Monday, December 26, 2011

The Worst Ten Films of 2011 - Pirates, Misogyny, and Romance, Oh My!

2011 was an excellent year for cinema, and you’ll be reading all about it tomorrow in my Top Ten Films of 2011 article – complete with a video version of the list! 

But as with any year, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses in the multiplex.  In fact, among the many masterpieces 2011 had to offer, there was more mediocre, bad, and downright despicable material than usual, most of it coming during the first half of the year, a time when I gave out more C grades and below than usual.  And today, I’m “celebrating” the movies I hated the most, the Worst Ten Films of 2011.  This is by no means a definitive list, both because lists are inherently subjective and because I stayed away from some very bad films (i.e. “Breaking Dawn”).  But of the seventy-five films I saw in 2011 (you can see the complete list of every movie I saw this year by clicking here), here are the worst ones.

This kicks off the final stretch of 2011 here on  Later today I’ll be posting my picks for the Top Ten TV Shows of 2011, and tomorrow, my Top Ten Films of 2011, with an aforementioned video version (the text version will actually be a top twenty). 

Without further ado, continue after the jump to see my picks for the Worst Ten Films of 2011. 

NOTE: Click on the title to each film to read my original, no doubt rant-filled review of the movie.

While you’re going to see this film on a lot of year-end top-ten lists, for me, it’s unquestionably a bottom-ten experience.  Yes, Elizabeth Olsen is fantastic as the title character, and the cinematography is nice, but other than that, “Martha Marcy May Marlene” has very little going for it.  It’s a film that makes its point in the first ten minutes: Martha has escaped from a terrible, violent cult, and her experiences there have scarred her for life.  That can be fully understood from the get-go, but writer/director Sean Durkin insists on hammering that message home for the next ninety minutes, going in languidly paced circles without ever caring to engage the audience.  Apart from Martha herself, the characters are all blanks; even John Hawkes’ cult-leader character is just a creepy Charles Manson type rather than a truly fleshed out human being.  All that being said, it’s the tremendously unsatisfying and ill-formed ending that pushed the film into true “bad movie” territory for me.  I doubt there’s a more critically overhyped film released in 2011.

Judged solely on its own merits, “Shadows” probably isn’t one of the worst films of 2011, but it is the most disappointing film of the year, and that earns it a spot on this list.  I absolutely loved Guy Ritchie’s first “Sherlock Holmes,” which effectively stylized the character and his world without betraying the intelligence of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories.  “A Game of Shadows” goes in the completely opposite direction.  It is loud, obnoxious, overblown, action-riddled, overtly comedic, disrespectful to the source material, and above all, stupid in ways only a pandering American production could be.  Apart from the truly brilliant climactic face-off between Holmes and Moriarty, the film is comprised of only two types of scenes: big action set-pieces, and cheap comedy at Sherlock’s expense.  Both grow tiresome very quickly.  “A Game of Shadows” was insured a spot on this list at the hour mark, when Ritchie felt it necessary to arrange a comic set-piece around Sherlock riding a pony.  I can’t believe that actually happened. 

I respect director Joe Wright and his small yet impressive body of work, but “Hanna” is a fairly spectacular misfire.  This story of a young girl with CIA-level training taking revenge on the spies who destroyed her life is undone by its own desire to be ‘edgy’ or ‘complex,’ favoring stylistic expression – or just outright wacky, nonsensical moments – rather than a solid narrative or genuine character development at every turn.  In the end, it’s more or less incoherent, and few films have ever left me so completely unfulfilled when the credits rolled.  Saoirse Ronan is quite good as the title character, the Chemical Brothers deliver a wildly good score, and the cinematography is a marvel, but no amount of technical merits can make up for a worthless script. 

I saw this Japanese import at the Denver Film Festival, and I can’t believe I wrote a full review about it.  The film is dreadfully dull; there’s no real story, but it can’t function as a character study either, since none of the cast come across as even remotely interesting.  I would complain about the production values if it had any.  On the bright side, if you click through to my original review, you’ll see my favorite headline I’ve ever written. 

There are multiple films warring for supremacy inside of “Cowboys and Aliens,” and while all of them have the potential to be satisfying interpretations of the wacky title on their own, together they make a film that is loud, soulless, and above all, stupid.  Insultingly, incoherently stupid.  It’s too bad, because with Jon Favreau directing and a terrific cast including Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and Olivia Wilde, this was a film that had plenty of potential.  All it had to do was deliver a simple, fun Western romp with cowboys fighting aliens.  It’s right there in the title: Cowboys and Aliens.  It couldn’t even deliver on the simple promise of that title, overcomplicating every last detail with ridiculous exposition until it’s hard not to feel betrayed by the lack of fun found in the finished product.  In the end, though, I suppose the title is accurate for the film delivered.  There are cowboys.  There are aliens.  No promises are made or kept about having strong or likable characters, interesting or involving stakes, or narrative coherency, not to mention any hints of regard for the audience’s intellect.  But there are cowboys, and there are aliens.  So there’s that. 

I have no earthly idea why any director would look at the 1984 film “Footloose” and think – “Hmm, that’s a premise with so much potential, but they didn’t take it seriously enough.  This has the makings of fine drama, if only I could remake it and get it right this time!”  That train of thought simply baffles me, but that’s what Craig Brewer must have been thinking when he wrote and directed this painfully awful remake, coating a ridiculously silly story in multiple coats of melodrama.  Instead of having lighthearted fun with the material, he treats the small town dance ban like it’s “Schindler’s List,” casting the parents as the repulsive, despicable Nazis.  Even that take could have worked reasonably well if we were given one singular reason to like the kids, but each and every teenager in this movie is detestable or bland, take your pick.  Most disturbingly of all, the movie descends into rampant misogyny early on, a recurring theme you’ll see in the next few movies. 

What was that about misogyny?  “Footloose” has nothing on “What’s Your Number?” in that department, since “Number” is, after all, a romantic comedy, and no genre seems more determined to out women as secret bearers of the Antichrist.  “What’s Your Number,” you see, is all about the deep, life-altering shame Anna Farris’ character spirals into when she discovers she has slept with 19 men in her life.  The horror!  Her male friend across the hall, played by Chris Evans, has sex with a different concubine seemingly every night, but since he’s a man, that just makes him a lovable rogue, according to the film.  If a woman dares to engage in sexual variety, she better put the brakes on and find a husband fast.  It’s sexism, plain and simple, but the horridly simplistic and outdated view of gender roles aren’t the worst part of this dreadful “comedy.”  The script is painfully unfunny and riddled with clichés, and what’s most disappointing is that the film is cast top to bottom with talented comedians, all underserved by the writing.  Farris and Evans in particular give it their all, the lone saving grace that keeps this film above the next three terrible entries on this list. 

I would highly recommend reading my entertaining original review for full details on where this abhorrent sequel went wrong, because there’s so much misguided about “On Stranger Tides” that it’s difficult to even decide where to begin.  How did they take a franchise as fun as Pirates and wring out every last bit of life?  How did they turn a concept as imaginative as the Fountain of Youth into something so needlessly convoluted?  How did they rip all the bite and personality out of Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Barbossa?  How did they allow a version of Blackbeard played by the great Ian McShane to be so incredibly boring?  How did they make zombies and mermaids lame?  How did they spend $150 million on the production and come out with a final product that looks laughably cheap and half-assed?  But most importantly of all…how did they take all the fun out of Captain Jack Sparrow?  How do you, in good conscience, do something so horrible?  I don’t know, but “On Stranger Tides” chipped away at many of my beloved childhood memories for two straight hours, and I still bear the scars.

I can think of few other films that have ever tested my patience as much as “Crazy Stupid Love.”  It takes many of the worst romantic comedy clichés and aggravates them, relies on ridiculous contrivances rather than honest pathos, contains one of the most annoying cinematic characters this side of Jar-Jar Binks, and has no use for any sense of narrative logic or thematic cohesion.  It is, simply put, one of the worst films I have ever seen, and I have never so strongly desired to get up and storm out of the theatre in a huff.  Every single narrative decision in the film angered me.  Every character seemed underdeveloped or wildly inconsistent.  Relationships made no sense or, in the worst cases, were downright creepy.  The film has no idea what genre it wishes to belong to, riding abrupt tonal shifts as smoothly as a beluga whale riding a skate board.  I know my hatred is in the minority; people seem to really love this movie.  I cannot, for the life of me, understand why. 

Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch” is a full-on insult to humanity.  I’ve been reviewing films since I was ten, and though I’ve seen plenty of crap, this is quite possibly the most excruciating experience I’ve ever had in a theatre.  “Sucker Punch” is an insensitive, illogical, confusing, blatantly misogynistic, and above all, stupid mess of a ‘movie,’ one so bad that I scarcely believe that somebody, somewhere along the line, didn’t look at the film and say “we have to do something about this.”  No one could make a film this bad on accident – there are elements so horrifyingly awful that I’m more inclined to believe that director Zack Snyder has played a glorious $85 million prank on the audience than that he was actually trying to make a decent picture.  And if that’s the case, then “Sucker Punch” is a work of genius, a top-notch study in what makes movies bad, a pastiche of everything wrong with modern American cinema, a crash course for students of film that teaches them why things like a plot and characters are important and what happens when one ignores such crucial elements.   But that’s just me trying to make sense of things.  In truth, “Sucker Punch” is just one colossal, unbelievable failure, and though I avoided many terrible-looking films this year, I think I can confidently say this was the worst thing to hit screens in 2011. 

So there you have it, the worst ten films of 2011!  Do you agree with my picks?  Are you, like many others, going to shout at me for including “Crazy Stupid Love?”  What films did you hate this year?  Sound off on these questions and more in the comments! 

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