If the studio highs were high, their lows were pretty miserable. The assembly line nature of some of the biggest franchises means a film like Iron Man 2 (which missed the list) can go into production to meet a release date regardless if everyone is happy with the script or not. There were a number of films this year where the concept of them seemed greater than material. Perhaps this is the aftermath of the writer’s strike, as a number of films like this go into production years before release, but the number of shitty event films this year was staggering. Patton Oswalt wrote a Wired column about the upcoming (and hoped for) end of geek culture. The truth is that nerds have won, we’re all outsiders, and the studios are taking advantage of that as best they can. Sometimes it works, but more often than not you get a film like Clash of the Titans, which missed my list but just barely.
The majority of the pictures I picked for worst of the year did business. Some of it through opening weekend cash-grabbing. One was one of the most successful films of the year. But this has a lot to do with how people watch movies. The critic’s job is to respond honestly; paying audiences have a more vested interest as they’ve spent their money to see a film, which can now cost a family over a hundred dollars to do so. And sometimes a film can work on an audience without being good. People got what they went for. But the majority of these year end bad films were expensive endeavors, and that’s why I can’t forgive them. I mean, shouldn’t a film that cost $100 to $300 Million dollars at least have a functional story to tell? In the 1960’s, it was chasing the success of The Sound of Music that was ruining the studio system, what seems to be an Achilles Heel right now is that many of the event films treat their script as the least essential element of production, because the action sequences have been pre-vis’d and the cast was assembled regardless of how much chemistry any of them have together. The majority of these ten were made because there seemed to be a release date or an idea that could be capitalized on, where the quality of the end result was secondary. Fuck these movies. I can’t go all out like Nick does, but I have included The Thumper Defense, which is me trying to say something nice about each of these ten turd-bombs.
Why I hate: Brendan Fraser being used and abused by animals is nothing new, but this film is remarkably free of anything resembling humanity. I wouldn’t include this waste of 90 minutes on any list if it weren’t for the end credit use of the song “Insane in da Membrane,” which I always thought was pretty clearly about getting fucked up. Brendan Fraser is out of shape, and this is a very desperate movie. Lucky for the talented D.C. Pierson, I did not see him in the film, though he is listed.
The Thumper Defense: It’s short.
9. Prince of Persia
Why I hate: A lot of these films piss me off on an ideological level, here what I’m annoyed by isn’t the whiteness of its leads, but the fact that so much money was spent on this film and so little is accomplished. This has one of the same problems as Jumper, in that the great mystical power of the dagger of time that’s the central object of mystery in the film isn’t all that cinematic. But no summer event film has the right to be this boring. This film makes High Road to China look like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. That takes doing.
The Thumper Defense: Gemma Arterton isn’t hard on the eyes, and she supposedly has talent. Alfred Molina makes for good comic support. There is some spectacle in there.
8. Paranormal Activity 2
Why I hate: This movie got a free pass because it wasn’t as bad as The Blair Witch Project 2. Wow. But the reason why I hate this film, why I think it belongs on a year end worst list is because it isn’t a movie. As a part prequel, it establishes early on that nothing can really happen to the characters who are related to the first couple from the first film, and then in the last couple minutes shit starts getting fucked up, but there’s way too much safety in this film, and also tries to create a mythology to turn this into a franchise that promises a third film. Fuck that.
The Thumper Defense: if the film fails as a narrative it does work as a haunted house movie. And the jump scares are effective.
7. Robin Hood
Why I hate: There is nothing in the world that makes me more pissed than watching a film that where at the end credits of the film, I get the sense that the real movie should begin. It used to be that action defined character, now we get films where there are no narrative chances that fuck up the possibility for a franchise. A clearly too old for the part Russell Crowe stars as the man who pretends to be Robin of Locksley, only for him to be Luke Skywalker, and destiny wants him to fight for the freedom of the people, and go fuck yourself. This also ranks higher because of the people involved.
The Thumper Defense: Mostly harmless. Great cast and the opening battle sequence is neat.
6. The Expendables
Why I hate: I was just as happy for the return of Sylvester Stallone as anyone, but come on. This isn’t a movie. I guess I can understand why some people might like seeing B list action stars play dress up and shoot guns at each other, but the film is a series of poorly drawn characters who talk and get into bad fight scenes, and then talk, and then shoot at each other. Growing up in the 1980’s, films like this were often shunned by the critical community because of their actor credentials. But films like Commando and Nighthawks are at least competent and have a compelling story and characters. This is all promise, and no execution.
The Thumper Defense: Violence! Statham and Stallone have good chemistry together. The film opens okay.
5. Tron: Legacy
Why I hate: As I’ve said, the biggest problem with the modern blockbuster – as with Prince of Persia and Robin Hood, and at least another film on this list – is that the screenplay is the least important aspect to the making of it. Few films squander as much potential and visual design as Tron: Legacy, a film where the villain’s plan makes absolutely no sense, and characters continuously do things that only make sense if you take into account they have to do what they do to have the next big fight scene. This film in summation: the main character shows up to see his father, and the two have a couple of scenes that don’t reflect the emotional weight of not having seen each other for twenty years, then when the main character makes a decision, the father decides shortly after he leaves to follow him. The main character then goes to a character who pretends to be someone else, which would be good if we had met him before under his pseudonym, and then he turns out to be a bad guy, which leads to a poorly staged action scene where support shows up in the last minute, and then the father shows up (who supposedly has god-like powers) whose great powers amount to him turning the floor different colors. Wow. Franchises like this act like they don’t need scripts. The only way Hollywood is going to learn is for this sort of film making to fail.
The Thumper Defense: The visual and aural design is delightful. Olivia Wilde is good. Jeff Bridges plays his character as a riff on Jeff Lebowski!
4. The Last Airbender
Why I hate: The film that helped kill post-conversion 3-D, The Last Airbender is all exposition, and then shitty action. M Night Shyamalan is one of the most impressive directors working today, in that each new film finds a way to get progressively worse. I thought The Village was well put together, but the ending was terrible, and a completely misguided approach to the material, while The Lady in the Water is an honest failure. The Happening was terrible, but it’s watchably bad. You can at least laugh your way through it. There’s nothing to latch on to here. Even the terribleness is more of a shrug. As that’s the case, it manages to be absolutely no fun at all.
The Thumper Defense: Uh… It’s not as bad as The Happening.
3. Cop Out
Why I hate: When I saw Clerks, I loved it. I was a fan of Kevin Smith until Dogma, which featured career-worst performances from Chris Rock and Alan Rickman. And with that, I could no longer forgive Smith’s all too evident shortcomings. I view filmmaking as a privilege, and when you have a studio budget to play with and talented performers working for you, there’s no excuse for not knowing the basics. And if directing is based on having an eye for composition, shooting for the edit, and getting good performances out of your actors, I don’t know how you can call anything Kevin Smith did in Cop Out good or – at times – competent. The action scenes are poorly put together, stars Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis have negative chemistry together, everyone’s giving career worst performances, and Seann William Scott is supposed to be a comic ringer. Few of the jokes work, and there’s nothing good about the film to fall back on. Harry Knowles recently tried to defend Smith’s films because he liked what they said. And if Smith was judged as a writer, I can understand how his material has some interesting themes and ideas. But this many films on, I can’t defend him when Mallrats is still one of his most polished films.
The Thumper Defense: Parkour jokes, dude. Parkour jokes.
2. Alice in Wonderland
Why I hate: Again, Tim Burton is one of those directors whose more recent bad movies are starting to reflect poorly on his earlier works. Alice in Wonderland is about a world of imagination, and this film then turns that world into both an origin story, and a hero’s journey – which are the least imaginative narrative choices going these days. Add Johnny Depp in a rather terrible performance, and material that feels stale and familiar. So bascially Burton took a book about the power of imagination and turned it into the most unimaginative film of the year. That’s a pretty spectacular accomplishment. And this is his prize. Well, this and the billion dollars this film made worldwide.
The Thumper Defense: Hot Topic needs to stay in business, man.
1. Nightmare on Elm St.
Why I hate: Comparing pieces of art is nearly impossible. The majority of this list could be jumbled, and it wouldn’t make a difference. I recently interviewed Justin Bartha, and we touched briefly on Gigli. I told him that I know someone whose cousin is a huge fan of Adventures of Pluto Nash, and there are defenders of Gigli out there as well. And – to that matter – critics piled up on How Do You Know, but I found it to be charming and worthwhile, though I can see how it’s shaggy and has problems. With A Nightmare on Elm St. however, there is an actual baseline to compare it to: the original. And every single creative decision on this film was – without question – worse. Heather Langenkamp is not that great actress, and Rooney Mara was great in her supporting turn in The Social Network. And yet, Heather’s performance is better. There’s not a single moment or decision that in any way does anything that is equal of the original, and when it imitates it, it shows how much worse the new film is. From the make-up design on Freddy to their angle on Freddy to Jackie Earl Haley’s performance, everything is terrible. Few films can fairly be stacked up against another and proven to be inferior. This is just that sort of film.
The Thumper Defense: The Defense lays mute.