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The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2016

The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2016

 

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The films selected as Slant Magazine's worst follies of the year, in short, write checks that they can't cash. These cinematic fouls include the Hollywood remake of a Charlton Heston classic and an independent horror film that amounts to, in the words of our own Chuck Bowen, “stunted necrophilia erotica.” In other horrific cases, such as in Eddie Murphy's first film in four years, “melodramatic banalities” mixed with regressive race relations to conjure the dreaded “magical negro” trope. Lastly (and possibly least), Mel Gibson returned to the director's chair after a decade's absence to resurrect his inner Catholic gorehound from The Passion of Christ and Braveheart, only this time you'll find young men's innards strewn along the battlefields of WWII. The film, like all of those on our list, stays caught in your throat like creative napalm, choking and bludgeoning the senses rather than nourishing or enlivening them. Clayton Dillard

The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2016

Ben-Hur

The makers of this latest Ben-Hur clearly recognize the primacy of the chariot race to the property's popularity and, accordingly, have constructed the entire film around this one sequence, opening on a flash-forward to the race, basing the central relationship between Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and his adoptive brother, Messala (Toby Kebbell), on their shared love of horses, and foreshadowing the film's climax so frequently that it's hard to care about anything that happens along the way to the inevitable showdown in the circus. Of course, it's also hard to care because the film is conceived and directed less as a sweeping epic than as a talky, plotty, melodramatic made-for-TV special in the vein of The Bible (which, like Ben-Hur, was co-produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey). Despite some pleasantly campy touches, from Morgan Freeman's ridiculous dreadlocks, to Rodrigo Santoro's portrayal of Jesus as a kind of sexy Jedi, to a hilariously disconsonant final shot featuring Ben-Hur and Messala riding horses in slow motion set to a schmaltzy pop song, Timur Bekmambetov's film is a pretty staid affair. Keith Watson

The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2016

Captain Fantastic

Captain Fantastic is premised on a radical act—that we can chuck it all, pack up the family, and move off the grid—that it dutifully trivializes at every turn. Writer-director Matt Ross makes little attempt to illuminate how and why people might choose to alter their lives so drastically, and basic questions are never really answered: What exactly is Ben's (Viggo Mortensen) endgame? Does he expect his kids to get married at some point? Instead, the family's exposure to society renders them increasingly absurd, to the point that, when they finally arrive at their mother's funeral, they burst in mid-service wearing garish clothing (a red '70s suit, a gas mask, a dinosaur costume), with Ben hopping on the altar to deliver a screed against organized religion. This isn't the behavior of radicals bucking the system; it's the antics of characters contrived to hit the quirky, crowd-pleasing notes that made Little Miss Sunshine a hit with audiences. Watson

The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2016

Creative Control

Though Creative Control, about a tie-tugging business twentysomething who finds himself as unfulfilled in the board room as he is in the bedroom, is overrun with characters, it's less interested in their identity than their plasticity, almost as Sisyphean shells to hinge a treatise of despair upon. Flashes of satire appear, like how every male character sports glasses and a beard, as if the uniform of futurity became permanent via the present stylings of bohemia. However, it's never made clear whether the representational choice deliberately jabs at corporate marketing campaigns or whether the homologous fashion choices are merely a stroke of the film's own pronounced pretentions, not least of which includes “Sarabande” being played in nearly half a dozen scenes. In other words, the satirical pitch of Creative Control is consistently drowned out by its self-wallowing aesthetics. Dillard

The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2016

Equals

Equals is concerned with how mind control asserts itself through the covert modification of everyday routines, but it doesn't evince any interest in how its future world sustains itself. Apologists for this speculative fiction might argue that this world's industrial infrastructure is beside the point—that the film's purpose is to deliver onto us a cautionary tale about moral infrastructure. Maybe it's not even meat on those plates during the film's depiction of lunchtime. (Maybe it's soy!) But if director Drake Doremus's sense of world-building doesn't extend beyond the suggestion of fascist control through fussily symmetrical compositions (life here is oppressive by virtue of resembling a Ludwig Mies van der Rohe house writ large), Nathan Parker's screenplay is no less starved for detail. It all comes down, simplistically and repeatedly, to “feelings make us feel alive.” Ed Gonzalez

The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2016

The Eyes of My Mother

In The Eyes of My Mother, Nicolas Pesce flatlines all emotionality and intellectualism, offering images and scenarios that exist in a void of contrivance. There are no reasons for the characters to do what they do here beyond the necessity of the jerry-rigged plot, which borrows from dozens of other sources and abounds in ludicrous dime-store Freudian intrigue and Oedipal obsessions that are common of self-consciously arty horror films. There's no discernable theme or resonance either, beyond a smug belief in the inherent truthfulness of cruelty for cruelty's sake that suggests hours spent studying the early work of Michael Haneke, or recent films like Goodnight Mommy and Tom Six's Human Centipede sequels. Chuck Bowen

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