How to describe a hipster movie? Invoking the “I know it when I see it” rule seems an easy way out of applying a definitive label to something so nebulous, but there are a number of hallmarks to be wary of. Soundtracks consisting of indie, folk and/or anachronistic songs that had yet to be recorded when the film actually takes place are instant red flags, as are toothless, pro-individuality, anti-authority messages, which can just easily be found in most children’s books. Manic pixie dream girls abound, often personifying an overabundance of quirkiness.
Worse, these films tend to be dishonest in how they present themselves. The majority make a vain attempt at distinguishing their wares via superficial edginess, only to end up reinforcing the same ideas as every other Hollywood entertainment, tricking people into thinking they're seeing something subversive in the process. Many are guilty of these cinematic sins, but the following are the most egregious.
20. Fight Club
Fifteen years later, the movie that turned Tyler Durden into a figurehead for the disenchanted seems as edgy as a butter knife — unsurprising, considering it’s based on a Chuck Palahniuk novel. The film itself is fine, despite ranking near the bottom of David Fincher’s body of work, but the way its legacy has been co-opted by superfans who refuse to shut up about Project Mayhem and the first rule of Fight Club makes it easy to resent. Funny how a movie about thinking for yourself and questioning authority has inspired so many people to parrot its most famous lines for a decade and a half, wouldn't you say?
19. Let the Right One In
Rarely is a cash-grab American remake (Let Me In) superior to the original, but here we are. Young adults who thought they were too cool for Twilight but were still secretly enamored with vampires went crazy for this violent coming-of-age story, which trafficked in the same depressing weather and droll sense of alienation as the equally lame Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (Come to think of it, that cash-grab remake was better, too.) Both cinematic exports made Sweden look like the worst place on Earth, which didn’t stop Scandinavia-inclined hipsters from falling over themselves in adoration.
See also: more L.A. Weekly film coverage
18. Harold and Maude
Hal Asbhy’s ode to the oddest of odd couples is like the Patient Zero of hipster movies. Its attempt at black humor is grating in and of itself, but its real sin is in how many other films (several of which appear on this list) it has influenced over the years. Harold’s detachment and obsession with death are but two of the faux eccentricities to have been tweaked ever so slightly and used as signifiers of emotional depth by countless cinematic acolytes.
17. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
The only Wes Anderson movie to feel insincere, this 2004 misfire was so conspicuous in its use of the filmmaker's stylistic calling cards (slo-mo, Futura title cards, Bill Murray being Bill Murray) that it almost made his earlier, better films seem worse in retrospect. He has more than recovered in the years since, but man, what was up with those stupid red beanies?[
16. Shaun of the Dead
Sorry, Cornetto trilogy devotees, but these movies just aren’t that funny. Shaun of the Dead introduced the world at large to the Edgar Wright / Simon Pegg / Nick Frost troika, who clearly have a great time whenever they collaborate on one of their overpraised comedies. Maybe if the jokes didn't feel so insular and obnoxiously self-aware, we'd be able to have a good time, too.
See also: The 20 Worst Hipster Bands
Look up the word “twee” in the dictionary and you’ll probably find a picture of a grinning Audrey Tautou in the role that made her famous on this side of the Atlantic. Harmless and inoffensive to a fault, it’s two hours of feel-good mush targeted toward Francophiles who obsess over cutesy details and tacked-on whimsy.
See also: Audrey Tautou in Mood Indigo
14. Waking Life
Richard Linklater is one of the best American filmmakers working today, but you’d never know it from this rotoscoped Intro to Philosophy course. The only reason it’s inaccurate to call this the equivalent of listening to your stoned roommate ramble on about the nature of consciousness, dreams, existence and anything else his or her addled mind can think of is because most of the movie literally consists of people doing exactly that. It's possible there's a less interesting way of exploring such heady ideas on screen than simply having the characters openly debate them, but we've yet to see one.
13. Marie Antoinette
Sofia Coppola is a naturally gifted filmmaker with an unfortunate tendency to put her talents toward questionable projects (see also: last year's The Bling Ring). In this wispy biopic, the cruel French monarch, in addition to being cool with the idea of her subjects eating cake, apparently was a huge fan of Aphex Twin and Gang of Four. Who knew?[
Picking just one Harmony Korine film wasn’t easy, but the latent condescension and utter aimlessness of his debut just narrowly gave it the edge over Trash Humpers; not even Werner Herzog’s ecstatic response to this art-house exploitation flick is enough to give it a pass. At least Korine's latest, Spring Breakers, gave us James Franco covering a Britney Spears song.
11. Broken Flowers
The exact moment at which Bill Murray’s one character became tired and unfunny can be traced back to Ur-hipster Jim Jarmusch’s unbearable tale of an aging Lothario who finds out he has a son. Too ironic and distant to commit to anything other than its own sense of cool superiority, the movie ambles toward a predictably ambiguous conclusion that makes us question why we ever decided to spend time with such a boring protagonist in the first place.
Sundance sometimes gets a bad rap, owed largely to the kind of movies that appear on this list, but it also premieres a lot of great films that help justify its continued existence and popularity. Frank isn’t one of those great films. It stars Michael Fassbender as an out-there musician who spends 90 percent of the film wearing a fake plaster head, which is sure to delight anyone who favors gimmicky distractions over actual characters when it's released next month. Did we mention that an entire segment of the movie feels like an extended advertisement for SXSW, perhaps the country's largest convergence of hipsterdom?
9. Napoleon Dynamite
Ligers. Skills. Vote for Pedro. How much longer before you feel like throwing a steak at someone's head? It seemed like this one had rightfully been abandoned by everyone who loved it when it first came out, but then its 10th anniversary was inexplicably commemorated with a weird statue last month. File this one under “never actually funny” and try to forget it ever happened.[
8. Garden State
Zach Braff belongs in the same camp as the Shaun of the Dead trio: seemingly nice guy whose movies are a little too pleased with themselves. Much of the blame for this one should go to his enabler, Harvey Weinstein, who was part of a deal to buy this embodiment of everything wrong with Indiewood for $5 million at Sundance 10 years ago. Natalie Portman is the most manic of pixie dream girls, Braff’s handpicked soundtracked enlightens us as to the greatness of The Shins, and Frou Frou takes it home during the end credits.
7. Kill Your Darlings
Harry Potter as Ginsberg? A movie set in the 1940s with TV on the Radio blaring on the soundtrack? Kill Your Darlings is a movie made in hipster heaven (or hell, rather), and its awfulness would be offensive if it weren’t so hilariously inept.
6. Boondock Saints
Aka every high schooler’s favorite movie. Most have the good sense to age out of this one, but a few allow nostalgia to carry it with them well into adulthood. A lot of forgettable films unsuccessfully ape Tarantino, but few have ever gotten the formula so wrong — the dialogue is self-consciously quotable, the violence empty and gratuitous.
Richard Ayoade has yet to feature a single original image or idea in either of his two movies, and Submarine is self-congratulatory dreck of the highest order. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the title card that opens the film and try not to scoff when I assure you that it only gets worse from there. Scene after agonizing scene feels like something Wes Anderson would have had the good sense to leave on the cutting-room floor — even in The Life Aquatic.[
4. Amores Perros
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s reign of overwrought mediocrity began with this film, which exemplifies the art-house stereotype of featuring more dead dogs than Where the Red Fern Grows and every other book you had to read in middle school. The “hyperlink” approach made famous by Tarantino and Soderbergh does little more than compound aestheticized suffering here, a passé technique that cine-hipsters can’t get enough of.
3. Requiem for a Dream
Darren Aronofsky is a stepping-stone director whose superficiality is pretty easy to discern once you start watching more than one or two art-house films a year. Though his quote-unquote harrowing second feature is thought of as a “great movie I never want to watch again” by some, the real reason to avoid a second viewing is because its manipulative and contrived look at drug addiction resembles nothing so much as a feature-length D.A.R.E. lecture.
2. Enter the Void
That every minute of this POV account of the transition from life to death manages to be worse and more ludicrous than the last is almost impressive, given the fact that it’s nearly three hours long. Gaspar Noé is considered a transgressive provocateur by his admirers, which totally explains the sex scene meant to look like it's being filmed from inside a vagina so as to better capture a CG dick thrusting in and out.
Has there been a more intellectually dishonest, smug, and ultimately zero-sum movie made in the last 10 years? It’s a shame that Ellen Page will probably always be best remembered for her most irritating character, she of ceaseless quips and forced quirk, and don’t forget that Diablo Cody actually won an Oscar for introducing “burger phone” into the lexicon. It took rightfully lukewarm receptions to Young Adult and Labor Day for people to finally start cooling on Jason Reitman, who, if we're being honest, was never a very good director in the first place.
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