It is that time of the year, the time of woolly jumpers, log fires, eggnog, roasted chestnuts, and the making of lists.
My favourite movies of 2014 will follow in due course (after I have seen Paddington), but first a visit to the dark side.
This is not an attempt at a definitive worst of 2014 list. Not that I have any moral objection to such an activity but I am not a professional film critic and go out of my way to avoid movies I know are going to be bad. So many fixtures of critical bottom of the league tables I simply haven’t seen. You won’t find Transformers 4, Nativity 3, or [insert whatever Adam Sandler starred in this year]. I haven’t seen them because no-one paid me to.
Instead these are films I was either hoping might be decent fluff, or worse was actively excited about. Some of these will probably appear in some top 10’s, some definitely won’t. I think (and hope) that there will be at least one entry to infuriate all of you among the following.
It’s my list, suck it up!
These are the movies that let me down in 2014 in no particular order of demerit.
It is customary for critics to bemoan the state of the British film industry by picking on the latest limp comedy. In truth we need our Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movies and our Nativity 3’s because they bring in punters, generate cash, and (so the theory goes) some of the spoils should trickle down helping finance riskier propositions.
While the film blogger twitteratti tediously love to rag on films that they have no intention of ever seeing (I am no exception) I did see Cuban Fury and I did see Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie and if you put a gun to my head and forced me to chose which one to sit through again… I’d choose the later.
A stupefyingly awful comedy, Cuban Fury actually picked up some okay notices. I can only presume this was due to good will toward fan favourite Nick Frost. Given a movie to carry Frost flails around doing the sort of exaggerated mugging once popular in 70s TV sitcoms. Back in the day acting had to be HUGE to register on a fuzzy TV from across the living room. On a 4k DCP projected onto a screen the size of a house Frost’s overacting can be seen from orbit.
Cuban Fury is tumbleweed unfunny and you can’t even show it to your mum because of a constant stream of grossly sexist dialogue from misogynist caricatures played by Chris O’Dowd and Rory Kinnear.
Also if you are going to make a rom-com, it would be wise to have the romantic leads share more then five minutes screen time together (a fun game to play watching this is trying to imagine how many days Rashida Jones was available for shooting).
The tale of an out of luck superstar cook going back to his roots as a glorified Breville and in the process winning back the affections of his estranged family.
Chef is not a movie. Rather it was a combination of vanity project (director/star Jon Favreau plays a superhero whose power is scoring big with women totally out of his league) and Twitter infomercial.
The plot is moved along with little animated tweets with little animated wings that fly across the screen with a little ‘whoosh’ noise. At one point the entire film grinds to a halt for a practical lesson in how to geo-tag a photo. It is as fulfilling and substantial as a brandy snap basket.
Part of a vast grazing herd of films about lovable man-children that spans the plains and grasslands of the cinematic landscape like a plague of fucking LOCUSTS (see also Chef) Spike Jonze’s critically adored Her is a science fiction about an passive aggressive arrested adolescent (Joaquin Phoenix) and his love for the artificially intelligent lifestyle software he installs on his smart phone (huskily voiced by Scarlett Johansson).
Boring, latently misogynist, and a very poor piece of science fiction, Her drove me up the wall with its single minded insistence that its central character was a misunderstood nice guy rather than a creep unable to deal with a flesh and blood woman retreating to a virtual fantasy world designed to service his every need and fluff his fragile masculine ego. Film bloggers generally loved this movie… I’m just putting that out there.
NEED FOR SPEED
Okay, hands up, not every film on this list is something I expected to be any good. I specifically requested Need for Speed to review because as a critic sometimes you just want to taste something’s flesh!
The disappointment of the film is that rather than a smoking motorway pile up leaving miles of wreckage in its wake it was just really dull. Like so many wannabe blockbusters, NFS lacks any sense of danger, and mistakes cuticle-deep cuteness for charactisation.
I’ve watched some vacuous tosh in my time, but NFS was an exceptionally soulless piece of studio twaddle. Remember when Justin Bieber was arrested after drag racing a rented Lambo in Miami and we all called him an asshole on twitter? That is basically the entire plot.
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
As a fan of Bryan Singer’s first two X-Men movies, I was really looking forward to his franchise return. Sadly X-Men: Days of Future Past was a film fundamentally and demonstrably broken on a basic storytelling level.
Overstuffed with characters, illogical plot twists and indecipherable motivations, it had a nonsensical climax in which Singer again shows that he believes that there is nothing more exciting to watch than someone in a cape lifting heavy things. It wasn’t fun to watch in Superman Returns and it isn’t any more interesting here.
Days of Future Past plugged the guitar of incoherence into the amp of stupid, turned it up to eleven, and then shredded for 130 mins whilst jumping up and down on the wah-wah pedal of dodgy continuity.
I. HATED. IT.
Quicksilver was good though.
Probably the most traditionally ‘bad’ film in this list, I, Frankenstein was a thuddingly stupid attempt to mould a sequel to Mary Shelly’s classic tale by turning the monster into moody gothic superhero.
It’s EPIC bobbins.
Watching this tripe was like being stuck at a party listening to a drunken teenager trying to explain the rules of a new Dungeons & Dragons module they have designed. Aaron Eckhart’s performance as ‘The Monster’ was 95% grunting, Bill Nighy rolled his R’s and thought of the loft extension this was paying for, some extra colour was added by Jai Courtney a man constantly out acted by his stubble. Writer and director Stuart Beattie slathered shitty CGI over everything. The location was a no-wheresville back lot in Eastern Europe tricked out to look like Paris. And to help gain a 12 certificate there was no blood and the combatants either exploded into flame (if demons), or shot shafts of light to heaven (if angelic hosts) upon death.
Frankly they might as well have exploded into coins.
It wasn’t all emotionally stunted men-children at the flicks in 2014, emotionally stunted twenty something women also got a look-in curtesy of Lynne Shelton’s appalling indie-cutie rom-com fiasco Say When (US title Laggies).
Kiera Knightly played a 28-year-old suffering from early onset mid-life crisis brought on by an unexpected proposal from her drip of a boyfriend. Through an improbable and contrived series of events she ends up crashing at the home of a teenager Annika (Chloë Grace Moretz). Of course Annika has a cute and divorced father (Sam Rockwell) and romance ensues.
Part of a growing trend in American independent cinema of films exploring the effect of no dramatic tension whatsoever (see also Chef), Say When was as non-descript and flavourless as its anodyne UK title suggested (so unmemorable I’ve been erroneously calling it Say What for ages, thank you @ckfyvie for pointing that out).
MAPS TO THE STARS
Slamming movies actually gives me no pleasure (even if appearances suggest the contrary) but this one is particularly painful. David Cronenberg is among my favourite practitioners of the cinematic art, his films are often difficult but Maps to the Stars is the first I have flat out hated since M Butterfly.
A sour satire of Hollywood and celebrity lifestyles Maps to the Stars was relentlessly ugly both visually and thematically, but to little identifiable end. The film came across as simply the work of a studio outsider having a very bad attack of acid reflux. Clearly the cruddy, strangely flat shooting style, and sickly plastic pallor of the cast were artistic decisions (Julianne Moore looked like she had been dipped in glycerine), but why did the film contain CGI so poor that it would have embarrassed a SyFy Channel movie?
Whereas the best Cronenberg has always felt ahead of the curve (Videodrome still feels prescient despite being built around decades obsolete technology) Maps to the Stars felt like a very tired and belated attempt to ape the studious moral vacuity and emotional distance of Bret Easton Ellis’ early novels.
It is rare that a bad film is as hypnotically awful as David Ayer’s Sabotage (it’s doubtful its entirely Ayer’s fault, but as long as directors persist in pushing auteur theory they are going to have to live with the shame of films like this falling on their shoulders). Star-led studio product is usually carefully marshalled and machine tooled so that even the most rancid cinematic effluent is polished to a bright Mr Sheen glare (see Need For Speed). Sabotage is not like that; in fact I am hard pressed to think of a major film released in such a half-arsed, incoherent, blatantly unfinished state.
Arn-holdt leads a crack DEA SWAT team whose reputation goes up in flames when millions in drug money goes missing fallowing a bust. After an inconclusive internal investigation the team is disbanded, however when members of the Austrian Oak’s team start turning up dead the Feds show an interest. Could this group of colossal macho assholes (and that includes the token woman) be a target of a drug cartel or is there a rat in their midst?
The movie begins as a gritty realistic thriller (well gritty if you call Call of Duty realistic), then switches tack to become a dumb-ass action film, before ending its run as a nihilistic neo-spaghetti western. It is utterly dreadful whichever mode it’s in.
Arnie delivers the worst performance of his career (some lunatics have proclaimed it his best), the action scenes are a complete mess of random editing and sound effects, it has a really nasty edge, and Olivia Williams has a Southern accent so bad it can only have been deployed to distract attention from Schwarzenegger’s unintelligibly guttural yowling.
My most controversial choice and I have to acknowledge a significant factor in my dislike of Dan Gilroy’s LA set thriller-slash-media satire is actually rankling against claims made on its behalf. One of the year’s most lauded films, Nightcrawler was regularly compared to both Taxi Driver and Network, two stone cold masterpieces. Clearly these were seen as benchmarks due to the subject matter (television news) and the central character played by Jake Gyllenhaal, a creepy psychopath with a strong work ethic who stumbles into, and then excels at, a career recording accident and crime footage to sell freelance to content hungry local news stations.
My issues with the film were that as a liberal I dislike liberal bullshit as much as I dislike conservative bullshit and this film pursues a THE MEDIA IS EVIL agenda that felt shallow and pat. The unprincipled news editor played by Rene Russo fit the stereotype of the powerful media female to an extent I felt uncomfortable with.
As a media satire it seemed very thin, certainly not of the depth and complexity offered by Network, and as a study of a psychopathic personality it lacked any nuance whatsoever. Gyllenhaal is an obvious nutter the moment we meet him and pretty much stays that way throughout. Travis Bickle may not be a sympathetic character, or a likeable character, but he is at least a character.
Bill Paxton has a small role as a professional news cameraman who has been plying this odious trade for years. Rather than viewing the topic through the point of view of a psycho unencumbered by morality, a more interesting film would have followed this character. How does he sleep at night? How does he go home every day and kiss the kids after the things he does?
This was my Silver Linings Playbook of 2014, a film adored by most that left me not only indifferent but frankly befuddled.