Today! Because this is the one. This is the one I’ll be remembered for –
Ed Wood (1994)
Directed by Tim Burton (x5)
Starring Johnny Depp (x2), Martin Landau (x2), Patricia Arquette, Sarah Jessica Parker (x2), Bill Murray (x10), Jeffrey Jones (x5), Mike Starr (x2), George “The Animal” Steele, Vincent D’Onofrio (x5), Lisa Marie (x2), G.D. Spradlin (x2), Max Casella (x2), Brent Hinkley (x2), Juliet Landau, Melora Walters (x2), Bobby Slayton (x2), Rance Howard (x4), Louis Lombardi (x3), Ned Bellamy
The wife might disagree, but I don’t love all bad movies. Here’s how I figure it – if a movie has exceptionally terrible reviews – your Glitters and Battlefield Earths and Freddy Got Fingereds – I want to see that movie, just to try and understand how it could go so spectacularly wrong. The bigger the movie the better, too, such as, say, the 2015 Fantastic Four. I went and saw that in a mostly empty theater by myself, because I had to see how a potential tentpole/franchise flick could be so purportedly awful. Low budget awful, for the most part, doesn’t interest me. Anyone can make a horrible film given no resources. And mid-range bad also doesn’t hold a ton of appeal – 35%-55% Rotten Tomatoes – who cares? That just sounds boring.
But there are exceptions to this. Tommy Wiseau’s borderline genius disaster of a film The Room is the modern gold standard, clearly standing on the shoulders of the true champion trash auteur, Edward D. Wood, Jr. Plan 9 From Outer Space is so cheap and terrible as to be a thoroughly lovable film. Who doesn’t enjoy Plan 9, for all its cinematic faults? And that brings us to the truly best result of its existence – Tim Burton’s masterpiece biopic. If Wood had only made Glen or Glenda and Jail Bait and Bride of the Monster, his name might still get kicked around in nerdy film circles, but it’s Plan 9 that elevated him to worldwide acclaim – way, way after the fact. And it’s only because it became so embraced as the worst movie of all time that we got this goofy, sentimental movie about movies – my second favorite film in the mini-genre I love so much (next Monday crowns my top movie from this group – stay tuned!).
Perhaps fittingly, Burton’s love letter to low budget sci-fi was itself a bomb in 1994, despite being critically adored. It picked up a load of awards and nominations – even in as stacked a year as ’94 – with many going Landau’s way for his terrific turn as Bela Lugosi, but there are many performances deserving of attention herein – Depp is never better than as the eternally optimistic/slightly delusional director, gathering up a menagerie of the entertainment world’s cast-offs, from Jeffrey Jones’ prognosticator/Kreskin rip-off artist Criswell to wrestler-turned-famous Halloween mask Tor Johnson (a marvelous George “the Animal” Steele). Also terrific are Wood’s girlfriends – the completely understanding Kathy (Patricia Arquette) and the decidedly less-so Dolores (Sarah Jessica Parker). Not to be overlooked is yet another fantastic Bill Murray performance, here as actor/drag queen/socialite John “Bunny” Breckinridge – one of a handful of original Plan 9 actors who lived to see the biopic some 35 years later.
With a fifth film on this list, Burton enters pretty rare company as only the ninth director at this level, but Ed Wood also more or less signaled the end of his great run behind the camera. While his next film, #310 Mars Attacks!, is on this list, I’m quick to say that it’s more a guilty pleasure of mine than some great movie. Sleepy Hollow narrowly missed out, Big Fish in ’03 is kinda fun but overrated, Big Eyes a decade later isn’t bad, but everything else is pretty much garbage. Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows, Dumbo – gah. But hey, you’ve only got so long to crank out quality films before you get stale, I suppose!
Considering how late we are in the countdown, there are a shocking number of new Two-Timers, fully ten new members including the second only appearances for Johnny Depp (after #163 Fear and Loathing), Martin Landau (#316 North by Northwest), and Sarah Jessica Parker & Lisa Marie (both Mars Attacks! alums). Jeffrey Jones and Vincent D’Onofrio both join the Fives, but it is again the great Bill Murray making strides, becoming only the third Ten-Timer alongside Samuel L. and RDJ. And while Sam Jackson and Robert Downey Jr. have appeared in six films together – including the critically reviled Anthony Michael Hall 1994 comedy Hail Caesar – neither have ever appeared with William Murray in a film! Huh!