Golden Raspberry Awards must go back to cutting room

Donald Clarke: Playing to ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ film aesthetic became boring 40 years ago

Official trailer for Tom Cruise film, The Mummy.

 

The most pointless, unimaginative, insular, celebrity-obsessed film awards of the year will take place this weekend. Once again, we’ll wonder how the voters managed to look past deserving candidates and settle upon safe options guaranteed to offend nobody. Why does anybody pay them a nanosecond of attention?

Ha, ha! If you’ve read a newspaper column before you’ll know already that this is one of those hilarious openings that pretends to discuss something more prominent than its actual subject. Never mind the Oscars. It’s time to reform or abolish the Golden Raspberry Awards. Better known as the Razzies, this annual festival of kitsch has, since 1980, attempted to extract humour from the underperformance of film professionals in all the usual categories. Sylvester Stallone gets worst actor. Bo Derek gets worst actress. Invitees chortle like stoned teenagers who’ve spotted one dog rogerring another in the front yard.

When this conversation kicks off, sceptics will inevitably point out that, in the Razzies very first season, the voters nominated Stanley Kubrick as worst director for The Shining. This misses the point. Even considering that film’s initial underperformance with critics, The Shining at least counts as an interesting choice. It’s a selection likely to raise eyebrows and generate debate. Some tiny thought has gone into it.

Looked at from this distance, the 1981 “winner” of worst film, Michael Camino’s Heaven’s Gate – a film lauded as a classic on its director’s death in 2016 – seems to be a daring, nose-thumb to snooty critics, but we forget the picture was mercilessly hammered on its release. It is, in fact, no more original a pick than subsequent winners such as Prince’s Under the Cherry Moon, Elaine May’s Ishtar or Dennis Dugan’s Jack and Jill.

Weary modus operandi

Those three films offer clues as to the Razzies’ weary modus operandi. Pop stars such as Prince or Madonna are sure to get it in their well-groomed necks when they step away from the day jobs. Famous box-office catastrophes such as Ishtar or Heaven’s Gate – both subsequently re-evaluated – are also prime targets for the Razzies’ unamusing wrath. Easy whipping boys such as Adam Sandler, star of Jack and Jill, can count on an annual invitation to whatever Frat House they use for their ceremony. Middlebrow consensus has even more sway here than at the comparatively risky Academy Awards. Michael Bay has the most nominations as worst director. Madonna ties for most nominations as worst actress. You could guess most of these statistics without going anywhere near their squalid website.

Originally conceived by John JB Wilson, a copywriter and publicist, the awards play to a “so-bad-it’s-good” aesthetic that ceased to be interesting 40 years ago. Snarky critics such as Michael Medved, author of The Fifty Worst Movies, made a living retooling films such as Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space as camply awful entertainments for the midnight movie crowd. Robot Monster, The Horror of Party Beach and Dick Tracy Vs Cueball found new life among the sticky aisles of rundown theatres. The whiff of condescension must have been stronger than even the smell of burning hemp.

Haphazard visual aesthetic

Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, probably that director’s best film, went some way towards reclaiming its subject from the snark crowd. The picture showed awareness of Wood’s haphazard visual aesthetic and cavalier disregard for continuity, but it also confirmed his genuine passion for cinema. Plan 9 From Outer Space is fun because it’s meant to be fun. The same could be said of Razzie winners such as Mommie Dearest, Bolero and Cocktail. If anybody can explain to me how Rambo: First Blood Part II won worst picture then I will listen with interest.

The Razzies need to lay into the sort of bourgeois prestige films that used to win the Academy Awards. That way lies a route away from the respectability that renders them so deathly uninteresting. Who, now, would willingly watch Out of Africa, winner of the Oscar for best picture in 1986, over any one of the Razzies’ choice for worst film. Bring it on, Gigli. Spread your sleazy delights all over my willing flesh, Basic Instinct 2. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen? All right, I’ll give you that. At least Out of Africa had a nice score.

This year’s nominations for worst picture are as predictable as ever. The Emoji Movie (bad kids movie), Fifty Shades Darker (bad sex sensation), The Mummy (bad Cruise), Transformers: The Last Knight (you know what this is). The presence of Mother! suggests some attempt to work outside the obvious. But as many critics hated Darren Aronofsky’s mad allegory as loved it. Go for Darkest Hour. Go for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Heck go for the excellent Get Out and the equally excellent Lady Bird. Annoy us rather than bore us. Do something to convince us it’s worth opening your press release.

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