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My Year of Flops: The A.V. Club Presents One Man's Journey Deep into the Heart of Cinematic Failureby Nathan Rabin
In 2007, Nathan Rabin set out to provide a revisionist look at the history of cinematic failure on a weekly basis. What began as a solitary ramble through the nooks and crannies of pop culture evolved into a way of life. My Year Of Flops collects dozens of the best-loved entries from the A.V. Club column along with bonus interviews and fifteen/i>/i>
In 2007, Nathan Rabin set out to provide a revisionist look at the history of cinematic failure on a weekly basis. What began as a solitary ramble through the nooks and crannies of pop culture evolved into a way of life. My Year Of Flops collects dozens of the best-loved entries from the A.V. Club column along with bonus interviews and fifteen brand-new entries covering everything from notorious flops like The Cable Guy and Last Action Hero to bizarre obscurities like Glory Road, Johnny Cash’s poignantly homemade tribute to Jesus. Driven by a unique combination of sympathy and Schadenfreude, My Year Of Flops is an unforgettable tribute to cinematic losers, beautiful and otherwise.
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—Patton Oswalt, author of Zombie Spaceship Wasteland
"Nathan Rabin is all-knowing (without being smarmy), open-and kind-hearted (without being sappy), and he'll make you laugh on every page. You can't have a better friend sitting next to you as you watch these glorious atrocities."
—Mike Sacks, author of And Here’s the Kicker and SEX: Our Bodies, Our Junk
“Jon Krakauer's writing is beyond vivid. You FEEL the cold of Everest as your read his words. Into Thin Air is a harrowing journey, well worth your time. I’ve also heard great things about Nathan Rabin's My Year of Flops.”
"Nathan Rabin's book is funnier than John Travolta's facial hair in Battlefield Earth. He's a brave man for undertaking this dangerous mission and returning alive with a highly entertaining tale."
A.J. Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically
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My Year Of Flops: An Introduction
From an early age, I learned to stop worrying and love the bombs. I’ve always been a failure junkie. I get giddy over toxic buzz, noxious press, and scathing reviews. I’m fascinated by the art and sociology of flops. You can learn a lot about society by the pop culture it embraces, and just as much by what it angrily rejects. As parents are keen to remind their children, there’s no shame in failure, only in not trying. The biggest, most notorious flops generally fail because they try too hard, not because they lack ambition or audacity.
My solidarity with misfits, outsiders, and underachievers helped define my professional development. I began my film-reviewing career happily critiquing the dregs of cinema, forgotten ephemera like Chill Factor and Gone Fishing. As the first head writer of The A.V. Club, the entertainment section of The Onion, I’ve immersed myself in the dark, shadowy corners of the entertainment universe, where saner folks fear to tread: direct-to-video movies (for a column called Dispatches From Direct-To-DVD Purgatory), cheaply produced books by C-listers and hangers-on (for Silly Little Show-Biz Book Club), the NOW That’s What I Call Music! series (for THEN That’s What They Called Music!), and audio commentaries on terrible films (for Commentary Tracks Of The Damned).
In The A.V. Club, I found a home and an audience willing to indulge my pop-culture masochism. Ah, but maybe “masochism” isn’t the right word, because I love what I do; a trip to the multiplex to see the latest Tyler Perry movie or not-screened-for-critics dancesploitation cheapie fills me with anticipation rather than dread. Thirteen years on, I still sometimes can’t believe I make my living writing about pop culture.
So when I decided to embark on a twice-weekly yearlong blog project in early 2007, I naturally gravitated toward an in-depth exploration of the biggest failures in cinematic history. I called the column My Year Of Flops. To qualify for My Year Of Flops, a film had to meet three unyielding/slippery criteria. It had to be a critical and commercial failure upon its release (domestically, at least). It had to have, at best, a marginal cult following. And it had to facilitate an endless procession of facile observations and labored one-liners.
Along with providing a forum for jokes, japes, and jests, My Year Of Flops had a serious goal. I wanted to fight our cultural tendency to associate commercial failure with artistic bankruptcy. I wanted to give flops something everyone deserves but precious few ever receive: a second chance. When I look at failures, cinematic and otherwise, I see myself. I welcomed the opportunity to provide a sympathetic reappraisal of some of the most reviled films of all time.
During the first year of My Year Of Flops, I found acceptance and validation from readers who cheered me on throughout my quixotic quest. Internet commenters, those nattering nabobs of negativism, transformed into perspicacious proponents of positivity. An online community that all too often resembles an easily agitated lynch mob turned into a band of angels. For I had created not just a blog project but an entire weird world of failure, regret, and bad ideas: a floposphere for pop-culture rubberneckers and schadenfreude enthusiasts. Fulfilling my wildest dreams, My Year Of Flops steadily grew to become that rarest and most wondrous of creatures: a moderately popular ongoing online feature. It was such a surprising success that readers wouldn’t let go after the initial year was over, so I was “persuaded” to continue it indefinitely as a twice-monthly feature at avclub.com. At gunpoint.
Then My Year Of Flops became something even more rare and more wonderfultastic: a book. Not just any book—the book you currently hold in your hands! That you bought! With money you earned doing chores and robbing student nurses! And are going to read! Using your brain bone and imagination!
After much consideration, consultation with our pastors, and several rolls of the 12-sided die, we here at The A.V. Club have decided to augment 35 of what SCTV’s Guy Caballero would call My Year Of Flops’ “Golden Classics” (which is to say, columns, aka Case Files, that already ran online in some form) with 15 brand-spanking-new Case Files of films too explosively floptastical for the Internet. But that isn’t all! In a bid to break up the oppressive tyranny of my literary voice, we’ve included mini-interviews with some of the people involved in the flops I’ve covered. You angrily demanded Austin Pendleton’s wry recollections of the making of Skidoo. We happily acquiesced.
The flops have been grouped according to genre, beginning with the first Case File, on Elizabethtown, which also provided the series with a ratings system dividing all films into three nebulous categories: Failure, Fiasco, and Secret Success. As Orlando Bloom stiffly declaims at the start of Elizabethtown, anyone can achieve failure, but a fiasco requires mad-prophet ambition and woeful miscalculation. At the top of the scale lie Secret Successes, films that have been slandered by history yet remain worthy of critical rehabilitation.
After chapters devoted to drama, comedy, superhero/science fiction/action films, musicals, the unsexiest sex films ever made, and family films that qualify as child abuse under the Geneva Conventions, we have a murderer’s row of the most notorious flops ever made. Even a book about flops needs a happy ending and redemptive arc, so I conclude with the fairy-tale ending that fate wouldn’t grant the films I’ve documented. There’s an entry on Joe Versus The Volcano, a life-affirming fable about a miserable Failure who becomes a Secret Success because of a Fiasco. And I close with a reconsideration of the film that began it all—Elizabethtown—and then a blow-by-blow account of the three-hour-long director’s cut of Waterworld.
I never intended My Year Of Flops to be a book about the 50 biggest flops or worst films of all time. There are plenty of books like that. This is not one of them. Rather, it’s a deeply personal, deeply idiosyncratic journey through the history of cinematic failure populated both by the usual suspects (Gigli, Battlefield Earth, Ishtar) and intriguing semi-obscurities like Johnny Cash’s Gospel Road and Thomas Vinterberg’s It’s All About Love.
I chose many of these flops not because their failure casts a huge shadow over pop culture but because they reflect the mythology of their creators and the cultural epoch they inhabited in fascinating and revealing ways. With each Case File, I set out to write about much more than the film addressed, to use an entry to explore, for example, the curious communion of Otto Preminger and the free-love movement in Skidoo or the perils and limitations of literary adaptations epitomized by The Scarlet Letter, Breakfast of Champions, and Adrian Lyne’s Lolita.
Welcome to my wonderful world of flops. I’m psyched to explore the curious geography of celluloid bombs with you. It’s a colorful realm of pee-drinking man-fish, inexplicably floating Africans, psychedelic disco/biblical freak-outs, time-traveling action heroes, an effeminate green alien only Fred Flintstone and Marlon Brando can see, and Rosie O’Donnell in leather bondage gear. Ignore all the road signs warning you to stay away. You’re in Failure Country now, with me as your disreputable guide. Enjoy the ride.
© 2010 Onion, Inc.
Meet the Author
Nathan Rabin is a staff writer for The Dissolve, a new film website from the popular music website Pitchfork. Previously, he was the head writer for The A.V. Club, the entertainment guide of The Onion, a position he held until recently since he was a college student at University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1997. Rabin is also the author of a memoir, The Big Rewind, and an essay collection based on one of his columns, My Year of Flops. He most recently collaborated with pop parodist "weird Al" Yankovic on a coffee table book titled Weird Al: The Book. Rabin’s writing has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Spin, The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Nerve, and Modern Humorist. He lives in Chicago with his wife.
A.V. Club was founded in 1995 as the arts-and-entertainment arm of the satirical newspaper and website The Onion. The two brands quickly became distinct from each other, with The Onion providing humor and America’s finest news, and the A.V. Club becoming a significant, well-received source for pop culture news and commentary. In recent years, the A.V. Club’s web presence has become huge, attracting over a million unique users per month who visit for reviews, interviews, listings, and features on film, television, music, books, and more. Inventory will enjoy contributions from the entire A.V. Club staff, but the primary staff members assigned to the book project are Editor Keith Phipps, Managing Editor Josh Modell, and Associate Editors Tasha Robinson and Kyle Ryan.
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Nathan Rabin writes movie reviews for the website The A.V. Club, a sister site to The Onion. And over the past few years his mission has been specifically to review movies that, for all intents and purposes, are flops. Movies that were box office poison, that cost a ridiculous amount to make but brought in next to nothing, movies that were uniformly panned by critics or reviled by audiences. Movies that everyone--except for perhaps a small cult following--agreed were just plain bad. His goal? To find out what all the anti-hype was about, to see for himself if these cinematic disasters were really that bad or if perhaps there were a few hidden gems. Or, at the very least, to warn the rest of us once and for all. The whole project started with his raging hate of the movie Elizabethtown. It's a, let's say, romantic comedy starring Orlando Bloom as a brooding sad guy and Kirsten Dunst as a "manic pixie dream girl," as Rabin puts it. His review has the hilarious quality of someone who needed so badly to rant about this movie that if you were sitting next to him on the train he'd probably be talking your ear off about how awful it was. He hated it so much that his editor even asked him to re-watch it and write a new review for the book. He does, including both reviews, and he finds that after several years have passed, he doesn't hate Elizabethtown QUITE as much as he once did, but it's still pretty bad. Plus he can now say he's watched the movie three times, making him fear that he has become its primary "cult follower." Not all of the "flops" in My Year of Flops cause Nathan Rabin so much psychic pain. In many cases he manages to find the hidden wonder (or "secret success") of some of the world's least successful films. Joe Versus the Volcano, for example, is one that Nathan Rabin (like my partner Mike) concludes is very underrated. In a lot of cases, though, his reviews serve as a welcome relief that he's already watched these movies so I don't have to. For more reviews, please visit my blog, CozyLittleBookJournal.