We're not alone in thinking that 2012 was a pretty great year for film. Maybe not one for the ages like 1939, 1975 or 1999, but one that, after a slowish start, has seen something worth checking out hit theaters almost every week, with the last few months of the year becoming positively overstuffed with goodness. You'll already have seen various highlights in our year-end coverage to date, and we'll be rolling out individual staff Top 10s in the coming weeks. But it hasn't been all been sunshine and daisies on cinema screens this year.
Indeed, for every great film this year, it sometimes seems as if there were two terrible ones, stinking up multiplexes and arthouses alike to varying degrees. We didn't want to paint an entirely rosy picture of the cinematic landscape, so we've picked out a selection of the films the Playlist staff really and truly loathed in 2012. We can't say we saw every stinker of the year -- we were lucky enough to escape many, but these were the ones that we were unfortunate enough to point our eye-holes at, and the ones that really and truly stuck with us. Check it out below (each title links to the review) and let us know your own least favorites of the year in the comments section. And for all The Playlist's year-end coverage make sure to follow all our Best Of 2012 features.
What happens when you put together an Oscar-nominated director, an Oscar-nominated writer, multiple Oscar-nominated or Oscar-winning actors and the kind of wide-ranging, ensemble, issue-base drama that paid off for Oscar-winners "Traffic" and "Crash?" You get Fernando Meirelles' "360," a film that's about as much fun as, and has all the artistic value of, being beaten about the head with an Oscar. A loose version of Arthur Schnitzler's "La Ronde," the script by Peter Morgan ("Frost/Nixon," "The Queen") jettisons the play's structure in order to depict a loosely-connected tapestry of characters united by... sex? Love? Infidelity? We've seen the film, and we're still not entirely sure what Morgan was getting at, bar some glib platitudes about how, like, technology has brought us closer together, but also totally further apart, man. The international cast -- Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Jamel Debouzze, Gabriela Marcinkova, Maria Flor, Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Moritz Bleibtreu and more -- aren't bad, and Ben Foster gives rather a good performance as a sex offender trying to avoid temptation. But they've got such unbearably thin, shallow material to work with. You've seen almost of all of these stories before, done better, and the film lurches wildly in tone between dark material (Anthony Hopkins as a grieving father looking for his long-missing daughter), thriller (the closing section in Vienna) and quirky rom-com (Debouzze's section). Maybe there's a version of it that's bearable, but Morgan's script is so middlebrow and vacuous, and Meirelles' direction so turgid and anonymous, that it certainly isn't this one.
Seth Grahame-Smith’s book, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is a cleverly put together fun little read that plays with history and form and inserts a bit of excitement into the narrative of one of America’s most staid presidents. That none of the nuance was preserved in the hands of Russian madman Timur Bekmambetov shouldn’t really come as a surprise, but Grahame-Smith wrote the screenplay too. What happened to those delightful framing devices and historical winks and nudges? Casually tossing aside major characters and plot points from the novel and replacing most of them with the convenient character of Abe’s childhood BFF, Will (Anthony Mackie, we are so, so sorry, how can we help?), the film basically uses only the title from the book as its source material. While newcomer Benjamin Walker certainly filled Lincoln’s britches well, there’s nothing for him to work with in order to showcase his acting, as Bekmambetov just has him twirl an axe for 90 plus minutes. Dominic Cooper and his selection of vintage steampunk sunglasses bring a bit of lift to the film (the drinking game for this movie is 'drink every time Lincoln twirls an axe, twirls around with an axe, or Cooper wears sunglasses' -- try not to die). Mary Elizabeth Winstead has never been as listless and dead-eyed as she is here as Mary Todd Lincoln, and pulls a real Sandy Bullock by giving both her best (“Smashed”) and worst performances in a single year. But the real sign of a bad movie is one that not only gives lines to a former Victoria’s Secret model, but features her as one of the most important supporting characters. Sorry ‘bout that, Erin Wasson. And of course, it all culminates in a poorly designed, teal and orange, muddy CGI fiery battle atop an out-of-control locomotive featuring a snarling Rufus Sewell. It takes a special kind of talent to make a movie with such an intriguing premise so boring and bad.
There’s a discomforting grey area as far as discussing the storytelling in Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” a film that, to some, endorses the CIA as a shadowy organization that openly skirts the law, as heroic. Not to compare or contrast, but how did some of these 'ZDT' critics hold their lunch when the propaganda-disguised-as-movie “Act of Valor” hit theaters this spring? Maybe we shouldn’t be so precious about our mass media colliding with the military-industrial complex -- there are ads in Times Square for a “Call of Duty” videogame espousing the excellence of using an unmanned military drone to do our “dirty work.” But that doesn’t make it any more noxious to see Relativity releasing this pro-military blockbuster that dares to tell a largely suspense-less action story about vanquishing the most improbably connected terrorists in the world. As they fight Al-Qaeda agents aligned with a Mexican drug cartel and the Russian mafia (a Matryoshka doll of terror!), the emphasis is on gun fetishism as character building, sloganeering masquerading as dialogue, and a proud emphasis on the idea that our soldiers are terrible at socializing. Using real soldiers instead of actors is more of a marketing hook than a point of pride, but it’s odious to involve the boys in these rah-rah shoot-’em’up exercises, and enlist their real-life wives to carry out their husbands’ mock-deaths for the sake of a feature-length recruitment commercial. But why gussy it up? The line has to be drawn somewhere, and all evidence suggests “Act Of Valor” simply isn’t cinema.
Tyler Perry is best known for playing wisecracking grandma Madea in a series of barely watchable, highly profitable comedies that he writes, produces, directs and possibly caters. But in "Alex Cross," a sort-of prequel to "Kiss the Girls" and "Along Came a Spider" (both of which starred Morgan Freeman as James Patterson's detective) he was hired solely for his acting abilities, which aren't exactly expansive, and forced to play a tortured young "profiler" on the hunt for a vicious killer played by a gamey Matthew Fox. Most of the movie was a weird buddy cop movie with Perry and Ed Burns (saying stuff like "I'd rather take advice from a ham sandwich than listen to you" to each other), interrupted occasionally by gonzo, gaunt Fox, who shows you how evil he is by entering into an amateur mixed martial arts fight and killing the other fighter. Also: he lives in a boathouse. It's hard to remember what, exactly, happened in "Alex Cross" but it did involve a lot of boring procedural nonsense you can see on CBS any night of the week, except longer and more dull. If "Alex Cross" was meant to establish Perry's talent and bankability outside of his own creations, it failed miserably.
We suppose this slot could be filled by any number of shitty, low-rent horror movies that come out each year with no intention but to make a fast buck. The small distinction is this shitty little slasher film premiered at Sundance with three relatively talented leads at the head, in the shape of Brian Geraghty, Alice Eve and (and to a lesser degree because he’s not very good in this) Josh Peck and boasted a screenplay by single-setting "master" Chris Sparling who wrote "Buried." Well, let's say the screenwriting emperor has no clothes and he’ll need a whopper of a followup to recover from this script; it’s infuriating, lazy and pitiable. Hackneyed, banal and featuring the typically frustrating archetype of characters who make stupid decisions only in service of forwarding the plot, "ATM" is a blueprint of every bad horror film that's ever existed. About a trio of insipid hedgefund/stock broker assholes, the film has the "brilliant" conceit of trapping the group in a remote ATM cubby in a parking lot on a frozen evening while a killer outside prevents them from leaving for absolutely no particular reason. Often completely implausible and downright risible, it's way worse than it sounds. Sundance may have a Midnight Madness section to program, but how this embarrassing dreck slipped in there other than filling a quota is beyond us.