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The 10 Most Disappointing Movies of 2013
This time of the year is rife with top 10 movie lists for the last year, and while there are many favorite categories (best/worst/box office/underrated), one of the most interesting to me, as well the most painful to consider, is the list of movies that disappointed us the most this last year. Now, when we say disappointing, that doesn’t necessarily mean the worst, or even bad. Many of the films on this list are still pretty good; I just had expectations for them that were so much higher. The actual reason for these failing to reach expectations can vary greatly by film; perhaps they hyped themselves too much, perhaps the fan base was too excited, perhaps the original properties were beloved, or perhaps it was the great talent involved that didn’t deliver (that particular case is sometimes referred to as a “Talent Bomb.”) Whatever the reason behind it, we can all relate to walking into a film we were desperately looking forward to seeing, only to come walking out with a foul taste in our mouths.
Yet it’s only by examining these betrayals of cinematic promise that we might better understand them, and perhaps prepare ourselves better for the next time our hopes are too high. And so, with a heaving sigh and a heavy heart, I present to you my list of the ten most disappointing movies of 2013:
#10 – Oz, The Great and Powerful This one is so low on the list only because I know I shouldn’t have expected much to begin with. The marketing all painted it as a slick, cartoon-y, slightly goofy look at the Oz world. But there was one name that kept me holding out hope: Sam Raimi. Sure, he’s had a spotty track record of late, with his signature off-kilter style fading as he works more and more in the mainstream, but his style is always present whether it makes the film any better or not. What I did not expect walking into Oz, The Great and Powerful then, was to see absolutely nothing of Raimi’s style on the screen at all. Oz was directed in such a vanilla, straight-forward way that I had to wonder if Raimi actually had that much involvement in the production; or perhaps he simply didn’t care enough to exercise his creativity. Whatever the case may have been, with zero directorial work in Raimi’s near future, I have to at least temporarily mourn the passing of one of the more original styles in film-making.
#9 – Kick-Ass 2
This one was a clear case of sequelitis, but I couldn’t help hold out hope for it. After all, the first film had been so fun, so joyously ridiculous, that at least a bit of that fun had to carry through, right? And really, the film did carry it through in a lot of ways. The problem was that ultimately the film felt like a huge step sideways, an exercise in spinning the wheels of a franchise. Whole chunks of the film were dedicated to meaningless subplots that never materialized into anything related to the main plot, and the worst of these subplots takes Hit-Girl out of the action for the entire first half of the film. Hit-Girl herself doesn’t work as well as before either, as the previous film leaned heavily on the gimmickry of a little girl spewing foul language and killing people, while in this film she is a much older looking teenage girl, rendering the gimmick not nearly as fun anymore.
#8 – The Kings of Summer
This disappointment is more a function of misleading critical praise than anything else, and probably more of a personal choice. Coming out of the Sundance Film Festival, The Kings of Summer was being lauded as one of the breakout stars, and as one of the best coming-of-age films in year. It continued to receive awards and praise, and I think my mental image of what such a coming-of-age drama must look like was formed based on a lot of that praise. Then, upon seeing it, I was immediately struck by the fact that it wasn’t a drama at all, but pretty exclusively a comedy. There are a few poignant moments, but they are few and far between all the jokes and silliness. The film had its priorities very determined: 1. Be funny, 2. Show the boys having fun in their clubhouse, and 3. If there’s time, say something about growing up. If I had sat down thinking I was about to watch a comedy, I probably would have enjoyed the film quite a bit more, but I was attempting to watch a meaningful coming-of-age story, and Kings did not come close to delivering on that front.
#7 – Star Trek Into Darkness
Yet another case of a film being being a completely acceptable yet inferior continuation of its predecessor. To be fair, Into Darkness didn’t stand much of a chance; the first Star Trek was so fresh, fun, and damned entertaining that the bar was raised impossibly high for its sequel. It didn’t help matters that the marketing for the film was going full bore from the beginning, constantly teasing characters and stories, then pulling those back and calling them rumors, only for more rumors to spread. The end result was a fan base absolutely rabid with anticipation. The film opened, and while still very entertaining, didn’t have the same innovative feel the first did. Their choice to remix elements, characters, and plot points of the older “Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan” was a little too slavish; they were going for homage, but it looked more like derivation. And of course there was the reveal of Khan himself, which J.J. Abrams and his crew had denied for months. The fans, as it turned out, did not enjoy being straight up lied to, regardless of the intention. All that combined, and the result was a fan base left feeling a little betrayed, and more than a little disappointed.
#6 – Insidious: Chapter 2
This one has a much larger gap in quality between it and its predecessor, and for the life of me I still can’t understand some of the decisions that made that gap quite so large. In a genre that so easily stagnates and cannibalizes itself (and has been for some years) James Wan brought a level of craft back to American horror that had sorely been missing with the release of Insidious. The film wasn’t without its problems (the final act, with its goofy purgatory setting fell a bit flat), but the film was well constructed, and its scares had more thought and impact than any in recent memory. Then in early 2013 he released The Conjuring, another quality horror film and one of my favorite films of that year. So with the second chapter of Insidious, one could have rightfully assumed we’d be getting more of the same. Instead, the film went totally goofy, spending most of its time in the worst part of the first film (the purgatory called The Further) featured endless needless exposition about child abuse and cross dressing, and reverted back to straight jump scares for most of its scary moments. I don’t claim to know the inner motivations of any director or actor, but I really have to imagine that Wan simply didn’t really care about this one; that’s the only way I can really explain it to myself.
#5 – The Place Beyond The Pines
The trailer for this one just sold me. Ryan Gosling was still high on my list from Drive, and it looked like a similar role. It looked like a solid crime drama, but there looked to be deeper themes than the usual cops vs. robbers. It looked like it had layered motivations, real characters, and a complex narrative. And most of those things were true. The one that wasn’t true was that it was a crime drama at all, because it wasn’t. The tale of a violent man who falls in to robbing banks to feed his family sounds good on paper, but the film takes thirty minutes lackadaisically establishing that family. The tale of a cop coming up against him who also has to deal with a corrupt precinct sounds good on paper, but Bradly Cooper’s character actually has nothing to do with Gosling’s story (except for a few seconds of shared screen time.) And I don’t even really know how to explain the terrible third act, which jumps ahead in time to the teenage sons of these two men hanging out and being terrible people. I know the film was probably deep, and I know I probably missed some of that deeper meaning, but the film did a bait-and-switch by presenting itself as a crime story and then having that be an incredibly minor part of the film as a whole, so I couldn’t help but feel let down.
#4 – Trance
This film actually did deliver what it promised, it just did so in a way that I’m not sure I understand even now. Essentially a psychological thriller about hypnotism and dreams, Trance was directed by Danny Boyle, and while his track record has always been spotty, he had been on a roll with Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours previous to this. I was genuinely looking forward to what he could do with a psychological thriller, since that was a genre he has never ventured into before. If I had to guess what happened here, I would actually hazard that Trance was a result of over eagerness, of too many ideas, too many plot points, and of too large a desire to throw the audience for a loop, all bouncing around inside Boyle’s head. Because Trance is a mess. It’s convoluted in the worst way, unclear to the point of frustration, none of that chaos is wrapped up in any satisfactory way, and its ultimate reveal is ludicrous, borderline silly. Listen, I respect Boyle; much like Steven Soderbergh, he tries things that are unfamiliar to him, venturing to new genre’s and styles that he has no experience in, and I enjoy that experimentation. I can only hope that he has gotten the desire to make a twisty thriller of his system, and he can now move on to better things.
#3 – The Wolverine
Listen, at this point we have two options for what we want to believe. Either Hugh Jackman is a liar, or he doesn’t have very good taste in movies. I love the man’s enthusiasm for his work, and especially for the character of Wolverine. But twice times now Jackman has come out, seemingly genuinely excited, and told us all that this time, we are really, truly getting the Wolverine movie we deserve. And he has sounded damn convincing doing it. Wolverine: Origins was without a doubt far worse than The Wolverine in every way, shape, and form; yet the promise of Jackman, and really the entirety of the marketing for the film, was that we were getting a gritty, tough Wolverine action movie that was based on one of the more beloved stories featuring that character. Instead, The Wolverine was every bit as slick and shiny and Hollywood looking as all of Fox’s comic book movies (and to be clear, I really do blame Fox Studios for most of the terrible comic book films they’ve released.) In addition to that, the Japan story follows almost none of the plot points from the original comic, instead introducing nanobots, samurai mech suits, and a lizard lady that was completely made up for the film (I have no idea why this is happening with the hundreds of available comic characters.) The Wolverine wasn’t a terrible film, in fact it’s better than most of Fox’s comic offerings, but I was expecting something of far more substance. Mostly because Hugh promised it to me.
#2 – Elysium
District 9 made enough of an impact upon its release that it put its director, Neil Blomkamp, on the map in the world of sci-fi fandom. District 9 was, after all, not only a fantastic piece of science fiction, but it was also relevant and had meaning and purpose. And so, all the newly found fans waited anxiously for Blomkamp’s next film, and when it was revealed that it was to be another science fiction action film, this time starring Matt Damon, all of them were pretty well sold immediately. Ultimately though, Elysium ended up disappointing in a lot of different ways. The story wasn’t nearly as tight, the science fiction was not nearly as original, the characters weren’t nearly as deep, and probably most distressing, Blomkamp laid his politics all out on the table for everyone to see. He could have made a great movie with themes of poverty and wealth and the divide between the two, but instead chose to make a movie that shouted at us for two hours about how evil rich people are and how much we should hate them for the way they mistreat the poor. It’s not even the message that was necessarily the problem, it was the delivery, which was overbearing and as subtle as a freight train. I still have a lot of hope for Blomkamp’s future career, I just hope he learned the lesson of why the message in District 9 worked while the one in Elysium didn’t.
#1 – The Counselor
If one film on this list deserves the title of “Talent Bomb,” it’s this one. A crime thriller about a drug deal gone wrong based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy, written by Cormac McCarthy, directed by Ridley Scott, and starring Micheal Fassbender, Javier Bardem, and Brad Pitt. Absolutely everything about that sounded great to me. Well, like steak and chocolate, these happened to all be great tastes that didn’t quite taste that great together. McCarthy’s script was monotonous and plodding, full of characters philosophically soliloquizes to whoever happens to be in the room. Scott didn’t seem to know how to direct long speeches like that, so the camera zooms around characters heads and the music gets dramatic at the least appropriate times. Actors seemed equally jarred by the droning dialogue, and Cameron Diaz delivers a spectacularly bad performance that ends up dominating the whole movie. All told, it was a disaster, and this film gets the number one spot for having the greatest gap between what was expecting (absolute greatness) and what was delivered (absolute nonsense.)
So there you have it, my 10 most disappointing cinematic experiences of the year. Do you agree? Do you love some of these? Let me know in the comments. And try to remember not to get your hopes up too high this year.