There I was, a 20-year-old man waiting for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows to begin. When the day started this just seemed like yet another dumb summer movie, but then a devastating thought occurred to me. I was spending my entire summer watching terrible film after terrible film. In that moment, I pondered giving up film criticism altogether. Alas, here I am, barely. Despite redeeming itself a bit towards the end, 2016 brought about a seemingly endless onslaught of brain dead garbage. We had stale sequels, baffling passion projects, and disheartening dreck galore, and today is the day that I have my revenge. Get ready folks, because the Turtles who almost broke me didn’t even make the list.
10. Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon
The Neon Demon is a whole lot better than Refn’s previous effort, Only God Forgives, and it’s still absolutely terrible. Refn is undeniably a singular stylist, with Drive and Bronson standing as wonderfully bizarre near masterpieces. However, both of those films had source material to hold him back, and when he’s left to his own devices he goes hog wild with masturbatory pretension. Here, he’s crafted a story that on paper could have so much to say about the perception of women in modern society. How they’re expected to be perfect, to the point where they’re essentially turned into subhumans. He even starts things off strong, tricking us into thinking that he just might bring us the Black Swan for the fashion industry. Then the third act comes, and the film swings so wildly off the rails that any artistic tools used before are knocked over to create an ugly mush on the floor. It certainly gets points for atmosphere (bolstered by a brilliant score by Cliff Martinez) but reveals itself to be such a maddening mess that it brings itself into company that Refn is clearly above. It’s time to adapt something again, my friend. I’m rooting for you.
9. Paul Greengrass’ Jason Bourne
Jesus Christ it’s Jason Bourne.
Imagine that Matt Damon and Jason Bourne were in an almost decade long relationship. Together, they re-defined each other, often for the better. Everything was great until it wasn’t. Through The Bourne Ultimatum, they took one last amazing trip together, getting everything out of their system before admirably parting ways. Matt wins the breakup, going on to numerous successes, one of which landed him an Oscar nomination. Jason Bourne tried another relationship with Jeremy Renner, but his heart wasn’t in it. After a few years of being single, he calls Matt Damon for coffee to “catch up.” This film is the boring, awkward one night stand that comes after, after which Matt Damon slowly slips out of bed while Jason Bourne is still asleep. Everybody involved in Jason Bourne seems as though they were forced at gunpoint to be there. Paul Greengrass, who is nothing short of a genius on his best day, seems intent on burying this franchise for good with his uninspired direction. It’s more of people in suits pulling up computer screens with a red dot on a map that reads “Bourne,” mean looking men going to find him, resulting in them getting punched in the face. When you’re in the middle of a ten-minute motorcycle chase through the crowded streets of Greece, and the leading man looks like he’s about to pass out, how can you not do the same?
8. Kevin Smith’s Yoga Hosers
I cannot tell you how desperate I am to love Kevin Smith’s movies. When he’s not making films, I can’t get enough of the guy. He’s so utterly genuine. However, part of that down to Earth persona is his persistent acknowledgment that he is not the greatest director in the world. Personally, I’ve found his comedies rather underwhelming, but was rather impressed with him breaking out of his comfort zone by veering into horror with Red State and Tusk. So much for that. Yoga Hosers, which spins off Tusk’s three most irritating characters, is Smith passively giving up and releasing a home movie in theaters. I would be willing to perhaps get past the evil sausages played by Smith if his two leads, played by Harley Quinn Smith and Lilly Rose Depp were given even a shred of something to do. I have nothing against these two girls, they even manage to wring some moments of chemistry out of this slog. However, this is clearly a screenplay written by a man in his mid-forties desperately trying to understand teenage girls. Oh, and did I mention that Johnny “How Actively Unbearable Can I Be In This Movie?” Depp spends a large section of the runtime making an Oscar campaign for Steve Martin’s Inspector Clouseau seem like a plausible notion. Kevin, perhaps you should film Moose Jaws on your Flip Cam, show it to your family, and spare us the cash, eh?
7. Ben Stiller’s Zoolander 2
This one is all our fault. The original Zoolander was a hilariously zany piece of bubblegum with endless quotability. It still holds up today, but that wasn’t enough. We begged him for a sequel for over a decade. It didn’t matter what else he was doing, including the flat-out brilliant Tropic Thunder. “Zoolander 2, Zoolander 2, Zoolander 2!” shouted the hordes. Stiller commendably dodged this pressure for so long. He knew what this would be, but we just kept poking him. So he made it, presumably so that we could finally shut up about it. Notice how not a single person has asked him for Zoolander 3.
6. Edward Zwick’s Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
The first Jack Reacher looked atrocious, and I say that as a massive Tom Cruise fan. He just seemed bored in what appeared to be a rejected Bourne script. Shockingly, that was not the case in the slightest. Writer/Director Christopher Mcquarrie took what could’ve been a dime store action movie and turned it into a burly little film in which Cruise actually really shined as the subdued, no-nonsense Reacher. Five years later, we get Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Once again, the trailers looked like garbage. “Ne’er worry my friends,” I said, “Our old pal Jack simply plays a fool for the trailers.” Nope. Much like our pal Matt Damon, Cruise may as well be looking at his phone for a call from Doug Liman as he slogs through a flat diet soda version of the first film. However, where Jason Bourne was just lifeless, Never Go Back is utterly insulting. When Cruise manages to get through airport security with a fake passport picture that appears to be a picture of a 20-year-old Abercrombie model, this series died peacefully in his arms.
5. Justin Kurzel’s Assassin’s Creed
4 years ago, Michael Fassbender signed on to lead an Assassin’s Creed film produced in part by Ubisoft. Having the developer play a major role in the film’s development seemed like a promising step forward for video game movies, especially with an incredible talent like Fassbender. Perhaps this could’ve been the first good one. What we get instead is a 125 million dollar fan film, if the fan in question was actively trying to ensure that nothing with the name Assassin’s Creed would ever see the light of day again. This is a film with no interest in making its’ “The Matrix but they stab instead of shoot” premise approachable to anyone who hasn’t played the games. Believe me, nobody is going to start after watching this mess, which reduces the virtual field trip into the Spanish Inquisition into 3 quick montages of blurry, bloodless action. Don’t worry, though, there are plenty of scenes with characters walking around a dark gray base, frowning at each other. About halfway through the film, Michael Fassbender starts deliriously belting Patsy Cline’s Crazy as he’s literally dragged into the second “run run jump jump” scenario, and by that point, I considered joining him. The sad part? That is only the second most embarrassing scene involving Michael Fassbender in 2016.
4. David Ayer’s Suicide Squad
Most of the movies on this list weren’t exactly surprisingly bad, perhaps just disappointing at worst. Suicide Squad wasn’t just terrible, Suicide Squad broke my heart. Just when comic book movies were starting to seem a little stale, this looked like a brand new recipe. An edgy, Dirty Dozen-esque team up of super villains? Sign me up, especially after the incredible Bohemian Rhapsody trailer.
Upon leaving the theater, I was genuinely unsure of what the hell I had just witnessed. David Ayer, a director who had proven himself with the excellent End of Watch and Fury, had wiped himself with the DC Extended Universe and flushed it into theaters. This is an ugly looking, poorly written and often utterly nonsensical film. It takes characters with so much potential and throws them into a Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark spooky witch story that mostly involves them running around on one city block. They’re so generically realized that the script has to constantly remind us that they’re bad guys. Sure, Will Smith, Jai Courtney, and the criminally wasted Margot Robbie have some fun moments but the movie does everything in its power to hold them back. Then, of course, there’s Jared Leto’s much buzzed-about turn as The Joker. Going into this film, I quite liked Jared Leto. Now, I could never see him in a movie again and it would be too soon. If they don’t recast him and give Margot Robbie a worthy Joker to play off of next time, they’re dooming any Gotham set DC film.
3. Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse
Just when the X-Men series seemed to come roaring back to life with Days of Future Past and Deadpool, Apocalypse spends over two hours re-burying it. After finally finding the perfect balance of humor and drama in his previous effort, Singer returns to his previous model of tone-deaf comic book films. In introducing a new generation of mutants (or a recast generation) Singer gives these fresh actors nothing to do while flat out humiliating his veterans. Oscar Isaac, in particular, should delete Singer’s number after being forced to walk around looking a mascot for a condom brand while snarling all his lines in cheesy cartoon fashion.
Singer also gives us the year’s single worst scene, once again involving our friend Michael Fassbender. For the film’s first major destruction set-piece, what better place is there than Auschwitz? As Fassbender crumbled the concentration camp to the ground, all I could wonder is if this script went through a single person before it was shot. I can’t even do Power Rangers: Holocaust Force any justice. Take a look for yourself.
2. Todd Solondz’s Wiener-Dog
There’s a pretentious fallacy that film students have in their first year that depressing equals art, even if nothing happens. Todd Solondz seemingly never broke out of that, delivering one of the strangest excuses for an anthology I’ve ever seen. Each of the four stories has at least one moment of utterly nonsensical screenwriting. We have a scene in which Julie Delpy describes to her 8-year-old son a dog in her old neighborhood who would rape the other dog, Ellen Burstyn talking to a bunch of creepy little girl clones of herself and a two minute tracking shot of runny dog shit on the street. Despite having so many threads, it’s a film with no point. I’m sure if you asked Solondz, he would say that is the point. All I know is that I had to spend two hours inside his head and it was utterly yawn inducing. Oh yeah, there’s a cute dog in it. You occasionally see him walking around, or something. Aww.
- Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation
I cannot remember the last time I saw a film as utterly despicable as The Birth of a Nation. Nate Parker, who directs and stars, has turned what could’ve been a stirring tribute to one of slavery’s most iconic figures into an arrogant vanity project. He doesn’t care about the atrocities themselves, those are just set dressing. He wants an excuse to paint himself as a hero, a brave filmmaker who makes himself a martyr for one of the darkest periods in American history. That attempt only comes off as pathetic when you watch his cheap looking, emotionally barren, and exploitative film. It seems a little strange to watch an alleged rapist play out his fantasy of avenging the rape of Nat Turner’s wife. However, then you realize that the rape of Nat Turner’s wife was a fabrication of Parker’s screenplay, at which point I almost vomited. This film made me actively uncomfortable, and not in the way it wanted to.
Dishonorable Mentions: The Darkness, Norm of The North, Office Christmas Party, Masterminds, The Legend of Tarzan, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Warcraft, Sully, Keanu, Independence Day: Resurgence, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows