We begin with the sadness that is a compiled list of the stinkers of the year, it's not the nicest thing to do, I'll be the first to admit that, but sometimes when you sit in a cinema for hours on end and wonder where the entertainment, the artistic nature, the reason you go dissappeared to, you feel the need to ponder on what the worst cases of cinematic destruction are. These are worth watching, just to add your voice to the discussion. We begin, however, with one that couldn't meet the criteria of the list...
Honourary Mention: An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty
Screened at Sundance London and recently won a Gotham Award for Best Film, Best!, Not Playing Near You, Oversimplification is the kind of film a twatty hipster makes when they believe that everything they say is a poetry, every photograph deserves a place in the Louvre and every moment in their life would make a great HBO miniseries. Two short films flung together to tell the story of a man who loves a woman, doesn’t know how to express it, expresses it and the aftermath. Self indulgent twaddle told in various animation styles, awful camera and editing work and pretentious beyond belief. Sinfully up its own arse, a horrendous piece of work that needs working over with an axe. As bloated as the filmmaker’s hair.
As the final days of Soderbergh’s directorial career gleam, we’ve had some great last hurrahs, like 2011’s horrifying and outstanding Contagion, and 2012’s whole lotta fun Magic Mike, but there’s something distinctly lousy about the action thriller Haywire. Written cynically like someone who has seen enough bad direct to DVD movies wants to then change them forever, but doesn’t know how, Haywire trundles along at a slug’s pace as non-actress Gina Carena smacks men about a lot, from World’s Sexiest Man Channing Tatum being smashed in a cafe to Michael Fassbender finding his face between another woman’s legs, with deadly consequences. The world’s deadliest assassin goes rogue when her company shuts her down, blah blah blah, it could have been something mediocre and mindnumbing, or it could have had fun with itself, but Haywire has aspirations of both bringing back the 70’s thriller style and going for the way too serious 80’s action films, and ultimately it ends up being painfully dull. Action scenes are averagely shot, but the music always cuts out and all the action feels like wrestling, as each fighter looks at one another to prepare for every arm twist or kick. Choreography that’s way too choreographed and unnatural to the story or the action genre. A showreel for the lead actress’ fighting skills, but nothing more, Haywire is an embarresment.
9. Seven Psychopaths
After the Oscar winning short film Six Shooter and the painfully funny and vulgar In Bruges, Martin McDonough could do no wrong, we thought. But this tale of a man trying to write a script as his best friend finds himself embroiled in an increasingly violent crime saga over a dognapping fails at every conceivable level. With the sole exception of wonderful cinematography over the sunkissed LA skyline, Seven Psychopaths is a painfully unfunny film that finds its head stuck firmly up its rear as it thinks that the metatextual dissection of an action comedy inside the film being written is a new idea. Charlie Kaufman’s done that before, and he was certainly not the first. McDonough’s attitude to the film is too aggressive on how clever he thinks he is that the script’s killer lines are a mess of self-referencing and been-there-done-that hitmen talking about pop culture, like Tarantino rip-offs of the 90’s, but two decades later and ever so more embarrassing. Ultimately, the film’s leads don’t have the ability to charm their way out of a stodgy script, and more often than not Farrell and Rockwell are more annoying than engaging. Utterly awful cinema.
8. This Means War
Comedy had a tough year, and the infusion of action and comedy which sometimes hits gold certainly found its fair share of crud to go with it. McG’s This Means War, which pitted unlikable ladies man CIA agent Chris Pine with unlikable sweet CIA agent Tom Hardy in a stalk-off for the affection of Reese Witherspoon as her best friend Chelsea Handler says as many horrible and horribly unfunny things she can thus making you wish the film had the cajones to kill off some characters. Painfully unfunny, and destroying any of the charisma Pine and Hardy often have on-screen, the film is a detriment to the nature of comedy and romcoms, with the entire driving force of the film being moot due to not one of the two leads being likable enough to be the hero of the film and the one who should get the girl. Dire stuff.
7. Rust & Bone
Whilst the others on the list thus far may be lighter fare, Rust & Bone is hardly in the same ballpark. Not made to appease most audiences, a film like this will always have detractors, but there’s something about the hollowness and completely poorly handled adaptation of a series of short stories that makes it more offensive to the cinephile than other highbrow pieces of cinema this year. The story of an aggressive and often abusive father making a new life in the south of France by fighting, bouncing, punching and an orca trainer who finds her life in ruins after an accident could have been a cracking case of two broken souls colliding into a wonderful rebuilding relationship, but this being playing against the convention, it languishes in the idea of never doing what conventional cinema would do, and as such nothing happens. It actively goes against the grain, so at each moment of plot movement in conventional cinema, nothing happens. And then there’s a last act rush of desperation to make the film memorable and exciting, but with such a horrible lead character, who multiple times hits his son, and a lacking relationship with Marion Cotillard’s other lead, the audience sits waiting for anything, even the briefest glimpse at the possibility of caring about the figures on screen. Never happens. Add to that some hideous camerawork, a camera that never seems to stop shaking, and tedious pacing of the non-plot film and it’s a test of endurance for audiences.
6. Red Tails/Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance
What a year for George Lucas, his dream project was released, his company sold for billions and people were excited for another Star Wars even after Phantom Menace 3D was released. Red Tails was a film Lucas wanted to exist for years, and why not? The story of the Tuskeegee Airmen, the first group of African American pilots helping fight the air battles of Europe’s part of the Second World War, facing off the Nazis and racism in a one-two punch could have been a bravely told, interesting and often exciting film. What we got, however, is a Sunday afternoon TV show script full of clichés, horribly dull characters, awful plotting and an insane amount of bad CGI that makes every action scene like a cutscene in a video game, but unlike Lockout’s wit, this film has nothing to negate such visual awfulness. A shame that a cast including Bryan “Branston Pickle” Cranston, Bubbles off The Wire and Cuba Gooding Jr. Is wasted with material so unbearable that even the concept of making it like a modern day Sunday matinee flick is headbangingly offensive to those old serials. Ugly work and an offense to the memory of the real men involved.
One of the most anticipated films of this reviewer's calender was the studio production by the Crank duo of a 3D super-hero film featuring Nic Cage. Even with a crappy original film, the idea of a Neveldine/Taylor often hand-held roller-skate directed actioner with an edge, an attitude and a love for throwing everything on screen meant that the expectation of the film was to be balls-out crazy and fun. Unfortunately awful writer David S. Goyer wrote the film, not the Gamer guys, and it shows. Slugging along with pitiful dialogue, nothing funny or shocking to say, and limiting the action sequences to poorly achieved event moments, thus no fun for the directing duo who like to get into the action. There's nothing for them to get into when they need big wide shots to explain the awful stupidity happening onscreen. Nic Cage pisses fire, yes, but in a boy's imagination. He doesn't get to Cage out enough for a film from the guys whose Crank film as intended to be a Cageathon. I hope they all work together on something better in the future.
5. The Campaign
O comedy, where art thou? Will Ferrell struggled this year, as Jay Roach’s political satire avoided the concept of satire as two low-level candidates for congress fight out in a small town, utilising any and all PR wins to beat the other guy. As the 2012 elections played out with Romney gaffes, legitimate rape conversations and the likes, the supposed comedic elements of The Campaign were more realistic than the outside world. Nothing original, and with Ferrell given free reign, the film involves a 5 minute scene of him just screaming and throwing things. He needs someone to tell him no, because otherwise this happens and it is unbearable. As for Zach Galifianakis, he’s in yet another movie that can’t harness what makes him a quality stand-up and humourist. An overly effeminate manchild is not inherently funny, and with Galifianakis providing an awful voice for the role as well, he’s the kind of person you want to punch in the face, not head up a comedy film. The less said about the inclusion of John Lithgow and Jason Sudeikis the better, that they are even in this film is heartbreaking, but they commendably try to pretend the rest of the film isn’t happening, and my goodness how I wish I could as well.
4. Take This Waltz
Love is a many funny thing, or not as Sarah Polley’s aimless, useless look at the destruction of a marriage by a woman who wants new, shiny, not comfortable shows. Take This Waltz is a completely depressing film, but not emotionally engaging, and often just plain boring. Nothing seems to happen for the most part, and when things finally move, it’s so subtle that it feels like nothing, and ultimately we react to nothing on screen. Michelle Williams feels wasted in the lead, but it is Seth Rogen, going for serious and charming, who hurts the most. That his best performance so far is in such a terrible film is painful, if it were in something at least half decent we would call for awards consideration, but the film deserves nothing, and actively destroys the good will of his performance as the two hours drag on, and on, and on, and on. Take this Waltz, please.
3. Jack And Jill
Jack And Jill exists. This is a fact we must live with. Adam Sandler got paid millions to produce and star in a film where he plays an angry version of himself, an annoying female version of himself and provide the voice of a CGI bird that gets drunk and drinks from a chocolate fountain. Jack And Jill sees Sandler play Jack and Jill Sadelstein, identical twins, who from Thanksgiving onwards spend time with Jack’s family, as he tries to win a big client in the form of Dunkin’ Donuts over to his company by getting Al Pacino in a commercial, Jill struggles with being a 40-something single woman. He can’t get Pacino, but Pacino is infatuated with Jill, who doesn’t like Pacino. Will Jack sacrifice his sister’s happiness for money? This is a film that exists, was made, released, and made money. It’s hard to be a fan of comedy some days.
2. Casa de mi Padre
Will Ferrell pops up again on the list, in the second worst comedy of the year. Casa de mi Padre wants to take the mickey out of Spanish language Mexican soaps, which for those in LA might seem like a funny concept for half an hour, but for anyone who doesn’t waste time with that stuff and wants something funny, this is not it. Painfully handled comedy, and by comedy I mean moments of awkward silence as the film waits for a supposed audience to belly laugh, and lots of cheap movie making moments that we’ve seen parodied time and time again. Bad acting jokes, a note from the assistant director about not filming a scene, it’s all so last century and been there done that, but done in a gurningly smug manner like they are the first people to ever think of any idea in the film. Absolutely awful, laugh free and for an 80 minute feature, painfully long. Almost completely unwatchable and absolutely horrendous. A mustn’t see if ever I saw one.
1. A Fantastic Fear Of Everything
And so it comes to this, Simon Pegg is not only at fault for starring in this wretched dreck, but he also helped push it into production. The supposed horror comedy directed by Crispin Mills sees Pegg as a children’s author trying to write about Victorian serial killers, and as he researches he gets more and more fearful of the outside world, and half way through the film must go out to the laundrette. That’s Act 2 part 2 and Act 3. A laundrette. Even sitting through bad comedies, there’s been someone chuckling, or coughing one miserable laugh, but at the screening of A Fantastic Fear Of Everything there was nothing. Not a soul smiled. A tall journalist sunk deeper into his chair than ever before, an American pal turned and said this may be the worst film he’s seen all year, and people walked out. Professionals couldn’t take this film. It is a mess. An ugly, unfunny, horrible film that didn’t deserve a cinematic release, and flopped hard when put out there. There’s nothing to defend this film, it destroys the notion of Pegg being a good lead by overdoing his comic style, and destroying it within the film, and the lame mix of horror and comedy sees cheap jump scares and shots of Pegg in his pants. That’s about it. The worst film released in 2012, how I wish I could forget A Fantastic Fear.
But it's not all doom and gloom, as we enter the ten finest films that cinema offered us this past year.
10. God Bless America
Marmite movies do inevitably have those shouting from both sides of the playing field, but something like God Bless America, mostly an extended rant on society from a man on the edge, should be awful. Or at the very best middling, with better intentions than execution. God Bless America executes well, and frequently. Bobcat Goldthwait's take on media and the effect on society is often cruelly hysterical, with a terminally ill protagonist and an adrenaline-junkie girl side-kick, comparisons are easy with last year's brilliant Super, as both have the old man young girl fighting bad people, morally or just horribly self-indulgent, and having some form of awkward romance beyond the age gap, but whilst Super struggled to find a consistent tone, God Bless America has no interest in going for deathly serious ponderings, wanting to put the idea of what is right and wrong in the audience's hands, as more funny things happen on screen. Not non-stop funny, but often courageously outrageous, and true to Bobcat's offensive form, utterly insane and sickening. It won't be on too many people's best of list, and I'm sure some have primed it as one of the worst, but there's a charm in Joel (Brother of Brian Doyle) Murray and newcomer Tara Lynne Barr's on-screen relationship and the adventure they go on together. Check out the extra-long awesome chat we had with Bobcat Goldthwait, a must-read for fans.
It's something to go to a screening expecting the best reaction to be "Well, that was passable entertainment", only to spend the rest of the night excitedly discussing bits of the film with a friend. Pusher, a remake of the Nicholas Winding Refn film, should have just been an alright bigger budget, more stylistic retelling of the original film, and whilst in some ways it is, the 'alright' part of that is off the mark. Often belly laughs and shocking intensity are part of the same scene, as the story of a drug dealer up to his eyeballs in debt tries to make enough money in a week to stop from being deaded (Professional term), he stoops to anything for the sake of making money, and it can be cringe-wrothy, painfully funny or nerve-wracking, sometimes all three at once, as he does so. Well directed, a great score, decent performances, an appearance from Neil Maskell, what more could you want? Deliriously Entertaining.
8. Chasing Ice
No doubt that this year's been good for documentaries, from the worrying The House I Live In to the glorious Searching For Sugar Man and of course the well told dramatisation thriller The Imposter, but they all suck in comparison, well aren't as good as, Sundance hit Chasing Ice. At once a film that looks at global warming and the lengths people will go for photojournalism. Stunning cinematography and glorious timelapses run through the film, as we see a man taking it upon himself to stick a firm middle finger up at those on Fox News* who declare Global Warming a myth. As the film moves from the adventure of a man and a crew heading south to get the most cameras in place for glacial sliding and to show the short-term effects of global warming. Before and afer images of melting ice, the decimation of what a winter once was in colder climates, it's a worrying piece that pretty much clears up any BS about it all being manufactured by liberals. This is happening, it's happening now, it's happening as we speak and gaining speed, and the film tells you visually, scares you visually, calls you to action. Stunning images and great work as a documentary too, fantastic stuff.
*It's not just that outlet, of course, there are Globowappa deniers all over the world.
7. Safety Not Guaranteed
Time travel is always a concept valuable to the narrative form. The ideas of regret and living in the past can be utilised with reason to discuss it being that there's a possibility to change everything. Safety Not Guaranteed sees a bored journalist and two interns heading out of the city to investigate a classified that offers companionship to a future time-traveller, and as Aubrey Plaza's character bonds with Mark Duplass' paranoid genius, we see the wants of those two and bored journalist Jake Johnson. All three have reason to travel back, but Johnson's stuck-in-the-past nature, and fear of the future, are so involving. Next to the sub-plot that sees him make sure nerdy Indian intern Karan Soni loses his virginity, and at least begins to have an adult life. But always the film comes back to Duplass and Plaza, their relationship and the desires they both have to change the past, an unmissable series of performances both hysterical and heartfelt that really plays with time travel ideas well for a low-budget feature, and what an ending too.
6. The Grey
Liam Neeson and the director of The A-Team and Smokin' Aces, I honestly didn't know they had it in them. There was a time when The Grey was marketed as Liam Neeson Punches Wolves!: The Liam Neeson Punching Wolves In The Face With Broken Bottles Story, and wonderfully it turns out that the promotion was all centred around a scene at the end of a 2 hour man-vs-nature/god film with so much more smarts behind it than brawn. IT was a hit based on the lead actor and the marketing, but it's not the film anyone thought it was by promotion's way. It'd have been great to be a fly on the wall of some theaters as people realised that rather than fight, a lot of the film was pure dialogue, men discussing their last hopes, how to destroy the beasts attacking them, and other rather downbeat stuff. When the film goes thriller, it does that exceedingly well, on tenterhooks the whole scene-type deals, like The Edge but without Hopkins or Baldwin. Basically, this is the kind of cinema that astounds you, horrifies you, surprises you, and should be winning awards all over the shop.
5. Young Adult
Many years ago now, when Juno was released, everyone went gaga for it, and I was left on the sidelines. As a huge fan of Thank Your For Smoking, it was sad to see the second Jason Reitman film so bogged down in annoyingly bad writing from someone who wants to sound hip and cool, but doesn't know how to do that. When Young Adult came on the horizon, I was honestly worried. Thankfully, between Jennifer's Body and The United States of Tara, it seems like Diablo Cody found her voice in a clearer, more concise fashion, one that allows for the dark wit and light moments without hitting up some excruciatingly 'cool' dialogue for it. And the character moments, oh the character moments. Up In The Air was an interesting dramatic progression for Reitman, and whilst Young Adult is so much more understated, and the film is about not progressing, it feels like another step in an amazing direction for Reitman and Cody. Charlize Theron is a ghost writer for a young adult series of novels set in a high school, she goes back home when her high school beau invites her to a baby party for his newborn. She goes back thinking this means he wants her back, and she'll do anything to win him over. Patton Oswalt is a destroyed man who was brutally attacked in high school and tries to eek out a meaningless existence of nothing, and becomes her confidante as her wants to get back together with Patrick Wilson's old flame never seem to happen. It's tough viewing and very acquired taste, but also painful, hysterical, shocking and masterful. Subtle and wonderful, this is the kind of great comic drama that people don't notice until it's too late.
For a year where the prestigious superhero films seemed content to stick with rigid formats, be it dark and serious, fun and loud or mopey and indie, Chronicle told a standard super-hero story on the fringes of its core narrative, using a collection of viewpoints, mainly from antagonist Andrew (A brilliant Dane DeHaan), but with snippiets from elsewhere too. The thankful finding of super powers mean that the footage is mostly steady, with telekinetic abilities meaning moving a camera around on top of buildings is easy, but there's a learning curve that the audience witnesses first-hand to it. On top of the stellar take on the found-footage form, Chronicle offers an enthralling hero/villain story with excellent characters, brilliant spectacle moments and everything geeky in-between. An utter delight, made by geeks for geeks, and utterly enjoyable as cinema as much as wish fulfillment.
3. The Raid
Not much left to be said about the story-light action-heavy Indonesian flick, but the exceptional thing about The Raid is how, even after multiple viewings, the intensity never subsides, the jaw ever fails to drop, and the sheer audacity of the piece leaves you astounded, joyous and ready to kick some arse. Bloody good fun, and one of the most creatively violent flicks for years, a swift kick to the action genre to remind stubborn Hollywood that even shaky-cam can have well-choreographed fights that breathe with new ideas in them. A few men, lots of enemies, plenty of floors, or 'levels', and a few boss fights, video-game nirvana, and basically a Streets Of Rage adaptation in the coolest form possible. If you've still not caught The Raid yet, well, it's about time. Also, check out this wonderful interview with the film's director.
2. The Cabin In The Woods
Much like The Raid, The Cabin In The Woods offered a fantastic side-swipe to a dusty genre that Hollywood just plays safe with nowadays, even when it comes to shocking audiences, it's all so been-there-done-that and writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard know what they'd rather see, surprisingly enough it's what everyone wants to see. Great twists and dissections on the genre and the notion of act structures makes for an interesting viewing, both gut-bustingly funny and always keeping the audience guessing as to just where the heck it's all going. The final act is bloody, hysterical and just insane in the best possible way. For a long time this was the best film of the year, but one film just out-did it that little bit more.
1. 21 Jump Street
It's not big, it's not clever, but this tv-adap by the duo who brought us Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, Clone High and are working on the Lego movie, is the funniest film of the year bar none. Jonah Hill and man of the hour Channing Tatum are unlikely friends, one a nerd and one a bully in high school, they eventually band up and become pals as they train to be cops, only to find themselves sent back to school to uncover a drug ring and put a stop to it all. High school film clichés meet buddy-cop film cliches in a wickedly funny pastiche on the action genre, full of genuine heart and ridiculously inventive moments, it is a goldmine of lines, moments, visuals, ad-libs and has a decent enough plot that might just make you as excited for the climax as much as you are enjoying the steady stream of gags both vulgar and silly. There's none better this year, and as a huge comedy nerd, this was nirvana. Once more everyone, "F**k you science!"
Well, that's about it for 2012. Thank you everyone who took the time to read any of my words, and keep checking up on the Buz for news, reviews, interviews, features and a whole heap of awesome trailers.