There were plenty of movies that ended up pretty close to our expectations for them. There were some good movies that turned out well. There were some bad movies that turned out poorly. And then there were the movies that didn’t quite fit our expectations, movies which came out of nowhere that we really enjoyed and others that might have been higher profile, but ended up far better than we expected.
The surprise in filmmaking is without question mostly determined in the how and not the what. Case in point: Beautiful Creatures, a teen-lit adaptation green-lit under a corporate structure looking for the next Twilight. The film – a junky mishmash of Southern Gothic hokum, Jane Austen, and teen angst cliches – is an almost serendipitous delight. And while graded on the curve of less than encouraging expectations, the quietly clever bits of intelligence, alert wittiness and playfully alive performances transcend this creature, written and directed by Richard LaGravenese and based on the novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, from the moribund confines of its genre limitations. It’s not a science, nor a spell mysteriously cast, but a certain divinity feels attached to this ripe guilty pleasure.
— James Tisch
Frozen marks a return to form for Disney musicals with its charming story, memorable characters, and an excellent soundtrack. At first the story seems slightly more self-aware than previous Disney efforts and manages to balance poking a bit of fun at some common clichés without devolving into parody. The small jibes eventually pay off with a relatively massive twist that completely upends the fairy tale formula Disney popularized. The film’s ultimate moral left me, a lifelong Disney fan, more than satisfied, and should please those who have had issues with notion that true love happens at first sight. Frozen is the Disney movie that I have waited more than ten years to see and it was worth the wait.
— Charlie Burroughs
Pain and Gain
It hurts my very core to know that one of my childhood joys will forever be associated with that trio of blights upon mankind Michael Bay dared to call Transformers. So, you can imagine (actually, you can’t) how devastated I was to find out Bay’s latest film was one of my favorites of the year. Here I was ready to let the hatred wash over me like warm bath water; instead, I get the shock of enjoyment. Bay’s critique on American excess (which, based on the level of brow in his past catalogue, I’m not sure was completely intentional) like all of his movies is over stylized, over indulgent, and over bloated, which is exactly what it needs to be. Mark Wahlberg gives one of his best performances since Boogie Nights (I can’t believe I’m mentioning films by Michael Bay and P. T. Anderson on the same page either) as Daniel Lugo, a frightening, sociopathic moron, who declares with chilling conviction: “I believe in fitness.” Giant man-mountain Dwayne Johnson is surprisingly appropriate as the film’s heart and soul. Actually, I don’t think there was a single performance in the film I didn’t like. Maybe Bay should stick with “lower budget” (for Bay that means $26 million) character-centered projects instead of putting testicles on children’s toys.
— Erik Paschall
Thor: The Dark World
The first Thor was one easily one of the weakest of Marvel’s superhero movies to date. It shot out of the gate quickly, but died just as quickly, doing little more than introduce the world to Chris Hemsworth in what was ultimately a pretty boring movie. So after a series of trailers for the sequel that had progressed from “Looks Ok” to “Doesn’t look so good,” I walked into the theater not expecting much from The Dark World. Boy, was I wrong. It’s not going to set any new standards for cinematic excellence, but Thor: The Dark World is inescapably fun. There’s a fresh mix of sci-fi and fantasy tropes that successfully puts a new spin on some genre expectations, Thor has actually progressed some as a character, Loki is as great as ever, and there’s an appropriate blend of humor that fits in the moment with the more serious action. Quit overthinking this. Quit wondering why the Avengers weren’t called in to help in this potentially universe-ending crisis. If you have any interest in sci-fi, fantasy, super heroes, or action movies, just sit back, relax and enjoy this ride for exactly what it is.
— Tim Falkenberg