Dec 24, 2014

The 10 Worst Films of 2014

10: The Monuments Men
The Monuments Men wasn't supposed to end up on this list.  The pedigree of cast and director and the prestige of the subject (a based on true life tale of a small group of soldiers tasked, in the dying days of World War 2, with saving art stolen by the Nazis) were supposed to make it a sure bet at the Oscars.  Taste, for once, trumped prestige.

The film's fatal flaw was a complete botching of its tone, which boomeranged wildly from earnest lectures - FOUR in a two hour film -  about the value of art, full of heavy-handed questioning about whether it was worth these men's lives to sometimes farcical men on a mission sequences, most of them devoid of tension because the enemy had already departed the scene.

George Clooney appeared to have little grip on the film; it was never very exciting, never very funny, never very thought provoking and many of the performances had an undirected feel about them.  This was most notable in Clooney's autopilot leading turn and the single worst performance Cate Blanchett has ever committed to film.  For such a collection of talent to strike out so totally has to be one of the year's biggest missed opportunities.

9: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
There's something to be said for a film that manages to be two bad movies at the same time.  It's not good, but in a sense it's still overachieving.  Jack Ryan: Forgettable Subtitle is a shitty spy movie in which everything is as it seems and the espionage is both tedious and suspense free.  Amazingly it also finds time to be a shitty action movie, shot and cut in typically bitty style and with a palpable lack of interest by director Kenneth Branagh.

The politics might be troubling, if you could take even a frame of this blatant, apparently failed, attempt at rebooting the Jack Ryan franchise seriously.

It's turgid, generic experience from teal and orange visuals to unthreatening Russkie villain (played by Branagh, no more interested, it seems, in acting than directing).  Chris Pine may be an adequate young Captain Kirk, but he's laughably unconvincing as a genius, war hero super spy and Keira Knightley, wasted as Pine's wife in the weakest of three unimpressive films I saw her in this year, can do little to help matters.

Kevin Costner shows up and is good value as Pine's CIA mentor, but it's too little, too late.

8: Non-Stop
Sometimes I don't understand my fellow critics at all.  I was immune to the alleged charms of films as diverse as Frances Ha and Pacific Rim last year, but, if I squint, I can almost see what people got out of them.  This, on the other hand, I really fail to understand what the people who, apparently without irony, told me it's great - not so bad it's great, just great - are seeing.

If you fancy watching a slightly less plausible version of Flightplan, starring Liam Neeson in scowling for pennies mode and featuring Julianne Moore as a 'person' with less character than the text messages that incessantly pop up onscreen then you're welcome to Non-Stop.  

Beyond the yawning logic gaps and the insultingly rubbish writing - especially of Moore's character, whose sole trait, prior to a late infodump, is that she likes the window seat - the final straw was the laughably unearned and poorly executed political dimension the film tried to add in its closing minutes.  

If Non-Stop had a sense of its own ridiculousness, if it felt like it was being silly, rather than stupid (like, say, Con Air) it wouldn't be here.  The ending scuppers any argument to that effect.  It wasn't convincing up to that point, but the second it bellowed its subtext Non-Stop sealed a place on this list. 

7: Warrior King 2
The Raid 2 came perilously close to making this list (consider it number 11), thanks to its ridiculous overextension of a focused martial arts film into a tedious gangster movie by numbers that came to life only in its last half hour.  Still, it's better than this toss.

Like all martial arts movie fans I loved the original Ong Bak.  So what if its star couldn't act and it had the depth of a rapidly evaporating puddle?  The muay thai fights and the stunt work were astounding, and Tony Jaa would get better.  Right?  Wrong.  Jaa hasn't improved one iota as an actor or a screen presence, and while he remains a formidable martial artist his weaknesses in other areas have become a major issue with his films.

The 'plot' of Warrior King - "give me back my elephants" - hardly seemed to invite a sequel, and so it proves.  This entry is just as thinly plotted, and it couldn't matter less that it's a sequel as Jaa's character is so perfunctory that the idea of advancing him is laughable.

This, along with an - ahem - Rzable performance from a member of the Wu Tang Clan, could perhaps be excused if it weren't for the fact that the martial arts sequences have been largely neutered by the fact that Jaa is now using obvious (read awful) CGI to achieve many of them.  Jeeja Yanin's small part is a treat for fans like myself, but otherwise, Warrior King 2 is a dead loss that fails by stripping away the exact thing that once made Jaa worth watching.

6: Labor Day
I wish I remembered enough of Labor Day's - uniformly unspeakably awful - dialogue to simply make this entry a series of quotes.  Trust me, there's more than enough ammunition in these two hours.

I was never quite sure that Jason Reitman was as brilliant a filmmaker as he had been fêted as following Juno and Up in the Air, but I certainly thought he was better than this Mills and Boon bullshit.

Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet do their best, but are defeated by the laughable story (about an ex-con who takes a woman and her 13 year old son hostage in their own home, only for them to become a sort of family) and outright hilarious dialogue.

The worst bits of the film often revolve around pie.  In one scene, which absolutely deserves the place it will have in round ups of the most miscalculated moments in cinema, Brolin gets Winslet and her son (Gatlin Griffith, who is just awful here) to help him make a pie.  It becomes a seduction scene, culminating in them putting the lid one the pie and Brolin saying "Help me put a roof on this house".

This and other moments got me some dirty looks when I saw the film with a friend, as I couldn't help laughing out loud.  The lady down the row apparently didn't appreciate that.

5: Devil's Due

Ah January.  Where would this list be without the annual dumping ground and its traditional provision of a shitty, derivative, 'horror' film?  This year it's not quite as shockingly awful as Texas Chainsaw 3D was last year, but make no mistake, this tedious found footage Rosemary's Baby knockoff is dreadful.

The biggest annoyance is that there are flashes of something better.  The couple whose baby may be the antichrist are Christians.  What does this mean for them?  How does the idea of aborting a pregnancy that seems to be in some sense malevolent play with their faith?  The film never bothers to show an interest.

The performances are as rubbish as you might expect of a low budget horror film, but the filmmaking is what really holes Devil's Due below the water line.  I've become used to the found footage illusion being badly maintained, but here it's just laughable, with unmotivated camera angles a frequent feature.

Devil's Due is, in a sense, more than just a bad movie; it's indicative of the 'that'll do' culture that continues to shit these scare free turds into cinemas every January.
4: Sin City: A Dame To Kill For
I love Eva Green, and this year she deserves an award for services to turd polishing, having burned up the screen in both 300: Rise of an Empire and this extremely belated, utterly awful, sequel to Sin City.  

Brilliantly cast and effortlessly charismatic as Green is as the titular Dame to Kill For, Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez' juvenile jab at all the familiar shades of noir is by turns boring and repellent.

The film's attitude to women is that of a 14 year old boy who loves tits, but has no idea that the thing they're attached to has a personality.  It leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.  Green, good as she is, seems needlessly exploited here; a naked prop that manages to be more by sheer force of charisma.  Let's just say that Jessica Alba - still incongruously fully clothed as Nancy, who is, after all, a stripper - doesn't manage the same feat.

I was never a big fan of the look of the first film, but if anything this one looks older, with 3D adding a layering that looks cheap and dated.  It's also a pity that this is the only context in which one might use the word 'layers' to discuss this film.

There's a surprising sense of contractual obligation to the whole thing.  You got the sense that there was some excitement driving the original film, but nobody, be they newcomers like Joseph Gordon Levitt or old hands like Bruce Willis and the co-directors, gives that impression here.  No wonder I was also bored.

3: Locke
Here's another film I completely fail to understand the largely rapturous critical reception of.  Tom Hardy and his wandering accent drive for 85 minutes while their life implodes on the phone.  The performances aren't terrible, but this is the most profoundly uncinematic film of the year.  Barely a single idea here is visual, practically every nuance (bar one hackneyed device) could easily have been achieved on radio, which is surely Locke's proper home.

That's not to say I'd have wanted to hear it on the radio.  Not, at least, unless the many, many, discussions of how to pour concrete were to be deleted from the script.    

2: Dario Argento's Dracula [2D]
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.  Okay, so it has been a while since Dario Argento made a great film, or even a decent one, but holy fuck, I didn't think the man who gave us Suspiria had something this amateurish in him, even now.

If Locke is the least cinematic film of the year then this is the ugliest.  Argento pours light into every frame of the film, overlighting it as mitigation against the darkening effect of 3D.  The result is to make it look like cheap TV from the 90s.  The heavily digital look doesn't help; everything is harsh, and the brightness makes it hilariously obvious just how cheap the sets are.

The news doesn't improve when it comes to the performances.  Thomas Kretschmann and Asia Argento (topless in yet another of her Dad's movies, and no, that hasn't got less icky with time) both act as if they're in a laughably bad panto, while Rutger Hauer, though admittedly well cast, is on autopilot as Van Helsing.

The effects are hilariously chintzy, with a CGI praying mantis that makes the Scorpion King from The Mummy Returns look state of the art, and vampire teeth that don't even fit the actors mouths.  Dario Argento's Dracula?  I'm amazed he put his name to this.  Hell, I'd imagine Uwe Boll would have gone for an Alan Smithee credit on this one.  

1: The Fault In Our Stars
Fuck this movie.  

Fuck it for being the exact movie, about beautiful people learning beautiful lessons, it promises not to be in its opening voiceover.

Fuck it for having two main characters so lacking in complexity that the only flaw either of them has is

Fuck it for wasting talented people like Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern on its mawkish tedium.

Fuck it for the trite lovey dovey bullshit that spews from its main 'characters' mouths.

Fuck it for pretending any teenager speaks like the achingly pretentious Augustus.

Fuck it for having three separate eulogies for the same barely a character.

Most of all though, fuck it for the scene in which Augustus and Hazel make out in the middle of the Anne Frank house, and everyone applauds them.

Fuck this movie.

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