10 Great Scenes from 2013’s Most Forgettable Movies
It’s a fascinating feat for a movie to be truly forgettable. It’s easy to have memories of movies you love or passionately hate, but what about those guys that land right there in the middle? There is nothing truly awful about them, but nothing that special about them either. They might briefly entertain you or mildly bore you, then you leave the theater or turn off the TV and go about the rest of your day. There was no harm done, and the only real danger is that you might find yourself a few months or years later halfway through a movie with the nagging sensation that you’ve watched it before. There were plenty of movies that fit this description released this year, and today I want to honor them. These are the movies that are going to be lost by time, and I want to give them one last footnote in history before they’re gone forever.
The way I want to call attention to these films is by shining a light on the good in them. Sometimes a forgettable movie can contain a scene that rises above the rest, a truly great scene that snaps you back into attention before the movie pulls you back down into its default mode of monotony. 2013 had a lot of exciting, awesome moments that are going to be lost because they are trapped in an unmemorable movie that will soon be forgotten.
Before I get into these 10 great scenes, I want to call attention to 5 special films. These are the 5 movies that I know I saw this year, yet no matter how hard I try I just can’t for the life of me think of a single scene in them. Not one scene! That is truly impressive, so in the spirit of positivity, here are the movies which tied to win the prestigious label of 2013’s Most Forgettable Movie: Gangster Squad, Broken City, Snitch, The Call, and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. Also on this list would be a Jason Statham movie I saw -- or did I see two Statham movies this year? -- but I can’t recall a single thing about it. Anyway, now that we’ve got those gems out of the way, let’s get down to the good stuff. Let’s dig through the layers of murk and find something of value in these thoroughly, wonderfully forgettable films before they disappear from our minds forever.
10. Now You See Me -- Card Trick
Louis Leterrier’s Now You See Me is a preposterous movie. This may seem a bit obvious since it is about magicians who rob banks, but it manages to take that already ludicrous premise and raise it to even higher levels of absurdity. The problem is that it never establishes a set of rules for its universe, switching at will between magic acts which are then explained, and magic acts which defy physics and logic and can only be achieved with the help of CGI effects. The movie also has the most nonsensical twist ending I’ve ever seen, as if the writers forgot everything they had written before and just decided at random who the mastermind behind it all would be. Still, the movie manages to have a bit of fun along the way largely due to its impressive cast, so it never becomes so bad as to actually be a memorable failure; it’s just a silly ride that doesn’t make any sense.
However, the movie does catch manage to draw you in early on with a magic trick that really works, and works on the audience. Jessie Eisenberg’s Daniel Atlas flips cards directly into the camera, instructing his target -- and the viewer -- to pick one card and think of it. So you do. Then, the card appears illuminated on the building behind him. It isn’t difficult to see how it works -- the 7 of diamonds is one of the only cards that isn’t blurred as it flashes by, and it holds for a split second longer than the others. Still, it remains effective, pulling you in because it’s a trick that has a cinema magic quality to it, changing you from an idle spectator into an active participant.
9. Dead Man Down -- Scars
The American debut of original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo director Niels Arden Oplev tries very hard to be a brooding exploration of damaged people seeking revenge mixed with romance and increasingly violent shootouts. It doesn’t really come together, dragging in parts and not adding anything new to the revenge formula. There is also the issue that Colin Farrell’s Victor is a complete psychopath, tormenting his target for months while slowly and brutally killing members of his organization. He feels like the villain of a different movie, mysteriously sending puzzle piece pictures of his dead wife and child to their killer. This makes it difficult to really accept him as our hero and romantic lead. Still, his scenes with Noomi Rapace’s scarred Beatrice do have some nice chemistry to them. The stand out of these comes when Victor visits Beatrice’s apartment. Beatrice’s mother, trying to find a match for her daughter, shows Victor old pictures of Beatrice before her car accident, illustrating Beatrice’s “good genes” and how beautiful she used to be. Yet Victor doesn’t glance down at the photo album once -- he just stares at Beatrice. It’s the pain she carries with her now that he accepts and finds beauty in. It’s a surprisingly sweet moment, one which gets unfortunately lost in all the bloodshed surrounding it.
8. G.I. Joe: Retaliation -- Ninja Cliffside Fight
I’m one of the few people who found the juvenile antics of Stephen Sommer’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra to be rather entertaining in a regressing-to-my-seven-year-old-self kind of way. Because of this, I was secretly looking forward to its sequel. Yet Jon Chu’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation lacked the guilty pleasure of its predecessor; it kept the stupidity, but removed all sense of fun. The only exception would be the cliffside ninja fight, the one scene in the movie that actually made me smile. Two ninjas transport a third unconscious ninja in a body bag through zip lines while a group of red ninjas swing and chase after them. It’s a positively ridiculous action set piece, and the only part of the movie that manages to entertain with its joyous stupidity.
7. Oldboy -- 20 Year Imprisonment
The worst part of Spike Lee’s much maligned Oldboy remake is that it’s uninteresting. The central “mystery” isn’t engaging, the action is a weak imitation of the original, and the climactic revelation lacks any bite. However, Lee does get a lot of mileage out of his protagonist’s 20 year stay inside a single room prison cell. Josh Brolin effectively conveys his character’s sadness, confusion and rage at his situation, and his brief friendship with a family of mice is easily the most emotionally powerful sequence in the entire film. The room also serves as a vehicle for Doucett’s recovery from addiction, as he struggles to quit his destructive drinking problem. He also reflects on all the people he’s hurt over the years, and how poor of a father and husband he has been. The implication is that the isolation is good for Doucett -- even necessary. Meanwhile Spike Lee parallels Doucett’s captivity with images of two decades of American disasters, from 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina, implying that maybe being in the prison is better than being out there in the real world. It’s captivating stuff, but sadly once Doucett (and Lee) leave the prison, the movie falls apart.
6. World War Z -- Jerusalem Attack
World War Z had its fair share of production problems, to the point where the entire third act had to be rewritten and reshot. Because of this, Marc Forster and Brad Pitt’s zombie epic doesn’t ever quite flow right, and the conclusion feels anticlimactic and unsatisfying. However, the movie still manages to be pretty intense at times, despite being inhibited by a PG-13 rating. Its best scene would be the fall of Jerusalem, as zombies are attracted by the loud singing of its citizens and manage to climb over the wall and rain down into the city. I love the look of the zombie swarm and how quickly they move through the city, jumping across rooftops, tackling anyone in their path, and smashing their way through walls with brute force. Like Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, it’s a terrifying departure from the traditional slow zombie speed, yet on a much more massive scale (with the help of substantial special effects). World War Z may not have been the ultimate zombie movie fans of Max Brook’s book were hoping for, but it also wasn’t the disaster readers of its production troubles were expecting.
5. The Great Gatsby -- Seeing Daisy Again
Baz Lurhmann’s lavish and extravagant retelling of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic is a rather hit and miss affair. He captures the look and style of the times, but misses the emotion of the story. Every decision he makes has some logic behind it (with the exception of the atrocious framing device) yet doesn’t manage to connect in a meaningful way. The only scene which fully captures the feeling of the book is the scene where Gatsby finally sees Daisy for the first time in five years. It’s Gatsby’s awkward nervousness that makes him so likable in the book, and Lurhmann and DiCaprio reproduce this perfectly. The moment when he apologizes for breaking Nick’s clock is downright adorable, and it’s just as charming in the movie as it is in the book.
This is also the only scene in the movie where Lurhmann doesn’t alienate with his obnoxious use of the book’s symbols. The green light is shoved in the audience’s face so often and with such a lack of subtlety that it feels like Luhrmann is practically screaming “Do you understand that the green light represents Gatsby’s hope for a better future??” Yet in this scene, the green light hovers quietly in the background right behind Daisy. It’s a great image, and a smart way to enrich the text when bringing it to the screen.
4. Oblivion -- Pool Scene
Oblivion may borrow far too liberally from better sci-fi movies of the past, but it has enough visual inventiveness to hold your attention. Like in his previous film Tron: Legacy, Joseph Kosinski shows that he has an impeccable eye when it comes to art direction. The sky tower is a great example of this; Jack Harper’s (Tom Cruise) home base where he returns to every night in his sleek bubble ship to his operator and lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). As Jack begins to question their role as drone repairman, and possibly the last humans left on Earth, Victoria tries to calm his personal crisis with, well, sex. In the pool. At night. And it is breathtaking. These are the last two people on earth having sex in a gorgeously blue-lit pool in the sky, floating above the ravaged apocalyptic wasteland below. It’s steamy and seductive -- and, to a lesser extent, a compelling moment of internal struggle for Jack.
3. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug -- Barrel Escape
This entry will probably be an area of contention, but I just can’t seem to get into Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. I know it sounds old-man curmudgeonly, but I miss the days where the orcs were real people in make-up and costumes and the landscapes were real New Zealand mountains and fields. Now, everything feels far too digitized, more Oz: the Great and Powerful than Lord of the Rings. The second in the trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug is better than An Unexpected Journey in that I didn’t outright dislike it, I just found it forgettable. I still like Martin Freeman as Bilbo, Smaug was fun for a bit (but overstays his welcome), and I was even a fan of the hard cut ending. But overall this movie was a flat, overlong experience…except for the barrel escape, that spectacular chase down the river.
I loved the passing of the only a few weapons between twelve dwarfs. I loved seeing Legolas in action again, each foot on a different dwarf’s head as he shoots orcs with perfectly shot arrows. I even loved the cartoonish way the fat dwarf (I don’t know any of their gibberish names) managed to take out a whole squad by rolling and bouncing along in his out-of-control barrel. Sequences like this almost make me glad Jackson decided to return to Tolkien’s universe. Almost.
2. Riddick -- The Entire First Act
Though I am a fan of the Richard B. Riddick character (the B. stands for Badas, in case his name wasn’t quite silly enough), I wasn’t exactly awaiting his triumphant return to the big screen with bated breath. But Riddick ended up being pretty enjoyable, despite a saggy middle stretch and an uncomfortable layer of misogyny. The most pleasantly surprising aspect of the movie is its bold first act: we open on Riddick abandoned on a desolate planet, badly injured and unable to walk. Riddick has to crawl his way away from attacking beasts, hide in pools of hot water with eels, and somehow fix his leg so he can walk again. And it’s all done slowly and without dialogue (apart from a few lines in voiceover). Once he’s healed, he then adopts a dog-like creature as his pet and steadily vaccinates himself to the venom of the larger monsters who stand between him and his way off the planet. Imagine this year’s excellent All is Lost, only with Vin Diesel instead of Robert Redford and you get the idea. Even when all the bounty hunters arrive and start tracking Riddick, or later when they team up to fight the monsters, it is never as engrossing as the simplicity of Riddick on his own struggling to survive.
1. The Lone Ranger -- Final Train Chase
One of this year’s biggest financial flops along with Jack the Giant Slayer -- which, come to think of it, I probably would have included somewhere in this article had I not completely forgotten its existence until this very second -- Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger certainly won’t be forgotten anytime soon by the Disney executives who decided to bankroll this project. As for the viewers (the few of them that there were), The Lone Ranger was simply a bland diversion that never came close to reaching its Pirates of the Caribbean level heights of ambition. I don’t think this movie is terrible -- it’s too visually appealing and filled with too many ideas to be truly terrible -- it’s just overstuffed and misguided. I was mostly bored but periodically entertained for a little over two hours, counting down the minutes until I could leave the theater, when the unthinkable happened; The Lone Ranger delivered what might just be the greatest action sequence of the year.
The final train chase has so much going for it: a Buster Keaton inspired sense of physical comedy, a great mix of practical horses and trains with computer generated effects, and most important of all…it has the “William Tell Overture” by Gioachino Rossini. Recognizable even by those who know nothing about The Lone Ranger character, this brilliant piece of music provides the backbone to this stunning set piece; every beat of the chase is mapped out to complement the music perfectly. An inspired piece of exuberant filmmaking, this sequence remains one of my favorite movie moments of the year…even if I can’t remember anything else about the movie surrounding it.
I don’t see any of these movies standing the test of time, but they’re all pleasant enough that they might find some life on Netflix or cable TV in the years to come. They simply fell short of greatness, or managed to stay just above a certain level incompetence that’s required for a movie to actually leave an impression. I’m still recovering from the crushing disappointment of Elysium and the human rights violation that was R.I.P.D. Pain & Gain was another Michael Bay catastrophe -- but also might just be an amoral masterpiece -- so that’s going to stick around in my mind for a while. The movies on this list won’t, which is a little sad because there is some good stuff in them. Hopefully I’ve made a strong enough case for some of these segments so that they can be appreciated by a few more people before they’re forgotten forever.
What do you think? Leave a comment.