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Movie Curiosities -- 2013: The Disappointments

Blogs, Movie CuriositieswilliambComment

To make it clear for those just tuning in: This is not a "Worst of the Year" list. I am in no position to write a "Worst of the Year" list. I never saw Movie 43After EarthThe InternshipThe Lone RangerThe Smurfs 2, or any of the other notorious bombs that hit in 2013. As a rule, if there's absolutely zero chance that I could possibly enjoy a movie, I don't waste my time and money on it. And I certainly don't dignify it with a blog entry. HOWEVER, there are still those unavoidable times when a film comes highly recommended and/or loaded with talent, and I still left the theater screaming with rage. Those are the movies I'm ranking here.

This is always the hardest list for me to write. For one thing, it's never easy weighing the greatness that should have been against the failure that was. Secondly, it breaks my heart to mourn for these films that wasted so much potential. Thirdly, a lot of these films are on this list precisely because they were so hyped and beloved by many, which means that I inevitably court controversy in the process of writing it.

So get your torches and pitchforks ready, gentle readers. This is my list of the greatest disappointments in 2013.

10. The Grandmaster

This one is ranked very low, because I'm open to the possibility that I just didn't get it. I went into this movie with absolutely no knowledge of director Wong Kar Wai, and that was a huge mistake. Yet this movie still makes the list because the Weinstein Brothers advertised it as a fast-paced kung-fu extravaganza, and the final result was about as far removed from that as possible. I personally found the whole thing to be boring and incomprehensible, not to mention unmemorable. But if you can find any artistic value and entertainment in this film, more power to you.

9. The Family

A movie with this pedigree does not deserve to be such a huge steaming mess. I still can't believe that Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones, Martin Scorsese, and Luc Besson all got together to make a movie that simultaneously tries and fails to be a family movie, an action film, a mob thriller, a high school story, and a comedy. Plus, this is the movie that features the "international school paper" sequence, which is still the most impossibly stupid series of events that I've ever witnessed. Still, the film is just harmless and funny enough that I can give it a relatively low spot.

8. To the Wonder

After falling head over heels in love with The Tree of Life, I was chomping at the bit to see Malick's next. And then this happened. I still can't believe that Malick followed up such a rich and multi-layered film with this empty tedium. Malick still has his unnatural skill with visuals, sure, but nothing else about this movie worked. The dialogue was inaudible, the editing was terrible, none of the characters were worth a damn, and any attempt at themes or statements was lost on me. To repeat my review, "I’m pretty sure that To the Wonder is what Tree of Life looked like to those people who hated Tree of Life."

7. Elysium/Oblivion

These were supposed to be two original and intelligent sci-fi outings from two of the most promising new directors in Hollywood. And in both cases, the results were pitifully mediocre. Though the production values were astounding, neither film offered anything in terms of story or thematic material that hadn't already been done better by so many other movies. They also proved to be rather stupid movies, with abundant plot holes and two-dimensional characters. If this is the best and the smartest that Neil Blomkamp and Joseph Kosinski can offer when given A-list resources and free reign, then we can expect their careers to drop very sharply. And that thought saddens me.

6. Star Trek Into Darkness

Four years, folks. J.J. Abrams and his team took four years to make this movie. They spent half a decade developing a story, only to shamelessly rehash Wrath of Khan like so many other Trek films before the reboot. Four years ruthlessly hiding secrets that never needed to be kept in the first place, which only made it more disappointing when the curtain was finally lifted. They had all this time to bring something new and exciting and intelligent to the franchise, only to prove that all their halfway good ideas were already used up in the previous go-round. Four years and a sequel later, and the franchise is right back where we left it in 2009. Good riddance, Abrams.

5. All Is Lost

If I spend an hour and a half with someone in the middle of nowhere, I expect to come away feeling like I've met someone. I need a reason to care about him. Just give me one solitary thing to know about this man, or at least how he came to be in the middle of nowhere on his own. Give me a name, give me a job, give me a family member waiting for him back home, give me something. Anything. Or failing that, give me a character who acts like a sensible and responsible human being. That's all I ask, and I don't think that's unreasonable. Though the filmmakers and 94 percent of critics don't seem to agree.

4. The Counselor

For those who haven't seen it, let me spare you the trouble. *ahem*: 1. Fassbender says "Someone's going to kill me, what should I do?" 2. Someone else says "I can't save you, because you're a dead man walking and you really should have known better." 3. Repeat for two hours.

I still can't understand why so many talented people agreed to play such worthless characters. I can't understand how Cormac freaking McCarthy could write a screenplay with such godawful dialogue and a horrendous understanding of set-ups/payoffs. Perhaps worst of all, how could a legend like Ridley Scott direct such a pretentious and horribly-paced movie with no worthwhile message to offer? Also, after this and Prometheus (another pretentious and horribly-paced movie), it bears mentioning that his next film will be a Biblical epic. Be afraid.

3. Dead Man Down

I had a tough time ranking this one, because I'm still not sure what the goal was. I only know that  Noomi Rapace, Colin Farrell, Terrence Howard, Dominic Cooper, F. Murray Abraham, and Isabelle Huppert were in this film under the direction of Niels Arden, and they got together to make an utterly baffling film with no clear objective. The narrative is so poorly structured and the proceedings are so unmemorable that the production might as well have gotten started without a script at all. Also, from the nonsensical revenge plot to the laughable "death by rats" scene, absolutely nothing in this picture even comes close to working. With the possible exception of Movie 43, I don't think there was such a terribly awful movie that had so much talent wasted.

2. Romeo & Juliet (2013)

I still can't believe they fucked this up. This should have been the easiest hit of the year. They already had one of the greatest scripts ever written, for Christ's sake. Even better, they had put together a sterling cast with amazing sets and costumes, so the rest should have been cake. But then Julian Fellowes went and modified the screenplay, making up dialogue wholesale and pretending that it was the Bard's original text. And he apparently thought that no one would notice or care that this was only an imitation of Shakespeare's most beloved work. Not since Mighty Casey has such a sure thing been so deliberately thrown out the window to such disastrous results. If it wasn't for this movie's toxic reception, this would easily have been my #1 pick. Instead...

1. Only God Forgives

This was probably the year's most divisive film in the arthouse circuit, and I came down squarely on the "hate it" side. Though I concede that the visuals are dazzling, the incomprehensible plot and the irredeemable characters bored me to tears from start to finish. I couldn't find a single thematic statement worth a damn, nor could I find a reason to care about anyone onscreen (except maybe the badass detective). But don't get me wrong, Holy Motors proved that a film doesn't need a coherent narrative or defined characters to work as a profound piece of art. Then again, Holy Motors was a million times more creative, energetic, and intelligent than this movie ever was.

I know this film has a legion of devoted supporters, and I honestly don't care anymore. I'm done arguing the point. If this is the hill you want to die on, good for you. Me, I'll just sit back and call it my choice for the year's biggest disappointment, content to never see it again.

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