They’re not all bad, but we had reason to hope for better.
We don’t do “worst of the year” lists around here anymore for a few reasons, but the main one is that a true list of the year’s best movies would be populated by titles most readers have never even heard of… and that’s no fun to read. The worst movies don’t open in theaters, they go straight to DVD or VOD, and some of us never want to speak of them again. So instead I’m offering up a list of movies that promised so much – typically due to the proven talent involved – but delivered noticeably less.
Paul Feig’s reboot is a perfectly okay comedy, but it really should have been so much more. His previous film, Spy, is an utterly hilarious romp, and the four leading ladies here are all proven comedic talents, but the pieces just never quite fall into place. The issues stem primarily from a script that sticks too close to the original film via recycled story beats and tired, forced cameos. These characters are never really allowed to find their own lives and instead feel like unknowing retreads.
Maybe I was the only one hoping that a new Stephen King adaptation starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson could deliver some fun thrills, and if so then I’m the only one who was disappointed. But this is my list, so…
12. A Hologram for the King
The director of Run Lola Run adapting a novel by Dave Eggers and casting Tom Hanks in the lead role sounds like a recipe for an engaging and entertaining tale rich in character and depth. This was none of those things.
11. The Monster
A couple missteps aside, Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers remains one of the new millennium’s scariest and creepiest cinematic experiences. His latest puts a young mother, played by the always reliable Zoe Kazan, on a remote road with her daughter as a monster circles outside. It’s a sound setup, but the film takes every opportunity to squelch suspense and scares leaving only a frustrating watch instead.
10. Nocturnal Animals
Tom Ford’s directorial debut, 2009’s A Single Man, is an exquisitely-detailed and incredibly affecting look at grief, love, and loss, so expectations were high for his long-awaited follow-up. The detail is still here – Nocturnal Animals is a gorgeously-shot film – but the humanity is absent. We’re left with an emotionless vacuum as two tales play out devoid of feeling or warmth. Perhaps unsurprisingly though, it’s still worth watching for one of Michael Shannon’s numerous great performances this year.
9. Midnight Special
Speaking of Michael Shannon, he’s also fantastic here in Jeff Nichols’ story about a father trying to protect his weirdo son from a cult, the government, and maybe something more. It starts strong with a first half promising wonder among themes of family and love, but we’re soon left with empty revelations, unanswered questions, and a counter-intuitive message. And yes, I realize I’m in the minority on this one.
8. Triple 9
My first reaction after seeing this was to call it the best David Ayer film since Street Kings, and I stand by that claim. Now obviously it’s not an Ayer film, but John Hillcoat captures that same violent, testosterone-heavy feel with his first modern day feature. What he misses though – and what he displayed so well in The Proposition – is a grasp on story and character. There are some grizzly shootouts here, but they’re muddled in stupidity and convolution.
7. A Monster Calls
J.A. Bayona showed a mastery of the horror genre with The Orphanage and an equally strong hand with his unfairly maligned disaster pic, The Impossible, so hopes were high for his effects-filled tale about grief, bullying, and a tree with a very particular set of skills. So what happened? The pieces are all here, but the emotion is absent leaving us with a boy who manages only to annoy. There’s no satisfaction to be had.
As is often the case I was one of the few who truly enjoyed Rob Zombie’s last film, The Lords of Salem. His earlier work does nothing for me, but it showed growth, skill, and a playful talent with visuals. Sadly, he followed up that progress by taking some big steps backward to the dumb, amateurish nihilism of where he began.
Key & Peele is one of the best sketch comedy shows of the past decade, so when Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele made the move to a feature we perked right the hell up. In retrospect maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised that it was little more than a mere sketch stretched to feature length.
4. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
I’m no comic book reader, but even I was initially amped at the thought of a dark, pissed-off Batman facing off against the cape-wearing dullard that is Superman. Obviously the guy in the director’s chair gave us pause, but even with that caution we couldn’t have expected piss in a jar. (You’ll notice the dung heap that is Suicide Squad isn’t on this list. Fool me once DC…)
3. Blair Witch
I’m not automatically against remakes for two reasons – one, the original will always still exist, and two, sometimes the remakes come out terrific. Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead is a great example of a remake that finds its own voice and succeeds, and the hope was that Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett (of You’re Next and The Guest) could do the same here. It’s a far more competent feature than the original, but it’s also a fairly dull retread of beats and elements horror fans already know by heart.
2. Jason Bourne
The original Bourne trilogy remains a rarity in that it’s pretty much a perfect trio of action films. Each one is thrilling, and the character arc/story reaches a satisfying conclusion. Universal tried to branch away from Bourne with the perfectly serviceable The Bourne Legacy, but the studio and fans wanted Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass to return – so they did, and the result is every bit as unnecessary as we could have feared. Worse, the action – the lifeblood of the films – is uninspired and edited/shot to the point of disinterest. Not all disappointments are surprises, but this tired cash-grab was a shock.
1. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
Jack Reacher is a goddamn blast from beginning to end, and as someone who’s read all of Lee Child’s books it left me giddy thinking it was the beginning of my new favorite film franchise. This follow-up sees writer/director Christopher McQuarrie replaced by perfectly competent talents who deliver a completely okay action/thriller. It’s fine, but the bar was set so high with Reacher’s first outing that “fine” is a massive let-down. It’s generic and lacks all of the first film’s wit and excitement, and while I’ll happily watch a third adventure (an unlikely possibility) I’d walk into it with my expectations in check.