Of the 105 films, I’ve seen ten (Battlefield Earth, Raise the Titanic, The Postman, K-19, Red Planet, Soldier, Beloved, The Scarlet Letter, Death to Smoochy, and Event Horizon). I’d say that K-19 is actually a pretty good movie, although I can’t imagine why anyone thought that it would make any money. Death to Smoochy is sorta watchable. Beloved seemed a fair enough entry in the literary cinema genre. Soldier was neither good nor particularly terrible. The rest are just plain awful, the The Scarlet Letter notable for being the worst movie I can recall ever seeing in a theater.
As for the rest, being terrible is only one reason to end up on the list. Some of them I’ve never heard of, including, strangely enough, Alamo. Some of them I’m genuinely flummoxed about the price tag; Town and Country cost $105 million? Windtalkers $145 million? Lolita $62 million? Some of the films seem based on obviously unmarketable premises. I’ve heard that Cutthroat Island is somewhat better than its reputation, but can’t understand why anyone thought that Geena Davis could headline a $115 million action film.
Finally, I’m just a little bit curious about Burnt by the Sun 2: Exodus. I’ve never seen the first, but I’ve heard good things. I hadn’t been aware that a) a sequel had been made, and b) it was the biggest bust in Russian box office history. Anybody see it?
I too am a Harry Potter virgin – no books, no movies. I can’t really imagine the books ever being a priority given the always-large stack of books that must be read on my shelf, but in principle I’m not opposed to the films (although I have no particular interest in them either.) But unlike Frank Bruni, I have a good reason! The unavoidable barrier, alas, can be summed up in four words: “Directed by Chris Columbus.“ Starting with the third doesn’t seem workable, but watching the first two is obviously not an option as there’s no chance whatsoever that they’ll be watchable, and there we go.
It would be hard to count the number of times Kevin Smith has justified his filmmaking by explaining in his Comic Book Guy voice that he just makes “dick-and-fart joke movies” and that taking them seriously misses the point. If only this were true. The problem with Smith’s filmmaking, evident in Chasing Amy, is that he actually does think his movies are more than dick and fart jokes; he makes a point of forcing his juvenile ideas of morality, social commentary and intelligent dialogue into his already jumbled and mismanaged work. That he also utilizes an excessive amount of dick-and-fart filler to offset the pretentious emptiness of his dialogue and plot proves only that he has the faintest glimmer of awareness that his movies suck and, as such, need sufficient cushion to repel critical barbs.
When Smith writes long soliloquies, he doesn’t do so from an attempt to ironically portray how Holden conceives relationships with juvenile sentimentality, but because he lacks the ability to give you insight into each character without having them wrenchingly declare themselves and their universe to you. A better writer gives you the details and lets you discover a human being from them, but here, each word is very important, and each one has meaning, because this is communication through vivisection. You open up the animal, and every working part matters.
There are many ways to respond to the fact that The Shawshank Redemption is ranked #1 on the IMDB Top Movies chart. This is one of my favorites, because it concentrates not on how deserving (not very) the ranking is, but rather on why such an unlikely candidate has taken the top spot. Shawshank didn’t make a lot of money, didn’t win many awards (it lost Best Picture to Forrest Gump, but Pulp Fiction was the truly deserving candidate), has well-known-but-not-tremendous stars, and is part of a respected but not particularly beloved or well-represented genre. Nevertheless, I don’t find the ranking to be viscerally shocking. There’s something remarkably watchable to Shawshank; if I happen to find it on TV, I can start watching at any point and feel exceedingly comfortable. This is altogether odd for a film that features prison rape as a significant plot element.
See Kenny, Zoller Seitz, Edroso, and this oldie-but-goodie from Dargis. Roy’s post, with its account of Lumet’s setting of Newman’s summation in The Verdict, has many insights but I especially like this one:
His work was uneven, but I don’t know that we’d have the good films he gave us if he husbanded his energies like Kubrick, and made movies less often. His was not a ruminative talent. He got the idea, made the picture, and moved on. This resembles the method of the hack, but Lumet was clearly not only talented, but artistically ambitious — he actually got an NYPD trilogy (Serpico, Prince of the City, Q&A) made in Hollywood; who among our auteurs could do likewise? They could sell a superhero property, of course, but a three-film examination of big-city police and political corruption? It wouldn’t even occur to them. Which is just another reason to mourn Lumet’s passing.
Pauline Kael vividly, if too uncharitably. described the approach in her essay about the making of The Group. The two salient features of Lumet’s body of work are the peaks and the fallow periods. But it was a very different trajectory than the burn-bright-and-slowly-fade-away pattern perhaps less prominent in film than in music or poetry but still pretty common. One the one hand, he was always very uneven, following up Serpico with Loving Molly and the Network with an unsuccessful adaption of Equus. On the other hand, what stands to me as his greatest film came out 25 years after Twelve Angry Men, and Before the Devil Knows Your Dead ranks near the top of his canon. I’d like to think that the latter was his last film because he knew he had really nailed one after a lot of partial and full misfires, but Glenn confirms that he never would have thought that way, and the restless energy of his 70s peaks never could have happened any other way.
Since it’s nearly obligatory to note an idiosyncratic favorite, I’ll note that with the exception of James Foley’s Glengarry Glen Ross Lumet’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night might be my favorite filmed theater.
I thought that there was no way that Sucker Punch could be as bad as its fake-empowerment-sexist-tripe-for-drooling-morons trailer, if only on the grounds that unless it was directed by Uwe Boll nothing could be that bad, but apparently it comes pretty close. I’m almost tempted to watch the thing to see just how high the Entertainment Weekly-certified auteur has climbed within the pantheon of Hollywood’s worst directors, but on second thought I think I’d rather watch a 5-hour director’s cut of Pearl Harbor.
The title of Hollywood’s Worst Director is always very hotly contested. But the auteur of Patch Adams has made a pretty compelling case from himself by essaying a New Age documentary about the meaning of life or some such:
Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky are among the boldface-name philosophers he interviews, but their voices are soon drowned out by a torrent of pseudoscience from experts at places like the Institute of HeartMath and the Institute of Noetic Sciences. We’re all connected, you see, because of magnetic fields and DNA! We can possibly predict the future three to five seconds before it happens!
I’ll outsource my picks to Roy, and add only that I really hope Steinfled or Leo win supporting actress (the fact that the former is being nominated for “supporting” although she probably had a higher percentage of screen time than De Niro in Taxi Driver notwithstanding.)
Shorter some guy at John Nolte’s Aesthetic Stalinism for Dummies: “Hollywood romantic comedies are, as a rule, dreary and cliched, with dumb scripts leading inexorably and implausibly to the conclusion mandated by anachronistic gender essentialism. See, Holywood does make movies for conservatives!”