I’m filling in for Josh K-sky today, as my negativity is better suited to the topic at hand: the worst movies ever. This weekend, The Girlfriend and I developed a three-fold taxonomy of bad movies:
- Irredeemable: movies that are so bad that a “better” version cannot be imagined; one would simply have to start over entirely.
- Disappointments: promising movies done in by poor execution.
- Baffling classics: movies that are widely revered, but you can’t understand why.
In the first category, The Girlfriend and I believe that Shadowboxing, the first feature film by the director of Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire, is something of the Platonic form. Starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Helen Mirren as an assassin duo who face a serious moral dilemma when their target goes into labor just as they’re carrying out the hit, this movie does literally everything wrong. I hesitate to even single any particular thing out! Another major candidate for us is the animated feature Wizards, which features an alternately wise and lascivious wizard fighting against the forces of evil in a post-apocalyptic landscape. As it turns out, the sole surviving cultural artifact from the “Age of Technology” is footage of the Nazis. You can do the math. And then of course there’s Godfather, Part III.
I don’t have as many obvious examples of the second category — The Girlfriend suggested Hugo, which could have been a decent children’s movie if the lead actors weren’t so appallingly bad. It’s probably hard to get worked up about these films. Similarly with category three, where one might feel insecure admitting to one’s bafflement. For me, though, Chinatown is definitely up there on the “why is it a big deal” list, along with Easy Rider.
But what do you think, my dear readers?
14 thoughts on “Monday Movies: Worst Ever”
I saw Cloud Atlas this weekend and it’s not among the worst ever but it fits into the second category of disappointments. It’s possible there’s the potential for a good movie there (I didn’t read the book it’s based on, so I’m not sure) but the execution here had to have been less than optimal. The pithy critic’s one-liner I came up with on Twitter was that it was a C student masquerading as a valedictorian.
They had actors play multiple roles across multiple eras and cultures (the “yellow-face” seems to be the most controversial). It was distracting and I still insist they would’ve been better off tying the characters’ souls appearing in multiple eras in some other way. Another severe misfire was the Jar Jar Binks way of speaking they chose for the part of the movie that was in the distant post-apocalyptic future. The far larger problem was that the movie’s overall execution fell very far short of its lofty ambitions.
We recently tried to watch When Nietzsche Wept (semi-fictional film about Nietzsche, Lou Andreas-Salomé and Josef Breuer). The acting was so phenomenally bad we had to switch it off. I haven’t seen the Mohammed film but imagine it’s comparable. I agree with you that Chinatown is over-rated.
Chinatown repays repeated viewings (my first pass was a somewhat baffled one). Easy Rider is terrible.
Films that other people seemed to like that I thought were bad: American History X, Boondock Saints, Garden State, Dead Poets Society, Pleasantville, Love, Actually, Top Gun, I Am Legend, Any Given Sunday, Crash
How could I forget Vanilla Sky in category 1?!
Category One (I am restricting it to movies that [i]think[/i] they’re good:
13 Conversations about One Thing
The Sweet Hereafter
I endured Battleship, Category 1, with a group of friends Friday night. Constance Penley once said that Beavis and Butthead was about white privilege because only white males could be that dumb and survive. Taylor Kitsch’s character was a perfect example of that — he begins the movie as a drunken jackass, breaking into a 7-11 to get a chicken burrito for a hot girl at a bar (sounds funnier than it is), gets Tased for his trouble, joins the Navy as an officer, then finds himself in charge of repelling the alien attack. For about five minutes he wears this constipated moment-of-truth look, but he doesn’t really change much afterwards. God I loved Tim Riggins so much.
I love Tim Riggins, too. Like love love.
Where do movies so bad they’re wonderful fit in? I’m talking about Sleepaway Camp, The Room, etc.
Could “Caligula” have been better?
I forgive Adam for everything based on his comment on Hugo. Although I would promote it to category 1 because the whole idea was pompous to start with.
I must admit that I’m fascinated with this idea of films that are “irredeemably” bad, presumably meaning films that could not have been improved with editing or any number of casting or directorial changes. What might make a film “irredeemably” bad? I suspect that it might be for the following reasons, which aren’t mutually exclusive:
1. The film was obviously made for financial considerations or was made under (usually financial) duress. (I suppose that’s why Godfather III is on the list – it is a decidedly unnecessary film that is even at times painfully repetitive or nostalgic, that at the very least required more resources [but, really, how much more?].)
2. The film is what reviewers would call a “tract” or mere “propaganda for the converted” – it seems to exist not because a story seemingly has to be told or a character seemingly must be seen or heard, but for solely ideological purposes. (I suppose we would put certain evangelical films or political documentaries in this category.)
3. The film is some sort – sophisticated or otherwise – of “fanservice” that exists to merely “reward” viewers. Sophisticated members of this category might include Straw Dogs, if one follows Pauline Kael’s view that its vision is inevitably “narrow and puny” due to “obsessions with masculinity” – that is, that the film is driven by wounded masculinity and misogyny and becomes a “fascist work of art.”
4. The film cannot lead to any form of what we might call “cultivation of the soul.” Its aim are purely physical, whether prurient or the shock felt through watching certain extreme, and self-consciously extreme, horror films (e.g., A Serbian Film).
Sorry if this is stupid – I’m not only not a film scholar, but nowhere even close …
My pet peeve in bad movies are those that try to manipulate the viewer and you cant distance yourself from it, no matter how much you hate the movie on a conscious level. Like Requiem for a Dream, so bad, so stupid, and you just feel dirty and used afterwards. Precious is similar.
Highlander 2 must be irredeemably bad. If the first Highlander is the prime example of a ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ movie, then the sequel is the only film I am aware of that has pushed beyond the ‘good-beyond-bad’ to find new types of badness on the other side.
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