In 2021, I happily avoided writing a worst of the year list. It’s not that there were no movies worthy of such a list — Tom & Jerry, I see you. I just don’t revel in the opportunity to take filmmakers and their casts and crews down a peg. On the other hand, movies are entertainment we pay money to see. Somewhere within that transaction is a tacit understanding that failing to deliver a good end product could result in the film appearing on these sorts of lists. All’s fair in love and celluloid (or DCPs, I suppose).
2022 was particularly rough in the major studio releases department. Many would-be blockbusters came and went with little fanfare … sometimes they came and went twice. But a number of smaller genre pictures also failed to impress. Here’s my bottom 10 movies of the year.
I don’t know if Spirited, the contemporary riff on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is a bad movie, per se. It has a reasonable premise (when you decide to ignore the strange, soupy mess of pro-conglomerate ethos embedded within), and the second act reversal that complicates who is Christmas Caroling whom is an intriguing idea. But this film is aggressively not for me. The song and dance numbers are consistently a distracting mess, and Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds fail to charm their way around the bloated scenes and middling quips. The simple, enduring emotional core of Dickens’ story is here somewhere, but it takes a lot of hurdling to get there. By that point, I was already out.
A lot of people are enjoying this one. So don’t take my word for it that it’s bad. Earlier this month I tried, twice, to watch Black Adam and could not do it. So if you want to pretend like Black Adam is on this list instead of Spirited, be my guest. I’m pretty confident Black Adam is a worse movie in this case.
9. The Bubble
I remember so little of this movie that I’m not confident I can write a full blurb on it. An unfunny misfire from Judd Apatow. I suppose it had the right idea – a topical comedy satirizing the privilege of Hollywood elites from the inside. But the COVID-related humor is annoying, and the self-mockery is toothless and lazy. If you watch anything from Apatow this year, let it be his George Carlin doc, or better yet watch his Garry Shandling doc from a few years back if you haven’t already. The latter is the best film Apatow has made.
8. Mother Schmuckers
You know a movie is intentionally provocative when it opens with its two idiotic leads cooking up a pan of feces and then forcing it into their mother’s face until she vomits. You know it’s not good at being provocative when not four months since first seeing it, the only thing I can remember about the film is said opening sequence. Mother Schmuckers is the type of movie seemingly made with the hopes that people will hate it (because the people who “get it” can chide the rest who gag at it). I’m all for gagging at a movie; I’ve gagged at some great ones. And when the water’s the right temperature, I am all for provocation for provocation’s sake. This, however, is really nothing of note. It is 70 minutes of tiring, trifling idiocy.
A movie this long in the making was never going to stick the landing. And Uncharted really had a nothing-burger of an opening. It’s as bland and rote as any other action movie programmer. I’m not a huge fan of these games (I’ve only played through one of them, and it was just fine), so I’m not the right critic to identify what went wrong here. But I would bet that fans of Nathan Drake consider this a bovine scatological word I shouldn’t repeat in polite company.
Despite a script desperately trying to conjure up some form of rapport between these characters, there is zero chemistry between any of the actors. And nothing about the action itself is particularly compelling. Save for competent editing holding the mediocre mess together, there is not much here worth celebrating.
6. Texas Chainsaw Massacre
I feel like I have exhausted this argument, but I will reiterate it once more just to justify my placement of this otherwise fairly inoffensive slasher reboot on this list. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is my favorite slasher film. That said, I don’t hold it sacred. Reboot it if you wish, but know that you are coming up against an inevitable problem. What makes the original film so terrifying and effective has very little to do with a man in a human skin mask waving a chainsaw. The iconography of the film is not the film. But most of the sequels, remakes, and reboots of the property assume that it is.
Including this one, which tosses Leatherface into a half-baked gentrification narrative with flat cinematography and ill-conceived set pieces. The reveal of Leatherface in the 1974 film is a fierce bit of staging and editing that makes your blood run cold. The Leatherface in the 2022 film butchers Gen-Zers on a bus to unintentional hilarity.
At the core of They/Them, the directorial debut of playwright and Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Logan, is a genuinely intriguing play with genre. Merging the cabin in the woods slasher with the horrors of conversion camps could be a rich space for flexing what the horror genre can do in the way of sociopolitical commentary. Instead, Logan has made a thinly-drawn cast of characters dropped into a rote psychological thriller/slasher hybrid. As a result, the politics are muddy and the genre play is toothless.
Without meaningful depth provided for these campers, save for a few canned monologues and bits of backstory window dressing, the meaningful core of this story loses said meaning. So by the time the group breaks into an a cappella rendition of a P!nk song, it is not the empowering moment that it sets out to be but a thudding realization that integral elements of storytelling are missing from this movie.
Juan Barquin wrote a piece which echoes many of my issues with this film, and more eloquently so. So go check that out.
4. Jurassic World: Dominion
I’m going to sound like a broken record, but there is nothing about Jurassic Park to me that screams “sequel material.” Nothing, that is, save for the fact that the notion imprints dollar signs on executive eyeballs. The mainline Park sequels at least attempt to be exciting films in their own right (while in my view honestly not being all that great). These Jurassic World movies, though, read so clearly as soulless cash grabs that it is hard to take them seriously from the jump. But I’ve tried. Three times now, I have tried. And while Jurassic World is bland and bloated, it has its moments. And Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a glorified B-movie, which is interesting in its own right.
Jurassic World: Dominion, however, is so creatively bankrupt as to be next to unwatchable. The hollow characters from previous entries somehow appear here more flat-line vacant, and the new ones are tossed in without much thought. The story is a mangled mess of mindless adventuring and boring globe-trotting. Trevorrow impresses here in solely one regard: he has accomplished the feat of making dinosaurs cinematically inert and mind-numbingly boring.
Everyone on the internet has already taken their turn obliterating Morbius, so I can keep this short. I went into this one long after the razzing had begun on this dreary beast of a movie, and I did my best to go in open minded. I went out of my way to find something of value in here, and while I don’t find it as egregiously terrible as some, it is still a highly non-valuable piece of filmmaking. Moreover, it is utterly forgettable.
It is such a strange comic book movie, in that it in some ways feels so disconnected from everything else going on in blockbuster cinema that it appears to hark back to the 2000s era of comic book movies. But not a good 2000s comic book movie. Less Spider-Man 2 and more Jonah Hex, you know. Morbius is a baffling film — baffling that it was made in the first place, to be frank. Maybe what it added to meme culture is enough of an ROI for some, but I just found the whole culture cycle of this thing tiresome.
I feel like I defend found footage more than most horror fans. I also feel like I tolerate the “Screenlife” gimmick of recent years more than some horror fans. But I do not defend nor do I tolerate Dashcam, the single most grating film experience of my year. It is loud and obnoxious and largely devoid of discernible story. There is a story there, to be clear, but it is hard to decipher it amongst the cacophony of profane shouting and horrendous rapping. Rob Savage – director of the mildly overrated Host – certainly achieved what he was going for, if what he was going for was a migraine of high-volume dialogue and bodily fluids.
Simon Abrams possibly said it the best when he opened his review by claiming one’s tolerance for “braindead provocation” will determine their enjoyment of the film. Often, my tolerance is quite high in this department. Something about Dascham really irked me, though. Maybe it was the unlikeable and entirely unwritten characters. Maybe it was the ugly aesthetic and uninteresting use of the found footage format. Maybe it was the sinking suspicion that this movie was tossed together as a series of improvisations with nothing but a flimsy treatment to guide it along. No matter the case, braindead provocation this is, heavy on the braindead.
1. Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
It’s wild that these Fantastic Beasts movies keep getting worse (and keep getting made). The first one was fairly dull, but mercifully watchable. This new installment is rough. Visually, it is drab and flat. Narratively, it is comprised of hollow world-building and fantasy world political intrigue that feels unimportant and culminates in the most groan-worthy climax of the year.
I know that I asked this last time one of these came out, but does any fan of Harry Potter care about these movies? The lore comes off vacant and the characters lack any sort of dimension or interiority. There are 11 characters on the poster for this film, and I cannot say that any of them have something resembling an arc (either within this film or across the trilogy). The magic of the Wizarding World is slowly draining with each film. The more I learn about this universe, the less I care.
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)