By all appearance, 2013 was a pretty great year in film all around. Okay, perhaps not all around. This year had its embarrassments as much as the last did, from Stand Up Guys to A Case of You to Grown Ups 2 to After Earth to… you know, we could go on. For the sake of economy (and our sanity), though, we’ve elected to focus in on the films we found truly the worst. Some are mutually agreed. Others are quite the surprise. As always, whether a year was great or miserable depends entirely on your perspective, but the true dreck is often all too obvious.
NOTE: Alex and G Clark weren’t able to find the time to chime in, but you can probably assume Alex would’ve chosen The Hangover: Part III, had he seen it. I think we all dodged the bullet by avoiding Todd Phillips’ latest.
How does one qualify the worst film of any given year? I find myself asking this question often, with much less certainty to the reasons I decide on my favorite film of each year. It could simply be a matter of films I felt were most formally lacking, and Struck By Lightning certainly comes to mind instantly in that respect. That’s a film that proved that Glee star Chris Colfer *can* write a film, but that he really had no personal right to make this one, a glib, self-indulgent and painfully plain high school comedy that laughs at the death of an autistic kid before making us increasingly irritated with him. It also wasted the skill and good will of Christina Hendricks and Allison Janney, though they’d have Mad Men and The Way, Way Back, respectively, to redeem themselves with.
But back on the subject of what qualified the worst of a year, if the best film of a year is the one we simply couldn’t live without, the worst must be the one that should never have existed. In past years I’ve picked needless and revolting franchise fodder like X-Men: First Class and source-material shaming adaptations as Les Miserables, but I can confidently say Jobs commits a much deeper sin embarrassing a pop-culture icon who only just passed. When I call Steve Jobs a pop-culture icon, I mean that more as fact than idolization. He’s a central figure in how our society has shaped in the past decade, but his story is not necessarily one that fits for a cinematic representation as well as something like The Social Network. Not everyone’s life is dramatically tailored to be spread upon the screen, certainly not in such a manner of “Hero’s Journey” inspiration as is wrought here.
From the first scene I found myself vomiting at how nonchalantly they were exploiting Jobs’ legacy, with a heavily makeup-covered Ashton Kutcher revealing the iPod as the new pinnacle of technical innovation, a theme the film is totally ignorant of. It’d be one thing to use this figure as a way of investigating a transition between different generations and distancing values, but they instead opt for aggravating idolatry and in-joking, conveying the coolness of their ideas with more blinding lens-flares than J.J. Abrams’ career output stacked together. Worse than their obvious and plain cinematic techniques, though, is their utter refusal to give Steve Jobs a distinct character arrogant but brilliant man of the future, inspiring a generation of supposed renegades and dreamers who will supposedly lead us further into that future. It doesn’t occur to the filmmakers that the apparent Apple revolution may be even the slightest bit detrimental to our generation, lulled into a state of stagnating convenience, which says a great deal about how naive and unintelligent the filmmakers are, and therefore inept as to representing the career of somebody who, if probably some degrees south of genius and more in the realm of humanity, was pretty smart and intuitive to the society around him.
In this world, there exist truly bad films: ones that aspire for greatness and profundity only to collapse spectacularly because the filmmaking simply cannot support the ambition. Jobs was this kind of movie (and for it, Duncan is right to hate it), as was the insufferably dour Man of Steel. Those are two of 2013’s worst films, yet in every possible scenario I would unhesitantly watch them over Shawn Levy’s unconscionably cynical The Internship, a movie I abhor not for its badness, but rather for its mediocrity.
Starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson and billed as their first team-up since their 2005 hit Wedding Crashers, the movie sands all the edges off its comedy and its outlook on middle-aged salesmen struggling to get a job at the cutting-edge offices of Google. And that’s fine by Levy; edge in a comedy seemingly bores him. All The Internship seems interested in saying is how awesome a company Google is. It glories in countless instances of what I gather is the massively successful company’s enviably progressive corporate culture, committing steadfastly to an ambiguously pleasant bro-comedy formula that leaves viewers (prospective Google users and possible Google skeptics alike) feeling convinced of the organization’s benevolence.
Though it’s not a formally “bad” movie, I’ve no problem ranking it as 2013’s most soul-crushing experience. The Internship offends, because it is inoffensive. It is not about telling a funny story. It is not even about rekindling the chemistry Vaughn and Wilson sported in Wedding Crashers. It is about making the popular yet insidiously omnipresent organization appear unimpeachable, and it does so by giving that company the kind of knob-polishing reserved typically for the most pornographic of snuff films. And not unlike many of those snuff films, The Internship will leave you feeling similarly icky by the end.
Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh’s proclaimed “final film,” starts with an intriguing premise about the accountability of our actions and the manipulation of brain chemistry – who or what is responsible for how we act? A new prescription drug complicates culpability in a murder case, and the film seems poised to ask some challenging questions about who we are and what makes us that way.
And then Soderbergh’s noir-ish thriller takes the train to Crazytown (by way of Many Sexist Tropes). Any pretense at probing the nature of our thoughts, psychiatric drugs, or the doctor-patient relationship is smashed to so many pieces it becomes, quite literally, a joke that the film uses only for cruel laughs. And this is a cruel, nasty little film. It’s no surprise Soderbergh cites Fatal Attraction (a “fun thriller”) as inspiration. Every ambiguity is hammered out to reveal women who fake mental illness, women who vindictively con nice-guy psychiatrists and kill their husbands for money, women who are surprisingly – and menacingly? – bisexual or lesbian or at least pretending to be so to get what they want, women who don’t believe their innocent husbands so they leave them without letting them explain (but don’t worry, he gets her back) and a triumphant ending in which the protagonist sends one woman to jail and – through abuse of privilege – gets the other committed indefinitely to a mental institution while being forcibly drugged. And all the while, as the film trots out tired femme fatales and untrustworthy damsels, it expects shock and surprise at their actions by the very nature of their genders.
Bloated with “twists” and blunt as a brick wall, Side Effects is an experience akin to watching a Men’s Rights Activist and a Scientologist improvise an episode of Law & Order they saw once. …Actually, that would be amazing. I’d watch that.