Is this the worst summer of blockbusters in a recent age or is it the best? Are “Man of Steel” arguments worth losing friendships over? Is “Southland Tales” a masterpiece as posited by generation revisionism or is it the mess critics took it for initially? Will you dare to give your money to villain mensch Adam Sandler over hero Guillermo del Toro? Debate rages on in 2013 over a variety of topics as is par for the course in the opinionated world of movie criticism and discussion. And yes, as we glance down at our watches, we realize it’s basically the midway point of the year. We already looked at what a handful of us thought were the Best Film Of The Year… So Far, and so in the Peter Travers school of thinking, we thought it might be worthwhile to look at the worst films of the year so far on a Wednesday hump day.
While “Best” was examined by a few core Playlist members (despite what you think of the hive mind, consensus is difficult to achieve around the water cooler), we thought we’d approach our Worst So Far list a bit differently and let each writer speak for themselves so you know where they stand (frankly, some of us don’t want to be standing next to Erik when you throw tomatoes at him). And so, that’s the drill: a quick, down and dirty look at what each of us (or those that participated anyhow) feel is the worst movie of the year so far.
“White House Down”
Okay, before I dive into this, I should qualify that “White House Down” is the worst movie I saw so far this year… the whole way through. “Identity Thief” probably would have beat it to the punch if I was able to make it through the first half, but life is too short for a movie that screechingly awful, and I bailed out before it was over. But back to Roland Emmerich’s latest explosion fest. In my review, I laid out pretty clearly every reason why this movie is dismal entertainment, but even more than the few supporters of “The Lone Ranger,” this movie had a pretty decent bunch of folks behind it giving it a thumbs up, with their justifications mostly amounting to: “But the movie knows it’s dumb, it’s just having fun within the cliches of the action movie! It’s a popcorn movie!” If only. I’ll grant that Emmerich does on occasion acknowledge how asinine the plot of the movie is, and relishes his leads (the thoroughly wasted Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx doing their best in non-roles) spitting out the cornball dialogue (if James Vanderbilt is getting $3 million for scripts like this, I’ve gotta get an agent). But these brief respites of self-acknowledgement at the silliness of the enterprise are thoroughly drowned out by the rest of the movie which takes every ridiculous development completely seriously. If Emmerich really wanted to take the piss out of his own movie, he wouldn’t have spent as much time as he does on the turgid government-coup-World-War-III plot that is not only mind-numbingly dull but mind-numbingly stupid. As for popcorn entertainment, if having your flavorless, derivative mash of a movie spoon-fed, burped up, and spoon-fed again over two plus hours of tedious runtime, is a cinematic escape for you… Well, you need to see more, and better, movies. “White House Down” is never self-aware enough to be clever, and it’s so cobbled together from parts of nearly three decades worth of action films, that it never feels remotely fresh or interesting. Emmerich may have impressively blown the fuck out of stuff in the past, but he’s never been more anonymous as a filmmaker, here seemingly content to let as many bullets fly as possible hoping volume will equal spectacle (it doesn’t)… As much as “The Lone Ranger” didn’t work, at least there was an attempt at authorship, and some interesting ideas explored and presented even if again, they didn’t quite cohere. In this film, I’m supposed to give it a pass because it passes a ludicrously low quality bar with A-list stars and a big budget? Sorry, not happening. – Kevin Jagernauth
It was almost a Rorschach test to see how demented and damaged contemporary audiences were when “The Purge” was announced, presenting the hook of a single night where all crime was legal. What’s insidious was that director James DeMonaco knew exactly how to play their audience, dangling the carrot of lowered unemployment and crime rates in a “New” America where the Purge has wiped the slate clean. However, the film begins with upsetting (possibly real?) surveillance footage of people being gunned down, shot in alleys, killed indiscriminately by killers who wielded weapons like toys. The line had never been so perfectly drawn: that could be you, America, and wouldn’t it be awesome? Not a moment in “The Purge” honestly addresses the morality of such a decision (nor does it ever genuinely explain how such an idea is presented by politicians and passed into law), but it does raise the specter of the haves using the night to pursue the have-nots, suggesting unemployment and poverty rates have dropped due to a smaller presence of the unfortunate, chased like dogs by richer people who can afford such ordinance. Such is the plight introduced by the nondescript white preppies who torture the family in “The Purge,” who use the words like “birthright” and “entitlement” to describe their desire to kill a homeless black ex-soldier. “The Purge” is another horror film that pretends to be horrified at the very idea it’s pushing, just as the “Saw” films discussed justice and retribution but simply believed in guiltless bloodletting, but it also does so by pursuing a dubious, ugly racial agenda, one where the homeless black man turns out to be heroic enough to silently do the right thing, but not heroic enough to actually merit a name in the credits, as he walks away having protected the way of life of an upper-crust white family. It’s lip service to nothing but hate and violence, pushing a non-violent agenda in its climax, but not without a few stereo-assaulting head-smashings, and the promise of even more racially-motivated violence to come next year. A radio report at the end of the film reports that it was “the most successful Purge yet,” and the film is just stupid enough that there are zero clues in the text to actually describe what the hell that means, or who it incriminates. – Gabe Toro
“Violet & Daisy”
While I must admit Chan-Wook Park’s cartoonish and tonally misguided “Stoker” still lays close to my heart as one of the worst films of the year, I believe I’ve given it enough of a paddling. And so I fully admit the impetus for this list was my mildly appalled reaction to “Violet & Daisy,” a fairy-tale like hitman film from Geoffrey Fletcher, the Oscar-winning writer behind “Precious.” Screenwriters making their feature-length directorial debuts has been an ugly road in recent years (we recently look at this phenomenon in this feature). Dustin Lance Black and “Virginia,” Mitch Glazer and the stunningly ill-conceived “Passion Play,” and William Monaghan’s “London Boulevard” all suggest that none of these guys should quit their day jobs and the same can be said for Fletcher’s debut, “Violet & Daisy.” Like a painful and dated version of “Pulp Fiction” meets “Betty & Veronica” Archie Comics, Alexis Bledel and Saoirse Ronan star as teenage assassins who crack wise, snap bubblegum and casually eliminate their targets with cocksure irreverence. Now “Violet & Daisy” wants to be Quentin Tarantino with high school girls, 20 years after that fact, which already is as wretched as it sounds, but then the plot gets even stranger. The girls are essentially going to quit the hitman life, but then their favorite pop idol Barbie Sunday’s (played by Cody Horn in photographs on the cover of Teen Beat-like magazines) show is canceled, they decide to do one more hit to raise money to keep her on the air. Their last target (James Gandolfini, in a role that’s sadly beneath him) and his existential willingness to die complicates their job and the girls soon find themselves on path of self-examination that crosses with killers, guns and each others. A would-be crime fable, “Violet & Daisy” is an utterly uninvolving mess. So much so that it’s shocking to think Fletcher is an Academy Award winner. “What is he thinking?!” crosses your mind every few minutes of this ridiculous fiasco and it’ll be a wonder if he ever has an opportunity to direct again. This is the worst completely misguided indie film since “Hick.” – Rodrigo Perez
There is nothing worse than a 13-year-old boy (except maybe a 13-year-old girl, coming from someone who once was one). Placing an unsympathetic adolescent at the center of your big-budget sci-fi film is a cinematic crime roughly on level only with casting the largely untalented Jaden Smith as that 13-year-old. But it isn’t the younger Smith who deserves much of the blame for M. Night Shyamalan’s “After Earth.” As the icy (and enigmatic!) General Cyper Raige, his father Will somehow manages to be less charming than his son, which is a feat in itself for the usually magnetic actor. The elder Smith is also responsible for the film’s story, which follows the young Kitai Raige as he tries to save himself and his injured father after their spaceship crashes on a futuristic, deadly version of Earth. Smith gets extra demerits if he also came up with the characters’ names, which sound like something out of particularly bad fanfic. There should at least be some nerd joy derived from the technology when you set a film this far into the future, but I was too busy puzzling over the universe’s biggest plot holes and required leaps of logic to get excited over the Raige family’s fancy knives. I may have gone to a high school that taught Creationism as a science class, but even I could recognize that the earth’s evolution was a bit fast– and impossible. “After Earth” tells its unlucky audience that the planet evolved to kill humans with plane-sized eagles and giant baboons, but we’ve been gone for a millennium. How would that specialization happen in our absence? There are more issues, but I wouldn’t want to put more thought into dissecting the film than Shyamalan and Gary Witta put into writing it. – Kimber Myers
“To the Wonder”
I know what you may be thinking: Are you kidding me, WORST film of the year so far? Surely there are countless examples of trashier, worse movies released this year. You may be right, as I also deeply hated “Gangster Squad,” “The Great Gatsby” and “ABCs of Death.” But this is a personal decision. Calling it the worst film of 2013 so far does not mean it lacks value. Unfortunately, any value to be taken from “To The Wonder”— pretty visuals and… that’s about it— is negated by the experience of having to sit through what feels like a Terrence Malick parody. It’s also unfortunate that I’m using such a tired descriptor for the enigmatic, elusive and beloved filmmaker’s latest film, but it’s a perfect distillation of so much of what’s wrong with it. Malick is obviously a gifted and special director, but I prefer his first three films much more to the latter three, as his tendency to crawl up his own ass has gotten worse in this later period, and reaches its apex with ‘Wonder.’ There was never a point where the film took off, grabbed me as a viewer, and as open-minded as I tried to be to the film Malick was going for, the onset of unintentional humor reared its ugly head around the halfway point. After all, how anyone kept a straight face when Rachel McAdams, rope tied around her wrists, gazing at Ben Affleck, declares in a typically Malickean hushed tone, “I trust you” is beyond me. So much of what’s presented in the film left me with the thought: well, no duh Terrence, that all you got? There’s queasy exploitation of poor people front and center, to no purpose (almost as purposeless as Javier Bardem’s wondering, confused priest). Worst of all, the film renders its female leads as childlike, manic pixie crazy people who are so consumed by love, it’s apparently all they think and talk about. Affleck is such a frustrating cipher of a character that his indecision left me feeling that Malick wants us to be annoyed not with him, as we should be, but with McAdams and Olga Kurylenko (there is such a thing as unhealthy obsession, which would actually make for a better title). It’s hard to deny that the film is shallow, immature and bloated. It’s pretentious arthouse indulgence at its worst. –Erik McClanahan
“I’m So Excited!”
Pedro Almodovar is one of the world’s greatest directors; he’s won an Oscar, is a Cannes regular, and his filmography covers a diverse range of genres. His often taboo breaking films are the kind that cross audience boundaries— you could almost take anyone on a movie date to an Almodovar film. His work is usually smart, funny and inspiring; they often look incredible (his fantastic use of color cannot be overstated) and the performances are almost always top-notch. So when I went to see his recently released latest film, and found myself checking my watch 45 minutes in and praying that it went no longer than 90 minutes, I knew something was wrong. “I’m So Excited!” is Almodovar’s return to the sex comedy romp, but LOLS, it’s set on a plane that might crash. While this premise echoes the comedy classic “Airplane,” the comparison is misleading because “Airplane” is, well, funny. If you’ve seen the trailer for “I’m So Excited!,” you’ll have the seen a snippet of the high-larious campy cover of the Pointer Sisters classic of the same name, be warned this is the best part of the film. There’s no denying the power of a good song and dance number, but sadly the rest of the film falls flat, the plot twists are obvious (and it’s hard to care when the characters are so poorly drawn) and the jokes are snooze-worthy. Whatever Almodovar’s trying to say about sex (the movie is mainly about sex) is poorly communicated, and just not that incisive. Having 90% of the film set on a plane also makes it visually unappealing, repetitive and tiresome, and adds another layer to the boredom that drags the film down to the bottom of the barrel. While the characters pop pills and cocktail chasers throughout the film, it’s almost painful to suffer through the film unaided. If there was ever a film that would drive you to drink, this might be it. With “I’m So Excited!” it seems Almodovar’s become a parody of himself, but joke’s on him (and his fans) because this is one parody that doesn’t have a payoff. – Sam Chater
“The Place Beyond The Pines”
Word was getting out: allegedly, the third film by Derek Cianfrance began with an incredible unbroken shot that would set the tone for the “epic” film to come. That’s when the craving began. But after experiencing this underwhelming opener (Jancsó he is not) and quickly realizing that it didn’t at all gel with the style or atmosphere employed for the rest of the picture, my high hopes were positively squelched. Fair enough, at least what followed was an adequate crime-drama starring a troubled Ryan Gosling— that is until the film settles for the Sensitive Cop Story anchored by a generally uncharismatic Bradley Cooper. From this point on, the viewer is strapped in a hot automobile and sat right next to “Quality,” destination unknown but heading deeper, deeper downtown. Cianfrance eventually time travels forward to a period when the kin of Gosling & Cooper meet in high school, developing and destroying a friendship in record time. This “Rugrats: All Grown Up” scenario frequently shoves hefty portions of the film’s theme down our throats, praying the garbage washes down smooth with jugs full of the domineering score. If that’s not bad enough, this last third seems to have never evolved from its first draft (expository dialogue abound with some truly silly plot turns) and sports a rather horrifically directed, cheese-grating performance by Emory Cohen. To be clear, there’s a few effective, subtle moments to be found throughout— particularly an early shot of Gosling and a later of Dane DeHaan that is constructed similarly, displaying their connection deeper than anything else in the film— but ‘Pines’ spends most of its time pushing melodrama. All in all, this is one exhausting effort. – Christopher Bell
“Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters”
I know I’ve already had plenty of fun beating up on the truly insipid “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” so much so that it seems overkill to do it again… but it’s definitely one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, not to mention in 2013, and, it’s just too much damn fun not to do it again. I will say upfront that the two things H&G: WH has going for it (aside from an abundance of punctuation) is that it’s never boring and its ridiculousness never feels overly earnest, the death knell of other incoherent messes like “John Carter.” That, and Gemma Arterton’s leather pants. Arterton and Jeremy Renner play the blood-thirsty titular sibs, burdened with a script that makes them sound like particularly foul-mouthed mentally handicapped children. With very few exceptions, anytime you see “written and directed by” on a B action movie, there’s a very good chance it’s going to suck, and this is no exception, as clearly there was no one else around to check Tommy Wirkola’s absolutely inane sense of storytelling. There’s no sense of time or place or geography, since Hansel and Gretel appear to have been hired by this village to help with the witch problem, but oh, oopsie, it’s the town they grew up in, which they don’t figure out for two-thirds of the movie, the dumb dummies. Renner, seemingly bewildered as to what he is doing there, has all the charisma of a moss covered log, even while getting busy with a witchy lass in a forest pond. Arterton tries really hard, but she spends much of the latter half of the movie acting against a giant CGI troll named Edward and announcing out loud everything she has done, will do, and is thinking. Oh, and let us not forget the lady punching, which seems like the sole driving force of this movie. Sure, the villains are witches, and witches are ladies and villains are punched, but it’s pretty disconcerting how many times Arterton gets her pretty bell rung in this flick. By the time it climaxes in the witch showdown (led by an over-the-top campy Famke Janssen), the amount of stunt women getting punched in the face gets a little icky. Presented in what should be called Shitty-3D-o-vision, if you’d like to spend under 90 minutes having wood shards and F-bombs hurled in your face, “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is the film for you. Who ARE you? – Katie Walsh
Once upon a time, “Gangster Squad” was a promising prospect. It had a hotly-tipped Black List-ed script, the fast-rising director of “Zombieland,” and what by any reasonable method of measurement is a hell of a cast— Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Emma Stone, Sean Penn, Anthony Mackie et al. But if the experience has taught us anything, it’s that when a big studio movie gets pushed into the January wasteland, there’s a reason for it: in the case of “Gangster Squad,” because it was incredibly terrible. Coming across as something akin to “L.A. Confidential” for people suffering from serious head injuries, it immaculately recreated post-War Los Angeles, and proceeded to reenact an overly-violent, unintentionally funny episode of some cop show you’d never watch on its expensive sets. Other than eye-piercingly ugly digital photography that makes Michael Mann‘s “Public Enemies” look like the goddamn “Godfather” (to DP jail with you, Dion Beebe!), there’s literally not a single thing you haven’t seen many times before. From Josh Brolin playing a cop so generic that he could literally just be called Lawman McPolice, to Sean Penn cos-playing as a Dick Tracy villain, to Ryan Gosling homaging Penn’s performance in “I Am Sam” for some reason, to Anthony Mackie having absolutely nothing to do, there’s no sense that the cast have been directed, or even really want to be on set, and you’d sympathize if you weren’t resenting that they were taking up so much time. When the film finally reaches its conclusion with a ridiculous boxing match between Brolin and Penn, director Ruben Fleischer‘s thrown all kinds of stylistic tics at the camera, but none suggest that he should ever be allowed to watch a movie again, let alone make one. Were there worse movies so far this year? Probably (I disqualified “A Good Day To Die Hard” because it barely counts as an actual movie). But given the talent assembled, and the expenditure involved, no one should be more ashamed of themselves than the makers of “Gangster Squad.” – Oliver Lyttelton
When the “Evil Dead” remake was first announced, everyone assumed the worst. Horror fans had already suffered through atrocious reboots of “A Nightmare On Elm Street,” “Friday The 13th” and “Halloween” and now they were coming for Sam Raimi’s indie-splatter classic? No fucking way. But then we found out this new version would be produced by the original trio (Raimi, Tapert and Campbell) who had handpicked the director (Fede Alvarez, responsible for an inventive little short “Panic Attack”), who promised all practical fx and cut a trailer which looked really goddamned good. So believe me that I was really hoping for the best. Despite my lifelong affinity for the original trilogy of films, I thought maybe this new version could join “Dawn Of The Dead” (2004) and “The Hills Have Eyes” (2006) as a slick but effective update that could still stand on its own. Regrettably that was not the case. Despite the sign-off from the originators of the franchise, “Evil Dead” (2013) belongs in the pile of crap with most of Platinum Dunes’ output. Not only does the new version fail to capture the spirit of the original, it fails as a horror film, period (the fact that it wears the name “Evil Dead” only makes this failure more offensive). The film wants to punish the audience though it fails to understand even the basics of how a horror film works— tension and release, anticipation and delivery— instead Alvarez throws countless gallons of blood at the screen mistaking carnage for creativity. Limbs are hacked off and arteries gush like sprinklers, but never with any consequence and never to anyone we care (or know anything) about. If you’re going to make your characters this bland, you had better be in on the joke: make sure your film is scary or funny or original or something other than just violent. The 1981 original utilized many of the tricks and trademarks that can still be found in Raimi’s much larger-budgeted films today. In the new version, Alvarez pays lip service to these iconic elements, but fails to add anything memorable of his own. Rarely has a film this gory been this boring. – Cory Everett
“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone“
2013 has largely been defined by its number of high concept studio comedies that are absolutely awful— things like “The Internship” and “Identity Thief” (and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the bafflingly accepted “The Heat“). But the absolute worst in the bunch was “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” a I’d-rather-be-having-elective-oral-surgery bore that somehow also had the distinction of opening the South by Southwest Film Festival this year. How the fuck did that happen? Ostensibly the tale of embittered, hacky Las Vegas magicians (played by Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi and Jim Carrey), the movie is so floundering and unfunny that you wonder how the premise could be stretched to fill a “Saturday Night Live” sketch, let alone a movie that stretches to a mind-bending running time of 100 minutes. Everything about the movie feels antiquated to the point of being covered in thick layers of chalky dust. Why would anyone build a comedy around making fun of magicians in the year 2013? Are they really a relevant target these days? And this says nothing of the performances, so knowingly arch that they practically come with their own set of quotation marks. What’s even more depressing is that “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” like fellow nominee “Violet & Daisy,” features one of the last performances by the late, great James Gandolfini. There’s some comfort that I can take, at least, knowing that so few people will ever see this rhinestone-encrusted piece of garbage, a comedy so utterly humorless and grimly imagined that you have a hard time understanding how it got through the slings and arrows of the studio development process, let alone made it to theaters (and somehow opened one of the more prestigious U.S. film festivals). There might be nothing up the sleeve of “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” but there’s nothing in its brain either. – Drew Taylor
Well? That’s all we got. Buyer beware of all these films and try to be civil to Erik if you can. Thoughts? “A Good Day To Die Hard” obviously being so bad, no one had the heart to bother to beat up on a special-needs child of a movie. Which one of us do you believe is insane? Who’s on point? What are your least favorite films of the year? Discuss below.