Just as 2011 delivered some delirious highs, there were also some moments of jaw-dropping wrong-headedness, movies that aimed high and failed completely, and ineptitude on a level that is almost infuriating. If we’re passionate enough to pick the ten films that did everything right, you can bet we’re passionate enough to pick the ten that got it all wrong.
I considered titles like “Jack and Jill,” but the Happy Madison stuff is such a uniform sort of terrible that I find it hard to work up the energy to truly hate them. I may think the “Twilight” films are terrible, but “Breaking Dawn” is so well-made that even if I don’t like the text, I can respect the wrapping paper they’ve put it in.
No, to make this list, a film had to really spectacularly fumble it all, and if you throw in some truly nasty subtext, you’ve got a winning combination. I dislike every single one of these films in an active and engaged way, and I have no interest in ever sitting through any of them again. The great part about the end of the year is that you can put awful movies like this in your rearview mirror and move on.
But not without one more kick to the ribs…
10 / RED RIDING HOOD
A lunk-headed fairy tale told through the filter of “Twilight,” and shot with a hilarious solemnity by Catherine Hardwicke. The film deserves another kick on its way out the door for being an especially pointless example of the way the term “unrated director’s cut” is abused when marketing movies on home video. Featuring a mystery that would have been laughed off “Scooby Doo,” the film in set in some cranked up fantasy land where hot dudes fight over bug-eyed pretty girls who spend most of their time running in slow-motion through Enya videos.
9 / THE RESIDENT
While I’m happy that Hammer is making horror films again, they have to aim higher than this. Hillary Swank finally makes a film in which her last name seems like a direct shout-out to the skeevy men’s magazine, a dirty, mopey little horror film about a young doctor trying to escape a bad relationship. Sadly, she does so by moving into a building where her landlord, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan like he’s starring in a really beefy update of “Flowers For Algernon,” has rigged her apartment so he can do pervy things. Not campy or crazy enough to be bad movie fun, it’s just ugly and dull and a waste of a good cast, including a visibly embarrassed Christopher Lee.
8 / THE EAGLE
It’s hard to believe anyone in Hollywood thought we needed two movies inspired by the story of the lost Ninth Legion of Rome, but at least Neil Marshall’s “Centurion” featured a shirtless Fassbender in midieval Superhero mode. This is an uneasy buddy movie between Channing Tatum, hilariously miscast, and Jamie Bell, who seems well aware of just how bad the movie is but unable to do anything to stop it. Kevin Macdonald also made this year’s very good “Life In A Day,” as well as “The Last King Of Scotland” and “Touching The Void,” so I’m sure he’ll survive this stumble, but it’s safe to say that whatever his strengths are as a filmmaker, period-era action films are not among them.
7 / PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES
As strong an example of what happens when you end up on the wrong side of the fine line between crass commercialism and naked contempt for an audience as you’ll find this year. Rob Marshall managed to suck whatever fun remained in the idea of watching Johnny Depp wobble about doing his Captain Jack shtick, and Penelope Cruz is visually appealing but utterly wasted in her role as his not-even-slightly-believable love interest. Since this worst film in the series made a billion dollars worldwide, we can expect them to keep getting worse in the future. That’s not a promise… it’s a threat.
6 / MAGIC TRIP
I think it was about thirty minutes into Alex Gibney’s flabby, phony documentary about the Merry Pranksters bus tour and Ken Kesey and the ’60s that I realized I am 100% finished with pretending to care about hippie culture. It’s fifty years now of navel-gazing self-congratulatory self-mythologizing nonsense, and it has to stop. Boomers have to get over something that happened to them a half-century ago, and there is no need for anyone to ever cut another crappy montage of half-naked flower children painting each other and smoking joints cut to a Canned Heat tune. This is empty cliche after empty cliche, and proof that Gibney is just cranking out docs as product these days instead of digging deep on subjects that really merit the attention.
5 / RED STATE
Before including this film on the list, I went back to see it again, removed from the grotesque circus that surrounded its Sundance premiere, and I was surprised to realize it is even worse than I thought on first viewing. Shapeless, cynical, and sloppy, “Red State” is Kevin Smith’s idea of what a horror movie about fundamentalism looks like, and it’s a post-Waco undercooked mess, a movie that tackles some very big subjects without a single thing of interest to say about them. Even the great Michael Parks, saddled with endless speeches full of hollow rhetoric, can’t make this material work, and if there’s anything good to say about the movie, it is that Smith swears he’s almost done making them.
4 / THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 (FULL SEQUENCE)
This film reveals Tom Six as one of the most calculated and empty provocateurs working today. His first film managed to capture a surprising mainstream audience simply because it restrained itself, focusing more on mood than on graphic mayhem. The second film reaches for some meta-textual significance and commentary on horror film audiences, but it is so cartoonishly gross, so unrelentingly unrelenting, that is becomes a numbing exercise. It is a total failure as a horror film, not remotely scary, and not all the post-modern reflexive deconstruction in the world can justify the parade of moronic degradation the film delivers.
3 / GREEN LANTERN
“in Brightest Day, In Blackest Night, Ryan Reynolds career is not alright, With this and the “Change-Up” both a blight, it’s crazy they couldn’t get ‘Green Lantern’ right!” The scary thing is that the marketing for the film understood the movie more than the actual movie did, and for a little while, it looked like Warner had pulled off a “Star Wars” with superheroes. Instead, the movie plays like someone really wanted to find a way to deliver all the thrills and charms of “Superman III” or “Batman Forever.” Garish, with a terrible villain and an incomprehensible climax, there’s no excuse for anyone making a superhero movie this bad at this point.
2 / APOLLO 18
Even as I try to figure out where to start describing the staggering ineptitude involved in every aspect of this found-footage horror film, I just keep coming back to the idea that this is a monster movie in which the monster is eventually revealed to be a pile of moon rocks with legs. Even so, I find myself unreasonably excited to realize that the Blu-ray version that was sent to me for review contains the endings that they originally shot that were considered “not good enough to use.” Keep in mind, it now ends with moon rocks with legs. Thrilling, isn’t it?
1 / FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA’S TWIXT
A movie that was almost breathtaking in the way it torched not just the artistic legacy of one of the greatest commercial filmmakers of the ’70s, but the reputation of Edgar Allen Poe for no good reason. I admire and respect that Coppola has become more experimental at this stage in his career, but this manages to be a worse horror film than “Apollo 18,” “Red State,” or “The Resident.” That is almost as depressing as watching the ruined beauty of Val Kilmer clown his way through the lead role, his once flawless comic-timing now buried. The live performances promised at Comic-Con never came to pass, which is a shame, because it’s not often you can buy a ticket to watch someone destroy their good name live and in person. The horror… the horror… indeed.
i’m still working on my final wrap-up piece for 2011, so look for that the day after Christmas. In the meantime, I’m taking the boys to see “Tintin” in 3D later today, and then it’s time for family and friends and all sorts of fun. I hope you guys have a great holiday, and if you’re one of the filmmakers who made the list above, I sincerely hope 2012 is a better year for you.