Talk about tough. After carefully scanning the over 200 movies SE&L experienced this Cineplex season (and that’s not counting the numerous DVDs), choosing a mere ten titles to represent the year’s worst cinematic stool samples was hard…and not for a lack of candidates. Without a doubt, this was one junk filled 12 months. Everyone’s favorite Teutonic whipping boy - Dr. Uwe Boll - offered not one but two terrible trifles in 2008, with only one being ‘so bad it was kinda good’ (Postal). In the Name of the King: A Dragon Siege Tale was pure garbage. Similarly, Meg Ryan and a bunch of menopausal actresses gave Women everywhere an incredibly lame name, while that classic combo of Jason Freidberg and Aaron Seltzer provided their own double dose of drek - Meet the Spartans and the appropriately named Disaster Movie. And let’s not forget Larry the Cable Guy and his should be career swansong Witless Protection. On second thought, let’s.
So in the end, with numerous examples of awfulness to choose from, how did we pick between losing friends and alienating people? The answer, oddly enough, takes a page out of the Best Picture paradigm: quality. No, not the inherent value in a project, but the innate noxiousness and nausea a terrible movie creates. A really bad film fumes like an overripe puppy pile and stays with you like the stink of a dead deer carcass. It rots your brain and boils your aesthetic, doing more damage internally than drugs, alcohol, and George Bush’s social policies combined. Still, scanning over nearly 30 entries that could be included here (like What Happens in Vegas…, Baby Mama, Doomsday, and the horrendous 88 Minutes), the final selection seems incomplete. Like any kind of crapshoot, the collateral damage is often more compelling than the target taken out.
So without further ado, here are Short Ends and Leader‘s choices for the worst films of 2008. Argue with them all you want, but here’s betting there’s more common ground than complaints. We begin with:
#10 - Nights in Rodanthe
Sometimes, source material says it all. A luminous cast and a worthy director will still have a hard time making a cinematic silk purse out of a literary sow’s ear. This Windstorms of North Carolina Counties is so overwrought and Harlequin-ed that only the most susceptible of spinsters or inexperienced poetry majors will fall for its faux passions. While Diane Lane and Richard Gere are a great onscreen couple, the set up stunts their appeal. There is so much hand wringing and heart sickness here, so many unexplained subplots and unclear character motives that by the time the death/denouement arrives, we’re too confused to care.
#9 - Babylon A.D.
Mathieu Kassovitz is livid. Not just angry, mind you, but completely pissed off. After five long years of planning and praying, after months of harsh production elements and massive studio interference, his dream project, Babylon A.D. closed the Summer 2008 season with the kind of wounded whimper and no preview punishment that comes with abject studio hatred. Knowing they had a bomb on their hands, Fox wrenched the film away from the La Haine director and monkeyed with it a bit. The result is perhaps the biggest load of speculative shite ever to be argued over by supposedly smart people. Now Kassovitz is just embarrassed.
#8 - Four Christmases
Flailing like a dying fish out of water and smelling just as fetid, Four Christmases is stiflingly unfunny. It’s rotten mistletoe over a condemned homestead’s archway. In fact, it’s such an unbridled waste, such a horrifying amalgamation of inept attempted laughs that you wonder what the capable cast was thinking during the filming of certain scenes. And this is a group who collectively own five Oscars, mind you. Between the painful pantomime of the various slapstick sequences, to the complete lack of emotional truth or temperament, this is holiday cheer for the stupid and stunted. And yet it has made over $100 million. Sigh.
#7 - The Eye
Beyond disheartening, this was just plain abysmal. Anyone lucky enough to see David Moreau and Xavier Palud’s brilliant Ils (released in the US as Them) knows that this French filmmaking duo can really deliver the shivers. Their simple set-up, involving a secluded Romanian estate and a couple victimized by some unseen invaders was a stark, suspenseful romp. It literally rekindled one’s faith in the subtler forms of the horror genre. This rancid remake re-killed it. Our directors obviously suffered from some kind of cinematic amnesia after hitting LaLa Land. With this Jessica Alba atrocity, they definitely forgot everything that made Ils so wonderful.
#6 - The Love Guru
Former funnymen have had a tough time this year. Jim Carrey barely survived Yes Man with his disintegrating dignity intact, and Eddie Murphy proved that science fiction and floundering talent just don’t mix. But no one undermined their own box office legacy better than Mike Myers. Clearly needing some cash to pay for his pending divorce, the one time Wayne Campbell took the worst parts of his Austin Powers franchise, fluffed them up with some Hindi hate crimes, and delivered a deathblow to everything he ever had a hand in. Being dumb and disgusting is one thing. Being hateful doing it is par for this pariah’s new course.
#5 - The Happening
If it wasn’t so pathetic, it would be laughable. Former wunderkind M. Night Shyamalan finally spent the last bit of his Sixth Sense/Next Spielberg credentials making a movie in which plants went on a rampage against mankind. No, not in a Day of the Triffids kind of carnage. No, our friendly neighborhood vegetation decided to release a neurotoxin which caused humans to kill themselves. Huh? Anyway, with questionable scripting and even more specious acting, this was a truly terrible attempt at terror. Leave it to the freefalling filmmaker to make things even more unintentionally hilarious by touting this as the scariest movie ever. Huh?
#4 - What Just Happened?
A really bad movie, that’s what. Proving that whatever creative cache he accumulated during the ‘80s and ‘90s is just about used up, Barry Levinson takes Art Linson’s self-absorbed and referential mess of a memoir and tries to turn it into a mid-naught version of The Player. What Just Happened? commits so many cardinal motion picture sins that it should be excommunicated from the entertainment arena on principle alone. It wastes the talents of several sensational performers, leaving actors like Robert DeNiro, Bruce Willis, John Tuturro, and Stanley Tucci looking absolutely lost. Now that’s tough to do.
#3 - Towelhead
Oh boy - a 14 year old girl gets molested and finger-raped on camera and we’re supposed to see it as some manner of post-modern sideways sexual awakening…with War on Terror/9-11 overtones. Right. As we stare at a young girl sitting on the toilet, her period soaked panties filling the screen for all to see, we wonder, did writer/director Alan Ball really believe that such shock value adds to the effectiveness of his film? Is it merely menses for menses sake, a Larry Clark like truth taken to Tinsel Town fantasy extremes? Instead, it feels like sickening exploitation without any redeeming value whatsoever.
#2 - Blindness
There is a lot of critical support for this lamentably awful faux-fable, with many pointing to the powerful message buried within Fernando Meirelles’ reading of José Saramago’s novel. The only problem with such an excuse is that you have to get through the dark, dim muck to even begin to appreciate what is, in the end, a pretty simple “society sucks” statement. As a look at what happens when civilization breaks down, we do indeed learn a very valuable lesson. The world will not end with a whimper or a bang. It will just fester in a pool of its own filth. Yuck!
#1 - Funny Games
Okay, okay, we get it. American’s love violence. We crave the brutality and support all cinema that substitutes death blows for discussions. But just like rubbing a bad dog’s nose in his own self-styled entertainment excrement, smirk-filled preaching isn’t going to get us to change. Someone needs to tell German jester Michael Haneke that like arguing that abuse is unhealthy by beating someone over the head, wallowing in the very genre excesses that you want to foil is hypocritical at best. Even worse, the director then purposefully insults the audience, asking them to accept his treatise as truth even when he doesn’t have the balls or backbone to support his stance. There have been few films as irredeemable as Funny Games. It’s not only one of this year’s worst - it’s a worthy competitor for the “all time” title.