Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Film Doctor's ten most disliked films of 2009

10) Confessions of a Shopaholic

I was appalled by John Goodman's grotesque break dancing and Kristin Scott Thomas' sad imitation of Miranda Priestly, but the worst thing was the nightmarish talking mannequins.

9) The Informers

I like some of Bret Easton Ellis' work, but this instantly dated movie based on his collection of early, sloppy, anecdotal short stories becomes an exercise in pseudo-hip nihilistic enervation. The movie climaxes with one young actor proclaiming a need for "someone to tell him what's right and what's wrong" when in truth he needs a better agent.

8) Bride Wars

I spent much of the movie wondering what had happened to Kate Hudson, and what was the deal with her raccoon-like eye shadow?

7) The Twilight Saga: New Moon

I confess to kind of liking Twilight, but with the sequel I got bored with Bella, bored with Forks, Washington, the flannel shirts, the proliferation of shirtless monsters, etc. Edward Cullen's once contemptuous aristocratic snottiness became banal.

6) Bruno

See the people twitch with shock and outrage at Sacha Baron Cohen's mean-spirited antics. See them trapped within the confines of the screen. Ha, ha, ha! Later, they will sue, sue, sue.

5) Angels and Demons

The most complacent twaddle with the most convenient detective/archeological investigation I've ever seen, with a Saturday-afternoon-TV-movie gimmick of various bishops getting killed off to create urgency.

4) Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

An obvious choice, but I did spend several days afterwards recuperating in bed. I've largely blocked it from my memory.

3) 2012

I couldn't bring myself to review it. I normally like the idea of the end of the world. Now I can only wonder at John Cusack's personal apocalypse--how he had to bring himself to say, with a straight face, over and over, in interview after interview, how he admired the characters of the "elegantly written" screenplay.

2) Post Grad

I have nothing against Alexis Bledel (aside from her persistent loud yammering in the house as my significant other rewatches Gilmore Girls on DVD again), but this unfunny, unromantic travesty insults both Michael Keaton and one of my personal heroes--Carol Burnett. The film is grindingly, achingly lame, inept, painful, and demeaning to all concerned.

1) Land of the Lost

Adapted from a beloved Saturday TV show, Land of the Lost sounds the death knell of irony, immature guy films, and, I hope, Will Ferrell's career. Watch Chaka grope poor Anna Friel as random crap happens on a freeze-dried alternative-universe-with-a-dinosaur set. A good justification for the apocalypse if there ever was one.

29 comments:

JUS said...

"pseudo-hip nihilistic enervation?"

Good lord, I wish you warn me before you throw something like that at me early in the morning. ;)

Good list and LOTL deserves the top spot. That show was awful in the 70's too.

Angels and Demons was the predicted artificial and prolonged chase scene that DaVinci Code devolved into after about page 75. I never understand how people get excited about a Dan Brown novel, but I must admit that they're at least a bit elevated from the Baldacci novels. Wait until THOSE vapid, flag drapped, manufactured GI-Joe testosterone blockbusters start smearing the big screens.

Hokahey said...

Your choices are astute here. I wouldn't include 2012 but that's just the disaster movie junkie in me. Post Grad is truly a horrendously bad bad movie and it might be in spot one for me - though there's competition from Obsessed.

Jake said...

On Transformers 2: "I've largely blocked it from my memory."

Well, that would explain why it isn't no. 1, then.

Ugh, I'm actually terrified of discussing just how much I hate Transformers 2 in detail because when I say that it is the worst film I've ever seen, people (understandably) roll their eyes and think of all the straight-to-video schlock over the years too vile even for MST3K. But this wasn't some reprehensible mess made by some jackoff in Wisconsin with the money he saved up from a particularly good cheese year; it was a Hollywood production that made hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide. And in this piece of pure mass-audience spectacle, it put forward a 2-1/2 hour celebration of everything that made the United States shameful and abhorrent these last 8 years.

It was racist, misogynistic, fascistic, morally destitute and the product of product placement. I sat in a packed theater on opening day actually jutting a straw into my arm to stop myself from screaming at their enjoyment. This is beyond a matter of different taste; it is a matter of whether one has any taste at all.

filmgeek said...

I'm not remotely ashamed to admit that I enjoyed Confessions of A Shopaholic (even though it was a terrible adaptation of one of my favourite books). And I also quite enjoyed Bride Wars. I only get to see my best friend a few times a year cos she lives six hours away now and I did actually tear up a bit watching it with her. What can I say - I'm a right soppy cow

FilmDr said...

Thanks, JUS,

I think I tried to read that Brown novel about Leonardo once, and only made it to the second page.

Hokahey,

Thanks for warning me about Obsessed. Sometimes I enjoy a good trashy film. I might go see Everything's Fine for that reason.

Very funny, Jake. Perhaps Transformers 2 performed such massive damage on the national psyche, we don't know it anymore. I like your point about how the movie exemplifies many of the prejudices of our era. At the same time, I went to get a haircut later, only to find the barber just loved the film. She thought it was hilarious. In turn, I got very quiet....

Thanks for your thoughts, filmgeek,

I may be hypersensitive to romantic comedy cliches (although I didn't mind The Proposal that much). If a film loses completely loses its plausibility for some reason, I tend to stare at it abstractly, and focus on weird details. Bride Wars reminded me of 27 Dresses in its obsessive wedding derangement.

Doniphon said...

I'm really glad you included Bruno, which I find ugly in every sense as well. I also surprisingly liked the first Twilight, and found the sequel to be really disappointing. I don't really understand why you would have Land Of The Lost at #1. Granted I never saw the TV show, but I thought it was too much of an oddity to be really dismissed. Which is not to say it's a great movie, but I found its bizarreness, and its complete lack of an audience, fairly amusing. And calling it ironic I don't think is right; it was too all over the place for that. (I remember seeing alot of aliens in rubber suits and an ice cream truck that fell out of the sky, only to be eaten by dinosaurs).

Jake, if you're going to dismiss Transformers 2 on purely political grounds you also have to dismiss Gunga Din and most of the great westerns (which, incidentally, are among the greatest movies ever made). I don't think Transformers 2 is a good movie but at least Bay knows how to frame a shot. I certainly prefer his classicism to Greengrass' awful shakycam. Bay does sacrifice storytelling for spectacle, and his cinematic instincts are often crude, if not disgusting, but he is very good at what he does. I find it pretty amusing that critics fell head over heels for In The Loop for its supposedly astute political commentary, and yet ignored the fact that it looked like crap. I think the opposite is applicable here.

Doniphon said...

Also, to say if I like Bay I have no taste at all is pretty snobbish. Hell, I love Satantango too, but I'm not telling anyone who doesn't that they don't have taste.

Jake said...

Michael Bay doesn't know the first thing about visual composition. His shots are sloppy and incoherent and just because his camera is mounted on something doesn't make him a formalist. It was downright impossible to make out which robot was fighting which because he feels the need to shoot everything remotely heroic from an extreme low angle to emphasize how little he thinks of the audience. Comparing his sloppy piece of trash with a mockumentary is not only not applicable but flat-out wrong because In the Loop was meant to look like The Office and did where Transformers was meant to look and feel epic and instead was cluttered and abysmally structured.

And the idea that it's OK to overlook the sort of rampant racism (Amos and Andy bots) and jingoism (the celebrated destruction of a large swath of Shanghai, protested by only one character who is made to look like a prick) because it theoretically looked nice is insane. It's 2009, not 1939; your argument is specious (though I do hate Gunga Din, by the way, and I also find Birth of a Nation abhorrent even if I admire its visual style, albeit to far less an extent than Intolerance).

Jake said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jake said...

Also, I enjoyed The Rock, so there. Michael Bay isn't the worst person in the world when his budget isn't given to him by car, beverage and various other companies, even if The Rock has moments of almost obscene incredulity (though I love primarily the delicious double-team of Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery).

And Doc, was Post Grad really that bad? It looked pretty lame, but I have to admit I like Bledel. I don't necessarily know if she's got the screen presence to be a star, but if Michael Cera can make it by being a plucky, flat, put-upon character I don't see why she can't fill a niche doing the same. I think she's got a natural charm that Cera doesn't have (though he's more concerned with the hipster irony than Bledel). Also, I very much like Michael Keaton, Jane Lynch and Carol Burnett, so this is like depressing x4.

Doniphon said...

I'm not saying that the black robots did not leave a bad taste in my mouth. They certainly did, and the film is unquestionably informed by a specific American attitude that is at points both jingoistic and bigoted. I don't have the formal and academic training to properly debate your claim that Bay does not know a thing about visual composition; I can only (strongly) disagree (I did find his use of canted angles and low angle shots in Transformers 2 particularly striking, however). You say that my comparison to In The Loop was unfounded and perhaps you're right. But I'm trying to make the point that film criticism can be politicized in such a way that we treat a film more as a philosophical tract than a work of cinema.

Perhaps a better point of comparison would be The Passion Of The Christ, which, in my mind, has to be one of the most extraordinary aesthetic achievements in popular cinema this decade (the same goes for Apocalypto). And yet these films' aesthetic merits were completely ignored because they were perceived (perhaps correctly) as being anti-Semitic or colonial. And it seems to me that the way racial stereotypes in movies are criticized is alarmingly one-sided. With a few exceptions Precious (a far less interesting film than Transformers 2 cinematically) has been given a free pass, despite having black stereotypes at least as egregious and exploitative as those found in Bay's film.

Yes it's 2009, not 1939, but if a film from 1939 doesn't stand on its own as a work of art, it's merely an artifact, a relic. The idea that a movie from 1939 cannot be as fresh as a movie from 2009 is ridiculous to me, and I don't think the criteria with which we judge a modern film or a classic one should be any different (I'm sorry to hear you're not a fan of Gunga Din, but to each his own).

Good to hear you like The Rock; I do too, and I agree that if you put Connery and Cage in a room together it's gonna be interesting. I think if you look at any Bay movie and don't expect incredulity though, you're gonna hate it, but that's true of most movies. They aren't meant as realistic representation, but through their unreality, it is hoped they illuminate our world in new ways. I'm not sure if Bay does that, but I do think he's been thrown under the bus critically.

Jake said...

Oh, you and I are going to Kumbaya over Precious. I found it comparable to Lars Von Trier's Dancer in the Dark in its character torture and reprehensible in its lascivious exploitation of urban black poor in the name of Big Messages (not to mention it's all over the place aesthetically for no good reason). I've been keeping a running tally of what I've seen this year and it just misses my bottom 10.

The Passion of the Christ is certainly a better argument, though I think that aesthetics often reflect the philosophy of the film and, in-between agnostic-atheist that I am, even when I saw it back in my Christian youth I found the way Gibson's direction presented the torture, well, not with pleasure but as if it was somehow emotionally fulfilling, deeply troubling (for the record, I don't think that POTC is anymore anti-Semitic than the New Testament, and Gibson was remarkably faithful to the story if too willing to embellish the violence). I'd be far more inclined to agree with Apocalypto, which has questionable politics of its own but carries a certain identifiable humanity where POTC largely required a specific demographic to bring an emotional connection to the story in with them.

And I certainly don't think that a film from '39 can't be as fresh as one today at all. I kneel at the altar of Fritz Lang and was more excited by Dr. Mabuse The Gambler than any action movie made this decade. But following your own belief that we shouldn't judge them differently (I agree), then I shouldn't be willing to entirely forgive what I find morally questionable or worse because the times were different. Touch of Evil and The Searchers aren't exactly subtle in their condemnation of racism (and of course were made nearly two decades later), but they should be admired for taking the stance (as well as their considerable aesthetic pleasure). The same holds true for Intolerance, made way back in '16. I think it's perfectly rational of you to consider cinema in specifically aesthetic terms first (it is, after all, a visual medium), but I'm finding as I learn to appreciate film more as an art I care more than ever about what a film says to me.

Of course, it doesn't have to be happy (I'm a massive fanboy of the Coens and I'm becoming one of Bela Tarr), but perhaps overdosing on Jonathan Rosenbaum lately has had me looking to not simply my gut reaction with a film but how I really feel about it morally. Which is largely irrelevant for Bay or at least Transformers 2, as I find nothing of aesthetic worth either.

For Transformers 3 he should just have Nicolas Cage turn into Sean Connery. It would be like Face/Off, only 1000x times more hysterically bad.

Jason Bellamy said...

A few quick comments ...

1) I enjoyed this post. For a 10-worst list, you've stated why you dislike the films but you haven't turned this post into some grand exhibition of snark and condescension.

2) I haven't seen all the films on your list, but I do want to stick up for Confessions of a Shopaholic at least in one respect: Believe it or not, it's a remarkably clever look at addiction. Yes, it's silly. But Shopaholic gets to the bottom of addiction better than many dark addiction dramas, most of which do little more than thrill on the spectacle of addicts falling apart.

3) Good discussion here in the comments by Doniphon and Jake. You both make great points, and in a few cases I think both of you are correct even when you disagree.

Doniphon said...

Jason, your Conversations with Ed Howard are seriously the light of my month. I am never less than fascinated by your guys' discussions. Thanks.

Jake, I'm really glad we found some middle ground here. I find Rosenbaum to be compelling as well, and he's one of the few living American film critics I take dead seriously. Mainstream film criticism seems to me to have become dangerously homogenized, and an insane amount of collusion takes place, so I have a great deal of respect for any individual who has not become part of that critical herd-mentality (which is why, I believe, film blogs are so important and can really cultivate independent thought on film). I think with the films Rosenbaum loves he detects a very real unity between the aesthetic and the moral, which might be what we are both approaching from different angles. But there's real danger there; and often Rosenbaum seems to praise a film only because it confirms his political and social views. I'm not knocking him, I like the guy, but like Armond White, his politics can be a dehumanizing agent, so that he can only see a film in a broad and allegorical sense, which I find to be pretty wrong.

I actually disagree with your characterizations of Touch Of Evil and The Searchers, which I never thought of as racial message movies. I can understand that argument in regards to Welles' film, and his treatment of drug addiction is rather bizarre and dated (but then again, that whole movie is a funhouse), but The Searchers, in my mind, is one of the most complex treatments of racism in American film. I think the fact that people are still arguing whether it is a repugnant, racist film or a condemnation of that racism attests to that (The Searchers is the only film i've come across that when you talk about it with people it seems like everyone has seen a different film, the opinions are so varied).

I like your idea for Transformers 3 quite a bit.

FilmDr said...

Thanks, Doniphon and Jake, for your discussion of Transformers 2. I agree with Jason that in some cases you both may be right, but to say anything positive about The Rock! Heavens! I don't remember the film in detail, but I do recall the pain it caused.

Obviously, I need to see Precious.

Jake, yes, Post Grad was that bad. Bledel could go on to star in great movies, but not yet.

Jason, thanks for your input. I get the impression that we all need to guard against excessive snarkiness, something of an occupational hazard.

filmgeek said...

I kinda love 27 Dresses too... For all my love of contemporary indie films, I have a huge soft spot for trashy, predictable rom-coms. And a bigger soft spot for James Marsden

FilmDr said...

27 Dresses seemed intent upon cramming as many separate weddings into one movie as possible, taking the trend started with Four Weddings and a Funeral to its logical conclusion.

Perhaps, what the world needs now is a wedding/disaster film where zombie hordes do what they can to stop two women from having their weddings at the Plaza Hotel (right near Central Park) on June 6. After much drama, the film would end happily with a few zombies included amongst the bridesmaids.

filmgeek said...

I'd watch it!

Jake said...

Doniphon: I don't think Searchers and ToE are "message movies," per se, but there's a clear, perhaps on-the-nose condemnation of racism. However, I think both can be easily stacked against current Oscar-bait utterly message-driven movies without adjusting at all for historical context and they are no more upfront in their themes than, say, a Paul Haggis film.

I need to revisit The Searchers. I remember liking it, but not taking to it the way I later did with Stagecoach and especially The Grapes of Wrath. I appreciate its importance -- and I love both of its loose remakes, Taxi Driver and Paris Texas, to death -- but it's been so long since I watched it that I can't say if I prefer it to a number of other Westerns I adore.

I'm surprised, though, to hear that it's received by some as itself racist. It may depict the Indians as raiders and killers, but I remember it being far more about a cycle of racist violence that allows both whites and Native Americans to commit atrocities upon each other. Also, the inverted exchange of "You speak pretty good English/pretty good Comanche" is one of the most brilliantly direct lines outside of a Sam Fuller film.

I also agree about Rosenbaum. I tend to disagree with him -- at least on the movies he discusses that I've been able to see, which is a small portion of his writings -- about twice as often as I agree. But I find his views insightful even when I disagree, especially when I disagree. But sometimes he can be a royal pain: when he called Inglourious Basterds "morally akin to Holocaust denial" without offering any avenue to hold a debate on his site I wanted to scream. Often insightful writers like Ray Carney and Dan Schneider do the same. Of course, I will gaze furiously upon those who assure me that Transformers 2 was a great film and that my "standards are too high", but I don't think they're Nazis.

FilmDr said...

Jake,

The Searchers did not resonate much for me either. I mostly remember that nice shot of the outdoors framed by the door and Wayne looking surprisingly chunky. I've never thought of Touch of Evil in terms of race. The film is so full of noirish grotesques--Charlton Heston as a Mexican?--that race almost seems a secondary concern.

Doniphon said...

I consider The Searchers to be a masterpiece, and one of the greatest movies ever made. With that said, I actually think it's a shame it's considered generally to be a masterpiece because that means it's the first John Ford movie most people see. Ford's vision is so unmodern and idiosyncratic, and his tonal shifts are so odd, and The Searchers is one of the most extreme examples of that, one of the most Fordian films he made. It's very jarring if you aren't really familiar with Ford's cinematic approach, and I think that's why so many people dislike it. People would probably appreciate it more if they saw all his other films first, although admittedly most people don't have time to go through his whole filmography.

I can't stand The Grapes Of Wrath to be honest, I don't really even consider it a John Ford movie (I suspect Zanuck was its true auteur). It just doesn't feel like a Ford movie, and almost everything he did around the same time (Stagecoach, Young Mr. Lincoln, Drums Along The Mohawk, The Long Voyage Home, How Green Was My Valley, They Were Expendable) I consider vastly superior. Actually, The Grapes Of Wrath is a real message movie in the worst sense, and it's way more reductive than Ford's more lyrically ambiguous and ambivalent attitude towards people that's found in virtually all his other films.

Here's one of the more famous dissenting opinions regarding The Searchers in recent years. It's canonized, but as you can see a lot of people still dislike it:

http://www.slate.com/id/2145142/

Otherwise, yeah, I think we see eye-to-eye on Rosenbaum.

Jake said...

I really don't see what's so ambiguous and idiosyncratic about The Searchers. I haven't seen it but once and I'm not trying to be confrontational, but I genuinely don't recall looking at it and not getting it. That doesn't affect my perception of its quality, because the same is true of The Grapes of Wrath -- which I agree becomes a shameless message picture in the final scene but is otherwise, according to the purely anecdotal evidence supplied by my grandmother, a pretty accurate description of Depression hardships -- but I didn't find it that arresting and I think Stagecoach and Grapes are far more interesting aesthetically and Grapes and Liberty Valance speak to me more morally (save that incongruous philosophizing coming from a shitkicker ex-con farmer at the end of Grapes).

Not that any of this is a concrete opinion, as so little stayed in my memory that I can't comment either way on its aesthetic worth, though I continue to scratch my head at all these comments you've posted and that I've found that think it's not clear enough in its denunciation of racism. Perhaps the humanistic end comes too swiftly after an entire film's worth of repugnant racism, but surely that's the point? (speaking of course to the hypothetical hater here, not you) I mean, Ford spends a great deal of time establishing Ethan's deep knowledge of the people he supposedly hates, and we see him far more at ease on the steppe than at the homestead. Eh whatever, I'm scrapping all this until I can see it again.

Jason Bellamy said...

I'm too tired to try to jump into the debate on The Searchers -- where's Hokahey? this is his department! -- but I will say this ...

I think The Searchers is jarring for some less because it's often their introduction to Ford than because, more and more, it's their introduction to Wayne. Ethan is a much darker, more tortured character than Wayne usually played, so if you look at it alone it's hard to imagine why Wayne was such a beloved figure.

Anyway, just had to toss that log on the fire.

Doniphon said...

Jake, you should probably rewatch it. I suspect you would reconsider your statement that Stagecoach and Grapes are more interesting aesthetically (although it is worth noting that Toland filmed Grapes). But The Searchers' visual beauty is just overwhelming, and I think if you rewatched it you would recognize that.

I don't think people's problem with it is that the end comes too swiftly, I think their problem is that the protagonist is clearly a racist. Believe it or not, some people believe that Ford was not even slightly critical of Edwards, and the idea that the movie is a critique of the Western hero they see as applied by intellectuals later rather than expressing Ford's actual concerns. Which is think is insane, but whatever.

And Ethan is heroic in many ways, and so we have this really complicated picture of this man who is a racist, who scalps Indians and mutilates their carcasses, but who is also very likeable and sometimes does very heroic thinga. And Jason is right, he's played by John Wayne! John Wayne always played the hero, so there is an assumption on the audience's part that we have to root for him.

And we DO end up rooting for him, and in that way Ford reveals our own potentially racist and violent impulses. Ford doesn't point figures, he reveals how our country was "civilized" by racist and violent men, and how, after they did what they did, we abandoned them and forgot them for more pleasant notions of heroism (that's why the shot FilmDr references is so haunting...Ethan stands in the doorway because he knows he won't be welcomed in the house...the ending signals both a sense of moral redemption and political doom).

It's an incredible movie.

Jake said...

Well, I'm certainly going to revisit it, looking forward to it even after responding to Stagecoach and Grapes. I was just putting out what I remember of it, and that can be tricky (I find myself in similar territory when the subject of Magnolia arises and I occasionally can't just bite my tongue and shut it). I saw The Searchers before I really warmed to the awesome potential of the Western outside of simple nostalgia for people who couldn't possibly be nostalgic for it, so it is extremely high on my to-rewatch list.

Daniel Getahun said...

Knowing, anyone?

FilmDr said...

Daniel,

I never saw Knowing, but I hate to think the director of Dark City did that badly.

Daniel Getahun said...

Well Ebert loved it, for what that's worth (not much since he loves a lot of movies these days), but Hokahey also is a passionate defender. He, Jason, and I had a great back and forth about it earlier this year. Good times. The discussion - not the movie.

FilmDr said...

Yes, I remember that, Daniel. I tend to have a hard time really hating a movie if I respect the director for a previous work. I had that problem with Richard Kelly's The Box this year.