Ah, my least favorite article of every year.
For those just tuning in, I don’t write “Worst of” lists at the end of every year. This is primarily because nobody pays me enough to sit through such transparently awful films as Pixels, Paul Blart 2, Mortdecai, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip, or any other movie that I know I’m going to hate before I’ve even bought the ticket. That said, if the critical reception, the premise, or the talent involved is good enough, I can occasionally be suckered into seeing a bad movie that looks incredible. Sometimes, I may even go into a bad movie just to see how so much potential could go so far wrong.
And those are the movies we’re looking at with this round of “awards”. The movies that had everything they needed and still somehow failed. This is always the hardest list for me to write, partially because it’s so hard to judge untapped potential and promise against heaps of smoldering wreckage. Also, there’s the fact that I risk dumping on a movie that everybody else likes. So sharpen your knives and read on, my friends.
Most Benign Disappointment
To clarify: A “benign” disappointment is something that you don’t like, even if you can understand why everyone else seems to like it. Basically, a benign disappointment is just a friendly disagreement. For me, a good example would be The Visit, which a lot of people like for perfectly valid reasons, though I personally couldn’t get past the obstructive “found footage” gimmick or the annoying wannabe child rapper. We’ve also got American Ultra, which has a lot of great jokes and ideas (such as Walter Goggins’ character, easily the greatest villain we had in 2015) even if the end result didn’t quite come together.
But probably the best example from this year would be Hell and Back, a movie that was clearly made to be enjoyed under very specific circumstances. I can understand the appeal of gorging on junk food, getting high with friends, and sitting back to watch some tasteless, mindless, juvenile humor, even if I’m not the kind of person who’d do any of that on a regular basis. I’m sure those who love getting stoned and laughing at one dick joke after another will love this movie, and I’m perfectly happy to let them have it.
Dumbest Waste of Talent
We’ve got Black Mass, a wannabe Oscar contender with an incredible ensemble cast, turned into a disjointed and unfocused mess in post. Then there’s Dark Places, another movie with a fantastic ensemble, but this one turned into a dreary and abhorrent pile of dreck that proved what a hack Gillian Flynn really is.
But at least those two movies had a sense of what they wanted to be. Aloha just as clearly didn’t. Despite the involvement of Cameron Crowe and the all-star cast he assembled, the movie was a catastrophic trainwreck that barreled through one bullshit plot point after another. The whole movie is a heterogenous glop of godawful storylines with wildly differing tones, held together by inconsistent characters who don’t act a thing like actual human beings, crammed into 100 minutes’ screen time come hell or high stupidity.
Dumbest Waste of a Premise
It kills me to put Tomorrowland in this category, because there were so many good ideas in a film that tried so hard to be inspirational and optimistic. Alas, Damon Lindelof tragically killed this movie by way of terrible pacing, crucial answers that were deliberately held from us past the point of patience, and some moments of truly awful writing. Though at least that movie fared better than The Lazarus Effect, a non-scary and laughably stupid movie about “geniuses” who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a rack of micropipettes, never mind a cure for death.
But then we have Chappie, directed by the man who used to be the next great sci-fi filmmaker. We were promised a heartfelt examination of artificial intelligence and the increasing mechanization of military and police forces. What we got was a stone-stupid plot driven forward by boring, one-note, flimsy characters. The film was so cliched that even its good points were clearly ripped off from other, more famous movies that did the same thing way better. For an intelligent science fiction director, Neill Blomkamp is one hell of a brainless action director, I’ll at least grant him that much.
Dumbest Waste of a Franchise (reboot or pilot)
Poltergeist (2015) had potential. It might have been a brilliant idea to remake the film in the wake of the post-Paranormal Activity “haunted house” craze, if only the filmmakers had any idea how to comment on the tropes of that craze or present them in a unique way. We also have The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which was so uneven that it failed to make the case for its own existence, and then had the audacity to beg us for a sequel. A nomination is also due to Victor Frankenstein, a pathetic attempt at a reinvigorated franchise that didn’t even introduce the monster until the goddamn climax.
But the crown prince of failed reboots and reinventions in 2015 has to be the infamous Fantastic Four (2015). Here’s a movie that didn’t know whether it wanted to be a superhero adventure, a dark and gritty anti-authoritarian film, or an inspirational ode to the wonders of science; and so, it failed spectacularly at being any of those things. This is exactly the kind of movie made by hacks who can’t agree on what the hell they’re making except money. And the fact that SIX FUCKING YEARS of planning and production went into such an incoherent mess is simply inexcusable.
Dumbest Waste of a Franchise (sequel)
I’m disappointed that Sinister 2 wasn’t better, given how much it expanded upon the ideas and continuity presented in the first film, but the direction was lamentably shit. Hotel Transylvania 2 was the exact opposite: Despite the continued involvement of grandmaster Genndy Tartakovsky, this is a sequel whose humor and plot couldn’t even clear the low bar set by the first movie.
But of course the clear winner here is Terminator: Genisys, yet another movie made by hacks who had no idea what the fuck they were doing except to churn out another film while they still have the rights. This was an impossibly stupid movie, with a time-travel plot so convoluted and nonsensical that even Damon Lindelof might have to call bullshit (or possibly take notes). Throw in some laughably bad casting choices and a promotional campaign that seemed to sabotage its own movie, and we’ve got every reason in the world to count the days until the rights revert in 2019. Then James Cameron will get the franchise back and he’ll probably let the franchise die at long last.
Biggest Waste of Ambition (The “Epic Fail”)
I don’t think I can possibly describe how much I was looking forward to Macbeth (2015). Furthermore, I know that I could never describe my disappointment at seeing the story adapted into a drab historical epic that drained away all the passion from Shakespeare’s text. Yet even that colossal waste of ambition paled next to Freaks of Nature, which threw vampires, zombies, aliens, and ridiculously over-the-top parodies of humans into a great big bowl of noisy and incoherent “What the Fuck?!”
At least these failed experiments came and went without much of anyone noticing. Jupiter Ascending, on the other hand, has already gone down as one of the most expensive and embarrassing flops in recent memory. No one can fault the Wachowski siblings for lack of imagination or ambition, but they were so damned desperate to cram every single tiny detail of their massive fucking universe into two hours’ runtime. This resulted in a movie in which every other line of dialogue is useless exposition, every other scene is a rerun of a previous scene, and our protagonist can’t do anything but scream and complain as she’s dragged from scene to scene. It also doesn’t help that this movie shows Channing Tatum at his absolute worst (We’ve already established that he’s a comedian and not an action star, so wake up, Hollywood!), and a performance that should get Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar revoked.
Most Masturbatory Awards-Grab
Here, I’m talking about movies like Black Mass that were really just mediocre and masturbatory white noise, working better as Oscar-bait than a decent story. Another fine example is Pawn Sacrifice, because Tobey Maguire obviously wanted to play a tortured genius more than we needed a movie about Bobby Fischer’s mania. Then we have The Woman in Gold, in which Ryan Reynolds tries and fails to power a courtroom drama while Helen Mirren plays a laughably inconsistent character who sways whichever way the plot blows.
But in terms of masturbatory self-important mediocrities this year, it’s hard to top the just plain embarrassing The Gunman. This is the movie in which co-writer/co-producer/star Sean Penn tries to pass himself off as an action hero while preaching about living conditions in the Congo. The fight scenes are laughable, the humanitarian agenda comes across as a self-righteous distraction, and the suspense is a non-starter. Even in spite of the all-star cast, there isn’t a single godforsaken thing about this movie that works.
Most Disappointing Costume Drama
Far from the Madding Crowd (2015) had too many boring romance subplots for two hours’ runtime. A Little Chaos failed to generate any spark of tension and couldn’t seem to find a reason for its own existence. Suffragette picked the least interesting character to be its protagonist, and bungled a gift-wrapped opportunity to make an intelligent commentary on an important social issue.
Put them all together and you’ve got Brooklyn; that boring, tedious, brainless, passionless, plotless waste of time that somehow scored near-unanimous critical praise. Are we so desperate for a break from loud and flashy CGI spectacles that we’d give a passing grade — nay, a stellar grade to this wish-fulfillment paper doll puppet theatre bullshit? Get the fuck outta here.
Most Malicious Disappointment
This final category is reserved for the films that not only threw their potential down a goddamn well, but then proceeded to nail the well shut. The movies that deliberately went back on their promises and then spit in the audiences’ collective face. The movies so bad that they could only have failed on purpose.
A fine example would be Brooklyn, which took every possible opportunity to make things easy for the protagonist and boring as hell for the audience. We also had Fantastic Four (2015), which spent the entire first act trying to inspire the next generation of scientists before blowing up that whole angle with a fuckton of stupid; and Terminator: Genisys, which was actively sabotaged by its own press campaign.
But while all of those films were pathetically mishandled, I never got the sense that any of those movies seriously hated their audience with a bloodthirsty passion. Not the way Pan did.
The filmmakers promised us a prequel of the story we all know and love, and then proved with every second of screen time that no one behind the scenes had even read the book to begin with. They gave us a paint-by-numbers plot comprised entirely of the most tired and threadbare cliches, paper-thin character stereotypes, and a protagonist with zero agency. They took one of the most beloved and fantastic fairylands known to pop culture, drained it of all creativity, and then used the cheapest possible CGI to make it look ugly as sin. And then they had the pirates sing Nirvana because fuck you, fuck your childhood, and fuck this public domain book written 100 years ago by some dead guy.
Thank God we’ll never get a sequel to Pan, because it was one of the year’s most humiliating flops, right alongside Jupiter Ascending and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Yeah, this was a really bad year for Warner Bros., and it serves them fucking right for making this detestable piece of slime-encrusted shit that was clearly made with no pride or effort whatsoever.
Agree with my list? Did I leave anything out? Feel free to drop a line in the comments and come back tomorrow for the Wild Rides of 2015!