Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 in Review: The 'Worst' Films of the Year.

I use the term 'worst' subjectively, both because I'm stating subjective opinions and because there are plenty of allegedly terrible films that I did not see this year (Yogi Bear, Gulliver's Travels, Sex and the City 2, Little Fockers, Grown Ups, etc). Sadly, this was the first year in as long as I've been doing this where it was easier to make up a 'worst of year' than a 'best of year'. Not because there were so few good films, but because there were so many astonishing failures from some of my favorite filmmakers. So, without further ado, and in alphabetical order, I give you my personal picks for the ten worst films of 2010.

Alice in Wonderland
It is a strange thing to see a director that you worshiped in your youth score by-far the biggest hit of his life from one of the worst films of his career. Yet Alice in Wonderland is easily Burton's worst film, give-or-take Planet of the Apes (the latter is duller, but I love the 'up yours' ending). The screenplay turns Alice into a passive character defined by predestination and what other people expect from her and then expects us to find the film a rousing piece of female-empowerment. The result is an equally passive film that contains no suspense and no driving force. The film is inexplicably ugly to look at, and the 3D only muddies the image that much more. This was an assembly-line paycheck job for all involved, and a sign that, traumatized by the box office failure of (the secretly right-wing?) Mars Attacks and the outrage over Batman Returns back in the 1990s, Burton may have given up any attempt to be a visual or narrative original. If this were any one else's artistic failure, it would simply be a very dull and uninspiring film. But coming from Tim Burton, it was just one of the heartbreaking failures of the year.

Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore
Granted, I have only myself to blame for this one, but I really wanted to see that Road Runner cartoon that proceeded the feature. I laughed by butt off at "Coyote Falls", even if my three-year old was unamused ("I don't like this, Daddy," she said as if trying to make me cry). As for the unneeded and unwanted sequel to a completely mediocre 2001 flick, said daughter was as bored as I was. There is little to no creativity and a stunning lack of actual animal action. Also problematic was the general lack of cats. We have three felines in the house. We are certainly a cat family. I have no problem with seeing cats as the villains (as long as they are smart, devious evildoers), but I do take exception to a film called Cats and Dogs that is basically all about the dogs. I took Allison to see G-Force last year, and she more or less enjoyed that one. G-Force is Babe compared to Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore.

The Last Airbender
Oh, M. Night Shyamalan, I wish I knew how to quit you. I cannot fathom how the man who made The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable has so swiftly fallen from grace. I've heard any number of theories about his latest whiff ('he's lost his mojo', 'he was inspired by Bollywood', etc). I liked The Village as a political parable, admiring its acting and the stunningly beautiful score. I acknowledged that Lady in the Water was a deeply flawed, but extremely personal pet project. And I was even occasionally amused by the 1950s B-movie silliness of The Happening. But The Last Airbender is conclusive, incontrovertible proof that the once-great Shyamalan has completely lost his way. I still believe that the writer/director who made two of the best films of the last eleven years is buried in there somewhere, beneath the hubris and defensive posturing. But I may have to face the fact that Anakan Skywalker has been lost inside Darth Vader. In a year full of great filmmakers dropping the ball, none was more heartbreaking than this.

My Soul to Take
I talk a lot about directors who seem to be two different people, longtime filmmakers who seem capable of great work and utter garbage with no real pattern to discern the two. The main culprit has always been Wes Craven. Alas, this newest Wes Craven film was from the director of Deadly Friend, The Hills Have Eyes 2, and Shocker. After this dull, airless misfire, which is a failure on almost every level, it's no wonder that Craven again journeyed back into the Weinstein pit (see or don't: Cursed) for Scream 4. I'm a huge fan of the director who made Wes Craven's New Nightmare, Scream 2, and Red Eye. I sincerely hope that filmmaker gets to eventually make another movie someday.

A Nightmare On Elm Street
I have no problem with remakes on principal, and in fact a horror remake made my best-of list just this year. But this may be one of the worst horror remakes in the history of the sub-genre. The film is claustrophobic, both visually and narratively, as it exists in a world where no outside of the main characters reacts to what's transpiring. The film feels like it's missing an entire first act of set-up and character development, leaving the actors adrift with nothing to really play. Clancy Brown and Connie Britton are given nothing to do, and even the usually reliable Kyle Gallner (The Haunting In Connecticut, Red, Veronica Mars) stumbles. Rooney Mara has found greener pastures elsewhere, but her main attribute as Nancy is to be insanely pretty. Jackie Earle Haley is actually more interesting as the pre-burned Fred Krueger than as the infamous boogie man, as the film feels unsure about how real-world disturbing to make him (fortunately, he's found a steady gig on Human Target). But the film's biggest offense is to take its one interesting idea (that alleged-pedophile Fred Krueger may have been an innocent victim of McMartin-type accusations) and completely cops out at the end. The lack of a differing viewpoint, along with the complete lack of any creative violence, renders this remake completely unnecessary.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
Remember that rant above about Wes Craven's duel-personalities? Same goes for Christopher Columbus. It is difficult to fathom how the man who kicks-tarted one of the best fantasy film series, and the most-successful franchise, of all time, could also helm this frankly piss-poor misfire. The film reads like a checklist of everything that didn't go wrong on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. An all-star cast is assembled as Greek Gods to barely appear onscreen as we focus on three 'hip' teenagers. The film is filled with pop-culture references, needless rock music on the soundtrack, and a young cast who treats this like it doesn't matter. The dialogue is filled with "We have to stop her!"-type exposition that often mars bad kiddie films. It's a film filled with exciting actors and notable effects work that manages to be stunningly dull. It's perhaps the year's best example of something Gene Siskel often spoke of: "Is this film better than a documentary of these actors sitting around eating lunch?" No.

Piranha 3D
Maybe it's because I'm past puberty, but I don't find the sight of scantily-clad women randomly gyrating on a beach to be all that titillating, let alone a reason to praise an otherwise terrible film. But if you're going to be fill your picture with such imagery, don't then condemn the fictional exploiter of said imagery (Jerry O'Connell's 'not-Girls Gone Wild' producer') as a villain. Take away the random T&A, and remove the five-minutes of pure carnage at about the hour mark (which is so real-world traumatic that it's not fun), and you're left with a boring and insulting piece of garbage that wouldn't be out of place as a Saturday night SyFy Channel movie. I've been forced to watch quite a few of those with my wife, most of them aren't nearly as sloppy and misogynistic (most of the men get quick and/or noble deaths, most of the women get long and leeringly graphic 'awesome' demises) as this one. Still, the For Your Consideration ad is worth a gander.

Saw VII 3D
Alas, they saved the worst for last. The series had a perfectly terrific finale with Saw VI, but they just had to play around with 3D and screw up the entire mythology. The film feels like a dirt-cheap straight-to-cable Saw picture, trading detailed indoor murkiness for inexplicably bright and shiny exteriors. The cast is uniformly terrible, and there is but a single fleeting appearance by Tobin Bell himself. The picture turns Jill Tuck into a scream-queen damsel-in-distress, and the last act tries to convince us that the previously brutish Mark Hoffman is a super-villain who would impress The Joker. The film is basically nothing but traps, and the film feels every bit as sexist and misogynistic as the previous films were not (again, the men get painlessly hanged, the women are slowly slashed and buzz-sawed to death). And yes, this is the first film in the franchise to truly feel like 'torture porn'. In my mind, the series ended with the sixth installment. Saw VII does not exist.

Tron: Legacy
I've read smart people come to the defense of this one, offering their takes on what the film was really about and/or trying to say. But let's not pretend that a film showing the fallacy of playing God, the instinctual urge for freedom, and the peril of tyranny is all that groundbreaking. The picture is still a mess, with bad acting, paper-thin characterizations, and a shocking lack of action and/or adventure that shows off the world inside 'the grid'. Poor writing and acting were all-but expected, but the lack of more than one decent action scene (itself reminiscent of Spy Kids 3D and/or the versus-mode on Mario Kart) and any real visual wonder (most of the film feels shot in a fog, with ugly grey muddiness prevailing), the film negates its own reason for existence.

Why Did I Get Married Too?
I'm generally a bend-over-backward to be fair 'fan' of Tyler Perry, and for most of the running time, this needless sequel is just one of his lesser entries. It even has two genuinely great scenes (a long duel monologue from Louis Gossett, Jr. and Cicily Tyson, plus a marital argument conducted entirely in a whisper). But the last five minutes, in which a sympathetic character does something cruel and stupid which causes a terrible tragedy, and we're supposed to take the side of the perpetrator, takes such a giant nosedive that they turn the film from just bad to yes, one of the worst films of the year. It's easily the biggest shoot-yourself-in-the-foot ending since Spanglish.

And there you have it, folks. What were your least favorite films of 2010? I'm sure I left more than a few off (there were plenty of bad movies that were merely kinda-terrible), so have your say. The final list, 'Favorites of 2010', should be up tomorrow.

Scott Mendelson


Anonymous said...

I'd sit through any of those films again before even having to remember scenes from Sex and The City 2. Awful. And yes, as bad as Tron Legacy is, its The Empire Strikes Back in comparison


Tom Clift said...

Some awful films to be sure. I'd also like to throw in Clash of the Titans and The Wolfman.

Anonymous said...

Have to add Skyline to the list. Awful.


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