It's a glorious time to love movies. TVs have gotten bigger, thousands of great films have hit DVD, and online rental services like Netflix have given viewers unprecedented access to classics that the local video store often doesn't bother stocking. But something funny happens when a film gains classic status: It becomes hard to criticize it without seeming sacrilegious. Still, sometimes a little sacrilege can be healthy. Below, The A.V. Club's film writers give you permission to hate the following movies—then explain why their fellow film writers might be wrong.
Star Wars (1977)
Reputation: Even before it evolved into a secular religion for nerds, Star Wars was revered as a swashbuckling space epic that brilliantly united the cliffhanging heroics of old-time serials with revolutionary special effects, just as director George Lucas, teaming with Steven Spielberg, would later do with the Indiana Jones movies.
Why it's okay to hate it: You know what else the Indiana Jones movies had? Clever dialogue and snappy pacing, two elements Star Wars sorely lacks. Remove Harrison Ford's swaggering charisma from Star Wars, and what's left? The Phantom fucking Menace. And has there ever a soggier slice of white bread than Mark Hamill? The prequels didn't violate the timeless genius of Star Wars; their awkward dialogue and stiff performances simply carried on the wooden tradition of Lucas' 1977 original.
Dissent from Tasha: Flawed as it is, and overhyped as it's become, Star Wars still manages to establish a big, sloppy, fascinating universe, populate it with quirky, memorable characters, and still tell a complete and reasonably tight stand-alone story. None of the subsequent entries have lived up to that standard.
Reputation: Network is widely considered a savage, visionary satire that uncannily predicts the sordid state of television's future and the rise of reality programming.
Why it's okay to hate it: Network is too choked with bitterness to be funny, and Paddy Chayefsky's revered dialogue sounds so mannered that the characters might as well be speaking in iambic pentameter. Furthermore, Chayefsky repeatedly violates the dictum "show, don't tell." He doles out his heavy-handed messages in shrill monologues. And does predicting that network television and its audience will grow increasingly degraded and desperate qualify as Nostradamus-like prescience, or mere common sense?
Dissent from Keith: Network is still better than all the cutting satires before it that suggested television might not just be dumb, but also dangerous. Wait? There weren't any? Hmmm…
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Reputation: Working at the height of his creative powers, Stanley Kubrick converted Anthony Burgess' novel into one of the most provocative films ever made, reframing the public debate over social aversion therapy and the cost of free will.
Why it's okay to hate it: In arguing against government-sanctioned dehumanization, Kubrick stacks the deck mercilessly by making Alex (Malcolm McDowell), the leader of a roving gang of thugs, far more likeable than the repulsive victims he terrorizes. Kubrick's control over his effects has never been more evident, but here it backfires, revealing him to be a cruel, manipulative puppeteer who engineers an argument by sucking the humanity out of his movie. His decision to cut the 21st chapter of Burgess' novel, in which Alex comes of age and matures on his own, resulted in a much darker ending, but one that opposes Burgess' faith that Alex will overcome the mistakes of his youth. As Burgess himself wrote of the film: "A vindication of free will had become an exaltation of the urge to sin."
Dissent from Tasha: Clockwork Orange is staggeringly effective at portraying violence without glorifying it, and virtually every shot is striking and memorable. And how could anyone watch the rape scene and call Alex "likeable"?
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Reputation: The ascendancy of this austere adaptation of Stephen King's novella from box-office disappointment to one of the top two or three films according to users at the Internet Movie Database may be the greatest example of a film finding life after death.
Why it's okay to hate it: Forget about one of the best two or three movies ever made: This film isn't even one of the top three King adaptations: It falls a few stops short of the high standard set by Carrie, The Shining, and The Dead Zone. King's story about troubled men finding friendship and, well, redemption behind bars comes off as a dignified throwback to classic Hollywood, but its bland austerity often turns the drama to stone. In the hands of director Frank Darabont, the brutality of prison life looks faintly like nostalgia.
Dissent from Noel: Better than almost any other prison movie, Shawshank gets the way jail-time is an allegory for all our lifetimes, as we learn to cope with what we've got to do to get by, while occasionally pining for escape. That was all there in King's masterfully plotted novella—nostalgia included—and preserved by Darabont with such care that the movie practically breathes on its own.
The Exorcist (1973)
Reputation: William Friedkin's adaptation of the William Peter Blatty novel won critical acclaim, set box-office records, and had audiences fainting in the aisles with its tale of a good little girl (Linda Blair) who goes really, really bad when she's possessed by demonic forces.
Why it's okay to hate it: Sure, it's scary, but where's the subtext? At least Blatty's mostly terrible book tied the possession into crumbling families, the marginalization of religion, and the rise of the counterculture, while playing with the notion that it might all just be in the possessed girl's head. Friedkin barely brushes against these themes, and his nonstop shockfest removes all nuance, outside relevance, and even free will, boiling it down to a grody spectacle that can be summarized in one line: "The Devil made me do it!"
Dissent from Nathan: It's hard to overrate The Exorcist for sheer craftsmanship, and its enduring popularity and resonance attests to how well it taps into the Watergate era's free-floating paranoia.
Reputation: Walt Disney's masterpiece miraculously combines classical music with animation!
Why it's okay to hate it: Well, what's so miraculous about that? The abstract opening segment is kind of neat, and the violent dinosaurs fit well with "Rite Of Spring," but the other pieces try to shove cutesy stories and big-eyed animals into music that was never meant to accommodate them. Worse, it pretty much spoils the pieces for future listening. Try listening to "Dance Of The Hours" now without thinking of dancing hippos. It can't be done. (Of course, Allan Sherman's "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh" doesn't help.) It's the classical-music equivalent of those Sunkist commercials that changed the words of "Good Vibrations" to sing the praises of soda. And it goes on forever.
Dissent from Noel: But even if you think Fantasia is the height of Hollywood ersatz art, you have to acknowledge the care and craftsmanship that went into making it—right down to those damn hippos, whose movements were based on research trips to the zoo. The movie is a fascinating, charming trip inside Walt Disney's head.
Reputation: This raunchy, irreverent golf comedy slaps together the divergent comic sensibilities of Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Rodney Dangerfield, and Ted Knight, and is beloved by many for its memorable setpieces and quotable lines. (One of the best: Dangerfield asking Knight's wife, "You want to make $14? The hard way?")
Why it's okay to hate it: You know what name doesn't get tossed around much when people talk about Caddyshack? Michael O'Keefe. You know, the story's actual protagonist, whose blank personality and bland aspirations put a major drag on the movie's momentum. Not to mention that with all Caddyshack's "slobs against snobs" hoop-de-doo, people forget that chief "slobs" Chase and Dangerfield are both insanely rich. The movie's point of view is as choppy as its gags. Its understanding of golf is pretty shitty, too.
Dissent from Nathan: Does anybody really go to lowbrow comedies for coherent class analyses, strong youth protagonists, or substantive information about golf? No, they go for laughs and great one-liners. On that level, Caddyshack is an absolute triumph. You can't even resist quoting it while panning it.
Roger & Me (1989)
Reputation: The documentary that vaulted Michael Moore into the pop consciousness was hailed in its day as a smart, funny, incisive report on how callous Reagan-era corporate strategizing gutted the working-class city of Flint, Michigan.
Why it's okay to hate it: Much has been written about the ways Moore manipulates facts and chronology to make the politicians and corporate stooges he interviews look unfairly lousy, but that isn't Roger & Me's real problem. What stinks most about it is the way Moore pretends to champion "regular folks" while holding them up for ridicule, and the way he makes his self-congratulatory self-righteousness the real subject. The film spawned a generation of pseudo-documentarians who now routinely use real people as punchlines, and display a commitment to "working people" that ends when those people stand in the way of the filmmakers' trespassing camera crews.
Dissent from Scott: Yet there's no denying that Moore's cudgel draws some blood. Setting a montage of boarded-up Flint homes to "Wouldn't It Be Nice" may be blunt, but it certainly gets the job done. More importantly, Roger & Me introduced the concept of a documentary as entertainment, and the better documentaries that have followed owe it a debt.
Reputation: Stephen King's bestselling debut novel launched his career. But two years later, the film adaptation clinched it, along with the reputations of star Sissy Spacek and particularly director Brian De Palma, who gained a reputation for creating taut, graphic, memorable thrillers—not to mention being one of the few filmmakers to do right by King's work.
Why it's okay to hate it: Okay, the image of Sissy Spacek drenched in blood and full of crazy but righteous fury is beautifully iconic, but getting there involves wading through more than an hour of heinous overacting, blaring sound design, plodding pacing, and misty softcore-porn imagery. Cheap special effects and scenery-chewing make most of the film laughable today, but there's nothing funny about De Palma's opening sequence, which has Spacek slowly rubbing her naked body in the shower for ages. Yes, the shower scene is key in King's book too, but given that his protagonist was a dumpy, pimply, ungainly outcast, De Palma's cheesecake-aesthetic attempt to super-sexualize her utterly misses the point, and comes across as both hypocritical and exploitative.
Dissent from Scott: De Palma isn't sexualizing Spacek so much as allowing us to drift into the dreamy ecstasy of her late-blooming sexual awareness, only to snap back to the cruel reality of her estrangement. De Palma sustains that deliciously heightened atmosphere throughout the film, which finds poignancy and horror in Spacek's simple, thwarted desire to become a woman.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Reputation: Joel and Ethan Coen's shaggy-dog story about an L.A. slacker who gets mistaken for a millionaire has been hailed as one of the 250 best movies of all time (by IMDB users) and one of the hundred funniest films in history (by the Bravo network). It's also been critically praised as a brilliant modern pastiche of Raymond Chandler's dizzying, character-heavy mystery noirs.
Why it's okay to hate it: The film contains a lot of amusing character business, but all in service to a protagonist who comes across as barely present and a bunch of intriguing plot threads that go nowhere. Compared with the Coens' usual energy and the tautness of their best work, Lebowski feels unfocused, uncommitted, and amateurish.
Dissent from everyone else: No. This is just very, very wrong.