The only criterion for this particular list is that these are all films I have actually seen - and, in most cases, paid for - in theaters. There are far too many bad movies on video and cable to even begin listing those, but most of them are footnotes anyway. I mean to target the more high-profile films that people have actually heard of, with a couple of notable exceptions. I should also point out that I don't bother seeing films that I'm convinced will be terrible. Hence the exclusion of such legendary stinkers such as Batman & Robin and Speed 2. No, I had genuinely high hopes for most of these on this list.
- Leaving Las Vegas. I have no idea how this shopworn tale of a romanticized drunk and a hooker with a heart of gold received such praise. Its crimes: Elisabeth Shue's first-year-acting-class-level performance as the hooker; a wall-to-wall soundtrack of vapid Sting tunes; Julian Sands hamming it up as a Russian pimp (he even screams "Dasvedanya!" - "Goodbye" in Russian - before killing himself); endless cameos by pseudo-celebrities all telling Nicolas Cage "Haven't you had enough to drink?" Other than Cage's eccentric, Oscar-winning performance, this self-important film is a joke.
- Silent Tongue. River Phoenix's last movie, this "existentialist Western" seemed promising enough: it was written and directed by acclaimed playwright Sam Shepard and costarred screen luminaries Alan Bates and Richard Harris. But it is dreadful. I have never seen so many people walk out of a theater. Dull, pretentious, and ugly, with laughable dialogue and a performance by Dermot Mulroney that reeks to high heaven. I dare anyone to sit through this in its entirety.
- The Professional (a.k.a. Leon). I know many good, smart, decent people who love this film. They are insane. Luc Besson's thriller about a cool French hitman and the 12-year-old girl he loves is a milestone in perversity: Besson's infatuation with Natalie Portman's prepubescent body borders on kiddie porn. Gary Oldman chews the scenery ferociously, the story is trite, and the scene in which Portman does celebrity impersonations actually made me blush with embarrassment.
- Hook. Steven Spielberg is a great director. Hook is an utter waste of time. This cliche-ridden story about a grownup Peter Pan features phoned-in performances, forced humor, and no sense of magic at all. Uninspired junk.
- Queen of Diamonds. Avant-garde filmmaker Nina Menkes concocted a 70-minute feature which is maybe 65 minutes too long. Her sister Tinka stars as a blackjack dealer in Las Vegas, and the almost dialogue-free film simply shows Tinka posing in abandoned desert areas around town, doing nothing. That's it. Which, believe me, is still better than the intolerable middle section of the film, where we are forced to watch her dealing cards for 20 minutes. Mind-numbing. I walked away thinking, "Anyone can make a boring film." Yet Menkes managed to get it into Sundance and channel her critical success into teaching jobs at both CalArts and USC. Great scam, Nina.
- Until the End of the World. After Wim Wenders premiered this in Cannes, one critic stood up and asked him, "What's it like to run out of ideas?" But this silly, overstuffed epic still has its fans. The plot: in the future, rich William Hurt chases Wenders' rich wife around the world - because neither has anything better to do. Somehow it involves a machine that records human dreams as blurry little video game images on Sony Watchmans. (I make it sound more interesting than it is.) The "director's cut" - which is over 4 hours long - is supposed to be much more cohesive. I seriously doubt this.
- Young Einstein. This ego-stroke by a fellow named Yahoo Serious (born Greg Pead) was a huge hit in its native Australia. I can only guess that all those Australians were drunk when they saw it. Serious plays Albert Einstein, physicist... and rock & roller! How "wacky"! A stupid, labored, tiresome slog. I paid 50 cents to see it and I still felt ripped off.
- Anoosh of the Airways. With luck, none of you will ever get a chance to see this mess. One of the films accepted into the curiously obscure Hollywood Film Festival - and okay, they did not take my film Foreign Correspondents, but this is not sour grapes - has got to be one of the worst pieces of crap I've ever laid eyes on. An amateurish no-budget comedy about a young Armenian who comes to the US and gets involved with - you guessed it - "wacky" people, Anoosh is relentlessly idiotic. See it and you will want to kill everybody associated with it.
- J. Lyle. The first live-action effort from talented animator Bill Plympton, J. Lyle is astoundingly bad. An alleged comedy about a heartless lawyer and a magic dog, it's poorly written, poorly directed, poorly acted, poorly shot, and poorly edited. I'm amazed that a man who exhibits such excellent timing and rich dark humor in his animation could be so clueless when he's got live actors. It's so bad that, when Plympton appeared after the screening I attended, and offered to draw free cartoons for every surviving audience member, I bolted.