Welcome to the first annual Bitch Awards – the completely inconsequential end of year awards that celebrate 2011’s best – and worst – films and television shows. Stick around for the next two weeks as we raise a glass to our favourite films and television shows of the year and duck as we unceremoniously throw the remote at our least favourites.
We’ve reached #4 for our picks for best of the best and worst of the worse.
#4: The Adjustment Bureau (Nolfi, 2011)
I’d sum up The Adjustment Bureau as a missed opportunity. Loosely (and I mean loosely) based on a Philip K. Dick’s short story Adjustment Team, the film tells the story of group of ominous men in suits conspicuously trying to keep US Senate candidate David Norris (Matt Damon) away from his lady love, Elise (Emily Blunt). Tactics of the Bureau include spilling coffee on Norris so he misses the bus that Elise happens to be on, or other equally mundane actions. (SPOILER ALERT) You see, if Norris ends up marrying Elise, then he would be a less adequate Senator, and ultimately President, who I assume will end up saving the world. Apparently love and politics can’t mix. It’s not in Norris’ “plan”.
I’ll admit- the trailers got to me. The men in well-cut suits running around in stylish hats and holding briefcases had a Matrix-like appeal, and with a cast that includes Terence Stamp and John Slattery, I thought it was well worth a gander. Or maybe I just like a man in a suit? Either way, the check-out point for me was when it was revealed that the key to jumping instantaneously from one point in time to another is the hat that the adjustment bureau men wear. The HAT? Seriously?! Could we not have thought of something a bit more fantastical and intriguing? (END SPOILERS)
I will say that despite the plot, Damon gives a solid performance as the man who will not let anyone get in the way of his one true love (yawn), and the chemistry between Elise and David is adequate. (Although, their serendipitous first meeting in the men’s bathroom is hardly something that would ever happen in the real world. But I digress…) When Stamp does show up, he’s pretty good and I was impressed by Anthony Mackie’s supporting performance, but there’s far too much “running” in the film overall. Clearly this takes the place of much needed narrative exposition.
Ultimately my biggest problem with The Adjustment Bureau, and why it lands at the number four spot on my worst list, is that it focuses far too much on romance and simply glazes over the supernatural/sci-fi aspects. In fact, the concept of the Bureau morphs into just the opposite; a heavy-handed evocation of Christian beliefs (read: Suits = Angels doing the bidding of “The Chairman” = God). Again, I go back to the issue of potential: a debate concerning fate vs. free will could have been explored and presented in a thoughtful, participatory way, but instead we get the not-so-subtle endorsement of a traditional ideology. The Adjustment Bureau looks very slick and sophisticated, is marketed well, has actors who are clearly up to task but ultimately, an overly-simplified story and poor execution is its downfall.
#4: Horrible Bosses (Gordon, 2011)
I recognize that comedies are subjective: I have a very different sense of humour than other people (including TVangie at times). Traditionally I have less appreciation for low brow humour compared to witty dialogue or physical comedy, and I own that. As a result, perhaps Horrible Bosses was always going to be a hard sell.
The film starts well enough. The bosses (played by an unrecognizable Colin Farrell, a buxom Jennifer Anniston and a smarmy-as-usual Kevin Spacey) are uniformly hilarious. Jason Bateman excels at playing the straight man, resigned to the ridiculous situations he finds himself in, and Charlie Day’s ability to evoke a hyperactive chipmunk (complete with squeak) is always a delight. I’ll admit that I’m not a Jason Sudeikis fan: I find him smug, superior, and not overly funny or attractive (petty, but true).
The set-up has promise and is universally relateable because – really – who hasn’t wanted to knock off an annoying boss? But instead of mining this promise in a 9 to 5 way (in which the protagonists realize the folly of their plan but have already taken it too far), Horrible Bosses simply takes the easy way out and dissolves into a generic action-comedy with gun fights, car chases and improbable reversals of fate. What started out as a comedy that everyone can relate to turns into standard Hollywood fare, complete with all the expected conventions and WTF character actions. This on top of sidelining the more enjoyable bosses for wacky Jason Sudeikis action (of course he sleeps with Anniston! Because he is such a stud). Unacceptable. I could go on, but it might devolve into a rant. Safe to say that these reasons – and more – put the film squarely in the “missed opportunities and entirely too safe and dull” category.
Better luck next time Charlie and good Jason (that would be Bateman).
#4: Bridesmaids (Feig, 2011)
This is likely to be the predictable choice for many, but I couldn’t shy away from putting this one on my best list for one simple reason: I laughed my ass off at this movie. I love going to films where upon leaving the theatre both your sides and your cheeks hurt from laughing so much. I wanted to laugh goshdarnit -and this film did not disappoint in that regard. Furthermore, this movie is LONG – running at just over two hours, but it maintains its funny momentum throughout. That’s no small feat.
I can’t say that there were a huge number of things I “related” to in this film, but there were a few moments where the hilarious exaggerations did, unfortunately, hit a little close to home. These moments refer primarily to the douche-tacular antics of Ted, played by an uncredited Jon Hamm, who cathartically releases all the goofiness suppressed whilst clenching his chiseled jaw on Mad Men. That’s right folks, my name is Angie, and I have dated many a-douche. But what makes comedies like this successful (for me) is the hyperbolic presentation of things that many of us see in our everyday lives. Who hasn’t walked by an outdoor boot camp session and though, “If I just position myself just out of eyesight, I too could get abs as ripped as that!”? And there have been times while watching Damages that I’ve hated Rose Byrne’s stunningly good looks and envied how just how perfect that woman is.
It’s the moments of absurdity (i.e. the entire plane sequence and the puppy-party favours) that keep the laughs going beyond the quieter chuckles. And I think that’s the key to this comedy: subtle laughs mixed with over-the-top ones = one helluva good time. I also think that seeing it in a packed theatre really helped. There’s something about the shared experience of a movie theatre that enhances almost any movie, and most specifically, a comedy.
It’s hard for me to remember what specifically made me love Bridesmaids, but I always end up back at my initial assessment that it’s just damn funny. I could list off scene after scene that worked (i.e. all of the Matt Lucas stuff! Wilson Phillips! Maya Rudolph’s “It’s happening…It’s happening…”) or go into how each comedienne contributed a unique piece to the comic mosaic (cough *Melissa McCarthy*) but really it’s all just an endorsement to either go out and see it for yourself, or riff in the comments section below and reminisce with me about what was great. It’s not a perfect film – i.e. I did think the toast scene went out a smidge too long (I suppose that was the point, but still…), and Rudolph should have been given a less serious role – but anything that makes me laugh as much as Bridesmaids did deserves a spot on my best list.
#4: 50/50 (Levine, 2011)
This is a comedy about cancer…a cancer with a 50/50 survival rate. From that description, it should not work: it’s a depressing topic that is all too relatable for a large portion of the population. At this point finding someone who hasn’t been affected by cancer is harder to do than finding someone who has. And cancer isn’t funny.
And yet, 50/50 does work and it is funny. Not gut bustingly so. Not with an equal joke to runtime ratio. But as a bittersweet, ultimately heart warming, feel good film. Its success as a quote-unquote “comedy” will be determined by your tolerance for Seth Rogen, who provides a lot of the jokes, the majority of which are vulgar and a little rude. But the centerpiece of the film is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as main character Adam (loosely based on writer Will Reiser, for whom this is autobiographical material). In the last eight years, Gordon-Levitt has quietly turned into one of the best actors of his generation, moving from genre to genre, defying being type-cast, and turning in a series of fantastic performances (see: Mysterious Skin, Brick, The Lookout, 500 Days of Summer and Hesher).
As Adam, Gordon-Levitt has to balance world weary resignation with his prognosis, frustration with his emotionally manipulative mother (nicely played by Anjelica Huston) and his horndog best friend (Rogen). And then there are the burgeoning feelings for his novice therapist played by Anna Kendricks. The connection between Gordon-Levitt and Kendricks is alternately played for comedy, emotional turmoil and acceptance, and all of these relationships build to a crescendo as Adam’s therapy takes more and more of a toll on him physically and emotionally.
The film is billed as a comedy, but as with any attempt to explore such a devastating topic, the film is really a tear-jerker in disguise. The difference between 50/50 and lesser films that have tackled this material is that the catharsis that comes at the end of this film – and yes, the tears – feels genuine and well-earned. And that’s why it deserves a place on my list of best films of the year.
How do you feel about our number four choices? Do you like them more or less than yesterday’s? Let us know in the comments below.
Tomorrow we reveal our third favourite (and least favourite) films of the year as we make our way to number one. And remember to tune in next week to see how our television rankings come in.