Joe Bowman | Worst Films

puffyCarefully avoiding films that scream "awful" is one of my finer traits, which makes my worst of the year list a bit more surprising and unpredictable. I skipped out on The Da Vinci Code, You, Me and Dupree, American Dreamz, Date Movie, John Tucker Must Die, Little Man, and Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector for such reasons. Unlike my best-of-the-year list, I have meticulously ordered these films, not in terms of quality, but in order of the contempt I hold for each of these pictures.

The Black Dahlia did not make Joe happy

1. For Your Consideration (Warner Independent Pictures, PG-13)

It probably goes without saying that Phat Girlz is worse than Christopher Guest's latest, but you'd already avoided seeing that one. Guest continues his downhill plunge with a film that makes his middling A Mighty Wind look as funny as the superb Waiting for Guffman. As a satire, it's trite and obvious (do we really need someone to make fun of Entertainment Tonight?), but as a comedy, it's dim-witted and unfunny (unless you think a joke about Hollywood exec not knowing of Internet is comedic brilliance: "that's the one with email, right?"). Guest never commits to the promise he made of stepping away from the mockumentary-style here, creating a film that consists almost entirely of characters being interviewed for television. Most of us can appreciate a good slap at Hollywood, especially the year after it awarded an Oscar to what will go down in history as the worst Best Picture winner ever, but when it's delivered in such a self-congratulatory, witless package as For Your Consideration, I start to get angry. The great irony of it all is the award attention the usually wonderful Catherine O'Hara, as the lead actress Marilyn Hack (get it?), is getting for her clueless performance in a film that's unknowingly as awful as Home for Purim, the hammy 1940s melodrama at the center of this picture.

2. Hard Candy (Lions Gate, R)

Seldom does a film so nauseatingly call attention to its craft as artlessly as Hard Candy does. As a thriller, it pretends to be socially viable, turning the tables on predatory child molesters having the young girl as the tormentor, without really saying anything. In every frame, you can't help but notice that Hard Candy is an assembly of people "doing their job." With the annoyingly flashy cinematography, simply passable acting and, especially, the by-the-numbers duplicity of the screenplay, the film's ability to thrill, shock, or awe washes away to reveal the inner devices of a hammy, nasty movie, devoid of the passion that drives the more artfully-inclined to create cinema.

3. Art School Confidential (Sony Pictures Classics, R)

It's one thing to be a flat satire as Art School Confidential is, but it's quite another to be a confusing mess of a film that has little idea of what it's trying to say or do. Art School Confidential is such a mystifying muddle that it's almost difficult to put into words how bad the film is. I wanted to just plainly state, "this movie totally sucks," but that wouldn't successfully explain my hatred for the film. Art School Confidential's breed of satire reduces characters to the most inane variety of pretentious art school snob from characters who function as a talking thesaurus to oversensitive social rejects whose mommies told them their paintings of kittens were beautiful. All of this was better portrayed and examined in the later seasons of Six Feet Under, so to see a dumbing down of these criticisms feels unnecessary. Yet if Art School Confidential were simply lacking necessity, it would have been forgettable instead of awful. Instead, Daniel Clowes (who worked prior with Zwigoff on the overrated Ghost World) adapted his own comic, stretching it into a colossal disaster of superfluous side-characters that rivals Peter Jackson's King Kong and a shockingly miscalculated murder subplot. Basically, in a year where mediocre films flourished at the box office, Art School Confidential would have been refreshingly bad if it weren't such an unsatisfactory pile of shit.

4. The Puffy Chair (Roadside Attractions, R)

Though it didn't make my official ten best of the year, I Am a Sex Addict is the direct counter of a film like The Puffy Chair. Using the digital technology as a way to expertly combine documentary and fiction in a stunning examination of the self, I Am a Sex Addict was the best use of this media this year. The Puffy Chair, on the other hand, does precisely what worried film purists when the technology became consumer-level. Though maybe better than a bunch of overweight kids with black-eyeliner making their own backyard horror flicks, The Puffy Chair takes us on an annoying road-trip with Josh (Mark Duplass, screenwriter and brother of the director), his girlfriend (Kathryn Aselton), and brother (Rhett Wilkins) as they pick up and deliver an ugly reclining chair to his father on his birthday. Personal revelations and conflicts ensue, predictably, in a film that mistakes awkward moments where characters speak in silly, cutesy voices to one another as intimate drama. As the film is entirely surface-level, it's hard to tag along with the brothers' road-trip when you can't stand the people with whom you're traveling. Josh's girlfriend accomplishes the feat of being the most irritating character committed to video since Fran Drescher became the nanny of a lame white gentile's three children. The Puffy Chair falls apart as a result of its good intentions, a film that's exposure of characters' flaws alienates instead of reaching the greater truth it hoped to achieve.

5. The Oh in Ohio (Cyan Pictures, NR)

Though her performance in Adam & Steve might have suggested that Parker Posey was back at what she does best, The Oh in Ohio is a frightening counterexample, placing her in one of her most rotten, least interesting roles as a stuck-up ad exec who can't orgasm. Sex & the City is likely to blame for paving the way for a film that's premise follows a woman searching for clitoral stimulation and then becoming addicted to her vibrator, but it's writer/director Billy Kent who should be slapped for not only placing the vibrant Posey in such a crummy role, but for thinking we care about any dramatic conclusions she might come to throughout the course of the film.

6. The Black Dahlia (Universal Pictures, R)

If you needed the definitive proof that Brian de Palma has lost it, see The Black Dahlia, his epic misfire about one of the most notorious unsolved murder cases in California. Though Hilary Swank, as the femme fatale, adds a certain spunk to the otherwise limp film, the rest of the cast, especially Aaron Eckhart as Josh Hartnett's partner and the horrible Scarlett Johansson, whose good looks seem to have blinded Hollywood execs to her lack of talent, as Eckhart's goody-two-shoe wife, seems like they have no idea what they're doing here. There's a scene or two that recall some of the best moments in The Untouchables or Dressed to Kill, but within the lousy film, they just frustrate and become sad reminders of what a fine American director has become late in his career.

7. Nathalie… (Koch Lorber Films, NR)

Filmmakers who want you to applaud them for their supposed cleverness make me ill. Essentially a lame excuse to get three respected French actors (Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Béart, Gérard Depardieu) together onscreen, Nathalie… screams deception from its earliest moments. The director may pass off her stupid surprise ending that she uncomfortably hints toward throughout the entire film as a way to explore the inner workings of bored, middle-aged Ardant's sexual and personal reawakening through her relationship with stripper Béart, but the irony of that statement would be that this exploration is just as false as her cinematic trickery.

8. The Hills Have Eyes 

With the promise he showed in High Tension, Alexandre Aja could have been one of the finest of the contemporary horror directors, as long as he wasn't allowed to write the screenplays. The Hills Have Eyes may be a faithful remake, and it might have earned necessity if it actually had anything to say about the American nuclear family and social outsiders, instead of just having the American flag used as a tool for gore. Regrettably, it becomes another forgettable failure by Hollywood to reclaim the horror glory of the 70s.

9. Cars (Fox Searchlight, R)

A severe blemish in Pixar's nearly untarnished reputation (though A Bug's Life is hardly one of their crowning achievements), Cars manages to not only be visually unexciting, but painfully middle-of-the-road. In a year that brought us Little Man and a sequel to Basic Instinct, Cars may not be one of the worst the year has to offer (or even Disney, for that matter, as The Wild proved to be anything but). Unquestionably though, it stands as one of the year's biggest disappointments.

10. Lower City (Palm Pictures, R)

When two best friends fall for the same girl, you can guess things get ugly. You may not have guessed that the conflict would be as tedious as it is in this Brazilian export. A trio of talented, attractive leads spend most of their screen time gazing blankly into the camera, having sloppy rough sex, and backstabbing one another. By about the third time the friends have come to a seemingly concrete decision about the ménage à trois only to give into their lust yet again, you'll find yourself wanting to run the characters over with a truck instead of gathering any insight about human weakness or emotions, but if hate-fucking and masochism is your thing, kindly ignore what I had to say.

(Dis)honorable Mentions: Akeelah and the Bee (for unsuccessfully trying to thaw my cold heart with yet another nerdy-kid-in-a-spelling-bee flick); Basic Instinct 2 (for being as sexy as your shirtless grandfather in cut-off jean shorts eating an ice cream cone on a hot summer's day); Don't Tell (for further proving that an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign-Language film doesn't equal quality); Sorry, Haters (for hilariously exploiting the events of 9/11 in an almost admirably mean-spirited shitfest); Stoned (for hoping its audience hadn't already seen Nicolas Roeg's masterpiece Performance to draw severe criticisms)

| Joe Bowman

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