Welcome back to the Decade Decathlon, where we’re taking an extended look back at the past decade of filmmaking to see what worked, what didn’t, and what stories we can learn from the past.
I’m a tired of using the phrase “greatest of all time” to describe things, movies in particular. What exactly does that phrase mean when you really break it down? To some, it means that a movie is unquestionably the best when compared to its peers, being so perfect that nothing can ever top it. We’ve all heard of movies that have been called the best, like Citizen Kane, Lawrence of Arabia, or The Deer Hunter just to name a few. That being said, by calling something “the greatest of all time,” it almost seems stifling to me. There will never be anything that could top that movie and every other movie released is just a futile excuse to chase perfection until the end of time. Plus it implies that the person in question calling something “the greatest of all time” has seen every movie and can state, with pure objectivity, that one movie is clearly better than all others.
Of course we know that such a statement is impossible, so I tend to look at calling something “the greatest of all time” not as a declaration, but as a landmark in a person’s life. At this point in time, you believe that THIS movie is the best movie you’ve ever seen. Your opinion may change however as you get older and encounter new life experiences, altering your opinion on how you viewed the movie you once called “the greatest of all time.” So when I look back at 2011 and see how critics at the time viewed the year, so many critics were quick to call it one of the most important and influential years in film. Numerous critics seemed at a loss describing just how amazing the year was and lamented that picking a Top 10 best movies of the year was impossible.
The punchline though is that 2011 is actually one of the most forgettable and boring years in the entire decade, if not the most dull.
Just looking at all of the movies that came out, I had to force myself to remember that these movies did in fact release and people, for a time, cited 2011 and being a revolutionary year for film. But with eight years of hindsight, nothing from 2011 really made an impact in the long run. In fact, I would argue that if it wasn’t for this list, I would have never even thought about these movies again for the rest of my life. So what went wrong? Why did a year that was regarded as being so outstanding become so bland and dull? Or was it ever good to begin with.
Now let’s get ready to go.
Most Decorated Movie: The Artist
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Total Awards: 16
Oscar’s Best Picture Winner?: Yes
So back in 2011, I was a high school Junior that didn’t pay that much attention to movies. I was more interested in video games and theater, rarely going to see a movie unless it was with my mother because she wanted to see something. Even then, as ignorant as I was, I loathed The Artist. It was everything that I thought film snobs would lavish with praise. It got numerous awards, but I was certain that it was as well regarded as it was because it was a throwback to a bygone era of Hollywood, featured actors that struggled because ART, and was self-indulgent at just how artistic and deep it was just because it was a black-and-white silent movie. But I never saw it until I sat down for the Decade Decathlon, so maybe I was a bit too harsh on it growing up. Maybe I was just a stupid teenager that couldn’t appreciate art and just wanted to see big explosions and epic fight scenes… Or maybe I was 100% right about it and The Artist is actually crap. Guess which camp I fall into.
Look, I understand the idea of wanting to make a throwback to classic silent movies. They’re an important part of the art form’s history that don’t get as much respect nowadays as they once did. I hate to be a damned dirty youngin’ that just can’t appreciate the classics, but The Artist tries to inspire nostalgia and reverence for a genre of movies that haven’t aged all that well. Outside of a film history course, when was the last time you sat down to watch a classic silent movie because you actually wanted to? If you did, how engaged were you with it? Chances are, not very much, but that has more to do with the expectations we as an audience. We have more movies today than the overall quality of films made nearly a century ago. Because of that, The Artist feels more like a vanity project to receive awards than an actual love letter, screaming a message of “they don’t make them like they used to anymore, eh?”
To make matters worse, the movie itself isn’t very good. It follows George Valentin, a Hollywood actor that’s slowly outed by the industry when “talkies” take over because he refuses to be in anything other than silent movies. So when he’s replaced by the next generation, all he can do is mope around for an hour, accomplishing nothing other than making the audiences aware that he can’t adjust with the times. Then reminded the audience again that he can’t adjust with the times. Then leading us to a scene where everyone around him realizes that he can’t adjust with the times. There are some nifty moments where sound does creep its way into the movie, but the rest is just a slog to get through.
But it’s the most decorated movie of the year! Several Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor awards were given to The Artist, but I can’t shake the feeling that it was due to its subject matter rather than the overall quality of the movie. Remember, the Academy Awards aren’t exactly known for giving awards to the best movie of a year. This is the same body of people that would give Green Book Best Picture in 2018, a movie that was admitted by its producer to be designed for old white men to feel good about themselves. The Artist stands as being one of the biggest disconnects between what award bodies think deserves to be the best movie of a year, and what general audiences think the best movie of a year is. So I guess the Academy, and film groups in general, haven’t come all that far in the past decade.
Worst Picture: Jack & Jill
Director: Dennis Dugan
Razzie Wins: 10
Were the Razzies right?: YES
I don’t often call a movie an embarrassment, but hot damn is Jack & Jill one of the most embarrassing movies I’ve ever seen in my life. Called one of the worst movies of all time upon release, Jack & Jill was the movie that killed Adam Sandler’s reputation for the average moviegoer. Sure, his name never had that much weight to begin with, but don’t forget that Sandler is talented and has been in some pretty fun and enjoyable movies like Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, Punch Drunk Love, and Fifty First Dates amongst a handful of others. Even when he made a bad movie, at least it was a movie that was so ridiculous that you couldn’t hate it like You Don’t Mess With the Zohan.
But Jack & Jill is in an entire stratosphere of its own. Having Sandler star opposite himself, only in drag, should have never been approved in the first place, but with his production company Happy Madison backing it, this movie was going to come out one way or another. Jill would have been a character perfect for a Saturday Night Live sketch. Adam Sandler would walk on as the most annoying and insufferable woman in existence, be around for a few minutes as other cast members crack jokes about her, and that would be it. The character could work, but not in a 90 minute movie where we’re meant to relate with her and feel for this woman.
Featuring a career low for Al Pacino, who tries to seduce Jill for the entirety of the movie, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Jack & Jill is still made fun of to this day. It’s the go-to sacrificial lamb for why Adam Sandler sucks. Those people are correct. It really is that bad and I can easily see why it still is the most decorated movie in the history of the Razzies, for whatever that’s worth. Keep in mind that no one talks about The Artist anymore, but people will be all too familiar with Jack & Jill’s legacy. In fact most movies that people use to praise 2011, like Tree of Life, Hugo, and Midnight in Paris, have fallen by the wayside when compared to Jack & Jill. Can 2011 really be so influential and great when all of its heavy hitters are buried under the pile of metaphorical shit that is Jack & Jill? The movie that had Al Pacino rap about a Dunkin Donuts latte? Can bad movies really be more significant than good movies in defining a time in pop culture? When there’s such a vacuum of meaningless art, I think so.
Highest Grossing Movie: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Director: David Yates
Total Gross: $1,341,511,219
Hey, wanna see me piss off every Harry Potter fan at once? Well good, you can watch me dig my own grave for the Potterheads to throw me in after they kill me for this!
Harry Potter was, quite possibly, the biggest cinematic franchise of the 2000’s. It was a movie franchise that started out geared towards kids with light fantasy shenanigans, only to grow up and mature alongside its viewers and become a deep and compelling series that still inspires people to this day. Disregard J.K Rowling’s frequent attempts to appease her fans with useless factoids about Hogwarts that come across shameless pandering or how the Fantastic Beasts franchise is a more blatant attempt to make money than the Hobbit trilogy. Harry Potter still inspired people, so who am I to take that away from people. I’m just here to say that Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a nigh incomprehensible movie that started my least favorite trend oft he past decade; the two-parter.
Quick aside, when preparing to watch the movies for 2011, I had to ask myself if I should watch Deathly Hallows Part 1 before watching Part 2. After all, the movies tell one gigantic story, so if I wanted to fully experience the finale and the climax for its characters, I should watch the previous movie to understand what’s going on, right? I declined from doing so because I’m not here to analyze Deathly Hallows. I’m here to talk about what we can learn from Deathly Hallows Part 2 in examining the decade. And my take away is that the movie is probably one of the worst movies I’ve seen so far when taken out of context.
There is no catching up with the characters at the start of the movie. You are expected to watch the previous movie before coming in to see Part 2, offering no help to newcomers. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that you shouldn’t come into the finale a series without prior context, at least a movie should be watchable. Character motivations and key plot points are never brought up here and fans are just expected to have encyclopedic knowledge of the Potterverse at the draw, which is ridiculous because if Infinity War and Endgame can establish character relations and tie together 20 movies worth of development as easily as they do, what’s Deathly Hallows excuse?
Which brings us to the idea that Deathly Hallows was made into two films. The producers decided to split the book into two movies so that they can tell a more faithful version of the story. One, why start now at the very end telling a faithful version? Content always had to be cut for previous movies, so why start now? Two, If you need two movies to tell one single story, that shows the failure of the producers to make necessary cuts and edits to a movie. But we know the real reason why it was two movies. You can cry faithfulness to the course material as much as possible, but at the end of the day, you can make more money off of two movies than one.
The two-parter has slowly become a successful trend in franchises, usually in finales, to take an ending and stretch it out to far longer than it needed to be under the guise of staying true to the source material. This leaves us with two movies that either feel too rushed or too bloated where the critical reception won’t matter. The franchises are already established, so fans will see them no matter what. They’re too invested. The MCU, Twilight, and Hunger Games all have two-part finales, all of which made bank at the box office. Deathly Hallows proved that the formula could work, so instead of getting one easy to follow, well paced movie, we’re now used to getting two wonky movies that feel too stuffed, usually without good pacing.
Biggest Bomb: Mars Needs Moms
Director: Simon Wells
Budget: $150 million
Gross: $39 million
First thing’s first, dear lord this movie looks ugly! Produced by Robert Zemeckis, he had a weird fascination in the 2000’s with pioneering motion capture technology that was by far ahead of it’s time. Between movies like The Polar Express, Beowolf, and A Christmas Carol, Zemeckis was all about trying to push new CG technology to its breaking point. Unfortunately all of those movies have aged terribly and Mars Needs Moms looks abysmal today. When I saw the first character pop up on screen, I had a visceral reaction where I said out loud “Oh God I have to watch 90 minutes of this.” This is the definition of the uncanny valley, and that alone would explain why this was such a failure at the box office.
I can’t stress how bad the CG is in this movie because it’s unfortunately the only defining thing about the movie. Outside of a weird message about the power of family while systematically shouting “down with the matriarchy,” I can’t remember anything of substance about the movie besides its animation. Yes, it is impressive to see the behind-the-scenes making of this movie, which is attached to the credits and is pretty cool to watch, spending time watching how moderately okay actors made a visually repugnant movie with no compelling art style just isn’t worth it.
To this day, Mars Needs Moms is one of the biggest box office bombs of all time and still stands as being the biggest bomb in Disney’s history. It single handedly killed ImageMovers Digital, the production company responsible for this movie and cancelling all of their upcoming projects, including a Roger Rabbit sequel and a remake of Yellow Submarine. While the animation is mostly to blame, and I’m thankful that we’ve steered away from this kind of hyper realistic animation, we’re still in the midst of the age of CGI. The technology has become more advanced and detailed, but the focus is now on bringing to life cartoons in new and unbelievable ways instead of spending time on a semi-realistic depiction of Mars with vomit inducing colors. But if you really want to know why a movie like this failed, all you need to do is ask yourself if you ever would have gone to a box office and say “One for Mars Needs Moms.”
Most Underrated Movie: Source Code
Director: Duncan Jones
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Well goddamn this was an awesome time. If I had to choose a genre of films that were on the decline for most of the 2010’s, it would have to be original sci-fi movies. Sure, we got plenty of hyper realistic sci-fi movies that actually followed how our universe works, like Gravity in 2013 or The Martian in 2015, but those aren’t the ones I’m talking about. I’m talking about the sci-fi with out there concepts and worlds that are wholly unique and aren’t inherently safe projects. They’ve become box office gambles with only good word of mouth determining whether or not they live or die. Take 2014’s Transcendence, a unique sci-fi movie about Johnny Depp living on in an AI that develops a god complex. Unique idea, but bombed hard at the box office. Source Code, Flixist’s most underrated movie of 2011, is not only a fun idea, but also a really great thriller.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays a military pilot who wakes up on a train as someone else. He doesn’t know who he is or why he’s there, but he dies eight minutes later from a terrorist attack on the train. He then wakes up in a military base and told that he needs to go back into the train and find out who the terrorist is, but he has only eight minutes to do so before the bomb goes off. Imagine Groundhog Day if it was mixed with Edge of Tomorrow.
It’s strange to call Source Code underrated because, by all accounts, the movie received critical acclaim and was a solid hit at the box office. People praised the movie left and right, mostly due to Gyllenhaal’s performance and the twisty/compelling nature of the sci-fi mechanics in play. I was invested from the opening scene and hungry to figure out what was going on. This was a premise that should have gone further, and indeed may actually go further. A TV show was in production, but that fell through in favor of a sequel which, eight years later, seems less and less likely to happen, but could still come back.
Yet when I was checking the movies for 2011, I had no idea what this movie was. I had never heard of it. Barely anyone talks about it, and reading reviews of it at the time was like opening up an ancient tomb that humanity left alone for centuries. But if the movie was so good, why did people forget about it? It wasn’t released at a busy time of the year, since it’s only competition during opening weekend was, incidentally, Mars Needs Moms. Why did the world collectively forget about Source Code?
This ties in with sci-fi being kind of a disposable genre in the 2010’s. In a world where mega franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek exist, smaller sci-fi movies that aren’t connected to some major franchise and don’t have Oscars in sight have been all but forgotten. There was a time where sci-fi movies were the go to for easy entertainment. With the rise of these big budget sci-fi features, it feels like there’s no middle ground anymore for the genre. A sci-fi movie can either be big and important like Arrival, or dumb and shlocky like Sharknado. The mid-tier, original sci-fi movies have no point. They’re not guaranteed box office successes and they can’t be churned out on a dime for a TV release. They require effort, but that effort may not be a safe return. So when a new mid-range movie comes out, people tend to forget about it because it’s mid-tier. Which is a true shame, because if you’re able to track it down, Source Code is probably one of the best underrated movies of the decade.
Favorite Movie: Sucker Punch
Director: Zack Snyder
Why?: A mess worthy of discussion
Sucker Punch taking this spot has less to do with it being one of my favorite movies (it’s fine I guess) and more that the discussion around it is so fascinating to me. You can say a lot about director Zack Snyder, but this was 100% his passion project. This was a dream project of his for years and you can kind of tell that it was never meant to be a massive success. The premise is odd and feels like wish fulfillment for his part, but to his credit I don’t think I can say that are any movies remotely similar to what Sucker Punch tries to accomplish. For better and worse, Sucker Punch is ambitious, though its ambition leads to several major problems.
First off, once you remind others that Sucker Punch existed, the discussion will eventually boil down to the movie either being blatantly misogynistic, or surprisingly feminist. I’ve found that you can make a case for both points. You can either state that all of the male characters are monsters that utilize their power to oppress women and use them as literal tools and objects for their own goals while threatening them both physically and sexually for defying them, or you can go the route that explains that all of the men are idiots that the women are able to outsmart because they use their own bodies and sexuality as weapons to take them down and bring them to justice for their inhumane actions. The movie even goes so far as to call out the audience as being just as bad as the men in the movie for seeing it under the pretense that all of the women are objects meant solely for sexual gratification and self satisfaction. There is a case to be made for both camps, though I tend to lean more towards the film being a tad misogynistic. You can point out that your movie isn’t trying to get off a bunch of teenage boys, but doing exactly what you lambaste isn’t clever satire. At the end of the day, titillation is still titillation, no matter how much you say it isn’t.
But there’s the kicker; every time I watch Sucker Punch, I have a different opinion on it. My views on the movie change every time I see it not because I realize that there’s something there that I didn’t notice before, but my life experiences put into focus different aspects. Growing up I was all about the cool fight scenes, like Babydoll and her friends taking down steampunk Nazi zombies, but I didn’t care about that at all this time. As a matter of fact, that was actually the least interesting part of the movie for me this time. Now my focus was on the warped reality where we’re watching a dream in a fantasy in a show and how it all plays together.
Even if Sucker Punch is a bad movie, which you can easily argue it is, it’s provocative one. Snyder put it all on the table here and delivered a product that has bite. It has an identity, even if that identity is a mess. While so many creator passion projects have languished and are rare anomalies in the 2010’s, Sucker Punch feels raw. Confused, yes, but honest. I can appreciate a movie that tries to stand out from the crowd rather than be just another genre movie and it’s a movie that can generate discussion. Put two people in front of Sucker Punch and you can get some meaty debates surrounding it and even if a film may not be that great, creating conversation about authorial intent and the quality of a film is something that we’ve lost in recent years with the rise of Youtube criticism.
Was 2011 a good year for movies?
This was a year that time forgot for a reason. While 2010 established some trends that would continue until the end of the decade and put to bed several old trends, 2011 feels like a placeholder. It feels like we’re waiting for something major to happen, something that can really give the decade an identity. 2011 has no real identity. It has ambition, which I can certainly appreciate. What other year would give us crazy ideas like a new silent movie, a two-part finale, and a passion project that was almost doomed to failure? 2011 would.
I think for the time, that ambition felt fresh. It was like film makers were throwing everything at the wall to see what stuck and audiences would latch onto. Unfortunately, nothing positive in 2011 stuck. So we’re left with a year that at the time, seemed more important than it is, only for us to look back on how nebulous it really is. Nature abhors a vacuum, but this vacuum of creativity wouldn’t fill that easily. Instead, we’d have to wait until 2012 to see what would fill that hole when the Decade Decathlon continues next month.
Movies from 2011 you should still see: Attack the Block, This is Not a Film, X-Men: First Class, Captain America: The First Avenger, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Arthur Christmas, The Iron Lady.
Past Years Completed: