Imagine you're making a pancake. It's the most perfect pancake, golden brown, fluffy, you can tell it's going to slightly crispy on the outside, and melty mushy on the inside. You flip it one final time, but you flip it too hard, and you watch it fly into the ceiling fan, which not only rips it into shreds but deposits pancake material all over everything. Now, not only do you not have the perfect pancake, but you have to spend hours cleaning to get pancake goo off of everything. That is how my friend Josh described the ending to A.I. All of the movies below are cinematic equivalents of that pancake gone awry. Great movies, ruined by lousy endings.
A story about a little robot boy who wants to be human, so he goes searching for the Blue Fairy. He finds a submerged statue of the Blue Fairy and starts pleading for the Blue Fairy to turn him human. The screen goes to black. What a brilliant ballsy ending! Is there anything more human than hope against all odds? This little robot is going to sit there pleading for all eternity, pleading to become a boy, but the Blue Fairy will not grant his wish. But his useless hope and his unfulfilled dream is what will make him human. Brilliant. I start clap—wait why is the screen coming back up? 2000 after the next Ice Age? What the--- wait a minute. Are those the alien things from Close Encounters? Why? Why are they here? Oh. To reanimate the mom from the lock of hair that the teddy bear kept. Take something subtle and powerful, and make it literal and lame. Pancake goo all over the place.
Yes, another one people will hate. The problem with this one is that… its all made up! The whole thing is! He could have been lying about everything! Everything. It's a very slight variation on the "It was all a dream" movie. Imagine a movie called AstroBattle! where a guy tells a cop about this space ship he was on, and the rest of the movie is an epic space battle with feuding races and warp drives and countdowns and the bad alien race wins! And they are on their way over! And the cop has to warn and convince everyone of this impending attack! The cop runs over to his supervisor, tells him the tale and the supervisor goes "Oh that's Lying Lenny. He just lies about everything." The End. That's Usual Suspects.
Ok, this is a kickass French slasher movie about woman chasing down a crazy psychopath after he kills her friend's whole family. The entire movie is a reverse chase thing with her escaping him, then fighting him, then running him off the road with a car. She kills him at the end! Yay! What a badass woman! Until the filmmakers tell you, literally tell you, that her and the serial killer are the same person. He's just a character inside her head, and she is responsible for all the murders. What? How? There was a car chase with a huge collision at the end! Did the collision just involve one car! Did he psychosis manifest itself as an actual physical car trying to run her off the road? Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation makes fun of this kind of movie, which is ironic because…
BAM! Ok, I know what the ending to the movie is doing. You don't have to explain it to me. Its being meta and doing all the things that it said bad movies do. I get it. Whenever I tell people I don't like the last third of the movie, they always go, "Well but see they're doing exactly what they said they wouldn't d—" Oh I get it! The problem is, its still just two people in a swamp being chased by an alligator! This is exactly the wrong kind of Charlie Kaufman, where his characters are secondary to whatever intellectual point he is trying to make. He found the perfect balance in Eternal Sunshine, but not here. The first two thirds are so exciting and provoking, and then the last third is a chase around a swamp. This kind of meta tomfoolery seems clever, but does such a disservice to its characters, and its like a big fuck you to the audience for caring. The movie might as well have ended an hour in with "Reel Not Found 404" screen. Same thing.
What? An M. Night movie on a list of worst anythings… yes. It's a magical day. I like this movie a lot. The alien invasion from the perspective of a small family is a great idea. You get the scale of it, but without sacrificing the personal experience of the family. That scene where you see the alien in the birthday party video = terrifying! People screamed their heads off in the theater. But the ending is literally contrived. The plan has been in place forever, everything that has happened was for a reason, there's someone up there calling the shots, so now Mel Gibson can go back his faith. (which, by the way, he did with aplomb when he made Passion of the Christ. Thanks, M. Night.) But, on top of the groanworthiness of "swing away" and the glasses of water and the asthma, the point M. Night makes is flawed because he put the plan into place. You cant use it as an argument of God's existence, because you wrote the whole thing. You wrote all the contrivedness into it. You are the God of that world. It rings emotionally untrue, because the audience knows that you wrote all the happenstances into it. You set out to prove the existence of God, but you really just proved the existence of a writer. This is the first hint of M. Night's narcissism, as he basically makes all his characters worship him at the end. Also, that alien looks mighty goofy.