Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Ten Worst Films of the Decade

I'd like to keep this post brief because, ironically, I'm really not in the mood to obsessively gloss over how much I hate each and every one of these films. You may think a film writer would have more fun ripping a movie apart than praising it, but no: the whole reason I founded this site was because I wanted to write passionately about films I love. And since the first decade of the twenty-first century was perhaps not as strong as previous decades, I don't particularly want to be too reminded of the downsides of the past ten years.

But it's gotta be done! I'm still preparing and doing research for my upcoming Top 50 Films of the Decade, which I should have done and posted in the next two or three weeks. In the meantime, let me dish out my demons here, will ya?

And just to let everybody know in advance: I'm going to resist the temptation to put Paul Haggis' Crash (2005) on the list. Though I'm certainly no fan of the film, I have to admit that I don't think it's terrible- and I did admire some of the performances (and even, dare I say, the exaggerated subplots.). Therefore, I'll be cutting Mr. Haggis some slack... for now.

1. Pay it Forward (2000)

Mimi Leder's absolutely sickening afterschool special about a Las Vegas kid (Haley Joel Osment) who is inspired by his teacher (Kevin Spacey) to go out into the city, do good deeds for people and inspire them to do some good deeds of their own. Or, as I like to call it, "walking aroud the city acting like Kirk Cameron". Peter Travers of Rolling Stone named this the #1 AND #2 worst film of the year. Why? Because this movie is laughable for all the wrong reasons: the filmmakers feel as though the only way they can make the hero's mother intresting is if they make her this out-of-control alcoholic (how many more times is alcoholism going to be abusively used as a plot device in modern cinema), and of course they've just GOT to give Helen Hunt a massive push-up bra this side of Erin Brokovich. Regrettably, Spacey, Hunt and Osment all give it their best in performances that could have suited something more... I don't know, artistic? The ending of the film is the most horrendous insult of all to our intelligence, further proof that Mimi Leder is quite a clumsy director when it comes to hysterics and hasn't learned anything from the mess she made out of 1998's Deep Impact.

2. Pearl Harbor (2001)

Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer can make jackasses out of themselves with fictional action movie fiascos as much as they want to- but it's when they try to bastardize American history (you're reading the words of an American history buff here) and trade the importance of our troops for the greed of the box office when I start calling the cops.

3. Tideland (2006)

Terry Gilliam has never been more wrong. With this film, he declared that he wanted to tell a story solely from the point of view of a child. I applaud the effort, but Gilliam's experiment doesn't nearly reach the exquisite levels of films like Empire of the Sun or A.I., which is all the more ironic considering that Gilliam has made several unkind remarks about Steven Spielberg in the past (and yet fails in his attempt to acquire some of that Spielbergian magic). Though the child performance by Jodelle Ferland is gutsy with the material, Gilliam doesn't take advantage of this asset; he feels it necessary to put her in the company of a pair of disgusting adult retards for most of the film, and this gets increasingly obnoxious. Jokes about fecal matter and rotting corpses don't help, either. At the end of the day, it is a surprisingly crass film- heavy on cynicism, lacking in imagination and creativity.

4. John Q. (2002)

Nick Cassavetes' ultra-liberal hogwash about a blue-collar father (Denzel Washington) who takes an emergency room hostage after the hospital refuses to give his son a heart transplant. Speaking as a left-winger who wants the health care of this country to be reformed, I despise it when a movie crosses the line the way this one does; it resorts to those condescending lessons we were all taught in our Sophmore years at high school (Wouldn't you do the same in that situation, brotha?), and it fails even more as a hostage film: Sidney Lumet's incomparable Dog Day Afternoon is ripped off about a billion times, never effectively. It's unfortunate to see that Nick Cassavetes is just as banal a filmmaker as many of his 1990's counterparts, and that he doesn't seem to be familiar with any of the innovative filmmaking techniques invented by his own father. What would John Cassavetes make of studio tarpit fare like this film?

5. Chicago (2002)

My choice for the decade's worst Best Picture winner. I've always thought the story itself (vigilante justice story about a girl who murders a dishonest lover and lies her way out of jail) was both boring and right-wing extremist to begin with, but in the hands of a bland director like Rob Marshall, it can't even be at least visually interesting. Marshall is one of those filmmakers who exists on the planet just so that he can win awards: he's more fascinated by set design and bright lights than he is by filmmaking. Good performances by Rene Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere and John C. Reilly don't cut it; not even a screenplay by Bill Condon can match the far more enlightening screenplay he wrote a few years prior for Gods and Monsters. Maybe the late Bob Fosse could have made something exotic out of this story, but Marshall certainly does not.

6. Troy (2004)

It's fair to say that Wolfgang Petersen's best films were the films he made in native Germany; his Hollywood output has always proved rather sporadic, and this film marks perhaps his lowest effort. Brad Pitt is miscast as Achilles, Diane Kruger is miscast as Helen of Troy, Orlando Bloom is miscast as the guy who woos her, and Brendan Gleeson and Brian Cox are ridiculously over the top as the film's villains- each of the parts are badly written, too. There's a strong lead performance by Eric Bana as the fearsome Hector, as well as strong supporting performances by Peter O'Toole and Sean Bean, but that's about it; it's hard to care about either the Trojans or the Greeks, because the screenplay simply doesn't do justice to the glory of Homer. Go rent the NBC production of The Odyssey with Armand Assante instead. Better yet, check out the director's cut of Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven (2005) for a more majestic battle epic from this decade.

7. Lady in the Water (2006)

Well, I thought The Village sucked- but it was after this one when I finally threw my hands up in the air and gave up on M. Night Shyamalan for good.

8. Mr. Brooks (2007)

This movie wants so desperately to be Brian De Palma's Raising Cain (1992), but, then again, don't they all? It tries to supply Kevin Coster's serial killer with a devilish alter ego (William Hurt), but even this is a poor mimicing of John Lithgow's conversations with his split personalities in the earlier film. A subplot involving a female cop (Demi Moore) and her fights with a pair of inner-city thugs feels wildly uneven; and Dane Cook, as the guy who stalks Costner's serial killer, proves once again that he can't act. And of course, director Bruce A. Evans is no De Palma.

9. Superman Returns (2006)

Bryan Singer's unexciting attempt to rejuvanate the Superman franchise is being praised in recent years by Quentin Tarantino (who claims to have written a 20-page essay on it), but frankly, I can't understand why. Brandon Routh has none of the charm or wit of Christopher Reeve, and Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor is overly serious and determined; we have fond memories of Gene Hackman's more colorful Luthor in the superior Richard Donner films. And not one action sequence in the film ranks among the greats of recent years. I much prefer Singer's X2 (2003).

10. Snatch (2001)

No doubt this is probably the most controversial addition to this list, but I see this film as little more than another rip-off of Pulp Fiction and Fight Club- I still don't know what to think of Guy Ritchie as a filmmaker. This film does nothing for me; the only thing I remember admiring in the least is Dennis Farina's performance as a crazed mobster ("I hate f-ing dogs!") and very little else. The rest of the cast is annoying as hell... and I'm sorry, but Brad Pitt is miscast. Jason Statham can't act, either.

So, there's my two cents.


  1. Interesting list, Adam. Of the ones I've seen, I'd go with Pay It Forward. I liked Superman Returns. I enjoyed Mr Brooks in a B movie sort of way. Troy had a few moments. Of the ones you list here, Chicago is my favorite. I don't think it was the best picture of that year, but I won't hold that award against it. (Not the film's fault.) And having seen Nine I'm nearly ready to call Chicago one of the best films ever made, simply because of the gap between the two.

    As for M Night. I love The Village. I do. But be glad you stopped with Lady in the Water, because The Happening is even worse.

    I know, I know ... you think that's not possible. You think Lady must be the bottom. I would have said the same thing ... but The Happening is just that pathetic.

  2. I'm happy to see you expressing what you thought of the list, Jason! I was hoping it would stir discussion.

    Yes, Pay it Forward remains my top choice for the decade's worst movie- I honestly can't remember the last time a movie offended me as much. And [SPOILERS] I could even go so far as to add that the kid deserves to get stabbed at the end. I know, I'm terrible... but that's how much I wanted him to shut up!

    Not Osment's fault, obviously. A year later, Spielberg would take him to great heights with A.I., which- I'm going to say right now- will be near the top of my list of the decade's finest.

    I wanted to like Superman Returns, but it curiously didn't engage any sensation in me. I suppose it all returns to the strange casting of Routh in the role. Singer's method was seemingly to get Routh to act quiet and stoic for most of the film, but that's not Superman! It's as if Clark Kent just got replaced by Mike Dukakis as the new Man of Steel or something.

    Haven't seen Nine, and your review assures me that it's nothing special. I don't understand why Rob Marshall is still directing movies. Maybe his kind belongs in the theatre.

    About The Village, I enjoyed it up until the plot twist was revealed, and then I found the movie to be a disappointment. I remember back when somebody tried to convince Roger Ebert that Shyamalan was attempting to go for a sort of War in Iraq allegory (the elders are trying to scare the villagers into believing that there's a widespread threat outside their borders), but as Ebert responded: it's questionable as to whether or not this plot device makes the film any more entertaining.

    Funny you say The Happening is awful; from the trailers, it looked as though Shyamalan was ditching his old tradition of "plot twists" just for a thriller about pure carnage. But now that you mention it, perhaps I missed nothing.

  3. Nothing I can really argue with there, since the ones I've seen mostly really are awful or at least just mediocre. Lady in the Water was painful; I'd believe you if you told me it was the result of a filmmaker consciously doing all the wrong things at every moment. The Village was half an effective and creepy thriller, and then half an absolute disaster. Shyamalan hasn't made a really good film other than Unbreakable, if you ask me.

    The only choice there I'd defend is Snatch, not like it's a masterpiece or anything but, like Ritchie's first film, it's a fun, trashy, punchy B-movie. That doesn't belong on a worst list, to me. And I'm sorry, Pitt was great.

  4. Ed,

    I'm with you on Unbreakable, one of those rare Shyamalan films that has aged very nicely. Today I would even say that it knocks The Sixth Sense (a once-great film that has dated, in my opinion) right outta the park.

    I thought Pitt was miscast in Snatch, but then again I'm biased and I thought Pitt was miscast in almost everything this decade. The only performance of his that I admired quite a bit during the last ten years was his turn in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I'll concede that he was quite good in that one. But his other work strikes me as unremarkable. I don't even know if his performance in Inglourious Basterds was all that successful; it seemed to me that Tarantino got all the casting down pat EXCEPT Pitt's.

    I'm hoping that Terrence Malick will make good use of Pitt in Tree of Life. Maybe a surrealist screenplay is exactly what he needs to extend his horizons as an actor... so long as the movie isn't another Benjamin Button.

  5. Just to add some further thoughts ...

    Unbreakable is indeed Shyamalan's best film. As for The Village ... I'm sure it's an allegory, but that doesn't mean it isn't clumsy and a letdown. I have a greater problem with where the film goes with the twist than the twist itself. That is, the film's two worst scenes, the one involving Shyamalan's cameo at the ranger outpost (full of amateurish let's-explain-away-loopholes dialogue) and the encounter in the woods, come after the revelation of the twist. Improve those scenes and I think it would work, though that film certainly suffered from unfair backlash from people who, per The Sixth Sense evaluate Shyamalan's films only on the value of their end-of-film surprises ... which by that point people were looking for. When people complain, "I saw that coming..." I think, "And ...? So what?!" But I digress.

    As for Pitt in Inglourious Basterds: It's not the kind of performance I would praise -- it's not award worthy or anything -- but I think it's perfect: the right star and the right antics. In short, I think it's exactly what Tarantino wanted. So in this case I'd say any criticisms of Pitt would apply to QT.

  6. I'm gonna have to second your thoughts on Pitt in Inglourious Basterds, Adam --- it's such a broad caricature, and to me doesn't fit in with the rest of the actors, who all bring nuance to their roles. And what's weird to me is that all the dialect in the movie is pretty perfect (even with a German playing an Englishman), but Pitt doesn't even seem like he's trying to do an accurate Tennessee accent --- even Eli Roth's Bostonian accent is better, and he's Eli Roth!

    I musn't lie, I am disappointed that Superman Returns is on this list. I don't think it's great or anything, but when you take a look at the recent crop of comic book movies Marvel Studios is putting out it looks like freaking Metropolis (and it has images that are reminiscent of Lang's film, too). I just find it to be a very pleasant film, exquisitely photographed and well performed. I agree that X2 is a better movie but I still like Returns quite a bit and wish it had done better because I would have liked to have seen where Singer was going with his take on the character.

    I like this post, but why focus on the negative? We gotta ac-cen-tu-ate the positive and e-li-mi-nate the negative, brutha'.

  7. Ryan,

    You could probably say that I'm focusing on the negative to kill time... or maybe to update this site (I realized that I hadn't published anything since mid-December and wanted to let everyone know that I'm still hanging in there). I also realized that people don't necessarily do research for "worst" lists, so that left space for me to go right ahead!

    I like your suggestion that select shots of Superman Returns resemble something out of Lang's work- that's an advantage you have over me, since I'm not as familiar with Lang as I would like to be (I've only seen M- ain't I a slowpoke?). But in the end, for me, a Superman film can't just look good; it all comes down to the treatment of the characters. Richard Donner had a lot of fun with the original films (as did Christopher Reeve and Gene Hackman), and it showed onscreen. With the new film, Singer and Brandon Routh pushed forward as if it was just another day at the office, and that made me squirm in my seat way more than my liking. The basic problem I have with Superman Returns is that it's just not much fun.

    I must say that I'm having the time of my life putting the finishing touches on my "Best" list, which I'm going to attempt to extend to at least 50 titles. I may have it posted by the end of next week.

  8. This is great Adam. I agree with your take on all of them except Lady in the Water.

    Ironically I have just posted my positive thoughts on Lady in the Water. Adam and Ed, I can understand why people hate it, I really can, but I love it. Chacun a son choix.

    The Village works worst as allegory and best as a study of those specific characters' reaction to grief. The twist is perfectly organic and I didn't find the 'explanation' particularly laborious or unsatisfying.

    Superman Returns felt plastic to me, lacking a little in raw visual force and in storytelling nuance (flying back and forth over the sea to rescue various people began to get tiresome).

  9. CHICAGO is a great movie musical, and a proud choice on my own '50 Best of the Decade' list. To say that it's bland, when it's one of the most stylish of musicals, (with that fabulous score by John Kander and Fred Ebb)and yeahMarshall is obsessed with lights and set design, that's precisely the point.
    Musicals are a sore point in the blogosphere, especially among the youngest bloggers, but I never let it bother me much. This was a glorious Best Picture winner, and deserving of the sperlative reviews it received upon release. You have it on your worst, list, I have it on my best. So goes it for taste and fair play.

    In any case, not to wear out my welcome here (and first post I believe) I can't argue at all with this list otherwise, and that #1 choice is to be applauded. As per the discussion on Shyamalen, I do like THE VILLAGE though, which played like an extended TWILIGHT ZONE episode, and boasted James Newton Howard's finest score, some stunning color cinematography and a shattering final scene. I never let the issues bother me, and let teh film's ravishing elements wash over me.
    Excellent work here!

  10. Adam, do you need a hug? There are some movies on this list that, in my opinion, have no business on any "worst list," much less one of the TEN worst of the decade.

    Why the hatred toward Chicago? I won't argue with you that the film is essentially comprised of a series of setpieces, but I thought that it had great energy and contained more good/great songs than a modern musical has any right to. (wink, wink) Sure, the ending's a bit abrupt and it's certainly not as good as Moulin Rouge!, but I think that your vitriol might be a bit misplaced here.

    I have to agree with Stephen in that I also really like Lady in the Water. I do not understand the hatred that gets leveled at that film. I really don't.

    All the best,

  11. Stephen, I'm always curious to hear a defense of Lady in the Water. I'll be sure to read your piece on it.

    Sam, my despising of Chicago originates back to my seething anger when, at the Oscars, the film beat four films that I thought (and still think) were vastly superior. Polanski's The Pianist and Scorsese's Gangs of New York are stronger indictments of corrupt crime (and corrupt justice); Jackson's The Two Towers was a more enlightening demonstration of spectacle armed with a romantic storyline; and, most importantly, Daldry's The Hours is a far more potent study of female oppression. Marshall's film has always felt incredibly stale to me, and despite the performances by the cast members, I found it hard to care about what happened to Roxie Hart or her counterparts. Really, though, it all goes back to my spiteful feelings on that Oscar night (which kinda, sorta explains my over-the-top outburst on this post). But when does your list come out, Sam? I want to read it!

    Adam, nah. No need for a hug. Although now that I've just heard about the passing of Eric Rohmer, I AM a little ashamed that I've never seen any of his films.

  12. Hi Adam, I was just wondering if you'd managed to read my piece on Lady in the Water.

    Just as you are curious to hear a defense of it, I like to hear what people like yourself dislike about it (because you didn't go into any detail in your list).

  13. i cant belive u dont like pay it forword or Chicago


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