The 10 Worst Movies of 2017
Usually Alexander Payne films are witty and clever, as they explore the drama of everyday life of average people. However, Downsizing deals with the privileged malaise of suburban life of unextraordinary people. The film follows Paul (Matt Damon) and Audrey Safranek (Kristen Wiig), a married couple who grow envious of those who went through a new scientific procedure to shrink themselves down to help save the environment, while at the same time increasing their personal wealth. So instead of being upper middle class, the Safraneks can have the opportunity to be mega wealthy without working. But at the last minute, Audrey backs out of the procedure and Paul is left alone in a new world of downsized people.
Downsizing features an interesting premise, while also being completely clueless as what to do with it. Paul discovers life is pretty much the same as it was when he was at a normal height, only now he realizes there are poor people in the world and that the cushy lifestyle isn’t exactly what he signed up for. It’s insulting that Alexander Payne had to make a movie that boils down to the idea that poor people live in the world too.
Half way through the movie, Paul meets Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese social activist who was forced to get downsized by her government as a means to suppress dissent. The character is, sadly, played for laughs because of her hilarious accent and broken English. She is meant to be an important figure, but is really only there to make Paul’s character realize that he can help ease the suffering in the world.
Congratulations, Alexander Payne. You discovered that poor people are exploited for their work and often demonized in society as the “real problem.” It almost feels as if the movie only exists to placate Payne’s privilege. Next thing you know, he’ll be making a movie about the Earth being round or the sky being blue. – RO
9. Justice League
There’s a ton of stupid moments throughout the colossal misfire that was Justice League. But the most specifically dumb bit of business that stands out is that moment after The Flash says “Dostoyevsky” to the Russian family he saves. What seems like a relatively minor trifle is indicative of Justice League’s ineptitude. Someone thought, “Hey, since he’s talking to a Russian family, have the character say the name of a Russian author. That’ll be funny, right?” But, like every other quip in the film, it wasn’t funny or witty, was awkwardly delivered, felt entirely out of place, and above all, it was lazy. The same could be said for the story, characters, pacing, editing, and just about every other piece of this mess. – AM
Jigsaw isn’t the worst of the Saw films, so kudos for that. But it is a far cry from what made the series so much fun in its first two installments. Some of the elements you’ve learned to love are there: the death traps, the flawed moral logic, the strange timeline manipulation — unfortunately, though, the makers of Jigsaw didn’t take this opportunity to reboot this franchise (we’ve had The Final Chapter, after all) by doing anything new or interesting. Instead, it manages to be both a convoluted mess and incredibly boring, pushing into one of the most baffling plot devices of the series in making this like a cheaply produced CSI style detective story. Aspects of where Jigsaw falls in line with the rest of the franchise might give diehard Saw fans a ping of recognition, but it is fleeting and certainly not worth building a film around. The Spierig Brothers came out with two thought-provoking and innovative takes on horror concepts with Daybreakers and Predestination — following up with Jigsaw and Winchester (which will likely fall on this list next year if enough of us see it) is not only a step in the wrong direction, but a step directly into the worst aspects of cliched, unimaginative, cash-grab modern horror. – AP
7. Death Note
With You’re Next and The Guest (and even the innervating and unfairly maligned Blair Witch), Adam Wingard has been one of the horror genre’s most exciting auteurs of the 2010s, which makes his unfortunate adaptation of Death Note—a revered Japanese manga about an evil deity who grants unfathomable powers to a high schooler—even more disappointing. The manga’s rich mythology gets muddled in nonsensical exposition dumps and the film’s centerpiece—a death god named Ryuk, voiced by Willem Dafoe—is a preposterously goofy looking ghoul that looks like it came from a Playstation 2 survival horror game. Released by Netflix, Death Note came and went with little notice (apart from the sideways stares it garnered for taking a Japanese story with all Japanese characters and supplanting a white director and an all-white cast). The few compelling elements are lost in a narrative that is poorly acted (from the likes of talented folks like Shea Whigham, Lakeith Stanfield, and Margaret Qualley), mostly because it seems even the actors aren’t convinced that the story makes any sense. I’m sure Wingard will bounce back with some inspired bit of filmmaking, but Death Note is a tactless detour in an otherwise promising filmography. – CS
Between The Great Wall, Downsizing, and Suburbicon, 2017 was not a very good year for Matt Damon. Based on an old script from Joel and Ethan Coen, the film follows Gardner Lodge (Damon) as he plans to murder his wife Rose (Julianne Moore) to collect her life insurance money and run away with her twin sister Margaret (also played by Julianne Moore).
Director George Clooney tries to juggle social satire and a murder mystery, with some racial commentary thrown in. Suburbicon is also loosely based on Levittown, Pennsylvania, when a black family moved into an all-white suburb in 1957. While the town seems progressive, it can’t handle a black family moving to their “perfect” community. All of these elements would be hard to follow for a seasoned director, but Clooney doesn’t seem to know what to do with any of these elements because they feel so disparate and superficially connected to each other.
Overall, Suburbicon is a hamfisted attempt at being meaningful and deep, while offering nothing tangibly unique or lasting. It also makes me question George Clooney’s abilities as a director, whose unimpressive track record is 1 for 6. – RO
5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Films with sloppy executions are just a fact of life. We’ve all seen films go for something and then fall short. But Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is so sloppy in its exploration of so many sensitive subjects that the result is a film that feels deeply irresponsible. Topics such as rape, racialized police brutality, domestic violence, cancer, and suicide are all valid subject matters for film, but it must be understood that to devote a narrative to just one of those subjects requires a deft-hand. Instead, writer-director Martin McDonagh gives us a film filled with all these subjects that tells its story like a first draft (sometimes called the vomit draft, which would be an apt for how this film makes one feel). The film comes close to saying something about loss and regret with Frances McDormand’s character of Mildred. But anytime it does, it loses its footing but having her make some self-righteous speech that only draw the focus away from her personal situation. Those speeches represent the film’s other problem: not only is it sloppy, it’s incredibly arrogant at the same time. The film stops cold so Mildred can make a proclamation comparing Catholic priests to gang members that doesn’t say anything anyone hasn’t heard before. Yet we’re meant to think this is a Paddy Chayefsky moment. The worst example of the film’s lack of focus is Sam Rockwell’s Dixon. While Rockwell’s performance bridges a gap between comedy and drama that transcends the script, you cannot escape that this is a film where his character, a white sheriff’s deputy, tortured a black man, yet is given the “redemption arc” of the film. Such a story could have been told by a director who put great care into such a task, but that’s not what we have here. The few black characters that do appear in the film are props for the white characters’ stories, and two of them go on a date only to silently witness a step on Dixon’s road to redemption. There’s a small aspect of the film that gets to the heart of why Three Billboards is a failure. Abbie Cornish plays Woody Harrelson’s wife. Despite another May-December romance being noted in the film, no one mentions the 20-year age difference between Harrelson’s Sherriff Willoughby and his wife. What’s more, Cornish’s accent swings wildly between American and Australian. Did McDonagh not stop and work with Cornish on her performance? No, that would be responsible. Instead, the film just limply gives us an inconsistent and unbelievable performance, a disservice to both the actress and the audience. That’s what Three Billboards ultimately is: a film that takes on subjects that deeply affects millions of Americans and does a disservice to them. – IB
Rings is a perfectly mediocre horror movie. It has some good scares, horrifying imagery, and a blandly menacing villain. Where the film really falls apart is when it tries to be about anything other than the “Samara-mystery”. Professor Big Bang Theory lectures a number of times about proving humans have a soul. He wants to test his theory by showing Samara’s video to a bunch of college students. He never comes close to explaining how the video will reveal the soul. The montage at the end of the film tries to force a revelation, but misses by a mile. I recommend rewatching 2002’s The Ring and reveling in nostalgia of VHS technology instead. – SB
3. Alien: Covenant
It is widely accepted that, since his iconic one-two punch of Alien and Blade Runner, director Ridley Scott has slowly descended from fascinating auteur to dependable journeyman. While he has helmed several watchable – sometimes even genuinely entertaining – films since then, there is no denying that Scott has never matched his earlier directorial efforts. A shame, then, that he chose to return to the series that he launched, with the middle-of-the-road Alien: Covenant. Two intriguing Michael Fassbender performances aside, the film takes all of the memorable elements from the Alien series and cannibalizes them, producing what amounts to little more than a slasher film in space. In a series that was notable for bringing in young, visionary filmmakers to direct each new entry, it is a huge step backwards to have brought Scott back into the mix, first for the ambitious mess Prometheus and then for this gory shrug of a film. There is still hope that this series will someday find its legs again, but only if Scott is miles away from the proceedings. – TS
2. The Snowman
Tomas Alfredson’s The Snowman is a master class in squandering potential. A solid cast led by Michael Fassbender, enjoyable source material, and an accomplished cinematographer; all completely negated by utter incompetence. By his own admission, Alfredson, the director of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, was filming an incomplete script, resulting in a film that somehow manages to be simultaneously incoherent and interminably dull. Clearly trying to capitalize on the success on the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo phenomenon, The Snowman stumbles badly, becoming a dour, lifeless film that could have been written off as forgettable, if not for its sheer, undeniable awfulness. – TS
What makes Bright such a difficult viewing experience is its assumed intelligence. This is an extremely dumb movie that thinks it is so very smart. It starts off with an interesting “what-if” scenario – about the modern interactions of goblins, fairies, and orcs – and attempts to make a bold statement about… something.
While director David Ayer’s record is anything but perfect, we can’t forget the horrendous contribution of Max Landis’ script which, like Landis himself, doesn’t know when to shut up. Bright offers up some mumbo-jumbo mythology that the film doesn’t seem very invested in, nor does it seem to care about the implications. The film just wants to appear profound, but doesn’t seem to have any idea of how to do that. – AM