We’ve said it before, notably as a lead-in to our recent Best Films Of The Year So Far feature, but 2014 is looking to be a pretty good year for the movies, with a lot more to celebrate than commiserate being unveiled this past six months. And if we can say that the week that “Transformers: Age of Extinction” is the big release, you know we must really mean it. However, as the song goes, along with all the sunshine, there’s gotta be a little rain sometimes, and how would we even know how great some of our high points were if we didn’t periodically experience the lows? Even in the best years, there’ll be a few films that stick in our various craws, and so in our bi-annual attempt to exorcize those demons, here’s a rundown of the films our staff members most disliked this year, thus far.
A word on our format this time around, though. When we’ve run these brief wallows in cinematic ordure before, there’s often a degree of confusion around whether the picks are subjective or objective, and whether they’re consensus agreements or the unshakable impression of one single Playlister whose opinion the rest of us would like to sidle away from quietly. So to try and minimize that this year, we’re going with personal choices, but in two categories—each has chosen the film that we believe belongs in the realm of the empirical, objective, worst (i.e. with the fewest redeeming features) and also, with more up-front subjectivity, a film that personally disappointed us due to whatever peculiar cocktail of expectation we felt going in. It’s not a perfect system, and no doubt you’ll all find a lot to disagree with, which is what the comments section is for, but hopefully this way you get some context for our choices.
Not only that, but, as borne out by our “best of” being much, much longer, the fact is that it’s far more likely that a majority of us will have gone to see a film we hear good stuff about than bad, with the result that oftentimes achieving a consensus around the worst films of the year is difficult, because few of us seek out films that those we respect strongly caution us away from; no one but the worst masochist goes around trying desperately to see films they believe they’re going to dislike in advance, unless they really have to. There are more than enough great movies to occupy anyone’s time. As a result, all the below are eclectic and highly personal choices reflecting the dodgy end of our individual experiences of 2014 at the movies so far. Enjoy, or be appalled, as you will.
Worst: “Walk of Shame”
I was suspicious of “Walk of Shame” when it was announced, purely on premise alone. A plucky news reporter gets stranded in downtown LA without a car or phone? Quelle horreur! Whatever shall she do? As an Angeleno, this premise sounded preposterous and somewhat classist/racist. And guess what? It is! The film, written and directed by Steven Brill, manages to stereotype and offend in order: prostitutes, taxi drivers, Middle Easterners, drug dealers, black people, bus drivers, homeless people, Latinos, Jews, massage therapists and Asians, but above all, white women, because they are ultimately the biggest dummies in this film. The entire movie is premised upon the cognitive dissonance of an attractive, upper middle class white woman like Elizabeth Banks traipsing about lower class ethnic neighborhoods, inappropriately dressed. FUNNY, RIGHT?! So hilarious, ‘cause like, why would she ever be in a crack house? Banks is clearly game for the pursuit, but it’s only in service of situations that are racist, classist and terribly unfunny. The rest of the cast are just along for the ride, with Gillian Jacobs as her particularly mean best friend, completely uncharming playing cold and bitchy, instead of her dizzy, fizzy “Community” character. As much as the film tries, it just never gets there, with stilted timing and five-year-old regional jokes. If there’s anything more pathetic than a trying-to-be-raucous wild film that just comes off as hideously boring as “Walk of Shame,” I’m really glad I don’t know what that is.
Disappointing: “They Came Together”
I didn't even watch the trailer for "They Came Together," so sure I was that I'd like the spoof take on the rom com from the team behind the classic "Wet Hot American Summer." I was certainly not expecting to hate this movie with every fiber of my being within five minutes, and have to talk myself out of walking out several times, in order to write this piece. While the "film" (I am loathe to use that term as this is basically a Funny or Die short bloated to a torturous 80 minutes) has myriad problems, most of them all go back to the sheer contempt that this film has for the romantic comedy genre, and the Nora Ephrons that have governed and cultivated said genre. David Wain and co. didn't bother writing a single joke, because "yuk yuk isn't it funny that we're making fun of romantic comedies and this particular woman's work; poop, fart, penis, butt, boobs, cynical smirk, repeat." That's literally the only joke—romantic comedies are like this, am I right??—for the entire movie. Every supporting character delivers their lines with a derisive, sneering irony, while even the one-two punch of likability that is Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd portray their characters as if they are suffering traumatic brain injuries. What made something like 'Wet Hot' work as a spoof was that it clearly came from a place of love for '70s summer camp movies, and the giddy joy at making an entry of their own. This is just a mean, nasty takedown of rom-coms, which feels inherently sexist, because the message is that media tailored to a female audience is inferior, and needs more completely random poop references to be funny. And the fact that it's so terribly, cringingly unfunny is the ultimate rub, because despite the nonsensical, sexual and scatological content, so effortfully shoehorned in, "They Came Together" contains not one truly funny moment, and that's probably the greatest insult to this group, and biggest disappointment to their fans.
Worst: "A Million Ways to Die in the West"
The western comedy is a notoriously difficult genre hybrid, one that takes a certain amount of finesse and delicateness to successfully pull off. So it should have come as no surprise that Seth MacFarlane, a proven enemy of subtlety, would bungle his widescreen western comedy "A Million Ways to Die in the West." Part of this has to do with MacFarlane's seemingly boundless ego—not only did he co-write and direct this overlong, unfunny slog, but he also had the gall to star in it too. (As a testament to his narcissism, MacFarlane cast Amanda Seyfried and Charlize Theron, two of the smartest, most talented, and, of course, most gorgeous, actresses around, to play characters who spend the whole movie fighting over him.) Everything about "A Million Ways to Die in the West" is a wrong-headed miscalculation: from the distractingly awful cameos from Bill Maher and Christopher Lloyd (reprising his "Back to the Future" role) and Jamie Foxx (as Django, no less) to the fact that MacFarlane plays a character with contemporary neuroses with zero explanation as to why he's this crazy modern man trapped in the west. It's just exhausting. Not that it will matter much to MacFarlane. He's got "Ted 2" lined up next. And we all know how much the kids love a foul-mouthed bear. At the very least we can take heart in knowing that MacFarlane won't actually appear on screen. Thank god.
This was supposed to be it: a bold live action retelling of Walt Disney's immortal animated "Sleeping Beauty," except this time told from the point-of-view of its unforgettable evil sorceress, Maleficent (embodied, with devilish glee, by Angelina Jolie). The original animated film's lush widescreen look (it was projected on 70 mm, in the super-stretchy 2.55:1 aspect ratio) and Mary Blair and Eyvind Earle's medieval-meets-modern artistic aesthetic would be updated with state-of-the-art visual effects and 3D photography. And even better: like their similar "Alice in Wonderland," the entire movie would be suffused with at least a volatile, subversive dose of rah-rah feminism. But none of this would come to pass. Instead, the movie, uneasily and artlessly directed by former production designer Robert Stromberg, was a witless blur, turning the iconic villainess into an easily malleable wimp, largely defined by her relationship to various male characters. The attempt at depicting a meaningful relationship between Maleficent and future Sleeping Beauty Aurora (Elle Fanning) meant absolutely nothing, and the feminist subtext was non-existent. Maleficent is basically a rape victim, and spends the rest of the story plotting her revenge in all sorts of really flimsy ways (yawn). Worst of all: Maleficent's coolest power, the ability to turn into a fearsome dragon, was robbed of her and given to a male character. So much of the movie is concerned with how a character had robbed Maleficent of her beautiful wings. But it was the dopey filmmakers behind this oddly structured bore that really took away Maleficent's magnificence. For a Disney freak like myself, "Maleficent" was absolutely crushing.