I used to make a big fuss over my CINEMATIC SHAME list but this year I'm mostly just feeling the love (see also that "most moving" list share). Nevertheless tradition is tradition, so herewith a few dubious "honors" and outright dismissals from the worst of 2013
WORST MAINSTREAM FILMS
One can avoid a lot of dross if you select your own movies rather than have them assigned to you by an editor. But true terror always finds a way. Let's call this a three way tie. Identity Thief is so stuffed with uncecessary scenes and filler -- the stars don't even meet for half an hour! -- it's practically built to be ignored on cable for decades to come while you putter around your house with your phone in hand and your mind entirely elsewhere -- at least until you notice some bright color combination on Melissa McCarthy and chuckle at a line reading or two before instanteously losing interest again.
Unfortunately there's more. The Counselor, Oblivion, Diana, The Lone Ranger, Jodie Foster and more dishonors after the jump...
The Twilight phenomena, which was hard enough to get through as it was lived, just keeps on torturing us in the form of what's sure to be endless supernatural or sci-if riffs on sullen teen girls and the boys they love or that love them. And they won't all be The Hunger Games which is like a masterwork in comparison to the bulk of the subgenre. Beautiful Creatures has ghastly visual aesthetics and performances that range from wholly inadequate to highly overcompensating but the worst of it is that it's completely misogynistic from head to toe. So let me get this straight: this is a franchise for teenage girls and your supernatural concept is that men are in charge of their own fate and can choose to be good or evil but women have no choice and it's magically decided for them at 16? YUCK.
Finally, though it pains me to say it given my love of the original and my continued feeling that Bruce Willis is undervalued as an actor (if not a star) but A Good Day to Die Hard is a misfire on every level. Ridiculousness has a hallowed place in big action movies but ridiculousness is only enjoyable if it's NOT paired with phoned-in/ bad performances, instantly forgettable villains and incoherent setpieces. No thanks times... whichever number of Die Hard this... five?
WORST ART FILMS
I've championed Claire Denis in the past (what critic hasn't?) and find even her weakest efforts to be fascinating in some measure. Everything she makes is bound to end up on someone's "best" list. But Bastards is the worst or, let me restate, the most antagonistic thing she's ever made: weirdly oblique when it calls for clarity and strangely obvious when it would be kinder to leave that to the imagination. The inevitable gross-out ending is sick-making and I left with the distinct feeling that Claire Denis was punishing me, as if I were a small dog that had pooped in the wrong place and she wanted to shame me by shoving my face in. What did I ever do to her but rush to each new work? I might conceivably say the exact same things about Ridley Scott's Cormac McCarthy's The Counselor. Yes, all of them word for word.
I'll admit up front that I was not expecting Jodie Foster to nail her role in Elysium since she previously biffed it when she picked up Evil Business Woman from the character stock bin in the otherwise stellar thriller Inside Man; bad guys are just not her strength. But who knew she'd be much much worse on her second attempt? Jodie Foster is clean of upper lip but she's practically twirling her mustache in this grossly overplayed EVIL BITCH MASTERMIND. The unplaceable accent is the least of the problems in a stiff performance that suggests a stage performer that doesn't yet understand the intimacy of the camera. But Jodie nursed from the teat of movie cameras so what the hell is going on? Clarice has clearly been working through some issues in the past few years so hopefully she'll come out the other end of it renewed. Maybe then her work, in whatever form it takes, will return to its former 90s glory. It'll be an outright pity if this is her final screen bow.
People are always bitching about actresses using botox but when their male counterparts do it I don't hear people going on and on about their wax sculpture stand-ins. In fairness to Tom Cruise [SPOILER ALERT] he is playing a clone in Oblivion so there is a certain amount of "off" that would be a legitimate acting choice... but this doesn't feel like an "off" human, merely an "off" star. [/SPOILER] People have said many things about this bonafide movie star over the years but one thing that's rarely been said by anyone with any degree of common sense or cinematic knowledge prior to the Katie Holmes unraveling is that he lacked for star charisma. That Cruise is missing in Oblivion which is... unfortunate?
PEARLS BEFORE SWINE
Was it just me or was Andrea Riseborough actually excellent in Oblivion? She's just 'off' enough to be utterly in tune with the movie's sci-fi conceit but human and rounded enough to make you feel for and understand her ultimately pathetic choices. This is at least the third time in as many years that she's been running circles around her movie or breaking out of the tiny limits of her role. That should earn her a big proper star vehicle or at least interest from a top flight auteur, right?
PEARLS BEFORE SWINE - HONORABLE MENTION
Kristin Scott Thomas and Vithaya Pansringarm in Only God Forgives
HIT & MISS
How can Stanley Tucci be so great at playing an unctious cartoon in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and so terrible at the same job in Jack the Giant Slayer. (This is so shades of 2009: How can Stanley Tucci be so great in Julie & Julia and be so terrible in The Lovely Bones and get Oscar nominated for the latter instead of the former?)
SO THAT'S WHY HE KEEPS THREATENING TO QUIT ACTING
Though Ryan Gosling was fairly riveting in the first act of The Place Beyond the Pines, once you combine that with his role in Gangster Squad and his role in Only God Forgives, it becomes clear: directors have decided he does one thing really well - variations on the theme of his character in Drive. He is an expert at playing brooding, softspoken or not speaking, violent men who get weirdly vulnerable around women despite their cooler-than-thou facades. Though that's not exactly a one note typecasting problem, it is also not enough notes -- at least when they're always together for the same chord -- for an actor of his calibre. I'm already trying to guess which director might give him a chance to reach for notes he hasn't tried to sing before.
MOST DISTRACTING CASTING -GENERAL
Multiple celebrity cameos in 12 Years a Slave. People like to blame Pitt but I personally think he's not the problem. By the time he's arrived you're used to every face being famous. Lee Daniels' the Butler has the same tendency but it's less distracting because the movie is so much less sober and has a touch of that undisciplined Lee Daniels' what the hell why not quality. But when Solomon is brutally kidnapped and tossed into the unknown at the mercy of unmerciful strangers... shouldn't the faces staring back at us be less familiar than those of say Giamatti, Dano and Cumberbatch? At least at the start. (But the movie is so potent that even this flaw matters not)
MOST DISTRACTING CASTING - SPECIFIC
Mila Kunis, is not without talent but a stylized bright green wicked witch is beyond her skill set... especially when her screen sister totally understands how to do heightened fantasy OR George Clooney being George Clooney in outer space. Jesus, he's not even trying. Stop taking me out of the movie with your Hollywood Royalty charm! He was more visibly shaken by running in flip flops in The Descendant than he is when fighting for his life / oxygen in Gravity.
WORST FRAMING DEVICE
God, there's always such a surplus of candidates for this "honor". Too many to choose from each year... so maybe The Lone Ranger?
WORST SCENE IN AN OTHERWISE GOOD MOVIE
Fruitvale's "symbolic" dead dog. Ugh, they didn't workshop this out in the screenwriting lab?
ANNUAL 'SUPERHERO MOVIES REALLY OUT TO BE FUN TO WATCH, YES EVEN THE SERIOUS ONES, SO WHY ARE YOU SO FUCKING GLUM ABOUT IT?' AWARD
August: Osage County... still not open. And promoted and teased in such a way that I fear one can't discuss it and that it can't even exist without the context of its Oscar campaign. Will the movie magically dematerialize on March 3rd when the Academy closes up shop for the season?
WORST RELEASE DATE - RUNNER UP
Her would have made such a perfect September platform release a la Lost in Translation with plenty of time for people to ruminate in its delicate melancholies and provocative arcs or at least bask in the thoughtful world building... before rushing to the next Christmas movie.
WORST RELEASE DATE - ACTUAL
Behind the Candelabra in that it didn't have one. They didn't want that movie in theaters? Every year we see plenty of biopics that are less bankable than that one in actual theaters. Mandela: the Long Walk to Freedom anyone? It would've totally made money. And been up for Oscars.
What cinematic "honors" would you name as Worst of This and Unfortunate of That?