To borrow from Leo Tolstoy, “Good movies are all alike; every bad movie is bad in its own way.” In 2011 there was a worrying cross-section of bad – no genre had a stranglehold on mediocrity, and the only consolation was that some of these titles crossed a threshold of derision that rendered them unintentionally funny.
Taylor Lautner, the bare-chested werewolf from the Twilight series, is destined to be the Mark Hamill of his generation if his two-dimensional performance in this teenage thriller is anything to go by. Devoid of self-awareness, he made a bad movie into something truly laughable.
No bad movie is as dire as a bad comic book movie, and this insipid adaptation of a long standing DC Comics title suffered from a super villain that was just threatening goo, badly invoked mythology, a poorly written female lead, and a lack of imagination from director Martin Campbell.
A Heartbeat Away
While not as stellar as 2010, this year was a reasonable one for Australian film, but the horrifying exception was this abysmal attempt at a crowd-pleasing musical comedy that produced a perpetual state of annoyance. Not to wish ill on anyone, but surely someone somewhere lost their job over this mess.
Season of the Witch
The torrent of bad Nicholas Cage movies abated somewhat in the second half of the year, but that was because distributors simply stopped releasing them in Australia. Prior to that, however, was this torpid supernatural thriller set during the Middle Ages that took Cage's disjointed minimalism into new realms of bad acting.
A terrible triumph of style over not just substance, but narrative cohesion, composed framing and simple moderation, Zach Snyder's patchwork of 14-year-old boy fantasies traded in hypocrisy, pretending that it was empowering women by having skimpily clad teenagers playing characters whose only defence was to retreat into their fantasies.
The worst films of 2011? Incompetent digital films at film festivals? Credit card-financed Australian films (Pia Miranda an optional extra) that publicists send me in the vain hope of drumming up an audience? Mostly, I'm grateful that my reviewing life doesn't necessitate looking at superhero pics, sequels, or almost anything with Owen Wilson. But misery must come into everybody's life and so let me recall:
A Heartbeat Away
Theatre director Gale Edwards (no relation!) shows no feeling for cinema, while blending an implausible teen romance and paying homage to (or is that just stealing from) Strictly Ballroom and Brassed Off. Perhaps this is what Australia's cargo cult reviewers were thinking of when they were heralding The Eye of the Storm as a masterpiece.
One has to wonder why a mere “thanks” credit from Jane Campion can have such power or what Cannes programmer Christien Jeune was smoking when he selected Sleeping Beauty? After all the hoo-hah, when I finally saw it, I thought it was a gag. I was actually laughing out loud. From the marsupial mouse inserts to the appalling direct-to-camera monologue, this aimless and artless (save for Geoffrey Simpson's exquisite photography) film looks like the smug work of someone who saw Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut or even Paul Cox's Golden Braid and said “I can do that!” Instead novelist Julia Leigh – with hapless actress Emily Browning caught in the crosshairs – delivered an arthouse equivalent to Showgirls (and that's being kind).
Sex and Zen Extreme Ecstasy aka 3D Sex and Zen
I've done my best to avoid the 3D phenomenon, but duty called. Inspired – if that's the word – by the original Sex and Zen back in 1991, this 3D version was a (ahem) masterstroke of technology and marketing. Unfortunately, the few laughs quickly petered out and the tame sex got nastier as it went along.
Russell Brand is an acquired taste at the best of times, but cynical use of his recovery status to put oomph into a recycled story that wasn't funny in the first place was agonising. Helen Mirren or no Helen Mirren, this was as self-indulgent as a 90-minute share at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.
Claypot Curry Killers
Whether it be art house or horror gore, Malaysian James Lee is the world's most amateurish auteur. Making Ed Wood look like a mastermind, this film had it all: a low technical standard, poor acting, worse direction and the dull, dull, dull retelling of a well-worn plot about a restaurant becoming popular because it serves human flesh. If there is a worse filmmaker than James Lee, I hope I never find out about them.
Adding to this list of excruciating films is like kicking the cat after a bad day. The fact is that masterpieces are few and dreck is plentiful. But, why punish the filmmakers for responding to their creative impulse? The real criminals are the funding bodies, the festival programmers, the distributors, the self-serving awards and the sales agents who foist this rubbish on us and then promote it as cinematic mastery.
READ RUSSELL EDWARDS' BEST FILMS FOR 2011 HERE
READ REVIEWS BY RUSSELL EDWARDS HERE
I grew less tolerant of mediocrity in 2011. Films that I may once have labelled as 'passable entertainment' or 'okay for a rainy day' copped a far heavier critical caning this past year. (I'm looking at you, Larry Crowne!) Also, I'll go on the record here-and-now: Red Dog? Meh.... For all the injustices perpetrated on-screen, though, the film world's lowest points were not in the entertainment pages but amongst the headlines: the on-assignment death of Restrepo director Tim Hetherington and the persecutions of filmmaker Jafar Panahi and actress Marzieh Vafamehr.
5. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
The crassness of Michael Bay's puerile teen-boy fantasy was matched only by the worthlessness of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the lifelessness of Cars 2, the pointlessness of Scream 4 and the mirthless antics in The Hangover Part II; I walked out of Final Destination 5. Sequels in 2011 sucked (including our own rather unnecessary Cane Toads: The Conquest).
4. Just Go with It
I still carry a torch for Adam Sandler, but there is no defending this aimless, crude, undisciplined vehicle. Paying bills is co-star Jennifer Aniston, hammering another nail into her career coffin with the umpteenth terrible romantic-comedy in a row (and WTF was with Nicole Kidman's cameo?!). It was directed by Hollywood's worst filmmaker, Dennis Dugan, who must have some serious dirt on Sandler – this is their seventh film together. They're the bizarro version of the De Niro/Scorsese partnership.
3. Sleeping Beauty
Sexuality has never seemed uglier than in three putrid, graphic films that had the collective effect of a cinematic cold shower. Jon Hewitt's X made the reality of its locale, Sydney's sordid King Cross flesh-pit, tame by comparison; though lauded at Berlin and Tribeca and championed by some at MIFF, Lisa Aschan's She Monkeys proved a nasty, pretentious slab of vacuous teen titillation. For its exploitative nudity, unintentionally hilarious dialogue and stomach-churning misuse of an actress in the name of 'art', Julia Leigh's Sleeping Beauty was local cinema's lowest point.
2. Wasted on the Young
Like oil in a mud puddle, Ben C. Lucas' debut film had a shiny metallic glean and reflected pretty colours yet was poisonous and indigestible. No more risible cast of characters were to be found on-screen in 2011, each one of them a clichéd construct serving Lucas' cynical, bitter revenge fantasy. The social media technology central to the film's denouement was already dated by the time this 2010 film hit screens in March.
Jason Winer's heartless butchering of Dudley Moore's much-loved character to accommodate the one-note talent of the thoroughly unlikable Russell Brand was such a misfire on every level, the paying audience attending with SBS did not register when the reels were played in the wrong order. Or maybe they did and didn't care. Regardless, it's a travesty. Just pips Conan the Barbarian as the year's worst remake.
Definition of a bad movie: for me, it's anything that's hard to sit through. This can be due to a dire lack of energy or tension on screen. Or simply cringe-worthiness (hello Mel). I tried to avoid most films that smelled badly off before I even got near the cinema, and largely I think, I succeeded. Nobody asks restaurant reviewers to review the local Greasy Spoon. Sometimes I wonder why film reviewers are expected to attempt to savour their own medium's barrel-scrapings. But sadly I did stumble into a few regrettable experiences...
Mel and Jodie's glove puppet film was neither funny nor moving. So, if it wasn't a tragedy or a comedy or, for that matter, a tragi-comedy, what was it? But hey, Jennifer Lawrence was fine in it. That's something.
Big Mamma's Boy
For the last two years the most common criticism of Australian films by members of the public has been “Tthey're too dark and depressing.” Well, here is proof that we can also produce comedies. Comedies that are depressing. Depressing because they're not good. Not good because they're stuffed with dated ethnic stereotyping like something out of a bad 1960s Aussie film, which at least had the excuse they were made in the 1960s when nobody knew better. Or so it is claimed. But hey, Holly Valance was okay in it (though she really should sue the film's costume designer). That's something.
Proof that the imprimatur of Mexican auteur Guillermo del Toro (the film's producer) is not necessarily to be relied upon. Some horror fans seem to welcome cliché as a kind of comforting marker of genre authenticity. On those grounds Julia's Eyes may have satisfied its target audience. Want frequent nightmares punctuated by thunder and lightning? Tick. Creepy music alternating with orchestral shocks? Tick. A character wearing 'I am the Devil' contact lenses? Tick. Characters descending into spooky basements as if they've never seen a horror movie before? You guessed: tick.
See Julia's Eyes. Without the Devil contact lenses but with infernal voodoo machine responsible for killing a series of good-looking students hired from Good Looking Students Central Casting. One by one. Is there any other way?
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Certainly not a terrible film – Tilda Swinton's sheer presence was up to her usual standards – but a seriously disappointing one for Britain's Lynne Ramsay, whose 1999 Ratcatcher was a more than striking debut. Given its disturbing subject matter, there was an odd lack of tension in Kevin. We knew virtually everything upfront, bar the exact details, and any ambiguity in the Lionel Shriver novel was absent. Swinton's suburban mother walked around in a perplexed daze for the entire film, loving her evil, unlovable son Kevin simply because, as a mother, she had been biologically programmed thus, all the while internally freaking out in ever such a controlled way. The film's Kevin was not so much a character as an evil stick figure from a horror movie without the supporting genre thrills to compensate.
Far too many remakes, reboots and sequels, superheroes overkill, a glut of 3D titles that weren't worth the premium price or in some cases any price, and a raft of dumb, crass comedies plagued the year. And yet another disappointing year for Aussie movies, with a few honourable exceptions.
A Bourne Identity wannabe, this sloppy, risibly far-fetched and unconvincing effort from the once respected director John Singleton was his first movie in six years. Here's incontrovertible proof that Taylor Lautner can't carry a movie on his broad shoulders. Co-star Lily Collins was similarly bland and unengaging.
Big Mamma's Boy
A cliché-riddled farce that's sorely lacking in wit, charm and intelligence, it tried to be an Italian version of Wog Boy and failed dismally. Who cares about an immature, molly-coddled 35-year-old guy who struggles with the prospect of leaving home and his over-protective mother?
Burke and Hare
Why on Earth did John Landis see the merit in an English farce based on the true story of two serial killers in early 19th Century Edinburgh? Perhaps because he hadn't directed a film since 1998. Stars Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Tom Wilkinson, Isla Fisher and Tim Curry had no such excuse.
After combining on the dreadful Legion, Paul Bettany, writer-director Scott Stewart and Sony's Screen Gems teamed up again for another quasi-religious, post-Apocalyptic horror movie which turned out to be even more witless, silly and tedious.
A B-grade survival saga that suffers from hammy acting, woeful miscasting, lack of tension and cliché-riddled dialogue… none of it, apart from the expertly-staged action sequences, worthy of executive producer James Cameron's name in the credits.
Tom Hanks and co. respond to the social and cultural woes of the GFC with a trite, unfunny, would-be 'feel good' movie that would have seemed dated in the '50s.
A documentary that seems both cynical and naïve told in a hackneyed TV news magazine style so retro, it feels like reality TV circa late '90s. A story of tech savvy lads duped by a Facebook friend, its premise is simply too hard to believe and worse, it's gutless as it refuses to engage with the FB monolith – culturally, socially and theoretically – in any meaningful way.
An art less, unfunny farce from Stephen Frears.
The Company Men
A coy melodrama that reduces the impact of the GFC on the white collar work force to an opportunity for spiritual renewal. Another recent US feature that flogs the intellectually offensive, emotionally empty premise that proposes that pop-psych 're-invention' is a cure-all therapy available and possible for all.
A truly terrible, wrong-headed '60s Mod version of Graham Greene's great book.
I could cite the endless spate of romantic comedies and remakes that came out of the sausage factory this year, but I expect them to be bad going in, so where's the fun in that? My (much longer) shortlist of 'worst' film contenders were those that made my blood boil, for the wasted time I invested in watching them. Those in the final cut made the grade for the simple fact that they were films whose intriguing premise went nowhere and whose makers seem to think that production values trump story.
Julia Leigh's story of a snoozing call girl who is a belated wake up to the goings on in her high class house of ill-repute was feted at Cannes on the back of Jane Campion's caps-locked endorsement. Laughably pretentious and exceedingly dull, the film also deprives lead actress Emily Browning's character of the dramatic payoff that comes with the “revelation” about what the clients do to her naked body when she's drugged to the eye teeth. Leigh has the audience find out well in advance of the character, and so we simply wait… and wait…. for her to cotton on as well. Dramatic? No. Erotic? Hardly. Worst film of 2011? Absolutely.
This April release and September's Sleeping Beauty amounted to a rough trot at the movies for poor old Emily Browning in 2011. The Aussie waif carved out a niche for herself playing pretty, put-upon women who had to resort to dream states to escape the leery whims of salivating men. In Zach Snyder's tricked up Cuckoo's Nest-lite (very lite), Browning at least got a wardrobe this time (such as it was) as her 'grrl power' alter ego escaped rape in a mental asylum by enacting gamer-like revenge fantasies on the disorderly orderlies. Dubious empowerment angle aside, the film rates a mention here mostly for its mistaken assumption that nigh-on two hours of watching someone else play a video game is equivalent to the thrill of playing one yourself. It isn't. Game over.
Never Let Me Go
The widespread practice of opening a film with a flashforward to a later scene is a lazy device that filmmakers rely on – probably as a last-ditch effort in the edit suite – to manufacture momentum for a flagging narrative. What has the potential to intrigue audiences with a disorienting timeline (say, Citizen Kane, Sunset Boulevard, Pulp Fiction) is all-too-often a workaround for a weak opening. In the case of this mopey adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, the device had the added annoyance of being a whopping great spoiler, in a plot that hinged on whether two clones (Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield) could end up escaping their destiny. If you're familiar with what Andrew Garfield looks like, the opening scene made short work of that for you, such that when that same scene actually rolled around again in the course of the film's chronology, you'd already figured out the bleak facts – assuming you were still awake at that point (big assumption).
The year's biggest cop out. Jodie Foster extended her clout to a wayward friend in the act of casting Mad Mel in a role he could relate to more than most; that of a depressive man and deadbeat dad whose slippery grip on reality culminates in a psychotic episode that only a soiled hand puppet and a middling Michael Caine impersonation can contain. What had the makings of an intriguing premise about mental illness and coping mechanisms soon petered into a pat family melodrama with loopy logic leaps, and a shoved-on feelgood ending atop a roller coaster (because it's a metaphor, okay!?).
The Skin I Live In
From the moment this film screened to rapturous applause at the Cannes Film Festival I've been screaming: “The Emperor Has No Clothes!” This story of a mad professor and his willing accomplices has all the makings of the pseudo-psychodrama that filled a good portion of Richard Gere's and Kim Basinger's resumes back in the mid-'90s. It just happens to have better production design and Almodovar's name above the credits. I get that he's resorting to self-parody by quite literally, creating a new Penelope Cruz in Elena Onoya. I just happen to think that even with all of its O.T.T. nudge-nudge wink-wink self-referentiality, this film is a ludicrous waste of everyone's time. Lift your game, Pedro!