Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Top Ten Worst Films of 2016.

As usual, I'm the last on the bandwagon to bid 2016 adieu, but always better late than never to catch up with any last minute surprises before moving on, and trust me, it's always well worth it to find those last few incredible gems before wishing a year goodbye. Although, a better send-off for 2016 would probably be good riddance. Let's face it, 2016 was a lousy year. And I'm not merely talking about films, of which while there were a good deal of gems to be found (including one that might well be the best film of the decade), those were unfortunately burdened by stretches of utterly limp and lackluster fare, sequels that nobody asked for, and one of the most unenthusiastic Summer slates I've seen in recent memory.

More importantly, 2016 was a bad year not merely for films, but for the world in general. For one, it was a year with some of the most shocking group of iconic celebrity deaths I can remember, with figures like David Bowie, Muhammed Ali, Prince, Anton Yelchin, Alan Rickman, R2-D2 performer Kenny Baker, Gene Wilder, and Leonard Cohen among a few of them. The joint death of mother and daughter Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher brought the year to a grim and deeply depressing close, and even now it feels so hard to believe they're really gone.

Not only that, 2016 was a year that seemed to bring out the most cynical in people, with prominent events that included the passing of the Brexit movement, the tragic terrorist attack in Orlando, Florida, Paul Feig's all-female Ghostbusters becoming the year's most hated and controversial film before anyone saw a single frame of it, all before capping everything off with Donald Trump being elected as President of the United States. As much as I try to steer away from politics on my blog, it's a sad state that we're in, and it's one that could very well get worse as time goes by, threatening to put back walls - both figuratively and literally - that we as a people have fought so hard to abolish.

But that's not what I'm here for, although putting these lists together do allow me some much needed venting for my frustrations. I've seen a rough total of about 100 films from 2016, though there are still plenty of badly received titles out there I haven't watched (even I can't tolerate every bad movie), so I've been lucky to escape such dreck as Norm of the North, I'm Not Ashamed, The Darkness, Masterminds, and Boo! A Madea Halloween. Also, I didn't see the scornful Hillary's America from documentary filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza, but I'm certain that would have been high up on this list if I did, with so-called historian D'Souza continuing to misrepresent facts for his hyperbolic propaganda pieces, and shamefully stirring more tension in an already upset time for America. D'Souza clearly wants to be the right-wing answer to Michael Moore, but feels more in line to be a modern day Leni Riefenstahl, only without the artistry to mask his politics.

As for the films I did end up seeing, as always, it's time for some dishonorable mentions before the big ten. Just missing the list was YouTube Red's first original movie Lazer Team from Rooster Teeth, a poor man's match up between Chronicle and a Happy Madison movie, stretching its low budget charm and grating sense of humor thin. Independence Day: Resurgence tried to be bigger than its predecessor, but lacked any of the heart or the spirit of the original, recreating old plot points like a carbon copy, and going absolutely overboard in its attempts to one-up the first. The whitewashed Gods of Egypt became this year's Jupiter Ascending, squandering its hefty budget on a lazily cobbled together script, garnering poor performances, and boasting CGI effects that would've looked dated in the 90's. Morgan was the directorial debut of Ridley Scott's son Luke, that revolved around a script loaded with plot-holes and logic gaps, and populated by intelligent characters making exclusively dumb decisions. Assassin's Creed was yet another bad video game adaptation, choosing to focus more on the present day corporation story with bland characters, and failing to be able to please either fans or newcomers to the series, trying and failing to be another Inception.

Okay, now that that's all been addressed, let's hurt some movies. Really, really, bad...

Number 10
Ice Age: Collision Course
Dir. Mike Thurmeier
These movies just keep getting worse. Any of the charm or heart of the original Ice Age film has long since been lost, as Blue Sky's signature franchise just gets lazier with every new entry, and here it seems to be running on its last legs. Unlike Toy Story which grew up with its viewers, the Ice Age films have continually regressed with each new entry, pandering to the little kids dragging their poor parents to see the film, loaded with grating anachronisms and cheap butt jokes as if no one has any idea what's left in this universe to tell. Truth be told, there is nothing left to tell in this universe, as the original crew barely resemble their original counterparts, and their dumbed down followers feel mostly useless, only shoehorned in here because they were in other movies.

The plot is some nonsense about the dozen main characters, joined by Simon Pegg's returning Buck, off to stop an asteroid from destroying the planet, leading them to this bizarre hidden civilization of animals with eternal youth, and because these last few movies have been about old characters getting love interests, it wouldn't be complete without Sid finally getting one - as if these films are better for it. All the while, the crew are chased by flying dinosaurs who want to conquer the planet after its destruction, which is such a pointless and stupid decision that it need not even be included. Despite some impressive animation,  it's clear that the series is running on fumes at this point, making the viewer wish that Blue Sky would do the merciful thing, and finally put a long overdue end to this series. Not even the Scrat sequences are enough to give it a pass.

Number 9
Hardcore Henry
Dir. Ilya Naishuller
 I'm sure going for a movie that plays like a mix between Half-Life, Mirror's Edge, and Call of Duty must have sounded like a fun idea to Ilya Naishuller on paper, but in execution, this Let's Play Speed-Run comes across as completely unruly. Unique and inventive as the film may seem, that style falls apart when the actual content and subtext feel cobbled together in such haphazard ways. Unlike the people that surround Half-Life's similarly silent Gordon Freeman, all of the characters around the titular Henry feel so thinly sketched that it becomes challenging to invest in every major new development or intense set-piece, minimizing the effectiveness of the drama. That's when the film is even consistent in its drama, as its wildly over the top nature often leads it into some outlandish yet still out of place moments of humor, from the campiness of the film's villain who feels like he's stepped out of Final Fantasy, to a musical number with Sharlto Copley that ranks among the most random inclusions of the year.

While the stuntwork of the film is high-caliber and quite brutal in effectiveness, the intentionally jumbled camera work proves more irritating than stimulating, coupled with frantic editing that can make it occasionally tough to follow. Aside from repetitive "mission objective" pacing, and logical gaps that could be at least excused with programming, it's also like the film is trying, but failing to use the video game-esque setting to make further comment on the nature of violence. It's like the film is trying to say that by taking the controller away from the gamer, they can then see just how empty and senseless this hyper-violence can make the player feel, but when the rest of it feels like it's also glorifying this over the top bloody carnage at the same time, you're left with a film sending the mother of all mixed signals.

Number 8
Dir. Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost
 You remember Nerve? That movie where Emma Roberts and Dave Franco team up in a series of escalating dares as part of an online game tournament? I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't, since I myself sometimes draw a blank on it. Ignoring the fact that its central concept is completely bonkers, as well as being done better in the past via Jim Carrey movies, it's ironic that a film called Nerve would seem to have so little of it. There's a great deal of time spent on Emma Roberts' Venus going from timid observer to active risk taker, but the film's emotional pull is sadly non-existent, with her at-odds relationship with her mother (played by an underused Juliette Lewis), as well as the death of her brother feeling less like character development, and more like cheesy background details the film milks for cheap effect.

Roberts is at least trying, but her co-star Dave Franco lacks any level of intensity to make his roguish bad boy work, and the two share absolutely no chemistry. And for a film like this to lack that makes it hard to connect with everything going on, not that we'd really want to. The film is appalling in its set up, with the legitimacy of the signature Nerve site being hand waved away in hilariously inept fashion, with the anonymous watchers being personified by Hot Topic versions of the Eyes Wide Shut figures. Worse still is the themes at play, preaching against the utter madness and insanity of the escalating stunts, yet at the same time seeming to glorify them, piling on the pure stupidity with each new scene, all capped off by an ending that doesn't even have the joy of being outlandishly crazy, instead ending with an apathetic shrug. It's a movie that really is best left forgotten, but hey, at least it's not the dumbest Dave Franco movie on this list.

Number 7
Sausage Party
Dir. Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan
 I am not going to make any friends with this one. To be fair to Sausage Party, it doesn't look this bad when it begins, accompanied by an inspired and hilarious send-up of Disney musical tropes (written by Alan Menken himself), that best encapsulates the humor of the film. However, once the singing finally stops, everything goes horrendously wrong. Even for a movie intentionally designed to offend, Sausage Party makes for a very unbearable sit, dragging out every single stereotype in the book for easy gags, whether they be of race, sexual preference, or other such details, and almost none of them land. The film makes frequent attempts to mock all of the formula and plot beats of films from Disney and Pixar, but is so thoroughly dedicated to pushing its R-rating to its utmost extreme and over the top, and appearing as unpleasant as possible, it not only loses whatever charm it initially had, but becomes an absolutely mean-spirited and arduous experience.

Honestly, the film may as well be renamed "Beating a Dead Horse", because after the opening song has set up the humor of the film, the remaining 80 minutes is dedicated to repeating every single joke brought up in that number over and over. It's a film that intends to live or die based on its shock value, seeming to think that cute, inanimate objects swearing like sailors equals instant comedy, but really just feels like Seth Rogen and team babbling non-stop to themselves. It leaves the all-star voiceover cast hopelessly blowing in the wind, including Nick Kroll's awful "dudebro" villain Douche (Get it?! Because he's an actual douche!). But most shallow is the religious allegories, with the actual content of the themes so one-note that it's as deep as a puddle, yet crammed down our throats with relentless force, and there's nothing about religion in this movie that Rogen didn't already say a million times better in his TV show Preacher. As much as I can appreciate that the film has managed to find an audience, I deeply despised nearly everything to do with this film.

Number 6
Suicide Squad
Dir. David Ayer
 Apparently Zack Snyder botching Batman fighting Superman wasn't enough, now we have fellow director David Ayer come to do the same with DC's Rogues Gallery. From the initial pitch to the finished product, it's clear that nothing of what David Ayer originally envisioned even remotely ended up on the screen. Feeling like a randomly cobbled together Frankenstein's monster, full of obvious scissor slices from reshoots to make it resemble Guardians of the Galaxy, the film is a disaster in structure, which is evident from the first few sequences. The film hastily and confusingly exposits the backstories of the various characters, making you feel like you've missed several movies that would have given them context, alienating newcomers to the series who will be totally lost as to who these people are, including the fact that the film tries, and fails to make them feel like a family unit. The central plan is just as stupid as well, with Viola Davis' Amanda Waller having no grounds, proper fail-safes, or any global catastrophes to justify her proposal to put this rogue team together, yet she persists anyway?

Frankly, that's some of the least of the movie's problems, because as the film progresses, the re-editing becomes all the more obvious, hacking the film into a tonally jarring and incoherent state, with prominent characters like Katana and Slipknot - who is discarded as quickly as he's brought in - not even getting proper introductions. The villains are even worse off, with Jared Leto's awful pimp Joker, and Cara Delevingne's possessed belly-dancing Enchantress leaving sour aftertastes every single time they appear. It's not even that pleasing to look at, painted with a muted and ugly neon color spectrum, but that's nothing compared to its soundtrack, which once again tries to cash in on Guardians, but feels less like story enhancement, and more like someone spamming an iPod shuffle. It hurts to include this film, as I genuinely hoped that this would be the film to finally get the DCEU on track, but after this colossal screw-up, it's more obvious than ever that the greedy Marvel-copycat executives of Warner Brothers have no idea what they're doing. If Wonder Woman tanks this hard, I'll never watch a single one of these movies again.

Number 5
The Divergent Series: Allegiant
Dir. Robert Schwentke
 It wouldn't be my annual worst of list without a botched YA novel adaptation. The original Divergent was an entertaining, if silly and derivative film, but with each passing film, this series has gotten progressively lazier and more hollow. For a series that has been based around the heavy-handed moral of not branding yourself by labels, these movies have grown even more indistinguishable from the countless other YA franchises, including the recently closed Hunger Games, and the still ongoing Maze Runner - of which this film shares many ubiquitous ties. Even with three films, this series has failed to establish any sense of stakes or connection to the people of this world, reverting back to the status quo by refining its five faction divide into "pure" or "damaged", with Shailene Woodley's Tris being viewed as some key to help them, but the film never expands on that detail again.

At the end of the day, it's clear this was not made out of passion, but that it was made solely to exist for existing's sake, as the complete lack of enthusiasm on the faces of the actors are all too evident. These are particularly seen with the now disinterested and blank Shailene Woodley, who can't even be bothered to restore her pixie cut despite the film taking place hours after Insurgent, and a hilariously disdainful Miles Teller who looks like he'd sooner be doing Fantastic Four again. But the younger actors aren't the only bad ones, as Naomi Watts is basically doing what Kate Winslet did, while Octavia Spencer is squandered in a glorfied cameo. At least Jeff Daniels lends some legitimacy to his heavy exposition, but that's a small victory overshadowed by numerous wrongs. It may not be as painful to me as Vampire Academy was, but it is still horrible for being the single most unenthusiastic YA novel adaptation since Ender's Game. In the time since I initially reviewed the film, the decision to split the last book in half finally caught up to bury this series, leading to a proposal to slash its budget and send it straight to television, likely without many of the original cast. What an utter, hilarious, fitting embarrassment.

Number 4
Now You See Me 2
Dir. Jon M. Chu
 I wasn't a fan of the ludicrous, aimless, and hyper-stylized original film, but for every issue that this new installment tries to fix, it's like something worse comes back to take its place. While fixing the original film's issue of being unable to decide whether Mark Ruffalo's twisty FBI mole or the infamous Four Horsemen are the main characters of the film, keeping them more narrowly focused as a group unit, the characters still feel as ridiculous or as flat as ever. Even now that you've gotten to know the gist of their personalities, the sequel feels content to just leave it at that and press forward, doing next to nothing new with most of them in order to expand their characters. Even new additions like Lizzy Caplan, Daniel Radcliffe, and a pointlessly underused Sanaa Lathan have barely anything more to them beyond their immediate introductions, with Radcliffe proving particularly ineffective as a villain.

But just like the first film, the biggest issue is still the lengthy chasms of logic in the screenplay. Ignoring the fact that the film is virtually tension-free, the various schemes rely on a towering build-up of coincidence upon coincidence, which the Horseman could in no way predict or map out, unless they were psychic. Certainly being psychic would also clear up gaps in their parlor tricks, which despite being based around heavy smoke and mirrors, occasionally gives way to senseless escape attempts feeling like fantasy, including one character who can apparently be at two places at once. Worse still, despite the movie trying to fool you that this extension was planned from the beginning, it still feels like a ludicrous piece of fan-fiction that almost seems to completely contradict the original. By the time the film lays it final insult with its bewilderingly crazy twist ending, only exacerbating earlier issues and making them stand out more, it's almost encouraging the viewer to throw things at the screen. David Copperfield this is not.

Number 3
Collateral Beauty
Dir. David Frankel
 That's two for Will Smith. Oh, sure, looking at its all-star A-list cast, holiday vibe, and Capra-esque premise, you wouldn't assume this film to be as bad as it is, but look deeper, and you can see what a mean-spirited, utterly ridiculous excuse for a feel-good film this is. Despite advertising making it seem like a film in the vein of It's a Wonderful Life, what it actually is is an appalling film where Will Smith's co-workers (played by Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, and Michael Pena) try to out him as incapable of leading their company, by hiring three actors (played by Jacob Latimore, Helen Mirren, and Keira Knightley) to pose as Time, Love, and Death while capturing his grieving breakdowns. The film's exploitation of those grief elements feel especially tasteless in the vein of cheap Cancer dramas, especially because those past portions of Smith's life are deliberately kept hidden away from us to preserve reveals for later on, and is merely keeping us in the dark for no good reason.

The domino obsessed Smith is especially hopeless in his mostly silent and mopey role, treading similar ground to Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea, but possessing none of the internal qualities, all projected in over the top dramatic bursts. As hard as his grief may be, it's hard to really root for him when he comes across as uncaring and deeply bitter, and the film makes such cheap shots in visualizing his agony with camerawork that begs for cries of symbolism. Then again, it's hard to latch onto his so-called "friends", who go about their secret coup in such malicious and backstabbing ways (including removing the figures he talks to with Hollywood level digital tools), and yet we're supposed to emotionally connect with them. Sorry, no! But the final five minutes of the film are truly a miracle in their own right, in which the film finally unveils a series of major twists to the audience, and it's so bewilderingly crazy and outrageously sincere that I genuinely couldn't stop laughing at it. I have no clue who thought that this would be a good idea to turn into a film, in many ways becoming the spiritual successor to Winter's Tale.

Number 2
(The Brothers) Grimsby
Dir. Louis Letterier
 Sacha Baron Cohen has proven himself to be a greatly reliable comic actor in the past, but moving away from mockumentaries like Borat for actual narrative films have shown his tendencies get stretched to unbearably sickening lengths. Cohen himself plays one of the most detestable characters of the year, a disgusting and hideously caricatured deadbeat alcoholic sports fan, surrounded by literally a dozen children whose sole joke are the strange names given to each of them, and the clingy Cohen constantly screwing up the life of his secret agent brother, played by Mark Strong, quickly grate on the patience of the viewer. It's the kind of performance that makes you want to punch the lead character in the face, and yet the film tries to milk all of these events for unearned emotional beats, as opposed to the film making us find him skin-peelingly unpleasant, and crude for the sole sake of being crude.

The abysmal humor and scripting really makes you feel sorry for the other big stars Cohen has gotten together, with Mark Strong looking particularly ashamed to be participating in the madcap antics. That's not to include the talented actors in smaller roles like Isla Fisher, Barkhad Abdi, Ian McShane, and a woeful Penelope Cruz as the villain. Cohen may be a reliable funnyman, but the gags he uses here are downright embarrassing, scraping the bottom of the barrel for a single chuckle, and would have felt dated in his Da Ali G Show heyday. They come fast and furious, but leave a terrible taste after they're done, such as Cohen sucking poison out of Mark Strong's private parts (I feel dumber transcribing that), and shoving fireworks up his butt. But when the film gets around to its big selling point, the now infamous elephant scene, that previous disgust and anger fuses with that of hopeless depression, with the hideous sequence enough to make the viewer feel dead inside. It might very well be one of the absolute worst comedies of the decade, and in fact it's so bad, it's made me desperate to see Cohen take on more roles like Alice Through the Looking Glass. That's just sad.

Number 1
Nine Lives
Dir. Barry Sonnenfeld
 I frankly can't decide what surprises me more; That this movie came out in 2016, or that it didn't go directly to video? To think that Barry Sonnenfeld, director of beloved comedies like Men in Black and Get Shorty, as well as having recently helmed episodes of A Series of Unfortunate Events from Netflix, would not only agree to make this film, but get such big names attached to it is truly bewildering.

Right from the outset, we're looking at a movie that doesn't even look like it's been finished, as we open with businessman Kevin Spacey jumping out of the most blatant green-screen low-budget airplane ever constructed, and the incredibly poor, tv budget effects work throughout the film fares no better, but that might really be the least of the film's worries. This doesn't feel like a film that belongs in this decade, with the story revolving around stereotypes of stereotype characters, with Kevin Spacey playing a prickly business exec dad obsessed with creating the world's tallest skyscraper... because reasons?  But oh no! He ends up getting cursed and turned into a cat, even getting advice on how to break that curse by Christopher Walken (presumably reprising his performance from Click), by doing right by his family. It's a badly cheesy plotline that feels directly lifted from a 90's TV movie, that feels like it should be starring Rob Schneider, as opposed to *TWO TIME ACADEMY AWARD WINNER KEVIN SPACEY*.

Heck, even the outdated jokes seem to indicate this film has been stuck in limbo for ages, with weird details like a photo of Spacey with former President George W. Bush on Spacey's desk, and subtle allusions to The Dog Whisperer. Furthermore, it becomes very hard to root for Spacey's character, considering how cruel and downright venomous he is to the other people in his life, which goes far beyond the realm of tough love, as well as the overplayed neglect to his own family, including a poorly used Jennifer Garner as his wife, and Malina Weissman (of A Series of Unfortunate Events) as his annoyingly cheery daughter. The worst part is how astonishingly unfunny the material they're given to work with is, with repeated pratfalls and pop culture references by the cat feeling like pandering to the lowest common denominator, and the film making some badly placed jokes and representations in reference to death and suicide. This film isn't in any way magical or charming, it's' mean-spirited and condescending garbage, and I have no idea what broken studio thinking managed to greenlight and finance such a film. So rather than give their money to potentially the next Paul Thomas Anderson or Martin Scorsese, they decide to give $30 million dollars to a big budget version of A Talking Cat!?! How does any of this make sense?!

The short answer is nothing. Nothing about this movie in front of or behind the camera makes any sense, and if nothing else, I hope all the actors and filmmakers did something much more worthwhile with their paychecks. Lord knows it has to be far better than anything this movie can offer.
And thus, we've reached the end of the worst list, but I'm still not through with 2016 yet, because next Saturday, I'll be returning to take on the Top Ten Best Films of the Year. See you guys then...

No comments:

Post a Comment