I've pointed out the weirdest crap I've seen all year, I've given a shout out to the best performances of 2011, and yeah, I got through the Best and Most Entertaining Movies from the last 365 days respectively. Now, let's get to the good stuff… and by "good" I of course mean incredibly bad. I've seen about 150 movies in 2011, and that's just so far (there's a little bit of catching up to do, I admit), and out of all of those these are the ten – well, technically eleven – movies that drove me absolutely insane. Lazy, inept, stupid or just plain boring, these movies are to be avoided at all costs, even if other critics claim to have liked them (there are a few of those). Good luck to all of you as you read this, my list of the Ten Worst Movies of 2011.
[UPDATE: In response to some of the comments, I feel it reasonable to explain that I didn't see the latest Twilight. I would have, but I was unable to attend a press screening, and didn't have enough personal interest to pay for it.]
10. DEADTIME STORIES, VOLUME 1
I don’t usually pick on straight-to-video movies. They have a hard enough time as it is, competing with blockbuster home video releases on a fraction of their budget. But the first volume of George A. Romero’s Deadtime Stories was unforgettably lame. Most anthology horror movies have one bad installment, and some only have one good installment, but each entry in Deadtime Stories was poorly conceived, awkwardly executed and just plain bad. There’s a very poorly filmed “evil natives in the jungle” episode, an evil crotch-biting mermaid interlude (sounds more fun than it is) and a failed attempt at a moody vampire tale. And tying it all together is Romero himself in a slapdash framing device that wouldn’t pass muster on public access. The second volume of Deadtime Stories, to its credit, was a significant improvement, but the first volume is to be avoided at all costs.
9. THE HANGOVER PART II
Not so much “bad” as disturbingly lazy, The Hangover Part II is the Home Alone 2 of transsexual penis movies. The original Hangover, a funny if perhaps overlong comedy about a group of guys retracing the steps of a drugged out evening to locate their lost friend, has just been remade for its sequel, occasionally upping the gross out ante but otherwise telling the exact same jokes in a different locale. The essence of comedy is surprise, not familiarity, and a film that mistakes the two is barely worth releasing. Yes, it made a lot of money. Yes, people enjoy it even though it’s not very good for them. You can make the same argument about heroin, and we don’t legally allow it in this country. If only the same could be true for sequels like The Hangover Part II.
8. YOUNG ADULT
A film that’s superficially “good” so long as you don’t think about it too hard, Young Adult reteamed the wunderkinds behind Juno, an agreeable conservative comedy, and ruined all the good will they engendered from that quippy farce. Charlize Theron stars as a self-absorbed ghostwriter who returns to her hometown to “save” her high school sweetheart from his suburban prison. Surprise! He’s happy and she’s not. Theron tries to sabotage his marriage, a plot which could have been disturbingly fascinating, but instead she falters, blames the whole thing on a single traumatic incident that reduces her to a stereotype, and ultimately decides not to change her ways in the slightest. Whatever the filmmakers’ intent, the message is clear that she’d be happier if she’d settled down at a young age and contented herself with the hand she was dealt. We’ll get back to more of this anti-feminist rhetoric – admittedly a pet peeve of mine – later in the list.
Joel Schumacher is one of the most frustrating hit-or-miss directors in Hollywood. He’s made some genuinely brilliant films, Falling Down among them, but also absolute crap like last year’s Twelve, and Trespass. (Yes, and Batman and Robin too. Let’s move on now.) Trespass is a close-quarters “thriller” about an affluent couple held captive in their house by a group of brutish thugs. It’s not high-concept, but it didn’t need to be as long as the filmmaking was taut, the characters were well developed and the story had at least one or two unexpected twists and/or turns. None of those things happened here. Cage overacts his head off, Kidman is utterly wasted in a thankless role and the events of the film are thoroughly pedestrian. Without the top of the line cast, this would have gone straight-to-video and had a couple of sex scenes added in post, just so audiences would feel like they got their money’s worth. Instead we get a “classy” picture without even the basest of thrills to its credit. It’s so flimsy that I almost forgot to include it on the Worst Films of the Year.
I may have the minority opinion on this, but I’m confident that the critical darling Bellflower is actually crap. It’s attractive crap, but it’s mostly a superficially “cool” film about a douchebag with whacked out priorities who ultimately solves his problems with violence and rape. You can make a film about that guy without pissing me off, but when the victim respects him for it, and when the filmmakers don’t address the serious ramifications of that character choice, you’re left with such an oppressively hateful and misogynistic film that I just can’t award bonus points to the director because he made his own camera.
5. I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT
For the record, I like the Chick Flick genre. Some people discount or hate it out of hand, but in the right hands these movies can be light entertainment at its best. But I Don’t Know How She Does It is a Chick Flick at its absolute worst: an unfunny, judgmental film about Sarah Jessica Parker obsessively placing the needs of her family – who are doing pretty damned well on their own, you might notice – over her own individual dreams. In that regard, it may be a greater maternal horror story than We Need to Talk About Kevin. All this might have been forgivable if the film had been mildly entertaining, but it’s a gut-wrenching, painful experience that proves that having children is obviously an absolutely awful experience and should be avoided at all costs… the exact opposite of its intended message. Thanks for saving me over $12,000 a year, I Don’t Know How She Does It. Maybe you were worth the price of admission after all.
4. SUCKER PUNCH
Some people love Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, and in their defense it’s certainly an unbridled look at the inner workings of the 300 director’s id. It’s too bad that Snyder’s subconscious isn’t worth looking at, because that was a fun prospect. The film starts with an impressively theatrical backstory, set at a mental institution for young women, one of whom plans to escape. It then segues into a strange, elaborate fantasy world of implausibly chaste teenaged prostitution, in which the heroine – who’s already hallucinating – proceeds to fall into another, sillier series of dreams in which she’s a live-action anime heroine, fighting all manner of robots. The action sequences are cool but make no sense whatsoever, since the Sucker Punch’s period setting predates all the pop culture phenomena that the heroine references. Maybe if the film just took place in that fantasy world I might have bought it, but with the serious real world prologue it just falls apart. Deftly-produced awfulness.
Anonymous is so mind-bogglingly ridiculous that I suspect, in a few years time, the filmmakers will all claim it was just an elaborate joke. It’s too bad they spent so much time and energy in 2011 promoting it as a serious costume drama, one that reveals the vast (and poorly-conceived) Shakespearean authorship conspiracy, because now we’ll never believe them. Rhys Ifans stars as Edward de Vere, an Earl who secretly pens the plays of William Shakespeare – in “reality” an illiterate blowhard and probable murderer – in an effort to sow discord against potential usurpers of the crown. The film’s unfortunate message – that only the elite, rich and well-educated are capable of greatness – is mercifully lost in a miasma of absurd plotlines that would have been laughed out of the campiest daytime soap opera. Unintentionally hilarious filmmaking at its best/worst, and the campiest movie of the year.
2. BROTHER’S JUSTICE
Brother’s Justice was barely released this year, but released it was and so I have to say it: it’s one of the worst movies in a very, very long time. This vanity project from Jackass’s Dax Shepard, who can be very funny given the right material, follows the comedic actor as he tries to reinvent himself as an action hero. The film’s fundamental paradox – that Dax Shepard’s hopeless ineptitude would clearly prevent him from being a successful enough actor for the plot to make sense – makes every scene confusing to watch. It doesn’t help that Brother’s Justice’s screenplay is painfully unfunny beyond a pair of scenes that would have been better off as YouTube shorts. Ill-conceived from the get go, and not nearly amusing enough to get away with it. I’m surprised that it’s not the worst film that 2011 had to offer.
1. (Tie) – ATLAS SHRUGGED: PART ONE and JACK AND JILL
Normally I only allow ties in a top or bottom list if there’s some thematic connection: action movies, same director, etc. In this case I just could not decide which was worse: the dramatically inert Atlas Shrugged: Part One or the offensively shoddy Adam Sandler comedy Jack and Jill. (That’s offensively shoddy for an Adam Sandler comedy, by the way. My standards are flexible.)
Atlas Shrugged is flimsy on every conceivable level. The performances are bland or, at best, thoroughly miscast. The film tries to subvert the conventional underdog story structure but offers no new emotional hook to replace it, leaving the audience with no rooting interest whatsoever, beyond – perhaps – defending a political treatise. But the makers of Atlas Shrugged make no effort to actually convert anyone to the film’s mindset, instead assuming their allegiance and merely coasting on literary fealty to appeal to its own choir. It’s a cheap, boring, uninvolving film to anyone who isn’t mentally prepared to defend it sight-unseen, and it would easily be the worst film in the year if it weren’t for Jack and Jill.
Jack and Jill is Adam Sandler’s latest comedy, about a man with an annoying twin sister, both of whom are played – badly – by Adam Sandler. The story is so full of product placement and “insert plot point here” scenes that the actual story, as base as it is, feels rushed, rote and stupider than necessary. It tries to get by on images which, in a vacuum, might be vaguely amusing: Adam Sandler in drag on a jet ski, Adam Sandler in drag with explosive diarrhea, Adam Sandler in drag rebuking the sexual advances of Al Pacino (playing himself). But the context robs these potentially stupidly funny moments of their comedic value by encouraging Adam Sandler to play Jill: the vilest, most racist, socially stunted and piercingly voiced cinematic creation I can think of. It’s an ugly film, an insincere film, and just plain not funny. It would easily be the worst film of the year if it weren’t for Atlas Shrugged: Part One.
DISHONORABLE MENTIONS (in alphabetical order):
VANISHING ON 7TH STREET