Just how many excruciatingly boring and uninspiring sequels, remakes and reboots can Hollywood deliver in one year? Surely 2012 was a record, interspersed with mirthless comedies and rom-coms that were neither romantic nor amusing. I actually walked out of six or seven films that I didn't have to review, including Prometheus, John Carter, The Avengers, Savages and the final Twilight Saga, after deciding not to waste another hour of my life.
Oh boy, it would be overly generous to describe this so-called thriller shot on the Gold Coast as a B-grade telemovie. A pathetic, wasted effort from all involved including Ray Liotta as an ex-crim who's trying to go straight, Dominic Purcell as a low-life who tries to force him to pull off one more robbery, US writers Aleve Mei Loh and Steve Allrich, and English director Suri Krishnamma.
Julia Gavras' comedy-drama about a London-based couple (William Hurt and Isabella Rossellini) who seem conventionally happy and comfortable with each other until both face a mid-life crisis is depressingly superficial, corny and entirely predictable. In short, it's blooming awful. It's fair to say Julie lacks the narrative skills of her dad, Costa-Gavras.
Who, apart from P.J. Hogan, believed that a 'comedy' about a bunch of characters that are suffering from some form of mental illness or are absurd caricatures, featuring scenes such as five females menstruating in unison on a neighbour's white sofas, would be remotely amusing or entertaining? Apart from the decision-makers at Screen Australia, Universal Pictures and Arclight Films, hardly anyone.
The Lucky One
The seventh movie adapted from Nicholas Sparks' novels, this clunky melodrama about a battle-scarred Marine who tracks down the woman he thinks is his guardian angel, is among the least entertaining, credible or compelling. The film rarely rises above the level of a Mills & Boon soap opera, stymied by the almost non-existent chemistry between leads Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling, a stodgy screenplay and uninspired direction by Scott Hicks.
If Emily Brontë were reincarnated and given the chance to see Andrea Arnold's adaptation of her classic novel, I imagine she'd wail and scream, “Why so bleak and soulless? Why did you throw out most of my elegant prose and dialogue? Why did you cast untried actors as the young and adult Heathcliff and the teenage Catherine Earnshaw? They can't act! And why all those tediously repetitive close-ups of birds, insects, animals, cobwebs, nettles and mud?”
It would be easy to say that 2012's worst cinematic experiences were the multitude of digital projection screw-ups I endured throughout the year. It would be unfair to pick on the many timewasters that I walked out on. (Try it. It's very empowering). Instead let's sink the boot in to…
The King is Dead!
As someone who regards Rolf De Heer as Australia's most prolific and most consistent genius (I even admire his philosophy gabfest Epsilon), this dumb 'black comedy' about two Adelaide suburbanites who launch a class war against their dopey and drunken lower-class, criminally inclined neighbour, King, was a serious misfire. Not funny. Not 'edgy'. Just embarrassing.
The Taste of Money
Im Song-soo wastes some serious talent (grand dame Yoon Yeo-jeong) and stranded non-actors (influential Seoul-based film critic Darcy Parquet, silicon-breasted Filipino 'actress' Maui Taylor) high and dry with this slick but empty criticism of South Korea's monied classes. Someone with a sense of humour should program this as a double feature with 2011's Sleeping Beauty.
“They are repulsive and they trample everything in their path.” That dialogue was used to describe the marauding robots in The Avengers but applies equally to this superhero junk burger with the lot. This was designed to appeal to gamers, but without muscle-bound Chris Hemsworth bringing in female admirers, this may have bungled its mission to be a box office champion.
A forgettable Lisbon-set, poorly acted, non-drama is the prologue to a maudlin, feyly mimed romance set in a fairy tale Africa. Resembling an art gallery's video installation, this black and white tosh must have F.W. Murnau and Robert Flaherty, who directed the film's 1931 namesake, spinning in their graves. Palace Cinemas picked this up for commercial distribution, but so far have abstained from foisting it on the general public.
A dopey remake of a film that was already politically retrograde in the 1980s, Red Dawn also caused a bunch of American rednecks who couldn't find North Korea on a map to flood twitter with a tide of anti-Asian racism. Chris Hemsworth once again played an inanimate action figure.
As ever, films that aimed low and barely made the grade don't feature in the year's worst. These were movies with ambition and resources that didn't just sour, they sadly made going to the movies an experience to regret.
This Means War
The latest failing from McG – a director with half a name and far less talent – was the kind of daft nonsense that screens within other films to show how depressed the characters watching it are: a feud between two CIA agents over Reese Witherspoon, with an aggressive lack of humour.
Kath & Kimderella
Transplanted to a fictional European principality and stuffed with unnecessary subplots that added little to the movie, this television spin-off was the definitive nail in a once decent sitcom's coffin.
The Rum Diary
Withnail & I's Bruce Robinson hadn't made a movie in 19 years, but expectations that teaming him with Johnny Depp – summoning his take on Hunter S. Thompson for an adaptation of the late writer's autobiographical novel – would impress were sadly dashed by this dull mish-mash of mannered farce and romance.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Putting aside the vast injustices taken with a crucial historical era, this story of an upright young man and eventual American President who spent his nights taking an axe to vampires was just banal, from the repetitive fight scenes to the dialogue. I cheered for the vampires.
Oliver Stone's hubris and salivating worship of young bodies combined for this lurid, offensive and conceited crime drama, where the all-American soldier and his botanist best friend show those Mexican drug cartels what's what. Incredibly inconsequential.
I dodged most of the really dire works this year by listening to my far more learned colleagues. Regular visitors may note my traditional Adam Sandler entry is missing; not even I could stomach the thought of watching That's My Boy. (The one Sandler film I did see, Hotel Transylvania, only used his voice – and was a lot of fun!) That said, I somehow did end up seeing a lot of bad comedies which, for me, are the worst sort of bad movies. Bad action movies (in 2012, that was Act of Valour) at least offer movement and noise; bad horror (MIFF's French snoozer, Livid), the cheap thrill of gore galore. But comedies that don't make you laugh have no fallback position.
When a comedy's creative high-water mark is filming a birth scene from within the mother, the camera looking out... ugh. Abandoning his trademark ambush/prank comedy stylings, Sacha Baron Cohen maintains the sexist/racist slant of his low-brow humour in The Dictator. Missing is the warmth and innocence that made Borat's unintentional vulgarity so palatable; instead here, we are meant to laugh at the wacky antics of a whoring murderer. Co-star Anna Faris looked dumbfounded throughout. The 9/11 'gags' were the low point.
Goodbye First Love
At best, Mia Hansen-Løve's soporific drama was pretentious and laboured, burdened by a blank-faced leading lady and an overdependence on finding meaning in 'quiet moments'. At worst, it was an outrageously clichéd, self-important, wafer-thin vanity project. Despite some frank bedroom moments and bare skin, Goodbye First Love is a listless, lust-free exercise in cinematic self-pleasuring.
“I'd rather have a dead son than a daffodil,” uttered J. Edgar's mom, in one of the many unintentionally hilarious moments peppered throughout director Clint Eastwood's camp, bloated biopic. As the titular lawman, Leonardo Di Caprio is all mannerisms and artifice, his performance further hampered by the least convincing old-age make-up you'll ever see. Shunned by Oscar voters and audiences, it disappeared quickly and quietly, though it may resurface as a giggly midnight-crowd cult-favourite, ala Mommie Dearest.
This grand Bollywood mess was so incoherently plotted and staged with such amateurish abandon, it is inconceivable how it ever saw the light of day in its homeland, let alone travelled offshore. A blurry hodge-podge of government satire, mental health 'comedy' and UFO lore, the producers bailed on a 3D conversion when they saw the finished work. Leading man Akshay Kumar, a talent-starved presence at the best of times, is terrible; the portrayal of the intellectually-disabled, shameful.
Kath & Kimderella
Much of the local comedy content was uninspired and puerile in 2012. A Few Best Men didn't so much as tickle the funny bone as it did bludgeon the senses. Any Questions for Ben? and The Wedding Party were limp, underdone efforts. Our Kiwi neighbours offered up the gratingly mirthless oddity, Two Little Boys. None stunk up cinemas, though, like Kath & Kimderella, the grotesquely ill-conceived and entirely unnecessary big-screen adaptation of 2002's most popular TV show. Gone is the suburban satire that made the bogan mum-and-daughter relatable. Rather, we got dated racial stereotypes, crass bedroom farce and that old favourite giggle-getter: Glenn Robbins' bum. Money well spent, Screen Australia.
Dishonourable Mentions: 3D Due West: Our Sex Journey; Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, Iron Sky, Project X.
If you missed these, count yourself lucky. They weren't even so-bad-they're-good, just dull, or pretentious, or unbelievable. Or all three.
Tony Krawitz's film of Christos Tsiolkas' novel defied all sense by casting actors 20 years too young for their characters to have been who they were supposed to have been and done what they were meant to have done.
Insufferable example of Greece's so-called 'weird wave' that might have been better if it really had been weird instead of just stupid. Okay, thanks for coming in. We'll let you know. (Screened at Sydney Film Festival)
Fey, weakly scripted attempt at exploring the condition of a (very) vaguely troubled young Sydney woman and her relationship with her dad. How did it get funding approval?
Although ostensibly set in Melbourne, this very well acted piece was sadly a humanist fantasy taking place in a bizarre parallel universe where Jewish Holocaust survivors and Islamic terrorists could ultimately learn to get along.
Another case of good acting gone to waste was this energy-free and often confusing and story about a young couple living in Belgium with the young man's adoptive father. (Screened at Melbourne International Film Festival.)
As with most cinema seasons, I find listing poor and disappointing pictures an anguished experience, mostly because bad movies seem so hard to remember.
Any Questions for Ben?
This has its fans but I found this rom-com from the Working Dog team about as edifying as a know-it-all relationship self-help column. The style is lazily TV, the characters locked into 'coded' types and the moral brazenly sanctimonious.
Madonna's romantic fantasia about Mrs. Simpson – and a modern day obsessive played by Abbie Cornish – is like a Vogue pop-up book. Lifeless. Silly. Pretty. Pointless.
Kath & Kimderella
This is sometimes funny. Still, it isn't so much a movie experience, more a marketing ideal come to life. The movie making is artless and the franchise no longer feels timeless, but wearied. It doesn't help that the pace is glacial, the plot aimless and the satire toothless.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
This is beautifully crafted. It has strong talent behind it in cinematographer Chris Menges, screenwriter Eric Roth and director Stephen Daldry. It has Tom Hanks and Max von Sydow in it and a convincing Sandra Bullock and a talented kid called Thomas Horn. It has a serious theme to do with grief in the face of terrorism. And yet, it drove me right up the wall mostly because its feverish emotions and conciliatory climax seemed unearned. Worse still is its message mongering which reeks of the worst kind of TV therapy. Yuk.
Luc Besson's weird take on Burmese democracy activist and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi has the great Michelle Yeoh in the title role which is about the nicest thing I could say about it. Pious and reverent, it's the worst kind of bio-pic: it's soulless and safe.
You've probably heard about the Nicole Kidman-peeing-on-Zac Efron scene – but that's not the half of it: this train-wreck, lurid and ludicrous in equal measures, has to be seen to be believed. Rarely has a filmmaker put both his id and his ego so nakedly onscreen (or near-nakedly, in the case of Efron, clad for much of the film in tighty-whities and nothing else). Hobbled by severe limitations of taste as well as talent – yet weirdly unshakeable in his self-regard – Lee Daniels is the Jon Peters of our time.
Another creature blithely untroubled by self-doubt, Dolan was reportedly pissed that his third feature 'only' featured in Un Certain Regard at Cannes, and not in competition. From someone with barely an original idea in his pretty little head, whose signature moves are borrowed from his betters (Kar-wai, Almodovar, early Godard), this dummy-spit seemed especially irksome; his opus—tedious when it's not histrionic, and badly over-stretched at almost three hours—hardly bolstered his ceaseless, petulant case for his own importance.
Oh, dearie me . . . where to begin? The idiocy of the characterisations? The glaring plot holes? Guy Pearce's makeup? 'Off' from its very first moments, desperately self-mythologising, it's The Chronicles of Riddick to Alien's Pitch Black. It's a rare film that can make Charlize Theron look bad—but then, it's a singular effort all around when the only memorable line of dialogue in a script just this side of worthless (and it's even worse on the page) is cribbed from Lawrence of Arabia.
1994 was a landmark year for Australian comedy, with two local comedies (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and Muriel's Wedding), setting the box office alight with witty scripts that weren't afraid to 'go there' and riff on themes of mental illness and homophobia. In 2012, however, the picture was less rosy, as the makers of both of those films discovered when they released two lesser comedies that exhausted the comedic potential of once-funny ideas. (Had I seen Kath & Kimderella a portion of this list would have been entitled: 'Comedy: When Good Franchises Go Bad'.)
A Few Best Men
Oh, brother. The year was barely three weeks old when this January release proved more painful than a New Year's Day hangover. The Death at a Funeral writing/producing team recycled their own pills and poo gags – again – to tell the story of an out-of-control wedding reception. Director Stephan Elliott (Priscilla) lost his own grip on the proceedings and patched the unfunny mess together in post with wall-to-wall music as a stand-in laugh track, and overloaded cutaways back to Our Livvy on a coke binge.
PJ Hogan came back to Australia and reteamed with his Muriel's Wedding star, Toni Collette, to revisit the same aspects of his autobiography, involving a dysfunctional family floundering under a deadbeat dad with political aspirations and a mum with a slippery grip on reality. This in itself is not a bad thing (and as a fan of Muriel's I so desperately wanted to like this film) but Mental's illogical plot and inauthentic characterisations had less in common with the 1994 original, than it did with the terrible copycat comedies that came in its wake.
I didn't much care for Roman Polanski's contrived story of two sets of parents whose conflict resolution skills leave a lot to be desired. This blaming and shaming chamber piece has two sets of parents meet to discuss the issue of their warring sons, and the claustrophobic confines of Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly's apartment brings tensions to boiling point. Fidgety Kate Winslet shoots a litany of death stares at Christoph Waltz for scoffing Foster's apple crumble and for talking on his mobile a lot, before projectile vomiting on a tidy arrangement of coffee table books. Self-consciously controversial for its 'take' on 'modern parenting', the film is best admired for its efforts to replicate 'New York' by a director who hasn't set foot there for years.
It would be a great film indeed that could live up to the type of hype that prefaced Ridley Scott's Alien-esque examination of astrology, religion and mythology. But even when you take out the silly speculative chatter generated by the many trailers and – I kid you not – trailers-for-the-trailers, Prometheus failed to deliver, and you could park a space ship in its gaping plot holes. Worst of all, ponderous dialogue did good actors a disservice, and Michael Fassbender skirted dangerously close to Razzies territory with his po-faced attempt to straddle the 'Uncanny Valley' twixt man and machine.