Reacting to Jonathon Sharp’s and my picks for the best and worst movies of the year on WCCO This Morning, Mike Binkley wondered aloud whether critics enjoy talking more about the movies they love or the ones they hate.
I don’t speak on Jonathon’s behalf when I say I definitely prefer seasoning my hater tots, especially when I took a minute or two to list out every movie I’ve seen this year and filed them away in pro-mixed-con categories. Either there are a lot more bad movies these days than good, or I’m seeing a disproportionately poor selection of the year’s offerings. (There is a third option that I am in fact Oscar the Grouch.)
The main reason for this is the same reason people presumably like to bungee jump, eat 60 ounces of ribeye, snoot hot sauce or get tattoos where the sun don’t shine: bragging rights. Though admittedly the task of sitting through one horrible movie probably doesn’t quite compare to the rush of adrenaline or endorphins some of those other challenges offer, the cumulative effect of having sat through dozens of bad movies in one 12-month span makes the job being a critic seem much closer in stature to showing off that normally well-hidden piercing in mixed company.
With that in mind, here’s an extended addendum to Jonathon’s and my collection of the best movies of 2012. I give you the biggest movie disasters of last year. And if I opted not to focus on the business-as-usual idiocy of Battleship, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Rock of Ages and the latest Ice Age installment, it’s not because movies that play to the lowest common denominator don’t need to be called out for further lobotomizing movie culture in general. They clearly do. I omitted them from consideration because, frankly, they don’t count as movies at all. Here are movies that tried a little harder, and tripped up a lot harder.
01. Hitchcock (dir. Sacha Gervasi) — “Film School for Dummies.” Words fail to convey just how head-smackingly obvious each in-joke and reference is in this borderline-libelous account of Alfred Hitchcock’s efforts to bring the grim potboiler Psycho to screens. That Hitchcock was a man of contradictions, obsessions and neuroses is generally accepted for fact, especially because his foibles make some of his best movies (Vertigo first and foremost) seem all the richer. But depicting him as a talentless, tantrum-prone compulsive eater who couldn’t direct his way out of a paper bag without the assistance of his wife, screenwriter Alma Reville (played here by Helen Mirren in Helen Mirren® mode, much to the likely relieve of lazy Oscar voters everywhere), is basically like reading cinephiles the riot act. An easy choice for the year’s worst.
02. Bully (dir. Lee Hirsch & Alicia Dwyer) — A documentary that tackles a problem it can’t solve is not problematic. A documentary that decries a problem and yet still makes no attempt to put it into a context that could potentially help bring about a solution is a whole ‘nother story. The shallow, opportunistically-timed doc Bully trots out first-person depictions of schoolyard bullying, winning easy sympathy for its victims on a one-on-one basis, but missing the forest for the trees. Rather than reach out to psychologists, sociologists or virtually anyone with any expertise on the subject, Bully‘s filmmakers repeatedly lean on lazy appeals to emotion, as though making an intellectual point would risk inviting a beat-down from the same students the movie vilifies. “Bullying is just plain wrong” isn’t a beautifully succinct message, it’s a dangerously stupid one.
03. Hyde Park on Hudson (dir. Roger Michell) — The year’s foremost “pinkies up” sham. This ever-so-faintly bawdy depiction of FDR’s country villa summit with that guy who stammered through The King’s Speech (no, really, the movie barely remembers to mention him by name but knows you’ll remember him from that Oscar-winning white elephant) is awash in creamy beige cinematography and stilted mannerism as Bill Murray (“bravely” submitting to stunt casting) grits his teeth through endlessly gentle situational comedy. Awards bait at its most inert.
04. Project X (dir. Nima Nourizadeh) — The party-hearty high school students who tear up a sizeable portion of Pasadena in this assaultive mockumentary are so obnoxiously and violently self-entitled that I was pretty certain it was designed as a metaphor for American foreign diplomacy circa 2004. But since the last time a documentary-esque movie critiquing American foreign diplomacy made more than $100 million actually was back in 2004 (Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11), I’m guessing not. A sequel is in the works, so evidently the party truly never does stop for rich teen boys.
05. Taken 2 (dir. Olivier Megaton) — Throughout this nearly carbon-copy sequel, Liam Neeson looks like he just doesn’t care. And since the entire appeal of the first surprise hit was that no one expected someone as hulking and as lumbering (and, yes, as old) as Liam Neeson to kick so much ass, and now everyone knows it, most of the audience probably looked as though they didn’t care either. Let’s all sing “Kumbaya” over how much we really just don’t care.
06. The Lucky One (dir. Scott Hicks) — A beautiful Iraq War widow in the Deep South can’t stop sweating whenever she gazes out her window and sees an even more beautiful, pectorally-gifted Iraq War veteran doing all her house chores for next to no pay. There is no question that her son wants the sensitive roamer (played somnambulantly by Zac Efron) as his new father. And yet somehow our heroine finds a way to bend over backwards to stay with her abusive current beau. Yeah, Nicholas Sparks, this sort of material is clearly superior to William Faulkner.
07. To Rome with Love (dir. Woody Allen) — Gotta give the Woodman credit, though. He’s somehow convinced his backers to fund all his extravagant, months-long European sight-seeing trips by disguising them as movie shoots. Too bad the end effect is about as cohesive as your friends’ vacation photo albums on Facebook.
08. Alex Cross (dir. Rob Cohen) — Though it boasts some of the clumsiest direction in recent action movie history, Alex Cross truly earns its spot on this list thanks to Matthew Fox’s hysterical performance as the hair-trigger villain. I didn’t know ham could have negative percent body fat. I also didn’t know Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford could crack a man’s skull between her bicep and forearm.
09. Playing for Keeps (dir. Gabriele Muccino) — Gerard Butler is probably thanking his lucky stars Taylor Kitsch’s disastrous one-two 2012 punch (first John Carter, then Battleship) provided some distraction from his own, far more modest twin flops. Of the two, the surfer drama Chasing Mavericks earned a smaller pittance at the box office, but it was the rank misogyny of Playing for Keeps — in which every soccer mom in a 5-mile radius can’t keep their hands away from his rock-hard bottom — that truly formed his rock bottom.
10. Les Misérables (dir. Tom Hooper) — You probably liked this movie. You’re wrong.