The worst film performances of 2023

Yes, some badly executed accents – both Italian and Texan – may transport you to a world of poor imagination

Published December 29, 2023 3:00PM (EST)

Timothée Chalamet in “Wonka” (Warner Bros. Entertainment)
Timothée Chalamet in “Wonka” (Warner Bros. Entertainment)

It’s time once again for the 2023 acting hall of shame — the year’s most wrongheaded performances by talented people. 

A bad performance is often too earnest or trying too hard. There is either no feeling or way too much. The actor doesn’t connect with the material or their costars. Viewers should be moved by a performance – not bored or irritated. The actors on this list generate frustration because they often over-emoted.

Good actors can make bad movies, but still deliver for their fans. Jane Fonda made a trio of mediocre comedies this year – “Book Club: The Next Chapter,” “80 For Brady” and “Moving On” – but she plays to her strengths. Likewise, “Plane” was an ordinary action movie featuring Gerard Butler taking charge, kicking a** and saving lives — which is all he ever really needs to do on screen. See also: “Kandahar.” 

In contrast, it is fun to see actors take chances and have them pay off. Zac Efron and Gael Garcia Bernal both succeeded wildly with their roles as wrestlers in “The Iron Claw” and “Cassandro,” respectively. Simon Rex also continues to impress playing extreme characters this year, from a neo-Nazi in “The Sweet East” to a gay necrophiliac in “Down Low.” 

But the actors on this list either didn’t take chances — and should have — or took one that failed spectacularly. Here is a rundown of this year’s worst acting.

FerrariShailene Woodley as Lina Lardi in "Ferrari" (Photo credit Lorenzo Sisti/Neon)
Avid readers of this annual column may be pleased (or disappointed) that Adam Driver failed to place this year after being (dis)honored in the past for “Annette,” “House of Gucci” and “White Noise.” Alas, his performance as the title character, Enzo Ferrari, is not as strong as it might have been. But it was better than Shailene Woodley's whose performance is easily the weakest link in this mediocre film. As Enzo’s mistress, Lina, Woodley’s flimsy accent is only one concern. (Were it not for her slicing ravioli, viewers might not know she is Italian.)
The bigger issue is that she does not have much to do, and she doesn’t do it well. Lina is more wishy-washy than determined in her efforts to get Enzo to recognize their son. In contrast, Penélope Cruz as Enzo’s long-suffering wife, is feisty. Even in a flashback where Lina tells Enzo she is pregnant, she might as well be asking her lover to pass the salt; she seems neither happy nor troubled by this fact. Her lack of passion does make viewers wonder what Enzo sees in her, but it also makes folks wonder why director Michael Mann cast Woodley.
Paul Mescal and Saoirse Ronan in “Foe”
FOEPaul Mescal and Saoirse Ronan in "FOE" (Courtesy of Amazon)
Sometimes good actors are sabotaged by a bad script, and that is certainly the case with the enervating “Foe,” Garth Davis’ pretention sci-fi drama about Hen (Saoirse Ronan) and Junior (Paul Mescal), a Midwestern couple in 2065. When Terrance (Aaron Pierre) arrives at their farm saying that Junior has been selected to go live in space, there is a plan to create a “husband” for Hen so she won’t be alone. Mescal’s performance is ungraceful. He utters lines like, “Of course, I’m happy,” with little enthusiasm. Likewise, Ronan’s comment, “I worry that the rain will never come,” expresses no real concern. The actors are more blank than dynamic here. Mescal gets a double role, but he doesn’t make either Junior or his double distinguished. (Though he does get naked more than a few times.) As Junior goes mad, Mescal rages about spit, snot and scum, while Ronan plays the piano broodingly, before taking her buried emotional pain out on the keys. It is all very risible and will make viewers wonder who replaced these terrific actors with robots?
Anthony Hopkins in “Freud’s Last Session”
Freud's Last SessionAnthony Hopkins in “Freud’s Last Session” (Courtesy of Sony Classics)
This stuffy chamber drama features an insufferable humble-bragging performance by Hopkins as Sigmund Freud. The two-time Oscar winner never makes viewers think for one second that he is the famed Jewish founder of psychoanalysis. Hopkins “mimics” Freud when he should disappear into the character. The actor’s trademark tics, his hesitations and mannerisms — that slight chuckle, that deliberate enunciation — are grating as he verbally spars with C.S. Lewis (a starchy Matthew Goode) about God. The stagey exchanges should have some friction, but Hopkins portrays Freud as pompous. His superiority dominates every scene, generating indignation, not respect from Lewis, and eye-rolling from viewers. Hopkins comes off as hammy as he laughs at his own jokes or pontificates about the Greek God Momus or admonishes Lewis for his ignorance. But Hopkins' performance is most scenery-chewing when he rails about wishing his cancer had eaten into his brain, “So that I could hallucinate God and seek my bloody vengeance on him.” It is as absurd as this film is lousy.
Channing Tatum in “Magic Mike’s Last Dance”
Magic Mike's Last DanceChanning Tatum in “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” (Warner Bros. Discovery)
There sure were diminishing returns for this third entry in the series about exotic dancer Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) based on the actor’s past — and not just because the hunky actor never gets nekkid. Tatum oddly lacks his typical charisma here, and while he still has moves, his lap dance for Maxandra (Salma Hayek) is hardly sexy; it’s more like a gymnastics routine.
Tatum seems to be going through the motions in this entry, which is why “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” doesn’t excite. He can’t even generate a laugh out when he (jokingly) responds, “Who?” when asked if he knows Art Basel in Miami. Hired to put on a show at Maxandra’s London theater, Mike stages a climactic dance on stage in the rain. It’s emblematic of Tatum’s lackluster performance — all wet.
Liam Neeson in “Marlowe”
MarloweLiam Neeson in “Marlowe” (Open Road Films)
Neeson’s lazy performance as Raymond Chandler’s famed Philip Marlowe is a prime example of what could have been. The Irish actor could actually be a good fit for the Los Angeles private detective, but in director Neil Jordan’s version, Neeson is dead on arrival.
One issue is that the actor speaks his every line of dialogue — be it a flinty voiceover, a threat, or a wisecrack — in an emotionless monotone. Neeson may be suggesting Marlowe’s jaded cynicism, but it comes across as soft-boiled when it should be hard. His quizzical looks as he encounters a knotty mystery involving an heiress (Diane Kruger) are the same ones viewers may have on their own faces while watching Neeson sleepwalk through this head-scratching film. Marlowe is said to detect things, but Neeson can’t figure out how to play this role.
Katie Holmes in “Rare Objects”
Rare ObjectsKatie Holmes in “Rare Objects” (IFC FILMS)
Maybe it was because she was focused on directing this sentimental adaptation of Kathleen Tessaro’s novel that Holmes gives an inferior supporting performance as Diana, a wealthy young woman with mental health issues who befriends Benita (Julia Mayorga). Watching Diana trying to mask her pain with alcohol and drugs at lunch or a party is uncomfortable, not because of her issues, but because Holmes needlessly overacts. She tries too hard to project fun or despair as Diana and does neither convincingly. It becomes cringy to watch as she spirals downward. It also feels like Holmes is recycling the work she did in 2015’s “Touched by Fire,” where she played bipolar. Holmes gets a good performance out of newcomer Mayorga, but she should have cast someone else as Diana.
Uma Thurman in “Red White & Royal Blue”
Red, White & Royal BlueUma Thurman in “Red, White & Royal Blue" (Courtesy of Amazon Prime)
Sometimes a performance is so bad it’s actually great. And that’s the case with Uma Thurman’s President Ellen Claremont in this fabulous adaptation of Casey McQuiston’s best-selling romance. Thurman’s accent is both the key to her performance and her downfall. It’s a Texas twang that sounds like she is lisping and slurring her words at the same time, which makes Thurman sound more drunk than presidential, especially when Ellen insists, “What I need is some good old-fashioned damage control.” (Yes, Uma! You do!)
Her speech about being realistic versus idealistic is a howler, but even her presidential speeches are too flamboyant. Thurman delivers the rare bad performance that works because she goes all in, and no one checks her — maybe because she is playing the President? Still, it's hard not to wonder what Connie Britton, the actor whom McQuiston’s envisioned for the role, would have done with it.

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Jack Harlow in “White Men Can’t Jump
White Men Can't JumpJack Harlow and Sinqua Walls in "White Men Can't Jump" (20th Century Studios)
In his film debut, an uneven remake of the 1992 classic sports comedy, rapper Jack Harlow does not bring his A game. Nor does he provide much amusement as Jeremy, a basketball hustler hoping to score. The miscast Harlow should be a charming goofball con artist who has some mystery about him — is he for real? Instead, he is out of his league, and just about as dumb as he pretends to be. Harlow’s lame performance — he can’t even trash-talk well — drags the film down. Moreover, he doesn’t have much chemistry with his genial costar, Sinqua Wells, who nobly suffers through Jeremy’s race-baiting remarks. Harlow, stick to your day job.
WonkaTimothée Chalamet in “Wonka” (Warner Bros. Entertainment)
Chalamet doesn’t just sing off-key in this musical origin story about the famed fictional chocolatier, he is just off. Wonka is magic and the character requires a dash of deviousness (see Gene Wilder, or even Johnny Depp), but Chalamet is wholly uninspired. He mugs for the camera to overcompensate for his lack of comic timing. His performance is all forced whimsy. While he can’t carry a tune, Chalamet leaves the rest of the supporting cast, which includes Olivia Colman, Hugh Grant, even Rowan Atkinson, to carry the film. “Wonka” ultimately showcases Chalamet as the hard, inedible center in the middle of this otherwise gooey confection.

By Gary M. Kramer

Gary M. Kramer is a writer and film critic based in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter.

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Best Of 2023 List Movies Timothee Chalamet Uma Thurman