathalie Boltt

Votes: 574,042 | Gross: $115.65M

(Spoiler) An otherwise thought-provoking 'film' devolves into a rather mundane shoot-em-up action adventure 'flick' in the last half-hour or so. It seemed as if Spielberg made one half, and, I don't know, Michael Bay made the last half. Also, considering how ubiquitous the Apartheid allegory is throughout, the transformation aspect doesn't really make any sense in the context of the film's theme of xenophobia and militaristic police states. Unlike The Fly, Kafka, or Ovid (which all human - bug metamorphoses are inspired) wherein the transformations are integral to the story, the end here seems like it was just attached because it would look cool. The protagonist in District 9 learned to appreciate the 'humanity' of the Prawns by observing the brutality inflicted upon them by the government and witnessing the emotional attachment between the father and son, he didn't need to literally become one of the Prawns to understand their struggle. That's just lazy symbolism. And anyway, the transformation metaphor alludes more closely to the AIDS epidemic than racial segregation.

5. V for Vendetta (2005)

R | 132 min | Action, Drama, Sci-Fi

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62 Metascore

In a future British tyranny, a shadowy freedom fighter, known only by the alias of "V", plots to overthrow it with the help of a young woman.

Director: James McTeigue | Stars: Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman, Rupert Graves, Stephen Rea

Votes: 883,530 | Gross: $70.51M

'Blowing up *$!/@* will show our oppressors we mean business!' - This is the basic moral of this thoroughly simplistic and ridiculous movie. It intentionally waters down and attempts to distance itself from the anarchistic source material and political baggage, but in the end seems to celebrate just that political mindset. Adapted from an already horribly dated comic about Thatcher-era Britain, the screenwriters just added whatever seemed timely to update it. An amateurish and dated relic of mid-decade Iraq War backlash/Bush-Blair paranoia, this ending seems to send a rather muddled message (considering this film is an obvious response to a war initiated and galvinized by similiar acts of mass-scale terrorism it itself depicts as heroic protest. Ironic huh?). Maybe it is possible to reconcile anti-war ends with terrorist means, but this film certainly isn't clever enough to know how.

6. Taste of Cherry (1997)

Not Rated | 95 min | Drama

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An Iranian man drives his truck in search of someone who will quietly bury him under a cherry tree after he commits suicide.

Director: Abbas Kiarostami | Stars: Homayoun Ershadi, Abdolrahman Bagheri, Afshin Khorshid Bakhtiari, Safar Ali Moradi

Votes: 17,036 | Gross: $0.31M

Intended to reframe our understanding of the story, the final scene supposedly creates a sense of artificiality or 'emotional distance,' to avoid provoking an emotional response. Kiarostami said he doesn't want to treat his audience as children, or manipulate his audience emotionally. Instead he arbitrarily inserts a meaningless ending to clean the slate, manipulating us in another way. There are no other uses of Brechtian 'distancing techniques' used anywhere else which renders this ending all the more awkward. In doing so, he injects his own presence; he's jerking us around to make some point or artistic gesture. The fact he deprives us of the details of the protagonist's fate is completely beside the point; that he draws attention to this denial so pointlessly is the problem (and actually makes me wonder if govt. censors forced this self-conscious ending in light of Islam's stance on suicide). It is precisely inane directorial flourishes like these that pain me so much. No movie with an ending that distracting and self-defeating can truly be called an effective piece of art. The other 99% was pretty good, but is now permanently overshadowed by a tiresome director's gimmick (directors from Alejandro Jodorowsky to Jerry Lewis have used this old gag, to varying success). This is reminiscent of Kiarostami's earlier film Close-Up, a great film plagued by the director's inability to end it at the right time, yet another forced 'happy(ier) ending.'

7. Vertigo (1958)

PG | 128 min | Mystery, Romance, Thriller

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A San Francisco detective suffering from acrophobia investigates the strange activities of an old friend's wife, all the while becoming dangerously obsessed with her.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock | Stars: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore

Votes: 285,337 | Gross: $3.20M

........................................spoiler............................................. The tragic beauty accidentally falls off of a tower window ledge all because she failed to realize there wasn't a handrail, after being pursued by what is one of the least qualified detectives in film history. The scenes that precipitate the climax require a major suspension of disbelief. The faked suicide and murder plot that sets up the climax is arguably one of the most idiotic in any Hitchcock film, and that's saying quite a lot. The ironic twist is a little too cutesy, Hitchcock for all his praise did not have the slightest clue how to conceive or stage a climactic end, which is why, if you notice, many feature characters falling from vaguely symbolic landmarks to their death. The movie, at its core, contains a somewhat intriguiging concept based on obsession and delusion, however covering territory more artfully explored in Diabolique three years earlier (written by the same author no less) and featuring one of the greatest endings of all time.

8. Jules and Jim (1962)

Not Rated | 105 min | Drama, Romance

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Decades of a love triangle concerning two friends and an impulsive woman.

Director: François Truffaut | Stars: Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner, Henri Serre, Vanna Urbino

Votes: 30,644

The finale worked well in Angel Face (the film that likely inspired Truffaut to make Jules and Jim), but here not so much. Whereas the former film seems to have been written specifically around that ending, here it works mostly to neatly tie off dangerously frayed subplots. I'm not even sure if the novel ends in the same manner or not, the real-life characters the book is based upon did not meet a similar fate. Which makes one wonder if sticking to the truth might have played less campy. The film benefits from the threat of the unpredictable, but when the unpredictable occurs, boy, does it fall with a disappointing thud (no pun intended). Re-watching the end, it isn't even particularly convincing from a technical standpoint. It fails on multiple levels. Any ending would have been better. For those who haven't seen it, I won't ruin it for you, but that actually seems inevitable.

9. JFK (1991)

R | 189 min | Drama, History, Thriller

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72 Metascore

New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison discovers there's more to the Kennedy assassination than the official story.

Director: Oliver Stone | Stars: Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau

Votes: 123,519 | Gross: $70.41M

A known confabulist, Oliver Stone mythologizes a reptile (Garrison) and celebrates a minor travesty in American legal history. I'll admit this entry is just filler, the whole movie is equally repulsive as its conclusion. The ending scenes merely further attempt to cement the perversion of history, Stone's personal crusade of paranoia, as righteous and even history-changing when it is merely a footnote in an even more absurd conspiracy theory. The dedication, honoring those who 'search for the truth,' is nauseating when you consider how dishonest this movie is.

10. Don't Look Now (1973)

R | 110 min | Drama, Horror, Thriller

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A married couple grieving the recent death of their young daughter are in Venice when they encounter two elderly sisters, one of whom is psychic and brings a warning from beyond.

Director: Nicolas Roeg | Stars: Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland, Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania

Votes: 38,579

This ending is both surreal and laughably stupid. But mostly stupid.

11. Psycho (1960)

R | 109 min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  
97 Metascore

A Phoenix secretary embezzles $40,000 from her employer's client, goes on the run, and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock | Stars: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin

Votes: 480,306 | Gross: $32.00M

(Spoilers) It's all downhill from the shower scene. When I was ten- years-old I actually fell asleep half-way through (an ignoble fate only matched by the equally rambling Scenes From A Marriage, The Grudge, and Battle Royale) and had to wait a decade to see how the movie ended. It wasn't worth it. The film, regardless of its notoriety, still has exactly zero rewatchability. Self-financed and filmed by Hitchcock's own TV crew, it undeniably has the feel of an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Norman, who is otherwise shrewd and meticulous, for some reason stupidly blabs to anyone who will listen about his dead mother as if she is still alive. This would appear as a cry for attention to the authorities by Bates, but within the logic of the film doesn't make much sense. Also, the psychiatrist's speech, which sounds suspiciously similar to a director's commentary, glosses over the disparities of logic just enough to hold the story together but pretty much ruins the creepy atmosphere in clinical babble. The fact that the enigma that is Norman Bates could pretty much be cracked in an hour or two is a tad anti-climactic. The reveal of Bates in drag is a deflation not a crescendo.

12. Gilda (1946)

Not Rated | 110 min | Drama, Film-Noir, Romance

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A small-time gambler hired to work in a Buenos Aires casino learns that his ex-lover is married to his employer.

Director: Charles Vidor | Stars: Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, George Macready, Joseph Calleia

Votes: 22,795

(Spoilers) The twist ending is awful, but more distressing is the fact it actually serves virtually no purpose and disrupts the story. The dead husband of Rita Hayworth's character returns suddenly, having faked his death but is then killed immediately by a his own carelessly misplaced sword-cane. By the time the 'dead' husband returns the real obstacle of the story (the surviving couple's guilt) has seemingly been resolved seconds before. Not that believably, I may say, but the film should be over there. His unexpected return means nothing but to provide a shocking (if lazy) finish that does the heavy lifting for the writers, ie a sense of closure. The last three minutes obliterates all moral complexity and changes the tone to something more resembling a hammy melodrama. It's so stupid savvy modern audiences would laugh, or probably roll their eyes, at this. Gilda's final lines ring with unintentional irony, 'Nobody has to apologize. Isn't it wonderful!' No, it isn't. I'd rather like an apology from somebody, preferably the screenwriter.

13. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

R | 142 min | Crime, Drama

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80 Metascore

Two imprisoned men bond over a number of years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency.

Director: Frank Darabont | Stars: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler

Votes: 1,902,844 | Gross: $28.34M

I delude myself into believing the studio bosses burned the original ending print and forced the director to insert this alternate reel of film because it would appeal to a wider audience. It ruins whatever artistic credibility the movie had. It's that bad.

(Spoilers) Logically speaking, it doesn't fare much better. Unless Shawshank is dangerously overcrowded or run by Michael Dukakis, Red's instant parole after essentially telling the board to kiss his black ass is all the more corny and theatrical. It looks good on film, but is laughably impossible if you knew anything about 1960's America. Also, the probability of a man occupying the same cell in a high security prison for 17 consecutive years, with nary an inspection or maintenance, is small; coincidentally, the justification he is left alone because he is trusted is voided when he winds up in solitary. Nevermind the fact Andy had no way of knowing whether there would be a thunderstorm to cover the sound of his bashing the rusty pipe when he initiated his plan hours earlier; he goes at literally the first chance possible. And while Red states with believability that local cops wouldn't miss a graying parolee; local, state and FBI would mind an escaped double-murderer crossing state lines, let alone nine... All things that we are to accept without a second thought. Not to forget, a half-mile-long sewer pipe full of crap would likely cause methane asphyxiation.

14. Being There (1979)

PG | 130 min | Comedy, Drama

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A simple, sheltered gardener becomes an unlikely trusted advisor to a powerful businessman and an insider in Washington politics.

Director: Hal Ashby | Stars: Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Melvyn Douglas, Jack Warden

Votes: 56,495 | Gross: $30.18M

This ending is ill-advised simply because it adds nothing to the plot, and actually poses questions regarding the plot that need not be asked, let alone be answered. One might naturally mistake it for part of the blooper reel that is shown at the end, it is that conspicuously out of place. (I understand there is an explanation to this ending, but that too is pretty lame and doesn't seem to fit in well with the general nature of the film up to that point.)

15. The Shining (1980)

R | 146 min | Drama, Horror

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63 Metascore

A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where an evil spiritual presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from the past and of the future.

Director: Stanley Kubrick | Stars: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers

Votes: 697,398 | Gross: $44.02M

The ending was modified from the book, I am told, in any case it doesn't work. The final twenty minutes randomly unravel and drift toward the end credits as the film loses steam. (Spoiler) Never once do we actually believe Jack will chop up his son, we are just waiting for the whole thing to culminate in the big set piece, and end already. The final scene especially deserves scorn for its inexplicable twist. A twist that contributes nothing other than eliciting a perplexed 'what the %@#?' from the audience. Like Psycho, The Shining builds up its middle segment so brillantly, the ending really has nowhere to go. This is peculiar, as Nicholson and Kubrick are also responsible for some of my favorite endings.

16. Rear Window (1954)

PG | 112 min | Mystery, Thriller

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A wheelchair-bound photographer spies on his neighbours from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock | Stars: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter

Votes: 358,040 | Gross: $36.76M

When facing cliches in a script, Hitchcock was never one to sit down and devise an organic, innovative, or believable solution. This 'climactic' showdown should look familiar. I've always wondered if he selected stories or scripts that had intentionally similar themes and elements out of habit, out of cynicism toward moviegoers, or whether he hewed them into formulaic final products purely unconsciously. In this case, the famed Freudian symbolism (present in so many of Hitch's films) doesn't make sense, nor does it really function that well dramatically -- other than a temporary injury, the James Stewart character is not helpless, failed, or tempted in any pathological sense, unless we are to read his character as some kind of fraud. However, he still seems to have the most autonomy and influence of anyone in the film. The psychoanalytical concept of a 'falling man' would make sense in practically any other Hitchcock movie but this one. Further, in reality, the villain would have shot or bludgeoned our hero to death with a lead pipe, and that'd be the end. I could probably fill this half this list with Hitchcock endings, but I figure that would get boring.

17. Heaven's Gate (1980)

R | 325 min | Adventure, Drama, Western

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
57 Metascore

A dramatization of the real-life Johnson County War in 1890 Wyoming, in which a Sheriff born into wealth, attempts to protect immigrant farmers from rich cattle interests.

Director: Michael Cimino | Stars: Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, John Hurt, Sam Waterston

Votes: 11,152 | Gross: $3.48M

The abrupt and shocking ending feels tacked on and manipulative. And this is coming from one of the few people who didn't mind the other three or so hours that preceded it.

18. Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)

PG | 131 min | Action, Adventure, Fantasy

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58 Metascore

After a daring mission to rescue Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt, the rebels dispatch to Endor to destroy a more powerful Death Star. Meanwhile, Luke struggles to help Vader back from the dark side without falling into the Emperor's trap.

Director: Richard Marquand | Stars: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams

Votes: 785,674 | Gross: $309.13M

The last half of 'Episode VI' plays it so safe even true fans can't help but be a little disappointed by the underwhelming climax. The Ewoks are rightly maligned as merchandizable teddy bears. The story's resolution is simply too formulaic and easily digestable. The tidy, gleeful endshots are unrewarding, it lacks any sense of catharsis or consequence. Shouldn't the victory be underscored by a sacrificial casualty, Luke converting to the dark side, or something more meaningful or ingenious, as fitting the series? Instead it basically lifts the ending from the first film, only slightly modified.

And it doesn't even make much sense, no significant war was ever settled in a single, impromptu, guerrilla skirmish, let alone one fought by ridiculously overmatched, furry midgets. Knowing the previous fate of the Death Star, the shield generator is clearly a huge priority. Why is it so poorly protected? The last hour of Return of the Jedi may very well mark the beginning of Lucas's decline as a creative filmmaker.

19. Possession (1981)

R | 124 min | Drama, Horror

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A woman starts exhibiting increasingly disturbing behavior after asking her husband for a divorce. Suspicions of infidelity soon give way to something much more sinister.

Director: Andrzej Zulawski | Stars: Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill, Margit Carstensen, Heinz Bennent

Votes: 17,080 | Gross: $1.11M

I actually bought into the plot for the first three quarters. Possession's first half was sexy, scary and provocative. But what the hell was the point of that ending? The plot goes in every direction and genre, in the end it seems desperate to maintain its intensity. It's either one of the most unwieldly Freudian metaphors in film or purely sensationalist tripe. The interpretations range widely. When you have a myriad of equally viable solutions possible to a problem, it really means you have no single good one. I've never been so eager to see how a movie ends, and then pray so hard it would end before it got any dumber or more confusing. There is a misconception among many that the impenetrable logic of plot twists and vague yet erratic character arcs is synonymous with ingenious filmmaking. Rarely does it cross these people's minds that there exists a fine line between complete subjectivity and utter meaninglessness. To put it another way, Rorschach blots are not art.

20. A Man Escaped (1956)

Not Rated | 101 min | Drama, Thriller, War

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A captured French Resistance fighter during WWII engineers a daunting escape from prison.

Director: Robert Bresson | Stars: François Leterrier, Charles Le Clainche, Maurice Beerblock, Roland Monod

Votes: 14,005

(Spoiler) The ending is one of the most boring prison breaks in film history. Truth is, this film is badly dated and not well made. Scenes which should be the most compelling are consistently underplayed. Tension isn't built-up effectively. There is never a sense of urgency even though we know an escape is imminent. Obstacles are overcome with little fanfare, and the character acts predictably, never showing emotion. You never once think that he will actually kill his suspiciously naive cellmate, though the film would like to have us ponder the possibility. On the other hand, the guard is eliminated so effortlessly you'd think he was a fly waiting to be swatted. I think this was the big emotional moment but it hardly registers, perhaps the best example of Bresson's flawed sense of direction.

21. There Will Be Blood (2007)

R | 158 min | Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
93 Metascore

A story of family, religion, hatred, oil and madness, focusing on a turn-of-the-century prospector in the early days of the business.

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson | Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Ciarán Hinds, Martin Stringer

Votes: 421,897 | Gross: $40.22M

The protagonist is an egomaniac with a need to gain dominance (often by exposing others' weakness). This all sets up the ending, as stupid as that ending may be. Simply justifying the ending as a drunken rage or hallucination saves the film from acknowledging its own mistep.

Humiliating and killing is obviously no big deal for him, so while it logically makes sense, the closing minutes are overkill. The cartoonishly psychopathic breakdown mars a great performance and film. It's actually a funny scene, unfortunately. The finale serves no purpose but to dumb down the movie, bluntly reiterating the fact Daniel is incapable of compassion, compromise, or even empathy, in the most bone-headed way possible. A fact that should have been made clear by the preceding two hours.

22. Kes (1969)

PG-13 | 111 min | Drama, Family

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A young, English working-class boy spends his free time caring for and training his pet falcon.

Director: Ken Loach | Stars: David Bradley, Brian Glover, Freddie Fletcher, Lynne Perrie

Votes: 14,896

Whoever didn't see it coming after thirty minutes is naive (in the process establishing a cliché that has infected the likes of many promising films from Fatal Attraction to We Need To Talk About Kevin). The film is in many ways reminiscent to Forbidden Games, except that it has none of the warmth & irreverence or humor, says nothing about the necessity to belong or how we cope with loss, and you know exactly how it's going to end. Forbidden Games is a tragic fairy tale, director Ken Loach's cynical closing scene produces only pity and guilt. The climax is an uneasy mixture of the unrepentantly nihilistic, but also predictable and maudlin, appealing to the broadest and lowest denominator (a bawling wretch burying his only friend and purpose), providing blunt punctuation to an already boring, one-note story. Generally, anytime a writer or director has to eliminate an important plot element or major character at the very end a film it's a sign they don't have any better ideas or probably don't understand their own chracters well enough, seeking closure by the most default, unimaginative way possible. I'm not sure how the book wraps up, but as for the film, the end's a dud. Though intended as some kind of poignant social realism, it's more like poverty porn in Loach's heavy hands.

23. The Tree of Life (2011)

PG-13 | 139 min | Drama, Fantasy

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85 Metascore

The story of a family in Waco, Texas in 1956. The eldest son witnesses the loss of innocence and struggles with his parents' conflicting teachings.

Director: Terrence Malick | Stars: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken

Votes: 148,345 | Gross: $13.30M

(Spoilers) It's a difficult task to conjure the concept of heaven or the spirit realm (or whatever the hell it was) on film. Even with Malick's intuition, spiritual inclinations, and thousands of years of human civilization & art as inspiration, he still can't do better than the most cliched of discounted Hallmark cards.

One could easily explain this dopey ending on hubris, afterall the director also includes two hours of Planet Earth outtakes, a pretentious scene involving a masquerade disguise sinking to the ocean's floor, and dinosaurs. Absorbed by the film as I initally was, I now side with people who feel the ending exposed the film for what it truly is: a nostalgic, flimsy narrative about the most broad themes imaginable, dressed up with a lot of interesting B-roll, operatic music, creative editing, and wholesome, beautiful actors. Or to paraphrase the Cannes jury member that awarded it the top prize, 'it's a masterpiece because it looks important and has big themes.'

24. The Bad Seed (1956)

Approved | 129 min | Crime, Drama, Horror

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  

A housewife suspects that her seemingly perfect eight year-old daughter is a heartless killer.

Director: Mervyn LeRoy | Stars: Nancy Kelly, Patty McCormack, Henry Jones, Eileen Heckart

Votes: 10,660

Chalk this lousy ending up to Fifties' mores. I'm not sure whether the stage version's ending was any more daring, but it says something about mainstream American cinema that the curtain call ending needed to inform the audience that what they had just seen was, in fact, just make believe. If you wonder where Kiarostami got his 'brillant' ending for A Taste of Cherry from, this is it, and it is just as awkward and insulting (proving that studio films and art house films are indeed more similar than either would care to admit). In any case, the last five minutes of the plot destroys what was very much one of the most ingenious and daring premises to date. And one of the most blatant cases of deus ex machina I've ever seen.

25. The Trial (1962)

Not Rated | 119 min | Drama, Mystery, Thriller

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An unassuming office worker is arrested and stands trial, but he is never made aware of his charges.

Director: Orson Welles | Stars: Anthony Perkins, Arnoldo Foà, Jess Hahn, Billy Kearns

Votes: 15,515

(Spoilers) An otherwise brillant picture is ruined by an over symbolic resolution that offers false comfort. Orson Welles later lamented the cataclysmic-hinting mushroom cloud as unintentional symbolism, defending it as unavoidable (it wasn't, there is no explosion in the novel). In any case, Welles favors an overt political reading over an existential. Unlike the book, the film's hero is no mere victim, he rebels against his executioners -- because he denies wanting to be a martyr a few minutes earlier the last few scenes are even less coherent. Either as a means or the ends, humilation is synonymous with the faceless bureaucracy. In a world where one can only bribe for concessions, become corrupt themselves, or submit to the humiliation, there does not appear to exist moral victories. A meaningless, forgotten sacrifice is not heroic; defiant laughter in the face of annihilation is yet more absurdity (precisely what the protagonist preaches against at the very end), more James Cagney than Socrates. If there was ever a story deserving an ambiguous finale, this is it, which might explain why Franz Kafka, the author of the source material this was based, abandoned it without finishing. The appeal of Kakfa's work is that many of his stories were parables or a kind of poetic commentary and didn't need a conclusive ending. While this story is his most accessible and most open to literal interpretation (therefore also one of his least interesting), one must wonder if Kafka's work can ever really translate to this medium.

26. This Is England (2006)

Not Rated | 101 min | Crime, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
86 Metascore

A young boy becomes friends with a gang of skinheads. Friends soon become like family, and relationships will be pushed to the very limit.

Director: Shane Meadows | Stars: Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Jo Hartley, Andrew Shim

Votes: 105,045 | Gross: $0.33M

Yet another potentially great film with self-inflicted wounds. Shane Meadows' promising semi-autobiographical film is damaged by a sappy and moronically blunt montage. The over earnest close-up with the shakey-cam is bad enough, but is compounded by an accompanying (and lame) light folk-rock score. It isn't poignant and it isn't interesting, it's just trite symbolism standing in for a rather obvious social message. Racism is bad? Okay, thanks for the heads up. This end is like a bad film school project. A truer ending would have our newly liberated, wiser protagonist walking home, alone again, telling his former bullies to '#$% off' with real menace and self-esteem. Instead we get an end straight out of Grey's Anatomy.

27. Easy Rider (1969)

R | 95 min | Adventure, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
86 Metascore

Two counterculture bikers travel from Los Angeles to New Orleans in search of America.

Director: Dennis Hopper | Stars: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Antonio Mendoza

Votes: 82,166 | Gross: $41.73M

Considering this was an ad libbed road picture written by jaded, drug-adled actors at the peak of the most self-righteous, crackpot decade in history, we probably shouldn't be surprised this is the best they could muster. The rambling nature of the film was convincing until the last half-hour or so, then you realized they were literally making it up as they went along, and sadly junkies aren't renowned for their subtley or insight. The trip scene is interesting and certainly convincing, but the end is a let down. The main characters are presented as martyrs or some kind of heroes, even though the Peter Fonda character expressly admits otherwise. Jack Nicholson's ACLU lawyer's fireside speech is a confusingly ahistorical and nostalgic look back at the good old Fifties. You know, the Eisenhower years, the golden age of tolerance, peace, social consciousness and political freedom in the U.S. The whole shtick about rednecks being 'bought and sold in the marketplace' and the argument that beatniks' freedom caused Vietnam (or lynchings? The film never wastes a chance to provoke us but is too lazy and vague to bother to elaborate on anything.) is pretty worthless as a real critique. On a surreal note, Dennis Hopper would later gleefully shoot rampaging ACLU lawyers with a shotgun in An American Carol. Yet another film that blames violence on the intimidation that 'true freedom' provokes in the bigoted or insecure. A scene only slightly stupider and more counter-productive that this one, which also drips with self-congratulatory moralizing.

The real message is buried by the over the top finale in yet another example of 'resolution by default' where the writers obviously could not think of anything better and just killed the lead characters off in an act of random violence. If the writers were trying to make a point about tolerance, they overdid it; if they were trying to equate the counterculture to the civil rights movement, they are delusional. A spectacular fizzle, the final shot neatly sums up the the film and decade.

28. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

GP | 120 min | Action, Adventure, Thriller

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  
59 Metascore

A diamond smuggling investigation leads James Bond to Las Vegas, where he uncovers an evil plot involving a rich business tycoon.

Director: Guy Hamilton | Stars: Sean Connery, Jill St. John, Charles Gray, Lana Wood

Votes: 80,898 | Gross: $43.82M

The premise of this film, Howard Hughes-type held hostage by infiltrators looking to use his eccentricity and infrastructure to disguise nefarious extortion plot, is almost a plausible idea. But as so often with the franchise, the writers find a way to muck up a decent concept. The penultimate oil rig scenes are incredibly non-sensical and corny. Unless Bond's plan was to get captured just in order to escape amidst a hasty attack, the whole mission makes no sense if the attack alone would have been enough anyway (now we know where Chris Nolan got that lame idea for The Dark Knight). The fact he leisurely sabotages the whole operation right under his archenemy's nose is asinine and annoyingly badly written, even for the franchise's primary screenwriter, Richard Maibaum. The henchman are awful, but their demise is so cheesy even they deserved a better climactic death. The nuclear rockets and missile silos blowing up in puny puffs of smoke is also jaw-droppingly bad; if you look closely after the tiny puff you can clearly see the Chinese missiles still intact. The worst aspect of the film is the Jill St. John character, who is by the end of the film begging to be slapped (I know, I know, but vintage Bond had no such qualms). Her acting in the final scene set the Bond-girl bar to new lows. If that isn't horrible enough there is also a mandatory cliched countdown, transvestites, and an exploding cake. Proving that pretty much the entire crew, actors, sfx guys, writers, director, you name it, were phoning it in.

29. The Great Dictator (1940)

G | 125 min | Comedy, Drama, War

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  

Dictator Adenoid Hynkel tries to expand his empire while a poor Jewish barber tries to avoid persecution from Hynkel's regime.

Director: Charles Chaplin | Stars: Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Jack Oakie, Reginald Gardiner

Votes: 159,315

While I'm tempted to the include the self-serving and shallow final words from his film Monsieur Verdoux, that film at least maintained a semblance of ambiguity toward the main character's actions. Never in The Great Dictator does it escape our notice that this is propaganda. Sincerity does not necessarily make for good art. Chaplin, confusing sentimentality for truth to power, shifts from melodrama to slapstick to wisdom clumsily, all while barely expressing a meaningful thought. While Chaplin's portrayal brings an air of levity and understandable ridicule, the bungling stereotypes of Hitler and Mussolini are more Borscht Belt routine than satire. The film, like its end, does not lend itself to repeat viewings like his earlier work. The final speech ranks near Stallone's Rocky IV victory speech as one the most vapid inspirational monologues ever given in cinematic history.

30. The Exorcist (1973)

R | 122 min | Horror

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82 Metascore

When a girl is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her daughter.

Director: William Friedkin | Stars: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair, Lee J. Cobb

Votes: 309,273 | Gross: $232.91M

(Spoilers) Father Karras, who if you remember is a flake with no faith, is so useless he isn't even allowed in the room during the second attempt... And yet he is the one who actually drives out Satan. He accomplishes what so many other experts couldn't by simply punching Regan in the face. Coincidentally, if he is so weak-willed how does he then summon so much self-control and foresight immediately after being possessed to 'kill' the demon? And so what if Karras kills himself while possessed? His death is meaningless, a demon can't be killed (or maybe he can, the film never really explains anything. Even whether 'Pazuzu' is a devil or The Devil is conspicuously unaddressed, everything he says is intentionally misleading or antagonistic. I don't know the rules of exorcism, but I assume it might matter if you are battling the Prince of Darkness himself or a Babylonian flunky.), and why would he bother with possessing a disillusioned, mopey priest, anyway? The entity randomly possesed Regan for no reason; what's to prevent him from just doing it again? (Although the film toys with the idea that a Ouija board invited or foreshadowed her 'possession,' Ouija boards are fake occult board games, which would seem to alude that her possession is in her head. Which they soon contradict altogether with the ridiculous supernatural crap.) Exorcism is not shown to be remotely successful, so that's clearly not a deterrent. The demon even claimed, between wise-cracks and silly voices, he would finish his work. Apparently possession functions exactly like chicken pox; if you survive, you never have to worry about it again. In the end they flee. So is the house just haunted? The much maligned sequels, in retrospect, make perfect sense; many key questions were left carelessly unanswered. The story isn't resolved.

The closure at the end is phony, a bunch of good people essentially died for nothing and the demon remains. Regan would clearly remember weeks of humilation, sexual abuse, torture, and several deaths, at very least she would have horrible repressed memories that would scar her for as long as she lived. The fact that the film would give her amnesia out of concern for our sensibilities is aggravating considering the first hour and half disregarded it so wisely. The screenplay seems to have been written by someone who didn't understand or care to flesh out the rules or fundamental nature of their own world, or who flagrantly disregards them to manufacture an audience-appeasing resolution. Out of all the cheap happy endings people bitch about from Hollywood, this is the one everyone gives a free pass

31. The Wages of Fear (1953)

Not Rated | 131 min | Adventure, Drama, Thriller

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  

In a decrepit South American village, four men are hired to transport an urgent nitroglycerine shipment without the equipment that would make it safe.

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot | Stars: Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Peter van Eyck, Folco Lulli

Votes: 40,703

(Spoilers) This statement about man's inner destructive nature would've been better left to our imaginations. To literally have our hero suicidally swerve off a chasm on a lark to subvert a 'Hollywood-style happy ending,' is kind of a cop out. (Only in a film critic's mind could losing your three best friends in exchange for a hollow reward that cannot buy what you truly desire be considered a happy ending, especially when you are left with the guilt of one of those deaths in service of enriching a sinister multinational corporation. But I digress.) Granted these guys are reckless, but the first hour of the film stressed the fact our hero is cool and smart, quite the opposite from the sloppy adrenaline junkie he devolves into in the last scene. He pushes everything to their limit, but always with reason, whether it be the bridge or his personal relationships. His motivations have nothing to do with arrogance or proving his bravery, which only makes the climax more arbitrary and devoid of narrative sense. His striking feature is not his hubris, but his will to survive and his resourcefulness. His fatal flaw is incongruous to his actual flaws! Cynics are justified in feeling that the director tried a little too hard for a melancholic, ironic twist -- that hallmark of 'serious' filmmaking. Movies are a give and take, we suspend our disbelief, and the filmmakers are supposed to provide well-rounded, consistent characters and scenarios with emotional resonance that logically work within the world they just created. Much like The Exorcist, they cheated.

32. Journey to Italy (1954)

Not Rated | 97 min | Drama, Romance

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
100 Metascore

An unhappily married couple attempts to find direction and insight while vacationing in Naples.

Director: Roberto Rossellini | Stars: Ingrid Bergman, George Sanders, Maria Mauban, Anna Proclemer

Votes: 6,557

Who knew that a provincial traffic jam could be so revelatory. Roberto Rossellini had developed quite a habit of abrupt, emotional endings, few as painfully unrewarding than here. George Sanders' 180 degree turn from cynic to convert is simply unbelievable. Ingrid Bergman's newly rekindled trust and neediness towards Sanders blatantly contradicts the steady undertones of disgust and independence she's been emanating the entire film. Their passive aggression seems to suggest a genuine dislike. The finale, far from revealing their true feelings of romance, seems to convey a sense of dread and guilt -- not love; it's hard to decipher Sanders' character, he is written and acted so laconically that he comes off cold and enigmatic. But it is clear she appears little more than a burden to him. I don't comprehend how such banality could impress world-weary, intellectual snobs to abruptly change their opinion. If you take a romantic trip to Italy and you spend it picking up hookers or playing solitaire and cuckolding your husband, not even a saint could salvage your marriage.

33. Teorema (1968)

Unrated | 98 min | Drama, Mystery

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

A strange visitor in a wealthy family. He seduces the maid, the son, the mother, the daughter and finally the father before leaving a few days after. After he's gone, none of them can ... See full summary »

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini | Stars: Silvana Mangano, Terence Stamp, Massimo Girotti, Anne Wiazemsky

Votes: 9,355

So what are we to make of this strange Adonis? This yuppie family regenerated by his magic phallus? Is this a parable? One would think it is literal based on the blunt dialogue, but then again the mother wears make-up to bed, so who knows. Is this visitor a corrupting force? The personification of temptation? God or the Devil, as many have theorized? Their collective liberation (essentially vulgar, shallow epiphanies) leads only to absurd forms of ironic self-destructive. Why exactly would a group of normal people squander their riches and beliefs for a man only superficially appealing? When you finish sifting through the tawdry Christian symbolism, Marxist shtick, gay angle, etc., it quickly appears there is a half-assed interpretation for everybody. For a film that is supposedly so deep, contemplation exposes it instead a rather cheap, boring film. Sexual liberation, Foucault, Freud, Sartre, Jesus, the bourgeoisie... Who knew freedom and questioning the social order could be condensed to so many faddish truisms.

34. Tom Jones (1963)

Not Rated | 128 min | Adventure, Comedy, History

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  

The romantic and chivalrous adventures of adopted bastard Tom Jones in 18th century England.

Director: Tony Richardson | Stars: Albert Finney, Susannah York, George Devine, Rachel Kempson

Votes: 9,312 | Gross: $37.60M

For all those who protest Shakespeare set in the modern day, Tim Burton ignoring the Batman comics, or so-and-so altering or re-interpreting whomever's whatever, this is the counterpoint, a film adaptation that fails exactly because it is too faithful. The very long novel's story is condensed very well, and even the two-century-old humor seems to translate. Tony Richardson's direction and all the actors deserved their accolades. But it concludes with perfunctory closure of a stupidly simple misunderstanding. (spoilers) Tom Jones' rescue from the gallows is in all sense a deus ex machina if ever were one, even if it was in the book it still doesn't work. The last ten minutes is a quick succession of anti-climactic resolutions. A happy ending isn't a terrible thing, but when character arcs and situations are wrapped up this tidily and uncomplicatedly after we've grown accustomed to the messy plot and impure characters, it's aggravating. Sometimes screenwriters are painted in a corner, criticized for taking liberties. In this case the screenwriter should have ditched Henry Fielding's very antiquated, cheesy climax or at least rewritten it.

35. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

PG-13 | 146 min | Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
65 Metascore

A highly advanced robotic boy longs to become "real" so that he can regain the love of his human mother.

Director: Steven Spielberg | Stars: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor, Sam Robards

Votes: 259,897 | Gross: $78.62M

While the preceding two hours raised such complex and unconventional questions as regarding 'replacement children,' the line separating childhood naiveté to sociopathic behavior, the parallels between children and robots, comparisons of slavery and animal labor to machinery, the inflexibility of human roles within society ('worker' ironically being the very origin of the word 'robot'), etc., with chilling effectiveness, Steven Spielberg for some reason needed to include a bat-$%^* crazy final act that ignores all of those dilemmas while stretching our already generous suspension of disbelief past acceptable levels. I won't spoil it, but whereas the first two hours emphasize David's 'realness,' the finale has the protagonist settling for a fake experience, an artificial, meaningless memory. I think it was saying something about the simple needs and desires of children or the true value of life, but the closing sequence stylistically doesn't match the rest of the film in any way, and because of that fact it looks and feels emotionally fraudulent, quite a feat considering the other contrivances and inconsistencies we previously ignored. The lessons the robo-boy has learned and his experiences are pushed aside in the last act, another example of a director reaching for the lowest and commonest denominator. After all, one of the crucial aspects of childhood is realizing you're growing up. The fact that the film would pass the finale off as a happy or fitting end is as baffling as it is maddening.

36. Altered States (1980)

R | 102 min | Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  
58 Metascore

A Harvard scientist conducts experiments on himself with a hallucinatory drug and an isolation chamber that may be causing him to regress genetically.

Director: Ken Russell | Stars: William Hurt, Blair Brown, Bob Balaban, Charles Haid

Votes: 26,553 | Gross: $19.85M

The prospect of a serious film dealing with transcending boundaries of mundane humanity through the synthesis of primitive DMT-induced religious rites and cutting-edge science sounds pretty damn awesome. When you throw in Oscar-winning writer Paddy Chayefsky, notable eccentric director Ken Russell, a talent like William Hurt, and burgeoning Eighties special effects the expectations are bound to fail. But no one could have expected a thud this dramatic. It's a hollow, cold feeling when you realize a film is dumber than the lofty intellectual and spiritual questions it asks. The film opens with brutal realism and seemingly unanswerable dilemmas but succumbs to moralism (for a film about magic mushrooms it is surprisingly traditional), a schlocky, literal and not very satisfying ending. The climax probably worked in the novel as allegory, on screen it plays as bad midnight-movie sci-fi. Terrence McKenna, it is not. To simply reduce altered consciousness to a gnarly trip marginalizes it, the equation of the effects of voluntary psychotropic use to heroin or alcohol withdrawal doesn't ring true either. The film was later disowned by the author and screenwriter, not surprising as the film plays as a simple genre piece. I think the will-to-reality ending worked better in the a-ha music video.

37. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989)

NC-17 | 101 min | Comedy, Crime, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7/10 X  
55 Metascore

An unbalanced but alluring former mental patient takes a porn star prisoner in the hopes of convincing her to marry him.

Director: Pedro Almodóvar | Stars: Victoria Abril, Antonio Banderas, Loles León, Julieta Serrano

Votes: 20,009 | Gross: $4.09M

In the tradition of Three Days of the Condor, Pedro Almodovar's film continues the awkward romanticized rape trope. Granted that it is depicted as consensual, the fact that 1) she is confined, restrained, and threatened with death 2) her captor's actions are mitigated by previous sexual relations or him being a 'hottie,' and 3) she is portrayed as psychologically damaged and skanky because of her past drug use and sexuality, the film is already crossing a line. Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down is such a bad offender because it takes the Stockholm Syndrome plot to its (ill)logical conclusion. Because the protagonist never comes across as an emotionally fragile individual the ending is forced. The 'conversion scene' is written so unconvincingly, I honestly thought it was intentionally meant to convey the actress-hostage acting the role of her life (and for her life) in order to deceive her captor. To throw around terms like 'corrective rape' is maybe missing the message of this 'comedy' but that kind of seems inevitable. That her sister would so willingly comply with this arrangement is also pretty unbelievable. Almodovar has been derided as a soap opera writer, but when he borrows the 'Luke and Laura' plot so casually, you do start to think. The angry feminists might have a point here.

Almodovar has stated that the sadomasochistic interpretation is null and void, thus implying a much murkier and clumsier metaphor about love and the 'ties that bind.' I respect Almodovar as a filmmaker who does not give a $&@> about public sensibilities, but in retrospect his finale is in bad taste or at very least dated.

38. American Beauty (1999)

R | 122 min | Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
86 Metascore

A sexually frustrated suburban father has a mid-life crisis after becoming infatuated with his daughter's best friend.

Director: Sam Mendes | Stars: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley

Votes: 917,496 | Gross: $130.10M

Contrived, phony ending for a smug movie. I held out hope this offbeat black comedy would take an appropriate turn instead it opts for the path of least resistance. I don't think it's deadpan comedy as much as po-faced bohemianism. A pseudo-edgy takedown of homophobia, suburban conformity, and middle-class values, it is far from a scathing social critique; bourgeoisie-bashing is now a readymade genre. A film that aspires to delve the underbelly of American society but can't communicate except in too many caricatures and broad strokes to count. The wise-beyond-their-years teen couple is supposed to be the voice of the film, but the ditzy, bromide-spouting blonde feels more appropriate. Further, this marks Kevin Spacey's continuing mission to prove himself the most serious actor in the room. As Louis CK expertly noted, it's a movie that becomes an unintentional self-parody of p.c. 'message' dramas while trying to be intentionally ironic and profound. The end the epitome of a production where everybody was trying too hard. The more you watch the worse it gets.