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Worst Movies of 2004

Nothing says New Years like awards and top ten lists. Film critics thrive in this arena because we get to share in one location the gems of the year and the films that punished us just for entering theaters for a living. So in keeping up with the Joneses, I have forged the Jonas Belly of the Whale Awards, honoring those films that should be fed to Orca the Whale so none of us will ever have to suffer through them again.


The first award is for Leading Players who suck the enjoyment out of their film. The Award goes to:


(tie) “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” - It should have been called “Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Performances since I actually got on my knees and begged the director not to bring Jim Carrey back on screen. I had heard a rumor that the author of the famous series of novels wished someone other than Carrey would play the role because his shenanigans would overwhelm the precarious tale of an evil count attempting to murder his moppet relatives for their inheritance. Lemony Snicket didn’t know the half of it. Rip Taylor would have given a subtler portrayal. The irony, only months ago, Carrey gave his most subtle performance as a lovelorn in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” I guess with the good must always come the bad.


(tie) “The Clearing” - Robert Redford returns in front of the camera. He is joined by Oscar nominees Willem DaFoe and Helen Mirren in a small character piece of revenge and anguish; all the makings of a class project. All they required was a tight, ambitious script. WHOOPS! Redford sleepwalks as an industry baron kidnapped, while as his abductor, DaFoe eats so much scenery, I wanted to invest in stock for Heinz ketchup.


(tie) “Merchant of Venice” - Years ago I saw a revival of “Man of La Mancha” starring the late great Raul Julia and Sheena Easton. The popular singer yet amateur actress from Scotland attempted a Spanish accent and strangely sounded like a Yiddisha mama from the lower east side. As the Italian Shylock, the great tragic Shakespearean character, perennial New Yorker Al Pacino must have studied with Easton for his accent. Oy!


Next up we present an award that will remain common as long as “Saturday Night Life” producers continue to train comedians that one-joke premises can be stretched to 90 minutes. This hybrid has formed the popular sub-genre, Comedies without laughs. The winners are


(tie) “50 First Dates” - This high concept actually contained potential. A boy must reintroduce himself to the woman he loves every day because she suffers from short-term memory loss. In the hands of Adam Sandler, the premise became as mushy as mud pies.


(tie) “Mr. 3000” - I saw this movie on daylight savings day. We get an extra hour that day to enjoy like a windfall. I filled that hour and an extra half watching this movie. That irony is funnier than anything in this obnoxious movie. The irascible Bernie Mac plays a self-involved ex-baseball star who once had fans, skill and an ego to fill the stadium. Years later, he has lost the skill and long lost the fans, but his ego remains impenetrable. Not the makings for an amusing comedy as proven by every minute of this film.


(tie) “ Stella Street”- Sketch comedy is a mainstay of British television. Monty Python, Benny Hill and the recent “Little Britain” highlight the wackiness and cross-dressing inanity in Mother England. This supposedly popular television show has been translated to a feature film, where the team impersonates Mick Jagger, James Mason, Michael Caine and Jack Nicholson. Sadly, the humor was lost in the translation.


The third category “Heroes that go Squat” includes film stuffed with anti-heroes so despicable, so self-involved, that viewing them feels like punishment:


“Closer” - The Mike Nichols movie has won awards and critical praise. I didn’t receive my ticket for that bandwagon. Four strikingly gorgeous, pathological lying jerks that don’t deserve love yet whine for two hours that love eludes them is not entertainment. People say that they represent real lives, real people. However, the problem lies, I wouldn’t want to invite those people into my living room and I don’t want to invite these either.


The last category involves brilliant actors who sign on for films for elusive reasons:


“Suspect Zero” - Ben Kingsley has marveled audiences in “Schindler’s List,” “Sexy Beast” and “Bugsy.” He has amassed four Oscar Nominations and one statue of gold. So other than to pay for a new wing to his home, why did he ever sign on for “Suspect Zero?” Forgetting his twitching performance as a killer, ignoring both Aaron Eckhart’s and Carrie Anne Moss’s “so subtle it’s sleepwalking” performances, overlooking E. Elias Merhige frenetic direction, you’re left with a script chalk full of inane dialogue and a plot so thin it crackles when the actors walk upon it. My favorite moment is at the crucial point, 75 minutes or so in when the cast discovers the big secret. The ominous music blares, the actors’ eyes widen, the direction cues us that we are to gulp in fascination. One minor problem, the coming attraction has revealed that twist on our television sets for weeks. We all walked in the theater knowing this. So lucky us, we spent 90 minutes at a mystery with no shocks other than that Kingsley signed on for this piffle.

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