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    Simply the Worst: Roman Polanski's "Pirates"

    “What does a sailor miss when he finds himself back on dry land? The solitude and the rocking of the waves.”—Roman Polanski, 1984

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    Simply the Worst: Robert Altman's "O.C. and Stiggs"

    Auteurism is a kind of romance. There’s the rush of recognition when you see that first film by a soon-to-be favorite director, the presence of a unique soul whose predilections and perspective radiate through the familiar confines of cinematic syntax and speak directly to you. The initial thrill deepens into something familiar yet rewarding over the next film or two. Their flaws become all too apparent over time, but perhaps you learned to forgive those. What keeps you up nights is something more fundamental: the possibility that the quirks and oddities and flights of fancy that initially drew you to them might not stand up to scrutiny after...

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    Simply the Worst: Cameron Crowe's "Vanilla Sky"

    A little more than a decade ago, Almost Famous cemented writer-producer-director Cameron Crowe’s status as the reigning king of feel-good movies. It earned near-unanimous critical praise, won Crowe an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and was named the best film of the year by no less than Roger Ebert. His previous efforts, 1996’s Jerry Maguire in particular, were similarly successful. Crowe had long been a critical darling, something a cursory glance at his Rotten Tomatoes page can quantify. And then something happened: he made Vanilla Sky. Many who championed Crowe’s earlier, more lighthearted work seem quite frankly to have viewe...

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    Simply the Worst: Sam Peckinpah's "The Osterman Weekend"

    Sam Peckinpah hadn’t directed in five years when he was hired to direct the 1983 film The Osterman Weekend; and he’d be dead of a heart attack at a hard-ridden 59 before he got to direct another. Sam needed work in the early eighties—he’d been fired from Convoy during postproduction, capping a decade of cocaine, alcohol, paranoia, cost overruns, and diminishing returns—and it came in the form of this Robert Ludlum adaptation. With its catchy Cold War milieu, surveillance-culture sheen, and precariously hairpin plot, the film is more obviously topical than peak-period Peckinpah; the film’s sensationalism is a matter of its super-contemporary h...

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    Simply the Worst: Disney's "Song of the South"

    Whether or not you’ve seen the 1946 Disney film Song of the South—and if you have, you probably haven’t seen it since at least 1986, the last time it was released to theaters—you’ve almost certainly been touched by it through some form of cultural osmosis. Perhaps, while at Disneyland, Disney World, or Tokyo Disneyland, you rode Splash Mountain, populated by the movie’s animated characters, Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox, and Br’er Bear. Maybe you’ve seen a clip of James Baskett performing the movie’s Oscar-winning song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” Or if Baskett’s version is unfamiliar to you, you might have heard the Muppet bunnies sing it, or Paula Abdul,...

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    Simply the Worst: Bob Fosse's "Star 80"

    In Sweet Charity and Cabaret, Bob Fosse’s heroines live to fight—and sing—another day: to live, in the words of Shirley MacLaine’s indomitable taxi dancer, “hopefully ever after.” In 1983’s Star 80, Dorothy Stratten (Mariel Hemingway) exits this world naked and face down in a pool of her own blood, killed by her estranged husband, Paul Snider (Eric Roberts), in the midst of their latest attempted reconciliation. The last moments of Fosse’s last film (he died in 1987) feel like a logical endpoint in the career of an artist who regarded show business with a wary eye; after a bloody, distanced tableaux of two people destroyed by their starry-eye...

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    Simply the Worst: Peter Jackson's "The Lovely Bones"

    Legend has it that the morning after he first saw the original King Kong, a young Peter Jackson bought a Super 8 camera, in front of which he could fidget his toy monsters. At this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, Jackson told Steven Spielberg and an audience of 6,500 dedicated fans that upon seeing Jura...

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    Simply the Worst: Paul Schrader's "Light of Day"

    The line of Paul Schrader’s output as a director is craggy and deformed, marked by multiple junctures when he has seemed to forget what he’s doing, or why he’s been so valued. A part of his special appeal as a director is his willingness to risk failure and embarrassment. The risk is obvious in 1988’s endurance-testing Patty Hearst, or 1985’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, a radically structured biopic of the Japanese writer that makes few overtures to general audience appeal, and it’s barely less so in something like 1992’s Light Sleeper, with its rampant gloominess and the soundtrack’s almost avant-garde use of Michael Been’s overbearing...

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    Simply the Worst: Wong Kar-wai's "My Blueberry Nights"

    When one thinks about the ascendance of Wong Kar-wai to the Olympus of international auteurism, a few aesthetic and narrative standbys come to mind: the groundbreaking utilization of the step-printing technique in order to capture the mazelike cartography of Hong Kong and its multilayered neighborhoods; the innovative deployment of various, multi-language soundscapes; affected voiceovers that dwell on the recurrent theme of unrequited love; the ephemerality of desire and the unbound connection between characters and their surrounding objects. In partnership with production designer and editor Edward Chang and cinematographer Christopher Doyle...

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    Simply the Worst: Elia Kazan's "The Arrangement"

    One of the challenges in talking about the “worst” film in a director’s oeuvre is that that notion is often bound less to subjective definitions of “good” and “bad” art (another, even fishier kettle of fish) than to a sense of personal defensiveness that acolytes can project simultaneously toward the filmmaker and (unconsciously?) toward themselves. Thus, a film maudit can become an irresistible dare to anybody who believes he or she can stand by anything from a beloved auteur, in the process lionizing themselves as truth-tellers allied to the misunderstood artists they’re defending. It is, to momentarily slide into personal admission, a temp...

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