What you tend to find at the end of the year is an avalanche of lists celebrating the best films of the year. No-one ever sets out to celebrate those films for which the middle of the road is the best they can hope for, and for good reason; awards are there for the pinnacle of achievement, not the also rans. However, democracy is a bad idea as, in general, people are stupid (not you, dear reader, of course; you’re actually giving up your time to read what I’ve written, so you are a genius), and not all the right movies get the credit they deserve. There are some that seem to have garnered high praise, where moderate acknowledgement or general apathy would have been more appropriate. So here’s the list of the ten that have, in my humble obviously correct opinion, received an entirely incorrect amount of credit this year.
For each film I’ve shown the score from the aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, showing the level of general critical consensus. A reminder that a score of 60% or above is Fresh, below is Rotten.
What the critics said: “A shrewd and confident drama.” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
“Chock full of terrific performances…” – Ian Freer, Empire
“Easily the best Wall Street movie ever made…” – David Denby, New Yorker
Why they’re wrong: The biggest mistake in Margin Call is the oversimplification of the financial crisis. What this amounts to is then a series of men in suits looking at screens and looking concerned, then acting as if the implications of that were obvious. While many of the two or three handers that follow are dramatically engaging, it’s about as satisfying biting into a Scotch egg to discover a hole in the middle. The drama simply doesn’t work with nothing to bind the meat around.
What the critics said: “A rollicking good ride” – David Jenkins, Time Out
“A fresh, muscular payback movie” – Simon Crook, Empire
“Watching Carano kick, spin, flip, choke, crack and crush the fiercest of foes… is thoroughly entertaining, highly amusing and frankly somewhat awe-inspiring” – Betsy Sharkey, LA Times
Why they’re wrong: Another instance of great moments with no foundation, but this time instead of a central concept it’s actual drama that we’re missing. Gina Carano is attractive, feisty, just about a good enough actress so as to not be distracting and kicks huge amounts of ass, but it’s less interesting than a walk down a one-way street, so utterly bereft is the narrative of any sense of drama, plot or anything to engage more than one part of the brain.
What the critics said: “Sure footed, witty and zany fun” – Claudia Puig, USA Today
“A clever piece of business that is a complete pleasure to experience.” – Kenneth Turan, LA Times
“Another Aardman triumph.” – Olly Richards, Empire
Why they’re wrong: Aardman have a reputation for delivering fantastic animation with heart, soul and plenty of laughs, and while all are present here they’re served in much smaller portions than usual, replacing belly laughs and wild inspiration with moderate chuckles and the odd flash of wit. It’s a shame, as it feels like there was the potential for a classic within the material, it just wasn’t exploited to its full potential.
What the critics said: “A rousing, gorgeously animated good time” – Pete Travers, Rolling Stone
“…packs a level of poignancy on par with such beloved male-bonding classics as Finding Nemo” – Peter Debruge, Variety
“A hugely entertaining, properly magical adventure” – Matthew Turner, View London
Why they’re wrong: Pixar have had a fantastic run, and you can’t fault them for wanting to try something different; it does feel slightly misanthropic to criticise it when that doesn’t come off, but this push into a true fairy tale ironically loses some of the magic that we associate with Pixar. Again, a lack of real laughs doesn’t help, but the setting and the lack of sympathetic characters at the start also make it difficult to truly engage the magic.
What the critics said: “This is not a film that will change the whole world, but one that just might charm it.” – Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph
“The Intouchables is simply irresistible” – Ed Gibbs, The Sun Herald
“The cliches are so skillfully navigated only the heartless will fail to be charmed” – Matt Glasby, Flicks.co.nz
Why they’re wrong: A case of almost too much of a good thing, The Intouchables has all the right ingredients for a light souffle of a movie, but proceeds to bake them together into a cynical, leaden frittata instead. Pretty much every cliché you can imagine turns up, to the point where the last act is just a soul-destroying progression of predictability and cheese. The last kicker comes when the real life counterparts are revealed, and they look and act nothing like their filmic equivalents; it’s not inconceivable to think that their story was nothing like this, either.
What the critics said: “A caustic but thoroughly impressive kick in the teeth” – Tim Robey, Daily Telegraph
“A juicy, bloody, grimy and profane crime drama that amply satisfies as a deep-dish genre piece” – Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter
“It is outstandingly watchable, superbly and casually pessimistic” – Peter Bradshaw, Guardian
Why they’re wrong: There’s a wonderfully grimy crime thriller at the heart of Killing Them Softly, but oddly for a man whose previous film lasted about four days it’s far too slight, feeling undercooked at just over an hour and a half. Additionally, there’s a political subtext that’s so heavy-handed you can practically see the hand prints where it’s been slapped around by director Andrew Dominik. Despite a few great performances, Killing Them Softly never gets out of third gear.
What the critics said: “Beautiful, funny, timely and tender, this is the American arthouse movie of the year.” – Damon Wise, Empire
“This film is a remarkable creation” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
“Treat yourself to the experience of this perfect storm of a film” – Richard Corliss, TIME Magazine
Why they’re wrong: Sure, there’s a lot going on here, and much of it is moving, even close to magical, but there’s almost too many ideas, and too many rough edges that don’t fit together. It almost feels that the removal of the most overtly magical elements and some quick editing might have made something more efficient out of this, but in its current form its ramshackle charm kept me only mildly engaged, rather than truly winning me over.
What the critics said: “Dramatic, emotional, even heartbreaking, as well as wickedly funny… a complete success from a singular talent.” – Kenneth Turan, LA Times
“…the exuberant new movie from David O. Russell, does almost everything right.” – Manohla Dargis, New York Times
“…the scenes between Pat and Tiffany are sculpted with an almost David Mamet-like sharpness.” – Justin Chang, Variety
Why they’re wrong: The seemingly random portrayals of mental illness (let’s pick a description and assign it to a character, whether or not that’s what the character’s actually suffering from) don’t serve the characters or the story particularly well, and that means that the final moral of “cheer up and do a bit of dancing and everything will be fine” is borderline insulting. All the more unfortunate that the cracking performances, from the powerhouse of Jennifer Lawrence to the restraint of Chris Tucker, get lost in the misguided plotting.
End Of Watch – Tomatometer 85%
“…one of the best police movies in recent years…” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
“End of Watch cuts past the cliches of standard police procedurals” – Peter Debruge, Variety
Why they’re wrong: The cops are fine, the action sequences are often great, and even Anna Kendrick does fantastic work as the new wife of Jake Gyllenhall’s grounded cop. But the movie makes far too much effort setting up a self-filmed visual conceit that recalls found footage, then abandons it when the going gets tricky, and the bad guys feel like they’ve been written by troubled five year olds with a dictionary of bad guy cliches that they’re having trouble reading. It then becomes impossible to take any of it remotely seriously, and the ending is left fatuous when it should be deeply emotional.
And the one where people were wrong the other way:
What the critics said: “I felt as if someone had dragged me into the kitchen of my local Greggs, and was baking my head into the centre of a colossal cube of white bread.” – Peter Bradshaw, Guardian
“It feels less like a revival of a classic saga than a rip-off twice removed.” – Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph
“Considering it stems from a story that helped define a genre limited only by imagination, John Carter is a curiously dull film.” – Jordan Farley, SFX Magazine
Why they’re wrong: Admittedly it does take a little while to get going and it’s a little po-faced initially, but once it does John Carter is an old fashioned romp that’s a lot of fun. It’s actually the film you feel George Lucas was trying to make with large parts of Attack Of The Clones, which maybe is why everyone took to it so badly, because who wants to be reminded of that? And spare a thought for Taylor Kitsch, who got this and the genuinely awful Battleship. He deserves more luck in 2013, even if a return trip to Mars seems somewhat unlikely.