Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bidding 2010 Goodbye Pt. II: Worst of the Year

This time of the year/new year is all about honoring the best of the year. However, today's post is dedicated to the opposite: recognizing the worst of the year. And even though 2010 has provided us with some very high highs, it's also given us some abysmal lows.

The Worst of 2010

Worst attempt at being Russell Crowe: Sam Worthington - Clash of the Titans
If there's one thing that Gladiator taught us 10 years ago that remains true, it's that Russell Crowe can glower and brood like a real pro, and his performance as Maximus made brooding cool again. As such, any number of other actors have tried to do this in similarly themed films, and none failed as spectacularly as Sam Worthington in the limp remake of Clash of the Titans. In one early scene in which he's supposed to sit and brood over the loss of his family, Worthington's attempt at angry stoicism falls flat; he never once projects an ounce of intensity or bottled rage to the point where it feels like he wasn't even trying. Oh well, he'll always have Avatar, right?

Worst Directing Team: Ridley and Tony Scott - Robin Hood and Unstoppable
Brothers Ridley and Tony Scott certainly have different styles. Ridley is more keen on epic period pieces (with stunning production values), while Tony leans more towards smaller scale, modern, more thriller-esque action films. In 2010 both brothers released films, and both of them were, well, less than stellar. Ridley's Robin Hood was a bore, and its actions scenes didn't exactly live up to previous work like Gladiator or Kingdom of Heaven. Meanwhile, Tony's runaway train thriller Unstoppable (more on this one in a minute) was just irritatingly dumb. When the film focused on leads Denzel Washington and Chris Pine, it actually worked, but it kept jumping back to the behind-the-scenes nonsense. Scott's point, like the worst of Michael Bay, seemed to be that all high-level officials (at least in the state of Pennsylvania) are incompetent morons, and that only the "common man" is capable of solving problems. Worst of all, Scott throws in a hilariously unnecessary car crash at the dumbest possible point. The result is that the Scott family batting average for 2010 was a big fat zero.

Worst Film to Rake in the Millions: Alice in Wonderland
I really do like Tim Burton, I swear. His 2007 effort, Sweeney Todd, was one of his best. It showed him focused on story-telling like never before, and the result was electrifying. That's just one reason why Burton's follow-up was such a big disappointment. In addition to making the role of Alice borderline passive, the script was either dragging scenes out into tedium, or rushing them together to distracting effect. The result was only sporadically entertaining (thank you, Helena Bonham Carter and Stephen Fry) and more garish than lush.

Worst Twist(s): The Tourist
Oh looooooord. Where do I even start? From the unexpected-yet-dull revelation of Elise's (Jolie) actual profession, to the "mystery" of whether Frank (Depp) is really who he says he is, this attempt at a Charade-style old Hollywood mystery never really surprised anyone save for how uninspired it was in every department. But worst of all, and by a considerable margin, was the revelation of Rufus Sewell's almost mute character known only as The Englishman. Not only was it lazy and stupid, but completely insulting to the audience. If I had any doubts that The Tourist was a complete waste of time (not money, since I saw it for free, thankfully), Sewell's final scene destroyed those doubts.

Worst Pop Culture Phenomenon: The Millennium Trilogy
Whatever minimal strengths were found in Stieg Larrson's crime trilogy all but evaporated in the Swedish cinematic adaptations. The first, The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo, started off fine enough. The first hour was sluggish, but it picked up in the second half as it actually got to the story it was telling. And then the second film, The Girl Who Played with Fire, hit theaters. Despite getting off to a decent start, it quickly plummeted, and made all of the wrong decisions in deciding what to keep in the story. It also boasts the trilogy's worst performance, from its leading man no less. In addition to taking blandness to new lows, Michael Nyqvist also created the worst scene of the year, by doing a hilariously unconvincing ducking maneuver that was downright amateurish. Things picked up marginally in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, but not nearly enough for any sort of real redemption. As books, Larrson's trilogy was "meh" enough, but with the adaptations, they sunk to new lows, proving again and again that Lisbeth Salander, Larrson's intriguing punk/goth hacker, is a heroine who deserves to star in a better series.

Least Deserving of Critical Praise: Unstoppable
86%. That's the percentage of positive reviews Unstoppable received per RottenTomatoes, and it actually jumps to 91% if you're only looking at top critics. My question is simple: why? Obviously a film doesn't have to be best-of-the-year quality to earn good reviews; that's ridiculous. But why on earth did this middling, often stupid real-life thriller earn as many kind reviews as it did? From the obnoxious stupidity of most of the characters, to the year's most unnecessary car crash, there's very little in this mess that works or deserves an ounce of praise. And for the love of god, Tony Scott, will you please hire a cinematographer who doesn't feel the need to shade everything in grimy greens and browns?

Worst Comedy: The Other Guys
To be fair, I think Will Ferrell can be a funny guy. 2004's Anchorman still makes me laugh out loud, and Talladega Nights is worth a few solid laughs. With that out of the way, I fail to see what exactly made The Other Guys a critical comeback for Ferrell. Was it the half deserved laughs that it earned? The absolute lack of flow of the scenes? The total misuse of Michael Keaton? Mark Wahlberg struggling to nail a character who's supposed to be the straight man with a few hidden quirks? The god-awful sound design that left many scenes flooded with dead air? The pathetic attempt to work in financial corruption into the story that just became boring as hell? Or was it the (admittedly surprising) credits sequence filled with facts about the disparity of wages between CEOs and standard employees, that served only as a shameless attempt to justify the existence of this piss poor, leaden comedy?

Worst Adapted Screenplay: The Last Airbender
I'm not ashamed to admit it: I've been watching Avatar: The Last Airbender for the past few days, and I'm currently at the start of the third and final season. And you know what? Despite being created for Nickelodeon, it's a surprisingly adult show that never goes out of its way to appeal strictly to kids. Which is what makes it such a shame that M. Night Shyamalan had to go and put a black mark on the face of this well done series. In attempting to condense the 20-episode first season in 90 minutes, Shymalan rushes story elements to either boring of laughable effect. But worst of all, he robs the series lead hero, Aang, of the traits that make him seem like a kid. The Aang of the series, despite being a hero of prophecy, still acts like he's a real kid, but in Noah Ringer, Shyamalan writes and directs the character as someone stoic and solemn, more like a robot than someone with a heart.

Worst Original Screenplay: How Do You Know
The missing question mark in the title is the least of the problems of James L. Brooks' latest misfire. I don't have anything against romantic comedies as a genre, even if they tend to lean heavily towards formula. That said, when they're bad, they can be painful, and How Do You Know is that sort of rom-com. The dialogue is scene-y, the characters more grating than charming, and in its nearly 2 hour run time, barely a laugh is earned. But the script's biggest offense is Lisa (played by Reese Witherspoon), who goes down as the year's worst female character. Like the film itself, she doesn't know what she wants, and her need to speak in overly expository canned analytical/motivational phrases is never charming; it's unbearable right from the get go. Paul Rudd manages to wring out a few chuckles because, well, he's Paul Rudd, but he's not nearly enough to make up for the amount of crap in this unfocused, overlong script.

Worst Debut Performance: Noah Ringer - The Last Airbender
Perhaps it's not entirely his fault, but Noah Ringer's Hollywood career didn't get off to the best start thanks to his overly serious, wooden debut as the hero of M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender. The fault probably lies more with Shyamalan for butchering the character, but that doesn't make Ringer's performance any less rotten.

Worst Acting Duo: Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp - The Tourist
Proof that you can't just throw two superstars together and expect magic, The Tourist's pairing of Jolie and Depp resulted in a gaping black hole of chemistry. When Elise and Frank first meet on a train, there's tiny little sparks that go off, but once the pair arrive in Venice, everything goes downhill, and fast. Depp mostly seems bored with his role, while Jolie merely walks around looking glamorous and mysterious. The absolute lack of chemistry between the film's leads is just one of the reasons that the film failed as spectacularly as it did.

Worst Performer of the Year: Johnny Depp - The Tourist & Alice in Wonderland
After scoring his third Oscar nomination for Sweeney Todd and playing John Dillenger in the decently received Public Enemies, Depp landed in theaters twice in 2010, and neither performance worked (ironically, he's nominated for Golden Globes for both). In Alice in Wonderland, his take on the Mad Hatter was weird, but that's it. It wasn't entertaining or fun like Capt. Jack Sparrow, it was just odd, especially Depp's choice to have the Hatter switch to gruff Scottish brogue whenever he was angry. But at least in that film it looked like he was putting some effort in, which is more than can be said for his lazy work in The Tourist. As I've said before, he starts off the film decently, but after Frank and Elise get off of that train, his performance, along with the rest of the film, nosedives.

Worst Actress: Reese Witherspoon - How Do You Know
Witherspoon, with lots of help from James L. Brooks, helped redefine the term "unbearable" as Lisa, the female protagonist who can't decide whether she wants to be with nice guy George (Paul Rudd) or vain sports star Matty (Owen Wilson). Indecisive, obnoxious, and prone to speaking in canned motivational phrases, Witherspoon's considerable charms as an actress evaporated, leaving the actress with a tedious and shrill character, and one of the worst performances in her career.

Worst Actor: Michael Nyqvist - The Girl Who Played with Fire
I really hate revisiting this performance. I mean it. I hate it. Hate it. Hate. It. The character is already a transparent author-insert in the books, but Nyqvist makes him absolutely worthless in the middle installment of the trilogy. He drags the character to new levels of blandness, making the womanizing angle of the character more than a little unbelievable (no wonder Lena Endre always looked so confused; "I'm supposed to be attracted to this guy!?"). In one of his most bizarre scenes, he's seen walking up to the area where a distressed (and bloody) Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) is lying, and despite knowing that he's heading into danger, looks like he's out for a casual stroll in the park. And even though I've brought it up already in this post, I'll say it again: the ducking scene. More lame than a race horse with only three legs.

Biggest Disappointment: I am Love
I've said enough about Luca Guadagnino's lush romantic drama for the year, so allow me to briefly recap what held this film back. It really comes down to one thing: thin characters. Emma's (Tilda Swinton) feeling of oppression is never felt; we're supposed to infer it from vague details thrown out in little academic bites. Additionally, the central affair makes no sense, because there's no reason why Antonio's food should cause Emma to fall for him. It doesn't remind her of her homeland (Russia), it's just great food, but since she's wealthy and lives in Italy, great food shouldn't be in short supply. Then there's the STYLE of the damn thing, which suffocates potentially great performances by Swinton and Flavio Parenti (as her eldest son). And I'm going to ask this one more time: aside from the obviousness of her face work, what was so special about Marissa Berenson? It has its moments, but at the end of the day there's simply one too many aspects that are either poorly executed or don't add up that turn this potentially great film into a frustrating one.

Worst Film of the Year: How Do You Know
I'm not wasting any more time on this total failure. It's grating, it's unbearable, and it's too damn long. That's all you need to know. STAY. AWAY.

PS: What on earth is that face Witherspoon is making at Paul Rudd in this picture?

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