YEAR IN REVIEW
I plan to get all joyously positive from Christmas Eve through January 9th as I share my take on the Best of the Film Year That Was. But I make no promise about my mood come January 10th... That's the fateful morning when 6,000 Academy voters play puppet master and yank my fragile psyche about with abandon. But until then... And before the Year End Best of hits, we purge.
MOST "OVERRATED" ANYTHING
I know that people quibble with this word and wish it dead and buried. But that's only because they take it far too seriously. It's a silly adjective but silly is fun. One should always take things for what they're worth. No matter who is using the word "overrated" it only ever means:
Other people are under the mistaken impression that this thing I think is merely okay is really great! They are quite wrong."
Unsatisfying performances, miscasting, bad moves in good films and more after the jump...
05 AMY ADAMS
I've gone back and forth on her performance in The Master, which I've seen twice now. And I've gone back and forth on her gifts as an actress over the years which are, as far as I can figure, strong if not quite exceptional. Give her a good role that she understands and is well cast in (Enchanted, Junebug, The Fighter) and she'll reward you with true excellence. Give her a nothing role and she'll give you nothing (Charlie Wilson's War, and other movies we've forgotten she was in). Give her a strong if potentially one-note role dropped into a larger ocean of roiling complexities (The Master, Doubt) and she'll glide across the surface rarely risking the undertow. I've come to the conclusion that everything people are responding to in this particular performance is what's in the sketchy writing so can we give Paul Thomas Anderson a few "Best Supporting Actress" prizes instead of wasting them here? Even if I'm wrong about Amy Adams in The Master-- a possibility, as I am unperfect -- I think you have to subtract points for her Razzie-ready cameo in On The Road.
04 FILM CRITICS
So many have lost their minds in overstatements, projections and fannish abandon this year -- No, Django Unchained is most certainly not Quentin Tarantino's best film. I think by "best" they mean "newest!" and therefore "most temporarily exciting" and in that case: correct! And critics are shirking their advocacy duties, too. It's not helping, I don't think, that the online conversation is increasingly oroborus-insular and consensus-premature since movies are withheld from public view too long and by the time the conversation has opened up critics have tired of playing with them, like catswho've grown bored with their own tails or a dead mouse.
03 KEEP THE LIGHTS ON
Danish actor Thure Lindhart (Max Manus) plays a young filmmaker Erik who falls for the closeted Paul (Damages' Zachary Booth) after an anonymous hookup. The two drift in and out of each other's lives (mostly in) for the next ten years as their relationship is undone by showy bouts of self-destructive sex and drug addictions and less dramatic but more universal relationship issues such as trust and boredom. Though some of its sharpest scenes are piercing (like an emotionally harrowing moment when sober Erik holds Paul's hand during an obliviating bender with drugs and a rentboy), writer/director Ira Sachs forgets to shape these surely cathartic biographical exorcizms into an entertainment* for audiences. So many critics were so enamored of this sad story of a decade long gay romance undone by sex and drug addictions that I do genuinely wonder what it is about it that I missed. I thought it was shapeless, overlong, and only intermittently impressive in the acting. But bonus points for including the always welcome Paprika Steen in a cameo as Erik's sister.
*"Entertainment" is often misinterpreted as the sole province of happy simplistic and disposable product. Some of the most depressing movies ever made are very entertaining, if you ask me. The question is always: does it hold you in its thrall?
02 LIFE OF PI
That chunk of the movie with the boy and the tiger on the boat is a real corker. That stuff is Grade A entertainment and movie-movie showmanship. Pity about the rest of the movie and that there's quite a lot of it. The framing device is so wooden it has termites and they infect nearly every scene as they devour the movie (the framing device interview might be more accurately referred to as "commercial breaks" it interrupts the flow of the narrative so often. The biopic like 'and-then-this-happened' mundanities of the prologue are also a huge drag. And then there's the pathetic "what we hope the tiger is thinking about" double exposed image in the sky. And don't get me started on the "let me explain this to you and destroy your imagination" ending since Michael already went there.
01 SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Readers have taken me to task for dissing this movie on multiple occasions. Any movie so beloved that people get angry that you don't like it much at all, must by default then be, your mandatory #1 slotter on your own Most Overrated List. But before I could get started on whining about it again I heard Jennifer Lawrence's Tiffay in my head warning me to check myself.
Calm down, crazy!"
FIVE DISAPPOINTING THINGS OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD ABOUT PEOPLE OR FILMS I LIKED/LOVED
05 Sweeney Todd Redux
The Threnadier's have always been my second least favorite thing about Les Misérables (the least favorite being Javert) and their big number is the comic relief "Master of the House". The movie version of the musical phenomenon exactly replicates my experience with the stage show from every time I've seen it performed. The Threnadiers and Javert are still my two least favorite things about a show I otherwise worship. I love Helena Bonham-Carter and she gets a few good laughs in in Les Miz but why after Sweeney Todd is anyone letting her sing onscreen again? Worse yet, when you pair her with another Sweeney Todd alum, Sacha Baron Cohen you're forcing us to acknowledge/remember that she's been allowed back into the musical genre, the one genre in which she has no place being. I'll take her in any other genre with relish but she doesn't do enough genre-hopping. Wouldn't she be just awesome in a sci-fi film?
04 Chronicle's Last Act
I really liked Chronicle's found footage execution, low budget invention, and its economically tossed off "origin story" . Dane DeHaan continues to be one of the most promising New Generation of male movie stars. But it goes way off course in that final act when our sympathetic nerd protagonist has his psychotic break into rabid dog that must be put down in the f/x heavy 'Destroy Everything' climax; in short, I always prefer Carrie when it's got Sissy Spacek in the lead role and hemmed in split screen carnage to overwrought CG madness.
03 Not Enough Michelle Pfeiffer or Laura Dern
MICHELLE: Dark Shadows and People Like Us both brought the screen goddess back. Neither of them made sufficient use of her. When will she get another Chéri or a Stardust? I've given up dreaming for another White Oleander.
LAURA: She gets a Paul Thomas Anderson movie and that's all he has for her? For shame! I've never hated Philip Seymour Hoffman more than when he barked at her in The Master. "What do you want from me?" If he's the P.T. surrogate I wanted her to bark back "a decent role, bitch. I know you've seen what I can do! Do I have to bring David Lynch to your set to talk some sense into you?"
On this note: If you switch Amy Adams and Laura Dern's role in The Master you get an instantly more complicated film. Think about it.
02 Catherine Zeta-Jones Transformation from Red Hot Mama To Pinched Matronly Prude
Post Chicago, I was thrilled to hear that Catherine Zeta-Jones would be returning to the movie musical genre for Rock of Ages. And though she was fun her scenes were poorly staged and she was mostly cut short of maximum potential as the prudish zealot. Then, this poster for Side Effects happened at us this week and she looks even more prudish. What happened to the sexy mofo of Chicago? They used to sell her ass in the air (Entrapment) rather than her nose.
This is not Hitting Us With Your Best Shot, Catherine. Can't someone rehabilitate this career? She's only 43, not 80.
01 Double Standards in The Sessions
I liked The Sessions quite a lot but it's strange double standards about nudity actually marred the sex-positive film. The entire narrative rests on John Hawke's character accepting his disabled body, his sexuality, and what he can and can't do to express himself physically. And yet in a potentially very moving crucial scene when his frequently fully nude sexual partner Cheryl (Helen Hunt) holds up a mirror for him to see his body for the first time -- he's never seen it due to his disabilities and the tilt of his head -- the direction and framing prudishly rob him of his genitalia. That's the most hypocritical shot possible in a movie about accepting and loving your earthly body, disabiities and all.
WORST PERFORMANCES THAT AREN'T IN "CLOUD ATLAS" AND WHO I BLAME FOR THEM BECAUSE, GENERALLY SPEAKING, I PREFER NOT TO BLAME ACTORS BECAUSE I HAVE SHAMELESS STARF***ING TENDENCIES
05 EVERYONE in "The Avengers" when they aren't in close-up.
The Avengers is a ton of fun the first time through, no shade. And even if it doesn't hold up spectacularly well on repeat viewings, the actors are impressively on their game as the comic book icons they've been entrusted with. At least when they're in close-up. The Film Experience applauds all movies, directors and cinematographers that remember to use a variety of lenses and shot lengths with their cameras and would like to start a "Save This Endangered Species!" charity for the preservation of two shots, three shots and four shots at the cinema, before they're snuffed out altogether by the oppressive tyranny of close-ups and shot/reverse shot hackiness. However, The Film Experience does expect professional often very good actors to remember that they're still being filmed when they share a frame and that they shouldn't just stand there stiffly waiting for the next big moment or line reading to happen. (Who do they think they are, Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls?)
Who I am considering blaming: Alexandra Byrne because the costumes are too tight for acting below the neck. I kid. The more likely culprit is the talent agents and managers calling during the breaks, destroying their collective focus with new film offers and spokesperson deals. Or maybe we should blame the movies themselves. Too few movies use wide or medium shots anymore and it's quite possible that actors have forgotten how to act in them. Our prescription: Watch five 70s movies back to back. It'll come back to you. Good actors can do amazing character work with their bodies if filmmakers encourage them... Good actors don't even need dialogue sometimes.
04 TOM HARDY in "The Dark Knight Rises"
Even if the weird Sean Connery meets school marm affectations and enunciations of his voice weren't so unthreatening and weirdly judged, Hardy (a very promising star) was a terrible choice for Bane.
Who I blame: Two culprits here. Heath Ledger's "The Joker" for being an impossible act to follow as supervillains go; and Chris Nolan. Nolan's asexual tendencies as a filmmaker have caused trouble for nearly all of his movies save, perhaps, Memento which managed some degree of erotic tension despite Nolan's sexless tendencies. For all his gifts, Nolan is straight-up terrible with female characters (Hathaway's Catwoman and Carrie Anne Moss are but badass anomalies -- blame, or rather, thank the actresses ) and he's equally clueless when it comes to the more erotic specimens within male movie star community. I shan't try to top Anthony Lane who said it best when he said:
Bane wears a crablike mask over the lower part of his face—a disastrous burden for Tom Hardy, whose mouth, sensual and amused for such a tough customer, is his defining feature.
03 JORDIN SPARKS in "Sparkle"
You can get away with bare minimum adequacy in the sidelines of deep bench movies. But when you're at the center it creates a vacuum. We're supposed to believe that "Sparkle" is the one with all the talent in Sparkle and that her sister "Sister" is just coasting on her looks. This dynamic doesn't work at all when the delicious Carmen Ejogo as Sister is acting impressive circles around Jordin Sparks as Sparkle who is the one coasting (on off-cinema fame).
Who I blame: Stunt casting. Note to all musicians who would like to try acting: try a supporting role first. Less risk / More practice. Acting is actually an art, not a hobby.
02 JOHN CUSACK in "The Paperboy"
He's playing one of the most outrageously loathsome film characters in years, but you don't have to come across as loathsome as an actor while doing so! Ask anyone in Django Unchained or Killer Joe for tips.
Who I blame: Nicole Kidman? Honestly, who can keep up? It's better to not try to pull focus (Matthew MConaughey) or step back in awe (Zac Ephron) than to attempt head-to-head or, in this case, groin-to-groin battle. The most analagous scuzzy thespian combat in a film might well be Willem Dafoe and Laura Dern in Wild at Heart... so maybe Cusack ought to have committed that film to memory before stepping into this particular ring.
01 QUENTIN TARANTINO in "Django Unchained"
Who I blame: Quentin Tarantino. Stop soiling your otherwise superbly acted movies with your terrible acting! STOP SELF-SABOTAGING!
Share you quibbles, minor disappointments, and miscasting claims in the comments or tell me I'm wrong... that's what overrated posts are for!
We'll get to the true "Worst" tomorrow and really let loose.