And The Nominees Are… (2014)

There’s still a lot of 2014 left, so these will be added to and subtracted from as needed. As always, your help is appreciated. But just like America, this isn’t a democracy.


The Tommy Lee Jones Screentime Award (For amassing the most screentime of the year):

- Scarlett Johannson (Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Under The Skin; Chef; Lucy)

- Brenton Thwaites (The Signal; Maleficent; Oculus; The Giver; Son Of A Gun)

- Liam Neeson (The LEGO Movie; Non-Stop; Third Person; A Million Ways To Die In The West; A Walk Among The Tombstones)

- John Cusack (Adult World; Grand Piano; The Bag Man, Reclaim, Drive Hard; Cell)

- Mia Wasikowska (Only Lovers Left Alive; The Double; Tracks; Maps To The Stars)


The Freddie Prinze, Jr. Award (For the best acting in the worst movie of the year – male):

- Bill Nighy (IFrankenstein)

- Alexander Skarsgaard (The Giver)

- Mark Pellegrino (We Gotta Get Out Of This Place)

- Denis O’Hare (The Pyramid)


The Dina Meyer Award (For the best acting in the worst movie of the year – female):

- Zoe Bell (Mercenaries)

- Annabelle Wallis (Annabelle)

- Olivia Wilde (Third Person)


The Anna Paquin Best Child Actor Award:

- Emjay Anthony (Chef)

- Rohan Chand (Bad Words)

- Lorelai Linklater (Boyhood)

- Mira Grosin (Vi Är Bäst!)


The Nicolas Cage Uneven Performance Award [For the biggest gap in quality between two different performances in the same year (the good thing is always listed first)]:

- Phil Lord & Chris Miller (The LEGO Movie & 22 Jump Street)

- Scarlett Johansson (Under My Skin & Lucy)

- David Ayer (Fury & Sabotage)

- Clint Eastwood (American Sniper & Jersey Boys)


The Peter Sellers Multiple Role Award:

- Will Ferrell (The LEGO Movie)

- Liam Neeson (The LEGO Movie)

- Zoe Kazan (The Pretty One)

- Jesse Eisenberg (The Double)

- Abhishek Bachchan (Happy New Year)


The Sean Connery Best Cameo Award:

- Billy Dee Williams (The LEGO Movie)

- James Marsden (X-Men: Days Of Future Past)

- Allison Pill (Snowpiercer)

- Edwin Hodge (The Purge: Anarchy)

- Nick Chinlund (Need For Speed)

- Michael Shannon (They Came Together)

- Scoot McNairy (Gone Girl)

- Phil Donahue (Finding Vivian Maier)

- Domhnall Gleeson (Calvary)

- Tim Blake Nelson (The Homesman)


The Casey Affleck Worst Cameo Award:

- Michael K. Williams (That Awkward Moment)

- Robert Downey, Jr. (Chef)

- Donald Faison (Wish I Were Here)

- Howard The Duck (Guardians Of The Galaxy)

- Lance Henricksen (The Road To Paloma)

- Taylor Swift (The Giver)

- Tim Roth (Finding Vivian Maier)


The Alfred Hitchcock In Front of the Camera Award (For the least intrusive appearance by a movie’s own director(s)):

- Tom Gormican (That Awkward Moment)

- Clint Eastwood (Jersey Boys)

- Ben Falcone (Tammy)

- Luke Greenfield (Let’s Be Cops)

- Jack Plotnick (Space Station 76)


The Quentin Tarantino In Front of the Camera Award [For most intrusive – not to mention annoying – appearance by a movie’s own director(s)]:

- Jason Nash (Jason Nash Is Married)

- Shane Dawson (Not Cool)

- Farrah Kahn (Happy New Year)


The Drew Barrymore All Grown Up Award:

- Georgie Henley (Perfect Sisters)

- Kodi Smit-McPhee (Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes)

- Hannah Taylor Gordon (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit)

- Haley Joel Osment (Tusk)


The Martin Scorsese Best Use of a Song Award:

- “Everything Is Awesome” by Tegan and Sara (featuring The Lonely Island) (The LEGO Movie)

- “Liquid Liquid” by Cavern (Chef)

- “Heavy Soul” by The Black Keys (Bad Words)

- “The Weight” by The Band (Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes)

- “Time In A Bottle” by Jim Croce (X-Men Days Of Future Past)

- “Caravan” by The JVC Ensemble (Whiplash)

- “Mas” by Kinky (The Book Of Life)

- “Pretty Girl Rock” by Keri Hilson (The Rover)


The Andy Garcia Best Shot Award:

- Michael C. Hall – through the eye in the dark (Cold In July)

- Keanu Reeves – through the sun roof (John Wick)

- Keanu Reeves – backward crouch (John Wick)

- Maggie Gyllenhaal – driftwood takedown (Frank)


The John Woo Best Shootout Award:

- Patrick Hughes (Expendables 3)

- Scott Frank (A Walk Among The Tombstones)

- David Leitch/Chad Stahelski (John Wick)

- David Ayer (Fury)

- Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler)


The William Friedkin Best Car Chase Award:

- Gareth Huw Evans (The Raid 2)

- Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The LEGO Movie)

- Jonathan Liebesman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

- Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler)


The They Live Best Non-Martial Arts Fight Award:

- Paul Walker and David Belle vs. Robert Maillart (Brick Mansions)

- Ceasar vs. Koba round 2 (Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes)

- Taraji P. Hensen vs. Idris Elba (No Good Deed)

- Michael Keaton vs. Edward Norton (Birdman)

- Matthew McConaughey vs. Matt Damon (Interstellar)

- Tommy Lee Jones vs. Tim Blake Nelson (The Homesman)


The Die Hard 2 Icicle Award (for best use of an otherwise benevolent object as a weapon):

- steering wheel (Brick Mansions)

- power strip (Broken)

- shot glass (The Equalizer)


The Cast of Nazis from Raiders of the Lost Ark Award (For worst performance of (an) actor(s) in scenes with special effects):

- Louis Cancelmi (Amazing Spider-Man 2)

- KIS employees (Transformers Age Of Extinction)

- Scarlett Johannson (Lucy)

- Douglas Banks (Tusk)

- Nicolas Cage (Left Behind)


The Talking Pig Award (For the two movies most alike released in the same year):

- Enemy and The Double

- Lucy and Transcendence

- The Legend Of Hercules and Hercules

- Divergent and The Giver

- Not Cool and Hollidaysburg

- The Hundred-Foot Journey and Le Chef

- Tracks and Wild and Redwood Highway


The Mulholland Falls Award (For movie that failed most miserably at being as shocking as it hoped to be):

- Filth

- Nymph()maniac

- Tusk


The Mulholland Falls Syndrome Award (For the biggest disappointment from the most promising ensemble cast):

- Jason Nash Is Married

- Calvary

- Sex Tape

- Transcendence


The Cecil B. DeMille Award (For best portrayal of oneself):

- Willie Robertson (God’s Not Dead)

- Kent Shocknek (Nightcrawler)

- Ray Liotta (Stretch)


The Godfather Best Sequel Award:

- X-Men: Days Of Future Past

- Captain America: Winter Soldier

- The Purge: Anarchy

- Horrible Bosses 2


The Jaws Worst Sequel Award:

- 22 Jump Street

- Think Like A Man Too

- A Dolphin Tale 2

- Dumb & Dumber To


The Kevin Costner Worst Accent Award:

- Shia LeBouef (Nymp()maniac Vol. I)

- Gemma Chan (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit)

- Eric Bana (Deliver Us From Evil)

- Michael Lomenda (Jersey Boys)

- Richard Armitage (Into The Storm)

- Helen Mirren (The Hundred-Foot Journey)

- Tina Fey (This Is Where I Leave You)

- Elle Fanning (The BoxTrolls)

- Jason Isaacs (Fury)

- David Harbour (The Equalizer)


The Meryl Streep Award for Best Accent (Female):

- Keira Knightley (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit)

- Rose Byrne (This Is Where I Leave You)

- Andrea Riseborough (Birdman)

- Haley Bennett (The Equalizer)


The Jon Voight Award for Best Accent (Male):

- Kenneth Branagh (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit)

- Bradley Cooper (Guardians Of The Galaxy)

- Ben Kingsley (The BoxTrolls)

- Robin Williams (Merry Friggin’ Christmas)


The Jon Voight Best Impression Award:

- Rose Byrne of Carla Gallo as Paula (Neighbors)

- John Leguizamo of Sofia Vergara as Inez (Chef)

- America Ferrera of Jay Baruchel as Hiccup (How To Train Your Dragon 2)

- Jay Baruchel of Gerard Butler as Stoic (How To Train Your Dragon 2)

- Lena Dunham of Melanie Lynsky as Kelly (Happy Christmas)

- Chadwick Boseman of James Brown (Get On Up)

- Stephen Stanton of Roger Ebert (Life Itself)


The Worst Impression Award:

- Seth Rogen of anyone (Neighbors)

- Marc Evan Jackson of Tracy Morgan (22 Jump Street)

- Mark Camacho of President Richard M. Nixon (X-Men: Days Of Future Past)

- Paul Eenhoorn of Jim Carrey (Land Ho!)

- Ramin Bahrami of Werner Herzog (Life Itself)


The Gary Oldman Chameleon Award (for the most unrecognizable performance by an otherwise recognizable personality):

- Connie Neilsen (Nymph()maniac Vol. I)

- Karen Gillan (Guardians Of The Galaxy)

- Balthazar Getty (The Judge)

- Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher)


The Hamlet Best Production Within A Production Award:

- Where’s My Pants? (The LEGO Movie)

- The Replicator (The Double)

- What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (Birdman)

- Horror House segment (Nightcrawler)

- “Hatar Västerås” (Vi Är Bäst!)

- “I Love You All” (Frank)


The “I’m Not The Bad Guy” Award (for the line so bad, it just had to be repeated):

- “Innovation.” (The Hundred-Foot Journey)

- “I have felt things.” (The Giver)

- “Bala.” (Gunday)

- “Do Not Go Gently…” (Interstellar)


The This Is 40 Award (for supporting cast member(s) most deserving of a sort-of sequel):

- Braden Aftergood (Bad Words)

- Grace Bloom (Wish I Was Here)

- Del Rio (Lucy)

- Eh-To-Zed girls (Tusk)

- Tanner Bolt (Gone Girl)

- Milo (Calvary)

- Mary Somerville (Mr. Turner)

- Elvises (Action Jackson)

- Penny (Dumb & Dumber To)


The Rosemary’s Baby Creepiest Moment Award:

- picnic (God’s Pocket)

- spider (Enemy)

- “I’ll do it.” (It Felt Like Love)

- ??? (Under The Skin)

- Michaelangelo (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

- the future of humanity (Snowpiercer)

- the trunk of an abandoned car in Red Hook (A Walk Among The Tombstones)

- Snatcher’s destiny (The BoxTrolls)

- Hank and Carla (The Judge)


The Citizen Kane Unseen Ending Award:

- The Rover

- Enemy

- Gone Girl

- Birdman


The Passenger 57 Award (for the plot most thoroughly ruined by its trailer):

- Lucy

- I Stay

- Into The Storm

- This Is Where I Leave You

- A Walk Among The Tombstones


The Nightwatch Award (for the most heavily promoted movie never to grace us with its presence in a theater):

- Repentance

- Welcome To Yesterday

- One Chance

- The Interview


The Five Most Wasted Efforts of 2014

Ask anyone currently working on a movie and they will seem like the most optimistic of people. They have to be. Most movies would never be finished if everyone realized how terrible it was going to turn out. And while that clearly would not be the worst thing, it is very unlikely to ever happen.


But the expectations for a potential finished product are not always the same, no matter what the rose-colored perception of that finished product might be. No one involved in Guardians Of The Galaxy was figuring on being the highest grossing movie of the year even if they were sure it was going to be great. They might have been happy with being great and having nobody ever notice. Conversely, nobody involved in Unbroken expects to not be nominated for an Oscar even if they’d never say so where we could hear.


And while these future imagined scenarios probably do not impact the quality of the work everyone making these movies puts forth, it can at times seem like a waste of great individual effort when everything around the effort fails so miserably. Or worse, doesn’t fail at all but rather fulfills exactly the destiny it was always meant to, a flatly pedestrian one.


In a way, these performances are even more worthy of accolades because there could never have been any chance of getting them. They were always going to be unregarded. But these people made them anyway. Despite the odds. Despite the relative anonymity. Despite everyone around them seemingly unable to give a shit.


  1. Leslie Mann – The Other Woman


She should be nominated for Best Supporting Actress. (Her husband) Judd Apatow ought to be buying billboards all over LA promoting this fact. I’m not even saying she should win. But for this performance to be sloughed off with the rest of the obvious nonsense that was The Other Woman is just appalling. Well, the kind of appalling that you totally expect and will get over pretty quickly, but absolutely appalling nonetheless.


Leslie Mann has always been great in such varying capacities and has largely gone unnoticed for them but it has never been unjust. It’s just how it works. But she found another gear in this movie, portraying a woman spiraling out of her mind and forcing every weird decision that coincidentally forwards the ridiculous plot to make complete sense. And was intensely funny doing it. Much is made of comedies being ignored come awards time and that’s terrible and true, but this is so much more than that.


  1. Sam McCurdy – The Legend Of Hercules


When you sign on to the lesser of two Hercules movies due to be released within months of each other, you can’t be looking for much more than a paycheck. When that lesser Hercules movie is going to be directed by Renny Harlin, you are probably bracing yourself for being involved in yet another dismal box office failure and mostly hope no one ever notices you were a part of it.down


But cinematographer Sam McCurdy, who has plenty of other deceptively laudable credits (The Collection, The Devil’s Double, The Descent) is either unwilling or incapable of falling on his sword. The Legend Of Hercules is a failure is nearly every way, but there are plenty of moments where you could be forgiven for not noticing because what you are looking at is stunning. You just hope that Sam McCurdy couldn’t hear the acting going on from where he was positioned with the camera.


  1. Everyone involved – Get On Up


One the one hand, a biopic about anyone might be enough to rouse daydreams of awards somewhere along the line. And this one was about James Brown, starring a guy who just played Jackie Robinson to great acclaim (if not awards) so anything had to seem possible.


But it was the guy who just played Jackie Robinson. And it was about James Brown. These are not really the cultural lightning rods they might have been at one time (even if one of those times was barely a year ago.) Beyond that though is the unrelenting and unignorable weirdness of Get On Up. Even in the production stage that had to be palpable. Even the greatest I’m Not There enthusiast wouldn’t watch Get On Up and think, “this is going to win Best Picture!” And it shouldn’t. But maybe it should be considered. For any and every award for which it could possibly be nominated.


  1. Ben Kingsley – The BoxTrolls


Ben Kingsley doesn’t take a minute off. Even in that Jaguar commercial he could have been expecting an Oscar. So I suppose it is not a shock to find him being amazing and totally unrecognizeable in a cartoon that isn’t that great and is full of great actors (Jared Harris, Elle Fanning) being not great right along with it.


And BoxTrolls might yet be nominated in Best Animated categories wherever they may be found. It won’t deserve it, not with the field we are given each year at this point, but it will largely be because of Ben Kingsley’s unpredictably evil Archibald Snatcher. Even though it will never seem like it.


  1. Hans Zimmer + The Magnificent Six – The Amazing Spider-Man 2


When Steven Price’s name was pulled from the envelope last March, it was one of the few times that the best score of the year was recognized as such in any capacity. It’s rare it even gets a nomination. So maybe tides are turning. But they have not yet turned enough for there to be any glimmer of hope for perennially shut out mastermind of movie music Hans Zimmer to be recognized for his work on a sequel to a coldly received superhero movie. A sequel to a movie he didn’t even score in the first place.

Andrew Garfield;Dane DeHaan

There are probably strains of that other person’s work throughout, it is the handicap of any sequel ever getting past that pesky “original” part of the category, but even with them, there can be little argument over the originality of this particular score. Simply in assembling The Magnificent Six (including Pharrell Williams and Junkie XL) he’s gone beyond even his own grand capacity for collaboration (which has also proved an obstacle for recognition in the past, most notably with James Newton Howard on The Dark Knight.) Moreover, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 score incorporates the best of all its conspiring facets, allowing them all points to shine through. It might even make some of them better (specifically, Incubus guitarist Steve Mazzaro.)


Ultimately, not even this team of unlikely musical heroes can save The Amazing Spider-Man 2 from its own drudgery and confused motivations. But there was never a chance of it becoming anything more than it is. More than any of these performances are. Fantastic and bizarre and ultimately overlooked pieces of cinema history.




Blah Blah Blah Awards – 2013

For nominations and explanations, go here.

The Tommy Lee Jones Screentime Award (For amassing the most screentime of the year):

- Terence Howard (Movie 43; Dead Man Down; The Company You Keep; Winnie Mandela; The Butler; Prisoners; House Of Bodies; The Best Man Holiday)

The Kevin Spacey Must Have the Best Agent Award (For appearing in the most top ten movies of the year):

- Michael Fassbender & Brad Pitt (12 Years A Slave and The Counselor)

The Marlon Wayans Award (for appearing in two or more of the worst movies of the same year.]:

-  Craig Robinson (Percy Jackson Sea Of Monsters and Escape From Planet Earth)

The Freddie Prinze, Jr. Award (For the best acting in the worst movie of the year – male):

- Jeff Bridges (R.I.P.D.)

The Dina Meyer Award (For the best acting in the worst movie of the year – female):

- Amber Heard (Machete Kills)

The Anna Paquin Best Child Actor Award:

- Onata Aprile (What Maisie Knew & The History Of Future Folk)

The Nicolas Cage Uneven Performance Award (For the biggest gap in quality between two different performances in the same year):

- Selena Gomez (Spring Breakers & Getaway)

The Peter Sellers Multiple Role Award:

- Herman Koto (The Act Of Killing)

The Sean Connery Best Cameo Award:

- Chris Evans (Thor The Dark World)

 The Casey Affleck Worst Cameo Award:

- Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead)

The Alfred Hitchcock In Front of the Camera Award (For the least intrusive appearance by a movie’s own director(s)):

- Shane Carruth (Upstream Color)

The Quentin Tarantino In Front of the Camera Award [For most intrusive – not to mention annoying – appearance by a movie’s own director(s)]:

- Michel Gondry (Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy?)

The Drew Barrymore All Grown Up Award:

- Wiley Wiggins (Computer Chess)

The Martin Scorsese Best Use of a Song Award:

- Noah Baumbach for “Every1’s A Winner” by Hot Chocolate (Frances Ha)

The Andy Garcia Impossible Shot Award:

- Vin Diesel and Paul Walker – catapulting Vin Diesel from the roof of a car across an elevated highway to catch a falling Michelle Rodriguez (Furious 6)

The John Woo Best Shootout Award:

- Ridley Scott (The Counselor)

The William Friedkin Best Car Chase Award:

- Justin Lin (Furious 6)

The They Live Best Non-Martial Arts Fight Award:

- Superman vs. Zod (Man Of Steel)

The Die Hard 2 Icicle Award (for best use of an otherwise benevolent object as a weapon):

- refrigerator door (RED 2)

The Cast of Nazis from Raiders of the Lost Ark Award (For worst performance of (an) actor(s) in scenes with special effects):

- the cast of Pacific Rim

The Talking Pig Award (For the two movies most alike released in the same year):

- Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down

The Mulholland Falls Award (For movie that failed most miserably at being as shocking as it hoped to be):

- Salinger

The Mulholland Falls Syndrome Award (For the biggest disappointment from the most promising ensemble cast):

- The Big Wedding

The Cecil B. DeMille Award (For best portrayal of oneself):

- Jonah Hill (This Is The End)

The Godfather Best Sequel Award:

- Iron Man Three

The Jaws Worst Sequel Award:

- A Good Day To Die Hard

The The Man Who Knew Too Much Best Remake Award:

- The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty

The Breathless Worst Remake Award:

- The Lone Ranger

The Kevin Costner Worst Accent Award:

- Kevin Zegers (Mortal Instruments City Of Bones)

The Meryl Streep Award for Best Accent (Female):

- Scarlett Johannson (Don Jon)

The Jon Voight Award for Best Accent (Male):

- Joe Anderson (A Single Shot)

The Jon Voight Best Impression Award:

- Daniel Brühl of Niki Lauda (Rush)

The Worst Impression Award:

- Mila Kunis of Margaret Hamilton as The Wicked Witch Of The West (Oz The Great And Powerful)

The Gary Oldman Chameleon Award (for the most unrecognizable performance by an otherwise recognizable personality):

- Sharon Stone (Lovelace)

The Hamlet Best Production Within A Production Award:

- Kiss Of Life (Broken City)

The “I’m Not The Bad Guy” Award (for the line so bad, it just had to be repeated):

- “I will find him!” (Man Of Steel)

The This Is 40 Award(for supporting cast member(s) most deserving of a sort-of sequel):

- Colonel Nathan Hardy (Man Of Steel)

The Rosemary’s Baby Creepiest Moment Award:

- “I’d rape them all.” (The Act Of Killing)

The Citizen Kane Unseen Ending Award:

- Frances Ha

The Passenger 57 Award (for the plot most thoroughly ruined by its trailer):

- Closed Circuit

The Ten Best Movies – 2013

There is an assumption that the best movies cannot also be the ones everyone sees. Whether that’s elitism or some other kind of bias we can’t really know for sure because it’s too often true. Big budget movies don’t have to be the best to do well and since that is their primary motivation for existing, perhaps it’s best not to try. But as we learned from The Avengers, it doesn’t have to be that way. And 2013 put a finer point on it. This year’s best came from anywhere and everywhere. Sequels great and small and originality at its most extreme. Various languages of word and of storytelling. From the past to a tiny hint of the future. 2013 left no stone unturned. Hopefully you didn’t either or you may have missed something.

1. Iron Man Three – Shane Black has no business making a movie on this scale. There’s nothing in his past as a director that would indicate he could. Never mind that he steps into a franchise with which he heretofore had nothing to do. So to have made by far the best one of the series doesn’t seem like it was ever a possibility. IRON MAN 3Granted, the characters and relationships were already established. But he may as well have established them himself. It helps that Iron Man happens to be played by Robert Downey, Jr. and that Tony Stark may as well be a refined version of Harry Lockhart from Shane Black’s directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (starring Robert Downey, Jr.) But that’s just an entry point. We’ve seen plenty of supposed perfect fits go terribly wrong even without the danger of veering from a course already plotted.IM3

It helps as well, perhaps, that Iron Man 2 was such a downturn from the first. But Iron Man Three goes beyond a return to form. It does everything the first one did right (specifically, Tony’s megalomania and his and Pepper’s relationship) and nothing it did wrong (having Iron Man fight someone less qualified to operate a giant metal suit.) And yet, it’s even more than that. The coordination of the final battle alone is cause for celebration. But Shane Black does so many things that shouldn’t work and turns them into the movie’s greatest qualities. He puts a kid in it for twenty minutes, sets the whole thing at Christmas and turns the villain into a joke, all without it ever stepping out of the universe he had nothing to do with creating. It’s truly incredible. The Marvel universe was poised for a step backward after Avengers, there didn’t seem to be any choice. But there was and they made it and everyone else about to start trying to copy them should just lay down their arms and swear fealty because it’s only going to be embarrassing otherwise.

2. Before Midnight – What a year for thirds of things! Of course, very unlike Iron Man Three, Before Midnight is monumentally enclosed and sometimes painfully static. It can be a joyous look into the unlikely but ultimately ordinary lives of these characters you’ve known for so long, but it can also easily turn into something you feel like you shouldn’t be allowed to see. And worse than that, something you maybe don’t want to see.

before-midnightEqually as funny and touching as it can be painful, and able to turn on any of these things in an instant and back again, Jesse and Celine feel both exquisitely true and perfectly aggrandized for dramatic purposes. Any of the four major scenes taken alone could be considered greater than most any entire movie to come out this year. There is so much happening inside each of them but it never feels like anything but a lengthy conversation between two people we already know love to talk a lot.before-midnights

No matter how to choose you interpret how things have gone with these people, and no matter what you choose to take from that, it is impossible not to be stirred in some way. Whether you are depressed or uplifted, gutted or elated, whether it makes you examine your own relationship or thankful not to have one, Before Midnight will change you, simply by being itself.

3. 12 Years A Slave – There is a moment, while Solomon Northrup is hanging from a tree, barely keeping a toehold on an open airway, when it will dawn on you that everything about this movie is by design. And that may normally not be something a movie wants you to realize while it’s happening. But it doesn’t matter so much here. pdc_twelveyears9Not because of the subject matter, though obviously that is important. Not because of the content of the scene itself, which is wrenching both as representing actual events and simply part of a movie. But because as the frame slowly reveals all that is happening around him while he hangs there, from the awkwardly mundane to the imminent threats and countermeasures, you are unable to not see the purpose saturating every possible piece.TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE

It’s not that other movies do not possess this. Of course not. But in a story that could easily turn into a Passion Of The Christ type endurance test of horrid tortures, it becomes a welcome widening of the horizon. For as much as 12 Years A Slave can force you to feel the helplessness of Solomon Northrup, it is not content in that being the sum total of its meticulously created parts.

With Shame and Hunger before that, director Steve McQueen showed obvious command of the pieces, but in 12 Years A Slave he is able to put them together to form a complete masterwork. This movie has an immediate timeless quality that we should hope all our Best Pictures possess.

4. Furious 6 – With Fast Five, it was clear something new was happening. Not just within the Fast & Furious universe (which in itself, having to call it a universe, was a strange development) but perhaps with the idea of a franchise in general. For such a forgettable (if profitable) series to suddenly become one of if not the best action movie of the year was something not just unprecedented, but triumphant.

Despite a Marvel-like post credits tease promising further universe developments and the same team in place to deliver it, it did seem unlikely a sixth installment could possibly equal its predecessor. But with an outsized cast, outsized plot and outsized craving for elevating the action genre to its own standards, Furious 6 easily surpassed them all.

joe taslim fast & furious 6 scene

An opening credit sequence that plays like the final episode of your favorite TV show, a breakneck pace that manages to leave not one of the ever-growing cast behind and one of the craziest fantastical satisfactory climactic fight scenes you could ever wish for, Furious 6 has most likely forever cemented its place as the greatest 6th installment of anything there will ever be. In the mean time it gives others a much better target to shoot for.

5. White House Down – I told you this was coming. But you probably still figured it was a joke. And unfortunately, that’s how too many people feel obligated to disguise their love for White House Down.

white_house_down_foxx_tatumI’m assuming. I actually don’t hear a whole lot of outpouring in its favor. Though to be fair, I don’t hear much about it either way. It’s a little bit baffling that something like this could go so thoroughly unseen. And that’s without telling you that it is one of the most perfectly executed family action movies you’ve ever refused to watch.

For a movie so unrestrained, it certainly takes its time getting to know everyone. And it even does that entertainingly. More importantly, if it didn’t, all the rest would be crusWHDJoeyhed under its own weight as so many of these types of movies are. But no matter how expansive you may find it, this foundation will not crumble.

There’s no sense telling you about it. It will all sound stupid if you’ve already made up your mind. Out of context, it is stupid. But in context, it’s what you wait for this type of movie to be. And that is everything a movie can be.

6. The Act Of Killing – When terms like “daring” or “courageous” precede ones such as “art” or “filmmaking” it’s generally difficult to take seriously. Because it isn’t serious. It is grasping for words to relate the mostly unrelatable. But you can use it here.taok2

The Act Of Killing is a documentary only in that it can’t be anything else. It feels like its own entity. To embed yourself in a war is obviously a terrible risk. But to infiltrate the winners of war in order to expose their unfathomable cruelty and institutional psychosis seems like suicide. When towards the end, one of its subjects addresses the director on camera, it’s kind of shocking. There’s someone there with these people that is a lot more like me than them and they are looking to him for guidance. It shouldn’t be weird. That’s how it works. But by then, you know these people to be monsters; seeing that makes them people again.

Still from the documentary The Act of KillingAnd such is the delicate fluidity of The Act Of Killing. It can put you off humanity for good only to bring you back momentarily, if only to satisfy your curiosity. It’s as much a look into the minds of killers as it is into the creative process of people who are anything but creative. It’s nauseating, funny, perplexing, daunting, maybe overwhelming. Maybe more than anything, it is unique. More than that. It’s singular. There is nothing else like it. Putting it here on this list contradicts that, but what else can I do?

It’s enough to watch these men talk about their past. They are so prideful and self-satisfied about it, that alone would have made it one of the best of the year. Getting them to do so under the auspices of helping them make their own movie about it is dumbfounding. And then on top of all of this there is the off camera reality that the people making it are basically doing dangerous undercover work in order to bring it to you. Pur together, it’s a dizzying effect. One you might never shake.

7. Jagten [The Hunt] – There’s a lot of helplessness in this year’s best movies that aren’t about saving the country. And it’s difficult to say that the one that isn’t about slavery might put it across best of all. Because while you can’t fight crazy Michael Fassbender and the institutional hatred and control he represents, at least you want to. When your subjugator is a little girl who has no idea what she’s done to you, it’s difficult to find the fight in you.The Hunt 3

Mads Mikkelsen trudges through The Hunt like a wounded wolf through the woods, just waiting to be pounced upon by his former brethren. And you want so badly for him to do something, anything, if not to change his situation, at least to let everyone else know he’s not going to just take their reactionary bullshit anymore. But when he finally does, all you want is for him to take it back. Because that’s not the way out. There may not be one. And while that’s hard to accept, even just as the audience, it’s impossible to know what else to do.

thehunt_jaagtenAnd that’s the most astounding part of The Hunt. It’s ability to immerse you in this story, immerse you in the solitary experience of this character, without allowing you to forget that you’d probably just be one of these awful townsfolk if it happened down the street from you.

8. Don Jon – A lot of people seem to be taking the old adage to write what they know a little too literally. But Joseph Gordon-Levitt realizes that it doesn’t mean we want to know about what you went through necessarily [unless you happen to be Solomon Northrup (and I obviously hope you aren’t)], but that you can shape the things and the people you know into a story of its own.Don-Jon-1

So goes Don Jon, an incredibly insightful movie about someone who seems like kind of a dummy. His outlook is so simple and so fully realized, by the time it begins to slip away, you’re fighting against it with him, no matter how obvious or logical it may prove to be. Learning this along with him therefore, leaves as indelible impression as it does on him. All of it facilitated by effortless comedy that on the surface can pass for ordinary but almost always goes much deeper than that.Joseph-Gordon-Levitt-i-Don-Jon

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Hit Record message might be bad news for our culture, which had embraced that everything-is-worthwhile mind-set well before he brought it up, but we can hope he sticks to it himself.

9. The Counselor – Never has there been more tension in a movie about an unnamed guy who doesn’t do anything.

couselorYou might spend all of The Counselor waiting for something. Not that nothing happens, but when it does, it generally involves people you don’t really know. But none of it is extraneous. It’s all connected, just not in that Seinfeldian or even Garry Marshall Holiday Extravaganza way. It’s all part of the terribly non-conventional story you’re being told.


Literally told. The crux of the movie lies in its dialogue. More than maybe any other ever has. Not because it can’t do anything else, or because you learn so much about the people populating it, but because there’s philosophical insight in everyone and it all feeds the one governing the destination of this one man, The Counselor. Names don’t matter, relationships don’t matter, because who you are doesn’t matter. It’s all brutally laid out in a fantastic cameo by one of many voices of (non)reason, Ruben Blades: It doesn’t matter what you do now. You’ve already done it.

10. Wadjda – I suppose this might qualify for the earned usage of daring as well. The first feature directed by a woman in Saudi Arabia probably was not the least challenging or safest endeavor imaginable. But unlike The Act Of Killing, it doesn’t remind you of that at any point.WADJDA_13-905x603

While the titular character certainly has some challenges simply by virtue of being female, she doesn’t seem terribly bothered by it. Wadjda is largely oblivious to being a rebel, which makes her one of the most likeable ones you’re ever going to see.  Film/ Das Mädchen WadjdaOf course, being a rebel in Saudi Arabia doesn’t take much. You write on your shoes, you tape things off the radio, you want to ride a bike. That’s way more than enough. Wadjda’s determination to do these things despite everyone’s misgivings is charming enough. These things serve as distraction from her splintered (but seemingly typical) home life, but for us it becomes a vital part of the multi-faceted picture of both a specific exotic situation as well as a deceptively universal one.


Gravity – Even some terribly forced dialogue cannot dilute the power of the most wrenchingly awesome imagery in cinema history.

Frances Ha – The weirdest performance of the year is also the most charismatic. You won’t even care that you can’t stand everyone Frances seems to like and what that might say about her.

The Spectacular Now – When was the last time you didn’t wonder what at least one half of an onscreen couple saw in the other?

Her – The future looks bright, but even technology can’t change some things.

The World’s End – The regular non-fantastical beginning is going so well, it’s almost disappointing when the robot/alien/replicants show up. But that, of course, is when it goes great.

The Ten Worst Movies – 2013

Despite what you are about to read, 2013 did a lot of things right. But there is always a bottom of the barrel. Sometimes, the bottom of this barrel doesn’t seem to smell as bad as the last barrel. But that’s a trick. It’s always the rottenest grossest stuff down there. And regardless of what it smells like, you still have to scrape it out to get it ready for the next load.

1. Molly’s Theory Of Relativity – You can watch the trailer and know, without any doubt, that this would be the worst movie you ever saw in your life should you ever find yourself in dire need of such a thing. Maybe you and your friends disagree on whether Michael Davis is worse than John A. Gallagher or vice versa. Maybe you made a movie yourself and need to know it isn’t the worst one anyone has ever made. Maybe you are studying for Jeopardy and need to know such minutiae. I don’t know what your reasons might be. But if that time comes, remember this.1689_orig

First of all, this movie isn’t really about Molly or any theories she has. She’s in it, but she’s just part of the larger ensemble. Made up of (but not limited to) her husband who might be Josh Baskin trapped in a different grown up’s body, his father who is like a robot that shuts down whenever he isn’t speaking, two precocious children, two probably dead people, maybe a third person who is probably also dead, and a neighbor who shouldn’t be allowed inside the tiny apartment where this whole movie takes place. And really, don’t bother keeping track, because even though relationships are very clearly defined, to the point where they might as well all be wearing neon name tags on their foreheads because it would be more subtle, every single character sounds exactly the same. This could be because not a one of them can act, even the ones you’ve seen do it perfectly well in other things.

mollykidLike a lot of movies made without adult supervision, it doesn’t make a lot of sense and probably this can allow for you to make up your own mind about what things mean and what they don’t. Writer/director Jeff Lipsky obviously has something to say, he just has no idea how or what and wants every one of his characters to try in precisely the same manner. I missed the opportunity to talk to him via Skype after the opening night screening of Molly’s Theory Of Relativity in Lake Worth, Florida, at which there were apparently only two people, one of them the theater owner. And maybe this would have proved enlightening but probably it would have just been a really hilarious story to tell you right now.

Reason To Watch It Anyway: Besides all the ones I outlined in the first paragraph? Jeez, you are demanding. Which is yet another reason you should stay away from this. Oh, I forgot to mention that when you get uncomfortable with the 20 minute long naked/sex/talking scene in the beginning, it might make you feel better to know the onscreen couple is actually married in real life. It sure helped me a lot.

2. A Good Day To Die Hard – “That’s what you got?”

I think that was somehow meant to be the new catch phrase for this new era of John McClane. But I don’t think whoever came up with it had any idea how apropos it would be.a-good-day-to-die-hard

A lot has been made about how Bruce Willis doesn’t play characters anymore, certainly not John McClane, and this goes back way before this latest monstrosity. And it can be argued and argued. I don’t think anyone is standing up for either Bruce Willis or John McClane at this point, but that’s not even the issue. People change and sometimes they become superheroes. That’s just life.

I want to take John McClane out of this equation. A Good Day To Die Hard is not one of the worst movies of 2013 because it tarnishes the memory of one of the best of 1988. It doesn’t do that. Go watch the original Die Hard. It’s doing just fine. It has no idea this ever happened.

Take the last word off the title and change the characters’ names and this is still the worst. (I know, it’s 2nd on this list and so not technically the worst, but number 1 is like in another realm of awful so stay with me.) It’s not bad because John McClane runs a tank over dozens of innocent people on a highway, it would be bad no matter what main character did it. It’s not bad because John McClane grunts nonsense at the bad guys, it wouldn’t matter who was doing it. It doesn’t matter that it is John McClane that keeps saying he’s on vacation, it would be bad no matter who did BECAUSE HE IS NOT ON VACATION.

Obviously, it is impossible to divorce this debacle from the rest of the Die Hards. It doesn’t deserve that anyway since it’s entire existence is based on the connection alone. But it defiles the very essence of its terribleness to qualify it in any way. To say it is the worst Die Hard movie does not tell the whole story. And to say it’s too bad that this happened to  a Die Hard movie is to ignore the fact that it is too bad it happened at all.

Reason To Watch It Anyway: It is a Die Hard movie, as much as I have just tried to let you deny it. And yes, more than likely, the next one will be better and will ignore that it ever happened and it is not as if any Die Hard relies on you having seen the one before.  But if the Fast & Furious series becomes the template for franchises everywhere (as it should) you might see some weird reference to Chernobyl in a future installment. Still, you’ll probably be OK. Wait, that’s not what I was trying to say. Watch it so you can suffer like the rest of us.

3. Jay And Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie – Since things released ejay_silent_bob_cartoon_tlsewhere before they are (if they are) released in theaters do not count, I’m not positive this belongs here. But that’s just how bad it is. I’m willing to take that risk.

Even a theater (mostly) full of survivalist Kevin Smith fans sat eerily silent watching this atrocity. Trying to anyway. Because it’s difficult. It’s not pretty to look at the way most animation is these days even when it has nothing else to offer. The plot is lifted mostly from a comic book written over a decade ago without any notice paid to the fact that anything barely relevant then is no longer. And the jokes are mostly uninspired references to drugs, body600x337 parts and/or things that happened in other movies you hopefully never understood in the first place.

Reason To Watch It Anyway: In one of the many ill-advised flashback sequences, there’s a joke that I laughed at and then tried to grab out of the air before anyone else heard. But that was impossible because the theater was totally silent all of the time.

4. Grown Ups 2 – Well, of course. We all are well aware by now that Adam Sandler is going to continue to pay his friends (and himself) exorbitantly well for putting forth their minimal effort. And that no matter how many otherwise funny friends he can dig up, it’s never going to amount to anything. And so it might be easy to dismiss this as par for the course. But these are the people taking forever in front of you on the course. They are in the way. You can ignore them and play your game and pretend it doesn’t bother you, that you are the bigger person, that there’s nothing you can do. But this behavior deserves no mercy.GrownUps2

As bad as the first Grown Ups was (and how it was) at least it had an idea. It’s painful to give it this kind of credit now, but it’s necessary to give you some kind of perspective on how much worse this one is. There’s not even any pretense to getting all these people together. They just all live in their old town again. I guess because they loved it so much last time they just abandoned their regular lives? It’s incredibly weird and indolent. But that’s just the plot (though being forced to use that word is unfortunate.) It doesn’t even touch upon the string of nonsense that these four grown-ups-2(Rob Schneider is absent and replaced by a mostly unconscious Nick Swardsen, apparently Adam Sandler’s new muse which I guess could explain everything) trudge their way through and barely interact with. It’s like watching four comedians walk through a museum of a comedian’s dreams. Dreams said comedian never even bothered writing down in his joke notebook because he knew they weren’t funny.

Reason To Watch It Anyway: You can’t blame any of the otherwise funny and talented people who agree to appear in any recent Adam Sandler movies for showing up. It’s got to be the easiest money they’ve ever made. And I’m sure the set is so funny to be a apart of that they might not always notice how terrible it becomes when the cameras are recording. But of all of them, you would imagine Colin Quinn would have been the first one to not been able to stomach coming back for more. But he does and it is by far the greatest part of it. You could almost believe he’s saying to Adam Sandler (rather than Lenny Fader, the character Sandler plays) that he’s both resentful and jealous and can’t help but admire what he’s done despite thinking it’s awful. And he does it all funny, which is more than anything in the rest of the movie can say (but so desperately wants to.) Of course, then you have to watch everyone laugh at Colin Quinn because soft serve ice cream bears a passing resemblance to human excrement.

5. Escape From Tomorrow – The only thing I knew about Escape From Tomorrow was the only thing worth knowing. That it takes place at Disney World and that it was made secretly, smuggling the cameras into the park. It sounds like a noble effort at first. And although watching people fight at Disney World might be a true reflection of us as a people, it happens enough on its own. It’s not cool that a bunch of other people who were enjoying their time there had to be subjected to it unnecessarily. Especially when the product of that inconvenience turns out to be Escape From Tomorrow.EscapeFromTomorrow

The ever vigilant Disney Corporation knew how bad it was, opting not to file any lawsuits, probably not wanting to risk having their name appear along side it in any official documentation. Who should look into legal action though is women everywhere.

escapeThere’s not a whole lot of sense to be made out of this 4th grade corn dog induced fever dream, but what is for sure is it takes its gender cues from a time before Disney theme parks. If all Escape From Tomorrow amounted to was a family drama about getting through the final day of a vacation, it still would have made it right here in this spot on this list because it couldn’t get that anywhere near right. The dad is a self-involved creep and no wonder because his wife is as stereotypical a shrew as there’s ever been. Women are objects to be followed and stared at or they are evil doers, whether literally evil queens or prostitutes or your bitch wife who doesn’t like it when you get super drunk and destructive and embarrassing in Epcot. And all this might be somewhat vindicated if there was any sort of related payoff to the protagonist’s ludicrously lamentable behavior. But instead Escape From Tomorrow goes to places you can’t predict because why would you, it doesn’t make any sense. Siemens secret laboratories, Epcot heads, fairy spit and a barely mentioned but maybe highly important cat flu serve to throw you around like Space Mountain, which is maybe merciful if you could be certain to throw it all up into a garbage can at the end of it. But no, in the end, the guy is granted some sort of wish fulfillment rebirth by the 14 year old French fairy who obviously has been seduced by the fact that he’s been leering at her braces all day.  I mean, I guess all endings are happy ones at Disney World.

Reason To Watch It Anyway: The same reason anyone ever saw it. It takes place at Disney World. This should actually be a reason to dislike it even more and you could probably find footage of Thunder Mountain that’s just as good as it is in the opening credits, back when you could still think this movie might turn into something. Or, you know, you could just go on Thunder Mountain. So watch this movie to remind yourself to go on Thunder Mountain. That seems reasonable.

6. Percy Jackson Sea Of Monsters – Look hard enough and there are always plot holes, I get it. But what about when you don’t have to look hard? What if you don’t even have to look? It seems like a joke, the contradiction that rests heavily on the very premise of this installment [(and the next, if there is one). And while we’re on that subject, how was there another one of these? No one saw the first one. What do we have to do to stop this Trojan franchise pandemic?]Percy-Jackson

Since I know you didn’t see it, it’s like this: Poseidon had a son and he’s very special and named Percy Jackson. Percy’s conflicted because he doesn’t feel special (and he’s right about that, but you aren’t supposed to think so), but everyone he likes (and some he doesn’t) keep reassuring him (because that’s what they’re there for) that “hey, unless there’s some other child of Poseidon running around, you’re the one!” You will wait and wait (and wait!) for someone to realize that the other major plot point of this movie is that Percy also has a half brother Cyclops that no one likes (because Cyclops’ are the worst! Trust us!) who is a SON OF POSEIDON! They will never realize it. It will become funny when someone says something about Percy being the only offspring of Poseidon right after Cyclops leaves the room. Then even funnier when he’s standing right there. But then it stops being funny. Because how is this still going on? How many people had to watch this movie before it came out? How many had to read and approve this script? Nobody could have brought this up? Or did they know no one would ever notice because everything else is so boring and hackneyed it would just blend in? Whenever someone complains about Hollywood treating everyone like idiots, remember that millions of people saw this movie and no one cared.

nathan-fillionAlso, The Bermuda Triangle is a much better name for what it is than Sea Of Monsters. Come on.

Reason To Watch It Anyway: Nathan Fillion has a cameo as Hermes, who runs a shipping business for gods and such (that’s as good a joke as you can really expect in this) and it is by the far the best part of this movie. And while that isn’t saying a whole lot, he is very energetic where everyone else is anything but, so it stands out even more. Unfortunately, he also makes a veiled reference to Firefly and its cancellation and basically winks at the camera and that pretty much ruins any good will it might have mustered.

7. Blue Caprice – This was a slow burn. Apropos, I suppose. At first it just seemed like a (very) boring independent take on a historical event. By the end, it was clear they had no interest in the historical part of that equation as almost none of it is verifiable and the stuff that could be is totally erroneous. bcIt’s like they looked up what kind of car these people drove around to shoot people from and celebrated for saving so much of their research budget. And still later, after it was all over, you can continue to find things to get angry about. Like did they want me to feel sorry for this kid who shot everyone? Whose perspective was the movie supposed to be from anyway? Why’d they skip over so much of the actual spree, did they think we knew all the facts already? Because they sure didn’t.Blue Caprice Isaiah Washington

Bad movies can fail at any number of things. The worst movies fail at most of them. Usually it is all apparent right as you watch it. Blue Caprice manages to fail both in front of your eyes and then fail later on in retrospect and for totally different reasons. I’m not sure I’ve experienced this before. So at least I can congratulate Blue Caprice on something.

Reason To Watch It Anyway: Isaiah Washington is really good as he pretty much always is, despite off the field stuff that might make you wish it was not true. Actually, no one acts poorly in it, it’s kind of a waste that way.

8. Escape From Planet Earth – It’s not like there have never been terrible animated movies before. Mars Needs Moms? The last Ice Age? Space Chimps? For serious. Space Chimps. But it’s never not a little surprising. Maybe it’s the work that has to go into it. The years it takes to put everything together. From conception to design to animating to voice recording… there are so many places to fix whatever might be wrong. And like anything else, it can take on a life of its own, people who have invested so much of themselves develop a kind of Stockholm Syndrome and truly believe they aren’t making something not worth making. Or if they do, they keep it to themselves because it’s too late anyway.

20EarthBut in the end, it’s just another terrible production. Whatever the differences might have been in making it come out this way, it’s still got to fulfill (or not) the same criteria as everything else whether it was made for no money in somebody’s apartment or for millions in front of a green screen. And Escape From Planet Earth could do none of it right. There is lackluster voice acting. Flat and/or disconcerting looking character design. A LOT shouting and arm flailing. A not even a little bit ironic not joke. Then there are the obligatory jokes dependent on breaking what little reality they’ve tried to build. Basically, they’ve botched pretty much every aspect available to them. And maybe the idea is that kids won’t notice most of this stuff, but not only is that a horribly offense approach, it clearly isn’t true. Or Space Chimps wouldn’t have sounded like I made it up when I mentioned it earlier.Escape-From-Planet-Earth-162

(Addendum: Space Chimps has a sequel coming out apparently, and while that isn’t so shocking, it does muddle my last point a little bit.)

Reason To Watch It Anyway: William Shatner and Jessica Alba have a weird interplanetary romance that is really William Shatner stringing Jessica Alba along so he can steal her technology and while yes, they are represented by kind of gross amorphous blobs (even though William Shatner is supposed to be a human) it’s still funny to imagine that happening with the real people.

9. R.I.P.D. – Yet another worst movie that seems unnecessary to mention. Like I should have just not bothered and instead included something you might have otherwise intended to watch and/or would be slightly startled to hear was awful. But just because there’s no secret about R.I.P.D., the movie based on a pun someone is ashamed to have ever come up with, doesn’t mean it should get away with this.

RIPD2What “this” is is the lifeless result of a seemingly earnest attempt to meld Ghostbusters and Men In Black into one propulsive sci-fi action comedy. And while it is refreshing that a movie like this didn’t set out to be terrible for some bizarre misguided reason, it shouldn’t get credit for the better goals it set for itself and didn’t achieve in such spectacular fashion.

Someone thought R.I.P.D. would be the one that made Ryan Reynolds the star someone else decided he ought to be some time ago. You don’t have to see how bad this movie is to know that’s one of the most delusional things to ever come out of a city built on a sturdy foundation of delusion.  Maybe they thought casting him alongside Kevin Bacon would help him realize the same thing Kevin Bacon had to once upon an Air Up There: that he would never be a star but he could have a pretty awesome career if he accepted that and become the next best thing. And I’ve been a staunch Ryan Reynolds supporter despite the overwhelming evidence to prove I’m wrong. R.I.P.D. will help anyone give that up.002934d0_medium

But it isn’t all his fault, of course. It doesn’t help that Jeff Bridges is acting in a totally different movie that is fantastic and that Kevin Bacon is pretty great as usual, but the movie itself lets everyone down even if they are the ones trying to crawl out of a Green Lantern sized hole. Sometimes it wants to look like a video game, but only succeeds in giving us awkward effects and horrible voice acting. Other times it wants to be a wacky comedy but can only get as far as having Mary Louise Parker dress twenty years too young. And then there’s the mythology it wants to establish, as if it thinks there’s going to an R.I.P.D. once every other year. But all it can manage is an unbelievably childish nickname for rogue dead people (Deados), a purposely not-thought-out method of exposing them (“Indian food, for some reason” is a real quote from a real movie) and a short-sighted joke that explains how the members of the R.I.P.D. conceal themselves from the lowly living (they appear as a supermodel and an old Chinese man in a VCR repair sedan – a foolproof method of camouflage.)  In other words, R.I.P.D. is extremely lazy in its pursuit of frenetic energy. It wants to to play in the same game with the movies it is trying to replicate, but it neglects to do any of the same work to get there.

Reason To Watch It Anyway: Jeff Bridges, Jeff Bridges and Jeff Bridges.


This car is moving forward.

10. Machete Kills – It happened so often last year, it’s a bit shocking this is the only worst movie that felt as though it wanted to wind up that way. Double shock coming from Robert Rodriguez, who may tend to fail miserably a lot more often that not, and has always lived in the area of this sort of thing, but has never truly crossed over. Not even with the first Machete. It may have been based on a one note trailer that went on too long in the first place, but the first Machete didn’t lean into every joke with the idea that it would be so bad it would somehow not only cease to be bad, but be great.machete-kills

Clearly, there is an audience for this, but even they weren’t quite satisfied with Machete Kills. Maybe it is as simple as the novelty wearing off, but that should have been the case about thirty seconds into the original trailer. Maybe it was the realization that Danny Trejo ought only to be ingested in tiny doses with the complement of a full meal. Maybe it was Sofia Vergara’s constant screaming. But most likely it’s just that it succeeded in being what it set out to be, a terrible movie with a barely there protagonist, no reasonable motivation for anyone to do anything and jokey violence that cannot not shock us anymore, even into barely measurable chuckles.machete-kills-35220_4

Reason To Watch It Anyway: There are a host of supporting players and you are bound to like one of them. They are generally good actors eager at their chance to give the worst performance of their careers and get it over with, but Amber Heard does not lay down to die for anyone. She may well be going for a Golden Globe the way she plays every facet of a character whose personality has to sway whichever way the plot requires. Don’t feel bad for her though, she knows she isn’t going to get it. It’s an honor just to never be considered being nominated.


Hors Satan – A purposely inert and impenetrable French movie that is probably on a bunch of top ten lists of people you should stop listening to right now.

Epic – What happened in the animation world? Was there a virus or something? There have never been so many bad ones in so short a span. It’s a testament to how terrible Epic is that even with Amanda Seyfried finding a way to be her usual weirdo self using only her voice and a really creepy fruit fly joke it can still be (ever so slightly) worse than After Earth.

The Grandmaster – Apparently, this movie was edited for American audiences. So maybe this is unfair. I’ve seen enough of Wong Kar-Wai to be 98% sure it is not. It was always going to be slow moving nonsense. At the very least, you’d think he’d do something visually innovative with the fight scenes, but they’re as bland as any direct to Netflix thing starring the latest WWE personality.

After Earth – M. Night Shayalaman has gotten us to the point now where we long for the hilarious stupidity of The Happening. Turning the Smith family into monotonous mannequins seems so far fetched we’ve no choice but to believe he’s doing this on purpose. Setting us up for his greatest twist of all.

Ass Backward – I have no doubt that A Haunted House was more painful a comedy than this, but I knew not to watch that. And even an army of Wayans have never failed to make you laugh with such smug self-satisfied attitudes.

The Most Surprising(ly Good) Movies – 2013

1. Leviathan – Since I still have heard nothing about this movie, even months after seeing it, it wasn’t the usual low (or even no) expectations being exceeded that puts this movie on this list. What’s surprising is how much better it gets the further away I get from seeing it. By no means is this a good movie. It’s an incredible chore to sit through. There’s absolutely no story and there isn’t meant to be. It’s not beautiful to look at, most of the time the point (if there is one) seems to be how ugly it is. A lot of the time it takes the length of a shot (which almost always goes on for a very long time) to figure out what it is you’re even looking at.leviathan-still

Leviathan is a documentary, but only in the purest sense. There is no narration. No interviews. The only true hint to its point of view is its title. It relies entirely on its images, and as I said, it doesn’t even always bother making those comprehensible. What is left is the haunting essence it plants inside you, where it can grow, maybe forever, fostering a fascinating memory that far outweighs the pain it caused burying it there in the first place.

2. White House Down – You don’t believe me. And I can’t blame you. I still don’t really believe me. Not to say I thought this wasn’t going to be enjoyable. Roland Emmerich may make a lot of bad movies, but almost all of them are inherently watchable even if they tend to be for the wrong reasons.

It didn’t help, of course, that this movie had already come out. And I don’t even mean it’s obvious and completely overtly embraced Die Hard roots. Olympus Has Fallen isn’t horrible either, but it didn’t exactly clear a path for what seemed like the exact same movie a few months later.


Add to this the bizarre and unwarranted backlash against Channing Tatum we all somehow decided to invest ourselves in despite the fact that we never truly allowed him to reach the peak we’ve already knocked him off of and White House Down should really have taken its ball and gone home to some kind of humble September release date.

While ultimately it died with its boots on, left for dead by the country it loved and still does, when it mattered, there it stood, proud and unmoved, right before the all-important July 4th weekend. For the people if not by them. Indivisible purple waves of glaring ramparts. Banner yet waving. Literally. But more on that in this year’s best of.

That’s right. White House Down is one of the best movies of 2013. And 2013 wasn’t even a substandard year as these things go. And if that isn’t a surprise, I don’t know what is.

3. The Internship – Yes, there were low expectations. Very low. The Internship seemed to be forcing upon us both a star power comedy team we never agreed to and egregious placement of a product we already saw too much of. But even if you think you’ve seen Vince Vaughn do his Vince Vaughiest one too many times, if he turned out to be funny, you couldn’t truly consider yourself to be terribly surprised.DF-05960_05970_R copy.JPG

The Internship might have counted on your sour attitude though, because it made sure it’s first twenty minutes were some of the worst minutes on screen in 2013. The worst! This is not exaggeration. Even if you’d just woken up from the coma induced upon you in 1995 and had no idea what a Wedding Crasher or a Google was, you’d have found your expectations sufficiently hamstrung by those minutes. Which is a state necessary, perhaps, in order to find what follows as satisfying a comedy about the state of our culture and economy as you could ever have expected in an otherwise healthy frame of mind.

4. John Dies At The End – When this showed up in everyone’s suggestion list on Netflix, it seemed like it must have been a Netflix original. There was no way it had earned its place there with positive user reviews or, you know, anyone watching it. Further investigation would get you nowhere. Except for obviously supporting appearances by Paul Giamatti and Clancy Brown, which isn’t even much of an endorsement (Shoot ‘Em Up, The Guardian, respectively), there wasn’t much to go on. Anjohn_diesneedd if you went further, finding out it was from the creator of Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep couldn’t (shouldn’t) have filled you with too much confidence.

But none of that potential knowledge could have prepared you anyway. John Dies At The End manages to walk that line of bizarrely entertaining without veering into nonsense for its own sake. Usually, when a movie can and will do anything, nothing can surprise you. But John Dies At The End finds a way. As evidenced by its title alone.

5. Broken City – There’s a lot going on in Broken City. Sometimes it seems like maybe too much for just a movie-sized thing. Like it needed to be a barely watched six-episode mini-series on AMC rather than a barely perceived blip on the January release schedule. And if all it turned out to be was a perfectly executed intricate drama it would be enough to put it on this list. But then comes Mark Wahlberg infusing it with totally unexpected comedic flourishes that it is becoming increasingly clear only he can do.Broken-City

The Hughes Brothers have always made visually striking movies (and TV), but that is apparently because Albert handles the technical aspects while Allen’s responsibility is the actors. With Albert absent on this project, the look of it does suffer in a way, but only in that it does not have the distinct quality something like Dead Presidents or The Book Of Eli does. It’s functional style fits the material and certainly doesn’t detract. And somehow not having his brother around has made Allen even more adept at coaching the performances. There is no weak link in Broken City save for maybe its trailer, which gives way too much away. But like I said, there’s a lot going on, so there’s still plenty leftover that it doesn’t.


World War Z – If fans of the book had their way, it would have been Ken BurnsWorld War Z. And they were all so vocally upset that by the time I saw it, I was convinced it would prove to be a failure of Transformers proportions. So maybe anything would be surprising(ly good) after that.

The Family – There are a few points in The Family where you are going to want to walk away. It presses its brutality further than we are used to even in an age of the eternal chainsaw massacre, never mind when it’s part of a comedy. But just when you aren’t going to stand for it any longer (maybe even a little after that) the movie forces everyone to face the things they’ve been doing. And Robert DeNiro’s character watches Goodfellas, which is just weird.

The Counselor – The trailer seemed odd and boring and Ridley Scott’s been difficult to take lately so even the prospect of Cormac McCarthy’s first produced screenplay couldn’t truly factor in. But there was no good way to advertise a movie so perfectly and oppressively fatalistic.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – Turns out Hunger Games movies don’t really need any hunger games to be compelling. But it’s nice when they finally show up too.

In A World… – Lake Bell’s always been great. But the idea of her making her own movie based on her bizarre obsession with trailer voice over seemed at best like the sketch she’d never get to do because they’ll never ask her to host Saturday Night Live. But there’s a whole lot more depth to this seemingly simple story of professional and familial jealousy. And side note, Rob Corddry is going to win an Oscar someday. You just watch.

The Most Disappointing Movies – 2013

I am getting better at managing my expectations. But build a better mouse and all that and 2013 will come and invent new ways of administering the recommended dosage of disillusionment…

1. A Good Day To Die Hard – Mourning the loss of John McClane is beside the point. It’s an undeniable tragesty (that’s tragedy plus travesty) but it’s been a long time coming. That we put it off this long is almost commendable. It’s absolutely a large part of this disenchantment. A bad Die Hard movie is always going to have that effect, but I don’t think anybody can honestly say they weren’t prepared for it.bruce-willis

What we should be mourning is the loss of Bruce Willis. Between sleep walking through this and G.I. Joe, and barely registering amongst all the brighter stars in RED 2, it appears as though he got tired of himself way before we got around to it. If this had been Striking Distance 2 or 17 Blocks or just some other non-sequel Bruce Willis movie it still would have come as a disappointment. Because while the overall quality may vary, Bruce Willis has always been someone most of us wanted to watch. In 2013, he wasn’t. And he didn’t seem to care about that either way.

To make this list, never mind be first on it, generally takes a lot of build up. Whether it is from a barrage of amazing trailers, a phenomenal cast, or just whirlwind word of mouth (maybe all of these), there is a sense that this movie is going to be great. That it will be one of those things that makes a lot of money and deserves it. It unites the nation, the world, even the internet. It might be an impossible feat, to live up to such advanced frenzy, but that is its own fault.

The trouble is, A Good Day To Die Hard did not have this. At all. Generic posters [albeit one with with a really good ad line (“Yippee Ki-Yay Mother Russia”)] and that bad guy from Jack Reacher as his son. The trailer was a hyperspeed edit of weird gutteral sounds and half-liners. There was a Valentine’s Day release date. And absolutely no positive advanced word. So it was already a long shot. How then could it be one of the most disappointing movies of 2013 then? Well, that’s just how bad it is. So much so we are going to talk more about this later…

2. Pacific Rim – I didn’t notice until the credits when I heard my friends talking about the RZA’s end-credit-plot-summary song in excited tones. They all really liked Pacific Rim. While I spent the whole time relentlessly making fun of it. We couldn’t have been further apart in our viewing experiences. It doesn’t happen that often, but it is somewhat comforting to know that you aren’t somehow assimilating into some hive mind when you watch something as a group.

PRStill, it’s difficult to find any of what they saw in it. Certainly I shared their initial enthusiasm. As misplaced as it might be, Guillermo Del Toro’s name still carries great expectation. And as scarred as we all may be from recent forays into similar territory, giant robot fighting is always going to coerce certain expectations. But after an opening stuck on fast forward, a lot of inexcusably terrible human strategy and some awkward lumbering slogs between outsized robots and fish, it became a struggle to endure.

It’s not even that there is no redeeming value in Pacific Rim. Sometimes the fighting does work. Sometimes the barely formed characters can steal moments of sentiment from the deluge of forced interpersonal drama. And sometimes even all the accents aren’t so terrible they can’t be ignored. But Pacific Rim isn’t based on comic or a toy or even another movie (not directly anyway.) Its greatest failure is in squandering this seemingly isolated chance for a huge budget original story to grate against the machine so set on churning out material with which you’re already somehow familiar (for the results of that, see most of the rest of this list.)

3. The Lone Ranger – Gore Verbinski had a bit of an uphill climb to generate excitement for his next project. That it was going to be a restructuring of a hokey but iconic Western character wasn’t the worst road he could have chosen to do the climbing, but it couldn’t have been the best either. Resorting to renovating the wacky Johnny Depp sidekick trope he created with the Pirates series wasn’t terribly original, but it seemed like a pretty sure bet. A really fantastic trailer made all the difference, and suddenly the pedigree really did seem to speak for itself even if separately none of it should have.lone-ranger-2

Even now, it’s sometimes difficult to be so hard on The Lone Ranger. It wanted so much to have fun with what it was doing and for us to join it. You don’t want to condemn the sort of enthusiasm that seems to be hovering there, just out of reach. But the results are just so disjointed and miserable that the empathy evaporates quickly, leaving you with the distilled concentration of pallid attempts at humor and action that come at a relentless pace. When The William Tell Overture finally blares through the nonsense toward the end, it is meant to be a blissful, overwhelming moment, marrying what you’ve been watching with whatever preconceived notions about the story you may have entered with. But instead it is just an embarrassment. Which makes it the most apropos music choice of the year, really.

4. The Last Stand – There seems to be a lot of revisionist history going around now that we are almost a year removed from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dead eyed return to the movies. It isn’t that he’s lost it completely (he’s great in Escape Plan), but like any athlete he just needed to get warmed up. And like any aged athlete who’s been away from the game for awhile, he needed longer than usual. By the end of The Last Stand, you can see flashes. The climactic fight is even pretty good, but it’s all way too late.

TheLastStandFrom far too many year end lists of “overlooked” or “unfairly maligned” you might think that the collective cringing that took place last January was done exclusively by a bunch of deluded, nostalgia-chasing numbskulls who truly believed they were going to get some kind of a Terminator/Predator hybrid redux that would be better than they remembered either of those.

Lost in all of this is Korean director Kim Jee-Woon (I Saw The Devil, The Good The Bad & The Weird) putting forth his American debut. Which might be the most disappointing part. Arnold Schwarzenegger was in his newly emerged state, a wild card at best. However Kim Jee-Woon, if a somewhat unknown commodity in this country, was freshly proven. There was much more reason to believe that even if Arnold shouldn’t have bothered coming back to us, that this guy would make something worth enduring that potentially embarrassing decision.

Some of the acting choices might be attributable to language barriers, but these are all around some of the worst performances of the year. And that doesn’t account for the complete lack of any of the flourish that has made his previous work so inimitable. Arnold will continue to receive the opportunity to capture some shred of his past glory, no matter how distant a memory that becomes. But the way things go now, Kim Jee-Woon might not be granted such a stay, not by Hollywood anyway. And while it certainly may be argued that is for the best, it’s still one of the most disappointing behind-the-scenes stories to come out of 2013.

5. Riddick – Having Riddick anywhere near this list runs the risk of implicitly endorsing the previous installment in the series, The Chronicles Of Riddick. And I cannot stress enough that this is not the case. In fact, let me please imprint upon you the fact that this one is future space miles better. The opening twenty (or so) minutes is on par with Gravity and All Is Lost as far as isolated human(ish) stories go. So much so that you can’t help but associate it with the first of the series, 2000’s Pitch Black, a near perfect specimen of the genre about to get mutilated before your eyes.Riddick-image

It is because of this fleeting surehandedness that Riddick is one of the most disappointing movies of the year. When after a shocking triumph like that, the movie not only reverts to typical tough guy posturing but becomes about a bunch of people that are not Riddick being played with by off screen Riddick, it has only set itself up to fail you.


The East – I can’t even remember why at this point, but there wasn’t a movie I looked forward to more in 2013 than Zal Batmanglij’s second foray into movies about cults. It’s not even that his first (Sound Of My Voice) was all that great. But something about The East seemed like fantasy fulfillment for anyone that finds themselves no longer satisfied by the prospect of giant robots fighting each other.

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 – Maybe the first one was too good. It was the very best movie of 2009, after all. Because it certainly isn’t that Cloudy 2 was so terrible that we find ourselves here today. It’s because after that kind of set up, there isn’t anywhere to go.

Much Ado About Nothing – We’d reached the point where we just figured anything Joss Whedon touched would be so unequivocally awesome that it wouldn’t matter if he was using someone else’s plot and dialogue when those are the very things for which we revere him.  I suppose it was the only way he could bear to finally let Wesley and Fred be together.

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty – Gripping imagery and some generally funny people cannot elevate this dull adventure that isn’t at all a mystery but sure likes to tell you it is a whole lot.

The Call – Another one where expectations were inflated by a perfectly executed opening, The Call took it a step further and remained really good throughout the whole first half. But the tailspin it fell into after that was hard to watch, and all the moreso because it had just raised its own bar so successfully.


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