2013! Even the name sounds unlucky. It’s personally been my nadir year. Depressed, drunk, dumped, broke, unemployed and diagnosed. Thank the maker for film and television, eh?
It’s been a year since I started this little blog of mine. I know, right? A whole year. It seems like yesterday that I was writing disjointed blogs about the fire station in my home town burning to the ground. This was, originally, going to be my online diary, which was a ridiculous idea. That ridiculous idea evolved into a platform for promoting my book, which I quickly learned was ridiculous to the point of lunacy. But I seem to have found my niche now: writing incoherent, philosophical articles on whatever hits me as apt and silly reviews.
But today I’m drawing something of a blank, so it seems fitting to do what every writer does when they run out of ideas in December and lazily rehash the opinions they’ve had over the year. I’ve had a lot of opinions, so they’ll be spread out in several parts. Also, because it doesn’t matter, this section includes the tail end of 2012. So! Here it is. My Review Of The Year: Part I. You lucky lucky people.
Most Stylish-Yet-Unsatisfying Film
Nominees: The Hobbit, Life of Pi, Pacific Rim, Only God Forgives, Oblivion
Winner: Only God Forgives
2013 was, in terms of cinema, a hell of a year. The summer was dominated by a number of catastrophic bombs (on which more in a minute) and some surprising successes. Subject matter was similarly mixed. What united nearly every film of the year was how good each of them looked. We’re living in truly great times when films of all kinds can be a delight to watch. If only their subject matter matched. Chief among films that delighted the eye was Only God Forgives, a crime thriller set in Thailand that reunited Ryan Gosling with Drive director Nicholas Winding-Refn. Gosling, utilizing every one of his talents of being able to look like a pear left out in the rain, plays a guy who has to kill another guy or something. I don’t really know. But Refn uses wide angles and neon colours to emphasise how alien and mysterious Bangkok looks at night. You don’t really need to know what’s happening. Gosling is a white guy in an asian country. You know, from the outset, that he’s going to be killed.
I thought Life of Pi would qualify for this dubious award, but despite everybody saying that it was a gorgeous film, I found it unremittingly ugly and surreal. Life of Pi gave me a headache and reminded me of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. That, incidentally, leads me onto the next category.
Most Overhyped Piece of Shit
Nominees: The Hobbit, Pacific Rim, Life of Pi, World War Z, One Direction: This Is Us
Winner: Pacific Rim
I could spend thirty thousand hours pouring scorn over One Direction, a squad of talentless girl-wig mannequins, but pointing out their absolute lack of anything approaching talent, depth or creativity would be like pointing out that when things are dropped they hit the floor: it’s axiomatic. We know already. Instead, it’s more fitting to pour scorn over Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, a film so asinine and lacking in nuance that it broke through the fourth wall and physically assaulted its audience with a hammer made of stupidity. When I was five or six years old I really liked Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, a TV show designed to sell toys that revolved around men using robots to fight monsters. So I’d already seen Pacific Rim. Everybody had. Did we disparage it as old, tired and pointless? No. We, the geeky section of the internet, had a collective gushing orgasm about Pacific Rim, because it was directed by del Toro and it! Had! Big! Robots! Fighting! Monsters! In! It!. This is why “geek” doesn’t mean “intelligent” anymore. Pacific Rim was the geek equivalent of One Direction: This Is Us : an unabashedly cynical money grab aimed at people who should know better. Much like The Hobbit, Pacific Rim took a premise suited to children and tried to turn it into something for mature audiences, and instead of demanding something both exciting and intelligent we were more than happy with just the former. Shame on us.
Most Deserving Bomb
Nominees: The Lone Ranger, R.I.P.D, Jack the Giant Slayer, After Earth, The Fifth Estate
Winner: The Lone Ranger
Box office bombs are complicated, because most of these films clawed back a little profit through overseas sales and DVD, but are considered by their studios to have been resounding failures. 2013, I think, saw more films that deserved to bomb than any other year since 2000, from the achingly terrible After Earth (Will Smith and his son prove that acting talent, or basic likability, aren’t hereditary) to The Fifth Estate, which sought to turn Julian Assange into some kind of tortured folk hero rather than the self-aggrandizing wanker he is. At the absolute top of this list is The Lone Ranger, which was so actively unenjoyable that it seemed to be making a special effort. I rather like Westerns. Trains and guns and noble indians, yup yup. Arnie Hammer, the unpleasant pair of twins from The Social Network? No thanks. A heavy-handed metaphor for modernization? Spare me. Johnny Depp doing a racist impression of an old native american and then claiming he was honouring his racial heritage? I want to eat this film and puke it into a fan aimed at a sleeping Gore Verbinski.
Standout Unnecessary Sequel
Nominees: Star Trek Into Darkness, The Hangover Part III, Despicable Me 2, Monsters University, Kick-Ass 2
Winner: Star Trek Into Darkness
I’d be hard-pressed to say that any of these films were in any way necessary or appropriate. Some, like Kick-Ass 2 or The Hangover Part III, merely retread old ground to diminishing rounds of applause. The former scrapes by through still holding onto its original premise (superheros exist because they are real people) but, since that was largely exhausted in the first film, there was nowhere for it to go. The Hangover Part III, meanwhile, jumped the shark with such enthusiasm that you could almost forgive it for being unfunny. And tasteless. And a waste of time. No, you couldn’t. Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University, on the other hand, are pitched at audiences that I neither belong to nor understand, so I can’t comment. I will say this: back in the day Disney used to release sequels as straight-to-video. Now they’re the movie of the summer. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
In another realm altogether is Star Trek Into Darkness, a sequel so unnecessary it couldn’t even summon the colon necessary for the title to have meaning. Of course, it was co-written by Damien “destroy everything you touch” Lindelof, so it didn’t make a lick of sense. Of course, it featured exactly the same stuff as the last one. Kirk is a renegade. Spock disagrees with him. There is a bad guy that Kirk has to break the rules to defeat. Bones says, “dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a whale gynaecologist!” or something. Spaceships, crash, boom, pew pew. Oh, I’m sorry, I just yawned so hard my jawbone shattered.
Single Most Disappointing Film Of The Year
Nominees: Elysium, Passion, A Good Day To Die Hard, Movie 43
I had special high hopes for Passion. I’d heard that it featured Noomi Rapace and Rachael McAdams, both beautiful actresses who were previously in Sherlock Holmes. I’d been told they totally made out and that it was hot as balls (these are legitimate reasons to watch a film). I’d also heard it was a decent, sexy thriller. Neither of these things were true. Instead, I suffered two hours of ponderous symbolic bullshit. It was the least sexy thing I’ve seen since I was in the Scouts and we went camping.
Most Surprisingly Good Film
Nominees: Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, Welcome To The Punch, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, Europa Report
Winner: Man of Steel
I have to redeem myself and avoid falling into the trap of negative film reviews. All of these films were surprisingly good, in that I had low expectations of them. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa I expected to collapse under the weight of my expectations: small-screen comedies rarely translate to cinema, but Steve Coogan et al came through, gratifying british cinema-goers and fans of comedy everywhere. Iron Man 3 showed that film trilogies can be uniformly good. Europa Report managed to create a decent film around the premise of “found footage from a spacecraft” in a way that, say, Apollo 18 failed to do. Welcome To The Punch was just…good old cops & robbers fun.
Standout among these was Man of Steel, on which I expressed grave doubts. I didn’t think that it could be good. There have never been any really good Superman adaptations. I didn’t think it would place enough emphasis on Superman developing his humanity. It did. It exceeded my expectations on every level. That’s not to say it was perfect, or the best film of the year, but it did work, developing its premise and characters and managing, against all odds, to develop a story. That’s worth something.
Standout Agonizingly Depressing Film
Nominees: Les Miserables, The Canyons, Hannah Arendt, Movie 43
Winner: The Canyons
I have to be straight here. I love Bret Easton Ellis. I love everything he does. I regard American Psycho as The Great American Novel, if there is such a thing. I think Less Than Zero is a potent examination of youth nihilism. I even liked Lunar Park, as difficult as that was. But The Canyons is too difficult to love. In fact, it’s appallingly depressing.
Here’s the pitch: Lindsey Lohan, darling of the courts, is dating James Deen, erstwhile pornstar, while sleeping with the star of his film project. That’s the premise and most of the plot- look it up. Ellis has always specialized in sun-drenched awfulness on the West Coast: you know the sort of thing. Young beautiful people being casually nasty to each other. People wearing sunglasses and shot-gunning Xanax. What usually redeems Ellis is the insight and amused intelligence behind his plotting. The Canyons lacks both of these things: instead, it’s scene after scene of inconsequential sniping, kvetching and bitchery-pokery, interspersed with blank-eyed rutting. Compared to this, movies about Nazis on trial or poor people being abused can’t compete. I’ve always clung tenaciously to the belief that money can buy you happiness, yet on the strength of this movie I’m starting to rethink that position.
Movie 43 gets special mention for proving, hopefully once and for all, that no number of stars can redeem a bad movie. Take heed, Hollywood.
Most Beautiful Film
Nominees: Only God Forgives, Upstream Colour, Oblivion
I talk a lot, or at least used to, about design. As opposed to good cinematography and colour, solid design can make an otherwise interminable film weirdly enjoyable. Such was the case with Oblivion, an otherwise incomprehensible sci-fi epic starring Tom Cruise. I forget what happens, but he and his wife, played by the strangely lovely Andrea Riseborourgh, live in the clouds and work for a giant floating pyramid or something. I forget. What separates it from the other incomprehensible sci-fi films of the year is the scale of the beauty: every aspect of the film, from the flying house to the bubble-copter, the flat-screen computers to the taskmaster robots who are somehow involved, is designed to a pitch of aesthetic wonder rarely seen since the great design workshops behind the Star Wars and Lord of The Rings films. Oblivion is directed by Joseph Kosinski, last seen directing Tron: Legacy, another example of a beautiful-and-unfulfilling movie. It begs the question how much involvement Kosinski has in the design process of each of his films, or if he merely chooses the designers. What I do know is that I will happily watch any future films he directs, not for the content but the sheer eye candy. Rumour has it that he’s attached to a remake of Logan’s Run, which fills me with geeky feelings that border on the homoerotic.
So there you have it. Some films I can’t comment on with a clean conscience because I haven’t seen them yet. These include, but are not limited to, Gravity, Thor 2, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Hansel and Gretel, and The Place Beyond The Pines. I might, incidentally, have given the impression that I hate film. Not true. There have been some truly great movies this year, but you’ll find out what those were when the next industry group-masturbation award show rolls around.
Next issue: TV