I have two end-of-year round-up posts to make, and this will be the first. Usually I wouldn’t compile a list of least favourite films because I’ve always gone to great effort to avoid going to see films I will dislike. However, this year marks my first full year of film blogging, and I started it because I had invested in an ‘unlimited card’ from a major cinema chain (focusing on mainstream releases), allowing me to see as many films as I wanted there. As a result, I think I’ve seen enough disappointing films to put together this list, although like any, it’s not entirely fair as I haven’t seen all this year’s releases — nothing from such heavyweights at this calibre of filmmaking as Vince Vaughn (The Internship) or Adam Sandler (Grown Ups 2), for example. With that caveat, here goes.
Action films always traditionally make a strong showing in this category, but to be honest, I generally feel relatively fondly towards the generic and retrogressive pleasures of the action flick. They usually have the sense not to try and make any grand statements and just focus on fights and chases, as is right. There’s plenty of that in this film, about a terrorist takeover of the White House, but everything it does is grounded in cliché (i.e. Die Hard), and when it touches on the terrorists, it can only come up with racist stereotypes (Chinese and Koreans are essentially interchangeable, is the film’s lesson). Gerard Butler makes a decent fist of being Jason Statham (a true superstar of the genre), but the film he’s done here is just a nasty, unpleasant mess.
4. Man of Steel
It’s been a big year for big-budget franchise-ready science-fiction/fantasy action films. I could easily have included Star Trek Into Darkness in this list as well, so much did I dislike it, but perhaps a residual fondness for that franchise has made me relent. Man of Steel, though, feels like another level of lazy, loud, boring filmmaking. In truth, I found the meandering backstory of the first third perfectly diverting, but by the time it reached its pummelling city-destroying and massively overlong denouement, things had already gone pretty rapidly downhill. A lot of flash, a lot of noise, an appropriately square-jawed and wooden performance from its star, and very little of substance.
3. Kick-Ass 2
I didn’t hate the first Kick-Ass, but it had some pretty weird and unpleasant vigilante politics. This one takes those and just pushes them to extremes. There’s a nasty strain of misogyny and rape culture, some weird (perhaps because incoherent) racism, an apparent enjoyment at the slaughter of innocents (and the police), and just too much reliance of maladjusted foul-mouthed teenagers being violent, and confusing that for heroism. I mean, I concede that maybe that was the point — to critique the politics of most cartoon-based action films — but what was on screen was just plain mean and nasty, and even the wonderful Chloë Grace Moretz was sidelined for most of the running time.
On the one hand, it feels a little mean to put a comedy amongst my least favourite films, not least because it doesn’t set out to be unpleasant, and truth be told, if I’d seen any of the most (un)feted American comedies of the year, it’s almost certain they’d be in this position instead; the best I can do is that I didn’t really like The Heat, but it at least tried to do something interesting with its lead female roles, even if I didn’t laugh much. I laughed even less, though, at this lazy British comedy, which pokes its fun at a married couple and their friends. The couplings were formulaic to say the least, and the performances generally boring (except for some small side roles for Olivia Colman and Stephen Merchant). Nobody in the film was likeable in any way. But mostly I give it my #2 spot because I didn’t laugh.
I’ve seen some end-of-year lists that put this film amongst the best of the year, and I wanted to like it, I really did. There were even some fairly memorable scenes (the ‘sex’ between Cameron Diaz and Javier Bardem on either side of a car’s window comes to mind), but all of them are in service of a nasty, violent, racist and hatefully misogynist fantasia of American mythologising on its frontier. Maybe it’s a satire, or some kind of dystopian allegory, but it’s all just so much ugliness masquerading as art.