Along with this week’s Oscar nominations came another anxiously awaited — and dreaded — list of nominees: the finalists for the 34th Annual Golden Raspberry awards. But any sadistic delight I took in clicking on the link to the list of nominees quickly turned to boredom and a kind of resentment.
I love the Razzies in theory. Part of a critic’s role is not just to blow the trumpet for what’s good but a raspberry at what’s noxious (as I did in my worst films of 2013 list) — not to be cruel but to try in one’s small way to prevent such aesthetic crimes from recurring. Another reason is to create a hierarchy of values. Although I prefer to write raves, my negative reviews help to sharpen my philosophy of cinema and beyond that, life. Rob Schneider could conceivably spur such Deep Thoughts (I go into every movie with an open mind), but the odds are against it.
It’s surprising that in the early days Razzie voters (there must have been very few of them) nominated Brian DePalma for Dressed to Kill and Scarface. I violently disagree, but at least they took a stand. Nowadays, the Razzies only go for low-hanging fruit. Adam Sandler is a favorite target. Sylvester Stallone is always good for bad laughs. Anything with the name Stephenie Meyer attached is suitably jeered. Meyer missed the cut for this year’s batch, but there’s Sandler (Grown Ups 2), Stallone (three movies!), Lady Gaga for striking poses in Machete Kills (which deserved many more nods), and the cast of Movie 43 — a botch but a worthy attempt to make a fast, loose, and occasionally dirty-sex comedy featuring actors who usually do tonier material. (I panned it but fully intend to go back: The wrong kind of people hate it so much there’s a chance I missed something valuable.) There’s Lindsay Lohan, Larry the Cable Guy, Jaden Smith, Taylor Lautner …
What’s missing? Most prominently, Oscar bait. Some of my least favorite movies of all time were beautifully made but despicable. My benchmark from long ago is Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning, a film that was heralded as Hollywood’s first to explore the Civil Rights movement, its makers invoking the legacy of Dr. King and Medgar Evers. But it was a vigilante movie, in which Parker turned one of most triumphant nonviolent movements of the age into a parable about the need to toss away pesky civil liberties and bash the heads of racists. It was nominated for many Oscars. Imagine if it had also been nominated for the Razzies. Imagine nominations for Parker’s anti-capital-punishment howler The Life of David Gale or his screwed-up adaptation of a great memoir, Angela’s Ashes. But Parker is too high-minded to be a Razzie candidate.
Closer to our time, imagine the Razzies going after The Reader, that pathetic post-Holocaust melodrama that won a richly undeserved Oscar for one of our best English-speaking actresses, Kate Winslet (who merits another Razzie for Labor Day, opening wide on January 31). Consider this year’s insufferable documentary Salinger or the limp Disney weeper Saving Mr. Banks. What a statement it would be to nominate Meryl Streep, a certifiably great actress, for her honking, drug-addled, fright-bewigged gargoyle in August: Osage County. How about the dismal parade of puttied white actors playing twentieth-century presidents in Lee Daniels’ The Butler? I know such nominations would royally piss some people off, but what’s the point of the Razzies if not to give offense?
This year’s omissions are as puzzling as the Oscar’s. The worthless Die Hard sequel. The jingoist nightmare Olympus Has Fallen. The Razzies have ignored one of the more reviled films of the year, Oz the Great and Powerful, with its criminally lackadaisical lead performance (far worse than anything in Movie 43) by James Franco. It’s a film that attributes the evil of one of our most villainous screen icons — the Wicked Witch of the West — to getting fucked and then dumped by the Wizard of Oz, who has moved on to Glinda. It’s The Real Witches of Beverly Hills.
I know this will be viewed as a Razzie takedown, but it really isn’t. It’s a respectful provocation. How wonderful it would be if the Razzies parted company from the Rotten Tomato–meter (the universal standard, evidently) and occasionally overlapped with the Oscars! What if they promoted freethinking—contrarianism—instead of the herd mentality? I, for one, would sing their praises instead of blowing raspberries.