The Worst Films of 2020


How do you choose the biggest movie misfires of the year? In a way, it’s easy. A movie that’s bad enough to earn a place on this scroll is, like a great movie, not one you really choose. It’s one that chooses you. It looks like a judgment, and a harsh one at that, but it’s really a feeling — that the film in question is so misconceived, so undramatic or unfunny or convoluted or just plain boring, that to watch it is enough to cause pain. In this pandemic year, there were fewer studio bombs to choose from, yet we made no special attempt to go big or go small, to go Hollywood or go indie. We didn’t have to. We just went with the worst.


1. Dolittle

Drug dealers used to have the mantra “Don’t get high on your own supply.” Maybe movie stars should live by the credo “Dolittle — just don’t do it.” The 1998 reboot was merely another middling Eddie Murphy comedy, but this Robert Downey Jr. remake achieves the staggering feat of being much, much worse than the fabled, creaky-boned 1967 Hollywood musical debacle. Is the problem the charmless critters? The ungodly mess of a story? Or the mechanical whimsy of Downey, who barely talks to the animals because he’s so busy talking to himself? All of the above. “Dolittle” is a movie that’s more excruciating than the sum of its frenetic yet lifeless kiddie-blockbuster parts.


2. The Last Thing He Wanted

The first mistake made by the gifted filmmaker Dee Rees (“Mudbound,” “Pariah”) was deciding to adapt one of Joan Didion’s worst forays into fiction: her 1996 tale of a Washington Post reporter who becomes an arms dealer for the U.S. government. The second mistake was to bold-face every only-in-a-Didion-novel twist and contrivance, and to have Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, and Willem Dafoe chew on the turgidly incoherent espionage dialogue as if they were acting in some breathless political noir. The result is a movie that gets so lost in the thickets of its pretension that you need a machete to cut through it.


3. I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Charlie Kaufman used to create lyrically spiky head trips that teased your brain and heart at the same time. Now he makes sodden puzzles that don’t quite add up because they’re too busy telegraphing their cantankerous oddity. His latest trip down the rabbit hole of scrubby dream logic centers on a morose geek (Jesse Plemons) who’s too gnarled to connect to anyone, from his girlfriend (Jessie Buckley) to his Samuel Beckett sitcom parents (David Thewlis and Toni Collette) to the audience. But the spirit of disconnection is mother’s milk to Kaufman, and “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is a depressive half-baked Twilight Zone — it’s all about the janitor! yeah, keep telling yourself that — that unravels before your eyes.


4. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

There are bad movies everyone hates and bad movies some people like (like “Ishtar” or “Xanadu”), and there’s no question that Will Ferrell’s I’m-an-idiot Nordic songfest burlesque has its cult of fans, who view it as an ironic expression of pop sincerity. Yet what about the jokes — as in, all of them — that just lie flat and sit there, like something on a plate of warm herring? Or the way that the movie can’t decide if Ferrell and Rachel McAdams, as an Icelandic duo who stumble into the Eurovision Song Contest, are bad singers, so-bad-they’re-good-singers, or good singers? The movie doesn’t satirize the annual Europop competition so much as it presents it, as if its very existence were funny. It’s not.


5. Guest of Honour

Atom Egoyan keeps masticating his old tropes — noodgy inspectors and disreputable bus drivers, secrets within mysteries within flashbacks, sexual indiscretion with a minor — in this jaw-droppingly convoluted and unconvincing family melodrama, which is centered around a restaurant that serves fried bunny-rabbit ears. Both the dish and the movie are supremely unappetizing, yet Egoyan, whose best films (“The Sweet Hereafter,” “Felicia’s Journey,” “Chloe”) now seem a world away, is increasingly content to play in Egoyan World, a jungle gym of ludicrous contrivance.


Peter Debruge's 5 Worst Films


1. The Painted Bird

Jerzy Kosinski’s 1965 novel was plenty controversial in its time, billed as an autobiographical account of the horrors he witnessed during World War II, then later recast as fiction. Czech director Václav Marhoul clearly saw the material as an opportunity to make a capital-I “Important” art film, recruiting respected actors (Stellan Skarsgard, Harvey Keitel, Udo Kier) and putting them through the motions of human cruelty the book describes. It’s literally too much to watch, and I walked out after Nazi soldiers shot a Jewish woman and her infant with the same bullet. It works for some, but don’t force yourself.


2. 365 Days/After We Collided

As if fanfic phenoms “Twilight” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” weren’t hard enough on lovers of literature, other writers are piling on with tawdry erotic homages of their own. The original “After” (a sleeper hit back in early 2019) was kinda fun, as in-flight viewing goes, but this flaccid sequel is like the big-screen equivalent of an amateur high school theater production, only kinkier. “365 Days,” which shot up the charts on Netflix, is a risible Polish softcore thriller in which a successful exec is kidnapped by a brutish Italian mafioso until love or Stockholm syndrome sets in — the movie’s premise being that she secretly wants to be taken, building to an inexplicably “tragic” non-ending. American movies are far too prudish, but one of these fantasies set us back decades, while the other had me thinking of ending things (to reference Charlie Kaufman’s miserable idea of a date movie).


3. Artemis Fowl

This derivative Disney eyesore was meant to be the studio’s shot at “Harry Potter”-style success. Instead, like so many other craven grabs at franchise gold (e.g. “The Golden Compass,” “Ender’s Game,” et al.), it’s one and done for this clumsy adaptation of Eoin Colfer’s YA book series. The over-designed but under-thought-out monstrosity centers on a criminal mastermind who’s not yet old enough to shave, although Disney seems to have decided that they should turn the precocious antihero into a fairy-chasing Richie Rich. Just as well that they dumped it on Disney Plus, disguising what surely would’ve been a box-office disaster.


4. The Roads Not Taken

When it comes to losing a loved one to dementia, French playwright Florian Zeller approached the subject with artful empathy in “The Father,” putting audiences in the same position as Anthony Hopkin’s character, unable to distinguish between delusion and reality. By contrast, director Sally Potter is still too close to the subject, having lost her brother to the cruel condition several years back. A fully committed Javier Bardem gives his most gratuitously unpleasant performance since “Biutiful,” while Elle Fanning’s raw reaction makes it even harder to bear in a movie Potter clearly had to make, but no one needs to see.


5. Capone

Close but no cigar: “Fantastic Four” director Josh Trank emerged from movie jail to make his “Scarface, Coda: The Death of Al Capone,” a film about the mobster’s final days, after he was released from Alcatraz to die of syphilis at home. Trouble is, it’s the least compelling chapter in the aging gangster’s life, doubly unpleasant as we see this incontinent antihero rant and rage and soil his sheets. Hardy’s one hell of an actor, but he’s straining way too hard here, making it impossible to get past the performance and connect with a monster who’s rotting inside and out.


Article by: Owen Gleiberman, Peter Debruge for Variety.



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