Monday, December 29, 2014

The 10 Stinkiest Films of 2014


It's the end of 2014, a year of good, even great, movies. Of course, with the good comes the bad, even terrible. There were several that didn't quite make the list (read: they didn't make me as angry as the following ten), but would be worthy of a "Dishonorable Mention." 

Sadly, Robin Williams made his third to last film with the tone-deaf muddle "The Angriest Man in Brooklyn." There were a few poor genre indies, including the uninspired asylum found-footage pic "Hollows Grove" that could have been left lost; the voyeuristic cyber-thriller "Open Windows," starring Elijah Wood and former porn star Sasha Grey, that had an audacious gimmick but just spun crazily out of control; and "The Signal," an often technically dazzling but ultimately maddening sci-fi mystery that just fell flat. Also, don't forget the fourth "Transformers" movie, "Transformers: Age of Extinction," which was ginormous and dumb and long. Or, Katie Holmes playing a gun-toting schoolmarm with manners in the annoyingly oh-so-cute "Miss Meadows," which no one saw and, thus, garnered little fanfare. And, finally, "Crash" director Paul Haggis' "Third Person," a multi-character drama which thought it was pulling the rug out from underneath the audience and being meaningful but just came off as a laughably heavy-handed mess.

Bear in mind, I was lucky enough to miss both "The Legend of Hercules" and "Hercules," as if one take on the mythical hero wasn't enough. I purposely skipped "A Haunted House 2" because "A Haunted House" was #2 on my "worst" list last year, so I didn't quite see any signs of a sequel skyrocketing in improvement. Also, I saved my own soul from the apocalyptic, faith-based Nic Cage-starrer "Left Behind," which already looked depressingly inept from its trailers. Point for me. Now, without further ado, let's take out the trash, shall we? 

Here are the Worst Films of 2014:


10) Nymphomaniac: Volume IILars von Trier is a hard nut to crack. He is either a brilliant artist or so pretentious that he thinks shocking and alienating his audience will start a conversation. Truth is, he has even less to say this time around, except maybe, "love sucks" and "addiction warrants punishment." Taken as its own film, "Nymphomaniac: Volume II" might come full circle. However, despite the filmmaker's will to disturb and provoke discussion about female sexuality, his film is still a gruelingly downbeat, emotionally impenetrable wallow of clinical remove. If "Volume I" was by turns compulsively compelling and pretentious, with welcome flashes of power and levity, "Volume II" is punishing and unpleasantly grim, placing a distance between the audience and what's up on the screen. Everyone is a cog in von Trier's hopeless, awful-from-their-head-to-their-toes wheel. It might just turn everyone off from sex altogether. 

9) TranscendenceSeveral decades ago, "Transcendence" may have been ahead of its time as an intentionally high-minded and zeitgeisty sci-fi thriller. As is, it's an ambitious failure that had megabytes of promise on its side. First and foremost, this marks the directorial debut of Wally Pfister, an ace cinematographer in his own right and filmmaker Christopher Nolan's go-to collaborator since "Memento." Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, the film loses its allure, squandering the substance of its "big ideas" and devolving into a muddy, derivative patchwork of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "The Lawnmower Man," and Skynet from "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." Either Pfister's vision was compromised or it was never fully realized before the execution stage. Equivalent to the interminable time it takes for a webpage to load and then open up to an Error 404, "Transcendence" is a $100-million turkey that never comes close to living up to its name. 

8) I, FrankensteinThe sort of joyless, unimaginative assembly-line product Hollywood studios hide from critics in the frigid wasteland of January, this dopey, monotonous CG-athon sorely lacks energy, interest, a sense of fun, and good ideas, and yet it all cost $65 million to make. "I, Frankenstein" is so silly, yet played on such one note of deadly seriousness that it's irksome no one involved decided to include at least a glimmer of humor or even a fright. It's pretty bad, and it doesn't even have the decency to be bad in a fun way. Uncharacteristically for Aaron Eckhart as the chiseled monster, he is a bore, jabbering on in voice-over and lumbering through this humorless role as if he were having no fun, either. The film didn't have to be overtly self-aware, but despite Frankie's beast being dead, shouldn't he keep his tongue firmly in his cheek after kicking it with Abbott and Costello?

7) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - No Ninja! No Ninja! No! Backed by Nickelodeon Movies and the Michael Bay machine seeing distribution by Paramount Pictures, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" doesn't lack budgetary resources, but wow, what an empty, witless, nap-inducing piece of junk food this is. "TMNT" ends up an overproduced, soullessly slick shell of a movie that can't even get by on pretty looks or benefit much from lowered expectations. It's more relentlessly mediocre and instantly forgettable than a giant disaster, but do the makers really want such a ringing endorsement in the TV spots? Instead of adult men fervently hanging onto their nostalgia with this 2014 edition or undiscriminating pre-teen boys flocking to see it, everyone is better off staying home and ordering a hot pizza. 

6) Sabotage -  "Training Day" screenwriter David Ayer's claim to fame has been his stream of gritty, hard-boiled law-and-corruption yarns. While he knows this material well, "Sabotage" is proof that he's losing a large chunk of the credibility he started with. His latest fuses a "Ten Little Indians" mystery with a lot of bullets and some left-over prosthetic gore from the "Saw" and "Hostel" movies. Sure, it occasionally buzzes with the intensity and realism of the Drug Enforcement world, but this hard-R whodunit actioner ends up being a bloody mess, quite literally, without being much fun. Gore and carnage have a place in movies, but it's treated here as equally savage and over-the-top that you can just picture director Ayer yelling, "More blood! More viscera!" to the make-up effects department. There's no defending it as a guilty pleasure or even great trash. No buts about it: "Sabotage" is just ugly and stupid.

5) ABCs of Death 2On paper, 2013's "The ABCs of Death" sounded like a horrific, disturbing nightmare come true for diehard horror aficionados, a chance to avert one's eyes in shock, fright, and disgust for two hours' worth as long as the alphabet. Disappointingly, the A-to-Z results were the hit-and-miss equivalent to slim pickings out of a student film festival. Now, there is fresh blood with its new list of 26 global directors who, from what they churn out here, do not work as well under a tight shooting schedule and budget. Like its predecessor, "ABCs of Death 2" surely has its standouts, but the ratio of misses to hits is even greater. There are so many bad ones that the bearable, even occasionally impressive, shorts might be forgotten. If only 4 out of 26 segments was still a worthwhile ratio. This is certainly a whackadoo package, but it's never funny or scary, just tiresome, gratuitous, infantile, amateurish, and downright mean-spirited.

4) Let's Be Cops - Let's just not, okay? More "White Chicks" than "21 Jump Street," unfortunately, "Let's Be Cops" is an R-rated buddy-cop comedy that has a wacky premise ripe with infinite comedic possibilities and affable, funny people trying to make it work, and yet the laughs never come. Slack and labored, the film isn't completely dead on arrival, as it might have a count of maybe two snickers, but it's definitely amateur hour for all involved. Damon Wayans, Jr. and Jake Johnson are done a disservice by earning so much goodwill and then having their efforts turn up in a waste of time. As is always the question, how bad can a movie with good people really be? This bad, apparently, as there isn't much else to say about "Let's Be Cops." Watching this would-be comedy in a theater of smart, discerning moviegoers will be like witnessing the sound of a pin drop or crickets chirping.

3) V/H/S: ViralAllegedly the third in-name-only installment from Brad Miska's anthology concept again, "V/H/S: Viral" embarrassingly doesn't even deserve to belong in the same canon. It's as if everything this fun little series had going for itand could have led togets washed right down the tubes. Similar to the first two films, "V/H/S: Viral" crisscrosses between three unconnected micro-movies and one wraparound story, but that's pretty much where the similarities end. Half-assed and immature in never once ratcheting up the fun, creep factor, or tangible tension like "V/H/S" and "V/H/S/2," "V/H/S: Viral" is a slapdash, ineffectual and heavily disposable knockoff. That's enough to make often-underserved fans angry and less forgiving. While there is no pleasure in taking down a filmmaker, the shockingly piss-poor efforts by these so-called "visionary directors" (the one-sheet's words) manage to turn the "V/H/S" series into a complete joke. 

2) And So It Goes - There was a time when director Rob Reiner used to make wonderful films, but it is just depressing and cringe-inducing at this point. And so it goes with "And So It Goes," which was clearly meant to be a romantic comedy, but resulted in flat-footed, cookie-cutter, infuriatingly unworkable crumminess. The never-before-worked-together Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton sharing the same space and breathing the same air on screen sounds lovely on paper, but elevation from two old pros makes no difference in what an aimless, terminally bland misfire came out of shooting from an awkward, flavorless screenplay and then presenting the finished product to ticket-buyers as a would-be romance between charismatic sextenarians. Everyone need not bother because "Something's Gotta Give," this certainly is not. Even if it were aiming to be pleasant comfort food, the generically titled "And So It Goes" goes down as easily as a rock down a garbage disposal. 

1) The Pyramid - Imitative of 2006's harrowing, claustrophobic spelunking nightmare "The Descent" and August 2014's surprisingly effective Parisian catacombs-set "As Above, So Below," or anything, really, set in a cave, "The Pyramid" has no other pretense than to scare. However, it fails on all counts, unless it was trying to be dull and idiotic by design. The filmmakers should be most ashamed of Anubis, the shoddy-looking jackal-headed god monster they end up unleashing, when an actor wrapped in toilet paper might have proven to be creepier. Even if it didn't end on such an unsatisfying note with three lame endings, this is still amateurish, crummily made schlock with studio-approved duds that could have waited to open cold in the graveyard of January. This year's worst theatrical horror release and just the worst film of the year.

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