2013: A Very Dud Year

Because another celluloid retrospective is just what the internet needed, a summary of every film I made it as far as my local fleapit to see.

The year got off to an inauspicious start with the film musical adaptation of Les Mis – a bladder challenging three hour cautionary tale about the long-term ramifications of petty Hovis theft, it left me with a prostate the size of a honeydew and a head full of bad memories. Heaven Knows Les Misérables NowPitch Perfect provided blessed light relief from Les Mis’ sotto-voiced silliness, though Rebel Wilson’s comic appeal continued to elude me – if only we could have the Rebel without the nause.

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Zero Dark Thirty‘s depiction of torture kept every opinion jockey in thinkpiece material for months. Essentially a feature-length expression of the maxim ‘retweet does not = endorsement’, Jessica Chastain’s Maya may have been a weapons-grade irritant but boy did she get results. Bizarrely the finale reduced a cell of cinemagoers in row H to tears – obviously I reported them to a plucky usher as potential Al Qaeda sympathisers and they’re now penning their Rotten Tomatoes reviews from Gitmo.

The first half of Tarantino’s Django Unchained was the most deliriously entertaining  thing I saw all year, though the second half veered too close to slave porn for my liking and descended into Tracy Jordan’s Hard To Watch relocated to the Wild West.

Hitchcock managed to be infinitely less interesting than any of the great man’s films, Anthony Hopkins turding around in one of Matt Lucas’ cast-off fatsuits and Scarlett Johansson pouting her way through the emotions like the pages of a Boden catalogue. The only thing it really revealed about the man behind the camera was that he was a very noisy eater, which to be honest, has turned me off his work quite a bit.

Warm Bodies was an unexpected delight. Breathing new life (DRUMROLL) into the flagging zombie genre, it was a charmingly uncynical rom-com with a warm beating heart (HI-HAT). And speaking of dead-eyed husks incapable of expressing human emotions, here comes Gemma Arterton in Hansel and Gretel: WITCH HUNTERS! An ill-conceived travesty on every level right down to them omitting to use ‘and you will know them by the trail of bread’ as the tagline, it did however provide the biggest unintentional laugh of the year in Grumpy Cat Renner’s ‘sugar sickness’ and steampunk insulin kit.

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Meanwhile, Ryan Gosling continued to corner the market in bafflingly miscast nasal-voiced effete hardmen in Gangster Squad (see also Only Gosling Forgives). That guy doesn’t even look like he could hold his own in a custard pie fight in Bugsy Malone, and Sean Penn’s performance as L.A. kingpin Mickey Cohen seemed to be an extended audition for the role of Al Pacino in a Stella Street revival.

The most improbable collision of East meets West since Craggy Island’s Chinese community came when Oldboy director Chan-wook Park teamed up with smirking Prison Break star-cum-writer Wentworth Miller for Stoker. When Matthew Goode was Goode he was very very Goode, and when he was bad he was horrid in what – along with Danny Boyle’s Trance and Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects – formed a trio of stylish but ludicrous psychological thrillers released in the Spring. Stoker saw Mia Wasikowska’s India fall for Goode’s sinister, enigmatic charm and range of killer fine-knit pullovers in an impenetrably languorous opening half which would be summed up best by Yo La Tengo – ‘me with nothing to say, and you in your Autumn sweater.’

Soderbergh’s (alleged) swansong lived up to its name by causing headaches and mild drowsiness though on the whole it was enjoyably dumb, even if I did find the prospect of Jude Law winning a battle of wits with anybody, never mind a couple of sexy evil scheming sexy evil lesbians, highly unlikely. It was however unique in using a character’s knowledge of inertia-reel seatbelts as a dramatic plot twist.

By far the worst of this troika was Boyle’s Trance. Not for him resting on the goodwill earned from his stunning opening ceremony to London 2012 – he was already looking ahead to Rio 2016 by making Rosario Dawson’s Brazilian wax the McGuffin in this badly directed, terribly acted, appallingly written omnifuck of a film #LEGACY.

It was a case of Momoa, mo’ problems for Sly Stallone as he faced off against the Dothraki king in Bullet To The Head, while the latest Die Hard film provided the least welcome comeback since Jimi Hendrix’s lunch. Only Jason Statham seemed able to stem the tide of action effluent being pumped out by cinema’s Expensionables in Homefront and Parker, in which he somewhat sinisterly promised ‘I always follow through’ *snigger*.

Steve Carell played a curiously unlikable, obnoxious lead in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. It could best be summarised as ‘Blades Of Glory with magicians’ to the point it directly lifted one of its jokes (Cirque du So Lame). Some laughs were had however, and Jim Carrey stole the show as Steve Gray: Brain Rapist, unlike his turn in Kick-Ass 2 – a film which redefined the term ‘inessential mess.’

Proving there’s no bore like a sex bore, two dreary porn biopics did the rounds. Lovelace was the most revealing – turns out she didn’t even like lace. Michael Winterbottom came neither to praise nor bury Paul Raymond in an oddly flat, detached portrayal of the legendary bon viveur, pornographer and womaniser in The Look Of Love. The only thing we did learn was that like all ‘colourful characters’ he really loved ‘is daughter. No matter as Coogan was soon back on form in Alpha Papa – an unqualified smash that erased all memories of previous britcom failures *insert favoured Partridgism here*. I even dug Frost and Pegg in The World’s End, though I steadfastly refuse to endorse referring to it as part of the Three Colours Cornetto Trilogy. It just doesn’t make sense, okay?

As prolific as Kevin Shields during a fallow year, Shane Black dragged himself from his L.A. penthouse in his dressing gown to rescue the Marvel franchise from the egomaniacal black hole of Robert Downey Jr’s anus it flew into at the end of Avengers Assemble. Iron Man 3 was a masterclass in how to make a superhero movie: stripped back to basics, small moments made big and a moratorium imposed on semi-incomprehensible, overwritten, go nowhere banter (I’m looking at you, Whedon). It also featured the most satisfying reveal since Zooey got her bra out in New Girl. At the other end of the scale was Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel. Stultifying dull, it managed to upset purists and casual viewers alike by not only pissing on the essence of the character but being really really really boring. A loud, leaden, overblown, humourless drag with Poundland Nolan knobs on, it was basically a moody emo My 2 Dads with Henry Cavill spending the entire film looking like he was wondering what bark was made of.

And while we’re on the subject of upsetting purists and casual viewers alike, JJ Abrams’ Star Trek: Into Stupidness emerged. Everything that made your balls twitch about the first film was back, including unnecessarily reheating the story arc of Kirk being a loose cannon maverick who doesn’t play by the rules, losing his ship, getting it back, and learning some tough lessons about friendship and responsibility along the way. Yeah, we got it the first time, JJ. On the plus side, it was rarely dull, and CUMBERBATCH chewed through more scenery than Richard Kiel in The Spy Who Loved Me. Ever inept, Abrams even cut what was clearly the best scene:

Tom Cruise’s Oblivion was an altogether more thoughtful take on sci-fi, even if long stretches of it could be boiled down to ‘intergalactic handyman having tetchy conference calls with his pissy, micro-managing supervisor.’

Beware Of Mr Baker revealed the jazz rock drumming legend to be the most objectionable white man in South Africa since Eugène Terre’Blanche. But still, it was a fascinating portrait of a phenomenally talented but phenomenally unpleasant human being. And the archive footage was fantastic.

Boldest directorial choice of the year went to Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby, where he chose to reduce one of the great American novels down to an insipid teen romance with the emotional depth and cultural resonance of a Jazz Age Twilight film. And Leo DiCaprio didn’t say ‘old sport’ anywhere near enough, oh no.

Chris Hemsworth’s trouser-phobic James Hunt proved that driving a Formula 1 car quickly is very much like making love to a beautiful woman in the somewhat reductive, but nevertheless enjoyable, Rush. And he got his big mallet out again in Thor: The Dark World, which was largely a success despite the continually fathomless cult of Loki – a witheringly snarky Machiavellian genius without the Machiavellian genius or withering snark.

Most people think The Harry Hill Movie is his big screen debut but he also wrote the screenplay for Pacific Rim: ‘Which is best – giant robots or giant lizards? There’s only one way to find out….’ So went the plot, such as it was. I’m not saying the characters were one-dimensional, but Charlie Hunnam’s Japanese love interest may as well have been called Toe Ken Woman. Idris Elba however, as the magnificently monikered Stacker Pentecost, was on fine shouty truth-handling form. Apparently he now gets sent so many scripts that turning the pages gives him a bad case of Idris Elbow.

Tom Hanks deserved all the ACTING awards ever for a powerhouse final ten minutes in the excellent Captain Phillips. Tension, drama, economy of storytelling – Paul Greengrass put most other directors to shame as usual. Including whichever hack directed The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – the only thing stymieing that franchise is the fact nobody on it can hold a ruddy camera straight and Elizabeth Banks’ bizarre Widow Twankey act. But these are mere quibbles for a film which, despite its YA origins, had far more interesting things to say about society, oppression and media manipulation than a lot of supposedly more grown-up offerings.

Finally, in a mixed year full of cinematic misfires, the last film I saw was one of the few that, ironically, didn’t drag me down: Gravity, starring incorrigible Nespresso Perv Clooney.

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