2020 is a difficult year to write superlatives about. Especially coming on the heels of a few bountiful years of media consumption, doing a list series for the cinema of 2020 is something I considered skipping entirely. Previous best of the year lists have witnessed a wealth of films which I greatly enjoyed (20 in 2019, 25 in 2018, and 50 in 2017). I may be able to string together a list of 20 this year, but it just feels as though I am missing some great films, some of which that aren’t even on my radar. There are always blind spots on these lists, but my access to films this year is far more limited than in previous years. But I will give it a shot, based on the 150 or so movies I’ve seen.
On the flip side, I’ve seen plenty of below average films this year. Those are inescapable. In the days of Armageddon, the media industries will continue churning out subpar claptrap filmed close enough to in focus to be considered a movie. I generally like to keep my worst of the year list shorter than my best of the year list (you know, for positivity’s sake). Thus, I will leave out a number of dishonorable mentions, which include (non-exhaustively): Antebellum, The Last Thing He Wanted, The Stranger, Beneath Us, and Trolls World Tour.
Aquaslash is one of three films on this list which transcends, at least in part, the “worst of the year” moniker due its so-bad-it’s-good potential. A slasher movie about a killer who installs giant, razor-sharp blades into a water park slide, Aquaslash is both knowingly stupid and genuinely incompetent. It is a one-trick pony of a horror comedy that is visually amateurish. And the kitsch value of watching people get diced like tomatoes gets old over time, repetitive as it is. So while there is some fun to be had if the good-bad thing is what you’re after, the film still offers little.
14. The Babysitter: Killer Queen
McG’s whole thing is just not my style. Even something like The Babysitter, which should be right up my alley considering its attempt to subvert common horror tropes, was insufferable to me. It ended up on my worst of 2017 list at #6, and it was bested by a handful of horror films which were exceptionally bad. I guess you could say I enjoyed the sequel The Babysitter: Killer Queen, significantly more. Still, it falls into the same grating, annoying trappings of the first film, which makes it difficult to engage with the film on any genuine level. There is some mileage out of Ken Marino’s subplot, given that his comedic persona provides this limp script some life. Otherwise, the film is a frenetic mess.
I don’t have much negative to say about Scoob!. The Scooby-Doo franchise has been reformatted and restructured for different generations before, so this post-Gen Z approach to making the gang hip and tech-obsessed is not that offensive. It doesn’t make for good or relevant humor, though (do children born after 2010 think Simon Cowell is funny?).
As a millennial who watched the original Scooby-Doo, Where are You! program as a child, I am used to this property being a relic of a past generation whose animation style is quaint and severely limited in its ability to convey motion. That certainly isn’t what this is, nor does that matter. Nostalgia is not even a factor here, as Scoob! is so many levels removed from the original Hanna-Barbera cartoon that it is basically its own IP. If kids like this (do they?), who am I to critique?
Centigrade is the type of hollow genre experiment where the script has to work overtime to make sure the premise stretches to feature length. As such, it is boring and frustrating to watch. An initially intriguing (yet not entirely novel) premise where a couple is snowed into their car devolves quickly into bickering and lazy choices. As a result, the two characters are unlikeable, and their actions are annoying to watch play out. By the end, no payoff could salvage the experience.
11. New Order
The major difference between New Order and the rest of the movies on this list is that it is competently filmed. More than that, it is shot and staged fairly well, particularly in the first act. The first half hour or so of this film is tense, due in large part to the way events are staged.
My problem with New Order is that it is a needlessly bleak political film whose political message gets muddied by the nihilistic fantasy its story wields. I have read the critique multiple times over that this is the politics of Joker filmed from the sympathetic vantage point of the upper class elite. I wouldn’t paint it so broadly, especially after reading interviews of director Michel Franco in which he appears to side with the thinly drawn antagonists of his film. However, Franco’s insistence on shocking the viewer’s system in his depiction of literal class warfare in Mexico City is enough to obfuscate his politics entirely. This film disgusts by design, and, from my perspective, does almost nothing else of substance. This makes the depiction of the struggling working class read at best frustrating; at worst, infuriating.
Deon Taylor’s Fatale is a harmless dud. When compared to New Order, this reads like a sigh of relief. But New Order is attempting to provoke something, at least, even if it utterly fails to do so in my estimation. The closest I see Taylor’s thriller about adultery and deception approaching substance is with a thin through-line about loyalty and trust. But this broad theme does not translate into engaging characters or thrilling plot. Instead, it all reads boilerplate. Hilary Swank is compelling, if only because she is doing something different than she normally does. Perhaps recency bias is the reason for Fatale being on this list, but I must admit that I find this subgenre of thriller particularly tedious and boring.
Mope is a bleak and trashy Boogie Nights, and that is not a complimentary comparison. Boogie Nights depicts the allure and seediness of the porn industry at a specific moment in time, and it draws this time and the figures living in it in a fascinating way. Mope doesn’t really draw anything. I guess, if anything, it draws darkness and misogyny and mental illness within an ambiguous, ill-defined space. And it doesn’t provide any voices which can provide meaningful comment or context to this world. The characters are not living beings within an environment that has a clear history. They are elements at play in a grossly unrepresentative view of a scandalous industry, specifically (it seems) for the sake of making a scandalous picture. There are interesting stories to tell about this industry, I am sure, but this film chooses the exact wrong approach.
8. Brahms: The Boy II
I have not seen The Boy, but I know enough about the plot of The Boy to know that Brahms: The Boy II makes absolutely no sense. But I also can’t be mad, because Brahms: The Boy II is such an empty viewing experience that I have no reason to put energy into the frustration that would come with piecing together the illogical aspects of the film’s narrative. Considering I was the only person in the movie theater when I saw it, I would not be surprised to find out that Brahms: The Boy II is not a film at all, but a severe delusion incepted into my brain by a malevolent spirit living inside the porcelain doll that appeared in my bedroom one day. His name is Brahms: The Boy II, after all.
7. Spenser Confidential
Spenser Confidential is L.A. Confidential for meatheads. The fear of emasculation that runs through the veins of this movie is laughable, to the point where I can almost see it working as self-parody. That is, if the film and its star didn’t take themselves so seriously. Spenser Confidential is possibly the worst of the Mark Wahlberg-Peter Berg collaborations (Mile 22 was #12 on my worst movies of 2018 list). And I have very little to say about it. It was an early pandemic watch that has trickled out of my mind over the ensuing months. All I know is that Winston Duke deserves better than roles like this.
I recently reviewed Ava, so I won’t belabor the point here. But Ava is an exceedingly conventional action thriller whose story wouldn’t be satisfactory for a 40-minute film, let alone a one hour and 40 minute film. The cast of this thing is loaded with talent, yet no one comes out of this clunky film unscathed. I fail to see what these actors saw in this script. And the shoddy filmmaking doesn’t do them any favors, either. I kind of feel bad for Jessica Chastain, whose talent is so severely under-served by this material.
5. Money Plane
Aside from the #1 film on this list, Money Plane is the most incompetent film on this list from a purely technical level. The reason this is not higher on this list, however, is because I had a lot of fun with Money Plane. It is a gloriously bad movie on a number of levels. The filmmaking is exceptionally shoddy. The premise is silly. The narrative is poorly constructed, with dialogue that is even less sound. The action is boring. The acting is static. But when you can get one cracker jack scene of hammy acting from Kelsey Grammar early in your ill-conceived action film, then you will have my $5.99. As far as I am concerned, Money Plane is the good-bad movie of 2020.
4. The Wrong Missy
I like Laruen Lapkus’ comedy. Her podcast appearances put her on my radar years ago, and, as with all comedy podcast guests/hosts I come across, I am happy when I see them getting work in movies and television. This movie, though…it kind of makes me embarrassed to say I am a fan of Lauren Lapkus. The Wrong Missy is not her fault, to be fair. She is putting herself out there with her performance in a way that is admirable. But I can’t stand it. I think this movie is employing her comedic energy in absolutely the wrong way.
The Wrong Missy made me feel gross. I cannot remember laughing once, and I often laugh at stupid jokes in terrible movies (if only out of exasperation). Here, the comedy elicited exhaustion and disgust.
3. The Last Days of American Crime
I must be honest here. This film came out just six months ago, and I have already forgotten it in its entirety. So I went back to my initial review of the film, which I think sums up my thoughts adequately enough. The film is dour and ugly (and, apparently, unmemorable). It is gouache to quote oneself, I know, but for the sake of illustrating this film I should return to a time when I have recollection of its content. I wrote that the film is, “visually, sonically, and narratively hideous … [it is] an impromptu exercise in hollow titillation, a provocation with no rhyme or reason.” And this grimy, unlikable experience lasts almost two and a half hours of your time. So save your time.
The biggest shock in movies in 2020 is that Dolittle is not the worst movie of the year. Though it is incredibly close. The film is both too tediously paced and far too rapid to comprehend. It is clear when entire scenes have been cut from the film, which cause things as simple as setting, character, and context to become puzzling.
I don’t know if it was my brain melting or his performance, but I found it difficult to discern what Robert Downey Jr. was saying in multiple scenes. His acting choices are certainly confounding. The experience of watching Dolittle is illogical. It makes your brain believe that your understanding of the natural order of things is wrong. While watching this, two house lights in the movie theater started flickering, and I believed that the movie was inducing hallucinations, slowly killing me with its incomprehensible poor quality. And I wasn’t even surprised. I just thought, “of course this is how I go.”
And that wasn’t my worst experience with a movie in 2020.
Picture this: musician Glenn Danzig of Misfits fame writes, directs, and scores an erotic horror film, based on a comics line from Danzig’s own comic book company Verotik, which is an anthology featuring pornographic performers who either have eyeballs for nipples or cut the faces off of women in alleyways or bathe in the blood of virgins, and these shorts have names like “The Albino Spider of Dajette” and “Drukija Contessa of Blood.” Are you picturing nothing but static, because your mind does not know how to put any of these pieces together to form a mental picture with any discernible meaning? If so, then you are correct.
Verotika is one of the worst movies I’ve even seen. Full stop. It is the type of film that will certainly have a long-tail cult appeal. This will be, for many, so-bad-it’s-good gold. There are far too many pieces of incompetence to mention here. That said, I found this insufferably boring. As much as I want people I know to watch it so that we may share in the insane details, I don’t want to subject them to a 90-minute slog of sleazy stupidity. I certainly don’t feel like watching this again anytime soon.
As always, thanks for reading!