By John H. Foote
Choosing the 10 worst films of 2020 was much more difficult than in previous years because there were gaps when new films were not released as usual. In many cases I played catch up when they were eventually streamed, but my initial list was still huge, beginning at 83 movies.
Family and friends often tease me about writing a 10 worst list, saying it must be a great feeling to get revenge on the makers of the films that wasted my time. Actually it is painful to write which films were the worst of the year. You see, no one, no artist making a film sets out to make a bad movie, they just happen. It all begins with the story, and without a great story you can never have a truly great film. You might have an entertaining one, bolstered by the performances of the actors and strong choices by the filmmaker, but it can never be truly a film for the ages without that strong story.
So, without further ado, and apologies to my colleague Alan, here are the 10 worst films I saw this year.
A remake and re-imagining of the 1967 box office bomb Dr. Dolittle, which oddly was a Best Picture nominee (this one will not be), one has to ask what was Robert Downey Jr. thinking? One of the most resourceful and fascinating actors to watch, Downey Jr. made a huge career misstep with this one. Perhaps looking for something entirely different than portraying Iron Man in The Avengers franchise, he took this on because he hoped for it to be popular with children. Bear in mind, I am of the mind Downey Jr. deserved a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Avengers – Endgame (2019) so to follow the end of that extraordinary series with this must have been humbling. Dreadful on every level, right down to the voice work of the actors who speak for the animals, the poorly rendered CGI creations that the good doctor speaks with. I wonder if the writers were smoking weed when they wrote this, which is the only way one can explain a dragon among the animals. Monkeys and giraffes I can handle, but how does one speak dragon? Downey Jr. truly is among the most naturally gifted actors in modern American film and I love that he turned his life around before being permanently flushed down the proverbial toilet, but the man MUST read the script before committing to a movie, he is capable of so much more. He will be back, and Oscars await him, I have little doubt. If you want to see what he is capable of, see Chaplin (1992) in which he brings to life Charlie Chaplin, utterly breathtaking. This? Belongs in that proverbial toilet.
2. ARTEMIS FOWL
It is hard to fathom that once upon a time Kenneth Branagh was an Oscar nominated Director for his superb Henry V (1989) and should have been again for his magnificent, full text Hamlet (1996). This jumbled mess of a film feels like he had a bunch of ideas and vomited them all over the screen. So bad it smells bad, so dreadful you will find yourself not believing how truly bad it is. And they keep giving him films to direct …
3. FANTASY ISLAND
“De plane, de plane” were words from TV watching of my teenage years and caused me even back then to change the channel at once. Who wanted to watch classy Ricardo Montalban, dressed nattily in a white suit, as the mysterious Mr. Roarke, with his mini-me sidekick Tattoo, fulfill the fantasies of his weekly parade of guest stars? The stars were made of washed-up actors and actresses from TV, even a few from the movies. What was stupid then was brutal today. Though it could have been a terrific twist on the TV series, with its turning of past events into horrific events, it just never pushes hard enough, never goes deep enough. The tiny sidekick is gone, replaced by a beautiful woman, leaving to wonder if Peter Dinklage read the script and begged off. Michael Pena, usually a wonderful actor, brilliant in Crash (2005), is Roarke and is given so little to do, he must have loved shooting in the tropical setting because that would be the only reason for doing the picture.
I like Melissa McCarthy, I find her funny and hugely talented, just not here. Both she and her co-star, the gifted Bobby Cannavalle are positively wasted throughout this very stupid film. It made me long for Bridesmaids (2011).
5. THE WAR WITH GRANDPA
There is no doubt that in the seventies and eighties Robert De Niro was among the greatest living actors, his performances from that period for the ages. Mean Streets (1973), The Godfather Part II (1974), Taxi Driver (1976), The Deer Hunter (1978), Raging Bull (1980) and True Confessions (1981) are each superb performances, two of them winning the actor Academy Awards. Last year De Niro was brilliant in The Irishman (2019) and I had hoped working with Martin Scorsese and his friends Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel and Al Pacino might have challenged him enough to be more choosy in his roles. Since 1995, De Niro has been in a lot of junk and been as bad as the films. That does not change here. Seen as an intruder by his grandson after moving in with his daughter’s family, taking the boys room, the kid lashes back, declaring war on Gramps, who has no alternative but to fight back. Embarrassing.
6. THE PROM
Sorry Alan (read his review). To me this felt like an episode of Glee (God help me) without the relatively appealing cast members. Meryl Streep, James Corden, and Nicole Kidman are the big guns Ryan Murphy managed to talk into playing the Broadway actors who, after a terrible flop, head to Indiana, where a young lesbian, Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman), has been denied her right to attend her high school prom. Stung with the flop on Broadway, Streep and Corden, with lifelong chorus girl Kidman head to Indiana to fight for the young girls right to attend her prom. Oh, and in doing so win themselves some much needed good press. I suppose it harkens back to the Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland musicals, “let’s put on a show” but I was not engaged for more than five minutes. Streep, love her, and she is never bad, but this is one of her lesser choices. Kidman? Wasted, she has so little to do she could have been a prop. And Corden must have forgotten about Cats (2019). Two in a row for him, though Cats was an abomination, and this is not that. Not for me.
Who was the genius that decided we needed a computer-generated Scooby Doo? I and generations of fans were just fine with the animation used in the seventies TV show, good old hand drawn. Truthfully, I would prefer watching the live action version with a CGI Scooby again, with the extraordinary Matthew Lillard performance as Shaggy. Not this, never again this.
A second viewing of this smacked me upside the head. Oh so woefully bad. This is Al Capone as we have never seen him, after his criminal empire in Chicago had fallen, after his run as the world’s most infamous mobster. This is Capone after spending eight years of his 11-year sentence in prison, released and relocated to Florida where neurosyphilis ravaged his tormented mind. His body was already a mess, but his mind became far worse, and his final years were hardly any quality of life. Tom Hardy, a great actor, portrays the mob boss after his world had crumbled, and never before has he been weak. Just a jumbled mess of a film, uninvolving, boring. And Capone was hardly a boring man.
9. THE NEW MUTANTS
I like Anya Joy-Taylor as an actress, adored her in The Witch (2015) and even more so in The Queen’s Gambit which will likely win the talented actress an Emmy, and a well-deserved one. Those eyes, you feel yourself falling into those eyes, and liking it. Sadly she is one note, and though gives the best performance of the cast, it simply is not enough to save this strange entry about gifted young mutants being harnessed in a strange lab-like prison, where their powers are to be learned to control or they are killed. Endlessly dumb.
10. THE RHYTHM SECTION
After proving she could act in the thriller The Shallows (2016), Blake Lively is obviously looking for other roles to challenge her and keep her detractors at bay. Maybe she thought working with Jude Law would do it, but this woefully under written film gives her nothing to do except flex her physical prowess. There is no character underneath at all, no soul. Too bad because I think there is an actress under that beauty. As a girl seeking revenge for the massacre of her family, she wants revenge, but never seems angry enough for me. Seething is registered as staring off into the horizon.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.