The Bottom Shelf: Year-End Edition

“You hate everything.” If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that, I’d … well, I’d have a lot more money than I make writing for The High Hat, of that I can assure you. It’s not really true, though. I liked a number of movies this year, including the documentaries Spellbound and Capturing the Friedmans, the oddball love stories American Splendor and Lost in Translation, and the ripping seafaring yarns with very long titles, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. I even have some good things to say about The Hulk, and how many of you can claim that?

It’s just that I’m the movie janitor. Somebody’s got to do it. At this time of year, newspapers, magazines and web sites are overflowing with effusive praise for 2003’s greatest artistic achievements. The High Hat is no exception. If that’s what you’re after, there’s plenty of it here. But this is The Bottom Shelf, so without further ado, here are the 10 Worst Movies of 2003.

10. House of 1000 Corpses. Few movies could live up to the distinguished name of Rob Zombie, and the former White Zombie frontman’s directorial debut is not one of them. This gory splatter flick sat on a shelf for a year or two while studio suits tried to figure out how it could be released with an R rating. The solution? Layer all the violent scenes on top of each other and then cover the result with psychedelic goop so no one can see what the hell is going on. Genius!

9. Underworld. Underlit. Undercooked. Underwhelming. How could a movie about a war between vampires and werewolves be so ass-numbingly dull? If you’re not yet sick of dark, rainy dystopic cities or people in long black coats jumping sideways while firing guns with both hands, this is the movie for you.

8. Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd. Presumably conceived in the special needs department of New Line Cinema, this prequel to the Farrelly brothers’ hit Dumb and Dumber is the dumberest attempt at extending a franchise imaginable. Nobody involved with the first movie has returned — I think even the key grip had better things to do. Instead we’ve got an already blissfully forgotten pair of knuckleheads doing lame impressions of Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels as they strain to wring even a drop of humor out of the usual pee-pee poo-poo jokes. Also features Eugene Levy, who should really be spending more time at home tending his garden.

7. Cinemania. A documentary about six obsessive New York moviegoers turns into a freak show, but are the real freaks in front of the cameras or behind them? It’s clear that at least a couple of the movie’s subjects are mentally ill, and the filmmakers are more than happy to gleefully zoom in on each nose-pick and unzipped fly. It’s a scuzzy experience that will leave you craving a nice hot shower.

6. Timeline. I don’t necessarily expect stark realism from my time-travel movies, but Timeline makes that Star Trek installment with the whales look like something out of Scientific American. A rescue mission is hastily assembled to retrieve an archeology professor trapped in the Middle Ages. To which I query, what’s the damn hurry? He’s stuck in the past! Take your time, assemble the right team, make sure the equipment is in smooth working order! He ain’t going anywhere! And don’t even get me started on the whole “changing the course of history” thing. These people tromp around 14th Century France like disgruntled dinner guests at a Medieval Times restaurant. An irritating movie all around.

5. O Fantasma. Here’s a nice change of pace: a Portuguese movie about a young man’s sexual awakening. The film opens on a particularly tender moment as young Sergio, resplendent in head-to-toe skintight black leather, cornholes a naked dude in a filthy bathroom. Later he will jerk off a handcuffed cop, sniff a terrified woman like a dog, lovingly lick a shower stall and wear underwear stolen from a garbage can. Don’t miss the completely inexplicable grand finale, in which Sergio becomes some kind of S&M Spider-Man. Or something.

4. Johnny English. Some well-meaning relative must have told Rowan Atkinson he was funny when he was a young boy, and we all know where the road paved with good intentions leads. It leads directly to the Hell Octoplex, currently featuring Johnny English on all eight screens, 24 hours a day. So be good, or you’ll be marveling at John Malkovich’s most hilarious hairpiece ever for all eternity.

3. The Order. I’d love to tell you what this is about, but honestly, I only remember it has something to do with Heath Ledger poring over musty tomes and uncovering dull-as-dogshit religious conspiracies. The pacing calls to mind a 95-year-old woman with a walker, and the muddled plot is complemented by equally murky cinematography. A recommended sleep aid.

2. House of the Dead. A movie based on a videogame that is actually less entertaining than watching someone else play a videogame for two hours. I believe House of the Dead is in the same neighborhood as House of 1000 Corpses, as they both have similar methods of covering up excessive gore; in this case, frequent cut-aways from the live-action slaughter of zombies to actual videogame footage of same. Also features Clint Howard in a yellow rain slicker, looking like a cross between the guy on the Beach Cliff sardines can and a ferret.

1. Basic. Remember when Pulp Fiction came out, and we were all so happy for that nice John Travolta and his big comeback after all those years? Do you think anyone on the planet is still happy for John Travolta? Maybe someone who has yet to see Basic, the excremental military thriller he starred in this year. Travolta plays an Army Ranger investigating a botched training mission. After putting the pieces together and figuring out what really happened, it turns out that everything he thought he knew was wrong! Except then it turns out that everything you thought he thought he knew was wrong, and he was right all the time! Except then it turns out … oh, who the fuck cares? Never has one movie packed in so many inane twists, each more nonsensical than the last.