2012 has come an end and so I take a look back at the cinematic year.
Naturally, every year brings its fair share of stinkers and 2012 was no exception. What follows is the list of the films that really annoyed me this year – not ones that are merely average or misfiring but ones which I truly believe took the audience for a ride in the most cynical way possible. In particular, it was another year for fatuous, flatulent (flatuous?) mainstream comedies, in my mind the genre that is in most desperate need of rescue. Less smug improvisation, more disciplined scripting please.
1. Project X (Nima Nourizadeh)
The ugliest movie of the year, Project X ostensibly is the story of ‘the ultimate house party’ and thinks it’s an expression of teenage wish-fulfillment. In fact, it’s nothing of the sort – more a strained attempt by filmmakers who are too jaded to grasp the age-group they’re attempting to represent. Featuring three of the most obnoxious lead characters of the year, all of whom are filtered through the queasy gauze of found-footage (arguably the most repellent use of the format yet), it makes one pine for the days of John Hughes, who realized many teens want little more than the opportunity to bunk off school. By contrast, this wretched piece of trash believes that tying dogs to balloons, stuffing midgets in ovens and setting fire to your neighborhood constitutes the ultimate house party. Sorry, that’s illegal last time I checked – and it makes for a revolting film.
2. The Sitter (David Gordon Green)
An additional letter ‘h’ is missing from the title of The Sitter. I won’t spell out where. In fact, guessing where it goes will likely prove more fun than watching this godawful piece of trash, one that marks yet another comedic low point for Jonah Hill (talk about undermining your Oscar potential in the wake of Moneyball). Beginning in-flagrante with a sexual act that is so strained in its attempt to provoke shocked laughter, the humour continues to shrivel up from there as Hill’s deeply unlikeable babysitter takes a group of obnoxious kids into the big city during his quest to hook up with his unfeasibly hot girlfriend. Dismally unfunny, it’s yet another dire American comedy that resorts to out-of-place semi-comic violence in order to keep the audience awake.
3. The Devil Inside (William Brent Bell)
Horror films are meant to scare. Someone should have told that to the makers of The Devil Inside, a lame attempt at found-footage terror that wants to have its cake and spew green vomit on it too. In attempting to convince people of a great catholic conspiracy, the film consistently undermines itself by always copping out to the most idiotic clichés – people with mad eyes, limbs contorting, characters randomly appearing behind someone else and so on. More effort appears to have gone into the marketing than the film itself – cue the lack of a proper ending that, of all things, directs people to a website where they will apparently be able to fill in the blanks for themselves! A lazy, incompetent piece of work, it’s head-spinningly awful.
4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Stephen Daldry)
Aka Extremely Patronising and Incredibly Irritating. Stephen Daldry’s latest Oscar-baiting drama, based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, strikes a deeply tasteless chord. It’s the story of a troubled boy (played by Thomas Horn) who attempts to unlock the mystery left behind by his deceased father (Tom Hanks), who died in the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York. Reducing the central character to a farcical checklist of ticks and quirks (a tambourine a day keeps the world at bay), none of which are given sufficient context or explanation, the movie feels like a worthy distraction, keeping our attention from the urgent, important story lurking in the background. Wasting Sandra Bullock and giving the plum role to Max von Sydow (mainly because he stays silent and doesn’t have to utter the inane dialogue), it’s a poor attempt at awards glory.
5. This Means War (McG)
Never did I think the day would come when Tom Hardy, one of Britain’s great modern actors, looked uncomfortable in a role. Sadly that day arrived when I watched McG’s latest witless endeavour, This Means War. One of those nauseous Hollywood creations in which everyone involved looks like they’ve been moulded out of plastic, all perma-tans and pearly white teeth, it’s the story of two spies (Hardy and Chris Pine) who spy on the woman of their dreams (Reese Witherspoon). Except that it’s not funny or hip – just creepy and misogynistic, with no hint of compassion, humour or genuine human feeling. What really rubs salt in the wound are the references to classics like Casablanca – quite possibly the most insulting thing about this futile nonsense which wastes its talented young cast.
6. The Watch (Akiva Schaffer)
The only watch I found myself glancing at during this unfunny comedy was the one on my wrist. Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade are the motley neighborhood watch crew who must band together to fight an alien invasion – although judging by how bored they look, they were probably paying more attention to the size of the paycheck waiting at the end. In fact, the only spark of life in this flat sci-fi comedy (one which trails in the wake of Attack the Block) comes from the brilliant Ayoade, who genuinely looks like he’s wandered in from another planet. It also makes the fatal mistake of grouping together a bunch of stars and allowing them to indulge in smug, undisciplined improv – the moment comedians think they’re brilliant enough to deviate from the script is the moment it needs to be reined in.
7. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Timur Bekmambetov)
In 2008, Timur Bekmambetov directed Wanted – a hokey slice of nasty fun that didn’t take itself too seriously. The problem with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s mash-up novel) is exactly the opposite: it takes itself far, far too seriously, not even having the decency to play its absurd scenario for campy laughs. Little more than a series of half-arsed CGI set-pieces strung together with lots of slow-mo, it takes only a superficial interest in the historical context and more often than not resembles a badly made video game, especially during a catastrophic horse stampede sequence. Add some charisma free performances and you had a bloodless dud. Fangs for nothing. On the plus side, God bless the Youtube user who suggested the alternative title Woodrow Wilson: Werewolf Wolloper.
8. Lay the Favourite (Stephen Frears)
Stephen Frears is one of Britain’s most distinguished directors but he comes unstuck in this oddly misfiring tale of betting on the gee-gees. Rebecca Hall is a bubble-headed optimist who falls in with Bruce Willis’ maverick sports gambler… We know this because she sits in an office and stares at a series of screens whilst a load of nonsensical lingo is rattled off that will mean absolutely zilch to those who don’t understand horse-racing. Any movie that deals with a specialist subject such as this needs to make that subject accessible to the layman; Lay the Favourite fails miserably and doesn’t even adequately explain the term that makes up its title. With mismatched performances and a plot that makes no sense whatsoever, the film falls flatter than a pancake that’s been run over with a steamroller.
9. Paranormal Activity 4 (Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman)
He’s behind you! Oh wait, no he isn’t – it was just the front door slamming shut. But you know this because by now, the routine of the Paranormal Activity films has become so rote and cynical. In this fourth installment, we’re introduced to yet another family and yet another contrived way to work in the found-footage approach in the form of laptops located at conveniently strategic positions around the house. Forget the ghosts, these characters need to be applauded for their psychic abilities. Yielding ever diminishing returns, more loose ends materialize than poltergeists at a ghostbusters convention, and in the end the dim-witted plot proves more scary than the bumps and bangs. It’s especially disappointing considering the high point at which this series started: the first Paranormal Activity was genuinely scary but by now the chills have evaporated.
10. Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg)
It might seem outrageous to include a film from such an esteemed director as David Cronenberg in this list. But Cosmopolis is undeniably disappointing when one lines it up alongside the director’s finest work. In his best films (The Fly; Dead Ringers; A History of Violence) Cronenberg is able to blend provocative insight with a disturbing visceral wallop that is both thoughtful and gut-wrenching. But as with A Dangerous Method from earlier this year, Cosmopolis (an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel) showcases a new trend of Cronenberg’s, in which he has the characters endlessly explain away the Big Themes. The end result is a hermetically sealed, aloof and verbose experience that strips the humanity from the intellect, leaving an impenetrable sense of coldness.