On Jan. 25, 2007, I began an online blog project called "My Year Of Flops." I had a simple goal: to lay down the foundation for a series of lucrative PowerPoint presentations that would show small-business groups how life lessons from failed films could help them maximize efficiency, exploit multiple ancillary revenue streams, and explosify profits. To qualify for My Year Of Flops, a film had to meet four unyielding/slippery criteria: It had to be a critical and commercial failure upon its release. (Domestically, at least.) It had to have, at best, a marginal cult following. Lastly, it had to facilitate an endless procession of bad jokes, facile observations, and labored one-liners.
On a financial level, the project was a distinct failure. Not a single business group contacted me. The PowerPoint presentation I slaved over for months is currently gathering dust in some forgotten corner of My Year Of Flops Manor. But in a veritable replay of The Music Man, what began as a cynical bid to lighten the wallets of suckers and rubes quickly took on a life of its own. Before I knew it, I had brought music, laughter, and a band fronted by 76 trombones to the good people of River City, Iowa, and found love with a pretty librarian.
Inexplicably, I also found acceptance from readers who cheered me on throughout my quixotic quest. Internet commentators, those nattering nabobs of negativity, magically transformed into perspicacious proponents of positivity. An online community that all too often resembles an easily agitated lynch mob turned into a band of angels. For I had created not just a blog project, but an entire weird world of failure, regret, and bad ideas to get lost in, a floposphere for pop-culture rubberneckers and schadenfreude enthusiasts. In the fulfillment of my wildest dreams, My Year Of Flops steadily grew to become that rarest and most wonderful of creatures: a moderately popular ongoing online feature.
When I turned in my first My Year Of Flops Case File, an 800-word write-up of Elizabethtown, A.V. Club editor Keith Phipps said "They aren't all going to be this long, are they?" "Oh, heavens no," I assured him. And they weren't. Instead, the average My Year Of Flops entry quickly ballooned into a wildly digressive 2,000-word comic essay heavy on autobiographical asides, running jokes, pop-culture references, borderline nonsensical recurring characters, and oceans of decontextualized bad-movie dialogue. If nothing else, "My Year Of Flops" stands as one of the most complete repositories of out-of-context bad-movie dialogue known to man.
I began the series largely to pay homage to great films unfairly tarnished with the stigma of critical and commercial failure. In that capacity, I took great joy in bringing attention to the Capra-esque, life-affirming whimsy of Joe Versus The Volcano, the breathtaking ambition, scope, and visual splendor of Heaven's Gate, the warped comic sensibility of Elaine May's Ishtar, the tragicomic pathos of Pennies From Heaven, and other sleepers richly deserving of a second chance. My controversial advocacy of Tom Green's Dadaistic anti-comedy Freddy Got Fingered tore our nation apart, turning brother against brother, cat against dog, and Baldwin against Carradine. Also, it angried up the blood.
But I devoted far more of the feature to cruelly mocking historic boondoggles involving rat brains, puny man-animals, ass-weasels from outer space, comically named African demons, and Tom Arnold. I became addicted to my audience's praise and validation. I learned that readers responded much more strongly when I came to bury a film rather than to praise it. I was seduced, perhaps, by the laughter. In hindsight, I regret not devoting more time to building up undeservedly maligned flops rather than kicking disasters when they were down.
There's a semi-complete online archive of all 104 My Year Of Flops Case Files at avclub.com/content/blog/flops, part of avclub.com, a magical online wonderland where a guy with nothing more than a dream, a big idea, and a maddening unwillingness to edit judiciously can easily waste 2,000 precious, precious words writing about, say, the direct-to-DVD youth-gone-wild Anne Hathaway drama Havoc, a film that proves conclusively that while you can take the girl out of Disney Princess movies, you can't take the Disney Princess out of the girl.
The 104th MYOF entry—marking 52 weeks of two flops per week—will mark an ending of sorts, but it's a supremely ambiguous ending. Think of it like a slasher film where the bad guy is seemingly destroyed, only to rise up out of his grave in the final shot. There's even a possibility that I'll sign on for another yearlong tour of duty somewhere down the road.
Until then, without further ado, here are 10 life lessons from My Year Of Flops:
1) There's a difference between a failure and a fiasco.
Teacher: Elizabethtown. The very first case file in My Year Of Flops begins with Orlando Bloom awkwardly reciting, as though he's competing in the overenunciation Olympics, "As somebody once said, there's a difference between a failure and a fiasco. A failure is simply the non-presence of success. Any fool can accomplish failure. But a fee-ass-scoe, a fiasco, is a disaster of mythic proportions. A fiasco is a folk tale told to others that makes other people feel more alive because. It. Didn't. Happen. To. Them." This freshman-level philosophizing became the basis for my rating system: At the bottom lies the humble Failure, the sort of worthless cinematic folly any fool can accomplish. As overly earnest protagonists played by callow Lord Of The Rings cast members will happily inform you, Failures are simply the non-presence of success. Fiascos, meanwhile, find a strange glory in failure. At the very tip top of the rating scale, meanwhile, are Secret Successes, legitimately good movies ripe for critical reevaluation.
2) Killing Nicolas Cage won't bring back your goddamn honey.
Teacher: The Wicker Man. I vowed early on to avoid films with significant cult followings. But I just couldn't resist the siren song of Neil LaBute's gloriously loco Wicker Man desecration, an instant camp classic where Nicolas Cage runs around in a bear suit beating up women. There might also be some sort of "plot," but that's all you really need to know about this not-so-Secret Success.
3) It's a natural, natural, natural desire to meet an actual, actual, actual vampire.
Teacher: The Apple. In the guilty-pleasure wing of My Year Of Flops, Wicker Man is joined by fellow Secret Success The Apple, a mind-bending psychedelic freak-out of a disco musical/biblical allegory so unutterably insane that audiences at its Hollywood première famously hurled promotional copies of its soundtrack at the screen in protest. In doing so, they foolishly denied themselves deathless couplets that might make them feel better about their natural, natural, natural desire to witness actual, actual, actual vampires.
4) It only takes one good hand to push people away.
Teacher: Home Of The Brave. I took perverse pride in using MYOF to resurrect projects so surreally misconceived and disastrously received that readers inquired whether they genuinely existed, or I was simply making them up as a lark. Films in this strange subgenre include Edison Force, a direct-to-DVD Justin Timberlake vehicle that hilariously miscasts the pop star as a Pulitzer-hungry journalist intent on exposing a corrupt cop unit regrettably named F.R.A.T. (First Response Assault Tactical unit), the long-shelved '70s Mr. Smith Goes To Washington remake Billy Jack Goes To Washington, from martial artist, failed Presidential candidate, independent film pioneer, and self-styled Jungian scholar Tom Laughlin, and Home Of The Brave, a hilariously earnest attempt to make an Iraq War version of The Best Years Of Our Lives with frothingly over-the-top turns from 50 Cent and Samuel L. Jackson, plus an unintentionally amusing performance by Jessica Biel as a one-handed gym teacher who gets a crash course in insensitivity when a scorned ex-love utters the above bon mot. Take that depressed, disabled veteran!
5) Teen horniness is not a crime.
Teacher: Southland Tales. Richard Kelly's notorious Southland Tales marked the only time I escaped the My Year Of Flops laboratories to see a fiasco in its natural habitat. Oh sweet blessed Lord, was it worth it. Southland Tales suggests—no, angrily insists—that Kelly spent the years following Donnie Darko steadily going insane, but managed to slip out of his straitjacket just long enough to write a trippy mind-fuck which taught the world that pimps don't commit suicide, and teen horniness is not a crime—which doubles as the title of a pop song by Sarah Michelle Gellar's porn star/singer/current-affairs-show host/one-woman brand.
6) Don't invest $175 million in a movie about a surly, pee-drinking man-fish.
Teacher: Waterworld. America loved Kevin Costner throughout the late '80s and early '90s. But did it love him enough to make a movie Waterworld about a surly, pee-drinking man-fish of the future a wise investment? No, it did not.
7) Don't take career advice from a diminutive, vaguely effeminate green alien that only you and Fred Flintstone can see.
Teachers: The Island Of Dr. Moreau, The Missouri Breaks, and Free Money. In my Missouri Breaks entry, I revolutionized the field of Marlon Brando scholarship with my controversial introduction of "The Gazoo Theory," a groundbreaking assertion that sometime in the '70s, Marlon Brando began taking marching orders from The Great Gazoo, the diminutive, vaguely effeminate green alien from The Flintstones. How else can you explain Brando's bizarre devolution from the greatest and most influential actor of his generation to someone who shocks Thomas Haden Church's genitalia and calls him a stinkball fornicator in Free Money?
8) A movie about ass-weasels from space is still a movie about ass-weasels from space, no matter how much A-list talent comes onboard.
Teacher: Dreamcatcher. It took the combined talents of writer-director Lawrence Kasdan and two-time Oscar winner William Goldman to bring Stephen King's bestselling tale of alien ass-weasels to the big screen in Dreamcatcher. Yet not even the hopelessly dignified presence of Morgan Freeman, or his stirring, oft-maligned monologue about real Americans, who "drive Chevrolets, shop at Wal-Mart, [and] never miss an episode of Friends," could lend an aura of class to this deliciously misbegotten enterprise.
9) Prominently advertising the presence of Rosie O'Donnell in dominatrix gear isn't a good way to attract audiences.
Teacher: Exit To Eden. What happens when you combine a zany Dan Aykroyd/Rosie O'Donnell cop comedy with a spacey softcore BDSM romance adapted from a book even Ann Rice didn't want to be associated with, then stretch the results out to two agonizing, interminable hours? You get 1994's Exit To Eden. And Rosie O'Donnell squeezed into tight, revealing leather. The horror, the horror!
10) Though teenyboppers of the mid-'70s might argue otherwise, Peter Frampton and the Brothers Gibb are not adequate substitutes for The Beatles.
Teacher: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. In the Bad Idea Hall Of Fame, an entire wing should be devoted to this bizarre 1978 attempt to make a Beatles movie minus The Beatles by substituting four of the 1970s' biggest teen idols and throwing in an entire decade's worth of Hollywood Squares. (Leif Garrett! A singing George Burns! Alice Cooper! Carol Channing! Sha Na Na! Wolfman Jack!) The result plays like a cross between bad vaudeville and the world's tackiest, most expensive variety show. In other words, primo My Year Of Flops fodder.
Now, if you're a small-business owner who would like to know how these lessons can help you maximize efficiency, exploit multiple ancillary revenue streams, and explosify profits in the 21st century and beyond—well that, you'll have to pay for.
Oh fuck it. Who am I fooling? I can't leave well enough alone. Due to popular demand, I've decided to bring back My Year of Flops as a monthly feature. Look for Case File #105 in February.