Good Riddance! The Worst Films of 2014

2014 is behind us and I say good riddance. It wasn’t that 2014 was an especially terrible film for the movies. In fact, the quality of films on this list is slightly higher than on similar lists I’ve made in years past. But the quality of films didn’t increase overall either. Rather, much of 2014 was full of generic films that failed to make much of an impact at all.

On the following list, you’ll notice some big omissions. There’s a reason for that – I have chosen to skip films that didn’t interest me, much as you would. Were TAMMY and Kirk Cameron’s SAVING CHRISTMAS among the worst films of the year? Probably, based on the impression I get. But I never actually sat down and watched those films, so they don’t make the list. I know, hardly professional. But then whoever said I was a professional? So then, what are my Worst Films of 2014? Weeeeell…..

la_ca_0416_300_rise_empire10. 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE – Back when kids were memorizing the words to “Hollaback Girl,” Frank Miller saw two of his greatest comics brought to the big screen with ridiculous faithfulness. 2014 saw both of these films get overdue, unnecessary sequels and both of these have landed on this list.

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE tries to get around that whole “the good guys died” ending from the first film (Don’t look at me like that, the 300 Spartans are part of history.) by setting this film before, during and after those events. Confusing? You bet, and that’s the main problem. There are a number of stories filmmakers could have pursued. There’s the story of the god king Xerxes, who gets surprisingly little to do here aside from his interesting origin. There’s the even more interesting origin of Artemisia (Eva Green) whose story is emotionally complex. Then there’s Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) who is neither interesting nor emotionally complex, but he has a bunch of boats which makes for some potentially decent naval warfare.

The people behind this film chose to go with all three stories, sprinkling elements of a few more along the way (certain figures from the original 300 are apologetically squeezed in) and giving sufficient care to none. You have a film that’s big on all the battles and machismo like the original and yet fails to make any impression whatsoever. It’s all an overly stylish yet utterly joyless affair.

nurse-3d_paz-de-la-huerta_katrina-bowden09. NURSE 3-D – In the early nineties, we had a trend informally dubbed “from hell” films. They all involved some psycho, usually a seductive woman, who took over somebody else’s life before a messy finish in which her craziness finally hit the wall. We had THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE (Nanny from Hell), SINGLE WHITE FEMALE (Roommate from Hell), THE TEMP (Secretary from Hell), THE CRUSH (Jailbait from Hell) and so on. You may have noticed that this formula has been recycled in the last few years – THE TEMP becomes OBSESSED while SINGLE WHITE FEMALE becomes THE ROOMMATE. All of these films were for the most part, terrible.

NURSE 3-D gives us the Nurse from Hell and it’s a far more shamelessly exploitive twist on the trope. Paz de la Huerta (ENTER THE VOID, BOARDWALK EMPIRE) is twice as oversexed and psycho has her 1990s predecessors. The kills are bloodier and our nurse goes through much of the film sans pants. All of which suggests that I should have loved this film. After all, exploitation isn’t just in my wheelhouse, it is my wheelhouse.

But the more the film wore on, the more de la Huerta’s voice grated on me. The dialogue, meant to be amusingly crude, simply made me roll my eyes. The plot lumbered along from one set piece to the next and I found myself wishing I was watching a less self-aware slasher instead. NURSE 3-D shows that you can give someone a shot of adrenaline, but in the end they’re the same boring package.

Sin-City-A-Dame-to-Kill-For_Jessica-Alba-Bruce-Willis08. SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR – As I said before, two overdue sequels to two stylish and faithful Frank Miller adaptations, both of which make this list. Not previously mentioned was that both films also feature a villainous turn from Eva Green. Ouch. This is actually too bad as she is not a poor actress (she was the only interesting thing in 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE). And if her performance in SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR isn’t spectacular, it’s the least of this drab sequel’s problems.

Robert Rodriguez tries to replicate the success of 2005’s SIN CITY by delivering the sequel he has been promising ever since. Only the stories aren’t as good, the film lacks focus and the visuals that wowed us before have already been adopted by so many other films. We get some new faces along with some old ones, and yet only Dennis Haysbert and Christopher Lloyd impress.

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR is a depressingly pathetic attempt to rekindle an old flame, long after we had lost their number.

Read a more in-depth review of SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR here.

Wolves_Jason-Momoa07. WOLVES – A ridiculous attempt to start a new action-horror franchise falls flat, thanks to some of the most ham-handed writing and direction in any film on this list. WOLVES involves a teenage werewolf going against the alpha dog in a town filled with lycanthropes. It could have been good, silly fun, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

David Hayter has some of the oddest credits around, thanks to his work as both a screenwriter and voice actor. This was his directorial debut and it might have been better if he had spent more time on the script beforehand.

That’s because the main thing to be sacrificed in getting WOLVES to the screen is the writing. Characters show a shocking lack of basic intelligence as the film goes from one scene to the next without rhyme or reason. What could have been a fun matinee flick is turned into a clumsy mess.

Read a more in-depth review of WOLVES here.

gone-girl_ben-affleck06. GONE GIRL – There are critics out there who will attack people for either defending or condemning certain films. This is a practice I abhor. Art is subjective, opinions can and should vary. In film criticism, both amateur and professional, no one is an authoritative voice. I’ve shared opinions that might have people doubting my sanity, let alone my credibility. And maybe you’re about to do that with this entry. And yet, there is at least one film per year that everyone seems to praise, a film that makes me want to shake people and demand to know what they see in the film that I cannot. For 2014, that film is GONE GIRL. That’s right, bring it Fincher Fanatics.

The first half of GONE GIRL follows Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) as he reacts to the disappearance of his wife (Rosamund Pike, who is terrible) and predictably becomes a prime suspect. We’re supposed to watch as he acts erratically and wonder about his innocence, and yet I never did. We’re also supposed to get a lot of introspection about marriage and how two people can grow apart, but that seemed to be left on the backburner too. Instead, we get a film about Nick being thrust into the spotlight of a greedy and unethical media while his wife’s disappearance remains a mystery. The first half of the film treats practically every random woman as either oversexed, imbecilic, asexual, a cold-hearted ballbuster or flat-out bonkers. It looks as though GONE GIRL is pretty insulting when it comes to women, shocking since both the novel and screenplay were written by a woman.

Then the second half of the film comes along with a big twist and I had to correct myself. GONE GIRL is not insulting to women. It’s insulting to everyone, particularly the audience. Veering into potboiler territory, the film gets more and more improbable as it wears on. I believe that in any other year, were this film handled by a less celebrated director, it would be laughed out of the cinema. Fincher applies practically the same direction that he brought to THE SOCIAL NETWORK, bringing along many of the same personnel. But all this does is dress up a plot that would feel at home in only the worst made for cable movies.

Do I have anything to say in the film’s defense? Yes, despite some squirm-inducing early character development, Carrie Coon gives a good performance, better than anyone else in the film. It’s the one and only reason I feel guilty about GONE GIRL’s placement on this list.

devils-knot_reese-witherspoon05. DEVIL’S KNOT – Atom Egoyan is one of my favorite directors working today. Keep in mind that does not mean that everything he touches is gold. No, what makes a filmmaker really fascinating is that whether they succeed or fail, the results are always interesting.

Or, at least that’s how it should work. But I admit that I was hard-pressed to find much worth talking about in Egoyan’s DEVIL’S KNOT. The film is a dramatization of the original trial that convicted the West Memphis Three. Seemingly unsure of where to focus his lens, Egoyan spends too much time with a noble private investigator (Colin Firth). The results are a film that gives too little time or analysis to any of the multiple people swept up in the murder trial. One bright spot was the decision to dramatize the role of one of the victims’ mothers, Pamela Hobbs. Reese Witherspoon does well in this role, but she isn’t given enough time to explore the character.

DEVIL’S NOT plays like a dumbed down version of Joe Berlinger’s PARADISE LOST. I strongly suggest you check out that trilogy instead.

behaving-badly_0104. BEHAVING BADLY – Just about everyone has forgotten about BEHAVING BADLY and perhaps that is for the best. Apparently based on an autobiographical novel, it’s embarrassing to watch the film as it tries so desperately to become the next raunchy comedy hit. What we end up with is a coming of age tale featuring an unlikable adolescent who never really comes of age. The film is sexist instead of sexy and when it comes to the raunchiness, it’s all talk.

Worst of all is that a bunch of talented actors got dragged into this mess. People like Selena Gomez, Mary-Louise Parker, Elizabeth Shue, Gary Busey, Dylan McDermott, Heather Graham and Jason Lee are all better than this unfunny bungle.

I-Frankenstein_0203. I, FRANKENSTEIN – What can I say about I, FRANKENSTEIN that I haven’t already said while punching walls and drunkenly cursing the heavens?

It’s a poorly-conceived and patently ridiculous film that starts on the wrong note and continues to plonk down on the keys for another miserable ninety minutes. A difficult film to decipher, it moves far too quickly, as if it’s afraid of stopping long enough to realize how ridiculous it all is.

In an alternate universe, I, FRANKENSTEIN might have made a good television series. As it stands, it would barely pass muster as the cut scenes to a juvenile video game.

Read a more in-depth review of I, FRANKENSTEIN here.

willow-creek_0102. WILLOW CREEK – There were a lot of found footage films this year, and I skipped most of them. So, what made me watch WILLOW CREEK and why was it a bigger letdown than the rest? Because this film was directed by Bob Golthwait.

Golthwait exited his comfort zone of pitch black comedies for this, a found footage film about Bigfoot. Because he has brought such a fresh voice to so many other films, there was every reason to believe that WILLOW CREEK would inject some life into the found footage subgenre. Instead, we got the same tired padding, inane semi-improvised dialogue and scenes without payoff.

The worst moment is the big selling point, a static shot as a couple listens to things moving in the woods outside their tent. It tries to milk suspense as much as it can, and you can’t say it doesn’t devote enough time. In fact, this one static shot lasts for nearly twenty minutes! WILLOW CREEK isn’t only a terrible movie, it’s one that constantly chooses the path of least resistance and seems to hold its audience in contempt.

Listen to a more in-depth review of WILLOW CREEK on this episode of my podcast, Cinemobsession.

gods-not-dead_kevin-sorbo01. GOD’S NOT DEAD – Every year, we see more and more faith-based films. While believers flock to these films, they get beat up by critics and audiences alike, and quite often they deserve it. But I still hold that a good faith-based film can be made, a film that will be skillfully directed while conveying a message of peace that can be appreciated by millions. I’m still waiting for this to happen.

GOD’S NOT DEAD is one of the biggest faith-based films of 2014, but there is nothing that separates it from the scores that get released straight to video. The acting is bad, the direction is worse, the lighting is set to blinding and even the sound has its issues.

Moreover, the film takes an anti-intellectual stance that is troubling. Higher education, even philosophy courses, do not exist to destroy people’s faith but to enhance critical thinking skills. GOD’S NOT DEAD seems to not understand this and instead presents a situation which would have gotten the antagonistic professor (Kevin Sorbo) barred from the classroom, tenure or no.

But for a film that tries to present how God’s followers should behave in the real world, it has no grasp of what the real world is like. The focus is on a college student who assumes that none of his hundreds of fellow students believes in God. A businessman who might as well have horns coming out of his head angrily yells at his girlfriend for taking the focus of the conversation away from him when she tells him she’s dying. In short, no one in this film talks like people talk, behaves as people behave or reacts as people react. What we get instead is a bunch of platitudes that are painfully insulated. And I’m afraid your message doesn’t work if you only speak to those already converted.

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