First the good, and now the bad.
If I’ve let you down by not seeing enough bad films this year, I apologize. I’ll do better (or worse) next time.
But let me tell you, even if there was no film this year which approached the exquisite shittiness of Dancin’ – It’s On!, there was plenty to grouse about.
The films will be listed in alphabetical order.
- Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
The degree to which Warner Brothers and D.C. shit the bed this year is really quite impressive. I’ve already spent several thousand words breaking down just what a catastro-fuck this film is, but believe me, I could spend another thousand doing so right now if I was so inclined. But really, I only need one word:
- Collateral Beauty
I maintain there’s a decent film in here somewhere. It’s buried fairly deep, underneath the contrivances of the narrative and the impressive cast doing absolutely nothing to advance their careers. No one does so badly as to actively damage their future prospects, but watching the film you have to at least feel for Keira Knightley, whose embarassment and frustration are palpable. In any case, this would’ve been merely a mediocre film were it not for the two revelations which come in its final minutes, one of which is asinine and unnecessary, and the other of which is asinine, unnecessary, and takes our protagonist from being merely contrived to actively repellent. What Will Smith has been thinking lately is really beyond me.
- Gods of Egypt
Spend $140 million to make an absurd, whitewashed Clash of the Titans knock-off with terrible acting, idiotic writing, and shockingly uneven CGI: shame on you.
Earn $150 million at the worldwide box-office, making your ridiculous film, if not immediately profitable, not enough of a disaster to serve as a warning to other filmmakers with too much money and too little sense: shame on us.
- Hardcore Henry
Fuck this movie. This isn’t the worst film of the year, but I honestly hated it more than any other. It’s just an ugly, messy, incoherent, moderately misogynistic and homophobic, and totally un-fun trainwreck. And it’s entirely shot (shittily, I might add) from the POV of the non-entity protagonist, making it nauseating on top of all its other faults. Sharlto Copley is at least enjoyable to watch, and I do have to give the filmmakers some credit for sticking completely to their gimmick, but that’s all the good I can say about this accursed film.
- Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party
This might be the outright worst film of the year. And I’m not even the biggest Hillary fan out there. But anyone who buys what Dinesh D’Souza is selling should really step back and reconsider their choices. He treats as revelation (illustrated by his repeatedly sneaking into the basements of DNC facilities) facts which could be found with a Google search, and trots out as experts people who conveniently say exactly what he wants to hear. And, of course, there are the historical re-enactments: Woodrow Wilson watching a glowing mounted Klansman literally leap out of the screen while viewing The Birth of a Nation, or young Hillary literally cackling like a witch while watching Nixon on TV. They’re at least amusing, which is more than can be said for the rest of the film. Michael Moore may have his own agendas, but he’s fun to watch; D’Souza, on the other hand, is about as charismatic as a dead log. In the end, it’s a boring, factually dubious muddle – and now only of historical interest.
- The Legend of Tarzan®
I’m amazed this actually made money. (It nearly doubled its budget at the box-office, which should get it most of the way towards profitability.) It’s just a lifeless, forgettable slog, with Alexander Skarsgård bringing little to the title role, and Christoph Waltz sleepwalking through yet another cookie-cutter villainous turn. The action scenes are solid enough, and Samuel L. Jackson brings a little campy fun to the table, but between the dodgy editing, bad writing, and dubious attempt to combine the real-life tragedy of the Congo Free State and Hollywood fantasy-thrills (this isn’t exactly Django Unchained we’re talking about), it falls mostly very flat.
- Live By Night
What a drag, in every sense of the word. This film had no excuse being this boring – Argo had quite a few issues, but tedium wasn’t one of them. Then again, that film was all about urgency, about racing against time to save lives. There’s no such sense of urgency here, not just because the story covers many years, but because the protagonist isn’t working towards much a goal beyond making money. Oh, there’s a bit of a revenge aspect in there, but the film more or less forgets it partway through and ignores it until the end, when it’s dispensed with so indifferently it’s actually played for humor – only the viewer will likely be too weary to laugh. The lack of momentum might be forgivable if the characters and situations were interesting, but the material is a pretty generic 20s crime saga, handsomely but dully produced. Elle Fanning’s subplot as a Hollywood hopeful turned heroin addict turned evangelist would make a compelling movie on its own, but here it stands as a sad reminder of what this film could’ve been.
- Mr. Church
People actually thought this would be good. People actually thought Eddie Murphy might get an Oscar nomination for this. (He did manage a Satellite Award nomination, but nothing more.) Well, it’s definitely not good. And he’s solid – certainly better than the film deserves – but the material doesn’t really allow him to be great. The story (a true one, apparently), isn’t especially interesting, but what really kills it is that it’s told from the vantage of Charlie (Britt Robertson), who begins as a mean-spirited child (who treats Mr. Church abhorrently), and doesn’t mature into anything more than a dull cipher. Mr. Church, for his part, is saintly until the script needs him to be otherwise, his drunken mutterings being just expository enough to hint at a backstory the film is ultimately too concerned with its bland protagonist to explore. Maybe it’s not really a bad film, but it is aggressively mediocre.
- Suicide Squad
Do I even need to say why this is here? Don’t we all know how terrible this was? The first act alone would put it here – it’s so incoherent you have to ask how the studio ever signed off on its release. Of course, it was largely their fault – after the critical ravaging of Batman v. Superman, they not only ordered reshoots, they brought in trailer editors to take a whack at whatever the hell it was David Ayer concocted. And, if I’m remembering correctly, they also use Ayer’s own editing to some degree, meaning that the film as released is an ungainly mishmash of competing visions. That the trailers were deliberately misleading, suggesting a much greater role for Jared Leto’s much-hyped (and very underwhelming) Joker, is just the cherry on top. Granted, the film doesn’t seem to have been very good to begin with; it has a generic villain posing a generic threat, an undercooked plot, and enough misguided edginess, racism, and misogyny to make it distasteful on top of being incompetent. Someday the D.C. Cinematic Universe will make for a fascinating case study, though whether it achieves a measure of redemption with Wonder Woman and/or Justice League remains to be seen.
- Yoga Hosers
You can tell me Kevin Smith made this movie mostly to work with his daughter Harley Quinn, and to give her career a boost. And I can tell you he’d have done her a favor not to. Actually, she and Lily-Rose Depp (Johnny’s daughter) have a decent screen presence and make an engaging team. But the film they’re in is so bad, it undoes any goodwill they generate. Tusk worked fairly well because it grounded the quirky humor with a solid horror-film premise. This has no such grounding – it’s just aimless quirkiness and wackiness, and it’s not much fun at all. The Canadian jokes are painfully stupid, and there’s a ton of them; for a film that doesn’t bother much with character development or narrative logic, it is extremely dedicated to its half-assed Canadian accents and cutesy flourishes. Aside from the minor history lesson about Canadian Nazism in the 30s, there’s not much of value here, just a lot of nonsensical shenanigans (and Johnny Depp reprising his role as Guy LaPointe, which is at least good for a chuckle or too). Also, the way Harley Quinn is costumed and shot…yeah, kinda fucking creepy.
- Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – It could’ve been really good, but the approach was all wrong. The material is essentially satirical, but Lee only realized that in fits and starts; he got too caught up with the 120-fps gimmick and a bunch of other gimmicks that didn’t really pan out. Not a bad film, but a fundamentally misguided one.
- Captain Fantastic – Sure, Viggo Mortensen does a decent job here (though I don’t think he really merited an Oscar nomination). But so much about this film didn’t work for me at all. It feels like the kind of anti-establishment humor that was in vogue in the late 60s. And it goes totally haywire in the last 20 minutes (spoiler alert: this movie has actual graverobbing). So yeah, you might like it, but it was not my cup of tea at all.
- Klown Forever – It’s mostly just your average gross-out bro humor, just in Danish. And it has some chuckles. But there are a couple of points where it crosses the line into being actively distasteful, which got it low enough to where it made the list.
- Midnight Special – Most of the 11-20 films this year are more seriously flawed than truly bad. Like this. They tried to be ambiguous and thought-provoking by not explaining much, but they went too far with it, leaving you with a film where it’s hard to really be invested in the characters or story because they’re so underdeveloped. At least Michael Shannon gives a reliably fine performance.
- Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Why is Tim Burton even bothering anymore? This is just Burton-by-the-numbers. It’s not without its high points (Terence Stamp is always worth watching), but I really can’t imagine anyone is going to be cherishing this film in the years to come. And I have to ask once again: how many people didn’t bother seeing it because they couldn’t pronounce “Peregrine”?
- Money Monster – It’s just a preachy version of The Big Short, only with Jack O’Connell doing a terrible New York accent and a subplot involving erectile-dysfunction cream, which will be my go-to example for unnecessary/detrimental subplots for quite some time to come.
- Nine Lives – The fact this wasn’t bad enough to make the main list is an achievement in of itself. It’s not good or anything, but it’s inoffensive, and the cat is cute. I’m still not sure why Kevin Spacey agreed to make it, but I was expecting a travesty and got mediocrity.
- Passengers – The Oscar nominations for the sets and score were fairly well deserved. And there’s a worthy premise at the center of it. But they tried to make a romance out of it, and to build a romance on such a gross deception (and one which essentially dooms the other party) is an uphill battle, to say the least. So of course, after a lot of generic suspense and sci-fi action, they wrap things up in truly mind-boggling fashion, with one of the most useless cameos in recent memory on top of it. Also, Jennifer Lawrence is fucking awful here, and her character is an awful writer, despite what the film tells us. (Chris Pratt isn’t as bad, but his acting abilities don’t fill out the complexities of the character.)
- The Sea of Trees – This wasn’t as bad as I’d heard. Yeah, the final twist is dumb (and there’s a twist preceding it which is even dumber – it’s so incredibly arbitrary you wonder if it was meant as satire), but McConaughey gives a solid performance and there’s some decent cinematography. Watanabe and Watts have comparatively little to do but prop up McConaughey’s journey, however, and given how unremarkable that journey is, it makes the whole thing feel like kind of a waste.
- Too Late – John Hawkes’ performance is superb. No lie, it’s one of the best lead-actor turns of the year. The rest of the film, though, isn’t great; it’s the kind of faux-Tarantino pretentiousness that went out of fashion 15 years ago, with a heaping helping of objectified women on top of it. Yeah, it was nice they shot it in 35mm, and I would love to run that drive-in/diner/boxing ring operation, but take away the Hawkes performance and there’s not a whole lot worth remembering here.
And tomorrow, I announce the nominations for my 6th Annual Film Awards.