QUESTION: What are the worst movies of 2012?
My disdain for the disastrous summer schlock orgy more commonly known as Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter has since been mired by a strangely contradictory emotion: affection. I can’t deny the incredulous not-quite-joy I experienced watching Timur Bekmambetov’s adaptation of the Seth Graheme-Smith’s novel, any more than I can deny that cinematically, this is beyond doubt the worst-made expensive movie of 2012. The action sequences are as liberated from respectable choreography as they are cruelly punished by editing trickery and cartoonish CGI. The movie’s visual scheme is indisputably ghastly as well; not one frame isn’t seemingly tinted with a piss-colored sepia, and not one shot seems to believe it is possible to be canted at too much of an angle. Let’s not forget about the performances, whose risibility is deepened by Graheme-Smith’s unforgivably humorless script – one that ends with all the Confederate vampire-soldiers quizzically agreeing that the best way to escape and retain their slavery-owning, people-eating way of life is to go to that Sodom-and-Gomorrah otherwise known as… Europe.
Still, it takes a certain amount of audacity to use $70 million to make a movie this unapologetically terrible – seriously, have you ever seen a hand-to-hand fight scene set atop a herd of stampeding cattle? Of course you haven’t! I certainly can’t deny that I would much rather have revisited almost any other movie this year, but I also must acknowledge the value reaped from this crap-fest. So it is with a wink and a wry smile that I call Vampire Hunter the year’s worst film.
Many films are terrible for obvious reasons, and any who saw The Lorax can attest to that, but there were two films that seemed to go out of their way to deface their great potential. Given that Alex and Phil favor it so passionately, I’ll spare The Dark Knight Rises my wrath, as I’ve already said my piece here and there, and especially since Les Miserables is the more… nay, most devastating film failure in some time. This is not because I don’t love the musical, but because of how deeply the musical has played to me. Scarcely a word of the musical isn’t ingrained in my memory, so the thought of it getting the grand cinematic treatment was one that delighted me… until I heard Tom Hooper was behind it.
The King’s Speech is disappointing to a milder degree, but mostly because it doesn’t attempt stakes it has no hope of reaching. Les Miserables demands an epic canvas, so a director as painfully unimaginative as Hooper has no reason to even touch material that would have done better in the hands of Baz Luhrmann, Joe Wright, or (yes) Tarsem Singh. From the in-your-face camerawork which put a cramp in my neck from the back of the theater, to French revolution taking place in an inglorious alleyway soundstage, stakes and scope are not merely deflated, but leveled entirely. As a stage production it’s adequate. As a film, it’s offensive.
You could look to the performances for a light of hope, but you can find just as thrilling work on the stage, with the slight exception of Anne Hathaway’s bravura 4 minute ballad. Hugh Jackman’s star swagger has none of the vigor that defines Valjean, and too often plays as baseless sentimentalism, especially when directed at the vapid Amanda Seyfried. All the emotion that played with such staying power on stage feels smaller, uglier, and insignificant onscreen. Les Miserables is an abuse of the cinematic medium, and to see it again would insult every outstanding stage production I’d only seen once.
The year’s worst film, on every perceivable level, is the anti-abortion hack job (pardon the imagery) called October Baby. Hiding behind the pretense of your typical soapy coming-of-age story, this outrageously scripted, disastrously-plotted melodrama is more than cringeworthy and huge on laughs (for the wrong reasons). Protagonist Hannah begins the film by collapsing on stage during the most awkwardly ignorant staging of what a play looks like (apparently they begin with the lead actress stepping center stage and smiling at the audience for applause before she takes her position). During a follow-up doctor’s appointment, during which the doctor seems to be aggressively outlining Hannah’s life-long symptoms and illnesses for her as though she’s receiving punishment, it is revealed that not only have her parents read her journal, her father has emailed excerpts to said doctor! To prove she has emotional issues! Because there’s something her family never told her…. she was born ultra-premature. Also, she was adopted. Also, she’s the “survivor of a botched abortion” (not a back-alley one, one at a hospital). Because, you know, doctors just kind of chop around in there and if it doesn’t work, well, you want to maybe just give birth?
There are too many terrible (and terrifying) tropes and devices at work in this movie to even begin to delve into. Hannah sets out on a journey to find the Truth, which she writes in her journal will “make her free.” The haphazard and illogical plotting are second in their awfulness only to the disgusting and manipulative messages layered in every line of dialogue, from the scary paternalistic privilege Hannah’s father exerts on everyone around him, the “right” kind of girl to be, how science works, and that Christian indie music is ever a good choice for a film soundtrack. Everyone, including the policeman arresting her for the charmingly innocent breaking-and-entering of an “abandoned hospital,” is singularly focused on Hannah’s spiritual journey, one that, despite many tearful moments alone on rooftops, piers, beaches, and church pews, is so fabricated it carries no emotional weight.
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s just a sampling of some of the best critical responses:
“While the bizarre circumstances found in October Baby presumably could happen in the real world, the odds are something like being struck by lightning and eaten by a shark at the same time. With a winning lottery ticket tucked in your swimsuit.” – Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com
“as obvious and inert as a spoonful of mashed potatoes.” – Kyle Smith, NY Post
“October Baby doesn’t even meet the standards of decent propaganda. It is, in fact, indecent propaganda.” – Tom Long, Detroit News
But what’s probably most convincing that this is the worst film of 2012 is this glowing review from Fox News, written by the CEO of the hilariously-named organization “Concerned Women for America”: “It’s the perfect date movie!”
There are many perfectly adequate candidates for Worst Movie of the Year: A Thousand Words, Battleship, Alex Cross, Twilight 5: Shirtless Showdown, Atlas Shrugged 2: Yay Money… the list, sadly, could go on much longer. One of the benefits of being me, though, is that I am not required to actually go see any of these cinematic stillborns—or at least am not obligated to sit through an entire showing of one of them. My pick for worst movie of the year has committed the unforgivable sin of letting me watch it, and not warning me ahead of time how truly disdainful it was. I am speaking, naturally, of End of Watch, a queasy-cam extravaganza of cliché disguised as poignant drama.
Early on in the very first reel, writer/director David Ayer introduces the idea that his lead character is filming everything we see as a kind of diary. So the epileptic shaky camera makes sense, as what we are seeing is filmed by a constantly-moving amateur. Ayer then promptly drops/forgets about this conceit, but keeps the damn camera jittering, as if the entire movie takes place during an earthquake none of the characters notice. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a film where a director lampshades his lack of visual talent so well. Ayer may lack style, but at least he’s self-aware about it.
I haven’t even talked about the ending, which is so stupid in its desperation I just started ranting about it again, even though no one else is in the room with me right now, save a very perplexed-looking puppy. Sorry, Angus. All of this is made exponentially worse given the fact that Jake Gyllenhaal is pretty amazing in this movie, and his partner, Michael Peña, is equally impressive. Maybe I should have picked a movie with absolutely zero redeeming qualities, but the fact that Ayer pisses all over two of 2012’s most emotional performances sullies this atrocity even more in my eyes. Gyllenhaal and Peña have palpable chemistry on-screen, and for about an hour and a half, I longed to see these two actors together in a movie that even approached being worthy of their talents.
If, for any reason, you still think you want to see End of Watch, bring your Dramamine.
I might as well change the title of my “Worst of the Year Award” to the “Todd Phillips Prize” because any time the director/producer has his hand on a project, chances are I will hate it. This year the Phillips vehicle that was object of my ire was Project X, the abysmal found footage teen party movie from director Nima Nourizadeh. Along with offering the most repellent protagonists of the year in the form of over-privileged white assholes, the film also offers a glimpse at the world through their lens with females existing only as sex objects, responsible adults viewed as enemies, and minorities operating as punch lines. Project X can’t even do found footage right with dialogue picked up perfectly from characters who are viewed through a closed window.
Screenwriter Michael Bacall offered a much better look at high school in the modern era this year with 21 Jump Street. I don’t know how a writer can do so well with one film and so massively botch another, but I am content in blaming Todd Phillips and his tendency to reduce all characters to their most easily identifiable stereotype (except white males) and invite us to laugh at them for being such a way. Phillips has The Hangover Part III coming out in 2013 and I can all but guarantee that, if I bring myself to see it, it will be my least favorite movie of this year.