ONCE A MONTH or so, The Weeklings editors are each required to respond to a single cultural question in this wildly popular parlor game. Up for grabs: music, movies, television, books, dance, sex, sports, art, and death. There are no correct answers, no political correctness allowed, and only one rule: sheer, brute honesty.
As always, please, no wagering.
“What’s the worst movie you’ve seen this year?”
This question hit me like a drop of freshly-squeezed lemon juice falling into an open wound. Normally I’m the guy who gets out to a few movies a month but as we approach the end of 2014’s first quarter, I have yet to darken the doorway of a single movie theater. Lately when I drive past a theater, I picture a gaggle of pimply-faced Skittles vendors inside, noisily fretting as to my whereabouts…So the worst flick I’ve seen this year was Don Jon, which I rented last month when a friend came over for a chill night of pizza and a movie. The protagonist, played by the reliably talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt, suffers from a heroic obsession with jacking off to Internet porn, which understandably vexes his new girlfriend, played by Scarlett Johansson. Candidly, the movie wasn’t horrible, but it fell well short of the indie buzz that carried it across last year’s festival circuit. Loads of complex emotional entanglements were raised, and the acting was above average, but the movie’s promise ultimately withered from the weight of its ambitions– too many scabs ripped open with too little treatment.
Every time I’ve told someone I hated The Wolf of Wall Street, they look at me like I’ve just shot a baby deer. But no, I didn’t love The Wolf of Wall Street, it wasn’t soooo controversial in a good way, and yes, I think Leonardo DiCaprio rightfully didn’t get the Oscar for best actor. Usually I’m a Scorsese (and DiCaprio) fan, but this film took the lude cake. Don’t get me wrong, I can accept atrocious characters in film and TV. I could empathize with Tony Soprano and Walt White. But I couldn’t empathize with Jordan Belfort (the stockbroker turned motivational speaker played by DiCaprio), and without that empathy, the film was impossible to get through. While the film points to Belfort’s moral flaws — scamming his clients, and his wife (who he profusely cheated on with prostitutes), and driving whilst high and drunk — it also celebrates them, and in the most gratuitous way possible. At three hours long, Wolf‘s painfully self-indulgent. One thing that maybe could have completely redeemed the film for me: if they had killed everyone off in that ghastly yacht scene, and just ended it there.
Making movies is fucking hard—just like writing books is hard. Just ask your movie-making friends. Writing takes years of failure and rejection that can hit like a boot in the gut. So before I launch into a snarky diatribe about the worst movie of last year, I want to mention that the writer who wrote my least favorite movie of the year, Bob Nelson, won the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay and I wish him the highest of fives. I was looking forward to Nebraska for months and finally saw it at an offbeat theater on a perfect rainy afternoon with a man I wanted to fuck. Nebraska seemed like a terrifically sad story and I love sad shit. I mean, if Blue Jasmine and Elliott Smith were a vacation destination, I would pack it up and retire there. For instance, my favorite movie last year was Dallas Buyer’s Club, even though it caused me to sob hysterically next to colleagues I was trying to impress. Nebraska is a black and white film and it’s bleak. Although I’m a big fan of noir hipster bleak, like Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, and adore black and white cinematography, Nebraska‘s plot was limited and slow with moments too anemic to be truly funny. Sadness can be brutally funny when it’s truly great. But, Nebraska dragged and Bruce Dern’s disoriented gaze didn’t make me sad. It bored me and it’s not because he’s not Matthew McConaughey. It’s because I lost interest in “Woody,” an aging white man who’s married to a mean nag. The characters were stock and so the depressing landscape made for a dull downward spiral. My date and I almost left in the middle of the film because I wanted to have sex in the parking garage, but we politely waited until the credits rolled.
I haven’t seen a film in the theater since I stayed with my in-laws over Christmas break and would have attended a Napkin Folding Festival if it meant getting out of the house for even an hour longer. So I don’t know if Oblivion actually came out this year or not (too lazy to check), but I did see it on cable at near-dawn two nights ago, in the grips of brute insomnia. What constitutes worst? Certainly not merely bad. Not clumsy or uninspired. Not half-baked or small-budget. Worst has to have ambition. A clear sense of self-worth. Worst spends scads on CGI and aging screen talent and slick marketing giveaways that never get given away, continuing to smell huge box-office right through the dismal opening weekend. In short, it has no clue that it sucks. Oblivion satisfies all these criteria and more. (Although, as a sleep aid, it’s hard to argue that Tom Cruise didn’t deliver in full). Oblivion is the worst sort of cynical Phillip K. Dick ripoff, a pastiche of every “big twist” dystopian epic of the last thirty years, with not a single original idea in sight. And although its massive budget delivers some cool flying effects, there’s nothing else to recommend this smug piece of “beware the mean corporations” bullshit, unless you count the most hilarious misuse of Morgan Freeman since Tyler Perry’s Amistad. Also, it had the gall to end with a shot of thousands of naked Cruises suspended in Matrix-style saline pods. Turns out reality was all in Tom’s mind. Right where it belonged.
The Hobbit: The Defenestration of Smaug, or whatever the fuck it’s called. I didn’t see it, but I’m sure it sucked as much orc ass as the first Hobbit installment, which I had the displeasure of watching in 3D. Because Peter Jackson not only wants my money, he also wants me to leave with a headache.
Maybe a better answer to this is what wasn’t the worst movie? That for the record was Rush, which gives you a sense of where we’re headed here. But, I live in the sticks, and my nearest cinema is an hour’s drive away so my movie viewing is limited to what can be projected in my home next to the wood stove. And, this year a neighbor, an Academy Member, decamped with his screeners. So, the worst movie? A toss-up between dreary Llewyn Davis (whom I never want to be “inside” or anywhere near again), Mud (which was easily 40 minutes too long, if not 130 minutes too long…), and August: Osage County. All those Okie accents! We didn’t make it more than 15 minutes in till we were all mimicking Meryl and decided to switch it off. Which brings me to Rush. You can never beat a car crash, even if Opie Taylor is directing.
A lot of people loved it, but I hated Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha.” If you took out all the things I vaguely like about the show “Girls” and left only the things that annoy me, that would be this movie. Greta Gerwig is good, yes, she’s charmingly kooky and lovely and natural, but it’s not enough. Do I care about any of the people in the movie? Not at all. I know, this is the way people are in New York in their twenties blah blah blah self-absorbed etc. etc., but as a writing teacher of mine once said, “The truth is no excuse.” Also, casting Dean and Britta from Luna in the dinner scene was so winky-wink insider cool I wanted to punish Baumbach by making him eat at Applebee’s for a month.
The last film I saw in a theater was the Dark Knight. And the last before that, Batman Begins. I do watch movies though, in thirty minute pieces — late at night. By that time I want mindless. So I’ve seen a lot of bad movies in the last year. Smokey & the Bandit III for example. In which Jerry Reed plays the Bandit and Buford makes the run. A truly wretched film. I’m halfway through my third viewing. So best bad worst movie or good worst movie? Let’s see, there was the Village People movie, Can’t Stop the Music, the Saturday Night Fever sequel Stayin’ Alive (where Travolta finally comes out of the closet), Vanilla Ice’s 1991 celebrity cash-in Cool as Ice and the “digital bra” version of Showgirls. (for research purposes only). But the worst worst? The simply inexplicably bad? Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart’s Club Band starring The Bee Gees, Peter Frampton, George Burns & Aerosmith. So bad it doesn’t even work as mindless. Five minutes in I wondered why Andy Gibb wasn’t playing the part of the Billy Shears but soon enough I figured he must have been the smartest of the brothers Gibb. Two highlights: A sweet version of Robin singing “Oh Darlin’,” and a choir of three hundred stars sing the title track as the end credits roll. Leif Garrett, Carol Channing, Tina Turner, Wolfman Jack, Etta James, Curtis Mayfield, Sha Na Na. And sure enough, there on the far left, Hank Williams Jr.