From the Archives: 5 Worst Films of 2016

From the Archives: 5 Worst Films of 2016

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

It’s a yearly tradition for critics and cinephiles to rank their top ten films of the year. I’m still working on mine, but I’ve reached a point where I’m comfortable drafting the list without seeing any more movies. Buuuuuuuuuut, the top ten must wait until next week. This week, I’d like to focus not on the best films of the year, but the worst. As a relatively forgiving critic, I often find it difficult to spew vitriol about my favorite art form, but in the cases of the turds listed below, it was easy. These five movies are my candidates for the absolute worst films of 2016. Note, I did not include Collateral Beauty because it is not a movie, but a persistent hallucination that was coaxed into the brains of a select few moviegoers in an effort by Hollywood execs to recreate the MKUltra program.

5. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (Dir. – Kirk Jones)

Granted, the expectations for this sequel to mom’s favorite mediocrity festival were rock bottom at best, but what really bugged me about this movie was how little it tried. If you’re really planning on cashing in on a fourteen year-old novelty piece, at least have the heart to go for it. Ever been to an improv comedy show where nothing is funny but the audience laughs because it’s made up entirely of other improv groups on the same show? If you have, then you know exactly what it’s like to watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. The movie aggressively insists on how funny it’s being as if doing so is a sufficient replacement for actual jokes. Furthermore, Nia Vardalos looks like she might be a completely CGI creation – her soulless stare rests firmly in the uncanny valley made popular by The Polar Express.

I’m not a member of a Greek family, but if this movie is to be believed, the ONLY thing Greek families talk about is how they are indeed a Greek family. Opa!

Only the least discerning moms need bother with this one, and only after a few trips to the Franzia box.

4. The Light Between Oceans (Dir. – Derek Cianfrance)

Note to the storytellers of the world: no amount of hardship endured by a character can justify the kidnapping of a baby, even if it’s enacted by two of Hollywood’s most beautiful and talented performers.

Second note to storytellers: if it takes an hour to introduce any conflict at all, you can cut the first hour of your TWO AND A HALF HOUR DRAMA.

While it may have been served much better in its source novel, the tale being spun in this beige-tinted period piece is flat as a board and half as interesting. The characters are irredeemably cruel, and despite them receiving much of the proper comeuppance, it’s all too little too late. It’s tough to spend so long a runtime with such blandly evil people when the movie insists that they are only making human mistakes and not KIDNAPPING A BABY.

Derek Cianfrance has constructed a technically competent film which speaks to his talents as a craftsman, but technique is only half of what’s needed, unless you’re making Tron 3.85, which this most definitely is not. After Cianfrance’s previous work, in which story and technique deftly mingled to great effect, The Light Between Oceans is a big step down. Hopefully it’s just a mulligan.

Fun fact: I had forgotten the title of this one until I looked it up for this very article. For the past few months I’ve just been calling it “That Stupid Lighthouse Movie.” This is a superior title.

 3. Knight of Cups (Dir. – Terrence Malick)

Terrence Malick often gives in to excess. He’s so frequently operating on an almost alien level of understanding that the limitations of a tangible media was often a tool to reign him in; make him accessible to us mortals. Yet we find ourselves in a digital age – one of endless takes, a million edits, and the freedom to capture your story without the restrictions that defined so many auteurs. Sometimes this is a good thing, a prime example being The Tree of Life. Other times we get pretentious dreck like Knight of Cups, a sleepy hodgepodge of rambling narration, pointless cameos, and faux-depth as indicated by shots of, well, anything that happens to wander in front of the camera.

Is it a meditation on fame and legacy? Is it a study of the camera as a living thing, capable of bending reality through sheer force of its presence? Or maybe it’s an unprecedented look inside the trippier side of the Hollywood machine?

Wait, no. It’s none of those things. It’s gibberish. Worse yet, it’s knows it’s gibberish and pretends otherwise, like a cocktail party guest who totally used to hang out with whatever celebrity died most recently and actually like totally gave them the idea for one of their most enduring works.

Don’t be that guy, Malick. Badlands dude. Badlands.

 2. Yoga Hosers (Dir. – Kevin Smith)

Speaking of filmmakers who have lost their luster, former indie-darling Kevin Smith is now synonymous with crap filmmaking, and it’s Yoga Hosers that really pushed it over the top for most people. Me? I still defend the man’s choices, and I hold out hope for his return to form, but Yoga Hosers isn’t good enough to merit the passion I’ve often offered in defense of Red State and Tusk. You see, both of those films have energy to them. They were made by a filmmaker who was interested in experimenting. They were made by a filmmaker that wanted to make movies. Yoga Hosers is made by a man who has clearly given up. He even admits it, saying that he didn’t make this for an audience, but rather for himself and his family.

Then what the hell was the point?

He even goes on to say that he wanted to just make sillyhahafuntimes without affixing a message to his work, yet Yoga Hosers is unsubtle in its attempted skewering of “hater-critics,” those evil fanboys who, in turning on Kevin Smith as a filmmaker, ended up doing a pretty good impression of Kevin Smith as a fanboy.

And Smith referring to himself as a “human hockey jersey” is one of the few things on this earth that makes me feel embarrassed for someone else. One of the other things was Collateral Beauty, which made me feel such mortification on the behalf of Kate Winslet. Not Will Smith though. He gave money to Scientology.

1. Mascots (Dir. – Christopher Guest)

A Netflix original “docu-comedy” written and directed by master of the genre, Christopher Guest. The premise is inherently funny, even if it is just a reworking of Best in Show, promising to put a mix of new comedic faces and old Guest standards into silly costumes and silly situations during a national contest for mascots. Writing this now, I am confident that the film simply cannot fail. It just can’t.

Yet it did.

The humor was uninspired and stale, and the performances were half-committed at best. Much of Guest’s usual roster was absent (I never thought the words “where’s Eugene Levy?” would ever escape my lips), and the newcomers failed to do much but bicker with one another in decidedly un-schticky ways.

The film’s biggest failure was the absence of a straight man. In all of Guest’s previous docu-comedies, there were always a few characters rooted in reality. These people serve as a counterpoint to the goofiness of the core cast, and by reminding us of what normalcy looks like they draw out the humor. Without them the world of the film is removed from reality and the comedy has no punch.

The film’s second biggest failure is the inclusion of Corky St. Clair, Guest’s character from Waiting for Guffman. He’s a favorite of mine and here he is completely wasted. His appearance in Mascots functions only as a novelty, and it fails to do anything but remind me of how sad it is when people get old. To see that a formerly sharp satirist has lost his edge is upsetting to me. Even more so when it appears to be due to lack of trying.

Ok, that hurt to say, but it felt good to get out of my system. Time to go chisel my Best Of 2016 list down to just 10 entries. It’s currently at about 75.

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