Most years it’s difficult to find 10 films to fill a top 10 list, while candidates for worst of the year abound. Not in 2013. This year I had to winnow my top 10 from about 16 or 17 strong candidates, while choosing the worst of the year was a fairly straightforward process. I had 14 possibilities at most, and narrowing them down was just a matter of sense memory – recalling things like pain, fatigue and restless leg syndrome, and then measuring the intensity of each memory of discomfort against the others.
1. Romeo and Juliet
What Julian Fellowes did to Shakespeare in this ghastly adaptation, no writer should ever do to any other writer – even Julian Fellowes. He capriciously rewrote dialogue, invariably replacing concise phrases with labored ones. He took funny scenes and wrecked them, changed character motivations, and imitated Shakespeare in ways that inadvertently allowed us to perceive the chasm between his own ability and that of the man whose masterpiece he was destroying. These artistic crimes were compounded by the direction of Carlo Carlei, who was at a loss as to what to emphasize and had no idea how to direct the actors.
2. After Earth
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M. Night Shyamalan, a mainstay of these lists, continued to branch out in 2013, coming up with yet another way to make a really horrible movie. This time he took a scenario from Will Smith designed to showcase Smith’s son, Jaden, with the intention of making Jaden Smith a movie star. Entire months in 2013 went by more quickly than this movie. Next time, spare the public and just buy the kid a car.
3. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
How peculiar that Peter Jackson, who solidified his reputation by making three grand “Lord of the Rings” films, should turn against Tolkien with such bloated, disappointing work. Everything is done to stretch out the action and run out the clock, and so the fight scenes go on and on. Forget the orcs; Jackson is the one destroying Middle-earth.
4. The Lone Ranger
An action bloodbath made for a kid audience, this collaboration between Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer featured the scatological humor that kids love, plus scenes of an Indian tribe getting wiped out, a posse of rangers getting shot to death and an intimate interlude in which a man has his heart cut out. So this was a movie for the whole family – to avoid.
5. The To Do List
A teenage virgin, played by 29-year-old Aubrey Plaza – who doesn’t look a day over 28 – decides to have a full range of sexual experiences over the course of the summer, and so she makes a list and starts checking things off. This was a romantic comedy with neither comedy nor romance, but with a surprising meanness of spirit. Aside from the fact that the camera was on her, there was no reason to care whether she had sex or contracted smallpox, just so long as the movie ended somehow.
6. Smurfs 2
“The Smurfs” took an ugly turn in this sequel, which is full of torture and suffering. As The Chronicle’s pop culture critic, Peter Hartlaub, put it in his review, “Save the $20 and just take your kid into the backyard to pull the wings off flies, or burn ants with a magnifying glass.”
7. Let My People Go
Even if there were more competition, Mikael Buch’s film would still hold the record for worst-ever French film made partly in Finland. It’s the story of a gay Frenchman living in a small Finnish town who is given 200 euros; whereupon he goes back to Paris, mopes around and talks about how he wishes he weren’t Jewish. There was no real story, just empty gestures that were neither believable nor interesting.
8. Evil Dead
People in horror movies are notoriously stupid, but even by horror standards the characters in this one took the prize. In a house they’re renting, five brainiacs open a trap door, where they find 30 dead cats, strung up, and an open book of satanic incantations. So they do what anyone else would do – they decide it’s a nice cabin with a mildly inconvenient dead-cat problem, and they stay. The last half is nonstop gore. The goal is simply to make you sick. For example, a young woman saws her arm off. That’s entertainment.
9. The Hangover Part III
The third entry in this male-bonding-gone-bad series was an unfortunate mix of comedy too ugly to laugh at and action too joke-inflected to take seriously. It was nasty and little else, and after about 45 minutes, it was a struggle to stay awake.
10. A Good Day to Die Hard
This is the only truly bad “Die Hard” movie, with action scenes containing no tension or feeling, just quick cuts and jumpy, jittery photography. Even Willis’ wisecracks weren’t funny, and if you can’t write wisecracks for Willis, you have no business writing a “Die Hard” script.