Don’t ask me why, but this was the first Oscar season in years that never held my interest. I didn’t print a ballot or try to outguess Ebert. If my body used Oscar passion instead of calories, I wouldn’t have been able to muster enough for one dismissive wave. What I’m saying is “YAWN.”
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean any of that in some kind of Tim Gunn bitchy way because what I really want to see is some more “edge” in the Oscar broadcast, whatever that means. On the contrary, I found Billy Crystal’s return to be comforting and nice, chicken soup in a tux. Which is exactly why I thought he got the job? Right?
In truth, I’ve slowly lost interest in the Oscars for years as anything more than context. I still believe the Oscars matter, but not because they’re any kind of real barometer of quality, but rather because success at the Oscars breeds often has a profound impact on the course of careers. Ask Kathryn Bigelow—suddenly a prestige director after years of genre work—if she thinks the Oscars are more than just a peacock show.
In any case, rather than get my Least- and Most-Favorite lists out before the Oscars, as I typically try to do, I’m going to be totally anticlimactic and publish post-show. And I’m going to start with the worst movies I saw in 2011, because why not? The Razzies can suck it.
(Actually, seriously, the Razzies can suck it. But that’s another rant entirely.)
So, here we are, my least favorite movies of 2011 (that I saw, of course. I didn’t go out of my way to see crappy movies for the most part, and so there might have been way, way worse movies out there. Like Creature, or something. But this is what I saw, and so this is what you get.)
5. Green Lantern
This one hurts. I never collected comics, but I was a geeky male child in America, so I think it’s safe to say I know the territory. My favorites were Hulk, Green Arrow, and Green Lantern. Yes, all green. No, I don’t know what that means. Nor do I know why, in this era of major budget, serious-minded superhero cinema feasts, all of my favorites have been stuck at the sloppy table with the cold fried-chicken bucket and that greeny-yellow casserole that may or may not contain broccoli.
(Oh my god, Hulk had Ang Lee! How do you fuck up Hulk and Ang Lee!?)
Green Lantern is what a superhero movie’s worst-case scenario looks like. The finished product couldn’t do more damage to the title character if it had been shot on yellow film. Everyone involved had high hopes, I’m sure. They had a star ready to break out, a director known for launching successful franchises, and a commitment to the source material that defied studio wisdom and also, kinda, common sense. Honestly, they kept the buggy-headed aliens and pink villains and everything.
Unfortunately, they didn’t have a script. Well, I mean, they did, but it was packed full of the worst kinds of studio note sloppiness, a committee-crafted beast of a screenplay that they would never think to put in front of a—oh, we’re going with this one? Release date coming up? I see.
There’s an entire wing of screenwriter hell reserved for scripts that lean too hard on the ol’ “hero must first refuse the call” thing, and even the guys in charge of that place put down their whips and shared a quiet moment of somber reflection when they saw Green Lantern. The entire movie is built around Hal Jordan not wanting to do anything. Seriously, that’s the movie. Hal is reckless and carefree, but when given unlimited power in a sweet finger accessory, he suddenly clams up and mopes around in slippers, watches TV, and probably starts thinking about growing a homeless beard. And even that blinking dead end of a movie is supported with atrocious dialogue and enormous plot holes and confusing character motivation. Green Lantern’s script was so bad that it actually ruined entirely different movies in the future, preemptively wrecking the plot of what should have been Green Lantern 2 with a boneheaded post-credits stinger that speeds through a huge, sweeping character arc in about 8 seconds.
So, yeah. Green Lantern traveled back in time from the future to kill Green Lantern 2. It’s not good.
4. Battle: Los Angeles
I’m not stupid. I’ve been at the rodeo a time or two before. I know that when I see a big budget action movie starring a second-tier leading man in the first three months of the year, well, I shouldn’t expect perfection. But, man! Battle: Los Angeles bummed me right the fuck out.
It’s hard to remember now, but there was actually a lot of positive buzz around this movie prior to release, all based on a really sweet set of trailers that promised the broad strokes of an alien invasion from the point of view of the ground troops, a perspective hinted at but never delivered in bigger, better sci-fi films like Independence Day or Spielberg’s War of the Worlds.
And I guess we got that, kind of. But instead of Blackhawk Down with aliens, the result was a disconnected soup of bad war movie archetypes killing and being killed by a horde of alien invasion movie archetypes who lacked even the ability to evoke any kind of true terror or wonder or atmosphere of any kind. The best invasion movies succeed by creating a sense of awe and overwhelming odds. The best parts of Independence Day are all the pre-battle stuff, back when the world is still trying to figure out what the flying saucers are doing and what they want. Battle: Los Angeles can’t even muster enough interest in its own bad guys to give the heroes a moment of pause. Seriously, right as the invasion begins, there’s a moment where aliens come marching out of the sea and open fire on a beach and the soldiers watching on TV just kind of shrug and start putting on their gear, like this isn’t a momentous, world-changing affirmation that there’s a bigger universe out there and it hates us, but instead “shit, I had Clipper tickets tonight.”
Battle: Los Angeles is an uninspired, thin exercise in special effects that, paired with the similarly ill-fated Skyline, proves once again for like the millionth time that it takes more than a really kick-ass team on Avid to make a movie work.
3. Season of the Witch
Season of the Witch made a late surge on this list when I picked it up on Redbox last month, despite over a year of toxic reviews in its pouch. I couldn’t help myself. For me, Nicolas Cage is like that ex-girlfriend that everybody else says is full of crap and unfaithful, but all I can think about is that one time we were at that cabin in Vermont and we arranged the ramen on a dinner plate just so until it looked like a gourmet meal and then we laughed and cuddled and talked all night. We had some really great times!
No matter how much the internet assures me that Nicolas Cage doesn’t care anymore, I just KNOW that there’s still a spark left between us. There’s Moonstruck and Face/Off and Adaptation, and so what if he made Next? Didn’t he just give me Bad Lieutenant? Don’t I owe him at least one more chance? His moose-shit insanity is mostly misunderstood. He gives everything he has to every performance. Cage can elevate really terrible material into watchability and, when paired with the right director, Cage can knock homers all day to the deepest part of the park.
But then, of course, I just get burned again by this wretched waste of time. I mean, I suppose it’s not a complete wash. I’m glad the caterers got paid. But holy crap, everything else. The saddest part is that there’s probably a good movie in the premise of two Crusaders escorting an accused witch across a countryside ravaged with the Black Plague. The concept is plump with potential directions and questions about faith, medicine, morality, and duty. Spoiled for choice, the story instead farts off in a completely new direction, the way of bad CGI demons and no ambiguity, forcing Cage and co-victim Ron Perlman to act their way through a sloppy, muddy mess in which gross-out makeup and green screens substitute for actual horror, tension, or suspense.
Worst of all, Cage seems to be listening to his critics and turns in a dull, typical leading man performance. Shut up, internet! Stop trying to change him! Just let him be happy!
I thought up a game to make this inert, nonsensical little spy thriller more entertaining to sit through. The premise involves Liam Neeson waking up in the hospital after an accident and then wandering around a Europe where nobody, not even his wife, knows who he is. Worse yet, there’s a fat Aidan Quinn walking around with his name and job! It sucks, so if you decide to watch Unknown, forget that it’s a fictional movie and try to imagine instead that it’s about a documentary crew following a pissed-off Liam Neeson onto a movie set after he fails to get the part he auditioned for. Instead of accepting that he lost a role to Aidan Quinn, Liam Neeson don’t take no for an answer!
Liam Neeson: I’m Dr. Martin Harris!
A confused-looking Aidan Quinn: Uh, no, I’m Dr. Martin Harris.
Liam Neeson: That’s my wife, because I’m Martin Harris.
January Jones: Uh, no [implied ‘Liam’] you’re not.
Liam Neeson: …
Aidan Quinn: …
January Jones: …
Liam Neeson: I am!
This game requires believing that Aidan Quinn can ninja fight, although Neeson is still better because, of course, at 6’9” or whatever, Neeson always has the high ground [implied ‘Anakin’.]
If you don’t take my advice and insist on viewing Unknown as an actual movie movie, you’ll find a lot of dead end clichés and spy tropes that baked up badly at the screenplay stage, like a flopped-over souffle that was only served to actual paying customers because, hey, Neeson was pretty great in Taken and this kind of looks like Taken if you squint a little bit, only except for his daughter going missing, it’s one of the important lobes in his brain.
About the only person who came out clean in this mess is Bruno Ganz as a retired spymaster drawn into the plot’s nonsense. Spoiler: he checks out on purpose rather than face another act of this shit.
1. Passion Play
I don’t like to hate on passion projects. I have a few myself, and they’ve rarely worked out as I saw them in my mind. Filmmaking is really, really hard, and no matter how much you know or think you know about what makes a good movie, it can still swallow you whole, and that sad process is even sadder when the project in question has occupied a person’s life for as long as Passion Play occupied talented writer/producer Mitch Glazer. Consumed with conviction that his story about a trumpet player who steals an angel from a desert carnival before losing her to a maudlin gangster is one that America couldn’t live without, Glazer even cast de-emoting palooka Mickey Rourke as his star.
Unfortunately, Glazer’s film is disappointingly dense and lathered in self-importance, with the kind of insight into angelic beings typically found in a portfolio on Deviant Art. The movie is so sincere that it blows past too-sincere, over the valley of aggressively sincere, and right into weaponized sincerity. As nicely dramatic and delicate and artistically the movie played in Glazer’s head, the actual footage has all the lightness of an anvil.
It doesn’t help that the aforementioned Rourke is unmistakably bored. He simply hits his marks, making sure he gets the blocking right and not much else. (After the movie was finished, Rourke torched it in the press, adding to the suspicion that he may have checked out on set.)
That’s the real problem with the film. Rourke doesn’t care enough to convince as a leading man. Bill Murray, as the gangster, doesn’t care enough to make his character fun to watch. Megan Fox, as the angel, has no sex appeal or allure. The only person who seemed to care about Passion Play is Glazer himself. He couldn’t transfer his love of the project to anyone else. The movie just flat doesn’t work, and knowing how much Glazer cared doesn’t make panning it any easier. The movie even takes the fun out of tearing it down.
Next: The Last Most-Favorite List of 2011, then back to the Hughes Brothers.