What Movie Should Have Won the Oscar – 1980-1989

Upon where I look at what movies the Academy Award nominated each year and through my perspective in time and space tell the Academy what they got wrong and which movies they should have instead selected.

Things fall apart in the 1980’s. Perhaps it was the cocaine. You start to see a schism between fun, popcorn movies, the comedies, the fantasy, the action movies and the high minded Academy movies that take themselves way too seriously. Very rarely do the two meet. Until now.

Click here to read my choices for 1969-1979.

1980

Winner- “Ordinary People”

Losers- “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, “The Elephant Man”, “Raging Bull”, “Tess”

Should have been nominated- “The Blues Brothers”, “The Elephant Man”, “The Empire Strikes Back”, “Raging Bull”, “The Shining”

Should have won- “The Elephant Man”

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1980 might have been the greatest year for movies. “Ordinary People” was a fine movie, really it was. So was “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, but if I had to leave off perhaps the two funniest movies ever made in “Caddyshack” and “Airplane”, room is scarce. “The Blues Brothers” is one of my favorite movies, but “The Elephant Man” touches the human spirit in a way not even music and laughter can.

1981

Winner- “Chariots of Fire”

Losers- “Atlantic City”, “On Golden Pond”, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “Reds”

Should have been nominated- “Atlantic City”, “Blow Out”, “My Dinner With Andre”, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “Stripes”

Should have won- “Raiders of the Lost Ark”

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As deep as 1980 was, that’s how shallow the roster of movies of 1981 are. “Chariots of Fire” and “On Golden Pond” look completely ridiculous to modern eyes while at close to 4 hours long “Reds” is interminable. I had no choice but to go with the first chapter of Indiana Jones, the forefather of the modern superhero movie.

1982

Winner- “Gandhi”

Losers- “E.T.”, “Missing”, “Tootsie”, “The Verdict”

Should have been nominated- “Blade Runner”, “E.T.”, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, “The King of Comedy”, “The Verdict”

Should have won- “E.T.”

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“The Verdict” is a wonderful movie with a great open ending, but it’s hard to top “E.T.” for the number of people a movie touched and continues to touch. “Tootsie” feels too much like a sitcom to usurp a much better comedy in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”.

1983

Winner- “Terms of Endearment”

Losers- “The Big Chill”, “The Dresser”, “The Right Stuff”, “Tender Mercies”

Should have been nominated- “The Dead Zone”, “The Outsiders”, “Rumblefish”, “The Right Stuff”, “Terms of Endearment”

Should have won- “Terms of Endearment”

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I don’t know how Francis Ford Coppola got forgotten twice with the excellent “The Outsiders” and “Rumblefish”, but “Terms of Endearment” gets you right at your heartstrings and deserved its prize.

1984

Winner- “Amadeus”

Losers- “The Killing Fields”, “A Passage to India”, “Places in the Heart”, “A Soldier’s Story”

Should have been nominated- “Amadeus”, “Ghostbusters”, “The Karate Kid”, “The Natural”, “The Terminator”

Should have won- “Amadeus”

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This might have been the low water point for the Academy in picking forgettable movies. They got the winner right in “Amadeus”, but  the bridesmaids are a sorry lot.

1985

Winner- “Out of Africa”

Losers- “The Color Purple”, Kiss of the Spider Woman”, “Prizzi’s Honor”, “Witness”

Should have been nominated- “Back to the Future”, “Brazil”, “The Color Purple”, “Fletch”, “Witness”

Winner- “Back to the Future”

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So hard to leave off so many great, fun flicks like “The Goonies”, “Commando”, “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”, “National Lampoon’s European Vacation”, “Weird Science”, “Better off Dead” the list goes on and on. 1985 might be the high water point of rewatchable escapist movies, but it was nearly impossible to find five decent “adult” movies, therefore an imaginative teenage movie wins.

1986

Winner- “Platoon”

Losers- “Children of a Lesser God”, “Hannah and her Sisters”, “The Mission”, “A Room With a View”

Should have been nominated- “Platoon”, “Hannah and her Sisters”, “Blue Velvet”, “Stand by Me”, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”

Should have won- “Platoon”

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“Blue Velvet” might have been one of the more glaring omissions made so far, but I’m willing to grant “Platoon” as a correct pick. Also strange is how Woody Allen is the only comedy director whose movies ever get nominated.

1987

Winner- “The Last Emperor”

Losers- “Broadcast News”, “Fatal Attraction”, “Hope and Glory”, “Moonstruck”

Should have been nominated- “Empire of the Sun”, “Full Metal Jacket”, “The Princess Bride”, “Raising Arizona”, “Wall Street”

Should have won- “The Princess Bride”

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The one year so far where the Academy didn’t get a single one right. Admittedly I haven’t seen “Hope and Glory”, but I doubt it could match the romantic perfection of “The Princess Bride”. Again it was a solid year for popcorn movies that get shunned including “Spaceballs”, “Lethal Weapon” “Robocop” and the Schwarzenegger one-two punch of “Predator” and “The Running Man”.

1988

Winner- “Rain Man”

Losers- “The Accidental Tourist”, “Dangerous Liasons”, “Mississippi Burning”, “Working Girl”

Should have been nominated- “Coming to America”, “Midnight Run”, “Rain Man”, “The Last Temptation of Christ”, “Working Girl”

Should have won- “Rain Man”

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I’ve come up with a new rule for this exercise in that if it’s close between who the Academy crowned and an usurper, I’ll go with the Academy’s choice. “Midnight Run” is such a perfect movie it was a challenge not to knock off “Rain Man”, but maybe it’s more enjoyable as a quirky secret.

1989

Winner- “Driving Miss Daisy”

Losers- “Born on the Fourth of July”, “Dead Poets Society”, “Field of Dreams”, “My Left Foot”

Should have been nominated- “Born on the Fourth of July”, “Dead Poets Society”, “Do the Right Thing”, “Field of Dreams”, “My Left Foot”

Should have won- “Born on the Fourth of July”

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The Academy almost got it completely right as they rounded out the 1980’s in style except for the winner. Give me Tom Cruise in a wheelchair fighting for peace over Dan Aykroyd in bad make-up any day.

Click here to read the 1990’s

What Movie Should Have Won The Oscar – 1969-1979

I’d long considered making a list of which movie from each year affected me the most. This list isn’t quite that. Instead because I am a compulsive movie nerd I went back and compared whether the Academy Awards tastes translated to modern times. I reviewed each year from 1969 noting which movies won and were nominated and which movies should have won and been nominated. Here’s my trip down memory lane starting with a decade I have no memories of, the 1970’s, a decade which not only had truly excellent movies, but also a discerning Academy which for the most part picked the most memorable movie every year.

1969

Winner – “Midnight Cowboy”

Losers – “Anne of the Thousand Days”, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, “Hello, Dolly!”, “Z”

Should have been nominated – “Midnight Cowboy”, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”, “Take the Money and Run”, “Easy Rider”

Should have won – “Midnight Cowboy”

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America had their act together in 1969. They put a man on the moon. Woodstock. LSD everywhere you went and they picked an X rated movie to win the Oscar. Try not to cry in Midnight Cowboy’s final scene when Jon Voight’s character finally has his act together on the causeway to Miami Beach only to see his only friend in the world is dead. “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” is a perfect movie in every way, impossible to turn off when it is on, but didn’t stick with me the way “Midnight Cowboy” did.

1970

Winner- “Patton”

Losers – “Airport”, “Five Easy Pieces”, “Love Story”, “MASH”.

Should have been nominated- “Patton”, “Five Easy Pieces”, “MASH”, “Little Big Man”, “The Conformist”

Should have won- “Patton”

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One of the rare times I agreed with the Academy two years in a row. “Little Big Man” was probably the movie that holds up the best under modern eyes, but “Patton” even at an insane three hour running time has the gravitas that still manages your attention.

1971

Winner- “The French Connection”

Losers- “A Clockwork Orange”, “Fiddler on the Roof”, “The Last Picture Show”, “Nicholas and Alexandra”

Should have been nominated- “A Clockwork Orange”, “The Last Picture Show”, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, “Dirty Harry”, “McCabe & Mrs Miller”

Should have won- “The Last Picture Show”

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We get to our first embarrassment on the list. If they were desperate to give an Oscar to an action movie they should have gone toward the superior “Dirty Harry”. “A Clockwork Orange” might be my favorite movie by the greatest director who ever lived in Stanley Kubrick, but there’s something about the Texas New Wave of “The Last Picture Show” shot in black and white it captures a past that might have never existed, but sure feels like it did.

1972

Winner- “The Godfather”

Losers- “Cabaret”, “Deliverance”, “The Emigrants”, “Sounder”.

Should have been nominated- “The Godfather”, “Deliverance”, “Jeremiah Johnson”, “Solaris”, “Fritz the Cat”

Should have won- “The Godfather”

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To be fair I haven’t seen “Cabaret”, “The Emigrants”, or “Sounder”, but nothing would knock “The Godfather” off the list. I couldn’t resist honoring an X rated cartoon in “Fritz the Cat”.

1973

Winner- “The Sting”

Losers- “American Graffiti”, “Cries and Whispers”, “The Exorcist”, “A Touch of Class”

Should have been nominated- “The Exorcist”, “Paper Moon”, “Mean Streets”, “Badlands”, “Serpico”

Should have won- “Mean Streets”

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This was the year the Academy was most off thus far. If they were going for nostalgia, they should have picked “Paper Moon” over “The Sting” or “American Graffiti”. I sure wanted to pick it for best picture, but Scorcese’s first classic won out. It’s the movie he keeps remaking over and over.

1974

Winner- “The Godfather Part II”

Losers- “Chinatown”, “The Conversation”, “Lenny”, “The Towering Inferno”

Should have been nominated- “The Godfather Part II”, “Chinatown”, “The Conversation”, “Blazing Saddles”, “Swept Away”

Should have won- “The Godfather Part II”

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Though I think I prefer the silliness of “Blazing Saddles”, the noir of “Chinatown”, and the existentialism of “The Conversation”, the Godfather still triumphs over all.

1975

Winner- “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”

Losers- “Barry Lyndon”, “Dog Day Afternoon”, “Jaws”, “Nashville”

Should have been nominated- “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”, “Barry Lyndon”, “Dog Day Afternoon”, “Jaws”, “Nashville”

Should have won- “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”

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If I had a time machine I would go back to 1975 because for once I am in complete agreement with the Academy. Maybe I would find a way to sneak in “Three Days of the Condor” or “The Man Who Would be King”, but bravo 1975 Academy, “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” slays me every time.

1976

Winner- “Rocky”

Losers- “All the President’s Men”, “Bound for Glory”, “Network”, “Taxi Driver”

Should have been nominated- “Rocky”, “All the President’s Men”, “Network”, “Taxi Driver”, “Marathon Man”

Should have won- “Rocky”

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The 1970’s were a film nut’s Eden and the Academy really celebrated the right films. I haven’t seen “Bound for Glory”, so perhaps they were right to stick that movie on the list, but I find its director Hal Ashby to be unwatchable and “Marathon Man” is one of my favorites. I was tempted to give “Marathon Man”, “Taxi Driver” or “All the President’s Men” best picture, but Rocky is the only one with a happy ending and that should count for something.

1977

Winner- “Annie Hall”

Losers- “The Goodbye Girl”, “Julia”, “Star Wars”, “The Turning Point”

Should have been nominated- “Annie Hall”, “Saturday Night Fever”, “Star Wars”, “3 Women”, “Eraserhead”.

Should have won- “Annie Hall”

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The six year old in me is stunned I could pick anything over “Star Wars”, but the 36 year old in me knows “Annie Hall” holds up far better and on a personal level has proven to be far more influential in my creative and love life. I don’t feel good about “Eraserhead” being on the list, but for the life of me couldn’t find a movie to replace it which must mean the ’70’s are close to ending.

1978

Winner- “The Deer Hunter”

Losers- “Coming Home”, “Heaven Can Wait”, “Midnight Express”, “An Unmarried Woman”

Should have been nominated- “The Deer Hunter”, “Animal House”, “The Buddy Holly Story”, “Midnight Express”, “Dawn of the Dead”

Should have won- “The Deer Hunter”

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The year of my birth was not a watershed moment for cinema. After The Godfather lite of “The Deer Hunter” it was slim pickings to fill out this list.

1979

Winner- “Kramer vs. Kramer”

Losers- “All that Jazz”, “Apocalypse Now”, “Breaking Away”, “Norma Rae”

Should have been nominated- “Apocalypse Now”, “Manhattan”, “Norma Rae”, “The Jerk”, “The Muppet Movie”

Should have won- “Manhattan”

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I know, I know Apocalypse Now should win, but it didn’t hit me the way the gorgeous black and whites and George Gershwin songs of “Manhattan”. Knowing what we do about Woody Allen now, it’s tough to see his character dating a teenager, but the final frame captures the human condition better than any other movie except perhaps for “The Muppet Movie”.

Click here to read the 1980’s.

Dumb American – American Sniper

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When I attended a screening of the new Clint Eastwood movie American Sniper a couple weeks back I had no intention of writing about it. It was a hateful piece of propaganda not worthy of a second thought that would disappear from the public consciousness as quickly as political campaign ads do after the first Tuesday in November.

Or so I figured.

But then I go on vacation and come back to discover that not only is American Sniper breaking records at the box office, but it also became the most clueless movie since Crash to be nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards.

For the two people that haven’t seen American Sniper, it features Bradley Cooper pumped up on human growth hormone as Chris Kyle, a real life Navy Seal. According to the movie Kyle was a saint, a dead eye shooter who killed 160 enemy combatants in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was a rodeo star, and a sensitive man whose heart ached for every one of his fellow American soldiers. If Kyle was one tenth as wonderful a person as the movie portrays him he deserved far better than this muddled, confused mess whose only worthwhile moment comes before the closing credits when they show photographs of the real Kyle and video of the legion of mourners at his funeral. That was the movie’s one moment of honesty.

The remainder of the movie features Cooper doing a Brett Favre imitation more worthy of a Saturday Night Live sketch, than the centerpiece of a “serious” movie about the glories of war.

Since I am fortunate enough to have never visited a war zone, I can not say for certain the war scenes are unrealistic, but based on the fact that Eastwood could not bother to get a real baby instead of an obvious doll to play Kyle’s child, I’m going to go on a limb and say Operation Iraqi Freedom was not the video game they present it to be. According to this movie every Arab from their women to children is a backstabbing swine and every American just wants to get home to give his girl a diamond ring.

There are two key scenes where in the middle of warfare Kyle is on a cell phone call with his wife in the States. This seems grossly incompetent behavior. It could be interesting commentary on the callousness of a sniper waiting in the shadows to kill his prey, but instead it is a lazy storytelling device so Kyle’s wife can hear the horrors her husband is going through.

At times the movie seems to hint that war might be hell, but can’t be bothered to explore that theme at any depth. Worse, it is either too scared or dense to question whether our nation’s volunteer soldiers deserve any of the blame, wrapping itself around the old fascist jingo of “supporting our troops”.

If this movie had disappeared as quickly as Eastwood’s last few flicks, I could have stayed silent. But the fact that a record number of people are lining up to see such a dangerously stupid movie is worrisome. Especially since it could encourage support for future needless wars in the Middle East so we can teach those evil Arabs a lesson.

A Puff of Smoke – Inherent Vice

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I couldn’t even tell you what the title of this new PT Anderson movie means. The protagonist mentioned it had something to do with maritime law, but like much of the two and a half hour movie those lines of dialogue floated over me in a drug induced daze.

Based on a Thomas Pynchon novel there’s a plot to Inherent Vice, but like many of the best private investigator movies from The Big Sleep to Chinatown to The Big Lebowski to The Long Goodbye, it’s impossible to summarize or even make sense of what happened. Not that this movie belongs in the same breath as those classics, but there are moments hidden in the shaggy 150 minutes where it does.

Private Investigators are the philosopher princes of filmdom. They search for answers and ask questions only to end up disillusioned. I generally find the message of the genre is one of cynicism. Stuff happens, people show up, they die, and there really isn’t any meaning to it except for trying to find around all the sin and lost souls a couple moments of happiness between birth and death. At least that’s what I think Sam Elliott was trying to express at the end of The Big Lebowski.

Not that I feel Inherent Vice was trying to reveal any such truths. From the opening scene it lost me over what the case Joaquin Phoenix was working on. Even if Pynchon is known to be a heavy intellectual hitter, this movie is more concerned with capturing a time and a place and a state of mind. Those are 1970, Southern California, and being really, really high. On those levels the movie succeeds as it’s filled with sideburns, celebrity cameos, and paranoia.

On repeated viewing you might be able to make sense of it all, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Passover Seder: The Movie – Exodus: Gods and Kings

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For everyone who thought Passover Seders are too short Ridley Scott has directed a two and half hour movie telling the story of Moses called Exodus: Gods and Kings. This Moses played by Christian Bale is more Batman than  holy man. He kicks butt and takes names. I’m not sure how faithful this warrior prince side of Moses is to the Bible, but since the Biblical Moses was a stutterer, and Bale speaks quite eloquently, it seems the filmmakers played fast and loose with the text. And if there’s one community that takes source material more seriously then comic book fanboys, it’s Bible fanboys.

But if you don’t take the Bible seriously Exodus is a pretty enjoyable riproaring adventure. Not that it’s saying much, but it is certainly the best movie Scott has directed since Gladiator.

For those who skipped Sunday school, Exodus is set in ancient Egypt where we see Moses as an Egyptian general who learns of his secret past as a Hebrew. They spend an hour showing his warrior mettle and strategic brilliance, but just like when your Uncle Lenny ran his seder, starting things off with the best of intentions to read every page of the Haggadah before realizing he wants to get through the service quickly to eat some matzo ball soup and gefilte fish, so does this movie begin rushing through important details like the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea because it wanted to spend so much time portraying Moses’ bonafides as a badass.

Which is fine, but a bigger deal will probably be made about not just a gentile, but a gentile whose first name is Christian, is playing the part of the most famous of Jews.

You mean to tell me Adam Sandler and Larry David were too busy to play Moses?

Uncle Lenny would not approve.

The End of Superhero Movies- Birdman and Interstellar

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I love comic books. Probably too much. With the exception of a few years in college and high school I’ve been buying them since I was seven years old.

I love movies too. So just about any time a new movie based on a comic book comes out I line up to see it. More and more lately though I find myself disappointed by them. After every Man of Steel or Guardians of the Galaxy my heart gets broken a little more, so I was glad to see Birdman seek vengeance on the evil capitalists who are doing all they can to spit in the eye of two of my three favorite American art forms.

Birdman features Michael Keaton as a mentally ill actor seeking to rebrand himself as a serious thespian after years of only being known for playing the superhero, Birdman. This is perhaps the most cinematically innovative movie since Gravity as it creates the illusion that there is no editing and the entire film was captured in one continuous shot. But the more amazing special effect is Ed Norton. Until this movie I forgot he used to be my favorite actor whose appearance in a movie guaranteed I had to see it. Norton gives a master class in drama as he goes in and out of character in a Broadway play, displaying what a good actor can do in stealing your attention. It goes inside the creative method like no movie has since Black Swan.

Birdman does drag at times when Norton is not on the screen, but it has my deepest appreciation for relentlessly mocking what our superherocentric culture has become eschewing humanity for franchise building. In a society with any decency Birdman would be the last superhero movie ever made. Unfortunately according to this chart that will be not the case.

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20 superhero movies in the next three years alone? I’m part of the problem because I keep paying to see these movies hoping they translate the medium of comics I love so much, but more often then not they make me sick. The new movie Interstellar shows an escape route. The movie’s director Christopher Nolan might have made the best superhero movies ever in the Christian Bale Batman trilogy. Interstellar doesn’t reach those heights. It aims to be a deep thinker’s science fiction mind blower. The dialogue is too corny and lacks any double entendres to require multiple viewings. What it does do exceptionally well is chronicle a great adventure in an ambitious manner. Matthew McConaughey is our hero. A great pilot/farmer/engineer/car spokesman who is our last hope to find a planet where humanity can move to since the Earth is dying.

There is an old saying “the play’s the thing”. I’m not exactly sure what it means, but I take it as when putting on a show you should leave your ego at the door and do what you can to give the audience an entertaining/interesting/life affirming time. Interstellar for whatever its faults does blow all of its load on to the screen. It does not hold anything back for future sequels throwing every idea half-baked or not at us. This is especially refreshing when compared to these Marvel/DC movies that aim to have plot lines that will outlive us all. I thank Interstellar for treating itself like it was a special event instead of a two hour advertisement for its next chapter. I hope that the helmers of these 20 movies I will be seeing take notes, but I doubt it.

Mixed Media – Gone Girl and Kill the Messenger

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If the new movie Gone Girl proves anything it is that humanity has lost.

It’s directed by David Fincher who made two of the most spot on criticisms of our day and age. Fight Club taught us how the media has shaped our mindset of what it means to be a man, with our only out in rebelling our brainwashing being to blow it all up. The Social Network showed what happens when it doesn’t get blown up and how we began to  interact more with technology than our fellow human being.

Gone Girl is the end game. It is unconcerned with making any societal criticisms, rather it is “entertainment”.

Ben Affleck plays a married man whose wife is missing. He seems somewhat worried about her whereabouts, but is most concerned about how he is perceived on TV. There are twists and turns but most important to the characters in the movie are what strangers in faraway states watching cable news in an airport might think about them. If this was a satire, such perspective would be effective, but the movie is stone cold serious that the biggest stake an accused person can face is not imprisonment, but negative Twitter reactions on television interviews.

There will undoubtedly be think pieces about how Gone Girl is a clever commentary on marriage. They will be wrong.Or they will have been written by people in miserable marriages.

And yes, Gone Girl is an extremely well directed, gripping movie that uses our collective hatred for Ben Affleck effectively, but it’s cynicism complete with an ending that gears us up for a sequel, prevents it from having any redeeming values besides being prime fodder for a time capsule to epitomize the worst of our selfie, status update obsessed trending society.

If after Gone Girl you don’t believe media is the enemy of humanity, see Kill The Messenger which makes a similar point. Based on the true story of Gary Webb, a newspaper reporter who claimed the CIA imported cocaine in the US in the 1980’s in order to fund the contras in Nicaragua. His story gained accolades when it was published in 1995 until major media outlets stated Webb’s reporting wasn’t credible.

The movie comes from the perspective that the media is evil and ruined the one good man telling the truth, but then Kill the Messenger doesn’t do Webb any favors by unintentionally showing him having shoddy journalistic techniques. He never tape records his sources, nor does he take detailed notes. Instead he simply writes down a key word or two when interviewing someone like Andy Garcia telling him about a far reaching conspiracy.

But for all its flaws I can admire Kill the Messenger for at least trying to tackle substantial issues, while Gone Girl for all its technical virtuosity wants to leave you with only one thought, besides the need to take a shower, women are the devil.