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Razzing the Razzie Awards

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by Matt Singer
March 1, 2012 12:20 PM
6 Comments
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"Jack & JIll."

As someone who enjoys bad movies -- or perhaps "enjoys" is the wrong word and "derives an unnatural masochistic pleasure from" are the right ones -- I know exactly where Tim Grierson is coming from in his article on Deadspin entitled "The Razzies are the Worst," even though his headline isn't quite right for his premise.  In fact, The Razzies (a.k.a. The Golden Raspberry Awards, a.k.a. the one internationally recognized awards show dedicated to [dis]honoring bad movies) aren't the worst, and therein lies the problem.  Rather than shaming the truly bad, they take potshots at the most notorious flops and actors.  Rather than scraping the bottom of the barrel, they just shoot fish in a barrel.  Does that make sense?  There are barrels involved somehow.

Here is part of Grierson's conclusion:

"The Razzies make fun of only the fattest of targets, and in doing so they commit the same crime as the Oscars—they judge movies as a function of fame and publicity. They aren't, as many people suppose, the bad-movie equivalent of the Oscars; they're more like the upside-down People's Choice Awards. Both are voted on by the general public and both give awards to the biggest, most obvious stuff in the culture."

Grierson's argument might sound a little crazy, because he's essentially arguing for more purity in the way we select the worst movies of the year, but he's absolutely correct.  All movie awards, even ones about badness, are subjective, but the Razzies get things "wrong" quite a bit, and their mistakes do tend to favor public whipping boys (or girls).  For example, you can be pretty sure if Madonna makes a movie in a given year she'll be Razzie nominated, whether she deserves it (as in the case of "Swept Away," 2002's Razzie Worst Picture winner) or not (as in the case of "Four Rooms," 1995's Worst Supporting Actress winner despite the fact that Madonna is barely in the film).  Like the Oscars, the Razzies are all about the meta-narrative around the film rather than the film itself.  Was the budget bloated and wasteful?  Were there public rumors of on-set strife between director and star?  Did a musician try to act and fail?  If your movie answered yes to any of these questions, odds are you're Razzie bound, whether you truly deserve to be or not.

This year's soft target is Adam Sandler, who snagged a Razzie-record eleven nominations this year, most for his film "Jack & Jill." As someone who's seen four of the five Worst Picture nominees, I can tell you that "Jack & Jill," while crummy, was not even close to the worst of the worst of 2011.  it wasn't as soul-crushingly bad as fellow nominees like "Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star" or "New Year's Eve," nor was it as bad as a bunch of movies that got snubbed (or mercifully ignored, I guess) like "Colombiana," "Arthur," "The Rum Diary," or "Johnny English Reborn." Yet the press release that accompanies the nominees on the Razzies' website lobbies so hard for "Jack & Jill" to win Worst Picture -- it claims it has the "inside track" for the prize -- it looks like it was typed with crossed fingers.

Hell, I'll admit it: I laughed a few times at "Jack & Jill," mostly at the antics of Al Pacino, playing himself as a modern day riff on the lovesick billionaire character from "Some Like It Hot."  Falling over himself with lust for the hideous female version of Sandler, Pacino was lively and invested; way more lively and way more invested, weirdly, than he has been in any "serious" movie he's made in the last ten years.  He looked like he was having fun and, at least in his scenes, that sense of fun was infectious.  You could fault "Jack & Jill" for a lot of things, but not Pacino's performance.  So why the hell was he nominated for Worst Supporting Actor?  Did the people voting for "Jack & Jill" even watch it?  Actually, Grierson notes in his piece that Razzie voters are under no obligation to watch all -- or even any -- of the nominees.

Maybe the Razzies' flaws make them the perfect venue to award bad movies.  Maybe a system where 657 people who care enough about bad movies to pay a membership fee for the right to vote on them are the perfect judges for films that couldn't bother to approach even the base level of competence of a Lifetime Movie Network movie about a man plotting to kill his own daughter so he can marry her best friend and then harvest her eggs to sell them on the black market (rather than name the plot of a single Lifetime Movie Network movie, I cobbled together the plot of every Lifetime Movie Network movie I've casually observed in the company of my wife, who will be really upset with me when she finds out I just revealed her love of the Lifetime Movie Network).  Maybe the Razzies' mistakes are emblematic of the movies' mistakes in an elegant way.

Or maybe the Razzies should strive to be better than the movies they're destroying.  The awards' biggest problem is there's really no delineation between a truly unwatchable piece of garbage and a movie that transcends its own limitations to become something more than the sum of its mistakes. Not all bad movies are created equal, nor watched with equal amounts of pain.  Was "Showgirls" really the "worst" movie of 1995?  It was certainly the most infamous movie of 1995, but history has proven the film has a perverse sort of watchability.  I've seen it dozens of times, own it on Blu-ray (because a DVD copy is not nearly hi-res enough to admire the, uh, intricacies of the cinematography), and never get sick of it.  Meanwhile one viewing of one of 1995's Worst Picture runner-ups, "It's Pat: The Movie," very nearly killed me.  I'd rather watch "Showgirls" 500 times, "Clockwork Orange"-style, than watch "It's Pat" just once more.  I would argue there should be two top awards at the Razzies: one for Worst Picture ("It's Pat," we salute you!) and one for Best Worst Picture (thank you, Paul Verhoeven and Joe Eszterhas!). 

The Razzies are like the Oscars in another way: as the established behemoth in their field, they have very little competition and no real reason to change.  I doubt Grierson's complaints or my suggestions will be heard, much less heeded.  Which is too bad.  As strange as it sounds, bad movies deserve better.

6 Comments

  • Ed | March 1, 2012 7:32 PMReply

    Boy, the second we traveled down the "I laughed a few times" at "Jack and Jill" road, I had to bail. Sandler is a shell of his former self and deserves every Razzie he got.

  • Scott | March 1, 2012 4:34 PMReply

    You forgot cancer. Someone in a Lifetime movie will get cancer. I like to predict who in the first few seconds just to annoy my wife.

  • A Helpful Citizen | March 1, 2012 1:53 PMReply

    The problem with your assertion is that "bad" isn't a universal constant. The films that the Razzies single out, the low-hanging fruit, tend to be as close to being unanimously "acclaimed" (for lack of a better word) as terrible as possible. That brings with it a whole other set of problems, chief among which is a tendency to kick the same people in the balls over and over again, regardless of a given film's individual merits. Sylvester Stallone, for example, used to get Razzie nominations every year simply for existing, and it showed the Razzies to be every bit as lazy and irredeemably hacky as those they nominate ever year. Only a blithering idiot of unquestionably diminished capacity would suggest that LOCK UP, for instance, is as bad as RHINESTONE, and yet, to the Razzies, they were comparables. "Why, Stallone is it...it MUST be terrible!". I didn't know what "confirmation bias" was as a young'un in the 1980s, but I knew it when I saw it.

    But then I look at your suggestion for films that are "worse" than JACK AND JILL, and think that maybe low-hanging fruit is the way to go after all---mutterings about objective v. subjective aside, if you genuinely believe that THE RUM DIARY or even NEW YEAR'S EVE is worse than JACK AND JILL, I really do think you should seek immediate medical attention, as you've clearly suffered some sort of neurological impairment. I'm glad that you, personally, found something to laugh at in one of the worst movies in recent years, and that you are secure enough in yourself to admit so in public. But understand that it really, *really* doesn't reflect well on you. THE RUM DIARY, NEW YEAR'S EVE and JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN are all wheel-spinners, to varying degrees. Competent mediocrities. Tap water. Two stars out of five. They don't actively antagonize their audiences with their wrongheadedness. JACK AND JILL is antagonistically stupid. Aggressively stupid. It forces itself upon you. And most people, unsurprisingly, get really fucking angry about those movies. They don't get angry about tap water. NEW'S YEAR EYE is a forty degree day. JACK AND JILL is a shrieking category five hurricane. If you can't see the difference between the two (or even worse, really do think the former is more egregious than the latter), you probably owe it to yourself to learn. Life is too short to be lived with myopia and shithouse taste in movies.

    Let's put it this way: Using your examples from the 1995 movie year, JACK AND JILL *is* IT"S PAT. It's not SHOWGIRLS. It's not a camp spectacle whose reception is at cross purposes to its intent. It is pretty much exactly what it was supposed to be. SHOWGIRLS wasn't, regardless of the belated back-pedaling and weaselly spin from Paul Verhoeven and Joe Eszterhas. You can argue that watching the latter with sneering condescension as a midnight movie makes it more worthwhile than the former. I would argue otherwise (namely, that they are indeed equally worthless, but for different reasons and in different ways). But I'll tell you this much: I saw SHOWGIRLS theatrically in 1995, and there were no midnight movie aspirations present in it then. It simply was what it is: One of the worst fucking movies of a year already loaded to the tits with terrible movies, and a genuinely unpleasant experience to watch. What you're doing is effectively undermining your own position by arguing that IT'S PAT shouldn't have ever been considered for Razzie recognition anyway, because KISS OF DEATH or JUST CAUSE or some such mediocrity is much worse. And if really do believe that horseshit, do yourself a favour: keep it to yourself. Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.

  • Danny | March 3, 2012 12:28 AM

    "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt."

    Good words that apply well to your own writing as well.

    The writer's argument is that universal revulsion can be unjustly deserved. I've read about plenty of Razzie members watching 'worst of' clips of Jack and Jill and making that the basis for their decision; that's great. I can make The Godfather look horrendous in 5 minutes as well. Look at recent release Gone, which didn't preview for audiences and completely panned without consideration. Critics fall over themselves trying to find adjectives to describe it as bad rather than look at what the film is trying to accomplish; most rejected it as a failure both because it feels like an episode of "CSI" but also because it doesn't end like one. A majority of critics are simply mortified of having to think about films rather than respond on a gut level.

    Critical gangbangs like the assault on Jack and Jill or a half a dozen other films pegged as mediocrities but begging for a more nuanced eye are just proof that a majority of the Tomatometer doesn't care so much what their readers think but what other critics think of them. It's proof that what the idea of blogs promised-- consideration, openness, passion-- have also brought about silent enforcement of critical consensus, with anyone separating from the herd to be labeled a traitor or shill. I follow film critics because they fascinate me; sometimes there's amazing writing involved. More often than not, it's a bunch of sycophants preaching to other sycophants, which is far worse than any film Adam Sandler could dream up.

  • bb bear | March 2, 2012 3:37 AM

    the poster above - he's right he can also write , unlike the author of the piece , hire him and sack the other guy ! " All movie awards, even ones about badness"
    If you submitted that to me I would give you a damn good thrashing and then show you the door with nary a goodbye or tissue for the welts on your bottom

  • Alexandra | March 1, 2012 1:05 PMReply

    Oh God, what is The Rum Diary doing there? While not without its flaws, I really enjoyed the movie. Ok, it's more like a collection of scenes, but it's nowhere near Jack and Jill's league, seriously. It could in fact enter my top 40 of the year.

    Now back to the Razzies, they are as credible as the Golden Globes. While the GGs are experts in ass-kissing, the Razzies are experts in ass-kicking, aiming high all the time for the sake of the controversy and making sure the most popular people we love to hate get nominated. Seriously, James Franco, Ken Jeong, David Spade and Al Pacino did the best they could with the given material, especially Al Pacino who seemed quite dedicated to the role, even though the movie was a mess. And Bill Condon also did his best with the Twilight movie, you can hardly blame him for its flaws. But hey, it's Twilight, people love to bash it, so why not nominate it everywhere? I'm not saying that the series is good, I do make fun of it, yet there were worse movies worthy to be nominated (Red Riding Hood?).

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