Friday, January 30, 2015

2014 Year End Report: Most Disappointing Films

The following is not a list of the worst films of the year – that will come next – but rather the ones I had high hopes for that simply didn’t deliver. Some of them are decent – perhaps even good – but are nowhere near as good as they should have been. That can almost be worse than a really bad film – but there is such missed opportunity in these films.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Marc Webb) was enjoyable, for the most part, but still didn’t make a case for why we needed a fifth Spider-Man film in 12 years. Bad Words (Jason Bateman) should have been the next Bad Santa, but Bateman as both director and actor, never quite brings it – leaving it as a rather unfunny and dull movie about swearing at children. Big Eyes (Tim Burton) was perhaps the directors attempt to do something more serious – but the film seemed even more hollow than most of his films. Dumb and Dumber To (Peter & Bobby Farrelly) had zero laughs, which considering how funny the original one still is, made this particularly disappointing. Exodus: Gods and Kings (Ridley Scott) gets some of the big moments right, but everything else, really, really wrong. Lucy (Luc Besson) had a ton of ambition, and a great setup, but reveals Besson’s lack of imagination as it moves towards its action climax.  Magic in the Moonlight (Woody Allen) once again had Allen follow-up one of his best recent efforts, with one that he seems to have phoned in – not even the ever charming Colin Firth and Emma Stone could save this one. A Million Ways to the Die in the West (Seth Macfarlane) marked a huge step backward for Macfarlane, after the rather good Ted, which shows him indulging in the same immature storytelling as he does on TV. Neighbors (Nicholas Stoller) should have been a can’t miss comedy, but other the Rose Bryne, didn’t have much to recommend it. Tom at the Farm (Xavier Dolan) had a great setup, but no payoff at all, which for a thriller just won’t do., Transcendence (Wally Pfister) showed that a great cinematographer doesn’t always make a great director – and once again showed that Johnny Depp needs to play a normal fucking human again at some point. Tusk (Kevin Smith) has some decent moments, which makes the rest of the awful movie so frustrating, since it could have been a bizarre, strange entertainment.

Top 10

10. Serena (Susanne Bier)
Serena was the oft-delayed film, that we first heard about after Silver Linings Playbook two years ago and it finally limped into Canadian theaters this December (apparently, it’s going straight to VOD in American early next year). Yes, like most oft-delayed films it is bad. I had held out hope that perhaps this was going to be a return to form for Bier – who hasn’t made a good film in a while, after a string of very good films in the early to mid-2000s. But this is actually her worst film to date – and it completely wastes the talents of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence – two actors who are capable of being as charming and charismatic as anyone out there. The film is a soap opera, but one that takes itself far too seriously. The plot is ridiculous, and the actors seem to be asleep, despite how insane the goings on get. Bier is a talented director – and I hope she regains her top form soon. But this one was a massive letdown.

9. Mood Indigo (Michel Gondry)
Michel Gondry is a director who handles low-key special effects as good as anyone – a director of endless visually imagination. But, with the exception of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – a masterpiece that would make my top 10 list for the decade of the 2000s – he has never had a screenplay to match that inventiveness. Even given that, he has made a series of entertaining little films in the decade since Eternal Sunshine. But Mood Indigo is almost insufferably cute – a movie about the idle upper class whose world comes crashing down around them because of illness. But even though the underlying subject is rather dark, Gondry never really digs deep enough – keeping things on the cutesy, whimsical surface. I saw the European cut – which runs a half hour longer than the one released in American theaters, and it was endlessly cloying for well over two hours. Gondry has talent – and Mood Indigo has some nice visual touches. But I’m not sure he knows what his own movie is about here.

8. Jimmy P. (Arnaud Desplechin)
Desplechin's last two films – Kings and Queen and A Christmas Tale – are both large, messy ensemble pieces that also happen to be masterpieces. He works rather infrequently – meaning that I hope his every film is as good as those, and so I was looking forward to his latest – which debuted at Cannes in 2013. But his film, about a Native American (Benicio Del Toro) with a brain injury who seeks out treatment from an eccentric French doctor (Mathieu Amalric) is really rather dull. What’s more, it never really delves in very deep into the material – the two lead performances are fine, but the film drags on and on and on, and doesn’t really have much to say about psychotherapy. I still think Desplechin is a great filmmaker – but Jimmy P. is a definite disappointment.

7. The Giver (Philip Noyce)
There have been a lot of YA dystopian adaptations in recent years, so I guess it makes sense that studios would eventually get to one of the best the genre has to the offer – Lois Lowry's The Giver. It seems like it has a good cast – with Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep among others, and I liked the choice by director Philip Noyce to start in black and white and slowly turns things to color. However, the film seems to strip away everything that made the book so special in the first place, and replace it with needless action sequences, villains. Basically, they want to make The Giver into another Divergent – and that’s the last thing the movie should be. This should have been one of the highlights of the year – but it ended up being another forgettable YA film.

6. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller)
It has been 9 years since Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller first adapted Milles graphic novel series to the screen. After numerous false starts and cancellations, the sequel finally landed this summer – and it landed with a thud. What once seemed novel and original has been copied by many other films since. Even worse, the stories adapted this time just are not very good; most of the cast (Eva Green being the exception) sleepwalk through their roles. The segment that gives the movie its subtitle is probably the best – it is the one with Green after all – but the others, especially the one involving Jessica Alba and her revenge fantasy, is almost unwatchable. Sometimes, you have to strike when the iron is hot – which in this case was about 7 years ago.

5. Men, Women & Children (Jason Reitman)
Jason Reitman's first four films each got increasingly better – culminating with the brilliant, darkly hilarious and disturbing Young Adult, featuring the best performance of Charlize Theron's career. But since then, he seems to have lost his way a little bit. He tried to do a soapy melodrama last year, with Labor Day, which even the collective talent of Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin could not save. With Men, Women and Children his problems started with picking horrible source material (the novel the film is based on is WAY worse than the movie). He does have some good scenes in the movie – he gets one of the best performances anyone has ever gotten out of Adam Sandler (his final scene is actually close to brilliant), but is weighed down under so much crap that good just cannot compete. Reitman remains a tremendously talented director, but he needs a comeback vehicle – and fast. Maybe he should team up with Diablo Cody again – Young Adult showed she could write more mature material than she is given credit for after all.

4. The Zero Theorem (Terry Gilliam)
Perhaps I should stop expecting so much from the films of Terry Gilliam. His last film, 2009’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was his best in quite some time, and it was still just average. He really hasn’t made a great film since 1998’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. But Gilliam is such a talented director, better at building cinematic worlds than just about anyone else, so I still look forward to each and every one. The Zero Theorem stars Christoph Waltz as a man who is seeking to find out why human exist – and perhaps disapprove the existence of God, but he’s constantly being undermined by management (represented by Matt Damon). The film gives you a lot to look at in pretty much every frame – it is as visually inventive as anything Gilliam has done. But the storytelling is once again muddled, the performances never really connect, and the film limps along until it mercifully ends. Gilliam still has talent – and I still won`t give up hope that there is another great film in him – but once again, he delivered a disappointment.

3. A Field in England (Ben Wheatley)
I was a big fan of Wheatley`s last two films – Kill List, which continued to twist and change genres as it went along, and Sightseers, a delirious black comedy, so I was looking forward to his black and white, surreal comedy A Field in England. Unfortunately, the film was a major miss for me. The film literally goes around in circles throughout, has some horrible toilet humor, and then takes a very strange turn in the final minutes. The film still shows Wheatley`s talent – and his willingness to experiment at every step along the way. But A Field in England was a miss for me – a chore to sit through, which strikes me as a step back for the talented young Brit. I still want to see what he does next – I just hope it’s better than this.

2. Are You Here (Matthew Weiner)
Going into TIFF 2013, Are You Here was on many critics Must See list for the festival – and the word coming out was that it was a massive bomb. People could not believe that the man responsible for Mad Men made something this tone deaf. But sometimes, festivals act as echo chambers, and when seen outside of a festival setting, movies that initially got bad reviews look better (and vice versa). But in this case, the advance word was correct. Are You Here is unbelievably bad – it feels like a movie written and directed by someone who has no idea what he`s doing – and we know that isn’t Weiner, who has shown his ability in both in Mad Men. Perhaps he was just trying to do too much – as if he wanted to cram an entire series of TV shoehorned into a two hour package. Whatever the reason, after Are You Here, I have to wish that Weiner just concentrates on TV from here on out – and leave the movies to those who know how to make them.

1. The Captive/Devil’s Knot (Atom Egoyan)
Egoyan was once one of the best directors working, not just in my country of Canada, but in the world. He peaked with 1994s Exotica and 1997s The Sweet Hereafter, but his films after that – Felcia's Journey, Ararat, Where the Truth Lies and Adoration all had many things to recommend them on. But ever since 2009s Chloe, Egoyan seems to have lost his way a little bit. That was a rather lame erotic thriller, which was neither erotic nor thrilling. It took him 4 years to follow that up with Devils Knot – an terrible film about the West Memphis Three, which I saw at TIFF last year, and made its way to theaters this year, and then he comes right back with The Captive – which is undeniably better than either of the previous films, but still plays like a direct to DVD thriller, made by a director who thinks he’s much cleverer than he really is. What the hell has happened to Egoyan? I don’t know, but I don’t like it.

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