Instead of some navel-gazing introduction about how a best/worst list is a trivial exercise, I’m just going to say that I love them, and love making them, and launch right in on that note. Heave’s best films of 2011 lists will go up early next week, but for now, I offer an inverse. The exact inverse, to be precise. And because a top 10 list just wasn’t enough, I give you…
The 15 Worst Movies of 2011
15. Dream House
I feel genuinely bad mocking a movie that allowed a couple to come together. (Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz got married while making this.) I’ll be able to sleep tonight, though, once I really stop and recall how inept this whodunit was, especially when the mystery can be revealed by either a simple game of “who’s the least important character?” or just by watching the damn trailer, which gives away the entire movie. Craig, Weisz and Naomi Watts, as a concerned neighbor who Has A Big Secret all deserve better than movies like this at this point.
In principle, I’m all for a movie about a rubber tire with psychic powers that goes on a killing spree in the desert. In fact, that sounds like everything one could ever want out of a weird-ass exploitation movie. This is why it was so deeply, truly disappointing to realize that Rubber was not only going to attempt to be more than pure avant-trash, but would squander a brilliant premise on a meandering, weird-for-weird’s-sake attempt at making a statement about the nature of an audience’s role in the act of film viewing. Sometimes, a semiotics essay doesn’t belong in a killer tire movie.
13. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Those who drained the well of superlatives in illustrating just how bad Michael Bay’s second Transformers was two years ago were likely kicking themselves when they got to bear witness to his latest edition. For the first time since Bad Boys II, Dark of the Moon made me understand why people think Bay is the worst director that ever graced cinema. It’s bad enough that the film decides to ratchet up the hackneyed comedy, relying far too heavily on the imagined goodwill its audience has for these characters by a third installment. It’s entirely worse when the endless, Chicago-smashing third act decides to conduct itself with the gravity of a Tom Hanks miniseries on HBO.
12. Ong Bak 3
After two relentlessly entertaining installments of the Ong Bak 3 series, with all the chopsocky violence a karate movie afficionado could ask for, Tony Jaa decided to take an artistic left turn with his personally helmed threequel, and completely ruin everything great about his movies in the process. Jaa spends much of the film in a coma, during which characters that are not nearly as interesting fight over his unmoving body. Upon awakening, Jaa decides to learn how to control his anger via meditation and dance, a development interesting to pretty much nobody. One movie ago, this man put an elephant in a sleeper hold. After that, dance fighting and the power of zen are just letdowns.
11. Sucker Punch
Sucker Punch is able fuel for those who argue that not every movie has to have a greater artistic purpose, because trying to have one ruins everything that’s interesting about it. As a trashy explosion of cleavage, dragons and more machine guns and warships than you can shake a San Diego Comic-Con at, this would’ve been a small masterpiece, an all-flash, no-substance accidental gem destined for midnight movie appreciation. Instead, Zach Snyder attempted to craft some kind of point about oppressed women…no, wait, it’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest but with enslaved strippers…no, it’s a reference to how fanboys fetishize wom…dammit, never mind. Thanks to this, Snyder’s upcoming Superman feature is getting monitored by the Nolan brothers, and it’s hard to blame Warner Brothers after all the money this mess lost them.
10. Season of the Witch
At this point, Nicolas Cage’s lesser films have to be considered on a sort of bell curve. On the left side, there’s his films that elevate themselves to a different, transcendent and entertaining level of failure thanks to him (Ghost Rider, Zandalee). On the other end there’s Season of the Witch, which is neither over-the-top enough to be amusing nor ill-advised enough to inhabit the inept space that made Jonah Hex last year’s most curious disaster. Instead, Season is a straight-to-DVD bore inexplicably released in theaters (albeit in January) that wastes not only the premise of Cage and Ron Perlman as couriers for a witch in the Middle Ages, but features not one memorably stupid sequence, which for a latter-day Cage vehicle is the most brazen sin of all.
9. New Year’s Eve
Garry Marshall still feels like he has something to say through the medium of film. After all, how else can you explain New Year’s Eve, a two-hour walk to the gallows of suffocating happiness that culminates in a heavy-handed diatribe about forgiveness and new beginnings? Wasting a smorgasboard of talented actors, non-actors, wannabe actors and Katherine Heigl, Marshall misses the whole point of the holidays by focusing on a lot of uninteresting people attempting to do mostly uninteresting things for no more reason than the implication that an uneventful, contented NYE would be the most pathetic evening of all time.
What the hell happened to John Singleton that led him to directing Taylor Lautner’s ill-fated “breakout role” movie? Of all the movies on this list, this one was probably the most enjoyable, though for absolutely none of the planned reasons. There’s perverse pleasure in watching Maria Bello, Alfred Molina and Sigourney Weaver slum for a paycheck and attempt to make Lautner come off like a human being with emotional range. The real pleasure, however, lies in Lautner, who flounders in action sequences, drowns in emotional payoff moments and can’t even convincingly play a hard-partying high schooler at the beginning film. Like the most inept version of a Bourne franchise sequel ever made, Abduction will live forever in living rooms on drinking game night. I’ll get you started: One drink every time Lautner glares. Good luck.
7. Another Earth
What’s so upsetting about Brit Marling’s failed coming-out party (Sound of My Voice, coming next year, will do what this was supposed to) is how great of a premise it wastes. A high schooler bound for MIT, Marling discovers a second Earth floating in the sky while driving home drunk one night and collides with another vehicle, killing two of the three people inside. Instead of an exploration of guilt and redemption through the lingering specter of a mirror planet, in which another version of you exists, Earth is perfectly content to go through the banal motions of a dead-child melodrama. There are plenty of tears and confessions and one comically overblown sex scene, but absolutely nothing as interesting as its premise teases.
6. The Change-Up
A movie as cavalier with the subtle art of obscenity as The Change-Up deserves to live forever in basic-cable purgatory, where the removal of the many dirty words in this nearly two-hour (!) bomb will forever reveal the utter lack of comedy at its core. Like a somehow less intelligent spiritual cousin to Wedding Crashers, but without the endearing performances that made that film at least tolerable, Change-Up expects us to accept that Jason Bateman cursing childishly and Ryan Reynolds being sexually accosted by a pregnant woman is at the vanguard of hilarity. That’s to say nothing of the genuinely terrifying climax, in which both men aggressively piss into a fountain in a mall in front of children, in what’s supposed to be some bizarre cross between an emotional crescendo and a comic payoff. Like everything that came before it, it just kind of leaves you feeling dirty.
5. Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star
Nick Swardson is not a bad man. I feel this needs to be acknowledged, because it seems like (based on past roles) that most of his friends kind of hate him, and Bucky Larson does him a possibly irreparable disservice. Like a bizarro-world version of Orgazmo in which the Midwest exists in a perpetual state of mental handicap, Bucky Larson induces pity for all involved, particularly Christina Ricci, clearly trying to save the film as best she can, to no avail. It’s also surprisingly unsexy for a movie about porn; there’s a moment early on, emblematic of the kind of movie this is, where Bucky sits in a room with his friends, jacking off furiously to an old porn film starring his parents, as they watch on with a mixture of scorn and perversion. In a weird way, it’s an apt microcosm for this movie’s existence as a whole.
4. Red State
A mess that makes last year’s phoned-in Cop Out look like a masterpiece of action filmmaking by comparison, Red State is a genuinely heartbreaking nadir for Kevin Smith, made all the more so by the central truth that the man really had something to say this time around, and thought he’d pulled it off. Equal parts torture porn, backwoods religious thriller and Smith-style comedy (not usually a bad thing, but inappropriate here), Red State meanders between uninteresting characters while ruining the film’s one bright spot, a for-broke turn by Michael Parks as a Fred Phelps figure, with a lack of filmmaking discipline on all fronts. Perhaps the most upsetting thing about Red State is that it’ll be harder now for another filmmaker to make the truly great horror film about the Westboro Baptist Church that it deserves, and that cinema’s only tribute to a genuine horror of its time will end in tone-deaf jokes.
3. Jack & Jill
It’s barely even useful to belittle Jack & Jill at this point, as so many have done it before me and will continue in the months to come until this whole sad story reaches its most logical end by sweeping the Razzies. What fascinates me most about what might be Adam Sandler’s worst movie in a long recent line of them, though, is how truly hateful a comedy this is. Sandler’s Jack is bitter not only to his obnoxious sister, but to his family and everybody else he encounters. That he plays the cloying sister who he spends the movie humiliating repeatedly speaks volumes about the level of nihilism Sandler is bringing to celluloid at this point. That’s to say nothing of Al Pacino, who’s either turned his career into the kind of Kaufman-esque trick that Joaquin Phoenix wasn’t man enough to manage or is in the throes of a full-blown nervous breakdown.
2. What’s Your Number?
What’s Your Number? is already a bad enough movie before it starts aping bits from Bridesmaids, including a nearly matching opening sequence that proves nothing more than Zachary Quinto’s inability to get on Jon Hamm’s level. (There’s also a joke about America’s first black president, which makes me wonder just how long this thing has been on the shelf.) Anna Faris, so charming in so many awful movies, does her best to right the ship, as does Chris Evans as her inevitable love interest, but they and an entire able supporting cast are wasted by one of the most condescending, offensive movies made about and for women in years. Not only is What’s Your Number? an awful film, but it’s one that blatantly insults its audience’s intelligence.
1. The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)
There is a level of bad beyond terrible, even beyond insulting, and in this space there is only an absolute disregard for decency. Nothing obligates cinema to be morally sound, but the second installment in the Centipede series is vile on a level that transcends shock cinema in whatever sense Tom Six wants to interpret it. Instead of enumerating the reasons, and they are legion, that this is the worst film of 2011, here’s a short list of things you’ll see if you get curious. Be warned, it’s genuinely terrible. (SPOILERS.)
-Two drunk girls are violently clubbed in a parking garage, and after being taken to a warehouse their clothes are cut off (in extreme close-up) and they’re beaten again.
-After blowing his own mother’s head off, the main character eats dinner at a table with her corpse.
-After a pregnant woman is beaten to the point where she’s presumed dead, she wakes up late in the film and takes off running, while in labor and spraying placenta all over the floor. She gets into her car and finally gives birth, slamming on the gas as her baby is crushed under her feet.
-When the centipede is finally stapled together, all twelve people are force-fed laxatives so they spray diarrhea into one another’s mouths. This is also the only part of the film that’s in color. You know, like in Schindler’s List.