The Worst Films of 2016

Variety Critics Pick the 10 Worst Films of 2016
Courtesy of Sony

No room for run-of-the-mill bad movies here. To qualify for our scroll of shame, a movie had to be one of the truly godawful, the inept, the ugly, the offensive, or — no small offense — the deadly boring. Here is Owen Gleiberman and Peter Debruge’s list of the 10 Worst Films of 2016.

Owen Gleiberman’s 5 worst:

1. “Nina”
The decision to cast Zoë Saldana as the legendary Nina Simone was — make no mistake — appalling. Saldana is a fine actress, but the subtext of the casting was, “Simone doesn’t meet the new standard of beauty.” And that’s a profoundly racist notion. But even if the casting had somehow been perfect, this unfathomably shoddy and inept biopic, dominated by a threadbare-TV-movie portrayal of Simone’s fabled bad behavior (drunken tantrums, etc.), leaves the glory of a great artist by the wayside to bury itself in a monumentally unconvincing version of tabloid trivia.

2. “Blair Witch”
Please, God — please, Antichrist! — no more! No more unlit night murk, no more endless running, no more witchy widgets made of sticks, no more bad young actors pretending to be real people, no more fear-free scares, no more found-footage horror! No more!

3. “Ben-Hur”
What if they built a chariot race and nobody came? The blockbuster dud of the year was a perfect storm of clueless corporate-think, from the casting of limp noodle Jack Huston in the role made legendary by the studly Charlton Heston to the all-over-the-place snoozy mini-series plotting to the decision to pander to the Evangelical demo by playing up Jesus to the franchise-mentality delusion that the chariot climax — so analog! so retro gritty! — was going to be “Gladiator” on wheels.

4. “Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party”
You’ve got to say this for the right-wing firebrand-turned-documentary filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza: A few years back, he looked like an outlier, but now he looks like the founding father of fake news. In his latest alternate-reality screed, D’Souza piles on the historical conspiracy theories and flagrant disregard for facts to blame the Democratic Party for everything from slavery to the genocidal killing of Native Americans to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. (Inner-city poverty? That’s their fault too.) By the time he gets to Hillary Clinton, the movie has run out of gas, but that’s because D’Souza’s real subject is himself: the conservative martyr-hero preaching truthiness to power.

5. “Alice Through the Looking Glass”
It looks like a special effects factory that threw up. Yet beneath the overbearing onslaught of psychedelic eye candy, there is indeed a tale — a very bad one. It’s the backstory of how the Mad Hatter was wounded and abused as a young man, which explains why he turned into that nattering pinwheel-eyed prankster played by Johnny Depp. What it doesn’t explain is why we should care.

Peter Debruge’s 5 worst:

1. “The Brothers Grimsby”
Separated from “Borat” director Larry Charles (who was busy embarrassing himself with Nicolas Cage satire “Army of One”), Sacha Baron Cohen plumbed new depths of puerile humor in this ill-conceived spy-movie spoof. As if the gag in which Daniel Radcliffe passes HIV to Donald Trump wasn’t in poor enough taste, the film dives even further into the gutter as Cohen and Mark Strong hide inside an elephant’s vagina, where they are unspeakably violated by a bull in heat. (Poor Penelope Cruz, who allowed herself to be objectified first in “Zoolander 2,” and then this raunchy piece of garbage.)

2. “Man Down”
Say what you will about Shia LaBeouf, but the guy can act, doing so with an intensity that has become almost scary. Whereas “American Honey” benefits enormously from the star’s feral energy, it’s not enough to save Dito Montiel’s manipulative look at how a recent Afghanistan veteran copes with PTSD. What might have been an exciting reunion between LaBeouf and his “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” director instead unfolds like a bad episode of “The Twilight Zone,” using a risible case of child endangerment to prove its painfully obvious point.

3. “The Sea of Trees”
Every year, countless inconsolable souls go to Japan’s Aokigahara forest to take their own lives — a fact director Gus Van Sant milks for tacky exoticism in this reprehensible melodrama starring Matthew McConaughey as a grieving American who makes an implausibly long journey just to off himself, only to meet a fellow depressive (Ken Watanabe) who convinces him his life is worth fighting for. The worst film of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival finally found its way to American screens more than a year later, by which point a little movie called “Paterson” had improved on the cliché (watch for a playful scene with a magical Japanese tourist).

4. “The Girl on the Train”
“The Help” was a hit in spite of Tate Taylor’s direction, not because of it, but that didn’t stop Universal from hiring him to helm another female-driven literary sensation. Taylor botches the assignment every which way he can, squandering a courageous lead performance from Emily Blunt and failing to establish the one thing that might have saved this sloppy missing-persons mystery: making us suspect that Blunt’s blackout-prone drunk could be responsible. Instead, we don’t even buy that she’s an alcoholic, which makes the eye-rolling finale — in which she stabs the culprit with a corkscrew — all the more laughable.

5. “Kate Plays Christine”
Exploiting the fallacy that actors suffer as much as their characters, indie darling Kate Lyn Sheil pretends to wrestle with how to portray troubled 1970s TV reporter Christine Chubbuck, who notoriously shot herself on the air. Director Robert Greene’s fraudulent behind-the-scenes documentary raises questions about spectatorship (the movie insultingly assumes that its audience has come see her pull the trigger) and the emotional toll certain roles take on actors (not understanding how talented professionals separate themselves from the material). Kate can’t hack it, but Rebecca Hall was a revelation playing the same character in “Christine,” which made my top 10 list.