Top to Bottom: The Films of Kevin Smith

Recently I decided to sit down and watch all of Kevin Smith’s films from his first (Clerks) to his latest (Tusk, even though Yoga Hosers is coming). This was something that I had wanted to do for a while and I found that some of the films I liked better than I did before, but I also found that some of his films don’t stand the test of time.
      1.)    Clerks II (2006)
Most will list Chasing Amy or Dogma as their favorite Kevin Smith film, but for me it is Clerks II. The film is littered with jokes and the main set pieces are some of the funniest things Smith has written. The acting is top notch with everyone in the film bringing their A game. Add to that the return of Dave Klein as Director of Photography and you have the best looking Smith film (yes, better than Jersey Girl which looked ok.) and his best film, period. I don’t have much to say on the film other than I just love this film. Plus, who can not fall in love with Rosario Dawson.

      2.)    Chasing Amy (1997)

When Chasing Amy first hit screens back in 1997, the film was a pull no punches look at love and the complications of thinking too much about something that and not just going with it. Looking at the film now, it is still the above, but something seemed different this time around. I noticed that Ben Affleck was actually not that great as the guy who can’t deal with his girlfriend’s past.

Joey Lauren Adams still rocks her performance, a performance that I still think should have at least been nominated for an Oscar, if not had won completely. There is so much going on with her performance.  

Jason Lee also rocked his performance as well. He had less to do, but his character had more to say about the situation his friend has found himself in.

It is Affleck that is the sore thumb of the group. His acting is ok, but he seems to be trying too hard to impress when his costars just do. His acting leaves the wrong taste in my mouth and that is something the lead of any film should not do. Affleck is the reason this film does not hold the top spot on this list.

      3.)    Dogma (1999)

Dogma is probably Smith’s ugliest films. Not in tone or atmosphere, but in the photography. Smith did not have his usual DP, Dave Klein, and thus the film suffers from not having him. Klein brought something to the table and made Smith’s films look pretty decent. Here, it looks like the DP didn’t care what the film looked like and so we are left with a film that looks like it cost way less than the $10 million it cost to produce.

The cast is great although Linda Fiorentino looks like she just woke up. Matt Damon, Chris Rock, Jason Lee, Jason Mewes, George Carlin, Alan Rickman, and Salma Hayek are all wonderful and bring the film to life. It is amazing that Fiorentino is surrounded by get acting, yet is not great herself.

Dogma was a hot button film back when it was released. People took offense to satire on the Catholic Church. I never could figure out why. I guess that there are just people out there that can not have any fun. Dogma is a film that is a lot of fun and one of Smith’s best.

      4.)    Clerks (1994)

Clerks is a film that surprised me when I watched for this list. I found it to be very funny and has aged very well. Sure, it is a film of the 90’s so there are going to be things that date it, but a lot of the observations made in the film still hold up to today.

I discovered Clerks when it was released on laserdisc. I was one of very few people who had a laserdisc player and would brag to all my friends who, surprisingly, couldn’t care less about it. We had two video stores in town that rented laserdiscs and one a few towns over, so there was plenty to be had.

I would watch Clerks over and over again and would try to match the style of dialogue with my own. Obviously it didn’t work, but it was one of very few films that spoke the way it did.

Clerks is a really good film. The acting is a little off, but that doesn’t hurt the film at all. Definitely worth a look.
      5.)    Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)

This was Kevin Smith’s way on trying to cash in on a genre that he helped create with Clerks: the bromance. If you take a look at Smith’s filmography it is littered with films about dudes hanging out with other dudes, sharing their emotions. Smith had been doing these types of films for years and then Judd Apatow and company swoop in and make all the money with the genre. 

Smith wanted to make some of that money too so he wrote Zack and Miri, which is something that Seth Rogen would probably write, then cast Rogen in the film. Everyone kept telling Smith that this would be his first $100 million hit and it never even got close.

I think that there were two things that hurt the film: the fact that porno was in the title and that it was released in Halloween. Horror films don’t even open on Halloween because the makers know that everyone is going to be out having fun and parties and whatnot. No one is going to go see a film, except for me.

I found the film to be funny and sweet. Ever since Chasing Amy, Smith has made films that have a sweeter edge to them.  They are still funny, but the edginess is gone. It is just the same ole same ole for Kevin Smith.
      6.)    Red State (2011)

Red State is Kevin Smith’s “horror” film that has about as much horror in it as any other “horror” film out there. The film is a siege film more than anything else. Smith takes the clichés of the siege film and runs with them.

The film focuses on a Westboro Baptist Church-type of church, one that spews hate, bigotry, homophobia, and racist rhetoric everywhere they go. Like Westboro, this church protests funerals for people who live or think differently than they do. You like guys? Picketed. You like girls? Picketed. You fought for this country? Picketed. I have never understood this mindset and I hope that I never will.

Smith takes the story of three high school students who are just trying to get laid and turns the film into one of his best looking films. Smith has a very sure hand in terms of shot composition and editing. There is a lot of shaky cam here, but it never gets to be too much.

Smith also gets some great performances out of his actors. Michael Parks is brilliant as the church leader who will stop at nothing to get his views across all the while protecting what is his. The character is evil, but we get some of the things that he does.

John Goodman is great as usual. I don’t think that I have ever seen Goodman NOT be good in a film. He brings his A game to the film and the film is better for it.

I hated Red State the first time I saw it. I look back now and know that it came from the film being different. This is not one of Smith’s best films, but it is a good film and worth at least one viewing.    
      7.)    Tusk (2014)

The first two thirds of Tusk are great. Smith sets up the world in which the characters live, he lets us get to know these characters a bit, and he lays the groundwork for things to happen later. The setup is fantastic. It is the reveal that is underwhelming. When we see the walrus made out of Justin Long we laugh. We are not supposed but we do. All of the dread and suspense the film had been laying on us evaporates in an instant once we see that damn Walrus.

I think that Smith would have been wiser to keep that thing in the shadows. Smith always talks about the films that he grew up with and one of those films was Jaws, a film where we don’t see the monster for a majority of the run time. Smith that does heed the wisdom from filmmakers who have made monster films. If he had kept the Walrus in the shadows I think that the film would have been a lot better. He would have been able to give us something that we have never seen before and gotten the right response out of the audience.

One other thing that people talk about is Johnny Depp. I think he is great in the role. Had I not known who was playing that role I would have never known it was Depp. I love his scenes in the film and wish that there was more of him. There is a lot of backstory that the character talks about and I would love to see that as a standalone film.

Tusk is a polarizing film, but once you get past the sight of the walrus then you will find a nice little horror film.
      8.)    Jersey Girl (2004)

This is a decent film that could have been better had the whole “Beniffer” thing never happened. The film is a very personal film for Smith, but the media has to be negative about everything and thus the film suffered at the box office.

Smith’s fans weren’t happy either, saying that Smith sold out and had gone soft. I look at the film and I see Ben Affleck giving an ok performance, the child giving a really good performance, and George Carlin giving a great performance. The story is a clichéd mess, but the characters are great. Smith has given us a film that I liked more when it came out, but is still entertaining.
      9.)    Mallrats (1995)

I liked Mallrats from the first time I saw it. I could never understand why everyone shit all over it. Sure it is not a good as Clerks, but the film is still entertaining. Plus we got introduced to some great actors here. We didn’t know who Claire Forlani was, but we did after the film came out. We also got Jason Lee and Joey Lauren Adams, so the film is not a total bust. There are plenty of quotable lines and wacky fun. The film does look cheap, but the film was low budget. Mallrats never deserved the hate it got and I still have fun with the film.
      10.) Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)

I loved this film when it first came out. I thought that it was the funniest film of 2001. Now? Not so much. I think that the film tries too hard to stick any and all references in and the end result is a film that is all over the place. Add that to some terrible scenes and you have a not so good film. If the film had focused on Jay and Silent Bob then I think the film would be more successful, but including a diamond heist was not a wise move. The acting isn’t all that great either. The actresses playing the diamond thieves are stiff as a board and boring to watch. I do like the Morris Day scene at the end and I do chuckle from time to time, but the film has not aged well.

      11.) Cop Out (2010)

The first and only studio film that Smith has done, Cop Out is a mess from start to finish. The script had been on the blacklist for a long time, but if you watch the film you can’t see why. Bruce Willis looks like he doesn’t want to be there (he really doesn’t want to be there) and everyone else is trying too hard. The script went through multiple rewrites after Willis didn’t like what they were doing. The film is a slog to get through as well. Smith tried to do his best to keep this film from sinking, but he should have just let it sink. This is the worst film that Smith has ever made.

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