The Bottom Ten of 2013 Films

When you see 100+ movies of the course of a year, they're not all going to be winners. 2013 was a fantastic year in the cinema, but that did not save it from its share of stinkers. I present to you my worst cinematic experiences of 2013.

10. Oz the Great and Powerful

I’m not sure what happened to Sam Raimi here; it seems he should have a better head on his shoulders than this pale imitation of a late career Tim Burton film (and those aren’t even good either). Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams try their best, but are undone by a thoroughly bored Franco and a truly terrible Mila Kunis (legitimately one of the worst performances of the year by anyone in a major release). This feels so much like Alice in Wonderland that you can never get a sense of what it’s trying to do on its own. Thus began the year of our blockbuster discontent.

9. Gangster Squad

The studio tried to shunt this off in the standard September graveyard in 2012, but it got pushed back for featuring a shootout in a movie theater only a few months after the Aurora, Colorado tragedy. So it instead got reshot and was dumped in January, a more desolate filmic mass grave. Dumped is the right word, as Reuben Fleischer’s 1940’s action noir was all style and no substance, with a terribly out of sync performance from Sean Penn and the rest of the cast on auto pilot.

8. Disconnect

One can assume that Disconnect was reaching for the heights (heights?) of Crash, offering a similar sprawling narrative of interconnected stories, this time revolving around how technology has affected our social lives and interactions. It’s mind-numbingly dull, offering little by means of actual import while slathering on the schlock at every turn. So, all it all, it actually is quite a lot like Crash. But that’s not actually a good thing. You want an actual insightful look at technology in the modern world? Watch Her.

7. To the Wonder

Terrence Malick pushed his proclivities too far, and To the Wonder is Malick devolved into self-parody. The story of a man torn between his French wife and a former lover is shot with all the self-importance of being some grand treatise on love, but it doesn’t have any of the bona fides to back it up. The acting is off and the script isn’t up to the task, meaning all of Malick’s well-worn editing tricks, montages and cinematography feels pretentious without the substance to back it up.

6. Elysium

As someone who quite liked District 9, I can’t entirely figure out how this ended up the gigantic mess that it is. The premise is nice enough, offering the opportunity for science fiction as a parable for our modern day have/have not problems. The target is squarely affixed to class and income stratification, but the execution quickly leaves all of that behind for some whiz-bang explosions. It's almost dizzying how quickly Neill Blomkamp abandons the metaphor for brainless action. The villains (Sharlto Copley and Jodie Foster) have the distinction of teaming up for two of the worst performances of the year, making some mystifying acting and accent decisions.

5. C.O.G.

An attempt at adapting the David Sedaris story begins as a relatively unremarkable fish-out-of-water tale about an intellectual who moves to the country to work on a farm and live life rough. Its second half, where our lead moves in with an eccentric and easy-to-anger street preacher (played thanklessly by the excellent Denis O'Hare), is roundly terrible, attempting for some kind of resonance but landing flat on its face. The director presumably watched a lot of Baumbach and Woody Allen, but didn’t have the chops to ape their style, wit, whimsy and sense of plotting with even an iota of success.

4. Man of Steel

The nadir of this terrible year of non-Hunger-Games blockbusters, Zack Snyder proves once again that he has no sense of visual storytelling, even if the static images may be well constructed or beautiful. Goyer’s script is atrocious, proving once and for all that Christopher and Jonathan Nolan were doing the heavy lifting in their Batman trilogy (though a glance at his previous credits would be just as convincing). This film spends about as long in Krypton as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey spent in The Shire, which is to say about 25 minutes too long. Then it subjects you to interminably long flashbacks and weird nonsensical moralizing, CHRIST IMAGERY and PRODUCT PLACEMENTS you can see from the moon, before the now infamous climactic battle that would be hilariously tone deaf if it weren’t so dreadfully boring.

3. Only God Forgives

Nicholas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling team up again, and essentially make the anti-Drive, presumably because they want to subvert our expectations or something. This is Gosling as taciturn protagonist taken to its extreme far beyond intelligent bounds, as he spends most of his screen time standing in door frames bathed in red light. Some have found profundity in the images, but I found them to be empty ciphers masquerading as profundity, making Only God Forgives into the sort of film that covers up its utter lack of substance with extreme style. An aggressive bore.

2. Saving Mr. Banks

Just the worst story you could imagine for a biopic, where the depressed, haunted and shrewish PL Travers makes everyone’s lives miserable for no good reason other than their temerity to make her beloved books into a film. Add in Tom Hanks with a halo and wings as the ultimate perfect human being Walt Disney (this is a Disney production, after all), some terribly bad flashback scenes (cue long tracking shots of Colin Farrell riding on a white horse in slow motion) and a frankly insulting grand ending, and you have Disney propaganda in the guise of a biopic, which is frustrating, because this story could have actually been interesting if the creative team behind it had any integrity.

Review available here.

1. Movie 43

Yes. It’s that bad. Don’t even want to spend much energy writing about it. There is nothing funny about this movie. The one thing that looked like it could have been funny in the trailer (the Emma Stone/Kieran Culkin skit) isn't funny. A failure on every level.

Dishonorable Mentions

For all of its Kickstarter-y intrigue (and surprisingly effective work from Lindsay Lohan), The Canyons is still a mess. A noble mess that isn't as terrible as it should have been, but a mess nonetheless.

Out of the Furnace is an almost comical misunderstanding of tone, a film that tries to be an operatic treatise on revenge that falls flat thanks to no-dimensional characters and absurd cross-cutting of disparate scenes.

Tom Cruise's sci-fi vehicle Oblivion might be the emptiest film of the year. Its cinematography is stunning, but there is nothing going on underneath it.

The Amanda Seyfried biopic Lovelace tries to be a sort of modern-day Rashomon-tinged retelling of the life of Linda Lovelace, but the creative team is not Akira Kurosawa, and the result is a pretty standard bore.

I walked out of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty after about 70 minutes, having been beaten down by its overly serious messaging and borderline-parody inspirational cinematography.