by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
Happy New Year, everybody! Over the last two days, I have shared with you the 10 films that stuck with me the most throughout 2014 for the right reasons. Plaudits were thrown about, praises were slathered, and good times were had. If you missed those articles, you can find them located here and here. Today and tomorrow, though, I share with you the 10 films that stuck with me the most throughout 2014 for the wrong reasons.
I have never actually done a Bottom 10 list before. As mentioned in the first of my Top 10 pieces, prior to this year I had to carefully select what films I went to see, but this year I could toss quality control out of the window and see everything. Therefore, in the name of film criticism, I have seen a lot of total sh*t this past year. However, this is not a list of the absolute worst made films of 2014. Some of them are on here, but that is not what the list is about. It’s too easy and not particularly interesting, especially since many of them are akin to shooting fish in a barrel with a blunderbuss machine gun. I mean, are any of you at all surprised that Pudsey The Dog: The Movie turned out to be horrendous?
No, this list is a Bottom 10 and encompasses the films from 2014 that made me angry. To get on this list, a film had to have left me with a strong negative reaction that did not go away after a short while. These are the films that drew my anger, swallowed me in disappointment, offended my being in some way shape or form, or also represent everything that is wrong with filmmaking and the film industry today. How much do these films deserve to be on this list? Transcendence, Annie, Blended, and 300: Rise Of An Empire missed out on placements.
So, same rules apply here as they did for the Top 10, and same presentation style applies too – today, we count down #10 to #6. If we’re all set, don your bile protection gear, don’t look directly into the films that are listed here, and ONWARDS, AOSHIMA!
There may be spoilers. Proceed with caution.
Dir: Richard Linklater
Star: Ellar Coltraine, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke
Again, this is not a list of the worst films of 2014. I can name you at least 20 or so films that I saw that are worse than Boyhood. No, Boyhood is on this list because, more so than any other film released in 2014, it annoyed me. It confounded me, it irritated me, it baffled me, it enraged me, it majorly disappointed me, and these feelings have remained with me ever since I saw the film because people won’t shut the hell up about the goddamn thing and because we might as well FedEx all awards ever to its undeserving doorstep now to save time and money on postage.
Look, my seething distaste for Boyhood is very much equal parts it not being a very good film, and my own personal feelings and baggage. Boyhood purports to be a look at the coming-of-age of a white, suburban, straight, middle-class male throughout the 2000s but does so in a way and tone that feels like it’s putting down the final word on the matter. That this is how it was for everybody, that it’s making some giant statement about it all, especially since the film keeps throwing out philosophical sound bites and barely tolerable bullsh*t about how “the moment seizes you” and stuff. It looks down from upon high and decrees “THIS IS WHAT BOYHOOD WAS LIKE IN THE 2000s” with absolutely no self-awareness or analysis of what it actually means to be that kind of privileged white, straight, middle-class male, which makes its declarative nature all the more insufferable.
“Oh, but Boyhood is a character piece!” I imagine many are trying to counter with right about now. Problem with that argument is that the film fails at that, too. Mason, Jr. is a non-entity. I spent two hours and forty minutes in his company – watched him go through 12 years of life – and the most I learnt about him is that he possibly has a interest in photography, and that his actor grew up to resemble Ethan Hawke so much that I’m honestly not 100% certain that he’s not just a clone of Ethan Hawke. I don’t know what makes him tick, I don’t know what his aspirations are, I don’t know how he progressed from his six year-old self to his eighteen year-old self. He feels less like a character and more like a blank slate that either you’re supposed to project your own self onto or who is supposed to stand in for every white privileged guy ever.
“But the whole point of the movie is that your adolescence cannot be boiled down to big standout moments! That’s why it skips Mason, Jr.’s first kiss, first job, rambunctious teenager phase, etc.!” OK, so why does the entire first half of the film concern itself with the theme of being too young to truly understand how the world works? Much of the film’s first half dedicates itself to the lives of Mason and Olivia, Mason, Jr. and Samantha’s parents, and the complicated nature of their various relationships, living arrangements and procession of step-parents as viewed through the eyes of children who will never truly understand why these things are happening. That’s why there is this ridiculously cartoonishly delivered sequence where Olivia bolts with the kids away from her alcoholic and abusive new husband. That is a major standout moment of somebody’s life, and its grand theatricality – not helped by Marco Perella swinging for the fences with his playing of that scene – goes against the low-key nature of the rest of the film.
Yet the film drops that theme at about the halfway mark and just ambles about aimlessly for its remaining runtime. It’s maddening to see a film wilfully waste its potential and possible avenues of storytelling and thematic resonance at damn near every opportunity. Patricia Arquette has been getting major praise for her role as Olivia and understandably so, she does great work, which makes it all the more infuriating that, despite being Mason, Jr.’s primary parent and guardian, the film repeatedly side-lines her in favour of even more screen time with Mason, Sr. in a bunch of scenes that eventually reduce themselves to just hitting the same beats over and over again. Olivia gets an outstanding scene near the end where she breaks down as an uncaring Mason, Jr. gets the last of his stuff from her house about the passage of time, and of heavily implied regret for giving her life to him instead of living it for herself. That scene is outstanding, which only makes it all the more infuriating that the film isn’t about her – the one character in the film with an arc, thematic resonance or f*cking something going on.
That’s ultimately what annoys me most about Boyhood, is the fact that it has nothing going on besides its “shot over 12 years” gimmick. It is a film with no central character, no consistent thematic arc, and nothing interesting to say because it actively steers itself away from having anything interesting to say. I get the feeling that Linklater started this project with a real passion and desire, only for that to fade away from him as the years progressed, eventually becoming more of an obligation than anything he was seriously interested in working on – the film gets lazier and lazier, just drifting through its last forty minutes with no drive except for some half-assed pseudo-philosophical rambling (very much like a teenager). Linklater is better than this, he has consistently proven over the last 12 years that he is a better filmmaker than this, and that’s why Boyhood disappoints me so. It’s a pointless, muddled, dreary slog of a film that also touches on something real and honest infrequently enough to make its bungling of everything even more irritating.
Also, its last scene is one of the worst and most aggravating that I have seen all year, and the film managed to make me hate Arcade Fire for a good two hours after I left the cinema.
09] Let’s Be Cops
Dir: Luke Greenfield
Star: Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans, Jr.
Let’s Be Cops is not the worst comedy of 2014 – that honour goes to Sex Tape, since that barely qualifies as a film, let alone a comedy. It is not the most offensive comedy of 2014 – that honour goes to Blended. It is also not the most disappointing comedy of 2014 – A Million Ways To Die In The West – or the most pointless – Horrible Bosses 2 – or the biggest pile of evidence that we should stop allowing British people to make comedies – Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie. What Let’s Be Cops is, and why it is on this list instead of the far more deserving Sex Tape, is the most perfect encapsulation of everything that is currently wrong with the American feature-length comedy movie.
2014 has been a pretty miserable year for out-and-out comedies. Of the many, many, many comedies released these past 12 months, only two were actually any good – Bad Neighbours (which came this close to cracking my Top 20) and 22 Jump Street (which had a very good chance of actually cracking the Top 10 if I had managed to watch it again before list-making time) – the rest were either diverting but pointless, or just plain torture to sit through. I realise that every year has maybe two great straight comedies – a number that’s bumped up to four if you include comedy-dramas or black comedies – and a whole load of tripe surrounding them, but you’ll have to forgive me for being disappointed that an increased number of releases this year led to the same number of hits compared to misses.
The American comedy is currently stale, and Let’s Be Cops is such a grab-bag text of all of its worst impulses that I’m honestly still not sure that it wasn’t intentional – a desire to make a comedy I can point to for all aspiring comedy filmmakers and go “You see that? Don’t do that.” A loose rambling structure that sacrifices these things we call “set-ups” and “punchlines” in favour of dropping talented comedians with decent chemistry into scenarios and praying that they can improv up enough gold to fill out the runtime, direction and scene set-ups that are dull and interchangeable, editing that doesn’t know when to stop a scene, a needlessly stretched out runtime that gets way too close to two hours, genuinely funny material being beaten into the ground or stretched so thin that the entire enterprise feels endless, a casually tossed off sexist attitude towards women, a final third where the jokes are dropped completely because apparently only Phil Lord & Chris Miller know how to make plot funny anymore…
Let’s Be Cops also has the extra dead albatross of being released in the immediate aftermath of the tragic events that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri which have sparked off an additional nationwide conversation about police brutality, racism and militarisation of the police force, adding an extra layer of awkward tastelessness to jokes like our two leads playfully brandishing their loaded guns at each other in a public restaurant. But, honestly, that’s the least of its problems. Let’s Be Cops could have used its premise to explore and ask tough questions about the current state of the police force in 21st century America, but it didn’t have to and it’s not automatically lesser for not doing so – there’s nothing wrong with a silly comedy and at no point did either of the Jump Street movies use their cop-comedy premises for social satire. What is inexcusable, though, is the sheer laziness and half-assery of the film’s entire construction. This is soulless, paint-by-numbers filmmaking where the only people trying are its two stars, which only serves to make them look desperate.
Again, Let’s Be Cops is not the worst comedy of the year – holy hell, is Sex Tape ever an appalling train wreck – but it is a perfect distillation of everything that is currently wrong with the comedy genre. This trend of foisting near-laugh-free scripts on talented actors with lightning chemistry and expecting them to do all the heavy lifting with endless improv needs to stop. I don’t care that the majority of today’s movie star comedians and comediennes come with an improv background; there is a never a better substitute for tight editing and a raucous script stuffed to the brim with proper jokes from start to finish. Bad Neighbours got that, 22 Jump Street got that, why can’t anything else get that?
08] A New York Winter’s Tale
Dir: Akiva Goldsman
Star: Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Jessica Brown-Findlay
That’s right, folks. A film that I declared back in February to have been “one of the worst films that I have ever seen” is only #8 on my Bottom 10 of 2014. And, honestly, it’s really only here out of some sort of obligation. Oh, sure, A New York Winter’s Tale is pure garbage of the highest order, but it’s a film that I have warmed to since then, probably because it, unlike a lot of the tripe populating this list, at least is completely sincere in its attempts to be good. Therefore, although I hated it at the time, I don’t hate it with the same ferocity that I once did. Not anymore, I feel like I have moved on from it.
Again, though, that doesn’t stop A New York Winter’s Tale from being a complete and total failure on every single conceivable level of filmmaking. The dialogue is atrocious, the plot is nonsense, it looks dreadful in both the practical sense – of set design, shot composition, costumes, hairpieces and such – and the computer-generated sense, it boasts atrocious performances from everybody involved, it is paced like a marathon populated by narcoleptics, its attempts at thematic resonance and foreshadowing are quite literally laughable… I’m honestly not sure what’s more inadvertently hilarious, the movie or the fact that a former Oscar winner convinced Village Roadshow Pictures to give him $60 million and several talented high profile actors to give several weeks of their lives to filming this piece of guff.
The plot powering this guff – based on a novel I haven’t read but is apparently, by all accounts, nowhere near as rubbish as this – centres around Colin Farrell as a potential miracle maker who was raised and then hunted by a demon, played by Russell Crowe, legitimately named Pearly Soames (real name, not the gender-flipped version of Pearl from Spongebob Squarepants), who works for Lucifer, played by Will Smith (an incredibly sleepy and checked out Will Smith, before you get excited and, yes, it is problematic that the one major black guy in the film is playing Satan). It turns out that Colin Farrell’s miracle is to apparently cure a young woman’s terminal tuberculosis through the power of love, whilst Pearly (real name) hunts the pair down with murderous intentions cos Lucifer don’t like any sunshine or kittens getting out into the world, thank you kindly.
See, this all sounds like the most enjoyable nonsense, a “So Bad, It’s Good” of epic proportions. Yet, whilst I was watching the thing, I didn’t find it funny because it is so po-facedly earnestly serious about its stupid endeavour that any fun to be had at its ridiculous awfulness was lost. This was a film with a Pegasus, a ridiculous pace-killing near-century time-skip, and a sequence in which somebody is quite literally f*cked to death, and all I could do was check my watch, yawn and question whether walking out would be preferable to continuing to submit myself to the thing – although I did laugh at the reveal of the Pegasus, mostly because it looks like what you’d get if you asked a 5 year-old to recreate the Tri-Star logo in MS Paint in the next 30 minutes.
But I no longer hate A New York Winter’s Tale. I did, once upon a time, enough to write a long-winded and pretty funny review (if you’ll allow me one of my five annual tootings of my own horn) tearing the thing to shreds, but no more. I have made my peace with this film’s existence. If I were to ever see it again – preferably in the company of friends, drunk on soda of various kinds, during a Bad Movie Night – I’d probably be able to crack wise at the thing effortlessly and have myself a gay old time. It is still one of the worst movies I have ever seen in my 20 years of existence, but as previously mentioned this is not a Worst Movies of 2014 list. Therefore, A New York Winter’s Tale stalls out at #8. The bile saved from this can instead be deployed on other, more deserving films, such as…
07] Transformers: Age Of Extinction
Dir: Michael Bay
Star: Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Stanley Tucci
This one is just as much my own goddamn stupid fault as it is the film in question. I stupidly – and it is stupidly, there is no other word or reasoning to make this alright – let a part of me become somewhat hopeful that this time things would be different. The Transformers series, under the creative direction and influence of these people, gave me absolutely no reason to believe that it could produce anything great or even worth my time. Yet, a part of me was allowed to be quietly optimistic. After bottoming out with Revenge Of The Fallen, Dark Of The Moon took the series’ first tentative steps towards being a good movie – it wasn’t one, but it was on the path to at least being entertaining – and 2013’s underrated Pain & Gain proved to me that Michael Bay hadn’t forgotten how to make movies. So a part of me got a little hopeful; this time, things were going to be different.
They weren’t. They weren’t at all. Age Of Extinction is a regression back to all of the same toxic sh*t that Transformers, Revenge Of The Fallen and to a lesser extent Dark Of The Moon had peddled beforehand, only now even more bloated and expanded and epic-ised (which isn’t even a real word but was likely a direction used for scene prep at some point during this thing’s production) to levels that make the resulting product an endurance test instead of anything that anybody could find entertaining. Casual racism, creepy paedophilic undertones, an actively hateful bordering on misogynist view of women, product placement – including product placement for The People’s Republic of China despite current world events making that one of the most tone-deaf things one could do – abysmally directed and incomprehensible action, active wasting of interesting themes, and an utterly awful Imagine Dragons song – which is a step down from Linkin Park.
And in other news, the sun rose today, the sky is blue, and George Clooney is an incredibly sexy man. Look, I get that we have all collectively realised that the Transformers movies are abhorrent pieces of trash and that their continued financial success will be one of life’s big mysteries. Age Of Extinction’s appearance on this list is that barrel full of fish that I mentioned earlier, but sometimes really obvious fish need shooting for a reason and this metaphor has broken down. Point is, Age Of Extinction is a reminder that there are people out there who have nothing but contempt for the movie going audience. Who believe that they can push out thoughtless, stupid, toxic crap and that people will show up to buy it because the explosions are big and shiny and purdy. There is always room for big dumb action films – the Fast & Furious franchise is beloved for a reason, after all – but those are films that do so with glee, joy and smartness, as crafting a good big dumb action film takes actual effort.
Age Of Extinction is not that film. It is a cynical, joyless, mindless exercise whose sole reason for its existence is to line Paramount Pictures executives’ pockets with more money. And I went into it stupidly thinking that it wouldn’t be. People went to see this and not Edge Of Tomorrow, and, thanks specifically to China, we will be suffering through two more of these sh*tfests. Well done, everyone. Sterling job.
06] The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Dir: Marc Webb
Star: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx
We are in the middle of a full-on comic book boom at the cinema. Now, admittedly, we’ve been in one since the early 2000s when Spider-Man, X-Men and Blade were ruling the box office, but we’re really in the midst of one. Every studio has, or is attempting to cultivate, their own comic book empire out of the materials that Marvel Studios hasn’t already swallowed up, everybody is trying to serialise everything, and Marvel this year dictated the exact days in which I need to sit my ass down in a cinema for the next five years. This boom will bust out eventually, but things are looking good for now.
They won’t look so good for very long, however, if studios keep pumping out films like The Amazing Spider-Man 2. This one was a time-bomb, folks. As you may have gathered from my original review, I strongly disliked the film but I didn’t hate it at the time – I thought I’d found a couple of redeeming factors and let the potential of the series dilute some of my venom for it. But then it sat in head. And sat. And sat. And, for at least three months afterwards, it wouldn’t leave because myself and my friends kept finding more and more wrong with it the more we let it settle. We found new problems – like the incredibly poor pacing and structural mess that robs anything of any resonance – whilst old problems – the incredibly creepy and borderline sexist crap with Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey, Peter’s problem of him being a giant dick – were found to be even more systemic and problematic.
In the end, though, it all comes back to this simple fact: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is not a film. It is a commercial for the next film, and also a Sinister Six film that literally nobody was ever asking for. This is not a film that was made by a cast and crew with a vision, a story to tell, and the drive and passion to pull it off. This was a film ham-fistedly dictated by a studio for the sole purpose of forcing a franchise and making a lot of money because, “Yo! Those kids loves them some Spider-Man! I spies dollar signs, boys!” There is no narrative reason for this film to exist, there is no thematic reason for this film to exist; this is a film that exists because Sony saw that Marvel Studios have made Scrooge McDuck-money with their franchises and shared universe continuity and wanted that green without actually having to do the work necessary to earn it.
Do you know why Marvel can unveil concrete dates for a five-year plan of films and the only negative thing it does to us is make us contemplate our own fragile mortality? It’s because they, first and foremost, tell stories. Each film so far, despite this shared-universe thing and their franchising and sequelising and such, works as a film on its own. They tell complete stories, have effort and craft put into them, and each of them exist because, or give a good enough illusion, somebody wanted to tell a story, first and foremost. Are they often still safe, less groundbreaking and risky than they appear, and mandated by the producers at the studio? Well, yes, undoubtedly, but the films are great and satisfying and fun and have real effort put in that I really don’t care.
Marvel Studios, essentially, have earned my trust, and near everyone else’s trust, in this grand experiment because they have proven first and foremost that their movies are worth the commercial avenues that they will be taken down. Sony don’t want to wait for that trust and have forced the Spider-Man license through the most cynical, money-driven, bereft-of-ideas ringer they could get their hands on, and practically every problem with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 can be traced back to a studio wanting their money now and not thinking through, or putting any effort whatsoever into, a single one of the film’s creative decisions. When people disparage comic book movies and serialisation of movies, this is what they are referring to and I shiver at the possibility that I will be seeing more Amazing Spider-Man 2s in the coming future.
Sony, just torch the franchise and negotiate with Marvel. Please? It’s clearly been more trouble for you than it’s worth. Just wash your hands of this game and move on. For all of us.
Well, we’ve made it halfway through the list. Agree? Disagree? Think I was being too harsh/not harsh enough on some of these? Let me know in the comments below! Tomorrow, we wrap up this week with the absolute bottom of the barrel. Brace yourselves…
Callum Petch only dreams in black and white. Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!