Goldberg’s Un-Golden Picks: Worst Five Films of 2005
While some films have upset me due to their reception (specifically the love-fest for the merely decent Crash and Munich), I don’t think it’s right to fault films for how they’re received by critics and the American public. A filmmaker will try to make the best film possible, but he or she has very little control over its mainstream success.
Great films like Super Troopers and Fight Club get panned by critics and flop at the box office while films like Titanic and Shrek receive adulation and hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s fairer to judge the film only on its own merit and just ignore the noise around it.
A brief note before the list: there were many bad films in 2005, but I’m only listing the worst five I saw because I’m no longer allowed to hijack the Arts section like I did last week.
I don’t know how you make a mother who lost her daughter seem unsympathetic, but writer/director Billy Ray managed it with flying colors (pun...oh what the hell: intended). After breaking into my Top 10 Films of 2003 with Shattered Glass (pun not intended), he decided to make a film that could be a really neat psychological or supernatural thriller, but instead, is just a thriller without any thrills.
The film has Jodie Foster running around a plane upsetting everyone (including the viewer, although not in a compassionate way) for about 70 minutes until the film finally goes full-blown stupid and comes up with a twist so terrible it somehow manages to create plot holes even though the film doesn’t have a plot.
Failing to utilize actors like Foster, Peter Sarsgaard and Sean Bean, along with ruining an intriguing premise, makes this film a waste, and not just a waste of good talent and my time, but just plain old “let’s-dump-it-in-New-Jersey-where-no-one-will-notice” waste.
I do not like Todd Solondz. He’s 0 for 2 with me right now, but I won’t write him off completely since I haven’t seen Happiness or Storytelling. But I have seen Welcome to the Dollhouse and his latest film, Palindromes, and I have just one piece of advice for him: don’t make movies about real people when it’s clear you’ve never met any.
Solondz’s story about a young girl who desperately wants to be a mother isn’t offensive because of its subject material (although with all the amusing handicapped runaways, underage sex and neo-con stereotypes, it certainly wants to be) but because it’s an observation of humanity that has no understanding of human beings.
The main message of the film is that people, no matter what happens to them, do not change. And in case this message wasn’t made clear by having a different actress play the main character in each act, we get an ancillary character to spell it out for us at the end. Of course, if this idea was true, no one would ever have to worry about losing friends or wives or careers.
And they say life is complicated! Way to go, Todd.
3. Cinderella Man
Films that lunge at your heartstrings aren’t necessarily bad. While being maudlin and hokey are not great qualities for a film to have, sometimes the shameless sentimentality of a film is honorable in its naivety.
Unfortunately, Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man forgets that to make a film sentimental, you first need to make people care.
You would think that a movie about the Great Depression would be more depressing, but apparently, love does conquer all, even starvation and unemployment. Russell Crowe plays Jim Braddock: World’s Nicest Guy (if the character could afford business cards that would be his title). Jim loves his family, doesn’t drink or gamble, and works hard, but he’s poor and a failed boxer, so I guess the viewer should be sad.
But I wasn’t sad, because I had a feeling Jim was gonna be okay.
And I was right!
Once he starts fighting for his family’s welfare, no one can stop him! I guess before this change of motivation Jim boxed, because he liked hitting people or maybe he just really enjoyed moving around in a square-shaped container.
But oh, no! Here comes Satan! (Or Max Baer, as the film calls him.) Yes, just as Jim is the world’s nicest guy who can do no wrong, Max Baer has apparently killed two people in the ring and in his spare time probably eats puppies and small children. Oh, and since he’s Jewish, he probably goes around punching elderly nuns (they just go down easier).
In reality, Baer only killed one boxer, Frankie Campbell, and was haunted by it throughout his life. Baer tried to make amends by giving money to Campbell’s family and put Campbell’s kids through college.
So one good man fighting another good man in the ring would be pretty interesting, but apparently audiences can’t handle conflict beyond “good vs. evil.” Instead, Howard tries to milk the non-existent drama of whether Jim will defeat Baer or if Baer will kill Jim and eat his soul.
Cinderella Man isn’t shamelessly sentimental, but it is shamelessly stupid.
2. High Tension
I’m still amazed at how many filmmakers try to ape the structure of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the 1974 version) and still think that we’ll be scared by something we’ve seen done before and done better. With High Tension, we have girlfriends Marie and Alexia visiting Alexia’s family in the countryside.
And since it’s the countryside, there’s naturally going to be a faceless psychotic killer. Psycho killers just aren’t city folk. After some gore-porn of the killer murdering Alexia’s family, Marie follows the killer in an attempt to rescue a kidnapped Alexia.
While Alexandre Aja has skill as a director, the story he’s crafted with Grégory Levasseur is boring, bland and features an ending that’s both wondrously idiotic and completely unnecessary. The only tension this film provides is a headache (although not as bad as the headache Alexia’s father receives).
1. Alone in the Dark
It’s almost too easy to put this film at the top of the list. Uwe Boll is flat-out the worst filmmaker working today. And while there was no real reason for this film to be good in the first place, it would be inappropriate to ignore its badness and to deny Uwe and his film this dubious distinction.
To begin, at what point in the casting process do you think, “You know, I’ve always thought that Tara Reid would make a great scientist.” You cannot even fall back on the excuse that she’s a box office draw. The only reason people even remember her is because they’re still trying to wrap their heads around how someone could have one of their breasts hanging out and not notice. I mean, nipple slips happen, but how do you not notice, “Oh look, my do-it-yourself boob job has become exposed.”
But that’s just one of the film’s problems. The film also features the longest opening crawl prologue in film history. It is just not a good sign when the film spends the opening five minutes with only scrolling text in an attempt to patch up the many plot holes to come, and still comes out with a film that makes no sense.
But Boll doesn’t care about that as much as he wants you to think he’s great. And perhaps if he rips off enough from truly great films like Aliens or Ghostbusters or heck, just decent films like Tremors or Stargate, then maybe people will think he’s great, too! But when I see monsters that are so similar to their inspiration maybe it’s time for the original creators to call the lawyers. I think Uwe Boll is great in many regards (like plagiarizing), but filmmaking is not one of them.
At some point you just have to stop and ask, “How stupid can your film be and still get theatrical distribution?” I don’t think video games necessarily make you dumb, but maybe if Uwe turned off the PlayStation for a few hours, he would learn that you cannot kill someone with an underhanded knife toss or have your hero leave innocent cab drivers to die as he fights generic henchman #1,083.
But Uwe never learns and apparently neither does anyone else, because he came
out with another bad video game film this year and he has five more in