So many bad movies, so little time… Just as it's truly difficult to narrow down a "best of" list at the end of the year, a "worst of" list is even tougher, because there's so much dreck out there in the multiplex to sift through. Sometimes you know a film will be bad before you choose to watch it, and that's okay. We all have our guilty pleasures. But the worst films in my opinion are like wolves in sheep's clothing, disguised as something good or innocuous -- and then they strike when you've made yourself vulnerable.
Of course, I truly believe (or at least I was taught this in film school) that every movie, no matter how bad, has at least one redeeming quality. So in all fairness, I single those out too.
Red Riding Hood
Why it Bugged: This movie had potential, but the studio marketing pulled a serious bait-and-switch. Sold in the trailers as a horror movie with a hint of romance, what could have been a cool update of the classic fairytale in the vein of A Company of Wolves instead tried to be the next Twilight. Courtesy of Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke (no doubt why she was hired to direct this mess), the dialogue is cringe-worthy; the cast is straight out of The CW casting pool; the cool period village soundstage set looks just like that -- a cool period village soundstage set; and an early, somewhat racy sex scene in this PG-13 movie had me embarrassed for the mother of the tween girls seated next to me. But I held out, hoping that maybe we'd see some neato, American Werewolf in London-style transformation effects. Alas, the oversized CGI wolf is cut-rate, and when he began to have a psychic conversation with Amanda Seyfried, I walked out of the theater and went straight to grandma's house.
Redeeming Quality: Amanda Seyfried does look cute in her Red Riding Hood outfit.
The Tree of Life
Why it Bugged: I give director Terrence Malick tremendous credit for finding the financing for this big-budget experimental film, and The Tree of Life has more than just a few redeeming qualities. But despite the critical raves and placement on numerous "best of the year" lists, I found this to be an overhyped, grandiose, uneven knock-off of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey mashed up with Revolutionary Road and a taste of This Boy's Life. The rambling tale tries to put creation, life and death in context with The Big Bang, but I found the Sean Penn storyline befuddling. Why, as an adult, is he still so distraught about his brother's death during his childhood? Penn finds redemption in the afterlife, but he's barely in the film, and we're supposed to sympathize with his scrunchy face? The Oscar-winning actor complained that the majority of his role was left on the cutting room floor, so perhaps the answer lies there. Of course, if you're going to indulge in a three-hour exercise about the meaning of life, would it hurt to add in 10 more minutes to justify the climax of the film?
Redeeming Quality: There are several naturalistic, magical moments captured on film, from the adoration of new parents to the wonder of bubbles and the mischievous experimentation of youthful rebellion. They must have rolled through a lot of digital memory cards.
Why it Bugged: J.J. Abrams has found true Hollywood success, deservedly so, but now he thinks he's Steven Spielberg. True, Spielberg produced Super 8, but Abrams is in the director's chair, and this disjointed film appropriates all the elements of Spielberg's greatest hits -- aimless kids in suburbia, misunderstood aliens, military cover-ups and, of course, long, wondrous stares, aka the "Spielberg Face." The result is an unoriginal, mishmash movie in search of an identity. I'll be the first to point out that Super 8 has a wonderful premise: a group of kids in the '70s band together to make a home movie, only to stumble upon a story much greater than their own. But this premise is quickly abandoned to make way for another stab at Cloverfield, this time with more lens flare and less "shaky cam," and an expectation that the audience will have sympathy for a man-eating alien/monster. I threw in the towel when Abrams chose to show a top-secret government operation locking down an entire town, yet they don't seem to mind that a group of kids are blatantly filming a movie right in front of them. "Production value!"
Redeeming Quality: The sweet moment between Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney is nice as the kids rush to capture more "production value" on the train platform. And sure, that train crash was pretty spectacular, but it quickly went way over the top. After the clamor died down, the kids didn't even think to search for survivors?
I Am Number Four
Why it Bugged: Another Twilight wannabe, this tale of aliens on the run posing as high school students throws logic out the portal from the get-go. Like a CW big-screen event with a slightly larger special effects budget, I Am Number Four is full of pretty teens, pretty lame bad guys who look like rejects from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and the film's storyline has the audacity to go nowhere in an effort to hold out for a franchise. Good luck.
Redeeming Quality: The Abercrombie & Fitch leads are easy on the eyes, I s'pose.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Why it Bugged: I freely admit I'm a sucker for hucksterism. Everyone from director Michael Bay to Shia LaBeouf and the writers of the Transformers franchise publicly declared that the second movie lost its way. They practically asked for forgiveness and swore that Transformers: Dark of the Moon was the best of the series and was much more interested in telling a compelling, coherent story. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this bombastic blockbuster was actually the worst of all three films -- and that's saying a lot -- from the painfully bad dialogue and leaden attempts at humor to the inane plot ties to the "dark of the moon." I'm sure they wanted to call it Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon, but Pink Floyd complained. I walked out of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen two-thirds through, and I should have walked out of this exercise in torture too.
Redeeming Quality: Sure, that sequence in Chicago when Shia LaBeouf and the gang are sliding along the floor as their high-rise building collapses is pretty cool. Too bad I didn't care if they'd live or die.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Why it Bugged: At then end of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, I think we all agreed that the world needed a break from this series, but the end-title prospect of Jack Sparrow seeking out the Fountain of Youth was intriguing. After a well-timed hiatus, the series returned and completely lost the wind from its sails, courtesy of Chicago helmer Rob Marshall's uninspired direction. Not even a hammy Johnny Depp could save this by-the-numbers storyline that smacks of a script by committee: Hmmm, lets insert some mermaids and zombies to keep it supernatural! Even acclaimed Deadwood star Ian McShane as Blackbeard, "the pirate that all pirates fear," sleepwalks through this movie with no motivation and nothing to do. Penelope Cruz is there to spice it up as Jack Sparrow's former flame, but her accent is impenetrable and there's zero chemistry between the stars. By the time we finally reach the Fountain of Youth, we don't know why we're there and we don't care. Too bad, because I like this franchise.
Redeeming Quality: It was nice to see Jack Sparrow landlocked in London and straddling a horse and carriage in the opening action sequence.
The Green Hornet
Why it Bugged: Forget Green Lantern. It was popular this summer to diss the big-budget Ryan Reynolds superhero debacle as a major disappointment, but in all honesty I think that movie was perfectly fine for kids. Sorry, fanboys. As for The Green Hornet, well, that's a different story: It was truly the most offensive superhero movie this year. Seth Rogen was given free reign with the project, and what he gave us was a stoner comedy movie disguised as a action-fantasy. Rogen's crime-fighting Britt Reid was so spoiled, unlikable, had no arc and displayed so few redeeming qualities that by the time his frustrated sidekick Kato kicks his ass through a window I stood up and cheered. The real joke of this movie is that Kato is the real superhero, and The Green Hornet is his sidekick. Inglorious Basterds baddie Christoph Waltz's talents are completely wasted in this movie, and Cameron Diaz seemed wedged in there to balance out the all-male cast. Oh yeah, and there was no reason whatsoever for this film to be in 3D.
Redeeming Quality: Rogen is all slimmed-down for the role, and Jay Chou has a quiet cool as Kato (but his English is so broken that you couldn't understand a word he said); and stolen straight from the TV series, the Black Beauty supercar was the best thing about the film.
Why it Bugged: This is the perfect example of why some pet projects should not be made. Watchmen director Zack Snyder was clearly given full creative control over his "vision," and I don't think anyone had the guts to tell him that his story was ridiculous. Many have said that Snyder's "empowered" protagonist women with guns and swords are just the opposite in their roles as prostitutes in garters and skimpy threads. I just see Sucker Punch as a misdirected, convoluted tale featuring dancing sex workers who disappear into fantasy to avoid their harsh reality -- with a lame "twist" ending. The biggest flaw of this film is that there is zero tension during the video-game/anime-inspired dream sequences. We know that it's not real, so there's no sense of jeopardy for these characters in these over-the-top battle situations. And every time Baby Doll (Emily Browning) slowly goes into her little "trance dance," Snyder cuts away to another overlong fantasy sequence, only to revert back to reality and the comical reaction shots of her co-horts, astounded at her incredible moves that we never see. That isn't the worst part of the movie. It's arguable the best – for laughs.
Redeeming Quality: Sure, the fantasy sequences looked cool, and the music choices were great, especially the extended version of Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit. In fact, one of the best parts of the film is a musical number to Roxy Music's Love is the Drug, giving greater context to the story, but it was inexplicably cut out and left for the DVD "director's cut" release.
Why it Bugged: I loved Shaun of the Dead. Hot Fuzz was also a winner. When Simon Pegg and Nick Frost team up, it's comedy gold. Add Superbad/Adventureland director Greg Mottola and you've got another hit on your hands, right? But this road trip comedy about two Comic-Con geeks seeking out intelligent life at sci-fi tourist traps runs out of gas very quickly. Enter Seth Rogen as a wisecracking, pot-smoking, farting CGI alien, and you've got a serious Area 51 turkey. The good intentions are there, but sadly Paul is a misdirected Winnebago on the highway to hell, wasting the talents of its cast.
Redeeming Quality: There are some amusing sci-fi movie references, but with no play on words they quickly grow old in an effort to pass as actual comedy.
Jack and Jill
Why it Bugged: Watching this film with Adam Sandler playing dual roles of himself and his annoying "sister," I felt just like George C. Scott did as he viewed his own daughter in anguish in Hardcore. Sure, you know what you're getting when you choose to see an Adam Sandler movie: cheap laughs and bathroom humor. But simply put, Sandler's unending reactions of annoyance and disgust at his sister in this movie pretty much mirrored my own in the movie theater.
Redeeming Quality: It was amusing to watch Katie Holmes and Al Pacino flail about in this attempt at comedy, wondering if they should fire their respective agents.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1
Why it Bugged: Is it fair that a film I haven't actually seen is on my "worst of" list? Perhaps not, but having endured the previous three Twilight movies and listening to the reaction of friends who were dragged to see this one, I can say with complete confidence that this would make my list. So here it is, bloody half-vampire baby birth and all. More Taylor Lautner abs, more brooding looks from Robert Pattinson, and more uncomfortable fidgeting by Kristen Stewart. It surely sucks.
Redeeming Quality: If you're a Twi-hard, then I'm sure the entire movie is great!
Honorable "Worst" Mentions
I chose to avoid these movies this year like the plague, and I'm sure for good reason: Beastly, The Dilemma, The Roommate, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, Abduction, Just Go With It, Mr. Popper's Penguins, Something Borrowed, The Smurfs, Atlas Shrugged, Part 1, The Human Centipede II: Full Sequence, Zookeeper, Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, Johnny English Reborn, I Don't Know How She Does It, In Time, and Valentine's Day.
- Steven Spielberg