Monday, July 20, 2009

The Worst Movies Ever Made

Phil Nugent's Top Ten Worst Movies Ever (Part One)

2. JFK (1991)

Some would argue that Natural Born Killers is the ultimate Oliver Stone audiovisual freakout, but this celebration of the noble questing rectitude of a deranged slime ball named Jim Garrison will always have a special place in the spittoon of anyone who, like me, once lived in New Orleans and shared a city with that particular waste of space. There was a time when Stone himself actually seemed to think that Garrison's "theory" about the assassination of Kennedy had something to it, but that misguided period in his life was over by the time the movie opened, and Stone shifted to arguing that while, of course, everything Garrison ever said or did was manure, the important thing was to create a "counter-myth" to balance the "official myth" of the Warren Commission report. Marginally more sophisticated observers have tried to defend the movie on the grounds that, in its hyper thyroid dementia, it "captures" the mindset of many unfortunates who were mentally discombobulated by the turmoil and tragedy of the '60s. Maybe it does; the "Flesh Fair" sequence in Spielberg's A1 perfectly captures my mindset when I'm caught in traffic with a migraine, but I'm not sure that makes it any better. Anyway, we don't really go for rampaging homophobia here at the Screengrab, and however you want to dress this piggy up in fancy bows, it'll still be a street crazy rant about how the queers killed Kennedy. Add to its crimes the fact that it extended Kevin Costner's fifteen minutes.


The director Peter Bogdanovich was coming off a couple of terrible failures (At Long Last Love, Daisy Miller) when he came up with the plan for this lavishly scaled comic tribute to the early days of moviemaking, which amounted to his climbing inside his own coffin and personally nailing the lid shut. At Long Last Love may actually be the more revealing film in terms of the nostalgic alienation that killed off Bogdanovich's once soaring career, but it just so happens that this is the one that's just been released on DVD, and as always seems to happen nowadays whenever one horribly (and justly) reviled failure reappears in a new format (and with a gimmick--the DVD version offers the film in black and white, which Bogdanovich says is how he wished he'd made it--a few people have piped up to say that it is and always was an unappreciated masterpiece. Seriously, this shit has to stop. There ought to be some constants in this world.

4. REVOLUTION (1985)

Remember Hugh Hudson, who was garlanded as a major new director after his first feature, Chariots of Fire, won the Academy Award for Best Picture? No, you don't, and here's one of the reasons why. The best thing you can say about it is that it made its star, Al Pacino, realize that his best course might be to take four years off if that's how long it took him to be extra sure about his next script.


Ken Russell is to Art and Music Appreciation what Oliver Stone is to Contemporary American History: visually overblown, crassly energetic, cheaply sensationalistic, and, like Dick Cheney, proud of his indifference to the facts whenever they contradict the "deeper truth" he knows in his heart to be right. This hysterical take on the life of Tchaikovsky (Richard Chamberlain) also shows that they have a shared affinity for homophobia and conspiracy theories. It's a wonder that Stone didn't ask Christopher Gable to reprise his role as Tchaikovksy's plotting, cast-off lover as one of the conspirators in JFK; it's not as if vampires don't live a long time.



To judge from the overly polite reactions to the recent Rocky Balboa and Rambo pictures, some critics who were there when Sylvester Stallone was the biggest star in the world and who had sense enough to cringe about it now feel so sorry for the poor has-been son of a bitch that they're happy he's still alive, steroid-addled, and capable of pulling crows to a cornfield at sundown. They were right the first time and need to get over it. Stallone's naked need for not just ticket sales but approval and respect was always pathetic, and in order to reap these ill-gotten rewards, he made a string of movies that were progressively more brutal in their stupidity, to the point that you could actually sit there feeling the collective I.Q. points being shaved off the audience. Nor does it necessarily make one a humorless tight-ass to regret the fact that, in order to get those fists pumping to his satisfaction, he had to throw gasoline on the fantasy that Vietnam in the mid-1980s was full of captive American POWs, which amounted to emotionally torturing the families of MIA servicemen for the sake of an adrenaline surge, as well as the idea that we didn't lose the war but "weren't allowed to win it," a contention that guaranteed one an interesting crowd reaction in theaters where Vietnam vets were present. The next time somebody as hard up for stardom as Stallone and as shameless about how he gets it comes along, for God's sake, let him be satisfied with making movies where he kills Martians or something.


No list of worst movies would be complete without a Scorsese imitation, and while Phil Joanou's State of Grace remains a standout for the blatancy of its appropriation of the uptight guy/crazy guy central dynamic--with Gary Oldman's performance some kind of benchmark for fake Method acting--this embarrassment, made for some $900,000 by the self-promoting tyro writer-director Rob Weiss, doubles as a horror story about overhyped "indie" filmmaking in the wake of sex, lies and videotape and Reservoir Dogs. (For the true and terrible story, see John Pierson's chapter on the movie in Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes, titled "Amongst Jerks.") The best thing you can say about the movie's male cast is that they would never be seen onscreen again; Weiss himself has never directed another movie, apparently having concluded that it's too much like work. (Surely he could get another job if he wanted to; if Phil Joanou does it, anybody could.) Instead, he lives out his dreams of show biz glory vicariously, grinding out scripts for the televised circle jerk that is HBO's Entourage.

9. CRY FREEDOM (1987)

Richard Attenborough takes rich, complex dramatic stories about amazing men, turns them into pap, and then stands there beaming with pride at the great favor he's done by making these stories dull enough that any muttonhead can now presumably benefit from them. He does sometimes get great performances in spite of himself, and this movie features a staggering piece of work in Denzel Washington's portrait of the martyred anti-apartheid activist Steven Biko. So it's all the more patently insulting that the movie is shaped as the story of a white family man, Biko's biographer Donald Woods (Kevin Kline), and that Kline's colorless performance as a man who's presented as being unexciting and virtually of no interest--I guess so that we dullards in the audience can "identify" with him--is supposed to be the center of the movie, with Biko in his shade. Attenborough is very lucky that the apartheid government was well on its way to collapsing by the time his movie came out; it distracted attention from his film and made it seem more of an irrelevance than an outrage. But if a Truth and Reconcilation Campaign for movies were ever created, Cry Freedom would be first in line, and few movies would deserve forgiveness less.


The practice of grabbing hold of the title of a non-movie-related pop culture touchstone did not in fact begin with Uwe Boll, and in fact, it's hard to think of a computer-game-based movie that would make less sense than this project. Produced by Robert Stigwood in the wake of the success of Saturday Night Fever, the new Beatles who head the all-star cast are the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton, who a year or two before had been the biggest pop star in the English-speaking world. With all due respect to Steve Martin's gonzo movie debut as Dr. Maxwell Edison, the best joke here is that by the time the film was released, Frampton had less clout and credibility with the rock audience than his erstwhile co-star, Mr. George Burns.

Runner-Up: FORREST GUMP (1994)

Combining all the aesthetic crimes of a Hallmark card, a soap opera, an Oscar-bait "very special" performance, and a Fox News report on why the sixties were bad for you, Robert Zemeckis' crime against humanity officially declared the end of the Being There era, a time when most of humanity would have agreed that there was a downside to seeing a well-intentioned moron as a fount of wisdom and moral superiority. And the dubbing in the scenes with JFK and John Lennon sucks donkeys. Sometimes, flipping the channel and coming across a rerun of Bosom Buddies or the scene in Turner & Hootch where he tries to explain Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp to a dog, I'm reminded of how much I miss having had an iota of respect for Tom Hanks.

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