5. Savages (dir. Oliver Stone, 2012)
Savages is one of those movies that I feel conflicted about putting on my worst of the year list. There are plenty of good things in it. It’s definitely well made with good action sequences. Benicio del Toro gives an incredible performance. And it’s not as egregiously terrible as many of the other films I’ve seen this year, some of which I don’t include in either the top 5 or in Dishonorable Mentions. But the bad slices through the good to make Savages one of the most annoying and disappointing movies of 2012.
The main characters (O, Blake Lively; Chon, Taylor Kitsch; and Ben, Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are terrible. This isn’t to say that I’m against having unlikeable or unsympathetic characters as leads in films. Look at my Best Of list — clearly having pleasant and enjoyable protagonists isn’t an important factor to me. However, the characters in Savages came across as so dimwitted that the entire plot felt like “idiots risking their lives to save an even bigger idiot.” The voiceover by O shows her as nothing but an extremely vapid 20-something, and the joint love between the three lacked passion, which made the entire movie collapse into itself. (I also thought director Oliver Stone chickened out by not showing the MMF threesome, but that’s a nitpick…) It also didn’t help that The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn- Part 2 pulled off the fake-out ending better. That’s right. A Twilight movie did something better than another movie.
4. Snow White and the Huntsman (dir. Rupert Sanders, 2012)
From its bland lead (Kirsten Stewart) to its lack of focus, Snow White and the Huntsman does absolutely nothing right. Opening with unnecessary narration, this film adds a sheen of faux-grit to a pointless and meandering story. Snow and The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) travel, lamely fight enemies, travel, lamely fight more enemies, and so forth. The skimpy mythology established by the movie alters every 15 minutes, and the Princess Mononoke rip-off is among the most egregious homages of recent years. I might have accepted it if that moment had any bearing on anything in the rest of the film, but tonally it doesn’t fit and we never hear anything about the forest spirit before or after.
I do wonder if there was a better movie buried within what we got. With a line-up of dwarves being played by Nick Frost, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, and Ian McShane, among others, it feels like they could have been the subject of their own superior film that has them, rather than Snow, as the hero. Similar to how the original script for Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood placed the Sheriff of Nottingham as the protagonist. Even Mirror Mirror, this year’s second Snow White movie, despite being made for a younger audience, is a superior and more enjoyable experience.
3. Alex Cross (dir. Rob Cohen, 2012)
You forget how bad a cop movie can be until watching a truly horrendous cop movie. Most of the time, they are relegated to straight to lower tier cable stations or DVD, so they can be easily ignored. Even if it stars Robert DeNiro, who should probably stick with Bradley Cooper from now on. But with golden boy Tyler Perry as the lead, Alex Cross ends up in theaters as one of the worst movies of the year. A drinking game can be played with the amount of tropes it shoves into its running time. Do characters disappear for no real reason? Yes. Is there a character who exists just to tell the audience how super terrific and smart Alex Jones is? Yes. Is there some nefarious rich business guy who wants to improve the inner city? Yes. (He’s foreign too! Double points!) Does this time it become personal? Yes. And all of this revolves around the one-note Tyler Perry as a detective/psychologist/action hero whose lack of intensity and inability to emote ends up becoming fascinating for all the wrong reasons.
The only credit I can give for this movie is to Matthew Fox. His bad performance is so over-the-top that it captures the non-sensical ridiculousness of the entire film so well. In 2012, pulling off a Death Wish III-style villain has to be a concerted and knowing effort. If that wasn’t his intent, then …wow.
2. Battleship (dir. Peter Berg, 2012)
For years, movie-going audiences have wondered why Michael Bay is a success. What about his ridiculous films make them break the $400 million mark while things like the more-boring-than-bad John Carter struggle to break half. While I can’t say that Battleship gives a clean-cut explanation, it at least provides some insight into why Bay works.
In simplest terms, Bay has no shame. When comparing Battleship to the Transformers franchise, particularly the last two, you see in Bay a filmmaker who puts everything into his movies and doesn’t hold back. They are exercises in pure id, and he loves it. When director Peter Berg attempts to mimic Bay, you don’t get the blind confidence of the Pain and Gain filmmaker. The look and sounds might be the same — distractingly so — but the joy in excess is missing. When Berg tried to force himself into that position, there are hints of condescension, self-awareness, and, most dreaded of all, intelligence. Unfortunately, Berg doesn’t take it far enough to make it a pseudo-satire of the robots in disguise flicks, nor does he abandon his humanity to tap into whatever it is that Bay does. Though I still wonder why a decommissioned battleship still had functioning torpedoes aboard. Or why octogenarians had to carry them.
1. The Raven (dir. James McTeigue, 2012)
My hatred for The Raven confounds even me. I wouldn’t call myself particularly learned about Edgar Allan Poe — I haven’t even gone that deep into his bibliography — but there’s something about The Raven that I utterly despise. Actually, there are a lot of things about this movie that I hate, but none of my main reasons revolve around how accurate they got him or the time in which he lived. It’s a movie that never made it past the “wouldn’t it be cool” stage. As in, “wouldn’t it be cool if Poe had to solve crimes based on his book.” After that … nothing. You get a startling sense that the writers performed absolutely no research beyond the first half of a Wikipedia page. (For proof, compare the year of Poe’s death with the year of Jules Verne’s first published work.) The acting is terrible, the clichés abound (hint: if someone says “I’m your biggest fan,” do not trust him), and the lack of logic is frustrating. If you’re going to begin a movie by saying you’re describing the mysterious last days of Edgar Allen Poe, then don’t have him write daily columns for a newspaper that describe what he’s doing during those mysterious last days. I never disliked John Cusack, but after this, I fear going back to his earlier work.
A Thousand Words– When Clark Duke is the best thing in your movie, something is wrong. Nothing against him, and I think he’s done a fine job on The Office this season, but when you have a major motion picture starring Eddie Murphy, you don’t expect Clark Duke to not just be the stand-out, but also the only likeable character. It’s also the type of movie where you wonder why Eddie Murphy’s character, who only gets to speak 1,000 words before he dies, doesn’t say “I have food poisoning” instead of trying to mime his way through important work functions.
The Devil Inside– Possibly the worst of the found footage movies thus far, including Apollo 18. The Devil Inside shows the inherent laziness of the sub-genre based on the filmmaker’s refusal to even consider the logic of what they’d be allowed to film. What makes it particularly bad is that at about 2/3 of the way through, it broaches an interesting subject — what if the four members of Team Exorcism are all possessed by the devil — only to shove it aside with a cheap ending, a website to go to, and what I have to believe are the slowest moving credits in film history.
Here Comes The Boom– In the Sandler toss-up between That’s My Boy and Here Comes The Boom, I have to give the edge to Here Comes The Boom, the tale of an apathetic high school science teacher who gives the UFC the chance to have a movie made promoting itself. There’s something about Kevin James that goes beyond dislike with me, and I especially don’t like movies that think they have a heart.
However, I don’t have a legitimate reason for leaving That’s My Boy off of either my main or “Dishonorable Mentions” list. It’s a terrible movie, but with the latter day Adam Sandler films, I expect a certain (read: high) level of badness that one of his works needs to be egregiously awful to make me take note (e.g. Jack and Jill). It’s similar to how I left off The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2. On it’s own, it’s certainly a bottom tier movie. But having seen all the previous Twilight films, I accept it as a subgenre upon itself.
Red Tails– A convoluted mishmash of World War II stereotypes, the overlong Red Tails confuses telling people that you have noble intentions with actually respecting anyone or anything. Poor characters, a sterile feel, and a horrible script all combine to make this the worst of Bryan Cranston’s 2012 movies. (Other contenders include John Carter, Total Recall, and Rock of Ages. Though he was in one of my favorite movies, Argo.)
Wrath of the Titans– The franchise that never was. There are so many amazing elements in Greek mythology that the Titans movies are a perfect example of disrespecting source material. Source material so good that it’s literally lasted for thousands of years. While Wrath of the Titans didn’t feel as though it had the post-production/“change everything!!” problems of Clash, it still failed to capture anything that make the Greek myths endure. Zeus and Hades become like old cop partners ready to take on the bad guys one last time, but the film ends with an interestingy theological proposition that Hades was the only one of the Greek gods who survives. Regardless, at the end of 2012, Channing Tatum took over Sam Worthington’s position of America’s favorite lunkhead lead- even with The Vow.
5. The Campaign (dir. Jay Roach, 2012)
It’s takes a lot of hard work for a comedy to be as unfunny as The Campaign. This isn’t the fault of stars Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis who do the best they can with the one-note characters they’re given. The fault lies with director Jay Roach (Meet the Parents) and his team of writers who can’t decide if they’re trying to make a straight comedy, a satire or a spoof. The humor ranges from baby punching to thinly veiled attacks on the Republican party. Both candidates, Ferrell as a clueless incumbent and Galifianakis as a bumbling optimist, could have served the film well as archetypes to criticize the impotence of both major parties, but Roach chooses slapstick over substance, clearly saving his efforts for his insultingly slanted HBO drama Game Change. The Campaign is muddling, overlong and practically humorless.
4. God Bless America (dir. Bobcat Goldthwait, 2012)
God Bless America has about as much subtlety and tact as an atomic bomb. Writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait tries to compose a vitriolic hate letter to a society completely obsessed with reality television stars, but ends up coming off as a cantankerous old man yelling at the neighborhood kids to get off his lawn. The film reeks of self-importance and holier-than-thou finger wagging, jumping from scene to scene with the lack of patience and focus of a chipmunk with ADD. Billed as a “dark comedy,” God Bless America feels more like the writing on the wall before a man goes off like Michael Douglas in Falling Down.
In the film, Frank (Joel Murray) finds out he has terminal cancer and decides to stop putting up with all the crap he’s been dealing with his whole life. He goes on a cross country killing spree with a girl, Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), taking out anyone who rubs him the wrong way. Unlike the protagonists of Natural Born Killers (which looks like Shakespeare compared to this), Frank and Roxy aren’t characters as much as avatars for Goldthwait’s perverse fantasies. I feel confident saying there was no film this year with less artistic integrity than God Bless America.
3. This is 40 (dir. Judd Apatow, 2012)
I should have seen this one coming. I had been looking forward to This is 40 for months before I caught it just before Christmas. There is no arguing that Judd Apatow is a force in American comedy, cultivating an incredible cache of talent and altering the landscape of humor. He just doesn’t always know when enough is enough. Running well over two hours, This is 40 has about 25 minutes of good writing and about 18 minutes of genuinely funny material. Like Funny People, This is 40 is unable to strike the seriocomic balance Apatow is so desperate to attain. The movie is far too long with too many storylines battling for screen time. Apatow is brilliant when it comes to comedy, but lousy when it comes to re-writes and editing.
2. Deadfall (dir. Stefan Ruzowitzky, 2012)
As predictable as it is boring, Deadfall wins the award for Most Asinine Screenplay of 2012. Zach Dean, who writes like a high school sophomore, follows the rules of a “How to Write a Screenplay” step-by-step, though he must have skipped the chapter about character development. Throughout the film, the characters abide by some bizarre train of logic whereby they figure out the smartest thing for them to do and then do the opposite.
The ludicrous plot includes brother-sister casino robbers Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde) who pull a heist in the middle of a blizzard and who may also be lovers. Pretty gross. What do you do when you’re wanted by the police and trapped in a snowstorm? How about separate and go off into the snow on foot? Liza finds an ex-con named Jay (Charlie Hunnam) and immediately sleeps with him, calling him Addison during the lovemaking, of course. Again, gross. Addison heads off into the wilderness, hoping to survive off the land in the manner of Rambo in First Blood.
The plot is atrocious. The dialogue is embarrassing. The acting is almost a lesson in how not to approach a role. Deadfall is just bad, bad, bad.
1. How to Survive a Plague (dir. David France, 2012)
Carelessly and blatantly prejudiced, How to Survive a Plague presents itself as a reflection of the earliest days of the AIDS crisis but is really just propaganda to immortalize a group of people whose protests and demands did more harm than good in relation to the search for an HIV treatment. Director David France has amassed an impressive amount of footage that was captured during the mid- to late-80s and allows the story to develop organically. Unfortunately, that story focuses too little on the thousands of people who were dying needlessly and too much on a movement called ACT UP which, like its eventual descendant Occupy Wall Street, devolves into in-fighting and conflicting missions.
This group of grandstanders makes absurd and unrealistic demands of the federal government to find a cure for AIDS immediately, not understanding that the government does not have the resources (or obligation) to cure the disease. When the protesters finally realize that the private drug companies are their only hope, they seize the companies’ buildings shouting for a cure instead of having rational discussions about treatment options, research and resources. France paints the drug companies as villains throughout the film despite the fact that a treatment is eventually discovered. The most insulting nail in the coffin is watching the stars of ACT UP, who have survived thanks solely to those drugs, greedily claim the title of “hero.”
How to Survive a Plague is more biased and misleading than Michael Moore and FOX News combined. It is the perfect depiction of how, when hiding behind the label of a documentary, filmmakers can pick and choose which facts can be included and which can be ignored.