My Ten Worst Films of 1998
Many reviewers complete their year's ten best or worst lists before a year is over. But I argue that it is only when a year has ended that one has the proper perspective to rank that year's films. Looking back on 1998, I remember my share of awful films. Some should never have been made (The X-Files), while others took a promising idea and ran it into the ground (Armageddon).
In selecting these films I had to face a self-imposed handicap. I refused to pay the seven+ dollars to see films such as Almost Heroes, Can't Hardly Wait, Dr. Doolittle and I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, all of which would likely be contenders for anyone's ten worst list. But by any standard of fairness, I can't completely condemn films that I have not viewed. Out of the 1998 films that I did watch here are ten that I could have done without:
10. Wilde -- Wilde wastes a touching performance by Stephen Fry in the title role in a film that is too concerned with Oscar Wilde's sex life and not sufficiently concerned with his writing. The film is filled with gay sex scenes and while it is certainly commendable to stretch taboos, this overabundance cheapens Wilde's life by making him into a homosexual Casanova. Director Brian Gilbert is so busy making a statement of tolerance for the 90's that he gives short shrift to Wilde's wonderful wit. Wilde falls into the ironic trap that many film biographies (e.g., Pride of the Yankees) cannot avoid: Devoting too much screen time to the subject's personal life while ignoring what made the subject famous in the first place.
9. Apt Pupil -- Probably the most disappointing film of the year because it was directed by Bryan Singer, whose most previous film was The Usual Suspects. Singer tries to take on how the evil of Nazism can lure people and grow inside them. But he never has a firm grip on this subject, while Ian McKellen is unconvincing as the former Nazi war criminal. Since the evil does not feel real, the story plays as merely a mediocre thriller. Singer also includes a heavy-handed ending that is meant to drive home how evil can move from one man to the other. But since the film previously fails to establish this point, the ending is desperate and insulting to the audience.
8. Snake Eyes -- Rarely has a film that began so promisingly faltered so badly. Director Brian de Palma starts the film with a twenty minute tracking shot that follows Detective Ricky Santoro (Nicolas Cage) as he navigates his way through an Atlantic City casino on the eve of a heavyweight championship bout. The Secretary of Defense is assassinated during the fight, and Cage spends the rest of the film trying to uncover the guilty party. De Palma gives away the film's 'surprise' far too early and the story grinds to a halt. The film pretends there is some suspense left, but there isn't. By the time the hero and villain confront each other we just don*t care.
7. The Avengers -- This might have been a good film if anyone involved -- director, screenwriter, actors -- had put some effort into it. A talented cast including Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thruman and Sean Connery appear to be going through the motions. The story -- a madman blackmailing England through controlling its weather -- is not developed but just sort of happens. The action scenes are dull and grow tiresome while the conclusion feels forced. Connery's Sir August De Wynter appears to be the only meglamanaical millionaire with less than five people working for him. Maybe nobody wanted to be in the movie. No one in The Avengers seems to be having any fun and the audience doesn*t either.
6. Soldier -- David Webb Peoples, who co-wrote the script for Blade Runner, penned the screenplay for Soldier, which is also set in a bleak future. Like Blade Runner, Soldier has a unique visual style, but unlike its predecessor, it does not have a story to match it's look. It's plot is nearly identical to Shane -- an outsider helps some defenseless settlers defeat some ruthless enemies. But in Soldier the enemies attack for no reason except to serve as a plot device. Soldier also fails to develop any of the characters or the relationships between them. The soldier supposedly discovers his humanity but the film gives you no reason to believe this.
5. Vampires -- Oops, I'm sorry; the correct title is John Carpenter's Vampires. Let's give blame where blame is due. This is the first time I was bored by a James Woods movie. Carpenter does not give his film the Gothic weight of Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula or Neil Jordan's Interview with the Vampire, and it does not have the campy fun of From Dusk Till Dawn or Blade. There is simply no imagination in this film. Even the action scenes are listless and uninspired. One of the film's many problems is that you never really know the primary villain. Another is that you are supposed to laugh while Woods assaults a priest. Devout Catholics might be the ones insulted by those scenes, but anyone would be insulted to waste their money on this wreck of a movie.
4. Armageddon -- Can you believe some idiot actually put Armageddon on his 'Must See' list? OK, it was me. Armageddon wasted a terrific cast with a horrible script. Screenwriters Jonathan Hensleigh and Robert Roy Pool seemed compelled to manufacture a new crisis every 15 minutes as if an asteroid hurtling toward the Earth wasn't enough. This is another film where events happen for no reason other that they have to happen to reach a certain point in the story. But it*s not just the screenplay that ruins Armageddon; Michael Bay directs the film like he needs Ritalin. The patchwork story and the haphazard directing and editing make you feel numb, as if you've watched a strobe light for too long.
3. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas -- If you rate the quality of a film by the number of vomiting scenes then Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is for you. Terry Gilliam directs the landmark Hunter S. Thompson landmark novel as a string of bad drug trips without any meaning, depth or subtext. Not only is there no story, but also no character development. Although drug use is the center of the film, Gilliam never shows why his characters use drugs, merely that they do use them constantly. The story tries to find humor out of this, but fails. The characters, like the film itself, are neither comic nor tragic, but merely pathetic.
2. The X-Files -- At the beginning of The X-Files we see a conspiracy involving alien life forms and everyone with any degree of power: the U.S. government, the U.N., the police, even ambulance crews. At the end of the film, we still see the conspiracy. In between is a story with no drama, no excitement, and no point. The film never gives the audience any reason to care what is going on. If 'The Syndicate' as the conspirators are called, is so powerful why don't they just kill Agents Mulder and Scully? Because then there would be no TV show, movie sequels or merchandise tie-ins. Gillian Anderson carries herself with some professionalism, but David Duchovny sleepwalks through the entire film (My brother tried to explain to me that this was merely Duchovny's acting style. I did not realize awful was a style.) On the way home from the movie a friend of mine tried to assure me that the TV show was not as bad as the movie. I hope he*s right.
1. A Price Above Rubies -- Boaz Yakin's story of a Hasidic woman's struggle for identity lacks any understanding of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish world that it depicts. It portrays this way of life as so shallow and one-dimensional that there is no drama in the woman*s decision to leave it behind. Yakin paints his characters in broad strokes and gives them little depth. The dialogue is simply horrible, filled with laughable lines such as 'Do you love me more than God?' A Price Above Rubies got exactly the fate it deserved: a quick death at the box office.