It's that time of year again - a time film critics both dread and anticipate. I am referring to the creation of the annual list of the worst films from the past year. We dread this task because it makes us remember the cinematic atrocities we wish to forget; we anticipate it because it offers one more chance to take a cheap shot at those same atrocities. During the regular year, I try to be professional and offer honest, well thought-out criticisms of bad movies. But for this one annual column, I allow myself to take the low road. No more Mr. Nice Guy.
The year 2001 in some ways deserves the tough treatment. There were more films competing for space on this list than ever before. Oh, how I wish I had found room for America's Sweethearts, The Animal, Driven, and Jeepers Creepers. They were all bad, but not bad enough. Scary Movie 2 was definitely bad enough, but it somehow managed to stink less than the ten films presented here. The Day I Became a Woman was as dull and pretentious a foreign film as I have ever seen, a fact made worse when many critics deluded themselves into thinking it was an important and groundbreaking work. I could easily have included the film here, but why pick on an obscure Iranian movie when there are big budget Hollywood turkeys to skewer?
And speaking of which, I had a big dilemma this year. Two major titles - Hannibal and Jurassic Park 3 - were both, at one time, solid candidates for my 2001 list. In some ways, these are the kinds of movies I usually leave space for: expensive, heavily hyped wastes of talent. Neither title is on my final list, though. As bad as I thought it was, Hannibal nevertheless had ambition; the fact that it didn't work was more a result of aiming too high than aiming too low. I have to give it some kind of credit for at least trying. Jurassic Park 3 didn't have a lot of ambition other than to be a thrill ride. It wasted the talents of William H. Macy, which in itself ought to be enough to earn it a slot. I am not including JP3 here simply because - if you put a gun to my head and made me choose - I would sit through it a second time before I would sit through any of the titles that actually did make it onto the list. After all, it barely runs 90 minutes, which is shorter than any of the others.
Okay, no more waiting. Here are my picks for the Ten Worst Films of 2001:
10. 13 Ghosts - Loud. Bloody. Headache-inducing. Those are just a few of the words that come to mind when pondering this insipid remake of the William Castle shocker about a family that inherits a haunted house. The filmmakers used an annoying flashing technique whenever one of the title characters appeared on screen. Subsequently, watching this movie is like standing with your face in the lens of a strobe light. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that some viewers had seizures from all the flashing. That annoyance notwithstanding, this movie just didn't deliver. There was no plot to speak of, and the incessant gore became overwhelming. My best friend loudly complained that star Shannon Elizabeth didn't get enough screen time, so he (and other fans of the actress) probably liked 13 Ghosts even less than I did.
8. Down to Earth - I don't even want to think about this film. Chris Rock is one of the most talented comedians on the planet, but his remake of Heaven Can Wait is so off-the-mark that one has to question his judgement. (In 2001, Rock also gave us the blink-and-you-missed-it Pootie Tang, which disappeared from theaters so quickly even many critics didn't get to see it.) The idea of a young black stand-up comedian being reincarnated as an old white millionaire is funny. It's the execution that went wrong. Rather than letting us see the comedian, we should be seeing the old man. The humor comes from a stuffed-shirt fogey being inhabited by the soul of a street-smart guy. This should have been a comedic vehicle for, say, Martin Landau, not Chris Rock. Since Rock starred and co-wrote, he probably didn't want to fork over too much screen time to another actor. Oh well, he's the one who has to live with this on his resume.
7. Get Over It - In a time when bad teen movies are a dime a dozen, here's the worst one of the year. Ben Foster played a whiny little creep who can't get over the fact that his girlfriend (rightly) dumped him. Kirsten Dunst played that oldest of cliches: the adorable best friend who is crazy for him even though he's too dumb to see it. At the end, of course, he wakes up and realizes that Dunst is: a.) cuter; and b.) a hell of a lot nicer than his ex. Shouldn't we be rooting for her to run away screaming from a loser like this? Among the movie's many other low-points was a running gag about a dog who humps anything in sight. I am happy to report that a few months later, Dunst delivered the performance of her career so far in crazy/beautiful, which indicates that this talented young actress doesn't necessarily intend to take a career trip down Molly Ringwald Road.
5. Rat Race - Someone had the not-so-bright idea of doing a quasi-remake of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World - a film that was pretty bad itself. A talented cast including Cuba Gooding, Jr., Whoopi Goldberg, John Cleese, Seth Green, Rowan Atkinson, Wayne Knight, and Jon Lovitz participates in a mad dash for a $2 million jackpot. As Rat Race painfully proves, when you stick this many comedians together in one movie, they all fight to see who can be the funniest. And that, in turn, leads to embarrassing overacting and shameless mugging at the camera. A few more gripes: why couldn't someone have actually won the money? Why must these movies always cop out with some kind of "nice" ending? And why is one of my favorite rock groups, Smash Mouth, appearing in such a moronic comedy? They - and the audience - deserve better.
4. Snatch - One of 2001's first is also one of 2001's worst. This caper comedy came from director/husband-of-Madonna Guy Ritchie. Snatch was an extreme example of style over substance. The director seemed to be very in love with his camera; the script was secondary. Brad Pitt somehow got roped into playing a boxer whom no one can understand. At least he didn't have to bother learning any lines. I remember blessed little about this movie, except that it provided two of the longest hours of the year.
3. Bandits - Speaking of two looooooong hours, here comes a movie that seemed to go on all day. Barry Levinson helmed the biggest misfire of his distinguished career with this turkey, which didn't know whether it wanted to be a comedy, a drama, a romance, or a heist picture. Bruce Willis earnestly recited the lyrics to "Total Eclipse of the Heart," Billy Bob Thornton professed an intense fear of black-and-white movies, and Cate Blanchett ran around like a crazy woman in this tale of two guys known as the "sleepover bandits" and their hostage. You can almost feel Bandits straining to achieve the kind of wacko sensibility that the Coen brothers so effortlessly put into their films. This one was just a great big embarrassment to everyone involved. The characters here were so devoid of anything but quirks that it was impossible to care what happened to them. And how appropriate is that title for a movie that stole two hours of my life?
2. Pearl Harbor - A quote from my original review: "On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. On May 25, 2001, [producer] Jerry Bruckheimer and [director] Michael Bay did it again." Aside from the fact that it sucked like a Hoover, my objection was that the movie glorified a tragic event in American history. Allow me to use our recent national tragedy to better illustrate what angered me. On Sept. 11, the United States was again attacked by outside forces. As before, the attack came as a total surprise and left many lives lost. We all felt a sense of sadness for those killed, for their families, and for the nation as a whole. We had feelings of dread and fear for having been hit so hard, so unexpectedly. Pearl Harbor never once gave you that same sense. It made the attack look cool, like a video game. Imagine a movie that did the same thing about Sept. 11. Now imagine that callous Hollywood filmmakers have tried to sell you that movie as a summer action blockbuster. Pearl Harbor offended me as an American because it trivialized the deaths of the men and women who gave their lives for this country's freedom. Let's hope Bruckheimer and Bay retire before they get any bright ideas about an Attack on America movie.
And finally, my choice for the worst film of 2001 is:
Those are my picks for the 10 worst films of the year. I hated them all and hope that, now that this list is done, I won't have to think about any of them this much ever again.
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