Generally speaking, I rarely do worst-of lists, simply because I try to make a point to avoid movies that I probably won't enjoy. However, 2009 contained a number of surprise stinkers, as well as any number of bad films that I saw through work or in order to cover them for this site and my other outlets. So this year I saw enough genuinely unfortunate misses to make a plausible list. There are certainly allegedly terrible films that I haven't seen (The Ugly Truth, Alvin and the Chipmunks 2) and would-be losers that I probably won't see (All About Steve), so I can't promise that your least-favorite flick made the list. I chart the year's-worst not to gloat but to mourn. Here are ten misses in alphabetical order, plus the year's worst movie-going experience.
This is the kind of thing that makes chick flicks look bad, an unfunny and borderline offensive farce about two professional adults and lifelong friends who basically destroy each others' lives in order to maintain their own respective wedding dates. If it were a satire of wedding-mania, it might work, but it eventually ends up endorsing and celebrating the industry. Furthermore, it cheats its way into a happy ending by turning one of the male counterparts into a villain for daring to question his fiancee's destructive behavior. Kate Hudson took most of the blame for this one in the press, while Anne Hathaway emerged unscathed. They both should have to answer for this shameful piece of propaganda.
The Final Destination 3D
An absolutely lifeless and artless nothing of a film. It contains no character development, no real plot, and no pretense of being a real movie. But even the 3D death scenes pale in comparison to the previous three films in this franchise, as the heavy reliance on cheap CGI mutes the impact of a series known for over-the-top death scenes that at least looked real. This is the rare movie that is almost less entertaining than staring at a blank screen for 80 minutes.
Friday the 13th
A film so boring and bland, so utterly uninvolved and inexplicably laugh-out-loud stupid, that it makes every prior Friday the 13th sequel look like a masterpiece in comparison. The reluctance of director Marcus Nipsel (helmer of the far-superior Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake) to even try to play around with the formula or reinvent the mythology is mind-boggling. Come what may, at least Rob Zombie's Halloween franchise is trying to be good and different. This remake/reboot offers no reason for its existence and nothing except bootleg-quality cinematography to distinguish itself from its predecessors.
The Girlfriend Experience
This Steven Soderbergh experiment is shocking, edgy, and fascinating... unless you've seen even half an episode of Showtime's vastly-superior and genuinely entertaining Secret Diary of a Call Girl. This relatively incident-free 'expose' into the life of a high-priced escort offers no real insights and no real titillation. The film made headlines due to the casting of a real-life porn star in the lead role, and that's frankly the most exciting thing about the picture. Soderbergh scored later this year with The Informant, and I enjoy his experiments (like Bubble), but this was one of his very worst, most pointless films.
Madea Goes to Jail
Tyler Perry follows up his best film (The Family That Preys) with his very worst. Returning to all of his worst impulses (overdone farce, shout to the balconies acting, racial and economic stereotypes, illogical plot turns), Perry weaves a narrative that plays on the worst stereotypes in black culture (success and ambition = evil) while stocking the film full of celebrity cameos who exist merely to embarrass themselves on film. Not even Viola Davis as a no-nonsense social worker/pastor can save this misfire. Fortunately, I Can Do Bad All By Myself was a step back in the right direction.
Men Who Stare At Goats
This is as bad as Up in the Air is good and one of the worst movies in George Clooney's generally sparkling filmography. This dreadfully moronic expose on true-life military experiments with ESP and mind-altering drugs may just be a government conspiracy, as it renders the story completely uninteresting to the American public. No need to hide the truth when you can bore and annoy the audience silly with it. I actually like the story structure, which basically plays out the entire six-film Star Wars series in 90 minutes and uses it as a metaphor for the false Utopian hopes of the 1970s. And I will admit that this is not a brainless exercise. But whatever thematic pay-offs occur in the third-act don't make up for the completely dull and nearly unwatchable first hour.
I'm not among those who think that Michael Mann walks on water, and he basically drowns this time around. By taking the infamous outlaw John Dillinger and completely neutering his lifestory to fit the template of Universal's slate of bullshit biopics ('he's not bad, just a product of society, and he sure loved his girlfriend'), Mann forces Johnny Depp to give life to a poorly-written block of wood. Christian Bale's pursuing federal agent is far more interesting, yet the film barely touches on his manhunt and the politics behind it. Not helping matters is digital cinematography that was probably intended to be viewed on an IPhone, and shoot-outs so poorly staged that I couldn't tell which gray-suited character was being shot at any given point (at least three people besides myself swear that Depp gets shotgunned during a forest shoot-out). All in all, you have a film that makes you yearn for the comparatively rich character work and 'you are there' intimacy of Miami Vice.
What do you get when you base a 95-minute film around a climactic plot twist, but then painfully telegraph that twist so that everyone catches on by the first 20 minutes? You get lots of tedium, over-acting, a lack of momentum, and no real reason not to fast-forward to the climax to confirm your educated guess. This is a tragic waste of a number of fine actors (Bill Pullman, Julia Ormond, Michael Ironside) and a moody opening act, but there is no story beyond setting up the climax.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
This film fails for refusing to give the audience what they want. Sure you occasionally get what you paid for; giant robots smacking the hell out of each other. You even get a first-act climax that's one of the best action scenes of the decade. But rather than offering up a lean and mean robot-smashing action picture, Michael Bay piles on crude and unfunny sexual humor, astonishing racial stereotypes, neoconservative political sentiments, and an unending plot that takes until the very end of the movie to do nothing more than reverse a narrative mistake from the first hour (absolutely nothing of interest occurs for the entire middle hour). Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is the ultimate Michael Bay film in the worst sense of the term. The problem with Bay isn't that he gives the audience what they want; it's that he feels the need to pile on excess crap to such an extent that he forgets what they desired in the first place.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
The only thing worse than an ambitious comic book movie that falls on its butt (Superman Returns, The Spirit) is an absolutely lazy adaptation that doesn't seem to be trying. With pointless and arbitrary action scenes, plus a narrative that is as paint-by-numbers as humanly possible, this X-Men spin-off/prequel makes X-Men: the Last Stand look like, well, X2: X-Men United. This is a shocking botch from a number of very talented people (director Gavin Hood, Hugh Jackman, Danny Huston, Liev Schreiber, etc). What's stunning is the apparent lack of effort to even try to make this film into something unique or special.
And the worst movie I saw all last year is one I won't name. It was an exceptionally early screening of a movie that will (theoretically) be released this coming year. I went in excited, as it was from a director I absolutely adore, but I walked out devastated and confused. It was easily the most shocking and heartbreaking failure of 2009. Massive reshoots have been conducted, but I can't imagine anything less than a totally reshot film can save a project that was fatally flawed on every level. I'll name the movie if/when it is released, and I'll happily eat crow if the new cut is watchable. But for now, (insert director here)'s (insert title here) is easily my pick for the worst movie I saw in all of 2009.
Follow Scott Mendelson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ScottMendelson