My ambivalence about worst-of lists is well documented. In short, almost no one applies the same formal and intellectual rigor to a worst-of list as they do to a best-of list. Serious critics spend weeks and months preparing their top tens; almost no one bothers to do the same with their bottom ten. Most critics — this one included — just pick the worst stuff they were assigned to cover over the course of a calendar year and call it a day.
But at least Vulture’s Critics Poll sports the benefit of a large sample size. Sean Howe compiled 34 critics and publications’ worst of 2012 lists, assigned one point to each movie mentioned (plus an additional point to each movie specifically named the absolute worst of the year) and came up with a master ranking that’s about as comprehensive a look at last year’s stinkers as you will ever see. The worst of the worst, according to Vulture’s respondents: “This Means War,” a romantic comedy starring Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hardy, and Chris Pine:
1. This Means War
If somebody thought that ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’ could be improved by simply adding another mister, well, that somebody was very, very wrong. Time Out New York’s David Fear boiled it down to a recipe. “Take the most toxic aspects of modern surveillance culture, romcom chauvinism and lowest-common-denominator pandering. Add in two rising movie stars and one veteran star, all of whom, frankly, should know better. Throw in a little cringeworthy Chelsea Handler sex-talk for gratuitous spice. Mix thoroughly, let simmer in a lumpy, steaming pile for two hours. Serves no one.”
I saw “This Means War” on an airplane, where I deeply appreciated its ability to cure me of a nasty bout of insomnia. It wouldn’t make my own list of the worst of 2012 — in part because I slept through about a half hour of it — but it wouldn’t miss the cut by much.
And speaking of my own list, Howe was kind enough to invite me to contribute to the poll, and in spite of my aforementioned issues, I decided to play along. You can find my picks (which I never wrote up on Criticwire) on Vulture’s page of ballots. My own #1 didn’t crack the overall top ten, probably because very few critics saw it. Lucky them:
1. “The Apparition.” A high concept horror movie about ghosts that can only hurt you once you believe in them. The only problem: Somewhere between the shoot and the release, the high concept got cut out, leaving one of the most generic horror movies ever made, plus so many scenes set at Costco the film could legally qualify as an infomercial. Wretched.