2011 was an inhuman year for cinema. The high volume of quality films hitting every month was downright overwhelming, burying cinephiles in celluloid. I, for one, still haven’t caught up. So, 2012 was at a disadvantage come January 1st. It had a lot going for it, mind you. While the indie presence wasn’t nearly as massive, big Hollywood stepped it’s game up releasing their big guns, both in summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. While some shined, others couldn’t quite live up to the hype. And not just in the studio system; plenty of independent productions underwhelmed as well. As we all start taking in the deluge of Best Of lists, let’s take a moment to consider some of 2012’s disappointments… Well, mine at least.
Richard Linklater is a fascinating man. He’s an incredibly versatile director who can do whatever he wants, and generally succeed at it. So when positive buzz about his new dark comedy staring Jack Black came about, naturally I was ecstatic. But something about Bernie doesn’t quite work. The humor is strangely subdued to the point where it doesn’t always read as a ‘comedy.’ Instead, it’s a somewhat dry experience, telling a true story that’s not nearly as interesting or funny as Linklater seems to believe. It doesn’t help that Jack Black’s performance feels like something put together for a quick SNL skit (Matthew McConaughey, on the other hand, never disappoints).
I should have stuck by my instincts with Cloud Atlas. When the trailer for the supposedly “ambitious,” time-spanning epic hit, I was unimpressed. But everyone around me seemed to believe that they had just looked straight into the eye of God. As the release grew closer, I found myself cautiously caught up in the hype. I went into the theater excited for something that would supposedly save the future of mainstream cinema. Well, if Cloud Atlas really is Hollywood’s savior, then God help us all. The lifeless 3-hour trudge is a simplistic drama filled with generic ideas about good and evil hidden behind half-baked meditations on reincarnation. Sure, there’s plenty to admire from a technical standpoint, but there’s not enough make-up in the world to mask such an empty story.
After Sundance, only a few films got a lot of talk. Perhaps the most intriguing of that batch was Compliance, a supposedly chilling film about a horrific prank. The premise sounded like a fascinating exploration of the common person’s relationship to authority, suggesting such blind trust in anything is problematic. The film, however, only delves ankle deep into the topic. Without much depth to its thesis, Compliance ends up looking unsettlingly exploitative; it’s an endurance test without much intellectual payoff. In fact, all of its themes are just as efficiently discussed in the film’s trailer, and that’s 85 minutes shorter.
Do you know that feeling when you convince people to see a movie that ends up being mediocre? You know, where you feel responsible for wasting everyone’s time? That’s where I was left after getting a few people together to see Dark Horse. I talked up Todd Solondz, praising his genius ensemble film Happiness. Hours later, I found myself standing by a hot dog stand, wondering why I put such faith into Solondz. Dark Horse just doesn’t have much going for it between its dull tone and intentionally obnoxious main character. The end does contain a few lovely moments of surrealism, but it’s hard to care about much else while plodding through the protagonist’s tedious struggles.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Everything about The Amazing Spider-Man sounded like utter crap from the get go. Sony decided to reboot a less-than-decade old series to make it more “contemporary,” which was really just an excuse. The fact is that they would lose the rights to Spider-Man unless they pumped out another film fast. But I put my skepticism aside once the first full-length trailer hit (not the teaser featuring a god-awful first-person sequence). ASM looked like it really might capture the fun of Spider-Man, playing up the webslinger’s playful side. It did, but with great jokes comes terrible CGI lizards. And ridiculously cheesy clichés. And a scene involving crane operators that’s so positively ridiculous that I couldn’t stop laughing out loud in the theater. Let’s just agree to never revisit Spider-Man’s origin story again, okay? I can’t handle the PTASMD.
The Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film is a good movie. No doubt about it. There’s plenty to enjoy through the epic finale, with great performances by Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway. There’s also a lot to yawn at. Simply, TDKR suffers from third-movie syndrome, a disorder that generally affects comic book movies. The first movie is the origin, making it rather dull. The second allows filmmakers more freedom leading to a much more interesting story. The third tries to top the success of #2, completely overdoing things and going way over the top. While TDKR is way better than Spider-Man 3 or X-Men 3, it too falls into this pitfall, bloated with plot threads and characters. Christopher Nolan has a history of overwriting his stories, and here he goes all out. Maybe all he needs is a ruthless editor. I’ve got scissors.
Every year there’s plenty of Oscar contenders that are simply mediocre. This year, there’s plenty of them, but The Sessions is particularly disappointing. For years, John Hawkes has impressed in various supporting roles, but finally he got the chance to take center stage and make his Best Actor bid. And he is quite good, as is Helen Hunt. But the film takes a turn from indie comedy to over-the-top melodrama, leading to a bizarre story that’s emotional in all the wrong places. The whole affair leads up to an incredibly abrupt ending that carries no impact, robbing both actors of their big moment to shine. In the right hands, The Sessions could have been an emotional tour-de-force. I have no idea what it is in its current state, but let’s hope it’s not malignant.