Ballots for the Vulture critics’ poll were collected in three ways. Many critics responded to our requests with lists of their worst movies of the year. Many other critics had already published such lists. Finally, for critics who did not respond telling us they did not want to participate, or were unreachable, we combed through their 2008 reviews to find their most memorable pan.
Every mention of a film earned that film one point, with a bonus point awarded if a critic named the film the absolute worst of the year.
1. Ballots received from individual critics
Richard Brody, The New Yorker
Synecdoche, New York
Lane Brown, Vulture
Jeannette Catsoulis, New York Times
The Other Boleyn Girl
Then She Found Me
Carina Chocano, formerly of the Los Angeles Times
1. Speed Racer. Was any other movie of the year as likely to provoke grand mal seizures in viewers while simultaneously putting them to sleep? The Wachowski brothers tried to liven things up by detaching the talking heads from their respective necks and tossing them around the screen. The urge was shared.
2. The Spirit. Frank Miller has been hinting at the depths of his talent for some time now with his contributions to Sin City and 300. As the man entirely responsible for the string of exhausted noir clichés that is The Spirit, he shows that he’s capable of making a terrible, nonsensical movie all on his own.
3. 88 Minutes. Al Pacino in a spray tan and bouffant tries to outlive a serial killer’s promise to kill him in 88 minutes. Nobody roots for him.
4. The Air I Breathe. A histrionic, Chinese-proverb-based allegory that assigns four emotions to four characters whose lives randomly intersect over a couple of days. As believable as it sounds.
5. The Happening. An airborne toxin blocks the human instinct for self-preservation, which immediately results in an epidemic of mass suicide. Why not just stop using seat belts?
6. Fool’s Gold. Kate Hudson wisely dumps Matthew McConaughey in this third-rate Romancing the Stone knockoff, then spends the rest of the movie feeling irresistibly drawn to him. in this, she is on her own.
7. Blindness. Julianne Moore leads the blind after a blindness epidemic hits an unnamed city and the sightless are summarily quarantined. Live the airless, whinging claustrophobia.
8. What Happens in Vegas… Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher as an uptight girl and a laid-back guy who meet, get drunk and get married in Vegas, then find themselves legally bound to stick it out. Knocked Up meets Judge Judy.
9. Good Luck Chuck. Every girl Dane Cook sleeps with ends up marrying the next guy she meets. There’s something funny in that premise but, whatever it is, Good Luck Chuck steers clear of it.
10. The Love Guru. Mike Myers swaps the right to make fun of self-help gurus for a Deepak Chopra cameo. The catchphrase and scene of elephant love don’t make up for the missed opportunity.
David Denby, The New Yorker
It has to be The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Fincher and writer Eric Roth have taken a playful early story by F. Scott Fitzgerald and literalized and solemnized it to death. It’s a work of extraordinary craftsmanship devoted to an idea that’s dramatically inert. When Brad Pitt finally grows young enough to look like his actual age, he doesn’t have any memories of the ardency or anxiety of youth but only relief that he’s no longer a crotchety old man. Even as a young blade, he’s an old fart. It just doesn’t work. That people can find serious ideas about death and mortality in it suggests the power of weirdness to inspire fancy sentiment.
Bilge Ebiri, New York
1. 88 Minutes
One of the absolute worst of the decade, and an absolute waste of a cast.
The Air I Breathe
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
David Edelstein, New York
Well, I missed The Love Guru, and I think my list should have an asterisk on that count. But, in 1–10 order:
Funny Games (so not nice he made it twice)
Nothing But the Truth
Mark Graham, Vulture
1. Funny Games
2. Revolutionary Road
3. Max Payne
4. The Love Guru
5. The Spirit
Logan Hill, New York
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Stephen Holden, New York Times
Henry Poole Is Here
The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Eric Kohn, New York Press
1. The Spirit
2. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
4. X-Files: I Want to Believe
5. Quantum of Solace
7. Adam Resurrected
8. Body of Lies
9. Step Brothers
10. The Happening
Dan Kois, Vulture/Washington Post
Kevin Lee, Shooting Down Pictures
When Dante penned Inferno, he neglected to describe the circle of Hell where one is forced to watch cherished elements from one’s youth debauched into a Sundance-formula indie movie. As someone who loves the golden era of Gotham hip-hop circa ‘94, when Nas and Wu-Tang Clan were taking rap virtuosity to new heights, I found The Wackness an appalling attempt to evoke this enthusiasm. The Wackness reduces hip-hop to sonic wallpaper decorating a poor little rich kid’s counter-culture posturing, punctuated with hindsight name-checking. (“Yo, what’s that dope sound you pumping?” “His name is Notorious B.I.G. He’s the next big thing, yo!”) Add Ben Kingsley aping Harvey Keitel while pulling a phone-booth sex stunt with one half of the Olsen twigs, and you have a movie that more than lives up to its title.
Nathan Lee, New York Times
1. Rachel Getting Married
Insufferable bobo hysteria.
2. The Wrestler
Yes, Rourke is amazing. Too bad everything else is pretentious, derivative, cliché, and condescending.
3. Revolutionary Road
OMG, the American suburbs of the fifties were such a soul-crushing, conformist hell! Zzzzz…
4. Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild
Don’t let the generic title fool you: This is the worst gay sequel ever.
Dennis Lim, New York Times
It’s tough to pick worst movies — especially now that I tend to just avoid movies I don’t have to write about and suspect I won’t like — but I guess I’ll nominate Revolutionary Road, certainly the most irritating and fraudulent film I saw last year.
Karina Longworth, spout.com
I’m going to go with Changeling. You can excerpt from my “review” if you like.
Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal
Seven Pounds is my slam dunk.
Wesley Morris, Boston Globe
In order of foulness:
What Happens in Vegas
In the Name of the King
Hottie and the Nottie
The Love Guru
Matt Zoller Seitz, The House Next Door
1. Strange Wilderness. This inexplicably self-satisfied non-movie was half-assed even by stoner-comedy standards, and it transformed its versatile, self-deprecating star, Steve Zahn, into a snide boor.
2. Doomsday. This trashy sci-fi programmer has its defenders — such movies invariably do — but what’s to defend? There isn’t an image, character, situation, or gag that isn’t pilfered from an earlier, better movie, and director Neil Marshall — whose previous film, The Descent, is a near-classic of modern horror — doesn’t transform the borrowings into anything distinctive. The difference between this movie and its key inspirations — 28 Days Later, Escape From New York, and The Road Warrior — is the difference between raw meat and Hot Pockets.
3. Hancock. The year’s most frustrating studio blockbuster, it contains the germs of three, maybe four idiosyncratic and moving fantasy epics, but lacks the cojones to develop any of them past the deal memo stage. The most vexing is the hero’s Candyman-like backstory as a victim of racist violence; to bury that detail in a couple of tossed-off lines of dialogue is the most cowardly of the film’s many copouts.
4. Badland. Much as I’m inclined to resist beating up on super-ambitious, no-budget labors of love, this turgid, 160-minute melodrama — about a PTSD-afflicted soldier who murders his wife and two of their children, then fantasizes going on the run with his surviving daughter and starting a new romance with a smokin’ hot coffee-shop owner — merits a Billy Batts–in–Goodfellas–style stomping. Tone-deaf indulgences like this give American independent film a bad name.
Dana Stevens, Slate
1. The Love Guru
2. Drillbit Taylor
3. Seven Pounds
5. Speed Racer
Michael Sragow, Baltimore Sun
Was 10,000 BC this year? If not, could we fit it in by going by the Hebraic or Eastern Orthodox calendars?
Then there was Punisher: War Zone. An excruciating blend of the incompetent and the would-be hip, but just think what reviews it would have gotten if it had co-starred Heath Ledger! Of course, although The Dark Knight had a modicum of craft and professional turns from Caine and Freeman and a scary (though overrated) performance by Ledger, my idea of film-critic hell this summer was watching it and Mamma Mia! virtually back to back.
And Seven Pounds, whose only virtue was the title that begged every wisecracker watching the trailer to produce the answer to “seven pounds of what?”
Sara Vilkomerson, New York Observer
1. Seven Pounds
2. The Women
4. Speed Racer / The Happening / Postal (tie)
Pete Vonder Haar, Film Threat
1. Fool’s Gold. McConaughey mugs his way through yet another leading role, playing Finn as Sahara’s Dirk Pitt minus the SEAL training and a few million brain cells.
2. Vantage Point. The latest and dumbest in a long line of political thrillers.
3. Drillbit Taylor. As a bully movie, it falls far short of such genre classics as Three O’Clock High and The Karate Kid and barely rates mention alongside mediocre efforts like Lucas or … The Next Karate Kid.
4. Street Kings. If you make it through the first twenty minutes of this and still don’t know who the bad guys will end up being and how everything will end, I can only offer my condolences, because obviously not all your dogs are barking.
5. 88 Minutes. One small step for bad filmmaking and one giant leap for the increasing insignificance of the former Michael Corleone.
6. What Happens in Vegas… During the screening, I tried to come up with as many synonyms for the word “excruciating” as I could. I gave up around ten.
7. You Don’t Mess With the Zohan. There are laughs, but even Dorf on Golf had its moments.
8. Twilight. Stephanie Meyer’s ponderous salute to teen abstinence and patriarchal supremacy marks the endgame for what has been a decades-long castration of the vampire genre.
9. Marley & Me. Enough to make one sympathize with that cougar from Where the Red Fern Grows.
10. Sex and the City. Otherwise sane women seemed perfectly willing to identify with someone whose biggest problem was whether or not to accept the gift of a million dollar penthouse from their boyfriend. Maybe society truly is doomed.
Armond White, New York Press
For me, the year’s worst is a toss-up: The Dark Knight, Slumdog Millionaire and Wall-E. This trifecta celebrates the reign of pessimism, the ubiquity of television, and the end of culture.
Stephanie Zacharek, Salon
I’m torn between The Love Guru, which contains one genuinely funny joke (the use of Mariska Hargitay’s name as a blessing) and then proceeds to run even that into the ground, and Seven Pounds, in which organ donor Will Smith auditions candidates to decide who should get his various body parts, based on who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. Two different kinds of bad.
2. Ballots collected from already-published lists
Melissa Anderson, Time Out
Rachel Getting Married
Marjorie Baumgarten, Austin Chronicle
Repo! The Genetic Opera
Ty Burr, Boston Globe
2. The Happening
3. Baby Mama
4. Speed Racer
5. The Hottie and the Nottie
Tom Charity, CNN
1. Funny Games
2. The Spirit
3. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
4. Eagle Eye
6. Fool’s Gold
7. Seven Pounds
8. 88 Minutes
9. What Happens in Vegas…
10. The X-Files: I Want to Believe
Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
The Love Guru
David Fear, Time Out
Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
1. Speed Racer
2. Star Wars: The Clone Wars
3. Patti Smith: Dream of Life
Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle
4. The Strangers
5. Mother of Tears
6. Pride and Glory
7. Get Smart
8. Drillbit Taylor
9. Vantage Point
10. Made of Honor
Lou Lumenick, New York Post
Noel Murray, The AV Club
The Hottie & The Nottie
Christopher Orr, The New Republic
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Michael O’Sullivan, Washington Post
Punisher: War Zone
Keith Phipps, The A.V. Club
Claudia Puig, USA Today
Nathan Rabin, The A.V. Club
Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer
The Love Guru
My Blueberry Nights
The Other Boleyn Girl
Rex Reed, New York Observer
1. Synecdoche, New York
2. Burn After Reading
3. Paranoid Park
4. Funny Games
6. Mamma Mia!
7. Sex and the City
8. Speed Racer
10. Four Christmases
11. My Blueberry Nights, Happy-Go-Lucky, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Wackness, Pineapple Express, Australia, Ghost Town
Tasha Robinson, The AV Club
Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald
1. Bangkok Dangerous.
The Love Guru
Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times
1. The Love Guru
2. What Happens in Vegas
3. The Women
4. 10,000 BC
5. 88 Minutes
6. Funny Games
7. Fly Me to the Moon
8. Over Her Dead Body
9. Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay
10. You Don’t Mess With the Zohan
Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out
The Love Guru
Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly
1. The Women
2. Seven Pounds
3. 88 Minutes
4. Speed Racer
5. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Scott Tobias, The A.V. Club
Over Her Dead Body
Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
1. Quantum of Solace
3. Ballots created by us based on critics’$2 2008 reviews
Richard Corliss, Time
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
“Q. How can you give a one-star rating to a movie you didn’t sit through?
A. The rating only applies to the first eight minutes. After that, you’re on your own.”
Scott Foundas, L.A. Weekly
“Dispiritingly obvious and phony from top to bottom.”
J. Hoberman, The Village Voice
“Professional obligations required that I endure it, but there’s no reason why you should.”
Anthony Lane, The New Yorker
“Taken together, Sex and the City, Mamma Mia!, and The Women add up to a spectacular trilogy of the inane.”
Thanks to all the critics who participated, whether they knew it or not.
Logo by Everett Bogue; Photos: Getty Images, istockphoto.