Dec 10, 2013

Listmania: The Biggest Disappointments

2013 was a solid year for pop culture, as it managed to present a lot of exciting new gizmos and entertainment to consume. There was a countless plethora of things to indulge in and thus it meant that just as much as there was good, there had to be bad. This list is a look at some of the disappointments that I experienced in my limited exposure to pop culture this year, as my summer movie diet didn't risk Pacific Rim or Man of Steel. What follows isn't necessarily a list of the worst of the worst, but things that had so much potential and ended up coming up a little short or unmemorable. This is a few of the things that disappointed me.

Joaquin Phoenix
1. Daniel Day Lewis beats Joaquin Phoenix at the Oscars

Say what you will about Zero Dark Thirty walking away with only one award (which was tied with something else on top of that), but the real travesty was the Best Actor race. While it is true that Joaquin Phoenix badmouthed the Academy in 2012 and thus ruined his possible win, it was a performance that was indeed overlooked. Where Daniel Day Lewis' Lincoln portrayal was apt, it lacked the charisma or fluidity that the seasoned actor usually brings to his roles. Phoenix in the Master has remained a complex, intriguing role full of physicality that reflects an actor who is unafraid to take risks. I couldn't say the same for Lewis no matter how hard I tried. His performance was no different than the horse in War Horse, and even then the horse wasn't on tranquilizers. 

Ryan Gosling
2. Only God Forgives

It was a rough year for Ryan Gosling. After Gangster Squad got bumped to January for being controversial in its depiction of violence, his summer film Only God Forgives becomes one of the most problematic films in his catalog. Teaming up again with violence auteur Nicholas Winding Refn, they violent, moody film was a confusing, cryptic mess that had nothing really tangible going for it, save for Cliff Martinez's amazing score. It was ultra-violent and attempted to turn the seedy underbelly into art by mixing bright lights with very dark rooms. The final product is crass and the story gets squeamish to the visuals, which are repulsive. In a sense, it is not only the worst thing that Gosling has done in years, but also a sore spot on a decent track record by Refn.

Katy Perry
3. Katy Perry - "Prism"

It is hard to actually have high hopes for pop music, especially it is all suggestive to a lot of mechanics. The most notable is radio play and how quickly it could become ingrained in the public's consciousness. However, the hype around Katy Perry's follow-up to the brilliant "Teenage Dream" does produce middling results. Intimacy has never been her strong suit and the writing is ripe with cliches. While this sees her exploring deeper themes related to her religious beliefs, there doesn't seem to be as much immediacy or tangibility in hooks or catchy songs. Even "Roar" is somewhat of a letdown when considering that it is a series of cliches strung together as a girl-power anthem. There is little authenticity on this album and we don't really understand the growth of Perry as a performer. Even if starts solid, it does lose steam rather quickly.

Ben Hoffman
4. The Ben Show

There seems to be an inherent flaw when host Ben Hoffman went around to various podcasts and claimed that one of the appeals to doing the Ben Show was to do offensive stuff that he could show friends and laugh about how a studio gave them money to do it. The former Infomania correspondent did little else on the show in ways of capturing the curmudgeon and joy that made his soapbox rants enjoyable. What is left is a lot of cheap gags at the expense of making him seem like a bigot. It doesn't feel nearly confident enough to pull it off and while the show managed to at least bring one recurring gag with merit (The Yobitchuaries), it wasn't enough to make his attempt to be off the wall any more appealing. 

Left to right: Vince Gilligan and Aaron Paul
5. The Mythbusters' Breaking Bad Special

It was supposed to be a moment of triumph. In the closing season of Breaking Bad, the show was experiencing its biggest presence in the zeitgeist. Almost everyone that ever wanted to crossover with them did. It was even intriguing to consider that Mythbusters would be one of them, as they would be able to put Walter White's scientific schemes to the test. The result was an hour-long program that only did three experiments. In a show that had four and a half seasons of scientific moments, the choices were uninspired and wasted the potential of labeling something "special." While it was fun to watch Vince Gilligan and Aaron Paul hamming it up, the program itself lacked any clarity to bringing something insightful or fun to the crossover episode.

James McAvoy
6. Trance

The only question to really ask here is: what happened? It applies to both the story in the movie and behind the movie. On screen, it is a visual mess that doesn't reflect the beauty that director Danny Boyle brought to 127 Hours. With a plot that attempts to explore the mind, it does so in confusing ways. This could largely be because Boyle directed this before he directed the Olympics and then edited the film afterwards. Either way, it doesn't explain why this sci-fi film had to be so bad and why it is one of the most forgettable films of the year. 

Jay-Z
7. Jay-Z - "Magna Carta Holy Grail"

It has been going that way for awhile now, but with "Magna Carta Holy Grail," we may have officially lost Jay-Z the artist. In the long run, the album's notoriety will be in its asinine marketing technique in which a special app released the album to a million participants for free. This wouldn't so much be an issue if the album didn't make note of this marketing strategy in the lyrics. What we have here is not an album of a passionate rapper, but one who is all about marketing an image and wearing super fancy clothes. Even if tracks explore his relationship with his wife and daughter, there isn't any stellar track that isn't full of familiar boasts and a reminder that he is richer than you. This isn't a rap album, but simply a promotional hype machine.

Hans Zimmer
8. Hans Zimmer's 12 Years a Slave score

Much can be said about why 12 Years a Slave is a defining cinematic achievement for 2013 and probably history. However, the one thing that remains baffling is the fact that Hans Zimmer had to provide a score for the film. In theory, it shouldn't be an issue. However, considering the juxtaposition among slave songs, the tense chords and monotonous melodies become inessential as the film drags on. It could be argued that it wasn't a great year for Zimmer, but I hold judgment on his work in Man of Steel until after I have seen it and the music in Rush has slowly surpassed the quality of the film in my book. However, 12 Years a Slave seems to be the weak spot and an example where period music, or silence, could have presented those moments more effectively.

Charlie Sheen
9. A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III

In theory, this was disappointing because I wanted director Roman Coppola's comedy to be the fantastical analysis of hedonism through the eyes of a notorious man. The satire was ripe and the structure was creative enough to provide for a deep, Charlie Kaufman-esque look into the troubled life of an individual. The result is somewhat misogynistic without answers and the comedy doesn't always work. It is sort of a shame because with a cast that also includes Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Aubrey Plaza, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, this had all the right elements to be a surprise hit. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite interesting or sympathetic enough to succeed.

Left to right: Gillian Jacobs and Allison Brie
 10. Community

It may be unintentional, but there are plenty of laughs that could be produced from receiving consistent e-mails from Amazon about how I should buy season 4 of Community. In fact, it launched (and momentarily sunk) my column Thom Bitches About Community. It wasn't just that the show had trouble finding its feet without Dan Harmon, but it also didn't seem to understand its characters. Abed (Danny Pudi) remained an awful mess and the introduction of the Greendale Babies remains the pinnacle of terrible moments for this year in TV. It wasn't nearly as focused or great as it had been and unfortunately started a downward spiral in other ways. Even if Harmon is back, Donald Glover is going to be in significantly less episodes. I may bring back my column just to analyze how Harmon changes things, but the show will never be the same, even if the writing comes back to consistency. 

On a side note, it did give us a great recap podcast called Shut Up Leonard, which has even been hailed by Harmon himself. Check it out.

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