The Most Disappointments Films of 2011
To avoid confusion: the following films are those which I was most disappointed by during 2011. None of them are necessarily the worst films of the year, simply those which I had been looking forward to and ended up feeling particularly let down, angry, betrayed or bored.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
All of the above definitely apply to “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, from “Let the Right One In” director Thomas Alfredson, a film which I’d been eagerly awaiting for months, wooed by the trailers and the promise of old school spy action. Unfortunately, for me at least, the film gets pretty much everything wrong, in particular the bafflingly glacial pacing. I’m all for slow burn scheming and atmosphere and mood, but Alfredson sucks the life out of all the potential intrigue by stretching out an essentially straightforward and simple story through narrative manipulation and patronising trickery as if lacking confidence in John le Carré’s classic story. Although presenting a down to earth and realistic picture of the British secret service is a fine idea on paper, especially given the recent nonsification of the Bond franchise, the film seems determined to make spying as boring and lacking in thrills as possible, consisting mainly just of old English guys being terribly polite while fretting about stabbing each other in the back. On this level, the film does admittedly score highly, and if Alfredson’s aim was indeed to produce something dull, banal and pointless, then it stands as a resounding success. Yawn, yawn, yawn, even with a half bottle of decent whisky.
Paranormal Activity 3
Although I admit that I’m probably a fool for expecting anything from this sequel/prequel, I’ve still got a soft spot for the found footage genre, mainly since it offers film makers the chance to do something inventive on a micro budget. The opposite is the case here, as the film basically consists of scenes lifted brazenly from its predecessors, thrown together without any real thought or care. This in itself need not be so much of a problem, though directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman take things too far and push the film almost into spoof territory, scenes of the camera panning slowly left to right dragged out to embarrassing lengths, and the whole thing quickly becomes a sort of cinematic ‘Where’s Wally’ as the viewer is challenged to try and spot what has changed in the frame. This is even less fun than it sounds.
I’m still confused as to why “The Beaver” wasn’t funny, even in a let’s all laugh at crazy Mel Gibson car crash kind of way. Why was this film made? I can only imagine Jodie Foster pitching it to the studio –
Jodie Foster: The film revolves around Mel Gibson having a breakdown and putting a beaver glove puppet on his hand that he talks through in a cockney accent
Studio Head: Nice one Jodie, sounds funny, box office hit written all over it
Jodie Foster: Actually, it’s not a comedy
Studio Head: …….
Jodie Foster: No, really. I’m using this outlandish premise for a serious exploration of depression and mental illness
Studio Head: …..
And so the question again – honestly, why was this film made? Who thought it as a good idea? Mel Gibson doesn’t even freak out or do anything even vaguely as crazy as his much lamented real life antics, and half of the film is devoted to poor Anton Yelchin’s supremely uninteresting teen romance.
Another one where I should have known better, but the sad truth is that I’ll probably always look forward to anything from Wes Craven, despite knowing in my heart of hearts that the once great horror helmer is quite likely all washed up. The original “Scream” was a classic and undeniably one of the most influential genre films of the last couple of decades, and it’s perhaps that, along with a decent first sequel that gave this supposed series reboot a hint of promise, with early word suggesting plenty of gore and incisive jabs at some of the more tiresome trends in recent shriek cinema. Unfortunately, any such hopes were dashed within minutes, the opening scene falling horribly flat. Things only went downhill from there, with Craven’s handing flat and by the numbers, recalling his 1985 “Hills have Eyes” sequel, and Kevin Williamson’s script playing things curiously straight and showing a weird lack of awareness. Crucially, the film utterly fails to put the boot into subject ripe for satire such as remakes or the found footage genre, and comes across like an embarrassing elderly relative, doddering around, unaware that the world has moved on. Creaky, purposefully predictable and without the good sense to at least throw in a few shocks, the only silver lining here is the hope that the film’s critical and box office failure may mean that we are spared further outings for the aged cast, and that my memories of such wonderful lines as ‘Liver alone’ can remain unsullied.
Directed by the extremely talented Danny Boyle, starring the always likeable James Franco and with an excellent hook of a high concept premise, this true life story about Aron Ralston getting his arm trapped under a boulder and having to cut it off to survive nevertheless somehow fails to deliver. Although it starts off well enough, with lots of high energy extreme sports cycling shenanigans and some gorgeous tourist footage type landscape shots, once Franco’s arm gets wedged under said rock, the film simply has nowhere to go. Boyle does his best to get round this by having his leading man babble to the camera and lurch between flashbacks for what feels like hours, though he can’t avoid the basic truth that most people in the audience are really just waiting for him to get cutting. As such, the film comes across like a sort of more respectable version of “Saw” for bourgeois viewers, though one which lacks the courage of its convictions and which tries too, too hard to be life affirming and spiritual. A film which could have easily been packed into perhaps half an hour, Boyle drags things out to an unforgivable, cringe worthy degree, and fails to muster any of the grim intensity suggested by the setup.
One of the films which most divided audience and critics during 2011, “Take Shelter” left me cold, if somewhat amused. Atmospheric and tense for maybe the first half of its long running time, with a great glowering performance from Michael Shannon, writer director Jeff Nichols does a pretty good job of keeping the audience in suspense as to whether the film is about a coming disaster or mental illness. Regrettably, the rot starts to set in all too soon, as the film falls into repetition, Shannon’s slide into possible madness becoming increasingly one note and predictable. Nichols makes the mistake of putting all his eggs in one narrative basket, the whole film hinging on its central question, and once the viewer realises that the answer is going to arrive in a last act denouement, there’s really not much else to do apart from wait for him to finally get around to throwing back the curtain. Making things worse is the fact that the long postponed ending itself really isn’t worth the wait, wrapping things up with a final reveal that’s delivered with all the flair of late career M. Night Shyamalan.
2011 for the most part saw remakes falling into a semi-comfortable rhythm of averageness, with the likes of “Fright Night”, “Let me In” and others neither exciting or offending. For some reason the announcement of a new version of “The Thing” seemed like good news, mainly since the raison d’être for John Carpenter’s 1982 classic (itself a remake) was widely accepted to be its superb special effects and gore scenes – knowing this, surely any director stepping up to the plate would be sure to focus on this aspect, meaning monster action and shriek scenes should be guaranteed. Tragically, almost unbelievably, the film flies in the face of logic and defies expectations by serving up some absolutely awful computer work and CGI, making for some of the least convincing or imaginative creatures onscreen this year, comparing unfavourably with anything seen on the SyFy channel. With the film copying the beats and scenes from Carpenter’s outing almost exactly, the film is clearly a remake rather than the prequel it flatters itself to be, meaning that there are no surprises along the way save for the depressing stupidity of the alien – summed up by an early scene in which it’s coming close to escape via helicopter, only to suddenly drop its disguise in midair and make a grab for the pilot. The film as a whole is characterised by this kind of needless tomfoolery, director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr managing to drop the ball in every respect, resulting in an anger inducing viewing experience and a total waste of time and effort.
Thanks for reading James Mudge’s Best and Most Disappointing Films of 2011. What are YOUR best and disappointing films of 2011?