|The Worst Films of 2008: Another Boll-Free List!
|by Peter Sobczynski
Yes, I managed to sit through all of these abominations without going completely mad. Will you be able to say the same after merely reading about them?
Before starting this recap of the lowest cinematic moments of 2008, I suppose that I should take a moment to explain exactly how I arrived at these particular titles while ignoring some of the more seemingly obvious offenders that infested multiplexes over the last 12 months. There was plenty of swill on display--desperately unfunny teen-oriented sex comedies that lacked sex and comedy (“Sex Drive,” “The Hottie and the Nottie”), idiotic slasher movies (“Prom Night” and “Saw V”) and no less than two films each from the astonishingly untalented likes of Uwe Boll (“In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale” and “Postal”) and the two douchebags behind those “Movie” parodies (“Meet the Spartans” and “Disaster Movie”)--and by any normal standards, they would go down as not just some of the worst movies ever made but some of the worst things ever made by human hands (to give their makers the benefit of the doubt). However, I would argue that no one–not the people who made them or the people who saw them–went into them expecting that they were going to be anything more than low-caliber junk from the get-go. For me, a list of the worst films should consist of those titles that should have been good–either because of an intriguing premise or a talented cast and crew–but somehow went terribly, terribly wrong in the execution. It is easy enough to mock a hack like Boll for bringing together a shaky premise, a mismatched crazy-quilt cast and shoddy special effects and fight choreography but I wasn’t half as annoyed by “In the Name of the King” as I was by any of the titles gracing my final list. And yet, despite limiting myself in this manner, I was still able to come up with enough worthy titles to expand the list from the traditional ten films to fifteen different double-bills of similarly-themed dreck without having to mention such bombs as “Jumper,” “Fool’s Gold,” “10,000 BC,” “Pathology,” “The Foot Fist Way,” “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” or “Marley & Me.”
Anyway, without further ado, here are the worst films of 2008 and remember, I saw them so that you didn’t have to.
1. AMERICAN TEEN/AN AMERICAN CAROL: You know, we as a country faced any number of hardships and indignities over the past year (war, economic catastrophe and yet another jaw-dropping post-season collapse from the Chicago Cubs) but I can think of few as mortifying to out national psyche than to have our good name invoked in the titles of the two worst films of the year--a worthless “documentary” chronicling a year in the lives of five of the most irritating teenagers to ever shamelessly exploit themselves in the name of instant fame and a worthless “satire” chronicling the evils of liberals in general and Michael Moore in particular that was so painfully unfunny and off-base that even conservatives must have felt some degree of embarrassment while watching it. The only good things to come from either of these films is that neither of their targeted audiences--self-absorbed hipsters for the former and grumpy right-wingers who seriously believe that liberals are responsible for all the ills of the world--bothered to show up and they both died at the box-office as a result.
2. 21/WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS: Las Vegas is, of course, the place where many people arrive with dreams of glory and grandeur only to crap out in spectacularly awful ways and from an artistic standpoint, few crapped out in more spectacularly awful ways than these two losers--a morally reprehensible drama about a self-centered college student who finds his true calling beating the casinos as a card counter and a morally reprehensible comedy about two self-centered twits who meet and marry over the course of one drunken night, find themselves the winners of a $3 million jackpot and try to screw each other out of the money while sentenced to “six months of hard marriage.” Yes, both of these cinematic snake eyes made money but if there is any justice in the world, everyone involved with them now has their names permanently emblazoned in that black book in “Casino” that bars those that have offended the town from ever returning.
3. SEX AND THE CITY/MAMMA MIA: Being of the male persuasion, I am fully aware that I was far from the target audience for these two quintessential examples of the so-called “chick flick”--the eagerly awaited/dreaded big-screen version of the long-running TV series based upon the deathless words of Candace Bushnell and the eagerly awaited/dreaded big-screen version of the long-running stage musical based upon the deathless words and music (for lack of a better term) of ABBA. However, I still can’t believe that any sane and self-respecting woman with even a shred of taste or dignity would be proud to be considered the ideal viewer for either of these gruesomely overplayed, painfully unfunny and poorly choreographed monstrosities featuring some of the most unappealing characters to appear on a movie screen this year. Yes, both films were hugely successful at the box-office but remember, Sarah Palin was pretty big for a while as well and she wound up doing about as much good for the sisterhood as they did.
4. FOUR CHRISTMASES/THE LOVE GURU: If you had come up to me at this time last year and told me that 2008 would feature Vince Vaughn in a Christmas-themed comedy that was even worse than “Fred Claus” and Mike Myers in something even more dreadful and insulting than “The Cat in the Hat,” I would have called you crazy. Of course, we now know that you would have been right all along--Vaughn’s film squandered a cast full of talented actors on a staggeringly unfunny farce that contained not a single genuine laugh during its entire running time and Myers cranked out an all-out ego-fueled disaster that made me chuckle exactly once (I was amused by the look on co-star Jessica Alba’s face at one point when she was trying make it seem that she was incredibly amused by Myers’ pitiful antics). I promise that I will never doubt you again.
5. SEVEN POUNDS/HANCOCK: Yes, I know that Will Smith is pretty much the biggest movie star in the world today but over the last few years, his films (and the ensuing publicity campaigns) have become so insufferable that they make one long for the return of the quiet restraint of Tom Cruise from about three years ago. In “Seven Pounds,” he and Gabriele Muccino, his director on the smarmily awful “The Pursuit of Happyness,” reunited to tell a tale of guilt, redemption, spiritual rebirth and jellyfish maintenance that was so cloying and incoherent that it did what many thought was an impossible task--it transformed “Hancock,” Smith noisy and stupid misfire about a surly superhero, from being considered arguably the most year’s biggest disappointment into Smith’s artistic high-water mark for the year.
6. SPEED RACER/THE SPIRIT: I like visually flamboyant films as much as the next guy--perhaps even more so--but there is a line between joyful eye candy and painful headache material and these two losers tripped over that line early and often. In attempting to translate the allegedly beloved Japanese animated TV series to the big screen, the Wachowski Brothers (making their formal return behind the cameras for the first time since winding up the “Matrix” trilogy) transformed the entire “Speed Racer” enterprise into a kid-centric nightmare that was even more loud, gaudy and obnoxious than the original and a complete waste of time, energy and talent. As for “The Spirit,” Frank Miller, the “co-director” of “Sin City” attempted to translate Will Eisner’s genuinely beloved and ground-breaking comic strip to the big screen by transforming it into “Sin City 2” and botched things so completely that he may well go down as the directorial equivalent of Linda McCartney.
7. HOUNDDOG/TOWELHEAD: In arguably the weirdest cinematic coincidence of 2008, two first-time filmmakers, Deborah Kampmeier and Alan Ball, decided to jump-start their directorial careers with period pieces (in more ways than one) following young girls trying to negotiate the trials of early adolescence and questions about their emerging sexuality in a world populated violent and clueless fathers, absent mothers and predatory guys who sexually assault them during the big centerpiece sequences. In both cases, however, the results were unwatchable botches from start to finish--Kampmeier’s Southern Gothic take was unintentionally hilarious while Ball’s suburban satire was so snide and hateful that it made “American Beauty” (which he wrote) seem warm and humanistic by comparison.
8. STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS/THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE: If “The Clone Wars,” George Lucas’ feature-length commercial for his new animated television series, did nothing else (and it didn’t), it settled arguments regarding the franchise’s absolute nadir once and for all--this embarrassingly juvenile mess managed to even make the infamous “Star Wars Holiday Special” seem borderline competent by comparison. In finally returning to “The X-Files” years after its cancellation and over a decade since the previous big-screen version, creator Chris Carter demonstrated a similar attitude of contempt towards his fan base as well--after all that time, all he could come up with for a story was a half-assed and vaguely unpleasant mishmash that felt as if it had been slapped together from elements rejected from the original series during the weekend before the script was due at the studio. Ordinarily, product this shoddy would have sent the fanboy contingent into an uproar but they were so giddy over the triumphs of “Iron Man” and “The Dark Knight” that they barely seemed to notice as these two stinkers quickly disappeared from view.
9. THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL/BLINDNESS: Despite being based on international best-sellers and featuring top-notch casts, these two literary adaptations were about as lively and entertaining as a collection of dioramas based on famous stories constructed by an extremely dull-witted class of fifth graders. Although the subjects couldn’t have been different--the former dealt with the romantic triangle that developed between the Boleyn sisters (Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson) and Henry VIII (Eric Bana) and the latter featured the grisly misadventures of a group of people (including Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Gael Garcia Bernal) who are thrown into an abandoned asylum after a mysterious outbreak of white blindness sweeps the land--both featured talented actors trying (and failing) to overcome arch screenplays and heavy-handed direction in films that consisted entirely of long, boring patches punctuated by moments of unintended hilarity. Not only did these books undeserving of such a treatment, their Cliff Notes didn’t deserve it either.
10. THE RUINS/THE HAPPENING: As bizarre as it may sound, two of the worst horror films of 2008 turned on the notion on ordinary people being attacked by plants and other weapons of organic mass destruction devised by Mother Nature. The failure of “The Ruins,” in which a group of hot young dopes who found themselves trapped atop a remote Mayan dig with a bunch of nasty vines closing in for the kill, was exceptionally mystifying since it was based on a fairly effective novel by “A Simple Plan” author Scott B. Smith--in hindsight, though, it was one of those stories that works when you picture it in your mind but not when you see it playing out before your eyes on a movie screen. As for “The Happening,” in which Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel are among those trying to survive a bizarre nature-born plague that is driving millions of people to insanity and suicide, all it did was further demonstrate just how creatively bankrupt M. Night Shyamalan has become in the decade since “The Sixth Sense.” However, there are so many instances of unintentional hilarity on display here, the scene in which Wahlberg finds himself trying (and failing) to out-act a fake plant is by far the goofiest of the bunch, that those of you with a taste for high camp should probably check it out.
11. 88 MINUTES/RIGHTEOUS KILL: Despite his reputation as one of the great American actors, Al Pacino has made his fair share of lousy movies over the years--such turkeys as “Bobby Deerfield,” “Revolution” and “Scent of a Woman” immediately come to mind--and he has shown a disturbing willingness in recent years to make high-priced appearances in low-grade junk. However, I can’t remember any of his past missteps being as absolutely useless as these back--to-back would-be thrillers that were so tired and listless that he couldn’t even be bothered to work himself up into one of his famous scenery-chewing froths. The most inexplicable thing about these two films is that after having made “88 Minutes” with director Jon Avnet and presumably realizing how badly it turned out, Pacino willingly reunited with him for “Righteous Kill” and even dragged Robert DeNiro into the fray for good measure in a move that came very close to retroactively destroying the mystique of the diner scene from “Heat.”
12. SAVING GRACE/THE WACKNESS: Although nearly all of the films on this list are big-budget studio monstrosities, that doesn’t mean that the indie film world was exempt from making unwatchable crap, as these two bombs ably demonstrated. In the first, Julianne Moore and director Tom Kalin (making his long-awaited follow-up to 1991’s acclaimed “Swoon”) teamed up for an uncommonly dull reenactment of the twisted and taboo-breaking relationship between heiress Barbara Daly (Moore) and her son (Eddie Redmayne) that ended badly for everyone involved, especially those in the audience. In the second, an eclectic cast (including Ben Kingsley, Josh Peck, Famke Janssen, Mary-Kate Olsen and column crush object Olivia Thirlby) and director Jonathan Levine (making his long-awaited follow-up to his still-unreleased “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane”) teamed up for an uncommonly dull reenactment of that heady time period known as the early 1990’s by following an aimless teen pot dealer (Peck) who finds himself falling for the spoiled stepdaughter (Thirlby) of the shrink (Kingsley) with whom he trades weed for psychiatric advice in a story that contained all the excitement and flavor of a flat Zima.
13. FILTH & WISDOM/ROCKNROLLA: Yes, I fully realize that paring up the execrable directorial efforts from the couple involved in this year’s most highly-publicized break-up, Madonna and Guy Ritchie, may seem like the cheapest shot imaginable. And yet, I don’t feel bad about it at all because both films were so incomprehensibly awful--Madonna’s was some gibberish about a trio of unpleasant roommates struggling to make a go of their lives by working in the sex trade while Ritchie’s was a dreadful retread of his crime films “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch” that lacked the humor and freshness of those earlier efforts--that from an artistic standpoint, they actually came pretty close to being the perfect cinematic couple.
14. DEATH RACE/THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL: Considering that they were well-known properties with loyal cult followings and because even vintage crap like “Prom Night” is getting the remake treatment these days, it was perhaps inevitable that Paul Bartel’s hilarious 1975 satire about a futuristic cross-country car race in which the participant score extra points for hitting pedestrians and Robert Wise’s stately 1951 anti-nuclear parable in which an alien arrives on Earth to warn mankind to shape up or else would find themselves redone for contemporary viewers as well. Unfortunately for these two films (not to mention anyone who actually liked them), they were redone in such coarse, stupid and ill-advised ways that it seemed impossible to believe that anyone involved with the rehashes had ever actually seen the originals before. With any luck, though, these pretenders will wind up on the cultural junk heap alongside all the other failed revisions of recent years while the originals retain their places in film history.
15. THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS/CHAPTER 27: On the surface, these two films probably don’t seem to have that much in common--the former being a flat-footed parable about the son of a Nazi commander who befriends a young inmate of the concentration camp conveniently located in his backyard without ever quite grasping the situation and the latter being a docudrama following Mark David Chapman (a porked-out Jared Leto) as he hangs outside the Dakota in New York City in the days leading up to his murder of John Lennon. However, it turns out that the two did have something in common after all--both were so morally and ethically dubious from an artistic standpoint and so unpleasantly exploitative of their emotionally charged subjects that they actually managed to offend my not-exactly-delicate sensibilities.
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originally posted: 12/31/08 14:30:37
last updated: 12/31/08 15:02:38