What’s the best way to bring in the new year? To paraphrase Siskel and Ebert, one good way is to look back and give one more kick to the worst films of the year. Vulture followed suit by publishing their poll of the worst films of 2014 on Friday (conducted by Simon Abrams), with participating critics including Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri, Indiewire’s Eric Kohn, The New Yorker’s Richard Brody and Criticwire’s own Sam Adams. Here’s the top/bottom ten:
After making much money with proudly juvenile and mostly terrible manchild-bromance “Ted,” Seth MacFarland returns with a deadly musical-comedy that makes “Cat Ballou” look like Shakespeare. It’s got frat-house jokes about boobs, gay-panic gags, and a starch-stiff lead performance from MacFarlane, the poster child for disingenuous “nice guys” around the world. Vulture’s disappointed David Edelstein, who was “was primed to love it,” wrote, “MacFarlane serves up over-the-top gore, expulsive diarrhea, Sarah Silverman’s vagina, and A-list actors dressed like Western archetypes against glorious wide-screen vistas using dirty words. The thinking must have been: Add “fuck” to a line and it’s har-dee-har-har.”
Michael Bay’s a perennial worst-of-the-year contender, but he only managed the second spot this year:
You may ask yourself how Michael Bay went from steroid-enhanced auto-critique satire “Pain & Gain” to another “Tranformers” movie. I mean, a new leading man (Mark Wahlberg), fewer racist robots, and more dinosaur-robots sounds like a smashy-smashy good time right? Wrong! In his review, Vulture’s David Edelstein wrote, “‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ is basically a shambles. If you do see it, I suggest you savor each image on its own terms as a work of CGI art. Dig the bombardment. Forget trying to figure out who’s zapping whom and why. Free your mind — or risk having it transformed into porridge.”
Still, it wasn’t all bad blockbusters and comedies: the year’s worst has room for a terrible awards-baiter like Jason Reitman’s “The Internet and Women are Out to Get Us” (aka “Men, Women & Children,” my own personal candidate for the year’s worst):
Jason Reitman’s latest milquetoast examination of the human condition concerns technology, and how it only serves to further alienate us while purportedly uniting us. A desultory cast — Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, and Dean Norris! — tries to liven up Reitman’s ostentatious, and totally clumsy attempts at putting his finger on The Way We Live Now. But as Mike D’Angelo wrote in the A.V. Club, the film “depicts the Internet with an alarmist hysteria capable of making ‘Reefer Madness’ look levelheaded by comparison.” He adds that “While many of the individual storylines are ludicrously melodramatic, building toward emotional meltdowns (and one suicide attempt), it’s the cumulative fear and loathing of everything digital that crosses the line into absurdity.”
Vulture also allowed critics to add their own comments to their worsts. Sam Adams knocked “Left Behind” and “Winter’s Tale,” but he also dedicated some space to his least-favorite Oscar candidate, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Birdman”:
The dramatic equivalent of one of those latter-day Metallica songs where every instrument is cranked into the red and compressed to shit. Everything’s in your face and pressed flat so the (barely) subtext pokes out like a flooring nail under a thin carpet.
He’s not alone: Odie Henderson of RogerEbert.com couldn’t abide Inarritu’s film either. Critics scream and rend their clothing when Paul Haggis makes movies like this, but Iñárritu somehow always gets a pass. So this director is the last person to make a movie-length whine about being maligned by reviewers. I’m still wondering who thinks of Michael Keaton when they hear Batman, and Willie Best’s estate should sue Emma Stone for stealing his bug-eyed shtick. Every year there’s a movie critics love that completely eludes me. This is 2014’s edition of that, and also the year’s worst.
The New Yorker’s Richard Brody voted for “Whiplash” in the Village Voice poll, but apparently the awards-qualifying run for Xavier Dolan’s “Mommy” snuck in to take his bottom spot at the last minute:
Xavier Dolan’s film is a faux melodrama full of prefabricated spontaneity that generates exactly the effects and events required for mechanistic and insight-free psychological portraiture, filmed with a nearly total absence of vision but an absolutely total vanity–the cinematic proclamation of auteur-hood in the form of (not even a signature but) a logo the size of the screen. I can’t remember who used this line first and about whom, but it’s worth borrowing here: in this film, Dolan comes off not as an auteur but a prom-auteur (or a self-prom-auteur). It’s all the more disappointing inasmuch as “Laurence Anyways” showed a little actual invention.
Finally, Alan Scherstuhl of The Village Voice picks what might have been a consensus worst had more critics bothered to see it:
“America: What Would We Do Without Her”: Dinesh D’Souza’s smartest-loon-in-the-room act inspires right-wing anger bears to think there’s something rigorous or academic about his dopey jeremiads. His latest pretends that his conviction for violating campaign-finance laws, laws he admits he willfully flouted, was the result of a prejudicial and overzealous government — essentially, that he’s being punished for his previous anti-Obama screeds. In the back-half of 2014, D’souza has had nothing to say about the actual problem of prejudicial and overzealous policing. Can we at least hope that North Korea’s assaults against The Interview might remind D’Souza’s audience what tyranny actually looks like? Any president or government as fascistic as the one D’Souza makes his money pretending we suffer under would have put him to death years ago.