So what is an “almost” film and what part does it play in this, the final Year End evaluation from Short Ends and Leader? After all, we’ve already had a Best of, and a Worst. We’ve even explored the once fruitful realm of the Movies You’ve Never Heard Of. And within each category, we discussed other titles, films we would have included had the lists been more than a mere 10 choices long. So where does the “almost” movie fit in? How is it defined, and better still, why include another collection as part of a separate list? Well, every year, Hollywood waits until the last minute to unleash its award season specials on us suspecting critics, and every year we have to make a margin call when it comes to combined aesthetics. Sometimes, a movie fails to make the grade in one important category. Perhaps it just wasn’t “as good” as the other entries making up the final thumbs up/thumbs down tally.
Take The Hobbit for example. Peter Jackson is back in Tolkein territory, a place where the former New Zealand fear nerd garnered significant Oscar glory. But something about this new offering, while mining familiar fare, lacks the epic wonder of his original trek to Mount Doom. Maybe it was the decision to divide the relative lax kiddie book into three mammoth movies. Perhaps it’s keeping some of co-writer (and one time helmer) Guillermo Del Toro’s odder flights of fancy (fighting rock monsters?). Whatever the case, this introduction to a whole new Middle Earth mythology is good, but not great, signifying its place as an “almost” effort (as in “almost” a classic, etc. ). With each of the ten selections here, we will argue what kept it from making the Best of cut. Better still, we will even point out how, with a bit of individualized tweaking, they’d go from also-ran to amazing, beginning with:
Who marketed this madcap movie, and why did they focus on the fear factors so much? Yes, director Timur Bekmambetov tried to make the notoriously non-frightening neckbiters scary again, but that was not this film’s primary selling point. The filmmaker, noted for turning the otherwise unknown Wanted into a surprise Summer of 2008 splash, is really good at stylized action. He’s like John Woo with a deeper sense of post-modern bravado. Instead, the studio decided that the last part of the title was more important and gave us far too much supernatural gobbledygook. For us, this was beyond a guilty pleasure. It remains a misunderstood, and misdirection, hoot.
Insidious proved that a good haunted house story could still scare the bejesus out of a jaded and cynical 21st century audience, and for a while, this Ethan Hawke vehicle had the same fright night vibe. In fact, everything about the set-up signaled a really promising descent into found footage macabre madness (the home movies were especially creepy). But that ending? There are viewers who are still shrugging their shoulders over that one. So, the projector was possessed? The film found its next familial victims and then… huh? What? The first 80 minutes here were amazing. The last 20 or so screwed everything up.
You didn’t have to read the massively popular young adult novels upon which this movie was based in order to appreciate its premise. You just had to shift through a series of better ‘influences’ (like Japan’s jaundiced Battle Royale efforts) to see where Suzanne Collins was going. But the reason we didn’t get something that resonated deeper is simple—the pre-publicity hype, which more or less guaranteed that everyone would know everything about the story before it played out onscreen (including who would survive for the mandatory sequels). Not surprisingly, the follow-ups are finally on their way… and there’s little of the ad overkill that we experienced before.
There is only one thing that kept Ang Lee’s lyrical take on this “unfilmable” novel by Yann Martel off the SE&L Top Ten list—its big fat cheat of an ending. The CGI was astonishing (that tiger was NEVER real, FYI) and the acting and directing were impeccable. We even bought into the carnivorous island and phosphorescent sea. But why spend 110 minutes trying to convince us that everything you just saw actually happened only to say, “No, maybe not?” It’s like offering up a new luxury car when what you really intend to sell is a soiled Yugo. A tragedy that many in the mainstream could overlook. Not us.
Here’s how far the blockbuster has come/gone/changed since the mid-‘70s. Something solidly Me Decade like this inspired live-action take on the classic pulp character from Edgar Rice Burroughs is considered the biggest bomb of 2012 and Disney’s dumbest decision ever. And yet, it’s a carbon copy of such celebrated favorites as the original Superman, Logan’s Run, and—perish the thought—George Lucas’ original Star Wars. Sure, it’s story was a tad overcomplicated and the characters were drawn with a complexity that begged the short attention span of today’s Cineplex stalwart. This was still a very good epic. Too bad we’ll never see a proper franchise conclusion.