Today marks the last day of the first half of the year, and as per custom, it’s time to look back and reflect on the best and worst of 2011 so far. We could easily fill a Top 25 Worst films, and in the first six months, it’s much more difficult to judge degrees of suck than it is to value the merits of the handful of great films, so the measure of hostility will additionally be taken into account in ranking the Ten Worst.
The top ten films are also limited to theatrical releases, as well, which unfortunately excludes a film that’s now available on iTunes that would have competed for the top spot on this list: Turkey Bowl. Track it down; it’s only 62 minutes, and it may be the funniest 62 minutes of the year (check out Seth’s review here, and Dan’s review over at the Houston Press).
The 10 Worst Films of the First Half of 2011
Just Go With It: Look: I don’t mean to personalize this review, but this needs to be said. Spread this message around. Get it on the Twitter. On the Facebook. Scrawl it in blood on your fucking mirror. I don’t care. Just get the word out that anyone that takes their Valentine’s date to see Just Go with It is an asshole. I mean that. This is not a joke. It’s not a gimmick review. I’m completely sincere. What kind of cruel, thoughtless douchebag would take a date to see an Adam Sandler movie on Valentine’s Day? Especially this Adam Sandler movie. It’s a fucking nightmare of a film. Seriously, if you have a boyfriend or a husband or another significant other that’s thinking about taking you to see this movie over the weekend, show them this review. If he still insists on taking you, leave him. Just leave him. Take the kids, the CD collection, empty the bank account, pack up the car, and get the fuck out. You deserve better. I don’t care who you are: If you have an Idaho-sized humpback, a wonky eye, an oozing belly button and you kick dogs for sport, you still deserve better than the guy who would take you to see this film. — Dustin Rowles
Pirates of Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: In the end, it doesn’t matter how sensational the performances are or are not; the ship has sunk, and the ocean scavengers are picking at the waterlogged flesh of the crew. In The Curse of the Black Pearl, Depp’s magnetism managed to briefly distract us from the crass reality that the entire Pirates enterprise is built on the foundation of an amusement park attraction. But after four films, neither Depp nor Rush can obscure the fact that we’re all being taken on a ride, one that is neither thrilling nor amusing. On Stranger Tides is like any Disneyland roller coaster: They cultivate long lines to give the illusion of excitement, make you stand around for two hours eating overpriced concessions, and reward you by jostling you around in a circle, dropping you off exactly where they left you, a pound heavier and $20 lighter. — Dustin Rowles
Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son: Martin Lawrence told the exact same story from Big Momma’s House with a younger character, who could ostensibly rap. Brandon T. Jackson was paid an obscene amount of money for this, even though he failed to once provoke laughter or present to the audience something that they had not seen a multitude of times before. A man named John Whitesell directed the movie, and even though he failed to bring any of the characters to life or engage the audience, he too was paid handsomely. Likewise, two men named Don Rhymer and Matthew Fogel put very little effort into writing a script and were overpaid for doing so, and that would be the case if they were given any more than five nickels a piece. — Dustin Rowles
The Dilemma: The best thing about The Dilemma is Channing Tatum. That’s how bad The Dilemma is, folks. Everyone in this film is upstaged by Charming Potato. Pro Tip: When you find yourself looking forward to the next scene featuring a fucking spud, you know you’re having a bad movie experience. Good comedy comes from an honest place, and screenwriter Allan Loeb wouldn’t know an honest place if it crushed his fat fucking head. I’m just surprised that Howard — who can recognize comedy enough to produce “Sports Night” and “Arrested Development” — even got involved in this in the first place. It’s a waste of his mediocre directing talents, a waste of a decent cast, a wasted opportunity for Winona Ryder to show us what she’s still got, and most criminal of all, a waste of a perfectly good potato. — Dustin Rowles
Atlas Shrugged: Part I: I’d call it vanilla, but vanilla actually has a flavor. It tastes of beige. For a movie that has been almost forty fucking years in the making, that at one point allegedly had a cast of luminaries attached that would make any studio salivate, that’s based on a novel that seen a renaissance thanks to the backassward ramblings of the Teabaggers and the Fox News ilk, it’s remarkable how bad it actually is. It’s like the dramatization of an SAT math problem, or a first year economics final essay. Only that might actually imply there was drama. No, this film could have been performed by artist’s mannequins, with projections of actor headshots on them and still given the same wooden and emotionless performances. Which is not to disparage the actors — character actors like Michael Lerner, Jon Polito, and Graham Beckel — we’ve seen most of them in quality pictures and know they are capable of being passionate and hilarious. It’s an impressive feat for first time director Paul Johansson, himself an actor (he played Bolt in Soapdish), to force his cast to stifle anything resembling feelings like a new boyfriend with a Sunday morning pew fart. But most of the credit goes to Ayn Rand, who didn’t write characters so much as one-note ciphers there to represent the A’s and B’s of her political ramblings. Still, in the year where Inside Job snagged the Oscar, it takes massive planet-sized balls to release a film where the heroes are corporate giants who just want the nasty government to leave them alone so they can make money. Because as we’ve seen, deregulation has worked so beautifully. Unless you actually wanted to live in that home. — Brian Prisco
Your Highness: David Gordon Green has made a puerile, empty, relentlessly dull comedy that wouldn’t even impress underachieving 14-year-olds were it not for the preponderance of breasts, penis jokes, and bizarrely strong homophobia. It’s hard to imagine who the film is even for, since the Internet provides much quicker access to all three, especially to teens who can’t get into an R-rated movie on their own. Your Highness is the emotional completion of an arc no one really saw coming, considering Green’s stunning early accomplishments. On its own, the film is merely a plodding, forgettable disappointment; coming from a man this talented, it’s a total failure. — Daniel Carlson
Transformers: Dark of the Moon: Dark of the Moon is precisely the kind of film you’d expect from an egocentric toddler who lacks impulse control. Lil’ Mikey bangs his expensive toys together, not because it makes narrative sense, but because he likes the sounds they make. He doesn’t understand consequences, and for a overgrown child with unlimited resources, he can continue to destroy his toys knowing that his enabling Mommy will simply buy him more. With the help of $200 million and skilled technicians, he’s brought his imaginary chaotic world to life — here represented by Chicago — and like most two-year-old toddlers who build block towers, he gets off on crashing them. Likewise, his supporting cast — his army soldiers, his dolls, and his Playmobil figures — doesn’t exist to move the action; they exist only to witness his destruction. — Dustin Rowles
Green Lantern: Ryan Reynolds once suggested that his Green Lantern movie would be somewhere in the middle between Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies and Christopher Reeve’s Superman films, and even had the audacity to draw comparisons to the original Star Wars. A more apt comparison is a movie somewhere between Fantastic Four and the sticky floor of a strip club the morning after St. Patrick’s Day. The only thing in common with Star Wars that Green Lantern has are the CGI-cousins of Jar Jar Binks and the stool of Jabba the Hutt after a meal of Marvin the Martians. The Green Lantern is a pus-filled bedsore of a film, a wacky incoherent mess of Ryan Reynolds’ forehead, Blake Lively’s legs, and cheap CGI-creatures straight out of a Sid and Marty Krofft television show. — Dustin Rowles
Hangover Part II: Sequels suggest continuations of stories; The Hangover II is not a sequel. It’s a remake set in a different goddamn city. It’s the same band singing the same song. All they did was add someone to play the wood block and tickle Brad Cooper’s balls. The lyrics are slightly different, but no one even had the goddamn decency to change the chorus. It’s not a new movie; they just repackaged the old one. It’s like paying to replace your laptop with the exact same one, only the screensaver is an Asian tranny instead of a stripper Mom. It’s like The Next Karade Kid starring Ralph Machio in the Hilary Swank role. You know what that’s called? The Karate Kid. What I don’t get it, where is the outrage? People paid $13 to see something they’d already seen. Why weren’t there reports from midnight screenings of audience members ripping out their seats, beating up old women, looting Rite Aids, and throwing batteries at movie theater managers? Have we grown so complacent that we will now idly accept a re-gifted movie? We’re just going to shrug? That’s what we’re doing now? “Hey, why are you getting so worked up? Whaddya expect? It’s Hollywood.” You know what: Go fuck yourself. Just because you’re a fucking retard doesn’t give that doucher Todd Phillips the right to treat us all like one. — Dustin Rowles
Sucker Punch: It’s as if Snyder spent a weekend dropping acid and playing every video game he could find, and developed a series of hallucination-based short films. Then, he came up with a sordid, melodramatic-as-fuck story about young girls trapped in a brothel/insane asylum/burlesque club/Dickensian shithole. Then, he decided he was gonna get all girl-powered and developed his own brand of lingerie-inspired pedophelia-themed feminism. Then he took all of those things, stuffed them into a bag three sizes to small, and then beat the fucking bag with hammers until he shit himself. He then topped off the bag with feces, and hit me in the face with it. In short, Zack Snyder is an asshole. — TK
The 10 Best of the First Half of 2011
Rango: Scrub away all of your doubts about the ability of the omnipresent Johnny Depp (whose cinematic output has been — let’s face it — less than impressive lately) to carry a leading voice role without overpowering an entire film. Dismiss all preconceived notions about director Gore Verbinski’s first stab at an animated picture, for this final product is much smarter than any of that Pirates of the Caribbean garbage. Yet, at the same time, Rango is still as much of a rip-roaring ride as it effortlessly blends genres and their archetypes into an Old West setting. The story by Verbinski and his screenwriter, John Logan (The Aviator), initially covers some familiar ground by exploring the well-treaded “fish out of water” motif, but that’s the limit of any genericism. Here, Depp plays a lizard who dreams big and generally amuses himself by acting within his own plays and pauses only to reflect, “Our story needs an ironic, unexpected event that will propel our hero into conflict.” Well, that unexpected event quickly takes place, but the true irony here is that there’s precious little irony to be found within Rango. — Agent Bedhead
The Lincoln Lawyer: You knew Matthew McConaughey had it in him. After suffering a decade plus of mostly terrible high-concept flicks, McConaughey returns to the type of role that made him a star in the first place, a sleazy, cocksure defense attorney with a gooey center of humanity. The gritty shots, the handheld cameras, and the seedy surroundings are ideal for McConaughey — they are brutal on everyone else in this film (Marisa Tomei, included), but the sweaty close-ups that reveal pores and forehead veins are perfect for McConaughey — it’s his natural surroundings. They highlight both the man’s strengths and his actorly vulnerabilities. It’s like home, and Matthew McConaughey has finally returned to it. — Dustin Rowles
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop: Rodman Flender’s documentary, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop offers an unexpectedly intimate look into the behind-the-scenes goings-on of last year’s “Legally Prohibited from Being on Television Tour.” What’s most unexpected about the documentary is not the nature of O’Brien’s psychological break-down in the aftermath of “The Tonight Show” debacle, although there’s a lot of unspoken insight into that in Flender’s documentary — O’Brien’s gaunt, washed-out appearance in the days after that episode, and his periodic bouts of catatonia, moments in which you can almost feel the anger and disappointment churning away in his stomach. What’s most surprising about a documentary commissioned by the subject himself, however, is exactly how often Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop depicts the talk-show host as a dick. He’s passive-aggressive with his writers, frequently a jerk to his assistant, an asshole to his handlers, and often visibly frustrated with his fans. What’s even more surprising is how easy it is to sympathize with O’Brien, to understand how he can be a dick at times, yet remain as genuinely likable as he is. — Dustin Rowles
13 Assassins: 13 Assassins isn’t another hideous glimpse into the darkness of the human condition from Miike. It doesn’t have the same nihilistic lunacy of some of his films. Instead, it’s an intelligent, thoughtful historical musing … for the first hour (interspersed with some genuinely horrific imagery), followed by a spectacularly inventive, wonderfully violent climax that still doesn’t distract from its sharp-eyed buildup. It’s a history lesson, a political thought piece, a Seven Samurai homage, and an orgy of swords and blood, all wrapped in one thunderous and satisfying package. — TK
X-Men: First Class: Ultimately, Vaughn’s film does exactly what a prequel should be capable of: It stands on its own as an outstanding entry into the franchise, but it also adds context that enriches subsequent films. There are some small cannon inconsistencies, but First Class also goes a long way toward explaining the backstories of Magneto and Xavier, deepening the franchise’s mythology and creating in Xavier and Magneto even more compelling characters. In a retroactive sense, there’s considerably more substance and meaning now to conversations between the two old friends in subsequent films, and First Class creates a desire to revisit them. — Dustin Rowles
Submarine: A great coming-of-age film understands that heartbreak feels so much bigger when you’re in high school. It feels all-encompassing. It feels devastating. It feels terminal. Richard Ayoade’s brilliant Submarine understands that and, more importantly, he conveys it in a way that transports its audience back to our first break-up and the attendant feelings of desperation and futility. But to get there, you have to believe there’s love, and in the first act of Submarine, Ayoade brings so much wit, so many clever turns of phrases, and so much adoration for his characters that you can’t help but to fall hard for them. He grows your heart three sizes, but then he punctures it with a flame-throwing pitchfork. — Dustin Rowles
Beginners: Beginners is a film defined by grace, both narratively and aesthetically: while the relationships of the central characters revolve around their ability to love and forgive each other, the movie itself comes together with quiet certitude and beauty, gently sliding through the life of its hero. Writer-director Mike Mills’ second feature is all about a man, played by Ewan McGregor, who is dealing with the death of his father and the variety of emotional fallout from the end-of-life revelations that changed their relationship, but the film doesn’t once feel mawkish or cheap. It would be the easiest trap in the world to fall into here, too: the man’s father came out of the closet a few years before he died, meaning the film could have morphed from a human drama into a series of sermonettes on tolerance, openness, filial duty, etc., without anyone stopping it. But Mills has far more skill and sense than that. Beginners isn’t just about sexual identity or paternal heartbreak, but about the generational changes that have defined how men and women have dealt with the social fact of being gay over the course of the mid-to-late 20th century. As McGregor’s character says of his own relationship, “Our good fortune allowed us to feel a sadness our parents never had time for.” Mills’ comedy-drama is a hilarious, poignant, expertly observed story about the way love changes over time and the high but necessary cost of being true to your heart. — Daniel Carlson
Win Win: There have been a few comparisons made between Win Win and The Blindside because critics are lazy and can’t speak without comparisons (sorry, we learn it from our parents). Both movies involve a family bringing in a athletic high school student, but the comparisons end there and anyone that would compare Sandra Bullock and Amy Ryan ought to be shot in the head on the spot. This is Tom McCarthy, people. The greatest director who ever starred in 2012. He brings his same sense of grace to Win Win, and populates them with always his colorful characters, that he did in his previous two films. Tom McCarthy has the market cornered on intelligent and heartwarming, but here he brings it to a wider audience.
The Tree of Life: Malick’s latest film is a rapturous one, a work wrought by the hand of a gifted storyteller who knows precisely how to use a confluence of music and motion to communicate whole chunks of story at once; it’s as if Malick feels the film so deep in his bones that his mere belief is enough to transmit it whole into our hearts and minds. He matches elliptical bursts of whispered dialogue with timely cuts and perfect visuals to instantly create and send entire universes out into the night. Malick plants his feet and his flag in the middle of the filmmaking spectrum, owning the land like no other.No one else does what he does; not like this. Yet The Tree of Life isn’t a mere technical achievement: it’s a heartrending, gorgeously realized story of life and death that wrestles with questions of love, justice, and the way our families shape our fate. It’s engaging, challenging, uncompromising; it is unique, and daring, and the reason we go to the movies. — Daniel Carlson
Bridesmaids: Of all the Judd Apatow-inspired bromances that have been released since Knocked Up, none have been as good as Bridesmaids. In fact, of all the studio-produced female-centerered flicks since Knocked Up, none have been as good as Bridesmaids. It’s the movie that the underappreciated The Sweetest Thing aspired to be in 2002: A filthy fucking comedy that combines the better elements of bromance and old-school Farelly Brothers with honest-to-goodness heart. For everyone who liked The Hangover but thought it was missing something, Bridesmaids demonstrates exactly what its predecessor lacked: Awesome, hilarious women who can hilariously talk about their feelings in one scene and shit in a sink in the next. — Dustin Rowles