Listmania ’11: Performances Of The Year

Yet again my blogging schedule is thrown into disarray by what can only be described as a waking coma. A combination of night work, lack of sleep due to warring cats, and god know what else — probably some hex cast on me by some anti-blogging warlock — meant that last week I felt like I was trapped under a fog of confusion as thick as the thickest Greek yogurt. I’m not fully out of it yet, so this prologue might become a little off-kilter. Please bear with the blog until normal services are restored.

Not really much to say about this post other than that I’m watching a recording of the Golden Globes and seriously, this blog is more composed than this goddamn mess. It’s an uncomfortable experience made even more hard to bear by the fact that we’re watching it on the UK’s E! channel which has bleeped out every vaguely risque comment or mention of a product, thus rendering it unintelligible. Also in our favour; SoC hasn’t spent all year talking about last year’s Listmania as if it was easily the most shocking and daring blogpost of the year, and how we don’t care about the controversy it caused, and holy shit wait until you see what shocking jokes we’ve got in store for you this year; a build-up somewhat ruined by being followed with a couple of Kim Kardashian jokes.

No. We’ll be honest. This is merely a blogpost, one of millions. And yet we have our integrity, and our annual awards for Sam Rockwell and Michael Sheen, no appearances by Sofia Vergara’s Voice, and no awards for The Iron Lady. That, somehow, is enough. Please enjoy, and imagine them being read out in the voice of a slightly tipsy Ricky Gervais, punctuated by some cozy jokes about Johnny Depp and that faux-sneering thing he does to make out that he doesn’t really worship the people he is mocking (with, I’ll admit it, a bit of skill). The atheism is also implied.

Best Performance by an Actress: Tilda Swinton – We Need To Talk About Kevin

Honorable Mentions:

Anna Paquin – Margaret

Olivia Colman – Tyrannosaur

Jessica Chastain – Take Shelter

Carey Mulligan – Shame

Kirsten Dunst – Melancholia

Best Performance by an Actor: Michael Fassbender – Shame

Honorable Mentions:

Michael Shannon – Take Shelter

Gary Oldman – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Jean Dujardin – The Artist

Brendan Gleeson – The Guard

Woody Harrelson – Rampart

Best Supporting Performance by an Actress: Charlotte Gainsbourg – Melancholia

Honorable Mentions:

Jennifer Lawrence – X-Men: First Class

Anna Kendrick – 50/50

Ellen Page – Super

Déborah François – The Monk

Emily Mortimer – Our Idiot Brother

Best Supporting Performance by an Actor: Christopher Plummer – Beginners

Honorable Mentions:

Benedict Cumberbatch – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Sir Ben Kingsley – Hugo

John C. Reilly – Terri

Albert Brooks – Drive

Don Cheadle – The Guard

Best Individual Voice Work: Johnny Depp – Rango

Best Voice Cast/Direction: Rango

Breakthrough Performance by an Actress: Elizabeth Olsen – Martha Marcy May Marlene

Breakthrough Performance by an Actor: John Boyega – Attack The Block

Best Career Moves of the Year (Actress): Jessica Chastain – The Tree of Life / Take Shelter / The Help / The Debt / Texas Killing Fields / Coriolanus

Honorable Mention: Carey Mulligan – Drive / Shame

Best Career Moves of the Year (Actor): Michael Fassbender – Shame / Jane Eyre / X-Men: First Class / A Dangerous Method

Honorable Mention: Ryan Gosling – Drive / The Ides of March / Crazy, Stupid, Love

“See? I Told You He Could Act” Performances of the Year: Matthew McConaughey – The Lincoln Lawyer / Bernie

“Wow, He Actually Can Act?” Performance of the Year: Jake Gyllenhaal – Source Code

“My God, I’m Even Angrier About The Uselessness Of Gilmore Girls Now Because You Deserve So Much Better Than The Bog-Standard ‘Pathetic Best Friend Of The Protagonist Who Is Only There To Make Her Look Better’ Stereotype And Look What Happens When You Get A Chance To Let Your Freak Flag Fly” Performance of the Year: Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids

“Dude, Where Have You Been? This Is The Best Thing You’ve Done In Ages. Oh Man, I Really Missed You, You Know. Jesus, X: Men Origins: Wolverine Sucked, But I’ve Got No Hard Feelings And This Kind of Commitment To Your Craft — Enhanced By Your Effortless Charm — Is Why We’ll Always Have A Place For You In Our Hearts” Performance of the Year: Hugh Jackman – Real Steel

Scenestealing Actress of the Year: Kat Dennings – Thor

Scenestealing Actor of the Year: Stanley Tucci – Captain America: The First Avenger

Most Wasted Actress: Robin Wright – Rampart / Moneyball / The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Most Wasted Actor: Walton Goggins – Straw Dogs / Cowboys and Aliens

Most Fearless Performance of the Year: Keira Knightley – A Dangerous Method

“Look, Can We Just Stop Acting Like He’s Some Anonymous Beefcake And Accept He’s Got Smarts And Range On Top Of His Looks And Is Actually A Very Charming, Committed and Talented Actor, FFS” Performances of the Year: Chris Evans – Captain America: The First Avenger / Puncture / What’s Your Number?

Best Cameo: James Franco – The Green Hornet

“Holy Shit, You’re Seriously Scaring The Bejesus Out Of Me” Performance of the Year: Pollyanna McIntosh – The Woman

“Please Let Him Become A Huge Star And Use His Clout To Bring Friday Night Lights To The Big Screen” Performance of the Year: Kyle Chandler – Super 8

“I Bet All Those Critics Who Used To Think You Were Nothing But A Pretty Boy Feel Real Stupid Now” Performances of the Year: Brad Pitt – The Tree of Life / Moneyball

“Now Can You Please Do Me The Favour Of Shutting The Fuck Up, Assorted Whiners Hiding At The Bottom Of The Internet Like The Tiresome Trolls You Are?” Performances of the Year: Kristen Wiig – Paul / Bridesmaids

Worst Performance by an Actress: Cate Blanchett – Hanna

Dishonorable Mentions:

Natalie Portman – No Strings Attached

Milla Jovovich – The Three Musketeers

Taylor Schilling – Atlas Shrugged: Part I

Julia Roberts – Larry Crowne

Blake Lively – Green Lantern

Worst Performance by an Actor: Jim Sturgess – One Day

Dishonorable Mentions:

Colin O’Donoghue – The Rite

Paul Rudd – How Do You Know

Ashton Kutcher – No Strings Attached

Henry Hopper – Restless

Grant Bowler – Atlas Shrugged: Part I

Worst Supporting Performance by an Actress: January Jones – Unknown

Dishonorable Mentions:

January Jones – X-Men: First Class

Lucy Punch – You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

Lucy Punch – Bad Teacher

Juno Temple – The Three Musketeers

Lake Bell – No Strings Attached

Worst Supporting Performance by an Actor: James Corden – The Three Musketeers

Dishonorable Mentions:

Richard Coyle – W.E.

James D’Arcy – W.E.

Rami Malek – Larry Crowne

Rafe Spall – One Day

Ken Stott – One Day

Worst Individual Voice Work: James McAvoy – Gnomeo and Juliet

Worst Voice Cast /Direction: Gnomeo and Juliet

Actress in Most Dire Need of a New Agent: Naomi Watts – Dream House / You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger / Fair Game

Dishonorable Mention: Olivia Wilde – Cowboys and Aliens / The Change-Up / In Time

Actor in Most Dire Need of a New Agent: Jason Bateman – The Change-Up / Paul / Horrible Bosses

Dishonorable Mention: Ryan Reynolds – Green Lantern / The Change-Up

Actor/Actress Duo With The Worst Luck in 2011: Abbie Cornish and Oscar Isaac – Sucker Punch and W.E.

Performance Most Likely To Make Fans Think Some Consciousness-Altering Substances Were Involved Though I’m Sure That’s Not The Case And I’m Certainly Not Suggesting He Was As High As Voyager 1 When He Slurred His Way Through This Piece Of Shit: James Franco – Your Highness

“Hmmm, Okay, You Were Actually Okay This Year, And Thus Deserve Recognition And A Temporary Reprieve From My Usual Derision” Performances of the Year: Cameron Diaz – The Green Hornet / Bad Teacher

Most Entertaining Performance by an Actress in a Bad Movie: Andrea Riseborough – W.E.

Honorable Mention: Mindy Kaling – No Strings Attached

Most Entertaining Performance by an Actor in a Bad Movie: Anthony Hopkins – The Rite

Honorable Mention: Anthony Hopkins – 360

Most Bafflingly Busy Actress of the Year: Frieda Pinto – You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger / Rise of the Planet of the Apes / Immortals

Most Bafflingly Busy Actor of the Year: Billy Burke – The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 / Drive Angry / Red Riding Hood

Worst Cameo: Convicted rapist Mike Tyson, again – The Hangover Part II

“Where Have You Been?” Actor of the Year: Fred Ward – 30 Minutes Or Less

Best Accent: Chloe Grace Moretz – Hugo

Worst Accent: Anne Hathaway – One Day

Most Entertaining Acccent: Gary Oldman – Red Riding Hood

Most Disconcerting Accent: Jeffrey Wright – Source Code

Best Performance By Hott Sam Rockwell: Cowboys and Aliens

Best Argument For The Use Of Performance-Capture Technology And The Freedom It Gives To Actors Performance of the Year: Andy Serkis – Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Best Argument To Destroy All Performance-Capture Technology To Prevent Such A Crime Ever Being Committed Again Performance of the Year: Seth Green – Mars Needs Moms

“More Of This And Less Of This, Please” Actress of the Year: Rose Byrne (More comedies like Bridesmaids as she has a real gift for comedy, less dramatic roles like X-Men: First Class and Insidious.)

“More Of This And Less Of This, Please” Actor of the Year: Bradley Cooper (More dramatic roles in unexpectedly entertaining movies like Limitless, less fratboy bullshit in odious crap like The Hangover Part II.)

Hammiest Performance By Michael Sheen: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part One

Hammiest Performance By Chow Yun Fat: Let The Bullets Fly

Next up: crew contributions of the year. Best screenplay is a lock but I’m going back and forth on best director. Who will it be? #HitchcockianSuspense

Listmania ’11! The Worst Movies Of The Year

It feels like a hundred years ago that I published my Best Movies list, but it was actually only 8 days ago. This post has been delayed by attempting to understand the rules to Twilight Struggle. That is an ongoing project that could take a while. Meanwhile I was also rattling through more potential bad movie nominees, which led to me finding an extra dishonorable mention as well as the number three film on the main list.

There’s a good chance that was actually the worst film I’ve seen in a long time, but as with A Separation on my best films list — which I saw on the day I hit publish, and ended up at number 4 on the list — I’m not sure it would be fair to leapfrog over the two stinkers I had above it. Those were movies that have pissed me off for months, and I want the world to know how much I hate them.

But why do I need to do this, especially now that we’re firmly embedded in 2012 like a tick? Dan Kois recently wrote a lovely article in the NY Times about why top ten lists are so important to him, and some of his reasons tallied with mine. When challenged on the usefulness of something like this, in which I attempt to quantify art and trap it in a list, I’ve often pointed out that this isn’t really about the films. It’s a snapshot of me.

When I read Kois’ article and saw that he felt the same way I almost cheered. So okay, this is about me, and as the majority of visitors to this page don’t know me and wouldn’t give a damn about me if I was in front of them in a line for a lifeboat, that means this list may only be of worth to those who want to capture these images, but I’ve tried to add some value by being very mean about these movies. Because they really stank. I hope you enjoy my ire.

25. Trespass, Drive Angry, and Season of the Witch

One can only assume that the mighty Cage has Dr. Wesley T. Snipes as an accountant. Oh Nic, it’s been hard to be one of your loyal fans in a year that saw you star in three, maybe four (I haven’t seen Seeking Justice, and neither have most people) of the year’s worst movies. Trespass was possibly the least awful, mostly because King Cage expended some effort, and seemed energised by having famed Oscar-winner and part-time Auton Nicole Kidman as a co-star, but sadly this was a movie with two strikes against it: 1) it was ineptly directed by Joel Schumacher and 2) the plot depends on a twist generated by tricking the audience with a lie embedded in a flashback. Not cool. Drive Angry was worse, but at least had a spirited performance from Amber Heard and a very entertaining turn by William Fichtner. Otherwise it was an unconvincing attempt to utilise the Grindhouse aesthetic to make something consciously trashy. While not as bad as the fundamentally dishonest, misogynistic and generally loathsome Piranha 3D it comes from the same dark pit, where a nod and a wink is supposed to excuse the slapdash execution and contempt for the audience. And then there’s Season of the Witch, which was just boring boring boring. Even more boring than Gone In 60 Seconds, the previous mogadonian collaboration between Cage and director Dominic Sena. Three absolute stinkers, all desperate cash-grabs by a fascinating performer. The moral of the story is, don’t go crazy buying castles if you’re not ready to get your tax on.

24. New Year’s Eve

Last year gave us the saccharine delights of Garry Marshall and Katherine Fugate’s Valentine’s Day, in which a dazzling collection of stars from the Hollywood firmament (not an endorsement) gurned through a number of first/third act sub-plots about falling in love in LA. SoC did not like it. And look, here we are a year later to find Marshall and Fugate have hastily cranked out another shuffled pack of cliches, written in what feels like a few days and populated by a scintillating kaleidoscope of celebrities from Hollywood’s jewel-palace or some shit in an attempt to distract the audience from noticing that this depressing franchise is made out of recycled tin and bits of broken mirror. It’s a horrible, cynical rush-job that confusingly casts two actors from the first film — Ashton Kutcher and Jessica Biel — in new roles, meaning anyone not wasting time keep close track of these movies is utterly lost. Even worse, the other characters are introduced hastily and then treated as if they’re familiar to us. Look at how Josh Duhamel is dealing with the overly-friendly family! Hold on, why should I care? I’ve only known this guy for 5 minutes, and this simple juxtaposition isn’t enough to qualify as a joke. The laziness of this writing, and the sheer gall that such lack of effort will be accepted by the audience, is just one example of the cynicism of this exercise. Let’s hope that the mediocre box office means we won’t be treated to Thanksgiving, starring the leftover actors from TV shows that couldn’t spare a day’s shooting time for this film.

23. Priest

In 2009 FX expert Scott Charles Stewart co-wrote and directed Legion, in which Paul Bettany played an angel protecting Adrianne Palicki’s child because of the coming apocalypse. It was similar to Gregory Widen’s The Prophecy but with a bigger budget and Dennis Quaid flipping burgers. It was all right. I enjoyed it well enough. Seen worse. In 2011 SCS directed this adaptation of Min-Woo Hyung’s popular graphic novel, and it wasn’t all right. I didn’t enjoy it at all. Seen MUCH better. The problem is that by now the visual aesthetic and genre-mashing seen here have become so commonplace that there’s no point in making more of these direct-to-DVD-worthy sub-par SF actioners unless there’s something unique to add to the genre. Priest is exactly the movie you think it will be from the trailers; a bit of ramping, some posing with weaponry, a dollop of Western iconography, growly villains, unconvincing FX that mistakenly act like the laws of physics can be ignored, lots of long coats, etc. Seeing this moved to a mid-summer US release, three weeks after Fast Five and a week after Thor, and treated like an event movie in the same way as The Warrior’s Way in 2010, almost made me feel sorry for it. Seeing it fail in the South Korean market, much as Ninja Assassin and Speed Racer did despite the presence of superpopstar Rain, made me feel worse. Enduring Priest‘s slow trudge through a hundred recognisable and indifferently filmed moments pilfered from better movies ended that pity. I pray for a moratorium.

22. You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

Seemingly considered to be the 14th Woody Allen comeback before he actually made a movie that could conceivably be considered a return to the form of, say, Alice or Shadows and Fog, YWMATDS saw the formerly great director return to London for hopefully the last time. This movie’s sacrificial lambs included those talented performers Josh Brolin, Naomi Watts and Anthony Hopkins, as well as Frieda Pinto and Lucy Punch, in a tale that admittedly has more bite than his recent films. Selfish intellectuals bicker and conspire to gain money or influence within the rarified world of Belgravia, their venality hidden behind a barely functional facade, before Allen springs one of his best modern finales, one that is unexpected and unusually tense, thanks mostly to the sterling work of Watts. Sadly that moment of frisson doesn’t make up for the inclusion of prostitute Charmaine; yet another of Allen’s vile caricatures of the unsophisticated women he considers beneath him, and who must be saved from their stupidity by educated and cultured men such as himself. This is nothing new, but YWMATDS‘s greatest crime is to suddenly make the viewer see, as if scales have fallen from his or her eyes, that this patronising fetish has been around for decades. Add this to Allen’s inability to get a good performance from Pinto, or to restrain the nigh-unwatchable clowning of Punch, and this movie lays to rest the claim that Allen is a filmmaker sensitive to the inner world of the woman. He’s just the King of Mansplainers. How sad.

21. Dream House

Bond fans now have another reason to be frustrated with the post-Quantum-of-Solace delay caused by MGM’s recent troubles; the long pause means Daniel Craig has plenty of time to appear in ill-advised projects like this one. It’s possible he was attracted by the pedigree of those attached; Jim Sheridan, Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts and Caleb Deschanel are all present and correct. However, it doesn’t matter what talent gets thrown at a project like this, because if you’re filming a self-consciously tricksy Shyamalanian mystery as silly as this, you’re never going to win. Even the most innocent of viewers will suspect there is something up in Dream House‘s opening hour, as characters mysteriously walk away from conversations leaving questions hanging in the air, to the bemusement of Craig’s character; surely that can’t mean some key information is being ignored? That’s before we even get into the problem of his name – Will Atenton – which has never existed anywhere on the planet before, and gives The Number 23‘s brilliantly stupid Topsy Kretts a run for its money as the worst mystery name of all time. The eventual reveal at least comes two-thirds of the way through the story, but the final act has more than its share of risible plot twists and signposted surprises. Kudos to the talented cast for giving this creaky hogwash all of their effort, but it’s still piss-weak stuff, the kind of spec script that would have been rightly rejected as hokey by the producers of Tales of the Unexpected.

20. Larry Crowne

SoC is proud to call itself a pro-Tom Hanks blog. He’s so nice. We’d love to invite him over to play Ticket To Ride with us and Kevin Spacey. So it was with a heavy heart that we watched his second directorial effort with confusion. We assume it was an empowerment exercise for older folks, and a creditable attempt to make something old-fashioned that would appeal to a demographic ill-served during summer. That’s generous, and kinda shrewd, if it wasn’t for the fact that the finished product is so flaccid and studiedly inoffensive, so joke-free, so out-of-time. It’s almost endearing how baffled by and yet enamoured of today’s youth Hanks and co-screenwriter Vardalos seem to be; they go out of their way to prove that Larry can embrace new beginnings, but pairing him with poor Gugu Mbatha-Raw – who has to pretend to enjoy hanging around with a 90% acrylic man desperately trying to make the word “Speck-tack-alar!” into a catchphrase – is a kind of berserk cruelty. We haven’t even touched on the unpleasant performance from Julia Roberts, whose overplayed acidity is out of odds with all around her, including poor Bryan Cranston, here given the miserable task of portraying a man addicted to looking at chaste burlesque pictures of bosoms – nothing too racy to upset the elderly audience, eh Tom? It’s tempting to forgive this curio its trespasses just because it’s so bafflingly, uniquely wrong, but no. It’s the kind of movie you ponder for years, but never ever enjoy.

19. Sucker Punch

Poor Emily Browning. This year she was stripped naked and thrown around a room like a sexy frisbee by some sad old men in Julia Leigh’s self-consciously spartan Sleeping Beauty, but even the indignity of lashings of nudity and a bit of ugly-crying are nothing compared to the things she had to go through here. Zack Snyder’s Remedial Feminism for Nerds fell between two stools; too preachy for the fapping masses of the arrested adolescents, too lascivious (and stupid) for the righteous feminists. There’s a message about subverting the power of the Male Gaze here but it’s submerged in a sea of pop culture iconography, all made up of jumbled nerdobilia, so we get totes rad mash-ups with steampunk Nazis, robot samurai, pirate zombies, alien vampires, Jedi Vulcans, Cylons bitten by radioactive spiders, er… It’s as if a copy of Previews came to life. By seeking to be a one-stop shop of nerd culture, it actually insults us all, that we could only accept Snyder’s garbled and patronising message about respecting the hot chicks by dressing it up with dragons and Sailor Moon cosplay. Unfortunately for him, no one wanted to see his ambitious message movie, and so I guess nerds will carry on being misogynists despite his intervention. Well, I say unfortunately for him, when in fact he’s going to bring his “visionary director” (shurely shome mishtake – Ed.) shtick to the new Superman movie, which means tons of ramping and slow-motion. At least that gives us time to ponder just how intellectually hollow his approach is.

18. The Help

There is an incredible story to be told here, a bleak indictment of a terrible time in America’s history. Tate Taylor’s adaptation of the bestseller by Kathryn Stockett features numerous moments that will cut you to the core, made worse by the realisation that the segregation and open racism depicted here happened within the last 60 years, and never went away. It remains an open wound, and salt pours in every day. The scenes that capture that sense of desperation are the best things here, but are betrayed by various unnecessary plotlines. What could have been focused and righteously angry unfortunately bites off more than it can chew by taking on the less compelling troubles of affluent white women. A Mad-Menian attempt to depict the stirrings of feminism in conservative America is commendable, but here it has the effect of offsetting the social ostracisation of Celia (Jessica Chastain in unbearable ham mode) and protagonist Skeeter’s difficulty in finding a boyfriend with the assassination of Medgar Evers and the reality that African-Americans lived with the constant fear of murder. There’s not really an equivalence there. The leaden humour might make this bitter pill more palatable, and the movie’s box office success is testimony to that, but Taylor’s nervous directorial tic – in which the camera cuts to one of the white cast members mid-emotion whenever an African-American actor relates a horrific event from their past – betrays its insulting timidity. So yes, an essential story, diluted by wrong-headed nervousness.

17. The Resident

Nice of Hammer Films to give a small role to Christopher Lee in their first release in so long; a nifty way of maintaining some continuity with the past. Shame nothing else here respects that heritage. Even if you think the output of Britain’s primary horror studio was a bit shonky, that’s nothing compared to this low-rent bit of sub-Sliver tedium, which seems to be almost entirely composed of shots of Jeffrey Dean Morgan weeping in dark rooms, or Hilary Swank explaining every single thing she thinks and feels in order to save the writer and director from working out any elegant method of dramatising her predicament. Seeing this Oscar-winning actress forced to stumble backwards and forwards through gloomy crawlspaces for what feels like a week while thudding music desperately tries to generate some tension is one of the most dispiriting experiences of the movie-going year. What could have been a very dull 45-minute horror anthology installment becomes a double-dose of sheer boredom injected straight into our eyeball, offering no frisson, no deeper point, no imagination, just barrel-scraping woman-in-jeopardy horseshit, with plenty of creepy rape terror lazily offered up as if we were watching some straight-to-DVD offering from a disreputable cheap-ass studio who have no intention of treating the genre seriously, or the audience with any respect. Hammer Films may have returned, but this is the worst statement-of-intent imaginable. Consign it to the toilet where it belongs.

16. Cars 2

Fans of Pixar’s many great movies were understandably frustrated that their annual dose of CGI magic would this year be a continuation of John Lasseter’s ode to driving. While it has its defenders, the first Cars movie still feels off-kilter compared to their other efforts, but at least it’s about something – the slow death of towns along the roads that cross America, now neglected due to the introduction of freeways. Cars 2 might represent the first subtext-free Pixar movie, and no, the irritatingly-rendered crisis of confidence experienced by Mater doesn’t count. Though it’s refreshing to see a sequel pick up a different character’s story instead of complicating the emotional progress of the original’s protagonist, that means we’re stuck with Larry the Cable Guy’s irksome shtick, as the redneck tow-truck gets to do them fancy things whut thuh city folk does; i.e. get embroiled in an incongruous espionage plot. That out-of-place idea is a redirection too far from the original, which was pleasantly innocent. Rather that movie’s yearning for simpler times than this movie’s charmlessness, scenes of car torture/death, and confused environmental message. And if there was any doubt that this was made to capitalise on the incredible success of Cars merchandise, check out the scene where Mater transforms into a number of different paint jobs; there’s five more Mater toy variants that your kids are gonna bug you about. Thanks Pixar.

15. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

The first two sequels to Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski’s surprise smash hit Pirates movie were pilloried for being cynical cash-ins, but Shades of Caruso always thought they were quite the opposite. The attempt to create an entire fantasy world deriving its rules and laws from those of nautical myth was, in the end, far too ambitious to succeed, but for a while there it was exciting to see writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio go for broke with their plots, counter-plots and counter-counter plots. As if to prove this blog’s point, the fourth Pirates movie sloped into view to show what a cynically produced Pirates movie looks like, and it wasn’t pretty. Or funny. Or coherent. Or energetic. Or anything, really, other than a colossal, expensive, tedious waste of everyone’s time and talent. Rob Marshall deserves a lot of the blame for this. The inertia generated by his unimaginative direction infects the actors, who behave like the cast of a parochial pantomime at the end of its run. Fans of Elliott and Rossio might want to argue that it’s the listless editing that did the most damage to the movie, as a few clever plot payoffs near the end make a case that there were greater treasures there that could have been plundered with a bit more discipline. But let’s be honest, this was one of the most blatant cash-ins of the year. No amount of spreadsheets and revised drafts can convince Shades of Caruso that anyone involved gave a crap about making a good movie, merely a profitable one.

14. The Three Musketeers

Well, at least it’s better than the last Resident Evil movie. That can be attributed to two things; the uncharacteristic lightness of some of the jokes here (I’d like to think that the amusing running joke about fashion is down to co-screenwriter Andrew Davies), and plot elements that are unchanged from previous incarnations of Dumas’ novel. Sadly, this is a Paul W.S. Anderson movie. He has been called “the worst storyteller in the world” by a fairly reliable source (scroll down to number 2), and I’m inclined to agree. This classic tale had to be sullied by his filthy fingerprints, and the result is the inclusion of some listless steampunk nonsense and wirework for Lady DeWinter, here reinvented as crinoline-bedecked cat burglar and assassin Milady and played by Mrs. W.S. Anderson using her trademark acting scowl to full effect. That’s the least of this idiotic movie’s problems, though. The addition of flying ships and anachronistic booby-trap sequences only serve to make a fun story tedious; the face off between the Musketeers and evil Rochefort – conducted on different sets – is some of the laziest filmmaking of the year. The contempt Anderson has for his audience is astonishing, expending as little effort as possible to churn out his standard lowest-common denominator dreck. And I haven’t even mentioned James Corden’s charmless mugging, insulting the memory of Roy Kinnear’s work as Planchett in Richard Lester’s classic version. Unforgivable.

13. Straw Dogs

More on this ill-advised remake in a forthcoming post (there’s too much to say here), but suffice to say, Rod Lurie takes an already problematic (though bold and questioning) movie and remakes it in such a way that its most controversial moment ends up being even more objectionable than the original was thought to be. And it totally wastes acting titan Walton Goggins. An unforgivable crime.

12. The Hangover Part II

Yes, Part II, just like The Godfather had a Part II. Todd Phillips has proved so inept at directing comedy that it’s hard to tell if the title is meant to be a joke or a statement of some weird intent, that this is something that the filmmakers are proud of. Because that’s a bit hard to swallow considering the script was written by taking the first movie’s screenplay, hitting Ctrl-A, Ctrl-C, Ctrl-O, Ctrl-V, Save As – thehangoverptIIlulz.doc, find = Vegas, replace = Bangkok. And why Bangkok, pray tell? For the ladyboy jokes, of course. In fact, I had a bet with myself as to how long it would take for a transsexual to show up for the gay panic jokes, and it turned out to be about 51 minutes. I’m surprised it took that long. Thailand is here treated like a stained fuckhole where the lowlife are insane and the rich are stuck-up assholes waiting to be told how to live by the Americans. Those fratboy Yanks sure know how to par-tay, right, and those boring jerks will rue the day. And at the end, when a guy loses a finger and possibly damages his career chances he’s just fine with this because he got drunk once. Life lesson learned! And the adoring women laugh as the men bond, even though Alan is now near-sociopathic, (oh Zach Galafianakis, please get out of this malignant franchise), Phil is becoming worrying violent (Bradley Cooper deletes any good will earned from his turn in Limitless), and look who’s back! Everyone’s favourite rapist thug Mike Tyson! THP2 is pure hatred, depicting male friendship as a gnarled, hostile parody of the real thing.

11. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part One

For the past few years Shades of Caruso blogposts have received numerous one-star ratings from Twi-Hards as we railed against the world’s worst franchise and screenwriter Melissa “Dexter” Rosenberg’s preposterous insistence on faithfully adapting those awful event-light books. Three movies have already been adapted from the equivalent of about one and a half acts of a short story, padding out hours of yearning stares with dull love triangles, poorly defined clan squabbles and many shots of wet forests. We’re approaching the merciful end of this interminable saga, and yet this penultimate chapter offers up nothing but more forestry, more pouting from Jacob, and seemingly endless scenes of poorly-acted angst. This might actually be the best of the series so far, thanks to a modicum of sustained low-level tension, but even so, barely anything happens, with only the hint of some Grand Quignol reproductive horror at the end providing even a hint of dramatic power. Other than that we have a hilarious growly werewolf summit, a couple of shots of lovely Michael Sheen gnawing on scenery, and way too much of Stephenie Meyer’s dodgy gender politics. On an aesthetic level the tedium of Bill Condon and Rosenberg’s adaptation is shocking; on a political level, Meyer’s concept of the passive womb-carrier that is Bella, punished with death for her lust even within wedlock, and redeemed by a return to chastity (here depicted by a hallucinogenic shot of a flower closing as she becomes a vampire), is truly odious.

10. No Strings Attached

Amazing how tone and energy can make such a difference to a movie. Will Gluck’s Friends With Benefits uses its irreverent script as a springboard for all sorts of frank and funny conversations about the complications caused by casual sex between friends. Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake are endearing and uninhibited, their relationship made appealing in both before and after forms. In Ivan Reitman and Elizabeth Meriweather’s movie, the first scene depicts two young teenagers (Emma and Adam) awkwardly flirting, at the end of which Adam asks Emma if he can finger her. And with a glum clang, the movie is lost. From then on the tone is alienating, as Adam and Emma’s reason for delaying their inevitable romantic relationship is revealed to be pain and personal anguish, and their casual sexual relationship is depicted as an unfortunate consequence of their dysfunction. This makes No Strings Attached a darker experience, not helped by Portman’s choice to play Emma as dour and seemingly traumatised. That’d be fine if this was a character piece that had something to say about damaged individuals, but as it keeps throwing in lazy romcom staples like wacky friends, broad villains and inconvenient complicating relationships (complicationships!), Kutcher’s listlessness and Portman’s spikiness is out of place. As a comedy the jokes don’t land, but as a drama it’s too flippant; errors compounded by Reitman’s soporific direction. What we’re left with is overlong, charm-free, and too cowardly to realise its full dramatic ambition.

9. The Dilemma

Readers of SoC who checked out last year’s worst movies list may have noticed the high placing of The Switch, the truly dire reproduction comedy that featured the accidental insemination of Jennifer Aniston by Jason Bateman. That sprang from an article by Jeffrey Eugenides, then adapted by producer and writer Allan Loeb, who failed to explore the ethical quandaries involved, preferring instead to make baffling joke-flavoured noises about the subject. This year Mr. Loeb posed another, far less pressing question; should you tell your friend if you saw his wife cheating on him? The answer is yes, you should. And now I have saved you from having to watch Vince Vaughn wrestle with this problem for 100 minute of padding, improbable obstacles, cartoonish caricaturisation, and yet more of these now trademark LoebJokes; lines delivered like humour but otherwise unrecognisable as comedy. The result is a mystifying experiment. Who greenlit this movie? What was Ron Howard thinking? What was anyone else thinking, for that matter? You know you’re in trouble when the audience is grateful for the appearance of Channing Tatum to alleviate the tedium. For once he’s the only person in the movie to stay awake; a total reversal of the usual state of affairs. Epic poems will be written about SoC’s battle to get to the end of this unnecessary film. We only hope that whichever studio head/producer won the bet for who could make the most boring movie of 2011 donated the money to an orphanage.

8. The Change-Up

As if foisting the noisome Hangover onto the world wasn’t bad enough, screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore also poured this fetid waste over the heads of the 12 cinemagoers masochistic enough to sit through two hours of Jason Bateman robotically saying, “I’ll ruin that bitch” over and over again. SoC is no prude, but this miserable fashion for R-rated comedies triggered by the success of Judd Apatow’s recent adult-themed movies has completely lost sight of the fact that his movies understood and sympathised with humans, and were more frank than profane. The Change-Up is a miserable experience by comparison, bereft of compassion or empathy, as phony as any knock-off Prada handbag, as mechanical as any mass-produced soon-to-malfunction off-brand gadget. The formula here is that single Ryan Reynolds and married Jason Bateman swap bodies and see how the other half lives; Freaky Friday for Nuts readers. The least director David “Wedding Crashers” Dobkin could do is slot the relevant story parts into place with some form of competence, but he can’t even keep the characters consistent. Reynolds’ sex-mad slacker begins the movie as a foul-mouthed loser; an hour later, in Bateman’s body, he’s a noxious, sociopathic piece-of-shit who should be euthanised. And don’t get me started on Leslie Mann and Olivia Wilde, forced to be little more than signifiers of virtue and lust respectively. Sitting in a bath of cyanide-laced horseshit would be preferable to watching this empty, cynical enterprise trail slime across the finish line.

7. One Day

Early reports that Lone Scherfig and David Nicholl’s adaptation of his global megaselling novel was not that great were generous, to say the least. What could have been the tragic romance of the year is in fact indistinguishable from some kind of unhinged parody, and for that SoC is grateful. Any possibility of emotional connection between character and audience is ruined by the gimmicky structure, leaping through time from one improbable event to another as we see two poorly-realised caricatures do and say things you only find in badly-written books. Every possible cliché of the romance genre is crammed in, leaving no room to explore a thought or express an emotion; everything here is exposition, a cacophony of out-of-tune notes blasted at a disbelieving audience. It’s hard to say what is the funniest thing here; the movie-wide overacting, the overwrought plot twists, the dearth of honest feeling, Rafe Spall’s godawful caricature of a nerd — apparently Nicholl’s mockery of himself, but dangerously close to being an assault on my brethren. This bloodless monstrosity is the kind of thing that the British film industry could do without; a pompous confection for a middle-class audience who, sadly for these patronising filmmakers, saw right through its micron-thick sheen of “classiness”. It’s regrettable the same audience also focused their ire on Anne Hathaway and her wandering accent, ignoring the fact that she’s the only person in the cast to give a performance with any modulation or imagination.

6. Mars Needs Moms

The year’s most notorious flop is the kind of movie that SoC likes to champion. It’s critically reviled, it’s sci-fi, and it’s made using performance capture, a technique that we’ve previously defended. But despite interesting production design by Doug Chiang and a fun score by John Powell, this is a project riven with flaws. Simon Wells’ parable is technically assured but also joyless; these are the sorts of problems that should be addressed before committing $150m to its production. The rash decision to forgo revision means ImageMovers Digital are either the dream production company for allowing Wells to go forward without intervention, or they’re idiots who signed off on this, which would make their subsequent closure a little easier to take. Either way, it seems they approved of the movie’s hateful anti-feminist message, where those goddamn castration-happy lesbo Martian feminazis conspire to discard all of the poor fun-loving men who didn’t help with the childcare because they just wanted to enjoy life, thus leaving the kids to be cared for by machines; you know, like today with the TVs and those video games. As if that pissy comment on single mothers and their “responsibility” for the breakdown of society isn’t enough, the movie ends with the Martians embracing the nuclear family unit with a sense of obnoxious wonder, before learning life-lessons from a hippy in a sitcom. More baby boomer worship and hatred of modernity, then. In that case, its box office failure is a success for progressive ideals. Which is nice.

5. W.E.

Upon leaving the screening of this memorably silly biopic, SoC wiped tears of giddy mirth from its eyes and began proclaiming on Twitter that it had seen the worst movie of the year. It’s a farrago! It’s a catastrophe! It’s Showgirls meets The King’s Speech, written by Jackie Collins and directed by a distaff Oliver Stone! Though SoC has not changed its mind on those damning comparisons, it has grown immensely fond of Madonna’s vanity project, as much for its peek into her questionable taste in subject matter and what it says about her self-image as for its hilariously off-kilter direction and sub-Mills-and-Boon writing. Many long and dreary days since have been enlivened thinking about Andrea Riseborough dancing the twist while while wearing Gary Oldman’s Herr Dracool wig, or James  D’Arcy’s visit to a Welsh town filled with stuttering, worshipful peasants, or Richard Coyle’s eye-watering turn as the whiskey-swigging abusive cad who torments poor virtuous Abbie Cornish, or any number of staggering moments of bad-movie genius. Of course it also features a hasty bit of apologia for Wallis and Edward’s pro-Nazi behaviour, not to mention a scene featuring a fake Mohammed Al-Fayed intended to draw a parallel between the Windsor’s treatment of Wallis and Diana Spencer, and numerous other problematic choices, but the main thing to remember about W.E. is that it’s the best kind of terrible; a frenetic camp melodrama with no concept of its own ineptitude. I can’t wait to see it again.

4. Restless

Even the best directors have off days, but how many have taken their critical reputation, set fire to it and thrown it off a cliff into a lake of petrol-soaked faeces? Even die-hard fans of Gus Van Sant, who have previously defended his choice to make Good Will Hunting — a project that gave him enough clout to make the clout-evaporating Psycho remake — cannot even begin to explain the thinking behind this catastrophe. Henry Hopper and Mia Wasikowska play a Harold and Young Maude-esque couple who face the prospect of death with an onslaught of twee role-playing, Indie™ mumbly dialogue, excellent but wasted Harris Savides photography, cutesy philosophising about mortality, and the addition of a ghostly Japanese kamikaze pilot who facilitates many many life lessons. It’s like a sick joke from Van Sant, a weird art project in which he burns his credibility to the ground in order to build it back up somehow. Sadly this is more than just burning something to ashes; this is salting the ground and casting a hex on it too. It’ll take approximately 3 Gerrys, 6 Elephants and 9 Paranoid Parks to restore Van Sant’s Artistic Power Bar back to full strength. If you do have to watch this godawful, lightweight student-film parody, make sure you carry a syringe full of insulin, otherwise you may succumb to its claustrophic, relentless sugariness and expire, photogenically, in a cloud of reality-defying magic dust, after which your friends will learn valuable lessons about embracing life and laughter. Carpe fucking diem.

3. Blubberella

Thin-skinned artistic colossus Dr. Uwe Boll and his crew of cinematic titans last year filmed Bloodrayne: The Third Reich in Croatia, and much as the cast and crew of Little Shop of Horrors cranked out their movie in two days on a free set, Boll took advantage of his shooting schedule to make this knock-off piece of excrement. Let me list the crimes: Adolf Hitler (played by Dr. Boll) playing Risk with a blacked-up, jive-talking ally and repeatedly invading Africa to annoy him. Holocaust jokes. Michael Paré being turned into a vampire after being forced to drink Blubberella’s breast milk. A torrent of predictable fat jokes. A bitchy, effeminate gay man called Vadge Isil who has very little physical strength. An onscreen credit that explains Blubberella lives in “The Jew-y part of town”. Rape jokes. A fantasy dream sequence spoofing Precious, with Blubberella making food for her abusive mother, here played by a white man in blackface and drag. That fucking title. Attempts to explain away the awfulness by explicitly referring to said awfulness. The end credit, “Extra special thank you to Adolf Hitler for making so many great movies possible”. There’s an argument for irreverence and cocking a snook at civilised behaviour, but this overblown, ill-advised DVD extra is definitely not it. Enduring this childish, sniggering prank, which barely counts as a movie, made me feel like the audience watching the opening number of Springtime For Hitler. Boll might think he’s daring, but in fact he’s just a belligerent idiot, and an unclassy one at that.

2. Green Lantern

For a committed Green Lantern fan, this was a difficult viewing experience. The characters were present and correct, the mythology of the Green Lantern Corps was rendered fairly accurately, and considering the fringe nature of the comic franchise, some effort had been made to bring it to life. Perhaps the fans should be grateful for that, but considering that this debacle felt wrong on every other level, perhaps not. How can something so costly look so cheap? How can a reliable – sometimes surprising – director like Martin Campbell create something so flaccid and hollow? Every aspect of Green Lantern is either, at best, slightly off or, as is too often the case, disastrously wrong.

Who thought that a big mid-movie showdown between the hero and one of the main villains — which amounts to two men lying on the floor touching each other’s foreheads — would make for compelling summer cinema? Who could imagine that pitting a rubbery-looking superdouche against a wafty shitcloud would suffice as a rousing finale? Why is Sinestro evil at the end, other than as a patronising sop to the fans and a lazy set-up for a sequel that no one wants? Why are the Guardians of Oa stuck to their pointlessly high chairs, like intergalactic toddlers in a restaurant that has no tables?

Come to mention it, why does the Corps disappear for the majority of the movie when they’re obviously the key selling-point of the franchise? Couldn’t we have sidelined a couple of characters — including Hal’s obnoxiously anti-fun comedy flatmate — in order to get us some quality-time with Ganthet, surely one of the most important characters in the GL canon? Does the fact that Hal Jordan learns how to take down the supervillains in something like an afternoon count as a kind of space-racism against the alien Green Lanterns who have been training for years and yet are about as helpful as a green ring light-construct in a custard factory? (#Nerd)

Why did no one with any objectivity speak up about the ghastly neon lighting scheme, or the comically-bad CGI costume, or the castastrophic miscasting and misinterpretation of Hal Jordan as a glib wiseacre when portraying him as the more interesting and dramatically valid stoic grouch of comic lore might have meant fewer misfiring jokes but would have at least grounded the tone of this confused jumble? What could have been DC’s Iron Man is instead another Supergirl. The wonder of the beloved comic is here translated into a listless, ugly farrago, an embarrassing and obscenely expensive failure that irrevocably taints something wonderful. Please, please let the movie franchise end here, so the promising animated series can try to repair the damage done to this amazing character.

1. Atlas Shrugged: Part I

The long process of adapting Ayn Rand’s bloated novel is testament to the enthusiasm of her acolytes, which is why it’s especially delicious that the only reason we saw an Atlas Shrugged movie in 2011 is not because someone just said, “Fuck it, I’m putting up my money for this because the world needs it,” but because the novel’s rights were about to lapse and it was this or nothing. Considering how strenuously Rand’s ethos denies the beauty of life, merely the glory of money and selfish achievement, it’s fitting that this movie — a movie so opposed to the notion of organic life that one of the publicity photos on IMDb is of a bridge that isn’t even in it — was borne of pragmatism and not passion.

And what a perfunctory, half-arsed effort it is, something so ugly and soulless that producer and co-writer John Aglialoro might as well have linked together pictures of the first 2916 pages of that inhuman block of hate with a flashing caption saying, “Will this do?” Of course the uncinematic nature of Atlas Shrugged is likely because the movie’s budget ended up being much smaller than Randfans hoped, with only Aglioloro funding it, and a five-week shooting schedule that didn’t allow for errors, but hey, at least he got it made, and he got to adapt it. That, to me, feels like he’s desperate to ride on Rand’s coat-tails, but that’s not how Randians behave, right?

It’s perhaps wrong to say that this wretched movie’s worst crime is to render Rand’s vision as this prosaic procession of meetings and stern conversations, when the daft asshole-empowering nutter’s book is already repetitive, overlong, and devoted to reducing humanity to its most unappealing characteristics, but as pointed out to me by Anne Billson and Daisyhellcakes, you only have to look at King Vidor’s improbably entertaining The Fountainhead to see that the one thing Rand’s writing had going for it — a demented grasp of the epic — can be used as raw material to create vivid and appealing cinema. Vidor took Rand’s screenplay and went nuts with it, casting iconic actors Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal to embody Rand’s almost godlike protagonists. The Fountainhead still has that miserable, compassion-denying message at its heart, but it works as a compelling movie; just look at that brilliant final shot.

Atlas Shrugged: Part I would barely pass muster as a 90-minute Powerpoint presentation. Co-writer Brian O’Toole has pooh-poohed criticism of the low budget and the unstarry cast (all of whom will forever reside on SoC’s shitlist for agreeing to work on this), saying that the ideas are more important, but sadly Rand’s ideas are so… well, counterintuitive is the nicest way of saying it, though antithetical to the human spirit is closer to the truth… that the movie needed to be super-extra-compelling to work as propaganda for the glory of the 1%, and Atlas Shrugged: Part I really doesn’t count.

The camera is located in exactly the worst place in every shot, the palette is murky, the performances muted, the craziness strangled. It needed starpower, glamour of some kind. Instead we get Michael Lerner, the captain of the Kahana from Lost, and An Actress as Dagny standing awkwardly in some brown rooms. Some have complained that the movie has failed in not featuring the character of Richard Halley, the artistic genius rejected by the fad-obsessed mediocrity-praising critterati of the day, but his absence is telling; I doubt the team behind this artless farrago ever found Rand’s discussions of culture as interesting as her pro-money defence of rapacious capitalism. What piece of art is as beautiful (to these robots) as a bank statement from the Cayman Islands?

To make matters worse, Aglioloro, O’Toole and director Paul Johansson haven’t even stayed true to the book. The version of Dagny Taggart seen here does not resemble the character in the book. She alternates between confidence and hesitance, stoicism and irrational emotion, begging banks to give her loans to invest in the John Galt line and actually willingly responds to Hank Rearden’s sexual advances instead of fighting him off until he has to take her by force. I mean, that’s good because yay less rapey weirdness, but it’s not how Rand sees the world. How would she feel if she knew her sub-dom fantasies had been replaced with a chaste smoochy scene? Even Vidor didn’t shy away from Howard Roark’s dominance of Dominique Francon, and that was during the time of the Hays code. So much for respecting the audience’s ability to take on even the most unpleasant aspects of Rand’s book.

But to be honest these complaints about the uncinematic nature of the movie, the inability of the “creative” team to breathe life into this project, the cheap and nasty visuals… they’re missing the point. The worst thing about the Atlas Shrugged movie is that the Atlas Shrugged movie exists. Rand’s thinking has played a key role in making this world into the volatile, unjust hellhole that it currently is, and any attempt to celebrate or popularise her philosophy — which boils down to, “Thou shalt pay no taxes to the looters because thou art totes awesome” — instantly puts my back up. I mean, for fuck’s sake, she paints a picture of a world where regulation and nationalisation of the rail system is to be dreaded, and yet I live in a country where privatisation of the rail service has been one of the most scandalous disasters ever to befall it. So much for her vision.

To hear actors talking about the evil of generosity, or claiming that self-interest is the highest ideal, or howling in horror at a burning oilfield not because of the environmental impact but because oilfields themselves represent something beautiful… these are things that make me sick. Isn’t life hard enough to get through without having to endure the automaton-like moneymen of the world promoting a philosophy that reduces us to little more than sentient bank accounts, with PINs for souls? This is a movie treated like an event by the Koch Brothers — the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Perdition. Inviting their Archon followers for dinner and the equivalent of a spreadsheet convention; if only they considered that the punishment that I felt it to be.

The book Atlas Shrugged is a vile thing partially redeemed by the rubberneck value of seeing an author’s scarred psyche and bigotry transformed into a meticulously thought-out yet repellent philosophy that denies the existence of abstract beauty or humanity. Reading it is an alternately hilarious and disturbing experience, but it helps you understand the workings of the moneymen who arrogantly and incorrectly assume that their blind luck and ruthlessness in gaming the system is evidence of their Übermenschian superiority over the riff-raff.

Atlas Shrugged: Part I can’t even get that right. It’s incoherent and tedious, as soulless as the people who find value in it, and yet mundanely evil. It advocates the worst behaviour, it celebrates the worst of our species, it gives Wall Street psychopaths an argument for their pillaging, and it’s proud of its ethical crimes, like Hannibal Lecter gloating in front of the families of his victims. This is the worst movie of the year. This is the worst thing of the year. This is the nadir of cultural history. Avoid as if your soul depends on it.

Dishonorable Mentions:

I Don’t Know How She Does It: “It” being getting nits, stumbling over chairs, talking to the camera as a lazy narrative device, and agonising at length over the literally hours she spends not being in happy montages with her children. As for the women in the movie who don’t want kids or men, don’t worry! By the time the credits roll, you’ll fucking get them and you’ll LIKE IT. Can’t wait for the sequel; I Don’t Know Why We Gave Those Chicks The Vote.

The Rite: Mikael Hafstrom’s dreary horroresque dramatisation of reportedly true exorcisms is notable for featuring such a dramatic gulf in talent between its leads. Anthony Hopkins gets to unload a heaping pile of acting tics all over poor unprepared Colin O’Donahue, who looks alternately perplexed and sleepy. Other than that it’s a sucky morass of cliche: call it William Peter Crappy’s The Exorshit. Or The Rong.

In Time: Andrew Niccol’s metaphorical use of time as a currency is an ingenious one (don’t sue me, Harlan Ellison), making a salient and timely point about wage inequality, corruption and the 1%. That’s the first act. Then it becomes an increasingly unfocused Bonnie-and-Clyde narrative with Justin Timberlake badly miscast as a rebel without a pause (geddit). By the end all the potency is gone, and we’re left with sub-Equilibrium posturing. Disappointing.

Bad Teacher: For once, SoC bête noire Cameron Diaz makes some effort as the teaching equivalent of Billy Bob Thornton’s Bad Santa. This movie, however, features a last-act conversion to sociability that makes no narrative sense; a dreadful cop-out that undermines the unpleasant build-up. This also features 2011’s other unwatchable Lucy Punch performance; a vortex of desperate gurning in need of stronger direction. Between this and The New Girl, what’s Jake Kasdan playing at?

Conan The Barbarian: “Conan, what is worst in life?” “To see a popular character treated to der vurst kind of brainless simplification, to be saddled viz a cliched revenge plot that even John Milius treated viz more delicacy, to feature incoherently shot action scenes furder ruined by der awful post-conversion 3D dat makes der movie too dark to vatch, and to hear der lamentations of der fanboys.”

More to come, and yes, I’m aware that it’s now practically the middle of 2012 and I’m still going on about last year.

The Top One Hundred and Six Movies of the Oughts (90-76)

As I said in my previous post, this list has been kinda rushed, due to initial reservations about the project. This has meant that I’ve missed some great movies off, and now that I’m committed to doing the list, these movies have to remain excluded so that I don’t invalidate the previous part of the list. Oh, it’s all so confusing! I shall endeavour to cover those missed movies as I go along.

Actually, my decision to leave off Hideo Nakata’s Ringu and Gore Verbinski’s US remake The Ring is because I can never decide which version is my favourite. I go back and forth on this one a lot. Nakata is better at generating an atmosphere of dread, and was the guy who kickstarted the popularity of the J-Horror genre. Nevertheless, Verbinski’s version is stronger than it has any right to be — partially because Naomi Watts is so good in it — and his interpretation of the dreaded video and the effect it has on its victims is more unsettling. Actually, that’s putting it mildly. The first time you see a victim slumped inside a closet, it’ll put the fear of God into you, it’s so horrifying. Unable to decide which version should be included, I chickened out and didn’t put either in. Terrible cowardice, really. Consider both movies “included”, in a sub-category or in some list-tesseract or something.

Anyway, here are the next 15 films in the list. As before, some of these movies are a little low because I’ve only seen them once and never really got to grips with them the way other people have. As my experience of them is limited I cannot figure out if this is because I don’t like them as much as everyone else or my initial opinion was adversely affected by the chatter surrounding them. In time, they may move up or down, but for now, as this is a snapshot of my opinion now, this is where they stay. Again, there are no movies from 2009 on here. I need some distance from them to know if they would qualify. Even the year’s worth of leeway I’ve given myself is not enough. While compiling this list The Dark Knight (my favourite movie of 2009)  has jumped up and down the high end of the list several times. I won’t be able to make a firm decision on that for a while. And so, with those caveats, here are numbers 90-76.

90. Spartan

Before co-creating The Unit with Shawn Ryan, David Mamet made this, a clenched fist pretending to be a movie. Val Kilmer is brutally effective as a man doing a job no one wants him to do, spitting Mamet’s truncated, macho dialogue with withering and riveting intensity. A manly, manly movie.

89. South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut

The TV show still cranks out occasional classic episodes (Red Sleigh Down, Cartoon WarsImaginationland), but the big screen expansion of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s satirical universe might still be its finest hour. Brilliantly making fun of censors, prudes, and warmongers, it even manages to give us some of the best showtunes of the decade.

88. Curse of the Golden Flower

Critics seemed baffled by the lack of martial arts action in Zhang Yimou’s courtly drama, but who needs it? There’s enough intrigue, betrayal, madness and riotous colour here to fuel a dozen movies. Just for Gong Li’s incredible performance, this movie demands reappraisal, and that’s before we get to the ninja action and Chow Yun-Fat in Furious-Anger-mode.

87. Syriana

It’s a toss-up between this and Traffic for inclusion on this list. Stephen Gaghan’s complex multi-strand exploration of how our demand for oil affects all our lives does have a weak sub-plot featuring Jeffrey Wright, but that’s better than the ill-judged Michael Douglas thread in Soderbergh’s movie. Both are great, but Syriana – with its thrilling final act – just edges it. (Consider Traffic no. 107.)

86. The Matrix Reloaded

The Wachowski Siblings managed to alienate the majority of their fans by attempting to expand the initial Matrix movie beyond its resonant but uncomplicated monomythic plot. Though the franchise ran out of steam in the third installment, for the length of this hallucinogenic movie it still seemed like they were telling the best story ever told. Plus, you know, Morpheus used a katana.

85. Hot Fuzz

Enormously entertaining on first viewing, Edgar Wright’s pitch-perfect homage to hyper-aggressive US cop movies gets better with every rewatch. The effort put into its intricate plotting is a joy to behold, and the casting could not be more impressive. A Who’s Who of British character actors having the time of their lives = film heaven.

84. Jindabyne

Taking the same starting point as one of the threads from Altman’s Short Cuts (Raymond Carver’s short story So Much Water So Close to Home), Ray Lawrence spins a tale of marital discord and touches on themes of racial and gender politics with a deft hand. Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney give two of their most complex performances.

83. Once

The most grounded, unspectacular musical ever made, John Carney’s tale of two musicians making music amid the urban isolation of Dublin won the hearts of audiences across the world. Its ambitions were slight, but Hansard and Irglová’s gorgeous music gave Once an emotional heft that dwarfed almost everything else released that year.

82. The Hunted

Before Bourne, there was this William Friedkin-helmed cat-and-mouse actioner, pared down to the bone in much the same way as Walter Hill’s action classics. Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro are near-silent killing machines destined to fight to the death, with all other considerations ignored. Easily Friedkin’s best film since The Exorcist.

81. The Orphanage

Conjuring the same atmosphere of impending dread as Robert Wise and Jack Clayton did with classic ghost movies The Haunting and The Innocents, Juan Antonio Bayona’s directorial debut managed to provide chilling scares and heartbreaking tragedy in equal measure.

80. The Constant Gardener

On the surface Fernando Meirelles’ environmental thriller was just another tale of corporate intrigue, but Rachel Weisz’s Oscar-winning performance — and Ralph Fiennes’ superb turn as her bereaved husband — turned it into something more interesting and melancholic: a meditation on how love can ruin a life once the object of adoration has gone.

79. [Rec]

Of all the camcorder horror movies of this decade, perhaps the most successful was Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza’s claustrophobic virus-zombie effort. Though less wide-ranging than CloverfieldBlair Witch, or the thematically similar 28 Days/Years Later movies, it did one thing better than all of them: it was scary throughout, and utterly terrifying at the end.

78. No Country For Old Men

The Coens hewed so close to their source material that it would have been hard to mess it up, but even so, their direction was exemplary, conjuring up numerous exhausting setpieces and an iconic representation of chaotic evil from Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh. It managed something you would think impossible: improving on the work of Cormac McCarthy.

77. There Will Be Blood

Paul Thomas Anderson deserves plaudits for taking such overwhelming thematic material and boiling it down into a tale of how greed can ruin one man’s soul. What makes Daniel Day Lewis’ work as Daniel Plainview so special is not the pyrotechnics, but the hint that by the end of his life he is so lost that he doesn’t care. It’s as chilling as a horror movie plot.

76. The Darjeeling Limited

A trek across India by three estranged brothers tested the patience of many viewers, either by presenting a view of American obliviousness abroad that lacked necessary satirical pointers, or by relying on too many Andersonian tics. To this viewer, the jokes, the narrative gameplaying, and Robert Yeoman’s gorgeous photography, were enough.

Okay, that was a bit less overwrought. More to come, if WordPress will ever stop crashing. ::grumble grumble::

The Top One Hundred and Six Movies of the Oughts (106-91)

Longtime readers will know that I’m a fiend for lists the way Sonny Crockett is a fiend for mojitos. Don’t believe me? Check out this blurry video:

My Best of 2009 movie list has been percolating for a while now, with only a few contenders for best or worst film to come before I shut things down at the end of December (oh yes, I won’t stop watching until I’m sure I have it right). Meanwhile, even though I’m uncomfortable with the idea of this decade being 1999-2009, I’ve been pondering my own best of the decade list. This should be something to be excited about, and yet until last week I just couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for it. When I search my soul I come to the uncomfortable but inescapable conclusion that it’s because any list I would come up with would both be horribly incomplete and would betray my populist taste. What makes me more uncomfortable than that is realising that such an admission makes me uncomfortable at all.

Any list I could make for this decade is already off to a bad start when I admit that I’ve yet to see many of the best reviewed and most beloved movies of recent times. The gaps in my viewing history include Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century, Edward Yang’s Yi Yi, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s The Return, and anything by Wong Kar Wai, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, or the Dardennes. I’ve also only seen a couple of (terrific) movies by Claire Denis and a single, memorable one by Michael Haneke. Some film buff I am. This short list is merely the tip of the iceberg. According to this list, I might as well not consider myself a film lover at all, as I’m not looking for movie excellence in the right places (though the entire list is invalidated by the praise for Woody Allen’s technically disastrous and intellectually vapid Cassandra’s Dream: surely one of the ten worst films of the decade).

All of that shame over my taste is wrapped up in feelings of mortification over class and intellectualism and authenticity and so many other things. I know that none of it is important but the expression of some kind of discernment in my opinion helps to legitimise my amateur film criticism, something I take very seriously even when I talk about things that readers might consider beneath contempt (my defence of Michael Bay, for instance, or my enthusiasm for The Dark Knight). Therefore it scares me to openly admit that I’m a sucker for a well-choreographed action scene with some pretty explosions included. No one wants to admit to enjoying those movies without losing their credibility, so why should I be the one to stick my neck out?

Maybe it’s time to get over those silly fears and say it loud: I’m a fan of populist cinema. Yes, I can appreciate works of cinematic art on many levels, though perhaps I might have greater difficulty expressing that appreciation or placing those works in context with works by other artists. However, when I talk about how much I love Joel Silver movies of the 80s and 90s, or Bruckheimer’s output in the late 90s to the current day, I’m on firmer ground. Perhaps this is why Shades of Caruso concentrates on those movies: it’s safer to talk about the joy I get from seeing a movie by the Wachowski Siblings than it is to attempt to unpick the works of Abbas Kiarostami. Any list I would make for the past decade would skew heavily towards populist movies, partially because most of the movies I’ve seen were major releases by Western writers and directors, but also because these are the movies that speak directly to me.

It was upon staring at that shame, and the shame I feel for having that shame, that I said bollocks to it and compiled this list. I hereby reject that shame, expel it from my soul, and embrace the movies that filled my soul with joy or heart-ache. The construction of this list is helped by the clear cut-off point in my past: 1999 was the year I moved out of my hometown for the second time and headed to London, where I found enough time and opportunity to attend more movies. As a result my enthusiasm increased, until I had no choice but to start a blog to use as a pressure valve for this energy. I’ve seen hundreds of movies in that time, and so I expect this list to be incomplete and filled with egregious misses, plus some movies have been missed off (Pan’s Labyrinth) or put low on the list (No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood) because I’ve only seen them once. I’ll need to revisit them with a clear head, free of hype, to do them justice.

One more caveat: I’ve not included films from this year. I know, this seems to make the whole process pointless, but I like to have at least a little gap between seeing a movie and putting it in a list this big. The End-Of-Year lists are made with the proviso that I understand how my opinion will change over time, and watching films right up until Dec 31st means I will be cramming in movies even though my opinion of them has yet to settle. Who knows whether time will be kind to these movies or not. I’ve certainly been surprised with how some movies I initially loved have dropped out of my favour, and others that I enjoyed well enough on first viewing are not breaking into the top fifty. For the record, at least three from my forthcoming 2009 list would definitely qualify for inclusion here, but I don’t want to add them now as the year has yet to finish, and I’m hoping two or three more will qualify. Perhaps when I’ve finished compiling my 2009 lists, I will write an addendum explaining where they would go in this list.

And so, here is the first part of my list of the best 106 movies of the period 1999-2008. Why 106? Because I just couldn’t leave the last six movies off without writing a little bit about them, as I enjoyed them greatly and felt they would never in a million years get any list love otherwise. As this post has already run on, I’ll only list the first 16 here, and the next 90 films will be revealed as the week progresses. Yes yes, there are simpler ways of doing this, but anyone who knows me will understand that when there is an easy way and a hard way to do anything, I will ignore both and then do something completely self-indulgent that makes a mockery of my original goal. Just play along. I’ve kept my explanations for why I love these movies as short as I can. I hope I’ve lauded a secret favourite of yours, dear reader, one that has been snubbed by every critic in the land.

Honorary Bad Movie Inclusion — The Room

It is quite simply the worst movie ever made, but its rewatch value, its quotability, and the fearless depiction of the dreadful inner life of its emotionally immature writer and director make it almost infinitely fascinating. Its inclusion here is no reflection of its quality, but of the hold it has over anyone who watches it. It’s a true curio.

106. Avalon

After leaving a screening of Avalon, my viewing companion commented that there is good boring and bad boring, and this was a perfect example of the former. Starkly beautiful and glacially paced, Mamoru Oshii’s ode to the power of gaming predicts a future where our desire to transcend our mundane world will drive us to abandon it.

105. Kung Fu Hustle

What made me love Stephen Chow’s madcap martial arts comedy wasn’t the expertly choreographed actions scenes, great though they were. Neither was it the broad humour, though I enjoyed that too. The best thing about it was how the wacky tone morphed into effective dramatic energy. At first you laugh at the caricatures, but by the final act you fear for their safety.

104. The Mothman Prophecies

Poorly marketed as a bog-standard X-Files-esque alien abduction flick, this dread-soaked thriller is more interested in dramatising our insignificance in the face of supernatural forces that move us around like game pieces. Strong performances and meticulous direction from Mark Pellington help to ground the potentially silly project.

103. Moulin Rouge

At his worst, Baz Luhrmann is a vulgar artiste who has zero impulse control, but when his approach works, it can wrench your heart open. This fearlessly sincere musical is the most successful example of the Luhrman effect. Though many have resisted its garish onslaught, my cynicism melted twenty minutes in and stayed that way.

102. The Rundown (aka Welcome To The Jungle)

What should have been the gateway drug to the paradise that is Loving The Rock instead faltered at the box office, but who cares? For its sheer exuberance and demented asides — not to mention a totally hatstand performance by Christopher Walken — this Midnight Sprint shall be remembered and adored.

101. Solaris

Though Steven Soderbergh’s adaptation of Stanislav Lem’s SF classic fails to capture the essence of that novel (as does the previous version by Andrei Tarkovsky), the result explores equally interesting philosophical questions. Clooney excels as a bereaved astronaut forced to confront living memories of his dead wife, a celestial manifestation distorted by his yearning and twisted perceptions of reality.

100. Mushishi

Katsuhiro Otomo’s live-action adaptation of Yuki Urushibara’s manga is a curious beast. Though overlong, the tale of Mushi master Ginko’s journey through a polluted and hostile pastoral land is a feast for the eyes. The gloomy atmospherics and cascade of ideas more than make up for any flaws.

99. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

Kevin Smith’s low-budget comedies often fail to fly thanks to their self-imposed parochial restrictions. His ambitious and controversial religious satire Dogma was an improvement upon those early movies but this self-lacerating road-movie was the one that really worked, and well enough to finally make me appreciate his scatological shtick.

98. I Heart Huckabees

It achieved an awful notoriety as the movie where director David O. Russell lost his mind on set and bollocked Lily Tomlin, but I Heart Huckabees was also a disorienting blend of philosophy and Dada-esque nonsense, often incomprehensible but almost always entertaining. However, unlike many chaotic cult movies (ahem, Richard Kelly), this actually made sense if you unfocused your brain while watching.

97. Shanghai Knights

Shanghai Noon was fun, and the pairing of Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson was more successful than the tiresome team-up of Chan and Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour movies. The London-set sequel was a massive improvement, mostly because helmer David Dobkin was the only US director who seemed willing to spend time with Chan to create fights almost as complex and funny as his classic Hong Kong work.

96. Michael Clayton

Clooney again in full force, this time as a corporate fixer who gets messed around once too often. What could have been a rote corporate thriller instead becomes a fascinating character study, one where terrible decisions are made in good faith, and good decisions happen for the wrong reasons. It also propelled Tilda Swinton into stardom: for this I am eternally grateful.

95. Mulholland Drive

Is it poor form to admit that upon first viewing I didn’t understand anything about David Lynch’s tinsel-town nightmare? All that I knew was that the final scene was almost unwatchably terrifying. Days later, the mood of dread still lingered. That residual horror — and Naomi Watts’ excellent star-making performance — is enough to justify inclusion on this list.

94. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Easy to forget how big an impact this movie had on first release. Even though the final installment of the trilogy ripped all of the fun from the franchise, the first is still a near-perfect swashbuckler. The first appearance of Captain Jack Sparrow is a contender for Best Entrance of the Decade.

93. The Prestige

Initially the blatantly obvious “twist” at the end of Christopher Nolan’s adaptation soured an experience that had been extremely pleasurable. Upon repeated viewings, it becomes apparent that the Transported Man trick is not the point of the movie. Instead, Nolan is more interested in painting a picture of a man driven to unthinkable acts because of his thirst for revenge. Compared to dreadful fallout of that psychological damage, magic is nothing.

92. The Chronicles of Riddick

Many choose to focus on the flaws and hubris of David Twohy’s Space-Conan-meets-Lord-of-the-Rings hybrid, but that occasionally inspired vision — and that amazing twist ending — are enough to justify the entire ambitious, galaxy-hopping project. Another film where the cult grows every year, with the prospect of a continuation of the saga now tantalisingly close.

91. eXistenZ

Arriving between the reality-warping brain food of Alex Proyas’ Dark City and The Wachowski’s Matrix, Cronenberg’s only self-scripted film of the decade was greeted with an initial burst of excitement and then seemed to be forgotten. A shame. It’s his most playful movie since Naked Lunch, skipping gleefully between levels of reality and throwing in traditionally unpleasant body horror with abandon.

Okay, that’s enough for now. Keep checking back to see more updates as the week progresses.

The International And A Man Of Mystery

There are some movies that I’m sure are made specifically with me in mind. Last year Speed Racer, Redbelt, and John Woo’s magnificent Red Cliff made me incredibly happy, much as I had expected. They would have had to be total failures for me not to appreciate them on some level. This year the same applies to Ninja Assassin, Inglourious Basterds, and Transformerbots 2: Revenge of the Subset of Transformerbots Known As The Fallen Transformerbots. In different ways they all feature something that appeals to some part of my brain, be it fighting robots, Rain kicking people in the skullparts, or Nazi scalp-hunting.

Another genre I eat up with a big-ass spoon is the dour corporate thriller, which seems to be undergoing a revival thanks to the success of Michael Clayton. Tony Gilroy appears to be thriving with these movies. His next, Duplicity, looks like a frothier entry than most, a Thomas Crown Affair-style romp with Clive Owen and Julia Roberts flirting through Europe while conning evil corporate scum played by Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson. Other than the presence of the bafflingly successful Roberts, that’s another movie you would have to restrain me to stop me from seeing. As I said in my Push review, I adore con movies, though it’s hard to be caught out by one as you go in expecting a big shock twist in the final scene. That’s deadly, as I spend the whole movie trying to figure out what that final con will be. One day I’ll learn how to switch that impulse off.

Another genre piece I felt compelled to see (even though it nearly killed me to see four movies in one week) was Tom Tykwer’s The International, a much-sterner, Pakula-esque kind of corporate thriller than Gilroy’s forthcoming movie. Just to really sell me on it, the cast was headed by Clive Owen (this time in vengeful, non-flirty mode), Naomi Watts at her most pale, and Armin Mueller Stahl, again staking a claim to the roles that would previously have been automatically handed to Max Von Sydow. The two leads are guaranteed to raise my interests, Owen since his superb performance in Children of Men, and Watts ever since playing Jet Girl in the otherwise unforgivable Tank Girl. Yes yes, I know…


I hadn’t even noticed the movie at first, so hectic are things at the moment, until I read the usual slew of reviews on its day of release. The plot grabbed my attention instantly, even if it is doing little more than taking the standard corporate conspiracy thriller template and adding topical(ish) elements to the open slots. Owen is a former Scotland Yard police officer now working for Interpol, investigating the shady actions of a bank (the International of the title) with the help of the CIA (and pale Naomi). While everyone around Owen thinks this is a standard investigation that will proceed along traditional lines, our hero is convinced that the bank is responsible for numerous obstructive acts, from bribery to murder. No one believes him, and throughout the movie his options shrink to none, until he is forced to go off the grid to find justice.

It’s shocking how little The International deviates from convention. Europe is traversed many times over, bugs are found in phones, pencil-pushing superiors shut down investigations with the phrase “You’ve no idea what a shitstorm you’ve created!”, hyper-capitalist bad guys are as nonchalant as you can be without starting every sentence with “Meh”, and assassins know where video cameras are located in airports and tilt their heads accordingly.

That adherence to convention is almost laughable at times. In one scene our heroes have gone to Milan to meet Umberto Calvini (played by Luca Giorgio Barbareschi, with the finest head of hair cinema has seen in years), a politician who is willing to give them the lowdown on what The International is trying to achieve with their plan to facilitate the sale of a few measly missiles. It’s a fantastic stream of exposition, linking international banking to arms deals and profiting from war and the crippling debt it generates, turning the people of the world into indentured slaves.

Thrilling stuff, and based not only on the BCCI scandal of recent times (rather cheekily, The International is officially called the International Bank of Business and Credit), but also the kind of revelations you could find in John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hitman, as well as being a not-too subtle dig at the International Monetary Fund’s method of generating indebtedness in the countries it “helps”. It’s the kind of revelation you don’t expect to see in a mainstream movie, unless it really is a sign that people are waking up to the unsavoury practices of our financial institutions, and seeing that Capitalism is a system that can easily be abused to wreck billions of lives when ethics are compromised and regulation is removed.

Sadly, that scene ends with Calvini hilariously announcing that he doesn’t have time to give Owen and Watts any more info at that moment, even though it surely couldn’t take long. The dialogue goes exactly like this:

You’ll have to excuse me, I’m afraid. I couldn’t possibly give you that easily explainable piece of information you desperately need, because of Reason X. I have to go outside to give a speech to my supporters on a stage in the middle of a plaza surrounded by buildings that provide a perfect vantage point for numerous snipers, and as you can imagine, this being Italy, the movie birthplace of corruption, the head of the Carabinieri has almost certainly been bribed into helping cover it up. Kindly wait for a few minutes, and when my brains exit stage left, please rush through a panicky crowd in a futile attempt to get to me. You could also solve the crime that the few honest policemen cannot figure out while you are here. Use those techniques from CSI and a modicum of common sense to do so. That will prove entertaining to the audience, and will please me while I watch from the afterlife.

Okay, he doesn’t say all of that, but he might as well have done.

The International sure does love the idea of political assassinations. The film begins with Owen’s partner getting killed in much the same way Georgi Markov was killed in 1978, and ends with a Mafia hit that brings up memories of the murder of Roberto Calvi. Inbetween those scenes, so many people get shot by unseen assailants that by the midpoint of the movie you expect every character filmed in medium frame to suddenly erupt in squibby death. A lot of the time that is indeed what happens.

So why, if the movie is so predictable, did I think it was the best film I saw last week, far superior to Franklyn, Push, and Zack Snyder’s lamentable waste of time and money, Watchmen? Mostly because I lap this stuff up with a spoon. The lone avenger, abandoned by everyone, facing down the might of the corporate-military-industrial complex in a heroic last stand, assailed by the seemingly unvanquishable monolith of The System, and dwarfed by their sterile, inhuman steel architecture; that’s the stuff. The Parallax View, Michael Clayton, All The President’s Men; even the fantasy sub-genres like The Matrix or the first X-Files movie; I can’t get enough.

Just to make me even happier, Clive Owen does a fantastic job as the rumpled loner, out of his depth but driven to break the law to find the truth. He even gets to wear his trademark long coat, that has served him so well in Children of Men and Shoot ‘Em Up, making him look like a rumpled, handsome Jacques Tati driven to the edge by the vicissitudes of modern life. With every new performance I like him more and more.

Watts has much less to do, but I’d happily watch her play a switchboard operator for two hours. The supporting cast are great too. Patrick Baladi (forever to be known as David Brent’s super-competent boss in The Office) is amusingly slick and obstructive as the IBBC lawyer who gets in Owen’s way. Ulrich Thomsen is suitably impassive and creepy as the IBBC head who calmly leads his bank down a immoral path. Bryan F. O’Byrne radiates unnerving professionalism as the assassin that Owen chases for much of the movie.

Best of all, Mueller-Stahl does superb, haunting work as the former Stasi officer who has sold his soul to Capitalism, still performing terrible acts but now so dead to the ramifications of his actions that he no longer cares who he works for or what political beliefs they hold. An interrogation scene between him and Owen that comes late in the film is chilling, even though, yet again, Eric Warren Singer’s script serves up a beige platter of “truth this” and “justice that”. The committed performances transcend the humdrum dialogue.

The only real variable when deciding whether or not to watch this was Tom Tykwer. I’ve only seen Lola Rennt, which was a lot of fun and doubled as a great introduction to the sorely underemployed Franka Potenta. Other than that, I’ve missed out on Heaven, his adaptation of Kieslowski’s last script, and even though I have recorded Perfume seemingly dozens of times via Sky+, it always gets deleted before I get to see it as we need room for Daily Show, Colbert Report, or Grand Designs. Some day, you weird-looking film based on a beloved German novel. Some day.

I’ve always had the impression that Tykwer was like the German Danny Boyle, randomly throwing wacky visuals at the screen with little care for whether the scene needed them or not, or what the overall tone of the movie should be. It’s not really fair of me to assume that on such little evidence, but this reputation has existed whether or not I’ve seen them. Considering the material he is working with here, would he wreck the movie with endless, pointless flashiness?

The answer is hell no. Tykwer turns in a classy, restrained, but exciting thriller, swallowing any showy impulses to deliver a taut conspiracy piece. Even better, he delivers a couple of superb set-pieces. The first, the murder of Owen’s partner, builds brilliantly from innocuous calm to panic and death, and all it features is a heart attack and Clive Owen crossing a road. Tykwer takes what should be a simple scene and imbues it with horrible menace. Not bad for one minute of film. De Palma would have been proud.

The second is the lauded shootout in the Guggenheim Museum, with Owen attempting to apprehend the assassin who has been busy killing the majority of the supporting cast to that point. What starts as a simple tail ends up being a bloody and brutal massacre, leaving the gallery shattered and bullet-ridden. In a way it’s probably a terrible scene, being far more violent and extreme compared to the mild thrills to that point, but a setpiece as thrillingly staged as this deserves praise, especially when it is shot and edited with such clarity and attention to detail. Even more impressive, the scene is filmed on a set built to the exact specifications of the original building. It boggles my mind. Some of the effects are rough and ready, but no matter. It raised the blood pressure brilliantly, and certainly throws Owen’s life into such turmoil that he can no longer afford to play by the rules, thus setting up the finale.

For all of the predictability of the conspiracy plot, as well as some glaring illogicalities (the final confrontation ends with an unbelievable leap of logic, and I don’t mean Owen’s sudden ability to travel internationally despite the warrant for his arrest), it was a satisfying experience. Would it get on my end of year list? Not a chance, unless we’re in for a terrible year. However, I’m thrilled that Tykwer, a director I had ignored in the past, has been able to serve the story so well, intelligently staging the action and the suspense, creating a coherent visual template (all cold steel, granite and glass, until the finale in an alien locale where all bets are off), and not distracting the audience with extraneous narrative and/or visual trickery.

That ability to adapt his style to the material has given me new respect for his talents, even if The International is merely on the right side of average. There is a possibility that his next project will be an adaptation of David Mitchell’s stunning novel Cloud Atlas, produced and co-developed by the Wachowskis. Of all the dream projects seemingly made with me in mind, that has now become the ultimate.