Supreme Cinematic Putrescence

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 16, 2009 4:20PM

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Ted Neeley as a moody pinup Personal Saviour in Norman Jewison's movie of Jesus Christ Superstar
Chicago Public Radio's Sound Opinions continues its occasional film series with a screening of the "rock opera" Jesus Christ Superstar at the Music Box on December 3. Hosts Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot will be on hand to introduce the movie. Advance tickets are $9.

There is a certain Chicagoist staffer who treasures Andrew Lloyd Webber's faux-hippie opus as "one of my favorite musicals ... I always wanted to sing Murray Head's part." [Ed. note: Tankboy here. I admit it, it's me. That is a killer singing part and he gets all the best lines!] However this staffer classifies it as one of the worst movies he's ever had the displeasure to sit through, insincere dreck that manages to rip off Hair, Cat Stevens and Up with People in equal measure. Why folks protested The Last Temptation of Christ but not this pukey flick is anyone's guess.

This got us thinking about other movies we equally loathe. Now, there are plenty of terrible movies whose very wretchedness makes them enjoyable (Showgirls, The Room.) And there are terrible movies so uniquely awry that you can't help but begrudgingly admire them at least a little bit (Southland Tales, Antichrist.) But there's also a whole class of cinema so crushingly awful that it's personally offensive. If these relatively recent movies have anything in common it's that they tend to favor style over substance, and throat-grabbing gimmickry over honest craft. They're content to either recycle their own creators' previous work or shamelessly steal from earlier, better movies. Feel free to chime in with your own selections.

Check out our list after the jump...

1. Body of Evidence (1993; directed by Uli Edel)
Of the many horrendous Madonna movies, this is perhaps the worst. Nonsensical and boring in equal measures. Gets extra points for wasting fine actors like Anne Archer, Joe Mantegna, and Willem Dafoe.

2. The Draughtsman's Contract (1982; directed by Peter Greenaway)
This Brit filmmaker is a past master at the sort of pretentious pap that looks gorgeous and tastes like shellac, so exquisitely airless it can't be bothered to actually communicate to its audience. Apparently John Boorman once lamented "the sadism, the sex-hating, the food-hating, life-hating, child-hating, woman-hating, excrement-loving" in Greenaway's work. A supposed examination of lust and cunning that's completely unerotic and dull.

3. Empire of the Sun (1987; directed by Steven Spielberg)
Spielberg takes J.G. Ballard's harrowing childhood memoir and overstuffs it with grandiose crane shots and oodles of syrupy choral grandstanding on the soundtrack, courtesy of John Williams. Desson Howe sums it up wonderfully: "Could Steven Spielberg please avoid the following in his next movie: Boys on bicycles, rebirth, the sky lighting up like the Fourth of July and another pre-teen struggling in an adult world?" Skip the movie and read the book.

4. Fight Club (1999; directed by David Fincher)
There are those who worship this movie, and you'll surely make yourselves heard in the comments section. But to us this movie is just a piece of hypocritical designer nihilism, with a plot twist that insults the audience's intelligence. It wallows in the very elements it supposedly condemns. Also doesn't help that Edward Norton is one of the most annoying actors working today.

5. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996; directed by Robert Rodriguez)
Rodriguez and co-scripter Quentin Tarantino were never more empty and pointless than they are here, with even more blood and gore than usual. Who the hell cares? At least Four Rooms has a certain variety to it.

6. Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003; directed by Jan de Bont)
We saw this at the Brew & View. It was still too expensive. At the very least, there's no earthly reason why this movie will be remembered in 50 years. Aside from Angelina Jolie's monstrous lips.

7. Moulin Rouge! (2001; directed by Baz Luhrmann)
Sorry. We hate almost everything about this movie: the frenetic editing style, the Frankenstein-style song-stitching, the voluptuous visual design which fails to camouflage the absence of genuine human feeling. It's just a bunch of slick claptrap. We're tempted to say that a movie musical couldn't be any worse, but we've purposefully avoided seeing Across the Universe so ...

8. The Usual Suspects (1995; directed by Bryan Singer)
Kevin Spacey is Keyser Soze. There! We just saved you from having to watch it. Is there really any reason for this movie to exist aside from its plot twist? No. No, there isn't. The movie screams "filmmaker's flashy calling card" and it obviously worked. Singer will be busy for the foreseeable future.

9. What Lies Beneath (2000; directed by Robert Zemeckis)

We thought Brian De Palma had cornered the market on Hitchcock-pilfering till we saw this atrocity. Again: a third act plot twist does not a movie make, and piling on four "endings" in a row is just stupid. For not the last time, Zemeckis seizes on some gimmicks as lazy substitutes for intelligent craft. These include the World's Slowest Draining Bathtub and, umm, a ghost or something.

Okay, your turn!