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10 Movies Everyone Enjoys Except Pauline Kael

10 May 2016 | Features, Film Lists | by Rollyn Stafford

Vertigo (1958)

Pauline Kael was one of the most acclaimed, opinionated, and clever movie critics. Her reviews could be controversial and she left an impact on other critics such as Roger Ebert. She had a taste for violence in films, but only when it was purpose and she disliked movies she felt were superficial or manipulative.

Here are a few films most critics and viewers regard as classics, but which Pauline Kael did not care for.


1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969)


Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is now considered one of the greatest films of all time. It transcends genres, story structure, space, and time. When it was first released in 1968, critic and audience reactions were split. Some viewed it as an exquisite milestone in science fiction cinema, while others found it unimaginatively dull.

Pauline Kael sees 2001: A Space Odyssey as a big waste of sets and equipment with no sense of structure. She states the story line is the “most gloriously redundant plot of all time” (Abrahams 223), insisting that no point is made in the movie. She goes on to call Kubrick an amateur and that the only viewers who enjoy the film are those that are stoned or idiots.

The special effects are one of the elements that make 2001 so memorable and Kael does give them credit, but swiftly follows up with shaming Kubrick for making his characters so uninteresting and calling the film “monumentally unimaginative” (223).


2. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

A Clockwork Orange

One of the more controversial films in the history of cinema, A Clockwork Orange initially received an X rating in America and was even withdrawn from UK cinemas due to it’s use of violence and rape. However, it still received critical acclaim upon release and gathered four Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture.

When violence is not justified in a film, Kael has no sympathy. She detests the pointless rape and violent scenes in A Clockwork Orange and seems upset at Stanley Kubrick for forcing the audience to like it. “Kubrick is determined to be pornographic, and he has no talent for it” (Abrahams 416).

Kael says the picture plays with violence in a seductive way with absolutely no depth and that Kubrick’s use of composition and classic music are “ponderous techniques” (416). The one thing about A Clockwork Orange Kael does seem to enjoy is the performance by Malcom McDowell as Alex. However she insists all the other performances are terrible.


3. Blade Runner (1982)


Upon first viewing, most critics preferred the special effects in Blade Runner to the plot, which they found slow. Three decades later, several different versions have been released and Ridley Scott’s science fiction epic is considered one of his best works.

Kael loves the sets of Blade Runner. They are “extraordinary, and they’re lovingly, perhaps obsessively, detailed” (Abrahams 945). She loves the futuristic science fiction look the film offers, but that’s all she likes. She insists that too much effort was put into in the film noir look of the film and not the story. “At some point, Scott and the others must have decided that the story was unimportant” (946).

Kael is particularly bothered by why there is no explanation for why the 2019 future is the way that it is and the “boring” characters in the movie. Actors Harrison Ford and Sean Young do not impress her and she finds Rutger Hauer performance ridiculous. In the end, she concludes that all the moviemaker’s thinking “must have gone into the sets” (948).


4. Casablanca (1943)


Most people, critics and audiences alike, consider Casablanca the greatest love story on film. It is ranked #2 on the American Film Institute Top 100 Films of all time and took home Oscar gold for Best Picture and Director. The film is filled with many memorable quotes, characters and scenes. Most consider it a perfect film, except Pauline Kael.

Although she doesn’t despise Casablanca, she says it only works because the audience does not take the over romanticisms and dramatic plot twists seriously. She does not seem to care for the character of Rick, played by Humphrey Bogart, who she insists fulfills the male fantasy of the rebellious hero “who hates and defies officialdom” (Reviews). In the end, Kael gives in saying that Casablanca works, but it is “far from a great film” (Reviews).


5. Raging Bull (1980)


After a rush of critically acclaimed movies in the seventies (Mean Streets, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Taxi Driver), Martin Scorsese was convinced by Robert De Niro to make a movie about boxing, a subject Scorsese knew nothing about. The result was a black and white cinematic masterpiece with high praise to the director and lead actor.

Although Kael admires De Niro’s performance in the boxing ring scenes, she is unimpressed with his incredible physical transformation and his shouting and violent moments with the other characters. “The other actors repeat their vapid profanities, goading each other to dredge up some hostility” (Abrahams 877).

She insists that there is nothing underneath these scenes – no subtext. One of the things that made Raging Bull unique was its visual style, but Kael does not care for that either. The writes that the style is “so hyper that you’re aware of the art, which kills the tabloid effect” (879).



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  • I remember Pauline Kael also disliked Barry Lyndon and Sam Peckinpah got very pissed off about her review.

  • SJHoneywell

    Based on most of these, Pauline Kael can kiss my hinder.

    • Lucols

      I know it’s hard to like a critic that dislike two of the best sci fi of all time (actually the two best imo), but she wrote some pretty good reviews

      • ThatSkepticGuy

        No, she didn’t. She was ignored and waved off as the hack she was. The only thing she’s even remembered for is having a fallacy named after her post-’72 election tantrums.

  • Patrick Hill

    Based on the opinions she gave I’d bet 10 was real easy. She seems as if she didn’t get passed the ’50s. Those are sad reviews as she hates what was the point of those films to start with. Wrong expectations maybe???

  • Hector Nuno

    out of curiosity what were movies that she liked?

    • Hallyuers

      She is anti thesis every critics out there….but i can summarizr that she hated violence- gore film ( reason why she hate raging bull or any sam peckinpah film )
      Though everyone has own preference.

      Like roger ebert, he disliked blue velvet or prefer crash above brokeback mountain.

      • Bingo Bronson

        She liked Brian DePalma A LOT though, so it isn’t just about violence. I think she felt that Kubrick was too cold, although she gave a positive review to Lolita.

        • Hallyuers

          she is nicknaemd clint eastwood nemesis too LOL…
          but every one have their own taste… like everyone love marvel movies, but i dont like it

    • Bingo Bronson

      She liked Kubrick’s Lolita, she LOVED DePalma’s Carrie. She gave positive reviews to all Altman films except 3 Women, she gave positive reviews to most Woody Allen films, she championed Bonnie & Clyde, she loved Cabaret, Funny Girl, Bergman films, Jean Luc Godard, Last Tango in Paris, My Beautiful Laundrette, The Godfather…

      I’m making my way through her reviews and it’s honestly so refreshing compared to today’s critics

  • Still D.R.E.

    The only one I agree with is Dirty Harry but not for the reason she said, while the 1st 2 acts are amazing the final act is terrible and so unlike the rest of the movie it makes this mysterious killer look like a dweeb and becomes a clique 70s B movie thriller. She’s probably a feminist who thinks the movie industry is suppose to please her.

    • Bingo Bronson

      What the hell? Are you going to insult her opinion based on her being a woman? Not “I think her taste is bad” but “She’s probably a feminist”…by the way, she’s the reason Bonnie & Clyde became a hit. She championed Brian DePalma and Robert Altman. She’s a legend. She just didn’t like a few films for dumb reasons, but atleast her reviews are damn entertaining.

      • ThatSkepticGuy

        He said nothing of the sort. You wanna delude yourself that this industry joke was anything more than a brainless, talentless hack looking for a place to soapbox her idiotic beliefs, that’s fine, but don’t pull a Hillary and try to claim anyone who doesn’t hates women.

  • Jasper Superior

    Did this article even suggest that ‘Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ was anything but an abomination? It would be the first time I’ve ever heard such a suggestion.

  • tea & snark

    Well I disagree with her but I’d rather have someone who is not afraid to have an opinion than to have the simpering politically correct media that is afraid to offend anyone.

    • Bingo Bronson

      Thank you! Some of her reviews are amazing. I mean, can you imagine any critic right now with the power to turn around box office results like she did with “Bonnie & Clyde” and she was really amazing in describing what actors bring to movies. Read her Altman reviews, they’re gems.

    • ThatSkepticGuy

      Kael was the epitome of simpering PC media.

  • sailor monsoon

    I agree with almost all of her points

    • ThatSkepticGuy

      Then you’re as much the narcissistic, handwringing idiot she was.

  • A man with a knife

    Well, she was total idiot but what can you do.

    • Lars Franssen

      Well, if everyone with a different taste from yours in cinema is an idiot, then so, it seems, am I.

      • ThatSkepticGuy

        And yet, it’s your hero Kael who constantly called people who disagreed with her bloated, ego-stroking reviews idiots.

  • Ted Wolf

    Used to love reading Kael reviews, didn’t always agree with them, but never disrespected the reporter. I’m not in love with all these movies either.

  • John W. Thackery

    This list is quite unfair and out of context. Sure, all of these films are acclaimed today but over half of them had a mixed reception upon its release. So it’s not fair to say that all the critics loved these films but Pauline Kael (because it isn’t true). Films like “A Clockwork Orange”, “Raging Bull” and “Dirty Harry” caused controversy upon their releases and divided critics. “Vertigo”, “Blade Runner” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” received mixed reviews because they were misinterpreted. But yes, the rest were well received. And although I like “Superman”, I agree that the film is rather cheesy looking and the direction scene by scene feels off.

  • Bob Jennings

    Wow he description of 2001 is probably the most apt description of what Kubrick was going that I have ever heard. Even if she meant as an insult.

  • Nikos Ikonomidis

    Everybody has the right to hold his own opinion and I would have no objection to negative points about these movies(although some of them I do love), if they were interesting ones.Unfortunately,I do not find anything clever or witty in the writings that are mentioned.In some cases, I even believe she totally misses the point (Pauline Kael does). I know she is considered a great film critic and I have given it thought to buy some book of hers to have a better look at her work,but the prices are quite high and whatever I have read of hers doesn’t really appeal to me, so I’m discouraged. I do not think critics in general should be praised that much as I consider their contrubution minor;yet there are cases where some review -usually positive- manages to bring some of the greatness of a film alive. Altough I do not have-and probably won’t-a panoramic view of Kael’s work,as I said,I tend to believe she’s been overrated.

  • Joe Montoto

    I’m with her only on 2 of those. STAND BY ME (overrated) but mostly on SUPERMAN. It’s different movies tossed into one, not able to decide whether it wants to be mythic or camp. Casting is terrible throughout, but especially with Chris Reeve…too wimpy to be Supes.

  • Ixman

    Complaining because her ice cream is cold has been good for her.

  • Ricardo Cantoral

    Bladerunner can’t even be called a pseudo-intellectual film. It’s bloated in it’s length and short on any serious pondering of it’s ideas.

    • ThatSkepticGuy

      Absolute nonsense.

      • Ricardo Cantoral

        Nope. I don’t think BR accomplished anything other than being tedious. Scott seemed less concerned about the characters and more concerned about the production design. Everyone is just walking around and sulking and there is some vague concern about what living really is. Bladerunner is Metropolis without the brilliant social commentary.