With the backlash and outrage aimed at mother! this past weekend, my wife casually asked me, “What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen?” As a movie critic, I was surprised at how I didn’t really have an answer to this question at the ready. I generally try to only see movies that I hope I’ll like, and while I am occasionally disappointed, I usually can find some aspect that salvages the experience from being completely worthless. However, her question prompted me to delve into my cinematic history, parse through the depths, and once and for all recognize one film as the worst one I’ve ever seen.
Now I want to be clear, since I try to avoid the bad ones, I have not seen classically hated movies like Gigli, Troll 2, or Battlefield Earth, so they cannot be the worst movie I’ve seen. Still, I’ve seen a lot of movies, and like any serious undertaking, this decision requires some preparation and a few ground rules. Obviously, when discussing any medium of art and expression, the overall reaction is entirely subjective. Therefore, I need to determine what it is to me that makes a movie terrible. After racking my brain, I’ve determined that the following 4 factors are critical in determining a film’s lack of value.
- Story – If the story is contrived, poorly written, implausible, or a combination of these things, then the movie is in trouble. A great story can salvage bad acting, but bad acting cannot save a bad story. Writing and originality factor into this piece of criteria as well.
- Acting – Yes, acting does play a major role in determining a movie’s greatness. So much of how we interact, empathize, and respond to a movie has to do with how we project our values and opinions onto the people playing the parts.
- Dullness – This is perhaps the most important factor of all. Movies can be good-bad or bad-bad. The difference has to do with dullness. If a movie is dull with poor pacing and extended periods of just nothing going on, then the movie is doomed. Many interior sub-areas influence this category including music, directing and editing.
- Technical – Sometimes a bad movie can be saved by its technical achievements or visual aspect. Additionally, sometimes a good movie can be mired in terrible technical blunders, mistakes, and shortcomings. And worst of all, sometimes a bad move can be made dreadful when the technical pieces put the last nail in the coffin.
Additionally, there are a few movies that I hated so much that I turned them off or walked out on them. Ironically, those films will not be considered in my deliberation since I never saw them in their entirety. For the record, this is a rare occurrence with me, as I prefer to see films through regardless of how bad they are, and the films I turned off or walked out on would likely not have displaced my ultimate choice for worst movie I ever saw.
Now that I have my criteria in place, I am ready to reveal the worst movie I’ve ever seen; however, if you know The People’s Critic, then you know I can’t do this without making it a list. So I give to you, The People’s Critic’s Five Worst Movies I’ve Ever Seen (by the way, I’ve seen mother! and it’s nowhere near this list).
5. A Good Day to Die Hard
So what went wrong? First of all, no more catch phrases or cliches. “Yippee Ki-Yay” is grandfathered in, but now we’re reminded that John McClane is “old” and “on vacation” at least ten times. This repetition serves no purpose except to go for a cheap laugh, but you’ll never hear the laughter over most of the theater slapping their hands to their foreheads in disgust. Furthermore, this installment takes place in Russia. In one scene, John is handed a tour book by his daughter, Idiot’s Guide to Russia. Clearly, it was the same book Skip Woods used to write the screenplay because the film exposes Russia’s traffic issues, introduces characters named Viktor, Yuri, and Anton, and its climax seals the cliché deal by taking place at Chernobyl. Oh, did I mention Yuri is introduced playing chess, so we know he’s a smart Russian? Disappointing stuff.
Then there’s the action. Atrocious sound stage garbage. Action confined in one setting for ten minutes with no real danger becomes dull in 30 seconds. The previous four films did not feel so confined to sound-stages as this one does (even though the first two had McClane trapped in a building and an airport respectively), and it ruins any tension or fun.
Finally, if one wants to make a sequel, then make a sequel. What happened to Bonnie Bedelia as McClane’s now ex-wife, Holly? Where’s good ole’ Reginald VelJohnson as Sgt. Powell? Why introduce all of those fun tech-geeks in Live Free or Die Hard only to strand them in that film? Screenwriters, listen up; these character actors will sign up if the story is there!
4. Only God Forgives
Not a lot happens in Only God Forgives as several scenes are composed of people just moving around, albeit moving around slowly and deliberately. Many scenes are composed of one-shots (one character in the frame) that last 30 seconds or more! This results in manufacturing the slowest 89 minute film in recent memory.
There is not much good to be said for the film. Ryan Gosling is practically emotionless, giving the blandest performance of his career, although clearly steered by director, Nicholas Winding Refn.
Winding Refn’s directorial choices are certainly strange from time to time. With virtually no exposition, his film complicates matters by introducing confusing segments of “dream-like” scenarios (most of which include red dragon wallpaper) that may or may not be real. Furthermore, a major talking point for this film is its use of violence. Only God Forgives appears to be an instrument for Winding Refn to release his own personal anger against spirituality, against God, against mothers – it’s an angry film. Much of this anger manifests as violence and while occasionally off screen, two rather brutal scenes do not hold back. These scenes drip of anger but offer little redeeming quality (See No Country for Old Men for a film that accomplishes the task of personifying wrath).
Only God Forgives is a mostly failed attempt at expounding on the undertakings of an angry God. Instead of making a film that analyzes and examines anger, he has made one that simply exudes his own.
Is Savages pulp? Yes. Is Savages fiction? Oh God I hope so. But Savages is definitely not Pulp Fiction, despite its desperate attempt to be, including casting John Travolta. Savages is a gritty, hard-core examination of the cut-throat high pressure, high stakes game of marijuana cartels. Wait, what? Marijuana cartels? Oliver Stone crafts a screenplay, with help from Don Winslow who penned the source material, that does explain this unorthodox cartel’s extremely violent nature. The story is actually very simple. Young marijuana entrepreneurs gain the attention of a major drug cartel who kidnaps their shared girlfriend in order to force their hand to deal with them. Those entrepreneurs are played by Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson. The shared girlfriend who drags her nails across the chalkboard with flat acting and dreadful voiceover is played lumberingly by Blake Lively. Why they want her back is the film’s biggest mystery. Her character, O, is named after Hamlet’s deranged, suicidal lost love and she hints from the first line of the movie that she may not be alive at the end, providing some powerful wishful thinking. The biggest problem with Savages is the same with most Oliver Stone movies that don’t work, its agenda. Now, this time there is no political agenda; instead it’s a “look how edgy I am” agenda. This agenda is completely fulfilled by putting the viewers out of their misery with one of the worst endings in recent memory.
I could go on about what doesn’t work in this movie, but I feel the point is made. Instead, I’ll quickly mention the things that do work. Benicio Del Toro’s character is introduced with brutal gusto. Also, the film is mostly in focus, even during the ridiculous number of close ups. That’s about it.
2. Freddy Got Fingered
90s “comedian” Tom Green wrote and directed this mess, and I fell for it. I was 20 or 21 and Tom Green was kind of still happening, so I went to see it with some friends. Green was known for being a bit of a stunt comedian where he’d play pranks on unsuspecting people. Not bad, not great. However, as his popularity grew, his stunts became more gross-out related; queue Freddy Got Fingered, which demonstrates the rule that when gross-out goes wrong, it goes way, way wrong. Pink Flamingos, There’s Something About Mary, South Park, these films work on a subversive level, but Tom Green went for derivative and there he will sit for eternity. There are no words for the feeling you experience while watching the protagonist of a major studio film cackle wildly while manually stimulating a male elephant. No words. I hated this movie to the point that for a moment when my wife asked me what the worst movie I’ve ever seen was, this sprang to mind and I almost answered definitively, but it did manage to only reach #2. Which is actually perfect in that it achieves nothing, not even the distinction of being the worst.
1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Number one on this list nearly lost its spot on a technicality, in that this was a film I had previously turned off in disgust, only to reluctantly return to and finish just to say I did it. This film is the ultimate disaster and personal retribution because not only is it a dull, pointless, poorly acted pile of trash, it also does irreversible damage to my previously untarnished images of The Beatles, Alice Cooper, Billy Preston, Peter Frampton, and Steve Martin (The Bee Gees were already kind of ridiculous to me). And that’s what put it over the edge; none of the previous films caused any real long-term damage like this one did. Why did this movie have to happen?
The movie is basically an incomprehensible variety show hoping to capitalize on Beatles covers but failing and collapsing into a gestating puddle of embarrassment and technical misery. I’m pretty sure director Michael Schultz literally put the camera on a tripod, hit record, and just left. I know that sounds like a hyperbole, but if you watch it, you’ll see what I mean – and this is a “concert film,” but the camera doesn’t do anything!
This movie commits the ultimate shame of masquerading a business deal as a film and hoodwinking young people to pay into it. Now it rightfully is dejected as the horrendous dumpster fire that it is, but it did do one thing for me; it gave me a definitive answer to my wife’s question (although I wish it had a different title, so I wouldn’t have to be so specific):
What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen?
Why, it’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – the 1978 movie, not the album. The album is a masterpiece; the movie is complete and utter garbage!
What do you think? What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen? I’d love to know! Feel free to Tweet me @Peoples_Critic or respond in the comments.