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The 20 Most Divisive Films of The Modern Era

14 August 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Ben Ziegler

most divisive films

Cinema has produced some rough diamonds and some that are like a composite of a beautiful crystal and a rusty nail. They have become known in the modern lexicon as “marmite movies”; films that polarize critics and audiences alike. Like the substance itself, marmite is either so good it’s part of your taste buds or it’s so bad it tastes like sea salt mixed with ear wax.

Not every lauded masterpiece is liked and not every critically lambasted film is disliked. One’s favourite film could be slated by your best friend and contended about for decades to come. There is a certain amount of fun in defending or attacking a film; either way, said film has made a strong impact.

A film is loved or hated for all kinds of reasons; maybe this film reminds you too much of a past incident that you would rather forget, or perhaps this film is the love letter you were never able to write, expressed in images, a cinepoem that is as close as it can get to expressing your deepest feelings. Maybe this film is not as pretentious as others have said and taps into the most inner depths of truth. Or maybe this film over here is dangerous to you; a seemingly well-intentioned film but really a propaganda piece cleaving into your subconscious.

Here is a list of 20 marmite movies with no particular emphasis on whether one film is more marmitier than the other. Obviously there are many more marmite movies that could have made the list, such as A Clockwork Orange, Altered States, Natural Born Killers and, more recently, Under The Skin. This writer has selected these 20 because they are ones most vivid and fresh in the mind at the time of writing.

 

20. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

napoleon-dynamite-screenshot

Likes: This is a kooky film and it’s a kookiness that is refreshing in comparison to other films about listless teenagers because it is tactful; no vulgarity and profanity. It’s a quotable film intimated with a deadpan face; one to admire for its thoughtful interchanges and surprising, idiosyncratic triumpths.

Dislikes: Some may find it too weird, too droll, too caricatured. The humour can be non-sequitur and therefore sketchy. Napoleon’s indifference and unawareness of being an outcast could even be a virtue and a suggestion of a maverick in the making – he never apologises for being himself, he is an individualist. The film’s slow pace and composure could also be a reflection of Dynamites free-flowing mindscape, where “Ligers” wander the land and eat “delicious bass” for dinner. Napoleon may be one of the most marmitey characters ever written and if you dislike him, you’ll likely dislike the film. This is a risk the filmmakers take.

 

19. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)

The-Life-Aquatic-with-Steve-Zissou-bill-murray

Likes: A Moby Dickian story with Bill Murray in the lead role as an oceanographer seeking retribution on the “Jaguar shark” who killed his friend. One plus point to all of Wes Andersons films is the ensemble cast, often featuring the Wilson brothers, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Dafoe and Jeff Goldblum, among others. Murray stands out with an eccentric and poignant performance as a quicksilver Jacques Cousteau-inspired character.

The film’s inventiveness is a marvel too and the production design, as always, is outstanding. As with all his films, there is sorrow and the characters woes are handled with such humanity and compassion. As a whole it may reinforce your own.

Dislikes: Anderson’s inspirations may go way over the heads of some and therefore risks alienating some people. But that is just one layer and being already conversant with Anderson’s flair and exemplary eye for detail will help. There is always a lot going on in each scene and perhaps sometimes all these ideas spill out and get lost like some of the characters.

 

18. Synecdoche, New York (2008)

synecdoche-new-york

Likes: One has to admire Charlie Kaufman for choosing his directorial debut based on such an ambitious script. After all only a particular kind of visionary can do his scripts justice (Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry were such visionaries). We got a good look into a neurotic writers mind in Adaptation, but this goes even further, into a more grand virtuosity and into a deeper labyrinth of meta. Beautifully unconventional, performed and shot with a confidence Kaufman must have cultivated from the aforementioned Jonze and Gondry.

Dislikes: It is so deep and personal that it can be overwhelming at times. There is alot to relate to, especially if you’re an artist but It may be too indulgent and inaccesible for some. Exploring a complex like this will either be infuriating or exhilerating for the viewer. Or both.

 

17. Lost In Translation (2003)

Lost_in_Translation

Likes: A minimalist mood piece about unrequited love set in Japan. The chemistry between the two protagonists, as played by Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson, is what makes this film special. It is as much about the ambience of the location as it is about the characters and thankfully that ambience exudes warmth and tenderness.

Dislikes: Some have said there is no plot to the film. The narrative is deliberately slight because it is a film about moments, sensuality, being-in-the-world and of it. There is nothing to dislike about the protagonists so one is left to nitpick; would have been nice to hear what was said at the end, then again it’s such an intimate moment, the tacit response is telling. Viewers may find the film too thinly plotted and uneventful, with a lack of the usual conventions that structure stories of this kind.

 

16. Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004)

kill_bill_vol_2

Likes: Exceptional craft in what is a great homage to the martial arts and spaghetti Westerns that Tarantino loves. It’s difficult not to revel in it and his enthusiasm is infectious, that is something he’ll always have pervading his films. Uma Thurman and David Carradine are terrific in a talkier film than the first and it becomes more of a character piece as a result, giving it more substance.

Dislikes: His films seem to have gotten more violent since making Kill Bill. More often than not the violence is gratuitous and not as cartoonish as some say it’s meant to be. That gratuity renders the film soulless, which makes sense when that violence is perpetrated by the antagonist, but when perpetrated by the protagonist, The Bride ends up being just a mirror image of those she brutally dispatches. But that is probably the point; she is cut from the same cloth and is betrayed by them and her rage is evinced. Whether one shares her bloodlust is another thing.

The violence portrayed on film is evermore convincing because of the cutting edge effects used to make it look authentic. Knowing it is just a film is barely enough to untrick the brain from experiencing traumatic images of brutality. This is the danger of the dehumanizing culture we live in.

 

15. Blade Runner (1982)

blade runner roy batty

Likes: This isn’t just any old science-fiction film, just like Philip K Dick wasn’t any old science-fiction writer. Blade Runner is a work of philosophy, a work of art, a film noir – or neo-noir – and one of the very best dystopian films, up there with Metropolis and Brazil, in terms of grandeur and scope. It’s a world that is verging closer to a truly posthuman habitat.

The replicants, bioengineered androids, are looking for their maker and Harrison Ford’s Deckard is assigned to hunt them down. The “tears in rain” scene is one of the most mezmerising scenes committed to film, a scene of great awe and it is beautifully performed by Rutger Hauer as replicant, Roy Batty. It is the films defining scene; the peak of the films acting calibre, the score, visuals, imagination, poetry – both visually and in it’s dialogue – the zenith point one stands on overlooking and transcending all other science-fiction films.

Dislikes: This depends on which version you watch. If you watch the theatrical cut then you’ll get the tacked-on Hollywood ending. It’s an ending that belongs in another film and almost derails the film. The ending is crucial, how the film lingers after the credits is vitally important. There is enough going on preceding the tacked-on ending to hail it as masterful, but the theatrical ending and the directors cut/restore is the difference between masterful-up-to-a-point and a full-blown masterpiece. The latter version fits perfectly with the structure, theme and conflict and is the version one must certainly obtain.

 

 

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  • Charles Barnes

    Fantastic idea for a list, but separating your ideas into ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ made this dull and uninteresting to read. ToC’s typical paragraph structure is much preferred.

  • What about Heaven’s Gate as I recently saw it again and liked it even more now. I’m with Charles on Cloud Atlas as I liked it.

  • Arshad Khan

    Avatar ????

  • Ted Wolf

    I think Avatar dislikes should include “we’ve seen this story over and over and just adding special effects doesn’t qualify it as something new.”

    • moviemanwill

      It’s not what the story is about (nothing is new), but how the story is told. The specifics to how Avatar is told is completely new and pretty deep too!

      • Ted Wolf

        I know criticism of movies that some people hold as beloved is difficult. There are quite a few films that I found dull, repetitive, flat characterizations and simply lacking real creativity that are held in high esteem by many.

      • @moviemanwill:disqus Not intending to create a fight or anything, but I’d like to hear your opinion. How is it new and deep?

      • Brian Lussier

        Actually, no. It’s clumsily scripted with horrible dialogue and acting so bad it’s embarrassing. All Cameron did was pile CGI on top of more CGI without giving a thought to substance or depth.

  • Connor Browne

    Well written, well picked. Well done.

  • Guest

    I would include Gravity and Titanic probably

    • Lord Darque

      I don’t think huge hits really belong on this list including Avatar. The balance on that an the two you mentioned is very, very heavy on the positive side. People that don’t like them are just either a little different from most or they are the kind that react badly to anything that gets that much hype. “Everybody loves it? Well not me!” It is a rebel thing and not a valid way to judge movies.

  • Beck Potucek

    Funny Games maybe?

  • Rob Hruska

    I don’t get what is so “divisive” about these films.

    • Lord Darque

      Because they inspire a real love/hate attitude on a more intense level than most movies. Fire Walk with me is a perfect example. I adore that movie it is simply brilliant. Intense is another good word. I have gotten more than a few people to give it a try even if they did not like the TV series. The reactions are always extreme. For many it is just horrible to watch. It is centered around a violent incest relationship and for many that subject is taboo.

      The reactions are always extreme. People either just love it to death or they hate me for even suggesting they watch it. That makes it a little different than say Iron Man I. Not everybody likes it but it does not inspire the vile hatred that some spew when they watch Fire Walks.

      • Rob Hruska

        Hmm, ok. Well I agree with you on Fire Walk With Me. Nobody does the simmering creepy vibe like Lynch. I never watched the series but I was vaguely familiar with the premise, and the movie was really good. I guess I would have just used a different word than “divisive,” maybe “polarizing”.

  • Rob Hruska

    “Likes: The second of three Lynch films on the list. Does this make Lynch the most marmitiest of directors? Not neccesarily; there are other films omitted from the list for no real reason other than memory and choice. The likes of Luis Bunuel, Nicolas Roeg and Ken Russell have all made just as many polarizing films. Inland Empire is familiar Lynch and a departure at the same time.”

    Good God, can you be more mealy-mouthed, noncommittal and, frankly, weak? Take a stand, for God’s sake. I understand there are shades of gray in the world, but you are lost in the gray and afraid to say that anything is black or white.

  • Interested_disinterest

    The list aside, this is shabbily written:

    ‘One plus point to all of Wes Andersons films is the ensemble cast, often featuring the Wilson brothers, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Dafoe and Jeff Goldblum, among others.’

    No indication however if the above noted actors are in the film under discussion, just that they are ‘often’ in his films.

    There are more but who really wants to be mean? I just want them to consider a copy editor.

  • Pamela Ann Ludwig

    Nothing by Lars von Trier?

    • Brian Lussier

      I was baffled by that!

  • David

    No Haneke 🙁

  • Simon Trep

    V for vendetta… Unwatchable movie with 8.2 on IMDB… Still don’t understand??

  • Allister Cooper

    Crash? Puke. I was one of many who walked out on that piece of shit. Give me Avatar any day.

  • Edwin Osuna

    Meet Joe Black is certainly up there or Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.

  • Xanian

    Is it just me or is Synecdoche New York extremely under appreciated? I think calling it extremely divisive is pushing it.

    • Dave

      I really loathed Synecdoche. I found it self indulgent and wallowing in self pity.

  • Nick Weston

    My problem with Avatar was that the animation had two more dimensions than the script or characters. Also, the design of Pandora is terrible. Yes, it’s colourful, but why would any creature have its nostrils half way down its torso? It would drown!

  • Brian Lussier

    For the sake of variety, the author of this list should have stuck to one film per director, in my opinion, to open up some space for a lot of artists not here, such as Buñuel or Lars Von Trier (and tons of others). And I would have enjoyed seeing Spielberg’s A.I. – Artificial Intelligence on here. Kuddos on ending with The Tree Of Life. It’s my favorite film of this decade so far, but I do understand it’s very divisive. BTW, note to the writer: learn to write! You have so many spelling mistakes it gives me a headache!

  • Unkle Amon

    Really, omission of Von Trier’s films (Dogville, Antichrist…) confused me. What about Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible? W. Rehn’s latest Only god forgives and maybe Drive? Btw, all films on this list are from USA(not sure about Revolver). Why is that?

    • feast for

      I came here totally waiting for Only God Forgives indeed.

  • Zach Bond

    Does anyone love The Village? I knew the ending a third of the way into the film.. it was terrible… and so was signs. Those are decisive, they are shit.

  • Hal Dunn

    Interesting list. To me, Kill Bill Volume 1 was horrible, but I loved Volume 2. What’s not to love about Blade Runner? Eyes Wide Shut is a perfect choice for this list. I can see how some people would hate it, but I loved it. Same goes for Magnolia. Lost In Translation IMO was just average, kinda boring, and overrated. (V for Vendetta is great BTW.)

  • Jacob Lyon Goddard

    Including 3 movies from the previous century points out how many others you skipped.
    Also, I totally would have included Primer.

  • ‘Cosmopolis’ was a movie that ought not have been a movie. Bland existential hogwash of a dialogue with cardboard characters that were as lifeless as wall paint. I’d rather watch paint dry than see that movie again.

  • Nacho Rockatansky

    I know most of the comments don’t agree with including big hits in this list, but I think at least Inception or Interstellar, should’ve made the list, because even though I loved those two movies, the opinions on them have been very divided between thinking of Nolan as a hack, or a blockbuster auteur/artist.

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  • Class055

    I only agree with the choice of Blade Runner which is on a another level to the rest of your choices

  • Paesito “Martin Paez” Paez

    Spring Breakers, Only God Forgives and Drive are missing