Friday, February 3, 2017

2016 Year End Report: Most Disappointing Films

In many ways, doing my list of the year’s most disappointing films is more depressing than doing my list of the worst films – it’s preferable to see an out-and-out awful movie than one you had high hopes for, end up being only mediocre – or even average. But that’s what these films are.
Some that I considered for the top 10 most disappointing include: The Accountant (Gavin O’Connor) disappointed me because, as an accountant, I wanted a great guilty pleasure, and it didn’t deliver. Aquarius (Kleber Mendonca Filho) is by no means a bad film, but considering how much I loved his last film, Neighboring Sounds, was kind of a letdown. Blair Witch (Adam Wingard) is okay, but as both a sequel to such an innovative film, AND an Adam Wingard/Simon Barrett collaboration, following You’re Next and The Guest, Blair Witch is a little bit of a letdown. Chevalier (Athina Rachel Tsangari) is Tsangari’s follow-up to her wonderfully weird Attenberg, but it feels like a good idea in search of a movie. Dog Eat Dog (Paul Schrader) is another not very good film from a once very good filmmaker. Independence Day: Resurgence (Roland Emmerich) is a film I never expected to be a masterpiece, considering the original, but it damn well should have been a fun, B-movie – and it wasn’t even close. Live by Night (Ben Affleck) is Affleck’s weakest as a director – by far – and capped off a pretty bad disappointing year for him. Louder Than Bombs (Joachim Trier) is a dour, family drama – whose least interesting character is its central one, and a big comedown for Trier, following Oslo, August 31. Maggie’s Plan (Rebecca Miller) was Miller’s first film is a number of years – and her first comedy – and it’s a letdown for this talented, distinctive writer/director. I liked Rules Don’t Apply (Warren Beatty) but for the first film the legendary actor/director made in 18 years, it didn’t meet expectations. Tale of Tales (Matteo Garrone) completed Garrone’s evolution into an out and out fantasy filmmaker – but did so in a fairly uninteresting, and boring way. 31 (Rob Zombie) is the second film in a row from Zombie that doesn’t live up to his earlier potential in the genre. Triple 9 (John Hillcoat) is completely forgettable – which for the director of The Proposition and The Road, is a disappointment. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (Glenn Ficarra & John Requa) really should be a knock-out – Tina Fey as a report embedded in Afghanistan – but the result is a fairly average, fairly forgettable film – if not an unpleasant way to pass a couple of hours. X-Men: Apocalypse (Bryan Singer) is one of the worst movies in what has mainly been a fairly consistent franchise. Zoolander 2 (Ben Stiller) was the long awaited for sequel to the ingeniously dumb 2001 comedy – but this one is just plain stupid and unfunny.

10. Mascots (Christopher Guest)
No one can realistically argue that Christopher Guest is not a comic genius. The director and writer of great films like Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and A Might Wind (not to mention, writing Spinal Tap) is back for the first time in a decade with this spoof of mascots at an annual competition for them. Many of Guest’s favorites are back – but Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara are sorely, sorely missed- and the results are, well, okay I guess. It’s not that the film is bad – the first half is rather promising, and has some good moments. When we get to the competition itself, it’s not bad, but I don’t think really taps into what Guest does best. In short, Mascots is a perfectly adequate comedy – pleasant, but forgettable. When you‘re used to him making comic masterpieces, that means it’s disappointing.
9. Money Monster (Jodie Foster)
I think Jodie Foster is a fine director – although her TV work (on shows like Orange is the New Black) does more to bolster that claim than her film work. Still, I would gladly have taken a film as flawed, but memorable as her last – The Beaver – with Mel Gibson as a crazy man with a beaver puppet, than Money Monster – a warmed over news satire that feels like something made in the 1990s, and forgotten ever since. It has two of the biggest stars in the world in Julia Roberts – fine, I guess – and George Clooney – completely miscast – as the producer and host of a Jim Cramer style investment show, that gets held hostage by a kid with a gun – talented up-and-comer Jack O’Connell. Everyone involved in the film is smart and talented – but Money Monster feels too dated, too over-the-top and yet on-the-nose at the same time, and is a fairly big strikeout for all involved. Worse yet, it was one of the only movies of the spring season I was looking forward to – and it turned out to be crap.
8. Jason Bourne (Paul Greengrass)
I blame myself more than anyone for allowing myself to get excited about a sequel – 10 years after the last Matt Damon/Paul Greengrass Bourne film. The two they made together still stand among the best actions movies of the 21st Century. Yet, this film feels like precisely what it is – a studio exercise, where they get the key contributors back because it will make everyone a lot of money. There is no pressing story need for this film to exist – it starts layering on previously unknown layers of conspiracy. It doesn’t push Bourne into any new territory. It basically does the same thing as we’ve seen again and again. It’s all a decent way to spend an undemanding night out at the movies – in a summer of terrible action movies, this one was merely mediocre. But dammit, I wanted great – and they didn’t deliver.
7. Café Society (Woody Allen)
I say this every year when a Woody Allen film makes this list – I really should stop expecting anything from Woody – who has been massively inconsistent for more than 20 years now. And yet, the reason Café Society is disappointing is not because its lazy Woody like Magic in the Moonlight or Irrational Man – it’s because watching this film, I really could see how it could have been great. It’s easily Allen’s best looking film since perhaps Sweet & Lowdown. Kristen Stewart is brilliant, as always, in the film. The central love story between Jessie Eisenberg and Stewart has the makings of an excellent, bittersweet story. But Allen cannot help himself – he throws in multiple unnecessary subplots, scenes and characters. His dialogue needed a polish so it didn’t sound quite so tin eared at times. There is so much to like about Café Society that it’s so frustrating that it ends up being barely better than those two films I named – films where it seemed like Allen was simply going through the motions. The difference between them and this is that Café Society should have and could have been great – and the fact that it isn’t is frustrating beyond words.
6. it’s Only the End of the World (Xavier Dolan)
I have been a fan of Dolan’s since his first film – I Killed My Mother back in 2009, when he was only 20. Since then, I’ve liked most of his other films as well (I was underwhelmed by Tom at the Farm, but it’s hardly a bad movie) – and while I don’t think he’s quite made a great film yet, his filmography is solid, and I look forward to what he does next. Which is what made it’s Only the End of the World such a massive disappointment – it isn’t just a bad film, it’s pretty close to insufferable. The film is based on a play, and Dolan does the opposite of many directors trying to turn a stage play into a movie in that he doesn’t attempt to “open up” the action of the play. Instead, he pretty much does the opposite – shooting almost the whole thing in close-up, that makes the proceedings incredibly claustrophobic. Now, maybe that was the intent – but it doesn’t help because in this movie, all the characters are so insufferable and shrill – and spend so much time yelling – you just want out of the theater as quickly as possible. Dolan remains a talented filmmaker – but this film is major strikeout.
5. The Girl on the Train (Tate Taylor)
Paula Hawkins’ page-turning thriller – about three women, who are one way or another trapped in suburban, patriarchal society – was an excellent, little thriller. Yes, perhaps it flew off the rails at the end a little bit, but overall, for the type of novel it was, it was very good – and should have been an easy book to turn into a fun movie. I’m not sure what happened, but boy did director Tate Taylor and company really screw that one up. The movie was never going to be the next Gone Girl (despite what people said, there is a world of difference between Flynn’s book and Hawkins’ – and Flynn’s has far more to say) – but Taylor and company don’t even get the should have been easy thriller elements correct. On top of that, the movie highlights some of the books issues (Anna was always a thin character – you can barely call her a character at all in the movie for instance). The movie takes itself too seriously – and doesn’t work as either a thriller or a serious, feminist drama either. It sits on the screen – and ends up being duller than anything.
4. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Zack Snyder)
I know that to many critics, Zack Snyder is the worst thing to happen to blockbusters since Michael Bay – and at his worst (300, Sucker Punch) he certainly can be. But I liked Dawn of the Dead, will admit to quite liking Watchmen, and didn’t hate Man of Steel. Snyder had assembled a good cast for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – and I am normally a sucker Batman in particular. As the March release date of the film approached, I found myself growing excited for the film – it was, after all, early in the year for a blockbuster of this kind. Even as the reviews came out and savaged the film, I didn’t really believe it could possibly be that bad, could it? Sweet Jesus, it was. I still don’t know how so many talented people can make a movie this bad – watching the movie was a thoroughly depressing experience – as so much that could have been good was wasted. Disappointing is the kindest thing I could say about it.
3. Suicide Squad (David Ayer)
I think that Suicide Squad is a better movie (if only slightly) that Batman v Superman – but an even more disappointing one. You wouldn’t think that would be possible – after all, Suicide Squad opened months after Batman v Superman, so I should have known that DC didn’t know what they were doing. Still though – the previews were good – especially Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, who I assumed could save the movie even if everything around her wasn’t up to snuff. I will say this – Robbie is great, but everything around her is worse than I could have imagined. David Ayer is a fine director, and this type of action movie – assembling a team, etc. – should be right up his alley. But the whole thing feels rushed and at times incoherent, and has a truly horrible ending. This one should have been so much better.

2. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Ang Lee)
Ben Fountain’s novel, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is great – a surreal, satire about patriotism, jingoism and “supporting the troops” – when it doesn’t actually require you to do anything, the book is funny, perceptive and heartbreaking – as well as wonderfully written. Ang Lee is a great filmmaker – having won two Oscars for directing, and made a handful of truly great films, this really should have been a can’t miss proposition. And then, Lee went ahead and decide to shoot the film at 120 fps – and the whole movie became an experiment more than a movie. I admire Lee for pushing – for trying to utilize technology to push the medium if not forward exactly, then at least in a different direction. The problem is, the visual style of the movie is so distracting that it doesn’t let the story play out – and it seems like Lee concentrated on that aspect, to the detriment of performance, characterization and story – meaning the whole thing falls flat. You could make a great film out of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – hell, Ang Lee probably could. He didn’t this time though – and it’s a crushing disappointment.
1. American Pastoral (Ewan McGregor)
Perhaps it’s unfair to call American Pastoral the year’s most disappointing film – after all, while it’s been one of my very favorite novels for years now, but I’ve always thought that a proper adaptation would be nearly impossible. Philip Roth’s novel, after all, has a structure of fictions within fictions, narratives within narratives, and multiple time periods, in which it jumps back and forth from. Ever since the novel was published, back in the late 1990s, there have been numerous directors interested or attached – including Martin Scorsese – so the fact that they all eventually left, film unmade, and that actor Ewan McGregor, making his directorial debut, is the one who finally made it was a definite warning sign. Yet, I couldn’t help but hope that McGregor had found a way to make the novel – a quintessential, American Dream turned tragedy, into a film. What makes it disappointing, I think, isn’t that McGregor and company failed to do justice to Roth’s novel – perhaps, an impossibility, but that it isn’t even an honorable failure – like Robert Benton’s The Human Stain, which tried valiantly, and failed, to translate a Roth novel to the screen. McGregor and company don’t even seem to understand the novel, its themes, its narrative or what made it so special in the first place. That, to me, makes it the most depressing experience I had in the theater this year.

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