Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Worst of '08


I'm not a paid critic which means I don't have to go see every film that comes out. Therefore there are dozens of, no doubt, terrible films that come out every year that I will never see. I also tend to be of the mind that the average person probably can tell that What Happens in Vegas and Beverly Hills Chihuahua will most likely be shit without an assist from me whereas some otherwise sane individuals might actually recommend American Teen or Cloverfield so I'm glad to help out where I can in that respect.

1. American Teen (Nanette Burstein)

Shame on this film. Shame on Nanette Burstein, who once upon a time was a real documentary filmmaker, for turning this opportunity to create a Wiseman-like study of middle American youth into a demographic-pandeirng would-be-episode of "The Hills." Shame on its subjects, most of whom played up the worst aspects of their personalities to fit some pre-conceived notion of themselves (are we supposed to be shocked that the cunty rich girl has suffered tragedy in her life? Or that the wacky, artsy girl is likely an undiagnosed manic?) Shame on the kids' parents for allowing their children to exploit themselves in such a manner. Shame on the Sundance Film Festival for programming the film in its coveted documentary category without putting an asterisk next to the title. Shame on those in the critical community for failing to recognize (or is it simply failing to care?) that the film was merely one re-staged, ADRed, rejiggered, or flat-out fabricated sequence after another. The only people who shouldn't be ashamed are the American people who stayed away from this one in droves.

2. The Entire First Person Genre: Colverfield, Diary of the Dead, Memorial Day, Afterschool, etc...

You know what's really *not* that interesting? Films that are enthralled with the idea of the way we obsessively chronicle our lives in this, the era of YouTube. Providing enough meta-ass licking to annoy even Charlie Kaufman, 2008 gave us Cloverfield, a shaky-cam sham that was all sizzle and no steak filled with grating yuppies who wouldn't put down the down camera even whilst scaling the side of a building, fighting off giant spider monsters or watching their loved ones die horrifically. In the same vein is George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead where we find the filmmaker returning to the zombie franchise he created with a painfully shallow (and not to mention butt ugly) yawn about what happens when obnoxious film students are on the run from the undead. Limit these to one a decade, please George? Arguably more irritating are the art films that have turned this particular form of naval gazing into an excuse to beat the audience into submission either with the latest didactic on Iraq (as in the case of the as yet unreleased Memorial Day which unspooled at CineVegas) or to take clumsy swipes at an entire generation, like NY Film Fest favorite Afterschool which plays like Haneke only with intentionally lousy compositions and an unearned cynicism. So toxic is this particular trend in filmmaking that it spawned the two worst "South Park" episodes in history.

3. The Happening (M. Night Shayamalan)

This one began its life as a page-turner of a screenplay, which transcended its dopey premise through tense writing and a genuine appreciation of the idea that the uncertainty of what comes next is often more important then anything occurring in the present. Perhaps this means M. Night Shayamalan should consider a career as a novelist. A monument to ineptitude behind the camera, The Happening is tonally clumsy, dreadfully paced and altogether unscary. More distressingly, it features career-worst performances from Mark Wahlberg and the usually luminous Zoey Deschanel.

4. Hancock (Peter Berg)

You won't believe Will Smith can fly. Featuring the worst special effects this side of a Troma film (and those don't cost tens of millions of dollars), Hancock's wise-cracking, alcoholic superhero was beaten to the punch by several months by Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man and the filmmakers gutted their own premise of having us root for Big Willy style run off with another man's wife by roping her into a dopey super-heroine subplot that seemed to be making itself up as it went along.

5. Zack and Miri Make a Porno (Kevin Smith)

Even casting real actors (and talented ones at that) can't save Smith's latest faux naughty peon to male insecurity and gentle Red State values poking through a haze of gay and scat jokes. Smith is almost 40-years-old and has now directed 8 films without showing any signs of growth either as a filmmaker or a human being.

6. Wanted (Timur Bekmambetov)

Nearly a decade after Fight Club bombed spectacularly, costing dozens of people at Fox their jobs in its wake, this thing comes along presenting a dumbed down version of the same ethos and a variation on the same special effect for two hours, and it becomes the surprise hit of the summer. Simply possessing an attitude is not the same thing has having something to say.

7. Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg)

Who knew it was the directorial brilliance of Danny Leiner that made the first film work? Bringing back almost the entire cast and original writers (who served as this films co-directors) of the latter-day, stoner classic Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, the sequel falls on its face both as a political satire and a comedy. More curiously the film ended up playing like an icky right wing apologia (how else to explain our heroes bonding with Dubbya over their shared love of weed?) after beginning with oral rape at Gitmo gags.

8. The Day the Earth Stood Still (Scott Derrickson)

This is the film where Keanu Reeves' alien comes to Earth to destroy all those pesky humans because they're ruining the planet only to change his mind because he watches Jennifer Connelly hug her step-son played by Will Smith's kid, Jayden, and decides "you humans are alright after all." Additional demerits for wasting Jon Hamm's first post-"Mad Men" role on an expendable, exposition-spouting fount.

9. Cocaine Cowboys II: Hustlin' with the Godmother (Billy Corben)

Another awful documentary of questionable value. A sequel in name only to Bill Corben's sprawling 2006 account of the South American to US drug trade, Cocaine Cowboys II focuses on the anecdotal life of sycophant and former drug trafficker Charles Cosby who rose to fame by having an affair with a Columbian narcotics baroness. Short on analysis but long on Cosby's bragging, the film is like spending two hours with one of the groupies who used to fuck Mick Jagger.

10. Jumper (Doug Liman)

Let's not kid ourselves. This is no worse than Doug Liman's last film, the nauseating Mr. & Mrs. Smith: it just doesn't have two of the biggest movie stars in the world to distract us from the hackery. An incoherent jumble of undigested ideas and wasted exotic locals, the only upside to this film is it probably puts to bed the notion of Hayden Christensen, leading man.

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