The worst-of list is a natural byproduct of the best-of, the chaff left over after the year’s movies have been threshed through. It must be tasty as chaff goes, though, because every year these secondary lists seem to get passed around like popcorn at the multiplex. I won’t go long on the worstness of the worst, because a) most of them have taken a critical and box-office pummeling already and b) haven’t they taken up enough of our collective time? But here’s a quick roundup of some 2013 movies that—to put it constructively—gave the good ones a matte background against which to shine. In alphabetical order:
Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to District 9 was maybe the most disappointing second film from a promising director in years (the fact that District 9’s exciting star Sharlto Copley played the villain, and was awful, only added to the hurt.) Though I did treasure a running joke I had with friends after seeing Elysium about the climactic uploading scene: Matt Damon’s finger hovering over a computer keyboard in anticipation of a fatal keystroke that will, apparently, reverse all humanity’s ills within moments, essentially a toggle switch between dystopia and utopia. Whatever startup is developing that technology right now is going to clean up when they go public.
Like Elysium, this one falls under the “but it could have been good!” clause. The Hollywood comedy-industrial complex does not seem to know what to do with the volcanically gifted Melissa McCarthy. In The Heat (another 2013 disappointment, but not of this caliber), her natural bull-in-a-china-shop ebullience was misinterpreted as pure aggression. In Identity Thief, McCarthy is even worse served by a script that invites us to alternately recoil from and pity her big, loud, garish character: a con woman who ends up on a wacky yet mirthless road trip with one of her marks (an almost-as-ill-used Jason Bateman).
The more I look back on it, Ashton Kutcher doesn’t just, as I said in my review, “acquit himself admirably” as the troubled Apple visionary in this flat, propagandistic biopic. What he accomplishes is nothing short of heroic. Only an actor of great dedication and skill could keep a straight face in that scene in which college-dropout Steve, tripping on acid with his friend and girlfriend, air-conducts Bach in a grassy meadow as he has his first transcendent vision of how one day, somehow, he’ll change the world. Kutcher’s all-in performance (and Josh Gad’s as the betrayed Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak) occasionally lift this movie up into the realm of the transcendently, sincerely, effervescently bad. I look back on Jobs now with a kind of affection, and can imagine a happy afterlife for it as a camp classic.
Oz the Great and Powerful
Sam Raimi’s sort-of prequel to The Wizard of Oz, starring a curiously sour James Franco as the cocky young wizard-to-be lost in a trippy digitized land (which, for some reason I never got, is named after him even before he arrives) gets extra points off for so completely misapprehending the appeal of the original. I think I’ll miss it least of all.
This thrown-together sci-fi thriller with Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds as squabbling undead partners in an all-cop afterlife was so flat and shrill and ugly and pointless, I almost associate the memory of it with a characteristic odor—something rank and greasy, like the takeout curry Jeff Bridges’ character ate in that one incomprehensible scene involving Indian food as a plot point. Ugh, end of list. I need some fresh air.