It’s arguable that I shouldn’t pick over the very worst movies of the year, that I should concentrate on the good and embrace positivity, but hell, I sat through these clunkers out of curiosity and got a whole heap of pain in return, so I’m going to make something of that experience. If that means writing a lot of words about how dreadful and misguided these films are, then so be it. Sadly, I know for a fact that this list contains movies that are loved by family members, friends, and Twitter acquaintances. Conversations about these films have previously been conducted with care, as I attempted to not give away my feelings about said films for fear of causing offence. As a result, pre-emptive apologies are due to all those who love movies on this list. If you derived pleasure from these films, that’s awesome. I’m genuinely glad that you had a great time with them. I’m just recounting my subjective experience of these films, and if they differ from yours, it is not a personal thing. Though it should go without saying, I feel it necessary to state that I consider it bad form to judge a person because of their opinion. I’ll like you or love you no matter what, and my disagreement doesn’t reflect a judgement upon you. Unless you like the number one movie on this list. If you do, there’s no helping you.
And so, with that defensive caveat in place, on with the hatred:
Worst Movies of the Year:
25. Angels and Demons
Ron Howard’s second attempt at breathing life into Dan Brown’s clunky prose was far more successful than The Da Vinci Code, and even managed to hold our attention for its duration. Only after the credits roll do you realise how extravagantly silly the movie was, and how little had actually happened. A harmless and entertaining failure, maybe, but a failure nonetheless.
Adapted from a graphic novel by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele, Jonathan Mostow’s satire on the lure of social media and fears of modern disconnection was ill-served by two things: being directed by Jonathan Mostow, and being a satire on the lure of social media and fears of modern disconnection. Luddite witterings about the awful effects of reliance on new communication technologies are irksome already before being further mangled by Mostow, whose dead eye for action renders the movie as lifeless as its robotic characters. Any good ideas from the original comic are sadly buried under a layer of drabness.
23. The Hangover
A nervous nerd, a socially inept madman, and a gigantic, charmless wanker act like pricks in Las Vegas for two hours, and we pay millions of dollars to see it. Irreverent behaviour like this is always going to be appealing, but Todd Phillips has never been able to bring these moments to any kind of life in any of his previous comedies, and he fails again here. Jokes fall flat, comedic situations are resolved in witless fashion, and convicted rapist Mike Tyson is brought on as an ostensibly daring addition to an overstuffed cast, and succeeds in doing nothing but making the whole enterprise unpalatable without being funny. The main trio — all talented guys — are utterly wasted here.
22. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it was far more entertaining than Stephen Sommers’ leaden-footed series of explosions and bellowed exposition. Poorly staged action, predictable character arcs, boring tech designs, and most regrettably no spark of Bay-style madness. It also gives Channing Tatum more unwarranted screentime and squanders the talents of Rachel Nichols, Christopher Ecclestone and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The worst toy-based movie of the year, by a nose. GO JOES! GO FAR AWAY!
George Ratliff’s fascinating Bad Seed thriller Joshua was only given a small release a couple of years ago, but is good enough to warrant chasing it down. Ostensibly similar, but far inferior, Jaume Collet-Serra’s hysterical and misjudged horror movie brings an Eastern-European Other into an affluent family with A Dark Past and runs through a litany of thriller cliches with excessive energy. Crashing unsubtlety is only the beginning of Orphan‘s problems. Narrative implausibilities pile up the further in we progress, leading to a hysterical finale with a truly demented and silly twist. Kudos to Dark Castle for getting Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard onboard to lend a veneer of respectability, but boo to them too for making those actors look so horribly lost.
20. Paul Blart: Mall Cop
In 2008 Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions did the world a great favour and produced the delightful House Bunny, starring the ever-magnificent Anna Faris. The world didn’t really seem to be bothered by this excellent gift, and it made minor money at the box office. In 2009 Happy Madison bankrolled Kevin James’ simplistic mall cop movie, despite the fact that the script contained no jokes even though it was obviously meant to be playing with the Die Hard template. Fertile ground, you’d think. However, when this short Ben Stiller sketch contains more funny lines than your entire movie, you know you’re in trouble. And yet it grossed way way more than House Bunny. ::sadface::
19. The Box
Richard Kelly attempts to redeem himself for the failure of Southland Tales by making a straight adaptation of Richard Matheson’s excellent short story, exploring the moral quandary therein with thoughtfulness and maturity. Only kidding! He garbles the whole thing with a needlessly complicated and confusing plot about aliens and morality tests and dimensional portals and the afterlife and chickens and sentient masonry and water and water and water and water and oh God, someone please stop him. (Warning: it does not feature chickens and sentient masonry. Please don’t watch it because that makes it sound more interesting.)
How depressing to see a technically ambitious and interesting SF director like Alex Proyas trot out something so illogical and exploitative. With Nicolas Cage asleep and Rose Byrne in shriek-mode, there is little here for an audience to empathise with, and if this tale of extinction and salvation works at all, it’s because of a couple of grandiose setpieces, especially a poignant moment at the end set to Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. Other than that, it’s a muddle of poorly explained philosophy and New Age and Christian symbolism, and ends up as nothing more than a religious wet-dream, with the odious and smug conversion of our atheist protagonist at the last-second. Remember, the caves won’t save the Chuldren! Only blindly trusting the Sky-People will!
17. Away We Go
What could have been a vaguely interesting article in The New Yorker about Dave Eggers’ experiences during his girlfriend’s pregnancy was instead turned into a bloated and pointless road movie, an exercise in narcissism filled with unpleasant stereotypes broadly played by an array of actors far too talented to be left adrift here. At its best it could have been vaguely diverting, but then Sam Mendes horribly misjudges the tone of the film. His flat visuals and clunky control of pace consign this movie to oblivion.
16. The Taking of Pelham 123
It’s bad enough that anyone thought it necessary to remake this story, one already told twice before and one of those times in remarkable fashion, without it being tackled with such cack-handed aggression. Tony Scott’s sledgehammer style removes almost all of the character from John Godey’s original story, and then Brian Helgeland rubs salt into the wound by adding needlessly coarse dialogue. It’s also hobbled by a depressingly low-energy performance from the usually dependable Denzel Washington, and an even more depressingly high-energy performance from a never-worse John Travolta. It gets more wrong than it gets right.
15. I Love You, Beth Cooper
Larry Doyle’s screenplay probably had some interesting things to say about teenage life, expectations, and sexuality, not to mention referencing pretty much every great (and not so great) teen comedy of the past couple of decades, but you would never know that under the usual empty gloss of Chris Columbus’ direction. All subtlety or purpose is crushed by Columbus’ predictably awful take on the subject matter, with his tone-deaf approach being too crass to make the sweet moments connect, or too prudish to make the bawdy stuff go far enough to become memorable. It’s also utterly unfunny. Not a single joke lands. How is this man still making movies?
14. The Blind Side
Michael Lewis is a smart man and I reckon his book — upon which John Lee Hancock’s feel-good drama is based — is far more interesting than this. It will also have the benefit of not being a trite and patronising two-hour-long pat-on-the-back for affluent white Christian folk who took in lost youngster Michael Oher even though he is depicted here as an African-American Lenny sans rabbit. Wrong-headed in the extreme, this film contains less wit and insight into human behaviour than any randomly selected three-minute-long scene from any episode of Friday Night Lights. FNL also has the benefit of not featuring the dreadful Tim McGraw or Jae Head as the most annoyingly precocious child actor in film history.
13. Dragonball Evolution
Pretty much nothing in this horrible, joyless commercial product works, but it is especially irksome to see something that mangles another cultural work being made by James Wong. His X-Files work had always been so entertaining, the first Final Destination was an endearingly bleak project, and The One was an interesting project that could have worked with a few rewrites and a bigger budget. Since then he has floundered, and this awful sub-Matrix Kung-Fu pastiche is a true lowpoint. It made Chow Yun Fat almost unwatchably smug too. Horrible from overcomplicated beginning to incomprehensible end.
12. Twilight: New Moon
Even the world’s most powerful supercomputer, when given the requisite raw data and a million years to generate alternate scenarios with it, could not create a movie as tedious as this. A stagnant narrative mess filled with singularly unappealing, navel-gazing brats, this pop culture phenomenon continues to fascinate millions while doing little more than running on the spot. It takes an especially bad franchise to alienate a nerd such as myself, but Twilight: New Moon managed it by celebrating dysfunctional romantic relationships while being even less entertaining than the dreary original. The only bright spot was a demented performance by Michael Sheen. Other than that berserk cameo, there is nothing to recommend the most sloppily constructed movie of the year.
11. The Proposal
Romantic comedies are going through a really bad patch. The genre was represented by more cynical and shoddily made exercises than ever before. With only The Invention of Lying and (500) Days of Summer attempting to do anything new with the genre, this year’s commercial enterprises at least tried to do one thing that the genre does really well: explore the gulf in behavioural expectations between men and women in an age where we are more aware than ever of our differences and similarities. This is not to say this was done well, though. The Proposal was essentially a by-the-numbers trainwreck of comedy misunderstandings, last-minute changes of heart, and hilarious grandmothers, this time played by an unwatchable Betty White crushing jokes underfoot with obnoxious relish. Yet another terrible Sandra Bullock movie in ’09.
10. Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire
As with The Blind Side, life for poor African-Americans is here depicted as a kind of hell that even Heironymous Bosch would shrink from painting. Lee Daniels’ tawdry and exploitative adaptation of poet Sapphire’s novel of urban deprivation and depravity is a relentlessly nightmarish vision. If it were a kind of satire on the Boy-Called-It phenomenon of tell-all child abuse memoirs Precious might hold some tasteless appeal, but instead it is an insult to those who suffer real abuse every day. This racially insensitive melodrama’s only worth — other than in giving a showcase to a strong cast who work hard to make Daniels’ scattershot direction seem better than it really is — is in celebrating those who strive to maintain support systems in America’s most deprived areas. Those hardworking Samaritans deserve a better tribute than this, though.
9. The Ugly Truth
The Proposal was marginally successful by dint of having Ryan Reynolds in the cast. The Ugly Truth, however, is a disaster on every level. Its odious reinforcement of cultural stereotypes about gender behaviour would be bad enough without featuring a mugging Gerard Butler defining “comedy timing” as “jutting out your chin at certain points in a sentence”. Nevertheless, compared to the joyless charm-void that is Katherine Heigl, he’s Spencer Tracy. While Butler tries to tell jokes, Heigl says every line with the same intonation and emphasis, making it impossible to tell where she is meant to be funny. Maybe she’s not meant to be. Bad-movie legend Robert Luketic has no idea how to modulate tone (or light or frame shots), saving his energy for the big vibrating panties scene: a joke so laboured and cringe-inducing that it should have killed this reductive mess on the spot.
8. Love Happens
Jason Reitman’s adaptation of Walter Kirn’s novel Up In The Air struck me as an insincere and mechanical exercise in sentimentality. I was deeply disappointed by it. Then I saw Love Happens and for a few minutes I felt like writing a letter to Reitman thanking him for every choice he made that stopped him from making something as wholly empty as this. Though Jennifer Aniston looks right at home in such uninspiring fare, Aaron Eckhart is wasted as a man dealing with that romance genre staple: the loss of his wife. Judy Greer, John Carroll Lynch, and Martin Sheen look like they’re praying for someone to rescue them from this openly manipulative farrago. Tricky to get stories about traumatic grief right. This didn’t even try. It makes Nights in Rodanthe look like Gone With The Wind.
Somehow a guy who directed episodes of The Wire and Deadwood thought it would be nice to launch his film career by directing a Hallmark Channel movie about evil temps written by the guy who wrote Star Trek V. The nicest thing that can be said about it is that it seems to have been made with a post-racial America in mind. The sympathetic protagonists are African-American and the evil antagonist is Caucasian: a fact that generates no discussion about race or the exploitation of black people in contemporary America. Sadly, I doubt that the filmmakers thought we had progressed beyond the point where this wasn’t worth commenting on: they just didn’t really know what to say, and so ignored the narrative minefield. That left us with a neutered Fatal Attraction clone with flat performances, ugly lighting, and ten minutes of an otherwise unused Beyonce beating up Ali Larter in the signposted finale.
6. My Sister’s Keeper
All I’ve experienced of Jodi Picoult’s work is her terrible run on Wonder Woman, where she revealed absolute ignorance of everything that made the character exciting. This syrupy and insincere adaptation of her novel doesn’t make the idea of reading her books any more appealing. A terrific cast — plus Cameron Diaz in full-on squawk mode — battle with a mountain of disease-of-the-week cliches, all served up in an unconventionally fractured narrative that could be considered avant-garde. I suspect it’s actually just that Nick Cassavetes didn’t really know what he was doing. Yet another shitty movie cynically treating emotional turmoil as grist to the mawkish mill. It gets added evilness points for misrepresenting scientific endeavour as morally compromised by inventing a fantasy scenario designed to scare incurious people into distrusting doctors.
5. The Boat That Rocked
Richard Curtis seems to think that English history is a Lego set that he can use to construct any old fantasy about our cultural past that he likes and no one will mind. When garbling historical events for obvious comedic effect in Blackadder, the result was a superb sitcom. Here it is just another exercise in using the devalued Cool Brittannia brand to hide the fact that England is painfully uncool, and making respectable actors put on drainpipe trousers and do the Twist on the deck of a boat for no reason is like watching the Queen trying to crunk. Curtis also seems to have forgotten how to tell a story: the meandering digressions featured here do not count as narrative. Pointless, needlessly hectic, overlong, unamusing and shoddily filmed, The Boat That Rocked almost represented the nadir of Britain’s film output in 2009. Almost.
4. All About Steve
The Year of Bullock was not a 100% financial success, but it was a total washout. This baffling movie represented the lowpoint of her Trilogy of Awful, and stands as a true curio. Why was this film made? The judgement of everyone involved must be called into question, because it honestly feels like no one knew what was going on at any point during its development and production. Was it an attempt at Farrelly-Brothers-style gross-out comedy? A celebration of the outsider? A denunciation of the outsider? A pro-life pastiche? A remake of Twister? All that is certain is that Bullock is insufferable here, stalking an embarrassed-looking Bradley Cooper across America while his colleagues enable her for no easily-identifiable reason. No one behaves like a human being until the sentimental finale where the grinding tone change paints protagonist Mary Horowitz as an admirable hero and everyone who has previously resented her falls into line to praise her. It’s utterly incomprehensible and nigh-unwatchable.
3. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li
Steven E. DeSouza’s original Street Fighter movie is treated like cinematic dog-doo by game fans and non-fans alike, but hopefully it will be revisited in the wake of this franchise revamp and seen as the light and entertaining diversion it actually is. Because this new Street Fighter movie sure isn’t light, and it sure isn’t entertaining. While the game features exaggerated movements, fantasy elements and imaginatively rendered characters, writer Justin Marks and director Andrzej Bartkowiak make the mistake of treating the game to a Batman Begins / Casino Royale-style revamp that strips every appealing element from the source material and leaving a tedious revenge plot against an unscrupulous entrepreneur in its place. Easily the most boring action movie of the year, it also features one of the worst performances, from oily Chris Klein. To be honest, he’s almost bad enough to earn a recommendation. His oleaginous demeanour and hilarious tough-guy mannerisms are the most entertaining things to be found here.
2. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Arguably the worst, most misguided and compromised big budget summer action movie ever made. To fanboys it represents yet another slap in the face from Tom Rothman, yet again mangling the things about a franchise that make that franchise appealing in the first place, as well as cutting budgets, altering the shooting script, and overriding director Gavin Hood. However, it’s not just nerd-preciousness that powers this rage against the money-making machine. Nothing in this cynical enterprise works, from the set design to the dialogue to the hideous effects to the casting (not counting Ryan Reynolds or Taylor Kitsch). The broad-strokes narrative desperately tries to match up Marvel’s Origin story with the beginning of the X-Men trilogy, but manages to taint all of the movies with its half-arsed stink. I can’t remember ever feeling so cheated by a superhero movie, or so horrified at how brazenly my love of these characters was being manipulated by a man who does not care a jot about their history.
1. Lesbian Vampire Killers
Someone shoe-horned everything that is wrong and miserable about British culture into one movie for the convenience of those of us who cringe at the thought of lad-mags, shoddy horror comedies that are neither funny nor scary, piss-poor “gentle” sitcoms (i.e. they contain no jokes), and traditional British directorial ineptitude. Horne and Corden — who are to Morecambe and Wise as dysentery is to tasty dessert toppings — mug their way through a joke-free and plagiaristic “romp” in which very nearly all women are sexually voracious and scantily-clad gay hotties who appear to be filled with what could be semen, considering how they explode in a shower of white goop when they are “amusingly” killed by the horny protagonists. It doesn’t even have the courtesy to be outrageously tasteless like the horror comedies it emulates so ineptly. It’s just tacky, stupid, gormless, tedious, misogynistic, and puerile. It also single-handedly negates all of the good will generated by British movies made by BBC Films and Film4, dragging the British Film Industry back in time to a period when Carry On films represented our most visible contribution to the world of cinema. If it could be deported, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Worst film of the year? Fuck that. Worst film of the decade, more like.
More to come, hopefully, including Best Actor and Actress, Worst Actor and Actress, and “awards” for directors, writers, and a cinematographer that I dissed last year.