Behind The Razzies

John Wilson was halfway to a screening at Disney Studios when his colleagues discovered his secret identity. It was his license plate, which spelled out the word "R-A-Z-Z-I-E," which gave him away. To their horror, the two production company execs realized that Wilson--by day a mild-mannered film-promo producer they had hired to do work on 1991's "Oscar"--was also the mastermind behind Hollywood's anti-Oscar awards, the "Golden Raspberry." And he was piloting his car straight to a cast screening of the movie, which starred the actor with more Razzies than anyone else in Hollywood: Sylvester Stallone. "They thought Stallone would be there," Wilson recalls. "They told me to park as far from the stage as I could. Stallone wasn't there. But John Landis was. He has been nominated repeatedly."

It's not always easy working a regular Hollywood career and running an awards show that bestows cinematic infamy on the nation's worst movies, actors and directors every year. Still, 47-year-old Wilson has been doing it since Oscar night 1981. This year, while members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences fawn over the performance of Russell Crowe in "A Beautiful Mind," Wilson and his membership are gushing about Ben Affleck's miserable and melodramatic acting in "Pearl Harbor." "There's so much self-congratulatory backslapping and air kissing B.S. on that end of the scale," says Wilson, "there really should be someone shooting peas from the back of the class saying, 'excuse me, you made five good movies and 28 bad ones'."

The Golden Raspberry Award Foundation will do just that on March 23. Among the nominees: Penelope Cruz for her performances in "Blow," "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" and "Vanilla Sky," Kevin Costner for "3000 Miles to Graceland" and "Pearl Harbor" for worst movie. The safest bet, however, is that Mariah Carey will run away with the worst actress award. "Last year, John Travolta and almost everything having to do with 'Battlefield Earth' were polling the same numbers around the time," says Wilson. There's also a good chance that Tom Green and "Freddy Got Fingered" will make Razzie history. Green garnered four nominations: worst actor, worst director, worst screenplay and worst on-screen couple. Overall, "Freddy Got Fingered" has eight nominations. But don't count out the Stallone factor. The actor and his movie "Driven" are nominated for seven Razzies (two worst supporting actor nominations, worst supporting actress, worst screenplay, worst director, worst screen couple and worst picture). Over the years, Sly has shown himself to be a strong competitor. "He's sort of a sentimental favorite, if there is such a thing," says Wilson. This year's nominations bring his total to 29. He has won nine times--including the worst actor of the century award in 2000.

It's a humiliating achievement, but it's unclear if there is any concrete impact. Everybody in Hollywood "who's not nominated thinks the Razzies are fun," says Tim Gray, managing editor of Variety. So, apparently, does the world's press. In town with little to do over Oscar week, the Razzies regularly draw headlines across the globe. In practical terms, there may be little fallout. "Being nominated is like having your pants fall down in public," says Gray. "It's embarrassing, but it's not going to ruin your career ... You don't want to throw a hissy fit, because then you've not only been humiliated, but you're a bad sport as well." Calls to a few Hollywood agents seemed to bare that out. "We wouldn't comment at all, we never do," says a weary Paul Bloch, Stallone's representative. "We haven't commented over the years. We're still not going to comment."

In 20 years, only two nominees have ever actually accepted their awards. Paul Verhoeven, the Dutch director who made "Robocop" and "Total Recall," accepted worst director and worst picture statues in 1995 for "Showgirls." (That movie currently holds a record 13 Razzie nominations, and it won seven--tying for record wins with "Battlefield Earth.") Verhoeven received a standing ovation when he told the audience he'd been drummed out of Holland for being "sick and perverted and disgusting," and that he was happy to have come to America and won an award for it, according to Wilson. Bill Cosby accepted three awards in 1988 for his stinker, "Leonard Part Six." He did so at a special presentation made on a late-night talk show on Fox. In order to convince Cosby to accept the trophies, however, Fox had to construct the awards out of 24-carat gold and Italian marble at a cost of nearly $30,000, instead of the traditional golf-ball sized raspberry sitting atop a spray-painted super-eight film reel (worth about $5).

It doesn't matter to Wilson one way or the other whether the honorees show up. He has never done it for the glory. Before the Razzies became anything official, Wilson used to host potluck dinners at his Hollywood apartment on Oscar night. One year, he put up a placard that said "1st annual Razzies" and handed out ballots during the commercials. Wilson made clips of some of the nominated films--to raucous effect. It was meant to be a one-time thing, but "everybody had so much fun, the next year we moved to a [friend's] mansion in Bel Air," Wilson recalls. "By the seventh year, we were at the Hollywood Roosevelt."

It was so much fun that Wilson for years paid for the Razzies out of his own pocket. But eventually he got married and purchased a house in the suburbs, and his wife put her foot down. Now the awards are funded by members. About 520 people pay the $20 yearly fee, submitting their favorite worst movies over e-mail. About one-third work in Hollywood, another third are journalists and writers and the final third are regular citizens who fancy themselves connoisseurs of the corny, experts on the excruciating, masters of the miserable. At the end of the year, Wilson compiles a suggested ballot, leaving space for write-in candidates (this year, an energetic campaign for "Moulin Rouge" is gaining steam). The returned ballots are tallied for the totals.

Wilson has had many favorite moments over the years. But it's always a particularly bad movie--especially one that takes itself very seriously--that makes him happiest. In the 1980s, Wilson had the opportunity to view the rough cut of "The Lonely Lady," starring Pia Zadora. The film's promoters didn't think twice about arranging a screening for Wilson, who was the movie's copywriter-in charge of the trailers, TV and radio campaign for the studio. But for him, it was pure ecstasy. "I just remember falling to the carpet, beating my fists to the ground with tears streaming down my face," he recalls, laughing gleefully. "I don't think I've ever laughed that hard. It was incredibly tasteless, stupid and over the top." For the double agent with the pea shooter, it just doesn't get better than that.

Behind The Razzies | News