Worst Films, 2016 (commentary)
01. The Neon Demon - A profoundly stupid commentary on female friendship as “demonic” and “ruthless,” perpetuating the tired narrative that women are “othered” and “unknowable.” Comes to the offensive, simplistic conclusion that women cannot excel in their careers without “losing themselves” in the process. Confuses vague symbolism with depth. A better recommendation: compare the wholesome depiction of female companionship in the effortless, uplifting ending of Paul Verhoeven’s Elle.
02. Captain Fantastic - A film intensely uncritical of its protagonist’s inherent privilege and manipulation of his children. Smug and condescending, where the family “cut off” from everyday civilization to go live in the woods without modern comforts looks down upon everyone else as a joke, as though they (and they alone) have found the “true meaning” of life. No acknowledgement that their ability to up and leave to go live in the woods is a privileged ability because they have the safety nets of family/friends to return to, which is a far reality from the many underprivileged poor who view this kind of backwoods lifestyle as a burden rather than an escape. The father is also an authoritative figure rather than a hippie, free-thinking one, where his kids are completely cut off from the diversity of perspectives and opinions outside their sheltered bubble, despite their claims otherwise. This is a film paranoid about popular culture and condescending towards “everyday” people. Tries to make cute and quaint what is essentially a “Jesus Camp”-esque group. A better recommendation: Wendy and Lucy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
03. Suicide Squad - A ridiculous, grimly serious storyline. Jared Leto commits way too hard on an unimportant character who’s nothing more than the kind of greasy, unlikeable gangster types that David Ayer has depicted throughout his career (with little variation or nuance). Viola Davis in comparison never smugly made claims to “serious” method acting yet elevated whatever scene she was in with effortless acting chops. Still, nothing saves the movie. Not the assault of popular music in every single scene as a futile attempt to emulate Guardians of the Galaxy (they used cliched, recognizable music too. See: “Fortunate Son” with a shot of helicopters. Compare to the richer song selection in Guardians with tracks by Raspberries, 10cc, Redbone, and Marvin Gaye). Not the “wacky” comedy that often defers to weird, racist stereotyping (Killer Croc requesting “BET,” Diablo as a tattooed Mexican gangster like an extra from End of Watch). Bizarre plotting with a boring villain. A better recommendation: The action is better in the Captain America movies, and it’s good humored too.
04. Hell or High Water - Taylor Sheridan is a shit writer who has been riding on the pretense of antiheroes with “moral ambiguity” even though his conflicts of good and evil are pretty cut and dry (are they really antiheroes, then?). Lazily uses people of color as merely suffering/dying props to motivate his heroic white narratives (see also: his terrible screenplay for Sicario, which gives a safe and reductive and misleading picture of narco trafficking as a “thriller” where dead bodies are a source of spectacle rather than a real human tragedy). A better recommendation: the more honestly exploitative/campy Nocturnal Animals, Killer Joe, and Cold in July. The towering Blood Simple.
05. Hacksaw Ridge - The hack Mel Gibson continues pushing religious conservatism disguised as thrilling action, where complex themes such as Catholic redemptive suffering and guilt are rendered onscreen as pointlessly bloody violence bordering on “torture porn” like Hostel or Saw or (lmao) The Passion of the Christ. Compare to Martin Scorsese’s Silence, which uses violence sparingly but far more effectively: where Catholic suffering is a theme that raises more questions than answers and leaves the faith shook by the end of it. A better recommendation: You want a war movie that better (and poetically) reflects Christian theology and suffering? The Thin Red Line. Also, the aforementioned Silence (both the Scorsese and Shinoda adaptations).
06. Deadpool - “This Ain’t Your Mom’s Monologue.” A better recommendation: the funnier, fourth-wall breaking Funny Games.
07. Green Room - Confuses violence and gore for tension. Flimsy villain with no nuanced backstory/motivations other than “neo-Nazi.” Compare to 10 Cloverfield Lane’s antagonist, and how it draws tension through playful dialogue and maximal use of space (every single room utilized, even the spaces in the walls) instead of graphic violence. A step down from the superior Blue Ruin. A better recommendation: 10 Cloverfield Lane, Blue Ruin, (hell, even Don’t Breathe made better use of space and camerawork).
08. Assassin’s Creed - Only reveals to us that most videogame stories are incomprehensible trash with convoluted mythologies and poorly written characters. The problem isn’t that the interactivity of videogames can’t be translated to a passive medium, but that videogame stories are just bad to begin with. A better recommendation: Go play a good videogame story like Silent Hill 2, or Kentucky Route Zero, or The Last Guardian.
09. Swiss Army Man - So-called “serious” storytelling (read: we used a metaphor) undercut by juvenile humor and sappy sentimentalism. Didn’t find the right balance in tone. A better recommendation: the more absurdist and funnier humor of The Lobster or Force Majeure.
10. Krisha - Wants to provoke as a searing melodrama, but is really just a compilation of shouting matches that purports to be D R A M A. It’s pointlessly exploitative and the characters aren’t given enough personality or story to support their freakouts. A better recommendation: the still exploitative but more enjoyable films of Xavier Dolan, like Mommy.