The Founder of the Razzies Explains What the Academy Awards Are Getting Wrong
"Something that pompous and over-the-top as the Oscars is just begging to be ripped apart! It's like there's a big red balloon in front of you and you're holding a big, sharp pin—what are you going to do, not pop it?"
The Academy Awards purport to celebrate the best films to grace the silver screen each year, but with the omnipresent criticism of this year's ceremony, more and more people are putting the Academy's understanding of artistic excellence on the chopping block.
John Wilson, however, has distrusted both the Oscars' and Hollywood's taste for nearly four decades, inspiring him to found the Golden Raspberry Awards in 1981. Lovingly dubbed the Razzies, the ceremony has spent the last 36 years celebrating the absolute worst that Hollywood has to offer. Winners for Worst Picture have varied from now-cult classics like Mommie Dearest and Showgirls to bigger Hollywood fare, such as Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen and the final chapter of the Twilight saga.
The Razzies may be snickering from the sidelines, but they're far from the fringe. Since its inception, the anti-Oscars has become a big player in the cultural lexicon, applying a rubric and language with which to talk about bad movies. On the eve of the 2016 Razzies, we spoke to Wilson about the ceremony's modest start (which coincided with the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan), the future of the Oscars, and why Adam Sandler is still the king of Golden Raspberry nominations.
VICE: How did the idea for the Razzies come about?
John Wilson: It was August of 1980, and I'd paid 99 cents to see a double feature of Can't Stop the Music with The Village People and Olivia Newton John in Xanadu, and I wanted my 99 cents back. And the manager said no!
Can you tell me about the first ceremony?
I don't know if you're old enough to remember this, but when John Hinckley Jr. shot Ronald Reagan, they postponed the Oscars for 24 hours. That night was the first Razzies.
The first one was essentially an Oscar-watching potluck party. It was very silly, very innocent, and very short. It was 40 people total; we just all thought it was such a funny idea. And the next year, we got a friend of mine whose mom lived in Bel Air to let us use her mansion for the party. By the fourth year, we had USA Today and CNN in attendance and we moved the ceremony to a grade school. And it has just gotten exponentially more out-of-hand since.
How would you describe the relationship between the Razzies and the entertainment culture at large?
We like to think of ourselves as the voice of the people, really. A bulk of our membership is made up of moviegoers who pay a fee and can vote on the films we select. And we like to think it makes pretty good sense to become a member because Hollywood makes a lot of movies, and good movies and bad movies all cost the same [laughs] so if nothing else, that should be enough of a motivating factor.
What's been the biggest change you've noticed in the Razzies over the years, either in terms of the nominated films or just the spirit of the ceremony?
Well, the basic essence of it hasn't changed much at all over the years, but the number of people voting is approaching a thousand. We have voters now from 48 states and, I think, 22 foreign countries.
What do you consider to be the duty of the Razzies? Do you aim to spoof Hollywood or actually highlight some kind of idea about what makes for a bad film?
The intent overall is humor, really. We want to get to the point where there are no films for us to pick on, but it's been 36 years and it still hasn't happened. But it's also about the ridiculousness of Hollywood this time of year.
You mean around Oscar season in particular?
Between Christmas and Easter, there are 357 awards shows! And they take them all so seriously—especially the Academy. So something that pompous and over-the-top is just begging for it. It wants to be ripped apart! It's like there's a big red balloon in front of you and you're holding a big, sharp pin—what are you going to do, not pop it?
Aside from the actual noise that surrounds the ceremony, what do you make of the actual Oscars nominations themselves?
The academy has a total disinterest in the films that people actually like. It's really crazy. They have ten spots, or however many, for Best Picture, so why wouldn't they nominate Star Wars: The Force Awakens? It made a zillion dollars, it's already the highest grossing movie ever, fans loved it, critics loved it. That's a great Hollywood film!
Do you think the box office is something that the Oscars should consider? It does factor into how you guys nominate the Worst Pictures—all five of the films up for consideration this year are big-budget productions.
They just have no excuse for being among the worst films of the year! They have so much at their disposal. Some of the movies are the result of bad marketing, so bad box office isn't the only qualifier. But we look at box office because it's Hollywood's own barometer of success.
Are you a fan of big Hollywood blockbusters? I would think a good number of those films would end up on Razzie ballots.
There are ways to make a good blockbuster, it's not an impossible task. A movie has to have a degree of respect for its audience, and that's a lot of what's missing today. The studios go into the films thinking, "If we hit them over the head with a rolling pin, they'll love it." But sometimes it's about doing less. There are a lot of big studio films that I love. I thought that J.J. Abram's first Star Trek was amazing; that's another film that should have been nominated for Best Picture, in my opinion.
Are there films from the past year that surprised you?
I thought Creed was terrific. I went into it thinking it would surely be on our list—it's like the eighth one of these movies, and [Sylvester] Stallone is in it again. I thought there is no way this won't be awful. But it was really terrific. You could tell it was made by people who loved it and who cared about the original. Stallone handed the film to [Ryan Coogler] himself, and they got a great performance out of him! Now he's the front-runner for that Oscar. I definitely didn't expect that, but he was terrific.
Where do you think the Oscars can go from here? This year has seen such a storm of criticism.
I think the criticism is totally valid, but I also think the Academy has handled it pretty graciously. It's going to be interesting going into the next two years because the Academy itself is in a state of flux now. You have them admitting new members to up diversity, which is amazing, so the next couple years will be very telling, I think.
What is one of your favorite Razzie memories?
When Halle Berry showed up to accept her Worst Actress award for Catwoman. We got a call the morning of saying that Halle wanted to come and accept the award in person, and immediately we had to figure out where to meet her, which exit to block off, how to coordinate with her security team, etc. It was nuts. I told my wife and she didn't believe me. When Halle came out, I think everyone in the room thought it was a look-a-like at first.
Were you surprised that she took the whole thing so well? It feels like it could be risky to bruise the ego of a movie star.
If you win a Razzie, we're really not saying "stop making movies," you know? We're saying, "stop making movies like this. We know you can do better." We don't have a ton of repeat offenders. Except for Adam Sandler, I think he might be our most-nominated actor.
Is there a particularly famous Worst Picture win or snub?
The only one that won by a landslide was Battlefield Earth. It got something like 93% of all votes for Worst Picture. So I felt free to vote for the film that I really couldn't stand which was Adam Sandler's Little Nicky. I still don't think it's even his worst movie.
You really hate Sandler, yeah? You keep bringing him up.
I don't hate him, I just wish he would grow up! He's a 45-year-old teenager.
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