There’s never any shortage of terrible movies out there. It’s not as if 2010 was any better or worse than any other year in that respect. But it seemed as if nobody cared as much. Like maybe being bad was something to aim for, rather than a failure to achieve loftier goals. Maybe this is complacency. Maybe it is a cultural shift. Whatever it is, it made these worst movies some of the worst worst movies in recent memory. And rarely the fun kind. The days of Torque and Battlefield Earth may be over. Which is a shame. But it’s also a shame that it is a shame. For the most part, these were the ten most difficult movies of 2010 to get through. It doesn’t always work out that way. Hopefully, it never will again.
1. The Last Airbender – Any amount of trust the public afforded M. Night Shaymalan in accordance with his efforts evaporated long ago. The people saddled with presenting the world with The Last Airbender surely felt burdened by his involvement and were reluctant to use him in any sort of advertising. Rather allowing the material and its following to speak for itself. This should have allowed M. Night to somewhat quietly re-establish himself as a director of movies rather than a name looming larger than the material he produced, which was an impossible weight to carry even before that material became The Lady In The Water. The fact that this movie was to be released in the coveted Independence Day (the holiday, not the movie) slot seemed to bear this out. The best movies may not always come out that week, but you’d have to believe there was a chance of it being the biggest or you wouldn’t bother, and that implies a certain standard, even if that standard sometimes seems quite low.
It is a mystery then, how The Last Airbender achieved this status. Simply being bad would be surprising enough, really, that a studio would allow its prized release slot to be compromised that way. But this goes so far beyond that. M. Night Shaymalan, for all his faults, at least made movies before this. The Happening is ridiculous to be sure, but replace the plants with aliens or zombies and you still have an entity with which you are familiar. The Last Airbender is an established commodity with fairly well-known characters and plot built in and yet he managed to present us with something rarely seen outside of Mystery Science Theater. It is not a movie anymore, but rather a series of images featuring awkwardly humanized versions of the animated characters they represent.
There’s a ton of fantasy world malarkey floating around and it might seem at first as if that is what is making everything not make any sense. And certainly it doesn’t help. But when the people known as Earthbenders need to be reminded that they can bend the Earth, it is difficult to let that stand as an excuse. In fact, that’s one of the only redeemable scenes in the whole movie and only marginally because of how laughable it is. At least it feels like it belongs on a screen. The rest of it goes by as if it were being made up on the spot by a three year old and then hazily created by a genius of computer animation. It’s like a fully realized cinematic Axe Cop, only the creator is a child of elemental hippies whose attention span and short-term memory were damaged irrevocably in the womb. It truly will not be the least bit surprising when it is reported that M. Night suffered brain damage in a car accident years ago and it is only now being diagnosed.
Reason To Watch It Anyway: I dare you. That’s your reason. There’s absolutely nothing that could possibly appeal to any sector of the human population so I know you won’t rise to the challenge.
2. Cats & Dogs: The Revenge Of Kitty Galore – I know. Obviously.
This is one of those sequels that, simply by existing, causes that hatred for your country and your species to boil up from wherever you keep it hidden most of the time. Actually watching it is really well beyond the point. Many times, while this going beyond results in boredom, it allows that hatred to dissipate. It is rare enough a movie can generate that kind of ire, never mind sustain it.
Maybe it is the broad and obvious pandering, evident in the title alone, that is so aggravating. You like cats and/or dogs, right? What are you? Somebody’s mean old neighbor who doesn’t like seeing anyone else have fun with their complacently loyal animal friends? Of course not, so you will love this. Those friends can talk now and shoot things and well, you saw the first one.
Maybe it is the constant consideration of all the awful things these actual animals had to go through to make this possible. And, of course, maybe it’s just me that can get this angry about a movie in which dead-eyed domesticated animals make incessant self-aware puns.
It may be just as easy to dismiss this as being for kids and kids alone, of course (that you can dismiss a child’s development like that is cause for concern, but there’s not time for that here.) This is not just dangerously passive though, it ignores the fact that the movie wasn’t made by children. The adults that made it want to appeal to other adults (just look at the ridiculous part of the title that comes after the colon), even if they have to do it subtly or subversively. Maybe especially if they have to do it that way. They think that they are achieving this to some extent. That is both shocking and terrible. But worse, they failed at their primary goal of appealing children as well. The first movie was an embarrassing failure of a pretty good concept, but it made enough money to make someone think this sequel was a great idea. No one wanted to see this. Especially the people who found themselves in the theater actually trying to.
Reason To Watch It Anyway: There’s a cameo by the villain of the first movie in a Silence Of The Lambs parody (kids love those) that, like everything else Cats & Dogs related, fails to live up to the good idea that is clearly just below the surface, but is the only time no one in the audience was planning their escape during the entire thing.
3. My Soul To Take – This is the one. This is the kind of thing that might get played at midnight at that theater that eventually gets sick of running Rocky Horror and/or The Room. And it deserves that honor. You cannot achieve this on purpose. Sometimes, it takes completely botching your first attempt to make a movie and then only reshooting half of it, so some characters look so shockingly different than they did in a previous scene you miss what’s happening to said character because you are trying to figure out how and why she was a brooding girl with wild feathered hair five minutes ago but now she is a sunny Jesus lover in a ponytail. Or why everyone was friends before and now they are punching each other according to the orders of someone we haven’t seen yet and is named Fang.
Other times, it takes not deciding who the killer is while you are shooting so that you can decide later on. This way, everyone is a suspect and can act accordingly whenever the need arises. There are so many red herrings that you cannot possibly guess confidently who the killer is. The movie will change your mind in no time. Which would be wonderful if the movie knew who the killer was and was keeping it from you. But as it stands, it might have less of an idea than you do.
My Soul To Take does not rest on its laurels though. It follows both these paths and blazes a few more of its own. It is quite the mess its made of itself. It has everything. Dramatic reveals that don’t and never could amount to anything. Long confusing stares in the mirror. Abusive stepfathers who get killed offscreen. And finally, a bizarrely specific obsession with the California Condor (the movie seems to take a break once in awhile for PSAs on the animal) that serves as the basis for the laughably bulky and ridiculous-looking costume the killer will (occasionally) use to disguise his (or her?) identity, but has nothing to do with most of the characters who might be the killer nor with the Riverton Ripper, the killer whose soul is supposedly on the run now that some sort of made up ritual was not performed at the outset.
It’s a beautiful mess. And it’s in 3D for no reason.
Reason To Watch It Anyway: I believe I’ve already plead my case. But beyond that, there are two legitimately funny performances somehow turned in by Zena Grey and Emily Meade. The former making her aforementioned stock religious zealot character a smitten and cheery high school kid instead of the naive Jesus nut it usually turns out to be. The latter is a selfish teenager lost in her own myopic world until her brother needs her to become the typical horror heroine on his behalf. She sort of becomes the lead in the last twenty minutes, which is weird, but welcome.
4. The Last Song – Miley Cyrus is a terrible actor. Everyone knows this. Even, I have to believe, people who consider themselves her fans. And her pouting and sneering depiction of a disgruntled teenager forced to live with her awesome father in his awesome beach house certainly is something to behold. Her performance alone is enough to put most movies in consideration for this and any other such list. But The Last Song was doomed before Disney forced their princess on this poor director.
Adaptations of Nicholas Sparks novels are all the same, sure, but there’s something distinct about them as a whole, even if whatever it is never can shine through the dullness. The Last Song seems like Nicholas Sparks fan fiction. Or like all his novels were programmed into a computer and it calculated their most likely successor. It out dulls even the worst Sparks adaptation (which, before this, was Message In A Bottle, if you were wondering.) There’s barely anything distinctive enough to describe. Ronnie (Miley Cyrus) meets a guy (Liam Hemsworth) by bumping into him, hates him for no reason until she sees that he cares about something (turtles), then loves him for no reason. Ronnie’s new best friend thinks she’s after her boyfriend even though they can’t make it any more obvious that she has nothing to do with it. Ronnie is arrested for shoplifting (that she didn’t even do!) and she might as well have murdered someone the way everyone is reacting. And of course, she’s been ignoring the piano for years but is still amazingly good at it without any effort.
Like all Nicholas Sparks adaptations, there’s barely any drama. Seems like most of the interesting stuff already happened and people are only now barely talking about those things in reluctant hushed tones. People getting wet can be the cap on the worst day ever or the way people show they are care free and happy. They have secrets that aren’t worth keeping. And there isn’t a problem in the world staring at the ocean for awhile won’t cure. It would be the genre ripest for parody if this movie didn’t basically already do just that.
Reason To Watch It Anyway: There is all that pouting and sneering. It’s pretty funny. But you can get enough of it from these pictures, I bet. Of course, you might be a Nicholas Sparks completist, in which case, you asked for this.
– “This needs to stop. You are making bad movies on purpose now. We get enough of them by accident. We do not need you thinking it’s cute to hire (sort of) pretty people who can’t act and making them (sort of) fight with each other in hyperstylized but hypocomprehensible action scenes.”
– “But look at the title. It’s obviously all a joke. Can’t you take a joke? Look, one of them is a lesbian.”
– “It’s exploitation! Like the 70’s!”
– “Those movies were jokes?”
– “No, but they’re funny now.
– “So what’s going to be funny forty years from now?”
– “Still this, probably.”
Reason To Watch It Anyway: One actress plays a lesbian. Another actress plays a pretend lesbian. See if you can tell the difference.
6. A Nightmare On Elm Street – It wasn’t until just before this came out that I finally saw the original. So it’s not as if I have any sort of attachment to it that this remake was in danger of treading upon. In fact, it was shocking how incredibly terrible the original is.
I don’t need to tell you (and yet I am) that a lot of horror movies have been remade lately. The idea being that the sequels were getting so unwieldy that it became time to just start over. Things were so folded in on themselves, they were becoming their own joke. However, the way to remedy this and get scary again is not to invent anything new, but rather to “get back to basics” with an even darker retelling of the original story. Maybe include some stuff that was too much for the MPAA back then (but not too much of that stuff, because it still needs to be PG-13 or there won’t be any money for unwieldy sequels.) Generally, these “reimaginings” are bad, but forgettable. They fail to realize how the thing they are remaking changed the parameters of the genre and that even a supposedly edgier version of the same story isn’t going to have a fraction of the same sort of impact. But in the end, how wrong could they go, really, when they have such a specific blueprint to follow?
A Nightmare On Elm Street, the one from 1984, isn’t very good. So following that blueprint wasn’t the greatest idea to begin with. But incredibly, this new (old) Nightmare makes the old (old) Nightmare seem like the classic it is thought to be in certain circles. Kids are still dying in their dreams, but there’s not a whole lot of time spent figuring that out. It’s pretty much just decided upon as fact, and while not believed by any adults (even later, in the face of incontrovertible evidence) is accepted readily by any teenager who wants an excuse to stay up late and look harried. Freddy is Fred now. All grown up. And scarier too because this time he sounds (and looks, even, with that hat) like Jackie Earle Haley from Watchmen and acts like Jackie Earle Haley from Little Children. Or maybe not. It’s a mystery, you see, what all these children who are dying in their sleep have in common besides dying in their sleep, which no one believes, and having gone to school together, which is something of which all their parents are acutely aware and are somehow still ignoring and lying about. But even after that mystery has been solved, by a mother actually telling her child she was molested by the creepy, possibly retarded guy who was allowed to live in the basement of a nursery school, we are still meant to not be sure. The two remaining molestees must still go over to the since and still abandoned nursery school and discover what the police could not. And yet still the mystery isn’t completely solved until Fred(dy) appears and tells them. All this mystery in a movie where characters have dreams that happen to be exactly what happened when they were too young to remember what they were not even around for in the first place, namely the revenge taken by the parents on this pre-school Quasimoto who is so meek and tortured you are maybe supposed to feel sorry for him getting burned alive and want him to kill the parents I think? That’s the real mystery. For me anyway. You probably thought it would be how this movie got made or something like that, but that is not a mystery at all, is it America, who gave this movie more of its money than any four of the originals put together?
Reason To Watch It Anyway: Rooney Mara is so completely, unabashedly bored with everything going on (and understandably so) that you will have a hard time deciding whether she is drugging herself in order to endure the shooting schedule or making some kind of bold, actor-as-audience choice in her role.
7. Sex And The City 2 – People who say things like “the city is a character” about this (or anything else) are pretty dumb, but when “city” is in the title of the thing, it is a little strange to have it not take place in that city. Obviously, that is not really the problem, but the change of venue does lead to a lot of them. There are a lot of socio-economic implications to sending these spoiled characters to a place seemingly untouched by the financial crisis so they can continue to behave the way to which we’ve become accustomed without any of the guilt and/or backlash that would come with doing so in the same environment we are used to. Again though, while insulting, that is not what makes for a bad movie.
First there is the forcing together of two incompatible characters, I suppose for the purposes of a ridiculous, interminable, Deerhunter-like marital scene that ends with a bizarre production of Liza Minelli singing “Put A Ring On It.” Which, if it was ever going to be funny, only has a shelf life of twenty seconds of screen time. It gets at least six times that long. Then the relationship (and apartment!) that drove the entire first movie (and maybe a lot of the series) is in trouble. This is theoretically a great idea, that the fairy tale ending everyone wanted and received may have seemed great, but like anything else, succumbs to the weight of time. (Never mind that it’s only been two years.) But the deterioration is so invented, so wrong-headed, I was sure that in the end, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) would realize she was overreacting and that nothing was really ever wrong and maybe she would have to change a little even because that’s what people do. And that would have gone a long way in covering up the myriad other faults of the movie. When none of this happened though, when she decides staying away from her marriage and hiding in her old apartment (that she hasn’t used in two years) is the right thing to do and expects the audience to be on her side, all because her husband (Chris Noth) did something nice based on a moment they shared, it highlights those other faults. This movie really expects us to be blinded by the opulence and nostalgia and go along with whatever it puts forth. Suddenly, the fact that they all take separate SUVs in a convoy to their Abu Dhabi destinations isn’t meant as any kind of commentary. The bad review Carrie receives really was supposed to seem like a valid reason to run to Aidan (John Corbett) and not just kind of a lame excuse to do whatever she felt like doing. We’re probably supposed to believe that the bad review wasn’t even deserved, that Carrie can do no wrong, and that she is just so torn and don’t we feel sorry for her.
Maybe worst of all though is the “climax” that honestly hinges on the idea that someone left her passport in the souk and if they don’t get it back in like a few hours, they are going to have to fly home… in coach. (Even now I feel as though I have to make sure you know that this is not ever meant to be a joke. It really is the source of tension that drives the last bit of action. It isn’t going to seem possible no matter how many times I say it, I suppose.) Never mind how that is insulting to pretty much everyone in the world, including Carrie’s personal servant at the hotel who has a wife in another country that he never gets to see, but it’s just a really terrible ending to a movie. Even if that was something anyone would think was the worst possible scenario in such a situation, shouldn’t, after however many years this story has been going on, the stakes have been raised just a little higher than that?
I really thought I couldn’t hate the popularity of this show any more than I did when it was at its height. But this, even though it was poorly received even by most of its loyal fan base, has made it so much worse.
Reason To Watch It Anyway: For all its faults, it does have some really important things to say about traditional Islamic culture, specifically that it is dumb and should be more American.
8. Killers – When a movie is predicated on one piece of information not being expressed, or even investigated at all, it can’t ever be a positive indicator. And when the movie is populated with so many people who are supposed to be experts at their super-secret spy jobs, it becomes all the more glaring and unignorable. But if this alleged comedy was the least bit funny or fun or even not excruciatingly inert for even three straight seconds, it might have gotten away with it. At least to the point of not being one of the worst movies of the year.
It is probably the most frustrating movie on this list. It’s not a terribly original idea, a woman finding out her husband is an assassin, but it’s a good one and despite all the grinding boredom going on, it seemed like the movie could break out of it at any moment and salvage what was left of itself. And every time, the opportunity passes, unfulfilled. It seems pretty easy and correct to blame Ashton Kutcher, who is employing his Zach Braff-serious voice which incredibly, is worse than his screechy wacky delivery he typically employs for things that are supposed to be comedies. But everyone else, while maybe not as boring, is just as bad. Katherine Heigel is ridiculous as a stuttering mess who is somehow the one girl in the world to get Ashton Kutcher’s attention. For the longest time, it really does seem like he is pretending to like her for some mission that he is on. And when it turns out that he has a very good reason to do just that, it is only more frustrating that he never was pretending. He is just an idiot.
In the end though, blame can not be assigned to just one thing or one person. Far too much went wrong. But even that is not accurate, really. Because it feels more like nothing went right. Saying that it went wrong implies that they ever had the right thing in mind.
Reason To Watch It Anyway: Catherine O’Hara is a drunk, you guys. She makes giant pitchers of alcoholic punch and man oh man does she not care what you think about that. The fact that alcohol exists is hilarious!
9. Morning Glory – Sometimes the measure of a bad movie is how much you want it to end, even before there’s any indication it ever will. Others, it’s how weirdly incompetent it is – you kind of want it to keep going because you never know where it might take you (and neither, it seems, does it.) It’s pretty rare that these two forces can be fused together into one movie.
Morning Glory appeared harmless enough. Rachel McAdams seems like she’d make a great harried workaholic. Better than current market-cornerer Katherine Heigel does anyway. And to be surrounded by people who have done great things (Jeff Goldblum, Patrick Wilson) just maybe not lately (Diane Keaton, John Pankow, Harrison Ford) only indicated a potential to elevate this otherwise subservient genre. At the very least, it should have gone unnoticed. A barely perceptible blip resulting in questioning looks at the information bar when years from now Encore tells you Rachel McAdams was in a movie with Harrison Ford.
It still might get those looks, but not because it’s the least bit forgettable. This movie is a headless chicken that somehow got out of the yard. It will be dead soon, and so isn’t worth chasing, but it’s going to be meandering and weird in the meantime and long linger in the memory anyone unfortunate enough to glimpse it. It’s as if the director (Roger Michell, maybe) quit the production after a day or two and the economy drove everyone involved to just pretend nothing had happened so they could keep working. There are scenes that contradict what happened in the previous one, nebulous deadlines having to do with TV ratings that couldn’t possibly be gathered in the time allotted and full minutes of actors seemingly having no idea what they are supposed to be doing or saying but not letting that stop them. Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford) is so grumbly and unintelligible you’ll wonder if maybe he had a stroke he didn’t tell anyone about. Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton) is uselessly harping and probably bi-polar, but not on purpose mind you, it’s just that no one was paying enough attention to keep her character consistent. Topping it all off, Becky (Rachel McAdams) has little to nothing to do with her show achieving those nebulous numbers it’s been after. None of her ideas work out, yet we are supposed to believe The Today Show, her dream job, is courting her. In fact, she’s interviewing for said dream job at the very moment the blind-luck on-air mistake that puts her show on the map occurs. She could not have had less to do with it. Come to think of it, it’s a tiny bit suspect she would skip out on her own show for this interview in the first place. The Today Show really needs a better Human Resources department.
Reason To Watch It Anyway: You might have to. Because there is no way I could have adequately related to you how strange this otherwise relentlessly pedestrian movie is. I mean, yeah, don’t do it to yourself, it’s incredibly tedious, but on the other hand it may never happen again.
10. I’m Still Here – It’s difficult to separate the surrounding nonsense with what is actually on screen. We were never given the chance to watch this without the knowledge that none of it was real. Except that, in pretending that it was for so long, it sort of became real. And you can easily get stuck in a loop arguing the merits of that. A pointless, boring loop. But none of it excuses what is on screen. Even if it had turned out that this really was a portrait of a supposed artist (Joaquin Phoenix) in a supposed self-destructive descent, it was an extremely poor portrayal of it.
First, there is the obvious hubris that we will care about such a thing, that a rich actor was having a crisis of fame, but that isn’t so unfounded. We didn’t, and thanks to everyone for that, but lesser subjects have been proven to be commodities they would not have been expected to be. There is also the hubris in the assumption that we will all be starting from a base of knowledge about the material that only the most vociferous fans could have been in actuality. But I suppose someone so self-involved is unlikely to notice such a thing. What it comes down to then isn’t the failure of conception it might seem to be on the surface, but rather a failure of each and every basic tenet of filmmaking.
There is the look of it, amateur and largely unseeable, which is a crime documentaries have been given undue immunity from in recent times. But this isn’t a documentary, and so that excuse, flimsy to begin with, becomes obsolete. There is no goal, stated or otherwise, and so we are just expected to follow this scattershot production as it follows an even more entropic mess of a subject. This might be fine cut up in the frenetic bits composing a 22 minute reality program, but is tedious at best in this format. And then there is the conceit of it, the driving mechanism, barely adhered to and all the worse for knowing it was the backbone of this manufactured scenario. I suppose it is meant to be a sort of reverse-Borat, in that Phoenix is using his celebrity to produce scenes in which people react to his invented insanity. But in absolutely every case, the other person comes off as the more rational, even compassionate person, serving only to make you hate Phoenix even more, especially since you know it wasn’t necessary for anyone to suffer through it. Finally, in the interest of thorough disappointment, the movie is bookended with self-indulgent memories of Joaquin’s childhood escapes to Costa Rica with his father, an infinitely more engrossing subject, one you wish the movie was able to see over its current study’s ego.
I’m Still Here seems like an ambitious project on the face of it, risky even, if it wasn’t so lazy. It fails grossly enough within the confines of its excruciating 107 minute runtime, but it went above and beyond, not content with the immuration of a theater, and ruined itself even further by confessing its cinematic sins before anyone got a chance to judge them for themselves. Perhaps the first time a movie has done extra credit work to get on this list.
Reason To Watch It Anyway: It is weird that it exists. But the knowledge that it does serves that end well enough. There is a scene in which Ben Stiller seems like the most patient person on Earth, waiting through a tantrum complete with oddly specific and yet still erroneous memories of There’s Something About Mary.
Going The Distance – It’s tempting to move this up a slot because there is so much to say about this shockingly inept attempt at a bunch of mainstream actors improvising their way through a mainstream movie and considering that bucking the system.
When In Rome – Kristen Bell’s post-Veronica Mars career seems to consist of her reviving the lost art of silent movie acting and/or portraying an alien who is trying valiantly to assimilate into her new found culture. (See also: You Again)
Vampires Suck – I usually conveniently miss these Friedberg/Seltzer productions (Epic Movie, Date Movie, Meet The Spartans) so this seems like a forgone conclusion and is really just stealing a spot from something else that would normally deserve it. (You’re welcome, Leap Year.)
Breaking Upwards – Never have the literally translated facts ever stood so forcefully in the way of a good story.
Warrior’s Way – Much like the aforementioned Bitch Slap, it seems like this movie is bad on purpose in between action scenes it is trying (and failing) to actually do well.