We’ve tallied up the best of the year in the world of film, so now it’s time to take a look at the worst. A note on the rules: Films for this list are pretty much graded on a curve, with ambition, expectations and budget size weighing heavily on how poorly a film is received. So something with a lot of prestige that horribly misfires — like, say, “The Judge” — ranks higher than something that might be a worse film at face value, but we weren’t expecting a lot from. Size matters. It feels unfair to beat up on the likes of “Heaven is for Real” or “Vampire Academy,” and we all know how the Internet feels about “Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas” already, so no need beating that born-again dead horse anymore. Hey, speaking of horses…
It was a very close call, but Akiva Goldsman’s confounding, ridiculous adaptation of Mark Helprin’s novel wins this year by the nose of a magical flying horse. It’s part feel-good spiritual pabulum and part cheap bodice-ripper, with a dash of Will Smith playing a cool-cat Satan in a Hendrix T-shirt and yet another embarrassingly bad Russell Crowe performance.
The film that perhaps elicited the most apoplectic fury from me, this Kickstarter-backed vanity project helped cement our understanding of just how out of touch Zach Braff is. Braff writes, directs and stars as an out-of-work actor and father of two supported by his wife and his dying father who is mad that the world doesn’t provide for his needs more. The moral is that apparently even irredeemably selfish jerks have midlife crises.
Oh man, Seth MacFarlane. How quickly and expensively can one man squander the good will he built up with “Ted” and several years of cartoon mockery? This quickly and this expensively. A comedy western was a bad idea to begin with, what with the inevitable “Blazing Saddles” comparisons, but the resulting movie seems to suggest MacFarlane assumed that since he couldn’t beat the classic, he’d try to make as unfunny a comedy as possible instead. Hollywood oddsmakers might suggest that after “Cowboys & Aliens,” “The Lone Ranger” and this all flopped that modern audiences don’t dig westerns. No, they don’t dig bad westerns. There’s a difference.
Robert Rodriguez initially meant for their follow-up to 2005’s “Sin City” to come out almost immediately — like, the next year. But that’s the thing about intentions. So what happened to the uber-noir franchise extender during the intervening nine years? The project got stale, lifeless and monumentally un-fun. Like Jessica Alba’s sad, drunk stripper who keeps her clothes on, it’s a bad time no one wants to see.
Can we finally call time of death on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s attempt at a post-governorship movie career comeback? Or do we have to wait until next year’s “Terminator: Genisys”? Because this one, featuring Ahh-nuld as a tough-as-nails DEA agent trying to find the snitch in his tough-as-nails crew was just plain painful (as nails). Director David Ayer has said he likes to have his actors improvise dialogue, but maybe don’t do that when it’s Schwarzenegger in your movie?
Credit where credit is due: This one still isn’t as bad as the franchise’s second entry, “Revenge of the Fallen,” but that’s like saying gonorrhea isn’t as bad as syphilis. Plus, with this fourth — fourth! — entry, Michael Bay as now spent more than 10 hours telling this story. More than 10 hours! Even Peter Jackson would call that excessive.
Generic CGI action, too many subplots and some truly horrific dialogue made for one truly disappointing outing with Spidey. But hey, maybe it’s a proud expression of modern efficiency, since the new Spider-Man series got terrible a whole movie faster than the last one.
Sometimes a film has all the elements of a good movie and just misfires. The problem with this one was that it had all the elements of three or four good movies and couldn’t decide which one it wanted to be. “All of the above,” it turns out, was a terrible decision. I’d like to see Robert Downey Jr. just do a fast-paced John Grisham-style legal drama or a sleepy romance with Vera Farmiga, but I’ll pass on watching him clean up Robert Duvall’s poop.
Oh man, this movie. Jason Reitman’s ensemble look at These Kids Today, what with their Internets and Twitterings and such, was ham-fisted, lecturing and alarmist, with the added bonus of a surprisingly deep misogynistic streak. It’s basically the panicked web-phobic’s “Love Actually.”
I know, I know, it seems foolish to be critical of a Farrelly Brothers movie — especially a follow-up to the celebration of idiocy that was “Dumb and Dumber.” Yet this one still managed to grate. It was so painful, in fact, that my brain actually tried to force itself into unconsciousness to get out of watching it, which is saying something.
Call it an honorable mention, or just an inability to leave it at 10 films. In fairness, the third and final “Hobbit” movie is the least terrible of the franchise (and the shortest), but it’s still a galling reminder of how great Peter Jackson used to be. The imagination and skill that went in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy has been supplanted by rote, computerized dullness. It’s like watching someone else play a video game you’re not that interested in to begin with.
Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter: @nedrick