We spend a lot of time considering the good and bad points of pop culture here at The A.V. Club. But sometimes you just have to declare things the best. At other times, you have to go even further and declare things the absolute best, which is what we're doing in our first-ever Absolute Best feature. Some points can be argued, but when it comes to the Best Unintentionally Hilarious Anti-PCP Blaxploitation Musical Starring A Camp Icon, there can only be one. And we know what that is.
Best Unintentionally Hilarious Anti-PCP Blaxploitation Musical Starring A Camp Icon: Avenging Disco Godfather
In a wonderfully misguided attempt to broaden his audience, self-proclaimed "King Of The Party Records" Rudy Ray Moore tried to exploit the already-fading disco craze with a 1980 musical action-thriller, Avenging Disco Godfather, filled with hysterical anti-PCP sermonizing that makes Reefer Madness look restrained by comparison. The result is a singularly insane kitchen-sink melodrama chockablock with wooden disco sequences, hilariously stilted acting, amateurish PCP freak-outs, and a poverty-row Grand Guignol sensibility rivaled only by…
Runner-up: Death Drug
Philip Michael Thomas' similarly deranged 1978 anti-angel dust manifesto, Death Drug, which is rendered even more deliciously ridiculous by an opportunistic '80s video release that incongruously tacks on music-video footage from Thomas' Miami Vice-era heyday in a shameless attempt to boost the actor's musical career. It's almost enough to make audiences want to fire up a sherm stick.
Best R&B Hit Song About Cunnilingus: "Red Light Special," TLC
TLC's Babyface-written "Red Light Special" might just be the most subtly subversive celebration of female sexuality in recent R&B history. Set to a slow-burning groove redolent of burning vanilla candles and empty bottles of Hennessey, the song beckons would-be suitors to "Take the southern route" before issuing orders not to go "too fast" or "too slow." Like their homegirl Goldilocks, the assertive gals of TLC won't settle for anything less than just right.
Runner-up: "My Neck, My Back," Khia
Where "Red Light Special" oozes playful sexuality, Khia's "My Neck, My Back" barks out orders to "Lick it nice, lick it good, lick it like you know you should" like the world's sexiest drill sergeant against the rinky-dink backdrop of a sleazy Casio strip-club beat.
Best Self-Deprecating Cameo By A Washed-up Teen Star: Neil Patrick Harris, Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle
Neil Patrick Harris' giddily unselfconscious self-parody as an Ecstasy-happy strip-club horndog on an endless search for kicks fits in perfectly with the deceptively clever goofiness of Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle. The role helped revitalize Harris' career, while simultaneously spoofing the desperation and debauchery prevalent among the ex-child-star contingent.
Runner-up: Dustin Diamond, Made
Dustin Diamond's Made cameo didn't do anywhere near as much for his career, but it did serve as a perfect visual punchline, as hapless losers Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau prove themselves comically unable to make it among the Manhattan smart set that embraces even a D-lister like Diamond.
Best Prank Pulled By Nerds In A Campus Comedy: the popcorn, Real Genius
The nerds at Pacific Tech employ their big brains for many ingenious shenanigans—"smart people on ice," the improvised pool party with student beauticians, parking a brand-new sports car inside a dorm room—but it all comes together in the grand finale, when they pull a prank that's ironic, whimsical, touching, and socially conscious all at the same time. Having been duped by their professor into creating a laser powerful enough to zap someone from outer space, the nerds respond by turning the weapon on his newly remodeled house and destroying it the Jiffy Pop way.
Runner-up: sorority raid, Revenge Of The Nerds
Not the cleverest prank, but a classic, because it operates on two levels, balancing the short-term fun of a panty raid with the long-term payoff of surveillance cameras. Booger: "We've got bush!"
Best Appearance By A Weirdo Guest On David Letterman: Crispin Glover
David Letterman's unflappability has defused all sorts of crazy guests over the years (see below), but even he has his limits. During an infamous three-minute appearance in 1987 to promote River's Edge, a whacked-out Glover strutted onstage wearing a blond wig and platform shoes from Rubin & Ed, his obscure indie buddy picture with Howard Hesseman. He also brought along some sort of case, the contents of which (à la Pulp Fiction) were never revealed. The volatile atmosphere turned ugly when Glover suddenly challenged Letterman to an arm-wrestling match, and delivered a roundhouse kick inches from his face. Cut to commercial.
Runner-up: Harmony Korine
The indie enfant terrible appeared three times on Letterman before getting banned for shoving Meryl Streep in the Green Room. Letterman described him best in a 1998 appearance: "This is why they invented childproof caps."
Best Return To Form After A Hideous Losing Streak (film edition): Robert Altman, The Player
The extent of Altman's fallow period before his comeback with 1992's The Player has been a little overstated, given that he entered the '90s with several small-scale creative successes, including The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, Vincent & Theo, and the brilliant HBO series Tanner '88. And yet he needed The Player—a witty, star-studded, claws-out piece of anti-Hollywood misanthropy—to shake off a grim '80s run that began with H.E.A.L.T.H. and Popeye, and included the likes of O.C. And Stiggs, Beyond Therapy, and the notoriously pretentious, auteur-killing anthology Aria.
Runner-up: Nicolas Roeg, The Witches
Speaking of Aria, Roeg (Don't Look Now) also scraped bottom with his contribution (featuring his wife Theresa Russell in male drag as an Albanian king), and didn't fully recover until this shockingly dark, twisted 1990 adaptation of Roald Dahl's novel. Then the once-great director resumed his tailspin, never to recover.
Best Return To Form After A Hideous Losing Streak (music edition): Neil Young, Freedom
Re-ac-tor, Trans, Everybody's Rockin', Landing On Water, This Note's For You… Young strung together so many egregious misfires during his "experimental" '80s period that label head David Geffen famously tried to sue him for deliberately sabotaging their contractual relationship. Then the slumbering giant finally awoke with 1989's Freedom, an impassioned statement of purpose framed by the political anthem "Rockin' In The Free World" and filled with tender gems like "Hangin' On A Limb" and "Wrecking Ball." Like Robert Altman, another artist who peaked in the '70s and ebbed in the '80s, Young wasn't ready to be written off.
Runner-up: Johnny Cash, American Recordings
It isn't that Johnny Cash was doing poor work in the '80s. It's just that he wasn't doing work that played to his natural strengths, and no one was paying attention anyway. By paring Cash's sound to its essentials and partnering him with sympathetic songs, producer Rick Rubin renewed the icon for another generation with this 1994 comeback.
Best Use Of Multiple Weapons In An Action Sequence: Chow Yun-Fat, Hard Boiled
Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch showed that violence could be visual poetry, but Peckinpah acolyte John Woo turned it into slow-motion ballet, with Chow Yun-Fat's often two-fisted handgun blasts setting off exploding squibs and doves a-plenty. But no single moment in the Woo-Chow collaboration was as iconic as the opening action sequence in 1992's Hard Boiled, which peaks with Chow sliding down the staircase banister with both guns blazing. With those few gloriously extended seconds, the "Cinema Of Cool" had officially arrived.
Runner-up: Bruce Campbell, Evil Dead II
After Campbell fires up the chainsaw custom-fit for his severed right hand, his first course of action before battling the undead is to lop off the barrel of his "boomstick." ("Groovy.") In the climactic confrontation, the chainsaw does much of the handiwork, but the shotgun provides an answer to that stingy beheaded demon that threatens to swallow his soul: "Swallow this."
Best Movie Featuring Full-Frontal Harvey Keitel Nudity: Bad Lieutenant
Abel Ferrara's provocative 1992 drama provided Keitel with his richest role to date, as a hopelessly corrupt, gambling, junkie cop whose spiritual reawakening begins when he looks into the case of a nun's defilement at the hands of local thugs. But before he crawls back to the light, Keitel engages in debauchery, including a scene in which he drowns himself in Stoli, dances with a half-naked bondage girl and her creepy androgynous boyfriend, and stumbles around completely naked, arms at his sides, making Stooge-like crying noises.
Runner-up: The Piano
Not a year later, full-frontal Harvey returned in Jane Campion's Palme D'Or-winning period romance as a masculine plantation worker who has no need for the suffocating garments of high society. This time, his love handles represent an authentic expression of the natural world. Seriously.
Best Cinematic Reason To Move To Canada: The Parallax View
Before he addressed Watergate directly with All The President's Men, director Alan J. Pakula hinted in this 1974 thriller—much more ominously—that America's government is an ever-present, malevolent force that can operate apart from democracy and cannot be stopped. As Warren Beatty tries to infiltrate a secret organization behind a political assassination, he discovers a wide-reaching, conspiratorial, vaguely "patriotic" cabal that functions without oversight and with enough power to squelch the poor suckers like himself who try to expose it. To date, it remains the most frightening film about how Big Brother is already watching us.
Runner-up: Delta Farce
Just knowing that there are enough people in America to support the redneck comic stylings of Larry The Cable Guy through prominent stand-up gigs and two non-cable-maintenance-call-related motion pictures is reason enough to reconsider the charms of Saskatchewan. But plopping Larry and his buddies in a wartime farce where they mistake Mexico for Iraq sets a new benchmark for cultural insensitivity.
Best Movie About The Turbulent Lives Of American Stewardesses: Come Fly With Me
The "flight attendants travel the globe in search of romance" formula reached its campy peak with this fizzy, faux-sophisticated 1963 melodrama, in which cynical stew Dolores Hart schools newbie Pamela Tiffin on which passengers and pilots are cool to fool around with, and which are a one-way ticket to nowhere. From the sumptuous widescreen cinematography—recording the airports of many lands—to the pillowy morality play that brings all its heroines to a reasonably happy place by the end credits, Come Fly With Me is as breezy as the back end of a jet engine.
Runner-up: Flight Angels
One of the progenitors of this formula, this 1940 comedy featured Jane Wyman—later to star in the sublime stewardess romance Three Guys Named Mike—as one of a set of air hostesses showing off their serving skills to future husbands.
Best Delightfully Awful Anthony Hopkins Performance: Legends Of The Fall
Shortly after Jonathan Demme and Merchant-Ivory Productions helped elevate Hopkins from also-ran Shakespearean to "greatest actor of his generation," the veteran thespian capitalized on his industry heat by starring in almost any movie that would let him chew the scenery. In the preposterous potboiler Legends Of The Fall, Hopkins plays the patriarch of a ranching family; as his health fails, his looming presence in his sons' lives shrinks until he's just grabbing their arms, staring wild-eyed into their faces, and grunting incoherent instructions in a Popeye voice.
Runner-up: The Road To Wellville
Released the same year as Legends Of The Fall, Wellville has Hopkins as health guru John Kellogg, pushing cereal on his patients and analyzing their stool samples, while boasting in a ludicrous patrician accent that his own daily excretions are "gigantic, with no more odor than a hot biscuit."
Best Oddball Legion Of Super-Heroes Superhero: Bouncing Boy
Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel was assigned to write Superboy stories when he returned to DC Comics at the end of the '50s, which meant he got to apply his fevered imagination to the 30th-century superhero team that had just been added to Superboy's regular cast of characters. One of his weirdest additions was Bouncing Boy, blessed with the power of "super-bouncing," which he used by expanding his body into a big, round ball, and then, well… bouncing. Sometimes he bounced on bad guys. Sometimes he bounced up high to scout around. Mostly he just bounced in the background of crowded panels, reminding readers that yes, Bouncing Boy was still a Legionnaire.
Runner-up: Matter-Eater Lad
Another Siegel creation, Matter-Eater Lad was capable of consuming anything. Which came in handy roughly never.
Best Dirty Prince Song: "Let's Pretend We're Married"
Prince began playing with eroticism in pop music early in his career, with relatively coy singles like "Soft And Wet" and "I Wanna Be Your Lover." Once he dropped all pretense of double-entendre with the 1980 album
Dirty Mind, the sky was the limit. Prince rarely got much raunchier than in "Let's Pretend We're Married," an ecstatic updating of The Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice" in which the singer wants his girlfriend to play at being a grown-up so he can "fuck the taste out of [her] mouth." A last-second appeal to Christian spirituality doesn't wash off the stain of the previous seven minutes of technopop pornography.
Runner-up: "Head" This track from Dirty Mind is also a wedding song of a kind, in which a bride-to-be has a life-changing bout of oral sex with His Royal Badness.
Best Sesame Street Letter Song: "Would You Like To Buy An O?"
Hard to say what's better about this slinky little song: the way the guy with a coat full of Os sidles up to Ernie like a pusher on a playground, or the way Ernie noisily overreacts to his pitch. ("It'll cost you just a nickel." "A NICKEL?!!") Or how about the way the O salesman all but forces his product on Ernie at the end, singing, "Just buy the O and take it home tonight—don't ask any questions!" Thus, a whole generation learned that if some strange person on the street offers you something, you take it.
Runner-up: "The National Association Of W Lovers"
In which Ernie's roommate Bert lectures to a convention hall full of W buffs about the special properties of their favorite letter. Without it, "a fine word like 'waffle' would turn out just awful."
Best CD For Scaring The Shit Out Of Children: Holly Dolly, Pretty Donkey Girl
Children often take to such homely creatures as manatees, but they may look sideways—through their tears—at this year's European crossover cartoon success, Holly Dolly, who resembles a bad splice between Bette Midler and Miss Piggy. Though a press release recommends Holly for both "playdates and dance floors," it's often unclear how child-friendly she really is—the video for the single "Dolly Song" features prolonged close-ups of her jiggling, human-style breasts. On Pretty Donkey Girl, Dolly's chance meeting with "four guardian angels" launches a musical tale of her search for pop stardom, and many songs suggest what kids who follow can expect. "Dolly's Song" looks forward to the thudding club beats that future pop-star kiddies will get felt up to; the crowd noises and ominous thud of the closer "My Name Is Holly" make it sound like a junior take on The Wall.
Runner-up: Soundtrack, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame
Even parents hooked on Disney's animated films shunned the soundtrack to this 1996 movie—namely the song "Hellfire," which is as garish and vivid as the title implies.
Best Trailer Song To Use For A Movie About Ordinary People Whose Lives Are About To Get Interesting: "I Feel Good," James Brown
If your movie is a comedy about people's lives turned upside down by a wacky character (particularly one played by Robin Williams), outlandish plot twist, or series of misadventures that end with everyone learning to loosen up and enjoy life, you should already have James Brown's "I Feel Good" cued up for the 0:15 mark in your trailer. As The Simpsons so memorably portrayed, nothing signals a total monkey wrench in an otherwise mundane life like Brown's stirring "Owwww!" As a bonus, the song's bump-and-grind R&B makes a perfect soundtrack for people getting hit in the face or letting their inhibitions go with an impromptu dance.
Runner-up: "Born To Be Wild," Steppenwolf
Of course, if your movie features people embarking on a road trip, getting a "cool" makeover, or doing something dangerous—especially if they're repressed and white—you'll need "Born To Be Wild." (Seriously, can anyone enjoy this song non-ironically anymore?)
Best Actor Capable Of Making Even The Most Wretched Movie Tolerable, If Only Briefly: Christopher Walken
Walken is the perfect example of an actor who doesn't even have to try any more. Like Jack Nicholson, he's no longer expected to lose himself in the character he's playing; he's meant to simply show up and be Christopher Walken. Which hasn't been lost on him. For the last decade, he's made a living doing favors for some of the worst films imaginable—Joe Dirt, Kangaroo Jack, Gigli, The Rundown—yet no matter how awful the movie, whenever he's onscreen, the "Hey, it's Christopher Walken!" part of the brain takes over, and for a few minutes, everything is fine. If only you could hire him to, say, put in a few words at your mother's funeral.
Runner-up: Paul Reubens
The otherwise-terrible original film version of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and the mess Blow both belong to Paul Reubens, and a recent sublime cameo on 30 Rock proves that he's still got it. Thank God for the upcoming Pee-Wee movie; he deserves a comeback more than anyone.
Best Skeleton In The Closet Of A Famous Rapper: Ice-T handling "Rap Direction" for Mr. T
Around the same time he released "Killers," original gangster Ice T picked up a little extra cash (and dropped off a little street cred) by ghostwriting raps for Mr. T on his Be Somebody… Or Be Somebody's Fool! video and the subsequent album Mr. T's Commandments. Had Ice T's friends known that he was turning in verses for a song called "Treat Your Mother Right" (sample line: "M is for the moan and the miserable groan / From the pain that she felt when I was born"), they probably would have made sure he could never Crip-walk again.
Runner-up (three-way tie): Tupac Shakur in Digital Underground; Jay-Z in "Hawaiian Sophie"; Notorious B.I.G.'s "Pepsi Freestyle"
Ice T isn't the only one who sold a little soul just to make it: Tupac Shakur backed up Humpty Hump in Digital Underground before all eyes were on him. Jay-Z probably wishes this YouTube video of him playing a lei-bedecked hype-man to mentor Jaz in "Hawaiian Sophie" didn't exist. And even when you're a star, that urge to pick up a little scratch lives on, as evidenced by Notorious B.I.G.'s unreleased commercial, "Pepsi Freestyle." (Sample line: "If you can't quench my thirst / What you in my fridge for? / What you wanna live for?")
Best Film Score By A Cheesy Synth-Pop Act: To Live And Die In L.A., Wang Chung
Wang Chung's score for William Friedkin's left-coast French Connection update To Live And Die In L.A. is easily the most dated part of the 1985 film; it's so '80s, it should come with a pair of leg-warmers. But in this case, at least, "dated" isn't a bad thing; Wang Chung's seductive, atmospheric pop songs perfectly convey the sleazy streets of mid-'80s L.A., with overly glossy production and drum machines doubling for plastic-perfect models and gunfire. In the liner notes to the soundtrack album, Friedkin even compares Wang Chung to Stravinsky and Strauss—a bit of a stretch, though "City Of The Angels" embodies its time at least as well as "The Blue Danube" recalls the 1860s.
Runner-up: Risky Business, Tangerine Dream
Never before or since has arty, overly serious electronic music been so damn sexy.
Best Bill Murray's Brother: Brian Doyle-Murray
The other acting Murrays must always live in the shadow of middle child Bill, but they don't come more underrated than Bill's eldest brother, Brian. Like Bill, Brian was a veteran of Saturday Night Live and National Lampoon. He turned in memorable cameos in Bill Murray movies like Caddyshack and Groundhog Day, and his instantly recognizable raspy voice has popped up in everything from Mr. Show to Wayne's World to Family Guy. Hell, he even played Jack Ruby in JFK. Let's see Bill pull that off.
Runner-up (tie): Joel and John Murray
In terms of sheer quantity, the upper hand goes to Joel, who's landed more than 30 film and television parts, but will probably be forever remembered as "George Calamari" from One Crazy Summer. Still, it's hard to top John Murray's turn in the underrated Moving Violations, where the youngest Murray bravely took on one of the many thousands of scripts written with Bill in mind, and turned in the all-time best approximation of his brother's smart-assed charms. With little else to his credit (save a bit part as—what else?—Bill's brother in Scrooged), John recently announced a return to the screen in Juliana And The Medicine Fish. (Unfortunately, it's a Rob Schneider family film, but still.)