My Guiltiest Pleasures of the 2010s

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A term I’ve had to defend more often than I’ve had to defend my liking of the movies, as though utilizing the term is a manner of self-flagellation in the witness of God or some nonsense like that. I guess the entomology behind using “guilt” is what the hangup is but what a painfully literal manner to decide you have to impose yourself on other people’s viewing practices.

In truth, all it feels like to call a movie a “guilty pleasure” from my end is a subjective way to consider my responses to some movies, no more material than overrated/underrated but no less valid either. I approach movies from a certain standpoint and sometimes my experience with a picture will be so pleasant despite the movie itself conflicting with that standpoint, whether morally or aesthetically or personally or many other ways. I don’t think I need to explain any further beyond that. And in any case, calling a movie a guilty pleasure is a much better way to avoid conflict with those who think they are completely lacking in value which is sadly the case.

Anyway the good news is that this list will come down to 25 after the last one was a whopping 50 entries (although I will admit to adding a couple of bonuses after the main deal. So heeeeeere we go:

My Guiltiest Pleasures of the 2010s

(presented in Chronological Order)

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Step Up 3D (2010, Jon M. Chu, USA)

A confession that I am a devotee of the Step Up movies: unashamed romanticism delivered with thin characterizations and letting all the work be done by the gaudy atmosphere and electrifying dance choreography. And Step Up 3D delivers those things at the series’ all-time high – Jon M. Chu having been a director to show how great he is at making shallow stuff look fabulous and inviting (as in Crazy Rich Asians, his best movie to date). And of course, the 3D (of which you’re going to see a lot of 3D movies here on this list, I just realized) just adds to the glorious tackiness of it all, bringing the kaleidoscopic visuals and wild dances to your face.

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Piranha 3D (2010, Alexandre Aja, USA)

Sure, the original film by Joe Dante, Roger Corman, and John Sayles is better. One of the high watermarks of low-budget creature feature and deeply sincere and grounded while still having a sense of humor. But you don’t expect class from a movie named Piranha and Aja has brought us the flipside to that scenario: a ridiculous filthy tawdry picture of blood and boobs and little else in-between besides a cartoonishness to its proceedings including the most-typecast cameos possible by Christopher Lloyd and Richard Dreyfuss and hilariously shoddy 3D post-conversion to add to the shallowness. Plus given that I have friends who worked on it – it was made close to where my alma mater was – it has a deeper place in my heart.

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Resident Evil: AfterlifeRetribution, and The Final Chapter (2010-’16, Paul W.S. Anderson, Canada/France/UK/Germany/USA/Australia)

I think I’ve already went into how Afterlife has some of my favorite 3D compositions and I didn’t mention how Retribution has a premise that feels most excited about its video game roots but now it’s here. So let’s go over to The Final Chapter and how it wraps up this tale well despite possibly the worst editing in the franchise: it is the single most invested entry in Alice as a character and this sincerely feels like a good anchor to bring the franchise down to a resting place, as well as making narrative good out of the series’ long role as Anderson’s love letter to how badass and cool his wife is. So it gives Jovovich more emotional work to do and remind us why she is one of the most painfully underutilized action actors around.

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Burlesque (2010, Steven Antin, USA)

Yes, in my previous post about underrated 2010s movies, I did state that I don’t intend to penalize Burlesque for proudly wearing its camp on its sleeve and I maintain that. There is however a difference between loving Showgirls and loving Burlesque and I shall leave it at that for anyone who – like me – loves both movies to understand. Anybody who dislikes either is lost forever.

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A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011, Todd Strauss-Schulson, USA)

The Harold & Kumar series pretty much surprised everybody who walked into it in the 2000s expecting some silly stoner comedy and instead got hit with a silly stoner comedy that also functioned as an observation on how America treats race domestically and internationally. There is almost none of that social intelligence in this third entry and I think that’s why it didn’t receive as much fanfare as its predecessors, but there’s still a lot of charm present and the gross-out juvenile humor still hits in a manner that plays pretty amusing way (they basically performed 3D ejaculation before Gaspar Noé did, so suck it!). And in the end, I give it the edge just for being more relaxed than Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanemo Bay.

Can you imagine quitting your job at the White House and telling Obama it’s so you can star in this movie, though?

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Dredd (2012, Pete Travis & Alex Garland, UK/South Africa)

And now we get to the 3D movies that finally decided to stop having 3D in their title. The real guilt is from the overwhelming violence and cold portrayal of it as “oh so awesome badassery” when it’s basically a futuristic fascist busting through a decidedly lower-class building (even if he doesn’t kill innocents, there is one sequence that meekly attempts to confront the moral implications of this and falls under), like a version of The Raid where the punching and kicking and macheteing isn’t impressive enough to distract me from how strongly opposed I am to something like this occurring in the world

But you know what? I love dystopian science fiction anyway and the bloody violence of it all is that cool and masterfully choreographed and photographed especially in 3D, like if the Grand Guignol lived to the year 3000 and tried its hand at action but kept all their fake stageblood.

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Battle of the Year (2013, Benson Lee, USA)

Can you believe we’re almost halfway through the decade and I’ve only mentioned one movie that wasn’t released in 3D? Believe me, we’ll get to regular movies soon enough. In the meantime, this is handily the sort of silly earnestness about b-boying as the most important thing in life that we haven’t received since the 1980s. The sort of craven self-advertising Lee performs for his own previous documentary and the deepcut familiarity with the real-life event this movie is named after only sells me on its excitement more than any of the terrible writing or acting could do. I have been told that this is a pseudo-remake of the Taekwondo picture Best of the Best and am now rushing to see it as soon as possible, but I don’t know Taekwondo will give me the same high as b-boying (especially since Miami Connection already fills the Taekwondo gap for me).

Also, I’m all “like what you like”, but it’s impossible not to feel guilty about enjoying a movie with Chris Brown in it.

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Winter’s Tale (2014, Akiva Goldsman, USA)

There are passion projects that you see fall apart as a disaster and it does not feel good at all because who likes poking at movies that filmmakers are passionate about and it feels miserable in its failures. And then there’s something like Goldsman, a writer who I’ve never liked in film (Fringe is tv so that doesn’t count), making his directorial debut with source material long considered unfilmable and… it is the sort of disaster I expected, but it’s also watchable in its Herculean attempt to take all the dissonant elements of its construction and meld it together into something tonally coherent. It straddles the line between romantic (which is what it aims for, to be sure) and daft (which it hits more often) and I must say it did give me a nice high in ’round the end of Winter so… we’ll call it a draw.

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300: Rise of an Empire (2014, Noam Murro, USA)

I’m not one to consider a single great performance good enough to save an otherwise terrible movie, but Eva Green is making an intense argument for it with 300: Rise of an Empire, a movie that uses her character as a means to fear women with any possible agency whatsoever. But boy does she gleefully give guys more to fear and then some, reminding us how she’ll put her all in movies that don’t deserve it.

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The Boy Next Door (2015, Rob Cohen, USA) and The Perfect Guy (2015, David M. Rosenthal, USA)

2015 blessed us with not one but two crappy “sexy boy rebound turns out to be a dangerous psycho” thrillers and while I am more inclined to The Boy Next Door for Jennifer Lopez’s dedication and the shameless innuendos that the dialogue is overflowing with, both of these films show a firm straight-faced treatment to terrible material and filmmaking that only emboldens the potential cult film value once we have enough distance from them. I don’t need that distance, though. I already appreciate them as is.

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Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016, Zack Snyder, USA)

I walked in to the theater knowing I was about to see the worst popcorn movie of the 2010s and walked out quietly blown away by how much it gets right against how much it got wrong. In a genre as thematically barren and stylistically sterile as the superhero movie (at least in the wake of the Marvel Cinematic Universe), it actually impressed me to have a movie just go for it by ambitiously attempting to use shadows to visually mythologize characters and actively trying to engage with the gravity of having a Superman on Earth and what that means as a What If. It doesn’t do these things very well or intelligently to be sure, but there’s a lot of imagery burned into my brain and frankly the fact that it went an entirely different direction than the MCU gave it that freshness out of an otherwise too safe genre.

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Split (2016, M. Night Shyamalan, USA)

Aye, I still stand by my moral outrage with certain parts of it: particularly the third act reveal for Anya Taylor-Joy’s backstory, which I think is the single worst treatment Shyamalan has given very serious subject matter, and the quiet misogyny of its choice in victims (and of course, the pseudo-psychology of it all which is possibly the most harmful element). But rewatching it prior to Glass‘ release helped me recognize that when it came to the horror movie goods, Shyamalan knew how to light and frame hallways and dungeons with decrepit terror and how Taylor-Joy makes for an excellent suvivalist protagonist and how this is most likely the best performance of James McAvoy’s career. And if my previous main complaint of “it’s basically the psychiatrist sequence from Psycho extended to two hours” still stands, I’ve lightened up a lot more on it after seeing from Glass that oh… the pacing could be so much worse. Compared to GlassSplit is a breeze.

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A Cure for Wellness (2016, Gore Verbinski, USA/Germany/Luxembourg)

Definitely the best movie on this list and I’m not sure I’d feel as guilty about loving it if it wasn’t for three things:
1 – It’s 2 1/2 hours and does not need that runtime.
2 – It’s an overplotted mess.
3 – It gets to very creepy (to be modest) places by the final stretch (although I’m not convinced it means to be exploitative about it).
And as a bonus, a queer friend of mine was even able to point out how a movie with no gay characters and almost no mention of queer practices is homophobic in a convincing fashion!

But it’s visually gorgeous, grandly ghostly, populated by young faces like Dane DeHaan and Mia Goth who look like any life out of them was already sapped away by fear, and just generally has a lot of menace surrounding it. The best horror movies in my mind are the ones that are inexplicable and A Cure for Wellness doesn’t wield that inexplicability with the discipline of Kubrick, Wise, Fulci, or Argento but it gets there in a manner that I’m not convinced is by accident.

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The Boss Baby (2017, Tom McGrath, USA)

I don’t know exactly why I’m expected to renounce this movie eventually, but it’s simply not happening anytime soon. I have a love for it that is stronger than you can destroy. If that makes me guilty, heck… I don’t wanna be innocent.

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The Book of Henry (2017, Colin Trevorrow, USA)

What a thoroughly wrong-headed attempt at Spielbergian sentimentality – visuals and music-wise – to a deranged story about a Jordan Peterson-type kid who plots to kill his neighbor before being stopped by cancer and coaching his mom from beyond the grave. Remember when this guy was going to direct a Star Wars?

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The Hurricane Heist (2018, Rob Cohen, USA)

It’s set in a utopian land where proud gun-toting Alabamans can also firmly believe in climate change and preach its dangers with strong “herald of doom” heftiness. Meanwhile, those Alabamans are almost entirely played by non-Americans and so have the chewiest possible fake Southern gentleman accents you could squeeze out of your throats and let’s remember this is a movie about thieves who decide to rob a Treasury facility in the middle of a Cat-5 that happens to feature a CGI skull on it. And personally rain is one of my favorite things to see in a movie, even one as terrible as this.

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Breaking In (2018, James McTeigue, USA)

It is the longest movie I’ve watched that happened to be less than 90 minutes, this thing drags in such a weirdly off-putting way. That said, I am also stunned by how well it shifts perspective to turn into a pseudo-slasher movie right in the middle of the picture: we don’t know where Gabrielle Union is and we’re watching the robbers get incapacitated one by one. Unorthodox in an interesting and fun way.

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018, J.A. Bayona, USA)

You can tell Colin Trevorrow hates dinosaurs because he thinks they’re only worth 25 million dollars at a start. But thankfully he didn’t direct this movie, he only had the characters make increasingly ill-advised decisions while J.A. Bayona took over and allowed those decisions to lend themselves to wonderful physical comedy of Chris Pratt avoiding lava under tranquilizer or Bryce Dallas Howard cornered by a giant maneater protected by molten steel or the excellent excellent finale where the heroes try to run and hide within a dark and spooky mansion from a quiet stalking thunder lizard. If it takes unwise and inconsistent characters to get those moments, well, I’ll take it anyway.

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The Nun (2018, Corin Hardy, USA)

Technically speaking, all of the Conjuring-verse movies are guilty pleasures on account of being money-printing machines for the real-life Warrens, but since the main series has given us two very good demon possession movies, it lets that guilt go down smoother. The Nun is very very very close to being not good but stays afloat in its nonstop fog-driven, spooky church, chant-driven atmosphere. I don’t need that much subtlety in my ghost stories, so I can forgive the complete lack of it here.

(Shout out to Annabelle Comes Home, which also made an entry on this list as an effectively nice and unthreatening Halloween watch that had recognized the reliable if unsurpring template for the series, but I figured only one Conjuring entry is necessary)

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Robin Hood (2018, Otto Bathurst, USA)

Would you believe me if I said this was the most fun I had with a Robin Hood movie since Errol Flynn? It’s like if you had Baz Luhrmann direct a Final Fantasy movie, it visually treats the Crusades like the Gulf War, it has skeptic icon Tim Minchin playing a very well-humored and intellectual friar, and it’s the movie that finally convinced me that Taron Egerton is maybe an actor to look at for.

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Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019, Rob Letterman, USA/Japan)

I have literally nothing to enjoy about this movie outside of the Pokémon and maybe some of the lighting, but oh my god what wonderfully animated Pokémon with the believable textures and the cartoonish shapes all about them! It is irresistible someone like me who wished as a child to finally live-action Pokémon happen and now gets to coo over Pikachu and Eevee and Jigglypuff and Snubbull, mah boi Snubbull, mah man!

On a really daring day, I’d claim this surpassed Mortal Kombat as my favorite video game movie.

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Yesterday (2019, Danny Boyle, UK/USA/China/Japan)

I completely understand all of the furor over how the movie took an interesting premise and did next to nothing with it, specifically running with the unlikely claim that the Beatles’ songwriting is so evergreen that everyone would love it no matter when it was revealed to us and that rock music would literally be the same as it is today minus one Oasis (plus if there’s anything to by this recent article, Richard Curtis is a prick). But if it wasn’t for that approach, we would not have these new re-arrangements of what are otherwise overfamiliar songs – some stripped down, some wonky, and on and on – to get me to find new ways to fall in love with one of my favorite bands. And more particularly, Himesh Patel and Lily James are an excellent screen couple full of charming chemistry, even if the script is especially unfair to James’ character.

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Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019, David Leitch, USA)

I have it on good authority from fellow Fast & Furious fans that this is the worst Fast & Furious movie since at least 2 Fast 2 Furious. And far be it from me to tell those people that they are wrong, especially since it IS the worst movie Leitch has made to date and came around the time when I’ve grown disillusioned with the Rock as a screen presence. But put The Rock together with Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby, and Helen Mirren and they can carry him and the disappointing (although understandable) CGI usage through a very bubbly spy action picture with a wonderful usage of CARS CHAINED TOGETHER TO BRING DOWN A BLACKHAWK. I’m even convinced that you don’t need to cut out Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Hart entirely, just viciously cut down their screentime, and the movie stops being overlong. That or have the robot bike talk to Idris Elba like a villainous sidekick.

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Cats (2019, Tom Hooper, UK/USA)

Possibly the worst movie on this list and I don’t even care, it fixes the theatrical production’s narrative to have more clarity which means we have nothing to keep us from facing that it is the most ambitious clusterfuck I can name out of movies in a long while – spending so much money on such gross CGI delivered with an unnerving smile, polishing the music while still keeping it sounding extremely dated (and I still have a lot of its songs stuck in my head exactly as the movie played it), forcing actors who cannot sing into caterwauling, Ian McKellan and Helen Mirren trying to retain actorly dignity, and it is so horny… so very very horny in an uncomfortable way. 11 walkouts in my theater, a span of time where I threw paper balls at teenagers who were using their cell phones too much, and my friend and I gazing at every wrong thing on screen and it was one of the most memorable experiences in a cinema for me ever. It’s like watching the Hindenburg catch fire. What a hell of a way to leave the 2010s.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS: The films of S. Craig Zahler and Rob Zombie

Zombie is a shaky entry here because the only movie that REALLY qualifies is the ridiculously violent and occasionally racist 3 from Hell (I didn’t dig 31 and I don’t feel anywhere near guilt for loving The Lords of Salem, which happens to be the same reason I didn’t enter Cloud Atlas or Jupiter Ascending on this list) but he has a very clear visual personality that may be a bit repetitive at this point, but excites me with all that white trash funhouse “everyday is Halloween” attitude.

As for S. Craig Zahler, I find being in his company to be a dubious proposition at best but three times now he has delivered three different styles of hardened exploitation flavors from the cannibal Western Bone Tomahawk to the cruel and cold prison picture Brawl in Cell Block 99 to the burning fuse cop picture Dragged Across Concrete. All of them morally suspect (I mean, one of them stars Mel Gibson! As a man who loses his job for being a cruel racist under the guise of “public image”!), 2 of them are overlong, but I can’t help being happy that we have such nose-grinding concrete exploitation pictures in the 2010s.

Together, these two filmmakers are the only ones I can name that have maintained the true grimy attitude of grindhouse cinema while modernizing the presentation enough so it doesn’t look like we’re watching some homage.

HONORABLE “I FORGOT TO MENTION IT UNTIL I ALREADY FINISHED THIS LIST” MENTION: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012, Timur Bekmambetov, USA) – I’m too lazy to elaborate, I just like that it’s pofaced and I think the slow-motion is fun sometimes.

BONUS LIST: I don’t drink but I have way too many friends who do and sometimes those friends like to talk shit about a bad movie and that’s always something I’m willing to do sober (and the only think that makes drunk people tolerable to me) so in their honor:
The Best So-Bad-It’s-Good Watches with Your Buddies from the 2010s (that haven’t been named on the upper list)

  • Anonymous – A very dedicated De Vere truther picture by an overqualified cast and an underqualified filmmaker.
  • Collateral Beauty – Is it weird that some of these great actors give their best performances in a movie so shameless about the deranged emotional dishonesty at hand?
  • Contracted – How did it take us this long for a vampire movie that plays as a bad sex PSA?
  • Deliver Us from Evil – a possession picture by way of cop thriller that almost gives me more ironic joy than its director’s twitter.
  • Dracula 3D – It’s late Argento in 3D, do you need a road map?
  • The God’s Not Dead trilogy – For all your “that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.” needs.
  • Gods of Egypt – The Gods in question turn themselves into zords of varying scale to fight in video game levels. 
  • Gotti – Travolta and Preston have an argument over their son’s Halloween costume that is almost entirely made up of variations of “wassa matta with you?”
  • The Last Airbender – RIP to your childhood, but I’m different.
  • The Last Song – Nicholas Sparks maintaining the energy of Anakin and Padmé for a whole movie.
  • The Legend of Hercules – Incompetent enough to not just to believe it’s a Renny Harlin movie but also to be the first Harlin movie I’ve enjoyed in a while.
  • Ouija – A glorified toy commercial that understands nothing about teenagers in the 21st century.
  • Serenity – You will never see the twist coming.
  • Seventh Son – Jeff Bridges’ crunchiest hour.
  • Taken 3 – If you drink every time there is a cut, you will die 10 minutes in.

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