It’s been a tradition for over thirty years: the day before Hollywood celebrates its best at the Academy Awards a bunch of fanatical movie lovers gather to roast its worst at the Golden Raspberry Awards. Founded in 1981 by John Wilson, the Razzies, as they’re more commonly known, are dedicated to ‘giving the raspberry’ to the most shameful and soulless travesties the movie industry has foisted upon us in a given year.
Though their intentions to dishonor crummy movies are honorable, like any award-bestowing body, the Razzies don’t always get it right. Literally anybody with $35 bucks can join and vote, which means that hypothetically somebody in the movie business with a chip on his shoulder and some cash to burn could easily buy a couple thousand votes and screw with people he didn’t like (look for more of that story that in my soon-to-be-Razzie-nominated screenplay “Razzmatazz,” coming soon to a discount DVD bin near you).
More problematically, the awards tend to skew towards the inexplicably popular rather than the truly putrid. They went on this weird anti-Sylvester Stallone jag in the 1980s where every movie he made, good or bad, got nominated; “Rambo: First Blood Part II” even won the Worst Picture Razzie of 1985. Now “Rambo”‘s not exactly a masterpiece — okay, so in my book it is, but I know that’s the minority view — but the worst film of the year? That makes no sense, as does the fact that “Rocky IV” was also nominated for Worst Picture that year. That seems to have less to do with Stallone’s movies than some weird vendetta against him as a filmmaker. Did he kill the Razzies’ children or something? Some of their other picks are just head-scratchers: how in the world did “The Wicker Man” lose out to “Basic Instinct 2?” HOW DID IT LOSE? HOW DID IT LOSE? (That was my Nicolas Cage in “Wicker Man” impression by the way. It’s funny when I do it in person, I swear).
So the Razzies, like the films they skewer, aren’t perfect. So how did they do this year? Let’s examine the 2010 nominees for Worst Picture listed (in my opinion) from least worst to worstest worst.
“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”
Directed by David Slade
A classic Razzie popular-over-putrid pick. “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” like “Rambo,” will never make an AFI Top 100 list. But that doesn’t mean it was one of the worst movies of the year, or even of this series (saga, sorry; I forget sometimes). I suspect there isn’t a lot of overlap between “Twilight”‘s target audience and the Razzies’ voting block (if there was, after all, “Eclipse” wouldn’t make the cut). But again, that doesn’t necessarily place the movie on par with this year’s other Razzie nominees. Clearly this movie does something right — all the marketing in the world can’t sell $700 million dollars worth of tickets if the movie is unwatchable. Director David Slade wrang about as much suspense as can be had from a movie about a bunch of people sitting around in the woods waiting for something to happen (no, this is not a dig at “Harry Potter.” Okay, it totally is). And say what you will about stars Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner: they have chemistry. Like it or not, that’s what the audiences keeps coming back for.
Worthy of a Razzie Nomination? No. If neither of the previous, lesser “Twilight” movies were nominated — and they weren’t — then this one definitely didn’t deserve to be.
“The Last Airbender”
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Shyamalan is another Razzie “favorite” — his last three films have all been nominated for Worst Picture and if I had to guess, I’d say this year is his best chance yet of taking home the gold (spray-painted raspberry). His sins this time were legion: his white-washed casting of his adaptation of a racially diverse cartoon series inspired a new term — “racebending” — and the kids he chose for the parts, supposedly because they were the “best actors,” turned out to be charmless duds. Even worse, he allowed his film, which was shot with very shallow focus in mostly dark locations, to be post-converted to 3D which, in its best moments, just looked like a dimmer version of a 2D movie and, in its worst moments, was so murky it was basically incomprehensible. He also tried to cram a season’s worth of plot from the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” series into a single movie, leading to some truly inexplicable storytelling choices, including massive chronological leaps bridged by clunky narration. AND YET! All of these things added up to what I felt was one of the more interesting failures of 2010. Only a director as talented and as powerful as Shyamalan could get away with releasing something this weird, with a story that explains everything except why we should care about anything that’s happening. And that can be fascinating to watch.
Worthy of a Razzie Nomination? In my opinion, no. I would watch “The Last Airbender” again. Not in 3D, mind you, but I would watch it again, even just to study it the way a med student watches a surgery: you get in there with the blood and the guts and you find out what went wrong and what you have to do to fix it.
Directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer
Writer/directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer are no strangers to the Razzies either: two years ago they were nominated twice for Worst Feature for both “Meet the Spartans” and “Disaster Movie.” They make spoofs — I want to write “They make spoofs, sort of like ‘Airplane!’ or ‘The Naked Gun,'” but that would imply their films were funny like those movies, or that they even contain jokes like those movies, and they usually don’t. No, their brand of “comedy” is based solely on referencing the fact that things exist. They make movies the way McBain on “The Simpsons” does standup comedy: “Did you ever notice how men always leave the toilet seat up? [pause] That’s the joke.” In the case of their latest, “Vampires Suck,” the “joke” is that there are these movies called “Twilight” that teenagers really like in which all of the characters are sullen and pale and kind of dopey. That’s essentially it: Friedberg and Seltzer cast look-alikes, put them in locations that are look-alikes, and occasionally throw in a “Family Guy”-style tangential pop culture reference (“Hey look! People who sorta look like the cast of ‘Jersey Shore!’ In a movie set in the Pacific Northwest! Well they don’t belong there! Isn’t that a goof and a guffaw?”). Still, by the standards of Friedberg and Seltzer’s own filmography, “Vampires Suck” is a bit of an improvement: their lead actress, Jenn Proske, does an impressive job poking fun at Kristen Stewart’s ample acting tics, and there are a couple of genuinely funny jokes in this one. That doesn’t mean the movie’s worth watching, but there are signs this could be Friedberg and Seltzer’s last Razzie nomination for a while.
Worthy of a Razzie Nomination? Yes. Maybe not worthy of a Razzie win, but definitely a nomination.
“The Bounty Hunter”
Directed by Andy Tennant
It is hard to imagine the depths of awfulness of “The Bounty Hunter” until you’ve experienced it yourself. From the outside, it looked like another glossy romantic comedy: nothing more, nothing less than a couple of beautiful stars and some crisp cinematography in a high concept story about a couple of bickering exes who fall back in love when he’s sent to bring her to justice after she skips out on her bail. But something went very, very wrong on the way to theaters here. Fundamentally, this sort of movie needs leads with chemistry and Butler and Aniston just don’t have it. They’re supposed to have been married and divorced but there’s no sense of a shared history or even basic familiarity between them; I’ve seen more passionate interpersonal relationships between coffee drinkers and their regular barista. Also: why can’t Gerard Butler just be Scottish in his movies? He’s a fine actor when he’s allowed to use his natural Scottish accent. When you make him pretend to be American, that’s exactly what he sounds like: a Scottish guy pretending to be American. Put these two mismatched stars in a plot that’s all clichés and coincidences and you get one enormous waste of time, a movie both about — and evidence of — the sad lengths Butler will go to for a paycheck.
Worthy of a Razzie Nomination? Absolutely. This movie never aimed higher than forgettable entertainment and wound up doing so little of interest it became unforgettably terrible.
“Sex and the City 2”
Directed by Michael Patrick King
In what has to be an intentional dig at the film, the official Razzie website lists “Sex and the City 2” as “Sex & The City #2” as if to suggest that this movie is, basically, a big pile of crap. I can’t disagree, and this isn’t a case like “Eclipse” of a guy bashing something that’s simply not intended for him: even longtime “SATC” fans like my wife were horrified by this movie (“Why would they do this?” was her quote, I believe). This second feature film continuation of the popular HBO series about four women and their New York City love lives begins with Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda attending a wedding that my grandmother would have described as ungapatchka, Yiddish for lavish to the point of tackiness: there are swans and an all-male choir and Liza Minnelli performing the ceremony and a carefully choreographed rendition of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” And, really, that wedding is the perfect metaphor for the whole movie, which is ungapatchka to the extreme — garish, petty, and shallow. I recognize there’s an element of fantasy in the fact that none of the four leads ever wear an article of clothing for more than a single scene (somehow they even change clothes in the middle of a camel ride through the desert), but that fantasy must be grounded in some sort of concern for these characters, concern which I lost right around the time the women began complaining how hard it is to be a mother while boozing it up at the most luxurious hotel in the world while their nannies watch their kids for them.
Worthy of a Razzie Nomination? Oh God, yes. And if it wins, I hope the Razzie Award is presented to the film in a knockoff Gucci bag for the occasion.