Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Third Annual Skelly Awards!

By Bill S.

Awards season is winding down, with the Oscars airing this Sunday night. But before that happens, it's time once again for me to look at this year's nominees in the four acting categories (Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress) to decide who, among them, has the most embarrassing role in their past, and award them the with the "Skelly"(as in "Skeleton In the Closet"). Last year's winner was Meryl Streep, who can take comfort in knowing she'll never make another movie worse than She-Devil. She can also take comfort in knowing she'll never be in the running for a "Skelly" again, because according to the eligibility rules I invented for the award I invented, once somebody makes the list, they never do again. This shouldn't be taken to mean that She-Devil is better than the movies we'll be looking at. It still sucks goat balls. I just don't like repeating myself. But before we find out who this year's winner is, let's look at the runner-ups. Or is it runners-up? Raise your hand if you give a shit about this.

I don't see any hands raised, so let's begin.

8th Place: ETHAN HAWKE.
Hawke made his movie debut at 15 alongside another notable teen newbie, River Phoenix, in Explorers. His best pre-stardom role was in Dead Poets Society (appearing alongside some more up-and-comers, like Robert Sean Leonard). In the 90's he became a Generation X icon, thanks to pictures like Reality Bites and Before Sunrise. But a few years earlier, before his goatee was even a single chin whisker, he had to slog through a dumb, gimmicky teen movie (I think these are a rite of passage for very young actors), called Mystery Date.

(It's...well, I think you can guess.)

The favorite to win this years Best Actress Oscar, Moore's been so good, in so many movies, for so long, it's hard to believe she hasn't won already. Confession: as much as a Movie Trivia Geek as I am, I don't have everybody's resume memorized, and sometimes I have to look them up. And nothing has thrown me for a bigger loop, caused a bigger "What. The. Fuck?" reaction than finding out one of our finest actresses appeared in...Body of Evidence.

Wait, what? That Basic Instinct ripoff? This first of Madonna's many failed attempts to prove she was a Serious Actress? No way!

But, Yes way...

Somebody should have done that to the idiot who greenlit this mess.

[Note from Scott: For more on Body of Evidence, check out pg. 95 of Better Living Through Bad Movies]

6th Place: J.K. SIMMONS
The favorite to win Best Supporting Actor, and hey, isn't he always the best supporting actor? I mean, he made J. Jonah Jameson the most entertaining character in the Spider-Man movies, uttered the funniest line in Juno (which some of you are now quoting) and generally is one of those guys who, when his name pops up in the credits makes you perk up and say, "Hey, if he's in it, it's probably good." The problem with such character actors is the good will they've built up can sometimes draw you into a movie your best instinct would usually drive you away, for example, Autumn In New York. Once again a supporting role, Simmons plays a doctor in this tale of a terminally ill young woman who finds romance with an older man in a picturesque city. It's kinda like the equally bad 1969 flick A Place For Lovers, except that picture featured a character who sells inflatable airbags, and Autumn In New York features characters who could be outwitted by them.

[BLTM, pg. 47]

5th Place: LAURA DERN
Dern made her film debut at the age of 6 in White Lightening. In the mid-80's she became a Queen of Cult Movies (or a princess, given that her parents are Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd), thanks to pictures like Smooth Talk, Blue Velvet, Wild At Heart, Rambling Rose and Citizen Ruth. But in between her days as a child actress and transition to leading lady, she landed a role in a horror film with two other then-unknowns, Charlie Sheen and George Clooney. It was a called Grizzly II: The Concert, and was a sequel to the 1976 horror film Grizzly, which was a ripoff of Jaws, with a bear instead of a shark.

And that sequel has never been seen by anybody, because after it was completed it was never released. "But Bill", you ask, "If you haven't seen it, how can you be sure it really is Dern's worst movie (or Sheen's, or Clooney's)?" To which I'd reply: It's a sequel to a ripoff, and even though it starred GEORGE FREAKIN' CLOONEY, the studio still didn't think it could cash in with a video release. I'm guessing that on the scale of Movies I'll Never get To See, it falls short of that missing footage from The Magnificent Ambersons. It might be better than The Day the Clown Cried. But not by much.

Duvall made his film debut in To Kill A Mockingbird. Now that's a good start. He was also in all three Godfather movies, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, M*A*S*H*, Tender Mercies, The Great Santini, True Grit...I think I might just get a filmgasm listing his best movies. But as with any career that spans 6 decades, not all of them were winners. Two less-than-stellar movies were featured in Better Living Through Bad Movies: Days Of Thunder (pg. 98), which featured 22 year old Nicole Kidman as a neurosurgeon, presumably because Katie Holmes wasn't available, and Gone In 60 Seconds (page 95), which describes the exact duration of my interest in it. Neither of those films, however, is the one that puts him on this list. No, it goes all the way back to the '60's and The Detective. While Duvall doesn't have a lot of screen time in this movie, any participation in it is embarrassing, because this pretentious sleazepit deserves a spot alongside Freebie & the Bean, Cruising, and Partners in the Homophobia Hall of Shame. The trailer features one of its gay characters, a murder suspect named "Felix"...
...and he's not even the most offensive character. If The Detective had been made in the '80's, there might have been people picketing the theater, as there had been with Cruising. But since it was pre-Stonewall (when the prevailing attitude of the public was "Any guy who doesn't wanna bang Lee Remick deserves to be killed") nobody questioned its portrayal. It even got some praise from critics who found its tacking of shocking subject matter daring. I guess, if you find it daring to confirm people's worst assumptions. Or if you forget that it came out in the same year as Rachel, Rachel, which depicted a same-sex kiss that didn't lead to someone being horrifically murdered.

Reese Witherspoon made her film debut at 15 in the touching coming-of-age film Man In the Moon, still, along with Election, one of her best roles.

Patricia Arquette can sometimes seem overlooked among the famous acting siblings -- she isn't transgender, she isn't a flake, and she doesn't have a Toto song named after her. She is, however, the first to get an Oscar nomination. So, there's that.

These two gifted women once worked on the same movie. Ordinarily that might be cause to smile (or, if it had been a remake of Personal Best, cause to whoop joyfully). The cast also included Harvey Keitel, Rodney Dangerfield, and Rhys Ifans. Unfortunately none of them has the lead role. That acting chore (well for him it's a chore) fell on Adam Sandler...

In Little Nicky, Sandler plays the dim-witted son of Satan (so many punch lines, so little time), who's sent to Earth in order to bring back his brothers before they turn New York City into a bigger hell hole than it already is (so many punch lines, so little time). It's hard to decide which actress has the more demeaning role: Arquette plays a girl whom Nicky develops a romantic interest in, and Witherspoon plays Nicky's mother, who turns out to be an Angel. This movie is so stupid, it actually buries the lead about Nicky being a half demon/half angel, introducing this late in the film as a contrived plot twist, and so lazy that once that twist is revealed, absolutely nothing clever is done with it. Full disclosure: I avoided seeing this movie for many years, since it looked like a suckfest, and only watched it for the purpose of this column. I hope you appreciate that sacrifice. It's an all-time low for everyone involved, with the glaring exception of Adam Sandler, and the possible exception of the maintenance crew who arrived after production wrapped, performing the valued public service of removing any evidence of the movie before anyone had the misfortune to step in it.

My favorite Batman (Adam West runs a close second). I've liked this guy since I was a kid, and saw him for the first time on the sitcom "All's Fair", playing Lanny Wolf (what a name), a comedian hired by Jimmy Carter to add humor to Presidential speeches. (I was disappointed to learn "Joke writer to the President" wasn't a real job.) It seems hard to believe that in his 40-year career, this is the first time he's ever been nominated for an Oscar. At the very least, he should have gotten a Best Supporting Actor nod for stealing ever scene in Night Shift. (Who'd have guessed a guy who excels at playing slick, quick-thinking hustlers and hipsters, would be this year's sentimental favorite.) If he doesn't win, he at least deserves to win 'Father of the Year" for that Golden Globes acceptance speech (I don't know about the rest of you, but I teared up.) That's not an award he'd win for the movie that landed him on this list: Jack Frost.

This wasn't just bad, it was unwatchable. It centers around a man who dies in an auto accident and is reincarnated as a creepy CGI snowman who will haunt your nightmares forever. Scott already did a fine job describing this movie's awfulness, so all I can add is that it falls into a very weirdly specific comedy subgenre: the dead parent who comes back to haunt his children. Of which another example is Ghost Dad. Oh well, at least Jack Frost doesn't star a serial rapist. But on the whole, "Hamlet" was still funnier.

So you may be asking: if Jack Frost was only bad enough to land Michael Keaton in second place, what could be worse? For then answer, you need look no further than Keaton's co-star in Birdman, the winner of the 2015 SKELLY AWARD goes to...

He got his first Oscar nomination for his very first movie, Primal Fear, but lost to Cuba Gooding, Jr. (if he doesn't win this year, he can take comfort in knowing he lost to a worthy opponent.) In addition to Birdman, he's also in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Norton's career is marked by (mostly) interesting, ambitious film choices-dark films like Fight Club or oddball comedies like Moonrise Kingdom. So I guess it's no surprise that his worst film wouldn't just be some garden-variety, run-of-the-mill flop. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert (who gave it HALF a star) wrote: "Only enormously talented people could have made [it]. Those with lesser gifts would have lacked the nerve to make a film so bad, so miscalculated, so lacking any connection with any possible audience.To make a film this awful, you have to have enormous ambition and confidence, and big dreams."And just what movie could have produced such a reaction. Three little words: 

Like Little Nicky, I've purposely avoided seeing this movie for years. I knew it had a reputation as one of the biggest bombs of the past two decades. I was also aware that it actually had a cult status, fans who claimed it was an underrated masterpiece. So this year, for the purpose of this column, I had to watch it, to see for certain whether it truly was as bad as I was expecting. Spoiler alert: it's worse.

All the talent involved in making this, in the service of a movie that really only has one joke: Sheldon, AKA "Smoochy", is sincere and sweet and incorruptible, and everybody else is a complete scumbag. This gets old after the first 15 minutes (the running gag about the brain-damaged boxer gets old after 15 seconds.) Once you realize this, every attempt to shock becomes predictable, especially since its attempts to shock aren't all that bold to begin with. "Ha ha, Rainbow Randolph curses like a sailor when the cameras stop rolling. I was totally not expecting this." Of course there's gonna be a clown with a drug addiction. Of course the charity organization's going to be a scam. Of course Catherine Keener's programming director's gonna have a fetish for kiddie show hosts -- what else are you going to do with a smart, sexy female character, make her human?

To quote another critic, Dorothy Parker, this wasn't plain terrible. This was fancy-terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.

Well, something that looked like raisins anyway.

But let's end this column on a lighter note. Here's Best Actor Nominee Benedict Cumberbatch, who, if he doesn't win for his work in The Imitation Game, should at least win "Best Actor With a Name that's Fun To Mispronounce On Purpose". In this clip he offers up imitations of other famous actors. He's amusing and charming.

Bill S.


maryclev said...

Excellent awards, Bill! I wonder, do actors who win an OSCAR tend to have their worst roles before or after the OSCAR?

Scott said...

Well, George Kennedy was in Bolero with Bo Derek after winning Best Supporting Actor for Cool Hand Luke. Following Jason Robards' back-to-back Best Supporting wins for All the President's Men and Julia in 1976 and '77, he went on to make Raise the Titanic!. After Hannah and Her Sisters, Michael Caine was in a Steven Seagal movie.

And after winning for The Untouchables, Sean Connery was in Highlander II: The Quickening!


grouchomarxist said...

Holy carp! An unreleased sequel to Grizzly?!? And with John Rhys-Davies as the Quint clone? Verily, the mind doth boggle.