Well, it finally happened! As of last Saturday, I have officially reviewed 100 films. I’m not surprised that it took me less time to reach this milestone than for game reviews given that video games take a much longer time to review properly. Whereas the game review I’m working on for my 200 special will exceed 10,000 words, my longest film review doesn’t even go past the 3,000-word mark. If it’s a film that has a loose structure or a minimalistic plot, you can safely bet it’s going to be around 1,000 words. Epics, on the other hand, tend to be around 1,500-2,800 words.
Anyway, to celebrate, I thought I’d take a look at the worst and best I’ve reviewed so far. Unlike with my game review specials, I don’t intend to rank the films from worst to best. Instead, I’ll be covering films I’ve awarded one, two, three, eight, or nine points. This way, you can get an idea of the material I’ve covered in addition to getting the best recommendations quickly. So without further ado, let’s dive headfirst into the bomb pool and get the worst over with so we can end this special on a high note.
Legion (Scott Stewart, 2010)
Now, when I finish this special, I intend to reveal the score distribution chart I’ve made for the films I’ve reviewed. One thing worth noting is that I’ve generally experienced bad games far more often than I’ve experienced bad films. This brings us to the worst film I’ve ever seen. I know there are some out there who believe Legion to be a “so bad it’s good” film who would be astounded that I could give it a 1/10. While I can certainly acknowledge that there are worse films out there, their existence doesn’t make Legion good by default. Between its confused narrative, horrendously unlikable characters, boring dialogue, and a villain the narrative refuses to vilify despite all of the evidence stacked against Him, Legion has absolutely nothing to offer even the most forgiving of bad-cinema connoisseurs.
Knowing (Alex Proyas, 2009)
Knowing was made before I began clamping down on works with bad endings. Because of this, it wasn’t really one of the works that led to be developing my “bad ending = disqualification” rule. I didn’t really think much of it at the time because it was before I was analyzing works objectively, but Knowing really does have one of the worst endings to any film I’ve ever seen. Anyone skeptical over how audiences can turn on a piece of media simply because of its ending really needs to take a thorough look at Knowing because it provides a perfect example of how much goodwill can be lost if a work fails to stick the landing. It doesn’t matter how intriguing the mystery is if the answer is unsatisfying. Also, I have to say that if filmmaking required a license, making Nicolas Cage boring should be grounds to have it revoked.
District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, 2009)
District 9 could very well have been one the most influential films when it came to shaping my taste in fiction. As I’ve alluded to in the past, I tend to be biased against works that gratuitously use the “humans are the real monsters” trope, and you have District 9 to thank/blame for me frowning on its usage along with Avatar. This isn’t to say that a work that uses the trope has no chance against me; in fact, quite a few of my all-time favorites use it. However, when you use that trope, you need the skills of a good critic, and a good critic is nothing without nuance.
This is where District 9 falls woefully short; if you’re looking for a nuanced tale that presents the good and bad of both sides, you won’t find it here. It reduces what was a real-life problem to a bunch of sophomoric metaphors that desperately try to come across as more mature than they are. Sadly, science fiction would follow in the footsteps of District 9, directly leading to a certifiable dark age for the genre. If I were scoring this film solely based on its influence, it would have been an easy 1/10. As it stands, it’s going to have to settle for being the first 3/10 I awarded.
Vice (Adam McKay, 2018)
Speaking of a lack of nuance, here’s Vice. I’m convinced that the success Mr. McKay enjoyed with The Big Short, another film that wasn’t particularly good, went straight to his head because Vice is one of the most blatant, unadulterated displays of directorial pretentiousness since M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water. Then again, I knew I was in trouble going into the film given that it had a fairly modest score on Rotten Tomatoes (in the 60s range). This meant that critics, who would have applauded a demolishment of one of their most hated political figures, found it divisive. Protip: When your film tells your audience everything they want to hear and you still end up alienating half of them, you have done something seriously wrong.
First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2017)
I can also envision cinephiles thinking me to be not especially credible given how poorly A24 has fared on this site. Similar to my assessment of Legion, I do feel compelled to point out that they’re hardly the worst production company out there. To wit, if I were to review PureFlix’s catalogue, you’d get to watch me throw 1/10s like penny candy. However, by that same token, I would argue that A24 is a lot more hit-or-miss than their ardent supporters want to admit. Sure, they have occasionally pushed the envelope in legitimately creative ways such as with Moonlight or The Farewell, but most of the time, they seem to take an unusual amount of glee isolating themselves from the general viewing public (while still blaming the public for not seeing their films, no less). This lines up with contemporary critical sensibilities, but traps the studio in a bog of creative stagnation that threatens to envelop them in the long run.
This is especially apparent when watching First Reformed. Now, to make things clear, I do not wish to downplay the very real issues raised in this film; anyone denying them at this point is delusional. That being said, its fatal flaw is that by having given into despair as thoroughly as it did, it has become a film that has no future. This is especially bad because Paul Schrader’s early works defined his era. Here, he let the era define his work. Although many great works can spawn from a certain time period, active artists tend to triumph over the passive ones. Despite what Mr. Schrader said, there’s no getting around that the 70s had better filmmakers (and arguably better critics, for that matter), and it’s a shame that many of them began losing their touch in their later years.
Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2014)
While on the subject of unsatisfying A24 films, here’s Ex Machina. I’ve mentioned several times in the past that that A24’s abhorrent, predatory marketing techniques being embraced by film journalists was their official “jump the shark” moment, but I also believe that the film itself created a “jump the shark” moment for science fiction. Suddenly, a genre that sought to enlighten audiences became more well-known for pandering to and romanticizing anti-intellectual critical sensibilities that treated the unknown and scientific progress with the same kind of fear that one would expect out of the average Luddite or highly conservative Fundamentalist. One can’t expect the medium to evolve if critics constantly reward creators for pandering to the lowest common denominator. If you insist on looking into a work formed from the phrase “Deus Ex Machina”, choose Deus Ex over Ex Machina.
You’re Next (Adam Wingard, 2011)
What Ex Machina was to science fiction, You’re Next was to horror. Both are exceedingly cynical products that have absolutely no idea of their respective genre’s latent potential. Naturally, neither film has held up well, though the makers of You’re Next look especially foolish in hindsight given the excellent horror films that would follow such as It Follows, Get Out, and Us. On top of that, You’re Next is guilty of having perpetuated the backwards-looking mumblecore movement, the most radical supports of which tend shun anything that dare exercises its imagination. With everything it has going against it, the film really has nothing practical to offer.
Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria, 2019)
I find it appropriate that Hustlers was the last 3/10 I awarded before reaching 100 film reviews because it reached that score in the exact opposite fashion as District 9. Whereas District 9 was annoyingly ahead of the curve, Hustlers is a product of its time in the worst possible sense of the term. It is, at the end of the day, a beneficiary of an era wherein neither creators nor critics could be bothered to conduct any deep introspection to weed out the more problematic aspects of their ethos, instead opting to lash out at anyone who points out their problems. With neither faction willing to take even the slightest bit of criticism, it was only natural that a film rife with as many unfortunate implications and operating on a cavalcade of double standards would receive overwhelming praise. This is the reason why I firmly believe many of today’s critical darlings are not going to hold up well. What could have been genuinely provocative instead comes across as poorly thought out and even chauvinistic in certain respects. The Goodfellas of this era Hustlers is not.