One of the advantages to being a 'gentleman critic' – i.e., untenured, and therefore not tethered to a weekly column – is that I can dodge obvious bullets. Why would I see After Earth or The Lone Ranger, or Grown Ups 2, when I know these will only cause me distress? Thus, I didn't watch The Great Gatsby – partly because life is too short, but mostly because I feared it would give me cancer. I have little doubt, though, that had I bothered, it would be at the tippy-tip-top of this list.
For its promotion of Gucci-campaign style over substance. For a lead performance from Ryan Gosling that's little more than an imbecile's dead-eyed stare. For refusing to engage with its setting (Bangkok) beyond treating it as an 'exotic' design element – and, related to this, for reducing the Asian characters to archetypes, either brutal killers or dumb-but-sweet whores. But most of all, for its rank misogyny, so pronounced and unrepentant that you can't help but suspect its maker of working through some women-issues of his own. (Though as Seinfeld would say, not that there's anything wrong with that...)
TOM AT THE FARM
Young master Dolan is, I realise, becoming something of a whipping boy for this critic. I'd just as soon deny him the oxygen of publicity, but the lad just keeps working. This one is his 'commercial' movie, a sort-of sexual thriller, which proceeds with such blithe disregard for things like narrative logic, tonal consistency, or a basic understanding of other human beings, that you start to wonder if he's pulling your leg. Dolan stars in it, too – and edits it, which means that a good third of the running-time here is consumed by extended close-ups of his own, admittedly pretty face. Solipsism raised to some monstrous, diva-like pitch.
THE POLICEMAN'S WIFE
Fiction feature from the man who gave us the sublime Carthusian monastery doc Into Great Silence: a glacially-paced study of domestic abuse, so impassively observational that it forfeits any psychological insight or emotional connection. It's divided into 59 vignette-like chapters. Each of these is preceded by a title-screen ('Ab kapitel neunzehn') – which fades up and then down, veeeerrrrrrry slowly – and tailed by another ('Ende kapitel neunzehn'), equally protracted. Altogether, these blackouts occupy a good 20 minutes of its nearly-three hour running time. I have seen royal funerals that take themselves less seriously.
Still shaking my head over this one. I suspect Matt Damon is, too.
MAN OF STEEL
I admit it: I was fooled. That first teaser-trailer contained such lovely, lyrical imagery; it seemed to promise so much. (A pastoral, Malick-like take on superheroes? Hell yeah.) And the hackiness of Snyder seemed neutralised by the intelligence of Christopher Nolan, as producer. This had to at least be pretty good, right? Wrong. Clotted with narrative illogic (er, why does Zod care so much about Kal-el, anyway?), and derailed by Michael Shannon's greasy Caesar cut, it soon degenerated into yet more CGI destruction-porn, all toppling buildings and shattered city streets. Two digital dickheads punch each other, and the planet is saved, and I DON'T GIVE A F***.
The Hollywood sausage factory churned out its fair share of offal this year but a) I'm lucky that my job as managing editor enables me to avoid those that have a stink about them in the first place, and b) I don't include in this list those movies made to fit a limited brief that then met all of their own lousy expectations (but you are on thin ice, all you enablers of Adam Sandler). What follows is a list of good ideas that turned bad on their way to the screen, or in one case, an otherwise good actor who mistook 'method' for a big wig and eyeliner.
Talk about a bad apple... This boring paint-by-numbers 'hero's journey' about the late founder of Apple Computing threw the baby out with the bathwater; it was loose with the truth and glossed over all of the most interesting aspects of its subject's personality. All the more infuriating for the fact that it got a US cinema release in the same year that Steven Soderbergh's excellent, provocative Liberace biopic famously didn't.
See: Jobs. Sure, many wrote this Princess of Wales biopic off from the start, but I held out a glimmer of hope that the maker of Downfall might pull off another ripping yarn about a public figure's end of days. Or that at least it might rate highly as a gossipy guilty pleasure. In reality, it was neither, and this account of the lonely Sloane ranger who baked beans and watched 'Corrie' before having her world rocked by a love doctor who spouted Persian poetry, is a terrible embarrassment to all concerned, not least those of us who lost a precious two hours to its dishonest 'you are there' facade of truthiness.
I took review duties on this study of an analyst's duty of care to a mental health patient so, perhaps fittingly, I was able to 'work through the issues' I had with its false premise. Like many of Steven Soderbergh's films, this one was let down by its ending, which was all over the place like a mad woman's proverbial. (Fortunately, he soon redeemed himself with Behind The Candelabra.)
HYDE PARK ON HUDSON
Bill Murray and Laura Linney gave unearned gravitas to this weird whimsy piece that was one big in-joke about peenies. FDR got a hand job from his cousin and the King of England got served hot dogs (geddit?) in a film that purported to celebrate discretion but was practically giddy with jocular dirt-dishing.
THE GREAT GATSBY
I checked my misgivings at the door, intrigued by how the classic novel might translate to a new telling and a 3-D rendering. Happily, it did get some aspects of the story right. Unhappily, it only nailed the most superficial ones. It was a mistake to let a self-styled Gatsby anywhere near it, and the less said about the tacked-on postscript in the asylum, the better. Another of Baz's magnificent follies, and another one I'll never watch again.
As ever, films that aimed low and barely made the grade don't feature in the year's worst. These were movies with ambition and resources that didn't just sour, they sadly made going to the movies an annoyingly regrettable experience.
Ruben Fleischer's telling of crime boss Mickey Cohen's removal from Los Angeles in the 1940s was like a monumentally expensive student film: it was full of hollow attitude cribbed from better works and lush period detail that was mere window dressing until it was destroyed by Sean Penn's scenery-chewing performance as the villain.
THE HANGOVER PART III
This is what phoning it in looks like, as the likes of Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis went through the motions (again!) as Todd Phillips turned the spiky comic charm of 2009's The Hangover into a fetid tribute to making money.
Many parents spoil their children, sometimes with the best of intentions, but only Will Smith put his son, Jaden, at the centre of a dreary, philosophically suspect science-fiction adventure directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Will's character was named Cypher Raige – it fit.
A bad corporate thriller from the 1990s laughably attempting to cash in on – while getting hilariously wrong – Silicon Valley start-up culture as a wooden Liam Hemsworth watched Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford churn out stock performances.
A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD
There are already enough bad rip-offs of the original Die Hard without a sequel to the long-running franchise where John McClane thwarts criminal endeavour with crafty carnage being a disturbing disappointment. It finished at Chernobyl, a suitable setting for a radioactive release.
Cirque De Soleil: World's Away, Blinder, Olympus Has Fallen
Remember: Dutiful attendance of “event” pictures is not compulsory and there's a reason they keep those EXIT signs illuminated during screenings. Stagnant directors Jia Zhang-ke (A Touch of Sin) and Baz Luhrmann (you know) keep making bad films whether I watch or not, so why participate? Here's a list of films I was too lazy or too stultified to leave, or watched because I was being paid to stay.
Cloying, condescending and ultimately contemptuous this tale of a purposeless good time girl indulged an actress while she created a personality with no real character arc and the director tied up the persona's dilemma with a magic wand conclusion.
I'm thrilled that a woman has made a film in Saudi Arabia. I hope it paves the way for better movies than this metaphoric tale of a child's love for a bike that had been done before – and with more credibility - by Pee Wee Herman. Is it possible that bad directors use amateur actors, because professionals would realize that they don't know what they are doing?
WHAT IS THIS FILM CALLED LOVE
When a film critic feels the need to display his semi-erect member in the course of his discourse, he either wants us to watch him jerk it or wants the audience to suck it. Mark Cousins, if you're reading, I refuse to do either.
HYDE PARK ON HUDSON
English people should leave American history alone. Like the worst of Merchant Ivory smeared with whimsy, this lame idea for a biopic had Bill Murray as FDR receiving a comical hand job from a distant cousin played by Laura Linney as a prelude to their illicit romance. Neither funny or tragic, just flat and dull.
While it looked terrific, this bloated science fantasy marshmellow was a juvenile head trip best suited for those who confuse disorder for profundity. Does the world needs a combination of Zardoz and The List of Adrian Messenger? The Wachowskis have spent their post-Matrix life proving that lightning is not going to strike twice and that their Lesbo-noir debut Bound remains the duo's best film.
The truth is bad enough. Why kick people when they are down?
So I have to sit through some crap films as part of my job. So what?! I watch them for free, I get to travel to see them and I have a network of peers who give me a heads-up if I really should give some dud a miss. Moaning over a bad 20 or so hours spent on films that disappoint seems a bit obnoxious, but if it stops you having to endure something you'll likely wish you hadn't watched, then I've done my job.
Given all that the extraordinary woman came to represent in the eyes of the world, who could have possibly thought that a Mills-&-Boon treatment of her doomed, sappy romance with a London surgeon would be the best angle for this much anticipated biopic. A camp 'classic' of Mommie Dearest proportions, filled with wretched dialogue, unintentional giggles and a central performance by Naomi Watts that remoulds the People's Princess as a simpering, pasty wimp.
Spike Lee's much-maligned Oldboy is star Josh Brolin's second remake of 2013, though you'd never know it. Ruben Fleischer's tissue-thin, cliché-ridden staging of a 1940's LA under threat of mob rule is a beat-for-beat downgrading of De Palma's and Mamet's The Untouchables, with no acknowledgement forthcoming. Sean Penn spits a lot as made-man Mickey Cohen; the industry heat on Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling cooled very quickly after this rightfully tanked.
THE ATTACKS OF 26/11
Dollar signs must have flashed before the eyes of Bollywood hack Rom Gopal Varma after the 2008 terrorist siege of Mumbai dragged on. His filmic restaging of the slayings is an abomination, his camera gliding over the glistening blood of dead countrymen like a teenage boy drools over his first dirty magazine. That it is so poorly acted and stretched to 2 hours by endless slow-mo renderings of splattery carnage is ultimately irrelevant; that it will exist forever in this form, eternally dishonouring the deceased, is the greatest shame.
GINGER AND ROSA
Sally Potter's first linear narrative feature in 8 years was this confused, dull, pretentious retro-themed friendship story. Even Hollywood's most talented teen, Elle Fanning, can't save this earnest, arty and woefully miscast effort (Christina Hendricks as a frazzled single mom in swinging London? Puh-leeze.) The formative years of blossoming womanhood have never seemed so ponderously dire.
Danny Boyle's descent into style-over-substance irrelevance (which I foreshadowed in my review of his overpraised 127 Hours) reached its nadir in this headache-inducing art heist/hypnosis malarkey. Audiences finally said, “Enough's enough” and bailed on Boyles incoherent indulgence; the days when the director valued concise narrative and his craft over vulgar, empty showmanship are long gone.
Online you can find never-ending commentary on the failure of much of the year's corporate Hollywood juvenilia so there's no need to add more. The time I could have wasted on The Lone Ranger and its like (do literary critics feel the need to review the latest Danielle Steele?) I spent looking for the hidden gems that lacked the mountainous marketing budgets needed to get noticed. The films not part of the general conversation that damn well should be. But not all independent titles deserved attention…
By far the worst title in Pedro Almodovar's extensive filmography came on like an audition piece for an amateur drag night, its camp humour gratingly forced.
From Shrek's Kiwi director Andrew Adamson came the most frightfully misjudged use of a mid-way tonal shift I think I have witnessed – from middlebrow tale in picturesquely tropical Bougainville, feelgood fodder for everyone's favourite auntie, to “help, where's the Valium?”
Admittedly beautiful black and white imagery married to oh-so languid tone poem about Portuguese colonialism that more profitably could have been marketed as a cure for insomnia.
TO THE WONDER
Dear Terrence Malick: love and respect you, man, but any more maidens twirling their long hair while flitting through the long grass at sundown and I quit.
SONG FOR MARION
UK dross about a community choir for oldies, the choristers a bunch of twinkly-eyed wrinklies croaking out heavy metal numbers like it's hilarious rather than pitiful (no, please make it stop). How could a film starring Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave be so bad?
Therese Desqueyroux, Bamboozled (Tropfest winer), Stoker
It maybe heresy for many but after twenty years and five features I remain unconvinced of Baz Luhrmann. He is, at best, a splendid showman, a fabulous designer of colour and movement of the kind that makes story, coherence and movie-ness irrelevant. Watching any one of his pictures remains for me a purgatory reminiscent of a particularly obnoxious nightclub where it's always dress-up and the exit is impossible to find. There were perhaps more rotten movies than this bacchanalia-lite version of Fitzgerald's doggedly literary story this year. But 'worst' is not only a matter of incompetence, shoddiness, or whatever low-ball pejorative one can muster. It can mean foolish, empty, boring and pretentious too.
West End kitsch as dirtied up David Lean. Ludicrous.
If ever there was a case to be made for the way corporate Hollywood has lost its feel for classic genre and supplanted its tropes for the aesthetics of the xbox than Ruben Fleischer's terrible ersatz LA neo-noir is it.
Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson make a film in the tradition of Godfrey Reggio's Quatsi trilogy where they take man's folly of waste and extravagance and turn them into images of such exquisite beauty that it is oh so easy to miss their true horror.
NOW YOU SEE ME
A movie about illusionists that is without magic and where the calculation is so transparent it kills all joy.
Of all the 'bad' films released in 2013, these are surely not the worst. They've been chosen because they disappointed high expectations, brought on waves of yawning boredom or prompted guffaws at their astonishing stupidity and cynicism (Pacific Rim, I'm looking at you). In no particular order:
A strangely flat and lifeless film, Claude Miller's final work is an adaptation of Franá¸‰ois Mauriac's novel about a rebellious French Provincial wife who poisons her husband. Audrey Tautou's stoney-faced and unsympathetic performance at the heart of the film fails to adequately convey her character's anguish and confusion.
THE LOOK OF LOVE
Expectations were high for Michael Winterbottom's dull and listless biopic about 'the sex king of Soho' – the porn publisher and nightclub owner Paul Raymond. Steve Coogan plays the character as smutty and charmless, and the plot follows a stereotypical arc: famous person grows old and, once good times are over, regrets the toll this took on their loved ones – in this case, the entrepreneur's troubled and talentless daughter. Surely the swinging sixties and sleazy 70s should have looked more fun than they do in this film.
I'M SO EXCITED
Perhaps outside of Spain we missed the political subtleties of Pedro Almodovar's primary-coloured farce, set in the cockpit and first class cabin of an airliner. The jokes were obvious and unfunny, and this was a comedy that failed to take off on any level. Few Almodovar films could be described as boring, but this was one of them.
Yes, there were spectacular special effects and a magnificent rendering of the dangerous experience of being in space. But after a promising start, Alfonso Cuarón's claustrophobic thriller becomes just another clichéd survival story, with each plot development loudly announced by Steven Price's dogmatic musical score.
A film about giant robots fighting giant monsters was always going to be stupid, but we might have expected director Guillermo del Toro to do something more interesting with it than merely having huge machines engage in old-fashioned punch-ups with really big dinosaurs. Who cares who wins? It may be the end of humanity and the world as we know it, but at least that would mean an escape this nonsense!
To be an effective and honest film critic, one must believe nobody sets out to make a bad film; they just happen, as good intentions give way to compromise and the thousands of individual decisions necessary to make a film at all skew more towards the wrong ones than the right. With this in mind, here are a few of 2013's more egregious misfires, with the fervent hope all involved will do better next time—if there is a next time.
The year's most dishonest and manipulative film, documentary or otherwise, this thinly disguised advertisement for the impending publication of previously unknown manuscripts by the author of Catcher in the Rye squanders a genuinely interesting first hour and is larded over with the year's most intrusive and annoying score. Incredibly, the director has been hired to direct a dramatic adaptation; at least its meant to focus on that initial 60 minutes.
Exhibit A from 2013 of good intentions gone bad, director John Crowley's decidedly unthrilling thriller might have overcome the more distasteful aspects of its terrorism-themed plot had the performances, save that of the great Jim Broadbent as an inscrutable British Attorney General, displayed the urgency inherent in the subject matter. That didn't happen, and Eric Bana's movie career remains more lethargic than kinetic.
A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD
When Bruce Willis made Die Hard 25 years ago, he was two films into a then-lackluster movie career that was launched with every intention of capitalizing on the insouciant charm and palpable masculinity he displayed in the hit television series Moonlighting. The film was a revelation, a first-rate action thriller with comic smarts that changed the course of the mighty genre river. A quarter century later he, and the franchise that made him a star, have squandered that good will and are parodies of themselves.
WHITE HOUSE DOWN
Eight months ago, who would've thought Roland Emmerich's much-hyped summer blockbuster about a secret service agent who saves the American president from an attack on the white house would be so much worse than Antone Fuqua's much-maligned but grittier and far more entertaining guilty pleasure Olympus Has Fallen? Well, it was.
ONLY GOD FORGIVES
This one's actually a ringer, as there's little doubt Nicolas Winding Refn, following up his well-received and accomplished Drive, realized precisely the film he set out to make. Yet that film very nearly derailed his career entirely, drawing not undeserved ire from certain quarters—even amongst those familiar with his not dissimilar earlier films. Only God Forgives is here as a lesson in career planning, the dangers of hubris and hope the director rights himself moving forward.
After Earth, The Internship, Man of Steel