12 April 2021
Great films have a timeless quality about them. So masterfully do their stories and characters convey themes of the universal human experience that they transcend the fickle social trends of their era and continue resonating with generations of new audiences.
These films do not.
Though they were all made within the last twenty years (and some far more recently), they haven’t aged so much as curdled and now feel like relics of another era.
These are not bad films, with almost all well received by both audiences and critics at the time of their release. But a lot has gone down in the past few years and a throwaway joke, reference, or plot point that seemed innocuous in the early 2000s can be enough in 2021 to condemn a film to the wrong side of Hollywood history.
10. The Babadook (2014)
Jennifer Kent’s Australian modern classic, ‘The Babadook,’ is a tense, well-crafted horror story about a single mother and her young son who are both dealing with barely repressed grief when “Mr Babadook,” a character from a spooky children’s book of unknown origin, starts becoming all too real. The usual rule of thumb in films is that the more you show of the monster the less scary it is, but Kent impressively designed a character whose long -fingered, top hatted silhouette is genuinely unnerving. Which is why the film loses its appeal when you learn that The Babadook’s monster has been reappropriated into a bona fide gay icon.
The meme originated when a streaming service mistakenly categorised the horror film in its LGBTQI section. From there imaginations ran wild and the character’s origin story as an oppressed queer rights symbol became a legend to rival that of Kent’s.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for him. It’s just that once you’ve seen a Youtuber cosplay as the Babadook accessorised with a rainbow flag to a red carpet, there’s no going back.
9. Anchorman (2004)
Only Judd Apaptow’s second feature film (his first being 1996s ‘The Cable Guy’), I re-watched this one recently and was pleasantly surprised by how much it could still make me laugh. Apatow’s done a lot of good stuff since then (including the film he’d go on to make the following year; ‘The Forty Year Old Virgin’) but none of it has come close to being as original, outlandish, and clever-dumb as ‘Anchorman’.
With that in mind, I was left slightly shocked by Ron Burgundy, the titular Anchorman, threatening to punch Veronica, his co-anchor and former lover, “right in the ovaries.”
Now I’m not suggesting that in 2004 it was more socially acceptable to punch women (in the ovaries or otherwise) and the line’s not that bad in the film’s absurdist context (a rival news anchor’s arm is bitten off by a bear at one point). I’m just saying that I don’t know if that line would’ve slipped through if this film were made today. Then again, it is delivered by Will Ferrell, an actor more charming than 90% of his contemporaries and decidedly non-problematic, so who knows? Prove me wrong, Hollywood!
8. Quarantine (2008)
From the title alone, you might be fooled into thinking that this found footage thriller, which sees the unlucky residents of an apartment block being barricaded inside by government forces, is super prescient. Well, it’s not. The residents fight tooth and nail before turning on each other in their desperation to escape (in fairness, there was a zombie barricaded in there with them), not understanding that we like the inside now.
We got so used to working from home (i.e. waking up at 8:00 am) and getting Uber Eats twice a day that when Australian lockdown measures gradually began lifting no-one really wanted to go out anyway. Sorry ‘Quarantine’, but your character motivations make no sense to us anymore and we just can’t relate.
7. The Social Network (2008)
This film was always going to be very “of its time”. And that’s fine. Upon its release in 2008 it absolutely captured the zeitgeist. Facebook had only been around for a few wildly successful years (I remember opening my first account in 2007) and the combination of Aaron Sorkin’s razor-sharp script and the perfect casting of Jesse Eisenberg made us exhilarated to learn the inner secrets of its creation.
Such as, umm… Mark Zuckerberg had pretty bad social skills, and was kind of a dick to his friend and girlfriend. Oh, and that the idea of Facebook was probably a little bit stolen from twin college jocks, both played by Armie Hammer (good thing this casting hasn’t aged poorly!).
The point is, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook have way, way more to answer for than Sorkin could ever have predicted back then. So the level of drama wrought from Zuckerberg making a “hot or not” list seems a little ridiculous in hindsight.
6. Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
The Fifty Shades series has attracted a lot of valid criticism for its portrayal of S&M relationships, which look a little too close to domestic abuse for some people’s comfort.
However, these criticisms were around at the time of release, so in that sense the protagonists’ questionable relationship can’t really be said to have “aged badly.” What has is the fact that Christian Grey is a millionaire CEO.
There was a time when this was one of the cliched “dream man” check boxes (which is why E.L. James included it, because she is nothing if not cliched). But those days are gone. In 2021 we hate the rich and want to dismantle capitalism. We know Christian didn’t make that kind of money paying his workers a living wage, so fantasising about him is like fantasising about getting fucked by Jeff Bezos. Which in a sense, we already are.
5. Zoolander (2001)
This one’s just unfortunate. ‘Zoolander’ has to be one of the most beloved, and quoted comedies of the 2000s. Which is particularly impressive given it has shockingly bad timing.
The film had the misfortune to be released just a few weeks after 9/11- a time when a lot of Americans weren’t feeling like laughing at Ben Stiller’s idiotic antics. To make matters worse, the film contained scenes showing the pre-9/11 New York skyline with the twin towers still visible. Navigating an awkward situation, Stiller made the decision to edit the towers out of the shot and avoid reminding audiences of the nation’s very fresh trauma. Unfortunately, some viewers found this to be an even more offensive move than to have left them in. It was an all-around bad situation and presumed to be partly responsible for the film’s poor box office performance (it only really gained its cult classic status years later after the DVD release).
It’s understandable audiences reacted this way. For us today, it would be like a lightweight comedy including a throwaway Donald Trump cameo that pandered to his New York playboy self-image, years before he showed his true colours as an unhinged, despotic, serial sex offender and symbol of the growing white supremacy movement whose leadership did irreparable damage to America’s faith in its own democracy. Except that film is also Zoolander.
4. Eat, Pray, Love (2010)
If there’s one thing 2021 audiences love, it’s entitled white women roaming the globe and appropriating cultures. It didn’t take long for ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ to become a punchline, but for a hot minute the film and Elizabeth Gilbert book on which it’s based was a genuine phenomenon for a certain type of woman.
These days we have a name for that woman- Karen.
3. Are We Officially Dating? (2014)
Like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ ‘Are we Officially Dating?’ or ‘That Awkward Moment’ as it was called in the US (both pretty bad titles) relies on audiences falling in love with the type of guy we wouldn’t give the time of day in 2021.
Zac Efron plays a cocky (arrogant), rough around the edges (emotionally immature) ladies man (fuck boi) who just can’t settle down (keep his dick in his pants). Luckily, he meets his very own manic pixie dream girl (she’s hot and she eats pizza! She’s feminine and she plays video games!) who demands nothing of him and only becomes upset when he ghosts her immediately after her father dies (no pun intended).
Efron’s character eventually commits to her, because she is a literal dream woman, but it goes without saying that she’d be way, way better off without him. Again, it’s hard to believe but there really was a time when bagging a serial commitment-phobe was the ultimate validation (Sex and the City’s Mr Big, anyone?). Let’s never go back there.
2. My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997)
Julia Roberts’ second appearance on this list (why can’t her films age as well as she has?) was actually released in 1997, but I had to include it because it’s aged so poorly. On a personal level, that is. This unconventional rom-com has Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz at their best, a scene stealing Rupert Everett, and an unexpectedly sad and sweet ending. It’s one of the genre’s best.
But none of that excuses the fact that the central plot involves platonic friends making a pact to marry if they’re both still single at twenty-eight. Twenty-eight!
Can you even imagine being an unmarried old maid at the age of twenty-eight? You might as well just give up and join a convent at that point.
As I said, nothing wrong with the movie. It just feels like a personal attack.
1. Love Actually (2003)
Where to start with this mess? The 2004 film did extremely well, actually, with both audiences and critics falling for Richard Curtis’ all-star cast ode to Christmas, love and joy (in that order). A hundred new ‘Love Actually’ think-pieces crop up every December, so without comment, here are some of the most triggering plot points contained in what was once voted Britain’s favourite film:
A middle-aged British writer falling in love with his twenty-something Portuguese housekeeper, whom he has never heard speak;
A woman portrayed as a she-devil (literally- she’s costumed in red lingerie and devil horns) for sleeping with her BOSS, aka the party with all of the power in the relationship;
Another boss and his female subordinate getting together, only this dalliance takes place in the Prime Minister’s office (jesus);
A man sharing his sexual fantasies about Claudia Schiffer with his dead wife’s ten year old son;
An absolutely cringe bit of political commentary in the form of a showdown between Hugh Grant’s UK prime Minister and Billy Bob Thornton’s US President;
A lonely single man who hoards videotapes of a women being filmed without her knowledge;
Likeable and sexy politicians;
Liam Neeson, and finally;
A young boy running through international airport security with no more consequences than a ruffle of the hair.
In other words, it’s batshit. Delightfully, Christmassy batshit.
But the number one reason this is the film of the 2000s that has aged the most horribly is its tone. It’s just so, so joyous. Even the sad scenes only exist to underscore the manic happiness and hope that saturates every other moment of screen-time. Has no-one told Curtis that more suicides take place at Christmas than any other time of year?
In 2021 things just aren’t that great, and ‘Love Actually’s’ brand of love and joy feels about as natural and welcome as a stranger telling you to smile. We may have fallen for it back then, but the last few years have made us a little too cynical for sugary, forced fun. At least until Christmas that is.
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