In anticipation of next week’s Academy Awards, FP film critic Franklin Laviola shares his final thoughts on film in 2011 over the next few days. Today, he begins with his least favorite films of 2011. Come back Monday for his best films of 2011. (Read the rest of Laviola’s work for Frontier Psychiatrist here.)
10. Bridesmaids, directed by Paul Feig
Clocking in at an unbearable 125 minutes, this drab-looking gag fest seems to exist for no other reason, than to hit ﬁlmgoers over the head with the idea that girls can be just as obnoxious and vulgar as guys, when it comes to big screen comedies. Just like in the worst sketch comedy, scenes are stretched to interminable length, basic comic timing is rendered irrelevant, and broad scatology rules the day. The pop exuberance of Wedding Crashers is nowhere to be found here. Melissa McCarthy deserves a Razzie for defecating in that sink — not an Oscar nomination.
9. The Debt, directed by John Madden
The anti-Munich. Madden’s ﬁlm tells the story of a trio of young Mossad agents, who track down a Nazi war criminal in 1960s East Berlin and then agree to lie about their dispatching of him, when he escapes into the night. Thirty years later, each one is still haunted by this decision in a different way. Steven Spielberg’s political thriller Munich, which beneﬁtted from a ﬁnely-tuned screenplay by playwright Tony Kushner, was emotionally involving, psychologically complex, enormously suspenseful, and dramatized an intelligent moral debate. Madden’s ﬁlm has none of these virtues. Avatar’s Sam Worthington is severely miscast as one of the young Mossad agents, while both Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson mope around with bad accents in the present day. If it weren’t for Jessica Chastain (as the young Mirren) and Jesper Christensen (as the Nazi), this pointless muddle would be virtually unwatchable.
8. Red Riding Hood, directed by Catherine Hardwicke
Nearly every aspect of this brainless turd reeks of a big studio’s desperate attempt to capitalize on the global success of the insipid Twilight series. Here’s a bit of advice: forget this nonsense even exists and, instead, go and watch Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves, his marvelous take on the same fairy tale, which happens to be frightening, sexy, and psychologically resonant … all qualities the classic material deserves.
7. Fright Night, directed by Craig Gillespie
Without a doubt, one of Hollywood’s most irritating trends in recent years has been the move to remake what seems like every known (and proﬁtable) horror movie from the ‘70s and ‘80s. This update of Tom Holland’s 1985 sleeper about a suburban teenager and his vampire neighbor, is right up there with Platinum Dunes’ (Michael Bay’s production company) big-budget remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hitcher, and Friday the 13th, as the very worst of the new pack. Holland’s original had a great B-movie premise, and, with the exception of casting Amanda Bearse as the teenage love interest, his execution was consistently clever and creepy. With no respect for the genre or its viewer’s intelligence, Gillespie’s tone-deaf remake throws story, character, atmosphere, and suspense out the window, predictably opting to indulge in cheap plot twists, unnecessary explosions, and wall-to-wall CGI, instead. The original ﬁlm gave reliable talents, like Chris Sarandon, Roddy McDowall, and, future gay porn star, Stephen Geoffreys, plenty of room to fashion memorable characters. Infuriatingly, this remake utterly wastes A-List talents, like Colin Farrell, Anton Yelchin, and rising star Imogen Poots.
6. Cowboys & Aliens, directed by Jon Favreau
By far the worst of the summer tentpole releases (yes, that’s correct, even worse than Green Lantern), this dismal mess appears to have been cynically thrown-together by a committee, which included Iron Man director Favreau, several big-name producers, and about twenty overpaid USC screenwriters. Evidently, their collective creative contribution began and ended with the easy to market title. If anything, this mega-bomb proves two things: Harrison Ford should retire very, very soon and Hollywood still hasn’t ﬁgured out what to do with Olivia Wilde and her other-worldly looks. Hopefully, Brian DePalma can help with the latter issue.
5. Potiche, directed by Francois Ozon & Beginners, directed by Mike Mills (tie)
Where are John Waters and Terence Davies, when we need them? Ozon’s exercise in camp and canned feminism results in one terminally unfunny comedy (despite the presence of France’s real-life Falstaff, Gerard Depardieu). Mills’ exercise in narcissism is not surprisingly even more problematic — a shallow hipster “dramedy,” in which the writer-director portrays his gay father as one-dimensionally cuddly, while inappropriately (and defensively) perceiving his boundary-less and psychologically-damaging mother as wise. Along with last year’s The Kids Are All Right, both of these ﬁlms suggest that mainstream gay cinema has perhaps become too rigid and programmatic in its discourse, in effect allowing political correctness to eclipse genuine artistry and complex takes on the human comedy and drama.
4. The Descendants, directed by Alexander Payne
Alexander Payne is at his best, when working in a purely comic mode (the Thomas Haden Church scenes in Sideways), or in a purely satirical mode (the Reese Witherspoon scenes in Election). As he did in the equally misguided About Schmidt, Payne takes the “dramedy” route here, and the result is not humanistic identiﬁcation and illumination, but an odd and off-putting mix of condescension and sentimentality, toward his characters. I suppose this is what fourth-rate Billy Wilder might have looked like. George Clooney, whether making faces or tears, has never been less convincing.
3. The Artist, directed by Michel Hazanavicius
Remember Steven Soderbergh’s misﬁre The Good German? Well, aside from its lack of spoken dialogue, Hazanavicius’ ﬁlm, with its calculated retro style and self-conscious project of manufacturing ﬁlm nostalgia, is not much different. It just happens to be much worse and better-marketed. Call it what you like — a hollow experiment, a gimmick, a simulation, or a two-hour affectation — but, please, don’t call it a sincere homage to the very real and very much alive silent cinema of the 1920s. Hazanavicius’ pastiche lifts its basic premise from Singin’ in the Rain, recreates the dinner table scene from Citizen Kane, and, most criminally, incorporates nearly eight (!) whole minutes of Bernard Hermann’s towering Vertigo score, into its own soundtrack, during the witless climax. When true cinephiliac ﬁlmmakers, like Godard, Scorsese, DePalma, and even Tarantino, appropriate elements from other ﬁlms, the act becomes a celebratory gesture and the effect is frequently liberating for the viewer, because he or she experiences both the ﬁlmmaker’s individual connection to and commentary on the preexisting work. In stark contrast to these ﬁlmmakers, Hazanavicius’ appropriations are facile and merely opportunistic, and the effect for the viewer is deadening. As hyperbolic as her claim might have initially sounded, Kim Novak was right — this ﬁlm is what an aesthetic “rape” looks, feels, and sounds like.
2. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, directed by Stephen Daldry
What’s worse, “literary” hack Jonathan Safran Foer’s opportunism in using 9/11 as a narrative device to legitimize his tawdry novel, or the ﬁlmmakers’ (producer Scott Rudin, Daldry, and screenwriter Eric Roth) decision to shape Foer’s morass into Oscar bait, a veritable torture device for unsuspecting ﬁlmgoers? Every milli-second of this ﬁlm is dominated by the voice of Oskar Schell, the nine-year-old protagonist, whose father is killed in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. As conjured with cloying hyper- verbosity by Foer and embodied with equivalent affect by actor Thomas Horn, this character is what could only be described as demonically shrill. Despite his tragic situation, he quickly becomes what is perhaps the least sympathetic child character in the history of the movies. Watching this disaster, one shudders to think — that there could very well be an entire generation of little monsters out there, all desperate to be indulged to the max by their parents and everyone else they come into contact with … all just like Oskar Schell … all just like Jonathan Safran Foer.
1. Shame, directed by Steve McQueen
First off, Michael Fassbender is a brilliant actor, and director Steve McQueen made a startling debut with Hunger, several years ago. It just so happens that their sophomore collaboration yielded a terrible ﬁlm. Fassbender stars as a miserable NYC sex addict, whose many graphic encounters are captured with a sub-Haneke clinical distance by McQueen. In a ﬁlm of numerous bad scenes and sickening moments, it’s difﬁcult to say, which is the very worst. Is it the opening montage, in which Fassbender’s silent seduction of a female subway rider is intercut with shots of him, ﬁrst walking around his apartment completely naked and then pausing to urinate, while the overbearing musical score (a motif ripped off from Hans Zimmer) swells on the soundtrack? Is it Carey Mulligan’s endless, downbeat rendition of “New York, New York,” shot entirely in an unﬂattering closeup? Or is it the climax, a cross-cutting, chronology jumping extravaganza, as Fassbender’s hitting rock bottom is represented by his getting blown by another guy in a gay nightclub, getting beat-up by a bar slut’s angry boyfriend, having a threesome with a pair of tattooed hookers, AND discovering that his unstable sister has just attempted suicide? It’s a tough choice.
What makes Shame such a terrible ﬁlm is a variety of factors — the complete lack of insight into its subject matter of sexual addiction; McQueen’s heavy-handed and suffocatingly formal direction; the screenplay’s overdetermined structure and strange lack of humor; the inescapable feeling that all of the shocking content is there for one reason only, not to deepen the drama or character study, but, simply, to shock. I have no objection to ﬁlms, which are built around extreme imagery, so long as these ﬁlms have substantial ideas (David Cronenberg’s Crash) and/or provide the viewer with a uniquely visceral experience (Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible). McQueen’s ﬁlm, however, does not succeed on either level.
Fassbender’s prodigious talents are certainly on display throughout the ﬁlm, but they are, ultimately, wasted on such banal, inﬂated material.
Franklin P. Laviola is a filmmaker and freelance writer, based in the New York area. He wrote and directed the award-winning short film “Happy Face,” which has screened at over twenty film festivals. He most recently gave us his reactions to the latest Academy Awards. Compare this list of the worst movies of 2011 to the worst movies of the year as of July 2011.