Posted January 9, 2020

 

I was on social media the other day and saw a number of people post that WORST FILMS of the year articles are horrible click-bait and serve no purpose beyond dumping on films that should be best left forgotten.  In their minds, why celebrate mediocrity when one could champion greatness in the world of cinema?

Two things stand out to me in response to this ideology: Firstly, I don't see how a WORST films blog is any more or less a piece of click bait than a BEST films blog.  Secondly, critics absolutely celebrate the finest in cinema in the year that was, but to downplay and all but ignore movie wretchedness seems kind of counterintuitive.  I think that filmgoers - especially ones that don't have the same luxury of time and/or money to see as many films as critics do - deserve to know whether their time and hard earned savings are being either wasted or put to good use.  Going to the movies ain't cheap.  People should be warned if films exist that they should avoid like the proverbial plague.  Not that all cinema patrons pay attention to or trust critics, mind you, but...well...you get my point.

Plus, and as I've always justified year after year, writing these WORST FILMS lists are a form of self-healing therapy for me.  I see a lot of films, adding to a lot of time in darkened rooms, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone and with complete strangers.  And when a film is a qualitative dud and - in the worst extremes - is so artistically negligible that it borders on being offensive...that...well...angers me.  And I hold a higher standard to what I see, because I've been frankly over exposed to the same tired, overused, stale, and hackneyed genre formulas and troupes that I frequently feel like I'm stuck on some sort of revolving door of offered up mediocrity.  These types of films shouldn't be swept under the rug...and they should be lambasted for just how wasteful they are...of the talent on board, of the huge financial resources being thrown their way, and, yes, of your time and energy.

So, yeah, I think that bad films deserve their spotlight on a wall of shame list.  And here's my compilation for the ten worst reasons you could have gone to the movies in 2019...followed up by a list of other dishonorable and misguided viewing options:
 
 

THE FANATIC

 
 

 

I laughed all the way through THE FANATIC. 

The fact that it's not a comedy is noteworthy. 

Imagine a deeply perverse and nightmarish cross breed of MISERY, THE FAN, and I AM SAM - except infinitely more creatively bankrupt - and you'll have a rough approximation of this inept piece of sensationalistic trash.  I don't have any problems with sensationalistic trash, per se, but while watching this serial stalker thriller I found that it took itself so seriously that it inadvertently became one of the funniest films of 2019.  Very few films that I screen ever warrant a dreaded zero star rating from yours truly, but THE FANATIC, at least to me, was a film of embarrassing and unpardonable awfulness, which was made all the more inexcusably disposable because it contained one of the most wrongheaded performances by a former Oscar nominated actor that I can frankly recall.  As an exploration of online fan/celebrity culture, THE FANATIC was a total failure.  As a compelling psychodrama, it was an even more insipid minded dud.  And as for star John Travolta, he was really, really far away from his PULP FICTION glory days with this one.
 
 

THE INTRUDER

 
 

   

THE INTRUDER is the second worst mad stalker from hell thriller on this list, and if it were not for THE FANATIC it would have been number one on this wall of shame compilation as a corrupt and wholeheartedly unnecessary film.     

The film stars Dennis Quaid as a baby boomer widow that's initially revealed to be a good-natured and honorably intentioned man, only then to be exposed as a shockingly deplorable sexual predator/murderer that makes one couple's lives very uncomfortable after he sells them his lavish country house.  Does this premise sound remotely familiar at all?  It's like just about every other mad stalker thriller that has come out over, say, the last three decades.  THE INTRUDER felt like a pathetic Xerox copy of a copy...of a copy...of the basic and obligatory genre blueprint, and it was so ultimately low stakes for me that it essentially put me to sleep while watching it.  And Quaid was never once credible at all as a salivating at the mouth madman hell bent on rape and murder.   

Next.

 
 

THE HUSTLE

 

THE HUSTLE was announced in 2016, shot in 2017, and then very unceremoniously dumped in cinemas this past year, which is never a good sign for a film's quality.  This grifter "comedy" was also a remake of the splendid 1988 Steve Martin and Michael Caine classic DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, which has remained as one of my favorite comedies of the 1980s.  Creative desperation tainted this remake like the plague, which required not one, not two, not three, but four credited screenwriters that pooled their collective talents together to simply and lazily copy and paste the original Frank Oz effort wholesale, and without offering very little, if anything, in the way of freshness.  The plagiaristic aura of THE HUSTLE was as unmistakable as it was unbearable to watch, which leaves the critic in me in the precarious predicament of being labeled as a misogynist for hating it (after all, it's another on a long list of gender swapping remakes), This movie was not terrible because it switched out Caine/Martin for Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson.  Far from it.  It was awful because the multitude of writers here couldn't do anything with the film's juicy premise of ruthless con women stealing the fortunes away from inordinately gullible men.  

Plus, THE HUSTLE was a totally uninspired comic dead zone.  

 

AFTER

 

 

 

Tell me if you've heard of this type of young adult storytelling before: 

A young "nice girl" trying to acclimate to her freshman year of college gets hopelessly taken in with the resident "bad boy" that's simply no good for her...but she grows to love him anyway, despite all of his toxic indiscretions. 

Oy vey. 

AFTER was one of the most hopelessly stale and numbingly predictable romance dramas of 2019, one that was all the more troubling because it wallowed in feeble acting, thin writing, and nonstop moments of dramatic shallowness.  It's also the kind of film that was seemingly populated by bright minded, college bound teenagers, all of whom acted idiotically in ways that strain modest credulity.  I don't ask for much out of the romance or young adult drama genres: All I desire is for strongly developed characters that I give a damn about and want to root on for a lifetime of happiness together.  AFTER offers none of that, especially considering that it's main mission, it seemed, was to make the main heroine as dislikeable as possible.  This movie was so categorically terrible that one has to even ponder how the novel of the same name ever saw the light of day in the first place.  
 

REPLICAS

 
 

The science fiction drama REPLICAS is absolutely proof positive that stars like Keanu Reeves are capable of being in some of the best films of the year (like JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 - PARABELLUM) while also being a part of some of the worst in the same twelve month period. 

Only Reeves' presence in this indefensibly rotten sci-fi flick kept me invested until the end, which suffered from so many imbecilic lapses in basic scripting logic that I wanted to just repeatedly slap my head in frustration throughout its running time.  The film had a decent premise involving one of the oldest of genre conceits (that of ambitious minded, but dangerous scientists playing God with the rules of Mother Nature), but REPLICAS was so obnoxiously dumb and ineptly executed that you kind of have to wonder why an A-lister of Reeves' stature in action/sci-fi films would have agreed to appear here (outside of a handsome payday).  This was one of the most unintentionally silly films of 2019 that also took itself seriously, but it's also a work that never once embraced its schlockiness like a badge of honor.  It did contain Reeves deadpan lines like "I have to watch the pods!" with the solemnity of a heart attack...so there's that.  

 
 

\SERENITY

 
 

Absolutely not to be confused at all with Joss Whedon's 2005 science fiction film of the same name, SERENITY was a neo-noir thriller that was written and directed by Steven Knight, who previously floored me with the masterful one-man Tom Hardy infused drama LOCKE.  My initial excitement, though, in going to see Knight's latest film back in February gave way to quick befuddlement, seeing as SERENITY was easily one of the most ludicrously plotted films featuring a strong director and multiple proven Oscar winning actors that I have ever seen.  I engage in now hyperbole whatsoever with that latter sentiment. 

SERENITY started modestly enough as a sleazy, backwoods crime noir thriller with sensationalistic appeal, and star Matthew McConaughey in particular looked like he was having a grand time in his camera mugging performance as a rum chugging former war veteran turned tuna hunting fisherman.  If it weren't for his committed performance here, then SERENITY would have been completely unendurable, mostly because Knight's script utterly derails in its final act with some of the most head scratching, movie breaking plot twists in many a moon.   SERENITY could have attained the modest moniker of good, retrograde trash, but instead opted to go the ultra "high concept" route with its overall narrative, making it simply too unforgivably nutty for its own good.  This was one of the most stunningly bad movies in the year that was, and one that left me staring at the screen in deer-in-the-headlights disbelief as the end credits rolled by.
 
 

THE GOLDFINCH

 

 

THE GOLDFINCH had so much literally going for it that it's staggering to consider just how much of a soul crushing and watch checking bore it was to sit through.  At nearly two and a half hours, this drama felt like four and half. 

What's so shameful here is that the film is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name by Donna Tarrt, was directed by John Crawley (whom previous to that made the wonderful BROOKLYN), and was adapted to the screen by TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY screenwriter Peter Straughan.  Hell, the core themes of the novel are juicy enough as well, which chronicled how one hellish day of personal tragedy sends one young boy on a slow downward spiral into a deeply troubled adulthood.  Despite its potentially compelling premise, THE GOLDFINCH emerged as an absolute failure on multiple levels: It was a failure as a coming of age drama; a failure as a crime thriller; a failure as an expose of the modern art world; and undoubtedly a failure as far as literary adaptations go.  Considering the talent on board in front of and behind the camera and that it was based on a critically adored and award winning novel, THE GOLDFINCH really had no business being so dramatically lifeless and soulless.  

If you want the ultimate cure for insomnia, then give the pathetic piece of Oscar bait a try.  It's guaranteed to work.  

 

MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL

 
 

   

Who on earth thought that the more inclusive minded titled MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL was a good idea to begin with?  It was a crummy and relentlessly forgettable fourth entry in the sci-fi comedy franchise, which was born with the terrific 1997 original that spawned, in turn, two sequels of inconsistent levels of worth.  The makers behind this entry thought, in their heart of hearts, that replacing the splendid fire and gasoline combustible comedic chemistry of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones with...well...the two stars of THOR: RAGNAROK would somehow work and generate the same levels of fan interest.

Yeah...nope. 

I have nothing against Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson.  They were an agreeable pair of misfits in the aforementioned MCU effort, but they certainly didn't come remotely close to matching Smith's and Jones' levels of spirited on screen camaraderie.  That, and MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL was a mostly unfunny and unoriginal retread of the origin story of the franchise introductory chapter, just with new characters and new settings.  Perhaps this film's biggest and most unforgivable sin was that it was, for the most part, a petty and cynical cash grabbing sequel that really had no business of existing, and MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL's poor box office returns worldwide proved that audiences were neuralized into not wanting the continuation of this once solid series.  
 
 

THE BEACH BUM

 
 

Have you ever spent, say, 90-plus minutes with someone so aggressively and annoyingly dislikeable that simply won't leave you alone despite all efforts on your part to get away from them?  Watching THE BEACH BUM felt like this through and through. 

This film was the brainchild of writer/director Harmony Korine and it concerned a hedonistic and perpetually inebriated beach bum that incessantly rambles on and on about nothingness...and drinks...and smokes pot...and has lots of sex...over and over again...and on an endless repeating loop.  That's all that was really on the page of THE BEACH BUM, which was so meanderingly messy, ill advised, weakly assembled, and and borderline torturous to sit through; it was akin to viewing a series of incomprehensible improvisational skits in search of meaning (or a punch line) that never went anywhere.  I will say this, though: Star Matthew McConaughey (his second film on this dubious list) was perfectly cast in Korine's film and was more than credible in the titular role, but the entire film built around him was one of the most insufferably self-indulgent pieces of hot trash to be projected on the silver screen in the past year.  
 
 

SHAFT

 

Has there ever been a more confusing film series than SHAFT? 

Of course, there was the 1971 franchise spawning original, featuring an urban detective that helped usher in the "blaxploitation" genre into the mainstream during that period.  That film spawned multiple sequels, as well as the sort of sequel, sort of reboot in 2000's SHAFT.  The series laid dormant for two more decades after that, which built towards 2019's strangely titled...SHAFT...which like the last effort before it, was both a direct follow-up to what has come before as well as a soft re-branding and re-imagining of the tone and vide of every other SHAFT film that we've seen before.  This might be the only action franchise in movie history to have three of its five entries feature the exact same title. 

Oh yeah...and this new iteration was pure junk.  It was a crummy sequel, a misguided reboot, and an awful piece of fan servicing.  There was simply not much to dig here.  

 
Well...that felt good.  My TEN WORST list is complete...but I'm not done yet!  Here's a few more films that were not terrible enough to make the TEN WORST, but were easily forgettable all the same.  Consider these:
 

CrAiGeR's NEGLIGIBLE FILMS OF 2019

 
 
A DOG'S WAY HOME:  Another in an awfully long lineup of talking dog movies that I found incredibly difficult to sit through. 

HELLBOY:  Excluding the performance good will of David Harbour in the titular role, this was one of the most creatively lazy and unnecessary reboots of recent memory. 

WHAT MEN WANT:  A paint-by-numbers and troupe laden remake of the WHAT WOMEN WANT, and one that was criminally unfunny and did nothing unique with is premise. 

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL: More of a mass marketed product hoping to nab quick cash in at the box office than a truly worthy or needed sequel. 

ESCAPE ROOM:  A somewhat involving and effective, but cheaply forgettable thriller that had an ingenious premise that was never successfully supported. 

GLASS:  The third film in M. Night Shyamalan's comic book themed trilogy (comprised of UNBREAKABLE and SPLIT) emerged as deeply unsatisfying and sometimes laughably scripted. 

GRETA:  Another psychopathic stalker from hell thriller that boasted the superb Isabelle Huppert in the villainous role, but nothing else of worthy or memorable merit. 

CAPTIVE STATE: Director Rupert Wyatt's ambitious minded, yet woefully underdeveloped alien invasion sci-fi drama would have made for a better mini-series than what we got here. 

DUMBO:  The regrettable and creatively uninspired Disney factory line of live action adaptations of their animated classics showed up again in 2019, and even with the idiosyncratic weirdness of Tim Burton at the helm this DUMBO remake never took off. 

MISS BALLA:  This action thriller featured a strong and committed lead performance by Gina Rodriguez, but ultimately paled in direct comparison to the 2011 Oscar winning foreign language film of the same name.   

EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL, AND VILE: This made for Netflix portrait of serial killer Ted Bundy was extremely uneven, shockingly misguided, and dull. 

POKEMON: DETECTIVE PIKACHU:  Pokemon diehards ravenously ate this film up upon its release, but as for the rest of us this adaptation of the famous brand felt like one big toy commercial masquerading as a movie. 

ALADDIN:  The second soulless and cash grabbing live action remake of an animated classic by Disney, and one that lacked tangible magic in most respects. 

BRIGHTBURN:  This James Gunn produced thriller had an extremely novel what if comic book premise (what if Superman - during his early teen years growing up on a farm - became a psychopathic mass murderer instead of a super hero?), but the overall execution of it was fundamentally lacking. 

DARK PHOENIX:  The worst entry of the entire near 20 year X-MEN franchise was a lifelessly anticlimactic and supremely monotonous swan song for this Fox controlled property before Disney (its new owner) takes a stab at it in the foreseeable future. 

THE DEAD DON'T DIE:  This indie film had seemingly everything going for it (writer/director Jim Jarmusch at the helm, Bill Murray in the lead role, and it concerned a zombie apocalypse), but it mostly failed as a funny comedy and a scary horror flick.  

DOMINO:  The presence of legendary director Brain De Palma at the helm of this thriller elevated it to event status for me; it's all too bad that the final product was too scattershot and weakly assembled overall. 

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME:  The second Disney led Spider-man solo entry barely felt like a solo adventure for the famous wall crawler as its jumbled and substandard scripting made this all the more disposable after the freshness and greatness of SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE.  

THE LION KING:  (SIGH)  Yet.  Another.  Disney.  Live action.  Remake.  Actually, not really live action.  Whatever.  Moving on... 

STOCKHOLM:  A fact based bank robbery thriller that felt too depressingly short and underdeveloped to make a lasting impression.   

MA: 2019 had no shortage of psychopaths from hell thrillers, and this Blumhouse produced one offered us a convincingly unhinged lead performance by Octavia Spencer, but a script that was on pure genre autopilot.    

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER:  The final episode in the entire nine film Skywalker family saga was high in visual dynamism, but was ill conceived, messily written, and aggressively fan service-y to the point of distraction.    

     
  And finally, here's a dishonorable mention list of films that I felt were more disappointing than truly awful.  Consider these:  
 

CrAiGeR's MISSED OPPORTUNITIES of 2019

 
 
VELVET BUZZSAW: This Netflix original re-teamed NIGHTCRAWLER's tandem of writer/director Dan Gilroy and star Jake Gyllenhaal, but this time with decidedly mixed results. 

HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U:  The first entry in this horror-comedy series was a guilty pleasure as a GROUNDHOG DAY clone morphed with a slasher film, and this sequel continued the zany fun, minus some of the refinement. 

CAPTAIN MARVEL:  The MCU's first solo female super hero entry was a spoiled affair for sticking too rigidly to the Marvel house aesthetic that held it back from being truly special and unique. 

FIVE FEET APART:  This intriguing romcom about people suffering from life-threatening illnesses had stellar lead performances, but scripting that was about as shamefully manipulative as it gets.   

THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT:  A techno thriller from earlier this year that barely rose above the qualitative moniker of direct-to-video/VOD fare. 

PET SEMATARY: Compared to the recent and far better Stephen King adaptation in IT: CHAPTER ONE, this new iteration of PET SEMATARY felt like a qualitative step down. 

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS:  This mostly brainless sequel to the more cerebral Gareth Edwards GODZILLA outing from 2013 absolutely delivered on monster mayhem action, but very little else beyond its wondrous spectacle. 

TEEN SPIRIT:  An inspirational music drama that delved into the world of reality TV stardom showcased a great Elle Fanning, but the film never pushed the material into ay truly compelling territory. 

FAST AND THE FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS & SHAW:  A dumber than a bag of hammers FAST AND FURIOUS spinoff film, but sometimes it was too idiotically out of control for its own good. 

TOLKIEN:  This biopic of the life of J.R.R. Tolkien (yes, that one that created the literary LORD OF THE RINGS universe) lacked a thoroughly intriguing dissection of this man's conceptual genius. 

ANGEL HAS FALLEN: The highly improbable third film in the HAS FALLEN franchise was superior to the second installment, but nevertheless never quite earned the theatrical ticket price value as a must-see. 

IT: CHAPTER TWO: Way, way too long, overstuffed, and relying too much on heavy CGI and annoying jump scares, this long awaited follow-up to the very good CHAPTER: ONE rarely felt as effectively spooky. 

RAMBO: LAST BLOOD:  If you wanna see a grandfatherly John Rambo violently mass murder people in a deliriously effective, retrograde grindhouse third act, then this fifth RAMBO film will be your cup of tea.  All others with weak stomachs, stay away from it. 

GEMINI MAN:  Director Ang Lee made an unqualified technological stunner with this assassin thriller, but the storytelling on display didn't have as much intrepid innovation. 

MIDSOMMAR:  An incredibly chilling and sensationally acted horror thriller from Ari Aster that also suffered from being monumentally self-indulgent and bloated. 

TERMINATOR: DARK FATE:  Arguably the most polarizing entry in the entire series, this TERMINATOR sequel/soft reboot never fully succeeded at justifying its existence. 

MIDWAY: This Roland Emmerich directed WWII drama was high on incredibly spiffy and utterly convincing visual effects, but very low on character development. 

JOJO RABBIT: Taika Waititi's new self described "anti-hate satire" was a critical darling in the year that was, but I found it too tonally confused to fully appreciate it.  

JUDY:  Renee Zellweger truly shined as Judy Garland in this biopic of the latter part of the icon's life, but the scripting built around her performance was lackluster and uninspired.    

 

 
 
     
 

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