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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.