Posted January 3, 2021

  I was honestly struggling with the idea of posting of WORST FILMS of the year blog.  Surely, this was the worst year for the movies...and I didn't want to seem like I was kicking the industry while it was so clearly down in the last several months. 

Without question, the current and on-going COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the movies as a whole, which began months ago with the closing of thousands of cinemas across a larger part of the world in an effort to curb the tide of daily infections (and it was a decision that I supported).  For the past 16 years I've frequented cinemas 2-4 times per week to screen and review films for this site and occasionally cover them on TV, but this year when local cinemas for me closed in March and remained closed for several months that placed myself - and so many other critics and loving cinephiles - in a real pickle of a situation.  It all begged the question of...what now?! 

I seriously contemplated going on review hiatus and/or putting my site on indefinite hold until movies that were supposed to be released would release.  The more I thought about this the more I had to remind myself that there is indeed a larger movie world beyond high marquee studio blockbusters (some of which were released via streaming, and, yes, I would need a whole other blog to talk about the polarizing subject of releasing movies concurrently in cinemas and on demand).  The more I deeply looked the more movies I discovered, a measure that I think that all true movie devotees should attempt.  Then I noticed that many of the YouTube reviewers that I stood by and watched in previous years all but gave up on covering movies this year...and that felt wrong.  Cinemas closed, but movies remained out there to consume.   

So, how does this bring me to my WORST FILMS of the year blog?  Well, I didn't want to give up on the movies this year, which also meant that I didn't want to give up on this annual tradition either.  All in a all - and despite visiting cinemas just twice since last March - I watched just nine less movies in 2020 than I did in 2019 (which I'm proud of under the circumstances) and some of them were indeed great (which will see the light of day in my upcoming BEST FILMS of the year blog), whereas many others were unmitigated stinkers that deserve their wall of shame inclusion on the list below.  And as I also preach every year as I post these blogs, there are movies that need to be championed and celebrated alongside others that, well, don't.   

The movies below - no matter how one watched them in the last twelve months - were thoroughly unworthy of either a cinema ticket price or an at-home streaming fee.  

I begin with 2020's worst offering, followed by nine other candidates...

 
 

UNHINGED

 
 

 

If you want to see a movie involving Russell Crowe punch, kick, stab, choke, set on fire, and torture women and children for 90 minutes...then by God, this is your movie. 

For all others...be afraid.  Be very afraid. 

UNHINGED was most certainly not the worst made movie from 2020 on a level of production value.  It was competently helmed.  No, my issues with this nauseating film were much different and vast.  In short, UNHINGED was the kind of mad stalker thriller (which were made a dime a dozen in the industry decades ago to the point of eye rolling saturation) that egregiously wanted to have its cake and eat it to.  On one hand, it desired to be a salaciously blood-soaked road rage thriller on a level of thoughtless, B-grade grindhouse fare.  On the other hand, the makers of UNHINGED also wanted their tale to be a platform as a commentary piece.  That rang so falsely offensive to me.  This film might have worked as a pure camp-filled expose of a madman, but it wanted to say something meaningful about toxic masculinity, road rage violence, violence against women, and the ever thinning line between thinking about violence and actually committing it.  And trust me when I say this, but UNHINGED had nothing meaningful to say about any of these issues.  Like another recent WORST FILM of the year winner for me in 2018's DEATH WISH, UNHINGED thought is was attentively dealing with the mental health of wounded men and the nature of mass societal violence caused by these men, but then it just reveled in showing us scene after scene of senseless slaughter to the point of being emotionally numbing.   

This was as off-putting of a movie as I saw in 2020, and the Oscar winning Russell Crowe - appearing in beyond-obvious paycheck cashing mode - definitely should have known better.  
 
 

FANTASY ISLAND

 
 

   

How pathetically sad is it that FANTASY ISLAND was one of the few films that I saw in a cinema in the pandemic scarred year that was? 

Here's a reboot/re-imagining that was so categorically arduous to sit through that I spent most of my screening thinking about the awful restaurant meal that I had before it.  Of course, this film was a silver screen adaptation of the late 1970s and early 1980s ABC TV series of the same name that involved a vacation resort where travelers from across the world come to and literally live out their deepest desires and wildest wishes.  FANTASY ISLAND was produced by Blumhouse, a studio that, to be fair, has made some decent horror genre efforts in various forms (like GET OUT to HAPPY DEATH DAY to THE GIFT), but where in their right minds did they think that modern audiences wanted a horror inspired remake of a quaint television series from so many decades ago that the same said modern audiences probably have no fondness for or memory of?  FANTASY ISLAND was proof positive that putrid conceptual ideas for movies are best left unmade; this was as embarrassing of a wrongheaded movie production of any in recent memory.  And the absolute nerve of this film to hint at a sequel in its finale that (a) will probably never get made and (b) very few viewers will probably be clamoring for in the slightest.  

Wow.  Just...wow.  

 
 

FORCE OF NATURE

 

 

Yes, I sat through this Mel Gibson starring hurricane themed thriller.  And yes, it was a thoroughly traumatizing experience for me. 

Not to be confused with the late 90s Sandra Bullock/Ben Affleck romcom of nearly the same name, FORCE OF NATURE was kind of a double dipping offender as far as movies go.  It was not only an action thriller of startling, insomnia curing blandness, but it also managed to be so senselessly and inexcusably exploitative of a real life and recent environmental tragedy, which is its worst criminal offence, in my books.  This amateurishly handled $23 million budgeted production featured a story of a group of Puerto Rican apartment dwellers trying to evacuate their homes during Hurricane Maria (yes, the real one that occurred) while a band of nefarious criminals wreak havoc on them.  FORCE OF NATURE dubiously contained Dollar Store scripting, some terribly phoned-in performances, and a lack of basic creativity.  But the movie also indecently propped up the very real-life hurricane that cost 5000 people their lives for the purposes of making a piece of cheaply disposable entertainment.  Add in some unpleasant white savior elements to the story (featuring Gibson's white cop saving people of color against other vile people of color) and what we're left with in FORCE OF NATURE was something uniquely soul sucking.  
 

BECKY

 

 

Hey, anyone remember this Kevin James as a neo-Nazi film from last year? 

Sarcasm aside, I'm no prude.  At all.  I like trash, in the right circumstances.  And BECKY is absolutely worthy of the moniker of retrograde trash in terms of its HOME ALONE-esque narrative of a young teenage girl violently defending herself against a barrage of criminal scum.  However, this was simply bad trash in terms of putting a rather bad taste in my mouth after watching it, especially for the manner it took deeply sadistic glee in showing a borderline psychotic adolescent inflicting savage comeuppance on her adult prey.  To be fair, there have been solid sensationalistic films involving female protagonists murdering people by the dozens (see REVENGE), but there was something just wrong about thrusting an elementary school age girl into the mix.  BECKY was more sickening to watch than thrilling as a result, making the whole endeavor kind of sickly exploitative.  And even the stunt casting of PAUL BLART himself in an aggressively against-type role didn't assist this movie at all, seeing as he was simply not credible as a loathsome neo-Nazi thug.  Like UNHINGED before it, BECKY celebrated its savagery far too much for my tastes.  
 

LIKE A BOSS

 
 

I remember Roger Ebert's review of MAD DOG TIME from years ago, which began with describing it as "the first movie I've seen that does not improve on the sight of a blank screen viewed for the same length of time."  I couldn't think of a finer way to sum up the incessantly terrible workplace comedy LIKE A BOSS, which proved that you can take a trio of likeable and talented actresses like Rose Byrne, Tiffany Haddish, and Salma Hayek and give them virtually nothing to work with that's worthy of their abilities. 

This "comedy" (sarcastic quotes intended) was from director Miguel Areta, who previously made the absolutely wonderful and terribly underrated comedy CEDAR RAPIDS a few years ago.  LIKE A BOSS represented a serious demotion for him, which delved into an "Idiot Plot Syndromed" tale of a pair of cosmetic entrepreneurs that end up waging war against an ultra rich businesswoman that wants to steal their ideas and sell them as her own.  LIKE A BOSS was unintentionally insulting to not only its female characters (all of which are written as monumentally dumb), but to female viewers that had to sit through such degrading drivel that tries to pass itself off as a female empowerment piece.  Plus, the film is an utter comic dead zone all but void of even modest chuckles.  LIKE A BOSS was released back in January pre-pandemic lockdown and closures, which seems deeply unfair.  There were so many other films infinitely better that deserved theatrical release; this one barely achieved the moniker of a horrible and forgettable direct-to-VOD title that had no place being given the cinema light of day.     
 
 

\DOLITTLE

 
 

The fact that DOLITTE ended with a dragon massively farting into Robert Downey Jr.s wide open mouth and eyes - followed by the IRON MAN star shoving his hands up the same monster's ass and pulling out a set of bagpipes - was very, very telling. 

This absolutely worthless piece of garbage that was masquerading as a joyous piece of family entertainment cost over $200 million to produce, and it most certainly deserved its box office bomb status even well before the pandemic had its way with box office receipts.  The proverbial writing was on the wall for this dud a long time ago, though.  Just consider: It was a remake of a remake of an adaptation of a book.  It was shot years ago and then was followed up by nearly 30 days of reshoots.  It then had its release changed not once, not twice, but three times.  It was then unceremoniously dumped in pre-COVID cinemas back in January, a month that's routinely acknowledged in the industry as one that you release movies in to die. 

I'm not even sure an actor with as limitlessly likeable of a presence of Downey Jr. could have saved this thoroughly unpleasant turd.  Perhaps what's most damning about DOLITTLE is how the lead actor himself is largely AWOL here, as he churned out a frustratingly idiosyncratic performance on nonsensical autopilot featuring one of the most non-region specific accents I've heard in a movie.  It's funny that so many thought that TENET's sound mix was a mess.  Well, try making any discernable sense of what Downey's trying to gruffly and monosyllabically speak here.  Good luck!
 
 

THE TAX COLLECTOR

 

     

Here's a movie that made so many unpardonable mistakes in front of and behind the camera that I grew dizzy just contemplating it when I screened it back in the summer. 

To be fair, I've admired some films on writer/director David Ayer's resume, like his script for TRAINING DAY or his terribly little seen World War II tank-centric drama in FURY to, hell, even his SUICIDE SQUAD, which I still concede was better than most let on.  But his latest in THE TAX COLLECTOR was a meandering and bewilderingly bad gangster drama that managed to wholly lose my interest in it within minutes, which led to the following 90 minutes feeling like 900.  And, holy hell, don't even get me started on the hilariously inappropriate white washed casting of Shia LaBeouf (a great actor when compelled to be and given the right material and parts) as an insensitively caricatured Mexican-American gangbanger.  It was just one on a laundry list of many truly dreadful creative decisions that plagued THE TAX COLLECTOR, which - as far as the gangster genre goes - commits two sins for the price of one: it was offensive and dull in equal measure. 
 

ARTEMIS FOWL

 
 

    

Wow, but was this movie ever a mess in its released form.   Not only that, but it emerged as one of 2020's most awkwardly rushed would-be franchise starters, and one that barely felt like it even deserved future installments in the first place. 

Inexplicably from director Kenneth Branagh (WTF?!), ARTEMIS FOWL was like some unholy combination of HARRY POTTER and MEN IN BLACK, but with none of the creativity or ethereal magic of those franchises.   This production was set for failure from the start, which began way, way back in 2001, after which time it went into development hell before finally be produced and set for initial release in the summer of 2019.  Disney balked, and opted to wait until 2020, and then the pandemic reared its ugly head, which prompted the House of Mouse to dump this dud on its streaming service for free.  This fantasy cost $130 million to make, and it contained some moments of visual interest, but it's among the most good looking dull movies that I've come across as of late, and one with no lingering staying power.  And its core mythology is convoluted to the point of inspiring endless boredom.  ARTEMIS FOWL was most foul, indeed. 
 
 

THE JESUS ROLES

 
 

Who among us wanted a sequel (shot four years ago and released this past year) to one of the most iconic cult comedies of the last twenty-five years that was not written or directed by the Coen Brothers, didn't featuring "The Dude" or bowling (for the most part), and instead involved a very small fringe character that's so insufferable that he barely deserved our rooting interest for a 90-plus minute film in the first place? 

Yeah...didn't think so.  

To take a page out of John Turturro's titular character, "You're not fooling me, man!" 

 
 

CAPONE

 

I love giving directors a second chance for redemption.  Hell, I've given M. Night Shyamalan more chances than I have fingers. 

Remember Josh Trank?  A few years back he displayed so much unbridled promise with his found footage super hero thriller CHRONICLE that I honestly thought that he could do no wrong.  Then came his unimaginably poor FANTASTIC FOUR reboot, which was not only all kinds of wrong, but also placed on my list of the TEN WORST FILMS of its year.  After that disaster - and a huge misstep on social media of biting the industry hand that fed him - I believed that Trank's career was over.  He resuscitated himself in 2020 with a comeback vehicle, of sorts, in CAPONE, which propped up a compelling idea (showing us a portrait of a sickly, post prison gangster suffering from crippling neurosyphilis), but one that sadly represented a failure of execution.  Even though the film featured yet another commendably committed performance of sheer absurdity by Tom Hardy in the titular role, Trank's whole handling of the character at this period of his life never achieved any kind of sustained creative lift-off.  Months later, I still consider it borderline unwatchable hot garbage and one that was more of a self-indulgently made endurance test than a compelling character piece. 
 
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 2020

 
 
THE LAST THING HE WANTED:  Did anyone out think fondly of this dreary and uninspired Anne Hathaway/Ben Affleck starring Netflix effort from earlier in the year?  

BAD BOYS FOR LIFE:  Less a meaningful sequel than it was a dutifully manufactured nostalgia generating product to make a quick box office buck.

THE NIGHT CLERK:  This homage to Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW with modern day surveillance twists had a decent premise that was undone by mediocre execution.

SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL: Another Netflix misfire that featured and paycheck grabbing Mark Wahlberg desperately mugging at the camera in hopes of spawning a new franchise.

COFFEE & KAREEM: Yet another Netflix misfire that tried to cash in on the buddy cop formula, but failed to generate any serious comedic momentum. 

ONWARD:  One of Pixar's oddest animated efforts was also one of its most subpar and forgettable.

DOWNHILL:  A vastly inferior remake of the 2014 Swedish dark comedy original in FORCE MAJEURE that utterly squandered the comedic talent of Will Ferrell and Julia Louise-Dreyfus. 

THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND:  This unfathomably long (136 minutes!?) coming of age comedy from writer/director Judd Apatow was simply too bloated to sit through.

INFAMOUS:  This Bonnie and Clyde for the Internet generation thriller had very little to say as a social commentary piece. 

YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT:  This David Koepp directed/Kevin Bacon starring horror thriller was a definitive PWP film, or one that contained a "premise without payoff."

GUNS AKIMBO:  Easily one of the strangest films that I've seen in many a moon - and featuring a commendably go-for-broke performance by Daniel Radcliffe - was simply too empty minded for its own good.

UNPREGNANT: This HBO MAX original road trip comedy seemed to be way too frivolously cute and cuddly with its underlining subject matter.

TESLA:  An eccentrically weird biopic of Nikola Tesla that never fully came together as a meaningful portrait of the famous inventor's life.

REBECCA:  A passionless retread of the much better Hitchcock original of the same name. 

MORTAL: The ingredients were here in this Norwegian thriller to make for an intriguing take on the super hero genre, but the resulting film landed with such a morose and unsatisfactory thud. 

HILLBILLY ELEGY: Director Ron Howard meant well with this adaptation of J.D. Vance's coming of age memoir of the same name, but it was pure poverty porn without much genuine dramatic substance. 

MULAN: I've lost tract of how many utterly unnecessary Disney live action remakes of their animated classics exist, and this one certainly wasn't the worst of the bunch, but it was the most cynical minded.  

     
  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 2020

 
 
THE RHYTHM SECTION:  A globetrotting spy/revenge thriller that felt like a greatest hits package of so many other far better tunes.  

THE CALL OF THE WILD:    This was easily the best Harrison Ford acting opposite of a CG dog film that I've ever seen (sarcasm more than intentional).   

THE HUNT:    A potentially compelling take on the most dangerous game/man hunting man premise that generated a lot of pre-release controversy, but was ultimately shrug inducing.  

THE LAST FULL MEASURE:    This very noble minded Vietnam War drama about correcting sinful governmental wrongs failed to pack any sizeable dramatic impact.   

BLOODSHOT:  One of Vin Diesel's better non-FAST AND FURIOUS action pictures, but its somewhat misguided choices didn't make me clamor for more sequels promised in the end. 

THE LOVEBIRDS:    Despite winning performances by Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae, this Netflix romcom bared too many similarities to better genre efforts like DATE NIGHT and GAME NIGHT.  

GHOSTS OF WAR:  This initially intriguing genre mishmash (part haunted house horror film, part World War II drama) utterly capsized due to the weight of some of its incredulous third act plot twists.   

EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA:  A modestly funny and appealingly weird comedy that dealt with the world of the real life titular international competition ended up being about a half hour too long to maintain my sustained interest.   

THE NEW MUTANTS:  This infamously doomed X-MEN universe centered production - which was supposed to be released years ago - ended up being a lot more progressive minded with some of its characters than I was expecting, but the rest of the film built around some good ideas was of the ho-hum variety.   

AVA:  The always radiant and commanding Jessica Chastain carried this otherwise throwaway spy thriller.   

2067:  An ambitious minded post-apocalyptic time travel thriller suffered from some severe miscasting of its main protagonist and a lack of cleverness with its temporal hopping narrative.    

ON THE ROCKS:  Director Sofia Coppola and star Bill Murray teamed up again for movie the first time since LOST IN TRANSLATION, but their combined efforts should have resulted in a better effort.  

FREAKY: This somewhat nifty take on the body swap and 1980s slasher films genres had superb lead performances, but not nearly enough subversive wit. 

 

 
 
     
 

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