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The Films of 2017 That Defied My Expectations (For Worse)

For the yin, there is the yang. And in this case, this is the more interesting half. As there were a handful of films that were much better than I thought they’d be, there’s a group of films that just were hugely disappointing to me.

All you need to know is — I had expectations, they were not met. That does not mean the movie was bad in any way or that I disliked it. It simply means that I thought I’d like these movies more than I did. My expectations are my own and my thoughts on films are my own, so that’s all this is gonna be based on.

Fortunately, this year, either because I no longer allow myself to have sky high expectations for things or because there weren’t any outright disasters I didn’t see coming, nothing here is too horrendous. Usually it’s just, “Yeah, I hoped that would be better, but it was fine.” So that’s good.

Here are the disappointments of 2017 for me:

1. Alien: Covenant

It was about as good as I was expecting, but I also held out hope that maybe this could return the franchise to its roots. But I don’t think that’s possible anymore, is it? You start it kinda like Alien, but then you go way in the other direction and keep the Prometheus mythology going. I just wanted more out of this. I don’t even necessarily love the franchise (even though the first two movies are great). I just wanted this to not be so… ‘fine’.

2. American Made

In a way, this was exactly what I expected. You really don’t expect to see Tom Cruise make a movie with teeth. He’s not that guy. This is a movie about a bad guy doing bad things. You can’t stretch it to make him likable. And you can’t tone down the story to make it more accessible to the star. You end up with a movie that’s fine, but is lacking in anything that sticks. I’m not gonna remember this movie in a year. I barely remember it now, and I saw it less than four months ago. It’s disappointing because I keep hoping Tom Cruise will return to actual acting one of these years and stop trying to be a movie star. His days are numbered, and I love seeing him pick interesting material and don’t want things to get sad.

3. Battle of the Sexes

I liked the movie quite a bit. I was disappointed because they sold me on a bill of goods and then gave me different things outside that bill of goods, that ended up being better than that bill of goods, so that way once they started giving me what I was there for, I wanted them to continue down that other road that was way more interesting. So I’m disappointed for that reason.

4. The Circle

Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, John Boyega, Karen Gillan, Glenne Headly, Bill Paxton. Based on a book by Dave Eggars, directed by James Ponsoldt, who made Smashed, which I really liked, The Spectacular Now, which I loved, and The End of the Tour, which was solid. So then why is this movie so goddamn generic and boring?

5. Downsizing

After consideration, this is the greatest disappointment of 2017. It’s worse because I saw this coming, too. Alexander Payne has become someone we’ve trusted to give us good movies every time. So you see this and think, “Great, another movie.” And then the synopsis sounds like it could work, and then the trailer… not so much. And then they pretty much hide this from people until the last minute. And everything just points to this not being such a great movie. And then it isn’t. It’s just… okay. It’s a first act that loses direction after that and just kind of wanders around aimlessly without getting into any of the myriad possibilities its premise opens up. I so wanted this to be good. I was so worried this was gonna turn out the way it was, and then seeing it actually be what I saw coming was just so heartbreaking. There were other disappointments, but this one stands atop the pile for me.

6. The Greatest Showman

This might make a play for top five disappointments. Not necessarily in terms of pure quality, either. An original musical based on P.T. Barnum sounds like a good idea, but it’s not exactly a sure thing. And while an original musical starring Hugh Jackman is exactly the sort of thing I get excited about and really want to see, I still had some concerns about this. Mainly because… if it didn’t work, then that keeps the musical genre dead without any real hope of survival. Not that a success would have truly changed anything. But on top of that… there wasn’t a trailer for this until way late in the year, and there was no sign of the studio pushing it for Oscars, which is all it should have been doing. And then you get word that it’s gonna be less than 2 hours long. Which… any ‘classical’ musical worth its salt is 150 minutes. Or at least 130. Not 105. So I knew this wasn’t gonna hit the mark. It was only a matter of how far down it went. And… it just didn’t work. I liked it just fine, but the first 30 minutes are a montage, essentially. You know its bad when a musical has music on the screen without the characters singing along to it. The songs are playing over different scenes. The point of a musical is to see them singing. So you knew they did a lot to salvage this. Which is a shame. There’s a lot of good in this movie that just didn’t pull together. So yeah, it was worse than I was expecting, but I consider this more of an admirable failure than anything, since some of the songs are quite good, and somewhere in here is a good movie that maybe one day comes out on stage.

7. Last Flag Flying

I hate doing this. But on the other hand, it showcases just how much of a sure thing Richard Linklater is that I assume all his movies are gonna be really good. This one is just good. It was exactly the movie I expected to get, yet with him I always expect them to be more than I think I’m gonna get. So honestly, the only reason this did not meet my expectations is because I assume that Richard Linklater will always exceed my expectations rather than just meet them. Which is a compliment.

8. The Mountain Between Us

Sure, as this came out, we all realized it wasn’t very good, but if presented with this in January (as I was): Idris Elba and Kate Winslet in a mountain survival movie. I thought this would be good. It should have been better than it was. It didn’t ruin anybody’s year that this didn’t turn out as well as it could have, but it still stands as a disappointment baed on what it could have been.

9. The Mummy

Because surely a remake of The Mummy with Tom Cruise couldn’t have been this bad. But as they showed us, oh yes, it definitely can.

Nothing but respect for MY Mummy.

10. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

This is sort of a catch-all for that blockbuster that came out that just wasn’t what you thought it would be. I’d say Transformers as another example, but at this point do we even have expectations for those? This one, at least, I had the expectations that would right the ship (hey oh!) for the franchise. The last one was fun but not a good movie. I figured this one would make things right again. And it almost did. But the plot was overly complicated, uninspired and Depp’s personal troubles while shooting really show over the course of the film. It did some things right, but ultimately it felt like a tired entry in a once proud franchise. And there are a handful of those that happened this year. Franchises just seem out of gas now. (I have a theory as to why this is, but I won’t waste time on it now.) So, while this was perfectly entertaining for me, it is a disappointment in the sense that I was hoping to at least be able to feel confident and excited about future installments in the franchise again. But now, after this, if there even is another film in the franchise, I’ll have to go into it with the same trepidation and hopefulness that I did with this one.

11. The Snowman

Top three most disappointing for the year. Inarguable. I’ve heard people say they didn’t find it as bad as most did, but that’s because this was savaged by critics and bombed so badly that most people probably couldn’t find this in a theater after the first weekend. But you have the director of Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor directing a movie with Michael Fassbender as a director going after a serial killer, in the snow. Martin Scorsese was gonna direct this at one point. I don’t necessarily buy that, but that does tell you the kind of movie you should have expected from this. I thought this would be top 20 for me. How could I not? And this was… just a disaster. We don’t have to get into it, but I think we can all agree that this was one of the biggest disappointments of the year in terms of how good this should have been versus how good it was.

12. Song to Song

This was fine. It’s probably the best of the post-Tree of Life Malick films. To the Wonder was meh, Knight of Cups was meh-plus, and this was good with reservations. Most of those reservations are why this is here. Malick seems to be stuck in a loop, playing the same…. wait for it… record (hey oh!) over and over again. Since Tree of Life, all his films have been trying to same thing visually and narratively, to lesser and lesser effect. It’s disappointing to me that he’s stuck doing the same thing over and over again, when he could be doing so much more. So while this met my expectations, those expectations were what they were because I knew he’d be doing the exact same thing again. And the fact that he’s doing that thing is what’s disappointing to me. Here’s hoping Radegund breaks him out of it (which, by his own account, it does, since he says he’s done trying this style).

13. Suburbicon

Because a movie directed by George Clooney, originally written by the Coen brothers, starring Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac and (originally) Josh Brolin (before they cut him out of it) should have been presumed to be one of the best movies of the year. And the result — not so much. I think the movie has a lot more going on and is worth mentioning as an interesting piece of work, but I also think that no matter how good or bad you think it is, there’s no denying it wasn’t as good as we expected it to be or as good as it could have been. Easily one of the five biggest disappointments of the year, if not straight up number two behind Downsizing. (Bad year for Matt Damon.)

14. War Machine

This one wasn’t a huge disappointment, it’s more an unfortunate circumstance more than anything. David Michod had both Animal Kingdom and The Rover going into this, and you had Brad Pitt, who always chooses interesting projects that are almost always really good. And it’s a satire that I’m guessing was meant to be like In the Loop. So I had high expectations. And they just didn’t get the tone right. It was fine, but it didn’t quite work as well as I’d hoped. So, disappointment, but not a huge disappointment, the way the films around this one were.

15. Wonderstruck

And finally, what might be number four or five on the biggest disappointments list this year. Todd Haynes makes great movies. He hasn’t really failed yet. So I saw he was making this and I thought, “Great, it’ll be really good and I’ll be happy with it regardless of what it is.” And the fact that it’s based on a book by the guy who wrote Hugo made me think that would only help it. But… it just doesn’t work. The pacing, the tone, the different storylines don’t mesh together. It’s just the wrong director for the wrong material. Another one of those you saw coming as we got closer when you heard nothing about it. Other movies the buzz starts to grow as it gets closer to release. This was one where, other than a not great trailer (what happened to the days when we could hide weaknesses behind a great trailer?), I heard nothing about this. Which unfortunately was a sign that we were gonna get a movie that was not as good as its pedigree suggested. It’s unfortunate, because in a year like this without truly great stuff at the top, these misses by people who usually are sure things only stand out even more.

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