Sunday, December 27, 2009

The 50 Worst Films of the Decade, 10-1

Sorry for the delay, everyone...Christmas plans interrupted the movie-list project.  But we're back on track.  Keep an eye out for the "50 Best Films of the Decade" list, coming your way each day until the new year!

I'll tell you right now, long-time readers of this blog, the pick for Worst Film, #1, is going to be a surprise.  Hatred of Zach Braff and his film, "Garden State" was a MAJOR theme of this blog, back in the early days of Crushed by Inertia.  At one time, this site was high-ranking indeed in search engines for keywords relating to Braff and his self-serving little movie that sort of single-handedly killed the whole concept of an "indie film."

It's good enough for #2 on this list, but something I saw after "GS" managed to be EVEN MORE EXCRUCIATING.  What could it be?  Press on, dear reader, and let's find out together...

10. Elizabethtown (2005)

"Garden State" was not an isolated phenomenon in the realm of shitty romantic comedy-dramas, but adhered to a tried-and-true formula, an entire sub-genre, if you will, about straight-laced sad sacks who meet free-wheeling, twee, gorgeous fantasy women living life unpredictably.  It has come to be known as the "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" phenomenon, and "Garden State" is merely its most self-important and odious manifestation.  This ridiculously-poor Cameron Crowe outing is the runner-up.  Orlando Bloom has had some problems at work, and is about to kill himself when he gets a call informing him his father has passed away.  En route to his hometown for the funeral, he meets flight attendant Kirsten Dunst, not so much playing a character as a masturbatory fantasy for sad loners.  She has absolutely no life of her own, and decides to devote all of her energy to making Orlando happy again, usually with bromides about how life is for the living.  But that's when she's allowed to speak...for most of the movie, the couple falls in love in the background while contemporary popular music (a Crowe staple) plays on the soundtrack, so we don't actually get to hear what they're saying.  Which is probably just as well.  This is not exactly a movie about ideas to begin with, but rather a cinematic Hallmark card, recycling worn cliches yet again out of more tradition than anything else.  For when you care enough to send...SOMETHING.

9. A Sound of Thunder (2005)

"A Sound of Thunder" was never actually finished.  The production essentially ran out of money before the effects work was completed, so a lot of the CGI is INCREDIBLY unpolished and malformed.  But it's not like the movie was going to be good, even if it had more time to gestate.  So it's basically like watching a Behind-the-Scenes featurette for a really awful science-fiction film that never came out.  The movie-that-could-have-been was about a future where time travel is possible, and thus hunters use it to travel back and shoot dinosaurs for sport.  (Obviously!)  But though they can kill one dinosaur over and over again safely, without it impacting anything else in the space-time continuum, when one hunter steps on a butterfly, it causes the future to get constantly interrupted by "time waves." (Read: convenient plot devices that crop up at exactly the moment needed to move things along, and cause exactly the sort of change/crisis that works within the story at the time.)  These largely consist of monsters suddenly appearing, which I guess now exist because time has gotten all screwy.  Ben Kingsley, the patron saint of awful, high-concept science-fiction movies, has a few theories.  So, as you can see, this would have sucked regardless.  In fact, it's probably a bit more watchable now when it's essentially some mock-ups and test shots that have been loosely patched together to get back at least a fraction of the up-front costs on DVD.

8. Wicker Man (2006)

I sort of feel bad even PUTTING "Wicker Man" on this list, because it really is one of those movies that's so terrible, it's kind of spellbinding.  Neil LaBute's completely insane redo of the campy British horror-comedy original starts by making the movie deadly serious and sincere, a straight-forward horror film. LaBute then proceeds in putting Nicolas Cage through some of the most wild-eyed, overly-theatrical hysterics of his or anyone else's career.  A montage of brief Cage scenes from this film, with no commentary or outside material added, is one of the most hilarious videos on all of YouTube.  The fact that we're watching a recognizable, award-winning movie star putting on a bear suit, riding around on a bicycle, stopping only to punch women, and screaming about being covered in bees, is funny enough, but the fact that the movie actually means to SCARE US with this material just moves it into an entirely new realm of batshittery.  How could any filmmaker be so disconnected from his audience, to think something so ridiculous could be frightening?  It would be like watching "Sesame Street" and then having Frank Oz explain to you that it was supposed to be about the Irish potato famine.  ("See, it's not EASY being GREEN!")

7. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)

I'd say "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is a bad sitcom standing in for a film, but even bad sitcoms know better than to employ this extremely tired, hacky style any more.  In fact, they tried to turn the movie INTO a sitcom afterwards, a natural fit, and they couldn't even keep it on the air.  "According to Jim" was just too much competition for Nia Vardalos...She's not up to taking on the J-Man.  Nominally a story about a very Greek family from Greece, it really doesn't offer much in the way of genuine cultural observations; "we're tight-knit!" "the guys are softies but they try to act tough!" "we love to eat!" "we talk with our hands!"  What ethnic group DOESN'T identify with these kinds of tired tropes, and indeed, what ethnic (read: non-Anglo-Saxon) character in any mainstream comedy already doesn't behave in this way?  Even when the film abandons the "my crazy family!" schtick, it just falls back on more trite conventions, right down to the pretty but insecure girl who comes out of her shell by taking off her glasses.  You get the feeling Vardalos hasn't really updated her act since a 1987 open mic, and ran out of her go-to bits halfway through the first act.  Why mainstream audiences ate up this crap 7 years ago, I will never know.

6. 300 (2006)

I found "300," a much-beloved celebration of blood, guts and preening masculinity, highly distasteful on two levels. (1) Its worldview and political perspective is a monstrous, top-down confirmation of all the worst impulses of the Bush Era/Oughts, making this really one of the key films of the past decade.  It takes a specific, real historical event  - The Battle of Thermopylae - robs it of any and all genuine context, and sets it in a modern reality where it can serve as an "Us vs. Them" rallying cry for xenophobic Westerners living in fear of immigrants and homosexuals waiting to invade their countries and fundamentally alter their sheltered, privileged way of life.  The film depicts Spartans, its white manly-man heroes, as forthright, brave Adonises and their foes, the Persians, as a variety of mutants, perverts and deviants.  It insists on repeatedly criticizing homosexuals (the Persian army brings lesbians along with them for some reason, and the Spartans at one time deride Athenians as "boy-lovers") for reasons totally unconnected to the film's theme or plot, and in spite of the fact that the real historical Spartans themselves engaged in hot, steamy acts of boy-loving pretty regularly.  Finally, the movie is just a glorification of violence of the most despicable kind, "war porn" that equates the notion of being patriotic with committing wanton acts of savagery.  There is no honor, no patriotism, no masculinity at all divorced from bashing other men's heads in.  Which, when you get right down to it, is just gross, and should be enough to turn off any action movie fan, no matter how prettily-rendered some of those head-bashings might be.

5. The Happening (2008)

No movie in the Top 50 Worst Films of the Decade list has a lamer premise than "The Happening."  Not a single one.  Do you have any idea how DIFFICULT that must be?  To get a movie made with a premise that's more banal and insipid than "K-Pax," "Gigli," "Rollerball," "Rat Race," "Evolution," "The Fountain," "Righteous Kill" and "The Dukes of Hazzard"?  HOLY SHIT.  I mean, despite his Wile E Coyote-esque success rate over the past few years, you've got to give M. Night Shyamalan some credit just for willing this movie into existence.  In the film, Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel take to the road, hoping to outrun killer plants that have gone haywire and started emitting a toxin that makes people commit suicide.  At one point, Wahlberg tries to reason with a plant, before discovering it's made of plastic.  They have a series of grim, not very believable or interesting encounters with other survivors that don't really go anywhere, and then the whole thing just ends as quickly and inexplicably as it begins.  That's all that happens, making the film's very title into a cruel joke at the viewer's expense.  This was also the first Shyamalan film without a twist ending, probably because the twist comes at the beginning...You've actually agreed to devote your time to a movie about murderous plants.  Ha ha ha ha ha!  I got you!

4. The Spirit (2008)

What can you say about something like "The Spirit"?  It's either an experiment gone awry, or a parody of the very notion of adapting comic books into films, or a desperate cry for help from writer/director Frank Miller.  Whatever the initial intent, what has resulted is one of the most amateurish, and frankly baffling, movies I have ever seen, a joyless, shrill, disjointed mess that was nominally inspired by Will Eisner's classic series of comics but really just stems from Mr. Miller's twin loves of the sophomoric and grotesque.  (An extended fight scene finds villain The Octopus hitting The Spirit with an entire toilet.  Ba Dum Bump, Ba Dum Bump, SPLAT!)  I'm VERY RARELY tempted to walk out of movies, as clearly, I have a fascination with shit cinema, but I thought about little else for this film's final hour.  I wavered between "I have to see the whole thing so I can speak intelligently later about why this is the worst thing ever" and "Oh man I have to get out of here oh my god now they're dressed as transvestite Nazis why this makes no sense I hate you Frank Miller I'm leaving."

3. Crash (2005)

Screenwriter Josh Olson summed up Paul Haggis' "Crash" more succinctly than I ever could, which is why he's the author of "History of Violence" and I write snarky blog posts about "The Spirit."  He said, and I quote: "It's like Paul Haggis just discovered there was racism YESTERDAY, and now he just HAS to tell you about it."  Haggis' film really has to be seen to be believed...It's so intensely naive, so myopic in its child-like view of racism, and so completely alien for any Los Angeles native, it almost has the feeling of a parody, like how a real fighter pilot might feel while watching "Hot Shots."  A series of interconnected characters, each given such BIG OBVIOUS roles to play that they may as well wear labels and nametags ("Hi, I'm Chris Bridges, I'll be portraying your Erudite Black Thug this evening.  Can I tell you about our specials?"), play out overblown mini-melodramas each dealing with some overly-simplified notion about race, none of which approach any insight deeper than "prejudice...BAD!"  I mean, forget even exploring anything provocative about class and race in modern-day Los Angeles...Haggis instead obsesses about the fact that even MINORITIES, who aren't even WHITE, can sometimes be racist themselves!  Whoa!  Also, you'd hope that a movie written by a grown man, a professional writer with previous credits to his name, would come off a little less plodding and forced. It's as if Haggis felt that discussing a serious issue gets you out of having to invent plausible narratives where one sequence logically follows another.  In order to make his insipid mish-mash hold together, Haggis has to resort to random spills down staircases, vans full of Asian slaves AND a little girl who can jump 4-feet into the air, into the pathways of bullets, without a running start.

2. Garden State

OK, my complaints about this film are, by now, well-known, and any casual search of the blog archives can turn up numerous, lengthy discussions as to what exactly upset my so much about Zach Braff's salute-to-himself.  I think, to cap off all of this discussion once and for all, I'd just like to point out how "Garden State," to this day, really does represent the least progressive, romantic, optimistic or uplifting view of love I have ever seen at the cinema.  Love, for Zach Braff, is when a drug-addled loser, permanently broken due to a severe childhood trauma, meets a hyperactive, insecure bundle of quirks who is willing to dote on him, fawn over him and generally provide him with all the maternal attention he's long been craving without expecting anything in return, and the two of them embark on a series of grim, largely inconclusive adventures during which they engage in undergraduate discussions of metaphysics, listen to popular music of the day and try to convince one another their lives are worth living despite the mound of evidence to the contrary.  If love were actually anything like that, we'd all be eunuchs.

1. Revolver (2006)

Yes, Guy Ritchie's completely nonsensical attempt at the "psychological thriller" genre is not just the worst film of the present decade, but quite possibly the worst film ever made.  Jason Statham stars as...well, okay, that's about it for actual summary. "Revolver" defies any attempt at paraphrasing.  Statements are made, things happen (or seem to happen) and then they are all sort of repeated and jumbled together, until the entire movie slides entirely into possibly-Kaballah-inspired gibberish.  There's a variety of decent actors trying their best here (plus Andre 3000!), but none of them seem to know what to make of these scenes, possibly because no two ideas thrown out in the movie ever seem to proceed to a logical conclusion or connect to one another.  So Ray Liotta just starts screaming, Vincent Pastore pretends like he can hold more than a single thought in his head at the same time and Jason Statham runs around and makes sexy tough guy faces.  Watching the movie is such a frustrating experience, it's almost like Ritchie designed it to disappoint at every turn.  Plotlines are established but not developed, characters are discussed but never introduced, and after investing an hour in trying to piece everything together, the movie basically just restarts from the beginning, finally cluing you in that nothing you have seen, up until now, actually was supposed to mean anything, and it's all just going to cycle through again anyway.  There are films like "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie," "Last Year at Marienbad" and "Lost Highway" that employ absurdity and repetition to great effect, enhancing certain themes or developing a compelling sequence by revisiting the same image, sound or idea again and again.  But Guy Ritchie is not playing on this level AT ALL.  He's just jerking us around hoping to stumble on to something profound.  He doesn't. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Swordfish (2001)

"Swordfish" is far too entertainingly bad to make a "worst films of the decade" list.  But I couldn't just ignore it or leave it off, either.  "Swordfish" presents just about every stupid cliche and dumb convention of the Mainstream Action Movie this decade, from "Matrix"-inspired bullet time trickery to crazy logic-defying "plot twists" to gratuitous hacking sequences that demonstrate a basic misunderstanding of computer science to villains who wear teeny tiny designer sunglasses.  The action is all shot in that Michael Bay-inspired quick-cut choppy style that really doesn't let you see much of anything, but here that matters a bit less, because most of the action is too physically improbable and cartoonish to inspire any real thrills or excitement.  Finally, some trivia: In 2001, "Swordfish" gained notoriety because it features a quick shot of Halle Berry's boobs, which also made a special guest appearance in another really terrible movie that very same year..."Monster's Ball."

1 comment:

Ooble said...

Thought you might be interested to know that A Sound of Thunder was originally a short story written in the '50s. It's a lot better than the movie, by the sounds of your scathing review. I recommend checking it out.