Happy New Year, everyone! I hate to start 2015 with a negative post, but since I recently wrote about my most anticipated films of the year, I thought I would share a few 2014 titles that didn’t live up to my expectations. (I’ve excluded Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” since I already wrote about my disappointment with that film.)
This one may or may not have been on your radar. It’s the second feature from David Michod. His first, “Animal Kingdom,” was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (Jacki Weaver), and it was one of my favorite films of 2010. It’s a masterclass in the slow burn. “The Rover”…not so much. It’s hard to imagine a film with so many graphic headshots could be so dull. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, Guy Pearce plays Eric, a man bent on retrieving his car from a trio of thieves. In an effort to find the three baddies, he kidnaps one of their brothers, Rey (Robert Pattinson). There’s clear conflict, one man holding another against his will. There’s a certain level of intrigue — we don’t know why, at least not right away, but Eric is fixated on getting this particular car back and there’ll be hell to pay if he doesn’t. Yet it feels so tedious. It’s the type of film that’s filled with silences and close-ups of weathered faces, which might speak volumes if we had any sense of what was driving these characters. Instead, we’re subjected to one grisly encounter after another without any real sense of forward movement or stakes. It just feels as though we’re perpetually circling the drain. I really liked the final reveal, when the reason for Eric’s dogged determination becomes clear, but it comes way too late. Instead of bringing the water to a boil, Michod leaves us with limp noodles.
Here’s another follow-up to a promising debut: John Carney’s 2007 musical, “Once,” was the little indie that could, earning an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Based on the strength of his first film, I was really looking forward to Carney’s next, “Begin Again.” Positive buzz out of the Toronto Film Festival did nothing to diminish my excitement. But sadly, this film is the antiseptic cousin to “Once.” Gretta (Keira Knightley) is a singer-songwriter who recently left her cheating rockstar boyfriend. Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is a music executive separated from his wife and struggling to adapt to the changing industry. Like “Once,” both are artists aspiring to be more, informed by their relationship baggage. The film is frontloaded with drama…tired and stock drama, but drama none-the-less, but the second half is marked by an almost complete lack of it. Once the two commit to an artistic partnership and decide to record their album in locations throughout New York City, everything is sunshine and roses. For example, Dan visits one of his old clients, a superstar now. He pitches his idea, and tells the client that he needs drummers. “I’ll find drummers for ya.” But Dan can’t afford to pay them. “Shoot, I’ll pay for them out of my own pocket.” This scene takes all of 30 seconds. “Once” had genuine struggle and melancholy, which made the ending so gratifying. I really liked the music in “Begin Again,” but it forgets that you need darkness to appreciate the light. The film feels like 100 minutes of characters playing in a nice, safe sandbox.
During an interview for “Insomnia,” a film about a detective suffering from sleep deprivation, which might just be the least of his problems, director Christopher Nolan talked about the importance of communicating sleepiness without making the audience tired. Now, I think Paul Thomas Anderson, the writer and director of “Inherent Vice,” is one of the most talented filmmakers working today. Much too talented to make a meandering and directionless film just because it’s about a meandering and directionless character…but that’s what we got. Joaquin Phoenix plays Doc, a Private Eye searching for his ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend. It would take way too much real estate to go into the rest of the plot, though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. From “The Big Sleep” to “The Big Lebowski,” I’ve enjoyed a number of gumshoe detective movies with convoluted plots that I could scarcely recount. The performances here are all very strong, particularly Phoenix, Katherin Waterston as his ex, Josh Brolin as a policeman with a twinkle in his eyes that “says civil rights violation,” and Martin Short (!) as a dentist, but at two-and-a-half hours, this film is such a slog. It’s intermittently funny, but most of the humor is pretty sophomoric. In an early scene, Brolin’s “Bigfoot” Bjornsen slowly eats a banana on a stick. It looks like this macho officer of the law is performing felatio! Get it? Get it?! It’s not particularly funny the first time, and then we return to the joke, not once, but twice. I’ve seen a number of people defend the film, “Just go for the ride,” but does the ride need to be so damn long and aimless?
What were your most disappointing films of 2014? Comment below!