Some people object to the phrase “so-bad-it’s-good.” If you enjoy it, they argue, how can it be bad? I understand where they’re coming from, but I look at it this way: there is a difference between poorly made movies you hate, and poorly made movies you enjoy. “Plan 9 From Outer Space” is technically inept, but it’s also an intensely personal piece of filmmaking (not to mention a laugh-out-loud funny one) from a guy who truly believed mankind needed a wake up call before it destroyed itself (and who inexplicably thought the best messenger for that wake up call was a dude in a satin tunic who flew around the galaxy in a pie tin UFO). Something like this year’s paint-by-numbers haunted house movie “The Apparition,” on the other hand, is technically polished and emotionally and intellectually bankrupt. The only scary thing about it is the idea of thousands of people paying to see it.
It’s sort like comparing a piece of rotten meat to a McDonald’s Double Quarter Pounder With Cheese. The rotten meat is qualitatively bad. No one should eat it under any circumstances. It would hurt you; it could kill you. With 750 calories, 1280 mg of sodium, and 19 g of saturated fat — 96% of your recommended daily intake — the Quarter Pounder might kill you eventually, and it’s definitely not “good food.” But once in a while, it can be really satisfying.
That’s my approach to these sorts of films. And after complaining a few weeks ago about my problem with lists of “The Worst Movies of the Year” it felt hypocritical to write one anyway (Let it be said that if I had, “The Apparition” would have been my number one). Instead, I thought I would do something different, celebrating the most charming crap of 2012, rather than trashing the most unwatchable shit. Here was an idea with some efficacy: if I give you another worst-of list, I’m just telling you about movies you should avoid. If I give you a best-of-the-worst list, I’m actually recommending stuff. Which is a lot more fun.
So with the acknowledgement that I never saw “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” here are the five best worst movies of 2012. They were so bad they were good. Any of them would make an ideal back half of a night out that starts with dinner at McDonald’s.
At a certain point in the pre-production of this preposterous sequel, I have to imagine that the filmmakers looked around, realized they were making a farce rather than an action movie, and proceeded accordingly. Security expert Brian Mills (Liam Neeson) killed a lot of people in pursuit of his missing daughter (Maggie Grace) in “Taken.” Now the dead relatives of his victims swear revenge — so Mills kills them too. The 60-year-old Neeson was already an impossibly proficient killer in the first film; “Taken 2” elevates him to the level of demigodhood (he actually seems more powerful here than in his other 2012 film, “Wrath of the Titans,” where he played an actual Greek god). Mills takes down swarms of enemies all by himself, and sometimes escapes from dangerous spots with his hands literally tied behind his back. His particular set of skills have also rubbed off on Grace, who gets her fair share of hysterically absurd action setpieces. In one, she helps echolocate her father by hurling grenades onto rooftops around Istanbul (that’s fine, I’m sure no one was hurt). Later, despite a first act built around the fact that Grace is a terrible driver who flunked her license test, she manages to outrun the police during a lengthy car chase even though she doesn’t know where she’s going and the cops do, and, again, has no idea how to drive a car. Like I said: a farce, not an action movie. And a pretty funny one, at that.
I didn’t particularly enjoy any of the previous “Twilight” movies — but I laughed my head off at this one (a particularly appropriate expression for a film that featured at least a dozen graphic decapitations). It may not be a satisfying conclusion to the story of teen lovers Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Bella (Kristen Stewart), but it is an amusing one. This movie had it all: Vampires with stereotypical accents from all over the world! Kristen Stewart eating mountain lions and breaking rocks with her bare fists! Bella’s dad being totally cool with his granddaughter growing into a teenager in a matter of months! The Cullens building Edward and Bella an eff shack full of books and a fully stocked closet, even though everyone outside the family thinks Bella is dead which means they have to move to another part of the world in a matter of days! Michael Sheen giggling like a deranged oral surgery patient who huffed too much laughing gas! A fully grown man being deeply attracted to a baby! A movie that repeatedly insists that a fully grown man being deeply attracted to a baby is not actually creepy! I doubt I’ll ever watch the other “Twilight”s again. But if I flipped past this one on television, I might stop and soak in Bill Condon’s batshit atmosphere one more time. Especially if Michael Sheen is onscreen.
3. The Devil Inside
Directed by William Brent Bell
Read my review at Time Out New York
The characters in this found footage exorcism movie are so dumb — up to and including the stupid demons who possess these braindead morons — that it felt at times like you were watching a work of art from an alternate dimension where “Idiocracy” had already come to pass. A pair of renegade exorcists spend numerous scenes explaining the concept of “multiple demonic possession,” then are shocked — shocked, I tell you, shocked! — when it actually happens. “The Devil Inside” was also the winner of the award for 2012’s Most Needless Title Card: “The Vatican Did Not Endorse This Movie.” When a woman walks into “The Vatican School of Exorcism” with a camera crew and starts filming the classes, and also helps perform illegal back alley exorcisms, you can probably take the Vatican’s non-endorsement as a given. Still, you almost have to admire the chutzpah it takes to end your movie with a completely anticlimactic cliffhanger and then to instruct viewers (via another terrible title card) to go to a website “for more information on the ongoing investigation.” Yeah, no, I’m not going to do that.
I think Matthew Fox expected “Alex Cross” to be our generation’s “Silence of the Lambs,” a dark and disturbing psychological thriller that chills audiences, impresses critics, and goes on to win all kinds of awards. So he went full De Niro for his role as Picasso, the multitalented assassin who gets into a feud with Detroit cop and criminal profiler Alex Cross (Tyler Perry): he dropped something like 35 pounds, worked out until he was as shredded as a professional mixed martial artist, and adopted a creepily flat vocal delivery. But “Alex Cross” wasn’t our generation’s “Silence of the Lambs.” It was a Tyler Perry vehicle directed by the guy who made the first “The Fast & the Furious” movie. Surrounded by low-key actors like Perry, Edward Burns, and Jean Reno, Fox’s intensity stuck out like a sore thumb: a sore, hilariously committed thumb. Just watch this clip, where Tyler Perry calls Matthew Fox a maggot and Matthew Fox quotes Confucius, and then tell me you don’t want to see the whole movie.
Still not convinced? What if I tell you that in one scene Matthew Fox fires a rocket launcher from a moving elevated train? And that he scuba dives through water pipes to sneak into a high rise office building? And that he leaves Cross clues designed to be read like Mad Magazine Fold-Ins? Picasso favors Confucius, but I prefer this quote from Albert Einstein: “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”
Directed by Heitor Dhalia
Read my review at Time Out New York
The best worst movie of the year, one that mangled its clichéd serial killer plot so thoroughly that it began to look like an experimental film about clichéd serial killer plots. No one in Portland believed that Jill (Amanda Seyfried, whose face is at least 60% eyeball) was actually kidnapped and tortured one year ago — and they don’t believe now that the same man has come back to kidnap her sister and finish the job. The cops refuse to buy Jill’s story because she screams a lot and also because there’s no physical evidence of a crime (apparently when you stab a man with a femur bone, it produces no physical evidence). So it’s all up to Jill to save her sister by running around Portland following a trail so obvious it’s more like entire slices of bread rather than just the crumbs. Best of all: an epically pointless supporting turn from Wes Bentley as Detective Hood, the new guy in town and the only one on the force who believes Jill’s story. At that point, in a good movie, there are only two alternatives. Hood is either: a) the killer in disguise or b) the red herring hero planted to distract us from the real killer. Just before Jill finds her man, Hood sneaks away from work, allegedly to bring his mother some soup. All right, we think, here it comes: the truth will be revealed! No it won’t. Jill’s killer is a random character we’ve never seen before, and when she returns home to talk to the police, there’s Wes Bentley again, just hanging around like nothing happened except he took some time off from the most important police investigation of his life to make sure his mommy got her bowl of Italian wedding. It may have died a quick death at the box office, but the conversations I had about this insane mess with fellow critics will never be gone.
What was the best worst movie you saw in 2012? Tell us in the comments below.