I have a fundamental philosophical problem with 'worst of' lists when it comes to movies. To me the worst movies in a year aren't the shaggy, low budget productions that are full of technical incompetence, or even the cash-in middle-range movies where nobody cared. Yes, InAPPropriate Comedy is likely one of the worst movies of the year, but did anyone involved ever think it was going to be good? It's like making a list of the worst restaruants in your town and populating it with Jack in the Box locations. No shit it's bad - tell me something I didn't already know.
So I have come up with the ten most disappointing movies of the year. Many of these are, in my opinion, straight up bad movies. Some are just middling or forgettable. They are all films that have no excuse to be anything except good - they have talent and budgets behind them that should have guaranteed something at least decent. So here are the ten movies that disappointed me the most in 2013.
The Bling Ring
In a year where we have Spring Breakers the ante has been upped on stories of criminal young people who reflect the amoral driftlessness of their generation. But even without Harmony Korine's great work to compare it against, The Bling Ring would be a disappointment. Sofia Coppola has found a true story - a gang of rich kids who break into the homes of richer celebrities - that exposes the corrupt nature of materialistic America in the 21st century and then does nothing with it. The entire film is a series of scenes of the kids breaking into the homes of Paris Hilton and friends, partying, and then getting caught. Coppola, the queen of modern upper class ennui, never digs into these characters in any meaningful way. Not a terrible movie, but one that never justifies your time spent watching it.
Zal Batmanglij killed it with his debut feature, Sound of My Voice. A smart, nuanced, character-driven scfi story about a cult centered around a woman who may or may not be a time traveler, Sound of My Voice captivated me and gave Brit Marling the role that guaranteed I would pay attention to her going forward. The two worked together on The East, another movie about a small group of ideological people, this time an environmental terrorist group. Unfortunately The East is plotted like a CBS TV movie with Marling an undercover agent trying to infiltrate the terrorists, whose politics are all catch-phrases and seem based on a cursory understanding of modern activism. The film is frustrating in the way it is endlessly conventional and assidiously middle-of-the-road. It's as silly and embarrassing a look at modern activism as the worst late 60s hippie cash-in movies were. People are going to laugh at this film some day.
Matt Damon teams up with the director of District 9 to make another original scifi movie that tackles social issues. How could it be bad? I don't know, but it is. Elysium is talky and dull, with a side-helping of stupid. The script feels catastrophically unformed, with the mech suit action business crammed willy nilly into a parable about the growing divide between haves and have nots. There are some great ideas in Eluysium, but Neill Blomkamp never figured out how to make them work in a blockbuster movie.
I really like Kick-Ass. It's puerile and dumb and morally repugnant... but it's also well made and a lot of fun and hits some truly great snotty notes. Kick-Ass 2 is just the bad stuff, unfettered by any wit or interesting filmmaking. Now that Matthew Vaughn is gone the film ends up with a heavier Mark Millar influence, moving the tone of the film from teenage rebellion to basic misanthropy. On top of that, Kick-Ass 2 moves so far from the original film's mission statement - superheroes in the real world - that it becomes just another boring entry in the genre, staking no new ground.
The Evil Dead 2013
The idea of remaking The Evil Dead is so good they've already done it - the opening of Evil Dead 2 is basically a fast-forward remake of the first film. Sam Raimi's original film is, to be fair, a pretty empty movie - some kids go to a cabin in the woods and terrible things happen to them. What makes The Evil Dead (1981) work is the filmmaking bravado on display. It's the singer, not the song. And so bringing in a new singer to take the basic contours of the original and refashion it in his own image should have been great. Except The Evil Dead 2013 ends up in a terrible middle ground where it's referencing and reversing the original while adding nothing but gore. The gore, admittedly, is great, but disconnected from anything like characters or tension or scares it becomes nothing more than a VFX showreel. It's a great showreel, but who decided to pad it out to feature length with bad performances and a boring, go-nowhere story?
Tough year for movies beginning with the letter E. Ender's Game is one of those films that isn't exactly bad, it's just so very not good. Is it that the original novel is truly unadaptable? Or is it that the script fails to isolate what works in that book and instead gives us uninteresting, one-dimensional characters walking through generic space station hallways on their way to training, which is the only time the movie comes alive? The book's big final reveal packs absolutely no punch in the movie, leaving the whole endeavour totally pointless.
You have all this money. You have all these amazing design elements. You have one of the biggest stars in the world, an actor who is willing to give his all in every performance. What do you do with it? If you're Joseph Kosinski the answer is totally waste it on a nothing of a movie. We're finally getting studios spending cash on big scifi stories that, on the surface, are thoughtful, and yet they keep ending up being profoundly disappointing. While Kosinski didn't earn my confidence with the terrible Tron Legacy (and as bad as it is, Oblivion is better than Tron Legacy), I had very high hopes for big budget original scifi. I hate having Elysium and Oblivion on my disappointments list, but they end up being such big disappointments because I truly had hopes.
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone are trapped in a prison from which escape is impossible. This sounds like a buddy movie made in heaven, and yet the final product is stilted and uninvolving, Even worse, the movie wastes a really strong Arnie performance in a way that almost feels malicious. I guess in a couple of years this could end up being a film people rediscover because Schwarzenegger is so good in it, but everything else in Escape Plan is so half-assed and poorly done that it doesn't even work as schlock.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
I've read some arguments that The Hobbit films shouldn't be judged against The Lord of the Rings, but that's madness. It's the same director and many of the same actors, working from related source material. It's one hundred percent comparable to The Lord of the Rings, and it's a thousand times worse. With all of the money and talent at his disposal Peter Jackson has managed to make a movie that is the cinematic equivalent of busywork, a whole lot of hustle and bustle without any humanity within it. At least the Transformers films - also pointless exercises in bloat and digital wankery - weren't connected to something grander. While Desolation of Smaug is at least not as tedious as An Unexpected Journey, it remains one of the most disappointing movies of the year because we know Peter Jackson and Middle Earth can be so, so much better and fulfilling.
Star Trek Into Darkness
Like you're surprised. This isn't technically a ranked list, but I saved this for last on purpose. There were many months leading up to Star Trek Into Darkness that allowed me to roll with the movie's punch, but even still this broiling heap of nonsense left me deeply despondant. JJ Abrams had totally proven me wrong with Star Trek 2009, a movie that while not great was filled with heart and adventure and managed to work despite extraordinary script flaws. Star Trek Into Darkness brought back both the cast who made the first film live and the script flaws that almost sank it, except this time the script flaws were not going to get upstaged. Into Darkness is dumb, it's complicated for no reason, it features reveals that are meaningless to the plot and it pisses away Star Trek's most name-brand villain in a plotline that disrespects hardcore fans while being meaningless to the coveted new audience. Star Trek Into Darkness is a movie so bad that it fails on almost every conceivable level, including mewling fan service. This isn't the worst film of the year - The Delivery Man and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty are even worse, believe it or not - but it's without a doubt the film that squanders the most talent, money and good will.
Tomorrow: The Ten Most Underrated Movies Of 2013