My Twenty-two Most Disappointing People

by Tin_ear | created - 26 Apr 2011 | updated - 21 Feb 2016 | Public

Don't take this list as a sign of these individuals' lack of talent or range. Take this list as evidence of the waste of that amazing talent and range, sometimes by circumstances out of their control (but usually not). They have a gift when it comes to making movies yet they have so little to show for it. (As an indicator, just count how many times I use the word "mediocre" or mention the film Dune.)

And for those of you too dumb to get the gag, the last one is obviously not referring a real person named "James Bond."

1. David Lynch

Writer | Twin Peaks

Born in precisely the kind of small-town American setting so familiar from his films, David Lynch spent his childhood being shunted from one state to another as his research scientist father kept getting relocated. He attended various art schools, married Peggy Lynch and then fathered future ...

David Lynch is a director who is often considered influential and 'avant-garde.' That seems remarkable considering his stagnating, gimmicky style since the early Nineties has produced few legitimately watchable movies. Worse, the terrible recent output makes one wonder whether any of his few 'great films' were even that good to begin with, or mere anomalies in an otherwise mediocre oeuvre that produced the likes of Inland Empire and Dune. He has by all logic used up any remaining goodwill, instead aiming his resources toward increasingly abstract, tedious vanity projects, both on and off screen. The only thing more grating than his films are his dutiful fans who continue to fuel his cult of banal weirdness. There is a great, romantic delusion in thinking the eccentric or 'other' possess special ability or insight.

2. Kevin Kline

Actor | Wild Wild West

Kevin Kline was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to Margaret and Robert Joseph Kline, who owned several stores. His father was of German Jewish descent and his mother was of Irish ancestry. After attending Indiana University in Bloomington, Kline studied at the Juilliard School in New York. In 1972, ...

He is by all account a great actor. He averages more than a film a year, something like thiry-forty movies since 1983. Yet when I look at his career I see a few quality comedies, a couple decent dramas, and that's about it. (And none of those aforementioned movies are even from this decade.) I quite frankly can't understand why he doesn't get better roles offered or why he insists on the ones he has been taking for three decades (a lot of theatre obligations?). By all the critical acclaim you'd expect a resume of a 'great actor' to be less marred by such inane filler. As far as I know, the late John Cazale made only five films (in less than nine years, no less) and they were all excellent; it isn't impossible to make a great movie twice a decade.

3. Terrence Malick

Writer | Days of Heaven

Terrence Malick was born in Ottawa, Illinois. His family subsequently lived in Oklahoma and he went to school in Austin, Texas. He did his undergraduate work at Harvard, graduating summa cum laude with a degree in philosophy in 1965.

A member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society, he attended Magdalen ...

Malick is a bit of a wild card. His output isn't horrible but then neither is it terribly impressive; with five (ambitious yet hare-brained) films in forty years, he is the anti-Sidney Lumet. Talk about bad timing, you wait twenty years to make a movie, and Spielberg releases the most memorable film of that genre at exactly the same time. Along the way Malick has been phasing out the human element in his films for decades in favor of some intangible sense of spirituality, with frequently awkward stream of consciousness narration (in the case of Days of Heaven, improvised at the last moment in place of the dialogue he had written). His own actors are among the most vocal detractors, his capricious directing, oxygen-deprived writing style, and baffling editing choices a source of recurring criticism. The grandiose but empty Tree of Life is yet another film that seems to confirm the worst. It's all been down hill since Badlands.

4. Robert Altman

Director | Gosford Park

Robert Altman was born on February 20th, 1925 in Kansas City, Missouri, to B.C. (an insurance salesman) and Helen Altman. He entered St. Peters Catholic school at the age six, and spent a short time at a Catholic high school. From there, he went to Rockhurst High School. It was then that he started...

Watching the soap box satire Buffalo Bill, it hit me. Robert Alman's entire career was spent coasting on MASH's success. Of his subsequent works in that decade: Brewster McCloud is completely forgettable, McCabe and Mrs. Miller is preachy and dull, The Long Goodbye is a botched neo-noir, Nashville (I finally realize after years of defending) is horribly overrated and self-indulgent, and Quintet is a huge waste of time. He closed out the decade with the moronic Popeye. That decade, as I'm told, was supposedly his peak, but other than the aforementioned MASH and merely satisfactory California Split, he has little else to show. 3 Women was only produced through sheer reputation despite the fact it feels like imitation-Bergman, complete with a scattershot script and loopy trio of characters even he couldn't be bothered to understand. The Eighties was basically purgatory for Altman, and he was rightly relegated to t.v. Even The Player, his highly praised comeback, appeals only to a niche audience.

By his later years, new minds like Paul Thomas Anderson had taken Altman's blueprint and were doing it better, rendering the old man obsolete. It's astounding how a lot people don't see how oafish his characters are, his direction smug. His lauded anti-establishment views rarely transcended simple counter-culture truisms: war is bad, politicans are bad, Hollywood is bad, capitalism is bad, colonialism is bad, outsiders & eccentrics are good, etc. Coincidentally, it takes a brave, insightful artist to speak truth to power and mock Nixon a decade after he resigned.

5. Johnny Depp

Actor | Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Johnny Depp is perhaps one of the most versatile actors of his day and age in Hollywood.

He was born John Christopher Depp II in Owensboro, Kentucky, on June 9, 1963, to Betty Sue (Wells), who worked as a waitress, and John Christopher Depp, a civil engineer.

Depp was raised in Florida. He dropped ...

I lost track of his Pirate movies by now. He has a Faustian contract with Tim Burton which now appears to be dragging his career into merchandized, cheesy oblivion. Like Kevin Kline, he is yet another actor who apparently has gotten sick of making interesting movies, turning to make, instead, a series of kids movies based on a forty year-old amusement park ride, among other recent insipid paychecks. Compare his films in the Nineties to his post-Millenium roles for a depressing comparison. And unlike some struggling actors, he isn't doing it out of necessity. He is now content playing a real life parody of a burn-out, disaffected celebrity, to cool to have to worry about his image and lifestyle, but still having to take awful roles to finance it. Concerning his recent failures, he's been big enough to blame on 'dumb' rural American audiences and nefarious, jealous film critics.

6. George Clooney

Actor | Up in the Air

George Timothy Clooney was born on May 6, 1961, in Lexington, Kentucky, to Nina Bruce (née Warren), a former beauty pageant queen, and Nick Clooney, a former anchorman and television host (who was also the brother of singer Rosemary Clooney). He has Irish, English, and German ancestry. Clooney ...

....speaking of Faust...Looking at his résumé, one gets the feeling Clooney made a lot of promises along the way to get to the place he is today. He alternates wildly between unfunny comedies and urgent social-message dramas one assumes he does pro bono as long as he can write or direct. I like George (more so behind the camera), but he's no star-activist like Henry Fonda, or star-producer of the magnitude of Burt Lancaster. He's more like Robert Redford, an affable guy who has shockingly only made a handful of classic movies in his fifty-year career. Of Clooney's thirty-plus legitimate films roles (generously discounting his documentaries, shorts, voice-overs, cameos, or early obscure roles) he's really only made about six or seven movies worth watching, with an equal or greater amount of bombs. That's a terrible track record for a guy with his pick of projects. For every charming film like Confessions of A Dangerous Mind we get a bunch of brain-numbing turkeys like The Men Who Stare at Goats or The American. In all films managing seldom to break character, that character being, of course, George Clooney (aka that unflappable, conflicted guy in a nice suit who runs around uttering terse, important lines in a cellphone while ultimately deciding to do the 'right thing'). Acting aside, he seems to judge movie scripts with the same discernment a dog perceives between Mountain Dew and champagne. Recent films such as The Descendants, Michael Clayton, and Up in the Air are a few good examples of timely, sober movies overflowing with Oscar cachet but which have absolutely no lasting appeal or rewatchabilty. George has got to have the most lackluster CV of any superstar working.

7. Roman Polanski

Actor | Chinatown

Roman Polanski is a Polish film director, producer, writer and actor. Having made films in Poland, Britain, France and the USA, he is considered one of the few truly international filmmakers. Roman Polanski was born in Paris in 1933. His parents returned to Poland from France in 1936, three years ...

If I told you name the best living non-documentary director, Roman Polanski's name would leap to mind among Stephen Frears, Martin Scorsese, Bernardo Bertolucci, or Steven Spielberg. That hardly figures when you consider how remarkably barren the last four decades have been. The Ghost Writer was a sloppy satire/thriller. Carnage was a bore. The Pianist was a needless, dull bomb (it won an Oscar, but so did Crash and Slumdog Millionaire, so who really cares). His last remotely notable effort is Frantic; that was made during the latter half of the Reagan administration. Need I say more? Remember, this is the same guy who made Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby. It's easy to denounce a director for a terrible style, or making repetitive or self-obsessed movies, but in Polanksi's case, it's more like he either lost his touch or stopped trying.

8. Ray Liotta

Actor | Goodfellas

Intense is the word for Ray Liotta. He specializes in psychopathic characters who hide behind a cultivated charm. Even in his nice guy roles in Field of Dreams (1989) and Operation Dumbo Drop (1995), you get the impression that something is smoldering inside of him. Liotta maintains a steady stream...

After Goodfellas, Liotta looked like the next De Niro or at least a respectable star with first-billing potential. That didn't happen. His career unraveled, and he's sadly mostly a guess star of sorts, utilized to lend second and third-rate movies some credibility (with the notable exception of Copland). Ray Liotta went from being a potential star to a set-piece in barely above direct-to-video level productions.

9. Woody Allen

Writer | Manhattan

Woody Allen was born Allan Stewart Konigsberg on December 1, 1935 in Brooklyn, New York, to Nettie (Cherrie), a bookkeeper, and Martin Konigsberg, a waiter and jewellery engraver. His father was of Russian Jewish descent, and his maternal grandparents were Austrian Jewish immigrants. As a young boy...

Woody Allen gets much flack for his redundant, often self-parodying films, and in all repect he deserves the blame, too. His career was built on a simple template: neurotic, Jewish New Yorker and his quirky struggle to find meaning and lasting love amid career mediocrity and personal stagnation, set up by his most well-honed one-liners. Essentially Woody reimagined himself and personality, almost verbatim, in slighlty different situations from film to film. Most of the time his films clicked, even the bad ones were worth seeing, but at some point in the early nineties his previous razor-sharp wit became noticeably dulled. Like a guy who repeats the same stories at every party because he legitimately has no new ones to tell, Allen became an irrelevant, slightly obnoxious bore.

10. Robert De Niro

Actor | Raging Bull

One of the greatest actors of all time, Robert De Niro was born on August 17, 1943 in Manhattan, New York City, to artists Virginia (Admiral) and Robert De Niro Sr. His paternal grandfather was of Italian descent, and his other ancestry is English, Dutch, German, French and Irish. He was trained at...

This one is particulary painful for me. This was a toss up. Everyone mocks Al Pacino and De Niro for their rather rancid string of movies the past decade or so, Righteous Kill a good example. It's too obvious, I can't put both on here; Pacino did a decent job as Shylock and Jack Kevorkian, so the target goes on De Niro. His career is naturally bound to decline from it's lofty peak in 1980, but so much he is forced to make a piece of *bleep* like Machete? Do you really need the money, Bobby? Can I lend you a couple bucks? (I realize he has partially bankrolled the Tribeca Film Fest since it's inception so I will cut him a little slack. And even my hero Max von Sydow agreed to do Flash Gordon and Dune, so who's perfect?)

11. Orson Welles

Actor | Citizen Kane

His father was a well-to-do inventor, his mother a beautiful concert pianist; Orson Welles was gifted in many arts (magic, piano, painting) as a child. When his mother died (he was nine) he traveled the world with his father. When his father died (he was fifteen) he became the ward of Chicago's Dr....

An actor who loved acting (that is to say a man who loved the sound of his own voice, and rightfully so), Orson Welles did many, many movies. The little acknowledged truth by film buffs is that many of his roles are merely cameos or easy pay days in forgotten movies (most of them below his prestige). He was connected to the abortive Jodorowsky production of Dune along with the likes of such respected thespians as Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger and the midget from Fantasy Island -- but only on the condition he got his own private gourmet chef. This gives you some idea how seriously he took his craft by this point in his life if Casino Royale and The Late, Great Planet Earth didn't tell you enough. He never had a meaty role after '65, which was the same year that essentially marked the end of his career as a director of feature films, perhaps by his own undoing. He was an overrated creative force (Citizen Kane was likely influenced by an earlier film and no, using the news bulletin format for his infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast wasn't his idea either, nor was it his script), possessing far more talent as huckster, whose output was compromised or outright botched as money and enthusiasm dried up. He never reached his full potential. His decline is perhaps best epitomized in his later turn as an argumentative, tipsy pitchman hawking frozen peas.

12. Kathleen Turner

Actress | Romancing the Stone

Kathleen Turner was born June 19, 1954 in Springfield, Missouri, to Patsy (Magee) and Allen Richard Turner, a U.S. Foreign Service officer. She graduated from American School in London in 1972. After the death of her father, the Turner family moved back to the United States where Kathleen later ...

Solid in every performance, Kathleen Turner suffered from the inevitable bias against aging actresses compounded by an abortive star-making vehicle, and an even more diastrous debilitating physical ailment that cost her years when she should have been in her peak. She was red hot in the Eighties, but by the next decade she was deemed unacceptable leading actress material. She was only in her late-thirties. She hit her stride too late to establish herself a megastar like Maryl Streep or Glenn Close, which might have allowed her to recover her former status intact. She went from being cast as a sultry femme fatale to dumpy housewife in a span of five years.

13. Kevin Smith

Producer | Clerks

Kevin Patrick Smith was born in Red Bank, New Jersey, to Grace (Schultz) and Donald E. Smith, a postal worker. He is very proud of his native state; this fact can be seen in all of his movies. Kevin is of mostly German, with some Irish and English, ancestry.

His first movie, Clerks (1994), was ...

His first 'real' feature length film, Clerks, is his best by a mile and probably the only movie in Smith's body of work worth viewing. A series of increasingly formulaic, mostly unfunny movies followed after, capitalizing on his previous glory. He is now a self-made pariah to many in the industry. That is very unfortunate but it is his fault, he alienated himself and made a lot of bad movies. I feel like I could say this about many of the directors on the list, but Kevin Smith may very well have had just enough good ideas to make one or two great movies in his lifetime, and that is all.

14. Spike Lee

Director | Do the Right Thing

Spike Lee was born Shelton Jackson Lee on March 20, 1957, in Atlanta, Georgia. At a very young age, he moved from pre-civil rights Georgia, to Brooklyn, New York. Lee came from artistic, education-grounded background; his father was a jazz musician, and his mother, a schoolteacher. He attended ...

Spike Lee debuted as a groundbreaking and fearless voice among timid and tepid fellow directors. Malcolm X and Do the Right Thing are magnificent. Overtime much of his effort has been devoted to documentaries, which I will leave out of my judgement. Of his remaining work: 25th Hour was an admirable effort, but his later work is awful.

15. Peter Fonda

Actor | Easy Rider

Peter Henry Fonda was born in New York City, to legendary screen star Henry Fonda and New York socialite Frances Seymour Brokaw. He is the brother of actress Jane Fonda and the father of actress Bridget Fonda. His ancestry includes Dutch, English, Scottish, and distant French and Italian.

Fonda made...

Son of legendary Henry Fonda, brother to the talented Jane, Peter somehow vanished slowly, but surely, from public eye ever since 1969's Easy Rider. He's sort of a one hit wonder of actors. One could assume from his offbeat film choices, and let's just say 'mellow' lifestyle, that Peter never really wanted to be a conventional Hollywood star, in any case.

16. Steven Soderbergh

Director | Sex, Lies, and Videotape

Steven Andrew Soderbergh was born on January 14, 1963 in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, the second of six children of Mary Ann (Bernard) and Peter Soderbergh. His father was of Swedish and Irish descent, and his mother was of Italian ancestry. While he was still at a very young age, his family moved to ...

He can make a mediocre script look good, but it's still just as empty as any other piece of %^* Hollywood craps out. Regardless if I personally empathize with his politics, all to often his social messages feel banal and simple, not bold or though-provoking. Sex, Lies and Videotape remains his lone great film. It's all downhill afterward. Out of Sight was a glossy but underwhelming little dud. The Informant an equally flaccid attempt at comedy, or drama, or tragedy, or whatever. Contagion is another microcosm of his career, a film with moments of intermittent brillance amid a cliched riddled premise, a bloated cast, and a predictably politicized, ironic end. It notably features a Miami Vice-style drug rip off, and such pseudo-intellectual platitudes as 'Print media is dying!' and 'Blogging isn’t writing, it’s graffiti with punctuation' or 'A scary movie gets more attention than a CDC warning!' Magic Mike and Behind the Candelabra, while enticing concepts, disguise formulaic stories, flat endings, and banal moral lessons: 'follow your dreams' and 'it is better to loved and lost than to never loved at all.' His Che docudrama and Kafka-themed bomb are best forgotten altogether.

Supposedly retired, he now devotes his time fashionably lecturing Hollywood on their financial preoccupations and lack of originality (in other words, for not being independent studios), apparently oblivious he's the same man responsible for reinterpretations of Solaris and Traffic, an Ocean remake and its two sequels, the fourth installment in the diminishing Spalding Gray monologue series, an indulgent, retro-noir that unbelievably lost 25 million dollars, and a myriad of other obscure critical and financial flops such as The Girlfriend Experience, underwritten by his studio successes.

17. Malcolm McDowell

Actor | A Clockwork Orange

Malcolm John Taylor was born on June 13, 1943 in Leeds, England, to working-class parents Edna (McDowell), a hotelier, and Charles Taylor, a publican. His father was an alcoholic. Malcolm hated his parents' ways. His father was keen to send his son to private school to give him a good start in life...

At somepoint Malcolm McDowell's career went off the rails. It is likely still in the ditch; no one's been looking. His career, full of potential, inexplicably disintegrated (wow, how many times can I repeat that cliche in one list). Though actually his burst bubble could likely be tied to the notorious bomb Caligula. His performance in Clockwork Orange is the stuff of legend; nothing to date matches it, and nothing that he's done since the Seventies could be described as even worthy of being called mediocre. Obviously Malcolm favors the quantity over quality route, proving one can, in fact, coast off one role their entire life. In the process making Ben Kingsley and Liam Neeson's recent slumming look modest in comparison. But in his defense, at least he wasn't in Dune.

18. Howard Hawks

Director | Rio Bravo

What do the classic films Scarface (1932), Twentieth Century (1934), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Sergeant York (1941), To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Red River (1948) Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and Rio Bravo (1959) have in...

He's revered among multiple generations of directors, has an honorary Oscar, and his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. However, it's rarely voiced that his prolific and versatile directing career is marked by films that inspired or were later remade as far superior films (eg: The Thing from Another World remade as The Thing, Viva Villa! as Viva Zapata!, Scarface as Scarface), or adapted from more daring or iconic films (eg: His Girl Friday adapted from The Front Page, To Have and Have Not from Casablanca). His screwball comedies date badly, his silents nobody pretends to care about, and he spent his twilight years making several uninspired Westerns that would have surely passed into obscurity if not for John Wayne's star power. Even his 'good' movies were plagued by corny dialogue, bad plotting, stiff acting, or cheesy emotional scenes, Red River a prime example of a nearly great film undone by its over-glossed third act. Squandering his clout and ability to corral talented writers and stars he amazingly avoided making a single classic film in his life. In forty years he never even came close to making a signature film on par with his contemporaries, Hitchcock, Sturges, Huston, Ford, Wilder, Lang, Wellman, or Welles.

19. Nora Ephron

Writer | Julie & Julia

Nora Ephron was educated at Wellesley College, Massachusetts. She was an acclaimed essayist (Crazy Salad 1975), novelist (Heartburn 1983), and had written screenplays for several popular films, all featuring strong female characters, such as anti-nuclear activist Karen Silkwood (Silkwood (1983), ...

Lost amid the praise for the recently departed Ephron is the fact the majority of her movies are terrible; most have already eased effortlessly into heavy rotation on basic cable. Witty and beloved as she was, she basically made chickflicks that lacked any semblance of intellectuality. Her first few film credits show promise, but her output the last twenty years was pretty lame. She lacked range and imagination, her work was redundant and amazingly shallow. She deserves as much scorn for her Woody Allen-lite subject matter and sitcom-grade writing as for her part in inspiring thousands of unnecessary, unwatchable rom-coms. Her personality and her position as a successful female writer/director in Hollywood probably exaggerated her reputation more than her filmography would seem to support. Her spotty screenwriting credits are matched only by her questionable directing choices. Furthermore, anytime a filmmaker starts dragging their family into important positions in the production of their movie, it's a bad omen -- just ask Francis Ford Coppola or Will Smith.

20. Brad Dourif

Actor | One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Gaunt character actor Brad Dourif was born Bradford Claude Dourif on March 18, 1950 in Huntington, West Virginia. He is the son of Joan Mavis Felton (Bradford) and Jean Henri Dourif, a French-born art collector who owned and operated a dye factory. His father died when Dourif was three years old, ...

Dune. (The sci-fi debacle epitomizes a career of questionable choices.)

21. Oliver Stone

Director | JFK

Oliver Stone has become known as a master of controversial subjects and a legendary film maker. His films are filled with a variety of film angles and styles, he pushes his actors to give Oscar-worthy performances, and despite his failures, has always returned to success.

William Oliver Stone was ...

I can't think of a more pronounced decline of artistic and intellectual credibility than this. His celebrated anti-docudrama J.F.K. might as well mark the moment Mr. Stone degraded from contemplative know-it-all to tinfoil hat, makes-your-eyes-roll know-it-all. His early films, even if you didn't agree with them politically, were undeniably entertaining and thought-provoking. But I think he got too full of himself and his ability. Compare his Scarface script to his latest dud, Savages, which he also co-wrote. The previous film's curses ('$&@/i!# little monkey' remains one the most unintentionally funny lines to this day -- alongside the 'Do you remember when you took amyl nitrate in college?' line from the Emily Barringer biopic), machismo, and clichés are still as endearing as they came off thirty-years ago. Can you think of anyone who will recall Savages fondly in five years, with its now perfunctory use of expletives and violence, and time-sensitive political references? If the cracks started to appear with The Doors the crumbling was irreversible with Alexander. Talk Radio an intriguing failure, Natural Born Killers an obnoxious attention-grabbing hoax. His 'W' is little more than a glorified made-for-cable movie.

22. James Bond

James Bond was born on January 4, 1900 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. He was married to Mary Wickham Porcher Lewis Bond. He died on February 14, 1989 in Philadelphia.

As several critics keenly note, James Bond is basically P Diddy, a boring playboy. Though the real problem with Ian Fleming's hero lies not in the fact that he isn't 'dark enough,' isn't Jason Bourne, has too many commercial tie-ins, or lacks a John le Carre-like backstory, it's literally everything else. The conceit of the franchise, afterall, is that James Bond is ageless, even if producers hire bland directors and writers to smooth down his rough edges. His former 'flaws' (smoking, misogyny, bad jokes, elitism) were defense mechanisms and signifiers that at least hinted at an underlying personality; he no longer even has that, only vague anguish.

The franchise is stuck in an arms race with itself. The brand uses nostalgia and predictibility as a crutch, and the audience is partly to blame. In obvious overcompensation to appear progressive, the female characters have become karate-chopping nuclear physicists but who regardless still need to be saved by 007. The once mysterious Bond has been provided an unsatisfying backstory when what he really needed was a more nuanced perspective or personal dilemmas. He needs believable villains, and dare I say, more intellectual themes or ethical conflicts (the crucial element of le Carre the writers seem to miss) instead of incessant globetrotting and villains with quirky hairstyles. Even the best premises are usually ruined by exaggerated &/or hokey set pieces, shallow characters, and toothless international intrigue.