1. Alice In Wonderland – We like to get excited when we hear about what material Tim Burton has been attached to. It always sounds like the perfect match. We ignore the fact that this has pretty much never before worked in our favor. Maybe every time seems like the best idea yet, and this was no different, but this was Alice In Wonderland! They were made for each other! Never mind the fact that he’d bored us with Sleepy Hollow, confused us with Planet Of The Apes and made us angry with Charlie & The Chocolate Factory! This is Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland! This is going to be different somehow! And, oh, was it different. Not only is Wonderland itself erased by a misunderstanding, but Alice is mostly just a spectator, rendering the title itself completely useless beyond marketing concerns. But the worst of it by far is what it looks like, the one thing Tim Burton shouldn’t be able to get wrong. From the second Alice falls down the hole, you’ll pine for her return to the real world, where things aren’t inane, gross and/or stupid warped effects.
2. Predators – There’s only ever been one good movie with a Predator in it. And after so much time filled with paled attempts at resurrecting a franchise that probably should never have become one in the first place, that we still have a collective response to the mere presence of this… thing… is quite a testament to its inherent appeal. But the idea of Predators went beyond the basic promise of a new Predator movie. It even went beyond the promise of a return to its origins (jungle, traps, ensemble with guns, no capital A Aliens) without being just a carbon copy of that prototype. Predators, minus the Predators, might have been exciting enough. A team of killers fighting for their lives against something they don’t understand doesn’t necessarily sound like it needs an established commodity to bring people to it. But with mostly dull or completely botched action scenes, unimpressive reveals, pointless twists and a weird alien caste struggle subplot doubling as deus ex machina, there could never be enough Predators available to save it.
3. Hot Tub Time Machine – We’ve spent more than twenty years waiting for John Cusack to do something (anything) akin to the movies for which we ostensibly love him. It’s not that we want only that from him or don’t appreciate the need for an actor to not get stuck in the potential mire of his youth. We’ve just wondered why he couldn’t continue to bridge the gap between Say Anything… and Better Off Dead. For every Rob Gordon couldn’t we have some neo-Hoops McCann? Was that asking too much of one man? Regardless of the answer to that, this looked like it could be it. Yes, there was the return to the 80’s aspect of it, but it was his return to the wild abandon of that time that mattered, not the setting of it. Yet beyond the nonsense plot device described in the very title, there’s little of that involved. Especially from Cusack himself, who is relegated to a role that might as well be any other one he’s had in the past ten years. His “romance” with an oddly off-putting Lizzy Caplan is bizarrely without chemistry or relevance. It’s so bland and unexplained, you sort of begin to suspect it is going to turn out Lizzy Caplan’s April is some sort of Timecop out to teach him a lesson. But that’d be too interesting. Ultimately, the movie relies too heavily, almost exclusively, on a persistently and aggressively annoying Rob Cordry and the setting I just said didn’t matter.
4. It’s Kind Of A Funny Story – A mental ward comedy from the makers of Half Nelson and Sugar isn’t exactly the most sweepingly marketable commodity, but it seemed like an amazing confluence of things that could only go right. Zach Galifinakis, Lauren Graham, Jim Gaffigan and the kid from The Winner confirmed this suspicion. And to top it off, Morgan Murphy’s response to a picture of a beaver in the trailer got stuck in my head like I can only assume Justin Beiber songs get stuck in other people’s. So it was thoroughly and consistently stunning when nothing about this movie went right. There was none of the careful realism of the directors’ previous credits. None of the devastating cruelness of the world around characters who somehow manage to be funny within it. Not even enough of the latter to make the apathetic title accurate. And so it just becomes any other well-produced (relatively) low-budget movie that says it’s a comedy but should really be more honest with itself.
5. Iron Man 2 – A lot of surprisingly good (or great, as was the case with the first Iron Man) movies have a very difficult time living up to newfound expectations the second time out. But most of the time, they come from very humble beginnings and, it seems, need that environment to thrive. But in absolutely no sense has Iron Man ever been humble. There would be no expectation of a sequel that was not present the first time around. There was no labor of love quality in danger of being erased by budget or scope. If anything, Iron Man 2 should have been able to keep everything that worked in its predecessor and improve on its flaws. But not only did it succumb to many of those same flaws (Iron Man has an awkward climactic fight with another machine-enhanced man), it couldn’t even seem to reclaim its hold of what it did right. Had this been the first installment, we’d have shrugged it off, maybe even praised it mildly for rising above other recent terrible superhero movies. Certainly the cast alone would grant it that. But in the context of the first one, which sideswiped even the most optimistic of moviegoers, it seems like a long way to have fallen. No one appears to have clear reasons for doing much of what they do beyond getting the movie to its next (mostly) dull action scene (and there aren’t even that many of those.) The inclusion of extraneous Marvel characters only manages to give us the sense that this is just a placeholder, to keep us interested until they can put something bigger together. Even Robert Downey, Jr. seems somewhat muted, at least in comparison to his revelatory performance in the original. You can forget these things for brief periods, like while Happy (Jon Faverau) rams his car into a somehow conscious and mobile Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) or while Tony Stark inadvertently reveals to Pepper (Gwenyth Paltrow) that he’s been fighting some vague disease related to his power source. Or any time Sam Rockwell is onscreen. But looking back on it, even immediately, you cease to be impressed, and are left with a twinge of doubt concerning the the upcoming slate of Marvel universe movies.
Get Low – When a movie takes its time leading up to a singular moment, especially a revelation given in a monologue, it gives itself a near-impossible burden. Get Low does not come close to carrying it.
Grown Ups – Very few of the potentially funny people in this movie have been relevant in quite some time, but there’s no excuse for this. It’s been said (a lot) that this was just five famous friends who wanted to take a vacation together. But that would have been (a lot) funnier.
Paper Man – Olivia Thirlby making soup is the most interesting thing in this movie about a writer who talks to an imaginary superhero friend. And Ryan Reynolds’ trial run as said superhero does not bode well for any forthcoming actual runs he may have up his ring finger.
From Paris With Love – It really did seem possible that (director) Pierre Sorel was going to do for John Travolta what (with Taken) he did for Liam Neeson. Then you see John Travolta in a fight scene and realize that maybe Liam Neeson didn’t have nearly as far to go.
Jackass 3D – Finally, Jackass becomes what its ignorant detractors think it is. A haphazard collection of falling, hitting and bodily-fluid drinking. Even Steve-O appears to be forcing himself through the motions.