Yesterday, I posted a list of my picks for the 10 best films of 2014. It’s always a privilege and a fun challenge to try and narrow it down to just 10. But when you see hundreds of movies a year, you’re also going to see some excruciatingly terrible ones. So in the name of balance and symmetry, here are my picks for the worst films of 2014. They’re listed alphabetically in an effort to be vaguely kind and egalitarian, but you’ll see a few themes emerge. You’ll also see more than 10 films, because I’m cheating a bit. Enjoy.
“Annie”/”The Other Woman”/”Sex Tape”
It wasn’t a great year to be Cameron Diaz. The usually bubbly actress, who’s frequently made fun of her statuesque, blonde good looks to pleasing effect, appeared in a trio of films in which she ranged from unlikable to downright obnoxious. She was in over her head playing a desperate Miss Hannigan in the shrill musical “Annie.” She was a cold and vengeful attorney in the sitcommy “The Other Woman.” And she was a frantic stay-at-home mom in the madcap “Sex Tape.” All three of these movies are terrible: unfunny, straining and insulting.
“Exodus: Gods and Kings”
The story of Moses rising up against the Pharaoh Ramses and leading hundreds of thousands of Hebrew slaves out of Egypt to freedom is one with which we’re all extremely familiar. It’s the entire point of Passover. Ridley Scott retells this biblical tale by pummeling us with a barrage of glossy, soulless, computer-generated imagery. This movie is no fun.
“Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas”
If “Exodus” was too high-tech, “Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas” is a religious film that’s not high-tech enough. It is laughably chintzy from a production standpoint. As I said in my review, it is “The Room” of Christmas movies. But its ideology — its embrace of materialism as an expression of God’s love — is just as hilarious.
“Left Behind”/”Moms’ Night Out”/”Persecuted”
It wasn’t a great year for Christian movies, either. I’ve asked this question so many times but I still find it baffling: Why can’t the producers of these films find a director who knows what he or she is doing — who can be resourceful and even artful within a restrained budget? “Left Behind” actually had a larger budget than most of these types of films but it was just depressingly stiff; a movie about the Rapture starring Nicolas Cage should be wackier. “Moms’ Night Out,” a rare comedy, basically served as a cautionary tale to conservative mothers who dared to leave the house and have a little fun. And “Persecuted,” about a popular evangelist on the run, was a heavy-handed drama with a mushy message.
“Let’s Be Cops”
A high-concept buddy-cop comedy that wastes the appeal and the easy chemistry of “New Girl” co-stars Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. Basically, these are regular guys who put on uniforms and pretend to be police officers. It’s an idea that might have worked just fine as a sketch, but stretched out in a film that’s overlong at nearly two hours, the joke grows repetitive and wearying.
A mawkish drama about a wealthy patriarch (Richard Jenkins) who gathers his family around his Manhattan hospital bed to witness his decision to go off life support after fighting cancer for the past dozen years. A film about assisted suicide should be thought-provoking, but this just feels superficial. And a cast of strong actors including Garrett Hedlund, Amy Adams and Terrence Howard can only do so much with one-note parts.
Like “Exodus,” this is just massive, vapid CGI run amok. The volcano is the most interesting and expressive character in the film. Everyone and everything else on display in Paul W.S. Anderson’s romantic-action spectacle is just mind-numbingly dull.
“Walk of Shame”
A misogynistic, flat farce starring the usually adorable Elizabeth Banks as a TV news anchor who gets trapped overnight in downtown Los Angeles without a car or a cell phone. The horror! This film does not take place in any sort of recognizable, modern-day reality and all of the characters are idiots.
I’m sure this complicated story made much more sense on the page. I haven’t read the book it’s based on but I hear it’s great. In film form, this time-traveling tale of love is schmaltzy, silly and severely lacking in magic. A cast of A-listers including Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Will Smith and Eva Marie Saint can do nothing to save it.
There’s a new film version of the musical “Annie” coming out this week, starring Quvenzhane Wallis as a modern-day version of the optimistic orphan. Full review coming soon, but just know that it’s terrible, and you should avoid it.
However, “Annie” does provide a good opportunity for a discussion of great performances from young actors, and for that I turned to my friend and fellow school parent Chambers Stevens. Chambers is a longtime actor, playwright and author, but he’s probably best known as a respected child acting coach. Each year, he gives out The Chambie Awards for the best work from actors under age 18. He sees through the cloying and precocious tendencies that have become cliches among child stars, and he has great taste (because he usually agrees with me). As you can see from the above photo, he also really likes cake.
So I asked Chambers to pick his five favorite performances from young actors. Here they are below, in his own words and with my thanks.
Jack Wild in “Oliver!” (1968): There are some performances that are badly acted, some that are well acted and some that are so believable that you can’t believe that this is not a documentary. And then there are peformances that are a force of nature. Jack Wild in “Oliver!” is that. His Artful Dodger makes you want to run away from home and join him as a pickpocket.
Natalie Wood in “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947): I have seen this film over 50 times and I have yet to see a false note in her performance. It’s like when they started filming, this jaded little studio actress didn’t believe in Santa. But by the last shot, just like us, she believes.
Tatum O’Neal in “Paper Moon” (1973): It’s easy to see why she won an Oscar for this one. Part little girl, part 40-year-old con man, she steals every scene she is in.
Quvenzhane Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012): Remember the first time you heard Prince play? Or you saw Shakira shake? Remember when you first tasted a Cinnabon … that perfect mixture of cream and spice? Nothing would ever be the same. When I saw Quvenzhane’s performance, I felt exactly like that.
Matthew Lewis in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (2001): I love the “Harry Potter” books. I love the “Harry Potter” movies. The three main actors grew to be very good actors. In the beginning, they were a little green, and it shows on the screen. But there is one performance in the first film that is pitch perfect. Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom perfectly captures the loser in all of us. The insecurity. The feeling that we are not the lead in our own movie. And he does this all with only a couple of lines. And in the end — spoiler — when he wins the cup for the house, my heart leaps with joy.
We are all fans of Paul Thomas Anderson around here, but none of us really dug his hazy, druggy, comic noir. Maybe it requires another viewing to appreciate it fully, but I just can’t bring myself to endure this slog once more.