Double takes are perfectly acceptable. Indeed, this is not your run of the mill Best of list. Look around the web (or in any of the still viable print publications) and it’s a safe bet that many, if not all, of these unusual titles fail to make the Top 10 grade. As a matter of fact, you could probably look from #11 to #100 and not find a single one mentioned. The reason why remains rather simplistic. SE&L is not overly impressed with pure technical merits. A stellar picture and perfect surround sound might be amazing, but when wrapped around the latest lame-ass Hollywood hack job, who gives a digital dung heap? No, what we like is quality – in presentation, in packaging AND in product. That’s why our 2006 tally of the best the home theater medium has to offer is just a wee bit…eclectic. We’d rather celebrate the unknown film in a barebones version than a tricked out work of limited likeability.
Truth be told, this list could be a lot bigger. As sales slack off and marketers grow manic over the lack of blockbuster sales, the smaller companies in the distribution game – Troma, Synapse, Subversive and Anchor Bay – have gone out of their way to track down obscure entries, flesh them out with an amazing array of contextual content, and provide them at a price that both aficionado and novice can support. Sure, some big league studio releases turn up here, but you probably won’t recognize the films featured. That’s the great thing about DVD – within its practical and portable format, a wealth of cinematic knowledge and appreciation can be gained. So get out your guidebook and be prepared to jot down a few of these filmic travels for future reference. After you’ve finished with that regular Tinsel Town treat, you can give one of these experimental excursions a try. You won’t be disappointed:
1. Tromeo and Juliet: 10th Anniversary Edition
Marking the second DVD go-round for this beloved Troma title, this double dip is still a significant improvement over the original digital presentation. As before, the Bard’s basic story of star-crossed lovers is fused with a scatological punk rock sensibility to create the first ever gross out version of a Shakespeare play. Perhaps more amazing than the awkward performances, bizarre-world found locations, plentiful gore, and abundant nudity is the number of unknown actors and crewmembers who went on to become famous fixtures in both Hollywood and the Indie film scene. Along with the typical Kaufman crew, screenwriter James Gunn (Scooby-Doo, Dawn of the Dead) Will Keenan (Operation Midnight Climax) and current reigning b-movie scream queen Debbie Rochon all found celebrity inside this insane iambic pentameter.
2. Street Trash: Special Two Disc Meltdown Edition
It is, perhaps, the most unlikely subject matter for a horror film ever devised. A group of homeless winos, led by an ex-Vietnam vet who takes his frequent homicidal flashbacks out on the surrounding populace, begin drinking a new cheap hooch that’s hitting the street. Unfortunately, one of Tenafly Viper’s liquor-laced drawbacks is the unfortunate side effect of personal putrescence. That’s right, one sip and you start to ‘bleed’ out in a multi-colored array of bodily fluids. A masterpiece made by fright film fans for fright film fans, Trash has long been unavailable on DVD. Last year, Synapse Films promised a new, fully tricked out edition, and they weren’t lying. This is, hands down, one of the best movies of the late ‘80s, given a proud near perfect post-millennial package.
3. Christmas Evil
Overlooked upon initial release, Lewis Jackson’s You Better Watch Out is actually a minor masterpiece. Audiences were stunned when they learned that this holiday horror film – later re-titled with the far more lurid Christmas Evil label – featured an unstable man who took the notion of “playing” Santa to uncomfortable extremes. The seedy subtext involving children and random carnage made even the most magnanimous macabre fan a tad queasy. Too bad, since their ready dismissal prevented them from appreciating a truly remarkable movie. More a character study than a standard slice and dice, Jackson’s journey into the mind of a morally misguided man is an unusual artistic triumph. Besides, it’s John Waters’ favorite holiday film. You can’t ask for a better vote of creative confidence than that.
4. Cemetery Man
Cemetery Man is a most unusual horror film. Actually it’s not really a horror film at all. Certainly, it has nods to the normal macabre ideals—zombies and murders and the foul stench of death. Still, this is not really a chiller. Instead, it’s a thriller, in the most soul-uplifting definition of the word. It is a movie so bafflingly beautiful that it argues for its acceptance as art. Anyone coming to this movie hoping to continue their fascination with flesh-eating corpses will have to get their Romero/Fulci fill elsewhere. In the hands of the amazing Michele Soavi, this is poetry, cinema as a stunning visual feast. It remains one of the most important fantasy films ever made, one that shows the true power inherent in thoughts and imagery.
5. The Green Pastures
The Green Pastures is a misunderstood movie, but not like Song of the South is misunderstood. Disney’s dilemma remains that, no matter how personable Uncle Remus is as a character, he is still subjugated by a segregated South. No such distinction exists in The Green Pastures - at least, not outwardly. This is a fantasy world composed completely of black people—from the biblical characters to the individuals spinning the yarn. Made in Hollywood, notorious for its mesegenistic view of minorities, one can read all manner of sinister significance in this portrayal. But there is also a strong undercurrent of grace and devotion that constantly countermands the cruelty. It delivers the film and its prejudicial facets out of the realm of repugnance into a region both sublime and subjective.
6. Ganja and Hess
Call it voodoo done right or exploitation gone artsy, but true aficionados find this relatively unknown horror film hard to forget. Playwright Bill Gunn had high hopes for his literate look at vampirism and ancient curses. Sadly, after a less than impressive Big Apple play date, distributors eviscerated Gunn’s original cut and re-released it as Blood Couple. Long out of print, Image Entertainment gets substantial genre props for revisiting Gunn’s version, including the incorporation of additional footage not found in other DVD versions. With a wealth of supplemental information, including commentaries and making-of documentaries, this presentation practically revives Ganja and Hess to its prerelease glory. With all manner of movie macabre clogging the airwaves and retail outlets, this is one unknown quantity worth checking out.
7. The Loved One
Back in 1965, a movie focusing on death in such a callous, cold-hearted manner, vilifying religion with hints of unethical behavior and business-oriented obsessions, and tweaking artists, the English, the Hollywood studio system, and freaked-out fey momma’s boys, was scandalous stuff. Able to make any movie he wanted after Tom Jones’ Oscar wins, British bad boy Tony Richardson was itching to bring Evelyn Waugh’s mortuary satire to the silver screen. Mimicking fellow auteurs like Stanley Kubrick (borrowing Strangelove‘s look and placing comedic star, Jonathan Winters, in a diabolical dual role) and Orson Welles (playing with depth of field and focus), he took pot shots at several “isms”—racism, materialism, populism, commercialism—creating a comic masterwork more or less unseen until this DVD release – 41 years later.
8. The Addams Family Volume 1
It goes without saying that The Addams Family is a product of its time. Viewed some 40 years later, the show is nothing short of luminous. It is superbly cast, brilliantly acted, and rebellious to a fault. What was weird and eccentric in 1964 is now nice and normal, the family’s main mantra of individualism and being true to oneself a coveted current cultural directive. It is easy to see what ‘60s audiences eventually dismissed about this wonderfully inventive comedy. The Addamses were radicals, rocking the boat of suburban conformity with their love of all things dark and dour. Thanks to MGM, and their initial DVD offering of the original black and white episodes, we can experience just how immensely entertaining this sadly underrated series actually is.
9. Wonder Showzen: Season 1 & 2
At one time, Wonder Showzen was the new “it” phenomenon – a corrupted kid-vid concept brilliantly realized and abstractly insane. It was Pee Wee’s Playhouse if that magnificent man-child Paul Reubens’ porn store persona had run the show, a sensationally sick perversion turned into a proto-pedophilic playtime. After a brilliant first season, some feel that creators Vernon Chatman and Johnny Lee went overboard in series two with their unabashedly political take on Hee Haw, Horse Apples. But the fact is that no other recent series has taken on the sacred cows and untouchable taboos of our pro-child society as astutely and caustically as this definitive dada-esque satire. Get both DVD sets now before some state wises up and bans this genuine genius effort all together.
10. Dust Devil: The Final Cut
In 1990, Richard Stanley’s Hardware was a heralded event in genre cinema. It had all the trappings of a classic. However, it was merely a minor success, earning little more than a considered cult following among rapid fright fans. As a result, Stanley found it difficult to get his next film off the ground; the metaphysical spree slaughter South African epic Dust Devil. Miramax promised all kinds of support, but after seeing a work print, they chopped it up and dumped it onto home video. There, it died a completely undeserving death. Thanks to an amazing new box set from Subversive Cinema, we finally get a chance to see Stanley’s visionary work, as well as a chance to visit his career since the entire Devil debacle.
To the discerning eye, this list is going to appear a little odd. At first, you see films that typically make most end of the year inventories – movies like The Queen and The Departed. These are the quality efforts that many critics recognize as stellar filmmaking, flawlessly executed. But about halfway through, things start to shift wildly. Before long, outright genre efforts - and even a film unseen by most of the movie-going public - are taking the place of other, overly praised efforts. This is done on purpose. Here at SE&L, we sing along to our own inner soundtrack and praise the movies that we feel best fulfilled their cinematic promise. A great film doesn’t have to meet a journalist-mandated set of standards, nor does it have to be a true fan favorite. Like humor and taste in music, what zaps a cinephile’s aesthetic is individual and unique. One man’s Trash is another man’s Treasure of the Sierra Madre, so to speak.
So behold, the first ever PopMatters Film Blog Top Ten. Frankly, it was a fairly easy list to compile. Take the movies seen throughout the course of 2006, rank them in order of personal preference, and write up some blurbs. Certainly, there will be choices that people point to (Letters from Iwo Jima, Dreamgirls, Little Miss Sunshine) that aren’t represented here, and again, that’s intentional. If we enjoyed a slice and dice bit of slasher superiority from the guy who created Cabin Fever over a no nonsense reminder of 9/11 heroism, so be it. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, even if it promotes a certain storyline featuring motherf*cking reptiles on a motherf*cking airliner. So get out your poison pens and prepare to pick apart the choices. Here are Short Ends and Leaders picks for the Best Films of 2006:
1. The Prestige
If films are supposed to make you forget your troubles, whisk you away to worlds and places unknown, and deliver the kind of insightful, absorbing entertainment that only great art can accomplish, then The Prestige is definitely cinema at its most amazing. No other movie in 2006 was as painstakingly creative and visually arresting as Christopher Nolan’s take on Christopher Priest’s battling magicians novel. Much more than The Illusionist, which couched its pretty prestidigitation in a setting of pure old fashioned romance, The Prestige played with notions of obsession, dedication and deception. It remains a dark and dazzling work of masterful manipulation with an ending more saddening than shocking.
2. The Fountain
When you tear away the artifice, when you understand the links between the three arcane storylines (Conquistador, Contemporary, Cosmic) as well as the couple at the center of this staggering drama, you realize just how deep Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain really is. A magnificent meditation on how we accept death, and our inner struggle over demands of immortality, the Requiem for a Dream helmer describes love and loss, science vs. the spiritual, and hope against horror, all in the eyes of his two desperate leads. Dismissed by most critics who couldn’t wrap their brain around the unusual narrative structure, this is a film destined to grow in stature and significance in years to come.
3. The Queen
They say that famed British actress Helen Mirren stars in this unusual docudrama on the events surrounding the death of Princess Diana. Unfortunately, all one witnesses in this magnificent bit of motion picture imagining is her Royal Highness herself, Queen Elizabeth II. So effective is Mirren in drawing us into the world of the socially sheltered monarchy that we never once doubt we are watching the real Windsor clan reacting to a troubling, traumatic event. Michael Sheen is equally amazing as Tony Blair, the newly elected Prime Minister forced to face off against Her Majesty when the country’s grief grows too powerful. Together they show how power blurs the edges of one’s humanity, and how hard it is to get it back.
4. The Departed
Martin Scorsese and crime seem to be synonymous, but for many, The Departed marked a transitional moment for the American auteur. While this good cop/bad cop game of double crosses contained the essence of the Hong Kong hit Infernal Affairs in its narrative basics, the man behind such masterpieces as Goodfellas and Raging Bull reconfigured the story into something deeply personal. All three main characters, and the actors who embodied them, come across as worn and worked over, tired of constantly having to stay one step ahead of each other. Add in a superb supporting cast, an enigmatic Boston location, and a barrel full of Scorsese’s standard directorial brilliance, and you’ve got one of the year’s best, most accomplished films.
5. Clerks II
Kevin Smith can claim a great many things, but making one of the best movies of any year is not really one of them. Oh sure, his fans in the View Askew universe recognize that anything he does is brilliant, but that doesn’t mean that the far more condemning critical community follows suit. For 2006, things have changed. By revisiting his past, Smith has expanded his generational language, doing for maturity and moving on what the first Clerks did for sublime slackerdom a decade before. With its biting dialogue, insightful humor and smidgen of open-handed heart, what we wind up with is a wonderful dissertation on arrested adolescence and adulthood.
Some find Eli Roth repugnant, the founding father of the new fangled ‘horror porn’ ideal. Anyone dismissing Hostel like this obviously has no movie macabre credentials. Doing for the genre what the Texas Chain Saw Massacre did in the ‘70s, and Evil Dead did for the ‘80s, Roth reinvents the scary film, taking it to levels both extreme and easily identifiable. Many people failed to see the cynical commentary on American nationalism and even fewer missed the swipes at the softcore sex farces that made up the majority of the early home video catalog. The results are dark, disgusting and definitive. Like The Fountain before, this is one that will age well indeed.
7. Snakes on a Plane
All right, complain all you want. Declare this a clear case of Internet hype failing to fulfill its promise, but dammit, Snakes on a Plane was a blast. People constantly comment on how the web-based ballyhoo didn’t translate into massive box office dollars, but the truth is that for anyone who grew up in the 1970s, SoaP was a terrific throwback to the original concept of a blockbuster. As the missing badass cousin of the kitschy Airport films, it’s a perfect example of the Zen popcorn experience, offering as much goofball yin as cinematic yang. Sure, it barely transcends its b-movie trappings, but for pure uncomplicated entertainment, you can’t beat these sensational serpents.
8. Silent Hill
Creepy can be its own virtue, and no one did disturbing better than Brotherhood of the Wolf director Christophe Gans. Given the charge of bringing to life the popular video game, the French filmmaker turned Hill‘s horrible imagery into a metaphor for life under the threat of constant upheaval. Few cinematic sequences were more compelling this year than the moments when the town’s ‘dark’ alarm sounded off, its baneful wail reminding all who hear it of the days when US Civil Defense used the same signal to announce an imminent nuclear threat. Between the dread-inspiring creatures and the brilliant visual flair, this was one spine-tingling take on terror.
Mel Gibson may be as mad as a hatter – and a regular racist fool – but he sure can make magnificent cinema. Using a digital set-up to increase the realism and a measured approach to both history and histrionics, this old fashioned action romp rides the fine line between period piece and sci-fi spectacle. By taking us into the tale end of a corrupt Mayan culture, and watching the weird, sometimes contemptible way in which they held onto their power, we are literally whisked away to places afar and unknown. By grounding all the gore and gratuity, this tale of a kidnapped tribesman desperate to get back to his family proves a prolonged chase can carry with it more than just filmmaking panache. There can be heart and humanity as well.
It’s the best movie of 2006 that no one saw – and that was on purpose. Fox, feeling let down once again by Mike Judge’s slanted satirical eye, relegated this 2004 futuristic farce to a high shelf in their direct to DVD release schedule. Then, feeling considerable pressure from the filmmaker, dumped it in a few theaters during the end of the Summer, signaling their overall contempt for the title. It makes sense, once you’ve seen the film. The very demographic Fox was wagering would fill the Cineplex were the very target of Judge’s derisive skewering. A movie that makes the bold prediction that our country is getting stupider every year, here’s hoping it finds an knowing audience on home video.
Believe it or not, making worst-of lists is a heck of a lot harder than making best-of determinations. The explanation for why may seem specious at first, but follow along anyway. You see, something good stands out for numerous reasons – brilliant direction, monumental acting, a quick and brainy script, an approach to a subject that is fresh and dynamic. Even when that story seems similar and the elements reek of the routine, energy and mood, tone and treatment can all aid in a film’s final aesthetic determination. But with the bad, the facets are sadly familiar – boring execution, non-existing cinematics, lame, ludicrous writing and performances that range from problematic to pathetic. These aggravating aspects never change, they never alter their under-performing patchiness. A crappy effort is a crappy effort, each one feeling similarly unworthy and unacceptable.
So when faced with the mountain of mediocrity a DVD critic is exposed to each year, finding a mere 10 that turn your stomach is an exercise in remembrance and repulsion. Looking back means identifying works that wasted your time, revisiting filmmakers whose arrogance blinded them to their true lack of artistic acumen, and generally re-experiencing the pain of time lost, sensibilities shaken, and interest waned. Again, the same rules apply here as with the Films You’ve Never Heard Of category. The movie itself can be from any year – the digital version, however, had to arrive on the medium in the past 12 months. There are a couple of theatrical releases here, an unfathomably bad TV show, and more than a few homemade movie macabres. Between Joe Bob Briggs’ famous three “Bs” – blood, breasts and beasts” – there’s enough genre junk on hand to send horror back to its pre-Gothic roots.
So grab hold or your aesthetic and wade in cautiously. SE&L‘s 10 Worst DVDs of 2006 have been known to drown even the most adventurous cinematic swimmer:
1. Dark Reality
Dark Reality is a depressing failure, the kind of overly ambitious claptrap that originates out of every fanboy’s camcorder the minute they decide to make a horror film. The creative coupling of Christopher Hutson (whose resume includes a Penthouse video and a how-to sex guide) and three additional writers thinks its clever keeping us, as well as the characters, in the dark about their foul fate. However, it merely creates an instantaneous detachment that can only be reestablished by empathetic individuals and smart scripting. Unfortunately, Dark Reality has neither. Instead, we get a Blair Witch kind of relationship to the actors, able to tolerate them only in very small doses. The minute these grating gals open their mouths to speak, however, we immediately start rooting for the middle-aged murderer whose trapped them.
2. Live Feed
Rumor has it that the father and son team responsible for Live Feed – Canadians Roy and Ryan Nicholson – had the idea for this Asian slaughterhouse atrocity long before Eli Roth created his fright flick masterwork Hostel. If that’s the case, then Mr. Cabin Fever may have the first and only legal claim of backwards plagiarism ever experienced by a mainstream moviemaker. Wanting to be an all out gratuitous gorefest loaded with gallons of overflowing red stuff, what we get instead is a mindless waste of time and talent. The characters are craven archetypes, uninvolving and more than a little irritating, and the storyline tries to be shocking, but only winds up feeling stagnant. By the end, you wonder what you, yourself, can do to prevent this film from ever again destroying a fellow fright fans fear factors.
3. Knight of the Peeper
Somewhere between an old-fashioned exploitation film and the kind of gimpy, gratuitous softcore sagas usually helmed by Fred Olen Ray, Knight of the Peeper is about as unpleasant an entertainment experience as a non-14-year-old adolescent male can have. With a lame narrative and a dearth of feminine delights, anyone who’s not packing pre-or post puberty hormones in uncontrollable boner bushel baskets should probably steer clear of this full-frontal skin flick-a-thon—unless, of course, the thought of various New York/New Jersey strippers showing off their breast augmentation scars gets your geriatric gonads in an uproar. This is nothing more than grating grindhouse material, the kind of seedy smoker reel made by and for dudes who need to pay to know the touch of a woman.
A vampire rewrite that’s so dull, so unbelievably boring, that you’ll wonder what writer/director/actor Jay Reel was aiming for when he foisted this no-budget nonsense on the film-viewing public, Dawn is tedious and talky. It’s a film overripe with narrative, and hampered by its determined anti-horror stance. By draining all the life blood out of the neckbiter genre—hunters are just mutant people who need claret, not cold cuts and cole slaw, to survive—he robs the mythology of its romanticism, its vitality… heck, of just about anything remotely interesting. In its place he finds pages and pages of dialogue, and a collection of actors who don’t understand the difference between performance and merely repeating lines.
5. Survival Island
Though the set-up would suggest that this is regular Skinemax erotica, the truth is far more fleshless. In truth, Survival Island is a sloppy combination of Dead Calm, Swept Away, and a myriad of mindless “two men and a hot chick” testosterone-fueled flops that play on an audiences’ morbid curiosity with flawed fantasy fodder. This is the kind of movie that announces its intentions right off the bat: rich couple coolly looking down at the Latino cabin boy; hot-tempered honey who throws a voodoo curse on our Hispanic hunk’s libido; the accidental if paranormally purposeful disaster at sea; the eventual arrival on a deserted island; the savage sexual tension; the laughably lame dialogue; a few fights; an unexpected death, and, of course, a cruel twist at the end.
6. H6: Diary of a Serial Killer
Hindered by a script that’s all talk and no stalk, and absent even the most elemental eeriness, H6: Diary of a Serial Killer should actually be retitled Boring Murderer with Diarrhea of the Mouth. Ever since Hannibal Lector made the gift of gab frightening, filmmakers have decided that nothing says insane spree slaughter better than a guy who just can’t shut up. Like Brad Garrett as Ed Gein, Fernando Acaso uses his banana oil slicked hairdo as a main character dimension, and runs his yap incessantly while preparing to pare up another prostitute. No matter your penchant for dread, this is the kind of movie that will cure you of your creature feature cravings once and for all.
Hussy is a terrible movie. It offers little in the way of emotional or dramatic intrigue, and takes what seems like cinematic eons to get to its rather vapid points. Captured within this sorry slice of 1980s- era British celluloid is a decent performance from headlining star Helen Mirren, a zombified turn by John Shea, who is completely out of his element here, and a scene-stealing sequence from a Third Act narrative catalyst known as Paul Angelis. As a first-timer whose naiveté is palpable, obviously unskilled at motion-picture practicalities like consistency of tone and clarity of narrative purpose, writer/director Matthew Chapman clouds everything in a veil of unspoken passions and illusory personal secrets. The result is a sloppy character study that actual infers more than it reveals – including entertainment value.
8. Bazaar Bizarre
There are certain things that do not belong in a documentary about serial killers – interviews with individuals who have no direct correlation to the crimes, tentative statements about the extent of the evidence, local bands playing bad blues within a mediocre music video style setting – and yet these are the very elements that self-proclaimed avant-garde “artist” Benjamin Meade uses to tell the story of Kansas City slayer Bob Berdella. All throughout the mock/documentary Bazaar Bizarre, Meade uses the juicy commentary of author James Ellroy (LA Confidential) to provide an outside voice of reason and outrage in the discussion of this madman’s brutal crimes. But the ancillary elements – outright conjecture, songs that explain the case at hand – just sink the story.
9. One Last Thing…
One Last Thing … is unconscionable. At its core is the dim dying wish of its central character, Dylan, an aspiration that’s part symbolic, part softcore pornographic. The notion of a high school sophomore with raging cancer wanting his final days to be spent with a superhot supermodel may seem sensible but, logistically, it’s not really rational. Dylan is just asking for disappointment and Sunny Mabrey’s cynical Nikki does not fail to frustrate. As a matter of fact, the only way she can make up for 80 minutes of miserable treatment is to go jailbait on our hero. The result is an ending that smacks of stupidity and staging, never once touching on the truth of such a sick kid/dream date situation.
10. The Ron White Show
Call it a one off special or a junked attempt at a weekly TV gig, but The Ron White Show is really nothing more than 22 minutes of mindless crap comedy. Frankly, this smart, savvy stand up deserves better. His is a humor based in defeat and humiliation, 20 years of trying to break into the big time and sudden, sensationalized success. If this was the reward he was aiming for, the final prize after decades of struggling, he should have quit while he was a failure. This is a depressingly bad piece of garbage, a watered down version of what White truly stands for. Everything here is filtered through a demographic homogenizer to guarantee that all wit, cleverness and intelligence is weeded out.
By all accounts, 2006 was a disorienting year at the movies. On the one hand, box office receipts were up, end of the year quality seemed sound, and a decent balance between horrible and honorable was maintained across the board. At least, that’s how it looked at first glance. But when you probe deeper, delving into the darkest recesses of the cinematic septic tank, the atrocious efforts of the past 12 months give off a funk so powerful that even the most seasoned cinephile would gag from the tang. You see, bad movies don’t begin abominable. Several significant factors must come into play before your typical motion picture goes malodorous. Basically, a director must become blinded to his or her own vision, the script should skip standard literary elements like logic and coherence, and the actors must merge with the flimsy filmic foundation, performing up to or below the level of the narrative’s nonsensical expectations. Toss in some lame special effects, sloppy cinematography, and an editor whose aesthetic skews toward the erratic, and you’ve got certified cinematic slop on your hands.
Or do you. Reviewing this year’s list it is clear that, in almost all the cases, the efforts being belittled are big budget Hollywood horse apples. They’re the kind of expensive, marketing masterminded redundant dreck that threatens to make every trip to your local theater a metaphysical minefield overflowing with potential time wasters. Sure, it’s easy to pick on the independent efforts that represent some film geeks glorified idea of compelling creativity, but when untold millions are being spent to support half-baked humor, insipid drama and atrophied action, it’s the worst kind of filmmaking felony. In some ways, picking the worst films of any year is much harder than pinpointing the best. For every Departed, there’s a dozen Stay Alives. For every Science of Sleep, there’s a few Super Ex-Girlfriends. Paring it down to ten can be trying, but we here at SE&L strive for analytical excellence. So after hours of concentrated consideration, here is our list of the 10 Worst Films of the year:
1. Little Man
Without a doubt, the most excruciatingly horrible experience anyone could have at a movie theater in the last few years. It’s not bad enough that the one time talented Wayans clan revert to lowest common denominator humor to sell their dwarf as a diamond thief stupidity. No, they go a step further, filling the screen with so much sophomoric sleaziness that you feel just filthy watching it. Clearly the vilest experience of 2006.
2. Omen 2006
For anyone who needs proof that bad casting can kill a potentially interesting project, this lame remake of the 1976 satanic sensation is considered confirmation. Between the misused Mia Farrow to the blank as a fart Julia Stiles, you’d think this tale of the Antichrist’s return to Earth would have exhausted all potential acting awfulness. But no, they have to drag poor Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick through the sludge as a giggly, goofy Devil doll. Ugh!
3. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
When this sequel/prequel to a remake of the original power tool terror was announced, it promised to show how Leatherface (now named Thomas Hewitt) became the crazed cannibal killer that many a Goth gal gushes over. Instead, the narrative centers on the slaughter star’s Uncle, a redneck reject who uses a random roadside incident to become Sheriff Hoyt. Add in the standard batch of unwitting teens and it’s another dull, dumb splatterfest.
Sword and sorcery doesn’t get any stupider than in this Uwe Boll directed dung. Featuring amazingly bad acting turns by Michael Madsen, Billy Zane, Ben Kingsley, and Ms. T-X herself, Kristanna Loken, this ‘based on a video game’ groaner takes motion picture mediocrity to new levels of ludicrousness. Boll recently challenged several journalists to a staged boxing match, defending himself against their critical drubbing. Too bad his fisticuffs can’t save his hideous hackwork here.
5. Employee of the Month
Just like mixing certain household cleaners, the combining of Dane Cook, Dax Shepard and Jessica Simpson turns out to be a caustic, near deadly experience. Granted, Shepard has proven capable in efforts like Zathura and Idiocracy, while Cook can claim a large myspace-based fandom. But Simpson is a slag, unable to act her way out a siliconed skin bag, and her co-stars match her witlessness for witlessness. Comedy doesn’t get much sadder than this.
6. Big Momma’s House 2
Following Eddie Murphy’s formula for failing career rehabilitation, former blue comedian Martin Lawrence dons drag once again to portray that infamous obese black woman. This time, he takes on the Mrs. Doubtfire dynamic, playing nanny to a group of kids whose daddy might be a corporate spy. With nameless villains, featureless plotting, inert performances and an overall feeling of being warmed over and repetitive, this was just a poorly concealed cash grab.
7. Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus
Nicole Kidman – statuesque Australian beauty, porcelain in her complexion and supermodel-esque in her overall look. Diane Arbus – dark, dour New Yorker, very ethnic in her inherent Jewishness and disturbed to the point of self-destruction. How do the two match up to make a singular surreal biopic about the famed photographer’s career? Only the amazingly misguided Steven Shainberg can explain this fictional, farcical take on the troubled, talented artist.
Tim Allen now holds a distinct place in the annals of sci-fi cinema. He starred in one of the genre’s greatest satires (GalaxyQuest) and, this year, he wrapped up the worst effort award as well. Playing a former superhero recruited to train a group of underage wannabes, this appalling combination of the speculative and the scatological is aimed at an IQ below the average of its single digit demographic.
With all the advances in special effects, a remake of this 1972 Irwin Allen disaster epic would seem like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, director Wolfgang Peterson took the whole ‘mindless’ concept seriously, and delivered an inert action movie with more plot holes than portholes. Even the CGI sucked, rendering the set piece moment when a ‘rogue wave’ capsizes the ship as pure pixilated poppycock. Not even Kurt Russell could save this ship.
10. The Da Vinci Code
Ron Howard rewrites the rules of the thriller, determining that belabored flashbacks and endless exposition are the perfect components to create suspense and intrigue. With a built in fanbase across the world, Code becomes the first megahit to be a complete and utter filmic fiasco as well. Proponents point to the meticulous recreation of Dan Brown’s blockbuster novel, but this literal adaptation is so overblown in its sense of self-importance that it simply implodes.
One more day. One more 24 hour time period. A few cocktails, a chorus of “Auld Lang Syne” and, before you know it, the new year will finally be here. It all sounds so dignified, and back when people actually anticipated the turn of another 365 days, this holiday was treated with a kind of tacit respect. Sure, there was still a lot of partying and partaking of alcohol, but suit and tie, not shorts and a beefy T, were the apparel of choice. Nowadays, the transition between 31 December and 1 January is seen as a time for drunken foolishness, projectile vomiting, and a nauseating hangover accented by way too much college football. It’s an intoxicated testament to how the next 12 months will probably play out. Even more disconcerting, several new traditions have built up around this annual liquor lift. Some shoot of fireworks, failing to remember that the black powder explosives are supposed to represent the rockets red glare of our national anthem come 4 July. Similarly, some regions see individuals pointing pistols at the sky and ripping off a few rounds before the booze bites them back toward some manner of reality. So in preparation for all this aggravating anarchy, a couple of hours in front of the boob tube may be the perfect pre-Eve anesthetic. The choices for the weekend of 30 December are typically hit or miss, but a couple may just provide the entertainment comforts you crave:
HBO – The Family Stone
One of last year’s under the radar delights, former fashion executive Thomas Bezucha deconstructs the knotty connections between kinfolk with this fresh, occasionally formulaic comedy. Sarah Jessica Parker is the uptight, Type-A personality who finds herself awash in the title clan’s free-spirited spontaneity. Dermot Mulroney is her boyfriend, and the prodigal Stone. They return to the family home for the holidays, and all kinds of comic and caustic situations arise. Along the way, Bezucha gives us a deaf gay son, Diane Keaton as a meddling mother who finds her eldest’s choice of companion unworthy of her favorite child, and the arrival of Parker’s sister, played by Claire Danes, as a catalyst for some last act circumstantial secrets. While there is much more drama here than humor, and the Stone’s can come across as a little self-involved and arrogant, Bezucha keeps the revelations and the reactions honest. It makes for a heady holiday treat. (Premieres Saturday 30 December, 8PM EST).
Cinemax – Rumor Has It
In reality, this is not a bad idea for a movie – a young woman, curious about her past, discovers that her family may actually be the inspiration for one of the ‘60s most famous works – in this case, the novel and film known as The Graduate. Unfortunately, first time filmmaker (and screenwriter) Ted Griffin was yanked from the director’s chair when fading superstar Kevin Costner found him wanting. In stepped the equally evaporating Rob Reiner, and together a motion picture disaster was fashioned. Perhaps it was placing Jennifer “Only Ready for Prime Time” Aniston in the lead, an actress of limited, if not downright singular cinematic qualities. Maybe it was the notion of nutty Shirley MacLaine taking point for the far more ‘potent’ Anne Bancroft. Or it could be the film’s fractured tone. At any given moment it can be a comedy, an earnest drama, or a cyclical pop culture pit. In any case, no amount of “plastics” could contain this film’s formidable flopsweat. (Premieres Saturday 30 December, 10pm EST).
Starz – The Matador
Pierce Brosnan is a high-minded if burnt out hitman (he considers himself in the business of ‘facilitating fatalities’). Greg Kinnear is a down on his luck salesman who can’t seem to catch a break. The two meet in a Mexican bar, and eventually buddy up for a series of deliciously dark comic coincidences. Previously known for his unusual takes on the thriller genre, writer/director Richard Shepard uses Brosnan’s inherent undercover allure, along with Kinnear’s hound dog demeanor, to create an unforgettable pair of baser level leads. The interaction between the performers is priceless, and the narrative, which seems like a simple post-modern crime spoof, ends up being a poignant look at two morally bankrupt buffoons. Praised by many critics as one of the year’s (2005) best films, Starz serves up this effort as its last Saturday premiere of 2006. It is a film definitely worth checking out. (Premieres Saturday 30 December, 9pm EST).
Showtime – Coach Carter
Someone once said that certain actors could read their grocery lists and we would still find them to be compelling onscreen presences. Whoever conceived of that unusual insight obviously had Samuel L. Jackson in mind. Capable of carrying himself with dignity and discipline in even the wackiest of circumstances (Formula 51, xXx and its silly sequel), this amazing performer provides the gritty realism that brightens even the most ridiculous premise. Case in point – Coach Carter. Based on a real life individual famous for benching his entire basketball team for poor academic performance, Jackson jump starts what is a standard sports story, giving weight to what is essentially an after school special level narrative. Under the dizzying, jump-cut chaotic director of Save the Last Dance‘s Thomas Carter, this MTV production wants to promote the value of education over entitlement. Sadly, a Jackson-starring PSA would have probably made the point more effectively. (Saturday 30 December, 9:00pm EST)
For those of you who still don’t know it, Turner Classic Movies has started a new Friday night/Saturday morning feature entitled “The TCM Underground”, a collection of cult and bad b-movies hosted by none other than rad rocker turned atrocity auteur Rob Zombie. From time to time, when SE&L feels Mr. Devil’s Rejects is offering up something nice and sleazy, we will make sure to put you on notice. For 29/30 December, it’s back to Vincent’s “Price”-less oeuvre for more macabre fun:
The last in what many consider to be a roundabout dark comedy revenge series for the actor (after the Phibes films and Theater of Blood), Price is again an actor who may or may not be a psychotic killer.
The Last Man on Earth
As the Earth slowly dies from a post-apocalyptic plague, Price is the only human left. Sadly, his survival skills now must include combating wave after wave of bloodthirsty, vampire-like zombies.
A new year signals a new approach for SE&L‘s weekly venture into deciphering the best that pay television has to offer – at least film wise. Going back to basics, each week, Independent Eye will focus on the films featured on two of cable’s more esoteric movie channels – IFC and Sundance. The top three picks (when available) for each will be discussed, hopefully enlightening you on the cinematic possibilities that exist beyond the standard blockbusters and off title releases. For the last weekend of 2006/first week of 2007, the filmic focus finds:
IFC: The Independent Film Channel
31 December 9PM EST – Shallow Grave
For his first feature film, Trainspotting‘s Danny Boyle mixed Hitchcock with delicious dark comedy to tell a tale of flatmates, a fatality, and a suitcase full of cash.
1 January 9PM EST – Garden State
Scrubs’ Zach Braff got a chance to prove his talents behind the camera, writing and directing this autobiographical take on maturation and memories.
4 January 11PM EST – The Sweet Hereafter
Atom Egoyan’s masterpiece about a tragic bus accident is more than just a drama about loss – it’s a telling take on how anger paralyzes and poisons us.
The Sundance Channel
1 January 12AM EST – H
Many claim this is the South Korean version of Silence of the Lambs, with just a little Se7en tossed in for good measure. This means it’s either derivative or delightful.