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The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2017

The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2017

 

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Just as emotional intimacy exposes one to heartbreak, love of art brings one into contact with masterpieces, disasters, and all levels of achievement in between. The following films encapsulate various forms of dishonor, ranging from pointless cash-ins, born of cold studio calculus, to urgently personal projects that are more reflective of their creators’ obsessions than was even possibly intended, dragging unsavory neuroses up into the light. A best-of list is celebratory, while a worst-of recap is cautionary and—okay—a little snide. For its discomfort, a worst-of list might be more revealing of the impulses that govern our reactions to art. This year offered incredible riches in cinema, as well as lowlights that are both obvious and intensely debatable. Chuck Bowen

The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2017

Alien: Covenant

When he helmed Alien in 1979, Ridley Scott, not yet known for bloated epics, had to work within the limits of technology and the confines of practical special effects; he had to find creative ways to conjure a retro-futuristic world. His directorial choices are precise, his shots assiduous in their compositions and movements. Since the advent of CGI, though, Sir Ridley has grown lazy. He no longer makes directorial choices but seemingly does everything that comes to mind, creating messes of philosophical mumbo jumbo and vertiginous, sloppy action. Alien: Covenant, his latest blunder, espouses everything that’s awful about post-Gladiator Scott. Count the shots in any of the attack scenes; instead of making choices, he shoots every angle he can. The sophomoric philosophizing pontificates in a way that may trick some viewers into thinking that the film posits intriguing ideas, but it’s all just a hodgepodge of self-contradicting bullshit whose only purpose is to force along a narrative from scene to scene. Michael Fassbender does astonishing work as the two identical androids, but his virtuoso (and gay-baiting) performance can’t save the film from Scott’s pedantic indulgence. Greg Cwik

The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2017

Beatriz at Dinner

Miguel Arteta’s Beatriz at Dinner sets out to make a feast of late capitalism and the hypocrisies of wealthy, white liberals yet never makes its way past the hors d’oeuvres. Beatriz (Salma Hayek) is positioned as the film’s moral compass, yet her obliviousness to the fact that evil deeds are often committed to amass the great sums of wealth that her clients flaunt is so ridiculous that it’s impossible to take her seriously. Arteta and screenwriter Mike White position Beatriz less as a thinking, breathing character than a saintly pawn who miraculously disarms the supposedly politically progressive guests at the dinner party to which she’s been invited, often silently witnessing the casual racism and greed that informs their solipsistic world views. In their attempts to puncture the bubble surrounding elite liberals, the filmmakers overlook the dangers of Beatriz’s own wide-eyed optimism and unquestioning faith in humanity, which render her unable to perceive the blatant evil lurking just beneath the surface of those closest to her. She’s been swimming in a pool full of sharks all the while feeding them like goldfish. Beatriz at Dinner may have its heart in the right place, but the film’s facile dialectics lead only to the slight revelation that seemingly nice people can subconsciously hold onto some really shitty beliefs. In 2017, that point shouldn’t even have to be stated let alone made the thematic crux of a film. Derek Smith

The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2017

The Book of Henry

The Book of Henry’s title character, played by Jaeden Lieberher, is the sort of adorable child genius who only exists in the minds of screenwriters, a mature, sensitive man trapped in the body of a boy whose mind is a bottomless fount of knowledge about everything from ballistics to neurology. And the film around him—a schmaltzy, manipulative, and tonally schizophrenic mess—is such a monumentally misguided venture that it ends up being oddly, if unintentionally, compelling. If not for Colin Trevorrow’s bland, listless direction, it would be tempting to read the film as a parody of slushy Hollywood tear-jerkers, a dark satire that uses the uncannily vacuum-sealed mawkishness of a Hallmark Channel movie as an ironic backdrop for a twisted Hitchcockian thriller. But Trevorrow is no Hitchcock, and his film is unfortunately far closer to Gifted than Shadow of a Doubt. That’s what makes it such a grimly fascinating disaster: It’s a cloying weepie that attempts to pull an inspirational moral out of a story about a mother, Susan (Naomi Watts), attempting to murder her next-door neighbor because her dead son told her to. Whatever genuine moral dilemma is buried beneath the screenplay’s mounds of half-baked melodrama is completely undone anyway by a cop-out ending that gives audiences the death they’ve been primed for without getting Susan’s hands dirty. It’s the final gallingly cynical move in a film that consistently attempts to pass off sentimentalism as profundity. Keith Watson

The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2017

Brad’s Status

Mike White’s Brad’s Status depicts Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) as a middle-class father whose life seems, upon his own voiceover reflection, an almost conspiratorial concatenation of unfortunate events. As Brad enumerates the hardships not incurred by his now-rich college friends, he chaperones his son, Troy (Austin Abrams), around Harvard, where the young man hopes to pursue a music degree. White’s tone-deaf screenplay offers characters that simultaneously challenge Brad’s pouty demeanor and legitimize it. A female student at Harvard asks him to ponder his privilege and first-world problems, while a condescending college pal (now author-cum-professor Craig Fisher, played Michael Sheen) feigns words of praise about Brad’s non-profit that condone Brad’s hurt feelings and prompt him to finally speak his mind. In White’s realm, Brad isn’t a psychopath, but merely a struggling, passionate human. However, the film never questions Brad’s paranoia and resentment as a socially accepted form of mental illness. Class politics are made into fodder for ricocheting perspectives and taxonomies of socio-cultural awareness. There’s finally no recognition on the film’s part that this form of auto-critique—a movie poking fun at middle-class anxieties meant to be consumed by middle-class audiences—winds up consecrating its object of derision rather than making it a malediction. Clayton Dillard

The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2017

Brimstone

There’s a fertile history of European directors tackling the western genre and producing memorably unorthodox takes on American foundational myths, but with Brimstone, the primary distinguishing trait is a level of male-on-female violence unmatched in even the most sadistic spaghetti westerns of the 1970s. Running 148 minutes and encompassing four chapters (portentously titled along biblical lines, such as “Exodus” and “Retribution”), the film returns over and over to scenes of frontierswomen being ruthlessly degraded by vile men. As Liz, a mute midwife plying her trade in a generically harsh, geographically non-specific Old West, Dakota Fanning bears the brunt of Dutch director Martin Koolhoven’s callous tendencies, while Guy Pearce plays a vindictive man of the cloth (as well as the devil incarnate) with a severity verging on self-parody and a thick Dutch accent that makes the florid dialogue all the more clunky. No one’s denying that the Old West could be a brutal place, and for women specifically, but Koolhoven’s hand-me-down vision leaves almost no wiggle room for humanity. That Brimstone ultimately postures as a feminist yarn is unsurprising given the current market demand for Strong Female Leads, but its bid for social correctness—manifested most plainly in a last-minute uplifting voiceover—does nothing to make the film’s juvenile and numbing fixation on brutality any more palatable. Carson Lund

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