The title is self-explanatory as I and Dan Fields present our lists of the top 10 and bottom 5 movies of the previous year. For easier browsing, Dan’s Top 10, Brett’s Top 10, Dan’s Bottom 5, and Brett’s Bottom 5. Enjoy.
DAN’S TOP 10 OF 2011:
These are my favorites. I didn’t lie about any I haven’t seen, and there were definitely a few I still need to catch up on before award season descends. I have listed my choices roughly in descending order, but not with any degree of stubborn insistence.
1) Rango (dir. Gore Verbinski)
2) Midnight In Paris (dir. Woody Allen)
3) Jane Eyre (dir. Cary Fukunaga)
4) Winnie The Pooh (dir. Stephen Anderson & Don Hall)
5) Drive (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)
6) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (dir. Tomas Alfredson)
7) Super 8 (dir. J. J. Abrams)
8) The Muppets (dir. James Bobin)
9) Take Shelter (dir. Jeff Nichols)
10) Warrior (dir. Gavin O’Connor)
There’s really no way around it — families and especially kids got the best deal this year. With revivals like Winnie The Pooh and The Muppets hitting the mark so directly, it tends to soften even the harshest perspective on remakes as a whole. But that is not to say there were not some outstanding original efforts. Woody Allen found his magic again with Midnight In Paris, which will make his fans nostalgic for the really good years. Speaking of nostalgia, J. J. Abrams crafted a strong, in fact forceful, Spielberg homage which got blown a little out of proportion, but still delivered in all the right ways. Kudos, Super 8. Overall, a movie like Rango, which bewildered expectations and played it coy about just who the hell its target audience was, got major points just for being so darned inventive.
Those are the ones you’ve heard discussed endlessly this year. There were others that didn’t get as much attention. The year’s second biggest 80s homage was Gavin O’Connor’s Warrior, a mixed martial arts family drama (yes, you heard me!) starring Joel Edgerton and rising star Tom Hardy. As a troubled pair of brothers, they generally don’t get along but they do share a couple of things: a troubled past at the hands of a drunken father (Nick Nolte), a stubborn sense of blue-collar pride, and an uncanny aptitude for cage fighting. Each has his own problems to solve, and it looks like the best answer is a gigantic MMA tournament in which they just might have to face one another. It’s so Rocky (can anyone but a Pennsylvanian fight with the heart of a champion?) that it hurts sometimes. Except Rocky Balboa was a lot nicer than either of these guys. Edgerton is stuck in a Rocky II- or III-era family drama; Hardy is having a Rocky V- orVI-style crisis of life, despite his young age and almost supernatural fighting prowess. It’s not as grounded in reality as its spiritual predecessor, but remains emotionally satisfying nonetheless.
Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre came out around the time that everyone was rushing to see The King’s Speech before the Oscars, and that may explain why it passed virtually unnoticed. It also had an extremely spooky trailer, as though they had taken the Charlotte Brontë classic and gone all Sleepy Hollow with it. It turned out not to be that over-the-top, and in fact is a marvelous adaptation of one of the darkest and weirdest entries in the Victorian reading list. Mia Wasikowska, still waifishly beautiful after her thankless turn in Tim Burton’s disappointing Alice In Wonderland, smolders and suffers at the hands of ill fate on the gorgeous, misty English moors. Before delighting us all as Magneto, Michael Fassbender put in a fine supporting performance as handsome lout Mr. Rochester.
Similarly under the radar is the new feature from Jeff Nichols and star Michael Shannon, Take Shelter. A little more heavy and overwrought than their previous collaboration Shotgun Stories, this is a compelling and achingly sad portrayal of either mental breakdown or the end of the world. Perhaps both. Shannon, as a family man increasingly crippled by visions of horror, broods most effectively into a credibly pathetic downward spiral. Without giving anything away, this movie would have been nearly perfect if it had stuck the ending. A quick omission would have done the job. Nonetheless, it is ninety percent of an absolutely fantastic film.
Then there are the glorious polarizers. Critics seemed to love both Drive and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but you wouldn’t guess that from the nasty things muttered by audience members leaving the theater. Drive was not Fast Five and was never meant to be, as any applicable court rulings will hopefully prove. It is instead a bizarre, brutal, and moodily paced character study about living on a razor’s edge. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an adept screen adaptation of a classic but very wordy and convoluted novel. Both films save their energy for short bursts, and are much more about atmosphere, suspense, and paying attention than your average film. Movies, in other words, that you possibly ought to watch with a large scotch, if you’re allowed, rather than something caffeinated. For the rest of the world, there’s always Final Destination 5. I’m not being sarcastic. I loved Final Destination 5!
DAN’S B-MOVIE OF THE YEAR: Drive Angry
Drive Angry, Patrick Lussier’s shameless 3D romp through Hell, swampland, and adolescent fantasy, was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. Nicolas Cage made up for a pretty bad couple of years as a Faustian gunslinger with an axe to grind. And grind it he did, right into a skull or two. Enjoy only if you’re amenable to shattering bones, demonic themes, juvenile vulgarity, and 3D naked chicks. Highbrow critical pretension be damned. Drive Angry is fun!
BRETT’S TOP 10 OF 2011:
10- The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (dir. David Fincher)
Released only two years after the Swedish film that bears its name, David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is still one of this year’s most noteworthy achievements. Not the Fight Club and Seven director’s best film, Tattoo falls closer on his spectrum to Zodiac than The Social Network, which for many might be a gold seal for Tattoo. Despite being a studio film, Fincher includes a lot of the raw sexual and violent intensity and brutality that made the original so popular in his adaptation of the work.
Although the film’s plot suffers from many the same faults as the original, it’s the acting that elevates Tattoo above your typical mystery. Newcomer Rooney Mara is a revelation as Lisbeth Salander, bringing a harshness, intelligence, and hidden vulnerability to the role that defines the entire series. And, as Mikael Blomvquist, Daniel Craig actually plays a guy whom you don’t believe is a nigh-indestructible bad ass.
9- Midnight in Paris (dir. Woody Allen)
I am an unabashed fan of Woody Allen. Even his lesser films such as You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger provide me with some pleasure. There’s something soothing about Allen’s pacing and dialogue even when he’s not firing on all cylinders, and you usually can sense his actors enjoying being part of his world. This year, Allen did something he hasn’t done in many years- produce an actually popular film that was a commercial hit.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how Midnight in Paris succeeded. The dialogue was excellent, but this is true for many of his films. It has a terrific cast, but Allen genuinely chooses his actors really well, and it’s not like Owen Wilson is always a crowdpleaser. The love story works, but it’s not like Allen doesn’t understand romance. It might be lighter than his previous films, but I would hesitate to call it that much lighter than his more breezy pieces. And Wilson, one of the all-time best Allen stand-ins, is still full of the neuroses that define the legend.
Whatever the case, Midnight in Paris works. Allen’s love of the past and 1920s Paris shines through and, as much as I hate using this term, it’s a “feel-good” movie that you can feel comfortable about enjoying. The use of historical figures is done exceedingly well, and while I generally hate the “bringing up something in the future to someone from the past” aspect of time travel movies, Allen puts a fresh and non-obnoxious spin on it.
8- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (dir. Tomas Alfredson)
There’s nothing quite like a well-crafted espionage thriller. The reliance on one’s observations and analytical abilities as opposed to shooting prowess, the paranoia, the detachment are all elements can be so much more powerful than setting up bombs and running from explosions. In a world chockful of “Trained By the CIA to Kill the CIA” movies, a tale centered around people rather than punching is a much welcomed reprieve. And Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one of the best of the genre. Perhaps ever.
An intricately crafted tale based on John le Carré’s novel, Tinker is a story about a spy game. It’s not Spy Game. A fantastic film with incredible acting from its entire cast, Tinker doesn’t feel the need to spell everything out for the audience, but this doesn’t make for a muddied affair. It’s a film that rewards patience, thought, and appreciation of “real” characters in a drama rather than heroes in a suspense. The “bad guys” don’t broadcast their deception for the world to see, and the “good guys” are equally reserved, thus making for a significantly more intriguing affair.
7- Shame (dir. Steve McQueen)
Reuniting with his Hunger director Steve McQueen, the omnipresent Michael Fassbender gives one of his best performances yet as the sex addict Brandon Sullivan in Shame. Unlike other tales of broken people seeking redemption, Shame isn’t about recovery, it’s about living with the damage. We never learn why Brian or his equally messed up sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) are the way they are because it doesn’t matter. The important element of the film is how they try to maintain a respectable face in public while being destroyed from the inside due to their incurable issues. Both Mulligan and Fassbender sell the severely tragic component to their characters and their relationship by underselling their problems (take note Tyrannosaur) and allowing us to feel their emotions rather than telling us what we should think. One incredible way in which McQueen accomplishes this is through his predilection for long takes, which allows the actors to feed off one another rather than exist in a series of reaction shots. He uses it so well that it sours other movies as you’re forced to ponder “how much better would this scene have been if there were no cuts at all.”
6- Take Shelter (dir. Jeff Nicholas)
Two end-of-the-world movies make my best-of-the-year list. Like my higher ranked Melancholia, Take Shelter focuses on how individuals deal with encroaching doom rather than CGI limos traveling the seemingly abandoned streets of Los Angeles and people outrunning fireballs. After the glut of disaster movies from Independence Day to The Day After Tomorrow to 2012, you forget about the dramatic potential of this idea, but the two films from 2011 can not only rekindle one’s interest in the subject matter but remind you about the strength of the personal human drama amidst an epic story.
The ever-reliable Michael Shannon gives a terrific performance as Curtis, a blue-collar guy who begins to receive prophetic dreams telling him that the end is near. He is afraid of what he sees, afraid of himself, and also afraid that he might be losing his mind. He takes to these dreams not as an “end-is-near” fanatic, but goes about it very logically as he studies mental illness and sees a therapist while building his Doomsday shelter at the expense of his job and even his family. Jessica Chastain turns in another remarkable performance as his wife, torn between not believing him, wanting to believe him, and actually believing him. Being burdened with this “knowledge” is treated as the horrible tragedy that it would be, and seeing it from the point of view of the proofless prophet and his uncertain follower provides a unique spin on this oft-tread ground.
5- Drive (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)
Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2008 effort Bronson brought him significant acclaim and showed the world what an incredible force Tom Hardy could be. This year, his Drive took him even further to deserved public recognition. From its opening sequence complete with 1980s-esque score, the movie immediately separates itself from other heist, crime, and car films. This isn’t a movie about flash and spectacle, it’s a toned down affair. It’s about hiding from the cops, not running from them. It’s about real cars not cartoony, CGI vehicles. And as such, Drive emerges as the type of movie that would be cool in any era.
Although Ryan Gosling has proven himself as one of the best actors of his generation by this point, his role as the stoic, unnamed lead character shows him as a genuine screen presence. Carey Mulligan continues her streak of choosing mostly unique films (and being remarkable in them), and Albert Brooks excellently plays against type as a calm and collected gangster.
4- Hugo (dir. Martin Scorsese)
As a fan of Martin Scorsese, it’s difficult to say that I’ve loved a lot of his modern work. I’ve definitely liked The Departed, The Aviator, Shutter Island, and Gangs of New York, but it’s difficult for me to say that any of those films really served to remind me why Scorsese is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. The extra spark that set even smaller works like The King of Comedy and After Hours apart barely felt present in his features from the last decade. But Hugo once again made me genuinely excited to see the latest from the Taxi Driver director.
A gorgeous, heartfelt film about the joy of imagination and creation, Hugo is the rare family movie that provides something real and honest for adults and children alike. Kids can be smart without being hip or modern. Adults are allowed to have emotions and not simply exist as foils until it comes time for the hug at the end. Hugo is bittersweet with a layer of sadness surrounding and filling all the characters, but that’s what makes the film work. When good things happen, they actually mean something, and the victory is all the richer.
3- The Tree of Life (dir. Terrence Malick)
Terrence Malick is a divisive director, and The Tree of Life has its detractors, but I personally found it to be a virtual masterpiece. It takes a true artist to take what could rightfully be considered bombastic pretentiousness (e.g. space ; “heaven”; Sean Penn) and transform it into an essential part of the actual experience. And that’s what The Tree of Life is: an experience. An intangible and beautiful film that presents childhood, life, and humanity with simultaneous cold detachment and incredible compassion. As we follow the O’Brien children from birth until early/pre-adolescence, Malick encompasses the entirety of growing up through the eyes of children. No singular experience is given exaggerated weight or impact, as both small and large moments play equal factors in the development of these kids.
While Jessica Chastain is impressive as the mother, Brad Pitt gives one of his best all-time performances as the father. In his extensive career, Pitt has never managed to be the “every man.” Oddly enough, the closest he has probably come to being a “average schlub” was as iconic outlaw Jesse James in the brilliant The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The Tree of Life changes that, and Brad Pitt plays the perfect father role while being the furthest thing from a perfect father. Stern and compassionate, unhappy with how his life turned out but still loving his wife and kids, advice-giving without being particularly wise, Malick removes the “matinee idol” from Brad Pitt and allows him to be an actor.
2- Best Comedy of the Year: Super (dir. James Gunn)
Good acting, a decent script, and funny set pieces can lead to an above average comedy but not great one. A genuine comedy classic requires something more- it can’t simply tinker with conventions, it must obliterate them. Take the characters and the story into new directions and garnish them with subtleties and the unexpected.
James Gunn’s Super is the movie for those disappointed that modern comedy films don’t take that extra step. Moments in this movie reminded me how much I had forgotten just how strong a laugh could be. Starring Rainn Wilson as Frank, a fry cook who adopts the role of powerless superhero The Crimson Bolt, Super is incredibly dark, incredibly violent, and incredibly funny. Like I complained about in an earlier article, many comedy films fail by featuring more-or-less ordinary people trying to maintain their composure in extraordinary situations. Super. keeps the dysfunctions in the hands of its main characters. Frank is unstable, as is his side kick Libby/Bolty (Ellen Page), and Sarah, Frank’s wife/damsel in distress (Liv Tyler) is an addict who once again becomes hooked on drugs. Moreover, Frank is actually a truly sad figure thus giving this film significantly more weight than the average comedy.
Along with pushing the boundaries of the comedy film, Super also shows a keen eye towards comic book tropes and terrifically juxtaposes them against both scenes of brutality and monotony.
1- Best Drama of the Year: Melancholia (dir. Lars von Trier)
Like all great directors, Lars von Trier constantly surprises his audience. Although most of oeuvre is challenging in a variety of ways, he tends to show a true concern with his characters no matter how dark, depressing, or depraved their paths. He certainly takes them to places few dare to think about, let alone tread, and he finds ways to avoid melodramatic trappings. Following the supremely disturbing journey of his amazing Anti-Christ, von Trier tried his hand at the apocalyptic genre with Melancholia.
Set at an isolated mansion during the days before and after Earth is about to have a near-miss with a planet named Melancholia, Melancholia asks how would people react if they knew that humanity could potentially be destroyed within a matter of days. As the cold bride-to-be Justine, Kirsten Dunst gives one of the best performances of the year and of her career as she imbues her character with subtlety and depth that grow as revelations become clearer throughout the film. While Dunst has received accolades for her role, Charlotte Gainsbourg as her sister Claire also deserves recognition for giving a remarkably nuanced performance as Justine’s opposite. While Claire’s nerves increase as she doubts the accuracy of the scientists’ predictions regarding Melancholia’s orbit, Justine grows even more detached adding to her panic. Alexander Skarsgard, Kiefer Sutherland, and Stellan Skarsgard round out the cast, and von Trier regular Udo Kier has a small but memorably comical role as the Wedding Planner.
Another special note must be given to the look of the film. I have seen numerous films this year in theaters, including some of the biggest budgeted spectaculars ranging from Harry Potter to Green Lantern, and I felt that only three made exquisite use of the big screen: Hugo, The Tree of Life, and Melancholia. There are some sequences in this film, particularly the opening one, that are truly beautiful and give an expanse that even 3D can’t buy.
What further makes Melancholia remarkable is one of von Trier’s usual strengths- it produces a genuine, visceral reaction. His works may be considered “emotional” movies, but it’s difficult to describe one’s response with typical “emotional” terms. Neither sad nor cathartic, Melancholia is a film whose imagery and ideas last long after it ends.
5 Honorable Mentions:
I was alternating heavily between The Artist and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo as my number 10.
The Artist- This silent film about silent films painstakingly establishes a time-appropriate universe with strong, from photogenic performers and a palpable respect of the era.
A Dangerous Method- David Cronenberg takes an intensely dramatic look at the relationship between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), and Jung’s patient Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley).
The Descendants- Alexander Payne offers another look at average people dealing with personal doubt and crisis through his distinctive slice-of-life humor. Special credit goes to Shailene Woodley who turns in a surprisingly good performance as George Clooney’s daughter after spending several years as loathsome teen mom Amy Juergens on The Secret Life of the American Teenager, one of the worst shows ever put on television.
Limitless- A definite “surprise” film, Limitless is a fun movie about a writer who becomes a super genius from a questionable drug and must outrun and outsmart business men and the mob. Director Neil Burger gives his movie a distinctive visual style, and Bradley Cooper’s smarmy charm is at its best.
Rango- Some of the best animation I’ve seen in years in a Western movie that respects the genre rather than cribs from the most popular movies in it.
DAN’S BOTTOM 5 OF 2011:
1) New Year’s Eve (dir. Garry Marshall)
2) Your Highness (dir. David Gordon Green)
3) Season Of The Witch (dir. Dominic Sena)
4) Hop (dir. Tim Hill)
5) Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark (dir. Troy Nixey)
There were plenty of sub-par movies this year, but apparently I managed to miss a few of the most reviled. I skipped Jack And Jill, for example, even though that made almost every “Worst Of 2011″ list out there. It sounds like it may categorically be the worst film of the year. Meanwhile, I feel strong loathing for the top three entries in this list, and only extreme disappointment in the other two. I was not sure anything could edge out Your Highness as my least favorite, but Garry Marshall of all people found a way. A comparison of my reviews will show a half-star discrepancy in favor of New Year’s Eve, but rest assured that this can be blamed on too much Christmas cheer.
New Year’s Eve was easily the most half-hearted, phoned-in, insultingly thrown together pile of garbage that could have been assembled from a big budget, an all-star cast, and a high-concept romantic comedy premise. Shame and fie. For more details, catch my review. Your Highness was also 100% unfunny, but it seemed as if the people who made it really thought it would be hilarious. Memo to David Gordon Green and company: there’s a difference between a script that you carefully write so that people will think it’s funny when they’re stoned, and writing a comedy script while you yourself are stoned. I suspect the latter tactic applied in this case. Now that I have New Year’s Eve to hate even more, my vitriol against Your Highness has ebbed a tad.
Season Of The Witch was a complete misfire, attempting to subvert the expectations of horror fans who were rightly furious about not getting the horror film they came expecting to see. It was a sort of humorless Gothic drama with mediocre production values. Had any aspect of the production been at least laughably awful, it might have won some points back. But Nicolas Cage, in a rare display of restraint, even chose to underplay his role as a marauding knight. Thank goodness Drive Angry came along later in the year as a more worthy counterpart. By any measure, Season Of The Witch was a cold, limp way to spend 90 minutes.
Hop – an Easter Bunny adventure by Alvin & The Chipmunks director Tim Hill – was probably as good as it could have been. It still pretty much sucked. There was a cute animated fairy tale in there somewhere, but the framing narrative about James Marsden wanting to be the Easter Bunny as a thirty-year-old man is so achingly lame that all of Russell Brand’s best efforts as the cartoon bunny go virtually wasted. Grown men can choose to be Muppets, apparently, but not Easter Bunnies. Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, which producer Guillermo del Toro assured us would be mind-blowingly scary, betrayed the trust of… well, all of his fans. Troy Nixey’s tale about malevolent pixies in a big dark house did a great big belly-flop. No mystery, no memorable scares, precious little genuine suspense. End of story. Hopefully Mr. Judas del Toro will return to the director’s chair soon.
All in all, 2011 was a year of disheartening mediocrity, but at least a few films managed to be significantly better (or worse) than average. If you weren’t bored by too many movies this year, you did well.
BRETT’S BOTTOM 5 OF 2011:
Coming up with a list of worst movies of the year is difficult. Unlike movies that we hope to be good, we try to avoid movies we know will be terrible unless we’re bored or they’re on cable or something. Devising this type of list also forces us to ask an important question: are these the “worst” movies or are they the most “disappointing” movies? A film like The Ides Of March, for example, had such a strong storyline with Gosling/Giamatti/Hoffman/Tomei that the rest of the film (and its subsequent SPOILER sex scandal) felt cheap and dragged the whole film down with it. In that instance, March could conceivably be my “worst” film because it had the most squandered potential. Alternatively, is it fair to point the finger at Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star? A profoundly terrible film that had no choice but to be a profoundly terrible film? Does Larson‘s presumed self-awareness of its badness make it more or less guilty of being bad? And how should one judge The Smurfs? Or Chipwrecked? These are all complicated issues that I cannot answer, but nevertheless, here’s my list of worst movies.
5- Sucker Punch (dir. Zack Snyder)
An ambitious failure is a failure nonetheless, as is the case with Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. Even more disappointing is that there were a lot of ideas in this film that could have worked had Snyder allowed another screenwriter to take a crack at it. Between the concepts of mental illness, the subconscious, fighting back against one’s captors, and the era, Sucker Punch could have been a mix of Girl, Interrupted, The Craft, and Hitchcock’s Spellbound. Instead, it was a mess of half-baked ideas, exaggerated action sequences, and non-characters. How could we consider any of the characters characters when we only see their real selves for probably 5 minutes at most? Did Rocket, Blondie, or Amber even die? Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino) seemed pretty lackadaisical about the deaths of at least three of her patients when we return to Asylum Reality at the end. Furthermore, Snyder’s visual style failed when trying to differentiate between Asylum (a.k.a. Real) Reality and Brothel (a.k.a. Fake Level 1) Reality and overwhelmed (and not in a good way) when dealing with Video Game (a.k.a. Fake Level 2) Reality.
But at least Snyder attempted something to produce something unique, even the movie fell apart pretty quickly. And we could actually follow the action sequences, which is more than I can say for other films on this list.
4- Friends with Benefits (dir. Will Gluck)
Some romantic comedy needed to make the list and of the several I’ve seen this year, Friends with Benefits was the worst. Unlike Something Borrowed, which had the decency to populate its core cast with four shockingly unlikeable characters, or What’s Your Number?, which knew its place, Friends with Benefits tried to present itself as an alternative to the traditional rom-com while playing to its conventions beat-by-beat. The movie even has a subplot where Dylan (Justin Timberlake) rails against the tropes of the genre, which makes the movie’s easy willingness to play by the rules even more annoying.
A major problem I had with the film was Jamie (Mila Kunis) going on about how she was “damaged goods,” and Dylan eventually “agreeing” with her, though that was just so we could get the forced break-up scene. Jamie was a yuppie with a high paying, high powered job in a nice apartment and seemingly many friends; she just didn’t want a relationship. Actual evidence of her dysfunction might have been left on the cutting room floor, but the character we saw most certainly was not damaged. At least not from my definition, and I am willing to accept a lot of variations of damaged. I’d be far more ready to call Borrowed‘s Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) damaged from her inability to stand up for herself and obvious severe depression or Number‘s Ally (Anna Faris) damaged due to her need for self-edification from a magazine and men than I would Jamie.
Another issue I had with Friends with Benefits was the dementia/Alzheimer’s subplot wherein Dylan’s father (Richard Jenkins) has the disorder. I’m not sure why, maybe it was the popularity of The Notebook, but Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or a similar condition has popped in a lot movies over the past several years, often without serving a purpose in the story. Some recent examples include Rise of the Planet of the Apes (where the disease actually did function as a catalyst to the plot), Buried, 50/50, and this one. While I understand that its inclusion was so Dylan could get a last minute speech of encouragement to follow his heart from his father during a brief moments of lucidity, it felt really unnecessary.
3- New Year’s Eve (dir. Garry Marshall)
When the best performer in your movie is Zac Efron, you have a problem. When he is so obviously miscast as some sort of street wise, bike messenger/hustler-type, you have a bigger problem. When his best friend is Ashton Kutcher’s character, you have questions. And when he shares the screen (though never at the same time) as Robert DeNiro and is still the best person in the cast, you know something is horribly wrong. And horribly wrong best describes the entirety of New Year’s Eve.
Nothing works in the movie. At all. The best vignettes are the ones that don’t make you feel anything while the worst offend your intelligence. The psychotic obsession that people seem to believe that people have with the Times Square Ball Drop comes across as either highly disingenuous or completely delusional. A parody-esque speech made by Hilary Swank about a frozen Ball representing a chance to reflect on our lives and hope for a better future shockingly ends up being a serious moment, one that elicits tears all around The Big Apple. Katherine Heigl continues to remain way too aloof for a rom-com lead, and Jon Bon Jovi as her ex-boyfriend seems lifeless as an aging rocker beloved by people of all ages including tweens. I wonder if his inclusion was an attempt to capture the popularity of Bill Nighy’s character in Love Actually. Ashton Kutcher plays a slightly bitter Ashton Kutcher, and Lea Michele acts as though she were in dress rehearsals for a bad play. However, the happenings surrounding her getting to sing Auld Lang Syne was probably the movie’s most interesting concept if only because you’re left wondering “how?” and “what now?” Finally, when it comes to Robert DeNiro, one ends up pondering when the filmmakers realized they needed a scene of him not dying to put in the commercials.
Now yes, one should not expect anything approaching depth when watching New Year’s Eve. It’s a cute movie meant to be a cute movie, and it should be evaluated on that basis. But New Year’s Eve was not all that cute. It was an empty, soulless film based around concepts that might have elicited an “this could be awwww” in the outlining stages. It might be difficult to pull off, but cute does not need to be a synonym for lazy and stupid.
2- Jack and Jill (dir. Dennis Dugan)
I have seen all three parts of 2011’s Adam Sandler Trilogy: Just Go With It, Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star (which he wrote and produced for protege Nick Swardson), and Jack and Jill. I would be hard pressed to call any of those movies good. In fact, I would be hard pressed to say that any of those movies had good moments. Nevertheless, the worst of these efforts was easily Jack and Jill. In it, Adam Sandler plays both Jack and his twin sister Jill. Hilarity ensues.
Jack and Jill is the type of movie that you can pick any individual element and spend significant time and/or space explaining “this is why the movie was so bad.” The plot or lack thereof, the absence of humor, the poor production values (you at least sensed that Just Go With It had a budget), the plot holes (people can just leave fly back home from a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean?) all definitely play a factor in the failure of this film, but the biggest issue is the characters. In particular, the character of Jill.
I don’t think the film ever figured out if we were supposed to like her or not. There are ways to make a perpetually perky, quirky, and outside-the-box thinker gain our sympathy, but this movie doesn’t even make an attempt to allow us to fill anything but contempt for Jill. She’s annoying, loud, obnoxious, stupid, and I think the only reason we’re supposed to side with her is because she feels bad for herself. While I’m sure it must be terrible for her to be a spinster, it’s impossibly difficult to hope that she finds a guy because you’d just end up feeling bad for the guy. Despite not caring about the character of Bucky Larson, Nick Swardson tried to give him a heart. His over-the-top earnestness definitely grated, but when faced with the self-centered obliviousness of Jill, you realize that you didn’t actively root for him to die.
Now the flaws with Jill wouldn’t be a problem if Jack and Jill decided to make her as the relative from hell whom everyone hated. (Sample dialogue: “It’s not you, it’s the chimichangas! They’re making a run for the border!”) Jack despises her with such a virulent passion that you wonder if she killed his best friend/their parents when they were younger. Yet Jack’s wife Erin (Katie Holmes) doesn’t seem to hate her, but it’s hard to determine if she actually likes her. She clearly knows enough about Jack’s issues with Jill to warn him against making a scene at Thanksgiving, but does she think he’s overreacting, does she recognize Jill’s flaws but is really into family, does she pity her? We never find out. As the film progresses, Jack himself wildly fluctuates between feeling bad for her, caring for her, and wanting her to suffer painfully with nary a trigger to be found. He has a reason for keeping her around (he needs Al Pacino for a commercial and the once great Godfather star has the hots for her), but he never seems particularly manipulative towards his sister as far as this plot goes.
Stock Sandler company actors such as Tim Meadows and Nick Swardson are notably bland. Katie Holmes as Sandler’s wife seems hired just for reaction shots; she is very good at clapping her hands and looking happy. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pacino had more screentime than Holmes, but I would put money that he had more lines of dialogue. And while Pacino embarrasses himself (and the audience), he does so with a level of self-awareness that makes this a better venture for him than, say, S1M0N3.
Additionally, Jack and Jill constantly rips off the classic Kids in the Hall Citizen Kane bit, albeit to much lesser success.
1- The Worst Movie Of The Year: Transformers: Dark of the Moon (dir. Michael Bay)
It’s an easy answer, it’s a cheap answer, but I consider Transformers: Dark of the Moon to be the worst movie of the year. It has nothing to do with slamming Michael Bay for being Michael Bay, but has everything to do with TF3 simply being an all-around terrible movie. I tend to give points off to any film whose first half has practically no bearing on the second half, as well as movies who sideline their best actors (John Turturro, Frances McDomand, Alan Tudyk) for Josh Duhamel. Sadly, in New Year’s Eve, Josh Duhamel was one of its best actors.
While some consider TF3 to be an improvement over the ill-regarded Return of the Fallen, I still recognized most of the problems that plagued the first sequel, as well as several new ones. Did we need to devote more time to Sam’s neuroses? Did we need Malkovich at all? What was that about Patrick Dempsey’s family being the Decepticons’ accountant? And knowing this information, you couldn’t predict that the super fancy car he gave you will be a bad robot? Who were the “many” when Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy) repeated Spock’s “needs of the many” line from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan? Cybertron operates under different laws of physics? Apparently Earth found out about the Autobots’ existence, and we’re cool with letting our only protection against the Decepticons go off? We’re cool with aliens? Aliens that perform covert ops for the United States government? And how many Autobots are left on Earth? Less than 10? Did Mudflaps and Skids die? Could we have seen that?
But fair enough, TF3 isn’t about plot or dialogue or acting or characters or cleverness or originality. It’s about the action sequences and special effects! And the ones in this film were … uninspired. We still contend with the same giant blurs of greyness beating up other giant blurs of greyness, and it all becomes very redundant and boring after not too long. Chicago might get destroyed and Earth seems on the verge of being crushed by Cybertron, but you never get a sense of danger. Your mind can only be numbed for so long from loud sounds and bright colors before it regains sensitivity and you begin to question, well, everything.