2011 Film Review: 10 Disappointments

Before getting into the movies that made of 2012 a year to remember, let’s have a look at the dark side of the screen: those other films that didn’t live up to their expectations. On a moment when sequels, prequels and reboots of tried and tested franchises dominated more than ever the box offices, the Cineplex has never looked so boring; so we’ve made a conscientious effort to avoid them , which unfortunately make us unable to comment on the dubious delights offered by the likes of “Pirates Of The Caribbean 4” or “Transformers 3”.

We didn’t really look forward to Jodie Foster’s directorial effort ‘The Beaver’ as the idea of watching Mel Gibson resorting to ventriloquism to exorcize his demons was enough to put us off; nor to Roland Emmerich dropping a conspiracy theory into Shakespeare’s authorship in ‘Anonymous’ or for Catherine Breillat’s third foray into sexing popular children’s tales up with the über pretentious ‘Sleeping Beauty’, so not too much harm done there.

Elsewhere, a few recent efforts by normally dependable directors such as Lorne Scherfig’s romantic flop “One Day’; Steven Sorderbergh’s spy thriller ‘Haywire’; Montxo Armendariz’s parental abuse drama “Don’t Be Afraid’; Michel Gondry’s by the numbers comic adaptation of ‘The Green Hornet’ or Terence Davies adaptation of Rattigan’s play “The Long Day Closes’ weren’t entirely without merit, but none of them reached the level their authors have accustomed us to. There were, however, sadder examples…

10-Cronemberg Does Period Drama

It sounded ace on paper. The always challenging Canadian master behind a drama about the origins of the psychoanalysis theory – a great influence on most of his past work- told though a triangle formed by Jung, Freud and a common patient. Three fine actors on board: man of the year Michael Fassbender; Viggo Mortensen and Keira Knightley; plus veteran screenplay writer Christopher Hampton adapting his own work for the big screen. However, perhaps due to an overzealous aim to accurately portrait those illustrious men and their time, it didn’t fully work. What should have been a fascinating plot turned out to be a rather disengaging succession of encounters between the three. Knightley’s character felt often overacted and Fassbender’s underwritten; only Viggo Mortensen managed to polish his role as Sigmund Freud. Cronemberg is still a fine director whose skill gives the film enough redeeming features to rank far above a common biopic, albeit leaving the hopefully temporary impression of being the work of a former visionary who’s coming to terms with embracing the mainstream.

9-Moretti’s Vatican Comedy

The news of Italian cinema’s own enfant terrible, Nanni Moretti, having written a comedy about a Pope who, after being elected, has second thoughts and runs away from his new responsibilities must have turn no few red lights on all over Italy. But fears of some potential irreverence couldn’t have been more unfounded as the friendly left wing director tackled the subject with the utmost respect and not a hint of criticism against the Vatican or the Church; his major dare being an attempt to confront dogma versus science by introducing himself as a psychoanalyst (validating again his nickname of the Italian Woody Allen), called to help the newly elected Pope on his moment of doubt, but whose presence leads to goofy football tournaments between cardinals or a less than exciting search for the missing holiness. Veteran actor Michel Piccoli gives a convincing low-key performance; but the main weakness here is a storyline that begins in full comic genius while describing the electing process and progressively deflates towards pointlessness. The Vatican may have breathed in relief, yet the audience did it in boredom.

8-Spielberg’s Sentimental Ride

The most popular director of all times returned this year on two different fronts: The money-spinning blockbuster arena with his successful adaptation of Hergé’s classic comic Tintin and the prestige, Oscar-aiming ‘War Horse’. The latter is the adaptation of acclaimed theatre play, which the director’s trademark treatment reshaped as a stereotype-rich tearjerker, mirroring the world of Disney’s vintage films with real actors on its saccharine-heavy ways. Every element of those films was present in full glory, from impossible cute kids to special relationship between child and animal or the triumph of the brave spirit against all adversity. Adding to that equation Spielberg’s predilection for the epic qualities of the war genre and his flawless selection of the most gifted professionals for each craft, including a remarkable, mostly British cast; it could have been a smash. but a naïve and sentimental approach to the story never allows it to overcome the limitations of a rather bland family-oriented drama, whose highly caloric nature left too much of a sugar rush.

7-FBI Founder’s messy biopic

In recent times, it seems that Clint Eastwood filmography has ceased to impress, raising no few worries about the Hollywood legend having lost his inspiration. After the classic morality tale that was Gran Torino and a half-baked venture into the paranormal in ‘Hereafter’, a return to historically important grounds was due and the shady ways of FBI founder ‘J. Edgar’ served as chosen topic. Edgar’s story should have produced a fascinating study of one of the darkest eras in recent American history. Instead it has been piling up on criticisms for giving way to factual inaccuracy or even sheer rumour, without providing enough muscle to back neither facts nor fiction. In particular the film never feels at ease depicting the unconfirmed rumours of Edgar being gay, maybe for this purpose Eastwood hired Oscar winner scribe Dustin Lance Black, of Harvey Milk’s biopic fame. But that was just one of many problems, the biggest of them was a waste of formidable cast (Leo DiCaprio; Naomi Watts; Judi Dench) which struggles to infuse some life into the not so well developed characters, failing to keep the interest alive for the most part of two and a half long hours.

6-Pixar in first creative flop shock

After the third instalment of “Toy Story” turned the franchise into one most accomplished trilogies in film history, news about a ‘Cars’ sequel being lined up as Pixar’s 2012 project were not received with the same amount of joy. To say the least, it felt like a lazy choice as the original film was the least liked on an unrivalled CV that included such classics as “Up”; “Wall-E” or ‘The Incredibles’, where solid storytelling met awesome technical innovation, gaining the fervent favour of audiences and critics in the process. Many argued that the characters of “Cars” weren’t strong enough as to produce a good follow-up and their fears were sadly confirmed. ‘Cars 2’ was a run-of-the-mill proposition that lacked the brilliance of any other Pixar work and raised fears about the studio giving more way to the marketing tie-in and product placement practices that have ravaged many of its competitors’ works. Even most worrying was the audiences embracing it as one of the big tickets of the past summer, which led to think the company may be tempted in the future to take the easier path to cash instead of keeping the production of more awe-inspiring and challenging projects.

5-Van Sant’s disingenuous teen romance

Despite his admirable efforts not to pigeonhole himself by jumping from one genre to another, Gus Van Sant’s recent filmography has mostly been hit and miss. The latest of his movies undoubtedly belongs among the misses. “Restless” saw the veteran independent returning to the world of teen drama by telling the romance between a couple of young eccentrics, a guy who likes to crash into funerals and the girl dying of cancer he meets in one of them (Mia Wasikowska’s fine acting skill totally put to waste next to Dennis Hopper’s son Henry). The quirky nature of the characters and situation depicted never rings true, making it close to the aesthetics of a commercial aimed at that lucrative segment of style conscious, elegantly disenfranchised and outside the norm pretenders within today’s youth. ‘Restless’ may not be so cynical, but it’s even more painful as it comes from one of the directors that helped shaping the audiovisual language of a new generation, now reducing his style to a mere caricature by using the same run down indie clichés his many copycats have been abusing for years.

4-Taking The Iron Out Of The Lady

It boasted one of the most accomplished character impersonations we can recall, courtesy of an Oscar and Rober nominated Meryl Streep, yet ‘The Iron Lady’ was no less than a huge disappointment. The fact Phyllida Lloyd, of Mamma Mia fame, was the choice for director didn’t really anticipated a balanced political or historical view, but no one could have expected it to be such a sneaky manipulation, showing Thatcher Today as a weakened old lady losing her marbles, talking to the ghost figure of his late husband and having blurry flashbacks of the events that occurred during her presidency, all with the excuse of giving a more human perspective on a character that, among many other things, is responsible for sowing the seeds of the current financial crises. The film succeeds in taking all the iron out of the lady, while the depiction of her accomplishments as an ambitious and overachieving woman in a man’s world, always faithful to her principles, feels more like a public relationship campaign than anything even tangentially aiming at describing the woman and her time. There’s surely a good film to be made about Margaret Thatcher, this just wasn’t the one.

3-Irritating post 9/11 child drama

Since his beginnings with ‘Billy Elliott’ Stephen Daldry has successfully balanced prestige literary adaptations and populist appeal with gusto, being amply rewarded for it. His venture in the murky and still rather unexplored waters of the post 9/11 drama has also become his first sinking. The Academy still on his side has nominated ‘Extremely Loud & Dangerously Close” for best movie in one of those embarrassments that will be remember in shame alongside such recent Oscar highlights as ‘The Blind Side”. An irritatingly know-it-all boy with autistic tendencies, traumatised by the death of his frustrated scientific dad (Tom Hanks) finds a key among his father’s belongings, embarking on an mission in search for the door to open that will take him to meet people from all sort of backgrounds. The book may have been an emotionally satisfying piece of work, but here it all sounds contrived and too crammed with peculiar situations to make real sense. Only Max Von Sydow, also up for an Oscar, gets out smelling of roses with a silent role that he manages to make believable against the backdrop of an impossible story.

2-A bad year for laughter

Two years ago the enormous success of “The Hangover” shook the cobwebs off a type of buddy reunion gone wrong comedy, often gross and unpolished but of great popular appeal during the 70’s and 80’s. It came close to the gates of the Golden Globes and the Oscars and turned their cast into stars. Unfortunately the unavoidable sequel hasn’t even reached a fraction of what made it special, being instead a repetition of all the same tricks with the only difference of a Bangkok location adding extra sleaze and exoticism. The lack of funny moments was often substituted by falling deeply into gross territory, not only passing the limits of good taste, which was its refreshing main selling point originally and showed a healthy lack of concerned for the politically correct kingdom of mainstream Hollywood, but also descending into the cheaply disgusting and overtly offensive. The Hangover 2 stood out as the leader of a lacklustre contingent of very flawed comedies coming from Hollywood that included the also disappointing ‘Horrible Bosses’; the fluffy and insubstantial ‘Morning Glory’ and even the irregular ‘Crazy Stupid Love’.

1-Madonna’s Folly

When her former effort about the life of a male prostitute went straight to video, no one could see Madonna being given another chance at her folly to become a film director. But followers of her music career know the queen of pop has never accepted a no for an answer, so she’ll found the way to convince the Weinsteins !, jumping on ’The King’s Speech’ winning streak, to produce a lavish period drama based on the life of Wallis Simpson. She gathered a considerable amount of fine professionals for the task as its best costume design Oscar nomination testifies, yet it only took a press screening during the Venice Film Festival for its many flaws to become the talk of the festival, crushing her overreaching ambitions with it. Withe little sense of editing, narrative tension or basic storytelling on display; the only good thing we can say about W.E. is that it offered priceless relief as involuntary comedy in a year when funny moments came in short supply. ‘W.E.’ parallel plots should compete against each other for the razzie at the most ridiculous screenplay of the year; their common link being women who going against the rules of society took control of their lives and throve, which also serves as a cheap metaphor for the Like A Virgin star’s career.

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