I have a rule when it comes to reviewing movies: If there’s absolutely no chance that a movie will be good, I don’t watch it. I can’t afford to waste my time and money on a movie that I already know I’m going to hate. This is why I never write “Worst of” lists — I can’t in good conscience write such a list when I know I haven’t seen the worst that this year has to offer.
Still, just because a film has a stellar pedigree or even mass critical praise doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s any good. Hence today’s list, the greatest Disappointments of 2014. It’s always the hardest list for me to write, and it’s always the one that pisses people off the most, so get your torches and pitchforks ready.
Most Benign Disappointment
For those just tuning in, a “benign” disappointment is a movie that I personally didn’t like, even though many others seem to like it for perfectly valid reasons. This could be a film (such as Interstellar or Tusk) with a highly polarized reception and I just happened to fall into the “hate it” pole. Of all the films I saw this year, I don’t think a single one exemplified the concept like The Rover.
The very first time I saw this movie, it shot straight to the top of my Disappointments list this year. It was a plodding, boring, mean-spirited mess that seemed specially designed to piss me off. This has pretty much everything in a movie that I hate watching to the depths of my soul. But then a correspondent invoked the name of Cormac McCarthy, which prompted me to watch the film a second time. And I still hate it. I can bring myself to understand the film’s appeal and appreciate its artistic merit, but I’m sorry, I still hate this goddamn movie.
Dumbest Waste of a Cast
We now move on to the “stupid” disappointments. These are the movies that had every right and every opportunity to succeed, if it wasn’t for someone who — by accident or by incompetence — cocked it all up. As with every year, there are many such failures in many different kinds to choose from.
In this case, do we go with The Judge, a film with Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall leading an all-star cast and still manages to (quite literally) shit itself? What about Fading Gigolo, in which a bored-looking John Turturro directs Woody Allen acting as himself in a film that dares to pretend like Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara would have any trouble finding a man for a threesome? Or maybe The Monuments Men, in which George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, and a whole slew of extraordinary actors are all painfully wasted?
No, at least those films had a few sympathetic characters and amusing moments. That’s far more than I can say for This is Where I Leave You, which was a crowded and annoying mess. It broke my heart to see Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Adam Driver, and so many other proven comedic talents drown each other out with tasteless juvenile humor while playing hopelessly unfunny characters in this tedious flop.
Dumbest Waste of a Premise
Before I Go to Sleep would be a solid candidate, if only because it took a potentially fascinating amnesia premise for a mystery thriller and then wrapped it up in the most trite and predictable way possible. Such a damn shame. But while that movie waited until the third act to throw away its premise, Belle was a waste from the word go.
Here we have a movie based on the true story of an illegitimate half-black child born into a powerful family in a time when black slavery was still legal in England. This premise offers so many opportunities to deal with race, class, and identity in powerful and creative ways, yet the movie actively seemed to avoid anything remotely resembling creativity. No, here was a tenth-rate Jane Austen ripoff that dared to say “racism is bad!” like it invented the concept. Throw in a plot that creaks along on rails for how tedious and predictable it was, and there’s nothing left to ask except why anybody bothered.
Dumbest Waste of a Franchise (reboot or pilot)
Robocop (2014) gets a lot of flack for being a completely unnecessary and mishandled reboot — and yeah, it totally was — but I personally see it as a new and theoretically valid take on the character that didn’t work in practice. Compare that to Maleficent, which abused the character’s brand recognition to completely ruin the Mistress of All Evil and make her the only halfway-competent participant in the entire soulless and godforsaken film.
But then we have Dracula Untold, the movie that tried to launch an entire superfranchise by turning a horror icon into a superhero. The film that tried to make a PG-13 four-quandrant movie by constantly ripping off 300, one of the most bloody and unrepentently R-rated movies in recent memory. I have absolutely no idea what Universal could possibly have been thinking with this one, other than “let’s rip off Marvel and make a whole lot of money!” This movie, coupled with Universal’s dogged insistence to make a Universal Monsters superfranchise in spite of this failure, is proof that the company is desperate for a hit and fresh out of ideas.
Dumbest Waste of a Franchise (sequel)
While the previous category wasted brand recognition to make an ultimately useless movie and/or franchise, these films at least had a solid predecessor to work from and still managed to fail. A great example is The Muppets: Most Wanted, which basically threw its arms up in the air and let the Muppets do whatever they wanted while the villains ran the entire show. And then they took Kermit the Frog out of the equation for whatever impossibly stupid reason. Similarly, the people behind 23 Jump Street evidently decided that the best way to follow the success of the original was to throw the script out a window and let the actors stumble through the film blindfolded with their arms outstretched, desperately grasping for anything that resembled a joke.
But this is the Disappointments list. This is about the movies that didn’t live up to their potential or promise. And of all the films released this year, none of them over-promised and under-delivered like The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
This was an impossibly bad year for Sony, and that’s in large part because this trainwreck made them look like a bunch of clowns. Remember, Sony could have taken over some African country for how much this movie cost to produce and promote. They desperately wanted and needed for this to be an Avengers-level hit, to justify their far-reaching plans for this property and the cinematic universe they were building for Spider-Man. And all they could manage was a jumbled mess void of any creativity, taking on so many goals only to fail at all of them, more concerned with setting up a sequel than telling a story of its own. This was Sony’s opportunity to expand the sandbox built in the previous film, and that potential was recklessly squandered. Such a shame.
Biggest Waste of Ambition (The “Epic Fail”)
This year presented us with two movies that desperately tried to be the next great Biblical epic, on par with the Charlton Heston classics of yesteryear. They both failed. Exodus: Gods and Kings was probably one of the highest-profile embarrassments of the year, with Ridley Scott further proving that he’s washed up, A-lister Christian Bale playing a laughably ineffectual Moses, and Joel Edgerton playing a Pharaoh without the slightest hint of charisma.
Still, at least Exodus provided CGI destruction on an epic scale, to provide some shallow entertainment. But while Exodus left me bored, Noah seemed to actively hate me. Between the misanthropic Noah, the despicable Tubal-cain, and the bland supporting characters, the most sympathetic character in this whole morose debacle was the handheld camera. It’s a movie that has its head stuck firmly up its ass, which doesn’t make for anything fun or uplifting.
Dumbest Attempt to Be Smart
Oh, Lucy. With every attempt to try and make some grand existential statement about humanity’s place in life, the universe, and everything, Luc Besson only proved how laughably out of his depth he was. Seriously, when the starting point of your film is an old wives’ tale that could easily be disproven by all but the most gullible, START THE FUCK OVER.
But then we have Transcendence, which features a group of computer geniuses so pitifully stupid that even Cyberdyne executives would call them out on their shit. In fact, it seems like the whole world in this movie has suddenly gone stupid, considering that a supercomputer pulls all sorts of illegal stunts on a scale large enough to take over the entire fucking planet and not a single government agency steps in to intervene. The plot to this movie is so thin and so contrived that it can only stay intact by aggressively beating IQ points out of the characters and the audience. And it wants to have a serious discussion about the potential dangers of advancing technology? Forget about it.
Most Malicious Disappointment
Finally, we come to the “malicious” disappointment. Films of this level are relatively scarce — I’ve only seen one or two come out every year. These are the films that had so much potential yet crashed so hard that it had to have been done on purpose. This is failure of such a monumentally disastrous level that it could only have been the work of sabotage or career suicide.
Don’t believe such a thing is possible? Then how do you explain The Interview?
While the film itself is a perfectly acceptable trifle of a comedy, it was heavily affected by the colossally foolish circumstances of its release. The major theater chains of this nation were given a satisfactory movie, all ready and waiting for release, with millions of potential box office dollars to be made, and they threw it all away for a threat that was clearly hollow. In the process, not only did they look like cowards out to protect whatever dirty secrets another hack might expose, and not only did they shame this country by letting (allegedly) foreign powers censor our movies. They also shot themselves in the foot by implicitly endorsing independent theaters and VOD services, giving moviegoers a reason to seek out those services in a bid to hasten their own obsolescence. And even if Sony eventually backed out of their announcement to cancel the film, the damage was done. They still inspired Paramount to pull its copies of Team America: World Police, and the Pyongyang thriller that Fox was developing is still scrapped, last I checked.
The decision to limit the release of The Interview was a completely unnecessary fiasco with immediate repercussions that will continue to affect Hollywood for years to come. Not only is it a textbook definition of a malicious disappointment, it’s easily the greatest cinematic failure of the year.
This Year in Review will conclude tomorrow as we look back at the Wild Rides.