Expectations -- be they positive or negative -- can color a memory like little else in the world. A good surprise can be euphoric. A bad one can leave an especially disproportionate aftertaste. This is of course true in the cinematic world where sequels so often fall short of their beloved predecessors or the pairing of a proven director and a great cast can lead to excessive optimism that can be so easily cratered by a bad script, studio demands and so on. As you ought to know by now, we see a lot of movies around these parts, and while we try to focus on the ones we think will be good (or in my case, occasionally the ones that appear awfully bad), we get let down all the time.
Because we're cheery optimistic fellows, we're going to kick off our series of year-in-review pieces with a look back at 10 movies that didn't live up to our lofty hopes and dreams. These are presented in alphabetical order because, well, who wants to think about disappointments in a relative fashion. The great Steve Cimino contributed five picks to go with five of my own. Reviews, where available, are linked. Now, on to the list!
The toughest addition to this list, because I actually liked this film. But in this era of Killer Joe, Mud and Magic Mike, it felt like Dallas Buyers Club was going to be the icing on the Matthew McConaughey resurgence cake. Homophobe Texan turned aggressive AIDS activist; talk about a slam dunk for Best Actor. Both McCounaghey's performance and Jared Leto's, interesting as they were, are hampered by the movie's paint-by-numbers approach. It tells a unique story in an very basic fashion -- the same fish-out-of-water drama you've seen a hundred times before. McConaughey and Leto can lose all the weight and/or dress in all the ladies' clothes they want, but even they can only do so much with a ho-hum script. This is still worth seeing, but is nothing to write home about. Hence, its inclusion. -- Steve Cimino
I've never read Orson Scott Card's source material, which is another way of saying that this designation is well earned rather than the frustrated ravings of a fanboy. Card was famously protective of his signature work when it came to a film adaptation, turning down multiple overtures over multiple decades from Hollywood studios before finally working on the screenplay himself in conjunction with the film's eventual director Gavin Hood. So, like, this was really the best he could come up with after all these years? Ender's Game is an appealing story for many reasons. It is, I am told, also a major challenge given how much takes place in its protagonist's head. That doesn't earn it a pass from me, though. Card had all the control he needed to be certain the film would do justice to the book and he failed miserably, playing a major part in a confusing, dull and inaccessible adaptation of his beloved sci-fi novel. -- Andrew Johnson
2013 was the year that tested the cinephile's love affair with Ryan Gosling. Half Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl, Blue Valentine, Drive; these were all excellent films that helped Gosling rise above the pretty-boy status he successfully established in The Notebook. But running it back with some of his previous directors appears to have been a mistake. Only God Forgives was Nicholas Winding Refn's follow-up to Drive, and the 90-minute, Bangkok-centric drama certainly threw his new fans an unexpected curve ball. The problem is, he forgot to make a good movie in the process. Only God Forgives is disjointed and overly dreamy, using hallucinations and deliberately unnerving imagery to disguise an incomprehensible story. It meanders meaninglessly to an unexpected conclusion; for the most part, it feels like an aggressive (and unsatisfying) attempt on Refn's part to be edgy and noncommercial in the wake of Drive's unexpected success. -- SC
Though I've soured almost completely on the glut of fairy-tale retellings that have been jammed down our throats over the past two years, I was excited about Oz. The director of The Evil Dead and Army of Darkness (Sam Raimi) is enough to do that to a fellow. With the Disney brand behind it too, well, I figured this one had potential. Boy, was I wrong. The lion's share of the blame lies with one bad casting decision. James Franco's pseudo-intellectual, smarmy, stoner mug was a terrible fit for the lovable huckster that The Wizard is supposed to be. But it shouldn't all lie at Franco's feet. The story had flaws too, starting with the fact that Mila Kunis goes all Wicked-Witch-of-the-East just because she can't land a man, a twist that seemed awfully insulting to women everywhere. -- AJ
It's hard to condemn any movie where Benedict Cumberbatch portrays a fight-happy bad guy, but given that they wasted the Star Trek universe's most infamous villain, it's even harder to muster any defense for J.J. Abrams' (presumably) final foray into this particular version of deep space. The ensemble cast is still one of the best in big-budget blockbuster history, but for all the buildup (and in the shadow of a successful, enjoyable reboot) Into Darkness did very little with a whole lot of ammunition. Plus, it continued the new blockbuster tradition of destroying an entire city (and probably killing millions) during an "epic" finale. God forbid our big-budget movies end like they did in the good old days, with one character punching the other into unconsciousness. There are still stories to tell with the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, but my excitement levels will be considerably lower next time around. -- SC
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
(A full review of this film will appear on the site later this week. Patience, Hobbitses.) So it turns out that plucking the middle of the plot from a short, child-oriented novel can result in a jumbled, incoherent mess of film. If Peter Jackson isn't careful, he's going to become the George Lucas of Middle Earth. I actually liked the first part of his adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, but the second part comes off as what amounts to a three-hour chase scene. Yes, there are some good action sequences, but you learn nothing about the characters, and these are rich ones he is attempting to draw upon. Worse yet, Martin Freeman, the best thing about these movies, is a passenger for much of the film as the dwarves and the titular dragon deliver hackneyed lines and failed joke after failed joke. -- AJ
This might seem like an odd choice because, I mean, who expected anything of this movie? But it's a funny premise. Big-time magicians are ripe for a send-up, and this was a cast that seemed like it could deliver. Hello, Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi and Jim Carrey. That they didn't is partly down to the fact that Carell didn't have the right conceit to pull off a vain David Copperfield-type character. But it's mostly down to the fact that The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is representative of what too many comedies have become. Its characters are downright mean and thus not worthy of redemption. That they end up getting it anyway is what makes it (and so many movies like it) unsatisfying. -- AJ
The second collaboration between Ryan Gosling and Derek Cianfrance, The Place Beyond the Pines burst onto the scene with a lot of hype but (in this gentleman's opinion) failed to meet expectations. The first 45 minutes, spent with Ryan Gosling's motorcycle thief, are taut and enticing. But a mid-movie twist resets all the progress that's been made while also leading to the introduction of zero intriguing characters or relevant themes. Anyone who professed to like Beyond the Pines must've felt it was their duty as some sort of responsible cinema fan; a movie that's split into two parts and kills off a main character halfway through has to be IMPORTANT ART, right? I believe I summed it up best in my review: "Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine was brilliant because it examined a crumbling marriage in unflinching detail. It was hard to watch, but only because it was so honest and sincere. A Place Beyond the Pines is also hard to watch, but for very different reasons." -- SC
Do I just hate Steve Carell? No, but I do think he was put in bad position after bad position this year. Carell was fine for his role in The Way Way Back, a callous and lecherous potential stepfather to the sullen Liam James. The problem was the role itself and many of the others in a film that, though it badly wanted to be an indie gem, was undone by lazily drawn characters. A whole lot more Sam Rockwell would have helped things, but it's not as if he had trouble getting screen time. -- AJ
I was tempted to leave it off this list, only because it was more horrible than disappointing. I still think Hugh Jackman has one more good Wolverine movie in him (perhaps X-Men: Days of Future Past will be just that) and I blame him very little for the poor direction his solo franchise has taken. He's still great as Wolverine, and I believe he feels passionately about the character. But gosh, they're 2-for-2 now in producing absolute garbage. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a train wreck, but it never aimed to be much more. By contrast, The Wolverine appeared to be trying to tell a legitimate, character-driven story, and in that modest task it failed miserably. Every actor stumbles over mountains of exposition; every antagonist seems non-threatening, every battle feels wholly underwhelming. The proud recipient of a an painfully low 3/10 review on this very website, it was truly the worst film I saw this year. -- SC