With year-end worst of lists, it’s rarely fun to pick on films that are dead and buried. Is it really worth rehashing why I Am Number Four or Apollo 18 are bad movies? In five years no one’s going to remember those films, to say nothing of Shark Night or One Day. in fact it’s likely everyone’s forgotten them. What’s much more disappointing and terrible is cinematic good will squandered. And so here is our list of the ten worst films and trends in cinema in 2011:
10. The Artist (as an Oscar Contender)
There’s nothing all that wrong with Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist as a film. A throwback, it attempts to recreate the look and feel of a silent movie with some laughs and some forced melodrama. But as an end of the year film that is now looking like the Best Picture winner to beat, it’s all wrong. The filmmakers don’t seem to really love silent movies and so the film works more as a homage to something they’ve never directly experienced than a period movie. Perhaps that’s the point, but a light soufflé such as this can’t stand the heavier implications of greatness. If it does go on to become one of the best pictures of the year it will join the class of films like Driving Miss Daisy or Crash as “things that seemed like a good idea at the time” or “what the heck were they thinking?” winners. And in a year as rich with cinematic treasures as 2011, that’s just sad.
9. Hall Pass
Bobby and Peter Farrelly have unleashed two terrible cinematic nuggets on us this year. The first would be the trailer for The Three Stooges, but more painfully (and much more feature length) would be Hall Pass. A film that seems to suggest that its filmmakers are on the verge of divorce, Hall Pass is neither unfunny or insightful. The Farrelly brothers had the perfect mixture of gross-out and heart in There’s Something about Mary, and have spent the last decade trying to reproduce the formula. At this point, they should stop.
Though most would argue that The Green Lantern is the lesser of the two, Thor – in some ways – stands in for all these recent films that function more as franchise empire-building than cinema. Routine and poorly staged, Thor falls apart by using one of the most boring conventions of big-budget cinema: the main character can’t use his superpowers for an hour of the film’s running time because it’s too expensive. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are perfect casting, and there’s some beautiful sets, but the end result is a film that exists to get viewers to The Avengers, and there’s nothing so offensive as a film that functions as a trailer for the next one. If The Green Lantern has a saving grace, it’s that it doesn’t seem to inspire future projects as readily.
7. Faithful Adaptations
Speaking of, this year we’ve had films like Harry Potter and Breaking Dawn bifurcate their narratives to supposedly service fans, and we’re about to get David Fincher’s take on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, where the book was too successful for Fincher to strip it down to what worked and what doesn’t. We’re in a culture where fans are being spoon-fed adaptions. The end result – while none of these films are terrible in and of themselves – are movies that don’t so much function as films proper but either collections of scenes that add up to a translation of the books – or a cliff notes version – with no sense of pacing. There’s a great scene in the classic film The Bad and the Beautiful where a director tells the producer that you have to choose what are the most important scenes in a film, and it appears that none of these movies have had to make those decisions. And on top of that, it’s simply a craven way to milk more money out of a popular franchise.
6. Another Earth
Another Earth is an art-house film that was a Sundance triumph, and represents the worst sort of pretentious meandering drivel that often passes for deep. “What if there was a parallel Earth where maybe our alternate selves didn’t make the same mistakes?” Maybe you should learn better film-making skills and drop the philosophy 101 courses. It’s also a film that’s hit a lot of best of lists, but it’s painfully obvious narrative suggests that too often low and no budget films get passes for having ideas.
Body swap comedies were the fad in the late 80’s (meaning it spawned about four films), and so perhaps the genre was due for a re-imagining, but the end result feels slapped together, and makes you feel sorry for Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds, Leslie Mann and Olivia Wilde for appearing in such an empty and mean-spirited comedy. Throw in some over the top feces humor, and CGI nudity, you get one of the least enjoyable comedies in since Hall Pass. There’s nothing so unfunny as an unfunny comedy, and with such talented performers, it’s a travesty.
With such a talented cast, it’s impressive that Jon Favreau managed to lay such a goose egg. A non-western, Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are wasted in what amounts to a chance for talented people to dress up like cowboys and waste money. The plot is terrible, but more offensively, there’s a good movie in there somewhere. This probably kills the chance for any reasonably budgeted western from the studios for the next three years. Thanks.
Though 2010 took the cake for terrible 3-D post conversions (last minute jobs like The Last Airbender and Clash of the Titans), we still saw many of the summer’s biggest films in 3-D for little reason other than a ticket price bump. There’s nothing wrong with the format per se, but after a year of bad 3-D in such films as Thor, Fright Night, Conan the Barbarian, Pirates 4, the Greens (Hornet and Lantern) it’s something that needs to be done by people who are paying attention (like Martin Scorsese or – god help us – Michael Bay), and not slapped on to increase ticket sales. As we’ve seen, it often doesn’t help.
2. J. Edgar
With the recent SAG nominations it’s quite possible that J. Edgar will be an awards contender, even though the film died at the box office. There may be a critical divide on this film, as some have noted those over 40 seem to enjoy the film more. But if we are to accept the argument that Clint Eastwood is a truly great director (and the man has made at least two masterpieces), then this Wikipedia page summary of J. Edgar Hoover’s life and times deserves to be lambasted as a terrible work. Bad old age make-up aside, the film never feels like it has a spine so much a collection of J. Edgar’s greatest hits assembled in a way where sum is much less than the parts. Naomi Watts, Leonardo DiCaprio and Armie Hammer waste themselves in a film that seems to have been made simply as Oscar bait.
One of the laziest and least imaginatively staged blockbusters of all time, On Stranger Tides is half baked every step of the way, from its nonsensical plotting to barely awake performances from Johnny Depp. Directed – terribly at that – by Rob Marshall, it was the least successful of the series domestically, and yet crossed a billion dollars worldwide. Which means we’re getting more. What makes this the worst movie of the year is that everyone involved knew they could half-ass it and still make money. And there is nothing so offensive as successful people making crap simply because they know they can get away with it.
What did you like the least about the past year in film?