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'Man Of Steel', 'Elysium', And The "Worst" Films Of 2013

Dec 26 2013, 8:21am CST | by

'Man Of Steel', 'Elysium', And The "Worst" Films Of 2013
Photo Credit: Forbes
 
 
 

Obviously “worst” is a subjective standard, so perhaps in the name of uber-accuracy this should be considered a rundown of my “least favorite” films of 2013. Beyond that, this is pretty self-explanatory. The picks are in alphabetical order, with the exception of my choice as the very worst film of 2013 as well as the “most disappointing” picture of the year.  And without further ado, here we go…

Elysium (Sony)
Consider this among the more striking examples of squandered potential. On paper, this R-rated, 2D, original science-fiction drama is everything we say we want in mainstream cinema. But good intentions (and superb production design) cannot entirely excuse botched execution. It’s bad enough that the film starts out as a general parable for immigration and income inequality before basically stating that the only difference between the 1% and the 99% is access to free healthcare.

It’s bad enough that Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to District 9  features book report-type dialogue that will make you yearn for the clever word play found in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. What’s fatal is the utter lack of coherent world building and how poorly it integrates its futuristic technology. And yeah, the film film sputters about for much of its running time before magically coming upon a plot thread that will allow Matt Damon (only the white man can save the poor Hispanics) to basically not just save himself but everyone on the ravaged Earth.

All of these things would be annoyances, but they are compounded by a eye-rolling third-act that sidelines Jodie Foster’s offbeat villain in favor of Sharlto Copley’s conventional manic rape-minded male villain and turns its main female characters into sexually imperiled damsels-in-distress. Intentional or not, the film posits that only a strong white guy can save weak women and helpless minorities. On principle, I’m glad that this original science fiction property grossed $286 million worldwide, but it’s faulty construction and retrograde racial and gender politics cannot be ignored. I’m hoping Chappie is better.

The Host (Open Road Films)
It’s no secret that I enjoy the Twilight Saga more than most film critics. Well The Host makes Twilight look like Fellowship of the Ring. While the film is directed by Andrew Niccol, it’s clear that the director of Gattaca stayed home while the director of Simone showed up instead. So lifeless and inert is this would-be franchise starter that even Saoirse Ronan is lousy. The film tries to tell a story of free will in a world basically conquered by body snatcher-type aliens, but it’s basically a giant internal monologue over which of the two hunky male leads Ronan should shag, and a bad one at that.

The Iceman (Millennium Entertainment)
Yes, Michael Shannon is a fine actor and it’s always good to see Winona Ryder gainfully employed, but this is the kind of “gritty” true-life crime story that gives art house cinema a bad name. It is basically a biopic of an infamous mafia hitman, yet there is next-to-no story beyond the paint-by-numbers crime cliches and periodic moments of brutal violence. There is little character development and little substance to this contrived and generic gangster saga. It offers nothing new while being relatively dull for most of its running time. The Gangster Squad may have been a cartoon, but at least it provided entertainment value, even if much of it was in the form of unintentional humor.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (Warner Bros.)
This comedy feels like the result of a truly devilish and adult-skewing comedy that got reworked to make it more “mainstream”. There is a fine nugget of an idea, the competition between old-school illusion and the more newfangled street magic, but that film isn’t this one. Instead we get the inexplicable “redemption” of a world-class jerk (Steve Carell) who we are supposed to sympathize with for absolutely no reason while we boo the villain (a scene-stealing Jim Carrey) who is really more of an artist than our would-be hero.

Imagine seeing Rocky III without having seen the previous Rocky films and wondering why we should care if he finds his “eye of the tiger”. Like Kick-Ass 2 (another lousy film where Jim Carrey is the best thing to be found), Identity Thief, and We’re The Millers, this is a film technically intended for adults but constructed in a simplistic and candy-coated fashion seemingly intended to play to grade-schoolers. This is the kind of mainstream comedy that makes convinces people that television is superior to cinema.

The Internship (20th Century Fox)
It was a bad year for films starting with the letter “I”, and this was the worst of the bunch. I don’t even care that it operates as a glorified commercial for Google. What does concern me is the paint-by-numbers screenplay and eye-poppingly insulting resolution. Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are relatively charmless as Google interns and we find ourselves feeling sorry for those stuck with them as partners. It’s a Mad Libs screenplay, complete with yet another actress (Rose Byrne) who has thrived on television yet is forced to play “the token love interest” in cinema.

This is a film technically about middle-aged men adapting to a new world in terms of technology and what constitutes regular employment, but exists as a film that would have been dated in the silent era. Ironically, Pixar told a similar story with Monsters University but pitched its G-rated story to mature audiences with an ending that counts as downright subversive. The Internship is all the more horrible because, unlike some other films on this list that clearly suffered from behind-the-scenes struggles, it would appear that all involved intentionally made The Internship as insulting and laughless as it is.

Jack the Giant Slayer (Warner Bros.)
It’s not generally fair to condemn a film based on its budget. And yet as I watched Bryan Singer’s would-be fairy tale reinvention, I couldn’t help but ask both “How did they spend nearly $200 million on this?” and “Why on Earth did anything think they were going to make their money back?” There are good actors aplenty here, from Nicholas Hoult to Stanley Tucci, but the film is crippled by existing neither as a kid-friendly adventure or as a truly dark/gritty revamp.

So it’s too juvenile for adults, yet far too violent for children. It’s swiftly paced yet lacking in momentum or energy. Mostly it is a prime example of studios spending the kind of money that demands global blockbuster business yet can’t possibly be expected to make good on that requirement. As a film critic, I can defend such hubris on an artistic level if the results are interesting or inspired, but this meets neither criteria. It’s a wash on every conceivable level.

Paranoia (Relativity) and Runner Runner (Fox)
These weirdly similar thrillers came out within a month or so of each other. Both are bad, although at least Paranoia has Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman explicitly not phoning it in. Both film feature cocky young white men who get to play wish-fulfillment fantasy by lying/cheating their way into their field of choice (online poker in one, tech business in the other) without having to pay any real consequences. Women are ornaments or prizes in both films (Amber Heard is especially wasted in Paranoia, since she is given a few moments of development) and both stand as towering examples of white-male privilege. Justin Timberlake and Liam Hemsworth are giving shiny starring vehicles all of their own despite having no box office muscle.

Both films are bad films and varying degrees of boring. Both serve as prime examples of a Hollywood which saw The Hunger Games and seemingly rushed to give the token male love interest his own movie. I may be being unfair to Hemsworth and Timberlake (he at least did his time in supporting roles), but in a time when females and minority actors are begging for studio scraps, it’s galling that we see one generic and/or mediocre vehicle after another being crafted for untested and comparatively uncharacteristic white male would-be movie stars. Is it hypocritical or reverse-racism if I admit that I’d be kinder to Runner Runner if Anthony Mackie was its lead rather than a glorified cameo player?  Maybe, but let’s not pretend this isn’t an issue as we await The Legend Of Hercules, starring that eighth guy to the right in Twilight.

R.I.P.D. (Universal)
This is the rare movie that was not screened for critics that actually deserved the stigma that comes with that. This Ryan Reynolds/Jeff Bridges rip-off of Men In Black barely functions as a movie and barely holds together as an A-to-B-to-C narrative. Jeff Bridges gives the worst performance of his career while everyone else (Kevin Bacon, Mary Louise Parker, etc.) just looks bored and sad. This is another situation where you have to wonder why anyone thought they would recoup their massive investment ($130m in this case). The smartest play Universal made here was to barely advertise the film. The worst play is teasing a science-fiction action film that could have starred James Hong but denying us that pleasure.

Sharknado
Yes, this was a TV movie, but my list, my rules. All of Twitter and Facebook got scammed and turned this generic SyFy monster movie into a cultural event. Not only is it nowhere even close to the best of this specific sub-genre (Mega Piranha is still tops, so says the critic quoted on the back of the box), but the entire phenomenon played out like a bizarre spectacle of seemingly rational people proclaiming themselves to be hip and/or cool by mocking something that was clearly intended to be mocked. Sadly the film wasn’t even good by the standards of something like Mega Snake. It is another example of how our cultural now celebrates failure, even intentional failure, and Sharknado couldn’t even bother to do that in an entertaining fashion.

Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor (Lionsgate)
As much as I defend Tyler Perry, at least one of his 2-3 films in a given year tend to end up on my “worst of” list. Temptation is probably his worst film, attempting to tell a serious story about adultery and sexuality and failing on all counts. The film isn’t sexy, it’s not provocative or insightful, and it basically ends by punishing the cheating party with lifelong consequences. For the record (spoilers), I don’t think Perry was implying that  Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s character gets raped at a key juncture and/or deserved to get H.I.V. for her discretion, but rather it was Perry arbitrarily deciding to tweak the ending from the play just a bit. Still, it’s an incredibly disturbing conclusion in all the wrong ways and takes the film to a higher level of terrible.

And now the worst film of the year…

A Good Day To Die Hard (20th Century Fox)
I try to avoid hyperbole when at all possible, as we seem to live in an age where everything is either the best thing ever or the worst thing ever. But I can honestly say that this fifth Die Hard entry is one of the very worst films I have ever seen in a theater. The film basically forgets what makes Die Hard more than just a generic action film. It’s willfully stupid, lacking in basic character chemistry and narrative discipline.

It turns John McClane into a borderline insane anti-social lunatic; an intrusive presence, the “ugly American in a foreign land” incarnate, who is the fly in the ointment to the good guys rather than the bad guys. It lacks a true villain. It features no ticking clock scenario or any real urgency. And it features mediocre action save for a big-scale chase sequence where McClane himself seems to kill more civilians than the bad guys could ever hope to.

These are all reasons why it’s a terrible film.  But the reason the picture really is easily the worst film of the year is that it looks and feels like it was cobbled together from outtakes during which the actors forgot their lines and waited for director John Moore to yell cut. The 90-minute film feels stretched and padded, with much of the running time taken up by scenes of two or three characters standing around in an empty room and basically grunting at each other while they wait for something, anything at all, to happen.

Our heroes and villains have no sense of where they are going, how they are going to get there or why they are bothering. A Good Day To Die Hard is a complete and total failure on every single level. It fails as a story, as an action picture, and as a character piece. It is barely a movie in any traditional sense. It is easily and incontestably the worst film of 2013.

Special Mention: Most Disappointing and Heartbreaking Film Of 2013:

Man Of Steel (Warner Bros.)
If I were to pick the “most disappointing” and “most soul-crushing” film of 2013, this would be the easy call. But it’s not the worst film of the year and it would be disingenuous for me to call it as much. There is too much to appreciate, from the performances (Henry Cavill, Diane Lane, etc.) to the production design and special effects to Hans Zimmer’s chest-thumping score to the sci-fi crazy opening reel on Krypton, for me to state that it is among “the worst” of anything. But the film is a colossal creative miss and made me sadder than any other film this year. To wit:

Its script fails to let its characters actually converse with each other. The busy Kryptonian prologue makes the explosion of Krypton is the fourth-most important plot development. It utterly fails to pay-off the whole “How will Earth react to Superman?” question that is the driving force of the film’s first hour. It makes Clark directly responsible for the carnage that Zod reigns down upon Metropolis. It has an action finale that’s technically impressive but only enjoyable if you ignore the horrifying civilian body count. It sidelines Lois Lane into “love interest” and “damsel-in-distress”. It turns Jor-El into a video game guide character. It randomly kills off two of its best character actors (no spoilers, but you’ll know when you see). Its third act treats Kal El like Godzilla in a “vs”  kaiju film while still pretending to tell a story about the idea of Superman as an inspiration to humanity.

This was a film that played to all of the worst (and usually false) stereotypes of its creators. It was grim and humorless (producer Chris Nolan), full of book report expository monologues (writer David Goyer), and big-scale action that didn’t emotionally engage (director Zack Snyder). I have no objection with the notion if making a Superman origin story that’s closer to a “first contact” alien invasion thriller. But the film still pretends to be the great inspirational Superman myth it was selling while still (and I can’t stress this enough) making Superman responsible for Zod’s city-wide destruction.

It put me in a genuine film-related funk for a couple weeks for what it said about the future of the DC Comics cinematic universe. Now I’m optimistic and I’ll be the first to admit if Man Of Steel 2: Not Necessarily The Justice League turns it around.  But if Man Of Steel, laughably grim and gritty with good actors given little to do and a world where Superman is still an alleged inspiration for humanity despite causing the deaths of over 100,000 people, is the future of the DC Comics film universe, then I’ll just stick with Arrow.

And that’s a wrap for this year’s would-be “worst” films. I’m sure I missed a few stinkers along the way. I generally avoid Adam Sandler’s broad comedies and I knew to avoid The Smurfs 2, and both films tricked exactly no one into thinking they would be anything other than what they are. There are other films that I’d argue are pretty bad (Only God Forgives, Identity Thief, etc.), and quite a few that I’d argue are quite overrated (Prisoners, American HustleDallas Buyers ClubThe Heat, etc.), but I didn’t feel the need to make a big deal about merely mediocre or disappointing films that clearly worked for other critics. I’m sure you have your picks for the “worst” films of 2013. Now it’s your turn to sound off.

Source: Forbes

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