Staff Inquiry: The Guilty Pleasure
For this Staff Inquiry, the Film Inquiry team lists their favorite guilty pleasures; films that aren't great (or even terrible) can be oh so enjoyable.
We all know crappy movies are released in an unending stream, but that doesn’t mean they all pass by into obscurity. Some catch our eye due to their earnestness, their charm, or their outright embrace of their awfulness. Whatever the reason, a few carve out special places in our hearts, and most of us only admit these less than admirable favorites to a chosen few.
Our writers are opening themselves up this month with our Staff Inquiry, letting everyone see their guilty pleasures. No one’s arguing these are great movies, but they’re enjoyable in their way. That’s enough this time around, so take a gander at the silly movies we love.
Stephanie Archer – Twilight (2008)
Twilight was not always a film I wanted to see. I had avoided the books and had only agreed to see the movie at the request of my best friend. She had seen Twilight the weekend it was released and was convinced it was something I would love. Color me enamored! I had always been a fan of vampires, and the world of the Cullen’s, sparkling daylight, a defiant damsel in distress, and a lion that fell in love with a lamb was irresistible.
I can by no means say Twilight was an exceptional movie. Even as I was falling in love with the story, the swirling camera shots of Edwin and Bella laying in a field of flowers caused judgmental shots to be flung at my friend – I mean seriously, lamest film shot ever! Yet, while there was an awareness of the lacking film quality, and the movies that would follow after, I was hooked. Within the next few months, I would read through, multiple times, the bestselling books from Stephanie Meyers and fall asleep every night to the film when it was finally released on DVD – and don’t even get me started on the soundtrack!
I’m still hooked today, though my love for Twilight ebbed a little with the discovery of The Hunger Games. Even now when I catch it on TV or choose it as my film selection of the night, I am warmed by the destined lovers and the dramatic world of vampires who refuse to follow their nature. There is a connection with the film that transcends quality, making Twilight an everlasting film in my collection
Zoe Crombie – The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004)
Not a film particularly maligned upon release but not fondly remembered by critics, either, I always have a fantastic time watching The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. I recall seeing it at the cinema when I was around five years old, and unlike other films that I enjoyed as a kid that I now watch whilst grimacing and feeling bad for my parents (2003’s The Cat In The Hat, for instance), I do find SpongeBob to be a genuinely feel-good, if silly, watch today.
Whilst the aesthetic of SpongeBob was never the main point, the day-glo colour palette is vibrant and appealing in this higher budget production, and the animation is smooth and energetic. The visual gags are abundant also, with SpongeBob never being a series to rely on writing alone like Family Guy; standout jokes include SpongeBob and Patrick’s faux-drunk gurning and the ‘manly moustaches’ the two are given.
I think, though, what always brings me back to this movie and the TV show in general is the bizarre surrealist sense of humour imbued into its very existence. Rather than playing into the zeitgeist like Dreamworks films were doing in this period, jokes are instead based on the nonsensical yet somehow reasonable logic of the show, ranging from ‘you don’t need a license to drive a sandwich’ to the fact that the show switches to live action when out of the ocean. There is also something to be said for the charming and memorable soundtrack, with songs like Ocean Man by Ween and original joke tracks like Goofy Goober Rock all lending to the laid back, stoner sense of humour that SpongeBob has cultivated over the years.
Unless you find the TV series unbearably obnoxious (a reasonable stance I respectfully disagree with), The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is a good time. Despite not reaching the depths of Pixar’s creations, in my opinion it deserves to stand with movies like Beavis and Butt-head Do America and Yellow Submarine for being funny, creative, and better than it has any right to be.
Gus Edgar-Chan – Minions (2015)
The term ‘guilty pleasure’ has always rubbed me the wrong way; we should all take pride in the films we like, whether that be 1960s Japanese New Wave or the latest Tyler Perry vehicle. I’m proud to say that Anchorman 2, Zoolander 2, and Dumb and Dumber To are some of the best comedies of the decade. I’m proud to say that I really enjoyed The Boss Baby. But Minions is a special case; the yellow funbags have been met with such viral vitriol that it’s hard not to feel a little ashamed for sticking up for ‘em.
What’s worse is that they’ve done nothing wrong. Whether manhandled by right-wing nutjobs and spread across the interweb or capitalised on by, well, capitalists and let loose on hoodies, tic-tacs and thongs, people wrongly seem to believe that it’s the Minions themselves that are insufferable. Nope, and 2015’s joyous Minions is proof of that. Free of cynicism, wielding a multi-cultural language (weaving Portuguese, French, and trademark gibberish), and as breezily charming as they are unabashedly good-natured, the lemon-lacquered critters are the perfect antidote to a post-Trump climate.
After all, who can’t take delight in seeing a Minion chat up a fire hydrant, hypnotise three London Tower guards into a dance number, or inadvertently engage in a family-friendly robbery spree? It’s slight, silly stuff, sure, but the gags are consistently hilarious and directors Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda manage to sustain the high-octane energy typical of the Minion archetype.
You can keep your wrong-headed hatred; I’m perfectly content with my Minion thong.
Mark Farnsworth – Superman II (1980)
Call me old-fashioned, but I equate a guilty pleasure to a cinematic walk of shame. Now you could be coy and embarrassed or you could brass it out and give the milkman a knowing nod and a wink, even a De Niro shrug of the shoulders as if to say, “Whadya gonna do?” Pauline Kael knows the rules; “He is not necessarily a bad critic if he makes errors in judgement. (Infallible taste is inconceivable; what could it be measured against?).” So in the cold light of day, dodging the early morning commuters, I’m wearing Superman II proudly.
Christopher Reeve rocked the red cape infinitely better, but the way he blushes under Clark Kent’s horn-rimmed spectacles next to Margot Kidder’s feisty Lois Lane is flawless. Watch their dalliance around The Daily Planet’s glass offices or Clark’s yearning heart tumble over a pink polyester tiger rug in a sleazy honeymoon suite and tell me you’re not moved when you remember these wonderful human beings are ghosts. What a beautiful and cruel trick cinema plays on us, Carson McCullers in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter puts it best, “How can the dead be truly dead when they still live in the souls of those who are left behind?”
Reeve and Kidder’s classy update of Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn has pathos to burn but Terrence Stamp’s General Zod has lasers from his eyes. Constantly exasperated with his evil allies and slipping into his cockney accent when he loses the plot, “Who is this Superman? Come to me, if you dare. I defy you! Come! Come and kneel before Zod. ZOD!” Forget Krypton, Zod has come from an East End battle cruiser (boozer=pub) and is ready to have a straightener on the cobbles with the son of his gaoler. Who says you should be ashamed of fare like this? How do you know that your cinematic walk of shame wont turn out to be your true love?
Adriana Gomez-Weston – The Little Hours (2017)
Loosely based on the 13th century book The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, The Little Hours is a raunchy comedy about a convent that erupts into a fit of debauchery at the appearance of a handsome fugitive. I love this movie because it’s a bit bizarre but fun, and I’ve always been fascinated by films that bridge the divide between religion and sexuality.
In all honesty, director Jeff Baena admitted that The Little Hours started merely as an outline, and it shows. It’s not a bad thing though. It seems as if the actors all decided to go on a wild vacation to Italy and then make a movie in the process. The actors are all having fun and the chemistry is there, especially during some more suggestive scenes. Plus, I’ve been a fan of Dave Franco and Aubrey Plaza for some time, so I was sold from the beginning.
Frazer MacDonald – Miami Connection (1987)
What makes a cheesy film cheesy? Usually, it’s the creator’s belief that the film they’re making is great, even as everything crashes and burns around them. But it has to be more than that to be a guilty pleasure. The film has to have a sense of bravado and unfounded confidence that you wouldn’t find in many others.
Enter Miami Connection. It tells the story of Dragon Sound, a very eighties rock band who inexplicably become involved in a feud with a local gang of ninjas. What ensues is ninety minutes of poorly choreographed fight scenes, laughably bad dialogue, and scenes so weird they make The Room look like The Godfather. Pair all of that with one of the cheesiest soundtracks ever committed to cinema and some painfully hammy acting and you’ve got yourself the ultimate guilty pleasure.
I’ve done my best to explain exactly why Miami Connection is such a must-see film, but it’s really one that has to be seen to be believed. After all, this is the only film which exists in the “martial arts musical” hybrid genre.
Amanda Mazzillo – Compulsion (2013)
It took me a while to decide which film is truly my guilty pleasure. I kept coming up with films I love that might be guilty pleasures for others but none hit that box for me. Finally, I came to Compulsion, a film I rented solely because I thought Heather Graham looked good on the cover.
I have never seen the Korean film 301/302, of which this is a remake, but that film is probably much better. Compulsion might not be a great or even very good film, but it stands out as being the film where Heather Graham is wearing the best wardrobe of her career. I was captivated by Graham wearing clothes I’d imagine any female character on Twin Peaks, except Annie, would wear.
In Compulsion, Graham plays Amy, an obsessive chef who longs to be on TV. Carrie-Anne Moss plays her neighbor Saffron, a former actress Amy was obsessed with as a child. The two enter into a strange, toxic relationship. If you ever thought a film with a mixture of vintage fashion, lesbians, and cannibalism would be your thing, I invite you to watch this and enjoy the ridiculousness with me.
This might not be a good film, but it entertained me and gave me a new appreciation for Heather Graham. Compulsion feels like someone put the works of Bryan Fuller and David Lynch in a blender, made everyone lesbians, and made everything about 200 times more ridiculous, which is probably why it captivated me so much and is my guilty pleasure film choice.
Nathan Osborne – St. Trinian’s (2007)
St Trinian’s is an absolute riot from start to end, and I will not stand to hear it any other way.
The Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson-directed 2007 comedy focusing on an all-girls boarding school successfully rebooted a 50-plus year-old franchise with a camp vivacity and infectiousness that almost instantly won me over in my less mature and easily-pleased days – and I can’t help but enjoy it even today. From Rupert Everett’s dual role as both the Headmistress of the anarchic school and her elitist brother, to Girls Aloud’s film-closing Theme of St Trinian’s performance, the film is thrown together rather haphazardly but wrings the most amount of entertainment out of its barmy set pieces and close-to-the-knuckle laughs.
Rounded out by a crackling cast consisting of the likes of Gemma Arterton, Colin Firth, Juno Temple, and Paloma Faith – all of whom commit, throwing themselves in at the deep end – St Trinian’s is a relentlessly entertaining hoot that never takes itself too seriously; naughty and slapstick very often in the same breath.
With lively direction and bouncy, energetic set pieces, St Trinian’s sure doesn’t demand a lot of thought, but if you let it sweep you up (and you are somewhat close to the right demographic), you’ll find a lot of fun in the chaos. The British angle is a breath of fresh air in the high school sub-genre and the entire cast and crew appear to be having an unbelievable amount of fun, ensuring that it is felt by the audience, too. These women sure know how to show you a good time.
Even the sequel is a lot of fun – but don’t tell anyone I said that.
Matthew Roe – Battlefield Earth (2000)
Upon publishing his 1982 science-fiction novel Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000, L. Ron Hubbard said that he “was a bit disgusted with the way the psychologists and brain surgeons mess people up.” He centered his story around a psychiatrist-like social hierarchy of a conquering alien race (named Psychlos) enslaving and manipulating humans and aliens both physically and mentally. While the novel endorses a particular point of view that I certainly do not, the movie from which it was spawned is something of a modern marvel.
A passion project of John Travolta since the 1980s, it also features Barry Pepper, Kim Coates, Travolta’s wife Kelly Preston, and Forest Whitaker. Though originally planned to be the first of two films, its lackluster box office, absolute destruction by critics, and the bankruptcy of its production studio Franchise Pictures (after commiting fraud) ended any further installments.
But oh what a treat it truly is! Frequently decried as one of the worst films ever made, I actually (and unironically) fell for its god-tier hokey acting, thoroughly flawed science, and nonsensical world rules; while now, I do firmly acknowledge every other superior sci-fi film that this movie blatantly rips off (namely Blade Runner and Star Wars), I can’t help but enjoy my time with these characters. I get seriously hyped up during the final battle and am honestly curious to see what a sequel made by the same cast and crew would look like. Hell, I’d fund it.
Directed by Roger Christian, who was originally working for George Lucas as a second unit director, and written (after nearly a dozen rewrites) by Corey Mandell, who had worked with Ridley Scott, Battlefield Earth can be enjoyed in the same vein as Jon Amiel’s The Core. It still remains a thoroughly entertaining movie beyond its many layers of undiluted badness.
Linsey Satterthwaite – Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
One of the great things about being a film lover is the ability to traverse genres and different degrees of quality through cinema. However, it is not always easy to admit having a soft spot for a film that your cinephile peers may scoff at, and so it becomes your guilty pleasure. One such film for me is Hot Tub Time Machine, a movie I really shouldn’t like for many reasons: its crude humour, thinly written female characters, and unnecessary female nudity (one of my bugbears in film). And yet it is a movie I will happily watch multiple times and, if it’s on when I’m flicking through the movie channels, I will contently watch and chuckle at with wild abandonment.
It is also a film that is in on the joke and revels in its own absurdity as Craig Robinson’s character breaks the fourth wall and turns to camera to declare ‘it’s like some kind of hot tub time machine!” You get to witness some over-the-top ’80s pastiches and you get to see a pre-Winter Soldier Sebastian Stan being an overzealous ski patroller. You get to see Chevy Chase walking into scenes as if he literally walked off the street, not realising he is in a film and is just being himself, and you get to see the light behind John Cusack’s eyes slowly die. And what’s not a guilty pleasure about all that?
So, whilst sometimes as a film lover I can immerse myself in a spot of German Expressionism and wax lyrical about the genesis of Hitchcock, I can also admit to enjoying a bunch of grown men get in a hot tub and go back in time. Just don’t mention the sequel, which is less a guilty pleasure and more an abomination inflicted on your eyeballs.
Kristy Strouse – Con Air (1997)
When it comes to recognizing a guilty pleasure, for me, it’s a film that you know isn’t technically good but you enjoy anyway.
Con Air is preposterous. It takes reality and steps firmly outside of it, dancing around believability with a shit-eating grin. Thing is, that’s why Con Air came to mind when I was making my choice (and there were other possibilities); it embraces the lunacy.
As Cameron Poe, we get Nicholas Cage playing a convict (a former ranger who is considered a “deadly weapon”) and gets early parole. On the day of his release, the flight he’s on is taken over by a collection of convicts with sordid histories and clever nicknames. He decides to stick around and ‘save the day’ rather than go home to his wife and daughter he’s never met. Because, well, he’s just that kind of guy. There’s a lot of violence and unnecessary plot turns on the flight to freedom, and it’s not without some over-the-top action and an overuse of cheesy score and dialogue. BUT, if you neglect the itch to rip it apart and just enjoy the mania, it is quite fun.
Need more reasons? Here ya go: there’s the iconic creepy serial killer played by Steve Buscemi, John Malkovich playing crazy as Cyrus the Virus, and John Cusack really trying. There are lines like “put the bunny back in the box” spoken with sincerity, or “make a move and the bunny gets it.” Really, just too much talking about a stuffed bunny. There’s also Cage’s hair…enough said.
Of course action movies are often a dime a dozen, but this late ’90s bruiser stood out because it took itself seriously, even when others didn’t.
Amy Smith – S Club Seeing Double (2003)
I bet that most people reading this post won’t have even heard of this film, and I don’t blame you. Between its focus on a real British pop band in the early 2000s and the really bad acting and poster art that comes along with that, you might be left wondering why I actually find this film enjoyable.
What makes this film for me is that I grew up with it. I was at the right age when S Club 7 were popular, and I love their music. I also appreciate how super cheesy this movie is.
Basically, it follows the band as they are struggling to keep up with fame. They soon discover that they’ve been replaced with lookalikes, but they are more than just good lookalikes.
Whilst I appreciate Oscar-winning films like 12 Years a Slave or The Shape of Water, they are not films that I want to rewatch. There are days when I need a cheesy, lighthearted film, bad acting and all. This film is one of my go-to watches, and I will happily admit that I enjoy it way too much for my own good.
Emily Wheeler – Constantine (2005)
A film that doesn’t please me so much as hypnotize me, Constantine is probably the bad movie I watch most often.
All of the things people knock it for, like its convoluted plot, self-seriousness, and drab color palate, are precisely what cast a spell on me. I can never remember much about the film because I’m not really paying attention; I mostly return for the mental recharge provided by its vacuous morality babble and the one tiny, glorious aspect it bequeaths: Tilda Swinton as an androgynous Angel Gabriel.
Yes, she’s messed with gender many times, but it’s the sparse use of her here that makes the film feel almost homey to me. She pops in and out of her scenes so casually that the radicalness of her presentation is done away with, making it seem unworthy of note in the world of Constantine. Oh, to get lost in a world where gender is unimportant is a nice fantasy, indeed.
Andrew Winter – The Brothers Grimsby (2016)
I’ve witnessed audience members make all sorts of noises during a movie – gasps, sobs, howls, guffaws, you name it, but only once have I heard anyone exclaim “you have got to be f***ing kidding me!” like I did when I saw The Brothers Grimsby for the first time.
The scene that prompted such a reaction was one in which Sacha Baron Cohen and Mark Strong (playing a dim-witted English yob and his Jason Bourne-like brother, respectively) escape some bad guys by, erm, hiding out in an elephant’s vagina. It’s outrageous, ridiculous, obscene, and entirely of a piece with the rest of the movie, which was derided by critics on its release (“The film is an excrescence,” offered one).
Astonishingly un-PC and, at times, just downright nasty (there’s a running gag about Daniel Radcliffe that makes the film a guilty pleasure all on its own), The Brothers Grimsby is also frequently hilarious.
One of the things used as a stick to beat Cohen was the movie’s seeming contempt for the lives of its working-class characters, but I reject that argument. Depicting Nobby (Cohen) and his gang (including Rebel Wilson as his girlfriend, Dawn) as a bunch of idiotic drunken layabouts clearly has satirical intent, in the same way making Borat a simple-minded foreigner and Brüno an effeminate gay man does: to catch people in their prejudices. If you believe the likes of Nobby and Dawn reflect any sort of reality, the joke is very much on you.
Besides, Cohen invites us to root for these people, and we do. The downtrodden – or “scum” as Nobby puts it in a rousing speech – are very much the heroes and heroines as they foil a plot to kill off the world’s poor. It’s thoroughly scabrous, but The Brothers Grimsby is surprisingly well-intentioned.
Those are some of our guilty pleasures. What are yours? Let us know in the comments!
Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.