17 February 2010


One last list, and I'm done till 2020. Because as much fun as it is to celebrate the most glorious triumphs of art, it's way more fun to tear into absolute, unmitigated crap.

10. Jason X
(Isaac James, 2001, USA)

We're a long way from the Glorious Eighties, when I could have put together this whole list with slasher films. But at least the purest slasher of the '00s (a decade weirdly rife with post-slashers and slasher remakes) is a real damn stupid one: take the most ignobly, idiotically commercial franchise in horror cinema history, and then find every way you possibly can to dumb it down: put it in space, rip-off numerous better movies like Alien and The Matrix, pray that the audience will wait for the Cyborg-Jason promised in the ads with enough patience that they won't start throwing crap at the screen during the horrible plot sequences, and trick the whole thing out with TV-level CGI. Ah, but to have another Friday the 13th to pick on! It is bad like a McDonald's cheeseburger is bad: indefensibly so, but its familiarity is sort of warm and comforting. (Reviewed here)

9. I Know Who Killed Me
(Chris Sivertson, 2007,USA)

Lindsay Lohan plays a stripper in a torture flick with delusions of artistry. Wait, I've made it sound too good. Lindsay Lohan plays a stripper and her straitlaced alter-ego, and does both extremely poorly, apparently trusting that her weirdly raspy voice will convince us that she's a hard-ass chick with a noble soul, in a torture flick that uses incomprehensible symbolism involving owls, tells a story that can't even be bothered to follow its own rules let alone the rules of our universe, drops in a twist that can't be predicted only because it's so unearthly stupid that no reasonably sane viewer would ever be able to come up with it, uses its color scheme to bludgeon the audience into a stupor and ends with a explanation that just makes things less comprehensible. Nope, I just can't make it sound bad enough. But hey, Lindsay Lohan as a non-nude stripper! (Reviewed here)

8. House of the Dead
(Uwe Boll, 2003, Germany / USA / Canada)

Out of my deep, perverse respect for Boll - say any damn thing you want, but I defy you to name another contemporary filmmaker who so consistently produces exactly the film he intended - I almost gave him a pass. But excusing him from this list because I admire his doggedness is like refusing to put Mozart on a list of great composers because of the bad cover art on a recording of Don Giovanni. He boasts a perfect combination of high ambition, and a transcendentally bad grasp of story structure and visual language that makes him our surest heir to greats like Ed Wood and Coleman Francis. Any of his movies could have stood in for all; I picked HotD for that extra frisson of using footage from the video game it's based upon during some action scenes; just one of those skull-raping ideas that makes Boll so irreplaceable. (Reviewed here)

7. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
(Ron Howard, 2000, USA / Germany)

Everything else on this list is in some way (or many of them) incompetent: but Ron Howard, for all his banality, is much too good a director to make an incompetent movie; no, I dropped this one on the list because it is incredibly vile. Not that it expands Dr. Seuss's immaculate children's book, perfect in every way, to thrice its natural length; that sort of thing goes on and and will continue to go on. But in the expansion, the film somehow managed to wind up expressing the exact, precise opposite meaning of Seuss's anti-materialism fable: the best way to celebrate Christmas is with garish, conspicuous consumption. The five-minute moralising finale is about as effective in countering that as pissing out a forest fire. Plus, the stunningly ugly Grinch make-up isn't even as convincing or Seuss-like as what Jim Carrey can do with nothing but his facial muscles.

6. 88 Minutes
(Jon Avnet, 2007, USA / Germany / Canada)

Al Pacino is refreshingly turned-down, and that is the nice thing I have to say about a brain-dead action mystery on the 1980s model, except that no 1980s action movie was quite this bad. Unable even to keep their real-time gimmick moving smoothly, Avnet and screenwriter Gary Scott Thompson compound their sins with a twist ending that reveals the killer to have been: someone arbitrarily chosen and given a "Bwahaha, I was lying all along!" speech to paper over the fact that not one single hint was dropped anywhere in the film to indicate their guilt. Plus, the whole damn thing is full of dead ends and red herrings that feel like the most suffocating kind of time-wasters. But at least we'll always have the scene where Pacino suggests that he was framed by having his semen siphoned out of a dead hooker and placed inside a dead college student. (Reviewed here)

5. Titanic: The Legend Goes On
AKA Titanic: La leggenda continua...
(Camillo Teti, 2001, Italy)

It's just such a hypnotically wrong idea: a kid-friendly cartoon musical about the sinking of the RMS Titanic, filled with talking mice and no apparent deaths. That's just the (I beg your pardon) tip of the iceberg: the animation, with character design unabashedly stolen from Silver Age Disney movies and the films of Don Bluth, is stiff and hideous, utilising as few as six frames per second at times; the plot, which is also stolen from Disney, would insult the intelligence of the youngest viewer, not to mention the memories of 1517 lost souls. There are two versions: the shorter heavily re-ordered, atrociously-dubbed American cut is incomprehensible, while the longer Italian cut has an execrable Casio keyboard score; both include a rapping terrier. Incidentally, this isn't a rip-off of the 1997 film, but of a South Korean rip-off of the 1997 film, which by all accounts is even worse. (This one is readily found on YouTube: Part 1 of the uncut version (in English) here, Part 1 of the shorter version here. I naturally expect every single one of you to watch it at the earliest possible convenience, because it is fucking awesome). Thanks to reader Meg for putting me onto this one.

4. The Room
(Tommy Wiseau, 2003, USA)

I'm still not convinced that it's not an elaborate practical joke, and the only reason I'm not advocating that reading is because I'm not entirely sure whom the joke is on: maybe the viewer, though I think a better guess might be the cast, trapped in the Beckettian hellhole of Wiseau's insane rambling about relationships and L.A. life. There are basically three scenes: Johnny's best friend feels terrible that he's sleeping with Johnny's fiancée; there's a weird little kid, age between 12 and 20, who apparently likes to watch adults making out; and stridently un-erotic sex happens, set to unfathomably hideous pop songs. Over 99 minutes, these situations get played and re-played a lot, alongside shots, editing, dialogue, set design, and acting strongly implying that Wiseau & Co. had never even heard of movies before grabbing a camera. Though if it is a joke, hell, it's a pretty flawless one. (Reviewed here)

3. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
(Michael Bay, 2009, USA)

A Poem on Michael Bay, and His Assault Against Film Grammar: fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, you fucking ass. (Reviewed here)

2. Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2
(Bob Clark, 2004, Germany / USA / United Kingdom)

The director of A Christmas Story and Black Christmas managed to end his career with the story of an ex-Nazi madman who plans to use a mind-controlling kids' show to rule the world, and his 78-year-old superhero brother who has been kept at a physical 6 years old thanks to a youth serum, who recruits a team of toddlers to help foil the evil plot. Let that be a warning to the rest of you, filmmakers of the world! ...what? You really want me to use up the rest of my 150-world allotment? Um, Jon Voight plays the evil ex-Nazi media mogul, and Scott Baio plays the father of one of the toddlers. Christ, I don't need to defend this choice, it's about a 78-year-old superhero in the body of a 6-year-old fighting Nazi Rupert Murdoch. Oh, and the 6-year-old is named "Kahuna".

1. Battlefield Earth
(Roger Christian, 2000, USA)

Sometimes you gotta admit that the consensus is the consensus because because it's the damn truth. Anyone can make an incompetent movie with a shoestring budget and a five-day shooting schedule; but this was a $73 million motion picture, and it's still as crappily-made as anything on this list, or really anything ever made in history. Sometimes, I feel like I give bad movies points just for achieving the most basic fundamentals of being a functional object; and if I do that, it's only because Battlefield Earth proves so vividly that it's possible for a major Hollywood summer release to trip over even that minor bar. The wipes; the slow-motion; and dear God, the Dutch angles; this is the very model of an aesthetically broken film, and that's even before we get to the wildly inept storytelling, or John Travolta's performance as some kind of dreadlock-wearing interstellar lizard drag queen...


Vianney said...

I was positively flaggerblasted to find Transformers 2 at spot #3, until you reminded me a paragraph later that Battlefield Earth was released in 2000 and not in the end of the 80s, as my subconscious had filed it in a faint attempt at retrieving some of the neurons lost during the deer-eye half-hour it took me to turn. That shit. Off.

Zev Valancy said...

No space for "The Wicker Man," "The Love Guru," "The Happening" or ANY of the "Saw" films? Wow, this decade was full to the brim of with shitty movies. I think we need a longer list.

Mr. K said...

House of the Dead deserves a spot on the basis of one dialogue exchange alone:
Character: Why did you want to be immortal?
Zombie Ringleader: To live forever!

Though it's not as ridiculously miscast as Alone in the Dark (Tara Reid as a archaelogist or a human being? She fails at both).

Rebecca said...

You're missing the fact that for a good 4 years (maybe 5, I can't remember), Tommy Wiseau (himself) used to pay for a billboard at Highland and... something (somewhere near Sunset Blvd., which is very near the Kodak Theater), and I used to drive by it all the time and think, "What *is* that? I have to see it!" And never managed to do so. Even though Tommy Wiseau managed to keep The Room continuously running in a theater for all that time. And now it has become a midnight movie tradition, and I really feel stupid for not having checked it out before the entire rest of Los Angeles.

Stephen said...

I definitely would have made room for Saw III. I've never been so angry at a movie in my entire life.

Of these, I've seen I Know Who Killed Me and Battlefield Earth, and I think you undersold how delightfully awesome they are for the bad movie lover.

dfantico said...

The good thing about The Grinch (or Cat in the Hat) is that afterwards they realized they had to go CG and Horton Hears a Who was simply superb.

Meg said...

I am glad that you enjoyed the utter badness that is Titanic: The Legend Goes On. Somehow, I felt that you would. I'm surprised that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was only #3, but somehow I can't argue against Baby Geniuses 2 or Battlefield Earth.

That said. If you don't mind being my go-to cinephile for a bit, I have a question for you about a specific film, sort of, but also more about the nature of cinema. For my Literature and Film class, we read Perfume by Patrick Süskind and then watched the film directed by Tom Tykwer. Now, I thought the movie was okay, not the best I've ever seen or anything, and I don't know if you've seen it, but the entire premise revolves around a murderer (lol, no way, I never would've guessed that based on the title...) with an extremely heightened sense of smell.

As an avid perfume buff (don't believe there is such a thing? I own more than one hundred different perfumes...), I found the concept interesting, but there is a part of me that wonders if film, a primarily visual medium, is capable of relaying the experience of scent. There's something about smell that can't quite be conveyed unless you experiences it, and while I think that the editing in particular does a good job of showing a viewer the manner in which the protagonist perceives the world, I felt as though there was something 'missing' because I couldn't smell these things. I felt like I needed a scratch and sniff card for different parts of the movie.

Is this a failure of the director, or is it just an impossibility? Do we wait for the day when those live-in-the-movie experiences become popular, along with smells and wind rushing and other things like that (my friend who lived in Hong Kong said that they have these kinds of movie theatres there, where if the wind is blowing in the movie, they'll have a big fan going, etc). I defer to your greater and much more knowledgeable opinion (and apologize for randomly bringing this up... My sinus infection put me out of commission for last class so I missed the discussion).

Ellen said...

Rebecca - The billboard was right by Highland and Fountain. I recall driving by it all the time when I was a PA schlepping stuff over the hill. And despite my love of bad movies, I never once had any desire to see it.

Rick said...

I can see how I Know Who Killed Me made the list (here's a fun game: come up with a song that has "blue" in the title/lyrics every time you see the screen turn blue) but I have three words to say: Freddy Got Fingered.

optimushime said...

I saw The Room for the first time a few months ago. The bonus was, Mr. Tommy Wiseau himself attends screenings at the Sunset Laemmle theatres every month for a Q&A session in every room. His Q&A was actually more incomprehensible than the movie... it did better than any trailer could hope to in raising my expectations for the terrible pain ahead.

Vianney said...

@Meg: If I may offer an opinion, see Ratatouille and its treatment of taste for a successful example. But yeah movies with scratch-n-sniff cards have existed for decades, not that it's ever been more than a gimmick, and would definitely not help in this case as the most important scents in Süskind's novel are indescribable, let alone reproducible.

Tim said...

What Vianney said. I think it worth pointing out that Stanley Kubrick - a man noted both for filming so-called "unfilmable books", and for finding revolutionary new ways of making a movie with seemingly every new project - took a look at Perfume and concluded there was no way to visualise it.

To everybody else: I certainly didn't want for candidates, and for quite a while "The Saw Series had a notch on the list, but I kind of wanted to go with Jason X for sentimental reasons, and I saw the animated Titanic fairly late in the game. Of the other titles mentioned, I've never (thankfully) seen Freddy Got Fingered, which seems like it would have been a shoo-in. But everything everyone has named is pretty damn terrible all right; as far as bad comedies go, Year One and Good Luck Chuck were on the bubble.

Also: you all must see The Room, and you must see it in a movie theater. Midnight screenings are at least a thrice-yearly thing here in Chicago, so I assume it happens anywhere there's a decent underground/cult movie scene. It cannot possibly be described, save that it is like finding God.

Zev Valancy said...

On the subject of "The Room": I recommend this account of spending a long time with Tommy Wiseau during the most recent Chicago showing of that film.


Information Review said...

I watched House of Dear a few years ago, I felt that it went to fast and there was not enough action. I also thought some scenes were not original and cheesy, although I did like the ending somewhat, even though I don't understand it too well.