Thursday, January 20, 2011

2010 Year in Review: The Most Disappointing Films

The following 10 films are not all necessary horrible movies – although none of them are very good, but they were my biggest cinematic letdowns this year – films I was anticipating strongly, and then didn’t deliver like they should have. I could have included a few films from my worst of list, but I think I picked on them enough. These 10 films were the ones that made me walk out of the theater depressed – because I couldn’t help but think how good they COULD have or SHOULD have been.

10. The Wolfman (Joe Johnston)
Perhaps the best thing about The Twilight Saga, is that it has made Hollywood realize that there is still an audience for monster movies. When I heard that Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt were remaking the classic 1941 film, I was looking forward to the result. After all, as good as Claude Rains is in the first film, overall, it hasn’t aged particularly well. But the problems in this movie start early, and continue all the way through. Del Toro treats his role with his same method acting intensity – which usually makes him one of the best actors in the world, but doesn’t fit in here at all. He mumbles his way through the role with zero passion. Anthony Hopkins, who can be a great actor or a horrible ham, decides on the later here. Director Joe Johnston is not even able to get the visual right – there are a few isolated moments that work, but not many. This was the first film of 2010 I was looking forward to – and the first one to let me down massively.

9. Valhalla Rising (Nicolas Winding Refn)
I doubt many have heard of this film – it came and went rather quickly this year. But the director of Valhalla Rising is the extremely talented Nicolas Winding Refn, who made the excellent Pusher Trilogy, which helped put Mads Mikkelson on the map, and Bronson, which is the reason Tom Hardy is getting great work. Here, reteaming with Mikkelson for a medieval tale of violence and religion, he has made thuddingly boring film. I thought his direction of Bronson was perhaps a little too over the top, but worked brilliantly in that film – which was exciting and fast paced. Here, Refn seems to want to make a film that is a cross between Terence Malick and Werner Herzog – and ends up making one of the dullest movies of the year. I expected more from him.

8. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (Woody Allen)
Woody Allen has been a hit and miss director for perhaps 15 years now. And yet, he is still one of the best filmmakers of all time, and can still make a great film – as evidenced by recent films like Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and the vastly underrated Cassandra’s Dream. Returning to London for this film, he has crafted another movie about the lives and loves of his clever, smug rich people that he loves so much. The problem with You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is simple – it isn’t funny. The characters are one note and shrill. He wastes a cast that includes Naomi Watts, Antonio Banderas, Gemma Jones, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins (making his second appearance on this list) and Frieda Pinto (who is perhaps the worst of the bunch). Only Lucy Punch, as the shrill prostitute who becomes Hopkins’ trophy wife is funny. Overall, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger represents Woody at his laziest – just going through the motions, because if he didn’t a film every year, what the hell else would he do with his time?

7. The Last Airbender (M. Night Shyamalan)
After Unbreakable, I compared M. Night Shyamalan to Alfred Hitchcock – and meant it sincerely. When I look back at Unbreakable today, it remains his best film, and it still deserves that comparison, as do the two films that bookend it, The Sixth Sense and Signs. But since then, Shyamalan has gotten progressively worse – The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening are all quite bad. After The Happening, I thought Shyamalan should try something completely different – stop writing his own movies, and get away from the thriller genre. With The Last Airbender, I thought he made a wise choice. The populated animated TV show on which it is based is the furthest thing for Shyamalan’s work I could think of, and is also quite intelligent. And yet, somehow, Shyamalan completely screwed it up – he miscasts all the major roles, his action direction is awful, and the 3-D in the film makes it almost unwatchable at times. A few weeks ago, there was a marathon of the TV show on, and I happily watched it for about 5 hours. I could barely take the two hours here. I do not know what happened to the M. Night Shyamalan that was a great filmmaker a decade ago – but he appears to be long gone.

6. Micmacs (Jean Pierre Jeunet)
Jean Pierre Jeunet is one of the most visually interesting directors in the world right now. From his films with Marc Caro, Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, to his own films, Amelie and A Very Long Engagement, his films are visual wonders from start to finish. His most recent films, Micmacs, is I suppose an inventive film visually, but unlike his previous two films, feels completely hallow and one dimensional. It spends all its time trying desperately to be clever and hip, and forgets to make any of its characters likable. Furthermore, I am getting tired of all of Jeunet’s visual trickery – which he simply repeats in every film. He needs to calm the hell down.

5. Chloe (Atom Egoyan)
Atom Egoyan can direct an erotic thriller with the best of them. I continue to insist that his film Where the Truth Lies is the director’s best film since The Sweet Hereafter (which now more than a decade behind him seems to be a standard Egoyan will never hit again). But Chloe lacks the passion of Where the Truth Lies – it feels like a mere genre exercise, and a rather cheaply done one at that. Perhaps the problem is that Liam Neeson is so dull in the film, but I don’t think so. The passion, the heat should be coming from Julianne Moore, as Neeson’s wife, and Amanda Seyfried, as the title character who becomes obsessed with her. But although Moore and Seyfried give it their all, it is Egoyan who seems to be holding back. Egoyan seems to want to make a sexy, slightly exploitive thriller, and still have it be a serious examination of sexuality, and the two conflicting goals means it works on neither level. I keep hoping Egoyan can regain the form he had in the 1990s – and if not that, that he makes a film as wonderfully sexy as Where the Truth Lies again.

4. Robin Hood (Ridley Scott)
Ridley Scott, Russell Crowe and Robin Hood should be a combination that results in one of the year’s most entertaining films. Instead, it becomes a self serious bore – yet another big, loud, dumb and interchangeable historical epic, the type of which we have been forced to sit through far too many times since Braveheart a decade and a half ago. When I think of Robin Hood, I think of the joy of Errol Flynn swashbuckling, or at the very least of Kevin Costner’s gloriously awful British accent, and Alan Rickman wanting to eat his heart with a spoon. But the Robin Hood we all know and love doesn’t interest Scott or Crowe – who want to remake Gladiator instead. Well, I hated Gladiator the first time, and I disliked it even more this time. The talented supporting cast – especially Cate Blanchatt – is wasted here. A long, dull, boring film – but hell, at least I saw it in theaters, so I was able to ignore the longer director’s cut.

3. The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom)
Stanley Kubrick called Jim Thompson’s novel The Killer Inside Me the most disturbing novel about a psychopathic mind he had ever read – and was one of the reasons why he wanted to work with him on his terrific 1957 film noir The Killing. Michael Winterbottom’s adaptation of Thompson’s novel gets the events in the book right – and doesn’t skimp on the necessary level of violence – but doesn’t capture the same level of disturbing intimacy of the novel. Surely Casey Affleck, with his shit eating grin, was perfectly cast in the lead role, and even Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba are fine as the two women in his life, but the movie is all surface, all style and no substance – Winterbottom fails to get under the surface of the novel, and by the time we reach the surrealistic climax, it has gone off the rails. There is a lot to admire about this film – but it should have been one of the best of the year, and it wasn’t even close.

2. The Tourist (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck directed the wonderful political thriller The Lives of Others – about life behind the Iron Curtain in Germany, and won an Oscar for best foreign language film as a result – beating out the more highly touted Pan’s Labyrinth back in 2006. For his North American debut, he picked this thriller-comedy, and cast two of the biggest stars in the world, Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, as his leads. And yet, while the screenplay seems to be full of great one liners, and Depp and Jolie try really, really hard in their roles, the whole movie feels flat and lifeless – and that is due to Donnersmarck. Whoever cut the trailer together understood comic timing and momentum better than the filmmaker does, as moments that work marvelously well in the trailer, fall completely flat in the movie itself. The whole thing seems lifeless. I know a lot of people pick on Steven Soderbergh for whoring out his talent to make the Ocean’s movie, but if The Tourist proves anything, it’s that these movies are hard to make – and even a great director like Donnersmarck can screw one up royally.

1. Hereafter (Clint Eastwood)
I think Clint Eastwood is in his most interesting phase as a director. After Unforgiven it seemed like perhaps Eastwood would coast on his talent, and make little more than cheesy, if entertaining, little thrillers. But starting with Mystic River in 2003, Eastwood has pushed himself in films like that, Million Dollar Baby and his twin WWII epics Flags of Our Fathers and Letters to Iwo Jima. And yet, since then, he seems to be trying too hard – Changeling was a meticulously crafted, yet rather dull period piece, Gran Torino was cheesy in the extreme, even though I admit I loved it, and Invictus was a little too by the numbers. But all of them were at least good movies. His latest, Hereafter, is not. It stars Matt Damon as a man with a pshyic abilities (the defenders of the film who claim that the film is ambigious about his abilities don’t seem to have seen the film – it is quite clear that his abilities are real), but who rejects his gifts. This story is intercut with one of a French woman who is a survivor of a tsunami while on vacation, and that of a young boy, who loses his twin brother to an accident. I know why a filmmaker like Eastwood, who is 80 after all, would make a film about death, but couldn’t have found a better one – one that actually has something to say about death? Hereafter is deadly dull at times – only coming alive briefly when Bryce Dallas Howard enters Damon’s life. It just sits there on the screen, and fails to involve us, to make us question, make us think, make us really do anything except wait for it to be over. I have faith that Eastwood will make a great film again – he says he isn’t retiring – but Hereafter was anything but.

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