By Bill S.
The Academy Awards are airing this Sunday, but before we see who'll win the top prizes, it's time for the annual presentation of the SKELLY, awarded to the actor among the year's Oscars nominees has the most embarrassing prior role. The competition was pretty close--this year's candidates include stars who appeared in films that were nominated for Worst Picture of the Year in the very first Golden Raspberry Awards. It's hard to say whether the fact that they didn't win is a compliment or an insult.
7th Place: Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett's had a good year--she has two Oscar nominations, one for her lead role in Marriage Story and another for her supporting role in Jojo Rabbit. She began acting as a child performer in the 90's, which is also when she made most of her worst movies. In fact, it's hard to think of a child actor from that period with a more dismaying resume--while Anna Paquin was winning an Oscar, Christina Ricci and Kirsten Dunst were competing for the title of Cult Movie Queen, Scarlett was getting stuck in junk like...
Home Alone 3 (1997)
I'll bet you didn't know there even was a third Home Alone movie. (By that time, the franchise should have been called, "My God, We're Crappy Parents!") This one featured nobody from the first two films, which makes it less a sequel and more of a crappy ripoff. But at least there's no cameo by Donald Trump.
6th Place: Joe Pesci
Joe made his movie debut as "dancer at the Peppermint Lounge" in the 1961 film Hey, Let's Twist. He wouldn't make another film for 15 years, although he did release an album in 1968, "Little Joe Sure Can Sing"(under the name Joe Ritchie). Raging Bull finally brought him name recognition, and along with it steady acting gigs, and an Oscar for his role in Goodfellas. While I'm tempted to name 8 Heads In a Duffle Bag as his most embarrassing role (the title would be reason enough), I'll instead pick the other unnecessary sequel to Home Alone...
Home Alone 2: Lost In New York (1992)
In which Pesci, Daniel Stern and Macaulay Culkin reprised their roles from the first film, and Brenda Fricker played Jane Darwell playing the Bird Lady in Mary Poppins, for some reason. This was the one where Donald Trump made a cameo. When the movie aired on the Canadian Broadcasting Company in 2014, Trump's scene was cut. Five years later, he took this as a political swipe. He then went on to praise Clark Gable for all the great roles he's been getting.
5th Place: Charlize Theron
Charlize made her film debut as an uncredited extra in Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (I didn't even know there was a second one.) Her first credited role was in Two Days In the Valley (1996). She always seemed on the verge of landing a "breakthrough" role before her decidedly un-glamorous role in Monster finally proved she was more than just a pretty face. Before that, the quality of her films was erratic, some good, some bad, and some...just a waste of her time and ours, like...
Sweet November (2001)
The movie tells the story of a man (Keanu Reeves) who begins a month-long romance with a woman (Theron) who's revealed to be terminally ill. It's a remake of a 1968 movie that starred Anthony Newley and Sandy Dennis. That version was pretty bad, so I'm not sure why anyone would remake it. Perhaps in the hopes of improving it? Well, they failed on that score. I'd still recommend the bad original, if only because the supporting cast included beloved soap star Marj Dusay, who passed away last month.
Incidentally, in addition to Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie receiving Oscar nominations for their roles in Bombshell, the movie is also nominated for Best Makeup & Hairstyling. I think it deserves to win, not for turning three beautiful blonde women into three other beautiful blonde women, but for turning John Lithgow into Jabba the Hut's uglier, more repulsive cousin.
4th Place: Brad Pitt
Brad got his start acting on television, with his first credited role being on the daytime soap "Another World". He also appeared on "Growing Pains" twice, first as a love interest for daughter Carol, then as a rock star idolized by younger son Ben. (I mention the characters to underscore the fact that he had minimal interaction with Kirk Cameron, and so maintained his will to live.) Just about every actor who began working in the 80's has appeared in at least one dumb teen comedy, one dumb slasher flick, or one of each. Or, in Brad's case, a movie that was both:
Cutting Class (1989)
In this movie, a bunch of characters are getting killed at a high school, and Brad becomes a prime suspect before it turns out to be exactly who we expected it to be in the first place. Also, Martin Mull stumbles around the woods aimlessly, and his connection to the story remains a mystery to us until the very end. Every adult character in this thing is completely obnoxious--they'd make the ones in a John Hughes movie cringe. When I watched this movie (which you can find in its entirety on YouTube) I honestly couldn't tell whether it was supposed to be a horror movie or a spoof of one. I could, however, tell it was really stupid.
3rd Place: Anthony Hopkins
Anthony's first movie role was in The White Bus (1967). He'd done some television work prior to that. As you might expect with any actor who's been working for over 50 years, he's had his share of career ups and downs, and the biggest drop would be...
A Change of Seasons (1980)
In this movie, Hopkins plays a married college professor who begins an affair with a student, played by Bo Derek. When his wife of 20 years (Shirley MacLaine) finds out, she begins having an affair with a younger man (Michael Brandon). They all wind up in a vacation cabin and...oh, just watch the trailer.
I suppose they were aiming for a sophisticated bedroom farce. All they needed was, you know, wit and sophistication. And characters who talked and acted like normal human beings. The screenplay for this thing was written by Erich Segal, of all people, and he did have to say he was sorry this time.
2nd Place: Kathy Bates
Kathy made her movie debut as an unnamed "audition singer" in the 1971 film Taking Off, in which she was billed as "Bobo Bates". She played supporting roles throughout the 70's and 80's, in both film and television, but was making a name for herself on Broadway with lead roles in "Night, Mother" and "Frankie and Johnny in the Clare De Lune". Her role in Misery finally made her a movie star, and that of course led to her getting better roles. It also led to a friendship with director Rob Reiner, which may explain why she took a small part in his worst film (and hers):
This movie tells the story of a young boy (Elijah Wood) who, fed up with his parents, decides to divorce them and set off to find new ones, encountering, each time, one dumb ethnic caricature after another. Kathy Bates plays an Eskimo lady who sends her father (or father-in-law, it's not quite clear) to drift off on an icy raft to his death because he's outlived his usefullness. This is supposed to be...funny? The movie is full of scenes like that.
How bad is it? Well, it inspired the following review from Roger Ebert:
"I hated this move. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it."
Gene Siskel didn't like it either, and Richard Roeper called it one of the 40 worst films he'd ever seen, saying it was "the most difficult to watch from start to finish. I have tried twice and failed." Five minutes would be enough of a challenge.
This movie also marked the feature film debut of then nine year old Scarlett Johansson, so I guess she's not only a dual Oscar nominee, but a dual SKELLY nominee. (She said that when she was on the film set, she knew intuitively what to do. But I guess she resisted that urge to flee.)
Which leads us to this year's winner and...
OH, MY GOSH, WE HAVE A TIE!
For this first time in the history of the SKELLY Awards (all eight years of it) I couldn't declare one winner. It was simply too close to call, so our TWO lucky recipients are...
AL PACINO and TOM HANKS
Pacino made his film debut in Me, Natalie (1969), and became one of the most acclaimed actors of 1970s. But in the 80's he seemed to suddenly hit some career slump, only to rebound in the 90's. I'm not exactly sure what happened--why he spent the entire 80's in one disappointing film after another--but it began with his first 80's film, which was also his worst:
In this grisly whodunit/character study, Pacino plays an undercover cop investigating a series of murders. The killer has been targeting gay men, all of whom are part of an underground "leather" scene. As a movie, the picture was a confused, gruesome mess, and it was impossible to figure out whether his character was being drawn into the world of sex clubs, was repelled by it, or if he might, in fact, be the killer.
But the movie's actual badness wasn't the only reason to award it the SKELLY. Crusing was inspired by a real-life series of murders, and when the movie went into production, a lot of LGBT activists, including the reporter whose coverage of the murders led to the movie being greenlit, were outraged, and began protesting the film while it was still in production. They felt, with good reason, that it presented the gay community as sick, twisted, deserving of violence. They also feared it might lead to violence against them.
It's easy to forget today, but until very recently, there were very few movie depictions of LGBT people, and positive portrayals were even fewer and far between. So when pictures like The Detective, Freebie & the Bean and Cruising come along, they add insult to injury. In addition to being an insult to audience intelligence.
Tying with Pacino for this year's SKELLY award is Tom Hanks, who made his movie debut in He Knows You're Alone (1980). Before becoming a movie star, he did a lot of TV, including the sitcom "Bosom Buddies", which was funnier than it had a right to be, thanks to the chemistry between Hanks and Peter Scolari, and a fabulous all-female supporting cast. He also did guest spots on "Family Ties" and "Taxi". And then he made what may be the single goofiest film of his career:
Mazes and Monsters (1982)
This made-for-TV movie centered around a group of college kids involved in a role-playing game called "Mazes and Monsters", similar to "Dungeons and Dragons". It seems hard to believe (to the point of being ridiculous) but back in the 80's, there was a growing fear that role-playing games could be dangerous. When the kids grow bored with playing the regular game, one of them suggests acting it out, turning it into a live action role-playing game. And that's when the movie goes from dumb to straight-up, bugfuck insane, because Tom Hanks' Robbie begins to lose touch with reality, and starts to believe he is his game character. I guess we can look forward to another story about the dangers of being in an acting class, a danger his co-stars have clearly avoided. (Chris Makepeace, as a kid with an I.Q. of 190 and a hat collection that exceeds that, seems to be acting as badly as he can on purpose--nobody could be that bad by accident). The ending of this thing is one big WTF?
You can find the entire movie on Youtube, if you're starved for unintentional laughs. You may wind up overdosing.
Congratulations and condolences to all the winners.