The 11 Most Dangerous Movies of the 21st Century — IndieWire Critics Survey

The 11 Most Dangerous Movies of the 21st Century — IndieWire Critics Survey

07 Oct 2019 (PT)

Every week, IndieWireasks a select handful of film critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.

Last Friday saw the release of a movie called “Joker,” the build-up to which was largely defined by the supposed danger of unleashing such a nihilistic piece of work on an already-unstable public. Of course, the idea that any movie can be dangerous in and of itself is very much up for debate.

This week, we asked our panel of critics to name the “most dangerous” movie of the 21st century, and we encouraged them to consider the question through whatever lens made sense to them. Some took exception to politically dishonest films, others chose to point out the perils of corporatized mediocrity, and one critic highlighted the dangers involved in making a film she feels more people need to see. Some critics also took us up on our invitation to challenge the premise of the question itself.

You can read all of their answers below.

The 11 Most Dangerous Movies of the 21st Century — IndieWire Critics Survey

“Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party” 2016

Clint Worthington @clintworthing ,Consequence of Sound,The Spool

The issue of “dangerous” art is a tricky one, to be sure; even as someone who wasn't a big fan of “Joker” a bummer, since I really wanted to prove The Discourse wrong, my position has always been that a lot of other systemic, cultural, and personal things have to go wrong in a person's life before a film can be the straw that turns them to violence. To me, a filmic work that is 'dangerous' has to abandon all pretension of being an artistic statement — something deliberately propagandistic, nakedly lying to serve a specific political end.

For that, there's no better example of truly 'dangerous' films than the output of conservative commentator and convicted felon Dinesh D'Souza, whose infamously dissonant screeds “2012: Obama's America” and “Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party” are pure-strain Fox News nightmare fuel. There's no nuance here, no desire to find the truth amidst controversy; they're partisan hit jobs that posit such ridiculous bad faith premises as “Dems are the real racists now because they were 150 years ago” and “Dinesh D'Souza did nothing wrong.”

Their danger comes not just in their shoddy filmmaking — that's just a common fault with a lot of conservative art — but in their insidious positioning of themselves as Journalism, the Real News the Lamestream Media Doesn't Want You to See. They're nothing but cynical exercises in political pot-stirring meant to gin up outrage among boomers and the poorly-educated, and the fact that they're so popular among these silo-ed off conservative populations should give us greater pause than incels reading too much into a comic book movie. At least Todd Phillips knows the Joker is the bad guy.

Photo : Shutterstock The 11 Most Dangerous Movies of the 21st Century — IndieWire Critics Survey

“The Incredibles” 2004

Andrea Thompson areelofonesown, The Young Folks, The Spool, The Chicago Reader, A Reel Of One's Own

Art can be dangerous because it comes from us, and the best of us come saddled with a range of biases and agendas, consciously or not. That makes the art we sometimes rightly deem dangerous easy scapegoats for conversations we'd rather not have, as well as hard truths we'd rather not face.

For me, the most dangerous films are those with a toxic message which is absorbed by a large number of people. So my most dangerous film is....2004's “The Incredibles.” Just how does a fun family movie with great action and characters spread a dangerous message? By making equality itself the enemy. In this world, there is no such thing as upward mobility. Some people are naturally born superior, and they suffer when the mediocre masses force them to conform to a way of living that's beneath them. In a world where bravery and heroism is outright stated to be in your very blood, the villain's ultimate endgame is to give everyone superpowers. It's the ultimate insult to those who were born at the top and naturally deserve to stay there, and it's no wonder that the self-made man albeit one who's clearly evil must perish for making such a horrific proposal.

Photo : Disney-Pixar The 11 Most Dangerous Movies of the 21st Century — IndieWire Critics Survey

“Joker” 2019

Daniel Joyaux @thirdmanmovies, freelance contributor forVanity Fair,The Verge,MovieMaker Magazine,Filmotomy

The answer is “Joker.” It's the first time I've ever felt like a movie could be and absolutely is dangerous.

“Joker”felt no different to me than the worst kind of grievance-for-profit Fox News segments. It attempts to seize on a collective white male no-one-wants-to-fuck-me resentment, weaponize it in the name of a mega-corporation's bottom line, and give absolutely zero shits about the collateral damage it inflicts on its audience's views about the world.

As has been proven over and over again by cable news, Facebook, and Russian interference into elections, most people are very easily swayed by visual messaging or outright propaganda. Advertising is a massive global industry because manipulating people is shockingly easy and effective. Widespread opinions change all the time, in mass numbers, based on media representations. If we buy into the now-commonly-held belief that “Will & Grace”helped normalize LGBT acceptance among many straight TV viewers, then there's no reason to believe that a movie like“Joker”—which will be watched and rewatched by a massive number of young people—has zero capacity to wield the same power.

And without getting too stereotypical about nerd culture, toxic fandom, and incels, many of Joker's passionate fans will leave this movie having seen a representation of their favorite character on screen that looks eerily like what they feel and experience on a daily basis. And they will have seen how that character deals with it, and how he gets openly worshipped by a legion of acolytes for those actions. That is a profoundly bad set of ideas and visuals to put in the minds of some of these people.

I can't think of another case where a film about a revered cultural character will have a significant portion of its audience leaving the theater knowing they could personally do everything they just saw happen on screen. But this one will. We would be foolish to think that merely surviving the weekend without a major incident means “Joker” didn't have a profoundly dangerous effect on many people.

Photo : Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. The 11 Most Dangerous Movies of the 21st Century — IndieWire Critics Survey

“Minions” 2015

Don Shanahan @casablancadon,Every Movie Has a Lesson,25YL,

I know I'm going to take a lighter side of danger and a different angle, but I cannot help but put my educator hat on for this one. When I'm not a critic watching movies at night, I'm a middle school Social Studies teacher in inner city Chicago by day. For many years now, I've had classrooms filled with students who don't know what a good movie is, let alone a good family one. They've been fed a fattening buffet of frenetic, paper-thin, and over-animated fare. Sure, the annual Pixar film stands as a single beacon of reasonable goodness that most are familiar with, but too many young kids aren't exposed to Laika or Studio Ghibli films when they could really use them. For every “Inside Out” or “Spirited Away,” there are five throwaway roller coasters of dumbness. In my walk of life as a parent and a teacher, these time-wasters become a danger where this kind of diet of wasteful and unhelpful entertainment, creativity, and inspiration might as well be the mental equivalent to sugars and carbs on our muscles.

Laugh at me all you want at this school teacher rant, but, for me, the worst of the bunch of all this animated noise was “Minions.” “Despicable Me” was a fun idea that should have been done after one movie. The success of its sequel surpassed the original and made the little yellow henchman into new and inescapable stars. When they got their own extremely successful movie, the waste of talent, time, energy, noise, and space was a peak of overinflation. Like the “Looney Tunes” and “Tom and Jerry” cartoons that came before them, gags like “Minions” should stay animated shorts. Ninety minutes of that junk is excessive. A generation of these kinds of movies have made too many kids that wouldn't know heart, real humor, empathy, or brains if you gave them flash cards strapped to their ever-present devices. I wish for simpler times and better movies for the youths that are going to be the future filmmakers and leaders that take our place.

Photo : Shutterstock The 11 Most Dangerous Movies of the 21st Century — IndieWire Critics Survey

“Rafiki” 2018

Anne McCarthy @annemitchmcc,BBC,Teen Vogue,Ms. Magazine

At the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, a movie from Kenya made waves. Notably, it was the first Kenyan film to ever screen at Cannes. “Rafiki” is the love story of two women. The film, directed by Wanuri Kahui, was made in Kenya, where there are laws criminalizing homosexual acts. Thus, the government banned the film. This movie was “dangerous,” in terms of the undertaking of the making of the film itself. The filmmaker's boldness, courage, and belief in basic human rights made this dangerous filmmaking endeavor not only worthwhile but vital, even. “Rafiki” is one of the most “dangerous” movies of the 21st century because it challenged the law where it was filmed, putting art — and human rights — above the law of the land.

Photo : Cannes Film Festival The 11 Most Dangerous Movies of the 21st Century — IndieWire Critics Survey

The Video from “The Ring” 2002

Luke Hicks @lou_kicks,Film School Rejects,The Playlist,Polygon

Art is not culpable for real acts of terrorism, and those suggesting so are leaning into a culture of fear-mongering that breeds censorship. It's one thing for someone to avoid a movie because it triggers traumatic memories or feelings. Self-awareness is hehy and no one has to watch anything they don't want to watch. It's another thing to suggest that a movie should be banned from the public sphere. The very idea that a film is too disturbing to be seen is absurd when you consider the most provocative movies cinephiles champion. Consider “Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom,” which, of course, we do not read or value as a corrupt moral compass pointing us toward the inane sexual abuse of children.

The only movies that come close to being “dangerous” are those that suffocate creativity and stunt social autonomy as a result. They habituate the masses to thoughtlessness, inculcate federally-imposed concepts of normativity, and homogenize artistic expression. Heimatfilm⁠—the Nazi-produced propaganda films that riddled German theaters with tasteless artistry and an obliteration of humane ethics before, during, and after the war⁠—is a great example. But even then, the films themselves aren't innately problematic, dangerous, or evil. We watch them today in order to study the totalitarian horror of the Third Reich, and it would be ridiculous to suggest that one shouldn't watch them out of fear of the Nazi spell they might cast. The violence of Heimatfilm is found in the blatant attempt of the filmmakers/government to manipulate the masses. The only movie that's inherently “dangerous” is the fictional movie in “The Ring.” It's quite literally cursed.

Photo : Shutterstock The 11 Most Dangerous Movies of the 21st Century — IndieWire Critics Survey

“The Sheik and I” 2012

Christopher Campbell @thefilmcynic, Nonfics, Film School Rejects

Because it's so difficult to determine direct influence movies have on dangerous individuals, something like Joker is hardly quantifiable in that way. When I think of dangerous movies, I think of those that definitely caused harm, as in the making of “Midnight Rider.” But there was one time I genuinely felt a brief chill of danger maybe even a brief thought of the convention center being bombed while watching a movie. At the 2012 SXSW Film Festival, Caveh Zahedi premiered his documentary “The Sheik and I,” which is critical of the government of the United Arab Emirates, and much of the crowd turned on the filmmaker for having endangered the people in his film and possibly even the audience itself. Even while a lawyer representing the film continued to assure everyone in the theater that protections were made for the doc and its subjects. The fact that the doc was subsequently dropped from or denied programming at other festivals plus its lack of fair distribution is evidence that others worried about the danger of the film. It was too bad since it is actually a pretty interesting and often funny film. Fortunately, you can now stream it on Kanopy or rent it wherever digital media is available.

Photo : Shutterstock The 11 Most Dangerous Movies of the 21st Century — IndieWire Critics Survey

“Sicario” 2015

Oralia Torres @oraleia, Cinescopia, Malvestida

I'm so tired of everything around 'Joker'! We're having the same conversation every time any very hyped ultra-violent movie comes out! There's no escape and it will never end!

The context is everything: where, how and when is the work of art being released gives it its ultimate gist, beyond the director's and/or writer's original intentions. We can talk about the use of violence in a movie, its meaning and what does it say about the current state of things, but the interpretations will vary greatly, as the definition of “dangerous” changes depending who's speaking.

For the US, any movie that glorifies and/or justifies mass shooters, for example, is considered dangerous, because there is an alarming rate of public shootings made by white men. Therefore, the conversations steer towards the killers, their pop culture influences, and how could certain work of art be considered “dangerous”; depending on the movie and its international release, this discourse can move out and dominate beyond borders.

Speaking of borders, a film like “Sicario” is not considered dangerous in the US. However, that movie and its positive reception in the US provoked a big conversation in Mexico about the consumption and popularization of movies and tv series centered on drug dealers and their impact on the population. Consider that, since 2008, the whole country became an open battlefield between drug cartels and the Mexican police and military forces. Yes, these stories are important to tell and they're representing our violent present and past; the problem — besides typecasting latines as “drug dealers and rapists” — is that most of those movies glorify narcos and their lifestyle, making audiences see this lifestyle as inspiring and question the reason for their “demonization” by the governments. They also trivialize the real pain and suffering that thousands of people currently have because of the War on Drugs, while making real-life violence even more “normal” for younger audiences.

So, what is the most universally “dangerous” movie of this century? Who knows! It largely depends on who you ask and where are they.

Photo : Shutterstock The 11 Most Dangerous Movies of the 21st Century — IndieWire Critics Survey

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” 2017

Robert Daniels @812filmreviews812filmreviews,Mediaversity

Black characters left on the periphery, a racist white cop who finds a renewed calling by film's end without truly confronting his demons? What are you going to do Chief Willoughby? Of course, I'm talking about Martin McDonagh's “Three Billboard Outside Ebbing Missouri.” A picture whose danger revolve heavily around Sam Rockwell's Officer Dixon—a racist who tortured a Black man and threw a Black woman in prison for a minor offense. The film came out around the peak of Black Lives Matter, which made the portrayal of a brutalizing cop harming Black bodies even more dangerous.

Most arguments in favor of the portrayal said that people should be afforded second chances: McDonagh's violent portrayal of rural racism didn't absolve or forgive the character. However, the danger of “Three Billboards” didn't lie in absolving a racist or giving someone a second chance, it was who was giving a second chance. Do the Black characters give Dixon a moment to redeem himself? No. It's the white lead: Frances McDormand's Mildred Hayes and McDonagh himself. Too often in white culture, white protagonists hide behind the veil of forgiveness—and it's a broader white consensus who decides what punishment is too much punishment, while belittling their Black counterparts for wanting 'didactic' endings, or not desiring complicated art, or not understanding how to grant amnesty. “Three Billboards” and many of its supporters never realized the complicity in white figures affording a racist white cop who brutalizes Black bodies a second chance: Only their voices mattered on the subject. In fact, supporters dug in and furthered a trend that's not abated, normalizing the fashion even more, and further entrenching the importance of the white perspective over the Black on matters of race.

Photo : Fox Searchlight The 11 Most Dangerous Movies of the 21st Century — IndieWire Critics Survey

“Unplanned” 2019

Mike McGranaghan @AisleSeat, The Aisle Seat, Ranker

The most “dangerous” film of the 21st century that I can think of is only a couple months old, and that's “Unplanned.” This unabashedly pro-life, anti-Planned Parenthood movie stirred up quite a bit of controversy when it was released this past spring. Critics and pundits who are in the pro-choice camp declared it harmful propaganda. Those in the pro-life camp claimed the only danger was that it might “reveal the truth” about Planned Parenthood and thus change minds. Whichever side of the fence you come down on — and I'm leaving my own views completely out of it here — “Unplanned” fanned the flames of a hot button issue that creates extremely intense emotions and is therefore difficult to discuss calmly.

Photo : Pure Flix The 11 Most Dangerous Movies of the 21st Century — IndieWire Critics Survey

“Zero Dark Thirty” 2012

Christopher Llewellyn Reed @chrisreedfilm,Hammer to Nail,Film Festival Today

I do not believe that films cause people to be violent —and I do not believe the research supports that idea, either — but I do think that they can mislead, distort and outright falsify, thereby creating completely inaccurate impressions in the viewer's mind. When they act as such propaganda, then they can, in fact, be dangerous. Perhaps one of the most egregious cinematic sins of the past 19 years has been the demonization of Muslims not that racism is new to Hollywood, coupled with the notion that the best way for America to defend itself against radical jihadists is by any means necessary, even at the expense of our nation's ostensible humanitarian values. I'm talking specifically about the glorification of torture as a viable defense tactic.

The Fox television show “24” which debuted in 2001 is perhaps most responsible for promoting this notion, but if I wanted to pick a high-profile movie that did the same, I'd go with Kathryn Bigelow's 2012 “Zero Dark Thirty.” The poor cousin to her far superior 2008 “The Hurt Locker” a deserved Oscar-winner, “Zero Dark Thirty” walks us through the investigation into the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden and his eventual extrajudicial assassination. Intelligence operatives Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke get their hands very bloody in their search for answers.

Despite the fact that, as I understand it, the research on this also debunks the theory that torture provides meaningful information, they go at it. The ultimate message is that the ends justify the means. Not only do I disagree with that concept, but torture does not yield results. Thanks to Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, however, the viewer is sold the opposite bill of goods. Now that's dangerous.

Source: Indiewire

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The 11 Most Dangerous Movies of the 21st Century — IndieWire Critics Survey
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