2011: The Worst Films Of The Year

One of the questions I am frequently asked as a film reviewer is whether or not I enjoy writing a negative review and/or trashing a film.  While it can be cathartic and freeing to purge a ton of awful thoughts and frustrations into print after watching a terrible film, I often find that particular element of this work more disheartening than anything else.  I hold tight to the belief that any film has the potential to be good and while that might comes off as a naive or untenable outlook, I am who I am at the end of the day.

Not that I am always surprised when a film is terrible though.  I certainly carry forward perceptions and preconceived notions like anyone, but as someone who is more cynical in life than I would likely care to admit (oh, wait…), the movies offer a chance for me to tap into my optimistic side.  I simply love settling into my seat, experiencing the dimming of the lights, listening to the hush that comes over a crowd, and feeling the buzz and anticipation that wells up within me before seeing any particular film’s first production card, opening titles, or opening scene.

That excitement and youthful anticipation still remains even after sitting through these films this year.  Watching a couple of hundred movies a year, you are bound to see films which disappoint, confound and confuse, and make you wonder how or why something was made.  However, these particular movies did induce inappropriate moments of laughter, long therapeutic conversations with friends and fellow critics, and the overriding sense to stand in front of the box office of my local theaters and implore people not to spend their money.  I attempted to sound the alarm when and where I could from my little corner of the Internet.  And I suppose, I am attempting to do that one more time.

So, without further adieu, here is my list of the Worst Films of 2011, featuring snippets from my published reviews to punctuate the awfulness.

One caveat here:  I do reserve the right to update this list after I finally take a look at Adam Sandler’s brother/sister twin comedy, Jack and Jill!  Regarded as one of the worst movies of all time, not just in 2011, I still have not seen the film that has landed at or near the top of almost every Worst of 2011 list I have encountered across the critical community.  For it to land among the films in this list would be the wrong kind of achievement for Adam Sandler, who would then occupy three spots in this year’s Worst list.  Be it a romantic comedy, talking animal “family” comedy, or an identical twin/sibling rivalry comedy, Sandler should take a long break in 2012 and beyond.

But I digress. If Jack And Jill is added to this list, that will be great news for our #10 selection.  That failed franchise relaunch and all the rest of the (dis)honorees magically appear right after the cut!

#10:  SPY KIDS: ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD (dir. Robert Rodriguez)
[Rating:1/5]

Essentially what this “Spy Kids” resembles is a film full of people either doing favors for Robert Rodriguez or worse, actors with little to nothing else to do. I mostly feel bad for the young actors that Rodriguez fashioned this film around. Rowan Blanchard and Mason Cook are nice enough but they really do not seem ready to be saddled with such a big movie and such a high profile role.

I am rather confused by the fact that Spy Kids: All The Time In The World was ever made and further confused as to why Robert Rodriguez cannot move things along when it comes to his filmmaking career. The fun and excitement found in the first Spy Kids film keeps that film tremendously entertaining and there are countless other ways to entertain you or your kids then having to watch this half-hearted laziness play out for 90 minutes.

#9:  MONTE CARLO (dir. Thomas Bezucha)
[Rating:1/5]

So yeah, I detest “Monte Carlo”. The film is insulting, says nothing empowering or beneficial at all, and truly believes that the most innocent of Selena Gomez fans will fall for this hook, line, and sinker. If it wants to be a trivial, harmless and disposable kids movie, then those run on a daily loop on The Disney Channel and ABC Family. Here we have a healthy budget and some real thought was put into making this film feel bigger and grander. Director Thomas Bezucha (The Family Stone) tries to stack in travelogue montages and some beautiful set pieces to make this thing seem warm, safe and endearing, but the screenplay by Bezucha, April Blair, and Maggie Maggenti is a soulless and dangerous mess.

What a dangerous and offensive mess of a film this is. Selena Gomez has obvious talents as a Disney-trained comedic young actress, and clearly here, the camera loves her. So, I can hold out hope that once she walked the Red Carpet for the film’s premiere and saw this in its final form, she pulled a diva move and came close to canning her agent and/or her entire team. Simply stated, this film did her, or anyone associated with it, no favors whatsoever.

#8:  BEASTLY (dir. Daniel Barnz)
[Rating:1/5]

“Beastly”, written and directed by Daniel Barnz, is so uninteresting and simplistic that it becomes very easy to hold a talkback party while watching the film. In the spirit of the old cult classic “Mystery Science Theater 3000″, my 12-year old daughter, two of her friends, and her dear old mom and dad simply could not contain our laughter and we started openly mocking the ridiculousness playing out in front of us.

I want teenage films to work. Anymore though almost all of the movies marketed to that demographic, be they romantic comedies, traditional comedies, science-fiction, horror, or action, are overthought, vapid, and pandering to the notion of what studio execs think teenagers want. “Beastly” is poorly made and as ghastly to watch as Hunter’s face is to those high schoolers he hides from.

#7:  JUST GO WITH IT (dir. Dennis Dugan)
[Rating:1/5]

Often I am called out for disliking the American Romantic Comedy (caps intended). “Just Go With It” is on the other end of the pendulum however and it quickly becomes a mean-spirited and unimpressive mess. Everyone in this film, and…I…do…mean…everyone, could not be more synthetic and fake. In any scenario, Danny is a liar and and a heartless scumbag. Sure, Sandler tries to dial back his goofiness for some wisp of sincerity, but nothing seems genuine or trustworthy with this guy at all. Even when he does find true love, you simply wait for some lie or excuse to tumble out of his mouth and derail the entire affair. His best friend, Eddie, who implausibly crowbars his way in on the Hawaii trip, is so annoying and over-the-top that he verges on creepy. Katherine’s kids, played by Bailee Madison and Griffin Gluck, are saddled with the gimmick of being manipulative whiners who trick the adults into giving them everything they want.

“Just Go With It” should be the time-out that Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston need and deserve. However, I suspect the box office figures will be strong with its marketing and release date positioning the film as a fun and entertaining date movie for Valentine’s Day weekend. But it’s not. “Just Go With It” is painful to sit through, as unfunny a movie as you’ll find, and as phony and pitiful a love story as I have seen in years.

#6:  TYLER PERRY’S MADEA’S BIG, HAPPY FAMILY (dir. Tyler Perry)
[Rating:1/5]

While I am not intending to tread on anyone’s religious beliefs, Perry’s films are hogwash because invariably, every single one of his characters will make an awful decision, causing serious mental and even at times, physical harm on people, and nothing of true consequence ever happens to them. Frankly, it is nauseating. People don’t live their lives skating from one moment to the next, lacking the ability to discern right from wrong, only to have others remind them that their actions are harmful. Ergo, Perry’s films are disingenuous to their core. However, until someone delivers consistently strong African-American themed films that speak to the heart of the culture and can deliver them to the masses more than every once in awhile, then this is the representation we, as moviegoers, have to endure, when we choose to watch a film branded with Tyler Perry’s name.

#5: ZOOKEEPER (dir. Frank Coraci)
[Rating:1/5]

The thematic elements are not family-friendly at all. The animals, which are the likely draw for younger viewers, speak for less than half of the film, offer trite and idiotic dating tips that Griffin tries to utilize, and the screenplay, co-written by (Kevin) James and four others (?!) pushes the edge of what is acceptable in a PG film. Two scenes in particular with Ken Jeong are not going to play well with discerning parents and there is a healthy dose of imitative behavior involving phrasing and dialogue, and even public urination (not once, but in two scenes!), that make this bad for kids and a complete debacle from start to finish.

Plus, the animals offer dating tips and seduction techniques which implore Griffin to show Stephanie the “goods” and to “take her down”. ‘Kay. Later, an animal talks about how when he was successful with a former mate, she had a claw and knew how to use it. Umm…

…Come to think of it. There is actually a lot of drinking in this film. Hmmm. And plenty of tight outfits worn by Stephanie. And Stephanie’s boyfriend informs Griffin that when they “make out, we make out hard.”

Good luck parents reacting to the questions and comments this film inspires on the way home from the theater or after the DVD has come to a full stop. You can’t say that I, and others, didn’t warn you ahead of time…

#4:  ATLAS SHRUGGED, PART I (dir. Paul Johansson)
[Rating:0.5/5]

I have not yet posted my review on this “movie”, and I don’t know if I frankly have the energy to do much more than post these comments.  Watching this right before the end of 2011, Atlas Shrugged, Part I is one of the most baffling experiences I have had in watching a movie in recent memory.  Adapted from Ayn Rand’s widely panned and ridiculed 1957 novel of the same name, director Paul Johansson became the man who decided that he would be the one to finally bring this book to the big screen after 40+ years of previous failed efforts.

Championed by the Tea Party movement in today’s political climate, Atlas Shrugged, Part I as a book is one polarizing creation.  The film, on the other hand, is simply awful.  For a movement to champion this film as a rallying cry to take back the political discussion is laughable because this film is so sleepy, inert, and lacking of any passion or entertainment value whatsoever.  At times, it has the production values of a daytime television soap opera and may take place in the most illogical dystopia ever brought to screen.

The film centers on a young woman, Dagny (Taylor Schilling), who runs a successful railroad in 2016 (!!!) and struggles to keep her business model alive in a world that is apparently losing its ideals, integrity, and morality.  Naturally, all of this is depicted by showing crumbling buildings and infrastructure, various skylines and rolling plains, alongside characters who spend their time commiserating about the disintegration of American ingenuity and increased and shameful reliance on the government, all while throwing back drinks at elitist and exclusive dinner parties and formal social engagements.

The film is laughable in its arrogance, except that when someone laughs that implies that they are typically being entertained in some fashion.  And there is literally nothing entertaining about watching a film which becomes the equivalent of an old crazy relative cornering you at a family function and lecturing you about how things “used to be and ought to be.”  Watching Atlas Shrugged, Part I is analogous to failing repeatedly in trying to find the right words to say to get out of that conversation.

#3:  SANCTUM (dir. Alistair Grierson)
[Rating:0.5/5]

Luckily for us (!), things start to go terrible for these characters and without spoiling a lot about Sanctum, let me offer this. One thing I will always remember from Sanctum is this important life lesson: If someone is seriously ill or near death and any significant amount of water is nearby, tell them how much you love them, make sure they understand that they will be okay, and then drown them. It is simply the most humane way to end someone’s suffering. And, as you will learn if you endure this debacle of a film, there are multiple ways and means to provide this most loving of gestures.

This movie is as unnecessary as they come. The 3-D technology, as impressive as it may have been in Avatar, is so poorly used here that I retain my lack of interest in seeing any film in 3-D for the foreseeable future. Director Alister Grierson has no sense of framing a shot, directing proper emotion from his actors, and seemingly lacks the ability to effectively set any mood or atmosphere. There are moments here where people find themselves in peril and I had simply no idea how or why or what was happening. Of course, I never cared in the first place.

From start to finish, from grisly death sequences to tender drownings, Sanctum is an embarrassment in virtually every conceivable way.

#2:  RED RIDING HOOD (dir. Catherine Hardwicke)
[Rating:0.5/5]

“Red Riding Hood” is not just a bad film. It is a spectacularly bad one; one which serves as the visual equivalent of a once well-received and well-regarded filmmaker’s descent into the credibility black hole. Director Catherine Hardwicke (“Twilight”, “Thirteen”) has delivered a film so juvenile, so cheap-looking, and so poorly acted and directed that I have no idea how or if she can ever recover.

If you are a defender of Catherine Hardwicke’s films, either because of “Twilight” or the searing wake up call that was her first film, “Thirteen”, please just stop. Quit it. “Twilight” looks like “Citizen Kane” compared to “Red Riding Hood”‘s amateurish direction, shoddy art and set decoration, lazy and uninspired editing and cinematography, and the gutwrenchingly absurd lines these characters have to speak. God bless Amanda Seyfried, but she needs to break free from her agent immediately after this failure and salvage a once-promising career.

As atrocious and awful as it is, why give it even a half-of-a-star, you may wonder? Well, as my friend pointed out, consider it a shout-out to those caterers who showed up on set everyday and worked hard to provide everyone a good meal. And the people who taped stuff down. And those who made the rather obvious but pretty fake flowers. And the people who worked hard trying to find props. They were innocent bystanders to all of this. The best thing I can say is that “Red Riding Hood” kept people employed in a brutal economy and difficult job market. They couldn’t have known what the end result was going to be. They deserved better. And so do you.

#1:  SUCKER PUNCH (dir. Zack Snyder)
[Rating:0.5/5]

I have nothing nice to share with you about Zack Snyder’s embarrassing and onanistic “Sucker Punch.” It is arguably the nastiest and most vile PG-13 film ever released and exists simply to give 16-year old boys something to occupy their “dreams.” Clad in bustiers, short skirts, whorehouse gear, and stilettos, the young girls women of “Sucker Punch” are flying World War II bombers, slaying gigantic fire-breathing dragons, waging war against Nazi zombies, and taking part in countless other ridiculous duels and challenges.

But why? Isn’t that the ultimate? Hot underage-looking girls in next to nothing laying waste to everything in their paths? Can all the 12-20 year old boys put your hands up!!?!?!

Let’s talk about that why, shall we? And I will not try and spoil things, but part of me wants to. In my heart of hearts, I really find “Sucker Punch” deplorable and contemptible.

“Sucker Punch” serves no purpose other than to objectify women and titillate young male viewers. It’s as empowering a statement on feminism as the 2 Live Crew’s “As Nasty As They Wanna Be” was back in the day. No rational argument can be made for why these characters wear what they wear, do what they do, and behave in the way they do. This movie has a very driven focus and one that is frankly disturbing and rather dangerous.

Zack Snyder has freefallen off of a cliff here. “Sucker Punch” is the by-product of an ego unchecked, a hack filmmaker who has finally crossed a nasty and troubling line. Whatever novel and unique approach he thought he had come up with here is misguided, misogynistic, offensive, and insulting. Save one dark and twisted and extremely well-made opening montage set to a creepy and disturbing remake of the Eurythmics classic, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)”, “Sucker Punch” is a disaster, worthy of any and all consideration for the worst film of 2011.

10 OTHER FILMS WORTH DISHONORABLE MENTION:

YOUR THOUGHTS?

2011 ADDITIONAL LISTS:

The Great Performances Of 2011
The Best Films Of 2011