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Ten Worst Films (and many more) of 2004

by Peter Sobczynski

As I began jotting down potential titles for my best and worst lists a couple of weeks ago, I noticed something that was fairly depressing, if not wholly unexpected. My list of potential best films filled one column of a standard notebook page-the same amount of space only got me through about six months worth of crap and required another full column to complete. (Mind you, these are the exceptionally lousy ones, not just ordinary mediocrities.) Even though I limit films on my list to those that should have been good-because of the premise or the talent involved-and scratch such items as unnecessary sequels (such as “Dirty Dancing 2", “Scooby-Doo 2", “The Whole Ten Yards”, “The Chronicles of Riddick”, “Benji”, “Alien vs. Predator” and “Exorcist: The Beginning”), movies that were doomed to be junk from the beginning (anyone who went into the likes of “Torque”, “The Perfect Score”, “My Baby’s Daddy”, “50 First Kisses”, “Eurotrip”, “Never Die Alone”, “Johnson Family Vacation”, “Godsend”, “New York Minute”, “Soul Plane”, “Garfield”, ‘White Chicks”, “Without a Paddle”, “Paparazzi”, “Taxi” or “Fat Albert” expecting brilliance got exactly what they deserved) and anything involving the increasingly irritating Hillary Duff (“A Cinderella Story” and “Raise Your Voice”)-I was still able to come up with enough of a bumper crop that I was able to compile a list without mentioning the highly-deserving likes of “The Alamo”, “Suspect Zero”, “The Forgotten”, “De-Lovely” or this year’s designated whipping-girl (in more ways than one) “Catwoman”.

Anyway, here is the list and the next time you think about what a cushy job I have, bear in mind that I had to sit through all of these as well.

1. TIE: SHE HATE ME and ALEXANDER: Say what you will about Spike Lee and Oliver Stone (though I guarantee you will be speechless after both of these films), when they go off and make a bad movie, they do it with a single-minded determination to make it the kind of bad movie that you will never forget as long as you live, no matter how hard you try. Lee’s was a jaw-droppingly confused jumble that tried to lash together a satire of African-American sexual myths, a screed against corporate greed, outdated Mafia stereotypes and a portrayal of lesbians so wrongheaded that it might have inspired riots in the streets if anyone had bothered to see it into a mess so confounding that it seems impossible that someone could have ever thought that it was worth financing and filming in the first place. Stone’s hysterical historical epic was just as much of a botch-all of his considerable skills as a filmmaker seemed to disappear in a head-scratcher that spent 3 hours and $100 million plus+ to provide viewers with one spectacular nude scene, several absurd accents (especially the Natasha Fatale-inspired lilt from Angelina Jolie) and the kind of laughable dialogue and poorly choreographed action that did nothing more than make “Troy” look almost like an epic by comparison.

2. THE NOTEBOOK: I thought this adaptation of Nicolas Spark’s best-seller was a repulsive, emotionally manipulative and throughly dishonest piece of pseudo-romantic glop (especially in its depiction of the cruelties of Alzheimer’s as just another convenient plot device) that made “Love Story” look sane and realistic by comparison. Enough of you thought otherwise to make it one of the sleeper hits of the summer. I would just like to say that every single one of those people were completely wrong and that this is one of the most monstrous movies ever made.

3. LOVE ME IF YOU DARE: Proof positive that horrible movies are not just confined to the multiplexes. Imagine “Amelie”, only written and directed without any of the whimsy and enchantment that Jean-Pierre Jeunet brought to it and populated with some of the most throughly unpleasant characters ever to pass in front of a Panaflex, leading to a finale that could only be considered a happy ending in that the two most hateful people wound up together, thereby sparing others from their hellish grasp.

4. DOGVILLE: Lars von Trier’s latest bit of misogynism disguised as avant-garde cinema took one not-exactly fresh idea (that even the lowest and most downtrodden people will gang up on someone they perceive as weaker) and dragged it out for nearly three hours in the most off-putting manner possible (most notably by shooting the entire thing on a bare stage in an alienating effort to turn it into some strange riff on “Our Town”) before finally ending with an orgy of violence and images of real-life poverty in a last-ditch attempt to rouse audiences from their collective stupor. As the Brecht girl trapped in an oppressive scenario and forced to endure von Trier’s most perverse fantasies, Nicole Kidman turned in a brave performance in a film utterly unworthy of it. She would do that again with wonderful work in the otherwise agonizing “Birth”-who would have thought that “The Stepford Wives” would have been the best film she was involved with in 2004?

5. NAPOLEON DYNAMITE: Many of the supporters of this inexplicable indie hit compared it favorably to the works of Wes Anderson-that would be true is Anderson had no eye for visuals, no sense of comic timing and an utter contempt for the characters that he created. I have seen many high-school movies where the gawky nerds triumphed over adversity-this may have been the first time when I found myself actively rooting for the bullies and snobs. The worst film of 2004 to feature a Duff (in this case Haylie).

6. THE VILLAGE: This was not one of the worst movies of the year simply because of the least surprising “twist” ending of all time-although if one can correctly predict the outcome from the trailer or even just a basic explanation of the plot, perhaps a rewrite is in order. It was one of the worst because of the listless acting (although Adrien Brody, surprisingly well-cast as the village idiot in a village full of idiots, turned in a performance so off-the-wall bad that it made his Diet Coke commercial his least embarrassing artistic venture of the year), somnambulant pacing and ridiculous storyline-all of which combined into a film that played like every episode of “The Twilight Zone” jammed together and enacted by an Amish acting troupe which hasn’t quite mastered their chosen art. This was so bad that the insanity of the ending almost came as a relief.

7. VAN HELSING: If you had told me as a young child that I would one day grow up to hate a movie in which Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man would all wreak havoc together, I would have called you a filthy liar. Of course, being a young child, my mind wasn’t able to conceive the horror of someone as idiotic as Stephen Sommers and therefore could hardly begin to conceptualize the nightmare that would result with him as the driving force. All those classic characters and zillions of dollars of technological advances and all that he could come up with was an orgy of lousy CGI effects in a would-be monster mash where the scariest thing on display was Kate Beckinsale’s accent. Aside from inspiring several killer DVD sets of the original films, a complete bust.

8. THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA: I am not sure how it was possible, but the combination of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Joel Schumacher was actually worse than anyone could have conceived. Miscast, misdirected and filled with tuneless songs played at ear-splitting levels, this monstrosity (save for an amusingly campy turn by Minnie Driver) actually made you long for the relative subtlety of “Evita”.

9. TWISTED: Another dreadful Ashley-Judd-in-peril film, though this one tanked hard enough that it may have nipped that genre in the bud for good. What made it the worst of the lot (no mean feat when you are comparing it to the likes of “High Crimes” or “Double Jeopardy”) was the screwy plot (a mad killer is slaughtering every man she sleeps with-unfortunately, she is kind of a slut), an even screwier finale (the scene in which the killer explains his/her motive may be the most inadvertently funny thing in a film this past year) and the fact that the usually reliable Philip Kaufman, the man who gave us such masterpieces as “The Right Stuff”, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” and “Quills” and who also demonstrated a sure commercial touch with the 1978 version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, “Rising Sun” and his contributions to “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, somehow found himself directing this junk with all the flair of a remedial film-school student.

10. SURVIVING CHRISTMAS/CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS: Years ago, the wise sage Oscar the Grouch sang “I Hate Christmas”-anyone encountering either of these Yule-logs-of-something would be hard-pressed to argue otherwise. Both were astonishingly tone-deaf comedies based on premises that would require many rewrites to be upgraded to “shaky”-the former was distinguished by ill-at-ease actors reciting dialogue with all the grace of someone getting ready to fire an agent and the latter was cloying in the sentimental scenes, clumsy in the comedy scenes and layered with a weird coating of latent anti-Semitism to top things off. Both lack the simple grace and good tidings of “Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2".

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originally posted: 12/30/04 01:34:35
last updated: 12/30/04 22:13:57
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