Posted January 19, 2024

 

WORST FILMS OF THE YEAR lists seem to be coming under more heated fire with each passing year and - as a result - I always find myself in a position of justifying them.

I was scrolling through various social media feeds over the last few weeks and - as is yearly the case, it seems - people lambaste such endeavors as either pointless or mean spirited.  The most cited reasons why these lists should never see the light of day is that making movies is hard or it insults the hard-working people that make movies possible or taking one last kick to movies while they've already been put down before is unfairly malicious.  Perhaps the most specific mantra that's boasted online is that critics should celebrate great achievements in cinema and just forget about chastising bad movies at year's end.

I find this line of thinking both baffling and antithetical to film criticism as a whole. 

You can celebrate cinematic excellence and decry mediocrity in equal measure.  Part of my evolution as a filmgoer and later as a critic was reading other critics that both championed the best films and roasted the worst.  The late Roger Ebert once said that every film deserves their day in court and that it's the responsibility of a critic to tell why a film either works or doesn't.  And, of course, making movies is an exceedingly tough thing to do.  Many movies being made are little miracles in their own right and are the product of thousands of collective people working countless hours.  Having said that, do awful movies deserve participation medals?  Is criticizing them cruel?  Is compiling a year-end compilation of them - in an effort to shield the general public from the pain I had to endure - equally or more cruel?  No, on all fronts.  Sometimes I feel like doing these lists helps exorcize my past demons in having two hours of my life wasted in darkened cinemas that I will never, ever get back (I see 120-140 films per year and when they're superb, then I want the world to hear it, but if they're bad...well...I also want the world to hear it).  

Here's another thing - going to the movies is not easy for many and/or ridiculously expensive.  Telling people what they should joyously rush out to see for their hard-earned dollars has just as much validity and a place in the film discourse as informing people about what they should avoid like the plague and instead pocket their cash (whether it be in original reviews or year-end lists like this).  

And a year-end worst-of list like this is more of a reminder (a cautionary warning, if you will) of which films are just not worthy of your time and hard earned dollars.  

I gave all the films below their day in court...and they were all very guilty, in one way or another.  

 
 

EXPENDABLES 4

 
 

My head was so riddled with questions as I exited my screening of EXPENDABLES 4 (or EXPEND-FOUR-BLES, as its poster advertising campaign specified). 

Firstly...who asked for this film?  I dunno.  I've been a modest apologist of this franchise since its introductory installment, which saw writer/director Sylvester Stallone gather together a relative who's-who of action film royalty to make an unpretentiously hard-R rated ode to impactful genre pictures of the 80s.  I enjoyed the first sequel a bit more (I mean...wow...Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham, Jet Li...it was stacked), but found that the egregiously watered down PG-13 (yuck) rated third film was a waste.  I think that after that last film, not even die-hard fans of this series were clamoring for more...and a full decade later. 

Secondly, who asked for such a qualitative step-down on a casting level?  Long gone are Arnold, Willis (for obvious reasons), Lundgren, and Li and in their place we get... Megan Fox and 50 Cent, with the former being the least credible hard-nosed action heroine perhaps ever committed to screen and the latter being a charisma black hole.  Yes, Stallone appeared in EXPENDABLES 4, but in a dreadfully limited capacity, leaving Statham to take the mantle of lead hero here, in a mostly paycheck-grabbing effort on his part. 

Thirdly, how in the h-e-double-hockey sticks did this film cost $100 million?  Like...really?!  It couldn't have gone to secure its C-list stars.  Then...where did it go?  With CG enhanced action sequences that look like the product of Playstation 2 worthy cut-scenes as far as credibility goes, EXPENDABLES 4 represented the worst misappropriation of funding that I've witnessed in all my years as a critic.  I saw GODZILLA MINUS ONE a few weeks back; it cost one-fifth of what EXPENDABLES 4 did (and it looked like it cost double).  EXPENDABLES 4 was easily the worst sequel to hit the screens in 2023...and maybe ever.  It's a film that very few were screaming for, made by many people in front of and behind the camera who apparently couldn't care less about the final end product.  It was simply D.O.A.

 

 

 

 

 

 

80 FOR BRADY

 

 

I want to tread really, really carefully here in listing the fact-based sports comedy (and I use that ever-so-loosely) 80 FOR BRADY as to not come off as being ageist or a misogynist.  I've been a big fan of all the actresses that appear on-screen together here - Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno, and Sally Field. That's legendary Hollywood acting royalty, as far as I'm concerned.  The very idea of all of them lending their names to any modern production is certainly an exciting prospect. 

Alas, the whole concept for this film and the execution of it was awfully flimsy from the very start.   80 FOR BRADY was loosely based on a true story of a group of elderly Patriots fans known as "Over 80 for Brady" that - as massive supporters of the iconic player - found a way to attend the 2017 Super Bowl.  So, this was a movie about Tom Brady...Tom Brady's team...Tom Brady's Super Bowl conquests...and a bunch of old women obsessing over Tom Brady...and this film was produced by Tom Brady.  

This is the most Tom Brady production that ever Tom Brady-ed.  

Sarcasm aside, 80 FOR BRADY was an embarrassing vanity project/feature film length infomercial for the football icon...and very little else.  And Tomlin, Fonda, Moreno and Field deserved so much better than this obvious shill piece to promote the NFL/Brady brand.  And how was this penned by the same women that wrote the sly and savvy BOOKSMART?

 

 

GHOSTED

 

GHOSTED was absolutely proof positive that you can have two of the most limitlessly attractive lead actors in your production and give them nothing to work with on the page, leading to a lack of sizzling chemistry on screen.  To be fair, stars Chris Evans and Anna de Armas are eminently likable stars, but not enough star power good will could have saved this Apple produced espionage comedy. 

There was talent behind the camera as well (it was co-written by the first DEADPOOL team), but oh-so-very little of GHOSTED elevated itself above being a hopelessly inept, lazy, and unoriginal pastiche of so many other countless spy comedies.  When all was said and done, Evans and de Armas were basically marionette puppets at the mercy of this creatively bankrupted production; it was one that did little to separate itself in any way from an already heavily crowded genre pack.  

The film did one thing that's never been done before in the history of cinema: 

It's the very first spy comedy thriller that had a meet-cute between a CIA operative and a farmer arguing over cactuses.  

That was the extent of the excitement to be had in GHOSTED.  

 

 

 

 

 

PAINT

 

 

What an unfathomable odd duck of a movie this was! 

One thing that annoyed me to no end about the simplistically titled PAINT was that writer/director Brit McAdams pulled a very strange bit of bait and switch with her audience.  I went into PAINT completely blind and assumed that this was going to be some sort of loose biopic of public broadcasting art legend Bob Ross, who became quite a cult figure for his inspirational painting show that ran on PBS until his death in the mid-90s.  And star Owen Wilson - with his big-haired wig - certainly looked like he was supposed to be playing this soft-spoken landscape painter extraordinaire.  

But - hold on folks! - PAINT wasn't about Bob Ross...at all.  It wasn't a Bob Ross biopic.  It wasn't an ANCHORMAN-esque period comedy about his life and times.  Instead, PAINT's main character is someone else altogether.

Like...wait...what?!  

McAdams obviously wanted to use Ross' career as a template, so to speak, to tell her own unique story, but Ross allusions proved impossible to ignore here.  This was a film that wanted us to know that it's not about Ross, but constantly reminded us to think about Ross all during its running time.  I couldn't think of a more awkwardly constructed, creatively negligent and pointless film in the year that was.  Worse yet, PAINT wasn't quirky or endearing as advertised.  It was as dull as watching paint dry.  

Skip this one and just watch episodes of THE JOY OF PAINTING on Netflix instead.  

 

 

TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS

 
 

 

I'll give this seventh TRANSFORMERS film credit.   

It was not as soullessly and cynically putrid as any of the Michael Bay helmed efforts.  It was also no where near as good as the just-okay attempt at franchise course correction that was BUMBLEBEE from 2018. 

If you liked BUMBLEBEE, then you'll probably hate TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS. 

If you hated the Michael Bay TRANSFORMERS films, then you'll probably not like TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS much more. 

As for myself?  I don't remember a single thing that happened in it.  I actually had to remind myself that this film even came out in 2023. 

Next...

 

 
 

\YOU PEOPLE

 
 

 

How could a comedy featuring the likes of Eddie Murphy and Jonah Hill (who also co-wrote it) manage to be both shamefully offensive and chronically unfunny in equal dosages? 

I'm still asking myself that several months after streaming YOU PEOPLE (a Netflix original), and I still don't have any concrete answers.  This was a comedy of unspeakable and head-scratching awfulness. 

I get what the makers here were trying to do.  Obviously, YOU PEOPLE was trying to be a new fangled take on GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER with a modern edge, but the resulting effort was so insufferable (even within its first half hour or so) that I just wanted to turn my stream off completely.  Perhaps what turned me off so aggressively with YOU PEOPLE is that it was trying to tackle some weighty issues and themes about race and race relations, but did so in the most idiotic and TV sitcom level ways possible.  What's equally distasteful is that this film featured some incredibly talented actors (above even Murphy and Hill) wallowing in one unforgivably trite scene after another.  There's always such a rich potential for any culture/racial clash premise, but YOU PEOPLE was ultimately too tired, artificial, uninspired, and - yeah - horribly unfunny to warrant a watch.  

 

 

 

 

FAST X

 

Remember the humble beginnings of this series when it began as a simple, but effectively executed POINT BREAK clone from 22 year years ago that involved underground street racers and DVD player thieves? 

Oh...how things have changed. 

The FAST AND THE FURIOUS franchise is now comprised of ten - count 'em...TEN! - films, and I will give Vin Diesel and his creative teams muscle car sized props for achieving the impossible halfway through it by re-tooling it as more of a globe-trotting espionage series and providing some of the most preposterously inspired entries of the lot (I'll never forget how thanklessly good FAST FIVE was).  I was guilty as charged with being completely taken in with each new entry past the halfway point and drank in all of their juiced-up nuttiness.  Unfortunately, the F&F saga was starting to wallow in laughable self-parody with the most recent sequels and now - with FAST X - storytelling fatigue and creative desperation were starting to rear their ugly heads.   Perhaps FAST X's most head-shaking sin was that it was all tease and no payoff.  For a film that was two and a half hours, for it to sport such a cop-out ending almost made the modest series fan in me want to throw something at the screen in disgust.  

Beyond being a lazy greatest hits package of F&F troupes, this tenth installment was unpardonably...boring.  FAST X was the cinematic equivalent to running on fumes.

 

 

SCREAM VI

 
 

 

SCREAM has been making news as of late due to star Melissa Barrera being terminated from the franchise over support of Palestine.  Soon after that, her co-star Jenna Ortega left the series as well...and then originally hired director Christopher Landon left the not-in-production SCREAM 7.  He was quoted as saying "It was a dream job that turned into a nightmare. And my heart did break for everyone involved.  But itís time to move on." 

Now, I absolutely don't want to get political at all here, but what I will say that too many in the industry are so wrapped up in whether SCREAM 7 will become a reality due to recent events as opposed to thinking about whether this series really even needs to continue at all.  After screening SCREAM VI earlier in 2023, I'm inclined to think that the movie world will be perfectly fine if we don't get any more SCREAM films.  More of the same is a highly apt descriptor here for this fifth sequel, seeing as its dismal writing only seemed to be regurgitating tired conventions that once made for solid series entries.  Remember how slick and savvy the first two SCREAM films were back in the 90s?  Wes Craven's films were inspired genre game changers, whereas SCREAM VI was all about rebranding and repackaging what worked before and passing it on to a new generation, and all while forgetting what actually worked before.  

2022's SCREAM placed this series on critical life support; SCREAM VI represented putting the final nail in its coffin.

 

 

 

 

SHOTGUN WEDDING

 
 

 

SHOTGUN WEDDING had a premise that might have made for a good action/comedy.  Its plot concerned a destination wedding on a private island in the Philippines that eventually gets overtaken by pirates, leading to all the guests there being taken hostage.  The bride and groom (played respectively by Jennifer Lopez and Josh Duhamel) have to become impromptu John McClanes and engage in a DIE HARD-ian cat and mouse game with the terrorists to save their families and, yes, tie the knot. 

Here was the main problem with SHOTGUN WEDDING: It miserably failed as both an action thriller and as a comedy, making it a double threat offender.  

There were times when I could sense that the film was trying to fully harness the hard R-rated bloodshed and mayhem of its content, but then the film became too wallowed in vanilla bland romcom contrivances for its own good.  More of a series of dull SNL-esque vignettes than a fully formed film, SHOTGUN WEDDING was simply too uninspired and lacking in creative mojo altogether.  That, and the film represented a horrible qualitative step down from the award-worthy work that J-Lo brought to the table in her previous career comeback performance in HUSTLERS.  

 

 

 

 

 

COCAINE BEAR

 

I'm no cinematic prude.  

Please hear me out.

I've liked trash.  I've also recommended sensationalistic trash with one joke/one premise titles.  

Exhibit A: SNAKES ON A PLANE, which was thoroughly and unpretentiously silly trash.  Exhibit B: HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, which absolutely owned up to the promises of its absurd title (it had, yes, a hobo that also was indeed packing serious heat).  I dug both of those films.  They were a hoot.  

COCAINE BEAR is in the same preposterous tradition as those two films, based solely on how much interest its oddball title generated.  This was a film that - uh-huh - boasted a coked up bear wreaking havoc on just about any human in its path.  Oh, it was also based on a true story (don't get me started).  Now, why didn't I fully embrace this lurid fact-based horror comedy?  It's simple: COCAINE BEAR wasn't trashy or entertaining enough for me to recommend it.  Furthermore, I simply didn't laugh out loud with this film, nor did I find it frightening.  Worse yet, the makers here stretched their core premise so thin that their resulting film barely even qualified as one.  

A lot of audiences (and a scandalous number of critics) embraced COCAINE BEAR.  I was not one of them.  In the end, this film simply didn't get high enough on its own supply. 

 

 

 

 
Well...that felt good.  My TEN WORST list is complete...but I'm not done yet!  Here are a few more films that were not terrible enough to make the TEN WORST, but were easily forgettable all the same.  Consider these:
 

CrAiGeR's NEGLIGIBLE FILMS OF 2023:

 
 

Kids Vs. AlienS:  Speaking of HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, this newest offering from its director Jason Eisener should have been a pleasurable hodgepodge of 80s kid adventure films and creature features, but it took too long to get the the good stuff.  

THE Old WayA hopelessly forgettable Nicholas Cage starring western.    

THE Super Mario Bros. Movie: Mamma Mia!  I was in the minority for hating this film for its lack of ambition.  

Your Place or Mine: Here's a choice: avoid this Reese Witherspoon and Asthon Kutcher starring Netflix romcom at all costs.  

We Have a Ghost: We barely had a GHOSTBUSTERS clone here in this lackluster Netflix horror comedy.  

When You Finish Saving the World: Writer/director Jesse Eisenberg had a lot that he wanted to say with his dysfunctional family dramedy, but very little of it came out in the final product.   

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania: This third solo outing for the Marvel Comics character committed a major sequel sin by thinking that going bigger was better.   

65: This potentially high concept sci-fi thriller took itself far too seriously and simply didn't have fun with the preposterousness of its underlining premise.  

Missing: This "desktop/screenlife" thriller simply grew too ridiculous in its latter sections for my liking.   

Jesus Revolution: This fact-based account of one of the largest religious movements in California's counter-culture era history failed to convert me.  

the mother: Jennifer Lopez was decent in this otherwise formulaic and derivative action thriller.    

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny: Harrison Ford's fifth outing as the most famous archeologist in movie history was mostly tired and lacking in swashbuckling thrills.  

Big George Foreman: An achingly safe and pedestrian sports biopic.   

Kandahar: This film wanted to be a thrilling Gerard Butler action film vehicle and a sobering take on modern war and America's dicey involvement in foreign countries...and it never really succeeded on either front.  

Heart of Stone: A potential Gal Gadot franchise launching spy thriller that bit off way more than he could chew and was simply too generic to warrant a recommendation.  

the little Mermaid: Disney's umpteenth live action remake of one of their iconic and cherished animated classics once again unequivocally proved that some properties just don't require a redo.   

Elemental: An ambitious and noble minded, but mostly second tier Pixar effort at best.   

Haunted Mansion: This was the second Disney adaptation of one of their theme park rides (remember the Eddie Murphy headlined 2003 effort?) and it showed that the studio going back to the creative well failed to yield anything positive.  

HypnoticThis lead footed Robert Rodriquez directed and Ben Affleck starring mind-bending thriller felt like Christopher Nolan for dummies.   

NapoleonRidley Scott's historical epic was disjointed and meandering, not to mention that its titular role was badly miscast.  

     
  And finally, here's a dishonorable mention list of films that I felt were more disappointing than truly awful.  Consider these:  
 

CrAiGeR's MISSED OPPORTUNITIES of 2023:

 
 

Alice, Darling  Anna Kendrick's superb performance elevated the so-so handling and uneven storytelling in this psychological thriller.  

Somebody I Used To Know A coming-home comedy from sophomore director Dave Franco and co-writer and star Alison Brie felt too tonally lopsided.  

Boston Strangler: A fact-based drama about the investigative reporting of one of the worst mass murder sprees in American history came off as a low calorie David Fincher production.    

M3GANI know that this creepy sentient doll from hell horror thriller had a legion of admirers when it released, but I was simply not one of them. 

Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre Guy Ritchie attempted to marry his unique stylistic trappings with the globe-trotting espionage thriller, but the end results were of a cut and paste copycat affair. 

Peter Pan & WendyI wholeheartedly welcomed a new PETER PAN film from the director David Lowery (who previously made the brilliant THE GREEN KNIGHT and one of the best remakes ever in PETE'S DRAGON), but there was little newfangled innovation to be had here.  

Champions: Director Bobby Farrelly (minus his brother Peter) reunited him with his KINGPIN star in Woody Harrelson, but this well intentioned feel-good sports comedy simply stuck too slavishly to the genre playbook.  

the equalizer 3: A well oiled, but painfully routine trilogy closer.   

the adultsThis film started as a fairly sharp portrait of family dysfunction and how semi-estranged siblings struggle to find ways to simply be around one another, but the weirdness of its insufferable characters made it a hard watch.  

Love At First SightI really liked what Haley Lu Richardson and Ben Hardy brought to the table in this Netflix made romcom, but its first-draft feeling screenplay let them down.   

Asteroid CityWes Anderson's fertile visual imagination was on wild display in his eleventh film, but it never made me care enough for its huge menagerie of kooky characters.  

Meg 2: The TrenchA much sillier and more commendably pulpy sequel compared to the first installment, but overall I found that its maddeningly murky and dull middle section hurt the whole endeavor.  

Pain HustlersYet another Netflix film makes the cut here: Think THE WOLF OF WALL STREET for big game pharmaceutical companies, but lacking that film's nerve, edge, and polish.  

SlyThis too short for its own good documentary about Sylvester Stallone's career was way, way too wrapped up in hero worship to truly deep dive into the good and bad of this movie star icon's life and times.   

the marvels: A great and lively main trio of actresses simply couldn't save this 33rd MCU entry from running on franchise fumes.   

Rebel Moon: Part One - Child of Fire Director Zack Snyder's high pedigree for stunning visuals and pulse pounding action abounded in this space fantasy, but it wallowed in dreadfully derivative universe building.

MAeSTRODirector Bradley Cooper made this decades-spanning portrait of one of the most acclaimed conductors in history look staggeringly good on a technical level, but the screenplay failed to grasp at his musical genius. 

AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM:  This long delayed sequel to the largest DCEU box office earner had a very game Jason Momoa back at the helm, but its storytelling was messy and failed to equal the first film's ocean fresh novelty.

 

  

 

  

 

     
 

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