The Best of the Decade (So Far): Horror & The Worst
For the next several weeks, I'm going to assess the decade that is so far. I'll post lists of the best movies of several genres, as well as the best talents of the decade - all leading up to an overall list of the 50 Best Films of the Decade (So Far), taking into consideration any film that was theatrically released between January 1, 2010 to May 15, 2015.
This time I'll feature my last genre list, Horror. I'll also dip into the Worst films of the decade.
Like the action and comedy genres, horror is full of bargain bin titles and cheap knock-offs of what has worked. As a matter of fact, it's probably more difficult to find a great film in the horror genre than any other genre. Think about it, how many horror films do you hear people rave about per year? Maybe one or two. Take last year alone: there were roughly 170 horror films last year, maybe only 30 of them were theatrically released. Only The Babadook, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead are Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and have garnered any positive word-of-mouth. That said, here are the five films I think rise above the duds so far.
5. Insidious (2011)
Insidious is an interesting film, because it was directed by the creator of Saw and producer of its sequels, James Wan, who had carved out a name for himself in the horror genre in the last decade by popularizing a subgenre called torture porn. Here he was basically jumping back into the director's chair again for the first time in nearly a decade to take on what seems to be the haunted house genre. Horror fans were definitely curious and Insidious was probably one of the most anticipated horror films in a long time. It definitely delivered, turning our expectations of the haunted house story on its head and crafting an intelligent film about a child and his family being terrorized by something after moving into their new home. Wan successfully avoided some of the usual logistical traps of the haunted house film subgenre here that typically trips up its predecessors. As if this wasn't enough, Wan would come back a couple years later to solidify himself as a solid craftsman of dramatic tension and scares, but it isn't for the poorly-received next chapter of Insidious. Read on.
4. Attack the Block (2011)
Joe Cornish's sci-fi horror film about a gang of inner-city British crooks who fight off an alien invasion is one of the most fun outings the horror genre has to offer this decade. Friend of director Edgar Wright, Joe also co-scripted 2011's Adventures of Tintin, but I really think Attack the Block is where Cornish's talents shined most. Attack the Block is a blast and very clever. It's also very funny and scary and treats its deaths with some significance to its characters. It's a shame that it underperformed and didn't catch on to more audiences in the U.S., because it's one definitely worthy of more attention.
3. You're Next (2013)
A family gathering is suddenly interrupted by a one-by-one home invasion slaying. That's not terribly innovative. The body count leaves a young woman who must fight or run for her life. That's really unoriginal. What makes You're Next so great isn't just how effective it is as a slasher film, rather how great its female lead is. Erin, played by Sharni Vinson (Step Up 3) who deserves more work, is the perfect antidote to the Scream Queens of horror past. Yes, she's scared out of her mind. But she'll be damned if she'll let you kill her without a fight. She refuses to be a deer-in-headlights victim of any psychotic shenanigans. That's why she's awesome and why You're Next was such a hit, one of the two best horror films of its year.
2. The Conjuring (2013)
After such movies like Poltergeist, The Others, and The Orphanage it's easy to feel like you've kind of been there, done that with ghost stories and their ilk. James Wan manages to pull something out of his hat with this tale based on a case by the Warrens, who would gain notoriety later for a case that became The Amityville Horror. This one is better. Far better. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are tremendous as the ghost hunters and Lily Taylor, as the terrorized mother, is gripping. The Conjuring is one of the greatest ghost stories not just because a part of us believes it could've happened, but because director James Wan makes it all believable and terrifying.
1. Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Joss Whedon proved himself to be an auteur of geek culture, having created a TV show with one of the biggest cult followings (Firefly) and two Avengers films. He's also tapped into the horror genre with his wildly successful Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel TV shows. Whedon served as producer and co-writer of the highly-anticipated Cabin in the Woods. Director and co-writer Drew Goddard takes their idea of a horror comedy that pays tribute to the horror genre (particularly The Evil Dead series) and runs with it. The result is the genre's best film in years, a film that winks at several of its predecessors while being its own thrill-ride. It also has the added layer of a meta-commentary of horror fans as something that needs their routine sacrifices. There isn't a horror film yet this decade that's more fun, creative, or brilliant than Cabin in the Woods. It's a tough act to outdo. It's possible that none will.
Honorable Mentions: The Babadook, Paranormal Activity 2, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
There is an average of 250 movies released theatrically every year. About 80% of them aren't worth seeing, but most of the time you can tell from the trailer or who is involved if it's going to be pretty bad. The movies that are expected not to be all that good I think are far less upsetting than another kind of bad movie. I think what makes a movie one of the worst - aside from totally insulting the audience's intelligence or being completely sexist (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) - is the kind of bad movie that has a great cast or personnel, high expectations, but ends up being a complete failure. These are the kinds of movies that top my list of the worst movies of the decade so far.
5. The Interview (2014)
Admittedly, the respective creative track records of both Seth Rogen and James Franco are hit and miss. This is especially the case with the scripts by Rogen and his buddy Evan Goldberg, who've worked together on Superbad and This is the End, but also The Green Hornet and Pineapple Express. Honestly, this film about an entertainment journalist and his producer traveling to North Korea to interview - and secretly kill on orders of the CIA - Kim Jong-un, could've gone either way, classic political comedy or crass low-brow mediocrity. It, unfortunately, went the way of the latter, which is disappointing. Even more disappointing, this film gained so much notoriety as The Film North Korea Doesn't Want Us to See prior to its release that it started to look like this might be something truly special. It's not. Far from it. More often than not it goes for the easy jokes and Franco is only too eager to make an ass out of himself. The problem is it feels like the two leads spent much of the film riffing off each other and decided to leave in just the takes where they took the jokes too far rather than reigning it in and keeping the best stuff. The Interview is immature, dumb, barely tolerable, and in no way worthy of any hype, which makes it one of the biggest disappointments of the decade.
4. Annie (2014)
Contrary to what many childhood memories believe, it wouldn't be difficult to improve on John Huston's 1982 adaptation of the stage musical Annie. The production was stagy and cheap-looking, despite having a budget of $50 million (the equivalent of roughly $122 million today) and only the songs and a couple performances are memorable or noteworthy. Will Smith co-produced this attempt to update the story with little orphan (excuse me, foster) Annie and Daddy Warbucks (ne Will Stacks) now black. That's fine even though traditionally the racial spin has a poor track record (The Honeymooners, The Wiz). The remake does make huge improvements on the production values with less than half the budget (with inflation). The problem is everything else falls flat. The songs are often reinterpreted with lyric changes and modern arrangements, the script fails to rise to the occasion, and there's a surprising amount of commercialist messages. Everybody involved is better than this, including screenwriters Will Gluck (Easy A) and Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada).
3. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
After the mediocre cash-in that was 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man, one would think things would only get better the next time around, right? This time around there's a bigger cast (Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Paul Giamatti, B.J. Novak, Felicity Jones) and Sony had big plans for their Spidey Universe to follow. Unfortunately, things got worse instead of better. Foxx's reinterpretation of Electro is pathetic with the worst character motivation I've seen in a long time, Giamatti's Rhino is horribly conceived, the parental backstory is nonsensical, and DeHaan's Green Goblin feels like an after-thought, just another thing to pile on top of everything else this film has going on - which is way too much. Director Mark Webb cut scenes with Mary Jane Watson (Shailene Woodley) because he felt there was already a lot going on in the film. Yeah, too much. He couldn't bring himself to cut anything else? The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is by far the worst Spidey flick ever made - so bad that Sony abandoned their own plans and recently cut a deal with Marvel to help manage the character's silver screen appearances (as a result, expect to see him in the Marvel Cinematic Universe very soon). This whole ill-conceived reboot exists because Sony didn't like that Sam Raimi wouldn't be pushed around with Spider-Man 4 back in 2009. They probably should've trusted the man who made the franchise so successful in the first place. Perhaps then they wouldn't have such a mess on their hands.
2. They Came Together (2014)
Speaking of messes... okay, so when you hear that Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd are going to star in a parody of the romantic comedy formula and that film is directed by David Wain (Role Models, Wet Hot American Summer) doesn't that sound likely to be amazing?! Yeah, I thought so, too. I don't know what went wrong here, folks. This film has an incredible supporting cast (Michael Ian Black, Max Greenfield, Bill Hader, Ed Helms, Ellie Kemper, Melanie Lynsky, Ken Marino, Jack McBrayer, Christopher Meloni, Michael Shannon, and Cobie Smulders). It has a great concept. It also has a terrible script that often forces the jokes down our throats by repeating them and tries WAY too hard to be funny, which is weird, because this shouldn't require much effort from its cast. At any rate, what should've been comedy gold turned out to be comedy coal. Incredibly disappointing.
1. Super (2011)
What's even more disappointing is this low-budget superhero comedy by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy). Rainn Wilson stars as a man who goes a bit insane and decides to become a vigilante in order to save his wife from a drug dealer. Wilson's character is so disturbed, I don't even know if his wife (Liv Tyler) wants to be saved by him. All of the blame goes to Gunn. He was clearly trying to play with the reality of an ordinary guy playing superhero and just went too far. Where Kick-Ass does the same thing with humor and style, Super is just plain unpleasant and disturbing. It is matter-of-fact in its graphic violence, which is very graphic indeed and relentless. I've seen thousands of movies and this is the first time I actually wanted to take a shower after watching a film, so disgusted was I after seeing it (which, by the way, was with a group of friends who also weren't enjoying themselves). For this reason and the let-down by the talent, Super has remained the worst film I have seen so far this decade.
Dishonorable Mentions: The Canyons, Detention, Walk of Shame
Those are my picks for the best Horror films and the worst films of the decade. Do you agree or disagree? Feel free to leave a comment.
Check back soon as I dive into the talents of the decade. If you haven't already, be sure to check out my lists for the best action and animated movies of the decade so far. There's also other lists, including best comic book movies and science fiction.