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May 12

13 Worst Films Of 2011: 1: About As Surprising As The Film Itself

Do You See17 comments • 1,928 views

There is a game that is played between critics and films sometimes. Occasionally a film comes along which is kicked to death in the street like some sort of cathartic act of bullying. I can only imagine critics walking out of certain films with some sort of mob mentality dropping on them like a Derren Brown collective piece of mind control. What causes this is the perfect storm often of excess onscreen, excess offscreen (in particular the press notes) and the film itself being no good. There are other things that will help this along. A commercially successful director who has never really produced anything all that brilliant. Use of the word vision: as in “from the visionary director”, or his own “unique vision”. Sometimes I wonder if it is just a matter of critical flexing of their otherwise weedy and Vitamin D deprived muscles. Certainly we saw it earlier this year with John Carter, a perfectly amiable folly which I rather enjoyed. Because that is the thing with these follies, they often aren’t the worst thing in the world, they are often rehabilitated, enjoyed for what they were, or even ironically taken up. As I said above it’s a game, and getting to the end of this list it is a game I am playing for the second time. I already slagged this film of last year, and had a perfectly good time in doing so. And a year on, I am starting to feel a bit bad about it, whilst having committed to playing this game one last time.

It is useful to have a general consensus that the worst film of 2011 was Sucker Punch. There are plenty of reasons why this film is terrible. Nested dream sequences within nested hallucinations. Gratuitous titillating video-game combat sequences which appear to be focus grouped by sixteen year old boys, yet a film that likes to think of itself as in the vanguard of female empowerment. An issues picture where the issue it is complaining about is the mistreatment of women in 1950’s mental asylums – bang on the button there. And of course all of these wild contradictions, all of these mecha-mistakes on narrative cinema, and even the state of current blockbuster cinema is why it really isn’t the worst film of last year. Its also what makes it so fascinating to talk about in a way that, say Scream 4 just isn’t.

I still feel comfortable in saying it was my worst film of last year (even if I got a much more visceral dislike from Confessions), as I cannot say I really enjoyed watching it. And sometimes I really do enjoy watching films other people hate, even I have to check myself when I say how much I enjoyed Speed Racer. But I have to say that all the time I was watching Sucker Punch I was also taking it apart in my head. Saving up the bizarre train rescue sequence, saving up the point and click “collect a key” structure to make some point about the video gamification of movies. As I said last year, the thing that really annoyed me about Sucker Punch was its structure was just like a musical, where the musical sequences were her replaced by over the top CGI combat effect sequences. I will still stand by that, but then I really like musicals. And I had heard that there was a point when there were musical and dance numbers in Sucker Punch, so perhaps I was lamenting the film I wanted to see. I want to see Zack Snyder make an OTT original musical, and why not have samurai swords and nazi’s and machine guns and everything in it, because that is what musicals are. And of course this is the problem.

There is a good chance, a very good chance, that all of the problems with Sucker Punch are laid bare in the movie. I’ve elucidated them at length. But there is also a good chance that the problem is with me. The trailer did say “from the visionary director of 300 and Watchmen”. I’ll go with that, he has a good knack for reproducing comic styles on celluloid. But there is a chance that Snyder is also a proper visionary director, ahead of his time, using this first opportunity to make an original film from his own bonce that stands so far outside mainstream conceptions of good narrative cinema that I, and most critics, could not appreciate it. After all I saw forty silent movies last year, I see too many films anyway and surely I would be the last person to recognise this. I think its unlikely, but maybe I should give him the benefit of the doubt. But to do that, I have to still say it was the worst film of last year. I want to eat these words in twenty years time!

Comments

  1. 1
    Chewshabadoo on 8 May 2012 #

    An interesting premise. I watched Sucker Punch not knowing much about it, and thinking it may actually be good, but it was is one of the only films so poor that I had to stop watching it about half an hour in.

    Probably proves I’m not visionary enough to get it.

  2. 2
    thefatgit on 8 May 2012 #

    I watched Sucker Punch all the way through, but ultimately felt deflated by it. Visuals aren’t enough. The action set-pieces, where Emily Browning was supposed to be dancing became exceedingly tiresome. The whole “key”, “map”, “knife”, thing would have been great in a computer game, but in a movie? This is probably why they haven’t done a Final Fantasy movie. It felt like watching somebody else playing a game and not sharing the controller. Frustrating.

  3. 3
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 8 May 2012 #

    It felt like watching somebody else playing a game and not sharing the controller

    Isn’t this true of any film you see in the cinema?

    (In other words, this is an interesting analogy worth unpacking a little: plainly Hitchcock didn’t “share the controller” –anything but — but what we like about him — if we do — is that he deployed his directorial and contextual* control against our expectations in a way that we value…)

    (*For example, structuring cinema access during the first run of Psycho so that those leaving the movie theatre didn’t pass those entering, and give anything away…)

  4. 4
    thefatgit on 8 May 2012 #

    You’re right of course, but Snyder hogged the controller without the payoff for the audience of a cohesive narrative, just a succession of empty easter eggs. Hitchcock, in Psycho played around with our expectations and delivered something “extraordinary”, but then he knew exactly how to manipulate his audience. Snyder should have looked to the Spielberg/Lucas model of “movie as game” and perhaps thrown in some Berkeleyesque musical numbers as well. That would have been “extraordinary”. One point I’d like to add was the mash-up soundtrack was probably the best thing about the film.

  5. 5
    Pete on 8 May 2012 #

    It was only eleven (11 years ago!!!) how soon we forget the groundbreaking computer animated Final Fantasy The Spirits Within movie.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0173840/

    I would love to see your take on “Sucker Punch” Mark, as I said there are so many odd decisions made that most much be for a reason and even if that reason is not explicable from a viewers perspective, it still means it is potentially interesting. If you step around the incessant brown and teal effect sequences (never have Nazi zombies been put to such a poor use).

  6. 6
    Mark M on 8 May 2012 #

    Re 2: there was a Final Fantasy movie. It has a worst Metascore than Sucker Punch!

  7. 7
    thefatgit on 8 May 2012 #

    *slaps head* Thanks Pete.

  8. 8
    Alan not logged in on 8 May 2012 #

    watchmen apart I haven’t seen a ZS film I didn’t hate. To repeat the obvious, visually however he can muster enormous power and arresting full-canvas images – just all in the service of joyless and infantile crap. So yes, it would be nice to think this ability will end up in service of something properly engaging

  9. 9

    game-based movies i would pay to see:
    bill the demon
    blobbo
    snake 2

  10. 10
    Tommy Mack on 8 May 2012 #

    Perhaps worse than all it’s other flaws, Sucker Punch is a really, really boring film. I’m normally more than up for some teenage lovelies running round in their scanties in the name of female empowerment. I’m also up for balletic, over-choreographed fights scenes (c.f. the ridiculous 15 minute fight in the garage in the first Transporter film). I’m certainly up for steampunk clockwork zombie Nazis. Sucker Punch featured all of these and yet was really, really boring.

    It felt like the equivalent of one of those 70s albums they let session musicians make all by themselves: an impressive display of skill no doubt, but I’d rather hear Ry Cooder’s talent pressed into the service of (for example) Captain Beefheart’s vision than cut free to do 15 minute versions of Dylan songs.

    Also, why make a movie like a level-based collect ‘em up while computer games are getting more cinematic and expansive?

  11. 11
    Tommy Mack on 8 May 2012 #

    I’ve always been suspicious of what Tom Ewing calls critics’ ‘big cultural stiffie for other people’s misery’: put long slow scenes in your films in which no-one says anything and you’re almost guaranteed another star, but Sucker Punch showed that endless titillation could be just as boring as critically-indulged navel gazing.

  12. 12

    Ry Cooder’s 70s albums are great you nutcase :)

  13. 13
    Tommy Mack on 8 May 2012 #

    I am perhaps being a bit unfair on him in basing that flippant quip entirely on Supersession which I borrowed about fourteen years ago and listened to twice on a broken Dansette record player!

  14. 14

    Doubly so as Supersession is an Al Kooper record

  15. 15
    Tommy Mack on 8 May 2012 #

    You’re right. I’d remembered it as Ry Cooder featuring Al Kooper, but it’s Kooper with Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills.

    Listening to Cooder’s Let’s Have a Ball on youtube right now!

  16. 16
    swanstep on 9 May 2012 #

    I’m normally more than up for some teenage lovelies running round in their scanties in the name of female empowerment.
    I’m pretty fed up with this combination myself (so have steered clear of Sucker Punch): near-anorexics who are also unstoppable badasses….can’t take it any more. Also this exact formula seems mainly good for creating a very busy surface for a film. But too often, maybe most of the time, it seems to lead to avoidance of doing any real work writing good stories or characters, finding a distinctive or even consistent tone, that sort of thing. That wasn’t true with the Buffy TV show of course, but most of the film progeny of that show are dire.

  17. 17
    Tommy Mack on 9 May 2012 #

    I suppose I should re-phrase that: the teenage boy in me thinks he’s up for teenage lovelies etc, but teenage boys don’t tend to think about things like plot, characters etc and, as you say, this tends to lead to a visually frenetic but hollow and boring film.

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