Hello again, everyone, and welcome back to The Friendly Film Fan! I have been enjoying both an academically and personally fulfilling stay in France over the past several days as I visit my girlfriend and fulfill my remaining bachelor’s degree requirements, so if you’d like to know why my own end-of-the-year lists are going up so late, that would be the reason. 2019, and thus the decade as whole, is coming to a rapidly-approaching close, and as the year winds down, we’ve got a lot of material to sift through regarding our reflections on this year’s cinematic field, as well as that of the entire 2010s. For now, though, let’s simply focus on 2019, and the movies released within it. Each and every year, there is a push and pull between which lists to put up first – the positive or the negative – and many critics and film pundits (rightfully so) choose the former as their initial output in order to gain traction and focus on the good first. Many others, however (such as myself), like to go in the opposite direction, so that we can end these lists on the highest note we can. With all that in mind, it remains unfortunate that this first entry in my end-of-the-year lists is a bit of a downer, as I’m sure you’ve seen by its title (but fear not, the good is coming!). To clarify before we begin, these are not all bad movies. In fact, many of them I still mostly enjoyed for one reason or another; nonetheless, they are listed here expressly for their own failures to either meet or exceed my expectations for where they could have (and maybe should have) gone in fulfilling their potential. The larger the gap, the higher the placement. Here are my picks for the Top 10 Most Disappointing Movies of 2019:
10. Ad Astra
As mentioned in the paragraph above, not all of these are bad movies, and Ad Astra is one of those which I would still consider good. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stay awake long enough to know because the film moves so painfully slow that I began to fall asleep about halfway through (though I did manage to jolt myself back away in time that I didn’t miss anything). Brad Pitt continues to impress with both his quieter and louder performances (more on that in a different list), but apart from the visual effects and sound design, this film just doesn’t have that much going for it, wasting a killer supporting cast on several worlds that we never get to stay on long enough to explore or know. It’s hardly what I would call a bad movie, but it could have been a masterpiece.
9. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Let me start out by saying this before the Rian Johnson defenders (of which I am one) or The Last Jedi’s detractors (who aren’t “wrong” for disliking a movie) begin either declaring victory or throwing acid onto their keyboards: I liked this movie. I liked it. I did not, however, love it, and there are some pretty key choices made within it (which I won’t spoil here since it’s still pretty new) that rubbed me the wrong way. It’s not so much that I think it’s anywhere to close to an outright bad movie, but as the conclusion to a trilogy, and especially as the conclusion to the most iconic movie saga ever put to screen, it failed to measure up to what it should have been. I like some of the decisions made concerning Rey, but not necessarily the origins of those decisions, and its failure to really be about something in the way Last Jedi and even Force Awakens were in order to hurry up and rush through a story that seem only half-developed costs it dearly on that front. It’s the same kind of average that makes a lot of other movies average, but when you’re Star Wars, average is something you simply cannot afford to be without reason.
8. Doctor Sleep
I recognize that I am absolutely in the minority on this one, and I hold no ill will towards those that liked or even loved this movie; that is an awesome thing for them, and I am so glad they enjoyed it as much as they did, and hey, maybe I’ll change my mind later down the line after a re-watch. For now, though, I have to say I was pretty let down by Doctor Sleep. I’m not sure there’s anything particularly wrong with the movie as a whole, but its massively inflated run-time made it a chore to sit through for me, and while I did still think it was a decent movie on its own, I personally feel it failed to connect as a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s iconic horror classic, The Shining. Kubrick is nearly impossible to follow, so I don’t envy that of director Mike Flanagan, and I think he probably did the best he could, but for me personally, it just wasn’t quite enough. This one does have Rebecca Ferguson in a slasher hat and tank top wielding a massive axe, though; I’ll certainly give it points for that.
7. It: Chapter Two
It’s been well-known for some time now that the ending to Stephen King’s best-selling, iconic horror novel It is one of its weaker points (King himself even makes fun of it in the film), and that the split narrative between the kid and adult versions of the Losers Club is one of the reasons it’s so incredibly lengthy. The genius of the first movie was to take just one of those sections (the one with the kids) and turn that into a feature-length film, trimming some material here and there in order to make it as cohesive and focused as possible; that move worked so well, in fact, that It: Chapter One set the record for the highest-grossing film ever released in the month of September almost overnight, and went on shortly after to become the highest-grossing horror film of all time. Director Andy Muschetti was thus left with an impossible task: continue staying true to the book, making sure to trim what doesn’t work, and form a compelling story with the less compelling half of what you have left to work with, but also make it work with an ending that most people who’ve read the book didn’t like in the first place. Apart from its stellar ensemble cast, and the chemistry they all have when they’re on screen together, It: Chapter Two was kind of set up to be a perfect storm of disappointment, as the story unveiled the mystery behind Pennywise (thus neglecting the horror of his ambiguity), separated its main cast for the entire second act (giving them each their own separate storylines instead of streamlining any of them), re-introduced the first film’s secondary villain for no reason, and took way too long to do any of it, wrapping up with a suicide that’s painted as a heroic act of sacrifice by the film’s finale. The film does have some enjoyable elements (most notably Bill Skarsgård’s reprisal of Pennywise), and I don’t envy Muschetti the mission he had to accomplish, but nevertheless, It: Chapter Two is a far cry from the greatness and watchability of its immediate predecessor.
This is where we start getting into the true letdowns, the lowest of the low blows, the worst of the gut punches to our cinematic cravings. I’m still not entirely sure whether M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass is a bad movie or not, but coming on the heels of Split (one of his best in over a decade), which came on the heels of The Visit, it was certainly a letdown of some sizable proportions. After the tease at the end of Split, where it is revealed to the audience that the film’s universe is the same one as that of Shyamalan’s 2000 superhero film, Unbreakable, it seemed that the once-lauded but now oft-maligned director of both was gearing up to have a full-out resurgence into the masterpiece territory from whence he came…and then Glass came along and did that thing that many endings for film trilogies do, revealing itself to be easily the weakest of the bunch. The performances are all really solid, but the story itself goes almost nowhere, and the signature Shyamalan twist at the end of the film, while it doesn’t really hurt it, does nothing to help.
5. The Current War: Director’s Cut
Looking back at the production history of this movie, I suppose no one should have been surprised when it was released to widespread critical dismissal and lack of fanfare. This was originally under the Weinstein Company during production, and the original theatrical cut even screened at one or two film festivals (to even worse reviews at the time), but after the fall of Harvey Weinstein in 2017, it got shelved until it could be picked up and distributed by a different studio later on. After reports came out that Harvey Weinstein had bullied the director on set and wouldn’t allow him to tell the story he wanted to tell, the film went back into post-production, and was quietly released as a Director’s Cut in October of this year. Having seen both cuts myself, I can say that there are some notable improvements, but the film remains one of the most disappointing of 2019, utterly wasting a terrific ensemble cast on a story fraught with noticeable pacing issues, poor editing, enough historical inaccuracies to make Braveheart look like Snopes’ number one movie of all time, and some of the most egregious cinematography of any historical drama this side of 2010. Some movies, it seems, cannot overcome their demons.
4. Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Richard Linklater directed the Before trilogy. He directed School of Rock. He directed Boyhood. Dazed and Confused. Everybody Wants Some!! I could go on. Linklater has been responsible for some of the most magnificent, fun, and iconic movies in cinematic history, perhaps some of the most brilliantly conceived and written productions of any history for that matter. So when this film got pushed from April all the way back to August, I told myself not to worry. It’s Linklater; the guy delivers masterpieces like 80% of the time. Unfortunately, as much as I love Linklater, Cate Blanchett, and Billy Crudup, this is easily one of the weakest films in years for each of them. Apart from having a horribly misconceived trailer that promises the usual self-finding journey, but with Cate Blanchett, and instead hides the fact that this journey only takes place across the last third of the film, Where’d You Go, Bernadette lacks the focus, the humanity, and the honesty of Linklater’s other films, throwing in a barely-developed architect backstory for Blanchett (who puts on a thanklessly solid performance), as well as an identity theft subplot that goes absolutely nowhere, and attempting to paint Bernadette as a stifled artist when she’s really just a jerk to everyone around her for no good reason, then placing the blame for her behavior on Billy Crudup, who plays her husband. Some things about this movie work, like part of the third act and the performers in it, but seemingly every other element of this hodge-podge of a mess seems determined to force it not to work. It’s a bizarre misfire from a director and cast capable of far greater work than this.
3. The Goldfinch
There was no greater pain for me than the revelation after this movie was over that it would probably be making the shortlist for worst movie of the year, especially as it’s based on a Pulitzer-winning novel and was directed by John Crowley, who also directed my favorite movie of 2015, Brooklyn. This so easily could have been a masterpiece with its stellar cast, fantastic trailers, and remarkable art design. If only wishing would make it so. I even had this film on my list of predictions for Oscar nominations several months back. Unfortunately, all this film has going for its nothing story is how it looks (due, in no small part, to Roger Deakins behind the camera), and it ultimately feels like a tired re-production of something far better than what audiences were left with. It’s endlessly dull, it’s relentlessly disappointing, it’s too disjointed for its own good, and it needlessly wastes a really solid director on two and a half hours of absolutely nothing happening because of a missing painting, ignoring a story about the film’s inciting museum bombing costing the main character his mother, and how powerful any other angle of that could have been. Maybe the source material just isn’t all that good, so part of the lack of quality could be placed on that, but movies are meant to stand on their own, and The Goldfinch fails as both an adaptation and its own piece of art (an ironic final nail in its own coffin).
2. The Lion King (2019)
Like Richard Linklater, Jon Favreau has brought about some of the most endlessly watchable, fun movies of this decade, including his 2016 remake of The Jungle Book, which not only improved on its source material (however you may feel about the songs or lack thereof), but also marked a gigantic leap forward for visual effects when it was revealed at a screen convention that everything except its lead character was produced on a soundstage in Los Angeles and created with CGI. Favreau’s next move had to be a big one, and how better to go bigger than with Disney’s most iconic animated classic? The Lion King then stacked up a murderer’s row of an ensemble cast, from Donald Glover to Chiwetel Ejiofor to a returning James Earl Jones as the voice of Mufasa. And yet, despite only one shot having not been created with visual effects and the rest of it looking like one has stepped onto the African plains outright, this remake seems to have no sense of true visual identity apart from its realism. Every element of the production was so focused on making it look real (and it absolutely does) that the film fails to justify that realism within the prism of its distinctly animated-feeling story. Everything thus becomes lesser by way of being brought into reality, and the only true bright spots not fueled by nostalgia are those which have been altered from their original incarnations or added in to pad the now two-hour runtime. Even Hans Zimmer’s iconic “King of Pride Rock” theme is driven into the ground so hard throughout this movie that the only way to make it different for the finale…is to add vocals and take away the instrumental power entirely. The Lion King (2019) is a stunning masterpiece of visual splendor that doesn’t have one iconic shot that belongs to it and it alone, nor one vocal performance superior to its source material, nor any charisma or soul apart from its diversions from that source material. And all of this is so disappointing precisely because it easily could have been all of that if anyone on the other side of the “camera” had focused on telling its story in the most emotionally compelling way possible, rather than the most visually realistic way possible.
Yes, The Lion King (2019) had more on the line. Yes, The Goldfinch could have been an Oscar contender. Yes, It had potential to put itself in the horror canon as one of the most iconic of all time and Chapter Two dropped the ball. But, to me, there has been no greater disappointment of this cinematic year than Danny Boyle – Oscar Winner Danny Boyle – finding absolutely no joy in the premise or narrative of Yesterday. This movie is about a man who wakes up from an accident and comes to realize that literally everyone around him has forgotten The Beatles, then sets out to resurrect their music. That’s fun! That’s dynamic! That is a killer good time! And, to top it all off, it had one of the best trailers of the whole year, which sold you on the premise and promised a charming little summer film about music and one’s passion for it! But all Yesterday has to show for itself is a cynical, mean-spirited view of how people are supposed to value music, rather than letting people find the value in it themselves. The performance of Hey Jude in the trailer never takes place, the love story subplot with Lily James is awkwardly squished in, and any of the charm the film might have had is snuffed out almost immediately by lead actor Himesh Patel (himself doing a really good job with what he’s given) not getting to have any fun with his character. This is the kind of film that will disappoint and upset those who are already Beatles fans, and re-affirm those who already don’t like their music. In the past few years of so many great music films, from Sing Street to A Star Is Born to Rocketman to Blinded by the Light to Wild Rose, which valued and elevated their genres and artists by telling stories that appreciated them, this film takes its perfect-as-can-be premise, and places itself firmly in the camp of those average or below, among those like Bohemian Rhapsody that only want to use the music as a selling point rather than a thematic drive, and that is what makes Yesterday the most disappointing movie of 2019.
So, what are your most disappointing movies of 2019? Are there any on this list you agree with? Disagree with? Let me know in the comments section below. Thanks for reading, and watch for more end-of-the-year lists, coming soon to The Friendly Film Fan!
Dishonorable Mentions: Aladdin (2019), Good Boys, Harriet, The Kitchen, Men in Black: International
- The Friendly Film Fan