Every critic’s worst movie is another’s best, but Variety critics Peter Debruge and Owen Gleiberman had to draw the line somewhere. Whether it was the year’s top film at the box office, or a right-wing documentary that’s even worse than the filmmaker’s previous outrages, it was a good year to hate-watch.
Peter Debruge’s Five Worst Movies:
“Avengers: Infinity War”
Spoiler alert: The power-mad crazeballs behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe are out of control. First they blew up an entire planet (at the end of “Thor: Ragnarok”) and laughed if off, and then came Thanos’ snap, which (I said “spoiler alert” already — get off my case!) killed off half of all life in the galaxy. When that happened, I wanted to scream, “You can’t do that!” and not because I care about these characters (most of whom are quasi-invincible imbeciles anyway — although I was just starting to like Black Panther when he bit it), but because now we have to wait a year to find out whatever cheap device they use to undo the Decimation. In the 1978 movie, Superman flew around the earth so fast that he reversed time and revived Lois Lane. Then in “Justice League,” the Man of Steel himself, impaled by Doomsday, turned out only to be “mostly dead.” I know that those are DC characters, but hear this Marvel: Twenty films over 10 years is too many. You can scrub ’em all, as far as this fed-up critic is concerned.
If you don’t know what the title means, do yourself a favor and steer clear of the Urban Dictionary. Mistaking oversharing for honesty, this seemingly scriptless dramedy from squirm-inducing indie director Miguel Arteta (“Chuck & Buck”) debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival, where its description suggested a new kind of sex-positive 21st-century romance, in which Alia Shawkat and Laia Costa’s characters meet cute and “plan to spend the next 24 hours together, having sex on the hour.” Turns out that was just a pretext for a pair of unbearably scatological, awkwardly improvised performances. As if watching Shawkat use the toilet or Costa queef on command weren’t bad enough, I made for the exit when the two lovebirds started hitting each other with a baggie of warm dog poo.
There should be a law against movies like this. I’m pretty sure John Travolta thought his trying-too-hard turn as Gotham tough guy John Gotti — the Gambino family crime boss convicted of five murders and eight other charges — was his big shot at Oscar glory. But in order to get it done, he made a deal with the devil, cozying up to the very people the movie was depicting, to the point that this risible gangster opus (which argues that Gotti was a great father, and that the authorities were too tough on Gotti and his son) comes off feeling like a bad-taste hagiography. And then to make matters worse, Travolta followed it up with “Speed Kills,” another case of bad-guy glorification.
It takes real nerve for small-screen darling Dan Fogelman to kill off characters audiences have grown to love on his hit series “This Is Us,” but when he tries to do the same in this overstuffed generation- and globe-spanning melodrama, it hardly matters because his cloying cardboard constructions never felt real to begin with. Like some kind of second-rate Cameron Crowe, Fogelman would like to believe that he’s so much deeper and more eloquent than other writers, when in fact he’s just playing God, concocting characters that speak his mind (rather than their own) and then manipulating them to prove his thesis that “life is the ultimate unreliable narrator” — whereas, it’s usually just self-satisfied writer-directors that we have to worry about.
Speaking of unreliable narrators, Martin Amis’ squirrely post-atomic mystery novel never should’ve made the journey from page to screen, as suggested by this mangled adaptation’s “0% fresh” Rotten Tomatoes rating and abysmal box office performance — the second-lowest per-screen average of a wide release, ever. It doesn’t help that there was a huge fallout between music-video director Mathew Cullen and his producers, although neither cut can handle Amis’ unwieldy plot. It all hinges on a femme fatale (Amber Heard, ickily objectified by all, including ex-husband Johnny Depp in a bonkers supporting role) who knows precisely when she will be murdered, but not by whom. Will the killer be posh pretty boy Guy Clinch (Theo James) or scuzzy darts champ Keith Talent (Jim Sturgess in the year’s single worst performance)? Or could it be the hack novelist who’s guilty of creating these characters in the first place?
Owen’s Gleiberman’s Five Worst Movies:
“Death of a Nation”
Dinesh D’Souza, the weasel of alt-right schlock propaganda, is no longer preaching to the converted — he’s preaching to the mentally unsound. Yet in an era when even the President of the United States can just spew his own facts, it makes a horrible kind of sense that a fake-news historian like D’Souza would have to keep upping the ante of fake outrage. His latest screed doesn’t just compare the Democrats to the Nazis; it literally pretends that postwar American liberalism stole its animating ideas from Hitler. Whether or not D’Souza actually believes this garbage is irrelevant to his mission. He’s become the documentarian as toxic troll.
“The Miseducation of Cameron Post”
It’s arguably the worst film ever to take the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, though that’s merely a judgment about a bad jury call. Even minus an award it hardly deserved, this adaptation of Emily M. Danforth’s 2012 novel represents everything that’s synthetic and cloying about independent film when it borrows the glib attitudes and manipulative trickery of bogus studio filmmaking. The movie’s subject could hardly be more serious (it’s about what goes on at a gay conversion therapy center), but from the moment that Chloë Grace Moretz’s Cameron Post shows up to be “deprogrammed,” what she feels and displays isn’t anxiety or humanity. It’s reflexive sitcom ‘tude, as if the filmmakers had decided to make her a girl erased of everything but smug superiority.
“Disney’s Christopher Robin”
Oh, bother. Christopher Robin is now a middle-aged dullard (Ewan McGregor) who spends too much time at the office (as does the movie). But then he reconnects with his old pals in the Hundred Acre Wood, like a bureaucratic softie stuck in ancient reruns. The tale is listlessly anecdotal, the getting-in-touch-with-your-inner-eight-year-old arc unbearably saccharine, but the real bother is having to watch characters this beloved “brought to life” by CGI impersonating animatronic fakery impersonating the old Disney cartoon versions of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh menagerie. It’s like seeing your childhood memories taken over by the Snuggle bear.
“How to Talk to Girls at Parties”
John Cameron Mitchell has directed just four features, and he’s got a track record of inspiring audacity (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” “Shortbus”), but the inspiration got lost when he adapted Neil Gaiman’s 2006 short story into an impossibly whimsical and overbearing sci-fi camp bauble about a boy (Alex Sharp) who falls for a girl (Elle Fanning) who belongs to an alien cult whose members stand around performing gymnastic dance numbers in skin-tight vinyl. It’s the limp-noodle version of a fish-out-of-water comedy (think early John Waters minus the jokes), with scene after scene that just sits there and fizzles out.
One enters a weird and musty Twilight Zone in this grindingly ponderous and bombastic submarine thriller, which is like something based on a Tom Clancy novel that’s decades past its sell-by date. The movie stars Gerard Butler, and it’s saying something that he’s the least gloomy thing about it. “Hunter Killer” wants to scratch that neo-Cold War itch, but about all it will make you nostalgic for is an era when people who made movies like this one knew what they were doing.