This year I was hard pressed to find 10 films that were truly a waste of my time, so this short list fluctuates between films I’m baffled by and have struggled to find a place to include them (#5) and those that were unconditional garbage (#1). This list also includes something that I’ve not done before: involve a film not yet on general UK release (the inclusion of which serves as a warning for future cinemagoers). There’s no transparent marketing ploys (The Emoji Movie), no horror rehashes (Leatherface) and no laughter-free comedies (Daddy’s Home 2) here.
5. mother! (d. Darren Aronofsky)
Insanely perplexing, Darren Aronofsky’s latest biblical tryst was part home-invasion thriller, part seductive single-location nightmare and entirely in-you-face allegory for how we’re literally and figuratively fucking mother nature. It’s not a terrible film (its the only one on this list that I was debating whether to include) – but its exhausting genre-skipping, Jennifer Lawrence’s ceaseless squawking, and a restlessly infuriating Javier Bardem (the proposed avatar for spectators) culminated in cinematic whiplash at its most oppressive and overwhelming. Audacious cinema such as this should always be championed, but when it leaves you with a feeling of both admiration and disgust, there are few other lists it could find itself. A film I’d love to recommend but hate to suggest, mother! is so confidently polarising that its one to experience rather than enjoy, and whether you like it or loathe it, I’ll probably agree with you. Who knows, given some more distance, it may very well find itself removed from this list.
4. Baby Driver (d. Edgar Wright)
Quite simply one of the most overblown films of the year, Baby Driver follows Edgar Wright’s propensity for half-baked ideas that devolves into an insipid, self-aggrandising snore-fest. Take for example the opening scene: its full of neat flourishes and a dedication to the alliance between visual and sound, but this relationship is soon suppressed: its precision seeming to highlight the ‘cool’ soundtrack first, the stage and the story second. It’s no help either that Baby (Ansel Elgort) is an unbearable fool, but the rest of the cast fare no better: Jamie Foxx is inarticulate for the entirety of his screen-time, Kevin Spacey’s speeches and character motivations are incomprehensible and inconsistent (this even before he was exposed as a piece of shit), and John Hamm’s frankly absurd villain; it’s consistently erring on the side of moronic. There’s very little suspense in this heist caper, and when there is the attempt to wring emotion or thrills, it’s always purposefully framed to include a musical number. With disposable attempts at character-building (Baby’s backstory is as flimsy as Wright’s depiction of women) and a lack of memorable set-pieces (except for one cast member’s notable removal), Baby Driver tries to be as unique as its concept suggests but instead ends up being pedestrian.
3. It’s Only the End of the World (d. Xavier Dolan)
Another entry to this list that comes from a critically lauded director, Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only The End of the World is an aggravatingly obnoxious drama that’s light on pretty much everything, but more specifically, personality. Starring an undeniably terrific ensemble in Léa Seydoux, Vincent Cassel, and Marion Cotillard, Dolan’s adaptation of Jean-Luc Lagarce’s play dwells on the past and basks in verbal contradictions that don’t so much simmer until boiling but explode in a barrage of irritating (and increasingly deafening) bickering from the off. Calling it shrill would be an understatement: each one-on-one scene is punctuated with another verbal tennis match, only ceasing when the final speaker manages to out-screech the rest of the fractured family. Dolan has an undeniable talent at wringing emotion from familial disharmony (Mommy is a delicate, poignant achievement) but here he settles for an undisciplined and cynical endurance-test of sympathy that should be watched with a serving of headache pills.
Original review here.
2. The Mummy (d. Alex Kurtzman)
Attempting to reignite a Hammer Horror ‘Dark Universe’ rather than earning it, The Mummy isn’t just a shameful waste of one of this generation’s finest action stars, it’s worse: it’s insufferably dull. Making very little sense from beginning to (abysmal, risible) end, Alex Kurtzman’s stab at forming a coherent story falls at the first hurdle when trying to create a narrative through-line that can sustain itself not just in a singular way, but for however many sequels and spin-offs these demented overlords have planned. Storyboarded and staged by someone who quite obviously has little regard for visual storytelling or thrilling, clear action, we’re thrust into scene-after-scene of consequence-free fistfights and heavy exposition, being commanded to buy-in to the very real threat of more. The Mummy is a tonally shifting mess that pummels with a sensory aggression, squandering the campy fun that Stephen Sommers so giddily accomplished, and it gets additional minus points for Russell Crowe’s astonishingly embarrassing turn as Dr. Hyde.
=1. War for the Planet of the Apes (d. Matt Reeves)
A trilogy cap that managed to out-stupid its already preposterously dumb predecessor, War for the Planet of the Apes is a prime example for the decade that no matter how good your effects are, no matter how genuinely and technically breathtaking the motion-capture is: narrative contrivances, mountain-sized plot-holes, and feeble characters are impossible to disregard. It’s a film that’s unconditionally fine with serving up metaphors and socio-political themes in such a ham-fisted way that by the infinite time we’re told of how bad class divide and institutional racism is, I was waiting for both apes and humans alike to be wiped out by the comically convenient avalanche. A staggeringly dopey film masquerading as something smarter and more relevant, War for the Planet of the Apes even fails at providing intense spectacle, instead delivering forgettable wordy conflict, tone-deaf ‘comedy’ relief that wouldn’t look out of place in Paul Blart: Mall Cop and a conclusion so gobsmackingly sentimental that I’ve been hard-pressed to recall anything positive a mere six months later.
=1. Wonderstruck (d. Todd Haynes)
And here comes the cheat. A film that’s not released until the end of the first quarter of 2018, Wonderstruck is so unutterably bad, I’d be doing you all a disservice if I didn’t warn you about it first. Adapted from a screenplay by juvenile novelist Brian Selznick (who also wrote the unbearably twee Hugo), Todd Haynes’ sappily antiquated mess misses each and every target with unusually high frequency. Millicent Simmonds’ Rose is entirely mute (both in character and silent era reproduction), forcing those she interacts with to overdramatise every simple movement and speech. Think The Artist, with none of the artistry. This soundless enunciation and gesticulating fit for pantomime swiftly became exhausting, especially when the narrative limply flitted between gaudy monochrome (1920s) and drab sepia (1970s). Running laterally to Rose’s nowhere-story is Oakes Fegley’s Ben, who – you guessed it – is also deaf (but only when convenient to the syrupy script), and both are seeking meaning in their young lives. The constant withholding of crucial information in these stories until literally read out loud via books or subtitled sign-language stunned me like so many others, just not in the way Haynes had intended. I’m certain what’s to blame here (Haynes’ Carol is a universally adored romance and Martin Scorsese – who directed Hugo – is Martin Scorsese): Selznick’s profoundly anemic writing. It even makes the inexcusable error of misusing the talents of Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams. The only wonder this evokes in me is why people are falling in love with it. I sure hope I don’t see anything worse in 2018.
Original review here.
BFSR Award illustration header by cal.con.
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