The 10 worst movies of 2018 (one of which is one of the best movies of 2018)

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Fifty Shades


In a few weeks, I’ll celebrate the best that cinema had to offer with my list of the top 25 movies of 2018. Because there’s plenty to celebrate.

This was a better-than-average year for films, with the quality spread diffusely across all genres, shapes and sizes of movie. We had terrific mainstream entertainment in movies like “Mission: Impossible — Fallout” and “A Star Is Born,” but we also got pricklier and more provocative films like “First Reformed” and “The Favourite” (the latter opening in Omaha next week).

There will be a time for positivity. But that time is not today. Today is the day we look back at the worst 2018 had to offer. Today is the day we dive headfirst into the year's cinematic cesspool and take a hearty gulp of its fetid waters.

Because being a movie critic is about bearing witness. It is about bearing witness to the pleasures of cinema, yes. But also to the pain. As in life, one cannot get an accurate read of the bigger picture without subjecting themselves to a little suffering now and then.

These are the 10 worst movies of 2018.

Note: In a few cases, I referred to my original reviews, as my brain — in an act of self-preservation — has purged most of my memories of these movies.

10. “Bad Times at the El Royale”

This had everything going for it: a writer/director with an impressive CV in Drew Goddard ("The Cabin in the Woods," "The Martian"); a stellar cast, including Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth and Cynthia Erivo; and a killer premise — a group of strangers cross paths over one deadly night at a shady hotel. From a technical aspect, the music, cinematography and production design are all top-notch. But it's bad, the kind of saggy, soggy blunder that only a good writer/director could make.

"Bad Times" starts strong enough, but misfires after about 20 minutes and holds us captive for the next two hours, adding up to next to nothing — just a slow and uninvolving pulp pastiche that tells a handful of disparate stories that don’t come together in any meaningful way, narratively or thematically. At 140 minutes, it’s brutally self-indulgent. Goddard doesn't just show us tedious scenes once; he pointlessly repeats the scenes from multiple perspectives, making sure we get a good look at our boredom from every conceivable angle.


9. “The Equalizer 2”

The first "Equalizer” wasn’t good, exactly, but stacked up next to its sequel, it now looks supremely competent. Because No. 2 is a dour, sour slog that manages to bore even when it’s snapping necks, exploding heads and impaling henchmen with harpoons. It just shuffles along glumly through a who-could-care-less spy plot. And if its action sequences are loud enough to wake you up every so often, they're too poorly shot/choppily edited to hold your attention. This should have bypassed the theater and gone straight to iTunes. Denzel deserves a better franchise.


8. “The Girl in the Spider’s Web”

Imagine you had a dark, dirty and deeply compelling thriller about computers, torture chambers and institutionalized misogyny. Imagine that that film was directed with chilly precision by David Fincher and that it starred Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. Now imagine you took it away. All of it: the stars, the director, the transgressiveness. And you downgraded Lisbeth Salander to an off-brand, black-clad James Bond tasked with doing obvious action-movie things. (Get the nuclear launch codes!) Imagine. All. That. And you might have the ruinous new (and final?) entry in the Salander series.


7. “The Hurricane Heist”

On paper, it sounded promising: As a Category 5 hurricane bears down on the Gulf coastline, mercenaries attempt to rob a local treasury facility, unless a meteorologist and his estranged brother can stop them. I'm into it! The trailer — which used Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane” to gloriously stupid effect — forecast this trashy new thriller as “Twister” meets “Heat." It looked like a perfectly stupid time at the movies. Could this be the dumb-good-bad action movie I'd been waiting for?

Nnnnnnope. With its “Sharknado”-caliber effects, shrill characters and dumb (but not fun dumb) dialogue, “Hurricane Heist” couldn’t even begin to deliver on the promise of its ridiculous premise.


6. “A Wrinkle in Time”

There was so much goodwill behind this project when it was announced: Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) would direct a Disney adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic children’s book “A Wrinkle in Time,” with a cast that included Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling. That sounded promising. But at some stage of the production, something went wrong, resulting in a final product plagued with muddled storytelling, conflicting tones, hazy characterizations, awkward performances and visuals — like Witherspoon turning into a giant flying cabbage dragon — that just looked kinda stupid. The plot’s throughline was simple enough: A girl travels across the universe to find her missing father. But the movie takes such a circuitous route to get us to the endgame, meandering into a dozen different directions. It's a film of countless pit stops, none of them worth the diversion.


5. “Pacific Rim: Uprising”

What I said in my original review: "The sequel’s story could be summarized as follows: Robots vs. monsters. Again. This is eye-gouging, headache-inducing trash — a 10-story dumpster inferno freighted with storytelling straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon and a barrage of nonsensical spectacle only mildly less noxious than the latest “Transformers” movie. “Uprising” is essentially the Nick Jr. version of the first “Pacific Rim,” which was itself already a movie for babies."


4. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”

It wasn’t high art, but 2015’s “Jurassic World” had a few things going for it. For one, it benefited immensely from the residual nostalgia that multiple generations have for Steven Spielberg’s first film. But more interesting than that, it served as its own metacommentary for the state of the blockbuster arms race that movie studios have been engaged in since, well, since “Jurassic Park.”

Its sequel, though, is just the leftovers of the leftovers, a meal reheated too many times with the only possible outcome being food poisoning. "Fallen Kingdom" lacks a single human character who’s not bland, annoying or mind-bogglingly stupid. The effects, once so groundbreaking, are now an anonymous slosh of CG mayhem. Every line of dialogue feels like it was written by a focus group of grotesquely basic people whom the studio randomly selected at the mall (and, like, not a good mall). The “Jurassic Park” series has such a beloved place in so many hearts that an entry this bad is nothing less than emotional violence on a mass scale.


3. “Fifty Shades Freed”

This dead-eyed romance. This lifeless procession of random plot points cast against opulent backdrops. This supposedly transgressive slice of sexy escapism that can’t hide the weak beat of its conservative heart. This film is punishment, and I lacked the requisite masochistic tendencies to properly enjoy myself.


2. “The Happytime Murders”

I’ve got no objections to a hard-R puppet sex comedy/detective noir. In fact, I welcome more entries in this untapped genre. But you’ve got to have at least a few actual jokes in the movie. Not just 90 minutes of puppets oozing bodily fluids while Melissa McCarthy yells profane (but unfunny) insults at everyone as she tries to catch a serial killer.

“Fifty Shades Freed” at least offered some laughs, even if they were unintentional. But there’s not a single sliver of relief to be found here. Every inch of it is trash, and it counted as my most unpleasant viewing experience of 2018.


1. “Gotti”

Now “Gotti,” on the other hand, was among my favorite viewing experiences of the year, as it's one of those movies that’s so bad (and bad in just the right way) that it comes back around to being irresistible. It’s rare that we get a movie like this — a movie that scores a well-deserved 0 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, a movie that’s so ineptly made and incomprehensibly put together and yet still somehow manages to be watchable. Even, in a way, delightful.

Directed by the guy who played “E” on “Entourage,” “Gotti” stars John Travolta as the infamous crime boss. Beyond that, I couldn’t really tell you what the movie was about or who was who or where am I right now, what am I doing here? Because no one scene connects to the scene that followed it or preceded it. Watching “Gotti” is not unlike the experience of channel-surfing, assuming your cable provider only offered channels that showed the worst gangster movies ever made on an endless loop.

“Gotti” operates on a faulty algorithm of mob movie cliches and tough-guy aphorisms, and the only reasonable viewer reaction is joyous, howling laughter. This is a film that proudly announces its worst-of-2018 status in its opening scene: Travolta-as-Gotti looks into the camera, a clearly fake rear-projection of the Brooklyn Bridge behind him. He tells us summin': “Lemme tell you summin’. New York is the greatest (expletive) city in the world. My city.

This is a movie I will never fuggedabout.

* * *

Yet-to-be-released movie that looks like it would have made this list: "Welcome to Marwen"

Reportedly terrible movies that I had the pleasure of NOT seeing: “Show Dogs,” “Slender Man,” “Sherlock Gnomes,” “Midnight Sun,” “The Cloverfield Paradox,” “Action Point,” “Peppermint,” “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” “A.X.L.,” “Mile 22,” “Robin Hood,” “Hunter Killer,” “Johnny English Strikes Again,” “Death of a Nation,” “Truth or Dare,” “The 15:17 to Paris,” “The Darkest Minds,” “Dog Days,” “Kin.”

Bad movie I most regret missing: “Life Itself”

The ensemble drama from the creator of “This Is Us” and starring Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde and Annette Bening is apparently an embarrassment for the ages, and I look forward to catching up with it.

Bad movie that was actually a good movie: “Den of Thieves”

It’s “Heat” as remade by a can of Axe body spray, starring a rude, rumpled Gerard Butler as a cop who eats donuts that have fallen onto the floor of crime scenes. What’s not to love?

Good movie that was actually a bad movie: “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Every music movie cliche stuffed into a stale, rote rock biopic that regularly hit high notes of self-parody.

Bad movies I enjoyed: “Venom,” “The Predator,” “Death Wish”

There are so few great movies out there that when high-quality trash comes along, you’ve got to cherish it.

Bad movie I failed to enjoy: “The Meg”

Decades in the making, this Jason Statham vs. the giant prehistoric shark movie couldn’t even rise to the level of fun ’90s shark schlock like “Deep Blue Sea.” 

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