I hesitate to publish any overly harsh reviews. It’s far easier to enumerate the failings of a movie than it is to examine why something works in a relatable way, so in that sense, I find avoiding the low-hanging fruit more creatively satisfying. That said; each year I see films that are so morally repugnant, toxically inept or haphazardly incoherent that they beggar belief and demand that I reckon with whatever it was. But, for me, the films that disappoint are even worse. So consider this compilation as a look at all shades on the ‘bad’ spectrum — covering the bad, the sad, and the disappointing.
There are but a few pop cultural touchstones of my adolescence that I am unable to give up on despite their ever-increasing supply of diminishing returns. Writer/director Kevin Smith is one of them. Every year I try to convince myself that his latest work will break the cycle of disappointment. While Tusk is a monumental improvement over the horrendous Red State, it still lands far afield from anything resembling quality. Between a protagonist so unlikable that you simply don’t care about the agonies he suffers, to a fractured narrative style that frequently stops the action dead in its tracks so its performers can soliloquize, to a truly embarrassing showdown between Michael Parks and Johnny Depp as to who can stack the most poor decisions atop their performance in a single scene, Tusk is a tone-deaf horror-comedy that manages to be neither scary nor funny.
God’s Not Dead
All the moral complexity of a Jack Chick tract without any of the artistic talent, God’s Not Dead is the one movie on this list that managed to give me a throbbing headache as I was watching it. It is openly disdainful of any lifestyle choice or belief structure that doesn’t adhere to its own, and is fueled by a lead performance that gives Groot a run for his money for most wooden of the year. I hesitated to even place it on this list, as doing so only serves to validate its claims towards being an actual movie, but this hateful bilge managed to rake in more than $60 million during its theatrical run. So while it’s hard for me to take seriously a movie that metes out Old Testament-style punishment to its characters for being different (atheists get cancer or die, Muslims desperately wish they were Christian), that problem clearly wasn’t shared by a larger audience.
That Awkward Moment
It’s nothing new for misogynistic tripe masquerading as a romantic comedy to be dumped in the dead of winter, but when a cast filled with such a massive influx of young talent is roped into such gross storytelling, that’s when my critical hackles are officially raised. There’s no reason a movie combining the acting prowess of Miles Teller, Imogen Poots, Michael B. Jordan and Mackenzie Davis should have to be so lunkheaded in its execution.
Wish I Was Here
It’s hard to believe, with nearly a decade between directorial efforts, that Zach Braff’s ability to connect with an audience could’ve atrophied to this level. But Wish I Was Here is the kind of bad movie-making that throws everything in Braff’s past into question. Early on in the movie, it’s clear that the main character needs to grow up and find steady employment to care for his family, but instead, we are subjected to an emotional journey that leads to that obvious conclusion over what feels like approximately two-hundred-and-fifty years worth of faux-profundity. A genuine embarrassment.
The last time Christopher Nolan got to unleash his particular clockwork sensibility on an original science fiction property with a gargantuan budget, we were blessed with the fantastical heist film Inception, so there was ample reason to believe he would pull off the magic again with his space epic Interstellar. Instead, the finished product plays like an alien civilization trying their best to ape human emotions, but not quite sticking the landing. Filled with portentous dialogue and wooden performances, laced with a dislike/distrust of humanity that infects the positivity the film means to convey about our journey towards the stars, it never reaches the dizzying heights of his previous work, with its focus on rigorous scientific plausibility never extending to the wafer-thin characters that populate the film.
Perhaps no other disappointment this year registers quite so loudly as Birdman’s, as it has a clearly game cast (I particularly enjoyed Edward Norton and Andrea Riseborough) alongside a clearly motivated filmmaker, Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, who is working in a darkly comedic mode that he’s never attempted before. But the film’s stylistic conceit – namely, that the entire picture is given the appearance of transpiring over the course of one long take – is essentially the arthouse version of the meaningless blockbuster spectacle that the film so frequently derides, an unjustified artistic flourish that adds nothing of merit to the story being told (only serving to obfuscate it, actually). And this sort of vapid surface-level examination of the artistic process is unworthy of such a polished technical effort, and certainly isn’t worthy of the awards season buzz it has generated.
BONUS: THE INEXPLICABLE!
I don’t even know what to say about this film that features Will Smith as Satan in 1916 New York sporting a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt, Russell Crowe rambling about the transformative power of rubies in a thick Irish brogue, Colin Farrell sexing a woman to death, and a magical horse that flies its characters into outer space at its conclusion. Every indication I’ve been given suggests the source material by Mark Helprin is a moving epic that never should have been adapted, losing almost everything that made it special in its transition to the big screen. I can’t quite say that movie was necessarily ‘bad,’ as I was in slack-jawed awe throughout the screening, unable to believe what I was seeing take place. This feels like the kind of crazy that will become a midnight movie staple in coming years, with audience participation and the like, It’s the only film on this list I would wholeheartedly recommend despite its shortcomings.