We are, as you may have noticed, in the midst of our celebration of the year in film. Last week we looked at the best trailers and posters, and the breakthrough performers and directors, and there’s much more to come as we inch closer to Christmas. But not everything in the movie world has been worth celebrating.
It’s been a great year for film, with more than enough to fill these lists many times over — but it’s not all been peaches and cream: As ever, there’s been a fair share of rubbish cluttering up multiplexes and arthouses alike. And if we suffered through these movies, we’d be in dereliction of duty if we didn’t advise you to avoid the very worst of what we saw in 2015. So below, you’ll find the 20 worst movies the Playlist team survived in the last twelve months. Take a look, and let us know what you hated the most. And stay tuned later in the week and beyond for a return to more positive vibes in film.
20. ”Fantastic Four”
“Floptastic Four!” “Fantastic Fail!” “Trank Tanks!” In retrospect, Josh Trank‘s disastrous “Fantastic Four” just had to bomb, there were so many ready-made negative punny headlines. But what’s kind of sad about the whole sorry affair is that there’s really no reason the film had to be this bad — watch the opening, with the well-cast stars (Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Michael B. Jordan and Toby Kebbell) going through an overfamiliar but effective origin story/getting-the-team-together arc, and it feels like we’re in for something quite tolerable. But somewhere around the two-thirds mark, the wheels come off in such spectacular fashion that all memories of the time when the film was kind of okay are obliterated. Seemingly made from a normal superhero screenplay that had only been partially reconstructed after a threshing accident, the famously troubled production makes itself felt in a third act that pretty much tears itself apart, being ripped in so many directions at once. Clearly shot-later footage is shoehorned into scenes so ungracefully that poor Kate Mara’s real hair/fake hair/real hair edits become actively distracting, characters make abrupt U-turns with no explanation, any sense of causal logic goes out the window, and the film does not so much end as just stop practically mid-sentence. It’s the kind of “holy shit!” debacle that no one could possible be happy about, except maybe Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis, Chris Evans, and Julian McMahon, who we like to believe get together occasionally (though Evans finds it hard to make time) and roar with laughter over it all.
Bradley Cooper couldn’t have had a much better 2014, with “Guardians Of The Galaxy” and “American Sniper” proving to be the two biggest movies of the year at the domestic box office, and the latter winning him his third Oscar nod in four years. 2015 has been less successful: Neither “Serena” nor “Aloha” found favor with critics or audiences, and early reviews for “Joy” have been decidedly mixed (though he was, at least, great in “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp”). But the low point of a disappointing twelve months is been “Burnt,” which may not be the worst movie on this list, but might be the one that squandered the most potential. Based on a script that’s been doing the rounds for close to a decade, which had the attention of the likes of David Fincher and Derek Cianfrance at various points, it saw Cooper as Adam Jones, a bad-boy chef trying to make a comeback from disgrace. As our review acknowledged (and some of us hated it much more than that), there’s the glimmer of something here — Cooper, as ever, is very good, and in fits and starts can make the tired self-destructive-genius-in-search-of-redemption arc feel a little fresh. But in the hands of John Wells (and, one half-suspects from the film’s haphazard, rocky rhythms, Harvey Scissorhands), the film swiftly comes to feel more like a dry, tasteless chicken breast than a full feast. Though the cast is impressive — Daniel Brühl, Omar Sy, Uma Thurman, Sienna Miller, Alicia Vikander, Matthew Rhys — virtually everyone is wasted, and the film’s so disjointed and overstuffed that each scene barely seems to flow into the next. In the end, it’s a shallow, mostly incompetent dish livened up by only the occasional moments of ridiculousness, like Cooper’s self-flagellating quest to shuck a million oysters; or Uma Thurman’s lesbian food critic, apparently written by someone who’s never met a gay person.
18. “Rock The Kasbah”
Loyalty is undoubtedly something to strive for, and as such, it’s sweet that Bill Murray seems to be so dedicated to Mitch Glazer, the co-writer of “Scrooged,” who roped him into the utterly dreadful magical-realism drama “Passion Play,” also starring Mickey Rourke and Megan Fox, a few years back. The results with this year’s “Rock The Kasbah,” penned by Glazer and directed by Barry Levinson, are marginally better, but not by all that much: It’s an utterly forgettable and ineffectual “comedy” that’s more reminiscent of Murray’s mid-’90s nadir (“Larger Than Life,” “The Man Who Knew Too Little,” et al) than the more critically adored stuff he’s been making this century. Inspired, very loosely, on the documentary “Afghan Star,” it sees Murray as a washed-up music manager who heads to Kabul to take a client on a USO tour, and ends up taking a young Afghan singer under his wing. Perhaps due to Murray’s involvement, the film managed to assemble a decent cast: Zooey Deschanel, Danny McBride, Kate Hudson, Bruce Willis (though from the looks of his performance, Willis may not be aware that he’s in the movie at all). None are in it for more than a few minutes, Murray aside. But the screenplay and Levinson’s treatment of it (the days of the scabrous satire of “Wag The Dog” are long behind us) are wildly uneven, unsure if it’s a broad comedy, an anti-establishment echo of Murray’s glory days in “Stripes,” or a let-the-world-hold-hands drama. Instead, it’s just a rotten, unfunny mess, with a whiff of contractual obligation from almost everyone: It’s a movie because everyone involved “hey, that sounds like an idea for a movie,” rather than because of any burning desire to tell a story. Somehow, the fact that it appropriates a Clash song for its title isn’t even among its worst crimes.
17. “The Cobbler”
We examined our motives for including Tom McCarthy‘s Adam Sandler-starring misfire — was it just for the pleasing ironic symmetry of balancing out the dominance of McCarthy’s terrific “Spotlight” on all our Best of the Year lists? Well, maybe partly — it is unusual to have the same filmmaker straddling both lists, as much because of release dates as anything else — but mainly, we just thought about how very, very poor “The Cobbler” actually is. Despite Sandler not even being on obnoxious “Jack and Jill” or “Grown Ups” form (not once does he fart in anyone’s face, which shows admirable restraint) and a supporting cast to die for in Dustin Hoffman, Steve Buscemi, Dan Stevens, Melonie Diaz and Ellen Barkin, “The Cobbler” never finds its feet (an awful pun that’s probably funnier than most of the film’s attempts at humor). Its awkward mix of high-concept comedy, magic (literalizing the walk-a-mile-in-someone-else’s shoes cliché) and grating sentimentality would be off-putting coming from anyone, but from a director whose stock in trade to that point had been gentle dramedies, delivering human insights with a deft light hand? Fair play to McCarthy for sticking by it, but this dour, occasionally offensive muddle is undoubtedly one of the worst films of the year from the probably-going-to-be-Oscar-nominated (deservedly) director of one of the year’s very best. Vive le cinéma!
16. “Monsters: Dark Continent”
Tom Green’s follow-up to Gareth Edwards’ inventive “Monsters” does at least attempt something interesting: Just as the first film fused monster-movie sci-fi paranoia with a gentle indie love story to become an offbeat take on genre, ‘Dark Continent’ basically wants to be a war movie with vague sci-fi elements. The difference is that Green’s film doesn’t work in either category, being thinly plotted, sketchily characterized and often just straight-up boring, and also not at all concerned with monsters. A group of deeply unlikeable American soldiers who’ve bonded through presumably years of shouting macho stuff at each other while wearing desert camouflage are dispatched on a rescue mission into territory in which the alien monster thingies hold sway. But, in the film’s only attempt at relevance, they also face hostile humans in the form of Middle Eastern insurgents who’ve been driven to violence in response to the repeated U.S. bombing of their homeland in their effort to wipe out the monsters. If it has a political point to make, it’s pretty muddled, and elsewhere the fine-grained sexism — this isn’t a world where women are allowed to both talk and have their clothes on — seriously scuppers any sense of the story as thoughtful or progressive. The camerawork, it should be noted, is very impressive, but it’s a pity that it does not illuminate a more engaging or compelling film.