2013 was a good year for great movies. Critics’ groups keep naming different films the best of the year, hyperbolic articles reach back decades to find a better year, and many terrific films slated for the year-end prestige season haven’t even seen wide release yet. For many filmgoers, the best is yet to come. Yet scales have to be balanced, and for every Inside Llewyn Davis, there’s a Movie 43. There’s another 2013 out there, a shadowy reflection of this year’s abundance of riches. Soon, these films might all be one wrong click away on your favorite streaming service, if they aren’t there already. Here, in order from most to least awful (though they’re all mighty awful), are 15 films awaiting those who choose poorly.
In a wonderful karmic twist, the self-improvement-through-corporate-adulation comedy The Internship ended up reflecting terribly on the judgment of Google, the popular technology company Internship co-writer and star Vince Vaughn depicts as the apex of Western civilization. Scoring a mere internship there represents an incredible opportunity for the old-school salesmen played by Vaughn and his Wedding Crashers co-star Owen Wilson, and the film attempts to use the template of the 1980s slobs-vs.-snobs comedies—minus anyone who vaguely resembles a slob—for the purpose of spreading the gospel of Google, its revolutionary products, and its fierce but evolved corporate culture. Instead, the film was one of the year’s most high-profile and justified bombs. It was meant as a great leap forward for the integration of advertising and entertainment, and instead, it was a giant shimmy backward.
Terrible documentaries are rare. At worst, they’re usually blandly informative or irritatingly didactic. It takes a special kind of commitment to make a doc that can’t even decide for five straight minutes what its subject is supposed to be. Ostensibly, Off Label is about the misuse of pharmaceuticals for purposes other than those prescribed, which sounds like the basis for a hard-hitting exposé. Instead, the filmmakers just collect a disparate group of people who have some connection to drugs—a former Big Pharma rep, an engaged couple working as guinea pigs to pay for their wedding, an ex-con who was the subject of illegal prison experiments decades ago—and let them ramble at will, cutting among them with no rhyme or reason. At no point is it even remotely clear what the film’s stance toward off-label use is, mostly because the interviewees spend as much time talking about Islam, or gambling addiction, or human-rights violations at Abu Ghraib, as they do about popping pills. Any one of these fascinating people might have made a worthwhile camera subject in his or her own doc, but collectively, they add up to an incoherent mess.
|3||Argento's Dracula 3-D|
There was a time when an adaptation of Dracula directed by Italian director Dario Argento would have been tremendously exciting. For a stretch of the 1970s and ’80s, no one directed horror with Argento’s level of flair—or his taste for excess. Here, however, he seems to be barely trying, filling the screen with Congo-era CGI effects, not-so-scary beasties (including a particularly non-threatening grasshopper), and a sleepy-looking Dracula played by Thomas Krestschmann. Argento’s Dracula has blood and nudity aplenty, but otherwise, there’s little of the Argento of old to be found, making this one of the year’s biggest letdowns.
Not many Americans saw this bizarro, visually ambitious, laughably overwrought romantic drama. (Domestic theatrical gross: $105,095.) That’s actually a shame, because for bad-movie lovers, it counts as the year’s best comedy. This sloppy, nonsensical science-fiction spin on Romeo And Juliet stars Jim Sturgess and Kirsten Dunst as lovers who literally come from different worlds with opposing gravity—which somehow sticks to them, making them fall toward the sky (and heat up, to the point of burning) when they hang out on each other’s planets. That’s just the first of a nearly endless list of preposterous plot points, which include convenient amnesia, constantly changing rules about gravity and matter, history’s most selectively blind all-seeing dystopian government, and, um, pink interplanetary bees. (The interplanetary bees turn out to be really important, too.) Not so much a movie as a shiny stupidity engine designed to mine a stream of “Wait, what?” from viewers, Upside Down is science fiction created by people who clearly know nothing about science, and virtually nothing about fiction.
A literary documentary pitched at subliterates, Shane Salerno’s appalling Salinger might just be the loudest movie of the year. The idiotic film favors an assaultive, eardrum-punishing sound design seemingly intended to make audiences feel like they’re dodging bullets alongside J.D. Salinger during the segments devoted to his service in World War II, and like they’re being pummeled by the author’s internal demons at all other times. But Salinger is loud in other ways as well. It’s stupid, vulgar, and excessive, a lurid paperback of a movie that imagines it’s both high art and important news because it doles out information about posthumous Salinger releases in its final moments. But more than anything, Salinger is phony, a grotesque burlesque of fawning adolescent hero-worship that, like so many of the other films littering this list, ends up dishonoring what it sets out to extol.
Consider the thin gruel that is Machete Kills: The Machete series began life as the third-best fake trailer featured in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse, after Edgar Wright’s “Don’t” and Eli Roth’s “Thanksgiving.” Then Rodriguez turned it into a one-note exploitation feature built around the semi-clever idea of a Mexican super-badass (Danny Trejo) who inserts himself in the middle of the immigration battle. That left the sequel, Machete Kills, with absolutely nowhere to go, other than stunt-casting cultural pariahs like Mel Gibson (as the villain) and Charlie Sheen (as the president), and making references that are often outside the exploitation realm entirely, like an opening fake-trailer that pays homage to Moonraker. And it should finally be said that Rodriguez has applied the same shoestring, making-movies-in-my-backyard aesthetic of his low-budget debut El Mariachi to nearly all of his subsequent action thrillers. Time to call him out on it.
|7||Somebody Up There Likes Me|
A cavalcade of toxic smugness, Bob Byington’s anti-comedy (in both the hip and the literal sense of that word) stars the perpetually poker-faced Keith Poulson as a steakhouse waiter who drifts through his entire life without aging, thanks to a mystery suitcase à la Kiss Me Deadly and Pulp Fiction. More to the point, though, he doesn’t engage with anything or anybody, and the movie’s alleged comedy is rooted entirely in his deadpan indifference to the world. Some admirers cited Wes Anderson or Hal Hartley, but both of those filmmakers use idiosyncratic artifice to heighten emotion, not to evade it; Byington seems to take pride in not caring, and even if that’s meant as an indictment, the constant lack of affect is hard to stomach. When Nick Offerman, as the protagonist’s normally aging best friend and business partner, can’t find a way to make stoicism funny or compelling, there’s a serious problem afoot. It doesn’t help that Vampire Weekend’s Chris Baio contributes a musical score that insists the tuba is inherently hilarious.
|8||The Last Exorcism Part II|
Never mind the seemingly oxymoronic title: 2010’s The Last Exorcism is actually one of the better found-footage films, so a sequel isn’t a terrible idea. As long as it isn’t this sequel. The Last Exorcism Part II throws out the found-footage conceit (fine) and moves the action to New Orleans (also fine), but is otherwise an exercise in tedium. Ashley Bell returns as the first film’s poor, doe-eyed victim, having escaped her cult-like family only to find her life is now filled with more traditional, and predictable, horror-movie shocks. The ending leaves the door open for a sequel, but this already feels like one last exorcism too many.
Punk history gets played for laughs in this misguided history of the Lower East Side club that helped Television, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, and others get their start. A sour-faced Alan Rickman plays club owner Hilly Kristal, and a succession of actors who look little or nothing like their inspirations play the musicians. It’s wildly inaccurate, much more concerned with Kristal than any other aspect of the story, and filled with annoying animated transitions. Worst of all: The musical sequences—which find the cast lip-synching to familiar studio recordings of famous songs—give the movie some of its dullest scenes. Punk still lives, but this movie arrived DOA.
|10||Inside The Mind Of Charles Swann III|
Roman Coppola’s inane vanity project A Glimpse Inside The Mind Of Charles Swann III relentlessly flatters and insults Wes Anderson, whom its writer-director has collaborated with regularly, most notably on the Oscar-nominated screenplay for Moonrise Kingdom. The oppressively twee comedy shamelessly appropriates Anderson’s delicately wrought aesthetic, but in a fashion that betrays a fundamental ignorance about what makes his films emotionally resonant instead of merely cinematic pop-up books. That tone-deafness extends to Coppola egregiously overestimating audiences’ affection for Charlie Sheen, who turns in a glib, winking exercise in self-aggrandizement unconvincingly masquerading as self-deprecation, as a superstar designer moved to reexamine his glamorous life of sex and sin when the love of his life leaves him. The film worships at the altar of Sheen, but instead of reigniting his career as a cinematic leading man, it appears to have killed it in its tracks. So despite its worthlessness, the film isn’t entirely lacking in redeeming facets.
|11||Grown Ups 2|
Some people make sequels because stories demand to be continued, or because they’ve created vast, intoxicating worlds that audiences want to return to. And some people make sequels because doing so is easier than an afternoon nap on a bed of thousand-dollar bills. Adam Sandler and his gang of overpaid co-stars (Kevin James, David Spade, and Chris Rock, but no Rob Schneider, who opted to strike out and be terrible on his own) clearly belong to the second group. Astonishingly, given his low, low standards and longstanding penchant for shamelessly recycling shtick, Grown Ups 2 is Sandler’s first sequel. Apparently he was waiting for a follow-up that would most clearly broadcast his contempt for his audience and his strong, oft-supported conviction that they will watch anything his Happy Madison production company churns out, even if it’s just glorified home-video footage of Sandler and his buddies making fun of funny-looking poor people in a shambling, largely plot-free environment. Grown Ups 2 celebrates the half-assed comedy of laziness and bullying. It’s a slobs-vs.- snobs comedy perversely on the side of the powerful and successful, but audiences made it another box-office smash, giving Sandler and his cohorts yet another reason to never grow up or start trying.
|12||A Good Day To Die Hard|
The first Die Hard is a paradigmatic action classic, as oft-imitated and never-topped in its genre as Halloween was in the horror genre. The drop in quality from Die Hard to the next three entries in the series—Die Hard 2, Die Hard With A Vengeance, Live Free Or Die Hard—is precipitous, but all of them are more or less passable, even though Bruce Willis’ wisecracking cop evolves—or devolves—from “the wrong guy at the wrong place at the wrong time” to a flesh-and-blood superhero. But the drop from those sequels to A Good Day To Die Hard is equally steep. It so perverts the original film’s virtues that it’s like a game of Telephone that starts with Die Hard and ends, to quote The Simpsons, with “purple monkey dishwasher.” Whipped around Russia like a cartoon rag doll, Willis’ John McClane is hard to kill not because he’s a tough, hard-nosed hero, but because he’s no longer human at all.
Like so many talented female comedians, Casey Wilson was ill-used and short-lived on Saturday Night Live, so co-writing and co-starring in her own film seems like a perfect opportunity for her to get some of her own back. Sadly, Ass Backwards is an indulgent, misconceived mess, a frenetic tumble of post-Bridesmaids gags. Wilson and co-star/co-writer June Diane Raphael have been a comedy team for years and have an easy rapport, but they give themselves nothing to work with but schtick. Bride Wars, which the duo also wrote together, squeaks by on movie-star charisma, but Wilson and Raphael aren’t stars, and Ass Backwards did nothing to change that.
|14||At Any Price|
Ramin Bahrani’s farming melodrama is one big bummer, especially since his previous pictures—Man Push Cart, Chop Shop, and Goodbye Solo—were all luminous, realistic, and moving examples of indie film done right. In telling the story of a desperate, corrupt seed salesman (played by Dennis Quaid), Bahrani aims to explain how corporate greed is gutting the American heartland, which he does with factoids and forced conflict, as though he’s illustrating an issue-doc instead of following three-dimensional characters in any kind of sensitive, organic way. Aside from some nicely shot stock-car racing sequences—part of a mildly compelling subplot about the salesman’s wayward son, played by Zac Efron—At Any Price doesn’t have any of the cinematic flair or emotional nuance of Bahrani’s earlier work. It’s a position paper posing as a movie.
Movie 43 wasn’t just one of the worst movies of the year—it was actually several of the worst movies of the year, strung together by an anthology structure in which a deranged screenwriter (Dennis Quaid) pitches ideas to a reluctant film executive (Greg Kinnear). Those pitches are then brought to life onscreen in shockingly unfunny sketches. The exec rightly rejects can’t-miss concepts like a rom-com about a man with a scrotum growing out of his neck (poor Hugh Jackman), so Quaid holds him at gunpoint and forces him to listen to more. Metaphors for the experience of watching this nightmarish “comedy” don’t come any easier or more appropriate. Theoretically, Movie 43 is a critique of timid Hollywood groupthink, but Quaid’s concepts are so horrible that the film winds up validating dumb studio decisions instead. Either way, this bomb deserves some kind of Bizarro World Oscar for harvesting so little quality material from so many talented people, including Elizabeth Banks, Halle Berry, Anna Faris, Peter Farrelly, Richard Gere, James Gunn, Jason Sudeikis, Kate Winslet, and many more.