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2018: The Disappointments

As a rule, I don’t go to see movies that I know I’m going to hate. There have been exceptions, of course, but I didn’t make exceptions for films like Gotti, Slender Man, Mortal Engines, Welcome to Marwen, Holmes and Watson, Sherlock Gnomes, Robin Hood (2018), or any of the year’s other most notorious stinkers. Hell, I even thought about seeing The Darkest Minds, A.X.L., and Kin, before I decided that making a new category on this list wasn’t worth the time and money spent.

No, I don’t like going to see a movie unless I know it has some degree of potential. I genuinely want to believe that a movie is good, and it always hurts so much worse when so much potential goes untapped or misused — in fact, it tends to hurt far worse than a movie that never stood a chance. So here are the Disappointments of 2018.

Benign Disappointments

For those just tuning in, a Benign Disappointment is basically a difference of opinion. It’s a movie that I didn’t care for, but everyone else seems to like, and I can understand why. I’d list A Star Is Born as an example, except that I genuinely don’t get why so many are raving so much about this terribly dated story that’s already been adapted three previous times. It’s okay, sure, but it’s not great. I could make a stronger case for Vice — that movie was bold and well-acted enough that I could at least justify all the awards nominations.

Then we have Bad Times at the El Royale, a bloated mess that wastes a talented cast and a cool premise on a script that should’ve been about ten or twenty pages shorter. I get what the film was going for, but Drew Goddard probably needed another film or two under his belt before he had the experience to really nail it. Still, there are a lot of great moments in here, and the movie has quite a few passionate fans, God bless and love ’em.

Dumbest Reboot/Revival

I’m counting Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, due to that mid-credits stinger. Plus, that movie was quite proudly and aggressively stupid, often to its own detriment. Then we have Tomb Raider (2018), which reintroduced Lara Croft with a phenomenal lead actress, only to have her intelligence fluctuate with the needs of the plot.

Still, this round goes to The Predator, which didn’t even know what story it was trying to tell. So many contrived plot devices, disparate storylines, and too many MacGuffins to keep track of, all slammed together into this incoherent mess. Then again, with the looming Disney takeover of 20th Century Fox, the franchise was doomed for an uncertain future anyway.

Dumbest Franchise Starter

The creators of Hell Fest have publicly commented on the possibility of a sequel, and that right there is stupid enough to get an honorable mention. I have an easier time bagging on that one than Hotel Artemis, a film with a hugely talented cast and all the ambition of the entire John Wick trilogy, tragically wasted on an inexperienced director.

But this one’s no contest: Venom was a bona fide trainwreck. Over 20 years in development, and the best we got was this undercooked and uninspired pile of shit. The action scenes are wretched, the plot is broken, and the filmmakers couldn’t have tried harder to miss the point about why Venom is a fan-favorite character. But it made money overseas, and so we’re probably getting a sequel. Thanks a pantload, China.

The Epic Fail

This one goes out to the movies that put a ton of money and effort into creating epic sagas and sprawling worlds, only to waste it all on shitty end products. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a textbook example: The setting is vibrant and painstakingly crafted, yet the story is wretched and the world-building is broken. Another great example is Ready Player One, in which the filmmakers put incalculable effort into crafting a world that makes no sense and a flimsy story. And then of course we have Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the latest entry in a franchise that wants to explore huge ideas but spectacularly fails to think through the implications.

Those are all bad enough, but Ralph Breaks the Internet defies its own mythology left, right, and center. The filmmakers built this staggering, inventive, and immersive depiction of the Internet, but they’re unwilling to consider the harrowing implications of motherfucking sentient AI running amok. With this movie, the characters have been given license to completely disregard the rules set up in the previous film, and with no consequences. From the major plot points to that one wretched throwaway line at the end, it’s been firmly established that these characters have the complete and absolute ability to remake their world in whatever way they want, with no limits or drawbacks.

Everything this movie and its prequel put in place to establish any kind of dramatic tension was irreparably destroyed. Not since Highlander has a perfectly good franchise been so thoroughly and totally ruined by its second entry that even its first entry is sullied.

Dumbest Attempt to be Socially Relevant

The King had a decent premise, using the life story of Elvis Presley to tell the ongoing story of America. Too bad it was an incoherent stream-of-consciousness garbage pile. Then we’ve got White Boy Rick, whose undercooked last-minute message about minor drug convictions lands with a wet thud. Green Book is another strong contender: a movie that addresses issues of race and class with all the tact and nuance of a pre-Crash picture. Bonus points for reintroducing a forgotten relic of the Civil Rights era — making it the goddamn title of the movie! — and then doing nothing with it.

But I’m giving this one to Red Sparrow, which might have worked under a female director or even a female writer. I’m sure the filmmakers had good intentions, with a lot of important things to say about US/Russia relations and the objectification of women. But with the male gaze firmly in place, the female lead is actively objectified, making this film sleazy in all the wrong ways. The movie backfired so hard that it actively encouraged the very trend it was clearly made to speak out against. That’s a whole ‘nother level of fucking up.

Dumbest Botched Coming-of-Age

Mid90s is a movie all about ’90s nostalgia, but turned out to be an airtight case for why we need to let that era go already. Flower was a far more subversive and intriguing picture, at least until the movie ran out of steam halfway through and kept going on through another hour for whatever reason.

But say what you will about those movies, at least they knew what they wanted to be. Compare that to White Boy Rick, which didn’t seem to know if it wanted to be a coming-of-age story, a race drama, a “Filthy Stinking Rich” crime thriller, or an awards-bait drama about draconian sentences for minor drug convictions. Instead, it sucks at all of them, reducing a genuinely fascinating subject into mediocre grey sludge.

Sleaziest Waste

This is for the erotic thrillers — the movies that were trying to be racy catnip for perverts and stereotypical lonely housewives. You know, the kind of movie that Red Sparrow ended up becoming, in spite of itself. Though a better candidate would be A Simple Favor, a film nowhere near as edgy, suspenseful, or even funny as the filmmakers thought it was.

But the clear winner here is Bad Samaritan, easily and objectively the worst movie I saw this year. I’ve seen YouTube videos with better production value, and high schoolers who could write a better screenplay. The laughably implausible plot is a void of creativity, driven forward by an impossibly perfect Gary Stu villain, and none of the other cardboard cutouts are remotely worth a damn. Even by the standards of Portland — the town where Body of Evidence and Gone were filmed — this may very well be the trashiest “erotic” thriller my city has ever seen.

Most Malicious Disappointment

I need to make something clear, for those just tuning in: My top dishonor doesn’t necessarily go to the worst movie of the year. If it was that easy, I’d readily give it to Bad Samaritan or Venom or The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. But here’s the thing — those were all Stupid Disappointments. While they may have been crafted by incompetent numbskulls and/or shoddy teamwork, I genuinely believe (with the possible exception of Bad Samaritan) that the goofballs in charge acted in good faith and did the best they could within their limited means and talents. And that’s not enough.

To nab my greatest dishonor of the year, to be a true Malicious Disappointment, I need to see genuine spite for the audience. I need to see potential being actively and willfully destroyed. I need to see a movie that starts from a great place and takes every possible wrong turn, against all the blazingly obvious warning signs. In short, I need to see a movie that fails on purpose. While these movies are rare, they do crop up once or twice a year. And for 2018, that movie is The Happytime Murders.

So much talent went into this picture, the filmmakers were clearly able to craft a decent mystery caper. Everything was in place to build a massive thriving world on the scale of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? multiplied by a multi-picture franchise. We could’ve had first-rate puppets and jokes that were actually funny. We could’ve had a socially relevant allegory. But instead of all that, the movie deliberately shanks EVERY. SINGLE. SHOT. With every joke, every scene, every line, every plot point, the filmmakers unerringly choose the laziest and possible option in the hopes of getting a lowbrow laugh. Not only is it not funny, but the plot is bland, the climactic twist makes no sense, and the world-building is self-contradictory.

Ten freaking years in development, and this was the best that Brian freaking Henson could do? This is what he thinks adults want out of the Jim Henson brand? Fuck outta here and fuck this movie.

Only one list left, and it’s my favorite of the bunch. Come back tomorrow for the Wild Rides.

2 Comments

  1. Ping from Jack Rosen:

    I thought you liked Bad Times at the El Royale…

  2. Ping from Curiosity Inc.:

    I wish I liked it more than I did, we’ll put it that way.

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