In previous years I’ve made an active effort to seek out the worst films possible for the primary purpose of having ammunition for an annual worst of list. Not being a paid critic my approach has softened recently, but alas 2018 still managed to inflict a number of releases for which my time could have been better spent.
The criteria for what makes a film worthy of being one of the ‘worst’ is largely contestable, but as with most year-end lists the selections are entirely subjective.
Before getting into the official list, a few Dishonourable Mentions that contained just enough redeeming qualities to avoid complete derision.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado
Following up 2015’s Sicario, the Stefano Sollima directed sequel features elements worthy of recommendation, particularly the performances from Benecio del Toro and Isabela Moner. However, in such a vicious political climate the opening 20-minutes of the film makes for uncomfortable viewing as people seeking asylum are depicted in a manner that fuels the hateful rhetoric espoused in the MAGA era. Released around the same time vision of children being forcibly separated from their parents and detained in cages demonstrated the lack of humanity shown by the current US administration, the set-up of Sicario: Day of the Soldado is repulsive before settling into an effective action-thriller that goes some way towards cleansing the misguided opening.
I recognise that I am not the target audience for the latest film from Tamara Jenkins. As a 23-year-old with no aspirations to start a family in the short-term, I can see how audiences with greater life experience would get a great deal from Private Life. That said – I found the three leading characters to be unbearable in their self-absorption. When people use the term ‘white people problems’ derisively, this is what they are referring to. I’m not so bold as to suggest the personal challenges faced by middle-aged financially independent individuals lack any legitimacy; for a terrific example of how this type of film works incredibly well, I recommend Mike White’s 2017 drama Brad’s Status. I cannot say in good faith this is a bad film, but I did find watching it to be incredibly testing of my patience.
Off the back of terrible reviews and a loathsome marketing campaign designed to malign critics, my curiosity in seeing Gotti ended anticlimactically. Does it warrant a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes? No. Is it any good? Not really. Amid all the animosity generated my response was boredom; in a less toxic media culture this film wouldn’t warrant a mention, such is its blandness.
5. Bohemian Rhapsody
As someone who grew up loving the greatest hits of Queen I wanted Bohemian Rhapsody to be great. Instead the “Brian Singer directed” music-biopic presents the story of a creatively ambitious group in the most generic of ways – imagine Walk Hard without a shred of irony. While the musical performances skilfully convey a sense of excitement, the context in which Queen and Freddie Mercury exists within is so poorly developed that unless you come in already knowing about this period, you get no sense of what Queen’s success meant. What does it mean to grow up of Parsi descent? Why was Live Aid a significant cultural event? What was it like to be diagnosed with AIDS during a time of political and cultural hostility towards queer people? The film is not interested in any of these details. Above all the biggest issue with the film is how boring it is – I struggle to recall such a squandered waste of potential in recent memory.
4. Unfunny Comedies (Night School / The Spy Who Dumped Me / Pitch Perfect 3)
Technically a cheat by listing multiple films under one slot; a common thread unites the three selections of not being funny despite the descriptor of ‘comedy’. Boasting star-studded casts who have demonstrated genuine laughs in the past, the combination of a lack of structure (Night School), tonal inconsistencies (The Spy Who Dumped Me) and deviating so far from what made the original delightful (Pitch Perfect 3) left me deflated having been promised laughs that never arrived. In a year that saw Game Night, Blockers, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse generate big laughs in inventive, emotional and self-referential ways, there were plenty of accessible studio comedies that warranted greater attention than the trio highlighted.
3. Life of the Party
What distinguishes the latest Melissa McCarthy star vehicle above the other unfunny comedies mentioned above is the structural incompetence displayed. There is a solid premise in a middle-aged woman going back to college after being left for another woman by her husband, but what follows is a collection of disparate scenes that could be assembled in any order with no impact on the film’s structure. The jokes are rarely sighted with the exception of one hilarious payoff involving the son of the other woman, but it is little consolation for a film in which nothing matters. There are no stakes, the character progression rings false and above all it isn’t consistently funny. In the hands of a better writer and director Life of the Party may not have been a film fondly remembered in years to come, but it wouldn’t be the total waste of time and talent it is.
2. The Kindergarten Teacher
Maggie Gyllenhaal gives a good performance in one of the worst films I’ve seen for a number of years – these two thoughts can co-exist. Adapted from a 2014 Israeli film of the same name, writer/director Sara Colangelo’s second feature subscribes to a misguided view of creativity that becomes outright offensive through the actions of Gyllenhaal’s character. The Kindergarten Teacher would have viewers believe that abusing a position of authority by kidnapping a child is the tragic road taken by people who have been creatively suffocated by a world that doesn’t value art. On its own the idea of society not appreciating creativity is not without merits, but the manner in which the final shot of the film condones Gyllenhaal’s actions was an affront that I took to be a personal middle finger from the filmmaker. The only reason the philosophy of The Kindergarten Teacher avoided the ignominy of being the ‘worst film of 2018’ was that something even more reprehensible screened in theatres this year.
1. Death of a Nation / The Trump Prophecy
In selecting a joint worst film in which the multiple-times bankrupt charlatan currently residing in the White House plays a prominent role, my own political leanings factor in less than the dangerous claims made by the respective filmmakers. Having watched several of Dinesh D’Souza’s previous ‘documentaries’ (in the loosest use of the term), the revisionist history espoused exists only to appease individuals wanting to legitimise their own prejudices, while provoking those with enough intelligence to know that the ideas put forth are false into fits of rage. Where Death of a Nation is filled with heinous lies in the name of political point scoring, The Trump Prophecy seeks to bore viewers into submission before presenting *that man* as ‘”the one anointed by god to return America to its greatness” with no case made in favour or against him. The wilful ignorance displayed by director Stephan Schultze is debatably more egregious than D’Souza’s revisionist history in that no justification is needed when “god wills it”, but for as derisible as the film’s politics are the technical qualities displayed are nothing short of inept. In a time of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’, the ideas proposed by these two films aren’t just grating, but intellectually offensive in blatantly disregarding evidence that fails to align with a predetermined worldview.