The Top Ten Movies of 2012 (that could’ve been better)
Every year, a critic wraps up the last twelve months by compiling Top Ten lists of the best and worst movies that were released. Hollywood considerately makes this easier by only releasing ten good movies a year, and countless bad ones since everyone would prefer to read about what a pile of shit The Amazing Spider-Man was then the beauty of Hawkeye and Black Widow’s understated partnership.
But rarely is the question asked—what were the movies that kinda whiffed it, but not totally? The movies that’ll be remade in twenty years and have everyone saying “Yeah, they can do better this time.” The films that are good, but not great. The movies that are bad, but not awful. Gentlemen–what are the Mark Dacascoses of movies?
It’s time to look back at 2012 and the Ten Movies That Tried The Hardest!
(but still failed to some degree, because the world is a cruel, unjust place)
10. The Dark Knight Rises
Yeah, let’s admit it, TDKR was good. It wasn’t perfect, but neither was The Dark Knight.
Unfortunately, The Dark Knight Rises was quite… visibly imperfect. I mean, screw anyone who complains about Bruce Wayne just showing up in occupied Gotham, it’s been three movies, you should get that he’s Batman by now. And Bruce Wayne’s car getting towed five minutes after he goes bankrupt—yeah, it’s a movie, you see he’s bankrupt in cinematic ways. Fine.
But uhh, yeah, did we really need like an hour of screentime that’s pretty much just the villains screwing with Batman for no earthly reason?
Talia Al Ghul: To avenge ourselves on Batman, we will condemn his beloved Gotham to agony before his very eyes!
Bane: Yes, good, good…
Talia Al Ghul: After breaking him and imprisoning him in the very hell we were condemned to!
Talia Al Ghul: Only to finally destroy Gotham and all its citizenry with a nuclear bomb!
Talia Al Ghul: We will also bankrupt Bruce Wayne!
Bane: That’s… almost as bad as breaking his back, I suppose.
Talia Al Ghul: And make him fall in love with me, only to break his heart!
Bane: I saw Kate Hudson try that in a Matthew McConaughey movie.
Talia Al Ghul: We will also use his own weapons to oppress Gotham! And expose his deception regarding Harvey Dent!
Bane: Look, babe, all he did was kill your dad, and honestly, your dad was kind of a dink. We both hated him, remember?
Talia Al Ghul: What are you saying, we should just shoot him in the head as soon as we have him at our mercy?
Bane: No, we’re supervillains for God’s sake, but c’mon. We’re trying to kill a guy who dresses up as a giant bat. Let’s not overthink this.
Talia Al Ghul: Alright… I want to involve a cat burglar in skintight leather and a corrupt corporate executive in this somehow.
And you know, I’m not even saying that the structure of the movie—with Batman fake-retired, then fake-coming out of fake-retirement, then for-real coming out of retirement, then for-real retiring so JGL, who is only in the movie for this one reason, can be a new and somewhat androgynous Batman—is flawed. I totally get what they’re going for. It’s just that there are so many moving parts, and so many plots mashed up (The Dark Knight Returns, Knightfall, No Man’s Land, then some Catwoman stuff and maybe something from the Silver Age, I don’t know…) that it just kinda… urrrrrrrrr, ya know? Maybe this should’ve been streamlined more? Or maybe it should’ve been two movies?
I don’t know. All I have is, Christopher Nolan had a blank check to make the ultimate Batman movie, and for some reason the explosions were weak. You see a Michael Bay explosion? Those things are like BOOOOOOOOOOOM! In this movie, half of Gotham City blows up, and you just go… oh. Okay. That exploded.
Catwoman was amazing, though. Gold star, Catwoman.
9. Pitch Perfect
Yeah, now I’m hitting close to home, aren’t I? Yeah, I know, I suck, but c’mon. This movie was not all that and a bag of potato chips. It was more all that and one of those little bags of potato chips you get in a snack pack. “Oh, I’m eating potato chips—and I’m done.”
Look, I fully support this whole thing of casting young, charismatic actresses to play in quippy, self-aware movies about ridiculous girl sports with lots of gay subtext. But if you’re going to do the whole girl power, believe in yourself, social justice thing—maybe don’t have a character who can be referred to as “the fat one” and hates running (but loves food)? Or a lesbian character who regularly molests unwilling straight women? Or a queerbaiting running gag because what, women being attracted to other women? Ho ho ho, what an amusing diversion!
Man, if anyone from Tumblr read these things, I would’ve really pissed them off right about now. Luckily, I think I lost everyone with that Shailene Woodsley article.
And I’ll even spot you the unfriendly Asian roommate character, movie, and the quiet Asian character, but you do know you made a movie about a capella music with a clear villain and then that villain gets no comeuppance? What, are you saving that for a sequel? Pitch Perfect 2: Mo’ Top 40 Hits, Mo’ Problems?
And don’t get me started on you fandom. You don’t get to complain about other fandoms focusing on white guys’ cocks when you totally sideline the canonically gay black character to focus on two straight white women and their USA Network chemistry. Drop the mic, I’m done with it.
7. The Hunger Games
Yeah, now I’m just hating women, I know, I know. Yes, Jennifer Lawrence was great, the story was fine, even Lenny Kravitz wasn’t that bad. And I know this movie was never going to be an R-rated thing with little kids decapitating each other.
But Jesus Christ, it’s the future, how come they can summon crappy CGI dog monsters out of thin air, but not hold the camera still for three seconds? Is it because District 12 is poor? So poor they can’t afford tripods?
I could forgive that, but so much of the story ended up compromised from the book, botched even. The whole aspect of the Hunger Games pitting the Districts against each other to explain why they don’t just join forces and rise up. The idea of Katniss having to play-act falling in love to get ahead in the competition (I know, I know, you’d have to use voiceover narration to get that across, but that’s why you hire an Oscar-nominated actress to play the lead, so she can make that voiceover narration compelling). That was the heart of the story; without it, we’re pretty much just watching children going through a bunch of horrendous shit because of their cruel, uncaring overlords. And if I wanted to see that, I would DVR Dance Moms.
Oh, and the book sold a bajillion copies, so why isn’t there any money to make Katniss’s flame-dress look good? You’re killing me here.
6. Expendables 2
Oh, you thought you were getting off easy, menfolk? Oh no. It’s time to talk about Expendables 2.
Look, The Expendables was surprisingly good and this one was improved in some respects. At least the characters didn’t spend most of the movie considering doing the thing the movie’s about like they’re the fucking Hamlet Squad. This is a men-on-a-mission movie, and in Expendables 2: Grumpier Old Men, the characters spend most of their time being men and going on a mission.
But Christ, movie… if you send men on a mission, I want to see those men on their mission, and maybe a little of the villains. I don’t want the Reagan-era equivalent of Batman and Robin climbing up the side of a building and running into Dick York for ninety minutes. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis showed up in the first movie; it was funny then, but now they’ve worn out their welcome. And then we get Chuck Norris? And an Expendable dies, but it isn’t the terrible Randy Couture, it’s the new guy no one cares about?
(Not that anyone cares about Randy Couture. He’s terrible.)
This isn’t a Funny Or Die sketch. I don’t want the Governator and Bruno to show up and make jokes about other movies they’ve been in, I just want this movie to be awesome. That means when the villains have kung-fu fights, they last for more than twenty seconds. When there’s a shoot-out, more happens than the actors waving CGI muzzle flashes around and quick cuts to anonymous henchmen yakking up CGI blood.
Now, this next one has the exact same problem, just with a different kind of fan service.
5. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Hahaha, three Hobbit movies, I bet there’ll be a long scene where Bilbo just eats or walks around or does something else uncinematic! There, that’s out of the way. Actually, The Hobbit was pretty good, aside from my own personal preference that movies not have characters who walk around with bird shit in their hair or blow their noses with other characters. But fuck, what do I know, I liked Sucker Punch.
But yeah, Peter Jackson actually pulled it off. All the dwarves and Bilbo and (of course) Gandalf are all great. It’s fun to spend time with them. They do cool shit. So if this movie were just a men on a mission movie about dwarves robbing a dragon, it wouldn’t be on this list.
But imagine you’re seeing this movie with a guy sitting next to you. An obnoxious guy who keeps reminding you that this movie is a prequel to Lord of the Rings. “Yeah, look at that guy, he’s from Lord of the Rings! Hey, there’s a thing from Lord of the Rings! Man, I wonder what trilogy that’sfrom!”
Well, the movie does that for you. It’s filled with fan service that actually does a disservice to the movie you’re actually watching. I know it’s hard to pass judgment, seeing only one-third of an eventual trilogy, buuut… Okay. We start off with old Bilbo, from Lord of the Rings, writing a book about his old adventures. Okay, little bit of fan service, little bit of nostalgia, not so bad. Then that goes on for five minutes! Frodo shows up! That sign from Lord of the Rings shows up! Frodo goes off to meet Gandalf, just like in Lord of the Rings!
Then we get to Martin Freeman, and dwarves, and Gandalf, and it’s smooth sailing. Singing! Lightheartedness! Sentimentality! Who said anything about bloat, we’ve moving right along, we’re getting information, we’re meeting characters, we’re having fun. Finally, Bilbo sets off on his adventure—
–and we stop to flashback to how Thorin became Batman and his arch-nemesis, The Whitest Orc U Know. Okay, fine. We’re moving again, starting to tell these twelve dwarves apart and see Bilbo and Gandalf get to know each other better—
–wait, no, there’s this other wizard named Radagast the Brown who loves animals so much that he makes them drag his fat ass around on a sled. And he’s meeting the James Howlett version of Sauron.
Didn’t need that. The only way The Hobbit needs to be a prequel to Lord of the Rings is introducing the One Ring and Gollum. Everything else is covered in Lord of the Rings. The material does not go uncovered in those movies. It takes more time to watch that trilogy than it takes Jack Bauer to save the world.
But okay. Back to the dwarves—you know, the fat one, the old guy, the hot ones, the polite ones, the bald one, the other bald one, and Bat-Dwarf. They’re fighting trolls, joking around, accepting Bilbo into their club or not as the story requires. Now they’re in Rivendell, fun seeing the old homestead again, on we go—
After an endless scene where Saruman acts like a dick, just so his betrayal in Lord of the Rings has no weight, and basically turns into Da Chief in any eighties cop movie. “Gandalf, you’re saying Sauron is bringing in a drug shipment? He’s the biggest contributor to the mayor’s re-election fund! Turn in your gun and your badge, you’re off the case!”
You could apply similar criticisms to the third act, and the double dose of orc-fighting sequences, whether Bilbo could’ve proved his worth by saving the company in Goblintown instead of Gandalf Ex Machina, whether Bilbo needed to prove himself to the company at large and Thorin, why Azog needs to be a bunch of pixels instead of a really big guy painted white. Whatever. If we’re not going to call Quentin Tarantino on being self-indulgent, we shouldn’t fuck over the guy who gave us Brain Dead.
And yeah, the whole thing is a full and complete movie. You could cut all the stuff I talked about and you’d just have a two hour movie instead of a two and a half hour movie. It might flow better, have a nicer pace, but it’d still be the same basic story. But if you replaced all that shit with men-on-a-mission stuff, used the “old Bilbo writing a story” device to give us backstory on the dwarves instead of saving all that for the production diaries, you’d have a story that was truly special. I want to tell the difference between Dori and Nori, I really do. I just don’t want to play an ARG or whatever to do it.
Prometheus is the closest movie on this list to being a bad movie, which is to say it is a bad movie. But like that boyfriend you had in college who spends three weeks eating Cheetos on your couch and playing X-Box, only to surprise you with a DVD of your favorite anime when you’re about to surgery his benign tumor ass, Prometheus stubbornly refuses to be as bad as Alien 3. “Look, gorgeous cinematography! Look, a suspenseful and engaging scene! Look, an interesting character with intriguing relationships!” You walk away planning some totally cool fanfic based on twenty seconds of a two-hour-plus movie. Then you finish it, publish it, and realize you’ve just written ten thousand words based on a film where a woman is killed because she forgets she can move to her right and left.
Also, a forty-five-year-old man is cast as the universe’s oldest man, one of the world’s top scientists tries to pet something that looks like E.T.’s penis, and humanity’s most advanced medical technology can only be set for boy-parts, not lady-parts. Apparently, in the future, we can treat cancer, just not having a vagina.
Lucky for you, Prometheus, somehow you didn’t waste Charlize Theron quite as much as Snow White And The Huntsman. So, gold star. But if you get a sequel that ends with “we have to go to yet another planet to find out the aliens’ really secret secrets,” I will fucking pee in Damon Lindelof’s mouth and tell him it’s the secret of the Island.
No. No. I know what you’re going to say. It’s the best Bond movie in years. That’s true. But there hasn’t been a Bond movie in years. So it’s the best Bond movie since Quantum of Solace. So what? The Rock counts as a better Bond movie than Quantum of Solace. At least it had Sean Connery and none of the henchmen were named Elvis.
When MGM went bankrupt and Skyfall went on hold, I thought it would be like a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. JCVD gets cheated out of facing his arch-enemy at whatever underground fighting tournament it is this year, but he uses that time to get pumped and maybe fall in love with a spunky reporter. Instead, I get Charlie Sheen in Major League II, complacent and out of touch.
Okay, so, what’s the point of the new Q if he doesn’t give Bond gadgets? He just yells things over Bond’s earpiece like Chloe on 24? Don’t we already have, like, four people who do that? I was happy with, what’s his face, Tanner doing that, but now it’s so much better because Q is the one going “Bond, you have to get that microchip”? And Bond has this one scar to show he’s mentally scarred (in the emotions), but was that from the assassin shooting him or from Moneypenny shooting him? And seriously, “we’ve never been formally introduced, despite working together twice and having sex”? And the random assassination that Bond does nothing to prevent, even though the last time he saw a random assassination taking place in QoS, he stopped it and it turned out that the target had vital information on his mission? And the Bond girl that only exists to give exposition to Bond and die? And the way Bond just forgets he can take out five henchmen at once until after this innocent women gets killed? And the bit where Bond has the villain at gunpoint, but just stands there as the guy takes out a radio detonator, tells Bond it’s a radio detonator, and blows something up?
Second paragraph! And Silva letting himself get captured just so he can get on a subway train? And Silva being just as good an agent as Bond was and a physical match for him, only they never actually fight? And the fact that the whole movie is basically a long checklist of The Dark Knight‘s TV Tropes page? And the CGI komodo dragons? And the bit where Bond just gets into a shower with a sex slave and starts fucking her because they talked for five minutes, so obviously she’s up for it? And the fact that the villain pretty much does everything he set out to do, but the end still plays it as Bond getting his groove back? And this guy Patrice is the closest thing the movie has to a distinctive henchman, but he’s just a guy with close-cropped hair in a suit, so you can’t even tell him and Bond apart when they fight? And the supervillain doesn’t even search Bond for a tracking device, what, are they on the honor system? And at the end, the highest-ranking spy in Britain makes a getaway by waving around a flashlight in the middle of the night on her way to a highly visible building instead of just staying in the secret passage? And what’s with the bit where the villain comes onto Bond just so he can go “hey, I might have fucked a dude, YOU DON’T KNOW”? And why’d they write a part for Sean Connery, then just cast Albert Finney as Sean Connery?
But I’m cool with the Aston Martin showing up and having machine guns in the headlights all of a sudden. That was fine.
3. John Carter
Yeah, I know, I wanted it to be a cult classic too. But let’s face it, there were a few things John Carter could’ve done to making it flopping a little more undeserved. And not just the title. Yeah, John Carter And The Princess of Mars would’ve been boss, but there are other aspects.
Like, I don’t know, why do we spend like half an hour on Earth, seeing Edgar Rice Burroughs inherit an estate? So it’s like, “the John Carter books really happened, they were based on real life!” Because that just makes it weird, since in the books, everyone is buck-ass nude. Which means all the stories Taylor Kitsch told to E.R.B., he decided “yeah, that was good, but what if all of your johnsons were hanging out?” So according to Disney, the inventor of sci-fi was like James Frey plus the Internet. Why?
And I don’t want to harp on this too much, but isn’t Taylor Kitsch a little young to have already married, and started a family, only to have them killed so he can spend years wallowing in grief—at the beginning of the movie? I’ve watched Friday Night Lights, you were just playing high school football a few years ago! And what exactly killed them? Wandering DC Comics editors? Joss Whedon’s id?
But okay, a lot of stories start off rough. But then we get to Mars and—oh boy. There’s our heavy, Seb Than. He’s completely pointless, because he’s just a puppet of the real villain, Matai Shang. Who isn’t even really in this story, they were saving him for the sequel. It’s like if Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie had kept cutting to Alfred Molina eating dinner with his wife. Yeah, I’m fine with being teased with all the great stuff you have planned, but don’t keep interrupting the pizza I’m eating now to wave a steak under my nose and saying “Just wait until the next course! You’re gonna love it! It’ll be so great!”
This isn’t Lost, it’s a space opera. For kids, even. If the story had been John Carter vs. the vile Seb Than—he gets the girl, he saves the day, he kills the bad guy—then the last scene was Matai Shang laughing evilly, we’d be cool. But instead, we get all these bells and whistles and detours and affectations.
The movie just never really settles down. That sounds like a good thing, but it’s not. Something I really liked about Looper was how it stopped to delve into this weird little farmhouse where the hero holes up in the second act, and showed us all these deep characters and their dynamic. John Carter never does that. It just keeps jumping all over the place. We’re on Mars! No, we’re on Earth! No, we’re on Earth in the past! No, we’re on Mars, but a different part of Mars, and John Carter is earning his place amongst these green monster people and dealing with this space princess.
Okay, so that’s the movie, right? No, they leave the green monster people to check out these blue albinos. Now this chick is getting married to Seb Than, now James Purefoy is showing up and he seems cool—no, he’s only in this movie for ten minutes, because we’re back with the green people. Now the bad green person has taken over, so we have to get the good green person back in charge, so we can take out Seb Than so we can get to the blue albinos.
It’s like Star Wars always slowed down. There were only two or three planets a movie. They’re doing a thing on Hoth, that’s done, now he’s on Dagobah, she’s on Bespin, that’s the movie. This is like twenty different movies shoved together to appeal to a fanbase of a book that twelve people have read. Like, damn, man, this ain’t Shakespeare, you can leave some shit out.
And I’ve seen this movie twice, once in 2D, once in 3D. I have no idea what the villain’s plan is. Alright, so Matai Shang is part of this advanced alien race that feeds on destruction—somehow. And they’re worried about Dejah Thoris discovering nineth-ray energy, since that’s their power source. But instead of killing her, they give ninth-ray energy to Seb Than, since he’s such an asshole he won’t be any good at it or something. And then they want Seb Than to marry Dejah Thoris, then kill her, which will be even worse than killing her to begin with or just using ninth-ray energy to kill everyone, since it will lead to endless war which will be good for Matai Shang. And also somehow Seb Than is turning all of Mars into desert because he has a walking city?
Oh, and John Carter is effectively invincible, since he’s super-strong and can jump really high, so all the adventuring in this adventure movie is boring anyway, and yet the Matai Shang guys can just wave their hand and kill him, so that can’t be a good fight either, so… wait, what’s this movie about even?
Yeah, now it’s time for the movies you don’t care about. I probably should’ve ordered this list better. Safe, as you don’t remember, was a cleverer-than-average Jason Statham action movie which was just smart enough to be disappointing when it got stupid. For one thing, if your movie’s premise is that a badass ex-cop ex-cagefighter widower has to defend a cute little kid, maybe they should spend the movie together instead of having the cute little kid immediately be captured after they meet so the rest of the movie is Jason Statham trying to get her back. That’s just me, thinking the central relationship in a movie should actually be a relationship and not just “You take little girl! Me kick!”
Second, I appreciate the speed with which this movie shuffles through the bad guys killing Jason Statham’s wife. That said, if Jason Statham is married in a movie and the bad guys kill his wife, I expect Jason Statham to go on a roaring rampage of revenge, not forgive them or say “No big” or whatever. For fuck’s sake, I’m watching a Jason Statham movie, not going to Sunday school. Although ironically, I am looking forward to Sunday School, with Jason Statham and Clea Duvall.
Third, if your movie specifically includes a character who’s the biggest badass ever and is specifically meant to fight and kill Jason Statham because he’s the only person in the movie who’s a physical match for him—they should fight. I’m not sure why I have to tell you this. The hero should fight the bad guy in an action movie. Sure, it’s “clever” that you promised me a cool action sequence and gave me nothing, in the same way it’d be “funny” if you said you were making me a steak sandwich and then dumped it in the trash. Just give me the damn sandwich, I didn’t come to your restaurant for a comedy routine.
I swear to Christ, Statham, when Parker comes out, you had better punch twice as many people as usual, because you are in the red with me, sport.
Same problem here. Gina Carano, you are Jason Statham with ovaries and that’s what I love about you, but explain the logic to me here. Okay, Steven Soderbergh calls you up and says he’s making an action movie and casting you in the lead because you can actually fight. He then casts people who can’t fight in all the other roles. So the entire movie is just you beating up people who can barely defend themselves. That isn’t so much a film as it is high school.
Maybe it would be different if the story were engaging, but this was basically The Bourne Legacy to The Bourne Legacy‘s The Bourne Ultimatum. Oh, this spy chick with no personality or likable qualities has been betrayed. I wonder which of the people in her life that I don’t know or care about has betrayed her. Let’s have several scenes of her driving around like she’s in a seventies cop show. I guess I’m supposed to care now that she has the personality trait of knowing how to drive a car. Now she’s meeting this kinda likable civilian guy who maybe will get to know her or fall for her or help reveal her characterization nope he’s out of the movie immediately. And it turns out the villain is her ex-boyfriend, who tried to have her killed because feminist message, and in the process her other ex-boyfriend died because feminist message, and now she’s going to go kill Michael Douglas and start working for Antonio Banderas, or maybe the other way around because their characters are completely interchangeable.
Then the movie’s over, even though by my count the terrorist who was behind everything is still out there somewhere, being boring, and I realize the movie peaked when Michael Fassbender died. Which, just writing that, I probably should’ve guessed.
But anyway, we’ve had an A-list cast and crew produce an absolute B-movie screenplay, so now that little thought experiment is over and we can go back to actually trying to make good movies, or at least good bad movies. Apparently Gina Carano’s next few movies are Taken with boobs, The Expendables with boobs, and The Fast And The Furious Part Boobs. Thank you.
Honorable mention: Jack Reacher really should’ve cast anyone but shaved Ewok Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher. The physicality is a vital part of the character, far more so than race. If they couldn’t have found a tall white guy to play the part, they should’ve gotten a tall black guy, and the last fifty years of basketball says that is not a problem. You could’ve found a woman taller than Tom Cruise to play the part.
Wait a minute… that gives me an idea…