New Year’s Day has come and gone, and by now you’re already too familiar with the films hailed by critics as the cream of last year’s crop, to the extent that the official announcement of nominees for the 81st Academy Awards (due in the wee morning hours of Thursday, Jan. 22) may seem like something of a formality.
We know, for example, that the major categories will be dominated by the likes of Milk, Frost/Nixon and Revolutionary Road. Anne Hathaway will be nominated for her decidedly unglamorous portrayal of a frazzled junkie in Rachel Getting Married. Penélope Cruz will be honored for a fierce (and, some might say, fearsome) supporting turn in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. And though it would be a stretch to call Mickey Rourke a dark horse in the best actor race – his stunning return in The Wrestler has already been well publicized – he faces an uphill battle in his quest to challenge current frontrunner Sean Penn, whose galvanizing performance as Harvey Milk will almost certainly benefit from voters who treat his candidacy for the award as a de facto referendum on Prop 8.
But why focus exclusively on the positive? Before we get caught up in the politics of Oscar, it’s worth remembering that roughly 2,000 movies are released each year, and because Uwe Boll only accounts for three or four of them, that leaves plenty of room for other, less pugilistic directors to compete for the dishonor of having made the year’s most noxious turkey.
This past week, New York Magazine released its Vulture’s Poll, in which critics from across the country reveal their picks for the year’s worst movies. As you can see, the votes were almost evenly split between obviously disposable trash (The Love Guru, 10,000 B.C.) and some of 2008’s most acclaimed pictures, including Revolutionary Road (three votes) and The Dark Knight (two).
As for me? Thought you’d never ask! Although I spared myself the indignity of reviewing Paris Hilton’s Hottie and the Nottie (and thus cannot attest to its reputed awfulness) I, like you, endured my fair share of stinkers in 2008. Among them:
10. Quantum of Solace: Don’t blame Daniel Craig for the sudden regression of the Bond franchise into mindless banality. Blame the small committee of screenwriters, which included two-time Oscar winner Paul Haggis, for dumping 007 into a humorless caper that squandered the good will left over from Casino Royale.
9. Baby Mama: After her inspired run as Sarah Palin and the first two seasons of 30 Rock, it’s easy to understand the media’s eagerness to anoint Tina Fey the reigning goddess of TV comedy. Still, let’s not forget that Saturday Night Live suffered through one of its driest stretches during her tenure as head writer. Baby Mama reminds us why.
8. Postal: Uwe Boll’s homeland-security satire may represent the apex of his unremarkable career. That’s why it’s all the way down at number eight.
7. Filth and Wisdom: Madonna’s maddeningly pretentious directorial debut begs the question posed by a pop sensation of a different era: Is that all there is?
6. 88 Minutes: It wasn’t exactly a banner year in the Pacino household. First, Al treated us to this stillborn thriller about a criminal psychiatrist targeted by a gimmicky serial killer. And then…
5. Righteous Kill: … along came Al in his long-anticipated reunion with old pal Robert De Niro, whose once-menacing scowl now looks more like something that could be remedied with Metamucil. Together, they mug their way through Jon Avnet’s tired pastiche of genre clichés, legacies be damned.
4. Jumper: If Mr. and Mrs. Smith suggested a minor misstep for Swingers director Doug Liman, his laughably incoherent adaptation of Steven Gould’s novel about globetrotting miscreants can only be taken as a flying leap into the abysmal.
3. Burn After Reading: See below.
2. The Eye: The latest American remake of an Eastern import — in this case, Hong Kong’s Jian Gui — in which the thrills have been lost in translation, replaced with distracting, rapid-fire camerawork and thunderous bumps in the night that reflect a kind of creative desperation.
1. Prom Night: How tempting it would be, given its brilliant ensemble cast and the formidable skills of Joel and Ethan Coen (sharing directorial credits for just the second time, after the award-winning No Country for Old Men) to give the year’s biggest booby prize to the tone-deaf Burn After Reading. Yet there can be no overlooking 2008’s biggest bust. Featuring Scott Porter (from NBC’s underappreciated Friday Night Lights) and Idris Elba (of HBO’s The Wire), it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect something resembling competence from this PG-13 remake of 1980’s Prom Night. Instead, director Nelson McCormick delivers a turgid, unwatchable cash-grab.