Every director has their own little idiosyncrasies. Alfred Hitchcock loved him some blondes. Stanley Kubrick was fond of the insane, demonic death stare. But some of these little quirks and trademarks are a little more annoying than others. At best they make you roll your eyes. At worst they take you completely out of the movie. But whatever their differences, whether they are only mildly irritating or whether they make you want to dig your eyeballs out with a rusty spoon, the one thing these obnoxious little quirks on this list all have in common is that they are eight of the most annoying trademarks of popular filmmakers.
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Quentin Tarantino is known for a lot of things – stylized violence, shots from the inside of a car trunk, making John Travolta not seem like a giant turd for two hours – but his most revolting trademark has to be his creepy obsession with women’s feet. If you haven’t noticed this before, I apologize because once you’re aware of this it becomes hard to watch anything Tarantino does without thinking about it. And that’s because in just about every movie he makes, he includes a completely gratuitous, long lingering shot of a woman’s foot. Why? Because it makes him horny. And let’s not forget that one of Tarantino’s most famous scenes involves Sam Jackson and Travolta discussing giving the boss’s wife a foot massage.
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By now, everyone is aware of John Woo’s trademark dove scene. Usually at a critical point in the movie, usually involving a standoff of some sort, everything slows down and in the background doves soar through the sky. It’s become such a cliché that people will burst out laughing when they see it happen. It just rips you right out of what’s supposed to be the climax of the flick and reminds you that there is some weird dude just off screen screaming “More birds! I need more birds!” I bet when you visit Jon Woo’s home he’s got statues of doves and velvet paintings of the damn things lining hallways that are filled with caged birds. I get it, the dude thinks doves look cool. But enough is enough, man.
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Wes Anderson likes useless old junk. He just does. He loves old knickknacks and childhood toys and anything that evokes a certain bygone warmth. He uses it to create a unique cinematic experience that nobody else can emulate and sometimes it works, and when it does his films border on magic. When it doesn’t, it just comes across like the dude has a yard sale and antiquing addiction and when he accumulates too much crap he has to write a movie just to have an excuse to use it all. It’s fine that Wes Anderson has a personal aesthetic, but there are times when it comes across more like an obsession and when it does, it’s hard to watch without thinking that the dude is just really weird. And when that happens, it kind of pulls you right out of the movie.
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Watch any Michael Bay movie and you get the sense that the dude needs a super-dose of Ritalin. Everything has to be loud, explosive and stitched together with a thousand quick cuts. It’s like if he could just make a two hour long movie of a helicopter crashing into a Ferrari over and over again with constant cuts back and forth and occasional shots of someone walking in slow motion he’d be in heaven. Oh and models. Exploding models. And cuts and cuts and cuts and cuts and cuts and…
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Steven Spielberg had a chilly relationship with his father, the sort of emotional distance that is all too typical in a comfortably middle class existence, to the point that they don’t even seem to be his issues but the banal neuroses of an entire generation. And to say that they have played a role in Spielberg’s movies is an understatement. Watching virtually any of his movies is like watching a dude try desperately to work out all of his childhood issues. He even refers to himself as an eternal child and admits that he actively tries to create the warm, loving environment in his films that he felt he never had as a child. This obviously appeals to a lot of people, which makes sense given how universal those issues seem to be. But there comes a point where it just feels masturbatory and, frankly, kind of exhausting to have to sit through.
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Whenever there’s a new Judd Apatow movie out you can be sure that at some point his wife, Leslie Mann, is going to make an appearance. And as the years have gone by and Apatow has gotten more successful, her roles have only grown both in terms of screen-time and in importance to the film. Which is kind of annoying but not that terrible seeing as how she’s at least a fairly talented actress. But then Judd Apatow became that dude. You know the one. The dude who is constantly pushing his kids on everybody and saying “Aren’t they great? Huh? Huh?” And because he’s Judd Apatow all you can do is nervously nod and kiss his ass and tell him what a great idea it is to cast his adorable kids in important roles whenever he can. I get it, dude. You love your family and you think they’re great. Who doesn’t?
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M. Night Shyamalan might be the biggest one-trick pony in the history of filmmaking, and with every desperate attempt to dive back into the twist-ending well, that trick becomes less and less interesting. I mean let’s be brutally honest here, by now M. Night Shyamalan’s career is basically over. And it’s over because everyone already knows the ending to any one of his stupid movies is just going to be a ridiculous rip-off, a desperate attempt to play “Gotcha!” with a bunch of people who are just sitting there expecting it. It’s not really a surprise, dude, when everybody knows that it’s coming. It worked once and everybody kissed your ass for it, but it’s never really worked again so, uh, maybe it’s time to figure out a new trick – like maybe actually writing a decent, solid twist-free movie for a change that people actually want to see? Just a thought.
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There is a scene in 1987’s Spaceballs, Mel Brooks’ spoof of the Star Wars franchise, where Brooks, as Yogurt (his play on Yoda) hawks lunch boxes, shouts “Merchandising! Merchandising!” and explains how to squeeze every last penny out of the movie. And it works because even in 1987, 25 years ago, everyone knew that George Lucas was basically just interested in using his movies to create toys and lunch-boxes and any other piece of cheap crap that kids would whine about until their parents bought it. And that was all before Jar-Jar Binks. But in the post Jar-Jar world we live in, Lucas’ obsession with merchandising has gone from beyond a mildly amusing in-joke to something that has made his movies completely unwatchable. I mean, it says something that when Disney acquired the rights to the Star Wars franchise that people were relieved because it meant that Lucas wouldn’t be around to screw them up.
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(Previously published on December 13, 2012.)