10 of the most pretentious movies ever made

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Ever watch a movie and just think, “Wait, what?” There’s a bunch out there that try so hard to be deep, they end up swimming in the deep end without a life jacket. I get it – directors want to push the envelope, make us think. 

But there’s a sweet spot between “mind-blowing” and “mind-boggling.” Sometimes, in an attempt to be edgy or profound, a movie can leave the audience behind, scratching their heads. 

At the end of the day, we want to be entertained, not puzzled, right? Let’s chat about some films that might’ve been trying a bit too hard.

Image Credit: IMDb.

1. ‘Birdman’ (2014)

“Birdman,” which has been showered with Oscars and widespread acclaim, is not immune to criticisms of pretentiousness. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, there’s an ironic tinge to the film: it aims to satirize pretension but sometimes seems to embody it. 

One of the first elements that stands out is the director’s choice to film in what seems like one continuous shot. It’s a commendable technical feat, but one has to question the necessity of such an approach, especially when compared to one-shot films like Hitchcock’s “Rope.”

The narrative often meanders, attempting to tackle life’s existential questions while also taking frequent detours to poke at Hollywood culture. A particularly puzzling scene involves Michael Keaton’s character wandering through Times Square in his underwear, an attempt that seems to fall between comedic and profound, achieving neither.

In a meta moment, even the film’s “Birdman” alter ego points out the movie’s tendency towards the “artsy-fartsy.”

Image Credit: IMDb.

2. ‘Only God Forgives’ (2013)

There’s a fine line between artistic expression and simply being obtuse, and Nicolas Winding Refn’s crime thriller “Only God Forgives” clearly crosses it. 

Starring Ryan Gosling as Julian, a drug-smuggler thriving in Bangkok’s criminal underworld, the movie follows his quest for vengeance after his brother’s brutal murder. 

While visually stunning, its snail-paced abstraction might have you asking if “Only God Forgives” this kind of storytelling.

Image Credit: IMDb.

3. ‘Tree of Life’ (2011)

If a movie makes you say “Huh? What?” and yawn a few times, it’s not you — it’s the movie. And those are often the sentiments after watching Terrence Malick’s visually arresting 2011 masterpiece “Tree of Life.”  

Starring Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, and Sean Penn, the film weaves between a 1950s family drama in Texas and the very creation of the universe itself.  

In essence, “Tree of Life” is a bit like that dinner guest who starts with casual chit-chat and ends up questioning the meaning of life over dessert. You’re left pondering whether you’ve just experienced profound wisdom or an indulgent ramble.

Image Credit: IMDb.

4. ‘Mother!’ (2017)

Darren Aronofsky’s “Mother!” swears to be groundbreaking and bold but it is actually a chaotic mess with an allegorical overload. Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem are a married couple living in an isolated, house in the 2017 psychological thriller. 

Things take a bizarre turn when unexpected guests, played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, arrive and begin to impose themselves on the couple’s lives. 

The narrative is a neurotic, feverish allegory, with everything in the film symbolizing something else. So, if you’re looking for a movie that lays out its plot neatly, “Mother!” isn’t it.

Image Credit: IMDb.

5. ‘Cloud Atlas’ (2012)

David Mitchell’s 2004 novel of interlinked narratives, “Cloud Atlas,” is a meticulously structured work of fiction that is a delight to unravel.  

The 2012 movie adaptation with the same name is an almost unwatchable three hours of aesthetic visuals and confusion that will make you either question your intelligence or taste in movies. A labyrinthine mosaic of interconnected tales that span eras from the 19th century to a post-apocalyptic future, the film ambitiously endeavors to intertwine narratives about freedom, destiny, and reincarnation with an ensemble cast playing multiple roles across the different time periods. 

However, its sprawling scope and convoluted structure sometimes border on the pretentious, as the film seems more engrossed in its own grandiosity than in delivering a cohesive and emotionally resonant story.

Image Credit: IMDb.

6. ‘Inland Empire’ (2006)

David Lynch’s “Inland Empire” takes non-linear storytelling to a whole new level. It’s a 3-hour surreal nightmare (or dream, depending on your perspective) that left even hardcore Lynch fans puzzled. 

Laura Dern delivers a tour de force performance as Nikki Grace, an actress who lands a role in a Hollywood movie only to find that the film is possibly cursed. While rich in symbolism and imagery, the film’s abstract nature was too opaque for many, turning a cinematic experience into a perplexing riddle.

Image Credit: IMDb.

7. ‘Synecdoche, New York’ (2008)

One could argue that any Charlie Kaufman work is emblematic of his intricate, abstract narrative style, but “Synecdoche, New York” stands apart in its complexity. 

The film sees the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in the role of a beleaguered theater director who crafts a replica city inside a massive warehouse. As the lines between this constructed world and reality blur, the director finds himself inexplicably alluring to various women. 

The play on words in the title — contrasting the city of Schenectady with the literary term “synecdoche”, which denotes a part signifying the whole — offers just a glimpse into the layered narrative Kaufman weaves.

Image Credit: IMDb.

8. ‘Knight of Cups’ (2015)

Another Terrence Malick entry, “Knight of Cups,” feels like a visual poem that forgot to invite the audience to its poetic party. While visually charging, the lack of narrative cohesion made it feel distant and self-absorbed. It’s a bit like watching someone else’s dream and realizing you don’t speak the dream’s language.

Christian Bale stars as Rick, a screenwriter lost amidst the hedonism of Hollywood, navigating a maze of empty relationships, parties, and fleeting connections. The film is segmented into chapters named after tarot cards, and each segment deals with a different relationship or aspect of Rick’s life. 

In essence, “Knight of Cups” is  profoundly beautiful, deeply introspective, but at times, frustratingly opaque. For some, the film’s beauty and emotional resonance will speak volumes. For others, its narrative detachment might feel akin to trying to interpret a foreign dream, evocative but ultimately inscrutable.

Image Credit: IMDb.

9. ‘The Fountain’ (2006)

“The Fountain” is Darren Aronofsky’s ambitious dive into themes of love and mortality, spanning across three unique timelines. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz anchor the film, taking on roles that transcend time: in the past as a Spanish conquistador and his queen, in the present as a scientist grappling with his partner’s illness, and in a distant future as a space traveler yearning for reunion with his lost love. The Tree of Knowledge consistently surfaces throughout these tales, suggesting interconnectedness and hinting at deeper philosophical musings.

Aronofsky, known for pushing boundaries, set out with a vision to intertwine captivating visuals with profound narrative threads. While the film is undoubtedly a visual treat, its philosophical depth sometimes feels a tad overloaded, making the storyline feel more convoluted than contemplative.

Image Credit: IMDb.

10. “Southland Tales” (2006)

“Southland Tales” is a sprawling mess or a misunderstood masterpiece, depending on who you ask. Driceted by Richard Kelly, the dystopian black comedy’s convoluted plot and mashup of genres left many viewers cold.  

With an ensemble cast featuring the likes of Dwayne Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Seann William Scott, and Justin Timberlake, the film takes viewers on a wild, disjointed ride through politics, celebrity, and identity.

While aiming for satire and social commentary, the film’s execution felt cluttered and self-important. It’s like a tangled web of ideas that refuses to untangle itself.

This article was produced and syndicated by MediaFeed.

Image Credit: IMDb.

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