What makes a masterpiece? To my mind, a masterpiece is cinematic perfection; when every single aspect of filmmaking is blended in a way that manages to create a thoroughly enriching experience one could never forget. As cinephiles, we tend to films we loathe every day but which are those films that are so close to being a masterpiece yet not quite there? Yes, they are in abundance. These are moments where we feel utterly disappointed at thought of having seen a movie that very nearly gets itself on the verge of being a cinematic masterpiece but slips and falls on its way. This article takes a look at list of top movies that could have been masterpieces but are not.
12. Training Day (2001)
‘Training Day’ is best remembered for Denzel Washington’s raging, flamboyant performance as Alonzo Harris, a morally corrupt LAPD senior narcotics officer. The film follows a young trainee, played by Ethan Hawke, who teams up with Alonzo and kicks off the day, busting college kids buying drugs and then moving to gang-ridden streets over a period of 24 hours as part of the training. With a compelling storyline and a supremely talented cast, ‘Training Day’ had almost all the ingredients that would have made for a genre masterpiece. But a lazy ending destroys the film, exposing its plot-holes and leaving us utterly baffled as it relegates itself to being just another cop flick with some fine moments which is a shame for a film with such solid energy and punch.
11. The Theory of Everything (2014)
‘The Theory of Everything’ does everything a biopic should. But that’s exactly the problem. The film is a good old-fashioned biopic with focus directed towards its protagonist’s love life. ‘Theory of Everything’ is indeed a well made film but never really explores its protagonist on a more profound emotional aspect. The result is a satisfyingly unsatisfying drama that leaves you with mixed feelings, thinking how it could have been more uninhibited, raw and honest in its portrayal of the ambition, obsession, pain and desires of its leading man.
10. Sunshine (2007)
Danny Boyle’s ‘Sunshine’ tells the wildly ambitious story of a group of astronauts, in a not so distant future, who embark on a mission to save the Sun. Inspired by eternal sci-fi classics such as ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and ‘Solaris’, ‘Sunshine’ is ambitious in its own right and is brilliantly crafted with immense scope on a thematic and visual level. The film falters in its tone towards the end with weird plot-twists that murder everything great about the film and fails as a deep, psychological introspective journey into own’s own heart. The film ends as an average sci-fi thriller with convoluted plot-twists and a series of bizarre, messed up events, depriving the film off any emotional resonance long after it’s over.
9. Django Unchained (2012)
Django Unchained might just be Quentin Tarantino’s weakest film. But that’s not saying it’s bad film. However, with a running time of the film feels extremely tedious on re-watches and comes off as a little self-indulgent at places. ‘Django Unchained’ had every element in the making of a classic. But the plot meanders towards the second half and the film gets way too caught up in itself with scenes that do nothing to the plot and hampers the flow of what would have been a more clinical, more entertaining western revenge saga.
8. The Game (1997)
David Fincher’s raw ability to build tension in scenes is hardly matched by any other filmmaker. A master of his genre, Fincher has crafted some of the finest thrillers to have come out of Hollywood and remains an absolute maverick. His 1997 psychological mystery drama, ‘The Game’, tells the story of a banker who receives a mysterious gift from his brother that would change himself and his life forever. The pacing in the initial phase of the film well controlled and the film has a couple of nerve-racking, frightening moments. The film kills itself with its final act with an alternate reality plot-twist that seems way too contrived and out-of-place. ‘The Game’ could have been a riveting look into a man’s torn psyche but ends up as a mess of convoluted plot-lines and disjointed ideas .
7. Hugo (2011)
This Martin Scorsese directed fantasy drama tells the story of a boy in search of a key to unlock his late father’s automaton. In the journey the boy befriends a girl and discovers the visual magic of cinema. Hugo, for the most part, feels like a very personal film from Scorsese and shows his own love for the art form but that’s exactly the problem in the film. The film is a guaranteed visual treat but lacks a more endearing sense of warmth and humanity that seems to have evaded the film throughout and ultimately comes off as forgettable venture.
6. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
A.I Artificial Intelligence is one of Steven Spielberg’s most ambitious projects and is, without a doubt, a beautifully crafted film. It tells the story of a robotic boy longing to win back the love of his human mother and goes on a series of adventures hoping to achieve the same. The film is replete with breathtaking visuals and some memorable moments but unlike Spielberg’s best works, fails to resonate with time. In retrospect the film seems quite a bit of a mess in trying to achieve what it intends to and has an ending that comes off rather quick, leaving you unsatisfied.
5. Flight (2012)
Robert Zemeckis’ Flight is an intense thriller that turns itself into a searing character study of a broken man, in constant battle with his own demons. Flight follows the heroic story of a pilot who salvaged his flight and rescued nearly 100 people on board. However, things take a turn when it is revealed that he was under alcohol and high on cocaine during the time of the incident. Flight is a well made, brilliantly acted film with some memorable moments to savour and plays quite on the edge of being a masterpiece but the writing goes slightly preachy at times and the plot flaws become a lot more glaring on repeat viewings. It’s hard to believe that the airport authorities would have let him take over the flight when he was nowhere near being sober on the fateful day. Moreover, we are revealed that Denzel’s character is deeply addicted to alcohol but if that’s the case how could one believe that the authorities were completely ignorant to his addiction? These questions just deny the film its masterpiece status.
4. Gangs of New York (2002)
The fact that two of Scorsese’s films made the list just goes to show how his 21st century works haven’t matched the skill and calibre he displayed in his prime. Gangs of New York is probably the closest he ever got to making a masterpiece in this century. And with a cast including the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day Lewis, one wouldn’t want to expect anything less either. But the film lacks the punch of an epic period drama and the build up to the revenge tale is done very weakly. Moreover the character of Bill is quite poorly written and despite Day Lewis pouring himself on to the character, comes off as hammy at many places. The second half of the film seems pointlessly stretched out with scenes that hardly build anything to the storyline as the it eventually falls well short of its towering expectations.
3. The Deer Hunter (1978)
Let’s say Michael Cimino’s ‘The Deer Hunter’ is a flawed masterpiece. A year before Francis Ford Coppola’s explosive Vietnam epic stormed the gates, Michael Cimino crafted a deeply poignant, human tale of friendship, love and loss using the Vietnam War as a backdrop for the story-line. Packed with some of the most horrifying moments you’ll ever see, ‘The Deer Hunter’ is a film that generated a significant amount of controversy and garnered a lot of hate, mostly due to its inaccurate portrayal of the Vietnam War and the infamous Russian Roulette scene that triggered many critics of its time. The film features a tiring wedding sequence that lasts for more than 50 minutes of screen time and very nearly pulls you out of the film, making it an unnecessary drag. The film wanders away, focus back and forth from its focus on the plot. Nevertheless, ‘The Deer Hunter’ is an unforgettably powerful, emotional mess of a film; bold and beautiful.
2. Interstellar (2014)
One of the things I admire about Christopher Nolan’s ability as a filmmaker is world building. Every film of his is a world in itself and it’s hard to ignore the visual aesthetics of his cinema. Interstellar’ is one of the most magical cinematic experiences I’ve had in recent memory. With Nolan’s impeccable track record and a story that captures the pain and longing of a father-daughter relationship, ‘Interstellar’ has the word masterpiece written all over it. But repeat viewings tend to expose some serious writing issues. The father-daughter relationship doesn’t come off as a very profound exploration due to poor character development. This makes some of the scenes in the film look extremely cheesy and melodramatic. Another one of the film’s major strengths is that it gets most of the science and treats every single theory with utmost seriousness but the whole “love transcends space and time” theory completely destroys the film and comes off as an ending that does not do justice to a film with such inspiring ambition and beauty.
1. The New World (2005)
Terrence Malick is a cinematic visionary in the truest sense of the word. Like the great Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky, Malick chiselled a cinematic language of his own and relentlessly defies the traditional norms of cinema, pushing the boundaries of the medium. ‘The New World’ is one of his most experimental ventures but falls just short of true greatness. While the visual craft here remains impeccable and too beautiful to not look at, the script has some glaring issues as the characters feel very emotionally detached . Malick has this ability to soak you in emotions but in ‘The New World’ we never really get a sense of his characters’ emotions and ultimately ends up being a failed experimental attempt with no real emotional impact and ideas and thoughts scattered all over the place; disjointed and unstructured.