Friday, May 10, 2013

My Top 10 Film Endings (that everyone else hates)


The list below is a rare one for me, if for no other reason than every film is a recent one. And I probably have the Internet to thank for that. With the emergence of social media and blogging, it’s become a lot easier to discover which films are hated and which are appreciated. For whatever reason, I am utterly drawn to the endings of the films listed below, while many people are not.

And I’m certainly not trying to be presumptuous (if you do like some of the listed endings then, well, yay!), but for the most part, people seem to detest how these 10 films conclude.

As the title may indicate, this list contains a series of spoilers. Feel free to skip over the ones you haven’t seen, and remember to tell me which film endings you find yourself consistently defending.

Funny Games (1997/2007)
The general distaste for Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (either the German or US versions) starts at a very specific place. Throughout the film, two teenage psychopaths hold an innocent family hostage for no apparent reason. At one point late in the movie, the mother/wife gets a hold of a shotgun and shoots one of her kidnappers in the head. The other captor frantically searches for a nearby television remote, and then rewinds the movie a few seconds, before the shooting took place. Logically, this makes not one hell of a shred of sense. But I believe it’s Haneke’s very deliberate way of reminding us that we are indeed watching a film. He made Funny Games as a way to throw violence back in audiences’ faces. Many of us pay good money to see movie characters hacked and chopped and shot to death, only to have the good guys win in the end. Well, Haneke sees things another way. And I dig it.

Cast Away (2000)
Yes, I’m fully aware of the cheesy, not-at-all subtle metaphor of Tom Hanks standing at a literal crossroads as his character contemplates what to do with his life. He looks one way, then another, then another, before finally, confidently, happily, deciding to follow those wings. The way the camera slowly pushes in on Hanks’ face, the way Alan Silvestri’s music cues up, the way Hanks gets a look of sheer satisfaction… it all simply devastates me, in the most blissful way possible. I love everything about it.

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001)
I don’t know, maybe Steven Spielberg’s A.I. would’ve been a better, more grim movie if it ended with robot boy, David, wishing to be turned into a real boy, only to have his wish fade into darkness. But Spielberg keeps it going. He jumps 2,000 years in the future and brings aliens into the mix, who find David and reconstruct his brief life based on his own memories. In short, David gets to spend one last evening with his long-since-gone foster mother, before the film gracefully ends. And I’ll admit, I was thrown off by Spielberg’s footnoted narrative act the first time I saw the film, but now, I think it is perfectly appropriate.

The Pledge (2001)
Sean Penn’s The Pledge tells the story of retired cop Jerry (played to perfection by Jack Nicholson) and his inability to let his final case rest unsolved. Months after a little girl is murdered and her killer remains unfound, Jerry has moved on and fell in love with a nice woman (Robin Wright Penn) who is mother to a little girl. Suspecting the killer is still hanging around, Jerry uses his girlfriend’s daughter as bait to lure the killer in. The plan goes to shit, with results in Jerry’s girlfriend packing up and leaving him. So, in the end, we have a mumbling and disoriented Jack Nicholson sitting in front of a shitty gas station, talking to himself about his failure at life. He rambles on and grows more frustrated before the camera cuts to a wide shot and the credits cue. It’s so amazingly grim.

Deadwood (2006)
David Milch’s masterful HBO show, Deadwood, must have one of the most controversial series endings in television history. The third and final season leads up to a massive showdown between George Hearst and everyone else in Deadwood. It’s going to be a real fuckin’ bloodbath, but right before it takes off, Deadwood Sheriff Seth Bullock tells Hearst to leave the town once and for all, or else. Which, much to our disappointment, Hearst does. And that’s that. No blood, no sweat, no tears. The first time I finished Deadwood, I was furious that Milch didn’t let his audience have the payoff of one final fight. But then I realized, most argumentative situations in real life don’t actually lead to violence. It’s a hell of a lot of talking, without a lot of walking. It’s also no secret that HBO screwed Deadwood over and cancelled the show without letting Milch finish it appropriately. Oh well, as it stands now, I’m content with Hearst riding off, smiling with deceit.

Miami Vice (2006)
Of all the films on this list, the end to Michael Mann’s Miami Vice is the one I have easily defended the most. I just love the simplicity of it. I love Jamie Foxx perking up as his love slowly comes back to life, I love Colin Farrell gently waving goodbye as his woman is shipped away, and I LOVE Mogwai’s “Auto Rock” peaking as Farrell rushes back into the emergency room to check on a fallen soldier. There’s an effortlessness to this ending that crushes me. It may be anticlimactic, but it works for me on every level, period.

The Prestige (2006)
Once Christopher Nolan moved his career into the world of blockbusters, the endings to his films have been scrutinized endlessly. Many people detest the fact that he concluded The Prestige with real magic and shifty science, but I’m simply wowed by it. I’m generally not a fan of science fiction films, but I gladly admit that I was fooled from frame one by this movie. And damn if I didn’t love being betrayed.

No Country for Old Men (2007)
I’ve always felt the ending for No Country for Old Men was extremely appropriate given the film’s title. Sure, it’s a little off putting that the movie subtly switches narratives to focus almost solely on Tommy Lee Jones’ character in the third act, but the movie is, above all, about him. It’s about his failure to comprehend and adapt. Those dreams he’s describing to his wife… well, I’ll leave it to the philosophers to pick them apart. Sure the ending is obscure, sure it’s unusual, but damn if it isn’t Cormac McCarthy and Co. at their finest.

Inception (2010)
I mean, what the hell is the big deal? Whether Dom is dreaming or finally awake, the point is that he has his children back, and nothing else matters. For the record, I’ve never once thought Dom was still dreaming, but that’s just me. But, again, that really isn’t the point here.

Flight (2012)
Since Flight was released in November, I’ve gotten huge amounts of shit for being one of its most ardent defenders. And here’s why. I’ve known people like Whip Whitaker. I have friends who have known people like Whip Whitaker. I know people who have sat down with their fathers and tearfully asked them to explain why alcohol and drugs has made them the way they are. And I know fathers who have had to tell their sons just that. You may not think it makes for compelling or climatic cinema, and that is definitely you’re right. But believe me, the conversation that concludes this film is very real, and very devastating. To me, anyway.

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60 comments:

  1. Very cool list. I am a fan of Flight, too, for more or less the same reason -- I've known people like Whip Whitaker, too. I thought his portrayal of a "high functioning," desperately ill alcoholic and addict was magnificent. I used to work with a ton of people in the recovering/12-step community, including a former cardiac surgeon who had performed surgery while in alcoholic blackouts. For me, the father-son conversation was probably the best part of the movie. That was very real stuff ... been there, done it, seen it.

    I also liked the ending of Cast Away. I contend that an obvious, heavy handed metaphor can work if it's done well. ;-) And I couldn't agree more about No Country for Old Men. The ending may be a bit confusing, but it highlights the thematic richness of the story. I think your explanation is dead on, plus it's about aging, mortality, regret ...

    Funny Games. I saw the German version (Beautifully acted!) Well, the best I can say is that the scene you described pissed me off and kind of spoiled the movie for me. Which, as I see it, is the reaction the filmmaker was going for. Well played, Mr. Haneke. I wouldn't hold it against him, anyway, since I liked Cache and Code Unknown so much.

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    1. Thanks Steph :)

      I LOVE what you said about Flight, and how your personal experience helps you relate to it. I thought that was one of the best parts of the movie as well. So very real.

      Also glad to hear your a Cast Away and No County fan. I was stunned by how ripped up Cast Away got. I really emotionally connect to that ending.

      As for Mr. Haneke, he's a warped SOB, isn't he?

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    2. No doubt. Thoroughly warped and completely freaking brilliant. Glad you convinced me to watch some of his movies.

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  2. This is a fine list though I had skim down fast for the films like Funny Games (both versions) and Flight as well as Deadwood as I hadn't seen those films.

    Everything else is spot-on. I thought the ending of No Country for Old Men was appropriate as was The Pledge, Cast Away, The Prestige, and Inception. I'm still mixed on Miami Vice as a whole though the ending was good while A.I. I have very mixed feelings about that ending.

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    1. Thanks for checking out the list, even though you haven't seen some of them. Hope I didn't spoil anything for you.

      The Pledge... whatta movie, huh? I love the end to that flick. Not enough people talk about that one in my opinion.

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  3. People were mad at the ending of The Prestige? I thought it was fantastic, and that the Tesla machine was a natural progression in Jackman's character arc. He is pushed so far by his obsession that he breaks "magician's code" as it were, resorting to real wizardry instead of just clever illusions.

    And that the big twist was thrown away by Michael Caine halfway through the film (that Bale was indeed just using a body double) but Nolan spends the rest of the film trying to convince us--through Jackman--that it just COULDN'T be that simple. A stroke of genius, and it strikes straight to the core of the theme: the futility of revenge.

    Damn. Didn't plan to write that much, especially because I'm not even that big a fan of Nolan. Still, good movie.

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    1. I didn't know people hated The Prestige until I wrote my Nolan Director's piece last year, but dude, people HATE that movie (including some of the commenters here). I've always loved it, but hey, I certainly can't fault someone for not liking it.

      But anyway, your comment about its ending is so spot on, I really want to rewatch it now. I can never watch Nolan's films enough.

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  4. No Country for Old Men has one of my favorite film endings ever. It's completely appropriate, nay, it's dead-on perfect.

    I hated The Prestige in general, the ending no more than the rest of it.

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    1. Nice, love that you love the ending to No Country. I think it's dead-on perfect too.

      I remember you not being a fan of The Prestige. Fair enough!

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  5. I agree with you on alot of these endings being fitting. Since you chose Deadwood I have two tv show endings that alot of people didn't like that I do which are Lost and My So-Called Life.

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    1. You know, I've never actually watched all of My So-Called Life. I had no idea it had a somewhat polarizing conclusion. Might have to check that out now.

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    2. Yeah for a show that came out in '94 it hasn't aged at all while still keeping some nostalgic charm. As for the ending let's just say it has a cliffhanger that they were probably going to explore further in season 2 but never got the chance.

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    3. Gotcha. I definitely want to watch it in full.

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  6. Count me as a fan of Funny Games and The Prestige. They suited what film was going for. Sure there could be another, easier ending. But the note these films end on, works just as well.

    Love everything about No Country and Inception and in both cases, ending is a big part of my fascination for them both. Flight and A.I. both didn't really work for me but I don't have any problem with Flight ending. Don't remember how A.I. ends.

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    1. I knew you'd have my back concerning Nolan! Glad you dig some of these endings. And I agree: some do not end on "easy" notes, but their endings serve them well nevertheless.

      AI ends with aliens discovering David 2,000 years later. They basically recreate his life for one evening, so he can spend it with his mommy. Awwww.

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    2. Ohhhh Yes. Now, I remember. Hated It! Sorry. :(

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  7. I thought the ending for The Prestige was awesome. My jaw actually dropped from it.

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    1. Mine too! I've always loved its conclusion.

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  8. Oh I liked Funny Games's ending too. Inception has one of my favourite endings ever. And I don't see how Flight could have ended any other way.

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    1. Also, one of my most favourite endings which people have a problem with because I think they have a problem with the entire film is of Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette.

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    2. I love that ending. I thought it was appropriate because it defies convention as well as the fact that it really marks the end for her instead of the ending that people wanted which was the beheading.

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    3. "I don't see how Flight could have ended any other way." -- Ahh, that makes me so happy :)

      You know, Spielberg could've learned something from Coppola's Antoinette. I thought it was far more effective to have the film end with her walking away, as opposed to the beheading. (Per Spielberg, I didn't think we needed to witness Lincoln's assassination. Movie should've ended with him walking down the hallway.)

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  9. The ending to The Prestige is actually perfect. All of Chris Nolan's endings are.

    One ending that everyone else hates but I love is the ending to Zero Dark Thirty. I don't understand how people don't understand Maya's tears at the end. Plus, it's a perfect piece of acting by Jessica Chastain. Everything about it is wonderful.

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    1. I love all of Nolan's endings too. He's amazing.

      While watching that scene in ZD30, I knew some people were going to trash it. I thought it was very very appropriate. I think it is fascinating in real life when people's heightened emotions manifest themselves through tears. The person may not be sad or happy, they're just so overcome with emotion, that tears can't help but fall. I thought the ending was perfect.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Stevee!

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  10. I'm one of those people who thought, 'Keh?' when they saw the Prestige ending, but I have only seen it that one time. I think a re-watch is in order.
    I was completely absorbed by No Country For Old Men, especially that ending. Again, only seen it once, but I was watching it, and I was still in high school, and I don't think I fully understood it, but wow, was I hooked. Couldn't look away from Tommy Lee Jones. I felt like him. I didn't understand. Ugh - another one I need to re-watch.

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    1. I think more so than any Nolan film (or, at the very least, as much as Memento), The Prestige seriously benefits from repeat viewings.

      I love all of this No Country support. I know so many people who hate that ending. Go us!

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  11. I'm torn on "The Pledge," since I like the *actual* end of the movie that you're referring to, but the moment that occurs minutes before that (the reveal that he *almost* caught the bad guy but for some bad luck) was clunkily executed and really soured me on the film.

    I've read some interesting discussions about "The Prestige," suggesting that there's an interpretation where there is no actual magic, and the final reveal could just be a trick that Nolan's playing - you see what you want to see, etc. I'm not sure that I agree - I think it's most likely motivated by people who don't enjoy that aspect of the movie - but it's an interesting thought!

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    1. Okay, I'm with you on the second to last scene of The Pledge. I do not think that scene is necessary at all, and damn near ruins the mysticism of the entire movie. Good call there.

      That is an interesting thought about The Prestige. I don't really buy it either, but hey man, who the hell knows, you know?

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  12. I never thought about Inception's ending in that way... What I always gather from it is the nerve-wracking anxiety of not knowing wether it was a dream or not, which I love. But your perspective is somewhat reassuring, I like it.

    Funny Games is genius, I love everything about it! The ending was the cherry on top of all its brilliance.

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    1. Glad you dig my take on Inception. just my two cents about that whole head trip of a film.

      Funny Games is genius! So glad you like that one.

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  13. I loved the endings for Inception and The Prestige. I think they worked out perfectly. As for No Country For Old Men, the entire time Tommy Lee Jones was talking I kept waiting for him to be unexpectedly shot in the head for some reason. A sneak attack from Anton or something. One ending to an otherwise enjoyable movie I actually hate is The Butterfly Effect. I love everything about that movie except the ending. The alternate ending sucked too.

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    1. The Coens are great at setting up that level of tension. I didn't know what to expect while Tommy Lee Jones was talking. And then it just cut to black, and I was like, "Oh...perfect."

      The alternate ending to The Butterfly Effect is one of the most unintentionally hilarious things I've ever seen. Like... really?

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  14. I'll confess I'm one of those people who loathes that shot in "Castaway." The in-your-face symbolism of it just gets me in every wrong way a single movie shot could possibly get me. But...I'll grant you that Hanks' acting there is still superb. That's an excellent point. Wouldn't it have been more powerful, though, to just see Hanks doing what he's doing there anywhere? That often drives me nuts with Zemeckis - that 'bash you over the head' with his point mentality. But, as they saying goes, to each their own.

    And anyway, you defended "Miami Vice." I love anyone who defends "Miami Vice." I love the ending, the middle, the beginning, and everything else about "Miami Vice." And the end of "No Country." And "The Pledge."

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    1. The funny thing about Cast Away is that it has an ending I don't think I'd normally like. So, really, I have no idea why that one works so well for me. I completely agree that Zemeckis often teeters toward heavy-handedness. Sometimes I dig it, other times I really don't.

      Had no idea you were such a Miami Vice fan. I love the hell out of that movie. Shit, now I have to watch it again ASAP.

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  15. This is a great list. I agree with your comments on Funny Games and AI. When I first saw AI I hated the ending. It was not until much later when I learned to fully appreciate that movie. One I will need to buy on BlueRay Soon

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    1. Thanks man! AI is one that sort of grows on you, isn't it? I'd love to see that on Blu-Ray. Bet it looks gorgeous.

      And thanks so much for the tweet, that was really nice of you!

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  16. Great list! I definitely think some endings are worth a re-watch (A.I.), and others you just hate because you hate them. Never thought people hated the Inception or The Prestige endings; it's what made me watch them again and again.
    With No Country for Old Men, I saw that on two hours sleep in a sold-out theater. I was so tired I don't even remember the ending - only the riot of "What? That's the end?!", "Are you serious?!" from other people as the credits came up. I've re-watched it, and overall the movie is okay to me... :)

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    1. Thanks!

      Love your story about the first time you watched No Country. That was pretty much how the crowd reacted to Inception when I saw it. Massive grumblings as the theater let out.

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    2. haha Thanks! My experience of Inception was mostly people gasping about the ending and wondering what happened, but nothing really negative.

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    3. Well that's always a good thing :)

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  17. I'm with you on Funny Games, AI, Prestige and Inception! All great endings! My films studies students often have a real problem with the ending of La Haine but it's probably my favourite ending of all time. A couple of these didn't do much for me, mainly The Pledge and No Country for Old Men. I didn't much like the rest of the films though so the endings weren't likely to appeal.

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    1. First off, you're a film studies professor?? Dude, That. Is. Awesome. Seriously, I can't believe I never knew that. Just bitchin'.

      La Haine is a really interesting pick. I need to rewatch that ASAP now.

      Cool that you dig some of the endings I picked, and completely okay that you don't like others!

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  18. I love Flight's ending :) The movie end up in my top 10 movie in 2012. Maybe it's easy to predict kind of movie, but I loved the message.

    I know Funny Games have an unbelievable twist for some, but it's kind of refreshing to me. I know some people would say 'what is that??' but it's actually pretty cool ahah.

    Very nice list!

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    1. Thanks Andina :)

      So happy to hear that you love Flight's ending. I really appreciate that film. Funny Games is kind of cool, isn't it?

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  19. Love both Nolan endings, as well as Castaway. However, I've never cared for any of the Coen Brother's endings. No Country for Old Men was a great film, but I didn't get that last scene.

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    1. Hey Tanner, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. So cool that you like Cast Away's ending. I really do love that one.

      No Country is definitely a different kind of flick, but that ending has just always worked for me. Very... Coen brothers, you know?

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  20. Some great picks here man. I love the unconventional endings to Funny Games, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and No Country for Old Men; and the the endings of Inception and The Prestige are perfect.

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    1. Thanks man. Glad you like some of the endings here. Nolan can really end a flick effectively in my opinion. I think those two are perfect as well.

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  21. Great list. I thought the ending to Prestige was fantastic.

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    1. Thanks man! I love how far they push that ending. Best shit good shit.

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  22. One of the best things about Inception's ending was that it made the audience immediately discuss the film. You know how with most movies half the people are checking their phones on the way out or wondering where to get a bite to eat? Just about every single person I walked out of the theatre with was talking about the movie and specifically about whether that top keeps spinning. That's how you end a movie.

    Though it doesn't work at all, I would've liked the idea of Cobb waking up on that plane and the whole dream having been for his own benefit - ie. to convince him to go back to his kids. He doesn't actually speak to any of "his team" after he wakes, so it could've been worked out to have been all about him from the start. But I think that might be reaching just a bit too much...B-) Still, I like that the movie allows me consider that.

    The Prestige remains my fave Nolan.

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    1. Bob, I love what you said about Inception's theme. Whether you loved or hated that ending - you damn well discussed it. As you were leaving theater, and probably days later as well. I do like something that challenges me, even if I'm not too fond of the challenge itself.

      My favorite Nolan is Memento, but boy do I love The Prestige.

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  23. There are quite a few I haven't seen here, but I have to comment on the No Country For Old Men one. Wow, what a fucking masterful ending. There are two Coen films I like more than that one, and yet that ending is the high point of their career for me. It's simply breathtaking, and almost enough to make me tear up.

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    1. I really never understood the backlash that ending received. I considered it absolutely masterful the second it ended. And then the furor. But why...?

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  24. The way I see it, No Country for Old Men had an ending that everyone either loved or hated. I am definitely in the "loved" category. In fact, it's one of my all-time favorite film endings. I haven't seen a lot of these, but some other films with endings that everyone hated but I loved include 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Departed (or my dad hated it, anyway).

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    1. Oh same here, I love the hell out of the No Country ending. And I agree with you, that one is sharply polarized. Oh, and 2001... I LOVE that movie. One of my Top 5 films of all time, in fact.

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    2. 2001 and Dr. Strangelove are my two favorite films of all time.

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