The Worst Films of 2010

I always feel like film critics can get a little nasty when discussing bad movies. If a film is bad, point out its flaws, explain why you dislike it, but don’t personally attack the filmmakers or fans, and certainly don’t go to the extent of accusing fellow film critics of racism when they disagree with you or comment that a filmmaker’s mother should’ve gotten an abortion because you hate his film! These are extreme examples, but we must be careful not to fall prey to using such criticism. This is difficult though because it is so tempting to be nasty when discussing bad movies. It’s fun to talk about a movie that just didn’t work, although nowadays it seems that more and more critics are much better at describing why a film is bad than why one is good. Negative criticism seems to be the dominant strain of criticism today, which is a somewhat unfortunate fact. That said, like all good upstart critics, I will now emulate my betters and discuss bad movies. I’ll just make sure to be a little less vicious than others as I do so. The following are my picks for the worst films of 2010. 2010 was the first year that I saw sixty plus new releases in theatres, and when you see this many films many of them will undoubtedly be bad. I knew that some of these films, such as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, would be mediocre going into them, but I saw some mindless entertainment to be had and I wasn’t completely disappointed by the results. Then there were films that I had modest hopes for – perhaps I convinced myself that they’d be good even though the evidence seemed to the contrary – but which sorely disappointed me when I actually saw them. The Expendables was the most prominent example of this. Finally, there were films I saw against my better judgment. I knew these films would be bad, like The Last Airbender, but I had to see them in order to be a part of the conversation.

My choices for the worst films of 2010 are listed alphabetically, not in order of how bad they are. However, the one film that was incontestably the worst film of the year just so happens to come first alphabetically, so I’ll start with it.

Alice in Wonderland

Directed by Tim Burton; written by Linda Woolverton; starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Mia Wasikowska.

Tim Burton finishing pouring the last of his artistic merit down the drain with this vapid adaptation/sequel to the Lewis Carroll classic. Instead of the nonsensical fantasy world of the original novel – filmed to perfection in the wonderful 1951 Disney cartoon – Burton’s Wonderland is a grotesque, gothic wasteland filled with idiotic characters who share nothing but their names with the magical creations they’re based on. The visuals are bleak, muddy, and hideous, and Burton once again proves his inability to tell a story by letting the film devolve into a meaningless battle at the climax. The uninspired, by-the-book (but not enough like the book) storytelling and wearingly bizarre Johnny Depp performance only go to show that Burton is actually the definition of a commercial filmmaker. His fans’ claims about his supposed artistic originality is a sham, for his current works have become shallow repetitions of the themes, visuals, and performances of his previous, and more interesting, films.

Daybreakers

Written and directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig; starring Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, and Sam Neill.

Placing vampires in a science fiction context seems like a good way to cash in on their massive popularity right now. However, the imaginative vampire world that the Spierig brothers create in Daybreakers is the only component of the film that works. Most of the time, the film’s poor acting by good actors (like Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill) and its incompetent action sequences detract from the imaginative world building and draw attention to the film’s low budget. What could’ve been an interesting take on the vampire mythos turned out to be an uninspired action film that fully reveals its director’s limited resources and talent.

The Expendables

Directed by Sylvester Stallone; written by Dave Callaham and Sylvester Stallone; starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, and Jet Li.

If only this film had been what it promised to be. Instead of being a fun throwback to 1980s action films, The Expendables is a tonal mess that is completely incomprehensible for the last half hour. How can a film containing Terry Crews chunkifying people with an automatic shotgun also have Mickey Rourke’s depressing speech about the horrors of war? Some people have suggested that the film works because it’s purposely campy, but I don’t think they are reading it correctly. Stallone is dead serious here. He thinks he’s making an action movie with real substance, but he only knows how to convey his ideas and emotion through the crude language of 1980s action films. As a result, his film is alarmingly both a self-serious rumination on war and the men that make a living from it, and an all-out action fest that takes great pleasure in the blood, guts, and explosions that fill the screen for extended periods of time. The Expendables is a schizophrenic action film. For a movie that’s supposedly about the atrocities of violence, it takes a perverse pleasure in mayhem and death.

Greenberg

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach; starring Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, and Rhys Ifans.

Greenberg is a movie that says some very true things about life, relationships, and selfishness, and yet it’s terribly dull and one of the most painful film experiences of recent years. The main reason is because Roger Greenberg is the biggest asshole on film in years. He’s a completely insufferable character, but Baumbach seems to sympathize with this jerky, selfish, good-for-nothing yuppie. Greta Gerwig tries her best as Florence Marr, but her character has so little charisma and interest that she ends up becoming pathetic. Baumbach presents these flawed, broken characters in an honest light, but then fails to comment at all upon their flaws. Perhaps the movie’s biggest flaw is that it focuses on concerns that only affect the idle wealthy, and while what’s portrayed may be true, there are few things that interest me less than the trivial concerns of dull yuppies with no charisma or conscience. In short, the film’s existence encourages a lifestyle I detest.

The Last Airbender

Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan; starring Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, and Dev Patel.

Shyamalan continues his downward spiral with this showcase of stiff dialogue, poor acting, and self-seriousness. While The Last Airbender is not nearly as despicable as critics made it out to be, it is a completely disposable adventure movie. The fantasy world the movie presents may be sort of interesting, but from the looks of it, the cartoon series it’s based on seems far more interesting. The biggest offenses of The Last Airbender are that it’s mostly forgettable and yet another example of squandered potential. Shyamalan used to be a great director, but after this and The Happening he needs to take some time out to reevaluate himself and what he wants to get out of filmmaking.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Directed by Mike Newell; written by Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro, and Carlo Bernard; starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, and Ben Kingsley.

A mediocre swashbuckler based on a good video game, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time actually dumbs down the storyline of the video game and takes away many of the game’s fantastical elements. What this means is that instead of a good adventure story we get a movie in which the plot is a thinly veiled allegory for the War in Iraq and the only significant arc is Prince Dastan’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) growth from cocky prince to normal prince. In addition to that, we also get ancient Persians with British accents, Gemma Arterton’s irritating princess, and a series of giant CGI set pieces where the screen is so packed with tan-coloured images that the events are incomprehensible. There is some fun to be had from Prince of Persia’s mindlessness, in particular Alfred Molina’s ostrich racer and proto-Tea Partier, but overall the film is a muddled, boisterous mess.

She’s Out of My League

Directed by Jim Field Smith; written by Sean Anders and John Morris; starring Jay Baruchel, Alice Eve, and T. J. Miller.

Jay Baruchel is a funny, likeable actor. Therefore, a movie with him in the starring role should be a funny, likable film. However, the problem with this movie is that he’s all that it’s got going for it. The majority of the film is a predictable, dull comedy about self-confidence and social pressure that makes the same comments we’ve heard in every other film of this kind. It tries to balance the sweet relationship-focused message with raunchy humour, but it can’t manage the two the way Judd Apatow’s films can. The biggest annoyance is T. J. Miller as the jackass best friend, Stainer. First of all, why does it persist in comedies that nice, funny guys like Baruchel’s Kirk have to be friends with jackasses like Miller’s Stainer? This convention should be put to rest. Beyond that, everything Miller does seems to be an attempt to mimic the Jason Lee characters in Kevin Smith movies. Unfortunately, She’s Out of My League lacks both the wit and the humour of Smith’s early films and is only another disposable twenty-first century raunchy romance.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Directed by Marc Turteltaub; written by Matt Lopez, Doug Miro, and Carlo Bernard; starring Jay Baruchel, Nicolas Cage, and Alfred Molina.

It has not been a good year for Jay Baruchel. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a failed attempt at beginning a fantasy franchise, updating the classic Mickey Mouse segment from Fantasia into a silly adventure about modern day sorcerers. Nic Cage gives another bizarre-yet-hilarious performance opposite Alfred Molina’s hokey villain, Maxim Horvath (yes, Molina again). Both are good actors, but their performances here seem to be a strange combination of tongue-in-cheek irony and dead-serious commitment. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a run-of-the-mill fantasy film and extremely similar in tone and execution to Jerry Bruckheimer’s other 2010 would-be blockbuster, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. In fact, both films would work as a great double feature because they’re equal measures of stupidity and mindless fun. A movie like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice will entertain during its two-hour running time, but for a film with a budget of a hundred-and-fifty million dollars, something of far better quality should have been able to be bought.

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Directed by David Slade; written by Melissa Rosenberg; starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner.

For the past few years, the Twilight films have been mainstays on lists like this. The filmmakers’ persistent dedication to the amateurish storytelling of Stephanie Meyer guarantees that each new film will continue to demonstrate all the flaws that plague the novels: laughable dialogue, unrealistic characters, meandering plots, and a lack of anything threatening or scary about monsters whose basic appeal has always been the fear they evoke. Twilight could have just as easily been about non-vampires. All the principals involved are better actors than these films suggest and I can hardly fault these young actors for taking the opportunity to become international superstars by selling out to these laughable stories. It’s not their fault these movies are bad; there is no actor alive who could make the dialogue in this film sound good. Eclipse’s only improvement on the other films is its competent action. This is because David Slade is a more technically capable director than either Catherine Hardwicke or Chris Weitz. Still, Eclipse is essentially no better than Twilight or New Moon, remaining nothing more than a fanciful diversion for adolescent girls (young and old).

The Wolfman

Directed by Joe Johnston; written by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self; starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, and Emily Blunt.

The Wolfman suffers from a feeble script. The difficulties that abounded in pre-production are so clearly evident in the finished product. The film moves from one scene and plot point to another without any coherency or logical development. The characters seem to be at odds with themselves and their motivations are never clear. What instead comes through in the film is a sickening amount of violence, which permeates almost every scene. The sheer volume of blood and gore is astounding and laughable, which makes The Wolfman seem more like a new, bloodier version of a campy horror film of the 1950s than a mature revision of a classic story. The only thing that’s impressive in the film is the atmosphere; many sets are beautiful to look at and the fog-covered landscape conveys a definite mood. This is where the enormous budget and the state-of-the-art production values show through. At least they show somewhere.