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A.V. Club’s Worst of the Year List: ‘Left Behind,’ ‘Winter’s Tale,’ ‘Atlas Shrugged’ and More

A.V. Club's Worst of the Year List: 'Left Behind,' 'Winter's Tale,' 'Atlas Shrugged' and More

The A.V. Club’s list of the year’s best films is on the way, but here’s something to tide year-end list fans over: their worst of the year. And even in a strong year, there’s no dearth of terrible films. Here’s the full top/bottom 20:

1. “Left Behind
2. “3 Days to Kill”
3. “Septic Man”
4. “Lullaby”
5. “Winter’s Tale”
6. “Labor Day
7. “The Bag Man”
8. “Dark House”
9. “Drive Hard”
10. “If I Stay”
11. “Hector and the Search for Happiness”
12. “The Legend of Hercules”
13. “Miss Meadows”
14. “Best Night Ever”
15. “America: Imagine the World Without Her”
16. “Third Person”
17. “A Million Ways to Die in the West”
18. “Saving Christmas
19. “Devil’s Knot
20. “Atlas Shrugged, Part III: Who Is John Galt?”

Nicolas Cage has starred in some real duds over the past decade, but some of them have at least been entertainingly nuts (“The Wicker Man,” “Ghost Rider”). “Left Behind,” though, is arguably the worst film he’s starred in, as well as the most depressing. Film Editor A.A. Dowd writes:

Casting wild man Nicolas Cage in an evangelical doomsday thriller sounds like a recipe for camp nirvana. But while there are quite a few big, unintentional laughs in “Left Behind,” the overwhelming emotion the movie provokes is pity. How strapped for cash, how totally desperate, must Cage have been to sign on to such a cut-rate production—a bargain-basement disaster movie legitimized only by the presence of an Oscar winner in its cast? And how did producer Paul LaLonde manage to make an even chintzier version of this bestselling material than the one Kirk Cameron starred in 14 years ago? The “Sharknado” of faith-based entertainment, “Left Behind: is a crapterpiece of near divine mystery, flummoxing mortal moviegoers with its awkward blend of Old Testament moralizing and broad comic relief. Just don’t weep too hard for the film’s movie-star ringer: Judging from the training-video production values, Syfy-grade special effects, and porn-worthy performances, Cage may have received a rather sizable portion of the $20 million budget, approximately $19,900,000 of which seems to have mysteriously disappeared on its way to the screen.

The film had no lack of competition for the bottom spot, with Ignatiy Vishnevetsky making the case that the third “Atlas Shrugged” film might have nabbed it if not for the fact that he was the only A.V. Clubber who saw it.

Bringing Ayn Rand’s vision to the screen with all the licensed stock footage, community-theater acting, and state-park locations that a very small amount of money can buy, Aglialoro and director James Manera have created one of the definitive cut-rate movies—a film that achieves the improbable by resembling a mockbuster knock-off of itself. From its flubbed lines (“It’s like I can’t believe you alive!” could be this generation’s “Time for go to bed”) to its sub-Wiseau utility-closet sex scene, this is a film so shoddy that it almost qualifies as a must-see.

This year’s bottom 20 had a good handful of Wing-Nut disasters, including Dinesh D’Souza’s “America: Imagine the World Without Her” and “Saving Christmas,” Kirk Cameron’s feature-length incoherent rant about the “War on Christmas” that’s currently the IMDb user pick for the worst film ever made, for whatever that’s worth. Jesse Hassinger writes:

“Saving Christmas” may not be the worst movie of the year, not least because of the provocative question it raises: How much story, character, and actual footage must something contain to be considered an actual movie? For the sects of Christianity hell-bent on supporting whatever product Kirk Cameron is peddling, the answer is “experimentally little.” Imagine trying to sell a movie set primarily in a parked car where a faded sitcom star gives a 45-minute lecture to the general moviegoing public, then imagine how few people would even consider showing up. But because Cameron has positioned himself as fighting back against a perceived war on Christmas by condescending to his fictional brother-in-law Christian (Darren Doane), his ramblings become weird totems of faith-friendly entertainment, even if they don’t actually provide it.

Still, it’s not all bargain-bin crap; there’s also prestige crap. Atom Egoyan hasn’t been at his best lately, with two of his three most recent films showing him wasting his time trying and failing to elevate schlock (“Chloe” and this year’s ludicrous thriller “The Captive”). But his worst film this year (and of his career) was “Devil’s Knot,” a stilted and totally superfluous West Memphis Three film that sees Egoyan dutifully and pointlessly recreating the events depicted in the “Paradise Lost” trilogy.

The massive success of “Serial” proves, if nothing else, that it’s possible to grippingly examine a cold case without resorting to sensationalism or sentimentalism. Consider “Devil’s Knot,” then, the podcast’s evil cinematic counterpoint—a mawkish narrative take on the West Memphis Three trial, in which a trio of Arkansas teens were convicted, with little actual evidence, of a triple child homicide. Though technically based on Mara Leveritt’s non-fiction book, the film operates like a movie-of-the-week version of “Paradise Lost”: Scenes from the HBO documentary are unconvincingly reenacted, with lots of dolled-up actors (among them Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth) failing to approximate the overwhelming emotional intensity of the real footage.

Also on the prestige crap list came one of Jason Reitman’s two recent flops. Reitman’s “Men, Women & Children” got blasted by plenty of critics, but Dowd picked “Labor Day” as the worse Jason Reitman film of the year (it technically got an none-too-successful awards-qualifying run last year before going wide in January), citing one of the most unintentionally funny scenes of the year.

There’s a scene from Jason Reitman’s Labor Day that everyone loves to make fun of, and it’s the one where Josh Brolin’s saintly escaped convict seduces Kate Winslet’s lonely single mother with nothing but his mad baking skills, treating a mixing bowl like the clay wheel in “Ghost.” Hilarious? Very much so. But if you were to somehow remove this moment from the movie—like, oh, say, one might remove a single wedge of an erotically prepared pie—you’d still have one howlingly bad melodrama on your hands. Reitman, the Hollywood scion director of “Juno” and “Up In The Air,” is aiming for the tearjerker glory of a Douglas Sirk romance. But his movie has no passion, just Hallmark-card images of New England suburbia and a couple of stars caught in a lobotomized love story. 

Finally, for the year’s silliest bad movie, look no further than Akiva Goldsman’s “Winter’s Tale,” a cornball take on the acclaimed magical-realist novel featuring an abysmally hammy Russell Crowe, Will Smith as the Devil and Colin Farrell as an apparently immortal thief. Nick Schager writes:

…even with that considerable pedigree, it’s a stunning misfire, a magical-realist mess of mystical gibberish, gooey romance, and a flying horse. Oh, there’s also time travel of a sort involved in this fiasco, which concerns an Irish thief (Farrell) in 1916 New York City who falls in love with a dying girl and promises to save her from death, much to the chagrin of a demon (Crowe) working for Satan (Smith). What ensues is more off-key nonsense than can be found in 10 like-minded fantasy sagas, with glittering jewels, wondrous doodads, and constant, ridiculous talk about fate and love. Eventually transporting its out-there material to the present day, where it rings even more false, it’s a film of epic missteps, none greater than the absurd climactic sight of Farrell taking a ride on his airborne steed.

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