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The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2018

This list makes equal room for the lowest hanging Hollywood fruits and art-house fare convinced of its own cultural and artistic importance.

The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2018
Photo: Amazon Studios

In June 2018, Alex Richanbach, director of the Netflix original film Ibiza, which follows the misadventures of three American women on the Spanish island, admitted to venerable dance-music magazine Mixmag that he had, in fact, never been there. It turns out, the film’s club scenes were filmed in Croatia. While Richanbach’s lack of firsthand experience on the island is by no means a disaster in relative terms, it’s certainly a folly—one that, as Mixmag suggests, calls the entire film’s merits into question.

The worst film follies of 2018 are similarly ill-conceived cinematic ventures that nonetheless managed to gain a certain amount of critical adoration, from Bryan Singer’s miscalculated biopic Bohemian Rhapsody to Xavier Legrand’s voyeuristically sadistic Custody. This list makes equal room for the lowest hanging Hollywood fruit and art-house fare nonsensically convinced of its own cultural and artistic importance. Hardly the real deal, these films should have, figuratively speaking, gone to Ibiza. Clayton Dillard


The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2018

12 Strong

Brawny, model-hot beefcakes with bleached teeth, ODA 595’s soldiers are depicted as amiable tough guys with a keen sense of gallows humor and just enough moral scruples to lend them a sense of humanity—but not so much that they ever become moralizing killjoys. Their backstories are largely a mystery, save for some perfunctory prefatory scenes showing a few of them with their families. 12 Strong contrasts their genial good nature with the vicious, self-serious savagery of their enemies, who are shown—in one of the few scenes not presented from the U.S. military’s immediate vantage point—executing a little girl in the middle of a town square for the crime of being educated. This gruesome atrocity is cynically used to goose the audience’s moral outrage as well as to provide an additional rationale for the U.S.’s mission: Now it’s not just about revenge, but also liberation. Keith Watson


The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2018

22 July

Twelve years ago, United 93 transformed a real-life tragedy into a visceral, you-were-there thrill ride. With the no less morbid and hollow 22 July, Paul Greengrass takes on the 2011 Norway attacks by Anders Behring Breivik that left 77 people dead. While the filmmaker devotes some time to the motives and psychological state of the lone-wolf terrorist at the center of this film, the resulting portrait of Breivik (Anders Danielsen Lie) reveals little more than a megalomaniacal loner with insurmountable mommy issues. After an opening scene where Breivik meticulously crafts numerous bombs and loads them, along with an arsenal of weapons, into an unmarked van, Greengrass cuts to a drone shot of Breivik driving on a road surrounded by a vast forest. As if the carnage to come is somehow in doubt, the ominous music that plays over this image primes us to buckle up for what’s sure to be a suspenseful series of sequences just around the bend. That a drop from John Williams’s Jaws score wouldn’t be out of place on this film’s soundtrack goes to show how tactlessly Greengrass milks tragedy for titillation. Derek Smith


The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2018

Beautiful Boy

Hear Sigur Rós’s “Svefn-G-Englar” creeping onto the soundtrack as Nic (Timothée Chalamet) reads Charles Bukowski’s poem “Let It Enfold You” aloud in a literature class? That’s the sound of Beautiful Boy deploying the first of many excruciating needle drops—a moment so sincere and convinced of its emotive power that it makes Lady Gaga’s performance of “Shallow” in Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born seem ironic by comparison. Throughout, Felix van Groeningen debases the film’s subject matter through a grab bag of histrionic hack moves, from wistful montages flashing between Nic’s childhood and the present day, to repetitive shots of Nic brooding and crying, to Dave (Steve Carrell) shouting to himself and others over Nic’s attempts to kick addiction. Even so, the wackest part of Beautiful Boy is its romanticized depiction of hard drug use. The result is less beautiful than it is bullshit. Dillard


The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody

Set aside the controversy and debate over the film’s depiction of Freddie Mercury’s (Rami Malek) sexuality and Bohemian Rhapsody is still the biggest disaster of the post-Walk Hard biopic era. Every single scene of the film is unintentionally parodic, from the rehearsals of the titular epic that use the finished master recording, to the depiction of Queen’s touring success documented via a montage of the band shouting out each city they play. Worst of all is Freddie’s father (Ace Bhatti) incessantly intoning the bizarre mantra “Good thoughts, good words, good deeds” until it half-assedly pays off when Freddie agrees to perform at Live Aid. For all of the meticulous care given to replicating the specific beats of Queen’s most famous performances, the film gives short shrift to Mercury’s fellow bandmates. And when Bohemian Rhapsody does broach Freddie’s sexuality, it does so in the most self-negating ways; characters lament that Freddie lives in repressive times even as the gay relationship that gets the most screen time is steeped in debauchery and manipulation. In the film’s most garish scene, Freddie finds himself standing between his destructive, career-stagnating romance with Paul Prenter (Allen Leech) and the warmth and true love symbolized by his female ex. Jake Cole


The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2018

Custody

An exploitation thriller dressed up as a sober arthouse drama, Xavier Legrand’s Custody at least opens strong, with a gripping 15-minute custody hearing that suggests a world of complicated feelings and bitter interpersonal strife lurking just beneath the surface of the coolly formalistic court proceedings. But it’s just a head-fake, as Legrand proceeds to spend the film’s remaining 70 minutes stripping away every last vestige of moral and emotional complexity hinted at in that opening scene. Legrand essentially takes the beginning of Kramer vs. Kramer and welds it onto the end of The Shining, a fusion that illuminates nothing other than the cynicism of the filmmaker’s vision. Custody has been lauded by some for its harrowing tension, but whatever suspense the film achieves comes at the expense of its characters, who are quickly reduced to shallow stock types (monstrous father, victimized wife, scared kid). Legrand isn’t really interested in the tangled web of emotions that characterize abusive relationships anyway—everything is just window dressing for the film’s depressingly predictable and sleazily enthusiastic descent into violence. Watson


The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2018

Destroyer

The primary goal of Destroyer seems to be to remake one of Michael Mann’s voguish thrillers from a feminist perspective: Heat but with a strong-willed, if still wrongheaded, woman, plus two bank robberies gone wrong. And the contradiction inherent to a noirish tale of this sort is that all the bad behavior should be somewhat pleasurable to watch. Yet director Karyn Kusama and screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi treat the material sternly and humorlessly, as if there’s some great moral lesson to be imparted from Erin’s (Nicole Kidman) inexhaustible blotto jerkiness. The pretension extends to the tiniest detail: Look, for example, at how Kusama photographs, in chiaroscuro and slow-mo, a group of skateboarders who bookend the film as if they have some revelatory metaphorical import. Yet the longer Destroyer goes on, the more it becomes apparent that there’s barely enough substance here to support an Aesop’s fable, let alone a Los Angeles crime epic. Keith Uhlich


The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2018

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

With The Girl in the Spider’s Web, a soft reboot of the American-produced Millennium series and indirect sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Fede Álvarez betrays his own talents and delivers a listless imitation of David Fincher’s signature style. The claustrophobia and deft craftsmanship of Evil Dead and Don’t Breathe is replaced by a slick but lifeless aesthetic that’s accompanied by a thudding score that could have been culled from any 1990s thriller made in the wake of Fincher’s Se7en. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo possesses a daring and an empathy rarely found in studio thrillers, and Álvarez, hampered by an inane screenplay and denied the kind of cast that made Fincher’s characters so compelling, can’t conjure up anything even close to his predecessor’s caustic sense of mystery and dread. Greg Cwik


The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2018

Godard Mon Amour

With The Artist, his Oscar-winning homage to silent cinema, Michel Hazanavicius had a whole era of filmic touchstones he was drawing inspiration from—albeit badly. Godard Mon Amour narrows that frame of reference to just the most basic signifiers of Godard’s late-1960s aesthetic: primary colors, avant-grade sound sync, ironic voiceover in relation to on-screen action. And it uses this arsenal for the seeming purpose of lampooning its fictionalized caricature. The film plays like an extended trolling session: When Godard voices his objection to gratuitous film nudity, Hazanavicius cuts abruptly to a domestic scene of the man and his wife, Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin), in the nude, with the oblivious JLG brushing his teeth while haughtily lecturing her. Hazanavicius co-opts Godard’s personal life for cheap prestige-picture sentiment—and insults the auteur’s radical style with the most conservative iteration of it conceivable. Sam C. Mac


The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2018

Gotti

Every time John Travolta makes a roaring comeback with a deft comic turn, the clock starts on him inevitably squandering it on a misconceived dramatic feature. So it is with Gotti, which sees Travolta following up his triumphant work in The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story with a performance of leaden severity that belies the absurdity of his character. John Gotti, one of the most inept mobsters in the history of crime, is treated like the last of the noble outlaws, a man who orders his flunkies to help old ladies with their groceries and who keeps the neighborhood gym from closing. The film sincerely endorses this image of Gotti as folk hero even when the mobster’s community benefaction is contrasted with his murders and general paranoia. Travolta scowls and gesticulates his way through every scene, loudly describing his committed and planned crimes in thorough detail despite constantly being under federal surveillance. The film’s clumsy emphasizing of every little detail is at its most hilarious when a fellow gangster informs Gotti that he needs the support of New York’s five boroughs, at which point the man proceeds to helpfully name all of them for Gotti, a Bronx native. Cole


The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2018

Green Book

Although a “reverse Driving Miss Daisy” has been the go-to comparison for naysayers of Peter Farrelly’s Green Book, the film unfolds more like a didactic feature-length version of the scene from Do the Right Thing in which John Turturro’s Pino explains how his favorite singers and athletes, who are black, aren’t really black. Where Spike Lee uses Pino to reveal the cultural and systemic forces that lead to such incoherent perceptions, Green Book’s spin on the character, Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), is simply presented as an Italian-American racist whose narrative arc is about redeeming the man’s prejudice through hard work. Farrelly’s film indulges and perpetuates long-standing fantasies on behalf of white audiences regarding race, class, and masculinity, perhaps the most egregious being that Lip is meant to be loveable because of his capacity for fisticuffs and threats of violence. It’s pure blue-collar fantasy, with jazz pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), an intellectual and a closeted homosexual, rescued and even edified by a man who makes a living with his hands. (The irony here is that so does Shirley, but the physical nature of the man’s work isn’t recognized by Lip because it’s linked to the arts.) The result is a syrupy reduction of American life into a nostalgic snapshot of racial harmony that never existed. Dillard


The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2018

The Grinch

Despite—or perhaps because of—his grumpiness, malevolence, and hatred of joy, the Grinch has always been an oddly sympathetic character. Who can’t relate to feeling a bit alienated from the manufactured jollity of the holiday season? The Whos may be kind and genuinely warm-hearted creatures, but that only makes the green, furry monster’s spitefulness that much more relatable. In fact, what more universal sentiment is there than the bitter resentment of being excluded from other people’s happiness? The Grinch of this film isn’t the fiendish mischief-maker of Dr. Seuss’s children’s story and the equally classic animated television special, but a smug, coffee-guzzling neurotic voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch with a priggish nasal whine. With his fuzzy green fur and button nose, he’s a cutesier, cuddlier Grinch, but he’s also considerably less charming. There’s no sense of wickedness to the character, no Seussian idiosyncrasy, just annoying pettiness and insecurity. He’s very much a villain in the contemporary kiddie-film mold, where the bad guys are never really bad, just misunderstood. Watson


The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2018

Halloween

There’s an intriguing larger theme that the filmmakers behind this Halloween are trying to mine about terror and tragedy being passed down a family tree. The events of the film are meant to bring Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), Karen (Judy Greer), and Allyson (Andi Matichak) together in such a way that they become the ultimate “final girl,” three generations of women banding together to vanquish the ultimate aggressive male. But Curtis, Greer, and Matichak never build anything approaching a believable genetic chemistry. They each seem to be starring in their own movie: Curtis in some infernal redneck homage to James Cameron’s Aliens, Greer in a screwball farce about the mother she just can’t stand, and Matichak in a rote high school comedy that just happens to have a killer on the loose. So the motif, like the film itself, comes off as pandering rather than provocative. Uhlich


The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2018

The Happytime Murders

The Happytime Murders isn’t only unduly late to the game in terms of dirty puppet humor, but it’s also content to deliver nothing more than the polar opposite of the family-friendly tendencies of The Muppet Show and The Great Muppet Caper. If director Brian Henson is interested in putting his film in dialectical conversation with his father’s early work, you wouldn’t know it from the way he rubs his audience’s faces in the muck with reckless abandon. Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta) and Connie Edwards’s (Melissa McCarthy) journey toward reconciliation is pockmarked with silly insults and nonstop displays of puppets being debaucherous, which all ceases to be shocking or humorous by the third or fourth time someone’s snorted purple sugar, the puppet underworld’s drug of choice. Worse, in this world where overindulgence is the norm, no amount of perversion can distract from the fundamental lack of inspiration to the film’s central mystery. Best to make like a puppet junkie and grab a Twizzler in order to snort some of that purple sugar, because restoring your mind to its 12-year-old state may be the only way to enjoy this relentless onslaught of puerile awfulness. Smith


The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2018

Johnny English Strikes Again

Rowan Atkinson’s unwavering energy, even in Johnny English Strikes Again’s most asinine sequences, is laudable simply for the actor’s sheer commitment. However, the very nature of his character necessitates an adherence to spy-film clichés that not only don’t play to the actor’s strengths, but lead to inconsistencies where Johnny English is suave and proficient in one scene and a bumbling fool the next. It’s as if the filmmakers and Atkinson wanted to make a Mr. Bean film but were forced to repeatedly return to parodying 007 in order to justify Johnny English Strikes Again’s existence. With comedic material this lackluster and unimaginative, though, the restrictions of genre are really the least of the problems. Smith


The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2018

Life Itself

Somehow, all of Life Itself’s transparent and egregious screenwriterly contrivances never tie back to the film’s theory about unreliable narration. Despite its title, writer-director Dan Fogelman’s film doesn’t revel so much in the joys and travails of life as it does in the shameless emotional manipulation stemming from the ham-fisted tendencies of its own maker. In each groan-inducing twist and pseudo-philosophical rumination, one senses the presence of a writer-director striving to make grandiose proclamations about the nature of humanity and existence without the self-awareness to even recognize that it’s his own gimmickry that becomes Life Itself’s truest form of unreliable narration. Smith


The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2018

Peppermint

Pierre Morel directs Peppermint’s scenes of action mayhem with aplomb, but he also glamorizes them, such as with slow-motion sequences that allow us to better appreciate the righteous, precision-targeted violence that Riley (Jennifer Garner) unleashes on Diego Garcia’s (Juan Pablo Raba) gang, one man at a time. Morel encourages the audience to applaud and laugh delightedly, rendering Riley a folk hero, just as within the film she becomes muralized on Skid Row, which she keeps safe, and beloved on social media. Early on, Riley tells her daughter that hitting bad people makes one as bad as them, but by the end, the film is excusing, forgiving, and celebrating all of her spectacular, impossibly uncomplicated violence. Henry Stewart


The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2018

RBG

Less a probing study of one of the towering figures of contemporary jurisprudence than a feature-length extension of the “Notorious RBG” meme, Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s hagiographic documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg provides few insights into the Supreme Court Justice’s legal mind, but it does offer plenty of opportunity to watch the diminutive octogenarian work out, show off her jabot collection, and perform a walk-on role in an opera. RBG devotes more time to Ginsburg falling asleep at the State of the Union address than it does to the entirety of her 13 years on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. In a scene that’s emblematic of Cohen and West’s relentlessly superficial approach to their subject, they sit Ginsburg down in front of a TV to watch Kate McKinnon’s wacky impression of her. Her thoughts? She finds it funny and not much like her actual personality. Watson


The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2018

Three Identical Strangers

Chronically lazy and structurally dishonest, Tim Wardle’s Three Identical Strangers favors dubious twists over the emotional lives of his subjects. Tacky, repetitive flashbacks mar the film’s opening 20 minutes, wherein three 19-year-old men discover they were separated at birth, and this credulous, gee-whiz tone persists through an unsettling period of mass-media fame, where the trio performatively mug for television audiences and open a New York restaurant. Rather than interrogating the psychic impact of all of this tumult in the moment, Wardle withholds most of his story’s obvious darkness until the film’s second half, stuffing fraught ideas about identity, addiction, and mental health into a bogus nature-versus-nurture debate that’s dwarfed by a series of hacky plot pivots. Three Identical Strangers has no qualms with undermining itself for the sake of drama. Instead of investigating the actual lives and upbringings of his subjects, Wardle blames their respective plight on a tough roll of the genetic dice, in the process exposing his own incurious spirit. Christopher Gray


The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2018

Vice

Throughout Vice, Adam McKay’s ambitions often cancel themselves out. So much is going on here that nothing seems to matter, and his endless digressions annihilate any impression of a present tense. The film is as noisy as the media landscape that McKay holds in contempt, most notably when the director alternates footage of the Iraq War with scenes from Survivor, smugly illustrating what truly commands the attention of American citizens. And two of McKay’s conceits are embarrassing: a framing device with Jesse Plemons as a bedrock American who spouts factoids that McKay presumably couldn’t fit into other characters’ mouths, and a climax that literalizes Dick Cheney’s (Christian Bale) heart replacement as the loss of his soul, upon his betrayal of his gay daughter, Mary (Alison Pill). (Never mind that Cheney’s already a war criminal at this point, as well as a potential traitor, in terms of his role in the Valerie Plame affair.) For all of McKay’s self-consciousness, Vice is essentially another biopic that preaches to the liberal choir, with occasional bits of lunacy that surface seemingly out of nowhere, remaining isolated from the central, and momentum-less, drama. Chuck Bowen


The 20 Worst Film Follies of 2018

Vox Lux

In Vox Lux’s image of a popstar in decline is a concise one, but it’s also unmistakably stale. Just about the only truly interesting insights that writer-director Brady Corbet gives us into his main character’s behavior are confined to Dafoe’s narration, such as an off-handed reference to a Mel Gibson-esque drunken, racist meltdown. Even then, though, such an anecdote provides only mild titillation, because had the moment been actually shown on screen, Vox Lux might have profoundly complicated Celeste (first played by Raffey Cassidy, then, after flashing forward 17 years, by Natalie Portman) as a character, maybe even undercut the film’s self-seriousness with some genuinely confrontational humor. Worse, Portman plays her shooting victim turned pop star like a car revving in first gear, deafeningly loud but scarcely moving. Throughout, the actress loudly proclaims the subtext of Celeste’s arrested development, and the character’s lack of modulation or growth in effect forces Portman to recycle simplistic rant after simplistic rant. Cole

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