Sean Burns’s 10 Worst Films Of 2018

For many years I had to go see pretty much every movie that came out, and only recently has my professional situation afforded me the opportunity to skip stuff in which I’m not particularly interested or that I am pretty sure I’m gonna hate. (For example, I stopped watching Mark Wahlberg films and “Transformers” sequels right around the time both began to overlap.) Perhaps there were worse films in 2018 than the ones on this list, but these are ten titles that cheesed me off most, the ones I couldn’t resist taking a few more shots at before calling it a year.

10. READY PLAYER ONE

Steven Spielberg sings a song of himself in this lumbering nostalgia wank positing a nightmare dystopia of regurgitated 1980s pop culture references. Author Ernest Cline’s shameless Willy Wonka ripoff is the worst kind of fanboy fantasy, celebrating couch potato arcana and video game prowess as what will save the world. The endless action sequences are entirely without weight or consequence, while our heroes rail against corporate commercialism in a movie full of prominent product placement for Pizza Hut. 

9. BEAUTIFUL BOY

Bearing the bad news that drug addiction is something that can also happen to those nice people from the Lands’ End catalog, this unbearably bourgeoisie melodrama stars Steve Carell and a vast collection of expensive flannels as the kindest and most understanding dad in the world whose wayward son (Timothée Chalamet) nonetheless gets hooked on crystal meth. The film exists inside a spectacularly unexamined bubble of moneyed privilege that makes Nancy Meyers look like the Safdie Brothers.

8. AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

The noisiest and most overcrowded Marvel extravaganza yet pig-piles twenty-six characters from the past eighteen films into a numbingly repetitive 160 minutes of samey, unimaginative, intergalactic punch-outs during which Earth’s Mightiest Heroes take turns getting their asses kicked by Josh Brolin’s silly-looking Grape Ape. There are worse superhero movies, but none so light on story or this tediously inconsequential, ending with a cheap cliffhanger stunt sure to be instantly reversed in next summer’s sequel.

7. THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS

What if they remade “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” but with foul-mouthed Muppets that fuck? Honestly, not a terrible idea for a movie. Alas, Brian Henson’s breathtakingly unfunny noir spoof just sits there, visually inert and stuck on the single idea that nothing’s more inherently hilarious than saying swear-words. A dire, distended sequence in which our felt detective ejaculates an uncontrollable spray of silly string is the sort of joke that makes you feel sad for the teller.

6. SUSPIRIA

Luca Guadagnino’s gobsmakingly misguided remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 Technicolor freakout tries to explain the inexplicable, dulling down the visual palate and tastelessly evoking the horrors of Theresienstadt and a ton of real-life terrorist attacks in this silly story about a dance school for sexy witches. Tilda Swinton gives several of her least interesting performances in multiple roles while Thom Yorke’s droney, energy-sapping score makes these two-and-a-half hours drag like five.

5. THE FRONT RUNNER

At a cultural moment when powerful men are finally being called upon to answer for their sexual improprieties, Jason Reitman’s hagiography of womanizing, failed former Presidential candidate Gary Hart couldn’t possibly be less in tune with the times. This banal, deeply incurious picture demonizes the press and exudes rich-kid entitlement, pining away for the good old days when the privileged and powerful closed ranks to protect their own. Reitman should make a Brett Kavanaugh biopic next.

4. THE 15:17 TO PARIS

In August of 2015, three young American men foiled a terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train, an astonishing real-life rescue that takes up approximately five minutes of Clint Eastwood’s reverential reenactment. The rest of the time it’s mostly the boys wandering aimlessly around Europe, a dramatically deadening decision compounded by the bizarre choice of casting the real-life participants as themselves. The amateur acting and absence of incident are so stultifying it’s almost avant garde.

3. A QUIET PLACE

Any movie trying to draw suspense from silence shouldn’t have a blaring, wall-to-wall musical score. Anyhow, John Krasinski’s recent heel turn from adapting David Foster Wallace and writing an anti-fracking screenplay to becoming a bulked-up star of rightwing Tom Clancy fantasias and Michael Bay’s Benghazi picture strikes me as a mostly mercenary move. This film plays an NRA ad stoking Pro-Lifer paranoia while carefully not committing too hard to its own queasy subtext.

2. VICE

Writer-director Adam McKay’s cacophonous Dick Cheney biopic is the best thing that’s happened to Oliver Stone in decades. A dumbing-down of recent history that will feel insulting to anybody who actually lived through it, the film finger-wags in fulminating outrage without having anything new nor particularly interesting to say. Anchored by one of those “transformative” Christian Bale performances that’s all weight-gain and gimmicks while offering zero insight into he man himself, “Vice” doesn’t know Dick.

1. GOTTI

John Travolta’s laughably incompetent “Battlefield: Earth” of gangster epics proceeds from the outlandish and morally indefensible notion that the Teflon Don got a bum rap, depicting this murderous dirtbag as an aspirational figure of endangered masculine values in a fallen world of pussies and finks. It’s an astoundingly stupid, boring, and ugly-spirited picture, full of angry-old-man axe-grinding and clownish goombah posturing by a cast curiously short on actual Italians. Basta.

Over the past nineteen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene, Time Out New York and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

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About Sean Burns

Sean Burns is a Staff Writer at WBUR's The ARTery. His reviews, interviews and essays have also appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, Time Out New York, Philadelphia City Paper and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at www.splicedpersonality.com

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