When Pauline Kael wrote “movies are so rarely great art, that if we can’t appreciate great trash, there is little reason for us to go,” she may as well have been describing some of the films on this list. Combining elements of high and lowbrow art with varying degrees of success, these ten titles make up for in verve, goofiness and style what they lack in depth.
Despite its tepid love story, this tale of a doomed civilization perched on the edge of a CGI volcano was the most unabashedly enjoyable sword-and-sandal movie of the year. Weightier than both Hercules adventures, Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Pompeii” took itself far less seriously than the Biblical epics “Noah” and “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” And while the 3D eruption of Mount Vesuvius was indeed stunning, it’s Kiefer Sutherland’s wonderfully hammy turn as a villainous Roman Senator that stole the show.
In a year that found scores of young adult novels making their way to movie screens, this adaptation of a bestselling YA series bombed at the box office, but offered more naughty attitude than all of the “Twilight” films combined. Helmed by the director of “Mean Girls,” “Vampire Academy” packed in too much unnecessary backstory, but a bright performance by newcomer Zoey Deutch and a self-aware script by the writer of “Heathers” gave it a snappy personality all its own.
“Into the Storm”
If you ever wondered what the late master of disaster Irwin Allen would’ve done with the found footage genre, look no further than this visually spectacular, albeit spectacularly shallow, tornado thriller. Emphasizing frighteningly realistic special effects over little things like character and plot, “Into the Storm” places viewers directly in the path of one rampaging twister after another. Though the filmmakers skimp on substance, there’s no denying their commitment to crafting thrilling set-pieces. Weather-related destruction never looked so good.
“No Good Deed”
Part home invasion chiller, part Lifetime drama, this story about a smooth-talking psycho who cons his way inside a woman’s house became a surprise sleeper thanks to the smart casting of Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson in the leads. Handsomely produced by hitmaker Will Packer, the film’s skillful blend of suspense and melodrama struck a chord with audiences eager for a grown-up thriller with a PG-13 rating.
“Step Up All In”
This lively entry in the now-3D dance series brings back the stars of the previous four installments (minus Channing Tatum, unfortunately) to compete in a glitzy Las Vegas hip-hop contest. With its bubblegum color scheme, EDM soundtrack and gravity-defying choreography, “Step Up All In” dazzles whenever the paper-thin characters stop talking and start moving.
A gloriously gory sick-joke of a movie, “Nurse 3D” embraces its exploitation lineage like a maniac embraces his (or in this case, her) victim. As the titular terror, model-turned-actress Paz de la Huerta gives the kind of full-bodied, and full-frontal, performance upon which grindhouse legends are made. Her go-for-broke insanity, coupled with the film’s joyfully sleazy set-pieces, makes this the most unhinged medical-themed slasher movie since “Dr. Giggles.”
While this year’s muddled monster-mash “I, Frankenstein” turned Mary Shelley’s classic novel into an undercooked “Underworld” knockoff, this Bram Stoker revamp was a far more successful horror update. Amid the expected cheese, Luke Evans brings a welcome dose of authority and Gothic sexuality to the role of Vlad the Impaler. Though its CGI battle scenes eventually overstay their welcome, “Dracula Untold” features enough gruesome action and deliciously silly mumbo-jumbo to keep hungry bloodsucker fans well fed.
“Dying of the Light”
Fans of iconoclastic filmmaker Paul Schrader had reason to feel guilty for simply watching the auteur’s latest movie. No stranger to controversy, the director famously disowned the CIA thriller when producers re-edited and rescored the completed film against his wishes. The result is a disjointed mess that somehow still retains enough of Schrader’s intriguing obsessions and icy dispassion to make it essential viewing for completists.
No less an authority than Martin Scorsese deemed the source novel unfilmable, but that didn’t stop writer-director-producer Akiva Goldsman from attempting it anyway. Perhaps he should have listened. With its wonky timeline, saccharine romance and below-average special effects, this preposterous story about demons, destiny and magical horses might be the most baffling studio release since “Zardoz.” And yet “Winter’s Tale” is the very definition of a guilty pleasure: a movie so absurd that you can’t help but admire it.
Though it covered well-trodden ground, this quirky thriller about a park ranger fighting for his life against a team of Canadian drug runners offered more old-school action than “The Expendables 3,” and for a fraction of the budget. Sporting an unfortunate head of shaggy red hair, Jean Claude Van Damme chewed the scenery as the leader of the Quebecois cartel. Spouting nonstop non sequiturs about veganism and sustainable living, Van Damme’s villain was one of the most memorable movie baddies of the year.