We’ll soon be inundated with lists proclaiming the best films of 2015. Before we get there, however, I want to take a moment to sing the praises of movies that have no shot of winning Oscars, that won’t make many top 1o lists, and have received mostly scorn.
These are the films deemed “Rotten” by Rotten Tomatoes critics. And they may not be good movies, but they’re still pretty great in their own ways. I’d call them my guilty pleasures, except I don’t feel any shame in admitting how much I enjoyed each and every one, flaws and all.
Jupiter Ascending (26%)
Lana and Andy Wachowski, the filmmakers behind “The Matrix,” spun a space opera about greed, world domination and bees that can sense royalty. Starring Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis, “Jupiter Ascending” was originally poised to be a big splashy summer release. But in the wake of “Edge of Tomorrow’s” confounding struggles at the box office, Warner Bros. booted this sci-fi epic to February of the following year. Buzz waned, and when the film finally premiered at a surprise screening at Sundance, the criticisms came fast and were furious.
By the time I saw “Jupiter Ascending,” it was already being derided as one of the worst films of the year. Sure, the Wachowskis made some strange choices — their heroine is little more than a befuddled damsel in distress, they turned their leading man into a mog (half-man, half-dog, he’s his own best friend), and centered their adventure on three space snobs squabbling over their mother’s inheritance — but for all of its faults, “Jupiter Ascending” was an original and wild ride, as well as an outlandish spectacle. I’ll treasure it always for every moment of Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne’s deliciously over-the-top performance, punctuated by insane abs, blistering bellows and seething whispers.
The Boy Next Door (10%)
Having directed such wildly successful action movies as “The Fast and the Furious” and “xXx,” Rob Cohen career was flying high until the box-office bomb “Stealth.” The $135 million flick tanked so badly that has has been hungry to redeem himself for the past decade. Did a domestic thriller starring Jennifer Lopez do it? Not really. Critics scoffed at the scandalous plot of a divorced mom accidentally bedding her psychotic teen neighbor. But the $4 million movie did make bank, pulling in $52 million worldwide. So, Cohen’s reputation is on the mend.
Is “The Boy Next Door” a good movie? Hell, no. Its dialogue is so stilted it’s hilarious, and Lopez takes the preposterous premise so seriously that it’s downright comical. The movie plays — whether it means to or not — like Lifetime’s self-spoofing Will Ferrell/Kristen Wiig offering “A Deadly Adoption.” However, the titular bad boy was definitely in on the joke. Ryan Guzman brings a steamy intensity to the R-rated sex scenes, and a smirking humor to its tenser moments, making for a deliciously devilish antagonist. He had me at “I love your mother’s cookies.”
The Lazarus Effect (14%)
While its February release date could be seen as a red flag, this horror thriller has an unusual prestige pedigree. It was the narrative film debut of David Gelb, who’d won overwhelming praise for his documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” Adding some star power, the ensemble cast boasted Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Sarah Bolger, Evan Peters and Donald Glover. And yet critics almost universally panned this terrifying tale of a telekinetic killer.
With a lot of the other films on this list, I can at least understand why critics were turned off; some movies are too unusual, or too campy to appeal to most. But “The Lazarus Effect” was a smart exploration of the telekinetic monster trope that was thick with tension and barbed with scares. I called it “unique, artfully frightening and superbly chilling,” and I stand by that.
The Last Witch Hunter (16%)
There’s been some really embarrassing fantasy flicks this year, like “Seventh Son,” and the utter garbage that was “Pan.” Buzz around “The Last Witch Hunter” was bad, with critics whispering it was nothing but Vin Diesel’s overreaching vanity project. In my review, I recognized that the claims of it being a vanity project are fair. After all, the film is inspired by Diesel’s longtime obsession, Dungeons & Dragons. But the action star’s desire to live out his fantasies on the big screen was vibrant with earnestness and passion that made it a joy to watch. Plus its rich mythos of magic and monsters was intriguing.
Diesel starred as the eponymous eternal warrior who’d spent centuries building a truce between humans and witches, violently when need be. The film’s nerd cred was upped by Elijah Wood (“The Lord of the Rings”), Rose Leslie (“Game of Thrones”) and Michael Caine (“The Dark Knight”), but neither its stars nor the promise of scads of magic-laced battle scenes enchanted audiences. “The Last Witch Hunter” was forgotten almost as soon as it hit theaters. But Diesel is nonetheless hopeful for a sequel, and I’ll admit I’m pulling for one.
Jem and the Holograms (20%)
The third release on this list from Blumhouse Production, “Jem and the Holograms” isn’t just one of the biggest flops of 2015, it’s the all-time worst opening for a film playing in more than 2,400 theaters. The bad buzz began early, when the live-action reboot of the 1980s animated series was announced without input from creator Christy Marx. With each successive reveal, fans of the cartoon raged over revisions of the original concept. By the time the film was to be released, the predictions for its opening were so low that distributor Universal Pictures was barely marketing the film at all.
Many critics seemed to rejoice in tearing apart this $5 million film as a hollow cash grab. However, I argued that director Jon M. Chu had changed the superficial aspects of the series (the style, Jem’s age and status), yet kept true to its spirit. “Jem and the Holograms” was a spunky and fun coming-of-age story meant to inspire a new generation with the character’s confidence, creativity and dedication to her friends. Sadly, few saw past the wrapping that wasn’t truly outrageous enough.
Honorable mentions go to “Victor Frankenstein,” which was all kinds of bonkers, but just not enough to win my love, and “Crimson Peak,” which is one of the favorite films of the year, but not technically Rotten at 69%.
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