I’ve seen two movies already this year that lived up to big expectations: Blue Jasmine and Gravity. I consider this a triumph! How often does this happen? Not that often, as you’ll see in the following list: the 10 biggest movie disappointments of the past five years. Maybe we didn’t expect all of these features to be critical darlings, but we had reasons to root for their success. And that was our downfall.
10. Love and Other Drugs
I will say this about Love and Other Drugs: It is one of the best-GIF’d movies ever. There’s a naked Jake Gyllenhaal hunched over with his junk tucked in! There’s a naked Jake Gyllenhaal’s delicate ass! There’s Anne Hathaway getting out of naked Jake Gyllenhaal’s way! Truly, I found his nudity in this movie exceptional. But that is absolutely all. For a movie with a lot of charisma in its two leads (and if you’re one of those people who pretends Anne Hathaway has no charisma, just see yourself to the door), this was almost unbearable. How about that comic sideplot where a homeless man keeps stealing medications from the dumpster, and we watch his life improve thanks to the power of magical drug companies? How about the strangely insensitive treatment of people with Parkinson’s (which afflicts Hathaway’s character)? What about the fact that a movie about Viagra set in 1996 is mostly charmless to begin with?
9. The Canyons
I’m sure this emergency has already been brought to your attention, but mediocre straight people think they know what camp is. It’s 2013, after all. They deserve their shot. But dear world: A movie is not campy and a must-see because it features a down-and-out actress and a porn star. In order for a movie to be ironically entertaining, it has to be going for something. It has to have the desire to entertain. It has to have delirium or gusto or a character actress or something. The Canyons, the much-ballyhooed comeback project of Lindsay Lohan, was a myopic and charmless LA story featuring a merely boring James Deen, a sad Lindsay Lohan who shows traces of un-sad potential, and nothing else. I wanted to leave this movie with something resembling a semi-shocking Less Than Zero vibe, but I mostly left the theater forgetting I’d watched it at all.
Now, no one thought Madonna’s first directorial feature was going to win the Palme d’Or. Or even the Saturn Award equivalent of the Palme d’Or. But I’m hoping I speak for others when I say the combination of Madonna’s eye and Wallis Simpson’s strange, distinct, and often contemptible life seemed potentially interesting. “Interesting” is the last thing W.E. is. It is a three-hour De Beers commercial. Andrea Riseborough is charming (and a dead ringer for young Bette Davis) as Wallis, but Abbie Cornish is a rich, unlikable, shallow husk as Wallis’ contemporary counterpart. (Did I mention there’s a parallel storyline here? Because there is one, and it’s meaningless.) Worse, scenes of domestic violence are laughably overdramatic, and the Golden Globe-winning Madonna tune at the end of the film, “Masterpiece,” is easily one of her worst songs ever. Poor James D’Arcy, so august and good-looking as Edward VIII and as Anthony Perkins in Hitchcock, another disappointing, glossy period piece.
7. Rock of Ages
Or as I like to call it: Gym Teacher’s iPod. Anytime a Broadway hit is adapted for the big screen, you want it to rule since the formula seems impossible to screw up. The great songs! The fun characters! The dancing! But Rock of Ages proves you can draft every available A-lister and still screw up an intentionally dorky good time. Tom Cruise is merely fine as snarling rocker Stacee Jaxx, Catherine Zeta-Jones is zanily overcompensating as an ’80s Tipper Gore type, and there is so little charisma between stars Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough that you end up hating the entire ’80s. Also: These songs are not so timeless after all. Particularly “Any Way You Want It.” No more.
6. Dark Shadows
Dark Shadows was that rare case when a bigtime director’s visual aesthetic melded perfectly with dated old source material. But aside from an impressively spooky appearance, what else did did Dark Shadows get right? The movie mocks soap opera conventions and peddles through subplots, but nothing sticks. It’s as if you’re watching a pitch for a movie (“Tim Burton! Johnny Depp! ’70s schlock! Let’s get Michelle Pfeiffer too! Why not?”) and not an actual film with real comedy, real kookiness, or a real point. It’s an anemic movie that wants to be bloody fabulous. I hate when Hollywood successfully engages the country in a silly, campy throwback, yet can’t even deliver on the promise of a silly good time.
Burlesque was such an absurd idea from the start that I prayed for it to defy the rules of this universe and be marvelous. Cher as a wiseacre club owner? Christina Aguilera as a showgirl from Iowa? Like The Canyons, Burlesque merely mimics the concept of camp without producing any of the outrageous appeal that should go with it. I mean, sure, I can watch the footage of Cher whinnying “Wagon Wheel Watusi!” thousands of times, but that doesn’t compensate for the fact that Christina Aguilera’s storyline is utterly dull. And her storyline featured Cam Gigandet’s naked ass! How is this possible? It’s Love and Other Drugs syndrome all over again.
4. J. Edgar
Look, Clint Eastwood: Don’t tackle a biopic subject with a debatable history of homosexuality and crossdressing, then “leave it up to the audience” to decide whether any of it is true. We’re already wondering if it’s true. You have to make a believable portrait of a human being with that information now. Unfortunately, J. Edgar turned out to be an overlong, makeup-heavy, historically questionable snooze. And what was with the bleak, hazy cinematography in this movie? It’s like Clint filmed the entire thing by a dimly lit shelf at Abercrombie & Fitch. Then there’s Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance. At some point in Leo’s adult life, he decided he was only capable of playing rich people with Asperger’s, and here he’s at his most socially awkward and transparently “intense.”
This is a defining disappointment: The trailer for Nine was so, so good, and the movie was so, so dull. Not to disrespect the goddess and Tony-winner Jane Krakowksi, but I think part of the problem here is Nine’s boring story. Writer’s block is hardly a fascinating topic (though I do like the first 20 minutes of Julia, so maybe I’m wrong), and Daniel Day-Lewis is not the man to sell it with musical whizzbang. Nor are Fergie, Penelope Cruz, Kate Hudson, Marion Cotillard, and Judi Dench, who appear randomly in this movie and can’t sustain a fun pace with their limited onscreen presences. How did Penelope Cruz get an Oscar nomination for this? How? Which of her two funny lines did it for her?
2. Les Miserables
I will never forget — as long as I live — how self-congratulatory every single trailer for this movie was. Hugh Jackman opined endlessly about how lip-syncing in movie musicals “takes you out of the moment.” Amanda Seyfried gushed about Tom Hooper’s visionary direction. Anne Hathaway wanted to weep every day on set, she was so in love. And so did we, after we got an earful of Russell Crowe’s singing voice, an eyeful of the joylessly overwrought drama at hand, and enough extreme closeups to put Wayne’s World to shame. Every single scene of this movie is both endless and awkward, and every actor tries mugging his/her way through the mess with fierce, photogenic determination. Again, I like Anne Hathaway and I’m glad she has an Oscar, but I’m blown away that anyone could’ve found this blaring, overindulgent Evanescence video anything more than full of itself.
1. Sex and the City 2
Not to ruin the fun of getting to #1, but here’s a confession: There are things I don’t hate about this movie. Cynthia Nixon is a great comic actress, for one thing. OK, that’s it. I love Cynthia Nixon. Everything else about Sex and the City 2 rewrites what you remember about the (mostly) fabulous HBO series, turning its dependably adult characters into shrieking, jetsetting mannequins with suburbanite taste. Carrie’s TV-sharing problems with Big are eyeroll-worthy, as is her boring non-dalliance with Aidan in Abu Dhabi. Stanford’s marriage to Anthony still makes no sense in theory or in execution, and I apologize to Ms. Minnelli for its senselessness. But worst of all is Charlotte’s storyline, which amounts to anger over her adopted children and how they sometimes stain her white pants. Oh God. Oh God, that was real. Sex and the City 2 is a vacation movie that amounts to one bad, ugly, delirious, unbelievable, unlikable, Pat Field-sponsored trip.