I really loved 2012 as an overall year for film. There were so many groundbreaking films in various genres, whether they were the biggest of blockbusters or the smallest of independent productions. Yet, they can’t all be gems. Every year has its stinkers and, while there were a limited amount of them, the ones that really stung hurt like hell. Might as well try to heal the wounds by going down my Bottom Ten Films of 2012.
Oliver Stone has constantly been a hit or miss director for me. After mind-blowing efforts in the first half of his career, he slowly went off the deep end, mostly doing dull efforts like Alexander or Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. However, no matter how boring some of those choices were, none of them really seemed as inept as something like Savages. Savages feels like it was made by a filmmaker trying to ape Stone’s earlier works, with cardboard attempts at anti-hero leads, narration that exudes amateurish in every form possible and shameful attempts at Natural Born Killers-style cinematography that is downright dated at this point. Despite the best efforts of Benicio Del Toro and Salma Hayek, this ends up being the most evident case of a director cannibalizing his style in a way that’s honestly pathetic to watch, from the first utterance of the word “wargasms” to the “gotcha” ending that feels like it was pulled straight out of Stone’s prostate.
“Hey, it’s just a kid’s movie” is, for my money, the laziest excuse for a film’s poor quality. A children’s film shouldn’t be given a pass just because it’s mainly designed for young unmolded minds. Yet, this seemed to be the mantra for the group of filmmakers behind The Lorax. To put things in perspective, 2012 was filled with animated films like Rise of the Guardians and Wreck-It Ralph that developed their characters and world while never talking down to their primary audience of children. The Lorax, on the other hand, decides to go for lowest common denominator ploys in order to appeal to kids, like have characters that are only funny because they scream obnoxiously, musical numbers that had no effort put into them whatsoever and, worst of all, half-ass an attempt at an environmental message that doesn’t even try to make kids think. Honestly, I wouldn’t even hate this as much as I do if this wasn’t adapted from the late great Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel’s children’s book, which, while not a complex story by any means, at least didn’t talk down to children by mindlessly pandering to them. Actual thought, creativity and heart went into Geisel’s story… and all of it was lost in this clear cash grab of an adaptation. Children deserve better than trash like this.
This is the kind of movie that gives blockbusters a bad name. In a year of accomplished blockbusters like The Avengers and Skyfall, something as insultingly stupid and cloying as Battleship is an eyesore to say the least. None of the characters exceed one dimension, the alien enemies barely register as any sort of engaging threat and the overt patriotic pandering crosses the line from offensive to just plain hilarious in terms of ineptitude. It’s release at least gave me one positive thing to think about; the fact that it bombed gave me some new found hope in humanity.
Found footage had a real mixed bag of a year. For every engaging breath of life into the genre like Chronicle, we got a lame retread like Paranormal Activity 4. The Devil Inside firmly fits in that latter category, with a potentially engaging premise that ends up resulting in this stale effort. The documentary style does have a bit of authenticity, but instead of being the kind of realism that creates relatable situations, its more like the kind of realism that reminds people of what it’s really like to watch paint dry. Still, none of this could really be as insulting as the ending, which is not only even more abrupt than even the worst of found footage films, but has the nerve to promote a website as a means of “finding out more about the events.” The enraged crowd reactions from this alone may prove to be the beginning of found footage’s downfall… and maybe it’s a deserved end.
Oh, David Cronenberg. How the mighty have fallen. See, instead of doing a distressing yet insightful body horror film or a warped psychological thriller, Cronenberg has decided to bore audiences with pseudo intellectual garbage like Cosmopolis. Now, don’t get me wrong; the idea of following a standoffish billionaire’s odyssey into downtown Manhattan during the chaos of an Occupy Wall Street-style protest as various social, philosophical and moral implications of our modern era are satirically explored is a fascinating concept. However, when the execution merely involves a lifeless cast (lead by a totally un-engaging Robert Pattinson) spouting vague platitudes that sound like the ramblings of a college freshman just out of Philosophy 101, it’s really REALLY hard to be interested on any level. Look, I don’t like to use the word “pretentious.” I think it’s thrown around constantly as an easy buzzword… but boy am I tempted to use it in describing this trite work from a filmmaker who can do so much better.
Nothing quite like a musical comedy where every musical number sounds like nails on a chalkboard and every laugh falls flat on its ass. Honestly, the idea of a jukebox musical doesn’t bother me in concept. Hell, films like Moulin Rouge knew how to take existing material and adapt it into an interesting story with likable characters. However, with Rock of Ages, I didn’t care about anyone, whether it was the annoyingly perky no-name leads or the countless celebrities that did this despite knowing better. The jokes all scream of the most forced attempts at being crude without having the balls to actually take it to the most vulgar level and the musical numbers neuter the various subgenres of ‘80s rock into a Glee style mess that removes all the charm that made those original songs so enjoyable. I’m so glad that this bombed and I hope it sends the message that nostalgia for the 1980s is dead.
Remember that whole “pandering patriotism” thing I was talking about with Battleship? Well, it was nothing compared to something like Act of Valor, which feels less like a film and more like a 90-minute compilation of all those army recruitment commercials, complete with real Navy SEALS as the stars. Now, as I mentioned in my full review for this back in February, the soldiers in our military do things every day that I would never have the courage to accomplish. That being said, you shouldn’t put them in a film and expect them to act. Then again, maybe the cardboard acting has less to do with these inexperienced actors and more to do with this script that feels like the blueprint for a straight to DVD war film that even Cuba Gooding Jr. would pass on. The fact that this got a theatrical release at all puzzles me to no end.
This is an interesting case. Let’s get one thing straight; Branded is an awful, poorly constructed and boring piece of crap. No question about that. However… it’s SO worth the watch to see just how much of a failure it is. The ineptitude of this They Live rip off that attempts to be a satirical indictment of the advertising industry is so amazingly bad at points that it has to be seen to be believed. It’s got so much of the great robotic acting, terrible effects and total lack of story structure that makes for the most entertaining of terrible movies. True, it’s really slow for the first half and that pacing hurts it from being a full on “best worst movie of 2012”, but the moments of purely idiotic insanity are honestly worth a look… though that doesn’t save it from taking this spot.
In my honest opinion, the worst kind of film you can make is an unfunny comedy. With most horrible efforts (be they classified as drama, sci-fi, action, etc.), one can at least laugh at how awful they are. Unfortunately, you really can’t make fun of a film that fails at all its attempts to make you laugh… and boy does Tim and Eric’s Billion-Dollar Movie fit that bill perfectly. This type of repetitive meta-crassness rarely worked in the duo’s sketch comedy series Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job, but with a 90-minute feature focusing on one story as written by schmucks Tim Heidecker and Eric Weirhem, it comes off as PAINFUL to watch. The fact that some are calling these two a breath of fresh air in terms of comedy really worries me. I know comedy is subjective and I may just not be in on the joke, but if “the joke” involves a man letting a group of children defecate on him in a bathtub as part of a “parody” of new age skin care treatments, then it really seems like a joke I don’t want to be in on. EVER.
So imagine if you took Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but, instead of having an energetic and entertaining director like Edgar Wright behind it, you got the guy who made Torque. That is the recipe for Detention, a film that’s not only in my Bottom Ten for 2012, but also my Bottom Ten of All Time. Why so low? Well, mainly because it’s an indictment of my generation’s pension for excessive use of meta humor and references to pop culture of the 80s and 90s, but fails spectacularly to be insightful, entertaining or funny. The characters less dimensional than stick figures, the story is pretty much non-existent in this blaze of ugly activity and the pop culture references are identical to the same lazy mentions of films we’d see in one of the Selzter/Friedberg spoof films like Epic Movie or Disaster Movie. Some of the ideas present could have potential in a bizarre comedic sci-fi film, but director/writer Joseph Kahn just ruins it with his supposedly “hip” commentary on a current generation that feels less perceptive and more like a 93-minute mid-life crisis put onto film. Look, I’m sure that a smart and biting commentary on my generation will come with the next breed of filmmakers… but I hope that they use Kahn’s film as an example of how NOT to do it on every single level.
Dishonorable Mentions: Red Tails, Piranha 3DD, The Aggression Scale, Paranormal Activity 4, The Expendables 2, Project X
Unfortunate Disappointments: God Bless America, Zero Dark Thirty, [REC] 3 Genesis, This Is 40, To Rome With Love, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Jeff Who Lives At Home