Thursday, February 05, 2009

2008 in Review - The Worst

Okay, so I think I've finally seen just about all of the movies I needed to catch up on for some good, serious list-making. And I also intend to actually write some reviews of the major releases from the last year over the course of this next month, to try and get some real content up here. But first, before we get to the good, the bad: my list of the Ten Worst Movies of 2008.

Now this is always a tricky list, first because a lot of people think that the end of the year should be about celebrating the good instead of rehashing the bad; and there's a point there, but I feel like the bad has to be properly acknowledged in order to truly be able to appreciate the good.

Also, a lot of "worst lists" are more about big Hollywood blockbusters that were disappointing or overblown, and as much as I thought the likes of Hancock or The Incredible Hulk were dumb or confused, they still had elements (scenes, performances, etc.) that I enjoyed or appreciated.

No, for me, below 'dumb' on the movie-rating scale is 'annoying' and below that is 'offensive' - but below that is 'boring', and below that, at the very bottom of the barrel, is 'all of the above', and those are the titles on this list.

Also, I never saw such movies as The Hottie and the Nottie, The Spirit, Meet the Spartans, The Love Guru, Saw V, and many more. So first, in alphabetical order, the runners-up, titles that I disliked, but weren't too bad:

Baby Mama - Lame and condescending, Tina Fey should know better.
Body of Lies - I'm less and less a fan of the brothers Scott, and their all-style, no-substance movies, every day - especially when they try to make 'relevant' movies about the War on Terror that only show how clueless they are.
The Foot Fist Way - Only redeemeed by an excellent performance from Danny McBride, this was the most amateurish, unpleasant comedy of the year.
Get Smart - Lame, and I'm learning to not expect good things from Steve Carell.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor - Speaks for itself, but at least it had Yeti.
Repo! The Genetic Opera - It has good cinematography, I swear.
Slumdog Millionaire - Offensive if for no other reason than because it wants to shove a soft, don't-worry-be-happy fatalism down our throats as an excuse for the crushing poverty on display.
The Tale of Despereaux - Pretty images in a big mess of a story.
Transsiberian - The most curiously tedious thriller of the year.
The Visitor - A big droopy diaper of liberal guilt, presented without nuance or complexity, partially redeemed by a good Richard Jenkins performance.

And now, the real dregs:

10. The Fall - A lot of people fell in love with this fantasy from Tarsem "Don't use my last name" Singh, but I saw it as an imcomplete vision, a familiar story relying on a few extravagant costumes and locations to tide us over - I'll take The Princess Bride, or even Tideland, over this. As an example of this movie's creative vision, the above is a coat worn by a character named 'Charles Darwin'.

9. Cassandra's Dream - Luckily for Woody Allen, his best movie in about a decade came quickly enough for everyone to forget about this, his worst movie in - well, ever, rehashing the same ideas from Match Point, which were already rehashed from Crimes and Misdemeanors, and with the stiffest, most stilted performances I've ever seen from Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell (and that includes Star Wars movies).

8. Twilight - Cultural regression away from the days of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with the female protagonist back in the role of submissive object for other, stronger forces to attack or protect, while she lays back, enjoying being the center of attention. The movie felt like the world's most tedious TV pilot.

7. Rambo - A huge lump of melted wax (Stallone) doesn't care about helping rebels in Burma until a bunch of white missionaries get in trouble, including a pretty blonde one - then shit starts to fly!

6. The Happening - Oh, The Happening, oh, sweet, sweet, The Happening. This movie is an exception to my 'boring' rule, because it goes all the way through and comes out the other side to become watchable again, like a clown car wreck. No other movie all year had as many "what they fuck were they thinking" moments, from the ludicrous dialogue ("We can't just stand here as uninvolved observers!") to the insane, needless violence (two kids blown away by shotguns!) to the terrible performances (Mark Wahlberg, clearly given no direction; Zooey Deschanel, gamely attempting hand gestures and strange facial reactions to fill in for dialogue that had never been written) to the batshit scene of a man pestering lions to eat his rubbery CGI arms - recorded on video and then uploaded to Youtube.

All of this could have made for a legitimately fun movie, except for the fact that M. Night Shyamalan clearly means for us to take the whole thing seriously as a profound and horrifying post-9/11 vision of a world gone mad, and his mammoth ego (and those who feed it) are what ultimately makes this one of the worst of the year.

5. Cloverfield - See above, although with fewer moments of delight to penetrate the dismal pretentiousness. I love the idea of a modern Godzilla tearing up a post-9/11 city - but you've gotta put people in the monster's path that I'm not eager to see eaten or stomped. One of the most insecure movies of the year for all of its forceful demands that we love these banal, self-centered youngsters. This movie is an insult.

4. 10,000 B.C. - Again, a movie that, in theory, could have been good, like a modern-day Quest for Fire-meets-Apocalypto-meets-The Egyptian - but instead we get filthy, dreadlocked Hollywood hotties chasing each other until they run into some Stargate aliens (not kidding).

3. Savage Grace - Sorry, John. Another movie that might have been interesting, but stuck with a meandering, focusless script, this degenerates into simple celebrity gossip-sploitation. This was shot in Spain, but for all the scenic vistas we get, it could have just as easily been Studio City.

2. Mirrors - At least director Alexandre Aja's previous films, High Tension and The Hills Have Eyes, showed a command of kineticism and action to make up for the total inability to come up with anything for the actors to do - here, even that redemption is lost. And seriously, is there anyone who isn't already schizophrenic that's afraid of a frigging mirror?!

1. Prom Night - A little of everything: retrograde teen sexual politics, tired horror-movie cliches, actors given nothing to do, utter tedium.


Matthew Dessem said...

Hey, now, I liked Slumdog Millionaire. One of these days, I've gotta see The Happening; the script was, yeah, a clown car wreck, but the best thing about it was that it clearly had the potential to be a worse movie than a screenplay...

Also, you should totally see The Hottie and the Nottie. I haven't seen it. But you should.

Jeff McMahon said...

Yeah, Slumdog is sure to be the most contentious item on these lists, although I also expect pushback on a couple of others, plus I have a good friend who held a major creative role on one of the runner-ups - sorry, Joe, if you read this, it's a fun movie, but the story and characters are incoherent.

Jeff McMahon said...

'Runners-up', not 'runner-ups'. I had an English major once.

John M said...

Is this in order of badness?

Jeesh, if that's the case, you've put Savage Grace below The Happening...that's some serious hatred.

The list is great, by the way...strangely, it makes me want to see a lot of these movies.

And Jeff knows this, but I have his BACK on the Slumdog hate.

Jeff McMahon said...

I wouldn't say 'hatred' - like I said, The Happening gave me quite a bit of pleasure, really - but yeah, Savage Grace was a really dismal experience for me, flat and uncinematic and oppressive.

Cloverfield, The Happening, and The Fall are all at least interesting, and a lot of people enjoyed Rambo as a trashy pleasure, but I would absolutely stay away from all of the rest.

Rolando said...

I don't share the love of Slumdog Millionaire that most people do but to call it offensive, especially for the reasons you listed, seems cynical at best. The movie wasn't an excuse for poverty. The movie is about not giving up, no matter what your circumstances are. Would a movie that says "give up if your born into poverty only us middle-class and above folk who go to fancy liberal arts schools have a real chance to make it?"

Sam Juliano said...

Well apart from SLUMDOG and THE VISITOR (which made #2 on my ten-best list, I can't say this is a bad 'worst' list at all. There are a number of dogs on there, which surely won't offend anyone's sensibilities, methinks. Nice capsule essays too.

Joel E said...

The thing that kills me about Cloverfield is that so much of that movie could have worked, and worked great, had the script and the casting been better. OK, much, much better.

Typical JJ Abrams fratboy casting.

I think I have to agree to some extent with everything you've said here, although I think I liked The Visitor a bit more than you but disliked The Fall for a few more reasons.

Now I kinda have to see The Happening.

Jeff McMahon said...

Joel, that was exactly my thought - Cloverfield was a failure primarily of execution. As it stands the movie seems to pander so heavily to such a narrow audience, and to be so obvious with its intentions.

Rolando, I have to disagree with your 'don't give up' argument, because one of the points of the movie is the on-screen text "It is written." I can't stand this kind of fairy-tale, fatalistic determinism. By the movie's logic, if it was written for Dev Patel to succeed, then it is also written for his brother to fail and be murdered by gangsters, and for their mother to be massacred, and so on and so forth.

This attitude is what I find really offensive about the movie - that our actual choices don't matter in life, because out fates are predetermined - and that is, by implication, an excuse for poverty.

And the thing of it is, I bet Danny Boyle doesn't even believe in this, either.

Rolando said...

Those are very good points. Perhaps I took it more metaphorically: "it is written" because Dev refuses to settle for any other outcome and will go to any lengths to make sure he achieves his goal. But you're right that, if taken literally, it's hardly any better than the Church using the promises of Heaven to keep people in poverty. And the problem then becomes, regardless of how Boyle & co. meant it, most people will take it literally.

Personally, I really hated the whole "it is written" nonsense anyway, so I just ignored it.

Actionman said...

The Fall was easily the best film of 2008. And Body of Lies was much, much better than people gave it credit for being. And Cloverfield was the best monster movie in years. But other than that, nice list!