The 20 Most Divisive Films of The Modern Era
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.