WORST IN SHOW

THE BALTIMORE SUN

"Awful."

That's a word that won't be bandied about much in Hollywood this weekend, as the film community gathers to celebrate the best it has to offer. There will be an abundance of praise, smiling actors and filmmakers profusely thanking the little people who made it all possible, and everyone basking in Tinseltown's congratulatory glow.

Awful will be the furthest thing from everyone's mind.

Except, of course, at the Razzies, the alternative Oscars, the place where the accomplished and the artistic are decidedly unwelcome, the awards show where the awful gets its due.

Celebrating badness for 22 years, the Razzies reign as a Bizarro-world answer to the ritz, glamour and class the Oscars hold dear. Leave it to the motion picture academy to honor such films as American Beauty, Shakespeare In Love and Schind- ler's List. Here in this alternate universe, the legendary films include such paradigms of wretched awfulness as Showgirls, Hudson Hawk and Howard the Duck.

Sunday night, millions of peo- ple all over the world will turn on their televisions to see whether A Beautiful Mind, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring or another nominee is judged the top picture, whether Russell Crowe winsa second straight Best Actor nod, whether Halle Berry will become the first African-American Best Actress winner.

Saturday morning, maybe 100 people or so will gather at Santa Monica's Abracadabra Theatre to see if Tom Green's determinedly repulsive Freddy Got Fingered can earn a record-tying seven Razzies, putting it up there with Showgirls and Battlefield Earth among the irredeemably wretched.

John Wilson, founder of the Golden Raspberry Award Foundation (GRAF) and guiding spirit behind the annual dishonors, is pulling for that to occur.

"This is the first time in my memory that there's actually something nominated that I loathed so much, I really want it to win," he says over the phone from Los Angeles, disdain dripping from his voice. "It isn't just that it's funny-bad, it's that it sucks."

How refreshing, in a world where everyone seeks to recognize excellence (and where awards shows breed like rabbits), to know there's a place where the truly tawdry, where the relentlessly rotten, can receive the brickbats they deserve. Thank goodness the Razzies have been around to recognize Pia Zadora's embarrassingly emotive performance in Lonely Lady (Worst Actress, 1983), Sylvester Stallone's monosyllabic turn in Rambo III (Worst Actor, 1989) and Joe Eszterhas's putridly purple prose for Showgirls (Worst Screenplay, 1995).

The Razzies trace their beginnings to 1981, when Wilson was looking for a way to liven-up his annual Oscar-night party. A long-time movie fan - "I grew up in a family where we watched the Academy Awards every year," he says - Wilson decided it was time to walk where aesthetes dare not follow.

"I think I first got the idea back in the fall of 1980, when I saw a double-feature of Can't Stop the Music and Xanadu," he says, recalling the cinematic embarrassments starring, respectively, the Village People and Olivia Newton-John. "It was a 99-cent theater, and I still wanted my money back."

Thus inspired, Wilson printed up a ballot and passed it out among his friends and co-workers. That resulted in the nominations; winners were determined on Oscar night, by vote of those lucky enough to be at his party (if anyone who actually has to think about these films can be called "lucky").

"We had a cardboard podium, we used a broomstick as a mike stand, I put together an actual script," Wilson says. "We just hauled people up who were eating to do this presentation, and everybody thought this was just so funny. So we sent out a press release."

In a way, the 47-year-old Wilson had been preparing for this role much of his adult life. A professional writer since graduating from UCLA in 1977, he's spent much of that time writing film trailers and promotional materials. (One of his greatest regrets is turning down the opportunity to work on a making-of documentary for the film Mommie Dearest, probably Wilson's all-time Razzie favorite). Match that background with what the Chicago native admits is his "particularly snide sense of humor," and you've got the perfect person to tweak Hollywood and annually deflate its sense of self-importance.

"I think the studios know when they have a dog," he says. "I think they know when they release this stuff, they're not going to get that other award; they're going to get ours."

The big losers that first year were Can't Stop the Music (picture), Neil Diamond (actor, The Jazz Singer) and Brooke Shields (actress, The Blue Lagoon). The results appeared in exactly one publication, the Los Angeles Daily News.

From such inauspicious beginnings do mighty awards-show parodies grow. After the second ceremony (Worst Picture: Inchon!), three newspaper articles appeared; after the third, which was held in an elementary school cafeteria (Worst Picture: The Lonely Lady), UPI picked up the story. By the fourth year (Worst Picture: Bolero), CNN was covering it, and by the fifth (Worst Picture: Rambo: First Blood Part II), the story made USA Today, and the Razzies had become an Oscar-weekend tradition.

Wilson's seen a lot of bad movies over the years, but he has his clear dis-favorites. There's Mommie Dearest, in which Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford delivered what he calls "the priceless Razzies performance." (No one who's watched the "NO WIRE HANGERS!" scene will ever forget it.) But when it comes to actors who should have known better, he says that no one ever will top Sir Laurence Olivier's turn as Douglas MacArthur in Inchon! It's a film so bad, Wilson says, it never even has been available on video.

The Razzie membership, too, has its clear favorites. When it comes to actors, no one gets the better (or should that be worse?) of Sylvester Stallone, nominated for a mind-numbing 29 Razzies in 22 years. He's "won" nine and is in the running again this year, for Driven.

Madonna, too, is a perennial Razzie favorite. Two years ago, she was voted the worst actress of the century, and followed up that honor the following year with yet another worst actress award for The Next Best Thing. And among movie scribes, Joe Ezsterhas is so revered, the Razzies writing category was, for a time, named in his honor.

What makes for a Razzies contender? In Wilson's mind, it should be a film that's so bad, it's ludicrous, films where the awful becomes entertaining. ("You do have to sit through this stuff to vote," he points out).

This year, no film really fits that classic Razzies mold.

"It's been an incredible year for uninteresting, bad films," he says. "I like the ones like Battlefield Earth and Showgirls, that just stink up the joint and are funny as hell. This year, you've got stuff that basically just laid on the floor like rotten eggs. Even Glitter, although it has a reputation for being funny, I think the people who found it funniest were probably drunk when they saw it."

Freddy Got Fingered, he stresses, is not funny-bad, but rather offensive-bad.

The Razzie "winners" are chosen by a vote of the GRAF membership, currently some 520-strong; you can join simply by filling out a membership and paying dues.

Wilson always holds his dishonors show the day before the Academy Awards. "If you ever wanted the thing to be known, you could not do it the same day and time as the Oscars," Wilson says. "All the media are always focused on that."

The awards ceremonies themselves often are a riot, featuring skits written by Wilson and performed by roughly the same cast of friends and amateur actors each year. Usually there's a song or two - a few years back, a woman dressed as Madonna (who was starring in Evita at the time) was wheeled into a ballroom at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where she sang of the year's movie misdeeds to the tune of Don't Cry For Me, Argentina. The audience roared.

Unfortunately, only those lucky enough to attend the annual ceremony enjoy the full force of Wilson's acerbic wit. But that may change - he says that negotiations are underway to broadcast next year's Razzies, possibly on E! or Comedy Central.

But such increased notoriety could come at a price.

To be specific, $4.79.

That's how much Wilson estimates it costs for him to construct an actual Razzie, using a film spool, a reel of super-8 film spray-painted gold, a raspberry iced-tea jar also spray-painted gold, and a hand-made beaded raspberry with three-dimensional leaves.

So far, Wilson's only had to make a few actual Razzies; for the first 21 ceremonies, only one winner has actually shown up to claim his award: director Paul Verhoeven, multiply honored for 1995's Showgirls. A handful of other Razzies have been handed out, including one to screenwriter Brian Helgeland, who in 1997 became the first person to win both a Razzie (for The Postman) and an Oscar (for L.A. Confidential) on the same weekend, and one to Bill Cosby, dis-honored for 1987's Leonard: Part 6. Cosby's Razzie, however, was made of gold and Italian marble - paid for, Wilson says, by Fox-TV. "He got the high-end one."

But put the Razzies on national TV, and here's betting people actually start showing up to claim their prize. Wilson's getting a taste this year of what he could be in for: Tom Green, up for seven Razzies for Freddy Got Fingered, has said he plans to attend Saturday's ceremony.

"If he wins more than a certain number of awards," Wilson laments, "I just won't have time to make them."

To find out more about the Golden Raspberry Awards Foundation, or to become a member, visit its Web site at www. razzies.com.

Razzies nominees

Worst picture: Driven; Freddy Got Fingered; Glitter ; Pearl Harbor; 3000 Miles to Graceland

Worst actor: Ben Affleck, Pearl Harbor; Kevin Costner, 3000 Miles to Graceland; Tom Green, Freddy Got Fingered; Keanu Reeves, Hardball and Sweet November; John Travolta, Domestic Disturbance and Swordfish

Worst actress: Mariah Carey, Glitter; Penelope Cruz, Blow, Captain Corelli's Mandolin and Vanilla Sky; Angelina Jolie, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Original Sin ; Jennifer Lopez, Angel Eyes and The Wedding Planner; Charlize Theron, Sweet November

Worst screen couple: Ben Affleck & either Kate Beckinsale or Josh Hartnett, Pearl Harbor; Mariah Carey's cleavage, Glitter; Tom Green & Any Animal He Abuses, Freddy Got Fingered; Burt Reynolds & Sylvester Stallone, Driven; Kurt Russell & either Kevin Costner or Courtney Cox, 3000 Miles To Graceland

Worst supporting actor: Max Beesley, Glitter; Charlton Heston, Cats & Dogs, Planet of the Apes and Town & Country; Burt Reynolds, Driven; Sylvester Stallone, Driven; Rip Torn, Freddy Got Fingered

Worst supporting actress: Drew Barrymore, Freddy Got Fingered; Courtney Cox, 3000 Miles to Graceland; Julie Haggerty, Freddy Got Fingered; Goldie Hawn, Town & Country; Estella Warren, Driven and Planet of the Apes

Worst remake or sequel: Crocodile Dundee in L.A., Jurassic Park III, Pearl Harbor, Planet of the Apes, Sweet November

Worst director: Michael Bay, Pearl Harbor; Peter Chelsom (with Warren Beatty), Town & Country; Tom Green, Freddy Got Fingered; Vondie Curtis Hall, Glitter; Renny Harlin, Driven

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