Our annual “Special Awards” are given to those cinematic achievements that deserve…unique recognition. The year in goofs, faves, and highly personal takedowns is issued below (and please do share what I’ve missed).
Most Disappointing Sequel
Star Trek Into Darkness
For a franchise reboot so invested in respectfully treading new ground – going so far as to create an alternate timeline to justify the liberties taken with a highly-canonized universe – the much anticipated follow-up to Abrams’ 2009 blockbuster is disappointingly mired in its own crude attempts at fanservice even as it fails to embody any of the spirit of the original series. Returning over and over again to hollow recreations of famous lines and scenes from The Wrath of Khan, Into Darkness never allows itself a coherent theme, sensical plot, or the necessary character development to earn the kind of emotional set pieces that made Khan so great. Not to mention the strange and unnecessary secrecy about Khan’s identity in all the film’s publicity, which didn’t improve on the fact of the character’s truly unfortunate whitewashing. Sure, some of its action sequences are fun. But the promise of a revitalized Trek that ‘09’s epic prologue seemed to indicate turns out to be an empty box wrapped up in iconic packaging: crammed with stale artifacts of the past, and yet as ideologically vacant as the vast expanse of space that the new Star Trek films seem reluctant to truly explore.
Best Longform Commercial
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
eHarmony’s “intricate matching algorithm” isn’t directly responsible for the events of Walter Mitty, but their incredible customer service just might be! I’m so nostalgic for LIFE magazine, aren’t you? It’s a shame you can only find it online now. And Papa John’s is always there for us, whether we need a place to earn money as a young man or want a slice while finding our passion in Iceland. Passion is important. And passion means going places. And you know what helps you get out of your head and onto an Air Greenland plane? Products! Products like Dell computers, Kodak cameras, and Jansport backpacks. And after your flight – and your requisite airport Cinnabon (they’re like “frosted heroin”!) – you can finally start to look around you, to really inhabit the world. A world full of brands! Brands like KFC, Nabisco, Chase, American Airlines, Instagram, Facebook, and TBS. And when your life’s motto truly embraces LIFE’s motto, then you’ll be ready to take that next step. On CareerBuilder.com. In the words of a truly beloved and iconic short story, “I’m lovin’ it!”
Reputation Most Ruined by a 2013 Film
One brand that wishes it had gotten the Walter Mitty treatment rather than the glare of the documentary’s lens is the unwilling star of Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish, a fairly by-the-numbers exposé of the consequences of orca whales’ captivity. SeaWorld is scrambling (in some instances, pretty pathetically) to counteract the film’s negative press that may have already led to dwindling attendance and has caused several high-profile musicians to cancel shows at their parks. Though Blackfish is being marketed as a “psychological thriller” with Tilikum the killer whale at its center, it’s a pretty familiar story of the brutal actions of a misguided business desperate to stay afloat. We’ll see if SeaWorld survives the backlash (and its puns), though I’d venture that they’ll probably be fine. Lucky for them, consumers have a pretty short memory when it comes to stuff we like, especially when it’s as cool as getting SPLASHED BY WHALES!
Best Quirky Detail
The Safety Pin in Her
So much in mainstream movies is over-explained and highly telegraphed, so I’m always delighted when a film allows some part of its design or narrative to speak for itself. Her is lush with the subtle world-building of a speculative, not-very-distant future, and it’s the small touches that sometimes make the biggest impact. Theodore Twombly’s world is full of responsive, sophisticated design that feels both natural and futuristic – the way his apartment gently illuminates as he walks into different rooms, the gestural, projected interface of his video game – yet some of his desires will still require human ingenuity and humble solutions. The safety pin which keeps Theodore’s phone propped up in his pocket, allowing Samantha a visual of his environment through the camera’s eye, is one of many un-remarked-on details that make this film so rich. And yes, a little hipster. But give me whimsy or give me death, haters.
Special Achievement in the Field of Directorial Ickyness
In the grand tradition of using a position of power to treat others like shit, directors have a long and glorious history of abusing actors “in the name of art,” or simply because they’re shitty people who are bad at their jobs. Kechiche, who – in addition to reported labor violations and bullying of his crew – forced an actress to repeatedly hit her co-star on the set of Palme d’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Color, as well as failed to make his actresses feel safe and respected while shooting vulnerable, un-choreographed (and in my opinion, voyeuristic and mis-informed) sex scenes, joins the ranks of such celebrated assholes as Alfred Hitchcock (attacked Tippi Hedren with birds), Henri-Georges Clouzot (drugged Brigitte Bardot for an overdose scene; she had to have her stomach pumped), and Thomas Friedkin (kept an eleven-year-old Linda Blair in a freezer all day, injured both Exorcist actresses’ backs with reckless stunts after complaints about their safety were made, slapped a priest in the face). And don’t forget Kubrick, Bertolucci, von Trier, Dreyer…the hall of scary men behind the camera is crowded with greats! But according to Kechiche, if you’re going to enjoy the benefits of fame you can’t complain about a little violence and sexual exploitation. If actress Léa Seydoux “lived such a bad experience, why did she come to Cannes, try on robes and jewelery all day?” And “How, when you are adored, when you go up on red carpet, when we receive awards, how we can speak of suffering?…The job of an actor, it’s one of a spoiled child…How indecent to talk about pain when doing one of the best jobs in the world!” Sad, that even when you have one of the world’s best jobs, you still have to work with tyrannical asshats like Kechiche. “Indecent,” indeed!
Best Use of Pigs
“We’re not symbols. We’re pigs. Oink oink.”
Trendiest 2013 Film Never Made
The Ocean is Dark and Cold at the End of the World
Benedict Cumberbatch and Amy Adams star in this survival story that might be allegorical, or even a metaphor. In the bleak expanse of space, no one can hear you scream… that it’s time to PARTY! Two hucksters (Cumberbatch and Adams) get caught up in a world of excess and luxury after earning billions conning the federal government, only to discover they may be no match for a legendary, mysterious, and unnervingly blonde messiah of whistleblowers (Robert De Niro) returning for one last blow. But what happens when a routine trip back to the surface goes horribly wrong, and despite the best efforts of a remarkably devoted operating system (Matthew McConaughey in a critically-acclaimed turn as a female voice), there’s nothing but one’s own chutzpah to count on? From the depths of the universe to the chaos of the open sea, this film takes viewers on a sensory ride that spans years, presidents, and temperatures. “Nauseating!” says Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, “- No I seriously have something… medical… going on here… 4 stars.” See the film critics are calling “audaciously not exploitative”! The Ocean is Dark and Cold at the End of the World was filmed in black and white using 50 GoPro cameras attached to unpaid interns and shot into space.