Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday.
This week’s question: “The Book of Henry” has been assailed by critics. But let’s look beyond this particular reviled new release. What’s the worst movie you’ve ever reviewed?
Alissa Wilkinson (@alissamarie), Vox
It’s unfortunately not even a contest: “God’s Not Dead 2,” which I reviewed for Flavorwire and then wrote about it further for Thrillist. (The first movie is actually far worse, but I didn’t review it.) They’re actually not the worst-made movies I’ve seen, but as a Christian and a film critic, I find them so actively offensive and cynical that it’s somehow even more depressing. I didn’t derive any joy from the process, but it felt important that I write about it.
Kristy Puchko (@KristyPuchko), Pajiba/CBR.com
I rarely tear into a movie like I did “Book of Henry,” because few are so deserving. However, Adam Sandler’s “Pixels” earned my ire for its narrative laziness and painfully dated ideas about gamer culture. David O. Russell’s “Joy” was uniquely infuriating for its tone-deaf proclamations on female empowerment. But I think the movie I was the happiest to pan was “Passengers.”
The ad campaign spun this showy holiday release as an escapist sci-fi romance with the affable Chris Pratt and elegant Jennifer Lawrence falling in love amid the stars. But the marketing proved a brutal bait and switch. Jon Spaihts’s grotesque script treats stalking, abduction, and rape as a quirky character flaw rather than atrocious criminal behavior. This is no love story. This a horror story. I left the theater positively livid and determined to sound off about how this seemingly sweet sci-fi flick was actually rape culture promoting trash with a grossly glossy finish.
Matt Prigge (@mattprigge), Metro US
God, I’m not sure if it’s Dinesh D’Souza’s “America: Imagine the World Without Her” or Dinesh D’Souza’s “Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party.” (I assumed both of these to myself, so I can only blame me.) But a special shout-out to “Raise Your Voice,” a Hilary Duff movie I had to see back in 2004, whose awfulness was exacerbated by the fact that the screening time made me miss most of, I believe, the second presidential debate between Dubya and Kerry. I also once had to see “Master of Disguise.”
Christian Blauvelt (@Ctblauvelt), BBC Culture
Without question, the worst film I have ever reviewed is Paul Schrader’s ‘The Canyons.” I gave it zero out of five stars for Hollywood.com, where I worked for a year in between a years-long stint at Entertainment Weekly and my current role at BBC Culture. While at Hollywood.com I reviewed a lot of bad movies – “The Internship” and “Girl Most Likely” particularly stand out – but none worse than Schrader’s Kickstarter-funded disaster. I feel guilty for hating “The Canyons” so much because Schrader himself is not only a filmmaking legend but a delightful human being: I love how active he is on Facebook, and he’s a great interview – truly honest and giving. I spoke to him about the film at the same time as my review, and I admire his sincerity in that Q&A. He really saw “The Canyons” as a millennial riff on “The Rules of the Game”: “Both films create two love triangles and have them share one access point. You have one triangle that forms around Christian (James Deen). Then the triangles overlap and burn each other, a process that is much like that in ‘The Rules of the Game.’” So it pained me to write in my review of the film: “These are people who, like Renoir said of his characters at the time of ‘The Rules of the Game’s 1939 release, ‘dance on the edge of a volcano.’ The only problem is that, unlike in Renoir’s film, this is a volcano that produces no heat.”
I maintain what I state in that review that “The Canyons” is the most egregious example of Schrader’s background as a critic sometimes resulting in him having very interesting ideas he wants to express in film without the necessary impulse toward dramatizing those ideas. Maybe that’s due to Schrader sometimes working with a cast that doesn’t share an affinity for his art house inspirations, which I indicated when I wrote, “What you get from Lohan in ‘The Canyons’ is energy-sapped ennui that looks like a bad parody of an Antonioni movie starring people who’ve never actually watched an Antonioni movie.” But I appreciate the warmth for Lindsay Lohan that comes across in his response to my question, “What advice would you give to a director thinking of casting Lindsay Lohan in a film?”: “Buckle up. She’s worth it. You can shoot around bad behavior but you can’t shoot around a lack of star quality and she has it. Actually, I think she’s in a better place now. I certainly have not written her off.”
How can you not love a director who sticks up for his star like that?
Richard Brody (@tnyfrontrow), The New Yorker
Gathering my top 25 of this century, I followed the pleasure principle, which I defined practically, as repetition compulsion: the movies that I’ve most wanted to rewatch and am most impatient to rewatch. (I saw “In Praise of Love” 10 times the week it opened and then, back home, saw it again as soon as I could.) So, how to define the worst? The one I’d least want to see again or wish I’d never seen at all? In which case, the paradox of the question emerges: the worst film is the one I’d least like to remember. Also, I can’t answer this question without practicing self-censorship; discussing what’s bad about a movie is at least doing it the respect of the effort that went into making it, whereas simply citing the title of a movie, however bad it may be, is gratuitous and empty. I’d limit myself to mentioning a film and a director with such secure reputations that no harm can come from the mention, and about which I’ve written in detail: Michael Haneke’s “Amour.”
Abbey Bender (@abbey_bender), Freelance
I’ve reviewed a lot of bad movies for The Village Voice (not complaining, as I do enjoy the challenge of articulating why and how a movie fails) but the worst was probably “Shelter.” The movie was so weirdly earnest in parts that I almost felt guilty panning it. The story centered on a homeless couple in New York, and was directed by Paul Bettany and starred his wife, Jennifer Connelley (who I usually like!) The whole thing felt like a dreary slog, and in the most egregious moment, Connelley’s character is forced to blow a security guard in exchange for a place to stay. That’s already unpleasant to watch, but then there’s a shot of her face covered in cum. I feel grossed out just typing this. There’s a time and a place for cum shots, and a somber film about homelessness is decidedly not it.
Tomris Laffly (@TomiLaffly), Film Journal, Film School Rejects
The worst movie I ever reviewed has to be “Now You See Me 2”. This film was…not good. But reviewing it was fun in a strange way.
Charles Bramesco (@intothecrevasse), Freelance for Nylon, Vulture, the Guardian
This is a tough one, because for a while there, it seemed like “abjectly terrible movies” was my specific beat. Back during the brief, glorious tenure of The Dissolve, I was something of a junior staff trash compactor, gobbling up all the assignments everyone else didn’t want. Noxiously self-satisfied meta-romcom featuring Chris Evans and Michelle Monaghan that was delayed for years until they became famous enough for it to stand a chance of duping viewers who didn’t know any better into seeing it? I’ll be that dupe! Quasi-superhero flick wherein our man’s primary superpower is that he’s covered in a hardened layer of human shit like some kind of fecal armor? Lemme at it! Slasher movie based on the culture of the “Jersey Shore” reality show, but without any of the actual cast members? I’m in! My eagerness to please combined with my deeply held belief that I deserve to suffer made me into a reliable one-star vending machine.
But we must sink even lower to scrape the bottom of the barrel. I’ve made mention of the film on the e-pages of this survey once before, but I reviewed a motion picture called “What Now” not too long ago. It is not a good film. The less said about it, the better, mostly because I believe that its creator does not even deserve notoriety (his film is bad in an unimaginative, joyless, hateful way). Living through that made me the man who stands before you today.
Miriam Bale (@mimbale), Freelance
The worst films I’ve reviewed were movies four-walled at the Quad. I was assigned so many of these when I was a fifth-string reviewer at the New York Times, back when “the paper” had a policy of reviewing everything and I got all the dregs no one else wanted. To be four-walled means the filmmakers essentially rented out the theater (mostly for the privilege and publicity of being reviewed in the Times). It was often like reviewing someone’s slideshow of their family history or reviewing a terrible but well-funded student project. These were not really movies, and writing about them was the most depressing period in my life as a cinephile. I’m glad that the Times has ended that policy of reviewing vanity projects and that the Quad is no longer a place where filmmakers buy pull quotes. No matter how bad the studio release, it’s still more competent or interesting than the four-walled Quad films virtually no paying audience has seen.
Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@chrisreedfilm), Hammer to Nail
I have only been a film critic since 2012. I started out on Baltimore’s NPR affiliate, WYPR, where I was one of two film critics for the midday show. Concurrently with that, I wrote reviews for a blog I started, also in 2012, chrisreedfilm.com. When the midday host left the station in 2015, I followed him, as film critic, as he created a podcast for The Baltimore Sun, where he is a columnist. At the same time, I began writing for “Hammer to Nail,” a website devoted to independent cinema, where I am now lead film critic, and last year, in August, I started writing for ”Film Festival Today,” as well. In 2014, I began hosting a bi-monthly TV show in Howard County, MD, on Dragon Digital Media, which I still host. All that history is by way of explaining why I have no reviews prior to 2012, and why I will list a few, here, from different sites.
At “Hammer to Nail,” we (mostly) only do supportive coverage of films. If we don’t like something, we generally don’t write about it. However, supportive does not mean uncritical, and I am sure I have annoyed many a filmmaker who thought they were reading a lovely paean to their movie only to come to my third or fourth paragraph and catch the dreaded caveats to the preceding enconiums. Still, there is one film I have (sort of) trashed there, though I did so in a spirit I felt the makers would appreciate, which is why we ran the review. It was for “The Greasy Strangler,” a film I did not like at all, but which had great integrity of purpose. For “Film Festival Today,” the film to which I have given the most scathing review is the very recent “The Mummy.” Finally, on my blog, out of many films I have panned, the worst (or one of, anyway), would be Brad Furman’s 2013 stinker “Runner Runner.”
Christy Lemire (@christylemire), RogerEbert.com and What the Flick?!
Man, this is a tough one. There are so many to choose from after 18-plus years as a film critic. When friends comment that seeing movies for a living is the coolest job in the world, I agree. It is cool, and I am lucky. But I also mention that film critics have to see everything — including the annual Adam Sandler atrocity, for example. I came close to picking a Sandler movie to answer this question, and even pondered “Paul Blart Mall Cop 2,” to which I gave zero stars when I reviewed it for RogerEbert.com. Ultimately, though, “Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas” is worse than any of those for a multitude of technical and ideological reasons, all of which I explain below. Click and enjoy.
Eric Kohn (@erickohn), IndieWire
Some movies suffer from amateurish production values, shoddy storytelling, bad acting or murky themes. But these are tolerable shortcomings compared to the morally bankrupt filmography of one Stephen K. Bannon, aka President Bannon, aka the most egregious propaganda filmmaker this side of Leni Riefenstahl. And at least Riefenstahl had a way with camerawork. When I was assigned to review Bannon’s inane pro-Sarah Palin agitprop “The Undefeated,” I expected a thin defense of the Alaskan phenom in a feeble bid to support the prospects of a 2012 presidential run. Expectations were fulfilled and then some; I called out this “hagiographic clip show” for what it was and moved on…until Bannon’s publicist contacted me, claiming that he’d read my review and wanted to discuss it over a cup of coffee. I responded that he was welcome to reach out to me directly about that. He never did. The man who now proclaims alt-right babble from the halls of the White House may have the upper hand on policy these days, but let the record note that this man reads his reviews, and they just might get under his skin.
Mike Ryan (@mikeryan), Uproxx
“Dirty Grandpa” is the worst movie I’ve ever seen in a theater.