By Sam Adams | Criticwire December 9, 2013 at 8:49AM
Every week, the Criticwire Survey asks film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday morning. (The answer to the second, "What is the best film in theaters right now?" can be found at the end of this post.) Send suggestions for future questions to sam at indiewire dot com.
Q: What was your biggest artistic disappointment of 2013?
Danny Bowes, RogerEbert.com, Movies By Bowes
In terms not just of expectations beforehand but actual potential, the movie that most brought out my inner Michael Corleone in Havana was Elysium. It could have been an extraordinarily relevant look, through the time-honored prism of science fiction, at how the moneyed few abuse and subjugate the less privileged many. It didn't even need to make that the main point; it could have just been the backdrop for an action movie (which it ended up being). But it could have been the skillfully mounted backdrop for a good action movie, instead of the headache-inducing mess it ended up being. It was too grim and gritty to be good cheesy fun and too dumb to be the action movie with a brain and conscience it seemed to want to be. And yet, the potential is right there, the entire movie, just begging to be made into a better movie. Oh, Elysium. I had such fuckin' hopes for us.
Mark Young, Sound on Sight, The New York Movie Klub
The answer is easily, unquestionably, Elysium. Like I lot of people, I thought it was a can't-miss prospect. I was all set to see what happened when the director of District 9, Neill Blomkamp, got sprayed with the money hose. I like and respect Matt Damon and Jodie Foster as actors. The premise of the film (the Earth turned into an immense slum as rich people flee to orbital comfort) is valid as metaphor for the haves and have-nots of our times. This could have been turned into a magnificent HBO series, I think. Maybe that's what they should have tried for, because in the rush to fit everything into two hours, this film makes leaps of logic vast enough to reach into space. Add in Sharlto Copely's ludicrous performance as the villain and the weak action choreography, and you get a missed opportunity on every level.
Luke Y. Thompson, Topless Robot
I think Elysium was the movie I had highest hopes for that not only failed to deliver, but made me think that perhaps Neill Blomkamp was a complete fluke, and that District 9 was less a result of his talent than of necessity. While he has a great sense of production design in both, I started to get the distinct sense in this one that the smart social commentary he was previous lauded for exists for exactly one issue -- South African society post-apartheid -- and that beyond that he just wants to do "stuff that's cool." I am very pro-healthcare, having bought T-shirts that say "Health reform is a BFD" and "I like Obamacare," but the way this movie preached about the issue made me want to duck and hide. Here's how bad it is -- I'd rather see him make District 10 next than try to do anything else original, and that's a shame.
Glenn Heath Jr., San Diego CityBeat, Slant Magazine
My biggest disappoint of 2013 has to be Neill Blomkamp's inept and bombastic sci-fi film, Elysium. Not only did the premise sound fascinating, it seemed to suggest a deep interest in the brutal consequences of class division and social inequality. This seemed like the perfect opportunity for a young "visionary" filmmaker to create something special within the Hollywood system. Instead, Elysium proved to be a clumsy and often poorly paced narrative thoroughly lacking in originality and brains. In short, its simplistic, ugly, and vindictive view of humanity's future is worthy of our scorn.
Zac Oldenburg, Having Said That..., Cinemablend
I think the biggest disappointments for me were a trio of sophomore slumps from directors who's first film I adored. I wrote about this sophomore slump phenomenon in 2013 a few months back, but it was Elysium, The Place Beyond the Pines and, in particular, The East that really stood out.
I enjoyed The East, certainly the most out of those three I just listed, but I was very excited to see what Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij did with a bigger budget after their great first feature, The Sound of My Voice. The film's eco-terrorist concept and ideas are a great core for a film, but the plot and flimsy romance it devolves into left me very disappointed. In fact, it was just the final third of the film that gave me my disappointment, I was fully on board until then. Having said that, I still can't wait for what Batmanglij does next.
Adam Nayman, The Globe and Mail, Cinema Scope
Considering the amount of time I've spent over the past year thinking about Paul Verhoeven for a book project that I've just (finally!) completed, the pallid mediocrity of his new telefilm Tricked would have to be my biggest disappointment. While there are masterly touches to this tale of corporate back (and in one scene, stomach-) stabbing -- and a very interesting production history involving a sort of crowd-sourced screenplay -- I was rather deflated to see a filmmaker following up perhaps his greatest triumph (Black Book) with something that, at best, played like a B-side to Passion (a movie I wasn't disappointed by because it's a fool's game to get too disappointed by Brian De Palma).
Robert Greene, Sight & Sound, Hammer to Nail
Spring Breakers seemed like a surefire itch scratcher for me considering that I'm a) a permanent Harmony Korine apologist b) a semi-permanent James Franco apologist and c) was definitely in the mood for some ironic slow-mo ass shaking. But when I finally saw it I was as bored as a beach bunny in December and offended by Korine's flagrant misunderstanding of the cinematic potential of Britney Spears, however great that one Franco scene was. I never imagined I'd long for Mister Lonely. Stupid expectations.
Christopher Campbell, Nonfics, Movies.com
I know this seems silly, but I was really disappointed that One Direction: This Is Us wasn't stronger. After Justin Bieber: Never Say Never's surprising level of comprehension into its subject, these pop music docs need to aim a little higher. And it appeared this was understood by the choice of Morgan Spurlock to direct the thing. He has been up and down of late (at the movies at least) but his Comic-Con doc is one of the best portraits of fandom we've seen, and it would have been great for his latest to be similar only with the boy band phenomena. Instead it was a generic, witless showcase that came off like a paycheck gig for Spurlock. It would have been a complete waste of time if it wasn't for the boys themselves being so appealing.
Kristy Puchko, Cinema Blend, Pop Crush
The Great Gatsby. It's a book I've loved and revisited often since high school. Every time I read it I'm left with the great mystery of the book: Who is the real Gatsby? Because Nick, the self-righteous gossip, cannot be trusted. He is a total unreliable narrator. But in his garish and hokey adaptation Baz Luhrmann poured on gallons of glitz and stripped away uncertainty to make Gatsby little more than a bumbling rom-com hero. It could have been beautiful, fluid, and elegant. Instead is was a tacky music video bedazzled to death. There's actually a visual within the movie that perfectly represents how I felt watching it. Post-Gatsby party scene, we see some jackass dumping a comically large champagne bottle of filled with glitter into the face of a worn out flapper, who is slumped on the ground weakly throwing up her hands to defend herself against the assault of shiny trash. That girl, she's me.
Alissa Wilkinson, Christianity Today
Oh, Gatsby, easily. I have a hundred frustrations with that movie, which I saw twice in order to try to like it. On first viewing, I was mostly disappointed that it didn't seem "big" enough, somehow: that it was lavish and colorful and sumptuous, but not... quite... there. (In a sense I think I was hoping Gatsby's parties would be extravagant on a Marie Antoinette level, though the comparison is admittedly odd.) On second viewing I realized I'd also hoped it would be a bit more of a pastiche a la Moulin Rouge!, something Baz Luhrmann totally could have pulled off. The story is so familiar to nearly everyone that making it anew requires more than just a few Jay-Z songs and 3D. Instead, it was overly predictable (including the awful framing device), Daisy's character was just as vapid and flat as she is in the novel, and Tobey Maguire was a mess. (Its sole redeeming feature was Leo, who was marvelous.)
Kenji Fujishima, Slant Magazine, In Review Online
As generally a fan of Sofia Coppola's directorial efforts, I was disappointed to find her making, with The Bling Ring, more or less the kind of shallow, superficial film that her detractors usually accuse her of making, without any of the specific emotional insights into privilege -- or rather, in this case, the desire for it -- of which she's capable when she's at the top of her game. That was probably it, to be honest. But then, I'm someone who kind of admired Nicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives in its own repulsive macho-fever-dream way -- or at least found it a hell of a lot more interesting than the overpraised Drive -- so I'd be totally lying if I joined the hate bandwagon on that.
Anne-Katrin Titze, Eye For Film
Only God can forgive Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn for wasting the performances of Kristin Scott Thomas and Ryan Gosling in Only God Forgives. In Drive, Refn and Gosling seized a mood, an immediacy, the unknown. Scott Thomas, nearly unrecognizable in Only God Forgives with a long blond wig and gaudy Donatella Versace look, manages to transcend the bloody mess with the unforgiving gaze into the abyss of motherly love. Refn's Bangkok has crimson corridors where sibling rivalry knows no bounds and a human god sings Karaoke to celebrate his justice. When it is "time to meet the devil", nothing remains. The film is stale, violent and utterly meaningless. The late Jacques Derrida might have commented -- only the unforgivable is worth forgiving.
Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com, Hollywood Chicago
Only God Forgives: Rarely have two creative talents gone from such a high to such a low. A film so bad that it makes one reconsider if they didn't over-praise Drive.
Marc V. Ciafardini, Go See Talk
2013 has had more hits than misses and maybe that's because the past five to ten years have repeatedly taught me to keep my expectations in check. That said the hype-machine can be a cruel mistress and of this year's let-downs it was Joseph Kosinski's Oblivion that failed to connect on nearly every level. Was it a bad movie? Yes, especially when compared to all the great films it used as "inspiration". Granted it wins points for visuals (and M83's music is phenomenally epic) but it seems nothing was learned -- not story, pacing, casting or staging -- after Kosinski's debut effort, the gloriously vapid music video that had all the depth of a microchip.
Now Tron: Legacy had lots of potential and so I thought Oblivion would allow Kosinski to fully realize a story that was all his own. His second at-bat looked highly promising and what could have been a triumph in sci-fi circles played out like a sizzle reel (replete with lifted ideas and plot devices from a dozen iconic and seminal sci-fi properties) attempting to pitch an even grander and fulfilling sci-fi adventure that we'll never get to see.
A studio rep asked me what I thought as I exited the press screening. "Pretty good movie?" they asked. "They ripped off some pretty good movies" I replied. Harsh? A little but at least with Tron 2.0 the visuals (and a similarly amazing score from Daft Punk) kind of made up for the highly nonsensical plot/story. Oblivion had nothing going for it but the borrowed ideas it thought it could have used better. I guess I can blame myself for my expectations but more fault lies in the film failing to deliver what it promised so I feel justified in being sorely let down (that said, the Blu-Ray offers an M83 isoalted score version of the film which is nice). Close second for fairly similar reasons would be Man of Steel, but that's a whole other topic.
Sean Axmaker, Cinephiled
Given from the general stasis of American big-budget filmmaking, where creativity is generally limited to how directors can come up with new ways to create onscreen mayhem and CGIed property damage, I have to confess that my biggest disappointment of the year was with a potential blockbuster. Guillermo Del Toro had an opportunity to bring the sensibility that informed Cronos, The Devil's Backbone, Pan's Labyrinth, and the Hellboy films to the kind of action spectacle that is dominating multiplex screens. And, while I fully acknowledge the negotiation of compromises in taking on such a budget, he ended up with something I never would have predicted from him: a film that rests on lazy narrative constructs and bland, by-the-numbers characters who have no depth or dynamic dimensions. For all the mecha-spectacle and monster mash maijin rampages, duly scaled up to epic size, Del Toro delivered a bland movie with neither the creative playfulness nor the tragic resonance of his great genre pictures. And every minute that Ron Perlman was on the screen, running away with the picture by his hearty, flamboyant presence alone, I was reminded at how everything else in the picture paled to the sheer engagement of his scenes. The best you can usually hope for in something like this is a director who dares color outside of the lines. Del Toro failed even that. It's still a lot more fun than the Iron Man and Thor sequels, but I expect more from Del Toro. And oddly enough, I'm more disappointed in this than films I liked far less, like Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, Pedro Almodovar's I'm So Excited, and Walter Hill's work-for-hire Bullet to the Head. I guess my expectations for Del Toro were simply greater.
Jordan Hoffman, ScreenCrush, NY Daily News
Disappointment into darkness! I am, and always shall be, a friend to Star Trek. I'll defend some of the most rancid episodes ever put to air, because they usually came from the heart; they were for dorks, by dorks. Star Trek Into Darkness was made in a board room by bored writers trying to stick a square peg in a round hole. It was doubly disappointing because JJ Abrams' first Star Trek was -- and still is -- pretty damn good. But STID is a disaster. It does, however, have a lot of sizzle -- fun performances and good action. It is propulsive and it ends UP. I ended up giving it a 7/10 in my review -- and though I did voice many misgivings, I was ultimately positive. I regret that. This was very much a clear case of rushing to write a review. I should have slept on it. However, the demands of the Internet forced my hand. I got out of the movie around noon and there was an email waiting for me saying there was an embargo break at 3pm. That was a more shocking surprise than the reveal of Khan.
Sean Chavel, Flick Minute
The Counselor: With that A-list cast and the pedigree of Cormac McCarthy as screenwriter, and Ridley Scott directing no less, I figured it had to be a Top Five candidate of the year for me. I had predicted it as the likely Best Original Screenplay winner before the Oscars. Well, you can't predict a winner without seeing something first, I've learned. There were some intriguing moments and enigmatic performances in it, but the more it's settled in, the more immature the screenplay actually is. McCarthy fell off his rocker.
Josh Larsen, Filmspotting, Larsen on Film
I may have been the only one looking forward to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but the narrative intrigued me, I think Ben Stiller is capable of something great and I really, really love the work of screenwriter Steve Conrad (The Promotion, The Weather Man). Alas, the film itself is a vanity project of head-shaking proportions.
Peter Labuza, The Cinephiliacs, To Be (Cont'd)
A cheat here, I guess, but after quite enjoying Lav Diaz's Norte, End of History -- a gorgeously shot, wandering, and truly unique adaptation of Crime and Punishment -- the two other films I saw by him this year produced meager returns. Despite running 1/8 of the time of Norte, his short, Prelude to the Great Desaparecido, felt punishing without meaning, a sort of cliche in festival aesthetics, and shot in quite unpleasant digital black and white. Then, MoMA's presentation of the 35mm restoration of his 2001 feature Batang West Side began as a promising look into Filipino immigrant culture in Jersey City, sort of playing like an alternate season of The Wire, before ending up meandering through tedious scene after scene playing on the same themes: fascism, drugs, family. While I'm all for the great cinephile long sit (Batang is 5.5 hours long), the non-enjoyment factor elongates the experience in the worst way possible. The worry here is that with Diaz, many of his other features will require even longer sits -- many in the 8-10 hour range. Diaz is well respected by enough friends of me to take on whatever is next, but that's asking a lot to commit to an entire day of cinema for someone you sit ambivalent about.
Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com, Some Came Running
I can't dwell on life's disappointments. There are really too many. It's like what that broad in Tokyo Story says. Mostly I tend to be severely disappointed when my prejudices are confirmed. I was recently assigned to review Charlie Countryman. Since I have neither the temperament nor the enabling personal apparatuses to remain as pre-screening-pure as Anthony Lane, I knew a little bit about it going in, and thought it sounded absolutely ghastly. But honest to God, I went into the screening room trying to be as optimistic as Diaghilev. "Surprise me!" I perhaps prayed. 20 minutes in, it was even worse than I could have imagined, and I had to stay until the end. That is heartbreak, my friend.
Richard Brody, The New Yorker
My biggest disappointments this year are misplaced onto a pair of movies that I like and admire greatly, from two of my favorite filmmakers, whose every film may well be, in some ways, better -- even better -- than the one before it, which, in their case, is a tall order. In Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen lets his formidable writing skills do a lot of the work, and twists and turns of plot -- admittedly remarkable ones -- take the place of his directorial invention. There's a metaphor missing, and it makes the difference between an idea and a realization. With Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach puts aside the gift of bile and tries to film happiness despite everything; Greta Gerwig is one of the best and most creative actors of our time, but she and Baumbach filmed the abyss with the retrospective knowledge that nobody would fall in, without showing why not. As graceful and pain-filled as the movie is, it's adorned with the assurance that everything will come out OK -- the uncertain story of how it does so being exactly what they leave out. Yet there's actually a much bigger disappointment at hand, one of distribution rather than of production: the seemingly interminable delay of the release of The Immigrant, which has been ready for its close-up now for a very long time. In the court of history, the vagaries of release don't matter, and awards certainly don't, but the gloriously wild movie needs to be let out of the cage of narrow calculation and let to range mightily on the big screen, where it belongs. Free The Immigrant!
John Oursler, Village Voice, Sound on Sight
Without a doubt, The Place Beyond the Pines gets my vote for biggest personal disappointment of the year. I actually haven't seen it since September 2012 when it premiered at TIFF, and I was excited for it at the time. I was a huge fan of Blue Valentine and expected big things from Cianfrance/Gosling this time around. In that film, Gosling and Michelle Williams offer intimately relatable American stock characters reminiscent of those from America's '70's renaissance, but here Gosling couldn't get past his now characteristic maniacal repose, and its gimmick was in great disservice of the story (It devolved even more in Only God Forgives this year, but let's not go there). I went in expecting to love it, and I tried really, really hard to do so. This fathers/sons triptych rubbed me the wrong way almost from the opening tracking shot of Gosling's tattooed daredevil entering the ring, and it just got worse from there. In hindsight, that scene feels unintentionally portentous as the film that follows, all dreadful three hours of it, felt like something of an unwieldy circus act in which Cianfrance was an ill-equipped ringleader. I didn't buy a second of anything I saw, and oddly enough, I think the only section that even remotely works is the middle one dealing with Bradley Cooper's conflicted cop; he's never been better in a dramatic role. I figured/hoped the film would end there, and then there's that desperate third-act grasp for scope that laughably weighs the entire film down to an embarrassingly bloated mess. yeah, that's a lot of adjectives, but man did I dislike this film. Luckily that night, I saw The Master directly thereafter and my palate was satiated.
Steve Dollar, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post
The Grandmaster. Saw what apparently was the intermediary cut (shorter than the Chinese version, longer than the Weinstein jam) as a gala presentation at the Berlinale. After 30 minutes, I started snoozing. A man can only take so many slow-motion raindrops captured from 14 different angles. It struck me that Wong has drifted into self-parody. Then it struck me that maybe I never liked his films in the first place. But maybe, as Kevin Lee suggests, I really need to see that Chinese version. Also just rented The World's End on VOD. If I'd seen it at Fantasia with a roaring crowd after a few beers, I probably would have loved it, but sitting at home, sober, late in the evening, it just seemed like a recycled, near-beer tangent to Hot Fuzz. Ye Olde Englishe Pub Culture is near and dear to my heart (and DNA), and the movie doesn't make near enough of the cultural context/subtext (even though, yeah I know, the point is that this culture has been Starbucked by a race of alien robots). It's entertaining, of course, but too much relies on Simon Pegg's motormouth. The best beer movie of the year remains Drinking Buddies.
Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer
Since Spanking the Monkey and Flirting with Disaster, I have been an admirer of David O. Russell and his boundaries-breaching characters. Thus I was both confused and disappointed by American Hustle. It didn't have that Russell singularity but rather felt like a young director paying homage to the movies of others. To me it had the characters of a Russell film but not the character of one. It felt like a mash-up of Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas gene-spliced with George Roy Hill's The Sting.
Jeff Berg, ABQ Arts, Las Cruces Bulletin
Upstream Color, which I was kind of wanting to see until I saw it and walked out. Obviously, I am one of the few who did so, since it received such glowing praise elsewhere....although where I saw it was at an art house theatre operator/manager event and I was certainly one of many. Crystal Fairy: did I miss something here? Austenland: I did miss something here -- and so did the filmmakers.
Gary M. Kramer, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News
When I saw the trailer for The Way Way Back, I dreaded having to sit through yet another Sundance-style indie, especially one from the producers of Little Miss Sunshine, a film I absolutely abhorred. Do I really need to see another teenager come of age during one crazy summer? Especially among quirky adults played by actors I both adore (Alison Janney, Sam Rockwell) and dislike (Steve Carrell). Friends told me that The Way Way Back was wonderful, and I didn't want to believe them. My instincts told me otherwise. Some friends told me what I wanted to hear: that it was exactly what I'd expect, and there really was no compelling reason to go see it. I held out as long as I could. I held out even longer. But then, one night, I bought a ticket. While The Way Way Back was familiar, its emotions were heartfelt. And while I adored Janney and Rockwell, and disliked Carrell, it was because you were supposed to. Yes, The Way Way Back disappointed me -- because I loved it. Now, if only this had been true of Enough Said, another film I resisted.
John DeCarli, FilmCapsule.com
My biggest disappointment of the year wasn't really a surprise. I love Kim Jee-woon's I Saw the Devil, and the kineticism and visual wit of a lot of his work, so I was very disappointed to see him completely neutered in his English-language debut The Last Stand. It's more a surprise that the producers selected a director like Kim to helm this Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle. Why pick a director with such an aggressive style only to create a generic and inoffensive action film? I'm hoping Kim can continue to make films his own in the future, whether in English or Korean.
William Bibbiani, CraveOnline
The biggest disappointment of 2013? All the Superman fans who complained that Superman shouldn't have killed General Zod to prevent him from murdering every human on the planet in Man of Steel, but who didn't spend the last 30 years complaining that Superman killed General Zod, in cold blood, when he was powerless, in Superman II. You can't call one a classic and then bitch about the other when the so-called "classic" did the same thing you hated, only ten times worse.
But if that's a little off-topic, how about this instead?
20 years ago, if you had told me that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were finally going to star in the same movie together, my head would have exploded from the sheer, blunt force trauma of anticipation. After decades of dreaming, it finally happened in 2013, and the result was Escape Plan: a limp genre exercise in which both Schwarzenegger and Stallone were severely miscast. Worse, it's not even so bad it's good. It's so mediocre that it's forgettable. One of the most anticipated movies in decades was barely advertised, didn't make a dent at the box office, satisfied no one, and will ultimately go down as an historical footnote at most. Now that's disappointment.
John Keefer, 51 Deep
My biggest disappointment of 2013 would be the blu-ray/dvd/digital-download release of Django Unchained. Not because of its lack of special features, mind you, but because it made me realize that I didn't actually like the movie. Now, I loved it on Christmas Day 2012 at the 11:00 a.m. screening and loved it again the second time I saw it in theaters. But the 8 or 9 times I've watched it since has had to make me finally admit that it is Mr. Tarantino's worst movie (Death Proof included) which is a shame because it is the first straight forward movie he's made. It begins, runs straight through the narrative, and ends, like how most other movies do. Jackie Brown did this too but it was an adaptation, we got the multiple sides of the money exchange, and it had a love story that worked. I didn't feel the love in Django, was surprised to find that it mirrored the original Django more closely than you'd think, and ultimately I don't want Mr. Tarantino to make a Western. I want him to make a war movie that wants to be a Western or a heist movie that can become a horror film then a buddy comedy. But he just made a Western that referenced other Westerns and it felt airless and joyless because of it. Shooting an old man in the kneecaps then blowing up a house is not heroic. It's excessive. So I didn't find myself cheering for Django in the end as Mr. Tarantino claimed I should be doing. Normally I'm all about blowing up a plantation.
Ryan McNeil, The Matinee
The 2013 release that let me down the most has to be To The Wonder. After getting used to gaps of five or six years between Malick films, I found myself giddy at the prospect of a new offering from the man a mere two years after The Tree of Life. Suffice it to say, the giddiness wore off fast. I came away from it feeling like I'd just listened to an EP by a band I love. That the film wasn't so much a finished work as it was leftovers and interesting outtakes from the previous effort. It's not a bad film, however if I were to rank Malick's six films, it handily takes the bottom slot. Note to Malick: take your time, your fans are cool with waiting. Olga sure does love to spin though!
Josh Spiegel, Mousterpiece Cinema, Sound on Sight
One of the biggest surprises from a few years ago was the delightful, clever, and fast-paced adaptation of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Even though it strayed from the source material tonally, it was extremely funny and boasted an eclectic and engaged voice cast. When the sequel was announced, without the original writers-directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, taking the reins, I wondered if the switch would turn Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 into a pale imitator. And sadly, it was. Most of the cast returned--inexplicably, Mr. T bowed out, replaced by the energetic Terry Crews--but the spark that so enlivened the first film was missing. I wanted to like this one as much as its predecessor, but in spite of puns such as "There's a leek in the boat!" I was truly let down by this sequel.
Peter Keough, Critics a Go Go, Boston Globe
Though I am an admirer of Steve McQueen and had expectations that 12 Years a Slave would be his best film yet, I found the film to be a historically exacting exercise in voyeuristic masochism. Fruitvale Station handled a similar theme far more convincingly. I kept thinking of The Passion of the Chris" because of the film's piety and sadism. And whippings.
Peter Howell, Toronto Star
It's not like I cried myself to sleep over it, but I have to say I was disappointed in Monsters University a rote sequel short on laughs and bereft of originality. It's been apparent since Cars that Pixar is no longer interested in making innovative and adult-friendly animation if it can get away with banging out recycled kid's crap, but MU really underlined how far the once-cool 'toon titan has strayed from its original vision.
Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit, First Showing
I think it has to be Out of the Furnace for me. It's not a bad film or anything of the sort, but as compared to expectations or at least what it had the potential to be, it was a big let down. The Counselor disappointed too, but after Prometheus last year, my Ridley Scott hopes have been diminished. How Scott Cooper wasted that cast though here is beyond me. That last shot too... oh boy.
Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat, Film Racket
This is a tie for me. I was really looking forward to Pain & Gain. Aside from a great cast and a compelling true story, it seemed to offer director Michael Bay the chance to do something outside of the action genre he's known for. I hate all but one of his movies (the first Transformers) and thought stepping outside his safe zone would liberate him. Boy, was I wrong! Instead, he just brought all his worst bombastic filmmaking qualities to a different genre. Making a dark comedy about bad people who do terrible things takes a light touch. Pain & Gain was overwrought -- both visually and in its storytelling -- and its attempts to earn laughs were about as subtle as a stand-up comedian screaming his routine into your ear for two hours. Bay was, quite simply, the wrong person to tell this tale. My other big disappointment was Kick-Ass 2. The original had a satirical edge that I found enthralling. The sequel in contrast, softened that edge, even going so far as to throw in an insipid "mean girls" subplot that felt like something ripped out of a John Hughes movie. Kick-Ass 2 was a safe sequel to a movie that rejected the very notion of safety.
Scott Nye, Battleship Pretension, CriterionCast
I'm not usually the type to get my expectations terribly high for a movie -- too many disappointments will do that to a person -- but as someone who's inclined to like really audacious, uninhibited, bordering-on-stupid love stories, yeah, I don't mind admitting that I was really looking forward to Upside Down. It had an inventive premise (if a really bad tagline, but that's not the movie's fault... until, in this case, it was), potential for a lot of clever and expressive visuals, and two leads -- Jim Sturgess and Kirsten Dunst -- I've generally found to be pretty compelling. But boy did it pay off on that not at all. Right from the start, even! Within the first three minutes, I went from "all right, can't wait!" to "oh, God, no." The premise ended up being exceedingly belabored, with the "rules" of the world repeated ad nauseam yet somehow still incomplete. The visual design suffered similarly, with the CGI backgrounds often so overstuffed that the actors were often lost within them. Worst of all, Sturgess and Dunst were given such bland characters devoid of any sort of interior life, and seemingly disinclined from investing them with any of that themselves, that it became impossible, almost immediately, to even care about the central love story at all, never mind by the time it gets to the most embarrassingly earnest finale I've seen in I-don't-even-know-how-long. It's bad in a way movies rarely are, totally misguided and completely inept in expressing this misguided notion.
Adam Batty, Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second, Periodical
The biggest disappointment for me came with the terrible representation of Alfred Hitchcock in two loathsome projects. Hopkins gave the worst performance of 2012 in Sacha Gervasi's Hitchcock (a film which opened in the UK this year), with his Hitch more akin to an occasionally Welsh-accented Jim Henson Company-like creation than the man himself. The second project, the BBC/HBO collaboration The Girl was the most troubling, in that it portrayed Hitchcock as a weird sex fiend, and was said to be so slanderous that those real-life figures still living (bar Tippi Hedren, the film's Gospel penner) at the time of the film's production had to be renamed, lest the producers be sued. It's exploitative, sensationalist trash of the highest order.
That these two projects both followed in the wake of 2012, a year in which unprecedented celebration was poured over my country's favourite director made it seem all the more noxious. When it came to filing a review of Hitchcock I chose instead to leave the following statement in place of where it would have been; "Read Hitchcock/Truffaut instead".
Honourable mention goes to the UK artwork for the home video release of Frances Ha, seen here next to Criterion's tasteful edition.
Sean Hutchinson, CriterionCast, Latino Revie
Hands-down my biggest disappointment this year was Man of Steel. I was fooled into thinking we might get a thoughtful exploration of gods and men based on some impressive casting, that beautiful trailer, and the involvement of Christopher Nolan, who lent his darker, more adult-themed expertise to DC's other biggest property, and could maybe parlay that into success with Superman. But instead we got the Zack Snyder special -- a bloated and gratuitous mess that nonetheless looked nice and somehow made boatloads of cash. I distinctly remember taking my 3D glasses off and turning to my girlfriend after the press screening and saying, "Wait, wait, that was absolutely awful," and I haven't looked back since.
Jason Shawhan, The Nashville Scene, Interface 203
There's no greater cinematic disappointment for me in 2013 than William Friedkin not directing August: Osage County. He and Tracy Letts are an exceptional team, and they should have been able to go for a trilogy.
Robert Levin, amNewYork
Without going into too much detail because I've yet to publish my reviews of either, it's a tie between American Hustle and August Osage County. I'm selecting the former because David O. Russell put his cranked-up, kinetic form to stellar use in Silver Linings Playbook, so it was natural to expect a solid encore. Plus, Abscam is an ideal subject for his filmmaking style. But the movie is your classic case of style failing to compensate for an absence of substance. And I'd pick August because it shattered one item of faith I've always maintained: No movie starring Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Margot Martindale etc. could be anything less than top-of-the-line.
J.D. Salinger is probably my favorite author, so I was excited to have both a documentary by Shane Salerno and an accompanying book by Salerno and David Shields slated for the fall. While the 700-page text is a major accomplishment and got my hopes up for its visual companion, condensing that information into a two-hour film proved disastrous. I guess it’s only appropriate that a movie about a writer whose work translates poorly to the screen would be awful, but the extent of that failure, especially considering Salerno’s victory on the page, is surprising.
A: Inside Llewyn Davis
Other movies receiving multiple votes: 12 Years a Slave, At Berkeley, Frozen, The Great Beauty, Nebraska