Saturday, February 26, 2011

2010 Kraemer Movie Awards Part I — The Worst

In a classic "spoke too soon" maneuver, I declared last April that "The Lovely Bones is pretty much a lock for my bottom ten of the year." You know what they say happens when you assume. Turns out that 2010 descended to levels of shit I could not possibly have foreseen, and even without seeing Vampires Suck or Yogi Bear I had movies falling all over each other to make my worst list. If The Lovely Bones wanted to make the cut it still would have had to fight its way past Repo Men, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, The Last Exorcism, It's Kind of a Funny Story, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and arguably The Losers, Conviction, and Chloe too to do so. I even briefly considered doing a bottom twenty instead my usual ten, but I doubt I'd survive being mired in so much shit. Fuck it. Let's get on with the show.



Oh, Clint. What happened? Just a couple years back you gave us the decisively awesome Gran Torino, then you slipped into the realm of Oscar bait with Invictus and now you've come full circle to direct the greatest insomnia-busting film of the year in Hereafter. Taking a page from the Crash / Babel "interconnectedness of humanity" playbook and mixing it with the dullest imaginable riff on The Sixth Sense, all that Hereafter excels at is making the afterlife and communing with the dead about as interesting and engaging as shoveling your driveway. I'm gonna be keeping an extremely nervous eye on Eastwood's upcoming J. Edgar. Fool me three times...


Take roughly equal portions of Spider-Man (a young New York City science nerd unexpectedly gets superpowers and fights Alfred Molina...), Harry Potter (...while training under the tutelage of a master wizard...), and feces (...and it sucks ass), mix thoroughly, and serve. Congratulations, you have successfully prepared The Sorcerer's Apprentice, a profoundly generic little Saturday morning cartoon episode of a movie that feels written and directed by a committee of businessmen.


This one I feel slightly guilty about, not just because picking on an indie flick that made $1.04 million at the domestic box office is kind of like bullying the smallest kid in class, but because I love thrillers, I love movies that try to reimagine the thriller and place interesting limitations on themselves, and unlike anything else in this top / bottom ten I actually admire what Buried tried to do. But the key word there is "tried." Buried is a swing and a miss, a high-intensity character study of a character who failed to grab me in any way and a premise (one man stuck in one coffin for an entire movie) that just couldn't maintain energy for the length of time it attempted. I found myself so zoned out I was compiling a grocery list in my head by the third act, which simply shouldn't happen in a thriller.


She's Out of My League is the story of an underemployed, uncharismatic nerd and the ultra-hot, kind, generous, infinitely forgiving, very rich woman who fucks on the first date, has a dirty sense of humor, likes his stupid friends, and falls in love with him for absolutely no apparent reason whatsoever. I didn't spoil the ending there. That's the movie's premise: Jay Baruchel can't deal with how perfect his new girlfriend is. That's the movie's conflict. He's right, of course — there's absolutely no realistic reason on earth that this girl should like him. There's also no reason that this girl should exist. In making its female lead an absolutely 100% flawless specimen of perfection in every single physical, personal, and spiritual way imaginable, She's Out of My League loops around to actually become one of the most aggressively antifeminist movies I've ever seen, declaring that this is what a woman should be but she's shallow if she asks anything more from a man than being, well, the protagonist. It's not quite the worst movie of the year but it absolutely has the shittiest, shallowest characterization.


I actually didn't want Skyline on this list, not because it deserves exclusion but because it's such a boring fucking nothing of a movie that there isn't really even anything to talk about. Aliens attack earth. A few people hiding out in a hotel try to fight back and it comes to a really silly and laughable ending. On the surface there's nothing wrong with that premise (except the laughable ending), but the execution is just terrible, from the bad TV performances to the nonexistent tension to the unimaginative action scenes. Think Independence Day mixed with a shitty version of District 9. Then again I know that a lot of people love Independence Day, so if you fall in that bizarre and inexplicable category, then hey, rock on. Maybe Skyline is right up your terrible alley.


Another year, another awful, generic slasher remake. I'm not sure it's quite as bad as 2009's Sorority Row or Friday the 13th, but once you've reached this pinnacle of shittiness the slight nuances become fairly irrelevant. It's not the shallow characterization or bad dialogue I object to so much as the fact that this movie is almost impossibly boring, following decades-stale slasher formula to the letter, scene-for-scene and beat-for-beat, without even pretending to throw a single twist or surprise in there. It's fitting that Freddy Krueger kills teens in their sleep, since sleep is the strongest reaction this supposed "horror" flick warrants. However, it does provide an opportunity to see the new Lisbeth Salander, Rooney Mara, in a lead role. Not a good role, but hey, a lead's a lead.


Little more than The Terminator with Skynet and robots swapped out for God and angels, Legion is the tale of an ordinary waitress who happens to be pregnant with the child who will go on to lead the scattered remnants of post-apocalyptic humanity to victory and the warrior sent to protect her. Shame that it lacks any of The Terminator's cool chases or creative violence or propulsive pacing or whiteknuckle tension or engaging characters, filling in the gaps with a lot of muddy visuals and shitty CGI and stupid, repetitive shoot-'em-up action. I'll admit some amusing novelty value in a movie whose main villain is unapologetically God, but that cute facet can't make up for every single other thing about the film.


The Tim Burtonpocalypse began last March with the release of Alice in Wonderland, a movie so forcedly quirky, so twee, so Hot Topic, so aggressively fucking Burton as to churn the stomach and make every hair stand on end. At least until the climactic sequence where Burton just shrugs, summons his wannabe inner Peter Jackson, and ends the damn thing with yet another sequence of fantasy CGI armies charging each and other and Alice taking on a dragon (or Jabberwocky, whatever) in one of the most unengaging, weightless, tension-free final battles I've just about ever seen. Every denizen of Underland is depicted as either bad CGI or white makeup-caked monstrosity, but Johnny Depp's hideously overacted Mad Hatter warrants special commendation, making it clear that Burton brings out the absolute worst in the man.


I take no pleasure in joining in a pile-on. There's no joy in it for me. I'd love to be able to say "Wow, turns out shifting gears to fantasy action-adventure was just to thing to revive M. Night's career!" But it wasn't. In fact, the end result was an unmitigated disaster, made worse by the fact that it shit all over what's actually a great TV series. The strangest part is that, for all M. Night's massive Hollywood budget, the action scenes and visual imagination of the settings actually feel considerably smaller in scope than the ones on the actual small screen did, occasionally coming off just one tiny step up from Power Rangers. The performances are godawful and the battle sequences play out dull beyond belief (although, to give whatever tiny bit of credit where it's due, some of the elemental magic looks alright). It's honestly just a damn shame this movie exists, reflecting so poorly on such high-quality source material. But Lady in the Water is still the worst movie of Shyamalan's career. Don't let anyone tell you different.


The Switch is the tale of a man, Jason Bateman, who gets drunk and swaps his semen with that of the sperm donor sample his best friend, Jennifer Aniston, is about to impregnate herself with. The two soon part ways due to work but some years later meet up again, and he comes to care for his bastard child and, oops, spoiler alert, he and Aniston fall in love. The rapey premise is almost as creepy as the movie itself is a dreadful, schmaltzy, drippy catastrophe, a black hole of unfunniness that destroys all comedy in a million-mile radius.

Do not let the presence of Jason Bateman fool you — this abomination shares absolutely no comedic DNA with Arrested Development, or even Friends for that matter. Bateman's character (who, despite the poster's billing order which places Aniston on top, is very much the protagonist) is an unimaginably loathsome passive-aggressive little shit. Aniston fares ever so slightly better until the end, when, exactly one scene after finding out that Bateman switched sperm samples and slapping him and telling him never to speak to her again, walks up to him on the street and tells him she loves him and wants to marry him and be with him forever. What the fuck? The Switch is like a romantic comedy from the bizarro opposite world where romantic comedies are intended to be as unromantic and as unfunny as humanly possible, and in that world it reigns as king of the entire genre.



I'm not sure that I would call The Kids Are All Right a bad movie, exactly, just a completely unremarkable and inconsequential one with one of the most flabbergastingly hyperbolic critical responses I've ever seen in my entire life. Wall-to-wall, fever-pitch, unanimous acclaim. One of the best films of the year, maybe one of the greatest films about family ever made, they cried, stamping their feet in eerie unison. So I went to go see it, hopes high to have my heart warmed, and when the credits rolled all I could think was, "wait, seriously? That was it? That was the greatest comedy of the year? Are you fucking kidding me?" Yes, Annette Bening and Julianne Moore give fine performances and a convincing depiction of a loving and longtime yet somewhat stale marriage. But they also, along with Mark Ruffalo as their sperm donor who comes back into their lives when their kids want to meet him, do a great job depicting awful people I would never want to know in real life and who I didn't give first fuck about the happiness of. That makes it a little tricky to invest, you know?


#5 - Mark Wahlberg, THE LOVELY BONES — Furthering my theory that M. Night Shyamalan replaced the Mark Wahlberg who acted in The Departed with a pod person during production of The Happening, Wahlberg continues to comically widen his eyes and pitch his voice up an octave in place of what, in the acting biz, is commonly called "emoting." It's pretty agonizing to watch.

#4 - Taylor Lautner, THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE — Look, I know this is shooting fish in a barrel. But he really is terrible.

#3 - Russell Crowe & Cate Blanchett, ROBIN HOOD — In all fairness, what I'm attacking here is only about half the acting and equally the casting, choosing two actors in their forties who look like they're in their forties to play Robin Hood and Marian in a prequel showing the beginning of the Robin Hood legend, but the performances are in no way off the hook. Russell Crowe seems remarkably tired and bored and when he rallies the people of England in a supposedly inspirational wartime speech at the end I didn't buy for a second that people wouldn't just be walking away. Cate Blanchett, a normally lovely and luminous performer, seems like she's fighting as hard as possible to be as uncharismatic as she can. The two have all the romantic chemistry of a pair of tables placed side-by-side, but sure enough, we're forced to watch them unconvincingly fall in love in a romantic subplot that has all the erotic charge of a root canal.

#2 - Noah Ringer, THE LAST AIRBENDER — Yep, I'm going there: I'm attacking a little kid. I don't give a fuck. The animated version of Aang, the titular Airbender, was a bright and chipper kid who, despite the loss he faced and the pressure on his shoulders, tackled life with a positive outlook. Ringer's version is brooding, emo, unsmiling, and about as dull and uncharismatic as any onscreen protagonist I've seen since, well, Colin O'Donoghue in The Rite a couple weekends ago. But we'll talk about that again in a year's time.

#1 - Johnny Depp, ALICE IN WONDERLAND — Johnny, why? Why would you do this? Why would you summon forth this godawful abomination of a character into an unsuspecting world? Less a performance and more an act of terrorism against moviegoers everywhere, Depp's Mad Hatter mixes an even more irritating version of his Willy Wonka with the most annoying aspects of Sweeney Todd, Jack Sparrow, a smattering of Edward Scissorhands, and a whole lot of Joker makeup to create a character I wanted dead every bit as much as his actual onscreen enemies did. A spectacularly overacted, scenery-devouring catastrophe of a performance that made me feel physically unwell.


#5 - Satanist hippie bonfire, THE LAST EXORCISM — Funny thing about The Last Exorcism is that I actually didn't think it was so bad until about, oh, three minutes before the credits rolled. Not good, exactly, but good for a mockumentary exorcism horror movie? Sure. Then... this ending. Our protagonist and his documentary crew stumble upon a mind-blowingly absurd mix of Rosemary's Baby and summer camp as it's revealed that our generic exorcism movie girl wasn't possessed so much as impregnated by a demon and everyone in town was in on it. The Satanists pull the demon baby from her vagina, the bonfire shoots up into the sky, and our exorcist runs in shouting that the power of Christ compels them before someone kills the cameraman. I fondly remember the boos that went up in the theater as we cut to black.

#4 - The mountaintop sequence, THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE — This isn't really a moment so much as several scenes spanning five or six minutes, but the fever-pitch badness of it never lets up for a second so it all has to be included. Bella, Edward, and Jacob are hiding from vampires on top of a snowy mountain at night. Bella, who is Edward's fiance at this point, is freezing to death, and since Edward's vampire body is cold it's Jacob who has to take off his shirt and climb into Bella's sleeping bag to cuddle and warm her up all night while Edward glowers. In the morning Edward intentionally lets slip that he and Bella are engaged, so Jacob storms off. Bella chases him and Jacob tells her he hopes he dies in the coming battle with the vampires, so Bella shouts at him to kiss her and they make out. That's about where I was laughing so hard I couldn't breathe and had to pause the DVD.

#3 - Mark Ruffalo is disposed of, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT — After a whole movie of watching Mark Ruffalo establish a new life with his kids and make steps toward responsibility and maybe being a better man, he's told off by his makeshift family for a mistake Julianne Moore had equal part in, shunned by the kids he's come to love, told to stay away forever, and has the door literally slammed in his face. The last time we see him he's standing outside in the cold, having just lost everything. Wow, great character arc, movie.

#2 - Jennifer Aniston learns to love her sperm rapist, THE SWITCH — I pretty much summarized what happened up above, but still, seriously, wow.

#1 - Futterwacken, ALICE IN WONDERLAND — In not only the worst movie moment of 2010 but quite possibly one of the worst in cinematic history, Johnny Depp concludes the final battle by doing a dance that the Cheshire Cat helpfully labels the "Futterwacken," so that we may give a name to our pain. I still remember how shocked and embarrassed I felt watching that in a theater full of people. I wished I had brought a hoodie and sunglasses so that I could have slunk out of the theater without anyone seeing me.


Anonymous said...

I see your point on all of these movies, and make no mistake, they were all terrible. What was your problem with It's Kind of a Funny Story, though?

Tim Kraemer said...

I was actually gonna post a full review of that one, but I never got around to it.

I had a ton of problems with it, from how insufferably twee and precious I found it to how much I disliked all the protagonist's protracted dream and fantasy sequences (especially him playing "Under Pressure" to an imaginary rock concert for an agonizingly long time, which came one slot off making my top 5 worst movie moments mini-list), but my main issue was Emma Roberts' character.

Textbook Manic Pixie Dream Girl, such shallow characterization and such an unconvincing love story, and I especially disliked how she was supposed to be in the ward for having taken scissors to her face in a psychotic episode and the end result was one thin, small, flesh-colored, almost-invisible, aesthetically-pleasing scar down one cheek. I'm not sure it would have saved the movie, but it would have made it more interesting if she actually looked like she had taken scissors to her face.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Never thought of Roberts that way. To be honest, I didn't think of her at all the entire time I was watching. She was just "there".

I didn't mind the "Under Pressure" sequence, only because it saved the audience from having to hear them actually sing it, which would've been interminable.

Granted, there were flaws with the movie, but I kept going back to two of its greatest strengths, which were Zach Galifianakis and (here comes the sap) the positive message. I was happy to see the mentally ill portrayed not as cartoonish creatures, but as humans beings who were troubled or just off-kilter. And to suggest that one can overcome problems like that and live your life is something I don't see very much in movies. Not lately, anyway.

I may be a little biased, though, because the central character's problem echoed slightly with things that happened in my past. Heh heh.

Tim Kraemer said...

That's fair. And I can agree that Zach Galifianakis did a fine job with what he was given, which is probably why the film was able to sneak out of my bottom ten.

Anonymous said...

Yeah. That is really only what it had going for it, though. I was just curious what you thought of it. There is no doubt that it had many, many problems.