As we hurry towards a new year, one that promises great, bright shiny new opportunities, and almost certainly more than a few let downs (most likely at the Olympics…oh, sorry… Go Team GB!) it is also a time to look back as well as forwards. As is customary at this time of year, we cast our nostalgic minds back to the year that was 2011 and think about what was, before we get round to the business of what might be in 2012. It has become a tradition here at Studio 279 (i.e. we did it last year) we will run the rule over the films that astounded, cheered and moved us throughout the last twelve months. But we won’t start there, oh no. Much more fun is to write about the films that made us tear our hear out, tut loudly at the screen and bury our heads, pleading for the madness to stop. It is this list of five ignominious cinematic specimens that rank as the most abject, feeble or just plain dull of the year, in our humble opinion. So pull up a chair, get some coffee on the go and strap yourself in. We are pleased to present Studio 279’s 5 Worst Films of 2011!
5. THE WAY BACK d: Peter Weir
This was a film that for many got lost in the shuffle in the early year awards season hoopla, sadly for good reason. Despite the presence of the quietly brilliant Peter Weir in the directors chair, the chameleonic maestro behind such wonderfully diverse films as Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Truman Show and the stone cold classic Witness, The Way Back is a regrettably plodding affair. Ostensibly based on a true story (although one that has repeatedly come into question) the film revolves around a group of Soviet gulag inmates who break out of their prison in the Siberian wastelands and hike through forests, deserts and mountains towards freedom, all the while evading government troops who will throw them back in the pokey or execute them for escaping. Suffice it to say that description sounds infinitely more exciting than the finished product. Saying “it’s boring!” is not the most intellectual of criticisms, but in this case it is the correct one. The film never becomes engaging, with each character, from Jim Sturgess’ turgid lead Janusz to Ed Harris’ weakly-sketched-instead-of-enigmatic Mr Smith failing to grab your attention or your interest. With the exception of Colin Farrell, given the showy part of an out-and-out wrong ‘un compared to his castmate’s dreary political prisoners, all seem to sleepwalk through what should be a gripping yarn. The script is extremely pedestrian, so that a trek that should be a matter of life and death has all the drama of a walk to the shops. Tested loyalties, the absence of water in the desert and lack of food raising the spectre of cannibalism are fine dramatic meat, but are here boiled into irrelevance. Funded in part by National Geographic, the location work comes over as more TV travelogue than big screen feature film, and has the result of not focussing our attention on the characters or their story, but where they are wandering. This is one of several bizarre artistic decisions, from an opening title card informing you how many characters survive before the story begins (not necessarily a misstep in itself as that could create tension as to who lives or dies, but it singularly fails to do so) to a badly thought out conclusion using archive footage and green screen to “march through history” of the Cold War from the end of the story until the Berlin Wall. The film squanders an intriguing setting, an interesting premise and a talented cast and crew in producing what is a lifeless spectacle. Whilst its lack of spark is more disappointing than actually offensive, unlike others on this list, its leaden nature makes you wonder whether it was a story worth telling in the first place, never mind worth buying a ticket to see it. Weir is a great director, and there is no pleasure in seeing him stumble, but The Way Back is a film that struggles to find The Way In, making it a relief when you locate The Way Out.
4. NEVER LET ME GO d: Mark Romanek
There is a special circle of hell reserved in my head for bad adaptions of books I like. Denizens of that dark place include Tom Hooper’s appalling desecration of David Peace’s The Damned Utd, a brilliant fictional look inside the Ol’ Big Ead of Brian Clough that captures the great man’s essence turned into a tacky Mike Yarwood meets Match of the Day pantomime, and Zac Snyder’s Watchmen, which junks Alan Moore’s smart deconstruction of superhero myth with delightful subtext in favour of ridiculous über violence and sex scenes comically set to Leonard Cohen tracks. Whilst Never Let Me Go, Mark Romanek’s film version of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, does not commit the multitude of sins by that terrible twosome and so is allowed regular visits from family members rather than solitary confinement, it commits a large enough one; pretty much missing the entire point of the book it is based on. Ishiguro’s novel is a poignant, haunting and atmospheric piece that uses a very simple but deftly executed science fiction conceit to examine the human condition, our relationship with mortality, and how we deal with our pasts. It takes place in a world that is recognizably our own, but is slightly off. That is the best way of describing the film version; almost like the book, but something is amiss. One of its main errors is failing to capture the woozy atmos of Ishiguro’s story. This may not be anyone’s fault exactly. One of my favourite directors, Guillermo Del Toro, once said that the difference between books and film is a book can have ambiguity but a film must be about specificity. But whilst it may have been light capturing lightning in a bottle to harness the novel’s dreamlike depiction of school life, they could certainly have done a better job. The book perfectly depicts the lead character, Kathy, remembering her school days, and the crucial episodes therein that defined her relationships with her friends Tommy and Ruth, as well as hinting at the secret at the heart of their existence. It also conjures up your own images of childhood, the people you knew there and how it has greater significance to you with the passage of time. The film depicts a bunch of rigid child actors in an ordinary boarding school where not much happens except for a pointed speech from Sally Hawkins spelling out exactly what the secret at the heart of their existence is, and Charlotte Rampling as headmistress giving a Hitler like oration at an assembly. The characters are given short shrift, particularly Keira Knightley’s Ruth, here reimagined as a bunny boiler rather than the infinitely more subtlety manipulative, and consequently more horrendous, character of the book. Though Knightley along with the rest of the cast, the ever assured Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield, try their best and come out of the piece with credit, they are left stranded by a poor script. Alex Garland, writer of great Danny Boyle sci-fi inflected films 28 Days Later and Sunshine and a novelist in his own right, dashes off a screenplay that is a crude facsimile of the source. Key scenes are left dangerously undercooked, so much so it feels like reading a book with pages torn out at random. Scenes focussing on Ruth’s liberal definition of the truth, the cruel snuffing out of a potential relationship and a journey in search of the truth come and go, damp squibs instead of dramatic fireworks. You keep willing the film to get better, hoping the next scene will turn things around. This hope remained until one of the climactic and most crucial scenes, where Rampling’s headmistress is literally wheeled in to explain just what the hell was going on (in what Ridley Scott calls the Irving The Explainer role, and Mike Myers Basil Exposition) when it withered and died. The book version is a tense affair, with the full truth being unravelled against the clock as the headmistress has only a few minutes to spill the beans before the removal men come and she leaving with them. The film? “This is what it was. Go home”, delivered by a gender reversed Professor X (more on him in a moment) It may be hypocritical to condemn a film as poor in relation to a book you only read because the film was coming out (and it is) but even so being an underpowered and wrongheaded version of a superior story is enough to earn Never Let Me Go a place on this list. As dull as The Way Back, but more egregious considering it could have been so much better.
3. X-MEN: FIRST CLASS d: Matthew Vaughn
The X-Men series is dead to me. Strong words, n’est pas? Oui, bien sur. But consider this, oh reasonable reader. These films were once among my very favourites. The original X-Men, now 11 years old, was a fine example of a comic book film, one of the first to popularise the genre now swamping the multiplexes, and despite being a tad overchatty in explaining every concept so we definitely get it, it was a fun yet serious look at people with superpowers that dealt subtextually with teenagage angst, persecution of minorities and genocide. Its sequel, 2003’s X2 (subtitled X-Men United Stateside) remains one of the high watermarks for not only superhero films but mainstream blockbusters and sequels. With the gabbing left to the first film, it hits the ground running with an exemplary set piece, the attempted assassination of the President by a teleporting mutant, and doesn’t let up from there. Funny, exciting and shocking, with a twist in the tail that truly surprised, it was and remains one of the best experiences this writer has ever had in the cinema. With a sequel heavily signposted, X-Men 3 would surely round off the trilogy in a fantastic and fitting way. Alas, it wasn’t to be. The director of the first two efforts, Bryan Singer, was wooed by Warner Brothers to helm Superman Returns, a beloved character of his since childhood, causing bad blood with X-Men’s 20th Century Fox who vowed to not only proceed without him, but beat Superman into theaters. They hired British director Matthew Vaughn to replace him, then having but one directorial credit, the non geezery and rather great gangster film Layer Cake. But the pressures of a fast schedule told, and Vaughn departed, later explaining he felt unable to deliver a quality film to match the predecessors in such a short time frame. Enter that bane of many a geek, Brett Ratner, scourge of the multiplexes, deliverer of average to mediocre tat and purveyor of unnecessary sequels/prequels like Red Dragon. Suffice it to say the nonsensical, stupid and monumentally tedious outing, X-Men: The Last Stand, shattered many a hope this writer had of a great X-Sequel. It also marked the first time at the cinema I remember during a film querying its internal logic; when the “mobile prison” transporting Ian McKellen’s Magneto round the country drove from one side of the screen to t’other, the thought passed across my brain: “this makes no sense”. Would that Ratman’s diabolical entry into the canon were the worst indignity the series suffered. Then we got the punctuation challenged X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a brain-dead aberration that takes one of the series best-loved characters, surrounds him with a bunch of non characters with a view to creating spin offs that never happened and tells a prequel story that never needed telling and is barely told anyway. So the announcement of a prequel X-Men film, with Bryan Singer returning as producer, with Matthew Vaughn fresh from a comic book film in Kick Ass in the hot seat, with the cream of the crop of acting talent including James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence could only be a good thing right? Wrong. X-Men is dead to me. Permit me to explain why.
One of the most infuriating things in prequel cinema is the fact we know the story already, as we have sat through at least one previous instalment that the new work slots in front of chronologically. First Class, a title demanding the attention of trading standards if ever there was one, goes one further by telling a story over the course of two hours that the very first X-Men film told in two minutes; namely, the Nazis did it, and Magneto doesn’t trust humans. The opening of the original X-Men sets the tone expertly, as a young boy is separated from his parents in a concentration camp, in his anguish bending the gates with his incipient mutant power. From there it heads to the present day, with talk of mutant registration, a concept the now elderly Magneto informs the equally wizened Professor Xavier will ultimately lead to a mutant genocide. Serious stuff, handled with care and efficiency. First Class makes the questionable decision to replay this opening concentration camp scene shot for shot, the sole exception being the jarring presence of a Nazi doctor looking out the window. Later we discover this Nazi doctor hauled the child Magneto before him, and if he did not repeat his gate trick, he would shoot his mum dead. Which he does. Now, we, as the viewer, are meant to be shocked, upset, dismayed. This writer was a bit offended. When we see Magneto’s parents pass behind those gates, a multitude of horrors await. We know what happens next, as the details of the Holocaust allow us to speculate that they will meet a terrible fate in what is almost certainly the worst atrocity ever committed in human history. So how is it worse that rather than assuming the Lensherr’s suffered those evils, a moustache twirling Nazi shot one of them? It trivialises the Holocaust in a way the original never did, neither with trigger happy doctors or devastated boys shouting “Neeeeeeeeein!”
From here The Boys From Brazil segment, where the now 100% more Fassbendery Magneto hunts down Huns and deals out magnetic based justice, is less objectionable, but plays out like an ersatz Inglourious Basterds, particularly due to the presence of Archie Hicox himself. Fassbender is one of our favourite actors, an engaging and likable talent onscreen and off, and one of the finest young bucks acting today. Here however he is shorn of charm, wit, or anything accept being a bit moody and having a wobbly accent. In fact, the rest of the cast, a veritable who’s who of our favourite people, are similarly undone. James McAvoy has the luxury of playing a totally different version of Xavier from Patrick Stewart’s original; whilst Fassbender is written as McKellen but younger and more annoyed, McAvoy can at least womanize, booze, have hair and not be in a wheelchair to do something different, although as he gets the fair share of Irving the Explainering to do it makes little difference (along with the irritating habit of constantly foreshadowing his later fate “oh, this better not send me bald, wink wink!”). Jennifer Lawrence and Nicolas Hoult as Mystique and Beast respectively actually come out with reputations enhanced, bringing warmth and humanity to their characters and making you wish they had been the focus of the scattershot script overpopulated with dead wood. January Jones, so great in Mad Men? Stares vacantly in a bra and miniskirt. Rose Byrne, so great in Damages? Infiltrates a secret lair in a bra and suspenders (pattern emerging here) Nice to see the 1960s setting extends to its appalling attitudes towards women.
Similarly, despite taking place at a time where Black Civil Rights was at the forefront of national discussion, the only black characters either die immediately or become evil, all the while with no one seeming to notice they are even there (whether legally enforced segregation in the South, or de facto segregation via economic factors in the North, the presence of black people in such company it would have been commented upon back in the day) The parade of no neck, no name mutants with so what powers (all wearing modern-day hooded tops and sports wear, for some reason) are poor substitutes for better known X-Members. In fact, most are obscurely related to more recognisable participants, such as Cyclops’ brother Havok who…shoots…lasers…from his…chest…apparently? These are the First Class of the title, but are left, like the film around them, as the Amazon Free Super Saver Delivery; a cheaper alternative, and not always able to get the job done properly. Saying the film has a plot is a gross overstatement, as Kevin Bacon wants to use the Cuban Missile Crisis to create a mutant master race or something. The Cuban Missile Crisis is the closest our planet has come to total annihilation. Here it is a lame save the world plot that is much less interesting than the event itself. The lameness extends to Bacon himself, denied opportunity to serve up ham as the villain and instead a pork scratching. An absurd overwrought climax that leaves the two leads in their “original” positions leaves the door open for a sequel, one this writer will not be catching. Matthew Vaughn left X-Men 3 as he did not want to produce a substandard film on a ridiculous timescale. His return gave him less time than he would have had on 3, and he proved himself right in the first place with this sloppy moronic piece of garbage. It wastes great actors, great talent behind the scenes (he and Jane Goldman are a great pair of collaborators, cf Stardust and Kick Ass) and great history to be one of the top 3 films that got on our proverbials this year. Two more were more infuriating as you shall see. Number 2 on the list is reserved for:
2. ATTACK THE BLOCK d: Joe Cornish
If the trades descriptions people need looking at the title of First Class, they would have a field day with Attack The Block, which, with the possible exception of the X-Joint stands as one of the most wildly overrated films of the year. Sold off the back of that horror comedy classic, Shaun of the Dead, the film promised laughs and scares in equal measure, with a similarly fresh take on the alien invasion story from a debutant director in Joe Cornish. The premise was a humdinger; the ETs make the mistake of crash landing on a council estate, and are done battle with by some young herberts. This was high on the looking forward to list. Then the trailer arrived with nary a laugh to be had, but no cause for concern, as many a great film has been sunk by a pants trailer. So settling into the cinema seats we were prepared to be shocked, surprised, have our funny bones tickled and generally enjoy ourselves. What followed was undoubtedly the longest 88 minutes of the year. There are several simple reasons for this. Number 1: it just isn’t funny. In fact it appears that is not the intention; there are few jokes or gags in it, for the most part a serious (read po-faced) exercise and therefore entirely laugh free. Joe Cornish has said, in a needlessly prickly and hostile interview with Mark Kermode on Radio 5 Live, that he was not responsible for the marketing of the film and the comparisons to Edgar Wright’s masterpiece. Fair point, but regardless the film purports to be in some way in the spirit of Shaun, and that is what audiences, i.e. me, expected. Being neither fish nor fowl, not funny and so not a comedy, but not serious enough to be a drama, it falls between two ill conceived stools. Number 2: it feels awfully inauthentic. One of the differentiating features of Attack the Block is its characters, black inner city youths who speak with an impenetrable slang that makes The Wire look like Downton Abbey. The problem is not that they cannot be understood, for they can, it is that it feels completely phoney. Much was made of Cornish’s research, hanging out at youth centres to pick up the appropriate patter and street smarts for the dialogue. Instead it feels horribly fake, like someone who has overheard a conversation on the bus and repeated it verbatim without really knowing what it means. The overall effect is that like the Cornish proxy character played by Luke Treadaway, a gauche middle class stoner who thinks he’s one of the gang (and one of the only believable characters in the film) of trying too hard but not getting it.
The lack of believability extends to the characters themselves, who are aside from the lead Moses, completely indistinguishable from each other. They have no defined personalities, making it difficult to care, or notice, when the bodies start hitting the floor. On more than one occasion one character was despatched, only for them to return later. Except they didn’t; they remained dead, but the interchangeable nature of the gang meant mistaken identity was a frequent occurrence. The air of falsehood even hangs over the pop culture references woven into the script. Edgar Wright’s films, from Shaun to Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim, are knee-deep in allusions to other works, from films and TV series to music and video games. They always seem to come from a place of knowledge; Wright has watched that film, loved that song, played that game, and shares it within the film that shows that. By contrast, the references in Attack the Block, from tower blocks named after science fiction authors like HG Wells and gestures in the direction of genre cinema, feel no more than surface level. The song over the closing credits is one lifted from GTA, with no narrative reason apart from presumably “it was a cool song.” A debt to John Carpenter, sci-fi and horror impresario behind The Thing, Assault on Precinct 13 and Escape from New York, is clear, but extremely muddled. Are Cornish’s hooded gang the Snake Plissken style anti-heroes, or the Precinct 13 faceless attackers who menace the police station? This is a result of a sloppy structure, with the story opening focussing on a character who is at best tangential and at worst entirely redundant. Nurse Jodie Whittaker, a great actress totally wasted, walks from a tube station down a succession of dark alleys until she is mugged by our “heroes” in the gang. She then runs off, and we stay with them, laughing and joking about mugging her and having a high old time. Hi-larious. The problem here is one of viewpoint. If Whittaker is the lead, seeing her get mugged and how she deals with it is one thing. Then when she sees an alien invasion kicking off she is forced to seek the help of her attackers. That would be interesting. Or if we open with the gang, as they mug some random person, then we are complicit in their crime and bound with them. When one gets injured and they seek out a nurse who lives in the building only for us to discover with them that, wa-waaaa! The woman they mugged was the nurse and she won’t help, forcing them to see the error of their ways. That would also work. Not what the film does, where we open with Whittaker, she is mugged, disappears, leaving us in the company of delinquents, who then need her help, but we know she’s a nurse and what they’ve done, so there is no drama in it. A few more drafts may have teased out that drama, but it comes across as sloppy.
The woolly headed logic of the film is also present with the aliens. With an alien invasion plot, the crucial word is invasion. That means it is a conscious decision of a sentient being trying to land on Earth for their own purposes. The aliens of Attack the Block are bestial and have come here by accident. There is some such cobblers about them trying to mate as they do so like moths or some such, so that when the hoodies kill one of them, it causes no end of trouble and sends the wolf/dog creatures after them. This is totally unsatisfying, as it totally negates the premise of an alien attack being repulsed by the toughest Britain can offer in defence. There is some attempt to make this about the character’s bad decisions, that if they hadn’t killed it they wouldn’t be an alien target and so forth, with the realisation their actions have consequences. But as Noel Clarke observed, and he should know having written Kidulthood and Adulthood, the atonement for that sin is to try and blow up the rest of the creatures? Highly suspect. It also cannot be denied that our lack of enjoyment is in part due to who the film identifies with. Without coming off all Daily Mail, the lead characters are a gang of intimidating criminals, who rob from innocent people yet justify their actions with their own twisted moral code (they don’t rob people from their area, because that’s alright, apparently) As someone who lives in a street where there has been more crime in the past twelve months than the previous seventeen years, including instances of vandalism and theft that have touched us directly, all perpetrated by the same kind of mindless idiots as those the film asks us to empathise with, that won’t wash. Though the film does make a laudable if belated attempt to explain their actions, they come from broken homes, no parents around, the influence and exploitation of criminal gangs e.t.c. it still seems warped to hold these individuals up as heroes. The film’s climax, where Moses is arrested by police yet is acclaimed by the people from his “Ends”, comes across as disturbing as most don’t know what he has done and are cheering him not because they know he saved them from alien hordes, but because they are anti police. Even before the riots that swept across the UK in the summer, including our home city of Birmingham, creating a climate of fear for a few depressing and upsetting days, this left a bitter taste in the mouth and would have earned it a place on this list. Despite the praise from some quarters Attack the Block is a confused, inert and misguided film that left us harrumphing like a right-wing political blowhard instead of the liberal lefty we are, and that is something no one wants to feel like.
And so, which film has been the bane of our existence in 2012? The worst film we have seen bar none, that all the others quake and quail before? Well gentle reader, sigh no more, for it’s:
1. COWBOYS & ALIENS d: Jon Favreau
It’s always interesting what seems like a good idea at the time. It’s even more interesting to see what something that was never a good idea in the first place. The key difference between Attack the Block and Cowboys & Aliens, Jon Favreau’s unbelievable stupid, tiresome, lazy, offensively expensive and just plain bad wannabe blockbuster, is that at least Attack the Block was a good idea poorly executed (although some would have it otherwise) In the case of Cowboys & Aliens, it’s a moronic piece of nuts and gum mashup filmmaking, based on a series of assumptions that don’t play out in the real world. For instance, that people love cowboys, love aliens, and would just love,love, love to see them battle it out. The assumption that people will realise that Cowboys & Aliens is not just a stupid does exactly what it says on the tin title like Snakes on a Plane, but is instead a witty pun that riffs on Cowboys and Indians. The assumption that people will pay to see Daniel Craig in anything where he is not James Bond. That Harrison Ford can act anymore. This is the kind of creatively bankrupt but financially profligate filmmaking that people think of when they want to hit Hollywood with a large stick. On the evidence of this it does need hitting. Very, very hard.
Because, despite the fact it really wasn’t, lots of people thought this was a good idea. In development for a staggering 14 years, without anybody making the consideration of whether it was worth 14 minutes of anyone’s time, the film, based on a graphic novel nobody read after having been a film no one wanted to make that was to be directed by the auteur behind Nutty Proffessor 2: The Klumps, had an obscene amount of people lining up to claim “credit” for unleashing this “treat” on audiences. Along with a jaw dropping assembly of seventeen credited producers, some regular, some co and some executive, including Hollywood heavyweights Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg, no less, an equally surprising six screenwriters were deemed responsible for the script, including Lost scribe Damon Lindelof and Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, lauded for their Star Trek reboot but roundly booed for everything else. Yet all these people failed to see that nobody wants to bloody see it. Or, more importantly, failed to realise how they themselves saw it. Because saddled with a goofy title, it was for some reason decreed by Lord Favreau, an absurdly overpromoted journeyman director whose Iron Man films coast on the personality of their star between unimaginative and leaden “story” bits, that they should take the concept seriously. Think Unforgiven meets Alien, he said. An appealing prospect that one, William Munny versus the Xenomorph. What we get is a lead character who can’t remember who he is and aliens the audiences can’t remember once they’ve left the theatre, bogged down in a story that is both stupidly obvious and needless complicated at the same time.
Ah, amnesia, what a tool you are for lazy screenwriters! Whilst it can be used to great effect, such as in the Bourne series, so we learn along with the hero what is going on, it has, as a result of the success of that franchise, become all-pervasive and a pathetic trope. This is particularly felt here, as rather than present Daniel Craig’s character as a Clint Eastwood style Man With No Name, known to himself but unknowable to anybody else, the ultimate bad ass in a natty hat, he wakes up in the desert, not knowing who he is, how he got there, and with a weird bit of tech on his arm. Bravo. Because then we have to waste our time unpeeling his backstory that we couldn’t be bothered with, what happened to his wife we don’t care about, and how he got the twinkly wristwatch from outer space. Those flashbacks, parsing out glimpses of El Craigerino robbing trains and the like, would actually have made for a more exciting opening than the pathetic pastiche of a million westerns, a desert standoff leading to some ruffians in the dust, that we actually get. But the ultimate difference between Craig as a nameless gunslinger and Clint Eastwood, is that Clint had a personality. No disrespect intended to our Bond, as he is a fine talent, but in Leone’s master works Clint has wit, intelligence and heart in equal measure, as well as damn fine shootin’ skills. Craig’s Jake Lonergan, as he comes to be known, is…well…he wears a hat. The old maxim goes character is action, but in Cowboys & Aliens we get neither. As to the shiny wristwatch, another stupid decision by the writers. Rather than pitching the best we’ve got, Winchester ’73s, six shooters e.t.c. against a technologically superior foe (and reflecting the mismatch between Native Americans and Frontier settlers, as was promised) we get the dubious and dramatically convenient idea that it doesn’t matter what they’ve got, so long as we’ve got it too, so we can beat them. This dissolves any sense of threat that may have been created right away, because the characters, such as they are, don’t need to think or be resourceful to save their town, their way of life and their loved ones; they just need to blast them aliens with their own kit real good. Goody.
Speaking of those aliens, in those 14 years clearly no time was spent developing the aliens themselves. Our criticism of the Attack the Block antagonists stands, but at least there is a logic about what they are, what they want and what they are doing on Earth. C&A is comically unsure of its foe, having them fly around in ships and lassoing innocents (like cowboys!) then hooking them up to some sort of amnesia stasis thing before torturing them to find humanity’s weaknesses (like cowboys?) to, absurdly, wanting to extract all the gold on the planet by melting it and sucking it into the mother ship. This makes the space invaders a total write off. If you want to represent the aliens as representative of the Manifest Destiny felt by American settlers, that gave them the right to turf Indians off their land, abuse them and steal their resources, fine. If you want them to be an evil Nazi like race that experiments on humans, fine. Don’t try both at the same time. And as for the interest in gold, that is so beyond the pale that even the script itself isn’t having any of it. In the only line that actually considers what we are all thinking, Harrison Ford delivers the cri de couer for the audience: “That’s ridiculous! What are they going to do with it, buy things?!” If only the rest of his performance was similarly in tune with what the public wants. Dear crotchety old geezer Harrison Ford, where did all the fun go? Once the life and soul of films as diverse as Star Wars and Indiana Jones to the aforementioned Witness, he was once quite a talent, with a roguish charm and ready wit employed to great effect in heroic if not superhuman characters. But at some point in the past twenty years he seems to have given up acting and become some sort of miser. This was a chance to break out of the po-faced family saving characters he has been mocked for and play a moustache twirling villain in a big budget popcorn flick. Apparently he doesn’t seem to want that chance, or to remain awake, as most of the time he grumbles through scenes like we’re keeping him up too late. He seems to be having as much fun as we are, mainly, none. One wishes he would stick to flying planes or riding horses or whatever it is that gives him pleasure, so long as he stays away from a movie screen. Because if you don’t want to do it, Harrison, just don’t. We’d rather you retire gracefully than continue subjecting us to these sulky tantrums you call performances.
What else can be said about this piece of godawful tat? Plenty. Why is Paul Dano here as Ford’s unpleasant and then kidnapped son? Why is it acceptable for Sam Rockwell’s emasculated character Doc to learn to “be a man” by essentially manning up and learning to shoot things, or, more unnervingly, a young child to learn the same by stabbing things? Whose idea was it to have one key character be revealed to have been an alien all along, who has taken human form as the evil ones ruined their home planet and so they must help the humans? Why does that character turn themselves into a suicide bomber at the film’s climax? What did Olivia Wilde do to deserve such shoddy treatment as a complete non-character who then gets her kit off for no narrative reason? Has Darren Aronofsky’s frequent cinematographer Matthew Libatique gone blind to explain the sheer ugliness of the teal and orange dictated visuals? Why does Harry Gregson-Williams music make you want to pull your own ears out? How can a script written by so many people and approved by even more have such stupidity and contempt for its audience as it splashes millions and millions of dollars on empty spectacle after empty spectacle? And have any of them seen either a western or a sci-fi film before? It is the staggering scale of stupidity on display and the catastrophic levels of wrongheadedness that make what we have dubbed Cowpats & Aliens such a waste of money, time and energy. Ordinarily we would say you should see it yourself to see what we mean, but please don’t; you will only encourage them.
So that’s it for the worst films of 2011. We hope you enjoyed it (if you made it to the end alive that is!) If you have a view on any of these films drop us a line in the comments. We hope to have the best of 2011 online tomorrow (New Year’s Eve!) then bother you with our filmic New Years Resolutions on New Year’s Day. Until then, let us know what you think of our worst of the year picks below.