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The Worst Films of 2008

In a way, it’s harder to choose the worst films of a year rather than the best. There are so many! How many times did we walk out of a theater this year muttering, “That’s the worst thing I ever saw”? About as many times as last year. So here they are, for better or worse.

1. SEVEN POUNDS

I didn’t care much for “Hancock,” Will Smith’s first release this year. But “Seven Pounds” put Smith over the top. There’s always a lot to like about Will Smith, and I count myself as a fan more often than not. For example, I was truly moved by his performance as Chris Gardner in “The Pursuit of Happyness.” But “Seven Pounds” takes the cake. It begs us to care about someone who really doesn’t care about himself or anyone around him. And after this monumental investment of time and emotion, the movie then waves a finger in your face that cries: “You fool!” Plus, I will spend the next few days wiping from my memory the image of Smith’s contorted face in the penultimate scenes.

2. CLOVERFIELD

Was this piece of tripe released in 2008? It feels like years ago now that we were hammered with hype about this “Blair Witch Project” like horror film. What a dud. And what nerve, using image of 9-11 to advance a hackneyed story. Were there actors involved? Hard to recall. Whoever they were, they were just terrible. But nothing was worse than this script and the cheesy way it was filmed. A low point for producer J.J. Abrams who should have just stuck to “Lost” and whatever he’s done to “Star Trek” coming up this summer.

3. QUANTUM OF SOLACE

Daniel Craig without Milk of Magnesia, Judi Dench actually saying this line: “But can I trust you, James?” She should have said, “Can I get you an aspirin?” The Bond girls were sexless, the theme song was monotonous and loud. The title meant just about nothing. The audience was asked to recall a dead character from another movie that was two years old. Where were the gadgets? Where was the fun? MGM was smart enough to release this one in Europe and around the world two weeks before Americans started carping about it. By then, the Bruccolis couldn’t get steamed, they’d made their money. But they also diminished a noble franchise in the process.

4. SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK

You can fool some of the people all of the time, but not all of the people…well, you get my drift. Just because Manola Dargis put this on her best of the year list, I had to make sure that sin-eck-doh-key was put in its proper place. Charlie Kaufman has written some odd, neat films like "Eternal Sunshine" and "Being John Malkovich." But directing for the first time, he’s indulged all of his worst traits. When the best actors of their generation, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener, start examining their poop, ask yourself, is this what Jason Robards and Geraldine Page would have done? Answer; uh, no. Keener says she speaks Kaufman’s language. Well, they still need a translater. Incoherent is the one word description of this mess.

5. CHE

What to do about a problem called Steven Soderbergh? He’s made some terrific films, like “Out of Sight” and “The Limey.” His landmark 1989 film, “sex lies and videotape” literally created the indie film world. He even got Julia Roberts up to the podium for an Oscar in “Erin Brockovich.” But success can be poison, witness the “Oceans 11” trilogy of self-satisfied smugness. “Che” could have been Soderbergh’s way home. But four and a half hours of poorly lit bearded men in the woods speaking Spanish is exasperating. What he needed here was someone to say “no,” a lot. And they’re still planning to release this as two films next year. Dios mio! That’s something to rebel against.

6. SOUL MEN

Don’t get me started about this ridiculous rip off of the Sam & Dave story from R&B music history. Rather than celebrate soul music and its founders, director Malcolm Lee mocks the whole enterprise. A movie littered with the n-word and the f-word, Soul Men treats its “fictional” singers like idiots who act like children. What a shame. The late Bernie Mac was obviously too ill to make the movie. Ditto poor Isaac Hayes who shuffles into his scene and has his lines constructed out of bits and pieces; his own real life stroke had already nearly killed him. That both of these men died on the same day before the movie opened speaks volumes. And here’s the latest: originally this was supposed to be based on Stax Records and its artists. But that raised the Sam & Dave issue. Then Lee et al insisted it was Motown, which was a joke. In the new publicity for the DVD, they now say it’s Hi Records and invoke the name of legendary producer Willie Mitchell. Wonder if Willie knows that…

7. TOWELHEAD/HOUND DOG/CHAPTER 27

Again, three of the worst movies ever made! This group, originally shown in 2007 but released this year, deserve all the hyperbole you can muster. “Towelhead” is the one in which a 13 year old girl is raped and molested by her 35 year old neighbor. It’s kiddie porn as presented by Alan Ball of “Six Feet Under” fame. Not the finest hour for actor Aaron Eckhart, whose character is reprehensible—in a bad way. More underage rape in “Hound Dog” for 12 year old Dakota Fanning. It doesn’t help that the movie is unwatchable besides that for just bad acting and directing. Why Fanning’s parents thought this was a good idea for their talented daughter remains a dark mystery. In “Chapter 27” Jared Leto drank a lot of milk shakes so he could play John Lennon’s killer—a person of absolutely no interest except to arouse anger. My advice: if you see these DVDs, back a truck over them.

8. MAD MONEY

Diane Keaton, the great Diane Keaton, must have needed a little pin money in 2007. Also, I know it’s hard for older actresses to find good roles. But since her triumph in “Something’s Gotta Give,” in 2003, Keaton has veered into Robert DeNiro territory. “Mad Money” is the last of four truly awful entries in which Keaton demeans herself and threatens to destroy her marvelous legacy. Diane, please, stop it now. Queen Latifah, Katie Holmes, and Ted Danson all figure in this particular catastrophe. Of note also because Katie dropped out of what would be the monumental “The Dark Knight” for this piece of what at best can only be called piffle.

9. MAMMA MIA

This horrific, cheap looking version of the Broadway musical has been a huge hit around the world. Go figure. Personally, if I never heard another ABBA song again, I wouldn’t mind. When “Waterloo,” their first American hit, was released in 1974, everyone thought it was elevator music. So I guess the moral of the story is, stairs are too hard to climb. Too bad! Add these sugar coated ditties to really bad acting, terrible production values, and a script that makes no sense, and you’ve got this low rent hit. Meryl Streep must have figured she had “Doubt” coming out, so what the heck. Pierce Brosnan proves to be tone deaf. Only Julie Walters is somewhat amusing. The add-on camp concert following the credits should have just been released by itself.

10. VALKYRIE

I’m being fair. I haven’t seen it. But the reviews so far bear out my original assessment from the first trailer: Tom Cruise plays Jerry Maguire trying to kill Hitler in this ruined account of the 1944 attempt on the Fuhrer’s life. Every review, from the trade mags to the Associated Press (they called Cruise “distractingly bad” yesterday) to today’s New York Post agrees: this was the most dreadful mistake Cruise could have made. I’ve joked about a tag line for the ad: “You had me at achtung.” But it seems on target. Cruise seemed to understand his predicament by taking a cameo in “Tropic Thunder.” But all that good will may be wiped out by this peculiar, misguided endeavor. More to come on Thursday, after “Valkyrie” opens.