The Guilty Pleasure Films of 2013

[14 January 2014]

By PopMatters Staff

Sometimes, a bad movie inspires a bit of unnatural love. In other instances, films overlooked by the masses make it into our personal preferences. Whatever the case is here, we have several examples of efforts we feel bad for enjoying, but love nonetheless.

 


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John Dies at the End

Director: Don Coscarelli
Cast: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman, Doug Jones, Daniel Roebuck

15

John Dies at the End
Magnet Releasing


With its collection of oddball characters and reliance on snark over scares, John Dies at the End is hipster horror at its most innocuous. This “too cool for school” scary movie just loves to wallow in the weirdness that Coscarelli and his collection of F/X techs can come up with. There are mutant spiders, slugs with rows of gnarly teeth, and a last act monster made up of goo, human memories, and one large evil eye. In between, we get decapitation, vivisection, zombified limbs, and exploding eyeballs. This is not some hyperactive bloodbath, however. While gory and gruesome, much of this movie’s messier bits are in service of something hilarious, not horrifying. Bill Gibron

 


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Oblivion

Director: Joseph Kosinski
Cast: Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Morgan Freeman, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo

14

Oblivion
Universal

The guilt is optional in Tom Cruise’s latest (as long as you’re strictly considering the movie and not giving money to a Scientologist), a science fiction film prettier than most, with better production design, and even a touch smarter. What pulls Oblivion down from the ranks of the average is its ending. It’s simply not… logical. Like I said in my review, director Joseph Kosinski seems satisfied pounding a square peg into a round hole when it comes to dealing with his characters emotional intelligence. This digression from logic makes it impossible to elevate Oblivion above “visually impressive”, but it doesn’t make watching Tom Cruise give it his all any less fun. Ben Travers

 


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21 and Over

Director: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Cast: Justin Chon, Miles Teller, Skylar Astin, Sarah Wright

13

21 and Over
Relativity Media


Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) is turning 21 years old, and if his friends have any say in the matter, he’s going to get drunk. This is the premise for the absurdly over-the-top 21 & Over, a comedy that I should’ve walked out on within the first 20 minutes. Instead, I stayed to the end, and this remains the greatest movie-going decision of my life. If my peers discovered that I developed a deep admiration for this film, they’d take away my film studies degrees and put me out to pasture. They’d be completely justified. However, something draws me to the onscreen shenanigans, and each time I watch the film, I think of how quickly youth passes us by, and how I wanted nothing more than to make those crazy college nights last forever. Call me sentimental, but 21 & Over is not simply a film about partying, it’s a film about life. There’s a Jeff Chang in all of us. Jon Lisi

 


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The Purge

Director: James DeMonaco
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield, Tony Oller, Arija Bareikis

12

The Purge
Universal


Sure the star is Ethan Hawke, who seems to take on the worst projects possible to fund his theater work, and both Michael Bay and the Paranormal Activity guys produced it. But this exercise in home-invasion melodrama (the future government has decreed an annual 12-hour period where all crime is legal) has a fizzy political subtext as potent as anything in horror since The Night of the Living Dead. As Hawke tries to keep his family alive, a black man comes to the door, chased by a kill-squad of Tea Party-like white kids looking to use the Purge to rid the city of undesirables. Things go downhill once the house’s security is breached, but this is the rare genre film that doesn’t try to hide its message. Chris Barsanti

 


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No One Lives

Director: Ryuhei Kitamura
Cast: Luke Evans, Adelaide Clemens, Lee Tergesen, Laura Ramsey, Derek Magyar, Beau Knapp, America Olivo, Brodus Clay, Lindsey Shaw

11

No One Lives
Anchor Bay


We don’t come to a movie like No One Lives hoping for the most rational and realistic treatment of spree killer psychology ever set to celluloid. Instead, we want to see bags of body parts, decapitated heads, and bullets turning brains into mush, and in that regard, the movie manages quite well. Unlike other WWE product which seems content to let its company talent turn things tedious, Brodus Clay’s appearance could be considered a cameo, if that, and by hiring Kitamura, the suits behind the scenes have at least one eye on something other than the basic bottom line. You may not discover its vein draining delights in your local Cineplex, but once it hits the stream, give this goofy gorefest a try. Hopefully, Driver and his death dealing dandy persona will find a home alongside other homicidal heroes like Freddy, Jason, and Michael. For blood soaked brutality alone, he fits right in. Bill Gibron

10 - 6


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The Last Stand

Director: Kim Ji-woon
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Rodrigo Santoro, Luis Guzmán, Jaimie Alexander, Eduardo Noriega, Peter Stormare, Zach Gilford, Génesis Rodríguez

10

The Last Stand
Lionsgate

In The Last Stand, directed by Kim Jee-Woon, Forest Whitaker appears in the thankless role of FBI Agent John Bannister and provides a sort of pitch for the movie itself. He exclaims, “I’ve got a psychopath in a Batmobile. How do I stop that?” The answer, of course, is Arnold Schwarzenegger in his return to a lead role in an action film. Here he’s Sherriff Ray Owens, who has settled in a small Arizona town after experiencing hard-core law enforcement feats in Los Angeles. The structure of the screenplay is predictable, as the figure of peaceful retirement is called back into action. But as an action film, The Last Stand is quite clever, referring to classics such as Vanishing Point, The Gauntlet, and other 1970s precedents that influenced Schwarzenegger’s original decade of action star supremacy in the 1980s.

With Johnny Knoxville and Luis Guzman around for comic relief, The Last Stand primes the viewer for any number of showdown scenarios between the forces of good and the unambiguously evil villain played by Eduardo Noriega in a Corvette ZR1. The late second act features the most memorable town square shootout this side of Hot Fuzz. But in the end, it is Sherriff Owens alone—no comic sidekicks, and no band of Expendables—who must stop the psychopath. As he delivers his best line in the film, “My honor is not for sale,” Schwarzenegger and Sherriff Owens become one. He is the hero we need, redeemed from near-retirement to defend the American (Action Movie) way. Thomas Britt

 


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This Is the End

Director: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Cast: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, Emma Watson

9

This Is the End
Columbia Pictures


Like all other collaborations between Seth Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg (who also directed, this time around), This Is the End is more than what it seems. Just like Superbad was more than a teen comedy and Pineapple Express was more than a stoner farce, this undeniably funny film is really an examination of fame and the audience’s preconceived notions over the particulars of personal celebrity—with a little bit of Revelations mixed it for added anarchy. Well made and constantly on target, Rogen and Goldberg want to take down the entire Brat Pack/Next Big Thing ideal and filter it through the standard array of dick and fart jokes. Yes, this is another example of how penises and poop become instant one liners, but because of the premise, and how it is presented, we don’t mind the descent into toilet humor. As a matter of fact, we relish it. Bill Gibron

 


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Olympus Has Fallen

Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Cole Hauser, Finley Jacobsen, Ashley Judd

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Olympus Had Fallen
Studio


There is a 15-minute sequence in Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen that features an air attack, a ground attack, an invasion of the White House, and acts of terror in a supposedly secure bunker. It’s a sequence that stokes the “imagination of disaster” by rendering each act of violence as a moment of life-altering destruction. Much of what follows is entertaining in generic action movie terms: Gerard Butler steps gamely into the John McClane template, children are saved, bad guys are vanquished, and national security is restored. Yet nothing else in the film has the staying power of the attack sequence. The guilty pleasure in this film comes from the incongruity of being entertained and achieving escapism within a film that has created palpable dread. Thomas Britt

 


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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Director: Ben Stiller
Cast: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Sean Penn

7

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
20th Century Fox

For those fans of the Danny Kaye adaptation of James Thurber’s beloved short story, there is no need to worry. This take on the material is nothing like the wistful whimsy showcased in either effort. Instead, Ben Stiller has crafted a bellwether for the blasé, a hipster Gospel screed explaining that life doesn’t have to be about unfilled career, a lacking love life, or an insular world view. Instead, with a little courage, and a lot of Red Bull inspired music montages, you too can become a citizen of the globe and capture the girl of your dreams. If I was 20 years younger, this movie would have been my Bible. Today, it’s merely a means of living vicariously through a life I never had and never will.  Bill Gibron

 


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Safe Haven

Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Cast: Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, David Lyons, Cobie Smulders

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Safe Haven
Studio


If anyone embodies the phrase “guilty pleasure”, it’s Nicholas Sparks. The man’s been behind some of the all time great guilty pleasure books and their subsequent film interpretations, especially if you’re a sucker for romance. Well, movie romance. Ok, ok. Fake, schmaltzy, twist-heavy movie romance. If he didn’t write them, odds are someone was trying to copy his angle (coughTheVowcough). But I digress. This year’s Sparks entry is perhaps his most ridiculous melodrama yet, and thusly the one carrying the most guilt for those who dare admit to enjoying it. What makes it appealing? Like most Sparks’ work, Safe Haven is made for two kinds of people: love-hungry imbeciles and snarky joke-makers. Lucky for some us, we’re one and the same. Ben Travers

5 - 1


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Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa

Director: Jeff Tremaine
Cast: Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll

5

Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa
Paramount

When you pay to see Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, you know what you’re getting into. This time around, Knoxville is 86-year-old Irving Zisman, a vulgar senior citizen who takes a road trip with his eight-year-old grandson, Billy. This sets the film up for a series of hilariously inappropriate encounters where Zisman wreaks havoc upon the lives of strangers and acts as a terrible influence in front of his grandson. In one scene, Zisman falls onto a wedding cake, and it’s so stupid, and so bad, but I couldn’t control myself. I laughed and laughed, and when I thought about that scene the next day, I laughed some more. Maybe this means that I, too, am a jackass, but given that the film grossed over $100 million worldwide, I have a feeling that I’m not the only one. Jon Lisi

 


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The Canyons

Director: Paul Schrader
Cast: Lindsay Lohan, James Deen, Nolan Funk, Amanda Brooks

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The Canyons
IFC Films


A flat-as-ever Bret Easton Ellis provided the screenplay for this gloriously all-over-the-place story about a trust-fund kid (porn-star James Deen) who’s dabbling in film producing when he’s not playing sadistic games with his girlfriend (Lindsay Lohan), who he’s pretty sure is having an affair. If you come to it with the right point of view, this is something of an exhausted masterpiece, director Paul Schrader’s grand statement on the end of cinema (all those inserted shots of boarded-up movie theaters) married with a tarty Less Than Zero scenario about soulless Hollywood dead-enders. Chris Barsanti

 


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The Counselor

Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz

3

The Counselor
20th Century Fox


Ridley Scott’s The Counselor is no comedy, but as its bleak philosophy rolls on, it is difficult not to think of Woody Allen’s quote about “life [being] divided into the horrible and the miserable.” Tony Scott’s suicide occurred during the production of the film. While it isn’t possible to measure the specific effect(s) of that event on his brother’s execution of Cormac McCarthy’s screenplay, the film that resulted is one that features nary a high road.

Full of toxic substances, scenes, and characters, The Counselor is a film in which the vices of the world are seductive and all-consuming. Even an innocent character, Penélope Cruz’ “Laura”, is drawn into the maelstrom of the criminals surrounding her. The Counselor is a film that confirms the worst suspicions of the nature of humankind. It sees us as fallen, and fallen to forever be. Javier Bardem’s “Reiner” is complicit in the criminality but increasingly bemused by the insanity that fuels it. He doesn’t want to believe the degree to which the animal instinct exists in man. He’s a spectator, and we watch him, together wondering when chaos officially took over and questioning how we might escape it. Thomas Britt

 


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Sharknado

Director: Anthony C. Ferrante
Cast: Tara Reid, Ian Ziering, John Heard

2

Sharknado
The Asylum


It’s unfortunate, really. Sharkando could have been Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus good, a brain-frying festival of cinematic atrocities force fed through a satiric sieve and given just enough CG polish to keep us from complaining. It could also have acknowledged its outright awfulness and just kept plugging away. Instead, it seems to want to have its kitschy cake and swallow it whole, too. Perhaps when it finally makes its way to DVD, excised blood and gore reinserted and intact, it will make more sense, either as a lark, a novelty, or a knowing lampoon. As it stands, Sharknado is decent but dumb, never wicked enough to have us winking along with it, never bonkers enough to have us offering up the whole “so bad, it’s good” ideal. Unlike The Room or Birdemic, it’s all attempt and very little follow through. Bill Gibron

 


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The Lone Ranger

Director: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner\, Tom Wilkinson, Barry Pepper, James Badge Dale, Helena Bonham Carter

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The Lone Ranger
Walt Disney Studios

Adapting a cumbersomely old-fashioned cowboys-and-Indians property into a post-colonial atonement for the crimes of Caucasian-American settlement of the West and into an action-packed summer popcorn flick was always going to be an ambitious folly of massive proportions. Throw in Johnny Depp in redface as a character synonymous with the unsettling “noble savage” archetype of Native Americans and you’re baiting disaster to take a swing at your kisser. The Lone Ranger nonetheless displays feverish creativity and self-reflexive intelligence in considerable amounts. It’s pretty fun at key moments (especially its train sequences) while also addressing (and redressing) some of the central myths fed into the cultural discourse by classic Hollywood Westerns. The critical and popular consensus suggested otherwise, but sometimes the consensus needs to be buried up to its neck in the desert and left to the scorpions. Ross Langager

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/177674-the-guilty-pleasure-films-of-2013/