2011 wound up being a relatively disappointing year for movies. We had a metric ton of sequels, remakes, and, most importantly, a whole lot of pure crap. Obviously, in any given year, there just tends to be a lot of crap, especially if it’s cheap to produce and can easily bank on making back money in spades (see the Paranormal Activity and Saw franchises), but 2011 seemed to be a year absolutely more concerned with money than actual original storytelling. This makes me out to be a wee bit of a hypocrite, because two of my most anticipated movies for next year are a sequel (Dark Knight Rises) and a prequel (Prometheus). Two films from very accomplished filmmakers, yes, but, at the end of the day, still a sequel and a prequel.
So here’s my list of a few of the more overrated films of the year. I want to make a quick note on the definition of “overrated,” though. The word doesn’t necessarily mean a film everyone things is amazing is actually s**t. Far from it. What I’m saying is that these movies have been garnering vast praise, which I believe to be at least partially unfounded, so don’t go whining when I say that I don’t think your favorite movie of the year isn’t the cinematic equivalent of Marilyn Monroe in the skimpiest thing imaginable.
And now, in no particular order, my list of the most overrated films of 2011.
Honorable Mention: Sucker Punch
I wouldn’t call this overrated, exactly, because it’s pretty much been rightfully shat on by critics, but the massively-vocal proponents of this movie make me want to include it here if only to say it one more time: fuck Sucker Punch up its shitty, misogynistic ass. If Zack Snyder took a flying leap off of the edge of the universe, I’d dance naked in the goddamned streets with an umbrella up my ass, shouting, “HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN!”
I have to hand it to Kevin Smith. He tried to do something different. He’s never made a movie remotely like Red State before, and, if he really means to retire from film making after his hockey movie, he never will again. That kind of branching out deserves respect. However, it still doesn’t change the fact that Red State was a mess. The single multi-faceted character, Michael Parks’s performance as Reverend Abin Cooper is absolutely electrifying, but it is the single aspect of a film too half-baked to be nearly as effective as it thinks it is. It slides sideways from being an anti-fundamentalist horror movie to a siege movie to a poorly-discussed anti-government action movie. I wish Kevin Smith had asked someone else to bother reading his script, or at least gave a little better thought to what sort of movie he wanted to make.
People are lauding Hugo for being a family movie that turns out to be entirely about film preservation and the history of early cinema, among other things. Valid, yes, but first the film has to wade through nearly ninety minutes of Hugo running around in the train station. When the film finally gets going, it’s solidly interesting, but there’s not enough character work, or decent acting, to hold attention while the main adventure is essentially, “Gee, I wonder what this clockwork dude is? Let’s scamper about this train station until we know!” Chloe Grace Moretz seems convinced to slough off all the goodwill given to her after her adult performance in Kick Ass, between her sub-par work in this and Let Me In. Overall, again, it’s nice to see a filmmaker branch out, especially one of the caliber of Martin Scorcese, but Hugo is only a middling film. Not terrible, by any stretch, just not great.
Sports movies are easy to gloss over, since they’re mostly designed to pull at our heartstrings in all the right ways. It’s always about Underdog X prevailing over Incredible Odds/Reigning Asshole Champion Y after a series of montages and impassioned “You can do this!” speeches from a coach/loved one/Magical Black Man. Warrior plays out like someone smashed every single trope of sports movies down a funnel and sprayed it all over Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton. The film’s central, pivotal conflict about estranged brothers forced to confront each other, physically and emotionally, and it all ends in a tidy resolution. However, we’ve only got a handful of fully capitalized Character Details to explain why they’re estranged, why they’re doing the things that they do, and what sort of honor these men truly have. Warrior, for all its physical pageantry, is a film ruined by telling and not showing the parts of these brothers’s lives that make them the way they are, in this particular movie. It falls into the deadly trap of being simultaneously underwritten and overly lengthy in a way that boggled my mind.
This is the hardest one for me to write about. I love so many aspect of David Fincher’s film. I love Rooney Mara’s performance as Lisbeth, I love the cold, bleak look of the film, and I love the way it never shies away from exploring some truly terrible things. With that out of the way, I can’t look at The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as one of the best films of the year. The first half plus of the film, telling the parallel stories of Lisbeth and Mikael before they meet to finish solving their mystery, is very poorly edited. The film cuts so abruptly from story to story that I have to wonder if it’s actually cutting in the middle of some scenes, before they’re finished. Daniel Craig, while an improvement over Michael Nyqvist from the 2009 Swedish version, still has little to do other than receive exposition and somehow get to bang Lisbeth. Mikael Blomqvist has always been a fairly boring role, meant more as a down-to-earth foil for Lisbeth, but that doesn’t excuse this sort of lazy characterization.
Like I wouldn’t write this list without mentioning the biggest let-down of the year. The Tree of Life has a lot going for it. A masterful filmmaker, soaring subject matter, ambitious themes, and what did Terrence Malick wind up showing for it all? Two plus hours of vaguely connected vignettes about the loss of innocence, a legitimately breathtaking sequence showing the creation of the Earth, and Sean Penn wandering about being as confused as we are about everything else. I am a big support of artistic, non-linear storytelling. The only way to move film forward, hell, to move any artistic medium forward, is to experiment with things that will make the vast majority of people deeply uncomfortable. Tree of Life, however, is a failed experiment more concerned with its own pretensions of being The Great Film That Explains Life then being remotely coherent or interesting.
P.S. I said these were in no particular order, but Tree of Life is by far the most overrated.