With the miserable regularity of the Grinch’s alarm clock, my deafening hoots of praise give way to similarly loud hoots of derision, aimed at the lowest of the low. This inevitable post also sees the return of my usual hand-wringing, as I try to mitigate the fact that I’m bitching about a bunch of movies like some know-it-all while talented (and, I have to say, not so talented) people actually CREATE something, just to see it pilloried by some schmuck blogger. How rude of me! How arrogant! And yet here we are. Because I really felt the urge to bitch about a bunch of crappy Jennifer Aniston movies. Again.
Film critic Anne Billson was talking yesterday about the polarisation of popular opinion into either rabid fandom or frothing hate, with comment sections on many pages turning into a bear-fight between these diametrically opposed viewpoints. I have to admit this gave me pause: here I am writing about 30 movies I loved and 30 movies I thought were just appalling. If the impression I give is of someone who can only see things in black or white, bear in mind the 50-odd movies that didn’t get on either of these lists. Take The Book of Eli, for example. It doesn’t get on either list as I thought it was merely all right. If I were to list all of the movies I saw this year in order of preference, it would be squarely in the middle. It didn’t get higher because of that bone-headed twist at the end. It didn’t get any lower because I really liked a lot of the cast and the Hughes Brothers made it look nice. (Actually, it’s either that or Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which was neither here nor there, really.)
As for these movies, it’s not black and white here either. My number one movie featured some of the most incredible production design of the year, and the generally rather amazing effects had a lovely texture to them. My number 25 movie made me laugh at it in derision, but when the dancing started I shut the hell up with a quickness, as pointed out by Daisyhellcakes. Same as with my previous list. Black Swan‘s success was not due to the screenplay, which I thought was certainly good enough, but included some clunky lines pushing the subtext into the open where it quickly withered and died. This meant little, though. It was only the odd moment, and it was easy to forget as Aronofsky weaved his amazing spell with the writers’ clever manipulation of ambiguity.
So here is my anger. I tried to at least give a rounded reason for my dislike: there are any number of shittily constructed films made each year, but there usually needs to be something more than just cynically dashed-off pandering at play. Okay! I’ll stop trying to cover my arse now.
25. Step Up 3D
It seems like an act of wanton cruelty to include something as childishly good-natured as this in the list, but note has to be made of the ineptitude of the filmmaking. Newly enrolled in university to study electrical engineering, Step Up 2‘s Moose is torn between his parent’s desire for him to forget about all of this silly dancing, and his irresistible urge to pop and lock and jive and krump or whatever its called. If he doesn’t give in to his urges, square-jawed Luke’s dance-utopia The House of Pirates (which is almost identical to Hansel’s loft in Zoolander) will be taken over by evil trust-fund asshole Julian. Oh noes! Moose’s dilemma is presented several times in identical ways (Do I attend this exam? Or the World Jam contest scheduled at the most conveniently inconvenient time possible?), to no suspense whatsoever. This is only the smallest of Step Up 3‘s flaws (the fact that 65% of the movie is made up of elaborate handshakes is another). Still, at least the dancing is AMAZEBALLS, though even then the choreographers are restricted by the need to advance the dancers into the 3D cameras as often as possible just to show iof the revolutionary technology ZOMG. I still recommend it for its good-timey atmosphere, thrilling soundtrack and mad skillz. (Seriously.)
24. Remember Me
It might think of itself as a spiritual successor to Erich Segal’s Love Story, but it feels more like an opportunistic remake of Untamed Heart, but without Christian Slater and Marisa Tomei’s spark and charisma. The story of a depressed and unpredictable young rich boy and the poor daughter of a bereaved cop sporadically hints at something more interesting: Allen Coulter wisely keeps things dour and unironic, restricting his palette to somber greys and making sure only one deeply obnoxious character ever really acts like he has a pulse. Unfortunately the casting of teen heartthrob (and co-producer) R-Pattz opposite Emilie De Ravin (sans Aaron the BAY-BAY!!!) scuppers the love story: Pattinson’s chemistry with his female lead is only slightly more convincing than with his Twilight co-star Kristin Stewart, which isn’t saying much. None of this matters, though. The offensively stupid ending wrecks everything, coming from nowhere in a futile effort to create something profound from the inconsequential goings-on, but as That Plot Twist could have been replaced by any other tragic event without changing a thing about the movie, its inclusion smacks of tasteless emotional manipulation.
The latest from Jean-Pierre Jeunet stands as the prettiest movie that made my hackles rise this year. This curious mash-up of simplistic anti-Bad-Things proselytising and cutesy slapstick has many things to commend it, not least the stunning photography, the delightful production design, the elaborate Rube-Goldberg setpieces. Even the weird tonal mismatch that sees a bunch of DELIGHTFUL eccentrics conspiring against two beastly arms dealers is interesting, though it veers close to the edge of trivialising a serious subject. Nevertheless, personal bias intrudes. As with Wes Anderson — a filmmaker with his share of detractors — Jeunet’s style can overwhelm all other praise if you’re not onboard with his sub-Chaplin shtick. It’s a delight to look at, but if you’re in any way immune to the trick of having a bunch of simpering ninnies endlessly grinning at the camera while accordion music coats the whimsical proceedings with an unnecessary extra layer of treacle, this is not the movie for you. The jokes are almost all unforgivably bad, too. Consider this not necessarily “terrible”: more “unbearable if you have a low tolerance for twee things”.
Why is this movie — a critically acclaimed project from an award-winning director, dealing with weighty themes like poverty and death and redemption and sorrow, filmed with great skill by a talented photographer and featuring some of the best sound work of the year — at number 22 on this list? Solely because of Javier Bardem’s towering performance as Uxbal, a man tortured to almost comical lengths by the unseen hands of misery-pornographer Alejandro González Iñárritu. If it wasn’t for Bardem, this movie would be in the top five. Smearing nasty-smelling mud on your face might be advertised as being good for your skin, but it’s still stinky, nasty mud that takes ages to wash off. Biutiful is the same thing: a worthy (God I hate worthy movies) attempt to give audiences a first-person view of what poverty is. Except it isn’t really. It’s just a weirdly sadistic attempt to degrade a character just for the sake of it. The texture of the movie, the technical achievement, and Bardem’s stunning emotive work are all commendable, but this is nothing more than fibre for your brain’s bowels, with no intellectual-nutritional value added.
Some of us have taken to laughing at poor M. Night Shyamalan, mostly because no one likes a cocky jerk who loves to position himself as the greatest storyteller on the planet (even going so far as to cast himself as such in a particularly misguided movie), but it has to be said, even when the tales he tells are nowhere near as clever as he thinks they are, his attention to pace and composition — not to mention his use of silence — make his films worth catching. Devil shows this disparity between bone-headedness and base-line competence brilliantly. Conceived as the first Night Chronicle, Devil sees one of M. Night’s sub-Twilight-Zone scribblings fleshed out to almost feature length, taking a passable twist and surrounding it with histrionic performances and PG-13-friendly hints at nastiness. It could have been a lot of fun, as proved by its spiritual ancestor Phone Booth, especially as some smart people worked on it. Unfortunately this falls far, far short of its potential.
20. Clash of the Titans
It’s tempting to say that one day someone will make a good movie out of the entertaining core idea that mortals would rebel against the Gods, but for all we know, Louis Leterrier did make a good movie before it was edited down into this incoherent and contradictory mess. This Chud report on the original script lays bare the form the original version would have taken, and it seems like it could have been better. It would at least make sense, correct the madness that is the “romantic” sub-plot between Perseus and Io, and give Danny Huston some proper screentime as Poseidon: a fairly important change, seeing as how he gets namechecked in the pre-credit narration but only appears in the movie for three seconds. Sidelining the Gods in favour of choppily-edited quest gubbins with a cadre of unappealing and underwritten humans is a movie-killing disaster, and only a couple of bravura effects sequences lift this Olympian failure out of the mire of its own making.
19. The Last Airbender
This soporific adaptation of the beloved US anime-homage makes last year’s execrable Dragonball Evolution look like Zu Warriors of the Magic Mountain. For all his faults, Shyamalan is an expert at telling stories at a crawl: it’s one of the reasons why it’s hard to discount him as a filmmaker even as he makes one bad movie after another. However, handing him an entire TV season’s worth of story to boil down to a single movie was a dreadful mistake that cannot be fixed. It feels like days pass while badly sketched and poorly performed characters impart stilted exposition in an attempt to fill up the plot chasms that litter the narrative, though that is preferable to the numerous endless scenes in which a bunch of kids practise tai chi in front of a green screen. The leaden pace continues through the sporadic action, presented mostly in long slow-motion takes that lack the energy necessary to differentiate them from the rest of the movie. When it finally ends, the viewer can only thank the Gods that the studio would never have released anything that ran longer than this.
18. Jonah Hex
Josh Brolin is slowly becoming Old Dependable. He was the best thing about Oliver Stone’s woeful W and significantly better Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, and single-handedly keeps DC’s cobbled-together Western fantasy from being worse than Wild Wild West, though it’s a close call. He also seems to be the only person with a handle on what the character is meant to be, as writers Neveldine/Taylor and director Jimmy Hayward seem to think he has magical powers. Putting nerd-preciousness about this odd choice aside, blame should be pointed at whoever got cold feet midway through the making of this obviously unmarketable curio and went into a major panic in the editing room, because what ended up onscreen should never have been released. A hollow frame of a potentially more enjoyable movie, Jonah Hex becomes less and less bearable as it trudges toward an incoherent finale that screams reshoot.
17. Sex and the City 2
Michael Patrick King’s hedonistic fantasy is as unhinged as any David Lynch nightmare, portraying a baffling world of noise and colour filled with ghastly caricatures. Argument has raged about whether the movie is as insensitive as it initially seems, treating religion and gender issues as unwelcome distractions from the all-important act of converting the entire world into an vast mall for the benefit of the improbably wealthy. Criticism of the characters — now unrecognisable when compared to the versions in the TV series — has also raised hackles: to pass judgement on these almost comically self-absorbed monsters is to somehow pass judgement on all women everywhere, though it’s worth pointing out that this group of anti-empathic wire-frame maquettes masquerading as humans don’t even seem to be enjoying their profligate lifestyle any more than we are when watching, so emulation might not be such a good idea. So how about this, SotC2 defenders. Can I just hate the movie for being poorly told, ineptly shot, incomprehensibly edited, unfunny, dull, and a waste of Chris Noth? Please? Can I?
16. Twilight: Eclipse
The startlingly poor quality of the Twilight franchise has been almost forgivable thus far due to the unreliable nature of the directors: Catherine Hardwicke and Chris Weitz are hardly visionary filmmakers, and can only be blamed so much for failing to create life from such barren narrative ground. This time there was no excuse. David Slade’s previous movies – Hard Candy and 40 Days of Night – showed promise, but somehow he turned in the most tedious Twilight movie so far: some achievement. Then again, what could he do? Original author Stephenie Meyer and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg seem to think it’s perfectly acceptable to break every rule of storytelling by barely even progressing the narrative forward. At the start of this interminable torture device the main characters are dealing with Edward’s proposal of marriage to Bella, and in the final scene they have returned to that starting point with almost nothing changed. A few minutes of vampire-on-vampire fight action and lots of chest-baring from poor Taylor Lautner do not count as a story. A truly unforgivable waste of time.
15. The Expendables
Sylvester Stallone’s horrid action epic could well be the misfire of the year, seemingly going out of its way to alienate the exact audience it seemed to be pandering to. How can you attract an action-movie cast of such perfection and then give them nothing interesting to do? How can you take the idea of a band of badass mammajammas going on a berserk killing spree to save a single damsel in distress from an entire army of ne’er-do-wells — headed up by ERIC ROBERTS for God’s sake – and make it so bland? How do you cast Shades of Caruso favourite Terry “President Dwayne Camacho” Crews and render him practically mute? The politics are marginally less unpleasant than Stallone’s last Rambo movie, and the action antics are arguably crazier, but even though this is meant to be more of a romp than Rambo – with its insane melange of rapings, baby-killings and pedophilia punished by lots and lots and lots of righteous American gunfire – it still manages to be far less fun. Of all the disappointments we had this year, this might be the most profound (which is more than can be said for the film. EY-YOOOO!).
14. Essential Killing
Hey, if you can’t stand to hear Vincent Gallo talk in his weird nasal voice about how much he hates black people or about how much his semen is worth because he’s a superior being, this is the movie for you! Reduced by filmmaker Jerzy Skolimowski into a mute figure struggling to get from one point to an indeterminate other over hills and trees and snow and more hills, Gallo manages to be the only interesting thing going on, his face a tornado of bewildered terror hidden behind an impressive Rasputin beard. Nothing else is happening here. Using a Taleban “soldier” as a protagonist might seem shocking, but as seen in the wake of Chris Morris’ excellent and empathic Four Lions, Skolimowski’s movie seems more like an act of defiant but empty provocation, the adolescent behaviour of someone who would probably think scrawling “BOOB SEX” on a church wall is the height of inflammatory protest. Uninteresting even as a survival tale, the meaning of the movie seems to be that there is no meaning, but this is a message that has been delivered many times before in far more affecting and profound ways.
13. The Bounty Hunter
One of the many dreadful things about this mechanical romactioncom is that someone, somewhere, watched Midnight Run and thought, “You know what would make this movie better? If Jack Walsh and Jonathan Mardukas were actually IN LOVE!” Though that’s better than the other inspiration: the thought that everyone will love to see a burly, malformed man dragging his recalcitrant shrew wife around like the pissy cavegirl she really is. Respect is due director Andy Tennant for making this wholly unappealing set-up much less disturbing than it could have been. Nevertheless, the entire misguided project deserves censure for playing to the demographic that thinks women need to be tamed by their hubby, and no amount of strong-headed behaviour from Jennifer Aniston is going to soften that message, especially when she pitches that behaviour as “bossy” instead — modulation of tone is not her strong suit, though admittedly she’s a hell of a lot more watchable than Gerard Butler. Compared to this farrago, even Killers – directed by no less than Shades of Caruso bête noire Robert Luketic — seems like a diverting romp. Still, at least Jason Sudeikis is funny here.
12. Piranha 3D
When making an exploitation flick it can be hard to make gratuitous sex and violence entertaining without crossing over into sleaziness, but it’s not impossible. Joe Dante’s original Piranha movie did a great job of staying classy even while catering to the baser instincts of the audience. Alexandre Aja’s miserable B-movie homage has neither class nor smarts, but it does have boobs and blood. Hilariously its main villain is a Joe-Francis-esque scumbag (a well-cast but inept Jerry O’Connell) who is punished for exploiting women by having his cock bitten off by a prehistoric carnivore. What dire fate awaits the filmmakers for also punishing almost every scantily clad woman in the film with grisly and explicitly gory death while the male characters are mostly killed off screen? The unapologetic fratboy misogyny is breathtaking, and calling it “ironic” when there is no evidence of that beggars belief. Shades of Caruso can enjoy a schlocky horror comedy as much as the next blog, but it actually has to contain a scintilla of entertainment value. This doesn’t. The critical free-pass it got for its humour (?!?!?!) is 2010′s most inexplicable event.
11. Valentine’s Day
According to Box Office Mojo, Garry Marshall’s criss-crossing rom-”com” made over $213m dollars worldwide. If you average out ticket prices at $10 each, that means approximately 21 million people developed diabetes in February this year. The DVDs for this (don’t bother with Blu-Ray, it won’t tax your TV) should come with a syringe and insulin, just in case. Coming off like Paul Haggis’ Crash as directed by Tommy Wiseau, this multi-strand ode to love seems to have been sponsored by the Valentine’s Day Corporation, considering how often the name of the day is invoked (it averages once every two minutes). It’s deliberately heightened and old-fashioned: heightened in that no one acts like a human being and old-fashioned because there is nothing here you haven’t seen before, except maybe Eric Dane’s sub-plot. It’s also unfeasibly twee, almost odiously so. The only fun to be had is to embrace the bewildering inclusion of Anne Hathaway’s character earning extra bucks as a phone-sex operative. Was this a homage to Jennifer Jason Leigh’s plot in Short Cuts? Would this mean her boyfriend Topher Grace would kill someone? Can I get away with referring to this movie as Shit Cuts?
10. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief
Last year I asked if anyone could stop Chris Columbus making movies. I ask it again in 2010, but with greater urgency. The success of the Harry Potter book and film franchise makes it inevitable that others would seek to profit by something similar, but who would have guessed that Rick Riordan’s book series would be turned into a movie with Philosopher’s Stone director Columbus at the helm? Saying he phoned this one in is the understatement of the decade, but let’s give him his due: it would take someone with actual talent to breathe life into a screenplay this lazily derivative. The cynicism of the enterprise is matched only by its gallumphing appropriation of another country’s mythology, cynically stealing the Gods and monsters of Ancient Greece and “sassily” translating them into forms deemed appropriate for modern American audiences: Medusa comes out especially poorly, thanks to another excruciating performance from Uma Thurman. Still, at least it has Pierce Brosnan’s hysterical turn as a seemingly inebriated centaur to recommend it, for all the wrong reasons.
When Aaron “All Bloggers Are Idiots” Sorkin has made a more nuanced and sympathetic exploration of the Internet’s impact on today’s youth than you have, alarm bells should be ringing. Watching Hideo Nakata and Enda Walsh’s intellectually vacant psycho-drama is one of the more depressing experiences of the movie-going year, and not just because Nakata doesn’t get to use his incredible ability to create an atmosphere of choking dread. Chatroom‘s biggest crime is to dramatise — without any perceivable irony or counter-commentary — the kind of alarmist drivel spouted by the Luddite know-nothings infesting the pages of the Daily Mail. The Internet and the online society of chatroom denizens is depicted as a garish tumult of porn, inconsequentiality and lurking evil, with kids at the mercy of deranged predators who attempt to drive them to suicide. The Mail’s panic is ripe for adaptation, discussion and/or satire, but Chatroom merely re-enforces the fear. As Shades of Caruso was borne of a fortuitous online meeting, we’re bound to be less forgiving, especially when this movie is so poorly conceived, staged and acted.
8. Extraordinary Measures
CBS Films launched with this heavily-promoted true-story drama about a father’s fight for his children against the heartless medical establishment, and followed it up with insemination comedy The Back-Up Plan, which could count as the least auspicious launch of a production company since Hollywood Pictures released a roster of non-hits like Taking Care of Business and V.I. Warshawski. Produced by Harrison Ford in a rare burst of energy, this muddled TV movie-writ-not-much-larger — a Lorenzo’s Fail for our time — focuses on the father’s drearily-sketched battle against bureaucracy (yay!) and the scientific method (ya… whuh?) while sidelining the scientist who did all the actual research, a man who is dismissed as an “eccentric” but “lovable” curmudgeon, with his weirdness depicted as a bit of tetchiness (“I ALREADY WORK AROUND THE CLOCK!!!”) and a tendency to listen to The Band a little too loudly. Someone lock this maverick up before he hurts someone! Only a movie as anodyne as this could consider this the behaviour of an outsider. Ford escapes censure on old-school charisma alone: Brendan Fraser is not so lucky.
7. Knight and Day
When people accuse Hollywood of only making bland films with the edges shaved off, they forget that sometimes something perverse ends up on screen. How else to describe a movie where a woman ends up stalked, persecuted, Roofied, and abducted by what appears to be an elderly psychopath with a bad dye-job who at one point shoots her boyfriend. Perhaps the bad thing about this potentially subversive masterpiece is that it is actually meant to be a light-hearted spy romp with a bit of action for the boys, a bit of romance for the girls, and a bit of Rohypnol-assisted kidnap action for the serial killers. Therefore, the effect is a troubling disconnect between the tone and the onscreen events, such that you wonder who the hell thought it was a good idea to make it. James Mangold is usually fairly reliable, but nothing here works. No joke lands, no spark flies between its robotic leads, and no tension is generated. Even worse, the poorly utilised action scenes and shitty FX sequences are edited into an image-scramble that only tie your optic nerves into a knot. It stands as a catastrophic failure on every possible level.
6. It’s Kind of a Funny Story
Since writing this review of It’s Kind of a Funny Story — the tale of a young boy with suicidal tendencies who ends up in a mental institution alongside adults with mental health problems – I’ve been told by people who experienced similar problems during adolescence that Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden did a good job of capturing what it feels like to suffer depression as a teen. I bow to their better knowledge of this, and accept that the filmmakers have done their research. Sadly that doesn’t mean that their pandering filmmaking is any more tolerable, or their cutesy take on the mental illness of the older characters — who are depicted mostly as preternaturally wise due to their innocent wide-eyed view of life — is excusable. So many poor decisions have been made here that it is hard to catalogue them all, though the waste of a great cast is possibly the worst crime, with the exception of the magnificent Zach Galafianakis. Despite his considerable efforts, this is One Flew Over The Neutered Cuckoo’s Nest, hermetically sealed in pink-tinged plastic to make sure nothing even vaguely troubling leaks out.
5. The Switch
Some movies fail when they don’t achieve what they set out to do, others when they were misconceived in the first place. The Switch should now be considered the archetypal example of the second kind of bad movie. Taking a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides as its starting point, this non-comedy non-drama sits flatly on the screen, with formerly likeable performers moving from one position to another, honking noises at each other that pass as communication. If that description lacks detail, it’s because the movie lacks definition too. The synopsis states that Jason Bateman’s emotional cripple substitutes Handsome-But-Horrid Patrick Wilson’s semen for his own, which is then used by Jennifer Aniston to create a mini-Bateman who is just as unpleasant as his father. Hijinks resolutely refuse to ensue. The entire enterprise misses so many of its expected marks that it becomes a completely mystifying experience. It’s so anti-funny — while bearing all of the markings and pace of a comedy — that it almost becomes a curio worthy of recommendation. If you’re watching movies on a regular basis, The Switch should be essential viewing, much like it’s essential to see the world’s biggest ball of twine when travelling through Missouri. However this doesn’t make it any less terrible and depressing.
4. Cop Out
Kevin Smith has a skill worth celebrating: he can throw together rambling jumbles of perfunctory plot and scatalogical dialogue in such an endearing way that – with his best movies — the shaky direction cannot prevent audience goodwill from forming. So why oh why oh why would he volunteer to direct a script by someone else that’s of such amateurish quality? It’s like condensing a negative into a supernegative against all the laws of mathematics. Smith might argue — vehemently, and with ever-growing fury, if you follow him on Twitter — that the movie is a homage to the buddy cop movies of the 80s and 90s, but putting a faux-Faltermeyer soundtrack over the leaden action and ill-timed comedy is not enough. The majority of the movie is tough to watch, with Bruce Willis’ nap being continually interrupted by Tracy Morgan’s incessant shrieking, but things get worse with a mechanical and unconvincing shift into dramatic territory in the final act. The killing blow is Smith’s decision to edit the movie: it’s such a shoddy job that the studio should have wrested it from Smith’s hands and finished it themselves. Let’s hope Smith’s next movie – Red State — is better than this. Or at least competently made.
3. Eat, Pray, Love
Perhaps not the best movie to appear during these times of cutbacks and sacrifice. There’s an argument that movies like this are a nice way to escape reality, but perhaps only if there is an element of genuine humility present, some sense that the subject of the movie is aware of their good fortune. Instead, Ryan “Glee” Murphy’s vacuous travelogue presents the trivial concerns of a privileged narcissist as worthy of pity and emulation, even going so far as to remove mention of Elizabeth Gilbert’s fortuitous book deal – which funded her trips around the world – and act as if she was broke the whole time, thus turning her adventure into some kind of indulgent fairytale populated by caricatured foreigners and airbrushed poverty. With this and Sex and the City 2 it’s possible there is a terrible disconnect forming as Hollywood realises it is wrong to assume that the only way to relate to women is to celebrate conspicuous consumption, and so tries to dress up the lifestyle-porn with spiritual and political frills, but at its heart, it remains cynical, patronising, and empty. It makes Somewhere – Sofia Coppola’s similarly troublesome snapshot of the woes of the rich and lazy — look like 8 ½. Avoid as if t’were plague-ridden.
2. Resident Evil: Afterlife
The AV Club ends every year with a Least Essential Album list, where the writers pick over the kind of records you might find it hard to imagine could possibly exist. This year Paul W.S. Anderson – now officially the British incarnation of Dr. Uwe Boll – made the least essential film. Did we really need another 90 minutes of Milla “Frown” Jovovich firing two guns in slow motion at poorly made-up zombies? What story was told here? The opening fifteen minutes retcon the third movie out of existence (especially egregious as Russell Mulcahy’s attempt at breathing life into the franchise was the only halfway decent Resident Evil movie to date), and then we plod through a siege plot we’ve seen countless times before, without bringing anything fresh to the scenario. Anderson is quite simply the worst storyteller on the planet, someone who has no idea of how the mechanics of a plot are meant to work, or how to play with narrative expectations to create new forms or even entertainment on the most basic level. He can only steal from better movies, and then corrupt those ideas by using them without understanding why they worked in the first place. He seems pleased with this low-effort plagiarism, but that’s no reason to let him off the hook.
1. Alice in Wonderland
Was Hook not a lesson to us all not to tamper with works of wonder? Tim Burton’s mystifyingly successful re-imagining of Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories does many things wrong even just on a surface level: that tedious Danny Elfman score; the weird obsession with violence against eyes; the torpor that infects everyone as they stand stiffly in front of green screens; the lazy cribbing from the Lord of the Rings films; introducing the amazing Mia Wazikowska to a wider audience with such an unchallenging role, etc. Most egregious, though, is the decision to treat the original stories as prequel to a standard Chosen-One-against-the-Evil-Empire fantasy plot that ran out of juice years ago. All Burton can bring to this overused plot is the heinous reappropriation of Carroll’s characters, hacking at their personalities so that they fit into slots in the mechanical narrative machine, with the Mad Hatter as Morpheus, the Caterpillar as the Oracle, and the Jabberwocky as Agent Smith. Alice in Wonderland (and no, NOT Underland) would be on this list already for the lack of effort expended, but this feeble, energy-sapping exercise in monetising the magical earns my eternal hate for corrupting books of true poetry and mind-expanding eccentricity, debasing Carroll’s delightful imaginative flourishes by transforming them into base elements in a rote plot. It’s a cause for concern that this flaccid monstrosity will fool new readers into mistaking Carroll’s fantasy for a mere forerunner to this “spectacular” “epic”, but hopefully new readers will still derive pleasure and insight into Carroll’s wondrous imagination, and forget that Tim Burton and Disney ever embarked on this unforgivable act of mindless cultural vandalism.
Boogie Woogie: A movie about art that is thoroughly artless. Duncan Ward and Danny Moynihan’s art-world satire is hideously ugly and only sporadically amusing, with the acting split between very entertaining and thoroughly dreadful. Farce should be lively, but the only thing with any energy here is the devilish laugh of the ever-wonderful Danny Huston. Sadly it merely echoes off the barren walls of the cavernous warehouse sets.
The Infidel: Ostensibly an irreverent take on Middle-Eastern identity politics played out in culturally diverse London, David Baddiel’s script and Josh Appapignesi’s 80′s-esque direction instead smacks of toothless sitcom laziness, relying on the usual jokes about Jewish culture and the inevitable frisson of the sight of an Iranian in a yarmulke. Not as daring as it thinks it is. Or as funny. Omid Djalili gives it his all, though.
Gentleman Broncos: Released in the US last year, this latest curio from Jared and Jerusha Hess features their signature blend of idiot-mocking and more idiot-mocking, this time with a touch of sci-fi fan-mocking. Treading similarly mean-spirited ground as their breakout hit Napoleon Dynamite, Broncos at least has a funny turn from Jermaine Clement, and some defiantly crazed work from SoC heartthrob Hott Sam Rockwell.
Killers: A Robert Luketic movie that didn’t make my bottom 25? Can it be? Well, yes, but with caveats. Perhaps this would have been a contender were it not for Knight and Day resetting the bar so low, but even so, this has more life than anything else by SoC’s least favourite director. Which doesn’t mean it’s not terrible. The Demon Heigl is her usual unlikeable self, but somehow Tom Selleck sucked too! Bah!
The Wolfman: After years of wrangles with directors and script rewrites, Joe Johnston finally brought Universal’s lycanthrope to the big screen with some truly beautiful photography, production design and effects, but absolutely zero emotional charge. Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins sleepwalk through the disappointing carnage while superstar Emily Blunt does all the heavy work. As usual.
Soon to come: performances and crew contributions of the year, and my desperate attempt not to give almost every bit of praise to just one movie.