After having seen 55 films from 2011, it’s time to take a hiatus from all the cinemas, instant queues, and kiosks so that I may report to you my annual listings of favorites and least favorite films of 2011.
It was a year of beginnings and finales. We were re-introduced to a Swedish computer hacker, several comic book heroes, world-dominating primates, and a beloved gang of Muppets. We said our goodbyes to the trio of teenage wizards we followed for eight movies – spanning over a decade. And what a year for kids; they threw down in the woods with bow and arrow, contemplated their upbringing in ’60s suburbia, helped mourning New Yorkers through a tough time despite the sudden loss of immediate family, and redeemed the spirits of an iconic filmmaker. We were presented with pills with brain enhancement, supernatural bureaus with hidden agendas, aliens with marijuana, maids fighting injustice, bridesmaids fighting indigestion, tires with telekinesis, entertainers without sound, and hobos with shotguns. We saw bad teachers, horrible bosses, perfect hosts, trollhunters, iron ladies, kung fu pandas, paranormal activities, and crazy, stupid love. All in all, another jam-packed year with something for anyone.
As always, I want to stress that my lists are ultimately incomplete. I – of course – have not seen every movie of the year and will continue to give films from this year and past years a try. While I do enjoy non-fiction, I don’t include documentaries for either list; it’s an entirely different breed I feel I have no business critiquing. These are composed from the films I have seen so far – those I managed to find the time for and possessed enough intrigue to devote to.
Before the first list – the worst, for the first time ever doubled to ten – here are two potentially frightening groups essential in their attachment.
15 FILMS I HOPE TO NEVER SEE (while sober)
Atlas Shrugged: Part I
Battle: Los Angeles
Conan the Barbarian
Shark Night 3D
Suing the Devil
The Twilight Saga – Breaking Dawn: Part 1
15 FILMS I HOPE TO NEVER SEE… EVER
Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son
Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star
Happy Feet Two
The Human Centipede: Part 2 (Full Sequence)
I Don’t Know How She Does It
Jack & Jill
Mr. Popper’s Penguins
New Year’s Eve
Season of the Witch
Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D
10. THE HANGOVER: PART II
starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, and Ken Jeong. Directed by Todd Phillips. Rated R.
The latest example of my own coined term “lostinnewyorkosis,” named fondly, of course, after the doppelganger sequel to ‘Home Alone’. It’s also known as “American Pie 2 syndrome” and “inflammation of the Police Academies.” But let’s pretend for a bit that Phillips isn’t mooning us with his money-grubbing side by dishing out the same film and slapping on a fresh coat of Thailand. In the film’s feeble defense, at least the gamble of grimmer comedy was attempted. On the other hand, this apparently meant making the racism of Alan (Galifianakis) fully intentional, training a monkey to puff a Marlboro, pretending a bullet to the arm is a howler, adding transgendered nudity for homophobic chuckles, and generally shooting Bangkok as a bigoted fever-nightmare of Bill O’Reilly’s. I’ll defend “Part I” all I can, but this one’s more tragic than “classic.” Still, with my 2-of-5-star rating for it (shared by three other dishonorable mentions that shall remain nameless for this post), it’s clearly not the year’s worst – like so many mid-year lists predicted it would be. Brace yourself for nine more…
9. THE RUM DIARY
starring Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, Aaron Eckhart, and Giovanni Ribisi. Directed by Bruce Robinson. Rated R.
This was my choice for my ABMV (annual birthday movie viewing) as I turned 29. Roo, my brother Brandon and I all met at the Landmark Cinema in Indianapolis to see it (followed soon after by my introduction to the Dave and Buster’s chain). Lackluster reviews be damned; after learning of this dream-child of Depp’s all those years ago (when Benicio Del Toro was still attached to direct), this Hunter S. Thompson adaptation had my name all over it – notably thanks to my fondness for ’98’s ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ which also starred Depp as a rendition of the gonzo storyteller. And y’know? I had a great time! The popcorn was fresh. The lobby was polished. The seats were extremely comfy and adjustable. The coming attractions were fascinating. The movie… well, uh… The movie…….
*murmurs something about a sitcom feel, the equivalence of a Maxim spread, fighting roosters, and thank-goodness-Thompson’s-remains-were-shot-from-a-cannon-so-he-has-no-grave-to-spin-in.*
… and we’ll all have to visit Dave and Buster’s again some time soon!
P.S. This marks two years in a row Depp has had a film enter my worst list (thanks to last year’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’). ‘Rango’ was decent at best, but it’s time this numerous Oscar nominee found more opportunities to be one once more. We all know he is capable.
starring the voices of Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, George Lopez, and Leslie Mann. Directed by Carlos Saldanha. Rated G.
I’ve read there are worse animated features from the year; shooting first to mind is ‘Mars Needs Moms’. That one looked pretty bad, so I avoided it. ‘Rio’ looked vibrant, beautiful and boasted a recent Oscar nominee (Eisenberg) as the lead. Because of this, I gave it a chance – understanding it was aimed for a much younger audience. SO much went wrong. It’s a musical with forgettable music (sometimes thankfully). The slapstick is overdone. The puns are pitiful. The plot is re-re-recycled. A bulk of the vocalizations (which also include Jemaine Clement, Jamie Foxx, will.i.am, Wanda Sykes, and Jane Lynch) are half-hearted. Films that rely so heavily on this cuteness factor may be harmless, but they also seem truly vacant and altogether dismissible. Children deserve better. Some folks may remember ’11 as the year that Disney-Pixar finally lost its touch after the mostly unwelcome ‘Cars 2’. I can’t possibly see how a film from John Lasseter could have a worse result than the fluffed up ‘Rio’.
7. COWBOYS & ALIENS
starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, and Sam Rockwell. Directed by Jon Favreau. Rated PG-13.
It’s a damn good thing my viewing of this dud came as a back-to-back showing with a good film (which will make my Best list – TEASER HINT!) at my pre-planned drive-in get-together in Winchester. Otherwise I sense I would have been in danger of losing friends. I plead not guilty – just read that title. Go ahead: tell me there’s a film with a label even more suited for the retro-activity (okay, aside from ‘Snakes on a Plane’). Might I also bring to the jury’s attention the credits: Spielberg, Howard, Grazer, Favreau, Lindelof, Ford, Craig, Wilde, Rockwell, Paul Dano, Clancy Brown, Adam Beach, Keith Carradine, etc., etc., etc.,… Just as a general rule, if you plan on throwing such imaginative clashing combatants together – specifically groups so timelessly popular to use on the big screen – and then proceed to make the fight card the name of the whole shebang, you better make sure it’s an even and unpredictable match. The “cowboys'” home-field advantage (okay, AND the space invaders’ ho-hum CG physicality) killed any to all tension. Simply sneak some heroes on board the mothership about halfway through and kick your creative spurs up while the setting contrast takes the wheel. Maybe don’t overkill the hot naked lady so much either. Scratch this off as one of the early prime examples of a graphic novel failing to provide watchable material for celluloid. One would also probably be wise to mark this as a cautionary tale before dropping moolah down for a film like ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’.
6. TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT
starring Topher Grace, Dan Fogler, Teresa Palmer, and Anna Faris. Directed by . Rated R.
It promotes cocaine.
….. Really? You haven’t skipped to the next one yet? Okay then….. We’re supposed to overlook Grace’s sad spiraling from a promising career by chortling at his boisterous over-reliance on profanity and befuddled stuttering. We have to remain patient in rooting for Fogler (who totally earned that Tony for ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’) to be more to Hollywood than “that guy from ‘Balls of Fury'” while he wastes time snorting, screaming, and collapsing. We’re intended to… I dunno – do something other than shake our heads while former Comedy Central “it” boy Demetri Martin attempts to perfect on the paralyzed-A-hole character (Jason Bateman was closer to making this work in the also-terrible ‘The Ex’). As if it weren’t abundantly clear by this year, ‘TMHT’ further illustrates that all the laughs to be had at the ’80s’ expense have already been discovered by past paleontologists like ‘The Wedding Singer’ and ‘Wet Hot American Summer’. This movie captures nothing but the pizza grease.
5. I AM NUMBER FOUR
starring Alex Pettyfer, Diana Agron, Teresa Palmer, and Timothy Olyphant. Directed by D. J. Caruso. Rated PG-13.
What the hell were these nitwits thinking? My optimistic side wants to believe that this sorry excuse for an alien-superhero movie is nothing more than the result of examining the question of precisely what is drawing these giant crowds to the equally sorry ‘Twilight’ vampire movies. The best word for ‘I Am Number Four’ is “replica.” Just when you thought there isn’t anything worse than a ‘Twilight’ movie, in comes a copycat – a product that wants to do not much more than follow the “saga’s” lead. And just in case you aren’t aggravated enough by the very idea of this practice of the unnecessary, slapped on the sides, back, and belly of this sluggish beast are anything-but-subliminal advertisements for the iPhone. I haven’t seen a film resemble a commercial this shamelessly since ‘Cast Away’ bowed down to the almighty FedEx. If you don’t turn the flick off midway through, shortly after the climactic battle when Palmer (an overachiever for box-office turkeys of ’11) shows up in a lame deus ex machina, the audience is rewarded – pardon me, I mean “warned” – with a teaser for a sequel. Whatever. One thing I must say: It’s slightly spooky how close the title was to predicting its spot on this list.
4. SUCKER PUNCH
starring Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jenna Malone, and Carla Gugino. Directed by Zack Snyder. Rated R.
‘Sucker Punch’ has a decent soundtrack and moments of compelling CG imagery. It’s also the most hypocritical film of the year, and the fact that helmer Snyder (‘300’, ‘Watchmen’) chose the hot-button issue of repressed feminism as the flavor of BS he’s shoveling rings more alarm bells. The film isn’t one giant mess – it’s a collection of several messes, going as deep as the central characters’ monikers (such as “Blondie” and “Sweet Pea”). The action scenes become a lingering video game redundancy – impressively even in the first instance. The dream-within-a-dream story is bookended by badly lit, vague lobotomies-via-icepick (wheee!) administered to our protagonist Babydoll (Browning, feeling like the lackluster substitute for Amanda Seyfried she is) who – as the story states but never shows – seductively dances interpretations of her envisioned violent missions. Tack on a useless Jon Hamm cameo, a grimy old Bosley who speaks in fortune cookie, and an incredibly mismatched ‘Chicago’-like musical number during the end credits, and you got why Snyder should stick to adapting comic books and refrain from adding that “writer/” to his resume. As has already been observed by other critics: Pitiful flick; apt title.
3. JUST GO WITH IT
starring Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Brooklyn Decker, and Nick Swardson. Directed by Dennis Dugan. Rated PG-13.
Pay close attention with this one, readers, because this is officially the last comedy starring and/or produced by Sandler that I will ever watch. I am freeing myself – particularly my brain and eyes – from the constant horror and would like to take this moment to publicly apologize to those body parts effected most for the many years of torture. ‘Eight Crazy Nights’, ‘Anger Management’, ‘Grown Ups’, and then this warped, scribbled-over remake of ‘Cactus Flower’ (the film that earned Goldie Hawn her Oscar) – all unspeakable and undeserved crimes. Recalling the movie for the sake of text is painful as well, but I do feel required to shoo others away from musician (NOT “ACTOR!”) Dave Matthews offensively playing a homosexual. That and Nicole Kidman signed on only for the Hawaiian shoot yet directed (by Dugan – who else?) to embarrass herself. Oh – and that imbecile Swardson continuing to be Sandler’s new favorite acolyte/ass (assolyte?) despite a glaring lack of merit. Then there’s Sandler himself – once again content with phoning in his performance (yup, one-liners too) while Aniston, the two children (Bailee Madison and Griffin Gluck), and everyone else do the hard work for him. This and his winter finale ‘Jack & Jill’ – sometimes together – have secured the No. 1 spots on a lot of “worst” lists from other movie review sites, and having rented this one, I saw that coming from miles away. ‘Tis a real shame when a comedian forgets how to be funny – even worse when it’s shoddily hidden under the “family entertainment” excuse. I’ll observe from a distance for the next two years, and if he doesn’t make any sort of drastic improvement in his comedic or dramatic choices – and I’m talking *better* than ‘Wedding Singer’ or ‘Punch-Drunk Love’ – I’m gone for good. I’m deeply sorry, body.
2. RED RIDING HOOD
starring Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, and Julie Christie. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke. Rated PG-13.
Maybe Seyfried should have taken ‘Sucker Punch’ after all, although I somewhat understand her decision. Who would decline a chance to work with Oldman? That said, it’s precisely this sort of unthought-through career strategy that muddies up the odd point that a film is being made from the most simplistic, done-to-death fairy tale of all time. The deceiving ads played up the visual dazzlement angle. Why? Because it’s ‘Little Red Riding Hood’! It’s practically nothing but gloss – artificial-cheese-dust-flavored air! Amazing visuals (which these hardly are) are really all one can bring to a story that has been revamped and altered by cartoon shorts, live theatre, etc. time and time again. However, as gorgeous as Seyfried’s big blue eyes are with the long blonde hair and the deep red cape while standing in the snowy woods, the routine story overshadows every link and – mark my words – sucks everything with a remote chance to be lasting down with it. This is why Oldman – the pro that he is – limited the delivery of his speed-bump-like monologues (probably thought by the filmmakers to be just so juicy) and generally played the “Marlon-Brando-presence-only” card. Making a movie of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’? Why would anyone challenge such a vacuum? Even Tim Burton (presumably) knows better than that. And to top it all off – as if this obstacle weren’t problematic enough -it’s yet another ‘Twilight’ replica, brought by none other than Hardwicke: director of the first ‘Twilight’. One thing to be said about the other replica on this list: At least ‘I Am Number Four’ knew well enough to build up to its final showdown. ‘Hood’ has more action than Hardwicke’s previous effort yet still induces more yawns. Again, that’s the story’s vacuum at work. Even with the alterations of werewolves, scared villagers, and a giant oven designed like an elephant (really?), we all know the events of grandmother’s house going in. If ever you find yourself contemplating renting this disaster, stop and seriously think about the disc carton in your hand. You’re better off with a coloring book of the same theme.
starring Rhys Wakefield, Richard Roxburgh, Ioan Gruffudd, and Alice Parkinson. Directed by Alister Grierson. Rated R.
With the exception of two, maybe two and a half others, 2011 was a sort of pitiful year for action flicks. We tolerated pacing issues (‘Unknown’), expensive CGI going overboard (‘Green Lantern’), and several all-around dumb ideas that – if the film under examination was lucky – would only cause us to somewhat regret for falling for them the next morning (‘Source Code’). But the filmmakers responsible for these errors in judgment can collectively breathe a mighty sigh of relief for they successfully avoided making such a uproarious catastrophe as the underground cave spelunking adventure ‘Sanctum’. Everything within this film (which, in case you missed the irritatingly repetitive commercials, lists James Cameron “creator of ‘Avatar'” as an executive producer) is mind-numbing crap, and seeing as how it was released over Super Bowl weekend, Hollywood’s movers and shakers had to be aware of what a corny mess it is (Aaron Rogers deservedly won that Sunday). The fake sets suck. The editing causes aching confusion. The dialogue is arrogant without any right to be. The story of a spoiled rogue using this deadly mission in the vein of ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ to finally identify with his crusty, always-absent, workaholic father leads to an unwarranted kick to the crotch. The acting from the entire ensemble is among the unquestionable worst, and this is coming from a guy who has watched such “MST3K” offerings as ‘Manos: The Hands of Fate’, ‘Space Mutiny’, and ‘The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?’. (Have I made my point yet?) ‘Sanctum’ is right at home with these faux pas mutants, serving up atrocious computer graphics, illogical plot devices (intricate cave or not, climbing down to escape flooding water is ludicrous), and groan-worthy anecdotes galore (Three characters overlooking a new discovery take turns stating awe-struck “wows” then delightfully snicker at their own unawareness of redundancy… Just kill them off already and put these miserable cretins out of their misery!). I’d honestly rather spend a full day watching the brutal escape scene in ‘127 Hours’ on loop than see this unforgivable 108-minute “scary rocks” sin ever again. It is the worst movie of the year. Far more unfortunate to announce, it’s solidly in the running for the worst ever.
CHECK BACK LATER THIS WEEK TO FIND OUT WHICH FILMS OF 2011 MAKE MY BEST LIST!