My best of list won't be ready til mid-January as I'm busy rushing to catch up on all the films I've yet to see. Being in Australia but organising a best of list by US release dates makes it difficult because there's the understandable lag with many of the end of year films over here, especially the smaller and more critic-friendly ones. Thus it relies on various methods involving foreign trips, screener discs, early screenings and a variety of less reliable methods to see as much as possible. Right now there's only about half a dozen key ones for me left to see and it wouldn't be fair to judge without checking out all six.
Whilst that's a more serious list, today comes something much more fun - the 'worst of' list. 2004 has been a year where the general quality of films has risen, but in the process it's also lost the rough edges of earlier years. As a result the great films are only just very good, whilst the real dogs are merely mild stink bombs. A film like "Catwoman" people could smell from a mile away, but even it has camp value when compared to such cinematic disasters as "Swept Away", "Gigli" and "Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever". Thus this year's list, whilst featuring a lot of titles, in general contain films of a slightly higher standard. This is the first year I can recall where I haven't had to hand out any 'zero' or 'a half star' rating, a dishonor only reserved for all that's truly vile.
Top Ten Absolute Worst Movies Of 2004:
1. "Christmas with the Kranks" Some movies are just plain awful. Then there are ones that are insulting, the ones that offend so many of your sensibilities that you dream of burning every copy of it. That's how I feel about "Kranks", perhaps the biggest movie dedicated to facist conformism ever. For all the bullshit sentimentality and limp gags about Christmas floating on the surface, just slightly underneath lies a very nasty and ugly piece of work that feels like something out of the 1950's. The story sets itself in a neighbourhood where everyone seems to be good white Christians who know everything about each other and if someone even vaguely tries to step out of line (that includes not overpaying for a tree, donating to the cops, even wearing a frown) or do something different, then the neighbours will do everything short of stoning them in retaliation. It's only a fictional movie, but the sad truth not only are there a few places somewhat like this but many people idolize that sort of lifestyle. If you find yourself in one of these places, get out and get out now!!!. The film does no favours to any of its cast, the jokes all fall flat and Chris Columbus' limp directing all combine to make what would essentially be a forgettable holiday season ham, if it weren't for the slight aftertaste of sulfuric acid it leaves behind in one's throat.
2. "Surviving Christmas"
Whereas "Kranks" is insulting, "Surviving" is simply downright painful. It's not that the gags in this limply plotted Ben Affleck comedy aren't funny, oh no - it's the fact that so many induce wincing and cold sweats. The trouble, short of a deluded Affleck who thinks he's always hilarious, isn't the cast - Gandolfini and Applegate can be decent comic actors and Catherine O'Hara is practically a legend. What makes it especially awful is that they're stuck doing this shit and you can tell none of them are enjoying it. Gandolfini and O'Hara especially spend the entire time looking like they've been sprung from rehab a few months too early. The film veers wildly in tone from cloying sentimentality to utterly mishandled slapstick. The storyline crumbles, the relationships are never believable and whilst there's the odd laugh such as Udo Kier's sleazy photographer, they're outnumbered by 100-to-1 by gags that simply make you want to leave the cinema. It's no wonder the film is being shoved out on DVD just two months after its theatrical release, what better gift to give someone you despise.
3. "Thunderbirds" The insanely expensive kiddies flick is quite simply up there with the likes of "The Flintstones" or "The Avengers" in terms of how bad a TV show movie adaptation can be. It's a bigger budget but far less smart "Spy Kids" which aims for a far younger audience. There's nothing here for anyone who counts their age in two figures (except the freezer and pool scenes if only for suggested nudity), and short of the flashy ship effects, even the littlies aren't going to be too happy. There's no way that Paxton and his twink brigade can save this movie let alone the world.
4. "Garfield" Flat, short and about as pleasant as a furball, "Garfield" is one sick putty-tat. In many ways it's surprising that the famed and admittedly fun comic strip character took this long to be adapted into a film, what's more surprising is that the studio greenlit it with such a shockingly woeful script. Onscreen all the gags about lasagna and dog hatred fall flat as a tack both amongst children unfamiliar with the material and adults who'd stop reading if the strip ever became this limp.
5. "Never Die Alone" From its convoluted first half of all too much exposition which is ill-handled, to the latter half's plain offensive treatment of women as purely objects of use for DMX's swinging cock, it's so horrifically bad that their is a kind of twisted and morbid sense of fun watching this utter shite because it's not a flat studio vehicle gone wrong, rather it's an indictment on those involved for making such a self-serving vanity pic for this three-lettered 'star'. Horrifically bad but never boring.
6. "Catwoman" This is one purr-fect failure whose only real entertainment value will be in the future watching insecure hetero male teenagers keenly begging to watch Tobey Maguire in spandex or Ben Affleck in red leather over Halle Berry in a black bra. Berry's over the topness is equally matched by Sharon Stone. Stone's villainess draws laughs but for all the wrong reasons, most notably being that no matter where she goes, she's constantly bathed in diffuse light and shot through soft focus lens.
7. "The Terminal" Spielberg lays on the sugar & sentimentality very thick, never treading into unsafe waters but even for him this surprisingly drags out some really old standby gags like Hanks accent mispronunciations and a grumpy immigrant janitor. Subplots come and go with little interest whether it be the Latin cleaning guy with a crush or Hanks' mural building, whilst others seem oddly placed and don't fit. The pacing is so languid it turns two hours into feeling like four or five. Even the hardcore fans are going to find this all too trite.
8. "Against the Ropes" A coming of age flick about a young man turning into a boxer is all fine and good. The trouble is most of the movie is about his manager - Meg Ryan putting on easily the worst New York accent ever committed to screen, combined with outfits that look like they belong from some weird designers rejected bin. Combine that with such pedestrian coming of age material and you've got one of the worst films of this type made - a sharp contrast to the high quality of the vaguely similar "Million Dollar Baby".
9. "Twisted" In order to keep the dark flashiness going and the bodies falling, the script takes not only leaps of logic but stupidity as well. Judd's tough as nails character has an interesting bluntness and lust for casual sex, rarely seen in female characters in stock thrillers like this. Director Philip Kaufman's touch can't raise the lumbered screenplay filled with all too plainly spelled out turns and silly twists which are either projected far too early on, or so far from left field so as to lose all credibility.
"Torque" is a commercial pure and simple - all flashy visuals, cheap looking CG effects, impossible stunts, wild visuals and absolutely no depth whatsoever so those looking for a decent action movie can forget it. That leaves one other way to look at this movie - from a camp comedy aspect and from that perspective its slow to start but does get so stupid that one can't help but smile every now and then - its way too dumb and pointless to become a camp classic (ala "Showgirls") but it can't be dismissed out of hand. When the two girls of the movie get into a ridiculous motorcycle catfight combined with the most blantant product placement spots ever committed to film - I defy you not to shake your head smiling at how silly this whole film is (although its a very tedious exercise to stay focussed up til that point).
Dis-Honorable Mentions: "Alien vs. Predator"How to sink two franchises with one stone. "Agent Cody Banks 2"Child stars do grow up to be teen annoyances. "Alexander"Just a plainly bad film, and Stone's biggest disappointment. "Anacondas"Direct to video schlock that should've been far more fun. "Around the World in 80 Days"Did we really need ANOTHER one of these. "Birth"One-line idiotic premise, stupid twist, pretty but cold and glacially paced. "Catch That Kid"Its "Spy Kids" meets "Entrapment", sweet jesus. "The Chronicles of Riddick"A Bad "Dune" clone with ridiculous action. "The Cookout"If this were a meal, I'd have demanded a refund. "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights"When Swayze's cameo is good, you're in trouble. "Ella Enchanted"Anne Hathaway becomes a slave, not necessarily a bad thing. "Envy"Jack Black & Ben Stiller teaming, the result is a career worst for both. "Exorcist: The Beginning"An absolute mess, should've been so much more. "Godsend"Interesting idea horribly executed and poorly cast. A waste. "Little Black Book"Somebody please get Brittany Murphy into rehab, pronto. "My Baby's Daddy"A cheap direct to video quality "Three Men and a Baby" clone. "New York Minute"As the Olsen Twins turned legal, their taste got lost. "Raise Your Voice""Hilary Dufffffff!!!! You suck at this stufffffff!!!" "Scooby Doo 2"Such a big drop from already low standards its quite on the nose. "Shark Tale"Proves CG animated movies can suck just as much as live-action. "Sleepover"Girls drool over boys far more interested in assplay than horseplay. "Superbabies"Oh Jon Voight you've become the new Sean Connery. "Taking Lives"One scare and one sex scene are all that's decent here. "The Big Bounce"Lets hope Freeman and Wilson's paychecks didn't bounce. "The Perfect Score"Bad Breakfast Club clone 20 years too late. "The Prince & Me"Yawn-inducing tale only notable for its real life similarity. "Van Helsing"Stephen Sommers biggest mess since, well his last movie anyway. "The Whole Ten Yards"Another sequel to a mediocre original nobody needed. "Wicker Park"The poor man's "Single White Female", Hartnett you need help. "Without a Paddle"The most painfully unfunny of this year's comedies. "You Got Served"The bad excuse for a plot inbetween was godawful.