Once upon a time, back when I started out this line of work, it was my aim to see every movie ever made. Then came the VHS player. Once the direct-to-video market began, numerous filmmakers stopped thinking of the pleasures and rigors of making films for the big screen. Instead, they started thinking of a quick payoff. VHS financed the rise of the indie movie for good (or often, ill). It all added up to a huge increase in the number of films released. Eventually, I realized if I wanted to do some ordinary things--hoisting an ale, listening to music, reading a book--I was going to have to let a few films slide. Coming attractions have been a huge help in picking which ones to avoid, particularly the ones that reveal every single plot point and the most likely resolution of the problem. So how can I really do a worst of 2007 list? I ducked a lot of contenders. Underdog, for instance.
I missed P.U., I Hate You, as those slashing wits at Cracked magazine will be calling it, but I really felt James Rocchi's personal agony at witnessing the last of Hilary Swank's trio of evil movies this year. Though some would call it a duo; some people fell for Freedom Writers. Maybe this kind of story can be told without Room 222-levels of obviousness and manipulation...perhaps from the POV of one of the students, instead of the earnest white teacher? I'm not going to get any prizes for prescience by saying Swank's agent needs to be renditioned to some country with deep dark dungeons. Swank's Lost Year has already been celebrated elsewhere.
But The Reaping (#1) was the worst of the three; no one wants to see this actress's career reaped anymore. The low-water mark of this swamps-of-blood Christian thriller was the scene where Swank is told by a yokel, "Some people just don't want to go to heaven." Meaning her, and the atheists, agnostics, and Odin-worshippers in the audience.
Do you remember this indescribably ugly scene in a parking lot, with Sandra Bullock getting her groceries? A year's worth of visual banality in one minute. It wasn't even as sinister as the empty New Jersey mall parking lot where Kevin Kline meets the child-slavers in Trade. It was just: car, Bullock, parking lot, shopping cart full of groceries, forlorn clam-colored sky. Purely there to fill up screen time until the riddle's solution: a priest explains to us that Bullock's lack of religious faith filled her little housewifey head with a lot of crazy fantasies.
#3 But what could you do with the ladies, anyway? Every third movie this year was some kind of buddy flick, from Becket to The Bucket List. One of the films most MIA on end-of-the-year lists -- hey, what gives, all you people who were claiming it was Top Ten? -- was Reign Over Me. There was Adam Sandler (above), a walking outtake from I'm Not There, as Rich Hermetic Interior-Redecorating Video-Game Playing Dylan.The very worst moment in this 9/11-themed bucket of slop eludes me, but one of the ten or twelve times Sandler affectionately called Don Cheadle a faggot is good enough for me. This film's constant fag-baiting could be drawn into a discussion of whether I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry was pro-'mo or anti-'mo.
#4. And then there was Ving Rhames's mountainous tattooed bare ass in Chuck and Larry.... If I'd really wanted to see that thing, I'd want to see it lit and photographed right. Guess they were too busy fixing the Asian makeup on Rob Schneider.
#5. Rhys Ifans gets his chest shaved in Hannibal Rising. Don't want to see him. Don't want to see his chest, don't want to see it shaved, don't want to think of him offscreen getting matching tattoos with Sienna Miller, or supporting Welsh caravan-burners, or pedophiles. I'm so down on this mop-haired, self-fancying, sub-Nicol Williamson actor that I didn't even get pleasure out of seeing him tortured in Elizabeth: The Golden Age.
#6. Jim Carrey runs into a cake in The Number #23. Look out for the cake Jim! Incoming cake! It's right in Elisabeth Shue's arms, Jim, can't you see her, she's not petite! I can't believe my startled eyes, he's heading right for the cake! Kersplotch! Well, if that's what you have to do to get those two zany kids together, it's all worth the dry cleaning bill! Not to mention the bakery bill!!
#7. Adam Campbell showing off his X-Man power in Epic Movie, which, as you'll recall, was a pair of chicken wings sprouting from his shoulders. To aid the illusion, he starts cackling like a chicken and "scratching" with his feet. I guess we'll all have to wait for an expansion on this heeeeelarious bit in the movie version of The Mighty Heroes.
#8. Into The Wild: pick one from the numerous times Emile Hirsch looks skyward, having embraced the painful beauty of complete autonomy, in a stinking abandoned bus in the godforsaken Alaska wilderness. Sean Penn's directing/acting career insists on humorless passion, to the point where you wonder if Penn would have endorsed Christopher Walken's the chosen death of Jerry the actor boyfriend (John Glover) in Annie Hall: "I'd like to be torn apart by wild animals." (Woody Allen: "Heavy-- eaten by squirrels.")
#9. Spangled, top-hatted Eddie Izzard, ringed by royal blue Thumb-Thumbs from the Spy Kids movies, speak-singing "For the Benefit of Mr. Kite" in Across the Universe. And now you know what Moldavia's version of Cirque de Soleil looks like.
#10. Let's save room for Juno. I know everyone loves it, and if I take a step or two back from this aggravatingly cute indie hit, it's probably not much worse than a similar movie I couldn't stop thinking about when I was 11, The Sterile Cuckoo, with Liza Minnelli. Might as well give up, they're going to keep making this movie again and again as long as there is cinema. One proof is my favorite Internet rumor this winter, that Juno is some sort of unauthorized remake of a Korean film from 2004, Jenny, Juno. But here's another version of Juno from 1970. Reviewing The Baby Maker, Pauline Kael commented that it was a story of a woman whoring herself unto the next generation by selling her child. That's the kind of tough judgment you didn't see in the press this year; Michael Atkinson calling Juno "horsecrap" was about as harsh as anyone got.
Anyway: the repeated scenes of Ellen Page walking into the crowds at her high school --a teeny alternafish spawning in the wrong direction-- stuck in the craw after the second repetition. How, exactly, was she going against the tide? She loved her parents, she didn't commit any crimes or take any stands against authority. She served the financial class above her faithfully, by bearing them a child. Far from being an indomitable figure from Greek myth, this Juno was just a girl who quipped a lot and dressed funny. Here was a level of rebellion that everyone feels safe about, like dousing a government agent in robot urine (Transformers, #11), or shooting sitting-duck targets (The Contenders, #12).