Friday, January 10, 2014

The Worst Films of 2013

As I've stated many times, I do not go out to see every movie ever made. I go out to see the movie that I feel will be the best thing available in a given week. Sometimes I guess wrong, and witness some sort of apocalyptic disaster, but the most obvious bombs, the ones that every trailer indicated were going to suck on ice, go unwatched. RIPD, The Lone Ranger, After Earth, these are films that may well have been worse than everything I saw this year, but I will never know. What I do know is that while last year, the worst films of the year were apocalyptic disasters, leaving me staggering from the theater in a daze, this year they were a much more conventional group. Blockbusters with stupid writing, B-movies that went too far (or not far enough), the sorts of movies I saw because there was nothing else out that week, or because I felt like taking a chance. This didn't make them any easier to sit through, but it did, at least, make me appreciate the glories of Oscar Season much more.

10: White House Down: I can’t be mad at this earnestly-meant action flick, replete as it is with some of the most absurd action sequences I’ve seen in years, but accepting a film for what it is does not magically transmute schlock into quality. White House Down was a manifestly stupid film, complete with paper-thin politics, imbecilic, motivation-free villains, terrible flag-waving uberpatriotism, and absurdly-stupid “movie” science. I’ve defended Rolland Emerich’s congenital lack of taste in the past, but even I have limits to what I can tolerate, and White House Down exceeds these tolerances with gusto.

9: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone: I want to know who it was that thought Taladega Nights, The Legend of Ricky Bobby, was such a cinematic masterpiece that it deserved a point-by-point remake in the form of this lame, hyperformulaic “comedy”. Jim Carey’s David Blaine-inspired street magician performance is not enough to salvage this brain-dead Steve Carrel “asshole-learns-the-meaning-of-friendship” vehicle, a movie which doesn’t even have the originality to pull that simple story off properly. Burt Wonderstone is one of those movies that doesn’t even have the decency to be bad enough to get properly angry with, and now that I’ve summed it up in this recap, I confidently expect to never speak of, hear of, or even recollect its existence again.

8: The Wolverine: The best thing I can say about this movie is that it wasn't its predecessor, and boy is that a low bar. The Wolverine was a tired film, lacking the spark of originality that all of the good comic book movies have. It throws many characters at us, none of whom are developed with any skill, nor even given coherent motives. Lacking even a memorable villain, this movie opted instead to pull giant robots out of its ass for the obligatory paint-by-numbers final action scene, one which presents no threat to the hero and offers no chance for character growth. The best thing in this movie was the post-credits trailer, and the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced the entire rest of the film was put together as an afterthought around that thirty-second ad.

7: Pacific Rim: And speaking of giant robots, we have Pacific Rim, a brainless, soulless summer blockbuster cowering in the shadow of flawed-but-fun contemporaries like Iron Man 3 or Man of Steel. Idris Elba can do no wrong, and the opening to the film does rock, but when the movie can't make a battle between a skyscraper-sized robot and Godzilla even slightly interesting, what kind of praise can I be expected to give it? This was a film designed from the get-go as a vehicle for awesome action, and yet someone seems to have forgotten to deploy any, instead belaboring the film with terrible, annoying characters, a plot so stupid as to defy commentary, and a poverty of imagination that is simply criminal in an enterprise like this one. The only explanation I have is that Guillermo Del Toro got lost in the awesomeness of the concept he was putting together, and forgot the execution. Or perhaps cocaine.

6: The Grandmaster: I've seen bad kung fu movies, but not bad kung fu movies that were bad because they forgot to include the kung fu. I did not think it possible to make a film worse than the last entries in the Ip Man series, but boy were these filmmakers up to the task. I don't mind characters who are secure enough to refrain from ludicrous show-off poses every ten seconds, but this film goes waaaaaay too far in the other direction, presenting us with a version of Ip Man so self-satisfied that he barely seems to take an interest in the slow, agonizing death of his wife and children. Though it takes place amidst the most dramatic events in the history of China, events that the real Ip Man was deeply involved in, the film seems to think that we're more interested in seeing him and his would-be lover staring wistfully at the snows of winter, mediating for twenty minutes at a time on the transitory nature of life. Although in fairness, that's the same thing I started doing while watching it.

5: Oz the Great and Powerful: Maybe if I wish real hard, and click my heels together three times, I'll discover why people seem to think that James Franco is a good actor. I certainly didn't discover it by watching this film, about which the best that can be said is that the title is good. This film seems to have been made by people with a mindset entirely alien to my own, as Zach Braff and Tony Cox are not names I would instantly associate with "prequel to the most beloved children's classic of all time". But then they also contrived to make a film about Oz lacking all charm and innovation, preferring instead to tell a tired heroes tale about a character that isn't heroic, who must save the damsel in distress who is neither a damsel, nor (save by the most absurd contrivances imaginable) distressed. Though it's (obviously) not the worst film on the list, Oz was a sad, tired vision of just how far the studios have fallen from the original masterwork, and deserves to be summarily dowsed with water and melted into a puddle of celluloid.

4: Machete Kills: Having seen the original, I was ready for just about anything when I went to see Machete Kills, and yet it managed to surprise me nevertheless by being boring as hell. How Robert Rodriguez became convinced that the selling point of his previous film was its plot is beyond me, but for the sequel, he chose to double down on plot and skimp on everything else, such as action, gore, fun, and Danny Trejo. Indeed, Trejo is barely involved in this movie, staring blankly at the plot as it unravels around him, occasionally killing someone, and then doing it again. Having wasted every one of the excellent actors who signed up for a grindhouse-style bloodfest, the movie then has the audacity to end abruptly with the promise of another movie which will presumably actually include the interesting elements that were not in this one. Fool me once...

3: Escape Plan: Speaking of boring movies who doubled down on bad plot at the expense of their action, we have Escape Plan, a Stallone-Schwarzenegger teamup film that inexplicably includes almost no actual action. What it does include is a plot that makes no sense, and supporting characters that vary from terrible to godawful. Sam Neil apparently thought this movie was the moment to pull out pathos and deep turmoil, a decision which eludes me, but perhaps the same mania overtook him as did the man who suggested hiring 50 cent to play a computer hacker. Meanwhile Jim Caviziel is so detached from the film that he can't be bothered to take an interest in his own death scene. Escape Plan was relentlessly bad, and only the limited skills of its makers kept it from achieving the excellence of the top two spots on this list.

2: Evil Dead: This was not Sam Raimi's year. Not only was he saddled with a massive flop in the form of Oz the Great and Powerful, but his effort to recapture the magic of his classic films of yesteryear, films that invented an entire genre, resulted in one of the worst horror movies I've ever seen. I described this film as the Richard Nixon of horror movies, a film that once idealistic and hungry, now reduced to a crumbling, reclusive ruin, aping the movies it once sought to pillory in quest of some quixotic drive I can scarcely guess at, and nine months later, I'm still confident that sums the film up. Incompetently-made and edited, this film inspires not anger but sadness, emblematic as it is of the shell of himself that Sam Raimi, once the master of schlock-horror, has become. Come back to us Sam. We want you to make us smile again.

1: Elysium: Though you may not believe it after perusing the list above, I honestly do try to avoid movies that are obviously going to be terrible ahead of time. Movies like The Lone Ranger or After Earth go unwatched by me, cognizant as I am of the fact that there is not a chance in hell that they will be any good. But every once in a while a movie slips through the radar that I was not expecting, and blows up in my face, and boy oh boy did Elysium pull that off. Not only is this movie shallow, dishonest, and shockingly racist, it's flat-out unwatchably stupid, filled with poorly-acted character after poorly-acted character and plot holes large enough to fly ten thousand magical healing ambulances through. If this is "reality" as perceived by the filmmaker, then I would suggest he desist from smoking the mercury-laced crack that he has apparently been imbibing, and consider the world as it is, as opposed to the deranged facsimile thereof that he seems to have drawn upon. 2013 was a year that gave me few opportunities to get good and angry at a movie, but Elysium, by dint of unstinting effort, managed to persevere. Well done.

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