Friday, November 27, 2009

The Nine Most Disappointing Movies Of 2009

We're nearing the end of the decade, which means that media outlets everywhere will soon be inundating us with 'best of the 2000s' lists for literally everything, including movies. The Telegraph has already gotten in on the act, as has the Times, in spite of the fact that the decade is technically still going. (I guess they have low hopes for 'Avatar'...more on this later.) Of these two, the Times wins the prize for going the furthest down the list before including a truly horrible movie. The Times tempts fate by including some middling stuff like Casino Royale, Last King of Scotland and The Queen in their top ten, but none of those are truly capital-H Horrible like the Telegraph's #9 selection, "The Passion Of The Christ." The Toronto Star copped out by just listing their ten most 'important' movies of the decade, hiding behind that debatable term in spite of the fact that you can't really judge what a decade's most important movies were until years down the line. Also, I'm pretty sure that future generations won't be getting all hot and bothered over Passion Of The Christ or Donnie Darko.

So, with these lists in mind, I'm sure you're all expecting me to chime in with my own best-of-the-Aughts list. Nuh uh. Not yet. It will take time, preparation and gallons of caffeinated beverages. But in the meantime, here are nine pieces of crap that certainly won't make the cut.

A word on terminology...this is not a list of the worst films of the year, aside from a couple of instances. These are merely the most disappointing, a.k.a. the movies I went into expecting to enjoy, but walked out bitterly unentertained. Something like "Transformers 2" may have stunk, but since I fully expected it to stink, it doesn't make this list. Somewhere, Michael Bay wipes sweat from his brow, relieved that his lowered-expectations ploy has worked yet again.

Onto the list!

(Wait, so the first part of this post had nothing to do with the second part? What poor planning. Feel free to nominate this for your "Most Disappointing Posts Of The Year" list.)

9. Avatar. Ok, so TECHNICALLY it isn't actually out yet. But given the hype and secrecy surrounding the project, and given the incredibly uninteresting trailer, I can already predict that I won't enjoy it. For all of the talk about Jim Cameron deploying cutting-edge new technology for the movie, it looks like the same blah stop-motion CGI/human hybrid stuff that has ruined Robert Zemeckis' career. The plot (human soldier gets involved in a war between Earth and an alien planet, begins to take the aliens' side) sounds generic as humanly possible. Though, technically, since my expectations are already so low going into it, should 'Avatar' be on this list at all? I was taking a wait-and-see attitude from the get-go anyway, so can I really consider this to be a proper entry on a 'disappointing films' list given that I sorta expected a disappointment? Ah, screw it, I just wanted a forum to bitch about this lame movie.

8. Terminator: Salvation. Another kind of borderline entry, given that nobody can really expect much from a movie directed by friggin' McG. But this was just a meandering, dull and overall listless film that basically kills the Terminator franchise dead in its tracks. It's not a good sign when the best (or, only) audience reaction comes from the CGI Arnold that pops up late in the movie to confront Christian "Phonin' It In" Bale.

7. 9. Not to be confused with 'Nine,' the Daniel Day-Lewis/Penelope Cruz/Every actress in Hollywood musical that's coming out in December. Or, not to be confused with 'Nein!,' the wacky German comedy starring Rutger Hauer as the headmaster of a school for naughty frauleins. Or "Nye'n," the movie about Marlee Matlin trying to pronounce the last name of Bill Nye the Science Guy. No, "9" was the allegedly visually-incredible animated movie about weird puppet robots trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. While I said that Avatar looks like it has the most generic possible plot, "9" might actually hold that current title. There is not an ounce of wit or originality in the entire script. The story is basically a poor man's version of Lord of the Rings, except lacking the homoerotic subtext between Frodo and Sam.

6. Cold Souls. It had a funny Charlie Kaufman-esque concept to it: Paul Giamatti (playing himself) discovers a clinic in New York that can temporarily remove your soul and replace it with someone else's. He tries the process to improve his acting and ends up involved with the Russian mob. While I generally enjoy films that plunk you down in strange realities and deal with everything with a straight face, this one is just way too slow-moving and dry even for me. The whole thing was a little 'cold.' BWA HA HA HA, je suis hilarious.

5. Funny People. Ok, another technical borderline entry I only enjoy about one out of every eight Adam Sandler movies. But hey, Judd Apatow, it's got to be good, right? Right? The basic problem with the film is that it asks you to buy into the inherent belief that Adam Sandler is a) funny and b) has a strong enough personality to inspire what is slightly-modified version of his own life. As it turns out, he's not and he doesn't. The movie is a good 30 minutes too long, relies on Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman for comic relief --- never a good idea --- and the entire romantic subplot with Leslie Mann was a complete waste of time. It's like Apatow wrote the movie and then suddenly realized he didn't give his wife a part. It's just an poor piece of work all around, easily Apatow's worst movie. It also ruined Eric Bana's big comeback year. For years, Bana held the title of 'Actor I Like The Most Whose Movies I Enjoy The Least.' After breaking it big in North America with Black Hawk Down, Bana was in nothing but garbage until this year, when he appeared in Star Trek and Time Traveler's Wife. 'Funny People' kept Bana from winning the triple crown and completing his comeback, but on the bright side, at least he got to play a walking stereotype that disgraced his Aussie heritage. Good times!

3.(tie) Year One
(tie) Couples Retreat. The two movies suffer from opposite problems that end up with the same result. 'Year One' throws non-stop jokes at the wall in the hope that some will stick, and an astonishingly tiny number of them actually do, 'Couples Retreat,' on the other hand, is the rare comedy that doesn't have any actual jokes. Remember when you watched the ads and didn't actually see anything funny? That wasn't a case of marketing withholding the best jokes for the film --- that was the best they had to work with. A yoga guy squatting in Jason Bateman's face is about as sophisticated as it gets here, folks. Big red flags went up for both films when numerous cast members appeared on Conan and talked about everything but the movie itself. That's never a good sign. Conan didn't even throw them a token, "So, I saw the movie at a screening the other night and enjoyed it." Methinks Conan felt it was prudent to just not say anything at all rather than note that he and Andy Richter spent the whole screening giving the flick the MST3000 treatment.

Just take a look at these cast lists of these two movies --- Jack Black, Michael Cera, Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Kristen Bell, Malin Akerman, Kristin Davis, Bateman, Faizon Love, Jean Reno, David Cross, McLovin, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, Olivia Wilde, plus usually hilarious supporting staples like John Michael Higgins and Ken Jeong. With scripts by two 'Office' writers and Vaughn/Favreau, respectively, and direction from Harold Ramis and the kid who played Ralphie in 'A Christmas Story,' respectively. I like to love everyone (In Kristen Bell's case, literally) involved in both projects, and yet both movies ended up being terrible. Couples Retreat even stuck the whole female cast in bikinis and I still hated the movie, so if that's not a bad recommendation, I don't know what is. In a way, there's nothing worse than a disappointing comedy since you into them predisposed to laugh, and when that doesn't happen, it's double the letdown. It's like going to a Tony Jaa film and not seeing anyone's limbs broken.

2. Public Enemies. Now we get into the territory of 'movies that I didn't exactly dislike, but are still big disappointments given my sky-high expectations going into them.' Is it the film's fault for not living up to my possibly-inflated personal beliefs? Yes. Yes it is. Especially when said film is a Michael Mann picture about John Dillinger starring Johnny Depp. There is zero reason why this film shouldn't have been a five-star, knock-the-doors-off classic. PE gets a long way on style and it's wonderfully shot (don't worry Mann, I'm one of the few people that enjoys digital cinematography, you're not alone), but the story is pretty rote, none of the characters are well developed and you leave the theatre not really knowing or caring any more about John Dillinger than you did when you entered. I didn't mind Depp's performance, since I think his underplaying the role was deliberate given that the real Dillinger was something of a monosyllabic thug whose charisma stemmed from urban myth more than anything. But aside from Depp, the very talented cast is given nothing to do. Marion Cotillard is stuck with a limited girlfriend role, and Christian Bale (billed as the second lead and Dillinger's nemesis) is on-screen for maybe 20 minutes. Hell, I would've preferred to have seen Bale's role cut from the movie and had Billy Crudup's J. Edgar Hoover re-imagined as Dillinger's primary adversary. (Geez, between this film, Terminator, yelling at cinematographers and having everyone mock his Batman voice, this has been a rough year for Bale.) One bright side: the scene where Dillinger strolls through an FBI office and nobody recognizes him. That was a genuinely great scene that blew away everything in every other movie on this list combined. If the entire film had been made with that kind of flair, we would've had something. Basically, I went in expecting the next Bonnie & Clyde, and all I got was a second-rate White Heat.

1. Where The Wild Things Are. Like with the previous entry, I didn't hate WTWTA. If pressed, I'd even give it a borderline recommendation. The amount of imagination and creativity that went into bringing the children's book to life is admirable, and I'm glad to got to see Spike Jonze's take on the material rather than having the studio make a generic kiddie movie with some hack director like Chris Columbus. But there's no way to sugarcoat things --- big chunks of the film are dull with a capital D. WTWTA was a tough project from the get-go, since like many children's books, their brilliance lies in how the reader imagines the fantastical worlds described in the text. Even in an illustrated book like the original Maurice Sendak story, the illustrations are detailed but in a sparse way that lets little kids think up their own versions of how things will unfold. Actually putting a definitive version of these images on the big screen (and letting them be voiced by Tony Soprano and Bam Bam Funkhouser) unwittingly puts a cap on the imagination. Frankly, the Wild Things' dreary, weirdly post-apocalyptic landscape of a home is more than a bit of a downer. The kid who plays Max gives a very good performance and comes off as a very real 10-year-old, but even that's kind of a catch-22. Jonze cast a kid because he can realistically portray what 10-year-olds are like, but with the caveat that kids are never less interesting than when they're ten years old. Children are charming in their developing years and potentially fascinating when they're entering that gap from about 9 to 11, however, they're just kinda there.

Frankly, I blame the Arcade Fire for my disappointment with this film. The trailer looked great and was set to the tune of 'Wake Up,' which would make any trailer look five times better than it actually is. You stick that song on the 'Avatar' trailer and I'm probably singing that movie's praises. It should be noted that the actual WTWTA soundtrack, written by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, is fantastic and a great idea for a Christmas gift. For me. As a thank-you for posts like these that warn you away from bad movies.

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