2013 Film Review: The Disappointments

pain and gain 2

As it is our custom, we begin our yearly film review heads down in embarrassment by recalling the biggest disappointments the last twelve months of cinema brought us.

On a year whose offer has spoilt us for choice, there was little time to check those works dismissed by the critics, so many of the sequels, reboots, biopics, romcoms and overall bleak offering of a poorer than usual blockbuster season passed us by completely. This state of affairs meant that we missed out on the dubious charms of such unpopular releases as After Earth, where two generation of Smiths engaged in what’s been described as a love letter to Scientology, cementing M. Night Shyamalan’s reputation as the king of Hollywood flops; the incomprehensible entrapment of half of Tinseltown on a scatological succession of bad jokes in Movie 43 or the dependably bad Adam Sandler and his gang reaching new lows in Grown Ups 2.

The worst films we saw, in comparison, were so small in scope that hardly misled anyone to watch them. Among them titles like Suspension of Disbelief; Maniac or Isabel Coixet’s latest Yesterday Never Ends (Ayer No Termina Nunca).

Among some bigger examples we found three notable wastes of a fine cast, the “Shame goes to Hollywood” attempt to deal with the thorny subject of sex addiction in Thanks for Sharing, reuniting the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow; Mark Ruffalo; Tim Robbins and pop starlette P!nk! to leave a rather moralistic, self-help aftertaste; the Kennedy-era exploitation flick Parkland, where Paul Giamatti; Zac Effron; Marcia Gay-Harden and other luminaries portrait the events surrounding the president’s killing from the “I was there” angle of people who played a small role in them (Parade watchers; hospital staff; security forces and even Lee Harvey Oswald’s relatives) forming an unengaging mosaic of semi-connected vignettes; and Ruben Fleischer’s unsuccessful comic treatment of a classic genre in Gangster Squad, congregating Ryan Gosling; Nick Nolte; Sean Penn; Emma Stone and Josh Brolin, whose recent choice of roles hasn’t been the most fortunate, sadly becoming a fixture among the worst reviewed pictures of the year (see also Oldboy and Labor Day).

In the other side of the coin, a considerable number of long awaited auteur works, turned out decent enough not to be treated as full-fledged disappointments, but failed to live up to the high expectations surrounding them. Be it Pedro Almodovar’s half-baked return to comedy with I’m So Excited; Kim Ki-Duk bizarrely mixing explicit violence with religious imagery in the Venice winner Pieta; Steven Soderbergh’s pharmaceutical exposé turned erotic thriller Side Effects; Ralph Fiennes’ rather dull latest period drama The Invisible Woman and the highest profile title of the bunch, the adaptation of Tracey Lett’s acclaimed play August: Osage County, another superb ensemble cast who didn’t quite gel together; albeit giving both Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts their respective umpteenth chance for Academy recognition.

None of them can compare in the level of heartbreak and deception inducing to our final Top 10 selections. Check our choices for 2013’s hall of cinematic shame, after the jump

pain and gain1- PAIN AND GAIN (Michael Bay)
Whatever I was thinking when I checked the latest from one of my least favourite directors ever is anybody’s guess; perhaps led by the lack of decent summer choices or the surprising number of good reviews daring to compare him to Tarantino, no less. The mastermind behind such timeless greats as Transformers stayed faithful to his body of work, unleashing every violent cliché in the book wrapped in impossible flashes of arty makeover, in this awful, morally vacuous tale of bodybuilders lost in their “get rich of die trying” scheme.
oldboy2- OLDBOY (Spike Lee)
Whatever Spike Lee was thinking when decided to remake Chan-Wook Park’s beloved recent classic is anybody’s guess. Like many American versions of foreign films it neither needed to be made in the first place, nor added anything of value to the original. Josh Brolin; Elizabeth Olsen; Samuel L. Jackson and Sharlto Cooper struggled to infuse some life in this ill-conceived project, whereas the former African-American icon continued his painful descent into irrelevance.
the fifth state3- THE FIFTH STATE (Bill Condon)
Whatever the producers of this timely Julian Assange biopic were thinking when giving the gig to Bill Condon is anybody’s guess. The man behind such intellectual heights as The Twilight Saga and Dreamgirls didn’t exactly stand out as a logical choice to portray the WikiLeaks saga's political shenanigans. Predictably it tanked, its tone shifting between embarrassing buddy flick territory and murky pseudo-idealistic lecture. Perceived as Benedict Cumberbatch’s ticket to the Oscars, not even his fine impersonation could salvage this ship from sinking.
4-THOR: THE DARK WORLD/ THE WOLVERINE/ IRON MAN 3/ KICK-ASS 2... And the list goes on... The global audience can’t seem to have enough of them, but last year we began to suffer from superhero fatigue and by now they have gone far beyond saturation point. The above were just a few examples of comic adaptations whose predecessors gave a refreshing spin to their stories, but as sequels they have proven to be of much lesser value. Please, stop them before it's too late.
this is 405-THIS IS FORTY (Judd Apatow)
Another movie aiming high at the awards season, just to be sidestepped when critics and audiences didn’t quite warmed to it. After becoming one of Hollywood’s most successful comedy producers, with his trademark mix of the boundary pushing and the traditional, Apatow’s attempt to become a generational spokesperson through this look at midlife crisis, turned out not to be very funny and a bit too self-centric, its major flaw being how difficult it was to relate to; unless, perhaps, you are also a big player within the entertainment industry.
walter mitty6- THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (Ben Stiller) More awards season victims, this ambitious Danny Kaye remake about a man torn between his grey existence and the call of his inner dreamer was marketed as the new Forrest Gump. It boasted a strong “be all you can be” message and tried to preserve the old-fashioned original vibe, while using Today’s technical possibilities to display Mitty’s daydreaming. Stiller sadly failed at both; the reality side falling into sentimentality, whereas the CGI-ladden scenes made it undistinguishable from any common summer blockbuster.
the counselor7-THE COUNSELLOR (Ridley Scott)
Becoming a regular in our disappointments lists, Scott not just wasted not a terrific cast, only Diaz in a surprising baddie turn remained unscathed, but also Cormac McCarthy’s literary brilliance. This story of of criminal honcho's lawyer stepping into the dark side for a one-off deal gone wrong didn’t translate well into a screenplay that assumed too many facts; ignored too many details and left too many questions unanswered. A captivating dark atmosphere pervading through the the holes on its plot managed to rescue it from total disaster.
the paperboy8- THE PAPERBOY (Lee Daniels)
Daniels follow-up to his Oscar winning ‘Precious’ combined his gift for explosive casting, including an unexpectedly steamy turn by la Kidman; two of the year’s Oscar contenders, McConaughey & Ejiofor; the pop star appeal of Macy Gray and, errm, Zac Effron, with an enjoyably camp, trashy vibe in this sordid, murky thriller that mostly failed to impress. His promptly delivered next work ‘The Butler’, was quite an improvement, but not enough to make much of an dent among this year’s competitive prestige fare.
trance9- TRANCE (Danny Boyle)
After reaching a new career peak directing the Olympic Games opening ceremony, Boyle’s follow-up to his survival drama ‘127 Hours’ shifted tone and genre once again, this time with a caper set in the world of art dealing whose many twists and developments left us a bit cold; it’s most talked-about feature being the full frontal or rear nudity of their young protagonists, Dawson and McAvoy respectively. Despite the minor let down, Boyle deserves bonus respect points for never pigeonholing himself into any safe formula.
Unexpectedly helped on its commercial career by the decease of the man himself, the South African icon, one of the most influential figures of the last century, deserved a much better film. A slightly miscast Idris Elba and Naomie Harris gave impassioned performances and the film didn’t shy out of the leader’s political context or the most controversial aspects of his life, but maybe due to the typical curse of the biopic, it didn’t quite capture the significance of his non-violence legacy.