Short Ends and Leader’s 10 Worst Films of 2011

[31 December 2011]

By Bill Gibron

PopMatters Contributing Editor

This is no longer a fair fight. Ever since Hollywood discovered that it could make an incredibly quick and very fast buck off the backs of gullible parents, their brainwashed offspring, and the various legions of fright fans and horror buffs, crafting a year-end worsts list has become a bit like shooting film fish in a barrel. Every week, another possible entry comes to the fore, something a studio is pawning off as family fun (Alvin and the Chipmunks 3: Chipwrecked) or the latest in unbridled fear (The Rite). Of course, other callous categories come into play as well. The comedy is no longer a guaranteed ribtickler - just ask The Dilemma, The Change-Up, or The Sitter while the thriller has to put up with stupidity like Trespass and Abduction to get some minor box office love. Indeed, while the year’s best often traverse many cinematic categories, the abominations tend to come from a certain set of styles.

Looking over our list for 2011, four are aimed at children, while another three appeal to the macabre maven in all of us. One is perhaps the most misguided comedy in a very long time, while two appear born from the same sour literary hit. Of course, if we pulled out the lists from Spring and Summer, we could have added the terrible Big Momma trequel, the callous Country Strong, the pathetic penguins of Mr. Popper, or the deadly dramatics of One Day (a truly awful experience). Sure, if you skirt the fringes, you can find any number of nauseating and miserable indie efforts, movies made for the people participating - and no one else. Still, we will stick to the mainstream and let Hollywood prove its hackdom over and over again. After all, no one does terrible better than Tinseltown, as these ten exasperating examples prove, beginning with a talking animal film that should just shut the Hell up:

#10: Zookeeper (dir. Frank Coraci)

The affronts afforded the family audience who showed up to this latest Kevin James starring excuse are many, but none more so than this so-called movie’s main subplot - an ape, longing for a life outside his cage like enclosure, gets our hero to take him…to TGI Fridays. You read that right - a trip to a national chain restaurant (and in all likelihood, preplanned product placement locale) for a noble beast with the raspy voice of Nick Nolte. Who cares about the critters as matchmakers angle as long as you’ve got the dream of potato skins and broccoli cheese soup as entertainment. Bleech!

#9: Hall Pass (dir. Peter & Bobby Farrelly)

Ever seen The Three Stooges toward the end of their career? Aging, addled, and unable to recreate the physical comedy chaos they were known for four decades before? That’s a lot like this failed Farrelly Brothers laugher. Trying to be more “mature” with their gross out shtick, the results are bifurcated and just plain bad. One moment, our heroes are acting like geek adolescents, unable to trade on their spouse’s gift of a week of freedom. The other involves various bodily fluids. When combined, it’s like a stroked out Curly Joe DeRita - not funny at all.

#8: Apollo 18 (dir. Gonzalo López-Gallego)

The found footage genre has finally discovered a way to expand beyond the confines of this planet - and you know what, it remains a creative conceit of very limited returns. Besides, it should stay in space where it belongs. This attempt at showing what really happened on a doomed Moon mission combines the weakest of conspiracy theory claptrap with nominal scares to argue for the end of this artist approach. When the reveal finally hits, it’s as stupid as everything else in this movie. NASA may or may not deserve better, but one thing’s for sure - fright fans definitely do.

#7: Spy Kids: All The Time in the World (dir. Robert Rodriguez)

Robert Rodriguez either needs to admit that he’d rather waste his time on these tedious brat scat titles, or equally confess that he has no desire to make another meaningful motion picture. While various projects sit out there flapping in the breeze (Sin City 2???) he continues to cater to the underdeveloped brain pan of the pre-adolescent crowd, making garbage matinee misfires that even K. Gordon Murray would find insipid. Perhaps the most unsettling thing here is the waste of true talents like Joel McHale and Ricky Gervais. They’re gems in a junk pile of pixie stick puke.

#6: Dream House (dir. Jim Sheridan)

Before we all dog pile on Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In America), it’s important to remember that he was more or less ‘fired’ from this film once the studio saw the approach he was taking. Horror isn’t supposed to be about familial suffering and personal grief. It’s supposed to be about simpleton shocks and scares. Sheridan’s designs were reconfigured and reedited by committee, resulting in a ridiculous collection of plot contrivances that the trailer mostly gave away. Sadly, the film itself was saving one last twist to try and redeem itself. It doesn’t - nor can it save Sheridan’s shredded reputation.

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#5: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 (dir. Bill Condon)

In the book, Edward and Bella get married, have a baby, and the child causes a final clash between the vampire rulers. Fin. Somewhere along the line, the producers of the film adaptations got the wrongheaded idea that they were dealing with Harry Potter, and decided to make the finale two parts long. Two parts! So what does this initial installment offer? Two plus hours of our couple tying the knot, copulating, and complaining about being pregnant. When said baby is born, we’re done, and it’s time for Part 2. Huh? We waited all this time for that?

#4: The Darkest Hour (dir. Chris Gorak)

There were at least four alien invasion films released in 2011, and all but one - Attack the Block - were atrocious. While Skyline skidded by on its engaging F/X and Battle: Los Angeles was just dull, this invisible space monsters in Moscow fiasco takes the evil ET cake. It’s so awful, so undeniably underdeveloped and lacking in any real dread that you simply sit back and watch a lame light show that’s supposed to scare you - and never does. Here’s hoping that any cosmic powers that are watching catch wind of our crappy creative treatment of their threat - and decide we aren’t worth it. 

#3: Hop (dir. Tim Hill)

Santa can finally relax - it’s the Easter Bunny’s turn to be toasted by the makers of mediocre motion pictures. Of course, the bright colors and candy-coated conceits of this story made it a big fat hit with those who aren’t counting calories or afraid of carbo-loading. For everyone else, this confused combination of fairy tale and tacky social commentary comes across like a rotten holiday egg - pretty on the outside, foul and sulphurous on the inside. Oh, and by the way, when did jelly bean poop officially become funny? Just asking.

#2: The Smurfs (dir. Raja Gosnell)

Before he dies, it looks like director Raja Gosnell is going to destroy everyone’s memories of sunny Saturday morning animated fare. First, he sullied the good name of one Scooby-Doo and the Mystery Machine membership. Now, he’s attacking Belgium’s favorite undersized imps. For about ten minutes or so, the movie kinda works - that is, when it stays in Smurfland and doesn’t venture into the real world of New York City. Once they hit Manhattan, it’s fart jokes and double entendres o’plenty, just what the long term fanbase were hoping for with the return of these beloved blue gnomes. Groan.

#1: Red Riding Hood (dir. Catherine Hardwicke)

We said it at the time, and we really mean it - what film retrofits a famous fairy tale into a Twilight-esque excuse for young girls to fantasize about having sex with wolves? Even more concerning - why does a hack mistress like Catherine Hardwicke get another shot at staining the cinematic artform? Apparently, the appeal of Stephanie Meyer’s miserable vampire romance cannot be underestimated. This over the top atrocity, complete with gratuitous Gary Oldman can’t decide if it wants to teach tweens about the joys of self-empowerment or the pleasures of animal carnality. When you figure it out, give us a call. We still won’t care.

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