The older Spielberg gets, the more boring of a director he becomes but Lincoln is still a pretty damn good movie. Unfortunately, I think it would have been a stellar stage play, but I guess Tony Kushner felt that that medium wouldn’t do the story justice. The reason this is so low down on the list is because it is almost the antithesis to cinema. It doesn’t feature any of the Spielbergian tropes you’ve come to know and love- there’s no epic camera movements, no eclectic editing techniques. It’s just Daniel Day Lewis standing or sitting in front of a camera in medium close up acting his ass off for nearly three hours (WHY ARE ALL THE MOVIES SO LONG????).
And that’s why it would have been better as a play. But again, it elicited an emotional response in me and like TDKR made me cry a little. When they passed the Thirteenth Amendment (SPOILER!!! GO TO HISTORY CLASS YOU UNEDUCATED FUCK!!) and all the abolitionists and free black people were crying and hugging each other I really got swept away with it. Then Spielberg decided to coat his movie in his trademark cheese and ended the film with Lincoln’s assassination, when that really had nothing to do with the rest of the movie. It’s funny though that this movie came out during the same holiday season as Django as they’re basically polar opposites. Django takes history, trivializes it, and turns it into a nauseating, garish gore fest whereas Lincoln tries to dramatize real history and makes you feel proud to be an American (and a northerner).
Plus, this movie has like, every single actor ever in it. James Spader’s in it. And he’s friggin’ incredible.
9. The Master
You might be asking yourself right now, “How can the movie about a fascist pig that shoots people in the face in a dystopian apocalyptic urban nightmare be higher on this list than P.T. Anderson’s new masterpiece?” Well, The Master is another one of those movies that I didn’t really want to put on the list because like The Dark Knight Rises it’s very sloppy.
But like TDKR, on a technical level this movie is a masterpiece. It has some of the most beautiful cinematography I’ve ever seen and I didn’t even watch it in 60mm. Performances are knockouts across the board and if Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t win an Oscar someone should be punched in the face. The scene where Philip Seymour Hoffman first performs the test on him and the camera never leaves Phoenix as he flips out and slaps himself in the face is one of the best cinematic moments of the year.
That being said, from a structural and screenwriting standpoint this movie’s a bit of a mess. It strives to be the same sort of grandiose epic that There Will Be Blood was but lacks the focus that film had. After the credits rolled following The Master’s bizarre ending I found myself struggling to uncover the story’s point and ultimately felt a little underwhelmed. Was the point that scientology attracts damaged people but fails to heal them? That seems like the most likely explanation but Anderson doesn’t make that clear and you’re left feeling confused as to what the film’s episodic segments all added up to. Consequently The Master feels its length, as opposed to the rest of Anderson’s filmography. Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood breeze by while The Master drags along sluggishly.
There’s certain moments in The Master that are brilliant and then there are others that are so bizarre they kind of take you out of the story. Ultimately it’s hard to know whether it’s supposed to be an L. Ron Hubbard biopic, a critique/satire of scientology or just a character piece that uses the religion’s rise as a backdrop. Still a good movie though, and that’s why it’s on the list despite its flaws (which are arguably fewer in number than Lincoln’s or TDKR’s).
10. The Avengers
This is the guiltiest entry on the list because it’s the dumbest entry on the list. This movie is amazing, but there isn’t a shred of intellectualism in it. But as a piece of entertainment and nothing more, The Avengers is a masterpiece. Of all the movies I saw this year none were as fun to watch as The Avengers. From the opening action sequence to the hilarious after-credits schwarma scene, every single frame of celluloid entertained me. I laughed, I gripped my seat- I didn’t cry, but I did get a little emotional when Coulson died and when they acted like Tony Stark was going to sacrifice himself.
If this movie deserves credit for anything, it’s for making an ensemble superhero film work. I’m not sure anyone but Joss Whedon could have pulled this off, partly because he’s so familiar with the source material but mostly because he’s so adept at juggling big ensemble casts. With the exception of the lackluster Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner should go away please), every character gets a moment in the spotlight, with Iron Man acting as the de facto protagonist (because he’s the most popular) and the Hulk as the fan favorite (because he needed a boost in popularity). The film is predictable but doesn’t feel predictable. You’re engaged even though the story and structure are so classic. While it may not elevate superhero films to greater heights like Nolan’s Batman trilogy, it does prove that even the most ridiculous of superhero concepts can be transformed into satisfying films if put in capable hands.
Still though, this doesn’t really deserve to be on anyone’s Top 10 list and if I’d seen more movies it definitely wouldn’t be on mine.
As always, there were a number of movies I didn’t get around to seeing which probably would have made the list, the most notable of which are Argo, Moonrise Kingdom, Compliance, Cloud Atlas, Holy Motors and V/H/S. Had I seen those, they probably would have knocked out some of the more lackluster films at the bottom of my list.
If there’s one film that deserves no award or Razzie for being just so utterly mediocre, it’s Prometheus. I really enjoyed it when I saw it on IMAX 3D but the innumerable plot holes bugged me and ultimately drag it down from a good film, to a bad film that looks great and has some cool ideas. It was nice to return to the world of Alien and see it done justice, at least visually, especially after the stink of the Alien vs. Predator movies. But Damon Lindelof sucks and what’s worse, is so self indulgently sucky. He comes in, rewrites what sources say was a superior script (Jonathan Spaiht’s Alien: Engineers) for what I can only imagine was a hefty multi-million dollar fee, then gets a truckload of complaints from fans on the interwebs but acts like he’s the genius and we’re all plebians who are too picky and entitled to understand his art. So his ego definitely dragged down my appreciation for the movie, for sure. I mean honestly, bro, you can’t write a story that sloppy and then not expect people to pick it apart.
What’s interesting is that I gave it such a glowing review right after seeing it. It makes me wonder if the way we do film criticism in America is all wrong. I understand people want to know whether films are good before they shell out the cash to see them, but shouldn’t critics perhaps take a little while to digest the movie they’ve just seen before doing a write-up?
The movie that actually surprised me by how good it was was The Hunger Games. I never read the books and was convinced it was nothing more than a slightly better Twilight, but it’s actually pretty sweet. Obviously you’ll appreciate it more if you’re a teenager, particularly a teenage girl, but it actually has a pretty well-thought out sci-fi world and mythology, a cool story, good direction, good characters, good acting and some cool action sequences. Special effects are lacking a little (weird CG dogs!!), but hey, whaddya gonna do, amiright? Unfortunately, I’ve heard the third book is kinda shitty.
The films I was most underwhelmed by were Michael Haneke’s Amour and of course, my former idol Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. I’m in the process of writing a very lengthy, multi-part essay on why I think Inglourious Basterds and Django are so mediocre, so I’ll save that for another time. As for Amour, I just didn’t get it. I saw it at New York’s Film Forum with my parents and a theater full of geriatrics. Everyone loved it but me, as did critics (but guess what? All the critics are old as fuck). So I wasn’t exactly the target audience, but I don’t really think that’s why I hated it. Yes, it’s directed by a 70 year-old man and is a movie for old people, and that’s why my parents liked it (my grandfather recently passed away as well and that was fresh in my father’s mind). But I’ve liked other old people-centric movies, namely Sarah Polley’s Away From Her, about an elderly couple struggling with Alzheimers. That film was more American (despite being Canadian) and more traditional, but I don’t think its classic editing, story structure and score is necessarily what gave me the emotional connection Amour was so sorely lacking.
I’d never seen a Haneke film but I was aware of Funny Games and its much derided American remake. Watching Amour I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching a different take on the torture porn genre. There’s no score and very little editing. Most of the film is comprised of long, slow single take shots with little camera movement and nothing but diagetic sound. Dialogue is sparse and you learn very little about who the characters are or what their lives were like before the start of the film. Thus, you don’t feel anything for anyone and watching an old lady slowly die after suffering multiple strokes lacks any kind of real emotion, at least for me. It was just painful and torturous and halfway through I started begging the movie to put her out of misery so I could be put out of my own. There’s also no dramatic tension, as the film opens with the reveal that the old lady is dead. So you know she’s going to die and the circumstances of her death imply her husband will mercy kill her. So there’s no drama or mystery, just two hours of long, slow pain. You know he’s going to do it, so you’re just begging the film to jump ahead to the inevitable rather than drawing it out for as long as possible.
Worst Film of the Year
and I can say that without even seeing anything this year starring Adam Sandler or Kevin James-
Silent Hill: Revelation
Honestly, I still feel guilty about spending $18 to preorder a 3D ticket to this on opening day, especially as there were only about a dozen other people in the theater. My friend Mike Rogers and I are both big fans of the games and were thus very excited to see this movie. I had mixed feelings about the first film and felt like a sequel could only improve upon it. The original was at least absolutely terrifying for its first half and visually stunning throughout, but the reveal of the nature behind Silent Hill in its final two acts ruined the movie for me. But when compared to Revelation, the original looks like fucking Citizen Kane.
Silent Hill: Revelation can barely be called a movie, and is better categorized as utter bullshit. Newcomer writer/director Michael J. Bassett attempts to mix the stories of the first film, the third game and his own idiotic ideas together and ends up crafting a jumbled mess. Acting is wooden, and even respected thespian Sean Bean just looks like he wants his paycheck. His Game of Thrones costar Kit Harrington does a horrendous job and provides one of the worst American accents in cinematic history. Malcolm McDowell shows up inexplicably halfway through, delivers about two pages worth of dialogue before turning into a monster and dying a minute and a half later. For this, I imagine he was paid $5 million. Carrie Anne-Moss, desperate to have a career after The Matrix, is introduced near the end of the film as its villain and is barely recognizable under bizarre makeup and a shitty costume that makes her look like one of those dumb pasty elf baddies from Hellboy II. This is probably the most boring horror movie you’ll ever see and isn’t even worthy of the moniker as it’s anything but scary. The 3D is lazy and is mostly just shit jumping out of the screen at you. The budget was lower and it shows. Special effects and makeup are lackluster and the town of Silent Hill lacks the grit and realism it had in the first film. Pyramid Head is back because, why not, and the film climaxes with the most awkward sword fight you’ve ever seen between him and the monster Moss transforms into. I couldn’t wait for the movie to be over and felt guilty for weeks after seeing (still do a little, actually). Along with Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, Indiana Jones: The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Goldfish Memory and Southland Tales, this is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen.