I’m not sure this list really needs any introduction, but it may require a little clarification. I do try to watch a lot of movies these days; this year I’ve averaged around 3 a week across the whole year, which is a pretty reasonable achievement in my book, but even more so is how few of those I actually regret watching. As I’ve said before, I’m here to encourage others to my fervent following for watching films in a cinema, but hopefully to watch the films you want to watch, rather than just blindly stumbling into the nearest Cineworld and seeing any old tripe just because it doesn’t cost anything extra.
Despite my lofty ambitions, my good intentions and a previously untested willingness to consciously avoid poorly reviewed movies, which saved me from Sucker Punch, among others, I still ended up seeing a few that I’d quite happily have wiped from my mind if the technology ever becomes available. So this is the list of the ten worst films that I saw this year, rather than the actual ten worst. For anyone that saw more than about three of these, though, you have my pity. Better luck next year.
This list is numbered in reverse order, so we start at the tenth worst and go rapidly downhill from there. I’ve added links if I reviewed the film at the time of release, just in case you don’t believe me.
Deserving of a place on this list for its first half. Strangely, the second half was the best attempt Michael Bay has yet made at a giant fighty robots movie, his embracing of the need for different editing techniques for 3D restraining his style just enough to make the action set pieces clear, the geography sensible and to make the sense of scale truly epic. Taken on its own terms, the last hour of the movie was no masterpiece but it might just have been the best hour of film Bay’d made since The Rock.
The first half, which features lots of small talky humans, a real life celebrity playing a version of themselves which pretty much devalues his and his colleagues’ achievements in the name of entertainment and a host of previously respectable actors who really should know better selling their souls for a pay cheque and making something so bad that they should probably be barred for making anything else for five years as a punishment. The first hour and a half was quite comfortably the worst hour and a half of film-making of the year, and it’s almost a shame that the last hour went a small way to redeeming it. But to all involved – enough now. Seriously.
Why I watched it: My Optimus Prime Transformer toy was my favourite toy at a certain point in my childhood. After the animated Transformers movie bumped him off, at a stroke ending my childhood, I felt a duty of care to make sure that Optimus made it through these movies unscathed. I think three’s enough – if you make any more, you’re on your own, Optimus.
Here’s a challenge for you. Do you think it’s possible to make a film which defies the most basic laws of mathematics? Well, Cowboys & Aliens is that film. In maths, the product of two negative numbers is a positive, but the product of two positive numbers is, of course, also positive. However, the product of combining the two extremely positive elements of a kick-ass Western and a spectacular sci-fi movie turns out to be a giant negative. For Cowboys & Aliens is one of the most boring films ever made.
I fear that Jon Favreau may be the Jan De Bont of his generation. Jan made Speed, but then spent years proving that he’d caught lightning in a bottle and didn’t know how to do it again. Favs has made Iron Man, which was great, and everything else he’s ever made as a director, all of which are the opposite of great. For shame.
Why I watched it: It was a big deal at this year’s Movie-Con, which got renamed Empire Presents: BIG SCREEN. In the end, I passed up the opportunity to see Ford, Craig and Favs in the flesh (and pay an extra £35 for the privilege) and saw it as part of my regular ticket. Best £35 I never spent.
Jim Carrey mugging at his most frantic! Lots of penguins in hil-ARI-ous japes! What could go wrong? Well, plenty as it turns out. First, anyone expecting The Mask or Ace Ventura levels of mugging (i.e. me) will be sorely disappointed, as Carrey plays this restrained, thus ending up making it unbelievably dull. If it wasn’t dull enough, the penguins are neither cute enough to be interesting or zany enough to be exciting.
If any further proof is needed, the bad guy turns out to be (a) the anonymous guy from the Marvel Avengers movies whose name no-one ever remembers, and (b) not really all that bothered about being bad. A film so anodyne and anonymous it could be prescribed as a cure for ADHD.
Why I watched it: I turned up late at the cinema with my Cineworld card in hand, having been stuck at work. My original choice of The Devil’s Double had long since started, so my options for entertaining myself until Captain America were an hour and a half in the car park or watching penguins. About 45 minutes in, the car park had never seemed so appealing…
If you click on the link above, you’ll see that I couldn’t really summon up the energy to write proper words about this Chipmunk threequel (typical quote: “chipmunks blah something something meh”), so the thought of expending even more energy on telling you why they’re so bad feels utterly pointless, almost exhausting.
Right. It’s chipmunks. They can talk and sing. They sound exactly like they did in the Fifties, or in the cartoon from the Eigthies, even though celebrities of sorts are doing the voices. They’ve abandoned their plot driven first two films for some heavy moralising, and they’re recruiting poorer and poorer human actors to make the chipmunks look good. Chipmunks blah blah kill me now.
Why I watched it: I will see anything that my wife wants to see. She wanted to see the first two. By the third, it’s almost become a badge of honour. If they make a fourth, I will be there. But for the love of all that’s holy, please make it better than this one.
I’m a bit worried about Clint Eastwood. He’s made some fantastic films over the years, but this was a confused mess. A terrible CGI tsunami (that somehow got nominated for an Oscar) kicks things off, and that turns out to be the highlight. There are a pair of frustratingly bad child actors, a set of subplots that either don’t resolve properly or resolve in entirely fruitless ways, and the amount of time spent on Derek Jacobi playing himself reading a Charles Dickens novel, which turns out to be just an excuse for two characters to coincidentally be in the same room, utterly beggars belief. Hereafter doesn’t even get as far as preachy moralising; if anyone can actually work out what the intent was, answers on a postcard please.
Why I watched it: It’s written by Peter Morgan, and directed by Clint Eastwood, and it stars Matt Damon. If ever a film was an indication that big names and a big budget don’t guarantee quality, then it’s Transformers: Dark Of The Moon. Or this one.
It would be easy to make some “Emperor’s new clothes” gags about a film where the lead character spends much of it in states of undress. Ironically, you’ll be the one who ends up feeling exploited if you watch Sleeping Beauty, as a complete absence of fully-formed ideas or any sense of rational intent will just leave you scratching your head as to wondering why anyone bothered.
The one thing it did achieve was making me feel sorry for Emily Browning, who seems to have an uncanny knack for picking poor projects. Near the end of the film (tiny spoiler alert) she’s left screaming; given that events on screen seem to have randomly motivated this outburst, I can only assume that it was Browning’s real life realisation of what’s happening to her career.
Why I watched it: It was my last day at the Cambridge Film Festival this year, and I chose this over The Help. I chose badly.
They say it’s a fine line between genius and insanity; apparently it’s an equally fine line between a genuinely funny comedy and a tasteless, offensive train wreck, and that line neatly sits between the original film and this utterly misjudged sequel. If it just repeated all the gags or set-ups from the first film, but this time in Thailand – which it does – then it would be pretty poor, but The Hangover, Part II makes one extra special effort; by the time they actually get marooned this time around, their behaviour has driven you to at least dislike, and possibly actively hate, the characters you grew to love in the original. Consequently, the fates they suffer feel like not enough punishment for these idiots to be suffering; if Part III consisted of the three of them being left in the desert to die, it wouldn’t be entertaining, but sadly it would feel little more than they deserve.
Why I watched it: I enjoyed the first one. I hoped, against hope, that the bad reviews were wrong. They weren’t.
So there’s this guy, right, and he has this magic desk lantern, and a ring that grants wishes – sort of – and he’s guardian of thousands of stars and planets but just seems to faff around on this one before deciding it’s not for him, then deciding it is. And there’s a bunch of other people, or things, and they all have rings, and lanterns, and they think he’s rubbish, and he turns out completely by chance not to be, after they don’t bother to help him in any way. One of them might be a bit dodgy, but we won’t know unless they ever make a sequel. But his name sounds a bit like “sinister”, and he’s red, so he probably is.
I’m sorry, I’m not sure I’m making this sound dumb enough; quite the most spectacularly stupid film of 2011, it takes a character that sounds daft on paper and gives him a wafer thin plot to work with, before it culminates in a short succession of unimaginative, unrealistic and surprisingly brief action sequences. If you look hard enough, you can see everyone involved dying slightly on the inside in the close-ups.
Why I watched it: I’ve always made a tradition of seeing the big summer action blockbusters, because I love action movies and comic book adaptations have gotten much better over the years. Green Lantern is making me think really hard about that tradition.
If you’ve watched the likes of Little Miss Sunshine or Juno, it seems really easy to make a quirky, offbeat indie comedy which casually muses on the nature of life and existence. The Future is proof positive that it’s not easy at all, despite it having all of the right ingredients.
The problem comes in the two lead characters, Sophie and Jason, both of whom are so all-consumingly irritating that listening to someone scrape nails down a blackboard for ninety minutes would be preferable to spending time in their company. Miranda July, as well as writing, directing and starring, also provides a gratingly stupid voiceover for the cat, and consequently achieves a sort of grand slam of awfulness. Sophie and Jason fail to do anything but inspire absolute contempt during the running time by their inaction and their inability to commit to anything meaningful, and the few moments of genuine whimsy or eccentricity are crushed beneath the frustration and despair of being forced to watch them bumbling through life, looking for a purpose.
Why I watched it: The trailer looked quite good. But two minutes turned out to be all the time I could stand of this pair.
And finally, the worst film I saw this year. Every thing about Battle: Los Angeles would scream awful, if it could be bothered to think about screaming, or if the screaming could be made out in the haze of brown dust clouds and thuddingly predictable soundtrack, but it can’t even muster the energy for that. Worthwhile or original plots, interesting characters, believable or quotable dialogue (at least, quotable for the right reasons) and any sense of genuine spectacle have all packed up and left long before the aliens arrive, and what we’re left with are a collection of the worst kind of clichés, reheated and packaged together in the least convincing manner possible.
Battle: Los Angeles succeeded in not only being the worst film I’ve seen this year, but the worst one I’ve sat all the way through in three years. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Why I watched it: Because I’m stupid? Probably. Sadly, I had seen two films while my wife was at work, and had time for a third – but I had to go to another cinema, and then pay full price, to see this. If I ever meet Aaron Eckhart in real life, I will be asking for a refund on this one.
The Review: Ever since War Of The Worlds became the seminal work on the subject 100 years ago, science fiction writers and movie makers have been fascinated with the idea of alien invasion. It’s been a rich feeding ground for active imaginations, but ever since special effects became affordable (even if you had to spend eight figure sums on them) it’s been more about the biggest bang for the buck, as the allegorical and satirical traditions of writers get lost in favour of giant spectacle. I like Voltaire and Swift as much as the next man – actually, if you were in the audience for this I’d hazard a guess that I like them much more than the next man there, no offence – but just once in a while it’s nice to let off steam and watch big things get blown up or people shoot other people or things without recourse to character or heavy moralisation.
Yes, the ‘c’ word, character – in the rush to see things go boom-boom that’s typically the one to suffer. Yet war movies have always thrived on strong, well defined characters, and Battle: Los Angeles is essentially a war movie with alien trappings. Aaron Eckhart has drawn the short straw as the leader of a platoon of soldiers caught up on the front line, but at least he has the benefit of a handful of sketchily written scenes with which to compile something. Battle: Los Angeles marks a new low in the annals of characterisation in film – the rest of our protagonists get one scene, in many cases one line, with which to make an impact, but they should count themselves lucky, for when Michelle Rodriguez arrives later with reinforcements, the character scenes are done and they end up simply reading lines from the script.
You wouldn’t feel quite as bad for them if those lines were in any way memorable, or managed to dodge the worst kind of war movie cliche, but criminally there’ not only a lack of any dialogue that’s good, but only two lines that are so-bad-they’re-good that they will linger for more than ten seconds after you’ve left the cinema. There are other familiar names in the cast, including Michael Pena, but I just hope they’re at home sleeping on a mattress made of dollar bills for what they’ve had to endure here. With an almost complete lack of recognisable individuals and dialogue that would make the phone book look like a good read, the only hope would be that you manage to come up with some form of spectacle that’s either regularly visually appealing or at least has some good solid action scenes. Because that’s what we’re here for – right?
If you can guess where this is going, then you’ve already put in more thought than the writers. (Well done, you.) There are two shots, neither any more than a few seconds, that haven’t been seen in another alien or war movie – most of the action, if I can call it that without the use of irony, consists of people in camouflage running around on a brown background, shooting at other things lost in the brown murk. For variety, later they run around at night or in sewers, but never will your pulse quicken even slightly. The worst offender is a sequence on a freeway with a bus; what should be an opportunity for some solid action or thrills, or at least even a microgram of tension or spectacle, is so devoid of interest or excitement that it beggars belief.
About an hour in, you’ll start recalling all of the other alien invasion movies you’ve seen, not only the various Wars of the Worlds but everything from Aliens to Independence Day, from Starship Troopers to District 9, and then listing war movies should give you something to do should you sit through the rest of this turgid monstrosity. The scary thing is not how many movies are better than this, it’s by how much every single one is better. Notably, most of the great movies you’ll recall have plot, character, dialogue and often a sense of purpose in spades; even Independence Day can be seen as a love letter to colonialism and the American Way. About all Battle: Los Angeles can do is come across as an attempt to justify the US treatment of prisoners in its care – we should expect a galactic Geneva convention prior to any actual invasions if they’ve seen this. Slightly offensive in its intent, but earth-shatteringly offensive in its complete and total lack of anything even vaguely worthwhile to do or say, if this is the best the human race can manage now, I suggest we don’t put up a fight when the alien invasion comes.
Why see it at the cinema: If you hate your eyeballs that much, or have a few stubborn brain cells that just won’t die, then be my guest. Otherwise, avoid at all costs.
The Score: 1/10