Welcome to the second annual Bitch Awards, celebrating the best and worst films and TV shows of the year. Stick around for the next two weeks as we raise a glass to our favourite works from 2012 (and duck as we unceremoniously throw the remote at our least favourites).
We’re almost at the top of our list of best and worst. Check out the films that come in at number two.
#2: Dark Shadows (Burton, 2012)
Upon viewing the trailers for Dark Shadows, I was intrigued by the humour presented and thought the film would deliver some great campy comedy (after all it’s based on a soap opera!) Boy was I wrong. All of the film’s comedic moments are in the trailer, and if you didn’t find those particularly humorous, then you might just hate this film more than I did.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m a “fan” of Johnny Depp, but I definitely appreciate his commitment to his craft and the way he whole-heartedly inhabits the strangest of characters. But while Depp is true to form in this film, the rest of it is just garbage. It is so nonsensical that I find it hard to even find the words to summarize it without choking on my exasperation.
Depp plays a vampire, Barnabus Collins who’s been trapped for 200 years only to awaken in the 1970s and rejoin his descendants. What follows is a list of uninspired and insipid obstacles as Barnabus tries to enact vengeance on the witch (Eva Green) that turned him into a vampire in the first place. With such a huge cast, the film suffers from character overload, refusing to develop a single one of them. Jonny Lee Miller’s role, for example, is hilarious (for all the wrong reasons). He utters six lines at best, is a kleptomaniac for some unknown reason, and then literally walks out of the picture lives halfway through the film just because Barnabus tells him to. Why he’s even there to begin with is a question that is never answered.
Stylistically, the film emulates the Tim Burton signature and I particularly appreciated the costumes and hair, but the makeup is puzzling. I can understand why Depp is made to look like a vampire but I can’t quite understand why everyone else, all humans, have the same pale skin and gaunt appearance with dark bags under their eyes. I suppose it’s Burton’s aesthetic, but the result is a very cold and distancing film, evoking a misplaced gothic tone that clashes with its 1970s time period. It would have been nice to see some contrast between the 1700s and the 1970s but everything feels washed-out and unfeeling.
I watched this film on an airplane and I was so bored by it, I contemplated switching to the virtual map because that would have been more entertaining. Marketed as a horror-comedy, the film is just as a confused as its classification: it is neither scary nor funny, existing in the nowhere land in-between.
#2: Total Recall (Wiseman, 2012)
Earlier this summer, when I saw the remake of Total Recall, I was both excited and very, very apprehensive. Unlike some fanboys, I don’t regard remakes as automatic atrocities – every once in a while one will come along and genuinely surprise you, so I’m willing to give them the benefit of a doubt. With the advances in special effects and a palatable cast of actors (I love me some Kate Beckinsale and Bryan Cranston, and Colin Farrell is pleasant enough to watch for aproximately 90 minutes). Director Len Wiseman is a question mark: like many other action film directors he frequently comes down on the side of style over substance, but the story itself – based on the Philip K. Dick short ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale’ – is prime real estate and begging for an update.
Needless to say, the position of this film on my ‘Worst Of’ list tells you had atrociously awful it really is (check out my original review here). Narratively the film is a freakin’ disaster (in the wake of a world-wide conflict the only two places left on earth are Australia and Britain so they construct a massive tunnel through the center of the earth and shuttle people back and forth? WTF?) At least the depictions of technology are interesting, though, right? Umm…not if you’ve seen Minority Report, which is more or less the same film, only from 10 years ago. They don’t even have more inspired weapons! It’s just bulkier looking craptacular guns.
The characters, as expected, are completely one-dimensional, with the sole exception being Kate Beckinsale, who constantly looks like she’s either a) in on the joke or b) having an amazing time punching Jessica Biel (atrocious as usual) in the face. It’s not long before you begin to wish the film would simply take Beckinsale’s character and give her her own bounty hunter spin-off. Lord knows it would be far more enjoyable than this hot mess of a disaster.
#2: Safety Not Guaranteed (Trevorrow, 2012)
Marketed as a quirky comedy, Safety Not Guaranteed totally delivers on all of its expectations. The film follows a magazine journalist (Jake Johnson) and his interns, Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni) to investigate a classified ad that reads as follows:
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.
Eventually the gang traces the ad back to grocery clerk, Kenneth (Mark Duplass) and Darius is tasked with going undercover in order to get to the bottom of why he placed it. Hilarity ensues and then some. Duplass is simply magnificent playing the slightly unhinged but completely lovable Kenneth. He’s so convincing that you wonder why no one believes this man is a time traveler. Plaza is a wonderful complement as the straight man, starting off as the cynical college student but very quickly evolving after her interactions with Kenneth. The supporting performances are also universally excellent, especially Johnson who plays a slight modification of his sarcastic character on New Girl.
What makes this film so memorable, however, is it’s absolutely shocking and satisfying ending (don’t worry – I won’t spoil it). Much of the film up until its final moments are pretty predictable, all moving toward a conventional ending. But when the ending does come, is it ever a treat. Coming out of nowhere, I was literally bursting with delight and as the credits rolled I was left in blissful contemplation.
This isn’t a profound film – it doesn’t instill any kind of life lesson or deep meanings, but I compare it to a mood enhancer. I couldn’t help but leave the theatre beaming, with a huge smile on my face. The ending of the film is the remarkable culmination of all of the events that preceded it and it is guaranteed to having you smiling and in good spirits. I can’t recommend this film enough – seek it out if you can.
#2: Argo (Affleck, 2012)
Argo is one of those “only in Hollywood” kind of tales, by which I mean that it seems too ridiculous to be real. And yet the film, which explores the 1980 Iran hostage crisis from the point of view of six US embassy employees who are smuggled out of the country as members of a Canadian film crew, is true.
Of course that doesn’t mean anything if the film depicting these events isn’t any good.
And that’s where Ben Affleck comes in. In many ways Affleck is more of the achievement here than the film. As an actor he’s been a middling success; as a director he’s producing some of the best films in recent years (how does that work?!)
Here he working with an exceptional crew of people, including Alan Arkin (a likely Oscar nominee) and John Goodman as producers who come aboard the fictitious film to legitimize it, as well as Bryan Cranston and Kyle Chandler as CIA honchos who greenlight the unlikely mission. But at the end of the day it is Affleck’s show: both as lead actor and as its director, he crafts an amazingly tight, suspenseful and compelling film. Any film that leaves viewers on the edge of their seat over whether or not a plane takes off, or if children will piece together strips of paper, is impressive indeed.
In a year filled with superhero films and outrageous comedies, Argo proves to be a politically relevant adult drama that hits the sweet spot by offering something completely outside the mainstream. And that’s a rare feat, indeed.
We’re almost at the top! Tomorrow we reveal our absolute best and total worst films of the year as the first week of the Bitch Awards comes to a close. Be sure to join us tomorrow to find out what we’ve chosen, and let us know what you think of our picks.