Worst to Best continues this week with one of my favorite franchises: Kevin Smith’s View Askewniverse films.

I’m a huge fan of these six films and I don’t consider any of them “bad” by any means.  I think each film is pretty fun.  They can be silly, they can be sweet, they can be soulful, and there can be a poop monster.

Kevin meant a lot to me early in life.  As a guy living in Jersey who loved to write and worked as a clerk at a video store I saw a movie about two clerks living in Jersey written by a guy from Jersey who clerked at a video store.  You can say it was a bit eye-opening.  I started writing screenplays and while you don’t own any of those DVDs – it did lead me to a writing career that lasted for many, many years.  I met Kevin many times over the years.  Once we had a conversation about a scene in Clerks 2 right after a screening in a filled NYC theater that included Harvey Weinstein.  He once bought me dinner…well…he bought everyone dinner but I was there (and during that dinner he bust out a VHS copy of the original version of Mallrats!  Long before I knew that crap had even existed).  I really have a few personal great memories of the man who cranked out a bunch of great flicks.

I’m not too thrilled with the last couple films (Tusk, Yoga Hosers) but looking forward to the Mallrats sequel series, if it gets off the ground, and certainly looking forward to a Clerks III.

As this is just the actual Kevin Smith movies it will not include Scream 3, the animated series, nor the horrible pilot that you can watch on YouTube.  It also does not include non View Askewniverse movies like Jersey Girl or Zack and Miri.  It doesn’t include the comics…which is a shame.  The comics were great.

I know the one I love the most.  I know the one I watch the least.  I have no clue how the rest of this list is even going to go…so let’s just jump in.

#6 – Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

Man this movie is a lot of fun.  First of all the film is basically a sequel to THREE MOVIES at the same time.  Yes it is a continuation – it is the fifth film in the franchise – but to bring back characters from Clerks, Mallrats, and Chasing Amy (plus we get the Dogma Mooby’s tie-in) all into one film was just great.

I loved that he raided the American Pie cast – especially landing Seann William Scott who I think is such a talent.  The bevy of jewel thieves (Shannon Elizabeth, Ali Larter, Eliza Dushku…and Jennifer Schwalbach!) was just choice casting.  I nerded out when I saw JOE QUESADA in the movie.  It was such a fun, early role for Will Ferrell who had really just come into his own a year or two before.

The plot is complete nonsense.  I mean Jay and Silent Bob are mad that a movie based on a comic book that is based on them is being made so they go on an adventure to stop the movie from being made.  They run into jewel thieves, they are framed, they hang with a monkey (long promised since the ending of Mallrats), and hunted by police and a dimwitted Wildlife Marshal.

It can be a bit long in the tooth.  There was the one sequence I remember initially seeing in theaters where the jewel thieves come out of their van in their skintight pleather outfits just to show them off to the audience.  I sat there, watching these girls in slo-mo going…what the fuck is going on?!?!!?  The sequence is silly but the film is silly.  And now some 16 years later I can appreciate Eliza Dushku in skintight pleather just a bit more…

Did I mention that this movie brought Dante and Randal back to the Quick Stop?  THAT was great to see.  We were promised a Clerks 2: Hardly Clerkin’ movie but, at that time, it looked like it wasn’t going to happen.  Any time Jeff Anderson is in a Kevin Smith film it is usually magic – no matter how small the screen time.

Once the duo get to Hollywood the film is just magic.  The third act feels smooth as silk as we watch the characters navigate Miramax Studios trying to stop the movie.  It mocked unneeded sequels in this section from the Scream series (which we actually got another bad sequel for) to Good Will Hunting (which thankfully never got a sequel…yet).  When the characters do make it to their target there is a showdown with Mark Hamill that is one for the books.

Littered with cameos the film is a bunch of fun.  The beginning can bog down a bit but overall it is just one of the more fun films.

#5 – Chasing Amy

I’m sure there are many fans of this franchise that would balk at me putting Chasing Amy so far down on the list.  If you think that…you are probably right.  For having such a tight budget (not Clerks tight ….but still) this film is well-written with amazing performances from the jerk from Dazed and Confused (and Mallrats) and the skateboarding guy from Mallrats.

Coming off the bomb that was Mallrats many had written Kevin Smith off as a one-hit wonder.  He stunned the community when this film came out.  Many didn’t believe the man who actually wrote “Snoochie Boochies” into a screenplay could be capable of writing something so honest, meaningful, and deep.

It’s a boy meets girl, boy loses girl, but boy accepts fate kind-of story.  You feel for Holden (Affleck) when he falls for this beautiful girl Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams in her BEST performance) who turns out to be a lesbian.  Somehow they make a go of it even though Holden’s best friend and business partner Banky (Jason Lee) is a raging homophobe who knows it is not going to work.  Thing is it might have worked if Holden wasn’t such an idiot.  You feel like screaming at Holden because you know as you sit there and watch this film how much of an idiot he really is.

Ultimately the film is about growth.  And being who you really are.  It’s about how relationships can transcend even if they aren’t meant to.  It also shows that life isn’t fair.  It is a great, great film.

So why so low on the list?  I really believe that even though this is probably Smith’s second best film it is the one I usually watch the least.  That’s not to say it isn’t great.  I just get more enjoyment out of the other films.  If I had to skip one film and just watch the rest it would be this one.

But have someone who doesn’t like Kevin Smith movies?  Show them this movie and this is usually the one they’ll actually like.

I have a great anecdote about the first(?) viewing of this film that Kevin threw at a small theater in Middletown, NJ that my buddy and I got to sneak into (thanks so much Kim Loughran – still owe you to this very day).  But I guess I’ll save that anecdote for another day…

#4 – Mallrats

I’ll preface this one by saying that even though Mallrats is at #4 I can probably watch this movie the most out of all the films.  The film is just outstanding.  I still remember being in college when this movie came out and rushing with a co-worker to the Mercer Mall theater to see Kevin’s new film.  We sat down in this huge theater, the movie started, we looked around, and there was no one else in the theater.  Then we laughed our asses off.  We told everyone how great Mallrats was but it didn’t matter.  It was out of theaters in about eighteen seconds.

As a filmmaker I think Kevin still had a lot to learn and it shows in this film.  Clerks was filmed in such a small setting with a ton of dialogue – you really didn’t mind the lack of camera movements.  Mallrats just feels like a guy and his friends trying to make a bigger budget film but still not really knowing what they were doing.  I could be totally wrong here but that’s what it feels like.

Does it matter?  No.  The script is fantastic – even though a hatchet was taken to it and changed many plot points around.  I still prefer the theatrical version to the original so I think what was done to the movie works just fine.

Once again Kevin raided the cast of a film (this time round being Dazed and Confused) and it works wonderfully.  Sure Brodie and T.S. are idiots who don’t know how to treat their women right but you just can’t help root for the duo.  They wind up at the mall where some idiotic events happen.  A Stan Lee appearance at a comic book store on the same day a television show is being broadcast from some random mall in New Jersey?  Why not.

It was the return of Jay and Silent Bob!  They weren’t just dealing drugs outside the Quick Stop – now they were hanging around the mall for no good reason.  Until they are given a good reason.  And the ensuing hijinks by the duo really help make the film a classic.  It is completely funny that movie execs wanted to recast Jay and that we almost had someone like Seth Green playing Jay.  In some alternate universe that movie exists.

The movie’s ridiculousness is what gives it strength.  Silent Bob trying to do the Jedi mind trick.  Jason Lee asking Stan Lee about Mr. Fantastic stretching his penis.  Ethan Suplee mocking Shannen Doherty’s 90210 days with just a word.  Those AWFUL magic-eye posters from the 90s.  Chocolate pretzels.  Accosting the Easter Bunny.  The film is a film that just continues to give.  And out of all the Kevin Smith movies this one is probably the most quotable.  Nearly every line that comes out of Ethan Suplee’s mouth is pure gold.

As someone from Jersey it was also great to see the U.S. 1 dirt mall flea market in the film (well at least the outside – they didn’t film inside the place).  A few years later they tore it down and built a massive movie theater there.  There’s a crypt around back of the theater.  No lie…it is pretty awesome.

Because this is higher on the list is this a better film than, say, Chasing Amy.  No…Chasing Amy is by far the better film.  But Mallrats is just the more awesome film.  More quotable, more watchable, and just a bunch of fun.

#3 – Clerks II

This film is probably higher on the list than it should be but as this is just my personal list I say…fuck off.  The third act of this movie just goes off the rails but when you are making a SEQUEL to Clerks…I really think it was truly where the movie needed to go.

First off this film brought Jeff Anderson BACK.  Yes he had a cameo in Dogma.  Yes he was in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.  But this saw Jeff back on the big screen in a huge role.  And, once again, he owns the screen.  I’ll never get how he never made it in Hollywood (beyond voicing Taco Bell commercials).  The man is just a presence onscreen.  He’s a natural talent.

The film has the duo working at a Mooby fast food restaurant – ten years after Clerks and still in sad jobs.  It’s about failed dreams.  It’s about dead end jobs.  The movie is also about settling.  Dante (played brilliantly by Brian O’Halloran) is leaving for Florida with his fiancee.  That means it is going to leave Randal alone in his dead end job with his best (and perhaps) only friend gone.  In Randal fashion what does he do?  He throws the going party of all going away parties.  And, this being Randal, it gets messed up in such a spectacular fashion.

Rosario Dawson was choice casting as Becky – the manager of the Moobys.  Out of all the actors to ever grace these films she is perhaps one of the best cast (outside of Anderson and Mewes).  Her smile makes your smile.  She’s dead sexy (check out the dancing scene on the roof of this film and say that I am wrong.  I dare you).  And you really believe that she cares for that idiot Dante who is…well…an idiot.

Trevor Fehrman makes up the third clerk named Elias and that dude is another outstanding actor.  He’s just a good-hearted kid who unfortunately has to go to work with Randal every day.  As Clerks II is just another day in the life you see another day in the life of this poor kid who really just wants to make food without being fucked with.  With Randal around that is not going to happen.  Trevor plays the part perfectly.

We saw Dante and Randal back before.  We all saw the Flying Car short.  We read the comics.  We saw the animated cartoon.  We saw the appearance in Strike Back.  You cannot say that it was not AWESOME seeing them back on the big screen together.  It was a dream come true.

The film strikes a chord with me personally as well.  When the film came out I was still a writer but in a few short years I was back in retail – a guy with a college degree telling parents why it is bad for their 8 year old to play Grand Theft Auto (85% didn’t even care).  I felt the plight of Dante and Randal – to be working a job you hate serving people you dislike and to have big dreams.  In the end of the film Dante and Randal get the growth they so deserve.  I did too.  They moved on.  I moved on.  It feels like every ten years I not only get to see how the characters grow but how their story arcs actually intertwine with my own.  It is probably why I am looking so forward to a Clerks III.

Did I mention Rosario Dawson dancing on a rooftop?  Worth the price of admission alone.

#2 – Clerks

My buddy Makio asked me one day to go see Clerks in theaters.  I was puzzled that he wanted to go see some black and white (?!?!?) movie and I declined.  When the movie came out on VHS I was forced by another friend to sit down and watch it.  He had rented it, watched it, called me, and I came over to watch this movie that he had just watched.  I felt like an idiot for not seeing it in theaters.  The movie spoke to my soul.

It spoke to our generation (Generation X or whatever we were).  It felt real.  Most importantly it was how Jersey people talked.  You want a movie that is pure Jersey you watch Clerks.  I was shocked….this is HOW WE TALKED and this guy actually wrote a movie capturing that shit perfectly.  And the film was great.  Funny as hell.  Kevin Smith became a movie god to me.

I may have watched this movie 6,000 times.  I remember we used to close Blockbuster Video at 1AM(!?!?!?!) so, around 11PM, we would turn off the crappy trailers they would make us play over and over again and put on Clerks.  We did this nearly every shift.  It never grew old and it never grew unfunny.  It probably got better with every viewing.  The only problem was customers who came in the late at night would stop to watch the movie, laugh with us, and usually end up renting the movie out from underneath us.  Assholes.  How dare they rent the movie that we wanted to watch!

Once again the movie is a day in the life of two young clerks working dead end jobs.  We meet Dante who is basically a good guy but is pining for an old girlfriend while overlooking the great girl he has.  And there’s Randal the prototypical slacker.  He’s a jerk, he’s arrogant, he’s smart, and he’s damn funny.  Randal has the best lines of the film (because Smith wanted to play this character himself he gave the character the best lines) and Jeff Anderson plays Randal ‘to a T’.

The acting isn’t the best, the film is black and white, and the sets are limited.  Still the movie stands the test of time.  It is still outstanding.  It’s over twenty years old now but show it to any teenager who has yet to see it and they’ll most likely still be blown away by the film.  Whenever I meet someone who hasn’t seen this film I usually try to rectify that as quickly as possible.

I still don’t understand how, after this film was released, Jeff Anderson was not cast in every comedy film.

As I mentioned above – this movie really changed my life.  I had many fun years as a writer – interviewing many comic book and movie stars.  Going to film sets.  THE WATCHMEN FILM SET!  Meeting people and they were like, “Oh wow, you are Ryan McLelland!”  They were really great years.  I’m pretty sure that would never have happened without Clerks.

And yet…there is still one ring to rule them all…

#1 – Dogma

For a movie with a giant poop monster and a female lead who is pretty much THE WORST this film is the shining star of the View Askew films.  It speaks to faith and the ideals that surround faith.  It talks about salvation, purgatory, and commercialism.

It’s about two fallen angels who want to get back into heaven.  And if they do they basically destroy the universe.  But they don’t care…they just want back in.  So it is up to a descendent of Christ, one of Jesus’ apostles, a muse, and JAY AND SILENT BOB(!?!?!) to stop the apocalypse from happening.

The movie is about the beliefs of Catholicism, about religion in general, and how awful Hell really could be.  Man oh man did this movie piss off those right-wing Christians back in the day.  They picketed the movie.  Kevin Smith joined in the picketing.  They got it on the news.  It is some great footage.

The cast is nearly outstanding.  Chris Rock as an apostle not mentioned in the Bible because he was black.  Salma Hayek who is sexy as shit (but can sometimes be unintelligible saying Smith’s lines due to her accent.  Still…sexy).  Jason Lee knocking it out of the park for the third time in a row as the man with the evil plan.  Ben Affleck and Matt Damon back together right after their success in Good Will Hunting.  George Carlin as a Cardinal.  Janeane Garofalo in a role that should have been bigger.  And Alan Rickman in a tour de force.  The man known as Hans Gruber, the Sheriff of Nottingham, and Severus Snape…playing the Metatron – the voice of God.  And you know what?  His performance in this is just as great as anything he’s ever done.  He’s amazing.  He’s outstanding.  Perhaps the second best actor cast in these films (sorry Alan…..Rosario still has you beat).

Even though this movie is the best of Smith’s films it could have been better.  Linda Fiorentino plays Bethany and the film basically revolves around her stopping the Apocalypse.  She is the worst.  THE WORST!  It isn’t that Fiorentino is a bad actor.  She’s not outstanding but she has had some very decent roles in the past from Men in Black to the incredible The Last Seduction.  In Dogma she bogs down the movie at every corner.  She is hands down the worst cast person ever to grace a Kevin Smith film.

Despite her awful performance the film truly rises above.  What Kevin accomplished with a magnificent script, a great cast, and a tiny budget is pretty outstanding.  While the subject matter is quite deep Smith is able to tell the tale quite masterfully.  There’s angels, there’s devils, there’s a giant poop monster, and even God.  It is also pretty outstanding that in a movie full of FAMOUS Hollywood actors the best of all of them is Jason Mewes.  Man…he really killed it in this film.  Jay and Silent Bob can be silly, funny, and sweet.  But for Jason Mewes to be able to go up against some like Alan Rickman and stand toe-to-toe?  Phenomenal.

And now?  Right now?  I’m pretty sure I’m crushing Dogma so hard I’m go to just stop typing and turn it on.  Matter of fact this entire Sunday (when I’m typing this) may just turn into a Kevin Smith day.


P.S. Kevin – if you are reading this – please…PLEASE…get Brian Lynch to release Big Helium Dog.  PLEASE.  I’ll wash your car.  I’ll be your butler.  I’ll put your child through college.  JUST FINALLY RELEASE THIS AMAZING FILM!  All I ever want from life is a copy of this movie…