Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Top Ten Worst Films of 2014...

Oscar season is in full swing, and 2014 has come to its close. In many ways, it’s both a blessing and a curse. The end of the year towards the first half of January finally gives us a chance to witness many of the year’s best and most anticipated films, usually the raved Oscar heavyweights. However, it also usually yields some truly horrendous new releases as well. But January isn’t the only month we get some truly awful films. For every Birdman, there will also be a Left Behind. For every How to Train Your Dragon 2, there’s a Planes: Fire and Rescue. So, like I did, last year, I’m counting down the worst 2014 films I saw, but rather than five, I’m increasing this year’s slate to ten to unleash some bottled up negativity on these awful movies.

I saw a total of about 74 films this year, and while I don’t consider 2014 to be a bad year for movies, compared to last year’s slate of releases, it had by far less variety, overloaded by sequels and the like (even those that I liked), so much so that a movie where Seth Rogen shoves a tracer up his butt is now part of American history. In spite of what wholly original films I saw, it also yielded just as many that were vile and insulting. Keep in mind that I haven’t seen some reportedly horrible titles like Left Behind, Sex Tape, God’s Not Dead, The Legend of Hercules, Quija, Grace of Monaco, or Exodus: Gods and Kings (Because I’d prefer to see something I might actually enjoy), so this is limited exclusively to my worst experiences.

Not quite making it on this list is The Expendables 3, a mildly fun movie that unfortunately lacks any of the same spark and witty chemistry that made the first two films enjoyable. Also just missing out is the Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a generally inoffensive and harmless movie, but is too overly rushed and underdeveloped to recommend. This is Where I Leave You had a charming and A-Game cast all across the board, but saddled them with thoroughly mediocre characterizations and dialogue, as well as a wildly undisciplined tone. The Amazing Spiderman 2 suffered from an overload of subplots and characters, highlighting obvious interference from Sony, and saved only by the chemistry of its two leads. Meanwhile, Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever may not have gotten a theatrical release, but is such a bizarre and nonsensical movie that, oddly enough, I think you should check out to believe.

As for the real top ten, I’ve not had the “honor” of reviewing most of them, so this list will also act as a review page for them.

With that said, let’s begin.

Number 10
Dir. Gareth Edwards
I’m sorry, but by every non-superficial standpoint, this movie is horrible. I never got why so many people gravitated towards it. It wants to emulate classic Steven Spielberg creature features, but whereas those movies had interesting characters and great showcases for the creatures, this movie has neither of those.

Anytime we actually get to see the monsters, it’s almost always from a secondhand perspective, and rather than let the movie linger on any of these potentially awesome sequences, it instead prefers to cut straight to the aftermath, or back to the human characters. How is this ANY fun?!

Be that as it may, I’d be willing to forgive this vice if the human characters were engaging at all… But they’re not! Tell me something. Aside from their jobs and how they look, name me *one* thing about them personality-wise. I’ll give you a hint: It can’t be done. These humans are all one note, hollow, cardboard stereotypes with absolutely no identity, and making matters worse is that the supporting players are not only glorified cameos, but the film focuses on the LEAST. INTERESTING. HUMAN. In the movie! Aaron Taylor-Johnson gives the single worst performance of 2014, obviously bored and possessing the emotional range of Darth Vader. It’s not that I don’t want to care for the humans, but that the film just won’t LET me.

I hate this movie. I despise it with every bone in my body, but the only reason it’s not higher up is because of the technicians who make it look and sound much better than it deserves. The fact that I found nine other movies I hate more is deeply unsettling.

** / *****

Number 9
The Nut Job
Dir. Peter Lepeniotis
No, I didn’t see Planes: Fire and Rescue, but I did see this movie. An uninspired call back to the Looney Tunes style of heist humor, while this movie at least has the saving grace of the ever charismatic and witty Will Arnett, it’s one of the most clichéd and unentertaining movies I saw all year. The film is just plain boring, its humor rarely ever striking a chord, and relying on frequent nut puns that quickly become obnoxious (such as the lost city of Nutlantis. Get it? GET IT?!). These characters could have been funny, but are all plain and beyond flat, with much of their material aimed at the lowest common denominator. I don’t even know what else to say. It’s a complete bore, but if there’s one positive thing I can say about it, it’s this. At least it’s not the worst movie Brendan Fraser’s ever been in.

*1/2 / *****

Number 8
The Raid 2
Dir. Gareth Evans
I hate these movies. I really do. When the first Raid film was released two years ago, I found myself in the minority opinion of finding it incoherent, repetitive, and mind-numbing. This sequel is pretty much all of those things, but takes itself more seriously this time (and is FIFTY minutes longer). While I won’t deny that the photography is nice, and the choreography is pretty fun (when we can actually *see it*), it quickly becomes dull and predictable the longer we have to endure it. The filmmakers don't seem to realize that these moves, cool as they may be, quickly lose their novelty after seeing the same trick performed 5 million times. It eventually feels like watching someone else play a video game, its story a muddled mess, and its gratuitous violence becoming increasingly mean-spirited. I’m not one to squirm so easily over bloody violence, but even this movie was testing my tolerance for it. These movies seem to mistake shameless gratuity for social relevance, when in actuality it couldn’t be farther from it. It’s making absolutely no point with any of its brutality, instead feeling like blatant pandering to those craving blood. It's too ridiculous to take seriously, yet too grim to have any fun with. If you liked the first, you’ll probably enjoy this sequel, but if you didn’t, stay away. Stay far away!

*1/2 / *****

Number 7
Dir. Frank Coraci
It may not be Adam Sandler at his most desperate, but it’s one of the worst examples of using a script as an excuse to take a glorified vacation. Blended reeks of promotional ad imagery from beginning to end, feeling less like a movie for its own sake, and more an excuse for Sandler and his friends to meet up and have fun with the beautiful scenery and activities (a common trait in his films now). However, even without that in mind, this movie would still be awful. The jokes in this film are almost always terrible either to how ill-conceived they are, or how mean-spirited they come across, especially when directed at Sandler’s character’s eldest daughter. It’s actually fitting that the movie has one admittedly clever gag that is then milked a second time. And yet, it’s still not the worst Adam Sandler movie on this list…

*1/2 / *****

Number 6
Transformers: Age of Extinction
Dir. Michael Bay
That’s right! I hate this movie more than ever. I initially backed off on it, saying it wasn’t quite as bad as Revenge of the Fallen… but the more I thought about it, the more that I realized it was. It’s just about the most cynical, most insulting film in this series.

I won’t act like Bay isn’t a talented director, as he’s made some movies I actually liked, but it sees all of his usual stylistics turned up to an obnoxious 12. Sunset imagery, male-teenager pandering, gratuitous explosions and shots of American flags, the ever so annoying humor, and this film takes itself more seriously than before. On top of having some of the worst performances of the year (including Lost’s Titus Welliver in a turn that should have him blacklisted), it is infuriatingly long and padded. This movie is loaded with filler, badly in need of an hour of trimming, and full of ridiculous subplots. Even the visuals and sound effects, typically a saving grace for these films, are nowhere near as seamless or creative as they once were. Sure, it may be awesome to have Peter Cullen and Frank Welker acting off of each other as hero and villain once again, but that's a cheap payoff for enduring endless padding.

Most of all, I hate everything this movie represents. The film tries to lampshade its complete rehash and lack of creativity with lines like “It’s nothing but crap sequels and remakes nowadays.” Michael Bay doesn’t get to make this joke after making a career out of this crap!!! I’m ashamed to have paid money to see this, and the fact that THIS was the first film to have a 100 million dollar opening weekend this year (not 22 Jump Street, not How to Train Your Dragon 2, or literally a dozen superior films released that summer) is a discouraging sign. Nobody deserves money for not even trying to make a movie good (Michael Bay openly admitted that though it would suck, people will still see it!), and while I don't want to call audiences stupid, I am calling us overly content to eat up the same thing over and over again, having absolutely no variety and insulting the intelligence of its audience. Audiences deserve much better than this assault-on-the-senses filth gives us, and with Michael Bay finally stepping down from directing this series, hopefully Ehren Kruger will follow suit so the fifth film can FINALLY restore some actual focus to these films.

*1/2 / *****

Number 5
Men, Women & Children
Dir. Jason Reitman
What’s sad is that Adam Sandler actually gives the best performance in this ensemble piece. He’s the only one who even seems to be trying, as the rest of the film eventually succumbs to superficiality and boredom.

Jason Reitman is a talented director, but everything charming about his prior films has been completely stripped out, with his abrasive analysis of the widespread impact of social media quickly turning into a cheap gimmick. The film has no consistent pace to it, and the performances, oddly enough, feel too subdued. I like a little subtlety, but eventually it just becomes one note, especially when they deliver such stupid dialogue so sincerely. How Emma Thompson (narrating the film) says all of the things she does without the slightest bit of irony or sarcasm is beyond me.

The most standout performance (for all of the wrong reasons) is Jennifer Garner as a concerned mother with all the subtlety of SNL’s Church Lady. The commentary Reitman wants to make regarding this character quickly becomes heavy handed and all too predictable, especially in one scene that leads into the attempted suicide of one character. This scene deserves a huge middle finger in its direction, and you’ll likely want to shower and wash away the griminess you feel  after the film has reached its conclusion.

* / *****

Number 4
Dir. Will Gluck
The film I enjoyed most this year for the wrong reasons, Annie is a terribly misconceived idea the moment it begins. I’ve already made it clear that I’m not a huge fan of the original musical, but even fans of it will detest its treatment here. The acting all across the board is embarrassing (especially from Jamie Foxx), the production values incredibly plain and cheap, and the songs all processed and auto-tuned within an inch of their life (complete with terrible lip-synching). That's all before we get down to its desperate attempt to lampshade its product placement, and glorifying cell phone companies invading the privacy of their customers (Because Annie is Jamie Foxx's "This"). However bad it may be though, it can still be enjoyed for what a colossal train wreck it is, a series of ideas so misguided that you wonder why anyone thought it would work. It certainly helps that Cameron Diaz (perhaps by intention) gives a performance more over the top than Jeremy Irons in Dungeons and Dragons, completely going bonkers in every scene she’s in and having fun with it.

Is it a bad movie? Yes, but this movie was to me what Winter’s Tale was to everyone else.

* / *****

Speaking of Winter’s Tale…

Number 3
Winter’s Tale
Dir. Akiva Goldsman
Courtesy of the dumping ground that is February, we have my number three on our list. Work this math out for me if you will. Apparently an angelic, flying horse is actually a dog…

Do you see how stupid this movie is just by what I’ve described?! I’m convinced that Akiva Goldsman wanted to troll us with this movie (Which would also explain Batman & Robin in the process), because the fact that he was able to get such a great group of actors to not only play these parts, but play them completely straight is baffling. How did any of them say dialogue this ridiculous without snickering? The film just builds its breathtaking stupidity to new heights, with bits like Will Smith as Lucifer (wearing a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt), and the 90 year-old Eva Marie Saint as a 110 year old magazine editor.

And honestly, that’s the movie’s charm. I absolutely understand why people would love this movie in a so bad, it’s fun kind of way. It’s a film perfect for riffing and drinking games, and is truly a movie that should be seen to be believed.

* / *****

Number 2
Dir. Jaume Collet-Serra
Once again, you’ve got February to thank for this.

Liam Neeson has quickly become the go-to guy for action thrillers in need of an older, more grisly action type, but as time has progressed, the novelty of the first Taken film has quickly worn thin. While films like The Grey have been notable exceptions for him, Non-Stop is by far the worst one he’s been in to date. Truth be told, he isn’t bad in the film. For the first hour and twenty minutes, he’s actually the only thing that manages to carry it, albeit with subpar results. The movie, for the most part, is just dull and unmemorable. Just about everything in this movie is empty and surface value, with one note characters that border on parody, and suspense sequences that teeter into pure silliness. By all accounts, it’s nothing special.

But once the final act finally gets under way, that’s when the film stops being dull, and becomes straight up insulting. Do not underestimate me when I say no movie made me feel more heated and furious than the third act of Non-Stop, where the motivations for the movie’s overall premise taking place become laughably stupid, and that’s before they work in the single most shameless exploitation of 9/11 I’ve ever seen in a film, and this is coming from someone who actually defended Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. If this abomination of a climax didn’t exist, I severely doubt that anyone would even remember this movie.

But it does, so we did. This movie should have went straight to cable to the one channel where it's stupidity would have felt right at home... The Syfy channel.

And the sad thing is there’s still one movie worse than this…

* / *****

Number 1
Vampire Academy
Dir. Mark Watters
And here we are, folks! It’s the granddaddy of them all. Take a wild guess what month this film was released.

If your answer was anything but February, then you’re just mocking me now. Really, February was the perfect place to dump this movie, but what’s baffling is that this movie came out the SAME weekend as The Lego Movie. How is it that one of the year’s best movies was released so early in the year, yet Hollywood has no excuse for the rest of the films released this month for being so terrible? I’ve seen quite a bit of bad movies this year, but Vampire Academy towers over them all. This is not only the worst movie of 2014, it’s one of the worst movies I have ever seen. It’s up there with Battlefield Earth and Manos. It’s worse than The Room!

Vampire Academy seeks to mock the ongoing trend of young adult novel adaptations, trying to poke fun at all of the stupid actions and superficiality done in films such as Twilight, but eventually ends up becoming exactly one of those movies. The film is an hour and forty minutes of exposition, cramming information at every single turn to the point that characters can’t drift off to sleep without delivering tidbits of back stories. It’s a film that never allows its audience to take a breath and take in everything they’ve seen and heard, ultimately in a race to cram in the next need-to-know subplot and magical workings of this world. The actors have absolutely no chemistry with each other, the various romances are based on nothing but the characters being attracted solely because of physical looks, and when the villains are finally revealed, they're so incompetent and weak that you wonder why we're even supposed to consider them a threat.

Mark Watters fails miserably to recreate the same vibe that made his movie Mean Girls a success, with his brother, screenwriter Daniel Watters (the one hit wonder behind Heathers), establishing a series of weakly conceived jokes with abysmal execution. His effects are cheesy and unconvincing, and the moods of the Mean Girls humor with the Twilight-Esque action and romance clash harshly with each other, resulting in tonal whiplash. All of that is before it desperately tacks on a sequel baiting ending. However, with how poorly this film ultimately did with critics and audiences, we can at least be thankful that a sequel will never happen. The beast is slain!

Vampire Academy is not merely bad. It’s irredeemable. It’s a hollow, empty shell of a film that would have felt dated in 2008 when Twilight started gaining popularity, a career low for anyone and everyone involved with it, and with these remaining words I have for it, I’m glad that I can finally drive the last nail into this corpse of a movie’s coffin.

Goodbye and good riddance!

Zero stars! / *****

Well, that was therapeutic, and now that I’ve gotten all of this bitter negativity out, I hope you’ll join me next week for my list of the top ten best films of 2014. See you then…

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