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Home » Culture and Criticism

Cinemarch Madness: De Palma Division Poll

Submitted by on March 12, 2013 – 10:09 AM17 Comments

grunge film background


I don’t know if Blow Out will do very well, but it’s a great film with no hope for human beings — as well as 1) De Palma at his best at harnessing his intensities and 2) Travolta at a fork of sorts in the road. People always forget he’s in this; you forget what he can do. And then everyone just forgot him period and he wound up in straight-to-video dreck comedies about Potemkin villages until Pulp Fiction. Dark horse.

The Cove is an unstintingly awful viewing experience involving a dolphin abattoir. Someone mentioned in the nominations thread that s/he saw it on a plane, and I hope that someone wrote a stern (and tear-soaked) letter to the airline, because WTF. Very strong candidate to move on.

I have not seen all of Finding Neverland but I didn’t love Depp’s performance. Probably filed under “sad, but not depressing.” Have also not seen Head On and how well it does may depend on how large an Aussie contingent we have voting (it did go onto my to-see list).

House of Sand and Fog is an interesting case for me, because I watched it for two reasons: Ron Eldard, which is irrelevant here; and the well-regarded performance of Shohreh Aghdashloo, which I found overpraised, although I enjoy her. The ending is effective, and while I wouldn’t have thought to nominate it, it’s widely enough seen that it could place here.

La Jetee inspired 12 Monkeys; Jules et Jim inspired any number of cynical meditations on the nature of commitment. The first is not well known enough to figure, and the second is, in my opinion, undercut by Moreau’s off-putting performance. This is a minority opinion, as is my not considering this the bleakest Truffaut, but that’s why we vote.

Medea I have not seen, but it’s Medea and enough said. Probably depends on who’s seen it. Ditto Miracle Mile and its cult following…although I would love to figure out what the age dividing line is for people who watch even mediocre The Bomb Went Off movies and still feel genuine anxiety. We had to watch a couple of them in school (tremendously shitty call by the school, PS) and I forget until I see them again that we all had a ticker of fear about the Russkies obliterating us all running under everything we did. And kids my age obviously didn’t remember/know about the Cuban missile crisis. Anyway, I’d be interested to know how old you have to be to feel that kind of subject as a reflection of how we lived, versus as a more abstract dystopia.

Aaaanyhoodle. Ordinary People, oy. Talk about things that hit harder at the time — my mother tried to explain that to see Mary Tyler Moore as Bitch Lake that froze over was really weird. It is a tough sit at times, both qua story (the flashbacks) and because the Hirsch sessions haven’t aged well, or we’ve seen them done to death…I don’t think it punches its weight here.

The Passion of Joan of Arc. Hmm. Could make a run at it. The final sequence of images is not fucking around.

I hate to say it, but I don’t remember A Separation very well. The Oscars Death Race brings me into contact with a lot of brilliant films I never would have seen otherwise…but it grinds a few great ones up in the gears, too, because I’m rushing to check them off, and I loved it at the time but now I remember little about it. It could have legs.

I don’t think Seven belongs here; it’s scary and harsh, but not hopeless, in my opinion. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, and certainly it’s among the better-known titles.

Take Shelter is apparently quite grim — and ambiguous, often the most affecting sort of grim. A dark horse.

Not sure about We Were Soldiers. I thought it dragged, but the subject matter could power it through.

I’m going with Blow Out, The Cove, and A Separation. I think The Cove gets through, maybe A Separation but more likely Sand and Fog or Seven. And Jennifer Connelly elbows her way into poster-girl consideration.

De Palma Division: Vote for the THREE (3) harshest films.

  • The Cove (20%, 112 Votes)
  • House of Sand and Fog (17%, 96 Votes)
  • Seven (15%, 86 Votes)
  • Ordinary People (11%, 62 Votes)
  • A Separation (6%, 33 Votes)
  • Blow Out (5%, 29 Votes)
  • Take Shelter (4%, 24 Votes)
  • We Were Soldiers (4%, 23 Votes)
  • Finding Neverland (4%, 20 Votes)
  • Medea (4%, 20 Votes)
  • The Passion of Joan of Arc (3%, 19 Votes)
  • Jules et Jim (2%, 12 Votes)
  • La Jetee (2%, 12 Votes)
  • Miracle Mile (1%, 8 Votes)
  • Head On (1%, 5 Votes)

Total Voters: 226

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Not sure what’s going on? You’ll fit right in around here (heh) but in the meantime, the Cinemarch Madness FAQ is here, and a poll overview is here.




  • attica says:

    Wow. I do not have a dog in this fight. Maybe it’s because when I hear a film is a trip to grimville, I skip it. (Take Shelter, I’m talking to you, and your making the most of creepy Michael Shannon, whom I find creepy in the sunniest of vehicles). The ones I have seen haven’t struck me as all that grim. Weepy, maybe, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to bleak in my book.

    I will, however, never forgive the staff at the movie palace at which I first saw OP for bringing up the house lights immediately upon the movie ending, with no time for collect-yourself-and-pat-dry-your-face-in-relative-safety-of-darkness-while-credits-roll. That’s just mean.

    If Jules et Jim moves forward, it’s gotta be because of the wtf-worthy musical break in the third act. That went on until the fifth act, if memory serves. Shut up, Jeanne.

  • RJ says:

    My apologies to the nomimator(s), but I hated Miracle Mile so much, I won’t even vote for it. They couldn’t die fast enough for me.

  • scout1222 says:

    @attica –

    Michael Shannon IS creepy. I think for me, it’s because he reminds me so much of Richard Kiel (who I just had to look up to get his name) because I have vague memories of being a child and happening upon Moonraker and OH GOD WHO IS THAT GUY!!!!

  • Erin W says:

    Seven is absolutely bleak; it thinks humanity is a plague. I always remember that scene where Morgan Freeman straight up tells Gwyneth Paltrow not to have her baby, because it’s not a good world. Plus the bad guy sort of wins.

    House of Sand and Fog is also a cold drizzle on your picnic. I don’t remember what happens to Jennifer Connelly at the end, though. I do remember her character’s ending in the book as being even bleaker.

    I LOVED Take Shelter. It should have been up for major awards that year. Michael Shannon’s creepiness works there because you don’t know whether you can trust his him as a protagonist. You basically spend the entire movie afraid he is going to snap and kill his family.

    And then there’s A Separation. SPOILER for Sarah: the main guy gets cleared of the assault and fetus-murder charges at the last minute, but the marriage has already dissolved. The last scene is the judge asking the little girl which of her parents she wants to live with. It cuts to black before she decides.

    I would have gone for any of those four; I voted for the last three, figuring that Seven wouldn’t need my help.

  • ferretrick says:

    It wouldn’t have occurred to me to nominate it, but I definitely do agree that Seven has a place in this. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but I can’t remember any shred of hope. I think the ending (I’m assumign I don’t need a SPOILER tag at this late date?)-

    the one character who has remained untouched, who is not part of this bleak world, ends up as, well, you know…and like Erin, said, the scene where Morgan Freeman basicly tells Gwyneth Paltrow not only to have an abortion, but not to tell Brad Pitt EVER, because the world just sucks that bad.

    But even though I haven’t seen The Cove, I’m pretty sure dead dolphins walks away with this lineup easily.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Still voted for Miracle even though I seem pretty much alone, but I will never forget watching at home with a friend and having to go outside afterwards to make sure the world was still there.

    And voted for The Cove without even having seen it and will never see it ever ever ever amen because come on.

  • JenV says:

    I’m another person who will never watch The Cove. I already know I can’t handle it. I can watch movies where horrible things happen to humans, but I can’t deal when awful things happen to animals.

    I suppose it’s because I can come to some kind of terms with suffering that is understood by the victim – as humans, our universe encompasses a staggering array of known possibilities for bad things that can happen to us.

    An animal has a much smaller universe. Being eaten by a larger predator, killed by a competitor over food or reproduction, natural illness, maybe even a natural disaster like a storm – that is probably pretty close to the sum total of known risks in their every day world, that they can likely attach some sort of meaning or reference to if it happens to them.

    When terrible things happen outside of their known universe (usually caused by human fuckery of some kind), I can only imagine that the suffering must be that much greater because there is no meaning behind it that they can understand. I can’t deal with this at all, therefore I can’t watch.

  • MinglesMommy says:

    “Seven is absolutely bleak; it thinks humanity is a plague.”

    @ Erin W. – You are not kidding. If ever there was a movie that showed zero hope for anything, it’s “Seven.”

  • Kitty says:

    I decided my 3 the minute I first perused this poll’s entries.

    I saw “The Cove” at a film festival a few years ago. I stepped out about halfway through to go to the ‘Ladies’ and dry my teary eyes a bit. As I made my return to the theater, the amount of loud sobbing coming from inside that you could hear from the hallway was extremely alarming. I almost didn’t go back in.

    “Ordinary People” and “Blow Out” were two films from my childhood that had a VERY strong effect on me and help make me into the cynic that stands before you.

  • Sandman says:

    I would give Seven a place in this poll as well, not only for the cogent (and harrowing) reasons already mentioned, but for the ending, which not only scared the living crap out of me, but left me with a sense of bitter loss: not only is the world grimy and dark (I remember the only brightly lit scenes are out in the desert at the end, bleached out under a hot, flat, pitiless sun), but the Brad Pitt character has become the thing he hates.

    The bad guy wins by manipulating the others until the need for love is corrupted into a drive toward revenge.

  • cayenne says:

    I was a teenager in the 80’s, where duck-and-cover films made a comeback and dystopian fiction was English curriculum all the way through 1987. Testament gave me nightmares for weeks; Miracle Mile is a piker in comparison.

    A Separation was good, but for similar setting and treatment within this context, I wish The Stoning of Soraya M had made it into this. Now THAT was a harsh ending.

  • ct says:

    The Cove is like THAT scene from Bambi, over and over, in real life, in front of your real eyes.

    ps. I think Michael Shannon is really attractive and lovely.

  • Claire says:

    The bleakness of Head On is balanced somewhat by young, hot and nude Alex Dimitriades.

  • J. says:

    @cayenne, I watched Testament in about the 6th grade and it was sad and horrible but I never knew the name…now I do and I won’t be in a hurry to watch that one again!

  • Cannot, will not, see The Cove. It gets all votes this round!

  • Jack says:

    Just watched Take Shelter for the first time. It’s really, really good. The creeping dread is just unbearable at times. I suppose whether or not you think it fits with the criteria here will depend on how you interpret the ending. And I know he got some recognition at smaller festivals, but I don’t remember Michael Shannon even sniffing a Best Actor nomination for this performance, and that, quite frankly, is mind-boggling.

  • Rachel says:

    The Eldard does have a rather varied body of work.

    The Cove is getting All The Votes in this round because it caused actual screaming. I didn’t know much about it when I saw it but if I had… I would have watched The Cutting Edge for the nth time. Is nth higher than umpteenth?

    Anyway – The Cove. Truly, what has been seen cannot be unseen. *shudder*

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