I’ve been thinking a lot about whether or not it’s necessary to make a ‘worst list’. Worst lists are inherently negative, and almost certain to hurt a sentimental viewer’s feelings. Internet film culture (of which ‘film twitter’ is an outgrowth of) has a habit of focusing on the negative. Critics gain reputations for their brutality and are often ignored for being kind or focusing their reviews on films they enjoy. I spent a lot of this year worried about becoming known as a “negative critic”. I spent more time worrying about it than I did actually writing reviews.
But recently I had an epiphany. There is a reason we talk about the worst films of the year: we do it so that Hollywood doesn’t make the same mistakes next year. These sorts of list shouldn’t just be about mockery. And for me, they aren’t. Last year, my worst list was mostly filled with the films that upset me the most. I threw in a few just for laughs, yes. But the entire reason that I wrote the list was to give myself an opportunity to talk about the films that truly offended me and explain why– without having to throw my energy into a full length-review for each of them.
Now when I say ‘offended’, I am not talking about leaving the theater in a huff because the film did something I didn’t like or something that didn’t line up with my values. What I mean is that I noticed ways the film misuses the medium; where it’s undercooking the story, perpetuating harmful stereotypes, under-thinking cultural implications, etc. There are times when films are made with love and care and still end up bad. But by discussing all of these missteps, we encourage ourselves, as an artistic community, to do better.
As with last year, I’m going to try my best to stay away from easy targets. This list is ranked based on which films angered me the most; it’s not related specifically to a lack of artistic merit. Films like The Boss Baby, The Star and Rock Dog will obviously be left out. I will not be discussing The House, Baywatch, Father Figures, Fist Fight, The Hitman’s Bodyguard or CHiPs. I’m too broke to be going to the theater every day to watch films that I already know have bad reviews. Maybe one day when I work for a major outlet you’ll get to read my opinions on Alvin and the Chipmunks 8: Chipped and Screwed. Till then, I’ll hold my time close to me like a precious baby bird.
Now, on with the list:
10. THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US
This one made the list because it SHOULD HAVE BEEN GOOD. It should have been good, okay? My best guess for why it wasn’t is that the filmmakers refused to lean into the inherent cheesiness of the premise. Two young, attractive people, stranded on a mountain? This should have been a steamy guilty pleasure for all the middle-aged wine women (and me, a twentysomething wine woman in training). But The Mountain Between Us feels… well, cold. It tries too hard to be respectable and not hard enough at the core of the film: making the romance work. It is much better at the more survivalist aspects, though I would doubt real wilderness nuts would give this film a second look.
For a film about two people trying to survive in the wilderness, everything feels a bit too clean. The performances are too restrained as well– it feels like a costume drama without all the snarky fun that usually comes with it. There is zero chemistry between the leads. It feels much more like a brother-sister relationship. Ben (Idris Elba) scolds Alex (Kate Winslet) like a spoiled child. By the time they finally do have sex, I’d already watched Ben save Kate’s life countless times, and their dynamic had already soured for me. Even the ending robs us of a soulful embrace. The film cuts to black right as the characters are about to come together after a long separation. You’d be much better off watching a Lifetime film.
9. JUSTICE LEAGUE
Justice League is a superhero film with no heart. That doesn’t stop it from going down the yellow brick road in search of it, but a heart isn’t something that a film finds during its runtime. It has to be built into the framework. This is especially true with hero narratives. There is just no focus here. Everyone on the team has different motives, and it seems like Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is the only person who is focused enough to get things done. Batman (Ben Affleck) spends the entire runtime negging her and trying to bring Superman (Henry Cavill) back to life because he doesn’t have confidence in his leadership skills. Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) is supposed to be the brutish rogue, but he’s mostly just a jerk to everyone and… dealing with his mother abandoning him? Sure, why not. The Flash (Ezra Miller) is the team’s Token Millennial, complete with blood sugar jokes and very transparent sarcasm-to-cover-up-vulnerability.
Out of all the new characters, Cyborg (newcomer Ray Fisher) is the standout. But the film really suffers from origin-itis because most of the cast hasn’t had their own films yet. We spend so much time introducing characters that the villain is an afterthought. Everything just lacks passion. The film plays out like a work retreat for team building, with a pass or fail test at the end. I rarely get the feeling these characters know or like each other and I wasn’t invested in the drama. The great thing about Wonder Woman is that it was a superhero film with a thesis. DCEU would do best to lean into that for their future films.
8. ROUGH NIGHT
The women in Rough Night do not seem like friends. They seem much more like a group of women brought together by a studio algorithm. The Hot Blonde, The Chubby Insecure One, The Token Black Friend, The Granola Girl and The Weird Foreign One. The film barely tries to subvert those tropes (aside from making The Token Black Friend rich). The plot is: Hot Blonde (Scarlett Johansson) is a politician but she’s having trouble because she doesn’t come off fun or likable enough. Oh and, it’s her bachelorette party. Hot Blonde is clearly a Hillary Clinton-esque character that barely works. Her arc is to “loosen up” because people want to vote for a “cool politician” (the film seems to have no interest in challenging that very bad logic either). The worst thing about the film is oddly dated it feels. It’s like someone wanted to remake an early 2000s bro-comedy with women, but forgot that comedy has already outgrown those broad, mean-spirited stories.
The Chubby Insecure One (Jillian Bell), by far the most interesting character, is dumped on continuously by every other character in the film. Everyone looks down on her, she makes nothing but mistakes, and she is constantly embarrassed. A smarter film would do more with a character like this. “The fat friend” is an overused stock character that punishes plus sized women for not being skinny and “conventionally attractive” and portrays them as sexless social pariahs. Rough Night‘s adherence to this trope really pulls the film down. By the end, Bell’s character was the only one I was rooting for and I wanted desperately for her to abandon the group and go find some new friends who would actually treat her like a human being.
7. TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT
Can a Transformers movie be bad if it succeeds at being a Transformers movie? It has all the elements that we’ve come to associate with the Transformers franchise: introducing many characters with arcs that don’t pay off, crass jokes, anti-intellectualism, sexism, talented actors degrading themselves, poorly blocked action scenes, a bloated runtime and a nonsensical plot. I mean, this is a film that posits that Harriet Tubman knew Optimus Prime. Harriet. Tubman.
As I type this, I wonder if this film should be on my best list considering that it is the most Transformers a Transformers movie has ever been. I mean, how could they top this? What could they possibly do to make this franchise more ridiculous? What other talented actresses can Michael Bay put through Hell? How long will this demonic franchise continue? Will it still be going after I die?
6. A CURE FOR WELLNESS
I don’t even know where to begin with this… thing.
Being well-made does not excuse a film from being bad. A Cure For Wellness is a visionary film in the sense that it looks nice and nothing else. I mean, it looks really, really nice. Still. Aesthetics can’t make up for a story that’s essentially set dressing for a rape and incest plot. Everything that happens in the film is leading up to a father marrying and trying to rape his daughter.
Before that revelation, we spend two hours with our “hero” as he stumbles around asking questions, not getting answers and being reprimanded for trying to figure things out. Wash, rinse, repeat. By the time the film starts actually putting together the mystery I was begging for it to end. How many times do I have to watch Dane Dehaan hobble around on crutches and yell at hypnotized elderly people and their youthful, soulless “caretakers”?
And then there’s the matter of Hannah. Hannah is played by Mia Goth, a 24 year-old actress who just happens to look much younger than that. The film uses her youthful look to infantilize her; going back and forth between portraying her like a child and a sexual being. By the end, she’s the love interest for our lead. It’s disturbing, and I know that’s the intent. Doesn’t mean I have to like it. And surprise! I don’t.
5. THE CIRCLE
2017 was the year I finally asked myself: Is Emma Watson bad at choosing roles? I worshipped her in the Harry Potter films, but many things she’s done since then have disappointed me. This year we got two lackluster performances from her: Belle in the live-action Beauty and the Beast and Mae Holland in The Circle. I’ve seen Watson be good before, so maybe it was just two huge cases of bad casting. As Mae, Watson seems bored– she speaks in a flat tone and very rarely emotes. Everyone else in the film seems more alive and aware of their surroundings than she is. She sleepwalks from scene to scene, blinking dully and smiling half-heartedly.
The film’s poor direction and minimalist production design doesn’t do her any favors. Every scene looks and feels flat. The Circle is designed like an elaborate stage play, each scene following each other with zero built momentum. It’s a thriller with no thrills. A film that boasts technological innovation that doesn’t feel nearly as immersive as it’s supposed to be. The Circle has all the bite of a Disney Channel original movie with none of the silly fun that may have made it a hate-watch. There is absolutely nothing of substance to gain from it.
4. THE BABYSITTER
I can’t believe we’re still letting McG make movies. I thought we put a stop to this 5 years ago, after the atrocity that was This Means War. But apparently he made a film in 2014 (3 Days to Kill) and this year Netflix allowed him to make a big comeback with this “horror” “comedy”. The Babysitter has the humor range of the “Baby Got Back” video, with a humor style that makes Ryan Murphy-verse seems subtle.
The plot is that a tween boy finds out that his Hot Babysitter Archetype has an entire Archetype Crew who are also satanists. These coming-of-age stories where young boys want to do it with their teenage caretakers has always been creepy. In a post-Transparent world where we’ve been watching an adult man come to terms with the trauma of being molested by his babysitter for 4 seasons, can we agree to give this shit a rest? The main dynamic of the film is their supposed “sexual tension” and… I can’t believe I typed that out and put it into the world. I’m so sorry. This is an awful film. Aside from the fact that the humor is mainly racist, sexist and obsessed with harmful “masculine values”, it’s just not funny.
The Babysitter should have been made in the window of 1983-2005 or not at all.
mother! is a well-crafted film. The acting is impeccable. The filmmaking is artful. The story is cohesive and… I still hate it. However, I didn’t hate it the entire time. The first half of the film is quite enjoyable and highlights the way that men use their “tortured artist” identities to steamroll the women in their lives, disrespecting their time, space and their own artistic pursuits. And if the film had just been about that, I think I would have liked it a lot.
But then, the film ramps up the abuse. It builds and builds until I found myself in the theater reliving every abusive relationship I’ve ever had with men, romantic, artistic and professional. By the time I got to the end, and the whole scheme revealed itself, I realized how pointless the entire endeavor had been. It may have been a revelation for Arofonsky to write the film and work all of his issues out, but I didn’t need to know about it. It’s not news to me, and I don’t find beauty in witnessing high scale domestic abuse.
In my piece on the film, I discussed five things to take into consideration when evaluating the very low audience approval for mother! I would urge you to read the full piece, but my main point is this: The film industry won’t stop being innovative because people didn’t like mother! It is one film, and the air of importance around it in critics’ circles holds more weight than the film itself. Arthouse film will live on, regardless of whether or not people appreciate a film in which a mother watches her newborn child get eaten in front of her.
Aim higher. Push for better storytelling.
2. INGRID GOES WEST
Ingrid Goes West is a film about women and mental illness, written and directed by men who clearly don’t think very much of women at all. I’m shocked that so many critics missed the blatant misogyny in this film. It was all I could think about as I watched. Aubrey Plaza plays Ingrid, a mentally disturbed woman of color who has an obsession with pale, blonde women on instagram. The death of her mother has put her over the edge, and at the opening film we see her mace a newlywed woman she had been cyber stalking. She has a stay in a mental insinuation, but goes right back to her old behavior upon release.
Throughout the film, we never learn what is wrong with Ingrid. The film also never really interrogate the interesting dynamic of her being a WOC wanting desperately to pass as a bohemian WASP, like the object of her obsession Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen). The film isn’t really interested in Ingrid at all. It’s more interested in showing the audience how shallow and divorced from their emotions women are. Because it’s not just Ingrid playing a role, it’s Taylor as well. Taylor co-opts interests from her husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell) and pieces together her personality from a hodgepodge of things she encounters in the world, like a human Pinterest board.
The only people in the film who aren’t performing are the men. Taylor’s drug addict brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) serves as the film’s de-facto voice of reason by virtue of the fact that he’s the only person who realizes Ingrid is a liar. Ezra and especially Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) serve as moral centers for the film, supporting the women in their lives. The film has more empathy for Dan than it could ever muster for Ingrid.
Ingrid Goes West ends without an inkling that Ingrid might get the help she needs as well as offensively suggesting that gaining a social media following after a tragic suicide attempt would placate her. By not allowing Ingrid the dignity of learning from her experience, the film reminds us, in it’s very last moments, of how little it respects its protagonist.
1. THE BOOK OF HENRY
The Book of Henry is a film that seems to have no respect for women, men, good screenwriting, craft or a consistant tone. It is a film that wants us to believe that an 11 year-old boy can talk down to and control every single woman around him, including his mother. Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) negs grown women, yells at his female principal, and formulates a plot to kill his neighbor’s abuser without even discussing it with her. At one point in the film, his mother Susan (Naomi Watts) hesitates making a financial decision because she needs to check with Henry first. I spent the entire film wanting more for Susan. It was strange and sad watching a strong, intelligent grown woman be pushed around by a child, even after his (spoiler!) death. It takes her the entire film to realize that she doesn’t have to do what he tells her to do and that she’s her own person.
But I don’t want to discuss the plot of The Book of Henry. My job is to urge you not to watch The Book of Henry. With all the films before it, I could think of logical reasons why you may still want to check them out, despite the fact that I don’t like them. But it’s different with this one. You don’t want to watch this one. You do not want to go within a hundred yards of this one. It’s not just a film with inconsistent themes, bad morals and a disregard for women and girls… it’s also poorly written, poorly directed, poorly-acted and morally confused.
If you’re one of those people who reads a Worst List and immediately wants to watch everything on it, I have one request: Stop being a contrarian and use your time better. I’m trying to save you.
OTHER BAD FILMS I JUST REALLY DIDN’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT:
Bright, Wish Upon, The Mummy, The Dark Tower, Ghost in the Shell, Suburbicon, The Layover, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri