A tragic realization hit me while assembling this year's worst films of 2011 list--I have probably seen way more awful movies than anyone else at this company, if not most other people in general. Now, to be fair, given that I write for a site that splits film-watching duties among multiple people, I do, thankfully, get to miss out on the occasional disaster. Still, I'm not sure exactly what it is about my psyche that naturally draws me to the very worst that Hollywood has to offer year after year. Probably the same primal drive that forces me to play the worst games year after year, as well. If I ever get to the point where I'm reading shitty books and listening to Bruno Mars albums regularly, please put a bullet in my head, because by then I will be truly lost.
And with that hilarious image emblazoned upon your brain, let's now get down to the brass tacks of my ten least-enjoyed films of 2011.
10. Sucker Punch
I wrestled quite a bit with putting Zack Snyder's video-game-meets-false-female-empowerment clusterfuck on this list at all, mostly because I've gotten my share of impassioned defenses for this film over the course of the year. There is a very dedicated subset of people who believe that Sucker Punch is a deeply misunderstood diamond in the rough, a movie that sets out to do something very strange and accomplishes that goal admirably. I respect these arguments, in the sense that, on some level, I think every movie--and for that matter, every artistic endeavor--can be defended by someone who believes in it. However, I do not believe in Sucker Punch.
Other people's respect for the film does not change the fact that every single frame of Sucker Punch either caused me to roll my eyes back into my skull out of sheer idiocy, or straight up offend what utterly meager feminist sensibilities I have buried somewhere underneath all my faux-manhood. As far as I'm concerned, this movie is an empty-headed mess, spuriously built up as both a video game dork's wet dream and a supposed multi-layered commentary on female empowerment. Except it ultimately ends up as neither of those things. If you're there for the sexy action times, its PG-13 sensibilities rob it of any real thrill, and if you're there for the female empowerment, you're probably going to find all that imaginary whorehousin' to be more than a bit confusing, if not downright offensive. Is Zack Snyder's movie an experiment in style and substance? Yes. But it's also a failed one.
It's probably rather telling that this movie got left off my first draft of this list, solely because I'd forgotten it even existed. The details of this Twilight-for-the-alien-teenager-set are exceedingly fuzzy in my brain, but having gone back and re-read my review a few times now, I now recall what it was I hated about this movie so much: everything.
From the moment Alex Pettyfer broods his way onto the screen as Kal-El-with-laser-palms, you know right away you're going to hate this dude. Then the movie makes good on that by making him both an insufferable bore and a miserable prick. Not even the usually awesome Timothy Olyphant's frequent presence can make Pettyfer into anything other than a petulant-looking dweeb.
On top of its star's total lack of worth, the script (which spawned from the young adult fiction factory headed up by noted hack author James Frey--more on that here) is disastrously dull, worse even than the Twilight films it's trying oh-so-hard to emulate. Worse than Twilight? Is that even possible? I Am Number Four proves it is.
You'll get more on this movie in my review of it tomorrow, but it's safe to say that a dark moment in human history hasn't been made this deplorably whimsical since Springtime for Hitler. I haven't read the novel on which it's based, but if even half of it is directly associated with the fiction barfed out in sugary blasts in the film, I know I absolutely do not want to.
This is one of those rare cases where the child actor at the center of a movie is not the reason it sucks. Thomas Horn gives a completely solid performance as Oskar, the most painfully affected child ever conceived by man. How affected? He's got a huge vocabulary; he's a Francophile; he collects bugs; his dad sends him out on "expeditions" into Central Park where he digs up "fossils" in the middle of the night; he talks to his grandmother via a walkie talkie; he has the most insanely anal organizational skills of anyone ever; he is afraid of public transportation, tall things, and loud noises, among other things; he carries a tambourine with him everywhere to calm himself down; he also probably has Aspbergers.
It's a million character traits in search of a character. That would be bad enough on its own, but Oskar's fairy tale journey through post-9/11 New York in search of the lock that fits a key left behind by his father who died in the Twin Towers is so obnoxiously precious that you'll be choking back vomit instead of tears. Every other actor in this thing, from Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock on down to Max Von Sydow and Jeffrey Wright, are preening so hard for Oscar prestige that the whole endeavor reduces the theoretically "powerful" story to miserable kitsch. 9/11 movies can be done, and done respectfully. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close isn't respectful; it's exploitative.
7. Dream House
You know a movie's going to be a train-wreck when its stars and director actively refuse to promote it. Such was the case with Dream House, the ghostly thriller directed by the great Jim Sheridan who reportedly had final cut of the movie ripped away from him by the studio producing it, which resulted in the incoherent hack-job that very few people bothered to see in theaters.
It's easy to see why Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz wouldn't bother showing up to promote this garbage. While it's possible that a semi-entertaining thriller once existed somewhere within the movie's production process, little, if any of that movie found its way to the screen. Craig's journey from loving husband to accused psychotic killer to imaginary loving husband to paroled accused psychotic killer is straight-up exhausting, not because it's richly detailed or intriguingly laid out, but because it just doesn't make any fucking sense. Every single thing that happens in this movie is predicated on a million people doing exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time. It's so far beyond the realm of coherence and believability that any modicum of tension there may have once been is completely stripped away in favor of prostrated laughter. Giggling at the stupidity of it all is the only way to make it through Dream House without losing your mind--though I don't recommend even trying in the first place.
As one of the few "defenders" (in the loosest sense of the word) of the original Human Centipede, the sheer depravity and utter worthlessness of The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) was something I could actually call a disappointment. Tom Six is more sideshow carnival barker than director, but the first movie at least showed a few interesting touches of gallows humor to go alongside its nauseating premise, not to mention the unhinged performance of Dieter Laser as the psychotic, ass-fusing Dr. Heiter.
Human Centipede II revels in upping the grotesque gore and human suffering, and more or less strips out anything from the first movie that might possibly qualify as defensible. It's a feces-and-blood-splattering mess anchored by nothing except one bug-eyed little man's meta-obsession with the original movie. There is nothing to latch onto except endless disgust and vile, subhuman cruelty. It's torture porn with a much heavier emphasis on the porn part. It's just plain awful.
Ayn Rand's phone-book-sized musing on rational self-interest (otherwise known as the "novel" Atlas Shrugged) was never going to make an easy transition to film. It's denser than the center of a black hole, and consists largely of very self-centered people saying very self-centered things while bitching about what a drag all those welfare cases are who seek to destroy the champions of industry. At the same time, Atlas Shrugged's appearance in early 2011 couldn't have been better timed, what with the Tea Party political movement having taken up many of Rand's objectivist beliefs in their assault on what they believe is governmental treason.
It is perhaps a testament to exactly how miserably terrible Atlas Shrugged: Part I is that only the most fringe crazies of the movement apparently even bothered to see it. Maybe despite all their bluster and hellfire, even they couldn't bring themselves to watch two WASP-y, wealthy white folk stand around in extravagant board rooms talking about how liberals and their "stupid altruistic urges" are bringing down the brave capitalistic society the go-getters of industry are trying to create. Maybe they just couldn't handle the leaden dialogue, non-existent characters, and production values that bordered on sub-TV-movie quality. Maybe, in this case, rational self-interest meant not subjecting yourself to one of the most nonsensical, drab, and painfully boring films of the year. That's a rational self-interest I can get behind.
4. Jack & Jill
In a weird way, I almost want to praise it as a small miracle that Jack & Jill wasn't the very worst movie I saw all year. After all, looking at the trailers, promotional materials, and basically anything that had to do with this cross-dressing abomination, there was no reason to believe this wouldn't be the singular soul-sucking film-going experience of 2011. That it wasn't is almost inconceivable.
That said, Jack & Jill is, of course, still a despicably awful movie, packed to the brim with more PG-appropriate diarrhea and ugly women jokes than any Sandler film before--and that's really saying something. Sandler as the obnoxious, brazen, completely tone-deaf Jill is like a ludicrous parody of all the cross-dressing characters Eddie Murphy made his mint on over the last couple of decades. Were this a subversive act of parody, it would almost be brilliant, but by the time the script starts doling out the usual rote, borderline meaningless Life Lessons, you unfortunately realize that everyone is pretty much serious about this being a movie people theoretically might want to see, and then you get really sad.
Were it not for the movie's sole saving grace--namely, Al Pacino playing a version of himself that's either completely embarrassing or kind of genius or both--Jack & Jill would have been all but insufferable. With that sole saving grace? Well, it's still one of the worst movies of the year. Just not THE worst.
Garry Marshall hates love. He hates holidays. And above all else, he hates you. I absolutely cannot believe otherwise after having witnessed the grotesque parade of vacant, vapid celebrities dully chewing on sitcom-rejected one-liners and engaging in romances that feel roughly as heartwarming as a shot of ice water plunged directly into your aorta that is the movie New Year's Eve.
It's understandable that Marshall would want to try his luck a second time after the runaway (and inexplicable) success of Valentine's Day. The problem is that rather than trying to craft a more coherent, but still-star-studded tale of love around the final night of the Christian calendar, he instead just stapled together roughly 90 rejected Hallmark Original Movie plots, shredded each of them down to 15 pages, and added 673 more famous people to make up the balance. The end result is less a movie than a giant tourism commercial for New Year's Eve in New York City--hilarious, considering any native New Yorker will tell you that only tourists and psychopaths go out in this city on that night, given the horrific congestion of public transportation and aggressive drunken behavior of those out in the cold.
Still, I'd endure an eternity of being crushed between a fat Midwestern tourist in an Angry Birds snowcap and a transient heroin junkie also wearing an Angry Birds snowcap in Times Square in 20-below weather while listening to Ryan Seacrest introduce LMFAO featuring Ke$ha or whatever before sitting through this two-hour assault on my goddamn sanity again. No hyperbole.
If there is any more perfect example of how 3D largely failed moviegoers in 2011 than Shark Night 3D, someone will have to point it out to me. Last year, Piranha 3D pretty much showed us how horror movies can be stupid, stupid fun when given the 3D treatment--provided the studio is willing to hang with an R-rating and bring out the blood and tits in ceaseless gobs. Shark Night is the opposite in every imaginable way. Its sense of humor is almost nonexistent, its PG-13 rating kneecaps any potential for amusing violence or sexy sex times, and the villains (not the sharks, but the dudes who put the sharks in the movie's lake) are such lazy, unbearable redneck stereotypes that you can practically see the cast from Deliverance rolling over in their respective graves.
I just do not understand how anyone makes a movie called Shark Night 3D and tries to make that film even remotely serious. Never mind even that the 3D in the title is wholly unnecessary and blurry as shit, but how do you make a movie about fucking sharks in a fucking lake eating fucking college kids and not have some fucking fun with it? It's fucking inexplicable!
I know there are some out there who find this movie completely passable and not worth getting up-in-arms over, but I'm sorry, there is no way this isn't my most hated movie of 2011. Every single aching moment I spent watching this movie in the theaters made me believe my time might be better spent cutting my own wrists open or beating my own skull in with a claw hammer. This movie made me not only hate the people on screen, but it made me hate myself for even witnessing it.
The body-switching premise of The Change-Up is dumb, certainly, but not bereft of merit. Similarly, Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds are both actors I've had plenty of affection for in the past. I even like the supporting cast, which includes such delightful actresses as Leslie Mann and Olivia Wilde. But from the opening scene, where Jason Bateman wanders into the room occupied by his twin babies, and takes a money shot of baby shit right to the kisser, it's immediately clear what kind of movie we're in for from thereon out.
Things do not improve. If anything, they get worse. Ryan Reynolds as a lady-killing unemployment benefactor is one of the most insufferable assholes I've ever seen on a screen, and when Jason Bateman switches into his body, that character somehow becomes about a thousand times worse. Bateman's fatherhood malaise is mostly innocuous at first, but by the time he starts trying to get it on with Wilde while guiltily bitching about it all along the way, you pretty much lose all sympathy for him. And then there are the mirthless gags of feces and body shaving and pregnant sex and foul-mouthed stupidity and oh my god why I am I even still talking about this movie? I hated it enough to put it atop a list that included the likes of Jack & Jill and the Human Centipede II--what else do I even need to say?
Notable films the world seemingly hated that I (thankfully) managed to avoid in 2011:
- The Smurfs
- Passion Play
- Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star
- Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son
- Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil
- I Melt With You
- The Roommate
Any thoughts on my list? Any vehement agreements or disagreements? Hit up the comments!