Much like my own writing style, the worst kinds of movies are shamelessly self-indulgent. Maybe it started at an early stage when some greased-up producer fronted the buck for a notoriously shitty sequel, or maybe a loud-mouthed actor signed onto a terrible script because he knew he could get himself some award-season buzz. Whatever the reason these cinematic abortions came into being, I suggest we toss them into the dumpster of thought and use them as examples of what not to do next time.
Movies are supposed to make us happy. When they don’t, it makes us mad. So mad that we secretly plot to kill the projectionist every night before we sleep? Maybe. Maybe we dream of slipping a little arsenic into his drinking glass beside the projector, so when he sips it after changing the second reel, he begins to cough and sputter, but because the movie is still a ways from finishing, no one will notice the calamity before it’s too late. Maybe you plot about doing it quickly, a stab to the back of the skull with a butcher’s knife. Something the cops would like to identify, you murmur. Maybe you break into the theater one night to end it all and finally put things to rest, but when you burst into the booth you realize that the theater has switched over to a digital projection method that no longer incorporates employee supervision. So there you are, standing in a room with a knife gleaming next to a non-sentient projection robot and bunch of boxes of digital film, and you can’t help but smile at the irony of it all. So you go home and sing yourself to sleep, and you think, ahh, maybe it was all in my head, man- maybe there’s no one to blame for all this.
But you were right. There is someone to blame.
And it’s these ten filmmakers. Plus the executives who bought the pitches, the agents who made the deals, and the audience members who paid to see them and enjoyed them and wrote to their Congressmen about how these types of movies should keep getting made. All of those people are to blame.
But I’m not suggesting you kill anybody. I’m just saying your feelings may be valid. Besides, the last thing I’d want to do is upset a psychopathic murderer like you.
Without further ado, the Ten Worst Movies of 2009:
10. Up in the Air
Up in the Air is a great choice of words, because it perfectly describes the film’s lackluster ending. Not only is the ending a disappointing bummer, it’s also an ambiguous sucker-punch that fails to resolve any major plot threads or explain what the movie was trying to get at all along. Are we supposed to sympathize with George Clooney or not? Is that why they cast George Clooney? So I could overlook the fact that the character is written as a self-preserving douchebag with no redeemable qualities? Even when Clooney’s character begins to have his change of heart at the end, it’s apparently too late for redemption in this universe and both he and the audience are rewarded with nothing for their efforts. This movie suffers from A Beautiful Mind syndrome. It’s an Oscar vehicle that contains absolutely no entertainment value, but allows dumb simple-minded people to have an easy dramatic choice when it comes time for award season. That’s not to say that Up in the Air isn’t occasionally funny. Thanks to the breakout performance by Natalie Keener, there are laughs for about ten minutes at the forty-five minute marker. It’s nice to see Danny McBride onscreen, albeit poorly. And the same can be said for Zach Galifianakis, who appears for a ridiculously brief amount of screentime considering his newfound star status. Jason Bateman reprises his role as the terrible incarnation of a horrible human, the same character he’s been playing in every major skene since Arrested Development ended, while Sam Elliott and J.K. Simmons are pointlessly wasted at various points throughout the film. How much more cinema can be draped around George Clooney’s smug demeanor? He already ruined the last Batman franchise with his molded plastic nipples, and now he’s set to do it for the rest of cinema! I say, no more. Only allow Clooney to play the voice of animated red foxes instead of these unanimated silver foxes. Teach him some manners, some dignity. Maybe then he can give us something better than this dully average line reading. And kudos to this movie for making talented actress Vera Farmiga a total bitch by this movie’s conclusion. It’s always great when a character seems multi-faceted and just ends up a cold-hearted shrew. Great, stellar writing. I would be more inclined to see her nominated for Orphan, seriously.
9. The Men Who Stare at Goats
To accurately describe this movie I would first have to remember it. I think George Clooney’s in this one too, and you can tell he’s serious about the acting because he grew a moustache. He’s a little bit hammier too, so I think he shouts. I remember Ewan MacGregor tries and fails to nail an American accent. Maybe he’s a reporter? I think the guy who played Norm on Cheers is in it. And it’s about psychic powers. Kevin Spacey somehow manages to accurately portray an arrogant douchebag, if I recall. Then there’s Jeff Bridges, killing time while he grows his hair out for Crazy Heart, channeling whoever played The Dude in Big Lebowski. Yeah, I think that’s everything that happens. Oh, also you lose two and a half hours of your time and somehow walk out of the theater with less information in your head than at the end of Rush Hour 2.
8. Observe & Report
When I saw this movie, I was sitting next to Anna Faris at the theater so I made sure to laugh extra hard at the hilarious moment where she is date-raped. Luckily her husband- the guy who plays Andy on Parks & Rec– was there, so it made it totally less awkward. Paul Scheer was also there, but I think just because he was lonely. Anna Faris gave me a Junior Mint and it was delicious. That was the best part of this movie. Not only was Observe & Report the final nail in the coffin that Seth Rogen cannot act under any circumstances, it’s also a painfully unfunny character study that spoils all the good will that Jody Hill built through Eastbound & Down. Danny McBride would have been a much better choice for this character, and it’s clear that Rogen is stretching to fill the shoes of a more competent actor. I remember he references studying Deniro in some of the interview footage, and I guess that shows, in the say way that Paul Reubens’ performance of Pee Wee Herman shows great restraint. The movie is only funny in its last few minutes, and that’s an awful long wait for practically nothing. Similar to Footfist Way, this is the retarded prototype for a much better down-and-out loser story that Hill has already perfected in a sequential half-hour format. I honestly liked Paul Blart: Mall Cop more than this movie. You won’t see Paul Blart on this list.
7. Inglorious Basterds
I made the mistake of reading the script to Inglorious Basterds months before it came out, so I was really setting myself up for a letdown. I thought that in spite of the narrative flaws, Tarantino’s vision would carve its way through the flawed piece and create something masterful as it often had before. Not this time. The monumental flaw with Inglorious Basterds is that there is an unnecessary cognitive disconnect between Tarantino’s representation of classic World War II era cinema and his trademark seventies grit. As a result, the outdoor shots look beautiful and the indoor shots look like high school theater. Tarantino has always been a master dialog craftsman, and that shines once again in his writing for Nazi Lt. Hans Landa. But just about every other bit of dialog in this movie fails, especially the potently unnecessary scene with British captains in a bar that eats up half this movie’s bloated run-time. And if you can voice to me a compelling reason as to why Mike “Austin Powers 3D” Myers is in this movie, I’d love to hear it. To me, this movie has more in common with Richard Kelley’s Southland Tales than Reservoir Dogs. Death Proof really worked for me because Tarantino was expertly playing to the exploitation tropes that he knows best. My problem with Basterds is that for mere moments- beautiful breathtaking shots, glimpses of dialog- we see that Tarantino might be capable of something more. Something more subtle or human than we could have ever imagined. But just as he shows it to us, he pulls it away. It’s like that stupid gold briefcase.
I think he really needed to make something better than Kill Bill here. Tarantino was taking on World War II. This was supposed to be huge. Is a dead Hitler gonna change things that much? Not in the scope of this film. But what a “funny” ending, right? Listen, Tarantino is known for taking risks. He has man-on-man assrape in his Oscar-winning picture. But killing Hitler isn’t risky. That’s the safest choice you could possibly make. I mean, how cathartic. It must be fun to be Jewish and watch this. “Ahh, finally!” But beyond that, what intellectual property does Tarantino add to the situation? In what way is this story not exactly the same as Valkyrie, only sloppier and more violent? The thing that really kills me is the Kill Bill chapter cards in this movie, like this movie has some sort of narrative. We start with the best scene in the movie thanks to Christopher Waltz, then see Shoshanna escape. We’re introduced to the Basterds, who are too many in number to be distinguished individually on a character-to-character basis. We only meet the Bear Jew (Eli Roth, “The Bear Jew”, has bat [like a bear?]) and that pussy who plays Ryan on The Office. That’s the best Quentin Tarantino can do in a movie about a team of guys who kill Nazis. Really? Have you met the Reservoir Dogs?
For God’s sakes, wasn’t this supposed to be an action movie? I wanted to see some Nazi-killing adventures, not shitty awkward romance and bad set design! Next Tarantino will be pitching his “futuristic underwater blaxploitation epic, The Hunt for Black October” and cast the guy who plays Stanley as the Submarine.
I’m tired of this shit. I want Tarantino to go back to taking risks. Nothing about this movie seems risky to me. It just seems like an interesting idea sloppily cut-and-pasted onto Tarantino’s patented exploitation formula. It’s palatable and watchable but as vapid as a Star Wars prequel.
6. Funny People
Apatow gives really great insight into the world of celebrity and stand-up comedy for about an hour and a half, then gives his wife a really great anniversary gift by letting her star in an unrelated romantic comedy for the next hour. I did enjoy Adam Sandler’s performance in this movie as himself in ten years. It takes great comedic insight to foresee the end of your career and then do nothing to prevent it. Oh, also, did you notice that Seth Rogen can’t act? Funny, funny guy. Can’t act. Green Hornet better be banking on Michel Gondry‘s ability to keep things grounded and not fly off into some cloying fantasy world, because otherwise it’s fucked. Funny People does feature a great mini-movie in the middle where Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman are dudes. Then there’s a scene where Eminem is angry. And then there’s a scene where I think that Paul Reiser is dying? I guess that’s kind of funny, in an Addams Family kind of way. In any case, don’t rent Funny People unless you’re tired of Gods & Generals and suffer from insomnia. It’s the most disappointing movie with potential this year.
5. Whatever Works
It’s at this point in his career that Woody needs to stop and ask himself, “Should I really be legally allowed to direct anything, let alone a major motion-picture?” Sure, he’s produced some monumental hits over the years, and he’s been a staple of American comedy for decades, but even Groucho died at some point. I don’t want to seem like I am against creepy narcissistic comedy writers who sleep with then marry their step-daughters, but Woody Allen just isn’t very funny anymore. Larry David does a decent job in a movie without a story, but Larry is more of a performer than a trained actor. Without real guidance, Larry flounders in a ponderously agoraphobic and tragically cliche picture about what he and Woody are both best at these days, shows “about nothing.” I think some other people are in this, but only in that vapid pseudo-intellectual way that Bill Murray is in Andy Garcia’s The Lost City, where you’re not really sure if the character exists or if you’re just schizophrenically inventing more interesting characters onscreen to alleviate the boredom. It’s nice to see Larry in New York again though! Maybe he should do a Spike Lee movie next, as the man in cape from Seinfeld.
4. Night at the Museum: Battle at the Smithsonian
Terrible. Just terrible. And I am a big fan of pretty much everyone involved. This is one of the absolute worst things ever. Like Batman & Robin bad and Clooney is nowhere to be found. I think there are two monkeys in this one. I don’t know. I blotted most of this out like a bad train wreck. There’s got to be something redeemable in here, I kept thinking. Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart? No luck there. Hank Azaria as too many characters? Nothing lucky about that. Ben Stiller in a movie? Yikes, it’s like we’re running on empty. I honestly don’t remember the plot of this movie at all. All I know is that there’s a magic tablet that looks like a honeycomb, and they spent all their costume money on the needless squid effects. More like a FRIGHT at the Museum ™! Am I right, marketing gurus? I think we should put a third monkey in the third one (in the third dimension). Look at me, mommy! I’m a film executive!
I was a really big fan of Sacha Baron Cohen before this movie came out. It was about the point when the penis started talking onscreen that I realized that nothing funny was going to happen. Rather than taking his satiric gaze (read: gays) and pointing it toward the homophobic backlash in modern American culture, just as he did with the Bruno character on his Ali G Show, and just as he did with post 9/11 xenophobia in Borat, Cohen decided to mock Paris Hilton style media whores with his character, resulting in a shamelessly self-indulgent, mostly gross and barely entertaining mess that never gratifies on an intellectual level. Cohen failed to realize that the Paris Hiltons of the world exist to be mocked by the public, and they provide their own intrinsic level of irony. In making fun of vapid socialites and soulless fashionistas, Cohen degrades himself to their level and it’s almost humiliating to bear witness to this pointed waste of your time and his talent. I would rather watch his performance in Sweeney Todd– honest to God, Sweeney Todd– than this movie.
2. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
This movie is almost so bad it’s funny, in a good way. It’s just incredible that any director can be given this much money and just throw it at the screen so clumsily. Like this is Lady in the Water, Spider-Man 3 level dumbass maneuvering right here. I mean The Island was bad but at least it was fun. At least it had jet-bikes and shit. I’m not even expecting The Rock-level competence from this guy anymore. He’s just too abysmally dull at this point. It’s like someone tried to sharpen a stone but the stone just kept getting duller and flatter. He can’t even throw together competent transitions between shots. My first Final Cut internship project looks better than this shit. How can you waste so much money on computer graphics and not know how to display them onscreen? What the fuck is wrong with you, Michael Bay? Why? Just Why? Is there a soul in there, somewhere, deep down? Do you remember what a story looks like? You could at least make shorter movies if they’re going to be this terrible. If Transformers 2 weren’t six hours long, it might be watchable. As it stands now, it makes about as much sense as Michael Bay’s success as a director: valid when equated with the hillbilly dollar.
1. Synechdoche, NY
Charlie Kaufman used to be my favorite screenwriter, and then this happened. Bloated, self-indulgent and somehow more masturbatory than the masturbation scenes in Adaptation, Kaufman puts endlessly likable actors in the vacant husks of dying characters and forces them to vaguely interact in terrible, unpleasant ways. This is the emotional experience of watching The Butterfly Effect without the visual trauma. You are paraded through a series of horrible dizzying scenarios, but rather being rewarded with some sense of coherent narrative like you might be in say, Eraserhead, you’re berated for existing while the movie takes another introspective turn so it can fondle itself behind a velvet curtain while the audience waits watching in the shadows. If it was possible to hate Philip Seymour Hoffman, this movie would make a strong case. Catherine Keener plays the most horrible woman on the planet, as intimately written by a wretched self-loathing man. Even little moments of surreal bliss like the constantly burning house can’t salvage the fact that this movie doesn’t know what it’s doing, then starts to talk openly about not knowing what it’s doing, then seems to pretend to be self-satisfied with it’s own explanation while the rest of sit wondering, “where has the time gone?” There’s nothing wrong with meta-experimentation, but it has to mean something. This isn’t like a shitty painting that you claim is “art for art’s sake.” You are actively wasting people’s time and money telling a story so needlessly personal that it collapses inward on itself. If you’re going to have a meta-conversation with the audience, why does it have to be the one about how much you suck? Don’t you have more interesting things to offer the universe than an admission of your own fatality? Grow up. Stop being a simpering nincompoop and use the fucking gift you’ve been granted with to create something better than the human condition, rather than aping it into stupid minutia to the point where watching your movie is indistinguishable from being asleep. Jesus. Even the Science of Sleep wasn’t this boring. You need (1) therapy, and (2) to direct someone else’s writing, Charlie Kaufman. You’ve got a good eye, but a terrible reflection.