Later this month Sound on Sight will publish a list of the best films of 2011 as voted for by its contributors. I’ve already submitted my top 10 and I’ve put The Artist at the top, closely followed by Tomboy and Todd Solondz’s surprisingly moving Dark Horse.
As an unpaid blogger I’m in the enviable position of being able to pick and choose what I watch. I may not enjoy a fat salary (or indeed any salary), but at least I’m not obliged to sit through dross like Garry Marshall’s New Year’s Eve, the end-of-year clunker that’s had dispirited critics singing from the same carol sheet. I would feel sorry for The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, but his unbelievably smug Easter holiday dispatches from Tresco made me unfollow him on Twitter.
Despite my best efforts not to watch any terrible movies in 2011 there were, inevitably, some low points. I should point out that the titles listed here represent the least enjoyable and most unproductive hours I spent in the cinema this year. But I’m not suggesting that they are among the worst films released in 2011.
On the other hand, should any of these DVDs turn up in my stocking next weekend, they’ll be going straight onto the Amazon marketplace . . .
The Tree of Life (director Terrence Malick)
Terrence Malick: cinematic visionary or purveyor of elliptical, pretentious, self-important clap-trap? I’ll admit that I already had my doubts when I paid £10 to sit through what IMDb calls an “impressionistic story of a Texas family in the 1950s”. (So that’s what it was about.) The great Roger Ebert claims that Malick is “attempting no less than to encompass all of existence and view it through the prism of a few infinitesimal lives”. There are good performances here from Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain, but I found Malick’s impressionistic approach alienating. Though you would miss some breathtaking cinematography and the birth of the universe, this is one of the few films where I can honestly say it would be an advantage to turn up 45 minutes late. I lost the will to live somewhere around the time of the dinosaurs.
Island (directors Elizabeth Mitchell, Brek Taylor)
From one of the highest profile releases of the year, to one of the most obscure. When I say “obscure” I mean that for about ten minutes towards the end of this misfiring British thriller the cinematography was so murky I couldn’t see what was going on. The story, based on a novel by Jane Rogers, sounds promising: a vengeful and damaged young woman seeks out her birth mother on a remote Scottish island. But I found the pacing slow, the direction incompetent and the lead performance of Natalie Press unconvincing.
Route Irish (director Ken Loach)
I didn’t like Ken Loach’s post-Iraq thriller when I saw and reviewed it back in March. I don’t feel any better disposed to it nine months later. When the DVD came out I was asked whether I wanted to interview the film’s star, Mark Womack. Given that I had written “It’s hard to generate much sympathy for the ranting, self-pitying monster portrayed by Womack”, I didn’t see us enjoying a cosy chat . . .
Little White Lies/Les petits mouchoirs (director Guillaume Canet)
This was my biggest cinematic disappointment of the year. I enjoyed Guillaume Canet’s thriller Tell No One (though it was a little on the long side), so I had high hopes of this star-studded comedy drama. I won’t waste any more adjectives on this protracted, sub-Big Chill soap opera — you can read my review here. Someone put a comment on my blog, complaining that I had been “disrespectful” to Canet. I’d say the Gallic hunk was being extremely disrespectful to film fans who were expecting some narrative restraint.
Sleepless Nights Stories (director Jonas Mekas)
In a nutshell: an old bloke gets hold of a video camera and records some incredibly dull boozing sessions in various cities. As I wrote on my blog, this was not a film I had planned to see in this year’s BFI London Film Festival. (I misread my programme and sat through an hour of this “avant-garde” nonsense.) To save you following a link, here’s how I summed it up: “There are some films that exist solely to remind you of the simple virtues of a proper narrative and some basic technical competence.”
A Dangerous Method (director David Cronenberg)
Cronenberg’s drama about Jung, Freud and the birth of psychoanalysis isn’t out in the UK until February. I saw it at 9.15am during the BFI London Film Festival and I found it thoroughly unengaging right up until the final captions revealed the terrible fate of Sabina Spielrein (the psychoanalysist played by Keira Knightley). Let’s cut to the chase: this is the film in which Knightley masters a Russian accent and gets spanked — twice — by Michael Fassbender’s Jung. So people will be talking about this movie and several hundred thousand have already watched the trailer on YouTube. (No doubt all those people are deeply interested in the origins of psychoanalysis.) Knightley gives a brave performance, but Cronenberg really deserves a smack round the ears for making this deeply dull film.