The BP Bottom Ten of 2018
This list was compiled from the individual bottom ten lists of Jim, Craig, Alexander, Sarah, Rudie, Aaron, Josh, Scott, Tyler, and David. Each film was weighted according to its placement on each individual list. As such, a film that appeared on only two writers’ lists could still wind up on the finalized list if it placed particularly high. Conversely, a film could conceivably be on everybody’s list, but not make the final list, due to low point value.
10. On the Basis of Sex
Don’t you love Ruth Bader Ginsburg? So do I! Lots and lots of us love Ginsburg and we didn’t need two different puff pieces about her this year to make us feel good about that. Mimi Leder’s On the Basis of Sex, is an even worse offender than Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s RBG, because, as a documentary, that one at least couldn’t be quite as egregiously phony. There’s no real question about whether or not Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) is going to win the movie’s big case because this is the kind of uninspired great woman biopic that has little room for anything but triumphs that affirm the pre-existing sentiments of the filmmakers and the presumptive audience. When Ginsburg makes one of the movie’s many, many sound bite proclamations, “Small mistakes are glaring when you stick out,” the line is unintentionally ironic. This version of Ginsburg never seems to make mistakes, so she should be fine.
Moments like that, with quotable quotes, are so frequent in On the Basis of Sex, they start to dictate the rhythm of the film. You keep anticipating the one that’s going to end the scene. When she tells her client (Chris Mulkey) she can get his ruling overturned, he says, “So the judge was wrong?” “No,” Ginsburg replies, “the law is wrong.” Commiserating with her husband, Marty (Armie Hammer), over their teenage daughter, Ginsburg huffs, “I don’t know where she gets her stubbornness!” “I can’t imagine,” Marty lets slip snarkily. It’s an entire movie made up of little trailers.On the Basis of Sex is so programmatic that you barely need to pay attention. Unless, that is, you’re playing some kind of count-the-tropes game. If so, you’ll get a big win when Ginsburg steps up to the lectern to make her closing arguments in the big case and the microphone sounds off with a brief blast of feedback in the way that only happens to nervous characters in movies and never to anyone in real life. Will she overcome this devastating setback and win the day? Stay tuned to On the Basis of Sex or any one of ten thousand other movies to find out. -DB
9. The Cloverfield Paradox
J.J. Abram’s ‘Cloverfield’ universe has yielded some interesting science fiction over the past decade. 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane is arguably the best (it is certainly my favorite entry), but 2018’s was a swing and a miss. The film’s multi-universe plot twist could have been interesting if it had bothered to set up the first universe enough for the audience to care. There are some creative and gnarly body horror moments, but the film never quite commits enough to being weird. So instead it hovers in this mediocre limbo that never quite goes far enough to be interesting. Devoted Cloverfield fans could only have been let down since the only real connection to its universe happens in the last few seconds, much like 10 Cloverfield Lane, but not nearly as successfully. – SB
8. Bad Samaritan
I didn’t go into Bad Samaritan with high expectations, but I thought it might at least be entertaining. Instead it was one of the most needlessly brutal movies of 2018. David Tennant puts on his best American accent to play super rich, super vicious Cale Erendreich. Small time criminal Sean Falco (played by the often-delightful Robert Sheehan) gets in way over his head when he breaks into Cale’s house and discovers a girl bound, gagged, and shackled to the floor in what can only be described as a “murder room”. Unable to let go of the girl he left behind, Falco tries to save her. The film then turns into a series of increasingly brutal and disturbing attacks against Falco and everyone he has ever known while Cale protects his secret. Cale is clearly a psychopath who will protect his secret life at any cost, but the events in the film spiral so far and so fast out of control that the audience is left with whiplash. The tone set at the end of the film is a 180 degree turn from where we started. That the film spends so much time making us like Falco, only to make us watch his life eviscerated over the course of the film – not to mention what Cale’s victim has to endure – feels additionally cruel. It was undeniably the least pleasant experience I had watching a movie last year. – SB
John Travolta opens Kevin Connolly’s Gotti wearing an odious wig (the film’s high point is its endless parade of wigs) and breaking the fourth wall in a direct address to the audience, spewing fughettaboutit-isms like Tony Manero after oral surgery. It’s an awful scene—poorly shot, poorly acted, and laugh-out-loud funny for all the wrong reasons—that ushers in a soulless pastiche of Goodfellas and The Godfather. Muddied by garbled timelines, vapid characters, and paper-thin themes, Gotti is an infected scrape covered with a Scorsese brand band-aid and left to fester until the wound becomes a soured pustule. But worse than the film’s craftsmanship is its irresponsible attempt to cement Gotti as a luminary rather than a criminal. John Gotti made the lives of everyone around him worse. The world is a nastier place for having had him in it. But sadly, no one told Kevin Connolly, who depicts Gotti as a ruthless scamp at worst and an altruistic Robin Hood at best. The film closes with a montage of fawning praise for John Gotti, the Folk Hero, an affront so caustic there’s no amount of delightfully boorish wigs that can remove the bad taste from your mouth. – CS
As somebody who loved playing the Rampage arcade game when he was a kid, part of me was genuinely excited for Brad Peyton’s big blockbuster starring Dwayne Johnson. The amusing premise of the game – an ode to films like King Kong and Godzilla, but with a comedic twist – could have led to a film that effectively parodied modern disaster movies. Instead, it chose to play it straight, with only a bit of mostly-tired comic relief thrown in. The result is a film that is notably less inspired than its source material. Rather than use this ample opportunity to comment on its genre, Rampage is instead content – maybe even eager – to adhere to all the tropes of it, ultimately delivering a film that would be forgettable if it weren’t so dumb. – TS
If Adam McKay’s latest film came off as one-sided or combative, that would’ve been fine. A lot of cinema’s angry artists lose objectivity in their creative pursuit (Oliver Stone and Jean-Luc Godard come to mind). However, when these artists do go off the rails, they can at least dust themselves off with their integrity intact. By the time Vice’s (second) credits rolled, I didn’t feel like McKay had made a misstep, or suffered a lapse of judgment; it felt instead like I had experienced a two hour conversation with a drunken grad student circa 2005, who just watched Fahrenheit 9/11, and is spouting their underlined favorite lines from Dude, Where’s My Country. Because the script didn’t shine a light on anything new, the film isn’t comprised of original ideas. But worst of all, Adam Mckay seems to think of himself as more than an artist, but a pitbull of satirical political commentary. He’s slamming his fist down in righteous indignation, but everything he’s spouting is bumper-sticker-level rhetoric, common knowledge to anyone who has an elementary understanding of contemporary politics. Vice has the subtlety of a wrecking ball, but the unimaginative delivery and thematic transparency makes the experience so tiresome, all the movie can tear down is your patience. As if being bashed over the head for two hours wasn’t enough, the final product is so scattershot, the only sustainable consistency is its tonal condescension toward its target audience.
When The Big Short took a sobering, fact-inspired narrative and juxtaposed it with comedy, it felt like a bold and original experiment. Vice, however, felt like an uninspired retread; lazy to the point of self-imitation. It was as though some schlocky producer said “we want that The Big Short feel” to Adam McKay and the “feel’ is all we got. The substance and wit are nowhere to be found. All that’s left is hollow mannerism. The film is at its most authentic when we see the supporting cast members, tailored to look and sound like recognizable politicians, but is this reconstruction anything more than historical cosplay? Vice is the kind of film that carries itself with an air of haughty intellectual superiority, but beneath the layers of bloated exhibitionism, all that’s left is a muddle of thinly conceived gags that feel like omissions from a weak episode of Family Guy. What’s most vexing about this whole affair is its success, as if Oscar voters and critics were so assured that lightning would strike twice, they collectively agreed that the film is something it’s not: good. – AM
4. Death Wish
Eli Roth is a provocateur whose cornerstone is ostentatious violence (and depending on how much credit you’d like to give him, films like Hostel can be interpreted as a commentary on American audience’s predilections for tasteless gore). However, when Roth tries to incorporate his garish provocations with topics that demand more nuance, his brand of shocking horror becomes much more problematic (his Green Inferno tried to tackle environmentalism and ended up scoring a touchdown for brazen racism). And with Death Wish—his re-imagining of the Charles Bronson schlock-classic—Roth wades into similar territory, turning Chicago into a Donald Trump fever-dream of lawless minorities. Critics from every corner have made a meal of Death Wish’sracism, gun-fetishizing, and latent misogyny, but one thing shouldn’t be lost in these valid criticisms: Death Wish is incredibly boring. Bruce Willis moves through the film like a parade float on a rainy afternoon, slow and unmotivated, utterly disinterested in behaving the way any human would. Death Wish is a film I want nothing to do with as a viewer, so I can’t blame Willis for feeling the same way. – CS
Horror is a much-maligned genre, but also much-forgiven. Often, a sub-par horror film is boiled down to the simple question of whether it delivers real scares or, barring that, at least some passable gore. If a film is able to deliver on these basic qualities, the fans are quick to look past its flaws. With Pledges, director D.J. Red fails on every level. The characters are cliched, which is hardly a crime in horror and is increasingly used as commentary on the genre. Here, though, this feels less like a self-aware choice and more the default decision of a director for whom the tired archetypes still work fine. The mythology of the film is a mishmash of different horror tropes, never quite coming together in a cohesive whole. Instead, it sometimes feels as though Red worried that he might never again get the chance to make a film, and so decided to throw everything into this one, regardless of tone. Judging from the final product, those worries are justified. – TS
2. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
To this day, the most popular tweet I’ve ever made was this one from November 15, 2018:
“Imagine expending so much energy on casting and then defending Johnny Depp for a movie as bad as The Crimes of Grindelwald.”
Three months later I stand by my apoplexy, incensed that J.K. Rowling and David Yates, the two primary creative driving forces behind the Fantastic Beasts franchise, would so willfully cast a blind eye to the turning social tide for the sake of a film that feels more like cut-rate Harry Potter fan-fiction than it does a fully realized cinematic vision. Admittedly, Depp – as a performer, at least – is not the problem with The Crimes of Grindelwald, but neither does he help alleviate the tangled obfuscation of plots, subplots, and side characters, very few of which have any emotional weight or stakes, despite very blatant attempts stabs at contemporary allegory. Yates occasionally shows flare of the direction that he wielded consistently from The Order of the Phoenix through both Deathly Hallows films, but even he can’t elevate Rowling’s script, which is simultaneously both so smug and so brainless in how it manages to cram in as many inconsequential Harry Potter references and call backs that it can. Just imagine how threatening Grindelwald’s crimes would have actually seemed if Rowling had remembered that what we loved about the Wizarding World started with the world and was extended to the wizards. What we got instead was a poorly devised cinematic sleight of hand – “but, LOOK here, kids – a Lestrange! A McGonagall! And, oooh, what’s this? A Dumbledore!” Ugh. Avada Kedavra me. – JR
1. The Predator
There are many things going in The Predator’s favor to succeed, like its franchise roots, stellar cast, and writer/director Shane Black, who played Hawkins in the original movie. While Black has so much skin in the game with the franchise, he produced such a lackluster sequel/reboot that it makes the Alien vs. Predator movies look like action-packed thrill rides. At least the AVP movies have some sort of entertainment value, while The Predator is a thoughtless movie that’s full of eye-rolling callbacks, limp action set pieces, and pseudo-tough guy characters that make me long for the physicality and no nonsense attitudes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, and Jesse Ventura. Frankly, at this point, I’ll take Danny Glover and Adrien Brody over the drab Boyd Holbrook. The Predator takes the highly-forgettable September action movie to the next level, as it positioned itself as the first entry in a new trilogy. Well, we’ll see you in another few years when 20th Century Fox decides to trot out another reboot. – RO