Welcome to THE END OF 2016. We made it. Sort of, let’s hope, there’s still a few more days.
This year has been hell, let’s be real here. We’ve been through a lot, so kudos to you for still standing here. You’ve got a lot more standing to do, but for now you can take a look back and marvel that we all made it through.
I’m starting off this way to kind of purge the negativity. To be honest, this was an amazing year for movies, there have been some truly awe-inspiring works and the coming celebratory lists are probably going to be the hardest I’ve ever worked since I started doing these about 3 years ago (this will be my 4th.)
So in order to clear the mind, let’s get the negativity out of the way. Let’s talk the bad films, the films that baffled and confused and inspired awe of an entirely different sort. They may have been morally repugnant, absolute narrative failures, or so cheap that they killed a whole genre, but they all made you go “Sure…what…wait…no.”
Note: I am distancing this list from the “Best of The Year” lists. You won’t see those until January.
10) War Dogs
The cinematic equivalent of a jerk-off motion, the fantasy of every douche who watched Scarface and thought he could totally do that. War Dogs is Hangover director Todd Phillips’ attempt to play in the Martin Scorsese sandbox without any of the self-criticism or skill or brains that Scorsese brings. War Dogs is (possibly accidentally, unfortunately probably on purpose) a celebration of the worst excesses of American business culture and a clumsy handling of what could have been prime material. Miles Teller isn’t giving anything to this film, Jonah Hill is giving too much. I didn’t know I could roll my eyes for two hours.
Honestly? If you’d asked me in about May, I wouldn’t have believed that this would be the DC Comics film that ended up being my most reviled of the year. Where Batman v Superman: MARTHA reaches for the stars and craters into the Earth, Suicide Squad is content to never come up from the sewers. The experience of watching this film is trying to untangle your headphones while staring straight into a strobe light that’s blasting “Sympathy for the Devil.” An absolute nonsensical assault on the senses that seems to have been pounded by the studio into something flat and lifeless, it continues to be a shame how much Warner Brothers tries to snuff the DC Extended Universe in the crib.
You almost got away with that one Mel! Marketing this as a prestige film about Christianity during the horrors of war was a good move, but Hacksaw Ridge can’t hold back the tide of what’s actually going on here for too long. Hacksaw Ridge is a piece of vicious and bloody propaganda, existing mostly for Mel Gibson what horrors he can put the human body through. There’s no reflection, just a sick salivating gore being held back by an empty “Aw shucks” Americana.
This wins what I’m now calling the “Lost River Award.” It will be awarded whenever an actor seems like they’re earnestly trying to pull off directing, to the point where I feel bad that it isn’t working for them (named for Ryan Gosling’s debut Lost River). Look, I get that Ewan McGregor stepped in last minute and just wanted to make this movie happen. And hey, an American Pastoral adaptation would have been hard for any director to pull off. But wow.
McGregor’s American Pastoral is just an absolute whiff. It can’t navigate any of the characters or the tone and it can’t get over how fundamentally difficult American Pastoral is to turn into a work of anything but prose. It’s a clumsy and relentlessly on the nose work, maudlin to the point of laughter. At this point, putting Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” in a 60s movie should be at least a misdemeanor in California.
Have you ever screwed up so bad that you ended a whole franchise? How about a whole genre?
The death knell of the “YA Dystopia” film, Allegiant was a baffling kind of bad. One of the cheapest looking feature films I’ve seen this year, it seemed more like an outline for a work that ended up getting accidentally labeled a shooting script. The cast earnestly IS trying here and I’m willing to accept this is a franchise that isn’t for me. But apparently this one wasn’t for anyone. Maybe it was the weird anti-intellectual undertones, maybe it was the fact that the mythos here reads like the homework from a “Writing YA Fiction for Dummies” workbook, but Allegiant seems like an ignoble end to a now more relevant than ever genre.
5) Zoolander 2
It sometimes felt like every laugh Zoolander gave me, Zoolander 2 took back. Good god was anyone asking for this one? Did anyone desperately need more Derek Zoolander than his occasional cameo? Because this film showed you that an abundance of the character stops him dead in his tracks. He’s one joke, this film is one joke, and it happens again and again and again. I believe that’s the same principle they use for Chinese Water Torture.
There’s way too much talent here to be this bad. In a year that gave us Kubo and the Two Strings and Manchester by the Sea, The Sea of Trees missed the mark on grief by the widest berth imaginable. Nothing here works, great actors reduced to emotionally closed off sketches, great directors reduced to indistiguishable setting and trying to pull your strings for a twist that would make Nicholas Sparks gag. This one didn’t have to be distributed, one wonders why anyone bothered to spend the cash.
A glittering spire of confusion, this gold-plated franchise stillbirth had some potential. After all, how many would dare to make a film this daringly excessive, this seemingly deliberately mythological and on its own planet? But all I tended to see was a world where if everything was huge, nothing was. A disaster of characterization and narrative, a visual style that burned out the pupils, and actors that seemed to be in 8 different movies at any given time. Look, I wanted to like this one. But if Zack Snyder has a more coherent visual masturbation product in your same year, you’ve gotta look in the giant CGI mirror and ask some tough questions.
Just to let you know, I let out an audible groan writing this when I got down the list and remembered I had to talk about Alice Through The Looking Glass.
For me, his is the film that exemplifies the sins of franchise filmmaking in 2016. A long-gap sequel to a successful film that nobody remembers. A whole host of actors slumming it to no effect for the actual film. A visual style that runs the gamut from ugly and incoherent to bland and boring. A story that steals beats from every other movie in an attempt to get away with never crafting a narrative. The excessive need to connect the dots and explain EVERYTHING. It’s a franchise movie that inspires revulsion, not awe. That seeks to parade creativity in front of us then capture it into a cage and try to explain it and pimp it out for the ever-shrinking theater market. My excessive distaste for this movie and its mode of filmmaking had it firmly at the bottom of this list for most of the year until just two weeks ago today when the top spot was stolen by…
Those of you who read me regularly should have seen my review and should find this no surprise. For those of you who haven’t, let me reiterate.
COLLATERAL. BEAUTY. IS. AWFUL.
This is a vile, evil film. In fact, it’s the worst sort, the kind that believes it’s doing good. Lashing back against the critics who rightly destroyed it, Warner Brothers was still pretending this was a sentimental heartwarmer. Let me be clear that it is not. This is a film that posits a man’s deepest tragedy as an unfortunate obstacle to a business deal. This is a film that sees no problem with gaslighting, that it in fact can help people see what’s really going on. I have seen Salo: 120 Days of Sodom, I have taken in a viewing of Straw Dogs, I got about 30 minutes in to Addio Zio Tom and I will finish it eventually. All of those films have made me feel less morally repulsed and less gross and distrustful of the people around me than this one. It’s a film that praises evil and calls it good. It would be a bad and baffling picture without it, but its moral core makes it all the worse. So one last time, let me reiterate.
COLLATERAL. BEAUTY. IS. AWFUL.