CineScene serves up the year's most unsavory films.

Contributors: Kristen Ashley, Mark Ashley,
Michael Buck, Barton Campbell, Melissa B. Cummings, Chris Dashiell, Don Larsson, Ed Owens, Pat Padua, Rolando Recometa, Howard Schumann, James Snapko, Greg Sorenson, Sasha Stone, Josh Timmermann, and Andrew Albert J. Ty

The Matrix: Reloaded
The Matrix: Revolutions
I loved The Matrix, and I wanted Reloaded to be good, but instead it was just tedious. The expository scenes were incredibly tiresome (during all the town meeting scenes, I thought I was watching a really boring episode of Star Trek), and most of the fight scenes felt like a parody of the original. I thought the fight between Neo and the dozens of Agent Smiths was going to be cool, but it just seemed silly. I did enjoy the car/motorcycle chase, but even that went on too long. The only time the pace picked up was during the last 20 minutes or so, but by that point I was so exasperated and confused that I just didn't care. I haven't yet seen Revolutions because of how bad Reloaded was, and I may never bother.
-- Melissa B. Cummings

I have yet to see The Matrix Revolutions, and it's all because of the traumatically disappointing experience of seeing The Matrix Reloaded. Poorly directed with an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach that alternated between numbing me and making me feel insulted, the film strikes me as, for the most part, painfully earnest and swollen with self-importance. While the buffet-style approach to pop philosophy in the first film was treated with a certain dash of irreverent fun, and the action scenes had a sleek novelty to it, the forced gravitas of this sequel and its so-long-it's-boring action scenes made viewing it an agonizing experience. I hate the fact that I feel compelled to see Revolutions just to see them end the damn thing, and I wish I could enter the movie theatre with a paper bag over my head.
-- Andrew Albert J. Ty

Matrix: Reloaded/Revolutions:
Take your pick, both films suck. The entire premise, the pseudo-philosophical, intellectual and theological B.S, the endless advertisements, the sickening product marketing, the overblown and distracting special effects, and Keanu Reeves, all make this the most joyless filmic experience of the year. But what's worse, we had to endure all of that excruciating dialogue that blabbermouth "Architect" kept spewing out. If The Matrix is so technologically advanced, where's the fast forward button when you need it?
-- James Snapko

The Wachowskis threw nearly everything into these two bloated and pretentious follow-ups to their 1999 sleeper hit, including four years and $230 million. Unfortunately, they forgot to make them fun.
-- Ed Owens

After a four-year wait, the makers of The Matrix belched forth parts 2 & 3 of their epic in the same year. Matrix: Reloaded attempted to continue the original's heady mix of an involving story, backed up by existential musings and invigorating, innovative action. Turning that mixture completely on its head, this sequel had an inconsequential plot, phony philosophy delivered with affected accents, and action scenes so obtrusively placed as to feel like a commercial break from the rest of the film. The worst mistake this film made was to reveal the human city of Zion, wisely left unseen in the first film. When the ultimate fight for mankind's survival is shown to be no more significant than whether or not a mindless rave party is interrupted, one can't help but begin to root for Zion's destruction. If this is all that's left of human society, let's just pack it in, march off to our little Matrix toilet bowls, and plug in, OK? We don't deserve to live.

To top it off, the film is crafted so that two hours of this pointlessly loud drivel leads inexorably to what appears to be a deleted scene from Family Affair, in which Jody's id, ego, and superego confront an icy Mr. French, who is apparently sustained by an odd cocktail of heroin and speed.

The best moment of the series' concluding entry, Matrix: Revolutions, comes when Keanu Reaves does his one big emoting scene blindfolded. The filmmakers knew that he'd remind us of Quint's description of a shark's dead eyes from Jaws, so they tried (unsuccessfully) to spare the audience the pain of sympathetic embarrassment. For the most part, though, Revolutions dwells on the banal Zion portion of the story. Zion's last defense, apparently, is human-operated walking cannons that look like nothing so much as a metallic version of Steve Martin's gyrating "Wild and Crazy Guy" routine. At about this point, I realized that Trinity had perfectly summed up this year's two Matrix films, and in fact, my entire cinematic year, near the beginning of Revulsions when she succinctly stated, "I don't have time for this shit!"

If one counts this year's two Matrix films as merely the two halves of one story, that could imply that there is yet another Matrix film envisioned as part of the trilogy. As Neo is so clearly a Christ figure, perhaps it is to him I should pray that this never comes to pass.
-- Michael Buck

Maid in Manhattan
Can a Latina mother promote diversity within the traditionally-male enclave of hotel butlerdom while raising a smart kid and romancing a millionaire? Hey, it's J-Lo. You have to ask? Aside from the stunning incongruity of the use of Paul Simon music, the film's obsessive soundtrack has a song to echo every event, down to J-Lo's need to answer nature's call to the tune of BTO's "Takin' Care of Business." Every punch is telegraphed (or, more appropriately, hand-delivered on a silver tray). Every bit of conflict reeks of contrivance. Every bit of humor falls flat.
--Don Larsson
Hollywood Homicide
I don't even know where to begin here. This is a buddy picture that's gone so awry it actually travels back on itself and becomes slightly humorous. I mean, Harrison Ford fighting Isaiah Washington...and winning? Harrison Ford is painfully unfunny, Josh Hartnett is screamingly unattractive, there is no chemistry between the two (or between the two and anyone else -- I mean, how can anyone make Lena Olin seem sexless? I nearly gagged during the sex scenes, BLECH), the script was hideously clichéd -- yet, you can't help but laugh when you see Ford on a bicycle with a basket on the front. Well, at least it wasted a couple hours on an airplane...
-- Kristen Ashley

Masked and Anonymous
This is Bob Dylan's all-star vanity project. As those things go, it could have been worse. The filmmakers pull off a convincing dystopia, an American dictatorship where most of the population is jailed and most of the free live in poverty. Dylan's character is called Jack Fate, which is not a good sign - did nobody involved with the film find this self-aggrandizing, brooding symbolism embarrasing? He's jailed, of course, but the government orders him released so - get this - so he can play a benefit concert.

The film's politics are muddled. When Fate - dude, it's like, he's the Fate of the country, don't you get it? - gets out of jail, he boards a rickety bus crowded with Mexican workers. Crowded for the workers that is: in the back of the bus sit Bob and Giovanni Ribisi, with all the leg room in the world. Yep, man of the people, all right. Ribisi rants about revolution and uprising, and Fate agrees with him. Odd that it's the white man's burden to raise up the workers. In another scene, Fate talks to the ghost of a blackface entertainer (who I think was Ed Harris) about past injustices; the ghost then turns into an African-American janitor. I'm not the pc-police, but something about these scenes made me feel uneasy, and probably not in the way they were intended. Did I mention that Bob and band play "Dixie"?
-- Pat Padua

Daddy Day Care
The Haunted Mansion
While it seems obvious that J.Lo and Ben's silly movie should take the top slot in the turkey derby, I rarely see movies unless I'm sure they're going to be good. As a consequence, I rarely see really bad movies, which is a shame. However, there are a few worth mentioning as the year comes to a close, and, unfortunately for him, Eddie Murphy is in two of them.

Daddy Day Care: an affront to all things parental, this pointless exercise made a few bucks, but was completely forgettable. To suggest that men could run a daycare center better because they "get" that it's all about the fun is to suggest that women have been doing a BAD job all along. Philosophical reasoning aside, the film is just plain bowel disrupting, heart-achingly bad. And recently, Murphy hit us with The Haunted Mansion, another awful film that could have easily been written by a computer program using a few key phrases and requirements: lots of haunted house spooks and a few butler jokes. Make the leads black instead of white, cast a few kids and a few veteran theater actors (oh, whither Terence Stamp?) and stir. No, Haunted Mansion was a complete waste of celluloid. Hopefully this is the real reason Roy Disney quit.
-- Sasha Stone

I don't really have a problem with Eddie Murphy trying to change his image and become more family-friendly like Bill Cosby. But he forgot to do one important thing -- be funny.
-- Chris Dashiell

Tears of the Sun
This film begs the question: is Monica Bellucci worth dying hard for? For Bruce Willis and fellow Seals sent to rescue her from rebel troops during the Nigerian civil war, the answer is an irreversible yes. Things start going haywire when he refuses to bring her friends along. She slaps him twice, he gets a heroic boner, and the body count rises to levels unprecedented even for a Bruce Willis action film. When someone asks Willis why he changed his mind, he replies: "I'll tell you when I figure it out." One look at Bellucci's cleavage and you can figure out why. The movie's title refers to Bellucci's perfectly lit, snot-filled tears of anguish. Or maybe not. But you can forget looking for subtlety beyond the title. Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) wouldn't know subtlety if it sat on his face, wiggled and farted. When he's not underlining war atrocities with overblown, Lion King-ish music, he's prowling the dark, rain-soaked jungle in search of Bellucci's unbuttoned shirt.

Bruce Willis gives his most focused performance yet. He has to. Looking impassive opposite the greatest snot-blower since Diane Keaton is no easy acting feat. The movie ends, surprisingly, with a powerful quote: "All that is needed for the triumph of evil is for a good man to do nothing." Well, here's your chance to do something. Be good and avoid this latest product from evil Hollywood.
-- Rolando Recometa
Julie Taymor's movie about Frida Kahlo is gorgeous looking, and intersperses its conventional narrative with surreal and imaginative touches, yet it's reluctant to give us more than a film version of a Greatest Hits album, compressing events of 47 years into a two-hour biopic that is mostly surface veneer. Salma Hayek looks like Frida in her colorful Mexican dresses with heavy necklaces and braids wrapped around her head, but the psychology of her art and the political issues that she cared about are presented only in a very superficial manner. The film's preoccupation with her love affairs and shouting matches takes away from a deeper understanding of her work and the complexity of her character. The sense of triumph seems to be missing from the film -- the result is an experience that is without passion. "It meant nothing," Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina) pleads when confronted by Frida about his extra-marital affairs. "It had all the emotion of a handshake." That could also describe the film.
-- Howard Schumann

Gaspar Noé rubs violence in our face like a schoolyard bully. We see a man's skull pounded to a bloody pulp with a fire extinguisher. A brutal eight-minute sequence of anal rape and a vicious beating is presented with gruesome relish. Then the film, whose scenes are presented in backward sequential order, Memento-style, attempts (in its shallow way) to portray a state of poignant domestic felicity and love. The point? "Time destroys everything." As if these metaphysical pretensions are a rationale for the film's pornographic sadism. If the picture was merely inept, or misguided, it would be forgivable. But Noé's nihilism is self-righteous. He's counting on the audience's gullibility. He wants to impress us with how bad and rebellious he is: it's pure hatred disguised as world-weary wisdom. This is the kind of "art" that actually sucks the goodness out of you for two hours. Time wasted, indeed.
-- Chris Dashiell

The Hours
Top 10 things I hated about The Hours:
1) They ruined a rather beautiful book.
2) The screenplay is one of the worst literary adaptations in movie history. The novel's generally graceful prosaic style is translated to the screen as utterly graceless speechifying.
3) Far more than in even the book (which, too, is dubious in this respect), the film presents Virginia Woolf, one of the finest writers of her era, as little more than a sophomorically morbid proto-goth. Nicole Kidman's performance is almost embarrassing to watch, it's so far off the mark.
4) It's offensively didactic, and thematically heavy-handed. For a film that wants to pose as some sub-Bergman desperation fest, Daldry has the subtlety of Michael Bay.
5) I have truly seen very few actors over-act to the downright cringeworthy degree that Ed Harris does here. I wasn't the only one in the theatre laughing when he thew himself out the window.
6) Philip Glass' score is unrelenting, overbearing, and migraine-inducing.
7) The showy editing style is incredibly distracting.
8) The shots of eggs being cracked and the hotel room flooding (as well as many other lame stylistic touches) are so Film School 101.
9) Julianne Moore's performance looks extremely underdeveloped and one-dimensional in comparison with her much better performance in a similar role in Far From Heaven.
10) Meryl Streep has never seemed more like she's merely going through the motions: "Good, another repressed, depressed woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown; after Adaptation, I thought I might actually have to start acting again!"
-- Josh Timmermann

The League of
Extraordinary Gentlemen

The previews alone were enough of a warning to Alan Moore fans: no hint that the main characters were famous literary characters at one time; an anachronistic souped-up car careening through what looked the streets (streets!?) of Venice; and the self-important "LXG!" logo. The film, alas, only confirmed the warning. Moore's sly and enjoyable riff on Boys' Own Adventures of a century ago has been turned into another action flick for people who hate books -- even comic books. Shoot outs and chases substitute for real action. Moral ambiguity takes a dive when Jekyll teams up with Hyde (don't ask!). And subtlety takes a deeper dive than Cpt. Nemo's Nautilus could ever fathom.
-- Don Larsson

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle.
A godawful mess of a movie. When I wasn't dozing off, I was either confused, because the film is essentially a 90-minute incoherent music video that doesn't let the narrative (if you could even call it that) get in the way of the flare and flash, or completely stultified by the excessive self-congratulatory performances of the three leading ladies. However, my biggest concern is the insidious "we're just having fun" attitude the film promotes (i.e. if you don't like it, there's something wrong with you). This film exemplifies everything that's wrong with Hollywood.
-- James Snapko

It pains me to have to criticize this film, as I find Godfrey Reggio to be a genuine, gentle soul whose heart is in the right place, and he has some real insight. It's just a shame that he communicates this much better at speaking engagements than through his filmmaking. His groundbreaking 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi is, in retrospect, a fantastic music video. It sported a great Philip Glass soundtrack, but was somewhat incoherent as a film. His torpid, self-indulgent 1986 follow-up, Powaqqatsi, had another terrific score, but little else. Surprisingly, some 15 years later, Steven Soderbergh decided to pony up the money for the completion of the trilogy. I'd love to know what sold him on the idea. Supposedly describing "Life as War," the film's haphazard imagery and desperate editing produce a fatuously meaningless experience. If you begin to think you see some statement emerging from the stock war footage and the shots of sporting events as mock war, hang on, because you're going to have a hard time tying in the naked babies, tumbling coins, and computer-generated shots of, well, nothing. Rent the DVD, and you get the added bonus of listening to Reggio and Glass tell you, in the supplements, how difficult this film is, and how it may take awhile to "get it." Like its predecessors, it is very nice to listen to, but there's just no "there" there. After hearing Reggio speak in person at screenings of his films, I know he has something to say. Unfortunately, his films seem not to. Pretense, thy name is qatsi.
-- Michael Buck
The Life of David Gale
This movie was utterly ridiculous. It seemed like the filmmakers wanted it to be an "important" movie that would spur debate on capital punishment across the country. All it spurred from me, however, was eye rolling. I think this was supposed to be an anti-death penalty film, but the anti-death penalty characters were more asinine and childish than those who were supposed to be the movie's antagonists. If the film was intended to further the anti-capital punishment cause, it failed miserably. And even ignoring the implied message, the plot was completely unbelievable, and the "twist" ending was so absurd it left me dumbfounded.
-- Melissa B. Cummings

Bruce Almighty
Jim Carrey gets to be God -- not a bad premise for a comeback after a series of increasingly straight and sappy films that had dulled Carrey's once-sharp comic edge. But nooooo, as John Belushi (another too-misused comic) might have said, that wasn't good enough, was it? Carrey's pre-divine character is a tiresome whiner, hardly worthy of the Big G's attention. When he does get THE POWER!, he fritters it away more pointlessly than any character since Marlowe's Dr. Faustus. And the Big G (he's a black man! and Morgan Freeman! now there's an original concept!) turns out to be a Cosmic Muffin after all, full of feel-good pieties that make you wonder how Lucifer ever managed to fall or why Adam and Eve didn't get a stick and melted caramel to go with the apple. Sometimes the film rises to amusing. The rest is a messy waste.
-- Don Larsson

There's no way around it -- to succeed in using God as a comic premise, you need irreverence. But of course, that requires a little bit of courage, and timidity is the name of the game in Hollywood when it comes to anything meaningful. So the "comedy" in Bruce Almighty is nothing but riffs on infantile ideas of cosmic power (the deity as Superman), while the film espouses the very conventional, dishonest, unreflective beliefs that it should be ridiculing. I'm sick and tired of this sort of condescension -- whether I find it in a serious drama or Jim Carrey fluff, it's still insulting.
-- Chris Dashiell

Hope Springs
I've seen movies successfully ride on the fashionable threads of someone's remarkable outfits (The Muse was crap, but Sharon Stone's Ungaro wardrobe was worth the price of admission) but there wasn't enough Minnie Driver, and Minnie Driver isn't enough. The fact that I'm talking about what Minnie Driver wore should tell you what absolute crap this movie is.
-- Kristen Ashley

Runaway Jury
Given the high stakes for this, you'd expect it to be better: Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman together for the first time. But oh! 'Twas not to be. Here is a lump of foetid industrial waste that sullies the good name of crap, if there ever was one. Okay, okay, we get it - gun industry BAD, Hollywood liberals GOOD! Unfortunately, the message was lost amid the gust of air caused by the hammer hitting the nail on the head over and over again.
-- Sasha Stone

The Last Samurai

A one-joke movie: Tom Cruise saves Japan. If this film garners tons of Oscar nominations, I will be the last samurai. To protect my honor, I will commit hara-kiri before I watch another Oscar show.
-- Rolando Recometa

There is a centuries-old battle, Kate Beckinsale tells us, being fought between, the race of Vampires and the race of Lykkens. I thought she meant "lichens." A battle with mossy growths on rocks would have been more interesting. Instead, it's another film that substitutes gunfights for real action, brooding for acting, atmosphere for anything resembling a coherent story.
-- Don Larsson

Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary
An idea for a film that was promising on paper: now in her eighties, and still guilty over her most banal role in the banality of evil, Trindl Junge breaks a 60-year silence to speak about her time in the Nazi Chancellery secretarial pool, and of being selected Hitler's personal secretary in 1943 and remaining with him to the war's end. Her stories offer little new insights, but are somewhat compelling. Promising, as I said, on paper, which is what Blind Spot should have been committed to instead of film. Junge's oral history is worth preserving, but not necessarily in a visual medium, and definitely not in such a non-visual fashion. The film is taken from several static talking-head interviews with Junge in 2001; not a bit of it augmented by archival footage or photos of Junge from the war years. As these interviews are in German, non-German-speakers spend 95 minutes reading subtitles. A transcript would have conveyed the same information in a fourth of the time. Sitting through Blind Spot is frequently a chore, but due to its subject matter I suspect it will get much attention from the Academy's documentary selection committee, which never saw a WW2 film it didn't like.
-- Greg Sorenson

The Hunted
Though the trailer touted its Oscar-heavy pedigree, the film delivered nothing more than one of the blandest and most erratic cat-and-mouse films in recent memory. One more reason the Academy should either 1) retain the ability to rescind Oscars, or 2) not allow marketers to use Oscar wins as a selling point without express written consent.
-- Ed Owens
The Order
Ham on wry? Actually, The Sloppiness would be a better title. Premise: a few priests remaining in an arcane order fight off neighborhood ghosts and demons only to be undone by the Sin Eater, a fellow who's managed to annoy the Church for several centuries by sending unabsolved souls to heaven because he, well, eats their sins (and mighty good eatin' too, from the look of it!). Now, if that makes any sense at all to you, bring your knife and fork and dive right in. Otherwise, take a dose of Bromo and remember that what goes down can come up.
-- Don Larsson
School of Rock
I'm familiar with Martin Scorsese's "one for you, one to the pay the bills" approach to filmmaking, but Richard Linklater shames himself here. It's hard to believe that the same guy who made Before Sunrise and Waking Life also made this Kindergarten Cop/Big Daddy-like thing that tries too hard to be funny and cute without ever remotely managing either. Jack Black has to be one of the unfunniest "comic" actors working today. He doesn't crack jokes or deliver humorous lines; he pukes them up, all over the poor kids in this movie and, more importantly, the poor audience.
-- Josh Timmermann

Takes every bit of fun out of the con man / grifter genre, and turns it into a sterile, by-the-numbers display of soulless adolescent cool. I guess we're supposed to think that Edward Burns is really hip, but he's an insufferably dull, narcissistic performer. Dustin Hoffman turns up as a stupid gangster, a part that any half-assed actor could have phoned in. If you're surprised by the ending, you haven't seen The Sting.
-- Chris Dashiell

Journeys With George
What could have been something profoundly interesting (George W. Bush's 2000 campaign trail) was delivered with such banality and dispassion that the end result is pretty much meaningless. We don't learn anything we didn't already know, and the film looks terrible (shot on low grade mini-dv). Note to the director: just because you consider yourself a "journalist" and own a digital video camera doesn't mean you'll make a good documentary.
-- James Snapko

Uptown Girls
Please, Hollywood, quit making these stupid movies. Or if you do, make them better. Brittany Murphy is so bad in the first hour that a relatively decent (and please note the word "relatively") second half continues to seem tortuous. And if you're going to have a precocious child in a film, make her likeable in some way, any way. Dear God.
-- Kristen Ashley

Beyond Borders
This movie qualifies as the ultimate turkey: melodramatic, clichéd, self-important, dreadfully predictable, and on top of all that, boring. The trailer was very misleading, implying that the entire story is about Angelina Jolie searching for her captured lover. In fact, Clive Owen's character doesn't even go missing until a good 90 minutes into the film, and by that time I really didn't care. The movie goes from being a dramatic and disturbing look at the horrors of poverty and starvation in Africa to a pointless, predictable soap opera. The final scenes, which were undoubtedly meant to bring the audience to tears, caused me to laugh out loud at how embarrassing the movie was.
-- Melissa B. Cummings

Far From Heaven
Todd Haynes' knowledge of the 1950s seems to come from the same place as his knowledge of self-help movements (cf. Safe) -- from his head, not his experience. His highly stylized concept film paints people from that era as liars, hypocrites, racists, and homophobes, all in the service of recreating a "Sirkian" (director Douglas Sirk) melodrama from the days of good old Ike. It is unclear whether he is satirizing the culture of the 50s or how it was portrayed in the media. Nonetheless, the situations are so exaggerated, and the people such broad caricatures, that the entire film becomes an exercise in making a point rather than an experience that is alive.
-- Howard Schumann

Under the Tuscan Sun
Pretty as a picture in a coffee table travel book--and just as moving. Can an urban divorcee find happiness in the Tuscan countryside living in a rustic villa surrounded by cute neighbors and Polish workers, lovely food, and charming country ways? Oh, the torment!
-- Don Larsson

The kind of movie that gives women directors a bad name.
-- Sasha Stone

Forget About Schmidt, if you haven't yet. -- Rolando Recometa

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines: Thank God Arnold has given up films now. -- Mark Ashley

Love Actually: Actually, not. -- Chris Dashiell

From Justin to Kelly: Of course it's bad, but it's still way more fun than The Hours. Then again, what isn't more fun than The Hours? A root canal? -- Josh Timmermann

Luther: A beautifully filmed and episodic biopic for Protestant Sunday schools.
-- Don Larsson

Johnny English: Everyone involved with this should be ashamed. -- Mark Ashley

The Human Stain: It would be just as believable if Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman switched roles.
-- Rolando Recometa

Down With Love: I propose this movie as a class at UCLA...how to take good concepts and talent and make them all turn to shit. -- Kristen Ashley

Alex and Emma: So now Meathead decides he can do Dostoevsky - as a romantic comedy starring Luke Wilson and Kate Hudson. Please kill me. -- Chris Dashiell

All the Real Girls: Lost in a sea of contrived poetics, this film is too superficial and precious to be fully satisfying. -- Howard Schumann

The Last Samurai: Long, pretentious, boring as hell, with Tom Cruise looking like he's trying to take a dump just to squeeze out a tear or two. Oof. -- Sasha Stone

Old School: Not funny. Poorly made. Seen it before. They had to know all along it wasn't going to work, even with Will Ferrell gleefully sharing his hairy ass with the rest of the world.
-- James Snapko

Die Another Day: So crap it makes the Roger Moore Bonds look good. -- Mark Ashley

Star Trek: Nemesis: Was there a big demand for a bedroom scene between Riker and Counselor Troi? The plot is a lame mixture of Wrath of Khan and "Mini-Me" from Austin Powers. And a franchise goes out with a whimper. -- Chris Dashiell

The Matrix Reloaded: Backwards. And it misfires. -- Don Larsson

Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde: Completely throwaway...so ridiculous it's barely worth comment. -- Kristen Ashley

The Good Thief: Not so much bad per se as merely pointless. I mean, really, did Bob le Flambeur need to be remade? Wasn't Melville's version good enough?
-- Josh Timmermann

The Cat in the Hat: Choosing some films as turkeys is almost too easy, but Meyers' still-born rendition of everyone's favorite fedora'd feline is so bad that not mentioning it would be criminal.
-- Ed Owens

Gothika: Some people see dead people. I see dead movies. I see them everywhere. They're dead and they don't even know it.
-- Rolando Recometa

Kill Bill: Swill. -- Chris Dashiell

The Hulk
Eat Drink Smash Man Woman Hulk. Ang Lee finally oversteps his limits with a comic book art film (rather than an artful comic book film). Eric Bana's dull cipher of a face helps to reveal the real talent that the late Bill Bixby showed in the TV show. The digital Hulk himself isn't half-bad; it's just that we usually see (or don't see) him in the dark, while Nick Nolte as his deranged dad is far more of a cartoon than anything Stan Lee and Jack Kirby ever dreamed up. Easily the biggest disappointment of the year.
-- Don Larsson

This is the proof that you should never give a bubble-gum project to an "art" director. All you end up with is a mish-mash of fancy film techniques and weak action sequences scattered through a story bogged down by too much dialogue.
-- Mark Ashley

Ang's arthouse angst proved as excessive as its titular jolly green giant, with an alarming lack of subtlety and a nifty style that was just plain overdone. A little less Freud, please, and a little more "Hulk smash!"
-- Ed Owens

There's a great background story here: the doomed town, the stubborn holdouts, the detached (or trying to be) evacuators. The Polish Brothers (whose first feature, Twin Falls Idaho, had a mysterious atmosphere sorely missing here) didn't trust that background to tell its own story, and they couldn't pull off the kind of American magic realism that they're after. Not that I wanted an absolutely conventional narrative, but this was so so precious, and knowing, and bah! Though it tried and tried and tried and tried, Northfork rarely conveyed any recognizable emotion at all. Its efforts are incredibly cloying: not just a mysterious orphan, not just a mysterious orphan who is perhaps not of this world, but a mysterious orphan who is perhaps not of this world and is missing teeth and has a lisp. Sheesus already.
-- Pat Padua

Only the first few shots are worth watching. After that, it's all downhill fast. The strange thing about this film is that tries to pass by through its looks -- as if it has something important to say based solely on the stark imagery. Sure, there are some interesting images...but after a few minutes of pointlessness and pretentiousness, nobody cares how great it looks.
-- James Snapko

21 Grams
Sean Penn suffers mystically. Naomi Watts suffers grievously. Benicio Del Toro suffers guiltily. We suffer Oscar-consciously. Needlessly confusing and pointlessly depressing, the film moves back and forth, in and out, deeper and deeper. Now I know what it feels like to be butt-fucked without vaseline for two hours.
-- Rolando Recometa

by Don Larsson

Worst trends:
Endless gunfights that never run out of ammo, filmed in John Woo slow-mo: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Matrix Revolutions, Underworld.
Fake piety that refuses to probe the actuality of religious feeling (time for a refresher course on Bergman, Dreyer, Bresson, etc.): Bruce Almighty, Luther, The Matrix Revolutions.

Worst high concept of the year
Dr. Suess + Mike Meyers = The Cat in the Hat.

And this just in: Worst new word: "Quadrilogy" (as in Aliens DVD). Whatever happened to "tetralogy"? By the way, the original Greek plays that were written in groups of four were supposed to be composed of three tragedies and one satire. Does that explain Alien Resurrection?

And I give hearty thanks to those critics who wasted their time instead of mine on all the films that I didn't mention. It's a dirty job, folks, so thanks for doing it!

by Barton Campbell

So much depends on expectations. Obviously a film of which I have low expectations can easily surprise me, and one of which I have high expectations can easily disappoint. A lot of expectations come from hype. Hype is something hard to escape. A film that isn’t so bad, such as Swimming Pool, can seem a great failure with the expectations from hype. School of Rock can be more enjoyable without taking thought of how inflated its praise is.

There are plenty of horrible films that don’t get much hype, because they are insignificantly bad. Trying to make a list of the worst movies in a year is therefore difficult, because the movies that I know I won't like, I don't see. There's a good chance that this year's worst movies include Boat Trip, Marci X and Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, but there's no need for me to go and prove it. I go to films that I expect to be good, and if they aren't, they often seem worse than they actually are. One factor might be faith in a director: as in Rob Reiner’s forgettable Alex and Emma, Neil LaBute’s rote The Shape of Things, or Matthieu Kassovitz’s inept Gothika. Another factor is the desire for mindless entertainment, where the film turns out to be, in the cases of Bad Boys II and Bulletproof Monk, mindlessly self-important.

Taking the cake this year, due to inflated hype, immense event status, high expectations, faith in its directors, and hope for mindless entertainment, is The Matrix Revolutions. Even more so than the earlier sequel, The Matrix Reloaded, the Wachowskis’ flop of a finale had technical prowess, archetypal storytelling and a lot of action. It also lacked most of the wonder, the suspense and the intelligence of the original. The fact that it failed with critics and fans of the series, but still made money off some cheated people, makes it a far worse picture than any horrible thing that crept past the radar of pop significance in 2003.

©2003 CineScene