Last week I gave you the ten most disappointing movies of 2021, now I pivot to the ten absolutely worst things I’ve seen this year. Movies so bad they were difficult to watch, and in some cases, an absolute chore to finish. Movies I struggled to gain even the most ironic enjoyment out of, from a celebrated auteur’s nightmare vision to a handful of franchise reboots and sequels that heaped shame upon the original. It’s my 10 Worst Films of 2021, a real variety platter of creative bankruptcy.
Also, all of my write-ups are just copied/pasted from my original reviews with the exception of #7, because I never officially reviewed it. I know, I know, my 10 Best Films of 2021 will have all-new write-ups because I actually enjoy writing about those films.
Army of the Dead
10. Malcolm & Marie
After a pair of two excellent Euphoria mini-movies in early 2021, I was expecting series creator Sam Levinson to really knock it out of the park with his first Netflix movie, a two-person, single-location drama with John David Washington and Zendaya as up and coming jaded Hollywood lovers. Boy, was I wrong. Washington and Zendaya play possibly the two most insufferably self-obsessed and miserable people in Hollywood, no easy feat. While two awful characters can be the gateway to great drama, you have to develop them in a way where the audience is invested and we’re just left hating everything they do and every over-manufactured word they speak. The screenplay here is laughably overwrought like Sorkin and Mamet fucked and had a hipster baby. How am I supposed to feel sorry for a self-assured breakout filmmaker who is throwing a ridiculously profanity-laden temper tantrum over getting a rave review from the LA Times because the journalist misinterpreted his work? How am I supposed to feel sorry for a woman who viciously emotionally abuses her successful partner because she’s jealous she didn’t get cast in the lead role? And who is so incapable of having an honest conversation about her feelings that she has to play him a Dionne Warwick song on her iPhone expressing her dilemma of loving him? Yes, the movie does bring up some very valid and important points about how black filmmakers and actors are often pigeon-holed into having to be political in their art, but it does it in a way that lacks the kind of nuance and indirectness dialogue-driven character pieces need in order to work. This is a very miserable and depressing way to spend two hours that doesn’t give you much of anything to take away. It thinks it’s being profound but it’s just trying our patience and grating our nerves, much like what Levinson is doing with this abysmal new season of Euphoria. When will he stop wasting Zendaya‘s time? (Netflix)
9. Nightmare Alley
Probably the biggest disappointment of the Holiday season movie glut, Guillermo Del Toro‘s Nightmare Alley is an awkward, uneven blend of Tod Browning‘s Freaks and film noir of the 1940s. It’s based on a novel of the time period, and also a remake of a film made from that novel in the 40s, neither of which I’ve ever heard of. It starts promising enough with a mysterious traveler (Bradley Cooper) taking up with some circus folk after he burns down this farmhouse for some reason. The reason will be revealed to us at the end, but it’s super underwhelming and doesn’t actually reveal much. There’s no reason for Del Toro to tease this information out till the finale, if we learned it in the opening scene it might actually enrich Cooper‘s character to the point of us maybe even giving a shit about him. This first twenty or thirty-minute stretch of the film is fairly decent thanks to the hammy but fun performances of Willem Dafoe, Toni Collette, David Strathairn, Ron Perelman, and Mark Povinelli. There are some seriously overlong character monologues but it manages to set up an interesting premise with Cooper realizing he’s good at creating illusions or lying or tricking people, depending on how you look at it. He decides to take this talent on the road with his new crush (Rooney Mara) and that’s when this flies off the rails. Leaving the circus behind means leaving all the charisma and fun behind and what we’re left with is a seemingly never-ending series of boring con jobs and dumb two-person dialogue scenes with Cooper and Cate Blanchett, where they never stop talking but are never actually saying anything either. Seriously, these scenes are like “what the fuck are you two assholes talking about?!” for tens of minutes at a time. Finally, after two hours and twenty minutes that absolutely feel like 3+ hours, the movie ends in the most predictable way imaginable, making this feel like an extra-long and completely forgettable Twilight Zone episode. It’s a movie that actively reminds us of better movies/shows to explore this topic such as Del Toro’s TCM movie influences and that underrated HBO gem from the early 2000s, Carnivale. This is Guillermo‘s worst film besides Mimic, but at least that film had entertaining pockets throughout. (HBOMax and Hulu)
8. Those Who Wish Me Dead
Many reviews are saying the awkwardly titled Those Who Wish Me Dead is a throwback in a way to 90s action movies. Unfortunately, it’s mostly a throwback to the bad tropes of those movies and not the key elements like well-rounded, likeable characters, engaging plot devices or quality ‘splosions. Aidan Gillen (Littlefinger) and Nicholas Hoult are two unidentified suit wearing guys who might be government or mafia or whatever. They are after these people cause the people have information about something that will happen in the future or something that has already maybe happened. They explode a Senator’s house killing his wife and children and then turn their sights onto a guy who knew the Senator and might be a government guy or a news reporter or a construction worker. But the guy has a son, so he must take flight to save the son, but the bad guys might catch up with them. They end up in an area where there are lots of fires and lightning strikes, and Angelina Jolie plays a red hot smoke jumper who is just like one of the guys. She’s the only female any of the guys in the movie know that they aren’t married to. She and the guys drink and talk tough, they’re real fucking Americans and not pussies like the people watching this movie. They voted for Trump, so what the fuck are you gonna do about it, you snowflake idiot? After verbally abusing one of their daughters’ millennial boyfriend for vaping and caring about emotions and women and other gay things, they decide to hook up Angelina Jolie to the back of their truck and parachute her out the back on an open road cause this is God’s country and every man lives by his own rules. The bad guys make it to the smokejumpers and they get involved and what ensues is a cinematic junk food mosaic of several one-dimensional characters, a pretty decent Joe Berenthal, and an admittedly excellent, if terribly underused, Medina Senghore, the only woman of color in the movie with a significant role who the movie honestly should have been about. She’s badass but the movie is overly confusing and flat-out tedious for long stretches. You never find out what the movie is about and what that guy knows that the guys are after him for. This is all the more shocking seeing as though it’s from the writer of Sicario and Hell or High Water. Do better dude, we all know you can. (HBOMax)
7. Fear Street Trilogy
Why make one shitty horror movie when you can make three? Netflix’s overhyped Fear Street Trilogy is not only poor in its execution but almost nonsensical in its aim. Who the hell is this movie for? The trilogy mixes a Disney movie’s understanding of the real world with graphic violence, foul language, and naughty sex. It makes no sense to me, but I guess if you’re a dumb adult my age with a borderline unhealthy nostalgia habit for the 90s, you’ll enjoy the painfully unclever needle drops and one-dimensional teenagers. Each of these stories takes place in a different decade, with the first taking place in the 90s, the second in the 70s, and the third in the 1600s (1666 to be exact, that makes it EXTRA SPOOKY!) The first is a bad Scream ripoff with a terrible lead. The second is still bad but improves on the first quite a bit, mostly by casting a competent leading actress. The third is the worst of the worst though, with poor production value and even more horrendous teen acting. It feels like a Dawson’s Creek episode where the gang falls asleep studying for a history test about the Salem Witch Trials and dreams about being alive in that time period. That’s how bad and hokey this third installment is, but they’re all pretty bad. The worst thing is it manages to waste almost six hours of your time, which is pretty unforgivable. I’d say R.L. Stine would be rolling over in his grave, but he’s not dead yet right? (Netflix)
6. Spiral: From the Book of Saw
Chris Rock approaches Nicolas Cage territory with his wildly miscalculated, flagrantly over-the-top and flat-out terrible performance as a cop caught under a Jigsaw copycat killer’s thumb in Spiral, a remarkably lazy and insignificant ninth entry in the lackluster series. Spiral, “from the book of Saw“, whatever the fuck that means, plays like an unfunny SNL Saw sketch where no punchline seems to be hitting and the sketch players are slowly realizing nothing is working. Jammed with “funny” meta pop-culture references like New Jack City (Rock‘s breakthrough film role) and opening with an aggressively stale monologue about Forrest Gump that feels like a bit Rock couldn’t quite get to work back in ’94 but recycled thirty years later, everything about this seems forced. Spiral attempts to be current and vital by wrapping the usual booby trap torture porn shenanigans around an ACAB story of police corruption, but it puts the viewer in an awkward spot of not caring about anyone involved and subsequently, not caring about anything in the movie at all. I will say this, this is a better-paced entry than most of the Saw “movies” I’ve seen (1,2, 4, 5, half of 3) but they really squander an opportunity to do something different with the series. Based on the most lukewarm response I’ve seen from fans and critics alike, maybe it’s time to close this “book of Saw” once and for all. (STARZ)
5. Home Sweet Home Alone
Last Christmas I did a Home Alone franchise review article with a friend of mine, which means we had to watch all five of the Home Alone movies. Most people only know about the first three, with the third being universally viewed as awful, irredeemable garbage. Well, the fourth and fifth, both ABC Family original movies, are somehow even worse and really, really cheap. I was expecting the sixth film of the franchise to be at least better than 3,4,5 and maybe even somewhat equal footing with Lost in New York. Boy, was I wrong? Despite having that Disney+ money behind it as well as a funny child actor (Archie Yates) in the lead backed by an arsenal of great comedic actors – Rob Delaney, Ellie Kemper, Jim Rash, Chris Parnell, Kenan Thompson, Pete Holmes, Andy Daly!, and Veep’s Timothy Simmons – this one might be the least enjoyable viewing experience of all. It’s a boring movie, slow, even by regular movie and not just kid movie standards, and the booby-traps are super lame. The two “robbers” (Kemper & Delaney) and their A-Z reasoning for breaking into Archie Yates‘ house are absolutely ridiculous and the way they resolve it is maddeningly stupid. It’s a kid’s movie where you’re like “what the hell is the message supposed to be?” I think it’s about forgiving toxic people who say the N-word on Twitter and then try to apologize for it or pretend it didn’t happen or something. The decision to bring back Buzz as a cop is an interesting idea but they never do anything with him. They never do anything with almost anybody in this, the humor is so tapered down it doesn’t even read and what you’re left with is some really funny people not knowing what the fuck to do. (Disney+)
4. Tom & Jerry
Tom & Jerry is a piece of shit. Pure and simple. What’s more is that it’s not even an entertainingly bad piece of shit, it’s just tediously awful. It basically feels like they shot five 30-second Travelocity commercials with Tom and Jerry creating shenanigans around a hotel and then decided to fill in the blanks and try to make a feature from their footage. The titular Tom and Jerry never talk, but for some reason, all the other animated animals talk? I guess that’s the way it is in the classic cartoon, but to me, that’s weird as hell. Also, the humans don’t realize their pets are cartoons and doing cartoon shit like pulling a dumbbell out of their ass to start working on their biceps while out for a morning walk? That’s just Rufus being silly, I guess! The human actors surrounding these lame cartoons somehow manage to be even lamer. Chloe Grace Moretz and the usually brilliant Michael Pena seem to at least be trying, while the rest including Ken Jeong, Rob Delaney, and an especially terrible Colin Jost really phone it in. This is from the same writer of one of my favorite and most original comedies of the past five years, Brigsby Bear, and I’m shocked. I’m 99% sure the studio interfered with the integrity of this product, but given how terrible it is, it’s hard to imagine any iteration of this screenplay was ever any kind of good. (HBOMax)
3. Earwig and the Witch
It’s been six years since Studio Ghibli released its last film, When Marnie Was There, so the anticipation for this new release from quite possibly the world’s best animation company was intense. That’s why it was so crushing when Earwig and the Witch turned out to not only be disappointing, but just plain bad. First of all, the 3D animation is atrocious to behold, robbing all of the characters of any humanity whatsoever. They act like synthetics, in fact, this entire film feels like a video captured SIMS play through someone slapped low energy voice-over audio on top of. Second of all, the writing is all over the place and super vague, characters aren’t fleshed out and you never gain an understanding of what anyone wants or is trying to accomplish in this world. The villains are lackluster, the hero isn’t particularly likable, and side characters are built up in the beginning only to be completely abandoned (Custard, anyone?) in the second half of the picture. The most annoying thing about this is the soundtrack. Lacking any cohesion whatsoever other than all the songs sounding like Apple stock tracks, we get funky country, punk, classical, and one of the most unnervingly obnoxious title themes to any film in recent memory. Combined with the stupid way these 3D animated turds walk around, it made me want to Hulk smash my fucking television into pieces. Hayao Miyazaki is one of the most brilliant minds working in cinema today because he’s able to marry intriguing plots, lovable characters, powerful social messages, especially about the environment, and gorgeous animation, overflowing with personality, in a way that makes you feel like a kid again. His son Goro on the other hand, the mind behind From Up on Poppy Hill, Tales of Earthsea, and this piece of shit, just doesn’t seem to get it. Save yourself the migraine and check out the dozens of other truly inspiring Ghibli movies available on HBOMax instead. (HBOMax)
2. Paranormal Activity 7: Next of Kin
Nothing could have prepared me for how bad the new Paranormal Activity would be. Just kidding, I knew it was going to be terrible! The seventh entry subtitled, Next of Kin, is similar to the previous entry subtitled, The Ghost Dimension, because you actually get to see the monster/demon/ghost thing, making it 1000x less scary. At least the first five films never showed you the monster/demon/ghost thing and you got to plug into the theater of the mind. The first and third entries were legitimately scary, the second was a letdown but had its moments, the fourth and fifth were really bad but at least the fifth (subtitled The Marked Ones) had LA gang members firing uzis at the invisible monster/demon/ghost thing. That’s gotta count for something! This one takes place in an Amish community where a film crew, led by a woman who was abandoned at birth by one of the Amish, is making a documentary about where she came from. Of course, a bunch of not-so creepy shit starts happening in these old barns and dirty basements including a really convoluted demon cult storyline. This is a horror movie where you can predict every single jump scare – I was like “it’s gonna appear in the window now” and then it did, and then I was like he’s gonna turn and there’s going to be someone peaking behind a window, and it happened. A lot of reflective surface gags in this one, my guess is to obscure how awful the monster actually looks. It’s like something you’d find at my dad’s annual Halloween party, which is great for an over-the-hill Arizona-based dentist’s Halloween party, but garbage for a Hollywood movie. They show you this monster close-up for a period of like five seconds and it’s so easy to tell it’s like rubber latex or something. The acting is all ok but none of the performers are really given a chance to do anything memorable because the dialogue and story are so awful. Since this story takes place in 2021, all the footage is super HD which makes it less spooky. Found footage horror is only scary on low res footage, folks. This HD drone shit is where scary goes to die. A guy I half-knew from my college improv days, Dan Lippert, plays the comic relief. It was a losing battle from the start, poor guy. He’s really talented too. But the most egregious thing about this movie is how much of a shameless Midsommar rip-off it ends up being. It’s like Midsommar with a garbage color pallet and no understanding of the subtext. It’s like a Wall Street guy watched The Wolf of Wall Street and didn’t understand it was condemning him. Like he just understood that money is dope and Margot Robbie has awesome boobs. Paranormal Activity 7 does NOT have awesome boobs and should be the final nail in the franchise’s coffin…but you know they’re gonna do one in space (Paramount+)
1. The Kissing Booth 3
Visit my Franchise with Me article I did late last year about the awful Netflix teen romance trilogy, The Kissing Booth. It’s one of the most awful and downright offensive film trilogies I’ve ever seen in my life and watching each of the three, two-hour-plus installments made my brain melt. The worst entry by far is the concluding chapter, you can read all about it and the other entries by following this link to my original review.
ALSO SPOILERS, but if you can’t take spoilers for KB3, seriously, what’s going on with you?