The end of the year is drawing near, which means you can bet your ass that we’re going to have a ton of lists to throw at you before we call it a year. Everyone is going over their top films of the year, but we figured it would be best to get the worst out of the way first and then move onto the good stuff. 2012 was certainly a great year for cinema. The rise of the summer blockbuster and then the ending of the Twilight Saga meant a big year at the box office. But among the greatness there was a big handful of films that just flat-out disappointed me. Some of these films had the odds stacked against them going in, while others had no right to be nearly as bad as they turned out. Perhaps we can learn from our mistakes for next year?
Featured on this list are a lot of titles that aren’t completely horrible, but ones that either had incredible worth-of-mouth leading into release or a perfect alignment of cast and crew that hinted at greatness. Now I know it’s not fair to judge a film on the hype, but not once does that come into play here. At the end of the day the films on this list made it here because they were below-average or hardly passable, when they should have excelled. This is of course just my personal list of disappointments and it shouldn’t be taken as anything more than one man’s ramblings.
The Five-Year Engagement
I actually liked the first quarter of this film a lot. It reminded me of classic Nicholas Stoller/Jason Segel comedy, mixed with a little Emily Blunt. It had all of the ingredients for a nice little R-rated comedy during the beginning part of the year, yet it fell flat and never managed to find its pulse. Stoller has never had a problem with comedy before, working with Segel on Forgetting Sarah Marshall and also directing Get Him to the Greek, yet The Five-Year Engagement feels sort of like a comedy based on a good concept, but with not much thought put into it.
I’d like to stress how much I enjoyed the first part of the film, because there’s a lot of comedy that works well. Segel lends another one of his likable leading performances and Blunt matches up perfectly with him. The two share strong chemistry throughout, but it’s in the writing where the film gets a little thin and flimsy. There’s a turning point in the film where the couple’s relationship is tested and it is at this precise moment that the film stops being a comedy with dramatic elements and instead becomes a drama with little comedy and not much holding it together. Characters eventually resolve their issues in a predictable fashion, but by that point you’ve already forgotten about how they got into the situation and why you should even bother caring. Again, not a bad movie, but incredibly disappointing when looking at the director’s previous work.
Usually when Luc Besson‘s name is attached to an action film you can at the very least expect some great-looking action. That’s not the case for newcomer directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger. The two clearly couldn’t work out Besson’s idea for a crazy space shoot ’em film up with Guy Pearce playing the leading bad-ass. The shoddy CGI combined with the PG-13 rating and over-abundance of cringe-worthy dialogue makes this one barely worth a rental.
Mark Wahlberg might not be the best action star (see Max Payne), but he’s usually at the very least an entertaining lead. He’s very by-the-books when it comes to studio action projects, but give him an R-rating and a supporting cast like Ben Foster and Kate Beckinsale and he should be able to turn up something watchable. That’s not the case with Contraband. This poorly shot film from Universal shows you the boring side of smuggling drugs and illegal items in by boat. You’d think at some point there would be a shootout or something, but the director does his best to keep the action to a minimum while Giovanni Ribisi‘s horrible accent gets center stage.
RZA gets some slack for this one, being his directorial debut and all. But at the end of the day the biggest problem with Iron Fists is the fact that it contains too much poorly-written dialogue and rushed effects and not enough old-school kung-fu fighting. RZA shoots this one with lots of style and artistry when it comes to the sets and staging the action, but then he bogs the film down with dialogue that’s flat and unappetizing to his actors like Russell Crowe and at one point even Dave Bautista seems to get lost in the shuffle of the misguided direction.
I can’t say that I was even looking forward to this one, yet it still managed to sink far below most other passable action flicks that came out this year. Taken was a surprise hit at the box office and an effective revenge flick that worked because of its stylistic directing and brutal action. Liam Neeson sort of blew up after that and became the go-to bad-ass. This time around he returns for a tamer and much blander approach to the exact same story.
Denzel Washington as a bad-ass. Check. Ryan Reynolds as the confused young rookie check. Two hours of frantic shaky cam and a predictable (and unnecessary) twist ending. Checkmate! I’m not sure how such a simple premise with two more-than-capable leads could end up anywhere near being called a disappointing movie, but Safe House really did fail to create anything original or even appealing. It borrows Washington’s Training Day character and gives Reynolds nothing to do aside from acting like a complete idiot. The two spend most of their time on the run from an agency for an hour before the eventual shootout. The feeling of always looking over your shoulder in complete confusion is conveyed by director Daniel Espinosa via shaky cam and over-saturated shots. Pedestrian move by a director who doesn’t know how to take advantage of the tools (and budget) given to him.
Aside from a great performance by Dane DeHaan, Chronicle is mostly director Josh Trank using the found-footage element in a clever way, but never utilizing it to connect us with any of the core characters. The story unfolds in a realistic fashion that feels like the direct result of a bunch of teens discovering hidden powers, but Trank never captures the actual human emotion and instead focuses on showing us how unsympathetic you can be towards a character. I really wanted to like this one, but not once did I care about a single thing happening on the screen.
The Hunger Games
Is it a big surprise that I didn’t like this one? Everything leading to this film’s release was iffy, yet a spark of strong early reviews and reactions had me walking in with slight excitement. I ended up walking out two hours later with a feeling of complete disappointment. The Hunger Games was just a knockoff of every other futuristic dystopian society-based setting, with a story that substituted with more style than substance. Even disregarding the film’s unoriginal story you’re still left with director Gary Ross‘ unwatchable camera work. Ross clearly cares more about showing off flaming dresses and characters that show up for ten minutes, but serve no purpose to the film’s overall agenda, just so that he can claim that he’s being faithful to the book, while also establishing his own gritty tone. None of this works and The Hunger Games suffers because of it. The pacing is off, with actual chunks of the film wasted on characters sitting around a tree and then when the action does kick into high gear we’re greeted with a camera that’s either tipped over on the floor or up in a tree looking in the other direction.
It’s hard to connect with these paper-thin characters when we can’t even tell them apart.
Director Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon stepping away from a Bourne entry should have spelled disaster right away, but Jeremy Renner and Tony Gilroy are two intelligent men that could easily suit the spy thriller series right? Plus there’s Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton to help even out the supporting players. Still, underneath all of this potential rests a film that completely betrays the action-oriented first-class spying established by Damon and Greengrass. Legacy is a poor man’s spy film. It relies too much on a plot with Renner that never goes anywhere and just when things to start to shape up Gilroy cuts the strings and ends the film on a low note. The Bourne Legacy is 1/3rd a Bourne movie and 2/3rd’s a lost episode for any generic spy show circulating your local cable channels at 3 in the morning.
Silver Linings Playbook
It pains me to say this, but I absolutely could not find anything to praise about David O. Russell‘s latest wacky drama. Silver Linings at its best shows us that Chris Tucker can still act and that Robert De Niro occasionally cares about his career choices. Other than that we’ve got an oddball pairing between Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper that in its favor works, but never sticks. The story is quirky enough to be labeled an O. Russell film, but it never charms you as much as his past work. This is not a bad movie by any means. It’s just one that shouldn’t be anywhere near the Oscars or any other awards show. It’s perfectly fine working as an indie drama with a good cast and an offbeat story.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Beasts of the Southern Wild is another one that baffles me. The performances in this one are much stronger than say Silver Linings, but at what point does the story actually start and end? I give the director my complete respect for creating a tangible world that his characters play in, but most of the story is shot from a distance, never allowing you to latch onto any of the number of interesting characters seen in the film. Beasts is a film that deserves a nod or two for being incredibly unique, but at the end of the day I never felt the need to revisit the world of the Bathtub.
I hate throwing out the words Oscar bait, but Steven Spielberg‘s latest bloated political drama is just that. Take away Daniel Day-Lewis‘ embodying performance and you’re left with a film that gets by on repeating the same message over and over. It’s an important one, but that doesn’t mean the film deserves a pass for good intentions. Known actors like Joseph Gordon-Levitt are given throwaway roles that have importance when facing the facts that the film is based on, but the film never reveals those important moments. Most of the running time is spent on Lincoln sitting in an office telling stories about when he was a child. That’s great and dandy for the first hour, but two more hours becomes time-wasting and nothing more than an acclaimed director stuffing an empty time-slot with the same dialogue over and over until you’ve either fallen asleep or left the theater.
I have no doubts that I’m going to receive a lot of negative feedback for my list or for my reasoning, but that’s fine. I made this list based on films that disappointed me and ones that I couldn’t quite shake from my head. I’ve written reviews for most of these films, so perhaps those will help better identity you with why I didn’t like a particular film. I in no way despise these films, but I just felt that they could have and should have been so much better. Some picks might have been unfairly based on early critical or general buzz, but that doesn’t really matter, because I go into all films with an open mind. I’ve sat through a lot of stuff that I thought for sure I wasn’t going to like, yet against all odds I ended up walking out with a smile on my face.
Maybe the only thing holding me back from enjoying some of these films is a re-watch?
I’d love to hear some feedback though. Do you agree or disagree with any of my picks? Are their films that were released over the year that you were puzzled to see gathering awards nominations or taking the number one spot at the box office? There’s got to be at least or two out there that you don’t agree with. Let me know in the comments section below.