Making a “ten worst films of the year list” is difficult in this day and age. Although the major studios turn out their fair share of junk, most of the absolute worst pictures I see are “day-and-date” titles – movies released to ten or so out-of-the-way theaters in random places across the country at the same time that they're made available on VOD. (The theatrical play is to legitimize them for ancillary sales.) These are things that leave no real footprint on the cinematic landscape.
Should they be included? This year, I'm arguing not, because these obscure films would clog up half the list. Better, I think, to focus on the major releases that really could have been amazing, yet weren't. There is one exception: my #2 film was a limited release, but made a lot of noise, so I think it's fair game. After the main list, I'll give you a quick rundown of the five worst day-and-date films I saw this year.
One last thing. In some critical quarters, making a Ten Worst list is now considered bad taste. I don't make this list to pick on movies. I do it to cover the full spectrum of the cinematic year, to provide a more complete portrait of the past twelve months. That being the spirit, I hope you will read it in conjunction with my list of the Ten Best Films of 2019 and the Ten Best Documentaries of 2019.
Here are my picks for the Ten Worst Films of 2019:
10. The Goldfinch - On the surface, this adaptation of Donna Tartt's Pulitzer-winning novel looked like can't-miss Oscar bait: phenomenal cast (Nicole Kidman, Ansel Elgort, Jeffrey Wright, Sarah Paulson), acclaimed source material, skilled director (Brooklyn's John Crowley). Somehow, all those positive qualities got mangled into a rambling, unfocused film that aims for profundity and comes up way short.
9. The Hustle - A gender-flipped remake of the Steve Martin/Michael Caine comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels isn't a bad idea, but this Anne Hathaway/Rebel Wilson picture is utterly laughless. Rather than finding its own voice, the movie poorly replicates famous moments from its inspiration, adding unnecessary crude humor. Stick with the original.
8. Men in Black: International - Making an MiB movie without Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones was never a great idea. It seems even worse after slogging through this dud. Appealing stars Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson are buried beneath a non-sensical story and witless jokes. If there's any life left in the Men in Black franchise, you won't find it here.
7. Glass - After a major career comeback with the blockbuster Split, M. Night Shyamalan expended any goodwill he accumulated with this dual Split/Unbreakable sequel. Rather than having the characters played by James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, and Samuel L. Jackson square off, Shyamalan gives us endless scenes of them talking to a therapist. The exciting finale, meanwhile, involves them talking in a parking lot. Yawn.
6. Joker - Todd Phillips' revisionist comic book movie puts a new spin on the origins of Batman's most notorious foe by ripping off Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver. Left to his own devices, star Joaquin Phoenix does Method acting like there's no tomorrow, delivering a performance of empty tics and mannerisms that never coalesces into a character. There's also something off-putting about the way Joker pretends to say something important about how society treats the mentally ill while simultaneously offering a thoroughly unrealistic portrayal of mental illness and perpetuating harmful stereotypes of those who battle it.
5. Replicas - Keanu Reeves is a scientist who uses an experimental procedure to bring his dead family back to life, to catastrophic results. Every dimwitted “never play God” sci-fi cliché is accounted for in this bomb that can't even be bothered to devise a quasi-plausible explanation for its own fictional science.
4. Cats - Simply put, this is a colossal fiasco. Director Tom Hooper adapts the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage musical through over-conceptualized musical numbers, gigantic sets, glitzy camera angles, and in-your-face CGI. No plot or character development can be found anywhere, despite all the look-how-magical-this-is theatrics. And the visual effects used to turn stars Taylor Swift, Judi Dench, and Jennifer Hudson into felines is unintentionally creepy.
3. Hellboy - Guillermo del Toro made two Hellboy movies that were fun, imaginative, and coherent. Neil Marshall rebooted the franchise by making one that was dreary, incoherent, and nauseatingly violent. The best thing I can say about it is that eventually it ended.
2. The Fanatic - Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst directed this John Travolta vehicle about an obsessed fan who keeps pestering a movie star. So many things are wrong with it. Durst never makes it clear whether he's making a thriller or a comedy. Travolta's performance as the (clearly, yet never directly specified) autistic stalker is both offensive and overwrought. The dialogue is frequently preposterous. Those are just three examples. Everything about The Fanatic is an embarrassing failure.
And my choice for the Worst Film of 2019 is:
1. The Lion King - I concede that this movie is technically better-made than some of the others on this list. I'm choosing it as the year's worst, though, because I detest everything it stands for. Disney has chosen to remake a perfect film in a manner – photorealistic CGI – that thoroughly strips the story of its magic. Sure, it's incredible how real the animals look. And that's the problem. The characters can't be as expressive because they're not allowed to have the stylized appearance that makes them expressive. Consequently, getting wrapped up in the tale of Simba and his friends is impossible. Whereas the 1994 traditionally-animated film felt thrillingly alive, this needless remake plays like the uninspired and soulless cash grab it is. Disney's incessant desire to crank out inferior remakes of its animated classics is frustrating, and The Lion King represents the absolute nadir of that desire.
Here are the five worst day-and-date or extremely limited releases of 2019: