So many choices, I had to double up in a lot of places.
10.) Spike Jonze’s “Her” is the stupidest movie to wash down the pike in a long time. Jonze vomits out goofy little ideas, like Joaquin Phoenix’s job at an outfit called BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, and never stops to think them through. Most of them are abortions, or should be. The High Concept, that Phoenix falls in love with his artificially intelligent operating system, is only slightly less preposterous than the reactions of the friends and colleagues he tells, who respond as if he said he’d had salad for lunch. Jonze doesn’t take the idea anywhere interesting, as by giving “Samantha” a hint of malevolence or introducing an upgraded OS that renders her obsolete. As voiced by Scarlett Johansson, she’s basically a sex kitten, just one unappealing aspect of the film’s treatment of women. Jonze may not be merely mystified by but genuinely afraid of them.
9.) Queer cinema has come in for enough praise of late, it seems only fair to single out two examples of how bad it can be – and, most of the time, is: the lesbian-themed “Concussion” and the gay-themed “The Happy Sad,” both of which fail at the script level. “Concussion” posits a vast market for lesbian prostitutes in New York. Our heroine, though quite mies, is in luck: the handyman who fixed up her new apartment also happens to date a law student who moonlights as the madam of an escort service. And not only do women line up for her, they agree to meet publicly for coffee before getting to have sex. Meanwhile, the script for “The Happy Sad” wouldn’t make it out of Day 1 of a screenwriting seminar at the Learning Annex. Contrived to the point of exhaustion, reliant on so many coincidences you’d stand a better chance of getting struck by lightning on your way to cash the winning Powerball ticket, and littered with dialogue so bad each of us in the theater laughed out loud at different points, it’s the sort of script in which the main characters often appear to be the only four people in New York City.
8.) I wonder what went through Johnny Depp’s mind the moment he realized “The Lone Ranger” would be this generation’s “Ishtar.” He’s too good not to have grasped, perhaps watching the dailies one night, the magnitude of this multi-kajillion-dollar bomb. At some point, he must have accepted his fate, like a drowning man who stops fighting for air. The picture runs 150 minutes. My friend and I spent the time in slack-jawed stupefaction, stunned at the obsolescence of the material. Our mouths hung open. No words were needed. At least a dozen times, Depp turns to the camera as Tonto, mugs, and delivers a Borscht Belt line reading that would have gotten him scalped in the Catskills. The only thing missing is a rimshot. There’s a scene in which Depp and Armie Hammer talk to a dead horse. Not a single shot – a scene!
Kiss Your Career Goodbye: Hammer. I spent two and a half of the longest hours of the year with him, and I literally could not pick him out of a lineup. At some point, the blame for a filmography of flops must fall to his lack of screen presence. It’s hard to imagine he’ll be in movies five years from now.
7.) Sharing the seventh spot are two from the growing list of titles that prove Robert De Niro will appear in anything as long as the check clears: “The Big Wedding” and “The Family.” The first is a crude, cynical sex comedy that comes off not playful and liberated but crass and desperate. How sad that De Niro, Diane Keaton and Susan Sarandon have finally made a movie together, and that that movie is “The Big Wedding,” which will be remembered, if at all, for the use of ceramic dogs for its doggie reaction shots. In “The Family,” De Niro plays a former Mafioso who ratted out his cohorts, and Tommy Lee Jones the Witness Protection Program agent assigned to his family. Nobody in the movie says or does anything a human being has ever said or done, and the perfunctory, clumsily staged violence is too loud to allow even the small solace of falling asleep.
Kiss Your Career Goodbye: De Niro? Dare to dream. He’ll be there with the cockroaches.
6.) The French-Canadian sperm-donor comedy “Starbuck” is made with that inimitable Gallic sense of humor – that everybody hates. You know, that puerile, back-slapping, ho-ho-hunh-hunh humor that’s as sharp and au courant as a rerun of “Three’s Company.” The story involves a loser who paid his way through college making sperm-bank deposits, leaving him the unwitting father of 533, 142 of whom file a class action to discover his identity. He hires his buddy to represent him – re-activating his stripped law license will be, he assures him, “a mere formality” – giving rise to a series of bizarre scenes in which they discuss the possibility of “pleading insanity,” a concept as relevant to a civil class action as the Eighth Amendment is to toxic torts. This is followed by an endless and insufferable series of scenes in which our sad sack spies on and performs anonymous favors for his rainbow of adult children, moments the filmmakers seem to think will tug at our heartstrings. The effect is akin to watching a “very special” episode of “Mr. Belvedere.” And the worst part? For some unfathomable reason, Vince Vaughn remade “Starbuck,” scene for scene, as “Delivery Man.”
5.) I start the second half of this list – the worst of the worst – with two D.O.A. comedies from early in the year. First, the unspeakable “Movie 43,” a dozen disconnected gross-out sketches in search of a brain cell. Within the first two minutes, Kate Winslet’s Juliet arrives at a restaurant for a blind date with Hugh Jackman’s Davis – who has two testicles coming out of his neck. Only she notices this. Five minutes later, Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts play home-schooling parents who try to toughen up their son by spray-painting “Kevin is a fag” across his bedroom wall and tripping him so that his books go flying. Even viler is the woman-hating exercise in idiocy “21 and Over,” which puts poor Miles Teller (with whom Hollywood appears to have no clue what to do) through a series of drunken frat-boy misadventures complete with slo-mo projectile vomiting. The women here are either empty-headed sex objects or castrating bitches who exact vengeance by branding guys’ asses in goat-masked secret societies. And I say “vengeance” because what the guys do to two sorority sisters, in a scene played for laughs, falls scarcely short of sexual assault.
4.) “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”
Kiss Your Career Goodbye: the now-loathsome Will Ferrell, who with his unfunny absurdist non-sequitur humor has gone from a 21st-century Jim Carrey to a 21st-century Jim Varney. Actually, Varney’s commercials were much better.
3.) The future saga “After Earth,” with Will Smith as intergalactic warrior Cypher Raige (an L. Ron Hubbard name if ever there was one), is a grim, joyless exercise in what feels like Scientology indoctrination. It’s as though Tom Cruise had told Smith, “You too can turn an extremely successful movie career into a string of exponentially bigger flops.” In one of the most egregious examples of Hollywood nepotism since Pia Zadora’s Golden Globe, Smith cast his son Jaden in the lead, as Cypher’s son Ketai. When their spaceship (cobbled together of leftovers from a Buck Rogers set) crash-lands on evacuated Earth, Ketai must traverse the planet to find and launch the beacon (which looks like an e-meter) that will alert headquarters to come rescue them. Cypher, meanwhile, stays at his computer console, meaningfully intoning Scieno-sounding jargon about losing your fear and remaining in the present. This has the effect of giving Smith – the sly-grinning, slick-talking fun guy who not long ago was perhaps the world’s most bankable movie star – a complete charisma-ectomy. And the movie looks like it was produced on the cheap at Gold Base in Hemet.
Kiss Your Career Goodbye: “After Earth” probably marks the end for director M. Night Shyamalan. One or two more unwatchable vanity projects and Smith will be in the same boat.
2.) July 20, 2013. The worst double feature of my life began with the insipid sci-fi comedy “R.I.P.D.,” starring box-office Kryptonite Ryan Reynolds and a paycheck-cashing Jeff Bridges as dead Boston cops assigned to protect their former city from monsters called “Deados,” deceased souls who continue to terrorize the law-abiding living. Why take Bridges, with his almost limitless reserve of audience goodwill, and have him spend his time reading Reynolds the stupid, stupid rules of this alternate universe (which, in the end, the script breaks anyway)? And why dirty the screen with computer graphics that appear to predate Pong? Whoever at Universal had the temerity to release “R.I.P.D.” in 3-D will, when the revolution comes, get an extra year in solitary. And yet, I would far sooner sit through “R.I.P.D.” in its entirety than any hour of Guillermo Del Toro’s clangy, screechy, obscenely loud and clinically brain-dead “Pacific Rim.” 100 years hence, Earth is threatened by giant monsters from its core called Kaiju. Our best line of defense – clunky and uninspired as it may be – lies with gigantic robots called Jaegers piloted by pairs of mind-melders (Jaegermeisters?). The movie is 131 minutes of soul-crushing, spirit-deadening fights between Kaiju and Jaegers, interrupted occasionally by catfights between the pouty boy warriors. Its few attempts at human dialogue sound like they’ve gone through three translations.
1.) My clear choice for the worst movie of 2013, the South Korean import “Pieta” is a geek show made by, about and for sociopaths. It tells of Kang-Do, a pitiless and amoral henchman hired by a loan shark to collect his outstanding debts. Kang-Do, of his own accord, employs the most brutal and vicious forms of physical violence to maim, paralyze and even kill the debtors, all of which provocateur director Kim Ki-Duk films in gleeful and gory detail. While a human being might turn the camera away from a die-casting machine as it wrenches a man’s hand off his arm, or from another man forced to cast his legs in concrete and jump from a second-story scaffold, for Kim that’s just when the fun begins.
After this last incident, a woman shows up claiming to be Kang-Do’s mother, who gave him up at birth. He disbelieves her and pulls a knife on her that could cut all the galbi in Seoul, but he’s forced to reconsider when she stomps on the victim’s barely-attached leg because he told her son to burn in hell. Later, Kang-Do, whom we’d seen unconsciously masturbate himself to orgasm during a dream, penetrates his mother vaginally, screaming, “If it’s true that I came out of there, I want to go back in!” She protests at first but soon relents.
This was one of half a dozen times I resolved to get up and walk out. I only wish I had. Kim stages immolations, stabbings, the slaughter of eels and rabbits, and the ingestion of all manner of objects not intended for human consumption. All of this he films on the cheap in ugly digital video that only makes the experience even more depressing. “Pieta” is a movie that shocks the conscience of decent people for no other reason or purpose than that it can. It has nothing to say and exists only to stimulate the basest and most involuntary of reactions.