Dishonorable Mention – While not the bottom of the barrel, “The Avengers” was my biggest disappointment of the year – free of inspiration, far too small in scale, and, somehow, absolutely beloved. The rest of the world went crazy for it. Why? I think it was a combination of audiences being blinded by the inherent geekiness of bringing these characters together and the film media’s never-ending love affair with Joss Whedon. The film is disguised as something epic, when in fact it’s 2 hours of our heroes bickering on a blandly designed airship, followed by a 30-minute tussle with the most boring movie villains of the past decade. The love interests that humanized these characters in their solo films are all but ignored and the only character to get a satisfying arc is Agent Coulson, of all people. Yes, Hiddleston is great and the Hulk steals the film in its waning moments, but the post-credit scene is livlier than anything else in the picture. And it was an afterthought, filmed after the premiere. The good news is that Whedon has lots of more interesting places to go in the sequel. But my hopes won’t be nearly as high.
Dishonorable Mention – My complaints are outlined at length in my original review, but Tom Hooper essentially killed his own film. It’s an unwatchable, uncomfortable mess. Every scene is shot in unrelenting close-ups and the decision to record the vocals live hurts the scope of the film as much as the visuals. There’s nothing cinematic about it. Also, there’s no breathing room in between songs, which might have worked on stage, but here it’s a total failure. And unless you’re intimately familiar with the story, it’s impossible to focus on both the music and the lyrics. Since most of the words are expository, the whole thing feels like an endless homework assignment. The people that love this adaptation were going to love it regardless of the execution. It’ll get some Oscar nods, but too many people have seen through it for it capitalize on its early buzz. Don’t expect it to take home much hardware.
Original Review: Les Misérables
The Bottom Five:
Disclaimer – I saw a lot of films this year (just shy of a hundred 2012 releases), but I didn’t see everything. I’m sure there were worse films released, but these are the five I had the worst time with in 2012.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a film with so little respect for its audience. “Chronicle” evokes memories of superior films, all the while telling a facade of a story about completely unlikable characters doing unlikable things, and paying off to the lowest sensibilities of special effects-hungry filmgoers. It’s superhero (or, super-antihero) wish fulfillment for those with the mindset of an angst-ridden high school freshman. Audiences responded to it because it’s unique and has an interesting balance of low-budget grit and Hollywood spectacle. The floating camera trick is fantastic, but the director never does anything substantive with it. Tonally, it judders from joyful in its early stages to completely depressing by its finale. Thankfully it only runs a brisk 80 minutes.
4. THE WATCH
Step 1: assemble a cast of multi-millionaire comedians. Step 2: give them a razor thin action-comedy script that’s entirely dependent on quality ad-libbing. Step 3: sit back in horror as they fail to bring a terrible screenplay to life. Step 4: Release said film into the wild and hope your marketing department can work magic. Luckily, the film didn’t make much bank before the word got out that it was an unfunny catastrophe. I’ve enjoyed past work by Vaughn, Stiller, and Hill, but this isn’t even bargain bin comedy. Say what you want about Brett Ratner, but he would have at least brought out some of the spectacle that was on the page. Director Akiva Schaffer does nothing to help his cast or crew, essentially throwing his hands up from behind the camera, shouting, “This seemed a lot funnier when I was high!” Most dramas have more laughs.
Original Review: The Watch
3. TOTAL RECALL
Len Wiseman’s “Total Recall” is, coincidentally, mostly gone from my memory. It’s a wisp of air from your lungs hitting the air on a freezing cold night. It’s there for a second and then it floats away. You’ve seen it thousands of times before and it doesn’t mean anything, other than reminding you that you’re still alive. So thank you, Len Wiseman, for reminding me that I’m still alive and have more of your films to look forward to. I’m not sure if this was worse than those awful “Underworld” films, but it certainly wastes a more talented cast. As flawed as Verhoeven’s original is – and it’s pretty stupid in its own right – it had imagination. This version is as unimaginative as films come and I hate to think that it was profitable for Sony.
Original Review: Total Recall (2012)
2. CLOUD ATLAS
I got it. I really did. The thing is – there’s just not that much to get out of “Cloud Atlas.” Its themes of re-incarnation and everlasting love are so banal that to sustain them through 160 minutes, the directors had no choice but to make the film as hackneyed as possible. Racist or not, the make-up is a disaster, and the decision to abandon the structure of the book is what makes the tonal inconsistencies so appalling. The picture moves from whimsy to heartache to outright bleakness in the blink of an eye, making it impossible for viewers to attach themselves to any character, sentiment, or visual cue. The moviegoers who fell for it (in more ways than one) really fell for it, and if it spoke to you, great. Just keep in mind that emotional connection to a work of art doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with artistic merit. It’s a total mess, but maybe it’s a mess you can relate to. Me? No thanks.
Original Review: Cloud Atlas
The controversial picks end here. “Battleship” really is that bad. It’s the kind of stinkbomb that legends are made of. The kind of movie that college kids will be watching in their dorm rooms thirty years from now, in absolute disbelief that our generation was capable of something so awful. Unfortunately, it’s marooned between “bad” and “so bad it’s good” territory. It never quite gets there, making it a tough watch at times. But when those old codgers suit up for one last mission, turning their floating museum into an active battleship in a matter of minutes, you know it’s on. Director Peter Berg is throwing down his gloves, daring other directors to “top” him. Michael Bay has made some terrible films, but “Battleship” left me longing for the relative lucidity of his “Transformers” films, both narratively and visually. Taylor Kitsch had a bad year, but this film singlehandedly landed him the label of box office kryptonite, and Liam Neeson passed on “Lincoln” because of issues with the script, but this was acceptable to him? Here’s hoping 2013 doesn’t produce anything this terrible.
Stay tuned for my Top 10 list coming later this week!