Rather worryingly, it was a lot easier to get this list up to thirty than the best movies list, and I even had to stop watching bad movies because otherwise I’d never have finished. There were so many candidates this year that I ended up having to force myself to kinda sorta like some of them just to get them out of contention. As I said in the Best Movies list, this has been a shaky year for me with movies. I found myself becoming very disillusioned with the medium at one point, possibly because I’ve been writing and have found my patience for over-familiar storytelling tricks waning. It has caused much brow-furrowing, and as anyone who has met me knows, I have a lot of brow to furrow.
An important thing I want to say before I get into this. A lot of internet debate this year has concerned the politics of popular art (or maybe it’s always like this and I only just started following the people who talk about it the most). Much of it has been fascinating and illuminating, shaping the way I understand the responsibilities of storytellers, to the point that even more than in previous years I now respond very strongly to negative portrayals of women, persons of colour, members of the LGBT community, or anyone differently abled. However, one thing hasn’t changed, and that’s that I come to these movies as someone interested in the mechanics of story first. Some readers may think I should do it the other way around, but this is how I’m built, how I’ve been doing this for years, and it’s the approach that suits my (privileged white male) outlook the best.
Which is not to say I don’t care about such matters; I do, very much. However, I’ll always watch a film for the film first, and deal with the rest later, mostly because I’m more confident in assessing something through the storytelling lens than the political one, as I’ve been thinking as a storyteller for a lot longer than I have as an analyst of political messages (and I’m always going to be in the process of learning more about both). If a film does interesting or worthy things on a story level, I won’t automatically ignore or excuse its political problems; my praise will be tempered, but I’ll still feel compelled to commend what works.
For example, Jack Reacher has massive problems in how it treats women, which made me livid, but in terms of directorial approach and storytelling tricksiness I loved it, so I’m on the fence about it. Only when we become fixated on binary love/hate reactions would such a thing be a problem, but I’ve always tried to see films as an aggregation of different variables, so I can like something for one reason, hate it for another. The truncated nature of social media, and the subsequent removal of nuance, means it often feels like no one does that any more, though I’m sure I’m wrong on that one. Right?
As for the movies on this list, they’re here because I think they failed on a storytelling or artistic level, and all deserve to be here for that reason alone, but the top ten especially seemed to fill up very quickly with movies that committed both crimes against storytelling and people. I will inevitably come across as a humourless, overthinking, fun-averse chide during this post, but as I wrote it I realised how angry some of these films made me, so my usual chirpiness vanished. This is where trying to have an open mind gets me; watching everything in the hope that I’ll find a misunderstood gem means I have to wade through an ocean of fecal matter to get the odd gem.
Anyway, apologies for the traditional caveats. Two more quick ones before I get into it: sadly I haven’t seen Atlas Shrugged Part 2 in time for this, which is a shame as it’s supposed to be worse than the first one and that topped last year’s list with ease. This is the Bad Movie List equivalent of not seeing Django Unchained or Zero Dark Thirty before finishing the Good Movie List. Also, please don’t be offended by any selections here that you liked. Nothing here is meant as a judgement on anyone other than the people who made the films, and even then their failure is often the result of a badly-tossed coin rather than anything more worrisome. If you liked any of the movies here, then it fit your Criteria For Success, as I’ve taken to calling it, which is obviously fine as no two people have the same ones. And that’s cool. These just really weren’t for me, and that means nothing in the scheme of things. Though really, number two in this list is just flat-out fucking horrible.
25. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part Two
It wouldn’t be a worst of the year list if it didn’t include a Twilight movie at some point, though from next year onwards Shades of Caruso will have to figure out a way to cope without our least favourite supernatural bores. Our long, international ordeal is over. Bella and Edward are together, like they were pretty early on in the first film and continued to be for the majority of the series; a perfect example of that depressing narrative stasis I’ve been complaining about for half a decade. So, considering how high these films have been on each year’s worst list, why is this at no. 25 and not, say, no. 1, like when Return of the King won all those Oscars? Because this one was actually sporadically entertaining, with a bit more Michael Sheen than usual, a crazy mid-movie sequence involving some hastily introduced story-padding vampire eccentrics, one undead ghoul with the brilliant super-power of “PARALYSING VAPOURS” which made me laugh for a week, and a fantastic big finale fight that left me reeling with shock. But in that case, I hear you cry, why is it on the list if you liked it so much? Because of one choice made right at the end that invalidates everything that has happened, meaning that once more we get absolutely no narrative progression at all. It’s two hours of waiting for something to happen, only for that thing not to happen. The book contains no dramatic impetus and the only way the movie can get around that is by lying to the audience. It’s a very entertaining lie, but it’s still unacceptable. Goodbye. Twilight, thanks for the laughs. But I won’t miss you. Not really.
24. [REC]³ Génesis
Since Evil Dead 2 a lot of horror comedies have hewed to a very familiar template; while Kevin Williamson, Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard, and Robert Rodriguez have tried to break open the genre to figure out how it works, most filmmakers have been content to mimic Raimi’s groundbreaking work by throwing some monsters at a group of protagonists in order for them to be dispatched in as grisly a way as possible. It’s the easiest kind of transgressive cinema, with slapstick taken to the logical, unpleasant extreme; tread on a rake in one of these films and your head will fly off and land in a nun’s lap, probably. The third in the [Rec] series eschews the intensity of the previous installments in favour of laughs; a promising way to inject new life into a franchise that was finding it hard to maintain its found footage format. Sadly the result is an underpowered and overfamiliar gross-out comedy that often resembles the execrable Torchwood episode Something Borrowed, itself guilty of mimicking Raimi’s horror-comedy landmark. Juxtaposing the horror of a demonic zombie plague with a wedding ceremony sounds promising but instead all we get is some depressing wacky hijinks from some of the guests and a bit of unimaginative gore. Less scary than Lamberto Bava’s Demons, to which it bears passing resemblance, and disappointingly low on laughs, this might only be as underwhelming as every other horror comedy clogging up the shelves, but considering the pedigree, and the damage it might do to the integrity of the ongoing [Rec] saga, it’s especially annoying. Let’s hope [Rec]: Apocalypse gets the franchise back on track.
23. The Five-Year Engagement
Many of the films on this list are by writers and directors with previous form. If you haven’t looked further down the list you’ll see that some of Shades of Caruso’s many bêtes noire are coming up. More depressingly, then there are misfires by people we like, and these entries are no fun to write. Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel have, between them, been responsible for three films we think of very fondly; Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him To The Greek and The Muppets are a big deal in SoC HQ. You can imagine how excited we were when we heard they were collaborating again, this time on what they trumpeted as the ultimate romantic comedy. They studied the classics, they analysed the conventions, they stuck to the rules, and yet this is what we got; two hours of contrived stasis, with a malfunctioning and unconvincing premise as its spine. And where were the jokes? Even the Reality-Bending Charisma Storm that is Emily Blunt (future Monarch of the post-apocalyptic Human Alliance of Planets; you heard it here first) can do nothing here other than make you wince in horror at the indignities poured upon her. It’s rote, it’s mechanical, it’s absurdly drawn-out, much like the titular engagement. Only a spirited final scene registers in the memory, but what a slog to get there. God knows what it was like before the reshoots that occurred before release. What should have been one of the best examples in this genre has turned out to be one of the worst; a how-to manual that unexpectedly ends up showing future storytellers how-not-to instead.
22. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
How to disappoint Shades of Caruso part 2. When I heard that Neveldine / Taylor were going to make a sequel to Ghost Rider – one of our favourite bad movie indulgences – I was thrilled. With money and support there was a chance that their chaotic and ballsy visual approach would yield dividends, a suspicion bolstered by a trailer showing Johnny Blaze pissing fire. This was what we wanted; some honest-to-god madness, and none of Mark Steven Johnson’s hesitance. But again, this weirdness of this character defied the attempt to translate him / it to a new medium. Neveldine / Taylor’s madness only really works when the stakes in their movies don’t matter. We don’t give really give a shit about Chev Chelios’ survival, except that his death would mean the end of the movie. As N / T don’t care either, and are only interested in throwing more random imagery at the camera in the weirdest ways possible, it works. But Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance has a sympathetic protagonist and attempts to create a goal for him to achieve, people to protect. Fine, except that this ends up feeling like scenes from two movies shuffled together, and we see how hollow it truly their approach is. N / T don’t know how to make us care, but even worse they don’t seem to realise that they’re meant to. The result is truly disheartening, and hints that early suspicions about N / T are true; they don’t actually know what they’re doing. It’s on them to prove me wrong. This boring, ugly mess is not the way to go about it. That said, my main men Cage and DJ Big Driis are awesome in it, at least.
21. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Movies set in India tend to make me nervous, with Western filmmakers treating the country like some kind of magical spiritual wonderland. I blame The Beatles. Slumdog Millionaire annoyed me for its flaws as a film, more than anything, and Darjeeling Limited walked a fine line, falling mostly on the side of satirising the idiocy and ignorance of its rich protagonists rather than making some patronising argument about the virtues of the country. Eat, Pray, Love‘s trivialisation of issues like poverty and depression, on the other hand, were unforgivable, and while watching Best Exotic Marigold Hotel I held onto the thin argument that at least John Madden and Ol Parker’s adaptation of Deborah Moggach’s novel wasn’t as clueless as that. But the depiction of the honest poor of India is still wince-inducing and overly sincere, most horribly seen in Dev Patel’s gallumphing performance as the cowering simpleton running the old folk’s home. Even worse is the pandering, shallow guff about living life to the full even when old, reducing the characters to two-dimensions, their arc a binary switch which will be flicked during the final act in a tornado of predictable uplift. The cast contains many of my favourite actors, doing their best with the weak source material, but compared to Hope Springs, which dealt with the complications of old age in a more sensitive and measured way, this comes across as just yet another mechanical British movie about overcoming adversity, devoid of genuine warmth and humanity despite the great performances from almost everyone involved.
20. Taken 2
The first Taken was one of the most surprising box office hits of recent years. Why this movie? Films about action men killing swarthy foreigners are a dime a dozen and have been for years. Liam Neeson wasn’t a huge box office draw, and neither was Maggie Grace. It didn’t have anything that seemed to be a hook and yet it made $145m in the US. The uncharitable reading is that it appealed to an undercurrent of xenophobia in a sub-section of the populace, but thanks to Pierre Morel’s taut direction it is at least, for all its faults, a compelling action movie, and Neeson’s re-emergence as an action hero makes a lot of sense as the film powers towards its conclusion. So how to explain Taken 2‘s popularity? This time let’s chalk it up to familiarity with the format, and the now-justified position of Neeson as box office powerhouse, because this doesn’t even have competence as a variable. Morel did wonders with Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen’s traditionally tin-eared dialogue and threadbare plotting, but Oliver Megaton is unable to bring anything to the table other than straight-to-DVD-level mundanity and brain-scrambling editing used to hide the thin, unappealing footage. Without lizard-brain appeal this franchise’s shortcomings are laid horribly bare, and Neeson and villainous Rade Sherbedzija, both men with inbuilt gravitas, can do nothing to save it. Back in the day we had Silver Pictures to churn out a series of cheap but wry and appealing action movies; Besson and Kamen should stay in and watch a bunch of them one weekend to see how high the bar is really set.
19. One For The Money
Funny that this came out at the beginning of the year, and Jack Reacher came out at the end. Both are about characters in popular novels, both were turned into star vehicles by actors who desperately needed a new tentpole franchise to call their own, both were rejected by the fans as entirely wrong for the part. And yet, while Jack Reacher is made with care and attention to detail – while preserving the worst and most beloved aspects of its source material – One For The Money is one of the laziest films in recent memory. It all hinges on Katherine Heigl’s charms, and if you’re resistant then this is a tough slog, but to be fair her spiky personality is better matched with protagonist Stephanie Plum’s brassy NJ persona than fans of Janet Evanovitch’s novel would accept. Sadly Heigl struggles to inject any life into this still-born project, which neither amuses or excites. On top of that there’s a tedious romantic subplot that makes the recent atrocious The Bounty Hunter look like a Hepburn / Tracy classic. If this mini-review seems to lack detail that’s because this eminently forgettable film left my mind within minutes of the credits rolling. All I can recall with full confidence is that 90 minutes felt like 16 hours, and the only thing I got from it was a rage headache at all that wasted time.
18. Snow White and the Huntsman
As if we didn’t already have enough reason to hate Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, still the most maddening piece of cultural vandalism that this blog has seen in its time on the net. Its incredible, baffling success means “fairy tales” are in, triggering the genesis of Jack The Giant Killer and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. ::pauses to sigh wearily:: It also gave us two Snow White movies. Mirror, Mirror is merely a leaden star vehicle for Julia Roberts, with Tarsem’s usual visual business curiously lacking in oomph this time around. Rupert Sanders’ Huntsman, on the other hand, is one of the more depressing films of the summer, finding its own success despite offering nothing but a listless mishmash of tones in search of a unifying idea. It’s got a bit of Twilight, not just in the casting of Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan with a sword, but also the love triangle between her, the Prince of the original tale and the Huntsman who searches for her, his role in the tale beefed up past breaking point. It’s got lots of Lord of the Rings too, not realising that expanding the original Grimm tale with courtly drama and big action scenes means empty spectacle without a complex and well-imagined world to build on. There’s even some faux-Miyazaki stuff about the spirit of the forest lifted almost directly from Princess Mononoke. But this is no light-footed genre mish-mash. It’s just the lining of a magpie’s nest, shot like an advert by a man who doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing, with only an over-thought, noted-to-death script as a guide. The dead-end of the genre; next to this even mad shit from the 80s like Hawk The Slayer looks visionary.
17. Take This Waltz
Sarah Polley’s second movie may not have won as many critical plaudits as her first movie — Away From Her — but it still got multiple award nominations and festival raves. Certainly Polley does something very welcome in taking on a thorny subject with a refreshingly non-judgemental approach, detailing the slow and regrettable dissolution of a marriage as the protagonist, Margot, makes a choice to take control of her life and allow herself to fall for another man. Affairs in films are usually used to make “slut-shaming” judgements on women for their wanton ways, so Polley’s decision to make this choice an empowering one for Margot is commendable. However, to do this means we get a full 90 minutes walking on the spot as Margot, played as a cutesy child-woman by Michelle Williams, agonises over her choice in scene after scene of overplayed, near-unwatchable stasis, eroding the sympathy of any audience member with a low-threshold for meandering storytelling. Take This Waltz spends so much time justifying Margot’s choice, clearing her of any possible audience negativity, that the whole film seems like a defensive argument, blunting the drama of her choices and making her seem more a fool for taking so long than a brave woman taking control of her destiny. It leads to a lopsided film that lacks the courage of its convictions, made worse by its unbearable mopey characters and their self-consciously twee behavior; to endure Luke Kirby’s drawn-out-beyond-the-limits-of-endurance café seduction scene is to know burning, soul-deep agony.
16. What To Expect When You’re Expecting
The thought that movies are being made of pregnancy guides and relationship advice manuals has caused much hilarity and/or despair among the critical community, but as I argued in this review of Battleship, it doesn’t really matter where you find your inspiration from as long as the end product is worthwhile. This is not worthwhile. Using a similar structure to Garry Marshall’s Valentines Day / New Year’s Eve ensemble pieces, WTEWYE addresses a number of different scenarios involving childbirth, from adoption to miscarriage to the long road to birth, but while the book offers advice and tips on how to cope, this has nothing but cheap jokes, clumsy slapstick, and a strange balance in which there seems to be more time spent dealing with how the fathers will cope than the mothers, who are only really present to be hysterical. That’s not its main crime, and neither is the depiction of one character’s miscarriage, which is as movie-convenient and insultingly sugar-coated as you’d imagine in a light comedy. The true horror comes when J-Lo’s childlessness triggers a tearful rant during which she says of herself, “I’m the one who can’t do the one thing that a woman is supposed to be able to do.” Yes. The one thing — THE ONE THING — that a woman is supposed to do. Of all the things I saw in 2012, that probably generated the most vocal reaction of disgust. Good job I didn’t see it in a cinema, or I’d have gone Shoshanna Dreyfus on the building.
Kicking this feel-good movie about a paraplegic and his carer feels like torturing a puppy, but sometimes needs must. While sincerity in films is a big plus point as far as we’re concerned, when it tips over into oleaginous sentimentality we close the door and never look back. Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano’s dramatisation of their documentary A la vie, à la mort looks like it’s on solid ground, transcribing reality into life-affirming cinema, but once separated from reality the temptation to coat this tale in sugar seems to have been irresistible. Much of the movie is spent presenting Philippe’s depression as being easily cured by the intervention of Driss, but this eagerness to show the efficacy of all that dancing and lovable hamminess from Omar Sy means the film is dangerously lopsided, and the second act crisis – in which Driss quits for plot convenience – is so feeble they might as well have not bothered. It’s inert on a dramatic level and cutesy to an intolerable degree; two terrible strikes against it. But then we have the deeply questionable decision to change the real life carer – an Algerian – to an African who is pathologically lazy and thoughtless. So we have the stereotype of the lazy black man transformed by the benevolence and friendship of the cultured and affluent white male, compounded by the also-included trope of the square middle-class guy learning to live life thanks to a Magical Negro. And France chose this as their Foreign Language Academy Award nominee instead of the far-superior Rust and Bone? FFS.
14. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
There are two ways to make a movie based on a gimmicky idea like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter; make a dumb joke out of it or go serious. Comedy would be an insult to the people who fought and died in the Civil War and the fight against slavery, so you don’t want to do that. Of course, pretending that it was vampires that almost split America down the middle, and caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people is also an insult to the people who fought and died in the Civil War and the fight against slavery, but Seth Grahame-Smith and Timur Bekmambetov seem to see no problem in trivialising the issue in this manner. Quentin Tarantino has received considerable flack for addressing slavery in the context of a Spaghetti Western homage but from all accounts he goes all out in depicting the horror of the South’s treatment of African-Americans, whereas this spectacularly misjudged debacle barely drew any criticism for saying, “yeah, the enslavement of over four million slaves by Americans was bad, but hell, it could have been vampires doing it.” SERIOUSLY, WHY WAS NO ONE BOTHERED BY THIS? Is it just because it’s a metaphorical use of vampires? Why bother doing that when the thought that humans would commit this crime is more potent than adding supernatural elements? This doesn’t illuminate the issue, or bring a new perspective to it. It just takes tragedy and turns it into an instantly forgettable Syfy-worthy one off, not even making up for its redundancy by being exciting, or funny, or even alive on screen. Now that I think about it, there’s actually a third way to tell this tale; don’t make a movie about it, just treat it as the mildly amusing idea for a Halloween costume that it actually is and leave it at that.
13. Dark Shadows
You can show me a hundred interviews with Tim Burton in which he claims that this adaptation of the quirky supernatural ABC soap opera is a dream project borne of his childhood love of the show, but that won’t make it seem any less like a movie Burton felt obligated to make, like he woke up one morning and said, “I guess it’s time to do that one,” before letting out a weary sigh and storyboarding the whole thing while his morning pot of coffee finished brewing (FYI he takes his coffee black because he’s a fucking Goth, you might have noticed). The realisation that this fantasy scenario might be accurate comes when you finally endure the desperately dreary movie and it occurs to you that Burton would have phoned his producer and sold it on the strength of the wacky sex scene, and his producer would have exclaimed, “Holy crap, I can see it now! Or rather, I can see the trailer!” And that’s because there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before. Dark Shadows is so perfunctory, so devoid of life or vibrancy, that it feels like you’ve already endured it before you have, but even then, with this dearth of imagination on display, you will still be astonished by the ill-thought-out plot that tries to mimic the soap opera format of the show by writing characters out after one or two key scenes — meaning the film never seems to settle down — or the seemingly endless first act in which Barnabas goes around the Collins household meeting people. Just meeting them. For, like, fifteen minutes. This isn’t cinema. It’s not even old TV. It’s just shit.
12. The Sweeney
While the James Bond franchise busies itself with the job of turning its out-of-date misogynistic asshole into a tortured, justifiably hateful shitbag we can all love – three dimensions of worthy but highly entertaining odiousness – this reboot of the beloved original doesn’t even bother to address the problematic 70s-era politically incorrect Jack-The-Lad hijinx, presenting it with no commentary as business as usual. Perhaps it should be commended for trying to remain faithful to its origins, but even to a target audience that has a Sweeney boxset at home and lectures its friends dahn the boozah abaht them PC wankahs will find this to be pretty thin gruel. Nick Love and co-writer John Hodge – yes, the man behind Trainspotting and Shallow Grave – do an unconvincing job of updating the original, taking a bunch of cliches and adding in the names “Carter” and “Regan” every so often, ladling in some excruciatingly dated banter about them birds and making sure the bad guy is a Serb for extra Guardian-baiting fun. Ian Kennedy Martin would likely look at this metallic blue machine and weep. Not even for a moment does this feel like anything other than a rote retelling of a million other stories, yet another cash-in, hoping to make some money from the kind of incurious twerp who thinks Garry Bushell is a man of insight and courage. Watching a cast this good (well, Damian Lewis, Hayley Atwell and Ray Winstone) swallow their pride is enough to make you pray for the British film industry to immolate itself; we’ve got the accelerant right here.
11. Friends With Kids
Anyone reading this list of the year’s most horrible movies could end up thinking that Shades of Caruso is populated by terrible prudes, what with all the necklace-clutching over those off-colour comedies. Nothing could be further from the truth, but considering the glut of adult comedies released into the post-Apatow world like cum-scented Kudzu, someone has to take a stand. This shift from numb acceptance to active annoyance occurred midway through Jennifer Westfeldt’s Friends With Kids, an off-putting adult comedy about a woman who decides to have a child with her platonic best friend. Westfeldt wrote Kissing Jessica Stein, which I recall was frank about sex and relationships but never became unpleasant. This, on the other hand, seems to be overly aggressive in its urge to shock the audience with swearing and “daring” jokes. This might be the kind of thing a prude would say, but the crime here is not to be offensive but to drive past the point of acceptability, beyond where transgression is funny, to end up in a place where the tone is uncomfortably, relentlessly sour. It’s bad enough that Westfeldt’s premise is so unbelievable; the protagonists decide to go through with their plan on what feels like a whim, and are then required to snottily dismiss everyone around them in a whirlwind of misanthropic complaints. None of it rings true, and the convenient final act muting of that inappropriate voice to show growth comes out of nowhere. I’m sure Westfeldt would cry foul if I said the crass dialogue spouted by her hateful characters was a cynical choice, but even so, it feels like she jumped on a bandwagon and tragically misjudged how far she could go before alienating the viewer.
10. The Expendables 2
Perhaps the worst thing about the Expendables franchise – and with the second installment making $300 million, it’s fair to say that this is a franchise, not an anomaly – is that the idea behind it is so compelling to a sub-section of film fandom, so ripe with promise, that the dreary first movie is especially disappointing. But that movie is like a peak-era Silver Pictures film compared to this, something that even Golan and Globus would consider dumping in a lake and never talking about again. Eschewing the poorly dramatised double- and treble-crosses of the first film, Simon West’s sluggish sequel relies solely on the goodwill of the audience to ignore the threadbare plot, the underwritten villain, the overly familiar scenarios and flatly-shot action scenes. Because look! It’s everyone’s favourite birther, Chuck Norris, slowly walking into shot and referring to himself as a Lone Wolf! And look! Arnie and Bruce swap catchphrases! “Will this do?” screams the film, as we cut once more to Stallone looking like his batteries are about to run out. Apparently it will, if it’s going to make this much money. Less a homage to the best of the genre, more an out-of-date nightmare mutated through the introduction of irradiated dollars into a lumbering beast crushing the genre underfoot. Don’t put a copy of this on your DVD/Blu-Ray shelf; your copies of Die Hard, Predator, Lethal Weapon, The Killer, First Blood, Demolition Man, The Last Boy Scout, 48 Hours, Con Air, The Rock – even Action Jackson – will jump down and beat you to death for the insult.
9. The Lorax
At the forefront of culture, where sentiment’s free,
There’s a well-meaning well-spring of sanctimony.
A clattering chatter of serious chaps
Come to warn us of doom; Eco-horror collapse!
And plastic doohickeys that suck out the soul
Of we miserable fools, our dead hearts black as coal.
“Oh woe, these poor dopes — grasping, ignorant saps
With their claptrap and waffle and counterfeit crap.
Don’t they see,” cry the men, their hands wringing in fear,
“What dire fate lies in wait if our cries they don’t hear?”
So they commenced their project, to adapt a great book,
Spent ALL OF THE DOLLARS, begged, “Please, you must look!”
And what did they give us? A veritable onslaught
Of ads and promotions, TV spots with a cohort
Of fabulous faces; An orgasmical sight!
Taylor Swift and Zac Efron! Ed Helms! Betty White!
And there’s Danny DeVito, who was chosen to play
The thing they call LORAX, nature’s orange Sensei.
The Lorax was unleashed but, a curious thing;
We heard rumblings and mumblings; “Oh this movie doth ming!
It’s so garish and ugly and much more than a tad
Hypocritical and lousy and vapid and bad.
We know that the future holds horrible trials
For our kids and our kids’ kids; We’re not in denial.
“Yet you treat us as if we’re all deaf, dumb, and blind,
Preaching ‘caring for nature makes you virtuous, kind.
And also buy Mazda! Our corporate sponsor who
Makes cars that don’t run on splut-splatter goo.
No no no, someone else commits those crooked acts.
Mazda’s cars run on wishes, fairy farts; check the facts!’
“We see through your flim-flam, this insult to the truth
You exploit to justify selling trash to our youth.
This far, no further! (Oh yes, we went there). No more, please!
Our next generation knows it’s gotta save trees.
Admit it, you made this because of the guilt
At the towering shower of turds you have built.”
“So now,” say the victims of this loud, joyless screech,
“To those midwives who birthed it, of you we beseech:
It’s time that you ended this endless abuse
Of beloved and gentle and saintly Doc Seuss.
UNLESS filmmakers like you give up making this rot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
8. The Watch
As time passes you realise that big summer movies that work are as rare as hen’s teeth, or sober compositions in a Tom Hooper movie. This means you cherish the ones that work; Ghostbusters, Raiders, Back to the Future; they all look better now than ever, while the underpowered nature of a half-competent sequel like Men in Black 3 casts the inventive original in an even better light. Those were movies that sweated the details, polishing a promising idea, adding layers of detail to create an immersive world. The makers of The Watch figured you can just turn Invasion of the Body Snatchers into a bitter comedy about empowering under-achieving men and then pile on the popular actors until the jokes just spontaneously happen. Watching actors like Vaughan and Stiller – men who once showed up on set to do a job instead of sending life model decoys programmed with all of their previously endearing stock personality traits – go through the motions, unwilling to be prodded into life by their director Akiva Schaeffer, is this misfire’s most disheartening spectacle. Well, second most. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, whose script work until now has been mostly very entertaining, do nothing to bring this 90-minute ad for Costco to life, choosing instead to turn it into another of their now patented meditations on male friendship, except without the insight or jokes or sincerity of their previous films, and betraying a lack of interest in the female worldview that limits their range. It’s tempting to say it couldn’t have been any lazier, but then I think, “They could have removed Richard Ayoade, Rosemary DeWitt and Will Forte from it,” and I realise that’s the version they play on a loop in Hell.
7. Resident Evil: Retribution
Notorious performance artist Armond White’s most provocative review of the year saw him denigrate Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master while praising Paul W.S Anderson’s latest installment of the Resident Evil franchise; how thrilled he must have been when he realised they were being released in the same week, thus giving him a hook for his latest exercise in peer-trolling. The sentence that betrays his lack of conviction is the last, where he says that RE: R “transforms a genre franchise with visionary newness,” suggesting that he wrote the review without even seeing it. Because this is the total opposite of new or visionary. As with all of PWSA’s films, RE: R is a compilation of moments from other films that he remembers, transcribed with low-budget creakiness, cobbled together into a barely coherent and emotionally empty collage, but without the enthusiasm or glowing adoration of Tarantino’s genre pastiches. It’s just another money-maker from a man with no urge to innovate or communicate a point, and while SoC is happy to watch unambitious B-movies, PWSA’s cynicism and lack of imagination is especially dispiriting. This is perfect for anyone who enjoys watching Milla Jovovich, wearing her “Determined Face” expression, yet again posing stiffly in front of a green screen with co-stars who mechanically utter characterless exposition, safe in the knowledge that they don’t have to go to the trouble of making the cyphers they’re playing come to any recognisable kind of life, while PWSA recycles not only shots from his other movies but from this one too; numerous action beats are replicated over and over again, almost defiantly rubbing the audience’s face in it. Here’s a sobering thought, though; considering the persistent, viral success of this franchise, perhaps games will spell the end for cinema, just not in the way we thought. (NB: Worth noting that this is the only film in the top ten that treats women as human beings, so massive, sincerely-meant kudos for that.)
6. The Devil Inside
If the case against Found Footage ever went to trial, the defence lawyers, with Blair Witch Project, [Rec], Paranormal Activity and Chronicle at their side, would weep with horror at their imminent defeat when the prosecution calls just this catastrophic failure into evidence. There are dozens of lazy exorcism movies out there, so William Brent Bell’s low energy home movie has company, but compared to a qualified success like Daniel Stamm’s The Last Exorcism, you realise just how little effort was put into this. Bad enough that the premise doesn’t even work logically – two rogue exorcists scared that their secret work will be revealed to the Vatican allow a documentary film crew to follow them around – and bad enough that the last 20 minutes of this 70-minute-long film are basically filled with people screaming incoherently at each other, the biggest insult is the incomplete finale that directs the viewer to a website that explains what happens next. Considering that the movie rests on the archaic and disgusting idea that the protagonist is being punished by the Devil for daring to have an abortion when it turns out her baby won’t carry to term, it’s probably not worth the effort of typing the URL which, let’s face it, is about as much effort as has been expended by the filmmakers. Unconvincing, cynical, histrionic, The Devil Inside single-handedly sets the horror genre back fifty years. And yet it made millions. Abandon hope, all ye who love horror films, and despair.
5. Act of Valor
This bare-bones actioner should be seen by everyone interested in cinema or storytelling, but not for the reasons the directors and writers would like. Famously shot originally as a video for the military, it was expanded into a film by Scott Waugh, Mouse McCoy and Kurt Johnstad with real soldiers playing the main characters. Well, I say characters, but basically they’re the equivalent of NPCs in a video game, holding guns and moving about the screen but doing very little in the way of coming across as sentient beings, with the two “protagonists” leaving me with the impression that one of them is called Steve, the other isn’t, and the only things they can say to each other is, “bland comment about family,” followed by “awkward laugh”. The comparison between this and games like Call of Duty has been made numerous times – after all it features a lot of POV shots from behind guns, and vapid quotations from military thinkers to add gravitas so they’re practically identical, right? — but games have plots. Oft-derided games like CoD at least have an emotional charge, much as critics would like to pretend they don’t. Sure, sometimes they don’t work but when they do they have compelling protagonists and antagonists, arcs and momentum and event and all of the things that good stories should. This has nothing other than a string of firefights and a threat to be vanquished. Act of Valor is How Not To Make Movies 101; indifferently-directed action wrapped around a hollow core, plus lazy sentiment replacing meaning. Even worse, despite the heavily-signposted death of Steve (or not-Steve, I couldn’t tell who was who), it still serves as an advert for the Navy. It’s the equivalent of a giant erection pointing at a bloodied corpse.
Credit to Seth McFarlane for coming up with this great idea — like a twisted version of AI in which David somehow grows up and gets stuck with a sociopathic Teddy — with which to explore the ways in which child-men resist the responsibilities of adulthood. It’s such a great visual, the man accompanied everywhere by the visual representation of his infantile attitude. Which makes McFarlane’s traditional lack of effort even more frustrating than usual. The man is a machine cranking out very basic material on an industrial basis, and thus Ted goes through the motions much like his irksome TV shows, except this time he can add profitable and fashionable R-rated jokes about sex to his repertoire, which usually just consists of pop-culture references and hastily tossed-off non-sequiturs. Getting into a discussion about what is and isn’t funny is a waste of time; I think McFarlane’s a one-note huckster, but he has passionate fans who would be annoyed at my dismissal of his work. I get that. But what makes Ted truly worthless, aside from the cracks about Muslims and “sluts”, and the obnoxious nods and winks he throws at the crowd to “excuse it all”, is that I don’t believe, not even for a femtosecond, that McFarlane means a thing in this film. Not the moral ending, in which the slacker hero gets everything — including a Hallmark-card lesson about responsibility that McFarlane figures constitutes an arc because he saw it in an Apatow movie — and his girlfriend gets nothing. Not his supposed love for Flash Gordon, which I bet he watched once before making this film, knowing that a section of the audience would respond favourably. Not even the filth. He just knows what makes a buck, and he shovels it into our faces without a second thought. He’s P.T. Barnum with dick jokes. If this guy’s really the cultural powerhouse he seems to be, then we need to find the reset button, and pronto.
3. This Means War
Remember Mr. and Mrs. Smith? That was a curious film. Kinda hateful, but with a central conceit that might have worked, with a few dozen rewrites and a complete change of cast and director. I don’t know how you’d go about getting it into full fighting shape but it’s conceivable. Now along comes This Means War, a film that treads in the same footsteps (and shares a writer in Simon Kinberg) in which relationship troubles are dramatised via the conventions of the espionage genre. That’s an unusually good match, the consequences of secrecy being the most compelling aspects of both kinds of story. It’s telling, then, that only James Cameron got close to getting it right with True Lies, but even then had that massively problematic middle act. Imagine an entire movie of that and you’ve got this… thing… from McG, a film in which we’re meant to root for two colossal fuckbags who manipulate and spy on the ditzy heroine, a film in which the only choice she gets to make is which of these maladjusted fratboy scumbags she will end up with. If Mr. and Mrs. Smith had some possibility of working out with some tweaking of the material, or the tone, or some goddamn thing, there’s nothing that could be done to save this vile mistake. It’s nasty, it’s devoid of jokes, it’s unexciting, it has no insight, no verve, no wit, no purpose other than to fill a gap in a studio’s release schedule and to further chip away at the possibility that women’s lot in life will ever improve; to watch it is to feel all hope of parity between the genders evaporate. Its other big crime? Surgically removing Tom Hardy’s continent-sized SuperMojo to prevent him rightly showing up everyone else in it. I suspect Christian Bale’s infamous Terminator: Salvation rant was an EMP that wiped all sense from McG; we’ll get nothing competent from him ever again.
2. Project X
The recent American elections saw a phrase enter the lexicon: The War on Women. Republicans eager to restrict the lives and opportunities of women by making it hard to get on in this world by removing their rights cynically refused to accept that their policies were motivated by a distrust or hatred of women, but the wave of bitterness coming from the Right was impossible to ignore. But then it’s no wonder legislators figured women were fair game. If there’s anything this list of the worst films shows, it’s that men still think it’s perfectly acceptable to treat women as baby-incubators or, in their teens, as a reward men deserve for being bold. Nima Nourizadeh’s Project X might pretend to be another film in a lineage including Porky’s, Animal House, American Pie and Superbad, but this isn’t fit to be mentioned in the same breath. Three nerdy teen boys hold the biggest teen party imaginable in the hopes of getting “pussy”. And they do. That’s the movie right there. The most odious teenagers ever committed to film are rewarded for their sociopathic disregard for everyone around them with the respect of their peers, the adoration of numerous mute naked girls, and barely any censure from the law. Only the ostensibly sympathetic protagonist is prosecuted, but that’s okay, because his dad secretly thinks he’s a bad ass and the virginal girl who he previously cuckolded with a “slut” (here punished for her sexual activity by being secretly filmed naked) still loves him and forgives him, but then she would, as she’s practically a dudebro so she’s okay. This was written by Michael Bacall, the guy who co-wrote 21 Jump Street and Scott Pilgrim? This was co-produced by Joel Silver? It’s by far the worst thing he has ever been involved with, a fuck you to half of the population of the world, a diseased window into the worst of what Western civilisation is. Everyone involved should be fucking ashamed of themselves, and forced to wear a scarlet A (for Asshole) on their chests.
1. Alex Cross
This blog’s Best of 2012 Movies list was topped not by the intellectually challenging movies we saw but by the one that made us happiest; a choice made necessary by a desire to honour the intensity of that joy. Let us carry that on into this list. Instead of placing one of the loathsome, misogynistic insults to humanity in the top spot — for surely Project X or This Means War would be right at home there — it only seems right to pick a bad movie that made me so happy, so sore from mocking laughter, that all I wanted to do was run around all the social networks quoting lines and posting clips and basically just worshipping at the altar of the most haphazard, clumsy, ugly and stupid movie since Madonna’s brilliantly dreadful W.E. In other words, Alex Cross is the perfect cinematic representation of James Patterson’s galactically monstrous novels, with its lead character — a grab-bag of contrived tics and dull virtue fighting to save the world from exhaustively-described maniacs who murder or violate every woman he loves — now brought to life not by Morgan Freeman, a man far too charismatic to embody this thinly-written void, but by his living equal; Tyler Perry, giving what is easily 2012’s most hilariously awkward performance, almost the match of SoC’s recent favourite, Chris Klein in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.
It’s impossible to encapsulate the myriad ways in which this colossal sack of shit entertained us recently, the sheer number of gaffes and howlers and WTF moments that poured from the screen like a deluge of rainbow-coloured diarrhoea. Suffice to say Rob Cohen has now jumped past Paul W.S. Anderson, Jon Avnet, and Robert Luketic to become SoC’s pick as the worst director currently working in cinema, a man who has channeled the spirit of Ed Wood to bring us a film of such hysterically wooden and ugly imperfection that the Rifftrax guys might have to take two or three runs at it to cover all of its nigh-infinite incompetence. From its clumsy blocking (actors stepping in front of each other so we can’t see them half the time) to its 100% pure-cliche screenplay (in other words, a totally accurate adaptation from the source material) to its woeful compositions and photography (easily worse than anything else in 2012); this goes beyond Lifetime movie or rejected TV pilot to find its own slot on the quality spectrum. It’s a distillation of every shitty cop drama you’ve ever seen, a compilation of the worst aspects of our culture, but done with such a straight face, with such cluelessness, that I loved it. And in case you think I should have picked one of the three previously-mentioned misogynistic films instead of something that’s just bad, that I’m being finicky for going after something for little more than being a bit shoddy, don’t worry; three of the five women in this film are murdered — two of them mutilated horribly — because that’s all cinema seemed to be this year. Just a never-ending bellow of horror at the mere existence of women, and even when a movie is dumb enough to be relatively harmless, we still have to endure the presence of this disgusting bullshit, because that’s apparently just the way it is now. Fuck you, cinema! FUCK YOU, WORLD!
The Raven: A transparent attempt to tap into the success of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, sadly this is reminiscent of the Hughes Brothers’ misfiring From Hell more than anything else. James McTeigue never gets a grip on the material or the tone; John Cusack’s obnoxious Edgar Allen Poe is overplayed, performances misfire and tension fails to materialise. I asked a passing raven if it thought McTeigue had a chance of making another movie; it said, and I quote, “NEVERMORE!” Bit harsh.
Chernobyl Diaries: Oren Peli continued to scramble to consolidate the slice of industry power provided by the success of Paranormal Activity with this Wrong Turn-esque horror film set in Chernobyl. Yes, that Chernobyl, the one in Russia, the one that was irradiated by a horrifying accident that changed the world. A perfectly tasteful location for a dumb exploitation flick, I’m sure you’ll agree. It’s not even a good dumb exploitation flick; there’s no tension, no plot, just a long wait in some really interesting (non-Chernobyl) locations until everyone’s dead.
Step Up Revolution: SoC loves Step Up 3D, a movie with very little to recommend it other than the dancing, the one thing good enough that we recommend it constantly. This is worse, and the dancing’s so poorly shot that it lacks even that saving grace. Extra points for the heroes’ plot being remarkably stupid, using their incredible dance skills to gain enough YouTube hits to win a competition, staging flash mobs that could get them arrested, instead of trying to get jobs as dancers that would pay all of them, cumulatively, probably more than the prize money. Genius.
The Cold Light of Day: Hitchcock would have wept to see the state of the thriller genre today. This weirdly bland North By Noroeste plants bland Henry Cavill into a classic thriller template, trying to figure out who killed his somnabulent dad (Bruce Willis, between naps) while avoiding the police through touristy Spain. But the ramshackle plotting means characters only do things for convenience, not recognisable motivations, so even when it wakes up you don’t really care. I think in the end it was something to do with Mossad? In Euro-set thrillers it’s usually Mossad.
Ruby Sparks: A brilliant idea, indifferently brought to life with one great moment and a cop-out ending. At least, that’s the movie I saw. Friend-of-the-blog @DarkEyeSocket has passionately argued to me that the ending that so offended me (no spoilers, but from where I sat it seemed to invalidate the lesson learned by the odious protagonist) has a deeper meaning. Sadly, on first viewing I don’t agree, meaning I’m left with an bold idea about male expectations of relationships and the manipulation of partners that ultimately amounts to nothing. Sorry DES. :-(
More to come, as ever. For anyone who has come to Listmania! for the first time, you should know I really milk this for all its worth. You’ve been warned.