In a year where every new movie released felt like a minor miracle, is it fair to single out films that failed? Some might label such an exercise cynical and mean-spirited. But those people didn’t endure the following cinematic atrocities, each of which made 2020 that much harder to bear. For audiences who avoided such disasters, consider this a fair warning to protect against your harder-earned-than-ever free time and disposable income. For the filmmakers, let it act as a deserved public shaming. Maybe 2021 will be better.
Songbird arrives in our world as the most cruel cinematic joke of a magnificently unkind year. How would you like to spend 84 of your last minutes of 2020 watching a movie that imagines a 2024 in which the coronavirus has mutated into “COVID-23,” Americans have entered their 213th week of lockdown, and Los Angeles has set up concentration camp-like “Q-zones” where infected individuals are sent to die in their own filth. Happy holidays, everyone! Here’s a punch to the crotch!
One long, bad joke about Super PACs – political action committees that murkily fuel campaigns – Jon Stewart’s new directorial effort might be eye-opening for anyone who has never before watched a second of cable news. For everyone else, it is a deeply obvious tour into a progressive mind left to rot.
3. Artemis Fowl
Director Kenneth Branagh’s long-delayed adaptation of Eoin Colfer’s YA fantasy novels is a confusing, muddled, deeply sloppy mess of bad intentions and worse execution. Even Branagh’s old pal Judi Dench, cast as the commander of an elf police force, seems like she would rather be anywhere else than this Disney+ disaster. Even on the set of Cats.
4. The Roads Not Taken
Sally Potter’s exercise in miserablism gets special recognition for wasting the most valuable cast of the year. In following one very painful and long day in the life of a fiftysomething father suffering from dementia, Potter tosses Javier Bardem, Salma Hayek, Elle Fanning and Laura Linney to the wolves of a noxious screenplay and demented editing.
5. The New Mutants
Trotted out in the summer by new Fox owners Disney as a sacrificial lamb for a theatrical market thick in pandemic panic, director Josh Boone’s long-delayed, cheaply shot X-Men adventure puts several nails in the coffin of that franchise. Then shoves that coffin in a dumpster. Before setting that dumpster on fire.
6. The Wrong Missy
The latest rancid sausage to plop out of Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production company/meat grinder, director Tyler Spindel’s movie is all kinds of gross. There’s the casual misogyny, copious bodily-fluid gags and overwhelming man-boy regressions familiar to any fan/hostage of Happy Madison’s output. But overriding everything is a profound sense of laziness. Jokes do not land here so much as they ooze forth, slow and noxious.
7. Love, Guaranteed
To save her struggling law firm, Susan (Rachael Leigh Cook) takes on a fishy case from Nick (Damon Wayans Jr.), who wants to sue a Tinder-like dating service over its failure to live up to its guarantee of love by the time a client hits 1,000 dates. Will Susan and Nick fall in love? Will their romance jeopardize the case? Will someone utter the line, “Am I right ladies?” with zero irony? Your honour, I plead the fifth. And before anyone pulls out the “guilty pleasure” card – no. There is zero pleasure in this Netflix production, no matter how low your bar is currently set. Only pain. So much pain.
8. A Rainy Day in New York
Woody Allen’s A Rainy Day in New York arrives like a desperate, frequently nauseating plea to Make America Woody Again: an invitation to both absolve the filmmaker of unspecified transgressions and to get lost in a world where everyone is fabulously witty and wealthy and worth your attention. Except none of the characters or stories here merit such consideration. The dialogue is tired, the characters’ privileged predicaments without stakes, and the wit non-existent.
9. Hillbilly Elegy
If 2020 is one long exercise in post-traumatic stress disorder, then the thought of re-watching Ron Howard’s adaptation of J.D. Vance’s memoir qualifies as danger pay. The director’s professional, too-smooth-to-trust hands usually mash whatever material is chucked his way into a curiously flattened state of bland nothingness. Here, though, he’s decided to unleash a death grip on Vance’s story, crushing its potentially interesting arc – poor boy turns Yale law graduate – into as finely disposable a powder as the Cheetos dust covering the kitchen counter of Vance’s grandma. Or Mamaw to you.
10. Fatman & Force of Nature
It wouldn’t be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year without a little Mel Gibson. Here, the quasi-pariah stars in two of the year’s most torturous productions: Fatman, in which he plays a rowdy and violent Santa Claus fighting off bad guys, and Force of Nature, in which he plays a rowdy and violent retired cop fighting off bad guys, but during a hurricane. Maybe those films sound perversely interesting, like watching a car crash, but with reindeer and wet weather. Trust me: Both are bland slogs, and you’ll only feel dirtier and sadder for having sat through them.
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