As is tradition, I offer up ten of the most woeful movies I’ve seen in 2012.

Unlike 2011, this year is less marked by cookie-cutter blockbusters being shamefully bad and getting pummeled for it in the box office. More like a normal year, there were many bad movies that got a pass or made a fuckton of money. There were also many that deserved a fairer shake and didn’t get it, but we’ll get to that later.

2012’s worst list is significant because there are at least two movies on it that should have been better and had no excuse not to be. They are exactly the kinds of movies that keep me making these Worst of the Year lists.

Film Crit Hulk says “never hate a movie” and this is a sentiment I try to honor. Most people think my Worst of Year lists are all fucked up, with the most redeemable movies often getting the most reviled spots. Redeemable movies have to be trying hard, failing because of ambition or compromise and not because of hack writers or directors no one will say no to. Movies that insult our collective intelligence, trying to get away with stupidity and get by on flash. Those are the movies to take a moment out to acknowledge, to reflect on the lessons they ought to contain for both filmmakers and filmgoers.

Still, last year’s sense of hope remains. I think audiences are getting tired of disappointment. I doubt we’re going to see many superhero movies as obviously not trying as Green Lantern, for example.

Anyways, you’ve probably heard this spiel before. There’s an extent to which I wish this was a funnier list. I should have sat down and watched stuff like Machinegun Preacher but I just couldn’t. Likewise, I wish I could have summoned up more hate for movies like The Dictator (which I actually shut off, and I never do that) or The Campaign or The Watch. Oh well.

If you’re interested, here is my 2011 list and 2010 list.

 

10. Contraband

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No review for this.

This could have been a pretty standard thriller with a likable cast doing some cool, Michael Mann-style shit. Some of the movie is like that, which is why it’s on this list. Most of it is achingly stupid, which is why it’s on this list. The ending is sort of where the whole bland house of cards falls apart and is what keeps the movie from being utterly forgettable. The one thing that’s nice and worth saying about this movie is that it’s about a type of crime that is rarely covered in movies. Smuggling operations like the one in Contraband are interesting and I assume the Icelandic movie this is a remake of probably did a better job showing that. I like Mark Wahlberg, I really do, but I wish he’d stop making movies like this one. That said, with Ted being way funnier than it should have been 2012 isn’t a total loss for the guy. Next year looks better!

9. Wrath of the Titans

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No review for this.

I was really going to try to review this movie. When I sat down and started to write, the review came out like a tired “I can’t believe this shit” version of my much more acerbic and, I think, on-point review for John Carter. To be fair, Wrath of the Titans isn’t half the failure that John Carter is. This is a too-big-budgeted C movie with otherwise great actors dressing up in goofy clothes to pretend they care about shit they can’t possibly convince us to care about. I have softened a great deal on Sam Worthington, and he’s kind of not-bad in this one. Unfortunately, it isn’t enough. The giant CG creatures? Not enough. Like Clash, there just isn’t enough substance in this movie for any of it to have weight or stakes. It’s just pure spectacle with lazy characterization contemptuously smirking at us because fuck us, we should have known better than to expect this shit to hold the movie together. The one redeeming bit is the stupid bromantic ascension of Zeus and Hades, where Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes (who should fucking know better, the both of them) finally get to let their hair down or something. Honestly, this isn’t even a movie worth having on in the background to get your juices flowing while you play Lego.

8. The House at the End of the Street

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No review for this.

I didn’t expect anything going into this one. I am a big fan of Jennifer Lawrence but this had bad PG horror movie written all over it. Imagine my surprise as it ended up seeming like it was going to build into something good, something interesting. At some point, the movie must have actually been about the stuff it cannibalizes for jump scares. The central twist is obvious and deplorable because it removes the stakes, confirms the weirdly anti-youth sentiment of the film, and also reinforces the creepy and hateful way that Ryan (Max Thierot) is treated for no good reason (though it turns out he’s a pyscho). This is a movie that’s worth adding on this list not because of the opportunities it misses but because it has those opportunities in the first place. I hope Lawrence stays out of projects like this one from now on, though I like to believe that there was a good script in there somewhere, at some point. In the same year as The Cabin in the Woods, this serves as a pretty definite support for the case that film makes about the state of horror movies. The House at the End of the Street is the exact kind of movie that Cabin says we shouldn’t have time for anymore, but that come out in the dozens every damn year.

7. Battleship

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No review for this.

Man, I really regret not writing my review for this movie. I started it. I think that this might be the most fascinating movie on my Worst list this year and I could probably talk about it for hours. I’m also semi-likely to watch it again. To put it in context, this movie is like the Michael Bay Transformers movies in pretty much every way. It trivializes war, it ignores the laws of physics, it creates interesting design/background and ignores it, it has a bastardized Hero’s Journey, and it even has Liam Neeson. All that said, there was also some fun to be had simply watching the movie and trying believe what you’re seeing. I don’t know that any movie in 2012 so gleefully assaults your senses and your intellect, but there’s also that Battleship knows it’s doing that. There’s not an ounce of pretension in this movie. The trouble with it is similar to the trouble with John Carter: kids, especially kids, deserve better stories than this. Poor Taylor Kitsch, though. He has had a rough year between this and John Carter. To his credit, he works well in this role. But really, Savages is the measure by which he should be judged. Sadly, a fraction of the people who saw this have seen that and he’s likely to be remembered as Sam Worthington 2.0.

6. Act of Valor

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No review for this.

This isn’t a poorly made movie or anything but it is pernicious. I won’t fault a movie for having politics I don’t agree with as long as they make sense in the story (see The Dark Knight Rises as an example). But this is out and out propaganda. Every frame is as cynically targeted as these operators’ weapons at the behest of greater powers trying to rouse a country full of people who are a) tired of war and b) in love with it. This is the movie to recruit the next generation of Call of Duty kids. This is the movie to say that it’s about patriotism, duty, and doing the job. All the pathologically contradictory things that American military culture projects outward or says about itself are on full display here. But really, you can also point to the terrible acting or the hackneyed and manipulative script and leave it at that. But I won’t because this is a propaganda film and a boring one.

5. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

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My review.

Neveldine and Taylor are some of my favorite of the new generation of filmmakers. They dropped the ball hard with this one, but I suspect they were fucked with. Originally, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance was supposed to be a delicious R-rated treat for all the people who worship Nicolas Cage and/or thought that Ghost Rider wasn’t crazy enough as it was. Instead of being some kind of gonzo successor, the only thing this entry manages to improve on is the technical chops. On a technical level, this movie is way better than it should be. It remains that the naked imitation of Terminator 2 and the harnessing of Cage’s sheer insanity should have yielded sweeter fruits. Unfortunately this movie is just flaming piss.

4. Dark Shadows

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No review for this.

I don’t even think Burton is trying anymore. He has become the fucking dark shadow of Wes Anderson. Every single one of his movies has become a barely contained self-mockery, with every unenjoyable moment just failing to connect with that ailing artist within that he once (and occasionally) sells better than any peddler on the fucking lane. A great cast anchored by Weird Johnny Depp fails to save this movie as none of them seems to be having a lick of fun either. I mean, maybe Depp is. I mean, he’s fun and everything but I just can’t help but be suspicious of his goddamn quirk roles. I mean there’s the clever shit (see 21 Jump Street) and then there’s this. I wish he’d make more than one serious movie every five years, I really do. And there’s a sense to which this movie just doesn’t have a story. It has a setting, a cast of quirks, and Johnny Depp playing a “fun” vampire. Somehow, I think that more could have been done with these disparate elements than was done, and this is why Burton has become such a parody of himself. It’s like he sat down and said “I liked Dark Shadows on TV in the 70’s” and then forgot to develop it past the boring trademark doll makeup, high-contrast lighting, and dour production design. I remember what I said about never hating a movie but Dark Shadows is a movie I come very close with. I loathe it and it isn’t even interesting to talk about. It’s like that shit smell the courier left in the bathroom right by your desk. You’re just better off closing your eyes, plugging your orifices, and waiting for it to be over.

3. Total Recall

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My review.

The laziest most inert movie in 2012, Total Recall is the cinematic equivalent of getting mugged by an exceptionally sharply dressed man. “Fuck you, sir,” he will say. This is the Conan the Barbarian of 2012: a shameful excuse for a cynical and narratively bankrupt “remake”. The creativity in this movie is purely in design, but in such a completely unjustified form that none of it registers beyond “oh that would look/be cool in a better movie”. In fact, Total Recall‘s utter neglect for everything except design is what it has in common with Dark Shadows and possibly Prometheus. Rather than being a straightforward assault on our tolerance as viewers, this movie is sweating desperately and using it to slick back its hair. It is juggling robots and flying cars and hoping you won’t notice that Cloud Atlas did a better job with similar aesthetics and managed to tell a story in a third of the running time. Straight up fuck this movie and never call it again.

2. John Carter

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My review. (Fuck you, Woola)

Placing this film in the Worst 10 was a bit of a struggle. Up until a few minutes ago, it felt right to have it be the #1 worst movie I saw in 2012. That said, I reread my reviews for it and the other contender and had to conclude that the other deserves that inglorious spot far more. John Carter is still everything I said it was back when I first saw it. It’s an utterly deplorable movie, as I judge such things. Kitsch got blamed, Disney’s 2012 marketing schizophrenia got blamed, and Stanton got blamed. Blame all around, really, and let’s withhold some for the people who are revising the legacy of this movie to being “unfairly hated”. It did exactly the bad business it should have. People are tired of this stuff, even if nerds fall over themselves trying to redeem it because swords make our dicks hard (I get it guys but still). This movie is just Immortals or Wrath of the Titans writ large, and I don’t say that just because they all have swords. It’s about the way the story is told, the shortcuts and checked boxes and the same old blueprints. The lack of justification, the lack of reasonable world-building, the lack of reasonable characterization. It’s also about what rewarding movies like this says about us. Will we swallow this shit just because it’s nerdy? I am bothered by anyone thinking I can be bought this cheaply and so should you.

1. Prometheus

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My review.

Likely the most beautiful movie of 2012, Prometheus is also the worst. So bad that I had to write about it twice. Watching Prometheus is like trying to have a serious conversation about life’s mysteries with a career stoner. This movie is in love with its ideas, unoriginal and uninspired as they are. It is twice as in love with the often nonsensical way it relates them. It goes on tangents that never go anywhere. It refers to magic flutes and cosmic destinies seemingly out of nowhere. It’s ideas tromp all over its dialectic, running roughshod over the very idea of coherence in narrative, theme, or character. There is no movie in 2012 that is as much an affront to the intelligent, adult filmgoer. There’s no movie in 2012 with less excuses to fail so miserably. Ridley Scott made a truly remarkable looking movie, with a sense of scale that is poorly matched by the unimaginative script and poor grasp of plotting that was birthed in the unholy union of Spaights and Lindelof. This is a movie for adults, man, but it is written like it’s for people who aren’t fully paying attention. I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie that consistently gets worse the more you think about it. Some people don’t care about this, they may even go so far as to be proud of not thinking about movies. Well, fuck that. If I wanted to turn my brain off I’d go into a coma. Stories should not fall apart the more you think about them. Prometheus is like John Carter. Both are Beta releases masquerading as Alpha. So many problems that could have been fixed with a little QA and so much bullshit that I picture both Stanton and Scott with impossibly tiny buckets and impossibly big waves of stinky brown goo. It’s a film that never gets past the promise of its log-line. The shame of it, like with John Carter and the bulk of the movies that end up on these lists is that it cost the GDP of a country to make. All that money, all that technology, and the storytelling skill of twenty nicotine-addicted chimpanzees with fucking iPads.

*

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And that’s where the hate goes in 2012. Stay tuned for my Top15 list which I will post tomorrow and will be a happier time for all.

Thanks for reading!

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