I suppose it would be more interesting for me to call out well-received films as my ‘worst’ of the year. Unfortunately my least favorite films of 2011 are, for the most part, releases that were largely or entirely panned. There are a ton of releases that would likely qualify here that I did not get a chance to see (probably for the better). While they won’t make the bottom ten, the films that received some kind of critical/awards attention that I have a fervent dislike for were Biutiful, Cold Weather, Another Earth, My Week with Marilyn and Albert Nobbs. Technically, this is a list of my ten least favorite releases. But let’s face it; nobody is going to search for a ‘least favorite list’ and these are films that I do believe to be bad. My eleven would have been Sucker Punch, a film that in most regards rightfully became a punching bag, but I found it to be just entertaining enough in its awfulness to give it a pass here. But yes, it would have been my eleven. Interestingly enough, half of my choices begin with the letter ‘R’.
From my review: This is an out-and-out turkey that fails to establish a modicum of interest, with some of the most amateurish filmic devices on display in recent memory. It is a bloated, empty, hollow bullet-point presentation with nothing to offer. It is a total failure to the point where is offends me for existing. Likely too harsh for some, I just could not abide by its inflated self-importance and unashamed bastardization of history. It was at times embarrassing to watch.
I still maintain my appreciation that Smith tried to do something outside of his previous oeuvre. But Red State is a misfire on all counts, feeling like a fuzzy manifestation of one of his rants. It comes complete with a ten-minute monologue scene with clear intent to be iconic that instead is dead on arrival. There is no suspense or scares; only broad caricatures and pontificating. It shifts gears in each third, an idea with potential in theory, but the material and execution ensure the landing does not stick. Finally, a last-minute effort in satire falls flat on its face and is unearned. It feels like a first draft that could have gone somewhere had everything about it been reworked from the ground up.
8. In Time (Niccol)
Did you know that our time on this Earth is limited? That time is precious? That time eventually runs out? Well, in case you forgot, In Time is going to spend two hours (that I want back) smacking you in the face with metaphorical mortality. A film that starts out preposterous and only becomes increasingly so; it feels like a CW show playing with sci-fi. That this comes from the mind of Andrew Niccol is a disappointment in the extreme. Justin Timberlake is painfully flat and ineffective as the leading man, Amanda Seyfried is a gorgeous empty shell, while Vincent Kartheiser and Cillian Murphy are schlepped around and asked to take part in this charade in exchange for a likely reasonable check. Poor Olivia Wilde is the only one who manages to make any impact in her early death scene (she plays Timberlake’s mother; seriously). But by the time I cared, she was gone. It was all downhill from there.
7. Red Riding Hood (Hardwicke)
Two Amanda Seyfried films in a row. This should not be taken as a reflection on my feelings towards her; I like her quite a bit but she often appears in really weak projects. The only think I did like about Red Riding Hood (and it wasn’t Seyfried, who exits unscathed but none the better) was the art direction. It received some criticism for its stagy and artificial feel, but that is exactly what I liked about it. That’s all the praise I can muster for this one. Let us take a second to lament that Catherine Hardwicke directed this, making Twilight look imminently watchable by comparison. There is no effort to create suspense, intrigue or scares; even the central romance which should at least be terrible but reasonably sexy fodder for teens registers a big fat nothing. It tries to capitalize on the Twilight craze via revisionist fairy tale with the same director, love triangle, wolves, unnecessary voiceover, modernized score complete with feedback and Billy Burke’s brooding. It is hell bent on being a pretty film but the efforts are futile. Seeing Gary Oldman ham it up through mannerisms, speech patterns and dialects without material to back him up becomes empty gravitas. It has nothing going for it even as a fairy tale romance haphazardly trying to hitch a ride on a young adult trend.
Your Highness is surreal when looking at David Gordon Green’s career ten years ago, the money that was poured into realizing this script, and the cast that signed on to help bring this film to its monotonous and embarrassing life. The people involved make this product even more disheartening than anything else. Danny McBride and Ben Best must have been two determined ten-year olds when they wrote this because I cannot believe that any grown men sat down and worked this thing out onto a document. Vulgarity for vulgarity’s sake repeated ad nauseum, Your Highness had me shaking my head in shame for most of its runtime. You will wonder where the world is headed when a director as gifted as Green thinks that spending his time making this puerile garbage is somehow worth it.
Here we have another film trying to haphazardly hitch itself onto the revisionist fairy tale craze; ladies and gentlemen, Beastly! I so deeply wish this had just stayed on the young adult shelf in bookstores. I have no idea who made all the decisions involved here, but the makeup department in particular should be ashamed. Alex Pettyfer (also in In Time) is cartoonish in his characterization and his makeup is impossible to take seriously (monster = tattoos and piercings apparently????). The second film here that makes Twilight look excellent by comparison, it deeply struggles to adapt the tale to the modern day. The editing and music choices are shoddily slapped together and the performances are akin to bad daytime soap acting (outside of Mary-Kate Olsen who I legitimately enjoyed seeing inject her role with relish as if she were in The Craft). The script is bottom of the barrel bad. Every character is written like a smack in the face. Example; in the beginning, Pettyfer is an arrogant asshole who thinks he is better than anyone else because of his looks and popularity. Instead of showing us how he thinks, he literally says at one point that he is better than everyone because of his looks and popularity. This is about as subtle as Beastly gets.
This one I expect to get some slack for as it has built up a following. Is it worse than Your Highness, Beastly and others on this list? No, I guess not. Did it manage to provide me with the most insufferable film viewing experience of 2011? Yes, it certainly did. This thing is begging to be loved and worshiped (amongst the 20-30 age groups in particular). Had it been five minutes, Rubber would have been unforgettable. That initial segment that establishes the tire as an animate object is tops. Also, unsurprisingly given the director, it has a great soundtrack. Outside the two aforementioned elements, it is the most self-satisfied nonsense to come around in quite some time, with Dupieux dead set on calling out his own audience for even taking the time to watch his creation. For the record; meta does not automatically equal good. Rubber is more deconstructive than anything else, with each element cancelling out the next until nothing is left. It is supposed to be asking questions about the nature of the viewer and how we, as an audience both individually and collectively, engage in films. All of it is painfully, and I mean painfully full of itself as well as obnoxiously obvious. Rubber needs to get over itself.
I feel kind of bad for Leighton Meester when it comes to The Roommate. Because she really commits to her role and I assert that she doesn’t do a terrible job. What makes her look ridiculous is that it is impossible to break through this barebones derivative of Single White Female. It is actively offensive for feeling like it was written by someone with a middle-school attendee’s understanding of cliques. The cool people are normal here and Meester likes art and draws and takes medication and is broody and clingy and off-putting and this must mean she’s a psychopath!!! It takes the kind of judgmental assertions that a presumptuous adolescent would make and turns it into a slasher-lite version of reality. The film is never interested in taking anything further than a surface level of plot point beats and caricatures. The film is so overpopulated with morons that you want Meester to off everybody. The Roommate may provide a fun bad-movie night with friends but it’s mostly so lifeless that it hurts.
If there was one film that was a drudge to get through in 2011 it was The Rite. I cannot even remember anything about this film to write about. Here is all I recall; it felt like it took the entire day to watch, that it would never end, that the lead actor bland personified and that it contains zero scares. There were other films that are gloriously bad, fascinatingly bad or at least bad enough to keep ones thoughts about how bad it is going for the length of the film. But The Rite has nothing going for it. It is so boring that it overtakes these other films because nothing is worse than being this dreadfully boring.
Conversations begin with lines like “Have you ever seen the ocean?” Passion Play is as bad as you have heard. It is a dud to end all duds that luckily contains enough unintentional laugh-out-loud moments to hurdle itself into turkey infamy. It’s bogged down in painful noir clichés, rote sentimentality and blatant awkwardness on all fronts (except Christopher Doyle’s cinematography), including staging, acting, directing and editing. It feels like we are watching an underworked rehearsal of already hopeless material. Mitch Glazer takes his project so seriously it hurts. He is unable to execute simple scenes. Bill Murray and Mickey Rourke are sleepwalking. Megan Fox is not terrible here, but she certainly isn’t good and it is sad that she is the only one onscreen who actually seems determined to give a performance. There are parts of Passion Play that need to be seen to be believed. Hint; flying is involved.
Complete List of Films Seen in 2011: 13 Assassins, 50/50, A Better Life, A Dangerous Method, Albert Nobbs, American Grindhouse, Another Earth, Attack the Block, Beastly, Beginners, Being Elmo, Bellflower, Bill Cunningham, New York, Biutiful, Black Death, Bobby Fischer Against the World, Bridesmaids, Buck, Cameraman: the Life and Work of Jack Cardiff, Captain America: The First Avenger, Carnage, Cars 2, Caterpillar, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Cedar Rapids, Certified Copy, Cold Fish, Cold Weather, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, Contagion,, Cracks, Crazy, Stupid, Love, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, Dream Home, Drive, Edge of Dreaming, Hanna, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Hesher, Hobo with a Shotgun, Horrible Bosses, Hugo, I Saw the Devil, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, In a Better World, In Time, Incendies, Insidious, J. Edgar, Jane Eyre, Kung Fu Panda 2, Last Night, Le Quattro Volte, Love Crime, Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Meek’s Cutoff, Melancholia, Midnight in Paris, Mildred Pierce, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Moneyball, My Week with Marilyn, Of Gods and Men, Outrage, Page One: Inside the New York Times, Passion Play, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Poetry, Project Nim, Rampart, Rango, Red Riding Hood, Red State, Redline, Retreat, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Rubber, Scream 4, Senna, Shame, Sleeping Beauty, Source Code, Submarine, Sucker Punch, Super, Super 8, Tabloid, Take Shelter, Terri, The Adventures of Tintin, The Arbor, The Artist, The Debt,The Descendants, The Devil’s Double, The Double Hour, The Future, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Green Hornet, The Help, The Housemaid, The Ides of March, The Last Circus, The Lincoln Lawyer, The Mill and the Cross, The Muppets, The Rite, The Roommate, The Skin I Live In, The Sleeping Beauty, The Thing, The Tree of Life, The Trip, The Ward, The Woman, Thor, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, TrollHunter, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Tyrannosaur, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Unknown, War Horse, Warrior, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Weekend, Win Win, Winnie the Pooh, X-Men: First Class, Young Adult, Your Highness, Yves Saint-Laurent: L’Amour Fou