16 January 2014

Films of 2013: 10 Disappointments

Here are 10 disappointments of 2013 — the same deal as with the 10 surprises posted the other day. These are films that I perhaps had some element of expectation for prior to watching them, or films that I'd heard about and was, to some degree, excited about, but which turned out to be not quite the films I'd hoped. However, as with the nature of this category every year, I could easily revisit any one of these films in future and see untapped pleasures within them that elevates it in my mind. This often happens. But as it stands, all 10 films below were worth watching despite the disappointing outcomes. The titles below are in no specific order and all — as per my yearly lists — released in the UK between January 1st and December 31st 2013. There may be what some may call discrepencies, as I include UK premiere releases on formats other than theatrical releases (DVD/Blu-ray, Netflix, TV movies etc), mainly because I feel any and all films should get a shot at being represented in year-end lists, not just the main, wider releases. But the dates above are the general rule around here.

Side Effects

Side Effects (dir: Steven Soderbergh) Because: of the films that I thought of as disappointments this past year, perhaps this was the most disappointing. It started well, brilliantly even. Soderbergh set up some well-judged suspense. The cast was a coup. There was some kind of deviously fascinating game plan to all the pharmaceutical shenanigans. But then, at the last stretch, it suddenly became a mid-nineties erotic thriller. A bad one at that, one with a particularly regressive tone that left a nasty aftertaste. Two questions regarding the main issue that turned it sour for me. Could Catherine Zeta-Jones’ character have feasibly been written as male? And, if so, would it have altered the outcome at all? For me it’s yes and no. Psycho Lesbians Who Get Their Comeuppance For Betraying Poor Men as a thematic thriller filler should have been left in the nineties. The Soderbergh antipathy doesn’t end there unfortunately because…

... Behind the Candelabra lies age-old showbiz ugliness? This was a lot of gilded faff that said very little. It was as all a bit basic, thin, limited. Michael Douglas and Matt Damon were very good, but I never felt I understood or discovered what made Liberace and Scott do the things they did, beyond what was obvious. There was scant evocative connotation or intelligent stimulation and little vivid context beyond the glitz and the made-up faces frozen in a terrifying sheen of distrust. Some of the meaty content was there, but a lot was merely cloaked by the glimmer. The ‘drug haze' scenes in Killing Them Softly in 2012 received many moans of "cliché", but I wonder if folks will apply the same to those in Candelabra? Here, they bordered on embarrassing. I’m guessing many folks will take it on trust that the scenes here are sound and just because Soderbergh is a highly favoured, and now retired, filmmaker.

Black Rock (dir: Katie Aselton) Because: it was a bad day at Black Rock... (full review)

This Is the End

This Is the End (dir: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen) Because: although it's brim-full of confidence and is certainly sure of itself — and a handful of good jokes work — I’m not sure it's as funny as it thinks it is. And, Phew, *wafts the air* there’s a whole lotta gay panic up in here (though I guess the makers are all too aware, but it does tip into some baffling, in-jokey, areas). I did wish that the gags varied just a dash more though. Craig Robinson (dry), Jay Baruchel (daft), Michael Cera (drunk) and (one specific vocal gag from) James Franco were best in show. A shame it was less than the sum of its parts.

You’re Next (dir: Adam Wingard) Because: it was maybe a tad overpraised? It wasn’t a bad film by any means, but the hyperbole for it was in overdrive upon its release. I can’t see that it’s actually half as fresh or daring as reports said. It was an average home invasion horror and little more, although Sharni Vinson was great in a decent part — the real standout element of the film, she was operating on a slightly elevated level from the rest of it. Also: scary ‘animal –face masks’ are clearly the new scary 'old potato sack' masks.

Simon Killer (dir: Antonio Campos) Because: though I was underwhelmed by Campos’ Afterschool, the story here piqued my interest. I was intrigued enough to give it a go. However, it was all just too much hand relief for Haneke. Just like Afterschool. Its main issue was a consistently directionless tone and general structure that seemed to imply some kind of foreboding significance yet resulted in little thrill or satisfaction. It was paced and structured with a chilly kind of verve, but it only starts to get compelling halfway in. Then it, er… runs dry of ideas. Brady Corbet can be very good, but his character's a flaky, dull blank and his neurosis was often funny when it should've been powerfully consuming. Much more interesting is Mati Diop, who is superb. I would've preferred more of her (better-defined) character's story over Corbet's, to be honest. There was a lot of artful posing going on, though at least it was photographed and scored with inspiration.

Welcome to Pine Hill (dir: Keith Miller) Because: it failed on similar points as Simon Killer, above: keen promise was there, then it was hastily dashed. Its feel of sad dislocation, of life melancholically off balance, was aroused nicely. But Miller didn’t take it anywhere interesting. Its intentions were commendable, but the journey of the main character was ultimately a feeble stumble where it needed to attain moving heights. Proof that evasive, mysterious endings don’t always work.

Post Tenebras Lux

Post Tenebras Lux (dir: Carlos Reygadas) Because: can a bluffer create poetic imagery? Is wilfully showy abstraction enough? Does it have to mean that much? Why the rugby?

A Field in England (dir: Ben Wheatley) Because: there's genuinely, curiously strange and then there's wilful, for-the-sake-of-it strange. This marches right down the centre. Some films achieve an organic cultish edge, even early on in their lifespan, and some appear to 'build it in'. I got the feeling A Field in England fits the latter. It’s knowingly pre-constructed weird cinema. There’s some striking imagery to relish and Reece Shearsmith and Richard Glover are great, as are the sound design and editing. But I didn’t actually feel much throughout though. I wasn’t seduced, flummoxed or alert by the arcane devilry onscreen. I was mainly indifferent. Regardless, it was entirely cheering that there was real excitement for an experimental, B&W film set in 17th century Civil War England. That doesn’t happen every year — kudos to that.

The Purge (dir: James DeMonaco) Because: potential: yea big *spans arms out*. Execution: yea big *holds thumb and forefinger apart* A shaky polemic, all told. At times an erratic mess, but not easy to write off, The Purge has apt points to make but it’s dismaying that it feels the need to underline them in muddy fashion. File under: eh? Or: better luck with the sequel.

Next: Worst, Female and Male Performances, Best of 2013.

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