Friday, February 3, 2017

2016 Year End Report: Worst Films of the Year

Over the years, I really have tried to start avoiding movies that by all indications will be bad, unless there is a compelling reason to do so. And yet, when you see somewhere in the neighbourhood of 200 films a year, you’ll see some stinkers. What this does mean is that many of the films that will dominate others worst of lists will not dominate mine – because I didn’t bother to watch them (hell, for all I know, some may even have been good).
Some films that were bad, but not bad enough for the worst 10, include: The Accountant (Gavin O’Connor) is a rather forgettable action movie, not bad per se, but rather silly. Bad Moms (Jon Lucas & Scott Moore) is a decent effort, but too by the numbers to surprise and shock the way it wants. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Ang Lee) takes a great book, but gets so lost in experimenting, it doesn’t translate it well. Bleed for This (Ben Younger) is a run of the mill boxing movie, with little to recommend it. The Boss (Ben Falcone) is yet another film that wastes Melissa McCarthy’s talents in an unfunny comedy. The Club (Pablo Larrain) was an overly grim film about a house full of pedophile priests, which doesn’t really provide much insight into its subjects. Chevalier (Athina Rachel Tsangari) has a great idea about a group of men competing in a contest to see who is the best, but didn’t really do anything with that execution. Disorder (Alice Winocour) is well made, but a hollow, about a veteran with PTSD, who becomes a bodyguard, but may be insane. Dog Eat Dog (Paul Schrader) is the veteran, trying his hand at an exploitation movie – and not faring well. The Girl on the Train (Tate Taylor) take what should be a fine, guilty pleasure of a thriller and completely messes it up. Jason Bourne (Paul Greengrass) is more of the same – and fairly uninspired – in the fifth overall, and fourth with Damon, film of the series. Keeping Up with the Joneses (Greg Motolla) has four hugely talented actors, and completely wastes them in a nearly laugh free comedy. Last Days in the Desert (Rodrigo Garcia) had an interesting view of Jesus, more down to earth than normal, but not much else going for it Live by Night (Ben Affleck) has some great period detail, but is a pretty lifeless gangster homage. Louder Than Bombs (Joachim Trier) was a long, dour, slog of a film despite its great cast. Maggie’s Plan (Rebecca Miller) never finds the right tone for itself, as it spins out wildly in all directions. Mekong Hotel (Apichatpong Weerasethakul) makes literally no sense without a lot of context not in the film – more of a DVD extra feature than a film unto itself. No Men Beyond This Point (Mark Sawers) is a mockumentary with a good premise – men stopped being necessary, and hence stopped being born, years ago – but takes only the most obvious path through the film. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Burr Steers) should have at least been a hell of a lot fun, but alas was just kind of silly. The Program (Stephen Frears) contains a committed performance by Ben Foster, and little else in their Lance Armstrong biopic. Tale of Tales (Matteo Garrone) tells multiple stories based on fairy tales, all of whom go onto too long, and don’t add up to much. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (Dave Green) is a film that even I, a turtle fanatic when I was a kid, could not excuse. 31 (Rob Zombie) is an unscary, and worse, boring, horror film. Triple 9 (John Hillcoat) is a misfire from the talented Hillcoat – a by-the-numbers corrupt cop tale. Two Lovers and a Bear (Kim Nguyen) either needed to fully embrace its weirdness, or else try for something more realistic – instead, it comes off as rather half assed. X-Men: Apocalypse (Bryan Singer) rivals X-Men: The Last Stand for worst in the series – even if I liked its joke about The Last Stand, in the film.
Bottom 10

10. Money Monster (Jodie Foster)
Jodie Foster is capable of being a fine director – her work on Orange is the New Black and House of Cards proves that (as does some of her previous film work) – but her latest film as a director was woefully dreadful and ill-thought out. A film with George Clooney and Julia Roberts – not to mention rising star Jack O’Connell should not be capable of being this dull – but it is. The film is a short of updated version of Sidney Lumet & Paddy Chayefsky’s Network – with George Clooney as Wall Street show host a la Jim Cramer, whose show is more sideshow than news – Roberts as his producer, and O’Connell as a poor man who lost all his money listening to Clooney’s advice, who ends up taking him hostage. What follows is supposed to be satire mixed with drama and a social conscience – but the film cannot get over the fact that everyone is miscast, and the supposedly cutting edge observations were outdated a couple of decades ago. Money Monster is an old school movie star vehicle – I usually like those – but this one is boring and forgettable – and with this much talent, that should be possible.
9. Suicide Squad (David Ayer)
How do you screw Suicide Squad up this badly? How do you take a movie that stars Will Smith and Margot Robbie – and features the Joker – and end up with a movie this dull and forgettable – that feels like this much of a mishmash, or barely connected scenes and characters. Had it not been for Robbie – who truly is great as Harley Quinn, despite the rest of the film – the film would rank much higher (lower?) on this list. The plot of the movie is pretty much incoherent, the special effects laughable – and most of the actors are left hanging with no real characters to play (no one is hung out to dry more than poor Cara Delevigne – who can be a good actress, but is stuck dancing in front of a horrible CGI portal of crap). It really should not be possible to make this movie, this poorly, but here we are.
8. Independence Day: Resurgence (Roland Emmerich)
As someone who was 15 when the original came out, Independence Day will always hold a special place in my heart, even if I have to admit that it really isn’t that good of a movie (its fine and all, but have you watched it lately). What I’m trying to figure out about this long awaited sequel is why the hell it took 20 years to come up with it – really they had that much time, and they came up with this? Jeff Goldblum is fine, I guess, but the rest of the cast really is a charmless void, the action sequences aren’t particularly good, the special effects okay, and the story god awful. All of Roland Emmerich’s films are big and dumb – but his best ones are big, dumb and fun (his last film, White House Down was an absolute blast). This feels like a direct to DVD sequel that somehow got put in theaters.
7. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (Jake Szymanski)
How do you take four charming, funny leads and make a comedy with as few laughs as Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates? For one thing, you miscast the extremely talented Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza – forcing them into roles that are the equivalent of overgrown man children. Second, you make Zac Efron and Adam Devine be the most obnoxious version of themselves for the entire runtime. Third, you repeat all the worst jokes ad nausea. This could have been a good movie – but what it really needed to do is push itself farther – instead it takes the easy way out, and concentrates on lame jokes.
6. It’s Only the End of the World (Xavier Dolan)
Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan is a very talented filmmaker – I have liked all of his films before this one (some more than others, sure) – but It’s Only the End of the World is the most shrill, disagreeable film of the year – trapping the audience in a house full of horrible people, and then making everything even more claustrophobic by shooting the majority of the film in close-up. The movie, based on a play, is really a series of two handers – between a long absent brother/son returning home to tell his family he is dying, and never quite finding the words. The main character remains a cypher – who is he – everyone else in the movie are horrible, except for the poor, sweet character played by Marion Cotillard (perhaps miscast, but she’s the only decent thing in the film). Dolan’s film got critically savaged at Cannes – and still won the Grand Jury Prize. He’ll be fine – I’m sure he’ll make a great film again someday. But this one was 90 of the most unpleasant minutes I had this year.
5. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Zack Snyder)
Batman v Superman is a huge, lumbering, overstuffed at times incoherent action film that does virtually nothing right. It’s a sign that DC really wants what Marvel already has – but doesn’t want to lay the groundwork for that – essentially introducing the world to nearly every superhero it could in the span of one two and half hour movie, regardless of whether or not they make sense in the course of the film. The film is also needlessly dark – both visually and thematically, continuing what Snyder did (far better) in Man of Steel by taking Superman so seriously he’s essentially a joyless asshole, and not allowing new Batman Ben Affleck to use his best assets – his wit, charm and humor. Worst of all is Jessie Eisenberg as Lex Luthor – his characters actions make almost no sense, and the hyper articulate and intelligent Eisenberg seems to have no idea how to play him. The movie also pauses several times to essentially film mini-teasers for future movies and it’s the climax is horrible, CGI soup. The one bright spot is Gal Gabor as Wonder Woman (and the music that she brings with her) – which marks her standalone movie in 2017 as something I’m actually looking forward. Without her, this movie would be even higher on this list – it’s hard to imagine they spent this much money making something this bad.
4. Man Down (Dito Montiel)
I saw Man Down at TIFF 2015, about an hour after I walked out of Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s Anomalisa – so perhaps it looked even worse when paired up with a masterpiece, but I honestly don’t think so. This movie flashes back and forth in time – following a soldier played by Shia LaBeouf – and his life before going off to war, during the war, the immediate aftermath of an incident in that war, and into some post-apocalyptic landscape. The one decent thing I can say about the film is that Shia LaBeouf is fiercely committed to this characters and he ACTS very loudly throughout the film. It’s hard to believe that he would go from this, to American Honey – where he delivers his best work to date, and on a completely different level. Man Down is an obvious, preachy movie that tries very hard to keep all of his secrets until the closing minutes, although they are obvious from the outset. The movie has a few other talented actors in the supporting cast – Kate Mara as LaBeouf’s wife is wasted, and Gary Oldman as an army shrink is just plain bored. The movie itself is like Oldman – boring as hell, and trying so hard to be relevant and profound, when it really is anything but. Watching it, I wanted nothing more than for it to end.
3. Zoolander 2 (Ben Stiller)
I have no idea why it took Ben Stiller 15 years to make a follow-up to his cult hit Zoolander – and I have no idea why, when he did, it was this lazy and downright terrible. Because my wife was a big fan of the original, that film has grown on me over time (I didn’t much like it when I saw it in theaters, in the wake of 9/11) – but that films silly, throw everything at the wall and see what sticks aesthetic worked very well – mainly because much of the movie is downright silly and goofy and deliberately dumb – which allows a few smarter moments to go unnoticed. But the sequel has none of that – it really is a laugh-free void for its runtime, with everyone just going through the motions. I understand that sometimes movies that don’t need sequels have them rushed into production before anyone has really thought things through. But everyone here had 15 years to figure this out – and if they couldn’t, they should have just left well enough alone and not bothered.
2. American Pastoral (Ewan McGregor)
There would be no shame is making a poor version of Phillip Roth’s 1997 masterpiece novel – which won every prize it could have, and is arguably his best work (I think it is – but with Roth, there are so many choices it’s hard to decide). Roth doesn’t really lend himself to cinematic adaptations – which is why they so infrequently happen, and usually are not good when they do. But Ewan McGregor’s American Pastoral is a different animal altogether – in that it is not even an honorable failure (like Robert Benton’s The Human Stain) – but something far worse – an adaptation of a great book that seems to have no idea what that book was about, or why it was great. Shoehorning Roth’s novel, and its strange chronology, into a movie would be hard – and changes are necessary. Yet many of the changes the movie makes – especially that god-awful final shot – make me think that no one involved in the production had idea what Roth’s book was about. McGregor, a first time director has also fatally miscast himself in the lead role – draining the character of his Jewishness (which is essential). As a director, he’s not bad at setting up a delusional, Norman Rockwell-esque world – but is unable to punctuate with reality later on. Watching the film, I spent most of the time staring in the screen in slack jawed disbelief at just how badly they had screwed this movie up.
1. Hardcore Henry (Ilya Naishuller)
Hardcore Henry is not the first movie that is shot using the 1st person perspective that are common among video game shooters – that may well be the 1940s noir Lady in the Lake (of which there is a poster that Hardcore Henry pans by quickly in a fleeting moment). I’ve never much warmed to the idea – but perhaps it could work – but Hardcore Henry is not making the case for it. This is a mean, nasty, cynical, violent film – none of which I object to overly much. The film is also boring, which is worse, headache inducing even worse, and at times offensive in the ways it portrays, well, just about everyone. This is a nihilistic film to be sure, and it embraces its nihilism so much, that it simply made me want out of the theater. There is a certain strand of storytelling that feels that the darker, angrier, viler things are the more realistic they are – The Walking Dead has headed that way in the most recent half season – and it’s something I reject. Yet, perhaps the film could still be a fun action movie – but it’s incompetently made more than anything. This is easily the most unpleasant experience I had in a movie theater this year – and the worst.

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