The Worst Movie I’ve Ever Seen…

badcowork_introWith the backlash and outrage aimed at mother! this past weekend, my wife casually asked me, “What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen?” As a movie critic, I was surprised at how I didn’t really have an answer to this question at the ready. I generally try to only see movies that I hope I’ll like, and while I am occasionally disappointed, I usually can find some aspect that salvages the experience from being completely worthless. However, her question prompted me to delve into my cinematic history, parse through the depths, and once and for all recognize one film as the worst one I’ve ever seen.

Now I want to be clear, since I try to avoid the bad ones, I have not seen classically hated movies like Gigli, Troll 2, or Battlefield Earth, so they cannot be the worst movie I’ve seen. Still, I’ve seen a lot of movies, and like any serious undertaking, this decision requires some preparation and a few ground rules. Obviously, when discussing any medium of art and expression, the overall reaction is entirely subjective. Therefore, I need to determine what it is to me that makes a movie terrible. After racking my brain, I’ve determined that the following 4 factors are critical in determining a film’s lack of value.

  1. Story – If the story is contrived, poorly written, implausible, or a combination of these things, then the movie is in trouble. A great story can salvage bad acting, but bad acting cannot save a bad story. Writing and originality factor into this piece of criteria as well.
  2. Acting – Yes, acting does play a major role in determining a movie’s greatness. So much of how we interact, empathize, and respond to a movie has to do with how we project our values and opinions onto the people playing the parts.
  3. Dullness – This is perhaps the most important factor of all. Movies can be good-bad or bad-bad. The difference has to do with dullness. If a movie is dull with poor pacing and extended periods of just nothing going on, then the movie is doomed. Many interior sub-areas influence this category including music, directing and editing.
  4. Technical – Sometimes a bad movie can be saved by its technical achievements or visual aspect. Additionally, sometimes a good movie can be mired in terrible technical blunders, mistakes, and shortcomings. And worst of all, sometimes a bad move can be made dreadful when the technical pieces put the last nail in the coffin.

Additionally, there are a few movies that I hated so much that I turned them off or walked out on them. Ironically, those films will not be considered in my deliberation since I never saw them in their entirety. For the record, this is a rare occurrence with me, as I prefer to see films through regardless of how bad they are, and the films I turned off or walked out on would likely not have displaced my ultimate choice for worst movie I ever saw.

Now that I have my criteria in place, I am ready to reveal the worst movie I’ve ever seen; however, if you know The People’s Critic, then you know I can’t do this without making it a list. So I give to you, The People’s Critic’s Five Worst Movies I’ve Ever Seen (by the way, I’ve seen mother! and it’s nowhere near this list).

5.  A Good Day to Die Hard

Die HardSo what went wrong? First of all, no more catch phrases or cliches. “Yippee Ki-Yay” is grandfathered in, but now we’re reminded that John McClane is “old” and “on vacation” at least ten times. This repetition serves no purpose except to go for a cheap laugh, but you’ll never hear the laughter over most of the theater slapping their hands to their foreheads in disgust. Furthermore, this installment takes place in Russia. In one scene, John is handed a tour book by his daughter, Idiot’s Guide to Russia. Clearly, it was the same book Skip Woods used to write the screenplay because the film exposes Russia’s traffic issues, introduces characters named Viktor, Yuri, and Anton, and its climax seals the cliché deal by taking place at Chernobyl. Oh, did I mention Yuri is introduced playing chess, so we know he’s a smart Russian? Disappointing stuff.

Then there’s the action. Atrocious sound stage garbage. Action confined in one setting for ten minutes with no real danger becomes dull in 30 seconds. The previous four films did not feel so confined to sound-stages as this one does (even though the first two had McClane trapped in a building and an airport respectively), and it ruins any tension or fun.

Finally, if one wants to make a sequel, then make a sequel. What happened to Bonnie Bedelia as McClane’s now ex-wife, Holly? Where’s good ole’ Reginald VelJohnson as Sgt. Powell? Why introduce all of those fun tech-geeks in Live Free or Die Hard only to strand them in that film? Screenwriters, listen up; these character actors will sign up if the story is there!

4.  Only God Forgives

Only God ForgivesNot a lot happens in Only God Forgives as several scenes are composed of people just moving around, albeit moving around slowly and deliberately.  Many scenes are composed of one-shots (one character in the frame) that last 30 seconds or more!  This results in manufacturing the slowest 89 minute film in recent memory.

There is not much good to be said for the film.  Ryan Gosling is practically emotionless, giving the blandest performance of his career, although clearly steered by director, Nicholas Winding Refn.

Winding Refn’s directorial choices are certainly strange from time to time.  With virtually no exposition, his film complicates matters by introducing confusing segments of “dream-like” scenarios (most of which include red dragon wallpaper) that may or may not be real. Furthermore, a major talking point for this film is its use of violence.  Only God Forgives appears to be an instrument for Winding Refn to release his own personal anger against spirituality, against God, against mothers – it’s an angry film.  Much of this anger manifests as violence and while occasionally off screen, two rather brutal scenes do not hold back. These scenes drip of anger but offer little redeeming quality (See No Country for Old Men for a film that accomplishes the task of personifying wrath).

Only God Forgives is a mostly failed attempt at expounding on the undertakings of an angry God.  Instead of making a film that analyzes and examines anger, he has made one that simply exudes his own.

3.  Savages

savaIs Savages pulp? Yes. Is Savages fiction? Oh God I hope so. But Savages is definitely not Pulp Fiction, despite its desperate attempt to be, including casting John Travolta. Savages is a gritty, hard-core examination of the cut-throat high pressure, high stakes game of marijuana cartels. Wait, what? Marijuana cartels? Oliver Stone crafts a screenplay, with help from Don Winslow who penned the source material, that does explain this unorthodox cartel’s extremely violent nature. The story is actually very simple. Young marijuana entrepreneurs gain the attention of a major drug cartel who kidnaps their shared girlfriend in order to force their hand to deal with them. Those entrepreneurs are played by Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson. The shared girlfriend who drags her nails across the chalkboard with flat acting and dreadful voiceover is played lumberingly by Blake Lively. Why they want her back is the film’s biggest mystery. Her character, O, is named after Hamlet’s deranged, suicidal lost love and she hints from the first line of the movie that she may not be alive at the end, providing some powerful wishful thinking. The biggest problem with Savages is the same with most Oliver Stone movies that don’t work, its agenda. Now, this time there is no political agenda; instead it’s a “look how edgy I am” agenda. This agenda is completely fulfilled by putting the viewers out of their misery with one of the worst endings in recent memory.

I could go on about what doesn’t work in this movie, but I feel the point is made. Instead, I’ll quickly mention the things that do work. Benicio Del Toro’s character is introduced with brutal gusto. Also, the film is mostly in focus, even during the ridiculous number of close ups. That’s about it.

2.  Freddy Got Fingered

Freddy90s “comedian” Tom Green wrote and directed this mess, and I fell for it. I was 20 or 21 and Tom Green was kind of still happening, so I went to see it with some friends. Green was known for being a bit of a stunt comedian where he’d play pranks on unsuspecting people. Not bad, not great. However, as his popularity grew, his stunts became more gross-out related; queue Freddy Got Fingered, which demonstrates the rule that when gross-out goes wrong, it goes way, way wrong. Pink Flamingos, There’s Something About Mary, South Park, these films work on a subversive level, but Tom Green went for derivative and there he will sit for eternity. There are no words for the feeling you experience while watching the protagonist of a major studio film cackle wildly while manually stimulating a male elephant. No words. I hated this movie to the point that for a moment when my wife asked me what the worst movie I’ve ever seen was, this sprang to mind and I almost answered definitively, but it did manage to only reach #2. Which is actually perfect in that it achieves nothing, not even the distinction of being the worst.

1.  Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

PepperNumber one on this list nearly lost its spot on a technicality, in that this was a film I had previously turned off in disgust, only to reluctantly return to and finish just to say I did it. This film is the ultimate disaster and personal retribution because not only is it a dull, pointless, poorly acted pile of trash, it also does irreversible damage to my previously untarnished images of The Beatles, Alice Cooper, Billy Preston, Peter Frampton, and Steve Martin (The Bee Gees were already kind of ridiculous to me). And that’s what put it over the edge; none of the previous films caused any real long-term damage like this one did. Why did this movie have to happen?

The movie is basically an incomprehensible variety show hoping to capitalize on Beatles covers but failing and collapsing into a gestating puddle of embarrassment and technical misery. I’m pretty sure director Michael Schultz literally put the camera on a tripod, hit record, and just left. I know that sounds like a hyperbole, but if you watch it, you’ll see what I mean – and this is a “concert film,” but the camera doesn’t do anything!

This movie commits the ultimate shame of masquerading a business deal as a film and hoodwinking young people to pay into it. Now it rightfully is dejected as the horrendous dumpster fire that it is, but it did do one thing for me; it gave me a definitive answer to my wife’s question (although I wish it had a different title, so I wouldn’t have to be so specific):

What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen?

Why, it’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – the 1978 movie, not the album. The album is a masterpiece; the movie is complete and utter garbage!

What do you think? What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen? I’d love to know! Feel free to Tweet me @Peoples_Critic or respond in the comments.

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The People’s Critic’s Top Ten Movies About Movies

ed-wood-1Ok, I’m back. I know you’ve all been wondering, where is The People’s Critic? How am I supposed to know how to feel about the latest movies 2 or 3 weeks after they are released?

We just moved into a new house, and for the first time ever The People’s Critic did not see a new movie during an entire calendar month! I know! It’s a travesty. I’m afraid the drought continues, but don’t fret as I have put together a list that will hopefully hold you over until I get a chance to review Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, weeks after you’ve all seen it.

The People’s Critic’s Top Ten Movies About Movies

This one probably requires some explaining. So you know in Hamlet when Hamlet convinces the actors who visit the castle to put on a play for King Claudius, thereby enacting a play that is taking place within another play. Well for this list, I will be counting down the best movies that have other movies in them. Some of these are just movies about the movies, but others are movies wherein other movies are featured. As a rule, I avoided documentaries for this list, so not to complicate things too much, so you will not see Lost in La Mancha or Heart of Darkness on here, even though they are technically great movies about movies.

Cape_fear_9110. Cape Fear (1991) – You can argue with me all you want that this one doesn’t really fit the category, but think about the most memorable scene from this film. What is it? Exactly, it’s the one where Robert De Niro as Max Cady attends a screening of the film Problem Child, lights up that cigar, and laughs audaciously through the scene where John Ritter trashes Junior’s room while Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, and Juliette Lewis get annoyed. Also, this film being a remake of a 1962 film sort of makes it a movie about a movie anyway!

Get_shorty9. Get ShortyGet Shorty is one of my favorite movies from the mid-late 90s. The cast is excellent and the dialogue adapted from the Elmore Leonard novel of the same name is hysterical. John Travolta plays Chili Palmer, a mobster who gets wound up in the movie business whilst collecting on a debt. His exploits in trying to shake down movie director Harry Zimm, played by Gene Hackman, reveal that there’s not a big difference between the movie business and organized crime.

8-12-movie-poster-1963-10104617938. 8 ½ – Fellini’s classic is also an inspiration to so many film makers to come, and it appropriately falls around 8 ½ on my list. This film, autobiographical in nature, tells the story of a film director who has lost his inspiration while in the middle of making a movie. His quest for motivation leads him down the path of reflection. Equal parts narcissism and honesty, the trials and tribulations of film making are brilliantly explored.

mulholland_drive_ver17. Mulholland Drive – A spellbinding puzzle of a movie! This is one that requires multiple viewings, and each time it’s seen, the experience is richer. On the surface, Mulholland Drive appears to be a simple story about a Hollywood hopeful discovering the price of her dreams, but it quickly becomes much more than that. What’s real and what’s imagined is for you to decide.

living-in-oblivion-movie-poster-1994-10202008946. Living in Oblivion – Now let’s move to something a bit more obscure. Living in Oblivion was one of those movies I discovered one day while working in a video store (remember those?), and I made it my duty to recommend it and force people to see it because I thought it was so funny, insightful, and clever. Obviously, I failed because no one knows this movie. Living in Oblivion stars Steve Buscemi in one of his last roles before blowing up in the Coen Brothers’ film Fargo. Buscemi plays Nick, a director of a low budget indie film, and the film portrays one day in the life of an indie film production. This film was also my introduction to Peter Dinklage, Catherine Keener, and Dermot Mulroney. I had already been acquainted with James Le Gros.

boogie_nights_ver15. Boogie Nights – May not be about the kind of movies you were expecting, but Boogie Nights is no doubt a movie about movies. Boogie Nights put director Paul Thomas Anderson on the map, and it also legitimized the talents of Funky Bunch leader turned actor, Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg plays Eddie later to be known as Dirk Diggler, a young go-getter who gets more than his go as he is lured into the adult film world. Who knew a film about the 1970s adult film world would be so intense?

Ed_Wood_film_poster4. Ed Wood – Landau as Lugosi. That’s all you need to know. Tim Burton’s biopic about the troubled movie director Ed Wood is nostalgic and campy, but it is also a love letter to the cinema. Watch that scene where Wood meets Orson Welles (played by Vincent D’Onofrio) at a restaurant looking for advice. Fantastic! We are also reminded of how great Johnny Depp was, on the eve of his latest release, Pirates of the Caribbean 5.

the-player-poster3. The Player – Robert Altman was a visionary film director responsible for some of the greatest most celebrated films of all time including M*A*S*H, Nashville, Short Cuts, and of course 1992’s The Player. Everything I know about pitching a movie, I learned from The Player: “It’s a psychic, political, thriller comedy with a heart.” Anyway, The Player opens with a self-aggrandized single tracking shot of Tim Robbins as Griffin Mill, a studio executive in charge of accepting and rejecting scripts. When death threats start coming in from a screenwriter Mill rejected, things get a little out of hand. Oddly enough, this film references Scorsese’s Cape Fear and has Vincent D’Onofrio in it, so this is a movie about movies that features other movies from my list of movies about movies.

purple_rose_of_cairo2. The Purple Rose of Cairo – Allen has made quite a few movies about movies actually including Stardust Memories, Hollywood Ending, and Deconstructing Harry, among many others; however, this one easily tops the list, and nearly tops mine as well! In Depression Era New York, Mia Farrow plays a lonely, poor housewife, whose only respite from reality is the local movie house where she can see glamorous people living glamorous lifestyles. After attending one such film countless times, the film’s protagonist played by Jeff Daniels notices her and literally steps off the screen into the real world! What follows is a comedic masterpiece. This is one of Woody Allen’s best films.

singin1. Singin’ in the Rain – Likely you are unsurprised by this film’s anointment as the number one movie about movies, but that’s because it’s that good. Singin’ in the Rain stars Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly, and Donald O’Connor as actors who need to change with the times and move from silent films to talking pictures. There is no way to calculate the number of films inspired by this movie, but that number certainly includes every one of the previous films on this list! The music’s great. The comedy’s great. The conflict and concept is great. Watching this film truly gives you a “glorious feeling.”

Top Five Must See Monster Movies

KongIn this day of comic book movie domination, it is easy to forget that there was a time when the most anticipated movies were the ‘creature features.’ This weekend’s, Kong: Skull Island is the latest in the monster movie tradition, and oddly enough, the mighty Kong will be facing off with veteran comic book character, Logan for the top box office spot this weekend. In celebration of this mega mutant melee, I have assembled The People’s Critic’s Top Five Monster Movies of all time!

 

Tremorsposter5. Tremors – This is camp at its finest! Horror and comedy often intermingle, but rarely are they as balanced and well-executed as in Tremors. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward find themselves battling giant, underground snake-like creatures that are picking off the natives in a small, isolated town one by one. The creatures are blind, but they can sense even the tiniest vibration or “tremor” on the ground, and that’s when they strike! So light up your canon fuse and tread lightly.

Brideoffrankposter4. The Bride of Frankenstein – Not only the finest of the classic Universal Monster movies, but one of the greatest monster movies ever. The Bride of Frankenstein sees Boris Karloff return as Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. This film follows much more closely to Mary Shelley’s source material than the original 1931 film did. It is also bookended by scenes depicting Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron discussing Mary’s yet to be published work, which is a nice touch. The Bride of Frankenstein in many ways legitimizes the monster movie and proves that these types of films can be groundbreaking and masterful.

Fly3. The Fly – David Cronenberg is a master of the disturbing. The Fly is without a doubt in the running for best monster movie ever. This 1986 remake of the 1958 original pours on the gore, but in a stunning and obsessive way.  Jeff Goldblum believes he has devised a form of teleportation, until something goes wrong…very, very wrong. No doubt inspired by the #4 film on this list, The Fly explores scientific possibility and the careful line that is so easily crossed when intellect clashes with morality.

Jurassic_Park_poster2. Jurassic Park – It’s a double Goldblum creature feature. That’s right, Goldblum is back again, this time as a chaos mathematician who could easily be the son of Brundlefly! If Goldblum’s character Seth Brundle from The Fly was able to do it all over again, he might end up being a lot like Dr. Ian Malcolm who skeptically agrees to evaluate John Hammond’s dinosaur amusement park, Jurassic Park. His line, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should,” screams The Fly! Anyway, Goldblum aside, Jurassic Park is a real callback to the matinee era. The man versus monster conflict is explored in epic style with outstanding special effects that still hold up. The sequel, The Lost World, while inferior to this film is even more a call back to the monster movies of old, but when it comes to a list of the best, Jurassic Park is the film to see.

01_jaws_main_01. Jaws – Here we are – number one. Surprisingly, the second “Spielberg” movie to make the list. Steven Spielberg’s Jaws invented the summer blockbuster and made everyone “afraid to go into the water.” Full of iconic characters and memorable lines, Jaws is the best monster movie of all time. Like Tremors, Jaws balances terror and humor nicely. However, unlike any film on this list, the monster in this film is only one that really exists today. Everything works in this monster movie from the acting, to the score, to the quotable dialogue.  Jaws is what every subsequent monster movie aspires to be!

2017 Oscar Predictions

2017-oscars-89th-academy-awards
Well, here we are. Early in a year wrought with transition. The Oscars follow suit shattering a two year #OscarsSoWhite trend with a much more diverse field of nominees. Films like Lion, Moonlight, Fences, and Hidden Figures received much love this year, and deservedly so! We can now move past the petty race conversation and put the spotlight on what the Oscars are all about: honoring the best art, performance, craft, and cinema that all people have to offer.

For those of you eagerly awaiting my annual predictions, your wait is over.

The 89th Annual Academy Awards will air on ABC Sunday, February 26th at 8:30 EST, and The People’s Critic has assembled his list of 2017 Oscar Predictions for all 24 categories!

Visit my Awards Spotlight Page for links to Oscar Predictions past and present as well as a link to the highly anticipated 2017 Oscar Dinner Menu.

So pour yourself a glass of Natalie’s “Port”man wine, and check out my predictions for the 2017 Oscar winners! I know it’s a long post, but it’s weighted with authority!

Awards Spotlight
2017 Oscar Predictions
2017 Oscar Dinner Menu
2017 Printable Oscar Ballot

 

The People’s Critic’s Top 10 Films of 2016

Interior of a Movie TheaterWell, movies came out this year, but I think we can all agree that we are looking at a rather bleak field of films this year. It’s not, “2011, The Artist wins Best Picture bad,” but it’s close. And here we are again: Less than a month before the Academy of Motion Pictures releases its list of nominees, less than a week before the Hollywood Foreign Press hands out the Golden Globes, and of the likely list of top films to be nominated for Oscars this year, only five have opened wide enough to see in a suburban city of a Midwestern state. It’s the election all over again!

Last year, films like Sicario, Creed, The Martian, Bridge of Spies, and the eventual Best Picture winner, Spotlight all opened wide well before the end of December. That’s not to say that Sully, Hacksaw Ridge, Manchester by the Sea, La La Land, and Arrival didn’t try to play fair and open wide already; they did. But other potential frontrunners  Moonlight, Silence, Hidden Figures, and Fences are all playing on this double standard of releasing a film in minimal markets so it can qualify for Oscar eligibility only to open wide on some obsequious and noncompetitive weekend after the new year.  This is still an improvement over the 2014 awards season, where basically nothing but The Grand Budapest Hotel really opened wide, but it is a step down from the host of great films released wide during the calendar year in 2015. And let’s be honest, competition for theatrically released films has never been greater. With Netflix, Amazon, HBO, and other streaming sites moving into original cinema, film studios should begin cooperating, making theatrically released films easy to see, and make going to the theater special, but not exclusive!

Oscar nominations will be announced Tuesday, January 24th, bright and early, and after a two years of directorial domination by Alejandro González Iñárritu and three years of Cinematography superiority by Emmanuel Lubezki, it seems these two have left the field wide open for someone else to step up and win something.  Anyway, Oscar nominations are a coveted announcement, but a far more important announcement is being made right now – my list of the top 10 films of 2016.  While no Top Ten List can ever satisfy everyone, great care has been taken to analyze each film on my own particular set of criteria ensuring reliability!  So without further ado, I present The People’s Critic’s Top 10 films (that I was actually able to see) of 2016.

 

eye10. Eye in the Sky 

This film gets more and more fascinating the more I think about it. In the new millennium, we have seen drastic changes to what we consider “warfare,” and Eye in the Sky captures the intensity and complexity of an ever changing definition of modern warfare. Helen Mirren plays Captain Katherine Powell in command of an operation to potentially eliminate some of the world’s most wanted terrorists, who have holed themselves up in a small house in Kenya. When the risks of capturing them become too great, Powell gives the command for a hellfire missile attack via military drone. What complicates things is that a young girl selling bread sets up her storefront directly in the kill zone of the missile’s target, raising one of the many philosophical questions in this film, the first of which is whether there is an obligation to eliminate a potential threat to many lives by inadvertently killing an innocent. I promise you, this film makes you feel the full gravity of every decision that is made, which makes it one of the most intense movies of the year. This film also includes the great Alan Rickman in one of his final performances.

beasts9. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Speaking of Alan Rickman, Snape may be gone, but Rickman would likely be comforted to know that the world is not done with Potter and company just yet. J.K. Rowling does the near impossible by picking up her magic wand again and creating something moving, amazing, and magical yet again in her first effort as screenwriter with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Everyone who fell in love with the eight Harry Potter films will be delighted by this expansion of the wizarding world. Eddie Redmayne plays it a bit clownish as Newt Scamander, a magizoologist whose search for magical creatures brings him to New York City 70 years before “The boy who lived” ever hopped aboard the Hogwarts Express. There is a visual and immersive quality that we have come to expect when entering the Harry Potter universe, and director David Yates delivers once again. The characters are delightful, realized, and fun, and the environments (including the aforementioned “fantastic beasts”) are dazzling and eye-catching.

sully28. Sully

Sully is not a biopic. It is based upon Chesley Sullenberger’s memoir Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters and focuses almost entirely on the events of January 15, 2009 and the subsequent investigation. Bits of ‘Sully’s’ past are sprinkled throughout, but the film’s main objective is to feature the tremendous fortune that results from having the right people performing the right jobs. Sully is a solid film delivering its message and entertainment as effectively as Sullenberger’s miraculous water landing on the Hudson. Like it’s protagonist, the film showcases a couple of the right men for the job (as well as the right woman for a job that wasn’t there). A testament to superlative acting and creative filmmaking that breathes freshness into a story so recently and so publicly told.

man7. Manchester by the Sea

Everyone you’ve talked to about this film is absolutely right; this is a miserably sad movie. However, what I think too few are saying about it is that it is also hilariously funny. Writer/Director Kenneth Lonergan’s third film in over 16 years is another masterpiece of familial ups and downs. He constructs a film unlike anyone else cutting to the bone with wit, nostalgia, and cold, hard truth. Casey Affleck carries an emotional load as Lee, a janitor who is made legal guardian of his teenage nephew when his brother suddenly dies of a heart attack. This is Affleck’s strongest performance in his budding career as an actor. Understated, but honest, Affleck’s performance has gotten a lot of buzz, but the real champion of this film is Lonergan who gets powerful performances from all of his actors and delivers a fascinating, funny, heartbreaking, powerful film about love, family, and what it takes to survive tragedy.

hack6. Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge is a film that I had trouble placing on this list. First, I wasn’t sure it was top ten material, then once I examined my criteria and determined that it was, I had trouble deciding if it was top five material! Ultimately it’s top six material. Hacksaw Ridge is decidedly two separate films. A coming of age story about a young man named Desmond Doss, played by Andrew Garfield, in Depression-era Virginia falling in love with a young nurse and hoping to find a way to serve his country in World War II as an army medic, even though he refuses to personally pick up a rifle. That story is then catapulted out the window for one depicting one of the most gruesome, gut-wrenching war stories ever set to screen as Doss’s unit is assigned to participate in the Battle of Okinawa, historically referred to as a “meat grinder” of a location for American troops. This is a true story and a remarkable one at that. The first hour is pleasant, sweet, and at times very funny. The second hour is an assault on your senses almost to a breaking point. Vince Vaughn surprises as Doss’s army drill sergeant and the rest of the supporting cast is fantastic including Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, and Teresa Palmer. Director Mel Gibson makes the most of a powerful story and while his depiction of Doss feels a little too similar to that of another suffering protagonist Gibson is known for, it all works. Gibson has been a bit of a pariah as of late, and his off-screen antics are hard to forgive, but if you are one who can separate the art from the artist, this film is one of the year’s best.

midnight5. Midnight Special

This is where I expect I’ll lose a few of you. What is Midnight Special? Why is it number 5? I am just as surprised as you! I stumbled upon this film on a flight. Jeff Nichols is a young writer/director who I am really starting to love. His last two films, Mud and Take Shelter were excellent, and believe it or not, he actually has another film that he released in 2016 called Loving that is getting far more attention than Midnight Special! Still, I am going to put all my chips in on Midnight Special. I don’t think any synopsis of this plot will entice you to see the movie, so just trust me and check it out (it’s running on HBO and HBO streaming currently). Michael Shannon plays a father whose son appears to have some strange abilities. The boy has recently become the worship center of a strange cult, and when Shannon steals his son away in the night, the cult is determined to get him back. The U.S. government has also caught wind of the boy’s abilities and send an NSA agent to track him down as well. This is a sleek, clever, special little movie, and while some will have qualms about the ending, I think it is exactly the right choice.

Arriv.jpg4. Arrival  

Speaking of alien movies with clever endings, here’s another one! Arrival is the latest Denis Villeneuve film, and if you sensed my budding love for Jeff Nichols’s movies, then you can multiply that by a million for Villeneuve. His track record speaks for itself: Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival, and this year Blade Runner 2049! In a different year, Arrival could easily be the best film of the year. Still, number four ain’t bad. Arrival finds Amy Adams putting out another excellent performance as a linguistics professor tapped by the U.S. military to help them interpret an alien language. What makes this alien film different is that 12 alien space crafts have touched down all over the world, and in a world of itchy trigger-fingers, Adams’s encounters and translations hold the fate of the world in the balance. Adams is accompanied by Jeremy Renner who plays a theoretical physicist, and the two of them have great chemistry making for a richly character-driven sci-fi film.

CW3. Captain America: Civil War

Surprise, surprise! The People’s Critic liked a Captain America movie, but this time I’m not alone. Everybody liked this movie. It’s hard not to. Civil War boasts three outstanding achievements that no Marvel film before it has managed thus far. First, it introduces two of the best new characters (Black Panther and Spider-Man, both slated to receive upcoming stand-alone films) and does it with panache! I’ll leave the details about these new characters out so not to spoil anything for the rare reader who has yet to see this film, but both are quite satisfying and Spider-Man especially receives a worthy reboot after some questionable recent attempts by Sony Pictures. Second, the “Civil War” battle is a remarkable scene. This scene replaces the “Battle of New York” from Marvel’s Avengers as the Infinity Stone in the Marvel crown. DC executives responsible for Batman v. Superman (See my five worst films of 2016 for my thoughts on this one!) should take notes on how Marvel succeeds at fighting internal conflict with external conflict! Third, Captain America: Civil War manages to give all of its cast members room to breathe and make a memorable and worthwhile contribution.  No character is squandered, and as I alluded to earlier, this film explores some emotional depth but uses just the right amount of levity and humor to maintain an even tone.

rogue2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Surprise, surprise, surprise! The People’s Critic liked a Star Wars movie! Again, everybody liked this movie, or at least the last 20 minutes, which are perhaps the best 20 minutes in any Star Wars movie ever! Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a strong, balanced, and entertaining film that plays how we wish the original prequels could have played. There’s a hint of nostalgia along with new and fresh perspectives, which make us forget that we all know where this is going and “forces” us to care and root for these new characters. Director Gareth Edwards designs and directs this film to feel connected but not tethered to the other films, and I think that is a delicate task to accomplish. There are also some major bombshells and any misgivings you have about the film are wiped clean away with the final 20 minutes. If you have any level of appreciation for Star Wars, you will leave the theater in high spirits!

la1. La La Land

I tried people. I tried not to toe the line. I tried not to be all “critic-y,” but goddamnit, my toes are still tap, tap, tapping to this beautiful, heartwarming, goosebump inducing, musical masterpiece. If Rogue One: A Star Wars Story had the best final 20 minutes of any Star Wars movie, La La Land has the best first and last five minutes of any movie in the last five years! What puts it at number one is that between those amazing first five minutes and outstanding final five minutes are 118 exhilarating, beautifully crafted, musical minutes. La La Land is a simple story of Jazz musician meets struggling actor, Jazz musician loses struggling actress, etc., but that’s ok. If the plot were any more dynamic, it would take away from the sensory experience of this film. Gosling and Stone are captivating as the leads and while their voices may not be meant for Broadway, they are perfect for a film that “dances” between worlds. Half nostalgic and half prognostic, La La Land shows us that writer/director Damien Chazelle is more than the real deal. He’s the next big thing! La La Land puts a nice bow on a tumultuous 2016 and is definitely the front-runner for best picture in my book.

The Five Worst Films of 2016

C25. The Conjuring 2  

I’m sad to start this list with a sequel to a film that made my top 10 in 2013. The Conjuring 2 doesn’t really advance the narrative of the original’s characters or reveal any depth to the uncertainty of its source material. In the same way that a television series might be developed for a network, but then the studio makes a deal to tie it to an already proven property in order to reap an existing audience, The Conjuring 2 feels like a Mad Libs horror movie script and the studio slapped The Conjuring 2 on top of it. This is a “been there, done that,” movie for the ages.

BvS4. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

At the end of 2015, we were all gearing up to see what DC had to offer to combat the cinematic monopoly Marvel Studios has had over the superhero genre. Well, the results are in and two of their films make my worst of 2015 list; Batman v. Superman being the first. Yet another bloated set-up piece, these movies need to stop hinting at something and start showing us something. Warner Brothers needs to stop holding its cards too close to the vest and start revving this thing up before we lose interest entirely. Wonder Woman and Justice League are next up for 2017. Let’s hope I don’t have to reserve two more spots on the Worst list for 2017.

nerve3. Last third of Nerve 

I had other films in mind for this list, but I kept coming back to how disappointed I was with the ending of Nerve. Let me start by saying, Nerve as a whole has no business being on a worst of the year list. However, given that my top two movies of the year were given that status in no small part due to their phenomenal endings, I think Nerve stands as a wondrous example of how damaging a bad ending can be. I’ve never been more disappointed in an ending for a movie. Not because it was bad. It was fine. But if the ending was as principled and interesting as everything that came before it, we’d have a much better film. Director Henry Joost is a newbie, but if you’ve seen Paranormal Activity 3, Paranormal Activity 4, and the film Catfish, you’d see where I’m going with this. Endings are crucial and bad endings to good movies are exponentially more damaging.

Suicide.jpg2. Suicide Squad

DC is back again with the number two worst movie of 2016, Suicide Squad. Anticipation couldn’t have been higher for this one. What seemed like dream casting, mixed with a lighter, funnier tone lead many of us to believe this was the film that would right a sinking ship. Instead, it blew one more big, giant hole in the hull. Unfortunately, the box office total of my, Five Worst Films of 2016 list is nearly identical to my Top Ten Best Films of 2016 list. What does that tell you. People are paying for and going in droves to see these bad movies. Suicide Squad is hardly a movie. It’s disjointed, it’s annoying, it’s shallow, and worst of all, it’s boring. Viola Davis attempts to give some credibility and Margot Robbie will be iconic as Harley Quinn, but nothing can save this mess.

now1. Now You See Me 2

Lightening definitely didn’t strike twice for this fledgling attempt at building a franchise. Now You See Me was a perfectly fine, fun little movie, but not everything that is moderately successful needs a part 2 (or a reported part 3!). All the tricks are played out for this band of illusionists. The style was corny this time around, as original director Louis Leterrier was replaced by Jem and the Holograms director, Jon M. Chu. They couldn’t even get all of the original cast back for this thing as Isla Fisher would not sign on and also refuses to sign on for the third film. Red flags abound and poor Daniel Radcliffe never saw them coming as he looks utterly lost and confused in easily the year’s worst movie. Yuck.

The People’s Critic’s Top 10 Holiday ACTION Films!

Treeboom.jpgAn annual list of holiday films is a challenging endeavor once you’ve been at it for a while. I mean, sensibilities change slightly from year to year, but not enough to warrant developing a list that is nearly identical to the year’s previous list. Therefore, I have invented a gimmick to allow me to publish an annual holiday film list that is different enough from year to year and also will not damage my journalistic integrity by contradicting original recommendations. If you want to know my quintessential thoughts on the best overall holiday films, please see my 2014 list or my 2015 list.

So what’s the gimmick? Holiday films are themselves a subgenre of the various classic genres of film. In other words, we have holiday comedies, horrors, dramas, classics, tragedies, etc. Therefore, my intention is to offer a list of the best holiday films of a specific genre each year. 2016, for better or for worse, may go down as one of the most tumultuous years in recent memory. While “Tumult” is not a generally accepted genre, Action/Adventure certainly is. Therefore, this year the list is getting an action overhaul to reveal The People’s Critic’s Top Ten Holiday Action films of all time!

 

  1. reindeerReindeer Games – John Frankenheimer’s final film, Reindeer Games, does not generally enter the discussion as one of the director’s best efforts. However, when previous films include, Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate, Grand Prix, and The French Connection…II (still pretty good though), you buy a little favor as you enter your final act. Reindeer Games does not find its way onto many top 10 lists, so I am honored to have crafted one that it most certainly (just barely) belongs on. Admittedly not a problem free film, Reindeer Games finds Ben Affleck coerced to assist in a Christmas Eve casino heist by Charlize Theron and her brother Gary Sinise.

  1. lethalLethal Weapon – Nothing says, have a holly, jolly Christmas like Mel Gibson, right? Well, the boys may be “getting too old for this shit” now, after four films and a television series, but back in 1987, the buddy duo of Murtaugh and Riggs was a new thing. Right from the start when a naked hooker swan dives out of a hotel room window to her death to the song, “Jingle Bells,” this film has the holiday spirit! A coke bust in a Christmas tree lot is just the icing on the cake. This film is a blast though. While the mismatch, buddy-cops does feel cliché now, this was the film that really put that formula on the map.

  1. majestyOn Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Not only the best Bond movie, but Diana Rigg is hands down the best Bond girl as well! George Lazenby’s sole entry as Bond sees 007 off to Switzerland in pursuit of that nasty Blofeld who threatens to release a lethal virus upon the world unless he receives a pardon for all of his previous crimes (perhaps this film would have been more aptly named, ‘Lethal Weapon’ than #9). The film is set around the holidays. They don’t play a major role, but there is a lot of snow everywhere, some dangerous Christmas gifts, and perhaps the worst Christmas song you’ve ever heard.

  1. imIron Man 3 – Occasionally I hear people ask, why hasn’t Marvel made a Christmas movie yet? Well, guess what? They did, and it was Iron Man 3.  Sure it was released in the month of May, but this one truly has a May/December relationship.  The holidays play a pivotal role here, whether it’s a scene at a 1999 New Years Eve party or a scene where Tony Stark tests out his new Iron Man suit to a funky rendition of “Jingle Bells” – the holiday spirit is there.  Iron Man 3 is a very smartly made film, and while it still addresses comic book staple themes like good/evil, identity, revenge, and freedom, an emergent theme can also be extracted from it – learning from mistakes.  This installment is Downey Jr.’s best as he tactfully and authentically balances humor, intensity, and sentimentality without ever missing a beat.

  1. batmanBatman Returns – A Tim Burton Christmas is always a good time. Add Batman and you have something really special. Megalomaniac and billionaire (sound eerily familiar?) Max Shreck (played by Christopher Walken) and Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot (Danny DeVito) join forces in corrupt quest to take control of Gotham City. Another moody masterpiece from Burton using the holiday backdrop as a stark contrast to create a macabre, surreal experience for the viewer. Christmas imagery is turned on its head where ornaments and even trees are charismatic weaponry, rather than fun decorations.

  1. rockyRocky IV – Granted, this film probably has the least to do with the holidays than any of the others on this list. Still the climactic fight happens to be on Christmas, which qualifies it for the list. This is pure guilty pleasure watching as all of the tropes of the fighting genre are on full display. The epic battle between underdog Balboa and the superhuman Draggo (played by Dolph Lundgren) is worth the set-up though.

  1. gremGremlins – “No bright light, don’t’ get him wet, and whatever you do – don’t ever feed him after midnight.”  These are the three rules that are sure to be broken when Randall Peltzer brings his son Billy home a strange new pet for Christmas!  In no time Gremlins are unleashed on Kingston Falls. This film dances the line between horror/action and comedy with great results.

  1. prisoners2Prisoners – Hugh Jackman plays Keller Dover, a construction worker who lives in a quiet New England suburb with his wife, teenage son, and six year old daughter. While spending Thanksgiving with the family of his life-long friend and neighbor, Franklin Birch (Terrance Howard), Keller and Franklin discover that both of their daughters are suddenly missing. With the help of Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the police, they are able to track down the RV and apprehend a suspect (Paul Dano), but due to his mental incapacity and lack of evidence, he is released. This sends Prisoners in a harrowing new direction as Keller and Franklin wade through some ethically murky waters in the search for their daughters. This is an intense one, and while not a traditional holiday film nor a traditional action film, it has both and is outstanding!

  1. jurassic-worldJurassic WorldHow will you spend your Christmas vacation? Why not at the same Costa Rican island where just 22 years prior, dinosaurs ran wild killing everyone in their path? That’s the premise of this blockbuster sequel whose cold-blooded characters heighten our warm blooded heartrates with more action and more “chaos.” Grab a cup of cocoa and hitch a ride on a raptor for this year’s number two holiday action film!

  1. dieDie Hard – Perhaps the film that made the holiday action film subgenre possible, Die Hard is a classic. That nasty Hans Gruber (played expertly by the great Alan Rickman, whom we lost earlier this year) takes control of the very office building where NYC cop John McClane’s wife, Holly, works. With all of the building inhabitants except John McClane now held hostage by Gruber and his band of terrorists, McClane finds himself the only one who can save Christmas…and the lives of his wife and her coworkers! Rickman makes “snarky, German terrorist” an art form and the action and the tone in this film are perfect. There’s just no topping this one.

What do you think?  Did I get it right or did I miss your favorite holiday film?  Let me know!

Talkin’ Walken: A Top 10 List

Walken2Christopher Walken is one of the most interesting actors working today.  His career, like his reputation, is strange and unusual.  The 1978 Best Supporting Actor winner is also in the 2003 Worst Picture Winner (according to me) Kangaroo Jack.  The thing is, Walken’s scene in that “film” is easily the best part, and that same thing can be said for every film in which he appears.  Regardless of the film’s success, having Walken in your movie makes it better every time.  Take Poolhall Junkies for example.  I imagine you have not seen Poolhall Junkies, but watch this scene where Christopher Walken approaches Johnny (Mars Callahan)in a men’s room.  Tell me that you don’t want to see more of this movie!  In fact, tell me that you don’t want to memorize that speech and recite it to a random stranger in a men’s room some day!  The thing is, this is the best part of Poolhall Junkies, but it makes me like the entire movie so much more knowing that this scene exists!  Those who know me, know I have been a die-hard Christopher Walken fan my entire life.  His dead-eye stare as Diane Keaton’s brother Dwayne in Annie Hall explaining his “dark secret” to Woody Allen was probably the scene that started my fandom and I’ve been a loyal Walken-lover ever since.  Therefore, as the actor begins his 73rd year of life on this planet and releases his 128throle in television and film as the voice of King Louie in Disney’s the Jungle Book, I decided to put a little list of the top 10 Walken performances of all time.  While most of the films on this list, bill Walken as the star or costar, a few are of the Poolhall Junkies variety where his appearance is brief but brilliant.

  1. 10Annie HallAs I mentioned in my introduction, Walken’s role in Annie Hall is probably the one that started my interest in the actor. Woody Allen is one of my cinematic heroes and it’s fitting to have one hero sort of discover another one. I actually have a copy of the original script for this scene.  It was given to me by a relative who worked on the film and has official hand written notes in the margin.  Obviously, the list of reasons Annie Hall is a successful film is long, and Walken’s scene is probably on the bottom of that list.  Still, this is a great example of Walken’s ability to put a big stamp on a movie with minimal screen time.

 

  1. 9A View to a Kill – In the 80s, Walken got somewhat typecast as a villainous and scary character. One of the best things you can do as an actor when this happens is score a role as a Bond villain, and that’s exactly what happened in 1985 when Walken was cast as mad industrialist Max Zorin in the 14th film in the franchise, A View to a Kill. Walken was actually the first Oscar winner to play a Bond villain, and basically paved the way for the latest Bond villain portrayal by an Oscar winner – typecast, villainous and scary guy, Cristoph Waltz from 2015’s Spectre.  Walken chews the scenery with the best of them as Zorin.  Again the hair and the stare are key elements of a good Walken role.  Watch him “negotiate” aboard his Skyship and you’ll see what I mean.
  1. 8Dead Zone – Speaking of creepy characters from the 80s, Walken’s portrayal of Johnny Smith in the cinematic adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone fits that description too! Walken is perfect for the role as the ominous clairvoyant who through just a momentary touch receives a vision of how others will perish. This film was also the impetus for one of his first classic Saturday Night Live bits, “Ed Glosser, Trivial Psychic.”

 

 

  1. 7Seven Psychopaths Seven Psychopaths is a dark comedy from Martin McDonagh who like Tarantino or Hitchcock likes to explore similar types of characters viewed through a similar societal lens in order to analyze humanity. Walken’s character Hans is one of the more relaxed psychopaths of this film about an alcoholic screenwriter who is trying to write a long overdue screenplay. Walken basically does a Walken impression here, which is what people have come to want from him in this later phase of his career.  The good news is that like the title suggests, no character is quite what he seems on the surface and Walken is no exception.

    66. King of New York –
    Perhaps Walken’s darkest and most sinister character to date comes in the form of Frank White in Abel Ferrara’s King of New York. You’ll notice a bevy of familiar faces in this 1990 crime thriller including Laurence “Larry” Fishburne, David Caruso, Wesley Snipes, Giancarlo Esposito, and Steve Buscemi. This is a brutal gangster movie that delivers no warm, fuzzy feelings whatsoever.  Walken is menacing as the crime-lord Cross who after doing his stint in prison is determined to rebuild his criminal empire at all costs but still save time to cut a rug.
  1. 5Suicide KingsWithout King of New York, there would probably be no Suicide Kings, so that movie deserves an extra plug before moving on to number 4. Here, Walken plays a top mafia figure, Carlo Bartolucci who could easily be an older, wiser, (and yes gentler) Frank Cross. Walken spends most of the film duct taped to an office chair by a group of fledgling kidnappers who are looking for a quick ransom payday.  Like King of New York, you’ll recognize nearly all of this film’s young stars including Sean Patrick Flanery, Denis Leary, Jay Mohr, Johnny Galecki, and Jeremy Sisto.  Walken shines as the mobster who slowly realizes his kidnappers have gotten themselves into something far deeper than they had ever planned.
  1. 4Pulp Fiction – I do wish my list had some surprises in store for the top picks, but Walken’s finest performances are far from unexpected. Walken has only one scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, but it’s top notch. In a segment titled, “The Gold Watch,” Walken plays Vietnam War veteran Captain Koons, who delivers a phenomenal monologue to a young Butch (later played by Bruce Willis).  The watch in question is critical to Butch’s story and thanks to Walken’s performance, we understand its significance, importance, and value.  If this scene didn’t work, the movie would flounder in the final act.  Instead, Pulp Fiction became a masterpiece.
  1. 3Catch Me if You Can – Now if you look at the previous seven selections on this list, it is unlikely that you would look at Christopher Walken for the role of a sentimental father. Well thank goodness you’re not Steven Spielberg because his casting of Walken as Frank Abagnale, Sr. was a touch of brilliance. Walken gives one of his most celebrated performances here as a proud father whose blurred line of ethics compromises his family but also inspires his son to become a con artist.

 

 

  1. 2Deer Hunter – I am not trying to be cliché by selecting Walken’s Oscar winning role as a Vietnam prisoner of war in 1978’s The Deer Hunter so high on the list. This is a remarkable film with perhaps one of the most electric and horrifying climaxes in all of cinema. Walken’s performance is outstanding and certainly award worthy.  And what really grounds this performance is not the chaos towards the end, but the delicate humanity that Walken gives to Nick early in the film.  Walken’s performance anchors this film like no other in his filmography.

 

  1. 1True Romance – So I’m sure you read that last line for my Deer Hunter description and thought, “Then why is it not number 1?” The simple fact is that in 1993, Christopher Walken gave a perfect performance hidden in a little film called True Romance. His performance in this film encouraged screenwriter Quentin Tarantino to cast him as Captain Koons in Pulp Fiction and made him a favorite of director Tony Scott leading him to cast Walken in two more films.  When viewed out of context, this scene from True Romance between Walken and Dennis Hopper lacks the punch that it has when viewed within the film, but it is still masterful.

These 10 selections are but a drop in the bucket of the greatness that is Christopher Walken.  To make this list I had to weed out spectacular roles like his wildly over the top performance in Batman Returns, his hysterical turn as Secretary Cleary in Wedding Crashers (his approach to the “Tummysticks” scene is outstanding), his artful song and dance number in Pennies from Heaven, and his voiceover work in Antz ( teamed up once again with Woody Allen).  The point is, if Christopher Walken is in the cast, you really can’t go wrong.  Here’s to 128 more interesting and odd performances to come!