If my Top 25 movies of the year was my way of honoring those that have left an indelible positive mark in my mind, this list represents those that I wish my brain would block as some sort of protective measure. Essentially, putting together a worst of the year grouping is the same process. It’s all about movies that stick with you for any number of reasons over the months, and your desire to shout “Avoid this movie at all costs!!” never wanes in that period of time. Seeing as many movies as I do, it’s unavoidable that I run across some dregs, and in a way I sort of seek them out. Perhaps after I’ve been at this a few more years it’ll become less entertaining to see just how low Adam Sandler can sink, or if Kevin James can humiliate himself in any new fashion. For now, I feel like it’s hard to appreciate just how great some movies are without swimming through a little sewage, and these next five films certainly represent the cinematic refuse of the year in my book….
5. Jack & Jill/Just Go With It
Yeah, this is basically an indictment of Adam Sandler as a whole. I’ve never been the biggest fan of his, even when others were falling over stuff like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore. But over the last few years it’s become more apparent that he has no idea how to be genuinely smart and funny. Sure he can play The Waterboy like a champ, but find me the comedy in something like Just Go With It, a brutal and revolting remake of 1969s Cactus Flower? Sandler somehow seems to mistake being deplorable with being a little crass yet lovable. He’s wrong. Jack & Jill is the greatest offense by far, where he not only reheats a number of his less funny jokes from his least funny movies, but has the audacity to present them to us while wearing a dress.
4. Dream House
Naomi Watts. Daniel Craig. Rachel Weisz. Jim Sheridan.Those four names alone should be enough to put any film into potential Oscar contention, but Dream House turned out be more of a fixer-upper than anybody could have imagined. Described mainly as a psychological thriller with mystery elements, there’s very little that’s thrilling or mysterious about it, and the pace is so glacial nobody would care anyway. When the bulk of the cast and the director hate the movie so much they refuse to acknowledge it’s existence, something has clearly gone terribly wrong. At least Rachel Weisz got a healthy dose of Daniel Craig man meat out of it.
3. Red Riding Hood
Poor Catherine Hardwicke. She’s a genuinely good director who slipped off the righteous path when she took on the first Twilight film. Unfortunately it was also her biggest money maker, and so she followed it up with the piss poor, stagy adaptation of the fairy tale which wants so badly to be Twilight it’s a wonder she didn’t toss in a vamp or two. The rising star of Amanda Seyfried took a crushing blow as well, and Gary Oldman….well, at least he made up for it with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
There can be funny movies about talking animals. I’m sure of it. Zookeeper just isn’t one of them, and after you’ve watched Kevin James fall flat on his fat ass for the fifth time you’ll be ready to hang yourself from the nearest tree. The weird thing about it is it’s inability to decide if it wants to be raunchy enough for adults, or silly enough for kids, and in the end lands on neither. I’m sure Rosario Dawson, who received a Teen Choice Award nomination for her unfortunate role in this disaster, would happily give it up to have all account of Zookeeper stricken from the record. Sorry, Rosario.
1. What’s Your Number?
What a year for Anna Faris, and not in a good way. A supremely talented comedic performer who has a nose for sniffing out the worst films that do her absolutely no justice. What’s Your Number is a tone deaf, misguided rom-com that asks us to give a rat’s patootie about a woman who decides to turn her life around and stop bangin’ random dudes simply because she doesn’t want to hit some arbitrary number she read about in a magazine? How enlightening. Not even the presence of Chris “Captain America” Evans could save this piece of crap.
The Most Disappointing Movies of 2011
Hm, I could probably put Dream House somewhere on this list too. By no means are all of the next handful of films terrible. It’s just that they’re backed with a hearty amount of anticipation, and generally didn’t live up to the expectations that I laid upon them. That’s partly my fault, as someone who marinates in movie news all day it’s impossible to not build up personal favorites. In other cases, the filmmakers may have swung a bit too hard for the fences, and maybe walked away with a ground rule double.
5. Ong Bak 3
I don’t sign up for a Tony Jaa flick to watch him espouse Buddhist philosophy. I pay to see him crush dude’s throats with sharp elbows and knee drops. After the disastrous Ong Bak 2, which was pieced together out of scraps of fight footage basically, Ong Bak 3 somehow managed to lower the bar with an incomprehensible plot and less martial arts action. What exactly is the point?
4. Sucker Punch
While I don’t quite have the vitriol for it that many others do, there’s no denying that Zack Snyder’s pet project was considerably less(and yet more) than it was promised to be. What drew the attention of guys like me and many others was the video game promise the story held, featuring hot buxom babes with big guns and swords, battling in fantastic worlds complete with samurai robots and giant monsters. It sounded amazing and looked amazing. Instead we got a dollish Emily Browning gyrating with all the seduction of a chainsaw. The problem is that Snyder throws in this weak attempt at making it a female empowerment story, and while he’s a gifted visual filmmaker and one of my personal favorites, that’s a level of depth he’s probably not the best suited to explore. Sucker Punch is still a a decent movie worth watching, especially if you indulge in some of the alternate theories about what’s really going on. I just hope Snyder is more focused when he tackles Man of Steel in 2013.
3. Take Me Home Tonight
Oh hey look, there’s Anna Faris again. 2011 was not a banner year for her, to put it mildly. Take Me Home Tonight is a perfectly fine movie with a super talented cast set in the era of my youth, the rockin’ 1980s! Owwww!!! While Michael Dowse knows how to make this retro comedy feel authentic with a killer soundtrack, there’s very little about the film that stands out from a million other coming of age comedies we’ve seen before. Topher Grace is is the nerdy guy who gets one night at wild adventure, the excellent Teresa Palmer is the hot chick with a brain and a future, and…that’s pretty much it. When the most memorable thing about it is Atomic Tom’s nostalgia fueled music video for the film, then that’s a problem.
2. Larry Crowne
The old guard is dead. When Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, two of Hollywood’s most enduring, consistently likable stars come together deliver a soggy, lifeless message movie like Larry Crowne then it’s time to start exploring other options. The sad thing is, the two of them have great chemistry together. We saw it before in Charlie Wilson’s War, but in Larry Crowne their little love story is in traction the whole time. In a story that is remarkably topical but has never felt less substantial, Hanks plays a happy, middle-aged guy who loses his job and is forced to start over from scratch all because he lacks a college degree. The film’s biggest problem is that Crowne never faces any real obstacles on the way to re-establishing himself. He hooks up with his hot teacher, makes a boatload of new friends, and every roadblock he faces is solved in a manner of moments by doing something we could care less about, like buying a new motor scooter.
1. The Tree of Life
Spare me your comments and digital tomatoes, Terrence Malick fans. I like The Tree of Life just fine, calling it his most “ambitious” film with “imagery that sneaks into your mind when you least expect it”. There’s no way to ever completely forget a film like this, and I recognize for some it’s a deeply spiritual, religious experience. And yet there’s still that nagging part of me that thinks “We waited all these years for this?” A story that Malick has had buried in his mind for decades, basically recounting long held memories of his life growing up in Texas in the 1950s, with a very strict father and heavenly mother, ripping him apart with their contentious ideologies. If he had stuck with just that, The Tree of Life might have been a complete triumph, but I think he gets lost in the enormity of his ideas. There’s a lost connection he tries to make between his childhood experiences and the origins of the universe. He asks some pretty deep questions about God, the inherent nature of Man, and others that are never answered in a satisfactory way. I’m not saying I expect Malick to have all of those answers, but an attempt would have been sufficient. The imagery of the planets and stars, like something out of a planetarium, are gorgeous but drag on way too long. That said, those people who didn’t have the intellectual depth or curiosity to at least try and become engaged with it and complained about wanting their money back…well, those people should have their movie watching privileges revoked. While not a total success, The Tree of Life is guaranteed to be a film that people will still be discussing and dissecting many years from now.