I take no pleasure in making lists such as this; every movie here was one that I actually paid to see, whether it was at the theater or in my mailbox. But I've been reading a lot of these decade roundup pieces lately, and more than a few have listed "Crash" -- my No. 2 best film of 2005, and that year's Oscar winner for best picture -- as among the worst films of the decade. People hate that movie because it's preachy and manipulative, which I believe is precisely that film's mission. (They also hate it because it won the Oscar in the year of "Brokeback Mountain," which is no reason to hate any movie. Is it "Crash's" fault that voters preferred it over the other four candidates?) I like it because it plays as a series of very well-acted, well-constructed vignettes, and at least three of those would be the best, most memorable scene in any other movie.
My point is that no movie that won an Oscar, that inspires passionate, intelligent debate, and makes everyone who sees it think about something substantial can be the worst movie of the decade. I give kudos to any movie that inspires thought and thoughtful discussion, which is why, awful as it is, you won't see Eli Roth's "Hostel: Part II" on this list, for example. (Was the movie misogynist or about conquering misogyny? I lean toward the former.)
So here are the ten worst movies I suffered through this past decade. If you can offer an impassioned defense of any of them, let's hear it!
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1. "Starsky & Hutch"
(Todd Phillips, 2004)
OK, I'll admit it -- I have not seen this entire movie. But it belongs atop this list because it is literally the only movie I have ever walked out of. If you went into this movie knowing absolutely nothing about it, you might not know it was supposed to be a comedy until 15 or 20 minutes in -- and then you would realize that you're not laughing yet. I called it quits about halfway through when the film's big comic setpiece turned out to be virtually identical to "Zoolander's" show-stopping dance-off. The difference, of course, is that "Zoolander" was hilarious. So I got up and walked across the hall, where the Riders of Rohan were about to charge the Orcs at Minas Tirith. I think I made the right choice.
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2. "21" (Robert Luketic, 2008)
The first of three films starring Kevin Spacey that appear on this list, and he plays a teacher in all of them. Hmm. There are so many reasons to hate "21," starting with the decision to turn the Asian protagonists of the real-life story it's based on into white kids (with token Asian friends, of course). Then there's the painful, insulting narration from star Jim Sturgess, which "helpfully" explains everything we are looking at, ostensibly because we're too fucking stupid to follow them movin' pictures. The film's worst sin is going to great lengths to explain how card-counters arrive at "The Count" -- a number telling players how many high-value cards are left in the shoe -- without actually explaining what it is or how they use it to their advantage. What a spectacularly inept film, with another absurd, showy performance from Spacey, who has been squandering his considerable talents for ten years now.
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3. "The Devil's Rejects"
(Rob Zombie, 2005)
In the era of "torture porn," no film was as disgusting, humorless and just plain worthless as this sequel to Zombie's "House of 1,000 Corpses." Zombie's heroes are a depraved family of hillbilly serial killers, which would be fine if anything in this film had the hint of irony or satire. I found nothing funny about a scene where a woman is forced to wear her husband's face over her own, moments before she is splattered across the highway by a semi. It's not scary either, which is the point of a horror film, yes? The final scene, in which the killers are canonized by Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird" while the cops gun them down, is execrable.
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4. "Pay it Forward" (Mimi Leder, 2000)
Appearance No. 2 for Spacey, who plays a deformed teacher who finds love with Helen Hunt's cocktail waitress in this Las Vegas fairy tale about a magical boy who inadvertently starts a national trend of kindness. Naturally, he's knifed to death by a Latino stereotype at the end of the movie. (And I laughed, laughed, and laughed some more.) A respected TV director who delivered solid action films in "The Peacemaker" and "Deep Impact," Leder killed her feature-film career with this sappy head-slapper. All it's missing is a whisper from above: "If you kill him, they will come ..."
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5. "Loser" (Amy Heckerling, 2000)
This came dangerously close to being the first movie I ever walked out of, but Holly insisted we stay. Wrong decision. There is not a single genuine moment in this entire film, which all but ensured Jason Biggs would never have a hit outside of the "American Pie" franchise. It doesn't help that the de facto villain of the piece is played by Zak Orth, who must be one of the most loathsome actors working today. (An unfair prejudice? Perhaps, but I'm all about honesty when writing about films.) The only good thing to come out of this movie was the music video for Wheatus's "Teenage Dirtbag."
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6. "Vacancy" (Nimrod Antal, 2007)
At one point in this trapped-in-a-motel-room thriller, Luke Wilson goes outside to use the phone booth. A car speeds directly toward him. He runs out of the phone booth and gets back in the room just as the car plows into the side of the motel. What's the first thing out of wife Kate Beckinsale's mouth? "Did you get anyone on the phone?" Yes, this is another one of those films whose plots depend on everyone in the story being a complete idiot, and Wilson and Beckinsale are perfectly cast, that's for sure.
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7. "Date Movie" (Aaron Seltzer, 2006)
Thankfully, this is the only one of the post-"Scary Movie" parody flicks I've seen. I'm sure if I had seen "Epic Movie," "Meet the Spartans," "Disaster Movie" or "Superhero Movie," they would all appear on this list somewhere. Painfully inept, unfunny, and made for about a buck and a half, "Date Movie's" worst sin is wasting its beautiful and talented star, Alyson Hannigan. We're not through with these awful cash-ins; 2010 brings us "The 40-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It." Yes, that's an actual movie.
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8. "The Life of David Gale"
(Alan Parker, 2003)
The last of Kevin Spacey's trilogy of terror pretends to be an "important" movie about the death penalty, but winds up being a cheap, gotcha thriller that insults the audience and those on both sides of the real-life debate. The outcome of the movie depends on reporter Bitsey Bloom -- yes, Bitsey fucking Bloom -- getting a videotape to the courthouse in time to save the title character's life. But guess what? Her car breaks down! What a joke.
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9. "Battlefield Earth"
(Roger Donaldson, 2000)
An obvious inclusion, I know, but it cannot be ignored. It's hard to pick the film's single worst attribute: the ugly production design? The grotesque makeup? The endless cavalcade of dutch angles? The idiotic screenplay? John Travolta's performance? Forest Whitaker's performance?
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10. "Nim's Island"
(Jennifer Flackett & Mark Levin, 2008)
Or "Product Placement: The Movie." When Jodie Foster looks back at her long, storied career, this will be the one she will block out of her mind -- the one where half her dialogue consisted of unnecessarily using brand names. Her character in this children's fantasy is obsessed with Purell hand-sanitizer and Progresso soup, and never lets us forget it. She also helpfully explains that she booked a flight on Expedia. I quote from my Daily Herald blog to fully demonstrate just how shameless this movie is:
"Foster's very first scene shows her children's author run out of hand sanitizer. She calls a pharmacy. 'Hello. Do you have PURELL? How many bottles? I'll take them all.' A delivery boy comes by. 'Just leave them on the stoop! I paid with a MASTERCARD!' She goops up her hands and sits at her APPLE computer, when she lets a phone call go to answering machine. It's her publisher, who says, 'I can just picture you there, alone in your apartment, eating your PROGRESSO soup...' An absolutely masterful shot then shows Jodie's PANASONIC phone with a caller ID readout: RANDOM HOUSE, her character's publisher, and, naturally, the publisher of 'Nim's Island,' the hit book by Wendy Orr!"
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So there you have it. Avoid those ten films at all costs. What are your worst of the last ten years?