We were long overdue for this conversation
When the Golden Raspberry Awards or Razzies were forced to walk back an “award” given to Bruce Willis for worst performance in a DTV movie, a job it’s now known he only took to try to work as much as he could before his aphasia got too debilitating which was I stress an open secret, it forced a conversation about if the awards themselves had any purpose. And it’s a conversation that isn’t new mind you. We’ve been having it in fits and starts for ages and I don’t think anyone who takes film seriously takes them seriously. But we’re finally at such a breaking point I wonder if we’ll hear from them again.
The thing is, we’re not just due for this conversation. We’re due for an analysis of how we discuss bad movies in the mainstream. Because it’s not just rotten but it’s very misaimed. It’s time to seriously analyze what the Golden Raspberry Awards have wrought. Because no matter how often they’ve been discredited, there are still echoes in the culture.
I want to start by examining the culture that birthed the Razzies and that means noting that there was nothing original about the awards. Writers Harry and Michael Medved probably weren’t the first to cover the worst of film either but with books like The Golden Turkey Awards, The Hollywood Hall of Shame, and The Fifty Worst Films of All Time, they have what I consider a fair claim as the originators. I’ve read their books and you can see every tactic the Razzies would use there. Like it’s shameless.
The Medveds were key in codifying a lot of ideas that stayed codified for years. They really instituted the idea that failed special effects were a bad thing without the affection that makes MST3K so great. The (wildly inaccurate) idea of Ed Wood as the worst director of all time starts here. But more than anything else, the sheer seething hatred for Hollywood begins here. If the Golden Globes are legendary for falling all over celebrities, this was their opposite number (sort of).
That cynicism was really what drove the dawn of the bad movie culture. They put it into print but it was something that was in the air. The books predate to conclude a few years after the Razzies started but there were other things in the culture to note. This was the death of the grindhouse and to the lament of Joe Bob Briggs the drive-in. There was such an embrace of modern sci-fi that the classic stuff almost had to be thrown away, completely missing the point of Star Wars btw. And there was a violent rejection of New Hollywood and everything the 60s and 70s stood for in film emerging in pop culture. So I get how the Razzies were born.
And I’ll go one further. I’m not opposed to the idea of a counterbalance to the Oscars which is a bloviating hagiography for an industry that truly could not care less about quality. The concept of stopping and going “this isn’t reality” is fine. But like a sniper who is just a tiny bit off, the Razzies miss their mark.
Let’s begin by acknowledging the obvious: The Razzies have nominated and even honored some great work. They had to publicly apologize for nominating Shelley Duvall for The Shining this year though citing her abuse by Kubrick and not the quality of her work. The sad part is that’s common. As I looked through the 80s I saw an array of great direction like Cimino on Heaven’s Gate, De Palma on Body Double, and Kubrick on The Shining. Acting? Similar. Barbra Streisand for Yentl, Schwarzenegger for Conan the Barbarian (he’s iconic!), and Michael Caine for Dressed to Kill. And that’s one decade that they blew.
But most of those are just nominations. Mostly they pick work that’s at least agreed is bad. But even that’s kind of a problem. The Razzies rarely actually reward the worst art. No what you usually see are the safest jokes. Like they hated Stallone so much despite the 80s actually being a pretty great decade for him as he stretched himself constantly and used the safety of his franchise work to do so. But he was big and that was safe. Kevin Costner and Adam Sandler became huge punching bags with Sandler first winning in 1999 for Big Daddy, a fantastic comic performance.
And then there’s the PR stunts. Look, I obviously need to point out that this whole enterprise is just one. All awards shows are. But somehow they’re worse. And it’s weird because a lot of their political biases I completely agree with. I’m not mad someone mocked George W. Bush or Dinesh D’Souza as I hate them. But Bush was in archival footage in Fahrenheit 9/11 and D’Souza wasn’t an actor. When you reward Paris Hilton for a movie that nobody saw and those who did see it called eh, you’re not concerned with anything more than that headline.
But Hilton brings me to the thing that makes this whole enterprise sick and that’s the bullying. Look, I’m not against a good critique. They honored Gigli and I’ve done a podcast on it and I was probably madder than them. But there’s a dark history of singling out whoever the tabloids hated. They hated Bo Derek and Pia Zadora, women basically under the thumbs of their husbands at the time pressured into work above their talent levels. They hated Brooke Shields, a woman whose mom/manager pushed her into work the opposite of her natural comic gift. They hated Sharon Stone, who was simply one of the best major actresses of the 90s and remains a titan. And as you’re noticing, they hate women. Like a lot.
This bullying spirit is what made me write. Because that’s all the Razzies have contributed is making punching at easy targets ok. And bizarrely they’ve had an influence. I don’t think Mommie Dearest would be seen as a camp classic, the opposite of what it is, without them. They’ve contributed to what I consider the memeification of criticism. All you have to do is pick on the safe target regardless of context. It’s why they felt fine honoring Maddie Ziegler for a performance in Music that, to tread lightly, she was pushed into doing and even autistic people defended. Because really they wanted to laugh at Sia and none of the hate for Music was about the film.
That’s the other thing. They made it ok to talk about movies you haven’t seen. Because we all know they usually don’t. All awards have that issue but they’re legendary. When Sandra Bullock won for All About Steve, she showed up explicitly to call them on this. (I saw the movie and as bad as it is, I assure you there was worse work that year.) I’ve had so many conversations with people who know they’re meant to hate things and they assume they do. Gary Larson fell into this when he assumed Ishtar was the only movie in hell, a movie he later enjoyed.
And I know, a small PR event annually shouldn’t matter. But all of these issues are a rot on modern criticism. All of these are things that we take for granted in discourse and they’re rancid. What’s actually bad about modern film isn’t being brought up. Instead, we just take it for granted that the Oscar nominated films are either good or out of touch and boring but rarely truly awful while we assume that these things are bad. Gigli wasn’t bad because we were sick of Bennifer. It was bad because it was offensive to every single group it depicted, shot like a hotel commercial, and written and directed with the graceful flow of a traffic jam. And that’s rarely brought up in favor of the easy laugh moments which might be the only times it’s alive.
Ultimately there’s another deep flaw to the Razzies that nobody brings up. The ceremony posits itself as the anarchic response to the Oscars but in the end it’s like many a revolution in dystopian fiction: it serves the status quo’s needs. That’s what the Razzies do. They’re the swat on the nose that reinforces that you’re supposed to follow traditional ideas of good.
I look back at Sandra Bullock showing up to great hype the weekend she won the Oscar. It seemed like an anarchic moment. A celebrity showed up to call them out! But was it? For one thing, it was promotion for the film that probably got people to see it. And for another thing, it was a nice distraction from the fact that her Oscar win was for The Blind Side, a movie with chronic White Savior syndrome not viewed particularly well by people who knew Michael Oher’s story. The norm was reinforced that a risky black comedy that fizzled is bad and incredibly racist art that claims to mean well is respectable. And there’s ultimately nothing bold or daring about any of this!
And look, I could go after the Oscars for the same broken issues. They are two sides of one rotten coin. But at the very least, the Oscars are a celebratory force that every so often pushes people to watch something like Parasite. It serves a very minor good even as it does so much ill. Not so the Razzies. They exist to serve a bullying purpose only. And we would be better off without them.
Ultimately the damage can’t be undone I suspect. To the mainstream, the most acting will probably always be the best and anything that dares to not be what the mainstream knows will be bad. The easy targets will stay the definition of bad. But I hope that in this one moment we get to stop and reject them. We have moved past the need for the Golden Raspberry Awards. Next year, may they be ignored.