More often than is really fair, film critics are taunted with, “Oh, you’re just looking for things to hate.” Nothing could be further from the truth; we do what we do because we desperately want to love everything we see. We enter every screening passionately hoping to bestow 5-star praise upon that which hides behind the big curtain. It takes a lot of hard work to hack away at the enthusiasm we have for cinema, leaving us gutted with disappointment, stunned into critical disbelief. In 2016, no films worked harder to that end than this lot…
Read THE BEST FILMS OF 2016 here.
ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS and ZOOLANDER 2
The puddle-deep world of high fashion is usually ridiculous enough to offer its own form of self-parody without shitty cinema adding to the spectacle. In 2016, two rehashed properties well past their primes tried to recapture whatever made them interesting a decade or so ago, but fell embarrassingly short. The Ab Fab movie was an interminable slog, foregoing the London-set Patsy/Edina dynamic of the largely plotless TV series in favour of a stupid Euro-narrative; big mistake. Zoolander 2 decided to mimic the first instalment except louder and bigger, to absolutely dire consequences. Is Ben Stiller’s future as a small-screen star now inevitable? These films represent about 200 minutes of completely laugh-free ‘comedy’. (Editor’s note: Zoolander 2 is our official ‘Worst Film of 2016’).
THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR
The desperation on everyone’s part to see their bad decisions through to the end infests every frame of this unwanted sequel. Unlike the sleeper hit original, which boasted beautiful production design and committed performances, this expensive follow-up looks low-rent, misses Kristen Stewart’s darker charms and fails to establish any dramatic conflict between the overpaid, under-performing trio of Chris Hemsworth, Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron.
Respectfully, it had been a long while since the late director Garry Marshall made a good film. But it was a cruel twist of fate that Mother’s Day was his swansong. Every obituary referenced this horribly twee, schmaltzy, shrill bore in the same breath as his gems Pretty Woman, Frankie and Johnny and The Flamingo Kid. The cast were uniformly terrible, none more so than Julia Roberts as the wig-wearing TV host. Every dramatic beat was fake and forced; every joke, bad sitcom-standard. The 'Hidden Homosexuality' subplot was demeaning and insulting on just about every level. What were they thinking...? (Editor's note: No wait...maybe this was the year's worst film?)
The ‘Sundance film’ hit its nadir this year with Florian Cossen’s pulse-free accidental piss-take of the ‘Sundance film’. A typically maudlin teen outsider ‘hero’ (soulless sap Alex Ozerov) mumbles through the small-Americana setting, hoping his pixie dream girl (the film’s bright spot, Bea Santos) can liven things up. The mopey, millennial disconnect that this film indulges in makes for insufferably self-conscious drama; by the time the smirking leads eulogize a dying animal with an impromptu ukulele hymn, I was ready to damn their entire generation.
DESPITE THE NIGHT
Phillippe Grandrieux has his supporters (Locarno, SITGES and Venice have all honoured his past works), but there is no defending his sordid, contentiously misogynistic look inside this nonsensically cinematic version of black-hearted porn industry melodrama. If you’re so inclined, you might get a thrill out of the frank depiction of erections, blow jobs, torture and murder, but 156 minutes of this stuff, shot with a stomach-churning shaky-cam, spot-lighting obsessed style, is insufferable. With all due respect, the standard of acting is what you might expect from the porn genre.
The studio tried to spin this as not being a remake of the Charlton Heston classic but a throwback to the source novel. It failed spectacularly, on either front; from the casting of the anaemic, whiny Danny Huston as Benny, to the heavy-handed and muddled religious message, to the cringe-worthy effects, this is the grand, grotesque folly of 2016. By the time the adversaries saddled up for the obligatory chariot race (really the only reason this film exists, let’s face it), not a single audience member gave a damn. Even the burgeoning faith-based audience smelt a cynical cash-grab of biblical proportions, ignoring the film and condemning it to wallow in red-ink for immortality. (Editor's note: Oh, yeah, this is definitely the worse!)
I know I’m rowing this boat alone; the overwhelmingly positive response to Todd Haynes’ drama (94% on RT) was backed by AMPAS, who bestowed upon it six Oscar nominations. But there was a nagging, obtrusive disconnect between Haynes’ overtly stylized 50s New York society and the heartfelt warmth of Rooney Mara’s blossoming wallflower. In so blatantly drawing upon the works of Douglas Sirk, Haynes was revealed to be no Douglas Sirk at all (despite his 2002 Sirk-a-thon, Far From Heaven, which is an immeasurably better film). And then there is Cate Blanchett’s unforgivably theatrical performance, brought to life with such technical precision as to rob her scenes of any life. My mounting frustration with Carol was brought into focus when Bret Easton Ellis dissed the film in his podcast, calling it no more than the director “moving his little lesbian Barbie dolls around.”
Can anyone explain that ending to me? (Spoilers ahead) If it was literal, it required such a huge leap of audience faith in the narrative as to be ridiculous; if it was all happening in the protagonist's head, it meant the establishment had won and the spirit of the film was all for nought. It was the biggest bummer of the 2016 movie roster, shafting moviegoers' emotional involvement and sticking it to Viggo Mortensen’s free-spirited anti-hero. And that hilariously ill-conceived bonfire dance-off jam session was unforgivably terrible.
What the f*** has happened to Kevin Smith?!? One can’t begrudge him having a bit of fun, but the sharp dialogue, vivid characterisations and on-the-pulse pop culture relevance of his best work seem a billion years away. Yoga Hosers is a new low; as the two convenience store clerks battling weiner-Nazis (don’t ask), the director’s daughter Harley Quinn Smith and her lovely but vacuous BFF Lily Rose-Depp are the dullest heroines of the year. Not even the target audience (heavy smokers of the green stuff) could find this watchable. Smith needs to stop drinking the bong water and rediscover some kind of ambition (and keep Johnny Depp out of his films). (Editor's note: That's it, I'm out of here.)
Could have been this generation’s Dimboola, but Sony’s B&S Ball-set romantic comedy proved neither romantic nor funny. The rowdy outback tradition of gathering locals together for a wild night of uninhibited partying should have been rich cinematic fodder. But directors Tim Ferguson and Marc Gracie (it took two?) capture none of the flavour of such an event; Spin Out looks like it was shot out the back of Fox Studios with a cast of Bondi millenials. Except for leading man Xavier Samuels, who is too old by ten years for this schtick. An icky drag-equals-gay subplot, a mechanically contrived denouement and an adherence to PG-level bawdiness hamstrung the film, too.
THE RED PILL, THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, AUSTRALIEN SKIES, RED BILLABONG, AAAAAAAAH!, RIDE ALONG 2, THE DO-OVER, EXPOSED, HOT BOT.