Last year’s worst movies were painful. That this year’s weren’t (for the most part) as intolerable should not be seen as a declaration of their improvement. These are still terrible movies. Maybe worse than last year. But really, that distinction couldn’t possibly matter. 2011’s worst movies were just a more varied lot: a foreign historical epic, a homemade vanity project, an abortive superhero franchise, a pre-teen comedy disguised as art house fare, a teen drama disguised as an action fantasy, and a teen drama disguised as a mid-life comedy. And that’s just part of the list. Because some worst things defy pithy description. And that is just the way it ought to be.
1. Mysteries Of Lisbon – Within seconds I knew this would be terrible. And that happens a lot. But combined with the knowledge that this movie is four hours and seventeen minutes long, that realization becomes insurmountable. You would have left. Most people would have left. There is over an hour of this movie that parking validation doesn’t even cover. Why wouldn’t I leave? I should have left. But then I wouldn’t know for certain that this monstrosity was in fact, the worst movie released in America in 2011.
I make that slightly awkward distinction because originally, Mysteries Of Lisbon was a mini series for Portuguese television. Which means there is at least an hour and a half I did not see. There is a part of me that wants to grant an exemption because of this. Like that hour and a half could have been great, or that watching it in one or two hour pieces on subsequent nights would have made it more tolerable. But then I remember how difficult it is to release any foreign language motion picture in this country, never mind one that is openly over four hours long and think about how many people had to watch and/or sign off on this happening and how theaters had to give up multiple screenings of, well, of anything else, just to fit this in. And it is frustrating. And angering. But it alone is not why Mysteries Of Lisbon is the worst movie, maybe even the worst thing, of 2011.
There is the acting, which is usually somewhat difficult to gauge when subtitles are involved, but you will have no trouble here. There are actors playing multiple characters and characters played by multiple actors. There are flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks that go so far back they end up in the French Revolution (which, it is worth noting, did not take place in Lisbon, like at all.) There are various unreliable narrators all basically doing their best Ancestry.com impressions. Because that’s what Mysteries Of Lisbon is about. A kid asks who his father is and is punished for doing so by being told the longest most boring story that never really answers his question because it maybe never even happened since he’s been in a coma the whole four hours and seventeen minutes you were sitting there like a moron.
Reason to watch it anyway: It made at least 70 critics’ top ten lists and was number one on ten of them. So some people don’t mind being told the most boring lie in the world.
2. Hobo With A Shotgun – This one I didn’t need even a few seconds of to know. It’s a lazy title and a joke premise (literally, it was born of a Grindhouse trailer contest) that begs for the sort of ironic laughter that is inevitably followed up by denials of the ironic enjoyment of anything. But out of an overdeveloped sense of fairness, I gave it more than a few seconds. And was rewarded with the titular Hobo arriving in a place called Hope Town. Bad enough, as this overtly foreshadows the fantasy politics that will serve as the “message” this movie will try to pretend it is transmitting. Hobo With A Shotgun doesn’t stop there though. The ‘Hope’ in the Hope Town sign is crossed out and ‘Scum’ is graffitied over it. So now you know what you are in for. An hour and a half of confusingly unimaginative humor that would barely interest a sixth grader.
From the introductory beheading to the torching of a populated school bus to the exasperatingly awkward supernatural hitman team dispatched from nowhere towards the end, there’s nothing in this movie not designed to make you gawk in disbelief. It’s supposed to be so crazy, so outrageous, so outlandish, that you’ll be too busy reeling from the last crazy surprise to notice there’s no story, no joke and no point to any of it.
Hobo With A Shotgun is aggressively bad. There’s no way out of it. It wants to be bad. Why are you trying to take that away from it? This sort of thing has been rewarded before, so it can’t be blamed entirely for its behavior. But its been proven time and again that laughably terrible cannot be achieved on purpose. So either the makers of Hobo With A Shotgun really are inept or they are inept at appearing inept. Either way, they lose. And so do we.
Reason to watch it anyway: Rutger Hauer is kind of amazing. As said titular Hobo, he goes from lucid survivor to crazed lunatic protector with a zeal this movie does not deserve. He’s one of the most convincing crazy people you may ever see. Which makes sense, considering he is one in real life.
3. Brother’s Justice – After the insulting arrogance of I’m Still Here, you would assume another actor’s attempt at lampooning his own career couldn’t possibly be nearly as terrible. Especially one with an overwhelmingly more likeable subject than Joaquin Phoenix. Dax Shepard has been funny, even in things that otherwise were not, so a mockumentary about his quest to become an action star shouldn’t have been able to be so devoid of comedy that didn’t rely entirely on you thinking that the premise I just told you is uncompromisingly hilarious.Brother’s Justice is the proposed title of this theoretical action movie in which Dax will star. And all the friends he convinced to be in this movie have to pretend to be annoyed by his asking to be a part of this other fake movie. So much of the tiny run time (76 minutes) is just a series of the same scene. And Shepard wants to be the funny one while simultaneously serving as the butt of the joke, which is impossible. Which is maybe something someone would have figured out had anyone written anything beforehand. But every incarnation of that one scene is painfully improvised, mostly by people wholly unqualified, so none of it can go anywhere even if there had been somewhere to go in the first place.
Perhaps the worst part of Brother’s Justice is that it is trying to be a joke when most of us would love to see Dax Shepard in an action movie. Well, OK. That’s not the worst part. Not even close.
Reason to watch it anyway: Bradley Cooper and Michael Rosenbaum play themselves and are, like everyone in the movie and anyone watching it, annoyed with Dax’s antics. But they are the best at it. Which you will appreciate. Until you realize they were in on this too.
4. Beastly – When I first heard System Of A Down, I finally found I could identify with the adults who railed against rock n roll in its infancy. As music, it didn’t make any sense to me, but it was clear it was making sense to someone. I just had to accept that maybe I was going to be too old for certain things.
I had a similar feeling throughout the first few minutes of Beastly, as the high school aged characters speak to each other in a ridiculous code. I hated it, but I had to allow for things I was never meant to understand. As it progressed however, and these kids never stopped talking at all, code or no, it became more and more obvious that this was not a symptom of my aging. It wasn’t making sense to anyone. It was like if those parents found irrefutable proof that Elvis Presley’s gyrating hips really were turning their children into sex-crazed maniacs or that “Louie Louie” was actually a message from the devil.
Beastly is based on a novel that in turn is supposed to be an update of the Beauty & The Beast fairy tale. In order to achieve this in modern society however, it needs everyone to act like a complete moron and never question why a horribly handsome high school senior suddenly gets himself tattooed and pierced beyond recognition and then immediately wants to hide in his room under a hooded sweatshirt. It also needs a blindly loyal housekeeper, a literally blind tutor and an understandably distraught single father who has to ignore his inexplicably disfigured son in order to stay at work to afford an extra building in Manhattan where said hermit son suddenly needs to live. It also needs a witch. That part of the original they decided to keep.
It would also prefer it if you could act like a complete moron so you do not question what a “Green President” of a high school class is. Or why a girl who needs to hide from vengeful criminals can’t go on a school trip to a different continent but can hide in a stranger’s house a few blocks uptown. Or why the witch renegotiates her curse to help some people she doesn’t know without getting anything in return. Or how police are tricked by hilariously out of context crime scene photos. Or, based on the music choices, whether this is supposed to take place in 2006.
In writing this, I have moved Beastly up a spot or two in the order. I had almost forgotten how terrible it is. Nice try, Beastly.
Reason to watch it anyway: There is a scene in which Kyle/Hunter (Alex Pettyfer) gets so angry you will hurt yourself laughing at him try to act that way. I mean, if I had to pick just one thing.
5. Spork – The Sunset 5 was a wonderful theater that almost exclusively showed movies you’ve never heard of. I could walk to it. It had matinee prices in a city that doesn’t seem to believe in them. On Tuesdays, every show of the day was $7. It was old, but wasn’t in terrible shape and the clientele were not annoying phone addicts. It closed in November and whenever I get sad about that, I remember it’s where I saw Spork. And I feel better.
The title refers to the quasi-insult suffered by the dead-eyed protagonist who is a hermaphrodite. This fact barely comes up. It is just the sort of extreme this movie needs to go to in order to make any impact at all. It wants desperately for you to identify with this character who herself has no identity. She is a blank slate whose life has to be filled with hollow quirks in order to be at once interesting to us and off-putting to the other characters around her. She won’t accept that her dog and her mother are dead. There’s that aforementioned penis we are told she has. She really loves The Wiz. And based on the choices of the director, production designer and composer, she might not know what decade she lives in because this movie has been stricken with an awful case of the 80s.
She does absolutely nothing for awhile and then has to learn to dance in order to fill in for her injured friend in a competition even though pretty much everyone agrees she’s terrible at it and doesn’t seem to even want to do it. If you are thinking this sounds a lot like Napoleon Dynamite, you’re right, but it’s so much more annoying than that. If you’re thinking that sounds impossible, you’re right again, but somehow, Spork finds a way. At least, unlike Napoleon Dynamite, you won’t have to worry about “Vote for Tootsie Roll” T-shirts or an animated series that comes way too late. Because no one saw this. And without the Sunset 5, it may very well be that no one will ever be able to see anything like this again.
Reason to see it anyway: You’re probably into all those 80s things and like to pretend some kids somewhere are too. But they’re not. So stop it.
6. Sucker Punch – If at the end of this I told you everything you’d just read was a lie, something I made up and not a real movie, you’d probably be a little upset, whether or not you liked what you’d just read. If I told you right now that everything you are about to read was a lie, that I made up the movie and made up what I thought about it, you might be intrigued enough to keep reading, but you wouldn’t care that much. And how could you? It wouldn’t mean anything. If in the next paragraph I then told you that actually, I was lying to you now too, that you’re actually reading about the movie someone was watching in the movie I made up, you’d probably just say forget it. I hope you would anyway. Because that would be very stupid.
Plenty of movies have ended with someone awaking and realizing it was all a dream. Mostly to the groaning disapproval of audiences everywhere. But rarely does a movie tell you right up front, before you even buy your ticket, that none of what you are about to see will really be happening. And never before has such a movie also stated up front that not only will nothing you see be happening, but while you are watching the things that aren’t happening, someone will be imagining other not real things, which will take place in a world where anything is possible, there is no danger and Nazis are zombies. Because why wouldn’t they be? Someone is double making things up.There are so many other bad things about Sucker Punch, but they aren’t worth telling you about for, as I’ve tried to make clear (but totally understand if you didn’t get it), none of it matters since none of it happened. Twice.
It’s the end now where you might be hoping I will tell you I just made all of that up. Oh, how I wish it were so.
Reason to watch it anyway: It’s hard to tell anything with this movie, but it seems like Zack Snyder probably thinks he is making a commentary about how women are perceived in cinema and wants you to feel ashamed for watching the fetishistically costumed women he put in it. So not watching it because you are ashamed kind of lets him win. Even if you are ashamed for very different reasons than he (maybe) had in mind.
7. Green Lantern – VHS vs. Beta. Blu-Ray vs. HDDVD. Netflix vs. Blockbuster. Sometimes, there is only room for one victor in the fight for our attention. And in the case of movies based on the comic book characters put out by DC and Marvel, Marvel has decisively prevailed. And largely, that is due to just one singular event. The purely miserable experience that is watching Green Lantern.
If all you did was read the synopsis, you would have no trouble discerning why this was one of the worst movies of the year. It is ridiculous even by comic book movie standards. What you would have trouble discerning is how anyone ever thought it would be a good idea to commence emulating the Marvel model with this property. That has to be put aside. Because while yes, the idea was more than flawed to begin with, to ascribe all the awful things Green Lantern managed put on screen to that fact would be a disservice to the long, sad history of bad ideas.
There are a few moments that seem like the sort of thing you want in a bad movie. Despite the fact that he can create anything with this ring of his, Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) saves a falling helicopter with a giant version of a Hot Wheels race track playset. Hal simply gives up being a Green Lantern twice, once even though he knows that means the world will end. There are thousands of capable Green Lanterns who stay home while just three of them go help Hal fight the worst enemy they’ve ever seen (which itself is a yellow version of the giant ball of evil from The Fifth Element.) But these are fleeting and effectively smothered by one of the most boring and ugly movies to happen in long while.
Reason to watch it anyway: There are people out there that still say it was good and might even expect a sequel. You should be able to accurately describe to them why they are dumb.
8. Jack & Jill – In Funny People, there were a bunch of terrible-on-purpose allusions to movies Adam Sandler’s alter-ego George Simmons had starred in. Jack & Jill was not literally one of them, but you would have believed me if I’d said that it was. This not a terribly original thought. You might have said the same sort of thing when you tried not to look at the hideous billboards and bus ads.But because I actually went and watched Jack & Jill whereas you were too good or too smart or both for that, I can take this thought much further. Not only is the basic concept of Jack & Jill an unabashed frontal assault on our collective sense of humor (whether as Americans or as humans) it challenges the very notion of what we are willing to accept as the construct of a motion picture. It is an infinitely divisible entity. While there is some vague story holding it all together, any scene can be lifted out and watched by itself without needing any of the rest of the movie to make any more sense than it does as part of the whole. Any relevant plot point is yelled at you at some point if it becomes necessary. It is as if they made this entire movie just in case Funny People needed to show someone watching a George Simmons movie and wanted to make sure the audience would know exactly what was going on no matter what clip was chosen.
They were always comparatively stupid, but Adam Sandler used to make incredibly trail-blazing comedies within the confines of a studio system that quickly came to require his services. It’s difficult to remember that now. But he doesn’t seem as though he’s become complacent. He is certainly not giving us run of the mill nonsense. He seems to be heading in the opposite direction. Trying to find the point at which we will collectively say to him, “OK, we get that you’re making fun of us now. You can stop and get back to what you were doing.” You probably thought he reached that point with Grown-Ups. Or I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry. But if we didn’t get it after this, we’re never going to, and the joke’s going to be on him if he keeps it up.
Reason to watch it anyway: Al Pacino is pretty great and playing himself. He has the only arguably funny things to do and say, and most of that when he is on stage in his production of Richard III. In the final seconds of the movie, he turns to Adam Sandler and, speaking of the commercial that served as the laborious plot point throughout the rest of it, says “no one can ever see this.” He should have been talking about the whole of Jack & Jill and probably was.
9. Larry Crowne – The answer comes early on, in the writing credit. You will see the name Nia Vardalos along side Tom Hanks. The question won’t come until after the end credits, when you sit and remember all the times Tom Hanks has been funny and wonder how he managed to remove any of that from this movie he also directed.
Obviously though, Tom Hanks has to get most of the blame for this. It’s too unfunny and unfeeling and uninteresting to fall on any one person. Even if that one person has only done awful things.
But maybe this pairing is all the explanation necessary. Because Larry Crowne is a study in contradiction. It wants us to go along with some ludicrous things, but it also wants to seem current and pertinent and real. It wants to give you the impression that Larry is facing some serious financial troubles, but doesn’t want you to worry about them too much because we’re having fun here. It doesn’t want you to worry that things are getting weird between Larry and the girl that gives up all of whatever is going on in her life to teach him how to live, but it does want you to believe that it makes sense that Larry likes his awful teacher and that she likes him back eventually when she’s not drunk and/or angry anymore.
It wasn’t so long ago that simply having Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts on a scooter would look like an ad for a movie everyone would see rather than what it did look like: an ad for some kind of Italian travel agency. And in that time, maybe a lame story devoid of anything resembling humor or drama would pass by unnoticed. I would like to believe though, that Larry Crowne is a timeless sort of terrible. One that could never be ignored, no matter how hard it seemed to try.
Reason to watch it anyway: There’s this one hilarious scene where Larry buys a scooter at a garage sale but doesn’t know how it works so when he tries to drive it he crashes it instantly. But don’t worry. It still works fine and he doesn’t have to pay for all the stuff he breaks. You can also hear Tom Hanks pronounce my last name so wrong, even I wasn’t sure he was saying it.
10. Breaking Dawn Part 1 – None of the previous three volumes of this pandemic have made a worst list of mine. They were all very boring, and definitely terrible, just not terrible enough to be worth mentioning. In fact, they’d been improving marginally with each successful installment. The last one even had some almost watchable action scenes.
The little I’d heard about the plot in the novel upon which this one is based always seemed like it would make for an impossible movie to sell to a PG-13 audience. Or maybe any audience. And it turns out that might have been true. Because Breaking Dawn seems to blush at any sort of uncomfortable situation. Which in turn, makes the entire thing an uncomfortable situation. And that impotence leads to absolute inanity.
Perhaps it is assumed I will have a working knowledge of events coming in. But I never felt that way about any of the other entries in this series. But without that knowledge (and maybe even with it) there is just no way to piece together what is happening. Sure, the events are simple enough: a wedding, a honeymoon, a pregnancy, a birth. But that is not a story. That is just the recounting of a few weeks in life of Bella Swan (vampire-human hybrid babies grow fast.)
Bella (Kristen Stewart) wants to have sex again, but Edward (Robert Pattinson) thinks the tiny bruises he left the first time are too much and so they play chess a lot instead. Jacob (Taylor Lautner) hates everything Bella has done for two and a half movies, but cannot bear to not surround himself with his sworn enemies to be next to her even though it’s so awkward and weird whenever he is. Wolves are arguing over things they don’t really care about nor believe in. Vampires are standing around looking wistfully at the human in their midst. Brazilians are an intuitive indigenous people who don’t like vampires, but will clean up their broken beds at their impossible-to-get-to houses anyway. Then Bella is pregnant and there’s a lot of consternation about this, but all that leads to is a boring fight between wolves who have made up a reason to be angry and vampires whose strategy appears to be letting a wolf tackle and pin them and wait for someone to come and save them.
Then the baby is born in what is supposed to be a harrowing scene, but the only harrowing thing is what it is named.
Reason to watch it anyway: There are a lot of very weird things that you will never see in any other movie. Including a mid-credits sequence wherein Michael Sheen looks like he is about to tell us the movie is over and we can go home now. Also, Anna Kendrick is great for her two lines and it is so wonderful that she comes back and does this despite knowing she is so much better than any of it.
(Breaking Dawn was a very last minute entry, so since I already have it done, I’m going to leave number 11 unedited.)
10. 11. One Day – How bad could this be? Sure, it has a silly contrivance serving as a plot device (showing us only every July 15th throughout the life of this relationship) and an unbearably bland lead (Jim Sturgess) and an unhealthy charge to “tell it like it is.” But it’s still just a run of the mill romantic drama. Disposable at worst. So you would think.
One Day wants to be the most depressing movie ever made. On paper, it seems like a treatise on missed opportunities and terrible timing. But in practice there isn’t one thing that ever feels true. Turns out, July 15th is a mostly boring day where we are simply told about all the bad stuff that’s happened since the last July 15th. There’s nothing interesting in the dialog, nothing interesting in the story, nothing interesting in the camera work… it’s just an endurance test in dullness. And you will fail it.
Reason to watch it anyway – Count how many different accents Anne Hathaway uses as she tries to find the one she is supposed to have. Hint: you do not have enough fingers.
Drive Angry – What’s sad is this isn’t even the worst movie starring Nicolas Cage as someone who comes back from hell to protect people. What’s sadder than that is that the worse one has a sequel coming out.
Sympathy For Delicious – You shouldn’t have to know that this movie is about a paraplegic DJ who discovers he has supernatural healing powers to understand why it is one of the worst of the year. You just have to be able to read the title.
Spy Kids: All The Time In The World – Maybe this failure will finally get Robert Rodriguez to stop letting his children write his movies for him.