Arts & Culture News

We No Longer Need the Tired Joke Known as the Razzie Awards

Sandra Bullock receiving a Best Actress award at the 2010 Razzies for All About Steve.
Sandra Bullock receiving a Best Actress award at the 2010 Razzies for All About Steve. Sharon B. Ellis/ Wikimedia Commons
This week’s 93rd Academy Award nominations set a fair number of milestones. Steven Yeun became the first Asian-American actor ever nominated for Best Actor with his work in Minari; with Nomadland, Chloe Zhao became the first woman of color ever nominated for Best Director; Riz Ahmed became the first Muslim actor ever nominated for Best Actor with Sound of Metal, and 83-year-old Sir Anthony Hopkins became the oldest Best Actor nominee ever for The Father.

Among the less important headlines was an amusing correlation between the Oscars and the “Razzies,” the alternate awards show that celebrates the worst in cinema with categories such as Worst Picture, Worst Actor and Worst Actress. With her performance in Hillbilly Elegy, Glenn Close received both a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination and a Worst Supporting Actress Razzie nod for the same role.

The coordination is amusing in this case; although Close is without a doubt the most entertaining part of the melodramatic movie, the role is the type of over-the-top, stuffy performance that constitutes “Oscar bait.” The film itself was almost unanimously panned by critics. However, the Oscars' nominating a silly performance doesn’t grant the Razzies any more credibility, as the satirical awards show has been dipping in relevance as online film criticism space grows more robust.

First awarded in 1981, the Razzies began as an extended gag by publicist John J. B. Wilson, who created a telecast from his own living room. The reverse-award shows later established the tradition of revealing both the nominees and the awards themselves the night before the Oscars. The nominations were often cathartic for filmgoers, particularly in a pre-internet era when Siskel & Ebert At the Movies was the only mainstream-circulated film criticism.

As the Razzies began to generate more media attention, targeted tactics were launched by the nominating committee to coordinate further with the Oscars. 1987’s Wall Street became the first film to win at both ceremonies (Michael Douglas took home Best Actor and Daryl Hannah was awarded Worst Supporting Actress), while Diane Warren’s ballad “How Do I Live” from the 1997 action classic Con Air received both a nomination for Best Original Song and Worst Original Song.

The Razzie awards are generally a great publicity tool, particularly when the stars have a sense of humor about it. Sandra Bullock accepted her Worst Actress Razzie trophy in person for All About Steve and then won a Best Actress Oscar the night after for The Blind Side. Other Hollywood figures such as Halle Berry, Paul Verhoeven, Dwayne Johnson and Tom Green have also poked fun at themselves and humbly accepted their Razzie awards.

All of this grants a sense of importance to an awards show that, frankly, rarely offers any insight. There’s virtually no authentication required to become a Razzie voting member (all it requires is a $40 donation), and there’s never a guarantee that any voter watches the films. As a result, the nominations tend to target easily mocked and widely accessible films. They’ve also frequently proven to be out of touch: What do The Shining, Purple Rain, Scarface, Batman Returns, Friday the 13th and The Last Temptation of Christ all have in common? Each of these cinematic classics received a Razzie nomination in a major category.

A brief look at this year’s Razzie nominees (outside of the headline-making Glenn Close nomination) reveals a strange bit of mixed messaging as to what “worst” even means. Among the Worst Picture nominees are major studio box office bombs Dolittle and Fantasy Island, but also nominated is the alt-right conspiracy documentary Absolute Proof and Sia’s directorial debut Music, a film deemed to be “deeply offensive” by advocates for the autism community. So are the Razzies here to mock Hollywood’s failed big-budget projects, or are they targeting films that are morally outrageous?

It’s unclear what the Razzies represent anymore, particularly when they fall back on familiar faces as a means of stacking their nominations. Stars like Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chevy Chase are often “name-checked” and nominated for every performance they give. All of these men were nominated this year for appearances in direct-to VOD films that Razzie voters have surely not seen. It’s hard to have fun with the comedic awards when the jabs often feel so lazy.

It’s easy to find fault in any awards nominations, be it Oscars or Razzies, but the greater issue that the Razzies face is that making fun of bad movies is no longer original.

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The “name-checking” of the same pool of people is also frequently misplaced. This year, Adam Sandler received two nominations for Hubie Halloween, raising his total career nominations to 28. Sandler’s recent comedies have been routinely terrible, but for many critics, Hubie Halloween was a major step up and a much more heartfelt film than they expected. Some cited the recent Netflix film as a return to the highs of Sandler’s earlier work such as The Waterboy, Big Daddy and Happy Gilmore (all of which incidentally scored him Razzie nominations).

It’s easy to find fault in any awards nominations, be it Oscars or Razzies, but the greater issue that the Razzies face is that making fun of bad movies is no longer original. Film criticism, essays and satire all live in abundance on the internet, from both established publications and non-professionals. You don’t need to look beyond Rotten Tomatoes or YouTube to find thousands of well-articulated, passionate reviews of bad movies. There’s also a lot of mindless ranting and fanboy rage out there, but hey, that’s the internet.

Often the best criticism, such as Roger Ebert’s books Your Movie Sucks and I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie, is able to artfully and humorously explain the faults of a film and give the reader an understanding as to why the author or critic felt that way. The Razzies simply aren’t doing this; there’s no reason for users to put any stake into their picks when anyone with $40 to spare can mark a name on a ballot.

The same could be said for the Academy Awards (#OscarsSoWhite complaints aside), but that would be ignoring the many positives they provide to the industry. The Oscar nominations are determined by a selective (and increasingly diverse) group of working professionals, and the Academy of Arts and Motion Picture Sciences has initiatives for film preservation and support for emerging talent. There’s also the means to enact change; for example, Parasite’s historic Best Picture win last year led to increased interest in international cinema from American audiences.

No benefits come from the Razzies. Dolittle lost money regardless of its Razzie nominations, and it's unlikely that nominations for Absolute Proof will have any influence on any QAnon followers. The notability of Close’s nomination may satirize the type of performances that the Oscars go for, but the Razzies are hardly the first one to point this out. “Oscar bait” sketches have been a staple of late-night shows for years.

With innumerable reviews released online with every new release, a simple list of the “worst movies of the year” within vaguely defined categories feels rather antiquated. Many of the nominations are justified; no one is arguing that Wonder Woman 1984 wasn’t one of the worst sequels of 2020. We just don’t need the Razzies to be the ones to say it.
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Liam Gaughan has been covering film and television since before he had a driver's license, and in addition to the Observer has been published in About.com, Schmoes Know, Taste of Cinema and The Dallas Morning News. He enjoys checking classic films off of his watchlist and working on spec scripts.