Art and Experience: A proper accounting of the year’s most egregious cinematic stinkers cannot limit itself to Adam Sandler comedies and pointless Marvel reboots alone. It must take in the full spectrum of cinematic awfulness — which is to say, even those movies ostensibly made with the best of intentions. In that spirit, Variety has asked their critics not only to pick the worst films of the year, but also to name the acclaimed, serious-minded prestige film of 2015 that left them cold.

Peter Debruge wrote about his choice of the worst: An embarrassment to America, Michael Moore’s latest editorial cartoon of a documentary is as sloppy as its author’s appearance (easily twice his “Bowling for Columbine” heft). Unlike his earlier, urgent wake-up-call docs, “Where to Invade Next” cherry-picks aspects in which other countries can be made to appear more progressive than the States, while conveniently overlooking the limitations of each grass-is-greener locale. At the base, it’s a fine idea, implying the humility to ask what we can learn from others, though Moore is a boorish ambassador at best, and his disingenuous approach undermines his own argument.

And about empty prestige: On paper, Patricia Highsmith’s juicy lesbian romance might well be the film Todd Haynes was born to make, yet in “Carol,” the wooden result fails to communicate why we — or for that matter, Rooney Mara’s character — should love its vapid heroine. The hand-me-down script reduces an actress as gifted as Cate Blanchett to an aloof fetish object, defined more by her fabulous hair, lipstick and wardrobe than by her personality. It’s further crippled by a lamentable PC stance that projects tragedy upon the novel’s smoldering, period-appropriate sense of illicit perversion. In short, Haynes forces subtext to the surface, while keeping his character insights skin-deep.

Andrew Barker wrote about empty prestige: Risking frostbite in subzero temperatures, sleeping in animal carcasses, eating chunks of raw bison liver, shooting only with natural light — judging solely from the pre-release mythmaking surrounding “The Revenant,” you’d be forgiven for thinking Alejandro G. Inarritu and Co. were busy making the world’s most expensive episode of “Man vs. Wild.” The actual film is considerably more refined, and frequently wondrous to watch — placing one of the greatest living cinematographers in some of the world’s most scenic locales will always produce breathtaking vistas — but its insistence on substituting actual physical suffering for serious philosophical inquiry left this viewer as cold as the freezing rivers Leonardo DiCaprio so boldly hurls himself into. As a collection of stunning nature imagery, it’s Terrence Malick without the underlying intelligence. As a survivalist parable pitting man against the pitilessness of nature, it’s little more than a gussied-up, drawn-out retread of Joe Carnahan’s future classic “The Grey.” And for all its ballyhooed frontier bloodletting, any halfway faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s similarly minded “Blood Meridian” would make “The Revenant” look like “Rugrats.”

Guy Lodge wrote about empty prestige: I admit I wasn’t as enamored as many critics (and Academy voters) of Paolo Sorrentino’s Fellini-lite extravaganza “The Great Beauty,” but it had a kind of rich formal bluster that impressed in spite of its vacancies. But in “Youth,” in service of his thinnest, most sentimental philosophizing to date, all Sorrentino’s signature opulence merely wilts and putrefies, like a banquet left out in the sun for several days — even Luca Bigazzi’s exacting widescreen imagery has a sticky creosote finish. Beneath the torpid spectacle, meanwhile, its ideas are solipsistic and small: Aging is hard, mainly for privileged white men, yet nubile beauty flourishes through their eyes.

 

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