The 15 WORST Best American Movie Nominations

John Nolte, bless his heart, compiled a list of the 165 Best American Movies. Like everybody else, I paid no attention till he got to the Top Fifteen. Where he disappointed me by not naming On the Waterfront as Number One.

I don’t know where he shelved On the Waterfront or Citizen Kane or Sunset Boulevard or The Third Man, and I don’t really care. When you make such a list you’re also making yourself a target. I, for example, was truly offended by his inclusion of a Woody Allen movie, Manhattan, in his Top Fifteen.

And then I thought better of my sniping. What could his list have looked like? When I got the idea to do WORST attempt at the Top Fifteen. So here goes. They’re all famous, popular, and storied. They’re also all bad movies.

15. Under Capricorn 

Joseph Cotton, Ingrid Bergman, Michael Wilding, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. What could go wrong? Everything. Tedious, long, and did I mention long? I remember the only action scene in this flick was when low class Aussie Joseph Cotton(?) wants to offer Ingrid a ruby bracelet, but when he tells her she reminds him of rubies she scoffs and he slides the bracelet into the pocket of his tailcoat. Who knew tailcoats had pockets? Who knew that anyone, ever, found Michael Wilding romantic or even heterosexual? Gaslight on Quaaludes.

14. Miracle in the Rain

Van Johnson and Jane Wyman. A real tearjerker, minus the tears. They meet, he’s going off to war, he dies, and then, miraculously, his final gift to her of pearls somehow finds its way to her. In the rain. While she weeps. The End.

13. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Tennessee Williams. When I was in school, I was amazed to discover that Tennessee Williams was not dead, because no living writer could have been subjected to the scathing denunciations uttered about him in every textbook introduction to his plays. He was not what you’d call a good playwright. All his leading female characters were, well, himself. Elizabeth was a fish out of water, Paul was simply a dead fish with bluster. And all of it looked and smelled rotten. Burl Ives was Big Daddy. Paul was just Brick, a dead fish made from red southern clay. Or something.

12. Topaz (aka) Torn Curtain

i was going to use up two of the prized Top Fifteen spots with these two Cold War Hitchcock dogs. Then I remembered that the same adjectives apply to both movies. Slow to the point of being inert, uninteresting when not plain coma-inducing, and why did a master like Hitchcock make either one of these clone mongrels?

11. Saboteur

What I said about Topaz and Torn Curtain applies equally to this bomb, except that I must say a word about Robert Cummings, the effete hypochondriac who supposedly climbs a windmill to save the world from the Nazis in WWII. But what word should I choose? I’m going with “lame.” Hitchcock has much to answer for.

10. Taras Bulba

My wife loves Yul Brynner, but not as much as she hates this movie. Yul is believable as a Cossack chieftain, Tony Curtis not so much as a Brooklyn accented Cossack scion. When he finally gets shot dead by daddy Yul, you feel immense relief that you can now file out of the theater.

9. The Enchanted Cottage

When you make a movie that is so sickeningly sweet and sentimental that nobody wants to be seen saying a word against it, you get an overpraised lemon like this one. Robert Young, who was never handsome to begin with, gets horribly disfigured in the war (you know the one). His girlfriend is Dorothy McGuire, so plain without makeup that she keeps losing the blonde bombshell parts to June Allyson. But then they rent this cottage which turns out to be enchanted (hence the title, cool or what?) All of a sudden, Robert Young is as handsome as he ever gets, and Dorothy McGuire becomes more beautiful than June Allyson. They try to tell everyone about how excellent looking they’ve become, and everyone goes, “Yeah right. The clog and the dog. Have a nice day.” Then they beam at one another and return to the cottage, where we don’t have to see them anymore.

8. Rocky

I’m from the Philly area, and I have to admit I never liked this movie even a little bit. It came out, I saw it, and I hated it. Why? Let me count the ways. Stallone’s leaden acting,Talia Shire as the unsexiest Italian woman ever, Burgess Meredith just wishing he could die before the horribly unconvincing fight footage, and Carl Weathers trying his best to make a 5’7″ body resemble Muhammad Ali. Watching the movie, and listening to the ludicrous blow by blow description, you can actually HEAR Stallone writing the script. 

I’m a fight fan of fifty years standing. This fight scene was for me a total embarrassment. One knockout punch after another, nothing like real, tight prizefight punching. It’s a joke, Punch and Judy, Three Stooges over the top nonsense.

So Stallone gets an Oscar and a wholly undeserved career. And a lifetime toothpick.

7.  Spartacus

Kirk Douglas. As a Roman slave. Who fights the Roman Empire. Kirk was always good at playing a total bastard. This part didn’t quite suit him. Okay. Three hours of Kirk’s jutting jaw was like two hours too long. Sorry. Not even Kubrick could pull that off. Not even Jean Simmons, Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov, or Charles Laughton could save the day. When they finally crucified Kirk, you finally understood every on-camera grimace he ever made.

6. Mildred Pierce

Joan Crawford and Ann Blythe. Never cared for Joan, always had a yen for Ann. This time they twisted it around. Joan was the good guy, Ann the evil bitch. Didn’t work for me. How many times can you play the exact same scene without it’s becoming more tiresome than cats squalling in the hall? I know they call it “acting,” but if you’ve ever had a sister who could turn the tears on and off like a faucet, you don’t need this bucket of mush.

5. Rio Bravo

There are revenge movies, and then there are revenge movies. This one is Howard Hawks’s revenge mission against fellow director Fred Zinnemann. Hawks hated Zinneman’s High Noon with a passion. He was incensed by the idea of a sheriff going from door to door begging for help against a quartet of outlaws returning from prison to wreak havoc in the old home town. So Hawks rounded up John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ward Bond, Walter Brennan, and Ricky Nelson to show how a real man never needs ANY help when faced with returning outlaws. They keep offering help, Dean and Ricky, but John Wayne DOESN’T NEED OR WANT ANY HELP WHATSOEVER. Turns out to be just as boring and repetitious as High Noon. Angie Dickinson was in it too. Maybe a bit hotter than Grace Kelly. Maybe a lot hotter. Thinking they had more fun on the Rio Bravo set than the High Noon set. But the Snooze Factor was the same.

4. Ben Hur

How do you talk about Charlton Heston without sounding pompous and condescending? Well, maybe first by noting that Orson Welles cast him in a masterpiece called Touch of Evil, which had the longest unbroken opening shot in the history of film. Heston was iconic, handsome, with a beautiful body before beautiful bodies were created by steroids. He was larger than life. He was Moses, El Cid, and Judah Ben Hur. Sadly, none of these were actually good movies. They just weren’t. Orson wasn’t around to direct them. They were all just money flung at the screen, and Heston was big enough in every sense to dominate that screen. But they weren’t good movies. They were, in the end, simply giant curiosities.

3. The Wizard of Oz

It’s an entertaining movie. It’s a spectacular movie, but does it really belong in the Top Ten or Fifteen of anyone over the age of eight? No. It just doesn’t. 

Yes, it’s a musical but hardly in the same league with The Bandwagon or Singing in the Rain. It’s a kid’s movie. All it will ever be.

2. Gone With the Wind

1939. My dad was in prep school when GWTW came out. He went downtown on a Saturday afternoon to watch the much ballyhooed flick. After two hours, there was an intermission. He left the theater and went back to his dorm. “Four hours?” he asked.

A question I’ve been asking my entire adult life. The keenest literary criticism I’ve encountered about the book (yes, I read it) was, and I’m not quoting, just remembering, was this. “It’s as close to literature as you can get without actually being literature.”

Same with the movie. It’s all tarted up like some great work, but it’s just an over-praised, overdone soap opera. There are no authentic characters, only stereotypes, and there is no sign of a legitimate historical theme, nothing which makes sense of the enormous tragedy that was the Civil War. It’s Vivian Leigh, Clark Gable, and Leslie Howard in beautiful costumes. That is all it is.

1. Star Wars

A bad movie reduplicated a dozen times by now. Want a quest adventure? Read the Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory. All Joseph Campbell was referencing when he went on and on (and on) about the quest theme in Star Wars.

The amount of drivel salivated by Star Wars fans is truly nauseating. It’s exactly nothing. No writing to speak of. No characters worth pondering over. It’s just a cheap western with cheap music done up in computer gimmickry. That isn’t convincing anyway.

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