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The second part of our 'Worst of the Best' feature includes some of the world's most successful and respected filmmakers - and the terrible films they've made. Spielberg, Almodovar and Coppola are just some of those called to account for evening out the cinematic karma they too often tip in their favour. (Don't forget to check out the first 10 crimes against cinema, right here.)

TIM BURTON: You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who speaks in glowing terms of Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake or the grand missed-opportunity that was Mars Attacks! (though neither are as God-awful as their reception would have you believe). The director is merely uncaging his inner art-director on other people’s story-telling skills with films like Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and The Chocolate Factory (I said as much in a past piece I wrote). His biggest dud, though, has been 2003’s Big Fish, his star-laden romantic fantasy based upon Daniel Wallace novel. Really, you love it? Have you watched it twice...?

WERNER HERZOG: Only the fearless ego-driven eccentricity of the miraculously talented Werner Herzog could convince the other side of the great director’s brain that the creative decisions he made on The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans (pictured, above) would pass critical muster. Not that he has ever courted favour with critic’s groups (in fact, he has steadfastly defied them), but his 2009 collaboration with that other brilliant nut-job, Nicholas Cage, has to go down as one of American cinema’s oddest moments.

FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA: His enormous 2-hour musical dream sequence, One From The Heart, all but ruined him (it is an extraordinary film, btw); Bram Stoker’s Dracula has its haters; his last couple of low-budget efforts, the experimental works Twixt and Tetro, were barely released. Most famously, he single-handedly tarnished his greatest legacy by botching The Godfather Part III. But Jack, the Robin Williams vehicle about a man who ages at four-times the human growth rate...ugh, it’s just awful. Even Coppola’s very first film, the 1962 German soft-core porno romp The Bellboy and The Playgirls (!!), is infinitely superior.  

STEVEN SPIELBERG: When the world’s most successful director has overplayed the sentiment, fans have revolted. Always, Hook, his episode of Twilight Zone the Movie, War Horse – all saturated in backlighting and dripping with saccharine. The film often cited as his lowest point – the 1979 comedy, 1941 – is nowhere near his worst (in fact, it grows in stature with every viewing). Where Spielberg has really stumbled is when he sets out to recapture lightning in a bottle – his sequels are non-events. The Lost World was all noise, no substance; Indiana Jones #2, The Temple of Doom (unnecessarily dark and nasty) and #3, The Last Crusade (sweet and fun but meagre) were Spielberg on autopilot. But they were works of commercial art compared to #4, The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull. Nearly twenty years fine-tuning the script was still insufficient time to make anything about this mythology-destroying embarrassment worthwhile.  

JAMES CAMERON: You’d think with a resume that kicks off with Pirahna II: Flying Killers, the choice would be easy. But the debut of cinema’s King Midas was an inventive, no-budget schlocker that revealed a filmmaker with a strong eye for FX thrills and good commercial instincts. Which leaves us with two Terminator films, the extraordinary underwater adventure The Abyss, action classics Aliens and True Lies and the ground-breaking phenomenon, Avatar. Cameron’s worst film, by process of elimination, must be Titanic. And I’ve no problem with that – a sumptuous but sappy teen romance set against the carnage of the world’s worst sea-going disaster. Billy Zane’s excrutiating presence and the worst dialogue ever for a Best Picture Oscar winner makes this Cameron’s nadir, and by some measure.


HAYAO MIYAZAKI: It is close to sacrilegious to speak ill of the oeuvre of Japanese animation legend Miyazaki and with good reason. He wrote the script to the just-ok 2010 film Arriety, but handed the directing duties to protégé Hiromasa Yonebayashi. Of his 9 wonderful features, which include masterpieces such as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Kiki's Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke and the Oscar-winning Spirited Away, perhaps 1986’s Castle in the Sky (a conceptual vision he improved upon with Howl’s Moving Castle) is the least wondrous. But not be much; Miyazaki is true artistic genius.

PEDRO ALMODOVAR: The crackling eroticism and eccentric characters that populated the films of the young Almodovar set in stone his reputation as a must-see auteur. But his mature-age works have invoked a mixed response, as if critics have lost touch and fallen out of favour with his methods and motives. Volver soared, but Bad Education and Broken Embraces divided audiences. Much debated was his very latest, The Skin I Live In. Many took a similar stance to Australia’s leading critic, David Stratton , who said “Even a second level Almodovar is better than most other people.” Others were harsher (SBS Film said, “Had Alan Smithee been credited with this effort, it would go straight to DVD.”) As with most of Almodovar’s works, best to let the individual decide...

JOHN SAYLES: The great American storyteller stumbled badly with Silver City, his 2004 political satire starring Chris Cooper. His latest films, Amigo and Storyteller, have been flawed but ambitious; none ever make money, so box office returns can’t really be factored into the decision-making process. The lean, beautifully-realistic early works of 20 years ago (Return of the Secaucus Seven; Matewan; Brother From Another Planet; Eight Men Out) are still his standouts.

STEVEN SODERBERGH: Sophomore efforts like Kafka and Schizopolis went a long way to undoing the love we all felt for Soderbergh after sex, lies and videotape; Ocean 12 (the Amsterdam one) was just ok, Oceans 13 (the Al Pacino one) was terrible, but both were disposably watchable; his version of Tarkovsky’s Solaris was a struggle (but worthwhile, by my reckoning). Soderbergh has certainly tested audience patience with his experimental efforts, works admirable in their ambition but often arduous to get through. The Girlfriend Experiment, his segment of the portmanteau film Eros, the horrible Full Frontal. But it was his ‘what-were-they-thinking?’ WW2 noir-thriller The Good German, featuring a blank George Clooney and a hammy Cate Blanchett, that reps his most ill-judged effort. Unintentionally funny, when not being utterly non-sensical.

LARS VON TRIER: You’ll find plenty who hate his most revered works, and vice versa. Melancholia – I loved it; Dancer in The Dark – still haven’t seen the end of it; Dogville – amazing; Manderlay – terrible; Anti Christ – his greatest work. Von Trier is a true idiosyncratic, eccentric visionary who demands a lot of his audience, which doesn’t always sit well with the modern movie-going demographic. Most critics tend to dismiss his 1987 film Epidemic as egotistical nonsense, but some said that of his Dogma 95 manifesto, too – a period that resulted in The Idiots, an anarchic masterpiece.

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Reader Comments (2)

I can't comment on most of these because I haven't seen most of them (one of the benefits of your child restricting access to films in the actual theatre is you get plenty of warning about the stinkers).

But I will throw in my 2 cents on James Cameron. I can't argue that much about Titanic's worth but I maintain that Avatar is just as bad if not worse, particularly once you dispense with the idea that merely making MILLIONS OF DOLLARS does not equal quality (and you must if you are going to call Titanic out for being the pap it is cause it made a bucket load).

Utterly unoriginal story attempting to make ecological arguments that seemed to suggest we should be careful about Earth's ecology because the planet might be a sentinent being (like there aren't plenty of completely valid arguments for the same thing). Technological advances are nice but in 10 years when Mickey Mouse Club is using the same gear to churn out 5 episodes a week is anyone going to look back and say - 'Gee that Avatar was one hell of a good story'. For the life of me I can't even remember the main characters name (and just to compare - Ripley, Hudson, Hicks, Vasquez, Burke and Newt without even having to think about it and the last time I watched Aliens was maybe 5 years ago).

and I quite liked Mars Attacks.

May 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Tim Burton. I like some, and dislike others. I love Mars Attacks! But yes, Big Fish was a flop.
Werner Herzog. Yes, Bad Lieutenant is dreadful, fucking dreadful.
Francis Ford Coppola. I've not seen Jack, but Godfather Part III was probably one of the most disappointing movies ever! How could he drop the violin case like that?!
Steven Spielberg. Always?
James Cameron. Piranha II: Flying Killers, surely. But yeah, Titanic.
I've not seen any movies by Miyazaki.
Pedro Almodovar. The Skin I'm In disappointed me. I've not seen Volver. I love Matador.
John Sayles. I'd like to see Baby, It's You again.
Steven Soderbergh. I really liked The Girlfriend Experience. He can rest on his laurels with sex, lies, and videotape, The Underneath, and The Limey.
Lars Von Trier. He could rest on his laurels with Breaking the Waves.

May 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBryn

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