Australians have every reason to be wary of John Wilson. Three decades ago, the Los Angeles-based industry veteran conceived the now-iconic Golden Raspberry Awards for the year's worst films after enduring the one-two cinematic sucker-punch of that disco-era torture device, Can't Stop The Music, and our national treasure Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu – two films that were wildly popular with Australian audiences.
“Well, you guys are upside down, right?” he laughs, unwavering in his flagrant disrespect for two much-loved films that burned holes in his soul 31 years ago. “I recently re-watched them for a book I did [The Official Razzie Movie Guide]. Xanadu is wildly, entertainly awful; Can't Stop The Music is just awful.” The Village People biopic, unwatchable by anyone's standards today, took out the very first Worst Picture award in 1980.
The Razzies, as they have become affectionately known, were launched from Wilson's living room, where he presented mock awards and delivered scathing bon-mots in front of his friends. Neil Diamond scored the inaugural Worst Actor award for The Jazz Singer, Brooke Shields nabbed Worst Actress for The Blue Lagoon. In 2011, the ceremony and sarcasm remains but the event has evolved to become a sought-after ticket on the LA showbiz calendar.
If the Razzies' status has grown, Wilson's ego has not. “We are the people in the peanut gallery with the pea-shooters,” he says, downplaying the impact the Razzie membership has on Hollywood's elite. “Most of our voting membership – well over half – are just average moviegoers who have joined through our website. The other 48 percent are journalists, critics or people who work in the business.”
Wilson asks his followers to adhere to established guidelines when compiling their Year's Worst list: “Usually, the three parameters are a) it cost a lot and lost a lot, b) it got slammed by critics on the website Rotten Tomatoes and c) if it involves somebody with a history with the Razzie awards.”
Wilson concedes that the tendency of a lot of people to avoid bad movies has spared some deserving filmmakers the wrath of Razzies voters: “On our nominating ballot we list up to a dozen or so contenders that we think, based on our parameters, are the likely contenders. Every year there are movies that, if our members had seen them or if anyone had seen them, would have done better in the nominations race.”
When asked why the Adam Sandler comedy Grown Ups secured only one nomination (Rob Schneider for Worst Supporting Actor) despite being directed by Razzie veteran Dennis Dugan (Big Daddy, 1999; I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, 2007), Wilson is flummoxed. “I don't understand how that film got away with (so) few nominations. Dugan and Grown Ups were listed all over the ballot but got away with only one. (It) was a stupid, embarrassing movie that I understand didn't even have a script, just an outline.”
Though it's important to Wilson that The Razzies continually sharpen their irreverence, he is equally as concerned that the roasting be done in respectful jest. Of late the stars, who were once wary of the dubious honour a Razzie award symbolises, have gotten into the spirit – Tom Green (Freddy Got Fingered, 2001), Halle Berry (Catwoman, 2004) and Sandra Bullock (All About Steve, 2009) have all turned up to collect their trophies; in fact, Berry's acceptance speech became a viral web-sensation.
Wilson believes it is ok to nip at the hand that feeds you, but to bite off chunks of the forearm, Ricky Gervais-style, is going a bit too far. “What we try to do is maintain the sense of humour, make it amusing but not cross the invisible line that (takes) you into libellous territory,” he says with a knowing laugh, conscious of LA's proclivity for lawyering-up.”I clearly think Mr Gervais stepped across that line repeatedly [with his infamous 2011 Golden Globes jokes]. In fact, I'm sure the Hollywood Foreign Press' lawyers backstage were tearing their hair out; certainly the head of the organisation looked like he had been.”
He understands some celebrities – “pampered, wealthy, spoiled”, as he calls them – will never see the fun side of being taken down a few notches. “When somebody asked John Travolta if he knew that his movie Battlefield Earth had swept the Razzie awards, he replied 'Oh no, I have people I pay to keep me from finding out news like that.'”
Looking back, Wilson says he is most proud of the role that The Razzies have played in helping to shape the cinematic landscape – even if it denies them the odd 'sitting duck': “We were probably the only people on the planet who were disappointed when, a few years ago, [five-time Razzie honouree] Madonna said she was giving up and never making another film again. We like to take some credit for that.”
Wilson will soon start preening himself for the 31st Annual Razzies Ceremony, to be held in the 300-seat Barnsdall Gallery Theatre, just off Hollywood Boulevard on February 26 – one day before the other big annual film industry bash.
Read the full list of 2011 nominees here
Read our critics' picks of the worst films of 2010 here