Wednesday, January 20, 2016

My 8 Least-Favorite Movies from 2015

31. American Ultra

I should start by explaining the weaksauce title of this list. Usually, the bottom several movies of a year are ones that I actively disliked, but that wasn't the case this time. In fact, I like some of these - at least some things about some of them - quite a bit. 2015 was an extraordinarily strong year for film, so even the bottom of the barrel has some good stuff.

For example, American Ultra is sort of Chuck: The Movie, but different enough in every way - characters, plot, tone, and setting - that it's not fair to compare the two. The two leads are wonderful (and I say that as someone who doesn't usually enjoy Stewart's performances) and the focus isn't nearly as drug-oriented as the marketing makes you think. Mike and Phoebe are stoners, but that doesn't define everything about them.

My biggest issue is that the ending undermines the theme of the rest of the movie. It doesn't ruin the film, but it does lessen its impact. Otherwise, it was a fun, last action flick for the summer.

32. Krampus

I was hoping for a horror/comedy like the House movies from the '80s or maybe Tucker and Dale vs Evil. This is more like Gremlins; mostly dark and wanting to be legitimately scary with some humorous moments.

My favorite thing about it is the creature designs. The monsters look amazing and I recommend it if only for that. It's biggest failure is the way the characters react to their situation. There's exactly one moment where I felt like a parent actually acted like a parent would when a child is in danger.

Still, it's a great-looking movie with a cool premise. Not as awesome as I wanted, but not nearly as bad as I feared.

33. The Last Witch Hunter

I had a lot more fun than I expected. I'd written this off as derivative of the numerous monster-hunter movies that came before it, but got to go to a press screening with Diane and David and we had a great time.

For those who've seen a bunch of monster-hunter movies, there's not much new in terms of plot, but it has some cool things going for it. I love Vin Diesel and he's doing his tough-tender thing here in the best way. Michael Caine is also a lot of fun as Diesel's younger associate and there's some genuine chemistry between the two of them. Rose Leslie is a unique presence too, which adds some unpredictability. And there's some great world-building with plenty of hints at things left unexplored for either sequels or just the imagination.

But the dialogue is pretty clunky, it does that thing with voiceover exposition to bring the audience up to speed, Elijah Wood's character doesn't deserve to have Elijah Wood play him, and a lot of the CGI is murky and uninspired (though not all of it; there are some cool moments).

For younger viewers - like my 13-year-old son - The Last Witch Hunter is a fine introduction to the genre. But even as someone who's seen a bunch of these, I found it to be enjoyable pulp, too.

34. Goosebumps

Not too shabby as a horror-themed piece of entertainment for kids. It's never really scary, but it's not trying to be. It's genuinely funny in parts too (though it could have used more of Timothy Simons and Amanda Lund as the cops; they were great). And the actors are all good enough to make me care about their thinly-written characters.

35. Tomorrowland

A huge disappointment. The hugest of the year. Before Tomorrowland, I would have told you that Brad Bird could do no wrong. And he seemed like the perfect person to present the ideas of this movie in a great, powerful way. I don't know what happened.

I still love the ideas of the movie, but the problem is that the themes of positivity and problem-solving are reduced to simple plot points. Rather than being what the movie is about, they're just the MacGuffin that the heroes need to defend. The movie ends up being about summer action beats and set pieces, only a couple of which are notable.

36. The Visit

The best Shyamalan film since After Earth.

That's not quite fair. It's probably his best since Lady in the Water, though that's not saying much either. It's an interesting idea and a lot could have been done with it, but The Visit settles for borrowing imagery from other horror movies to talk about how old people are scary.

I could maybe set aside the ageism in that premise if The Visit actually had any thoughts about why some people are frightened by the elderly. But nope. It's as uninterested in exploring that as it is in commenting thoughtfully on its secondary theme about forgiveness.

For all that though, the actors are all a lot of fun to spend time with and there are some great, scary visuals. The imagery may all be borrowed from The Ring, Paranormal Activity, and The Blair Witch Project, but at least it's copying great stuff.

37. Seventh Son

And now we hit the part of the list where I just don't like these movies. I think I knew that Seventh Son wasn't going to be great, but I did hope it would at least be entertaining. It might be fun on a Saturday afternoon on the couch, maybe as a double-feature with Hawk the Slayer, but it wasn't worth seeing in the theater and I feel like a sucker for having spent money on it.

38. Hitman: Agent 47

Boring. Does nothing new. I cared about none of the characters.

It's not aggressively bad, but there's nothing here to recommend. And that's too bad, because I defend the 2007 film starring Timothy Olyphant.
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