10 Worst Films I Saw In 2012

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In most Worst of 2012 lists you’ll find films like “Alex Cross” or “The Three Stooges” but not on mine because I didn’t see them. While there are many films that disappointed me (“Moonrise Kingdom”) or were wildly overpraised (“Cloud Atlas”) I wouldn’t call any of them the worst. Nic Cage films aside I generally do not seek out bad movies for pleasure so that tends to change the grading curve a bit. It also means I went into each one of these with the best of intentions. These 10 films are by no means the worst movies of the year, they are however the worst movies I saw this year, many of which are from respectable filmmakers who managed to miss the mark.

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1. To The Wonder (Terrence Malick) This may seem like hyperbole (especially considering the source) but this was truly the worst film I saw in 2012. Take away “Tree Of Life”s period setting, epic scope & breathtaking cinematography & what are you left with? Just scene after scene of actors who have been left out to dry by their director, swirling around each other in an acting exercise masquerading as a movie. Technically a 2013 release but you have been warned.

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2. Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg) Over the last 4 decades, Cronenberg has been responsible for some truly fantastic genre-bending films. This is not one of them. Featuring inane dialogue and embarrassing green screen, the entire thing is so amateurish that you’d never expect to see it as a theatrical release let alone from an auteur of Cronenberg’s stature.

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3. Nature Calls (Todd Rohal) Painfully unfunny boy scout comedy with Patton Oswalt and Johnny Knoxville as feuding brothers. It’s not fun to pick on the little guy and this SXSW entry certainly qualifies so I’ll just say that Oswalt deserves better than this.

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4. Like Someone In Love (Abbas Kiarostami) Tests the limits of patience with a pace so leisurely that even one of its characters nods off mid-scene. (Seriously, a 15 minute stretch of this features a character listening to her voicemails in real time.) Kiarostami is an icon of World Cinema but my first dip into his filmography was not especially promising.

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5. The Comedy (Rick Alverson) This supposed satire of aging hipsters (starring Tim & Eric’s Tim Heidecker) plays more like the joke is on the audience than it is on the characters. Intermittently funny but the loosely connected skits grow incredibly tiresome in what might’ve been better presented as a series of shorts on VICE.com.

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6. To Rome With Love (Woody Allen) Any goodwill earned from last year’s surprise hit “Midnight In Paris was quickly spent here with this painfully unfunny anthology of love stories. I’ve seen all but maybe 5 of Allen’s 42 features and this is easily one of his worst.

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7. Sleepless Night (Frédéric Jardin) "It’s ‘Die Hard’ in a nightclub!" promised the breathless festival reviews of this French thriller. Do not believe the hype. I’m convinced if this weren’t subtitled, most critics would’ve never given this dopey, ineptly staged “Taken” ripoff a passing grade.

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8. The Dictator (Larry Charles) Sacha Baron Cohen is an extremely talented comedian but since “Borat” exploded back in 2006, he’s had an extremely difficult time translating his comedy to the big screen. All the ADR’d jokes in the world could not disguise the fact that his latest just wasn’t very funny. A shame.

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9. John Carter (Andrew Stanton) This was a punching bag from the word “go” but that doesn’t change the fact that it just doesn’t work on a basic storytelling level. A crushing disappointment coming from Stanton who has been trained in the Pixar school of “story first.” Fun sequences here and there but overall it’s an overly complicated misfire.

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10. The Amazing Spider-Man (Marc Webb) I would sooner revisit the silly “Spider-Man 3” than watch this again. Tedious, mostly dour and fails to get right the one thing that should’ve been impossible to mess up: the title character. This will be remembered as the film that made Peter Parker a brooding dickhead. Why anyone campaigned to bring back the director for the sequel is beyond my comprehension.

My Sundance ‘12 Wrap-Up

For the second year I attended the Sundance Film Festival, packing 12 films into 4 very full days (+1 after the fact). With hundreds of films playing I made a decision to stick mostly to the U.S. Dramatic category (since that’s where most of last year's breakouts came from (“Like Crazy,” “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “Take Shelter”) with a few Premieres thrown in. All in all, I think I did pretty well, between my press pass and the @DorDotson method I was able to see everything I had the energy to show up for. I had a great and exhausting time, caught many of the fest’s most buzzed about films and got the chance to interview a few of the actors/filmmakers behind those efforts. Here, in descending order are my favorites from Sundance 2012.

1. Nobody Walks (dir: Ry Russo-Young) Peter (John Krasinski) and Julie (Rosemary DeWitt) are a Silverlake couple whose marriage is thrown into doubt by the arrival of 23 year old NY artist Martine (Olivia Thirlby). Ry Russo-Young directs this unexpectedly sensual, comic drama that takes a surprisingly mature view of relationships with a sharp script (co-written by Lena Dunham) and pulsing electronic score by Fall On Your Sword. Read My Full Review

2. Smashed (dir: James Ponsoldt) Heartbreaking and oddly hilarious portrait of alcoholism starring Mary-Elizabeth Winstead (in a career-changing performance) and Aaron Paul as a hard-partying married couple. It may sound like an afterschool special but it’s never preachy and perfectly played by an ensemble cast including Nick Offerman (yes, Ron Swanson), Megan Mullalley and Octavia Spencer. Read My Full Review

3. Beasts of the Southern Wild (dir: Benh Zietlin) The most acclaimed of the festival, the story features a 6 year old girl named Hushpuppy (an outstanding Quvenzhané Wallis) who lives in a post-apocalyptic wasteland called The Bathtub on the wrong side of the levee in New Orleans. Light on plotting but heavy on feeling, Benh Zeitlin’s impressive debut is the intersection between Terry Gilliam and Terry Malick. And the score made me cry. Read My Full Review

4. Simon Killer (dir: Antonio Campos) The latest from the Borderline films (“Martha Marcy May Marlene”) crew was one of the most divisive films of the fest. Simon (Brady Corbet) is a college grad who escapes to Paris after a breakup with his longtime girlfriend and while there begins a relationship with a prostitute named Victoria (Mati Diop). Featuring a great indie-dance soundtrack, it starts a little slow but blossoms into an engrossing (but dark) character study. Read My Full Review

5. Safety Not Guaranteed (dir: Colin Trevorrow) Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass and Jake M. Johnson star in this film treatment of the infamous classified ad“WANTED: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.” Hilarious and unexpectedly sweet, of all the films I saw at Sundance this year, this was the one with the most commercial potential. Read My Full Review

6. Save The Date (dir: Michael Mohan) Smarter-than-your-average rom-com starring an indie dream team of Lizzy Caplan (“Party Down”), Alison Brie (“Community”), Martin Starr (“Freaks & Geeks”) and Mark Webber (“Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”). Featuring strong performances by Caplan and Brie as sisters, Light without being completely insubstantial, this is what more romantic comedies should aspire to be. Read My Full Review

7. Bachelorette (dir: Leslye Headland) Produced by Will Ferrell & Adam McKay’s Gary Sanchez Productions, Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan and Isla Fisher star as a trio of bridesmaids behaving badly during a coke and booze filled bachelorette party in this dark comedy. While the synopsis might read like “Bridesmaids” revisited, it’s a much darker film that even makes “The Hangover” trio look kinda like pussies. Read My Full Review

8. Liberal Arts (dir: Josh Radnor) Radnor (“How I Met Your Mother”) writes, directs and stars in his sophomore feature about a 35 year old college admissions counselor (Radnor) who takes a trip to visit his old alma mater only to fall for a 19 year old student (“Martha Marcy May Marlene” star Elizabeth Olsen). He attempts to keep their relationship platonic as he struggles with what it is to be a grown-up in this crowd pleasing comedy. Read My Full Review

9. Hello, I Must Be Going (dir: Todd Louiso) Amy Minsky (Melanie Lynskey) is recently divorced 35 year old who moves back in with her parents so she can put her life back together but finds herself reverting back into her teenaged self. Such a great vehicle for perennial supporting player Lynskey to get her role in the spotlight, she makes you want to overlook some of the films other flaws. Read My Full Review

10. For Ellen (dir: So Yong Kim) Paul Dano (“Little Miss Sunshine”) plays Joby, the struggling frontman of a hard rock band about to lose custody of his young daughter Ellen. Featuring finely tuned performances - including a supporting turn from an unrecognizable Jon Heder - and strangely funny moments, the film nonetheless fails to get into gear. Read My Full Review

11. Celeste & Jesse Forever (dir: Lee Toland Krieger) Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg star as Celeste and Jesse, inseparable former high school sweethearts now in their 30’s who have decided to get divorced. With a starry ensemble including Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts and Ari Graynor, this is a nonetheless disappointing effort from co-writer/star, (the extremely likable) Rashida Jones. Read My Full Review

12. Robot and Frank (dir: Jake Schreier) Set in the near future, Frank Langella stars as Frank a retired jewel thief living out his days in his upstate NY cottage whose son buys him a caretaker robot called simply, Robot (voiced by Peter Saarsgard). Initially resistant to this strange technology, Frank decides to stage a heist with Robot’s help. Liv Tyler and James Marsden co-star in this high concept, low key, heist/buddy film. Read My Full Review

13. The Comedy (dir: Rick Alverson) A supposed satire of aging hipsters starring Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim and LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy. A series of loosely connected skits featuring Heidecker as a trust fund kid now nearing his 40’s seemingly improvising non sequiturs through each scene. Only intermittently funny, the film was supposed to be a skewering the Williamsburg overgrown hipsters it’s depicting. Read My Full Review

Sundance ‘12: The Comedy review

The film with the unfortunate distinction of being the very worst film I saw at Sundance this year was “The Comedy,” a supposed satire of aging hipsters starring Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim of “Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job” and LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy. Only intermittently funny apparently by design, the film is a series of loosely connected skits featuring Heidecker as a trust fund kid now nearing his 40’s. He drinks, hangs out with his buddies and drifts in and out of various situations, provoking others to amuse himself. Whether pretending he’s a landscaper, offering a cab driver hundreds of dollars do drive his cab or applying for a job as a dishwasher, Heidecker seemingly improvises through each scene giving rise to some off the cuff hilarious moments but they’re not consistent and have nothing to build on. The audience afterwards questioned what the differences were between him and his character to which Heidecker responded, “I’m an actor.” To his credit but the film’s detriment, he is so convincing in the part - rattling off horrible offensive things to nearly everyone - you never get the impression the joke is on his character.

If you didn’t know any better (and how would you from the outset) the picture comes across as Heidecker riffing and smartassing his way through the film, drinking and hanging out with his friends. But to hear the filmmakers describe it, the film was supposed to be a skewering not glamorizing the Williamsburg overgrown hipsters it’s depicting. The line between truth and takeoff becomes too blurry and instead of coming off as an indictment of this culture of empty sarcasm, it just looks like the director gathered up some of his hip friends and asked them to fuck around. And they did and he certainly has cool friends - it was kinda great seeing LCD’s James Murphy onscreen - but seems to miss its own point and at feature length, the proceedings become tedious. Though shot quite nicely by DP Mark Schwartzbard and well acted by the cast, co-writer/director Rick Alverson’s shapeless film doesn’t illuminate, instead comes across as VICE Magazine the movie.