Because I make an effort to avoid bad movies, my year-end worst lists are always my least complete. I read reviews, early buzz, and have little affinity for genres that tend to produce crappy movies, so for me to see a bad film, it had to have something going for it. The result is a list of movies that many of you may have enjoyed, some may even be making year end best of lists. This doesn’t necessarily make you wrong and me right (although, I totally am), but rather shows that I don’t merely listen to critical consensus or popular thought, and also shows that sometimes I’m wrong about what I think will be a good movie when it comes time for me to pick out an evening’s entertainment.
5. Happy-Go-Lucky – It’s now tradition for me to use this slot in my year end worst movies list to call out a smaller, universally-praised darling that I couldn’t stand. This year, it was Mike Leigh’s oh-so-precious Happy-Go-Lucky, which warmed the cuckolds of every critic’s heart through the wacky hijinks of Sally Hawkins. And for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. This seems like exactly the kind of film critics would denounce as being overly precious, with a protagonist that would usually be written off as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. My guess is if Hawkins was a little more conventionally-attractive, or a little less British, then the talons would have come out; but since she’s not, she’s “delightfully quirky” (it probably helps that the movie is pointless in just the sort of way that makes critics feel like they’re watching something challenging, instead of inane). Well not me. Consider me to be like the guy at the bookstore at the beginning of the film, who will do anything to seem busy to avoid freaks like Poppy. And secretly, if those critics are honest with themselves, they’d do the same.
4. Good – In 2008, the movie world went Nazi crazy, with no fewer than 7 movies released in the second half of the year featuring Nazis in some capacity, and almost none of them made any impact whatsoever (Tom Cruise’s eyepatch movie made some money, and Kate Winslet’s naked Nazi movie scored some Oscar nominations, but none of these films captured the zeitgeist). Hollywood’s love affair with the ultimate villains is nothing new, what’s unusual this year is how many of them were inconsequential smaller films like this one. I guess the indies wanted the chance to prove they too could make dull, clichéd, middlebrow attempts at seriousness that aren’t worth the inevitable histrionics they contain. Worse, Good is another example of how stage plays are terrible sources for movies, as the two mediums aren’t very compatible. Sure, the same can often be said about novels, but the difference is that the incompatibilities between books and movies are obvious enough that people work to ADAPT one to the other, whereas too many stage adaptations (like this one) think they can simply film the stage script with better sets, not realizing that the cinematic medium requires more than different sets and costume changes to work. Everything about this film was controlled and static, when a more cinematic treatment may have produced something worthwhile.
Review pull quote: “and instead offers the same old, indifferently-directed, middlebrow melodrama that we’ve seen many times.”
3. Zach and Miri Make a Porno – As tough as it was to break up with one of my favourite filmmakers in Kevin Smith, it was made even tougher when watching Zach and Miri Make a Porno because he was sitting a few rows behind me when I was watching it. Awkward. Look, I knew a love story about a couple of broke friends who decide to make a porno was going to be comedy of the dumb variety, but I wasn’t prepared for it to be this stupid. I really wanted to laugh, I guess I even did a few times, but for the most part, I was just embarrassed. But I might have still clapped at the end of the screening, you know, to be polite.
Review pull quote: “Too bad Kevin Smith had to ruin it with this sub-adolescent offering that somehow has him taking a step backwards in terms of creativity from his last film (Clerks II) and even more baffling, marks a step back in terms of professionalism from his first film (Clerks)”
2. Miracle at St. Anna – Looking at this list and seeing three movies I saw at TIFF should make me reconsider how much I enjoyed my vacation. But I won’t worry about it too much. Movies I saw at TIFF will turn up on the best of list too. Plus, the only way I would see movies like Good or this one is in a film festival situation, where I had to pick 30 different movies from a catalogue, without any advance reviews to warn me off them. Because if I was privy to the advanced reviews on this miserable disaster, I would have stayed far, far away. The flip side of Spike Lee’s wild experimentalism is that he’s even more prone to making unwatchable movies, as when you swing that wildly for the fences, you’re bound to strike out more often than not.
Review pull quote: “But his worst transgressions are toward the Buffalo Soldiers themselves, with characterizations so stereotypical that were they presented by a white director, you’d expect Spike Lee to protest it.”
1. Wanted – It’s not just that this was stupid, uncreative, and repetitive, what makes this the absolute worst film of the year is how disgusting the whole message of the film is. Basically, the moral behind this mess is that there’s no problem in your life that can’t be solved with the judicious application of bullets and those of you who go on about your life not killing people are losers. And maybe some of that might be acceptable if everything about this movie weren’t so ridiculously stupid masquerading as cool. As bad as I thought this empty exercise in nihilism was, it became even worse after I finally saw Shoot ‘Em Up, a similarly stylized hyper-violent adventure that would’ve been guilty of all the crimes of Wanted if it had played it straight. But it didn’t. It recognized how ridiculous all the macho violence was, and let us in on the joke. Whereas with Wanted, the only joke is how seriously it takes itself. I saw this one on assignment to write a pseudo-review for the local paper, and if I wasn’t committed to that, I probably would’ve walked out.
Review pull quote: “I Liked This Better When: it was called The Matrix. Think about it: office drone’s life is thrown for a loop when a mysterious woman and mystical black man recruit him, telling him the world he knows is a lie and train him to fight as a messianic saviour figure. Whoa, indeed.”