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Razzing the Razzie Awards

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire March 1, 2012 at 12:20PM

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.
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"Jack & JIll."
"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.

This article is related to: From the Wire, Adam Sandler, Tim Grierson, Showgirls, The Golden Raspberry Awards, Razzies, Awards


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