Matt's Top 5 Disappointments of the Year

by Matthew Hammett Knott
December 21, 2011 1:14 PM
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This is part of a series of year end lists here on The Lost Boys this week... Check back for more, and enjoy Matt's 5 biggest film-related disappointments of 2011 below:


I’m sure Alexander Payne would be much happier writing drafts of I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry - as once he did - than aspiring to the depths of feeling and insight he fails to attain so cataclysmically in The Descendants. I found nothing about this film true or honest, and felt that all the humour - gags, shall we? - was imposed upon, rather than generated by, its potent set-up. If this is contemporary adult cinema at its finest, you’ll find me with the kids at the back watching Election on DVD.

It took me a while to realise just how seriously this film - which, lest we forget, opens with a voiceover by a disabled cat - takes itself. But once I did, it became the most excruciating cinematic experience of the year. To be fair to writer-director-star Miranda July, my viewing companions and I did get a lot of amusement from imagining the filming of a particular scene - in which, presumably, Ms July directed her own performance of her own script whilst sealed inside a giant body sock - but other than that, watching this film quirk itself to death was an utterly joyless trial.

Where is the line between deliciously featherlight and insufferably lightweight? It is the tightrope walked by this film, which I did in fact enjoy for large swathes. However, it must still rank as a disappointment, if only as evidence that Woody Allen could do so much better if only he tried a little harder. He seems to have become something of a nomadic film production factory in his senior years, shooting film after film in which ever city is first to trump up the budget - or maybe Soon-Yi just loves continental travel. But I just couldn’t shake the feeling that someone had green-lit this Paris-based romp while the ink was still wet on the script’s first draft, and if it had all just been honed more tightly, and shot more imaginatively, the performances of Marion Cotillard and Owen Wilson might have lifted this to something worth re-watching.

Not that I ever expected this film to be any good, nor even - shoot me! - stayed til the end. But as a proud Londoner, I was embarrassed that our festival could not come up with any better than this for artistic director Sandra Hebron’s last year at the helm. Two years ago they managed to bookend the festival with world premieres (Fantastic Mr Fox and Nowhere Boy), but this had already been screened and panned in Toronto. In a festival featuring such British highlights as Shame, We Need to Talk About Kevin and Wuthering Heights, it reeked of a safe choice for all those corporate sponsors at the gala screening.

This year has been full of examples of the triumphs and pitfalls of casting. The girl cast as young Carey Mulligan in Never Let Me Go so eerily resembled the elder actress as to make her mere screen presence compelling (unlike anything else in the film). But Mulligan’s casting in Drive as a gangster’s wife - a role originally written for a Latina actress - felt disingenuous and pandering to taste, to say nothing of unconvincing (no disrespect to Mulligan's best efforts). But it still pales in comparison to John C. Reilly’s appearance in We Need to Talk About Kevin, cast into unfortunately sharp relief by the inspired pairing of Ezra Miller and Tilda Swinton. Sharp relief is an apposite phrase for both those actors’ physical appearances, but the same can not be said for Mr Reilly, whose cauliflower features and comedy screen persona proved near terminal for my enjoyment of Lynn Ramsey’s otherwise excellent film.

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  • Joseph | December 27, 2011 3:09 PMReply

    Reilly was also the weakest link in Carnage. Everyone else acted circles around him. He was completely miscast as a boorish crude man.

  • Derek | December 26, 2011 8:01 PMReply

    I heartily agree with your views on The Descendants

  • JuanL | December 24, 2011 11:13 AMReply

    Amazing review of The Future. So True.

  • MHK | December 22, 2011 7:44 AMReply

    As for Soon-Yi, isn't the implication that *any* mention of her is salacious and akin to invoking Polanski's crimes a little... gratuitous? The context was his lifestyle as much as his work. Flippant? Yes. Gratuitous? No.

  • bob hawk | December 24, 2011 5:46 PM

    Ariadne: "Have a sweetie"?? Well, these last few days I've been indulging in more sweet things than usual -- but is this a non-sequitur, or did you drop a word (have a ? ________? before calling me "sweetie")? Whatever . . . have a merry. (You too, Matt.)

  • Ariadne | December 23, 2011 8:40 AM

    Oh Bob, have a sweetie... I'm with Matt on this one.

  • bob hawk | December 22, 2011 11:44 PM

    Lifestyle, huh? Hmmmm . . . Anyway, if you want to be flippant (i.e., frivolous, offhand, glib, superficial, facetious, jokey) -- go for it. I'm still calling it gratuitous (i.e., unnecessary, unjustifiable). It's all about what is appropriate in journalism when you bring in the personal life of an artist (as opposed to a Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian). I'm not equating the relative degrees of seriousness between Allen's "lifestyle" and Polanski's "crimes" -- just suggesting you think before deciding to be flippant, which works better on SNL or doing stand-up than in print.

  • MHK | December 22, 2011 4:50 AMReply

    Superficial, moi? How will Alexander Payne ever take my career advice seriously now? I'm sorry you didn't enjoy my foray into trolldom.

  • jingmei | December 22, 2011 10:14 AM

    Ce ne pas grave.

  • jingmei | December 22, 2011 3:02 AMReply

    Dude have to say this post is from a what superficial perspective. Needless to say you don't know what a marvelous and helpful person who Mr. JOHN C. REILLY is, and drew a rush shallow judgement about miss CAREY MULLIGAN's contribution in Drive with Nicolas Winding Refn. But also how come you said something about that fabulously inspiring The Future. Miranda July is awesome.

  • bob hawk | December 22, 2011 2:13 AMReply

    Please, when discussing Woody Allen's work, might we all avoid mentioning Soon-Yi? It was gratuitous and beside the point -- having nothing to do with anything as far as discussing Woody's work is concerned. Same goes for Polanski. (And Sinatra, way back when.)

  • marty | December 21, 2011 3:37 PMReply

    Hate to say it - this article was a huge disappointment.

  • Ronnie D. | December 28, 2011 3:37 AM

    Well you're the only one saying it.

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