Next week I’ll be publishing a list of my favourite films of the year, but while compiling this sacred list I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for some really good films that weren’t going to make the cut, and who won’t feature on many other critics’ top 10s of the either. At the same time there are some films that have been placing highly on prestigious lists from the likes of Sight & Sound that I really hated, and I don’t want anyone to think they’re not on my list because I didn’t get round to seeing them, It’s because they’re terrible (in my humble opinion).
So here’s a mini review of 2013 that takes in some of the decent films that people may have overlooked, as well as some of the big disappointments, and the outright stinkers.
One of the biggest disappointments of 2012 was the lack of genuinely witty mainstream comedies, with 21 Jump Street one of a few notable exceptions. This year however has seen a glut of brilliantly funny films; from the uber-meta improvised and apocalyptic This is the End to the return of Richard Curtis’ mojo with the surprisingly good (but unsurprisingly middle-class) About Time. We’re the Millers was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2013, providing audiences with the spiritual heir to the National Lampoon’s Vacation movies that we didn’t know we needed, while Joss Whedon took a break from the Marvel Universe to film a wonderfully low-key and hilarious version of William Shakespeare’s classic Much Ado About Nothing.
We were also spoilt for choice with some fabulous documentaries this year, and while a few bigger names have made it onto my ‘Best of 2013’, I was also really impressed by Beware of Mr Baker (a fascinating film exploring the work and personality of the certifiable Ginger Baker, drummer for Cream), and McCullin (a retrospective look at the life and work of acclaimed war photographer Don McCullin). Most bizarre of all was a film I had the pleasure of seeing at Glasgow Film Festival, The Final Member. This Icelandic film about one man’s search for a human specimen for his penis museum was a heart-warming, disturbing, and very funny film that really deserves a wider audience (it’s now available on Netflix).
I have personally found the horror genre to be a disappointing bag of nonsense over the last few years, especially with the industry’s overreliance on the ‘found footage’ genre, however The Conjuring really impressed me with its 1970s setting and feel, as well as the excellent central performances from Patrick Wilson, and particularly Vera Farmiga.
I’ve either been rather lucky this year, or very choosey as I haven’t seen too many outright stinkers this year, but one of two still managed to permeate my consciousness. I’m still not sure what compelled me to watch Run For Your Wife, beyond perhaps the fact that it had only taken £712 at the UK box office on its opening weekend, and that EE film were offering it for 99p. Regardless, this Danny Dyer-starring stage adaptation of a play that surely would have felt dated when it was written in the late-seventies is an appalling waste of time and effort, with Christopher Biggins the stand-out performer on show.
Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers was the surprise film of Glasgow Film Festival and the most surprising element of that evening was how I managed not to walk out of the screening. The film personifies the Shoreditch hipster, with its cynical sense of superiority and ‘hilariously’ ironic tastes and decisions. If Nathan Barley ever made a movie, this would be the resulting mess.
My reasons for watching Movie 43 and Diana were a little simpler to understand; they had both bombed horribly at the box office under a toxic attack from critics, and I had to see the car crashes for my own eyes. Movie 43 isn’t the worst film ever made, or even from this year, but aside from literally one or two laughs over its 90 minute run-time the most impressive thing about it is how Bobby Farrelly persuaded such a roster of normally sane adults to take part in something that wouldn’t have been out of place in my sixth-form end of term variety show.
Diana however, is an unmitigated turd of a film and a complete waste of some genuine talent. Director Oliver Hirschbiegel has the incredible Downfall on his CV, and has somehow managed to make an even more depressing film with his biopic of the late Princess of Wales. Watching Hitler and his followers commit mass suicide was less uncomfortable than Diana and her surgeon lover discussing the finer points of Liverpool’s defensive frailties. Naomi Watts has gone from deserved Oscar nominee for her role in The Impossible, to near career purgatory with this horrifically clumsy and misjudged film.
A number of people I have spoken to have told me of their disappointment with 2013, and I think one reason for that is that the big marquee films have been pretty underwhelming. Zack Synder’s attempt to replicate the success of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy with DC’s even more famous asset fell short for me. Very short. Man of Steel was an overlong and uneven film, which simply failed in some very basic elements of story-telling. And that’s before the controversial end battle that divided fans over Superman’s apparent disregard for civilian casualties.
Pacific Rim was great when it focussed on giant robots and enormous alien creatures kicking seven shades of shot out of each other, but fell apart like a wet cake as soon as anyone opened their mouth. Star Trek Into Darkness was just a needless remake of Wrath of Khan riddled with plot holes, while the highly anticipated Elysium also succumbed to the Hollywood disease of giving us some lovely visuals with a barely coherent (or interesting) narrative.
It wasn’t just the blockbusters that let me down either, and the biggest disappointment for me came in the shape of Stoker. Chan-wook Park’s (Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance) English-language debut starring Mia Wasikowska promised so much, and ultimately left me feeling flat, bored, and thoroughly let-down. While looking rather nice, and with interesting sound design, it utterly failed at making me empathise with the characters, or even holding my interest. A real cinematic example of ‘fur coat and no knickers’.
Disagree with James’ choices? Are you one of the many Stoker fans out there who saw something James didn’t? Did you actually enjoy Spring Breakers? Let us know by casting your vote for the 2013 Failed Critics’ Awards!