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2019: The Disappointments

So we’re clear, this is not a “Worst Of 2019” list. I know better than to try and write such a list, because I never saw Escape Room, The Upside, Angel Has Fallen, Wonder Park, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged. Miss Bala, or Playing with Fire. With very few exceptions, I make it a point not to see a movie if I know there will be absolutely no chance it could possibly be good. So this isn’t just about the stinkers, it’s about the disappointments.

For those just tuning in, the list is broken down into three basic types of disappointment.

  1. The “Benign Disappointment”, which is really just a difference of opinion. This is a movie that I went to see because everybody else seems to love it for perfectly legitimate reasons, and yet somehow, I wasn’t impressed.
  2. The “Stupid Disappointment”, which simply fell apart for whatever reason. Everyone involved had the best of intentions and put in their best effort, but the end result somehow fell short.
  3. The “Malicious Disappointment”, a movie that failed on purpose. There can be no other explanation for how a movie had everything to work with, and yet made so many catastrophically bad choices that anyone with half a brain would’ve avoided.

With all of that out of the way, let’s get started.

Most Benign Disappointment

Dark Waters and Uncut Gems were both solid awards contenders, yet I found the former to be terribly dull while the latter is too loud and ugly for its own good. Still, I feel that the “Most Benign Disappointment” should be a movie that’s more… well, benign. More harmless.

Blinded by the Light, for example, is a fluff piece that everyone seemed to like in spite of the inconsistent plot and the shitty third act. Yet Yesterday was the feel-good surprise smash hit of the summer, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that it was a totally brainless enterprise with a premise that made no sense, and nothing of any substance to say except “the Beatles were awesome.” This despite the fact that the Beatles were apparently so irrelevant that the world was otherwise pretty much the same without them, aside from a few other changes so completely unrelated they couldn’t have stemmed from the Beatles getting erased from history, but then those other changes didn’t seem to impact history either for unexplained reasons…

It’s a stupid movie. It’s a happy, harmless, stupid movie that falls apart with the most superficial examination.

Dumbest Comedy

Isn’t It Romantic is a one-joke film whose joke got old roughly a decade ago. Little is so uninspired and misguided that a teenager could have made it, perhaps because it was literally conceived and exec-produced by a 14-year-old girl. Yet both of these female-driven movies made some kind of sincere effort at empowering the target demographic, and I respect that.

And anyway, I feel like the title of “Dumbest Comedy” should go to a Seth Rogen movie. Long Shot is the obvious pick, but at least that one had Charlize Theron putting in way more effort than the project deserved. Plus, the film played nicely to what strengths Rogen has as a performer.

So instead, this one is going to the Rogen-produced Good Boys, a movie that lives and dies on its juvenile humor. The plot is broken, the performances are uneven at best, and there’s nothing in here that hasn’t been done better in the umpteen coming-of-age films we’ve already seen this decade.

Dumbest Anti-Hero Film

Joker ranks #7 on the list of 2019’s highest-grossing films, with a worldwide take of over $1.06 billion, and it came away with 11 goddamn Oscar nominations. This despite the fact that it’s a deliberately ugly movie that willfully misinterprets one of DC’s most feared and dangerous homicidal maniacs as the hero our modern age needs.

Yet even that film got nearer the mark than Brightburn, a deconstruction of the classic Superman origin story as an allegory for kids who turn out to be violent psychopaths. But without offering any kind of viable commentary on possible causes or solutions for the problem, or even anything new to say about superheroes, the film is effectively useless.

But the prize for this one is going to Glass, a crossover two decades in the making only to land with a wet thud. It’s a film with virtually nothing worthwhile to say about superheroes or superhero media. A crossover in which our most “super” characters spend most of the screen time locked up in a mental institution. And for all the years of buildup across three movies, the big climactic showdown was pathetically weak. Is there any fate more damning for a crossover than to be less than the sum of its parts?

…Well, maybe, but we’ll get to that.

Dumbest Horror

Child’s Play (2019) turned out better than it had any right to, but it still suffered from a broken plot and an uninspired “rogue AI” angle. Yet even that worked out better than Pet Sematary (2019), which didn’t even try doing anything new. Even so, at least those movies were visibly hamstrung by their respective source materials. Brightburn had no such excuse.

This is a horror movie in which the victim pool has literally zero chance at survival. It is a movie without any intelligence, nuance, subtlety, novelty, or hope, and any scares or surprises are therefore impossible. It’s a damn shame the film actually had kind of a novel premise, if only the filmmakers had thought it through for more than ten seconds.

Dumbest Disney Remake

In a decade thoroughly dominated by the “live-action Disney remake” trend, this was the year it finally hit peak saturation. The trend was obnoxious enough when we only got one or two per annum — this year alone brought us FOUR such remakes! (Five, counting Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, which is technically a sequel to the remake.)

I won’t discuss Lady and the Tramp (2019), because that was a Disney+ exclusive and I didn’t review it. And anyway, the far more notable success stories were Aladdin (2019) and The Lion King (2019), each of which grossed over a billion worldwide and made the year’s top ten highest-grossing list. We could go around all day discussing which of those mediocre retreads were the best, but there can be no doubt as to which remake was the worst.

Dumbo (2019) is everything we always feared the live-action Disney remake trend would lead to. It’s an ugly, lazy, half-assed, stone-stupid retread that offers nothing new, made by people who clearly have no idea what to make except money. Of all the unwelcome live-action retreads that nobody asked for, this could very well be the only one that is demonstrably worse than the original film (crows and all), a capital sin for a remake.

The “Epic Fail”

This is my pet name for a film that proved to be a spectacular waste of ambition. The product of filmmakers who wanted to make something huge and only made a fiasco. Two great examples are MIB: International and Hellboy (2019), each of which promised to deliver breathtaking adventures on a global scale, only to collapse into a flailing disjointed mess.

I’m also including Cats in this category, as the filmmakers wasted $95 million on name actors and CGI in a failed effort at making one of history’s most successful musicals into a Best Picture contender. And now some exec at Universal is eating massive piles of shit, forced to withdraw the film’s Oscar campaign after it bombed at the box office to a historic degree. But I digress.

All of these failures pale in comparison to Dark Phoenix, the movie that promised to usher in a new era of X-Men films with a faithful adaptation of the iconic X-Men comic saga. What we got was an overlong bore of a movie, with a sadly underwhelming climax, all at a reported price tag of $200 million. Even for a story with an intergalactic scope, the X-Men film franchise has never felt smaller. If Disney hadn’t already canceled the series by purchasing 20th Century Fox, I might’ve called this a mercy killing.

Dumbest Biopic

This one’s no contest. Sure, Tolkien and Judy were both sadly underwhelming, but they were both ultimately harmless. That’s more than I can say for Harriet, which portrayed antebellum slavery in such a cartoonishly simplistic way that it may have actually done more harm than good with regard to discussing race in America.

But then we have the pretentious, self-defeating clusterfuck of Lucy in the Sky. A film with no appreciable stakes, no reason to root for the protagonist, and no idea of how to talk about its grand provocative themes in any kind of intelligent way. This is a movie so hopelessly tone-deaf, so oblivious to the state of its own protagonist, that its use of feminist talking points might’ve actually set feminism back about ten years. Pathetic.

Most Malicious Disappointment

Annabelle Comes Home gets an honorable mention here, as a crossover so void of talent or effort that it retroactively exposes the entire “Conjuring Universe” enterprise as a fraud. This limp and puny crossover — what should’ve been a huge universe-defining event — proves beyond doubt that the entire superfranchise is pointless and creatively bankrupt, and that’s no small feat. But in terms of failures produced by people who knew better, developed and released with clear malice aforethought toward the audience, there’s still a movie to beat it and claim the top dishonor.

Serenity had everything. A top-notch cast, a white-hot writer/director, and a prime release date. Then the test screenings came back and confirmed what anyone who read the screenplay should’ve immediately known: It should’ve been burned before a single frame was shot. Or at the very least, it should’ve been sent back to get rid of that godawful climactic twist and maybe put in some (like, literally any) comic relief. At this point, the studio could’ve sent it back for reshoots. They could’ve canceled it entirely. Hell, The Hunt was practically finished, and it famously got canceled at the last minute over less than this!

But no, the studio pulled all advertising for the movie and dumped it in January. There’s no doubt whatsoever studio knew perfectly well that this potential awards vehicle had turned radioactive. They KNEW that if this convoluted melodramatic absurdity had been released as is, it was guaranteed to be a critical and box office failure. But instead of trying to salvage it or destroy it, they unloaded it onto us. Fuck this movie and fuck everyone who made it.

Tomorrow brings the Wild Rides list, so stay tuned for that.

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