by Kevin Muller
The Top 10 Worst Films of 2019
10. The Kitchen
The tenth spot on this list is reserved for, not necessarily a bad film, but for one that given the talent involved, should’ve worked. Based upon the Graphic Novel, “The Kitchen” tells the story of three women who are romantically involved with men connected to the Irish Mob. When the men are all thrown in jail, the three must band together to continue the men’s work, to avoid financial debt to themselves, and the community that depends on the mob. The leads are played by Elisabeth Moss, Tiffany Haddish, and Melissa McCarthy, in what seemed to be the perfect trio to pull this off. Unfortunately, a story that should’ve been about female empowerment, was just so lifeless on its execution. The film also failed to carry a consistent tone. It tried to be funny, with awkward results, it tried to be a crime drama, but failed to give the controversial story any type of spark. It was the definition of a missed opportunity.
The once great Brian De Palma has taken a stumble over the last 20 years. The excellence he gave Scarface, The Untouchables, and Mission Impossible was nowhere to be seen here. De Palma also does no favors to his lead actor, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Waldau, who is most famous for his role as Jaime Lannister, on Game of Thrones, has the charisma to be a leading man. Unfortunately, De Palma failed to utilize him in anyway possible. This project should’ve shown the world how great of a leading man Waldau could’ve been. Instead, De Palma does the impossible and made his lead actor seem lame and uncool. The action scenes were terribly directed, with absolutely no sense of thrills or adventure to them. For a supposed crime thriller, it all came off like a bad parody of the genre. As I stated in my original review, it is an embarrassment to all involved.
By the time you finish reading this list, you may think, why isn’t this higher? You’d be completely right to question this reviewer’s decision to have this so low. This film is every terrible decision being played out on screen for two hours. It is extremely weird, poorly made, despite the 75 million dollars budget, and just doesn’t work. There are moments in this film where your jaw will be on the floor, reacting to how low it goes, and it does go low. It is a film that will be studied, and remembered, on what not do when making one. I think this would had been a lot more tolerable with good make up and costumes, instead of the CGI mess we were presented with, which seemed so oddly sexual and horrific at once. It’s mind blowing that Tom Hooper, who has an Oscar, would direct this garbage. This all sounds like a harsh critique for something that is sitting at number 8, right? Despite all of that, it is a beautiful disaster to behold. It is something that has got to be seen. I firmly believe that this film will be celebrated, on the merit of its awfulness, in 10 or so years. It is the ultimate midnight movie.
7. The Hustle
Rebel Wilson is a comedic actress who only thrives when the correct director knows how to use her. For every Pitch Perfect and Isn’t it Romantic, there are projects like Cats and this one. The blame isn’t all on Ms. Wilson’s shoulders though. Chris Addison, who has directed many episodes of the critically acclaimed show Veep, doesn’t land any of the laughs here. The film is the second remake of the 1964 film Bedtime Story, which was then remade into the 1988 film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The script, which was worked on by four writers, tries to honor the films that came before it, while catering to the comedic talents of its two stars. Anne Hathaway doesn’t succeed here either. Many do not care for the Oscar winning actress, but she, like Wilson, can be quite good when she has the right material. Here, she apically misses all the comedic beats to turn in a grating and unfunny performance. There are many imperfect films that can still work if the leads are great. Unfortunately, the two have no chemistry together, or individual comedic timing, so the whole thing caves into one gigantic and unfunny pile of crap.
6. Child’s Play
The Hollywood remake train got Freddy, Jason, and Mike Myers, twice for him, so you know they were coming for Chucky. The selling point was the origin change of the killer doll. In the original, a serial killer performs a spiritual ritual to transfer his soul into an innocent children’s doll. In the remake, Chucky’s Wi-Fi has gone bad. While the change alienated many fans of the original, it could’ve been done in an interesting way. There are some interesting parts to this film, such as Chucky being able to connect to anything that can share his Wi-Fi connection, which in today’s world, is almost everything. The film nosedived with the writing, direction, and treatment of the killer doll. As with most Hollywood horror remakes, the film fails to build any suspense through its short 88 minutes of run time. The writing, even for a campy horror film, is awful. Here, Andy was given friends, who were supposed to emulate the chemistry found in Stranger Things or IT, but their dialogue is never genuine, which in turn doesn’t make their bond believable. Worst of all, Chucky was a complete bore. The original Chucky was evil to the core, yet crudely hilarious. Mark Hammill tries his best to inject something special into this version, but the script treats the character so shoddily that it is a near impossible task.
5. Pet Sematary
The original 1989 film was an absolute creep fest, with frightening visuals, suspense, and an overbearing sense of dread. In this version, the story beats were changed, specifically with which child gets buried. In both the novel and original film, the little son regenerated as the killer, but here it was the oldest daughter. Things start out well, with Ellie and her father, played by Jete Laurence and Jason Clarke, formulating a bond, that would make the inevitable, much more tragic. The film spends too much time building that relationship, and then throws an incredible rushed second and third act out us. While Clarke has the right chemistry with Laurence, his performance dips when their bond is taken away. In fact, Laurence is the only worthy performance of the film, with everyone else looking dreadfully bored. Worst of all, what makes this one a failure is that it isn’t scary, suspenseful, or even well made. It is an incredibly boring and uninvolving film that adds nothing new or interesting to King’s story.
Noah Hawley has done some incredible work for the FX television network. He made the 90’s film classic Fargo, work as a television series, and then gave us one of the most original super-hero shows, of recent memory, with Legion. One could measure the level excitement when he said that he was going to be making the jump into film. The project he chose was loosely based on the true account of astronaut, Lucy Nowak, last name changed to Cola here, who had trouble readjusting to life after returning from a space mission. He then snagged Oscar winning actress, Natalie Portman, to be the title character. Portman definitely would be more than up to the task playing the woman who lost her family, through an affair, and dignity. It all seemed like the perfect material for him to inject his oddball style into. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. Hawley, for some strange reason, consistently changes the aspect ratio with every other scene. It is an idea that is a lot more interesting on paper than it is being played out on the screen. Truthfully, the technique is downright annoying at times. That criticism is the cherry on top of what is wrong with this film. Hawley’s gifts were used to elevate a story that felt like it belonged on the Lifetime Network. He even leaves out the juiciest parts too. Go ahead and google the word diaper and Lisa Nowak. Portman tries her best, and if anything, this film shows of great she really is, to try to make Lucy anything but an aloof and coldly distant person. It is a weird mixture of a severely esoteric style with a character that is fails to connect with the audience. When your name is in the title, that is a problem.
From the opening crawl, that seemed it was written by a third grader, you could tell where this was going. When the new trilogy kicked off, in 2015, people were expecting the next legendary part of this saga. Unfortunately, planning, care, and respect, were three words that seemed to be vacant in the Disney offices. Two years ago, The Last Jedi, severely divided Star Wars fans with its more storied, and character driven, approach to the material. Even though it made a lot of money, hey, it’s a Star Wars film, most hated the changes to their beloved universe, especially to the fan favorite character, Luke Skywalker. While watching the film, you can spot where executives walked everything back that, The Last Jedi director, Rian Johnson, developed. Worst of all, this doesn’t feel like a Star Wars film. That is the most problematic element of it all. It is overproduced, overdone, and yet, incomplete at the same time, reminiscent of the worst Michael Bay films. There are millions of dollars up on the screen, but none of it emotes any kind of wonder. It all feels empty, soulless, and forgettable. That is something that Star Wars never was in the cinematic world. Despite the hate for the prequels, which is somewhat justified, at least you felt respect for the material. George Lucas was never the greatest writer, or even director, but his films, outside of the obvious criticisms, had heart. Here, the special-effects are just as jumbled as the storyline. The script is full of callbacks, alternating story points, terribly written comedic dialogue, and is complete a failure of good screenwriting. As with Lucy in the Sky did with Portman, this film shows of great Adam Driver is. While he was amazing in Marriage Story, his performance here should be just as revered. He gives depth and dimension to Kylo Ren. He is the one tolerable thing about this mess.
In the second remake, of the original 1970’s slasher film, made for a measly 5 million dollars, director and cowriter, Sophia Takai, took everything away from what makes this genre so much fun. In what has got to be one of the ugliest films to come out in 2019, Takai introduced us to a world that is as bland as the horrid cinematography. Even the actors, that included Cary Elwes and Imogen Poots, seem to be sleep walking through their roles. The dullness of the direction largely contributes to the lack of thrills this film contains. It is barely ninety minutes but feels like an eternity. Additionally, the story is shockingly bad, and the twist/killer reveal is even more outrageous. Finally, the over abundance of feminist themes gets both distracting and irritating. There are proper ways of communicating girl power in film. Takai’s method of constantly putting down men through the writing and direction, is not the way to do it. In a genre that is supposed to be about blood, laughs, and thrills, soap box lecturing is the ultimate buzzkill.
You probably wondering, wait, this film made over a billion dollars, why the hell is this on here? The original The Lion King was a moment in cinematic history. The animation was breathtaking, as much as the music was unforgettable. There are so many songs that have lasted throughout the 26 years since the film’s release. Hell, they even made a hit Broadway show out of it, that was supposed to be as good, or maybe better. Everything that worked in with those two, doesn’t exist here. Let’s start off with the animation. Sure, the environments look beautiful, and it is impressive that none of it is real, and at the same time, none of it emotes any kind of genuine emotion. While the animals look real, they are about as expressive as a brick. I understand that director John Favreau wanted it to be a realistic version of the original, but your characters have got to be able to connect with your audience. None of the big moments that matter have any impact since animals don’t have the facial expressions to match the many feelings a human would possess. This isn’t a problem in animation, since the craft calls for you to accept the personification of a lion, cabinet, or carpet. Other than that, nothing here feels genuine or earned. It feels strictly like a product, instead of a chance to honor, or improve, on the original. For diehards of the 1994 film, some key scenes have been altered. I think the worst offense is how the songs are butchered. None of the emotional power is found here. It feels like all these actors were on autopilot. While this year’s “Aladdin” wasn’t perfect, it brought some interesting twists. Unlike this cast, Will Smith didn’t feel like he was riding the coat tails of the popularity of the original, or Robin Williams, but worked his ass off to give us something new, and succeeded. Since this thing made tons of money, does this mean that this is what we are going to get in the future years? Films that are lazy cash grabs that insult both its diehard fans and the legacy of the source material. If so, expect more of these films to appear on the list in coming years.
The Top 10 Best Films of 2019
While many find inspiration in film, the power of music is something that can’t be denied. In director and writer Gurinder Chadra’s film, young and timid Javed, who is an immigrant living in the suburbs of 1980’s England, finds solace and hope in Bruce Springsteen’s music. What follows is a beautiful coming of age story about self-discovery, rebellion, identity, and romance. The cast is incredible, with a great performance by Viveik Kalra, as Javed, who guides us through his personal growth throughout this feel good film.
Here is another coming of age tale, but much raunchier, yet as endearing, as number 10. First time director Olivia Wilde hits it out of the park with this one. People have called it the female Superbad, which is kind of true, through a shallow lens, but the film is deeper than that assessment. Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are a perfect pair. They feel like two friends who have been through it all. The most impressive thing Wilde does is prevent it from all feeling like a giant cliché. While a lesser director would call attention to the different kinds of people walking around that school, who range from homosexuals, to those who are transitioning, they are treated as normal American teens. They don’t hide what they are, but Wilde doesn’t make that their whole character. Instead, they have the same strengths, weaknesses, problems, doubts, and wants as any other person their age. On top of the comedy, excellent dramatic elements, that is what impressed me about this one the most.I look forward to what Wilde has her sleeve next.
Even though Sam Mendes lost the “Best Director” prize, that shouldn’t take away the fact that he crafted one of the most epic war films ever. To tell the story of two young soldiers, tasked with delivering a message to another squadron, Mendes uses the one shot, no cuts, illusion. It has been used before, most notably in both Birdman and The Revenant, but Mendes takes it a step further by doing it in the middle of the war. Not to take away anything from those two films, but it is much more challenging doing with thousands of extras during the recreation of those wars, with constant gunfire and explosions going off. You feel the blood, sweat, and tears that went into creating this film. Since the film is a relatively true story, was based upon the director’s grandfather’s World War I stories, the emotional aspect is just as good as the technical side.
Director Todd Phillips took the comic book genre on a mind-bending ride this year with the story of the origins of the Clown Prince of Crime. Any true Joker fan knows that the character doesn’t have a definite origin. Over the years, we have seen him rise from a chemical bath, in the 1989 version, and through the unknown evil depths of humanity, in Christopher Nolan’s film. In the famous Graphic Novel, The Killing Joke, he even remarks, “I think of my past as multiple choice,” so each adaptation has had a chance to add something. On Phillips’s version, we see a mentally ill man, brilliantly played by Joaquin Phoenix, knocked around in a society that has forgotten about him. Though Phillips does create his own story, he goes with the Joker’s belief that all it takes is just one bad day. When a society exists, like the one in the film, how hard could it be to snap the way Arthur does? Look, he has the Oscar, so anything I say you’ve probably heard, but what makes Phoenix so amazing here is how he makes Arthur both frightening, yet somewhat relatable. Hopefully, most will just nod in what he says about the world, and not go down the path of evil. Either way, it is a comic book movie that had something to say, and boy did it say it in a big way.
The conclusion, to one of the most epic series of all time, came to an end in 2019. Yes, it was all worth it. Marvel Studios President, Kevin Feige, will be remembered for what he accomplished. There were so many payoffs from many angles going on here. We all felt the emotional stakes of all those heroes fighting for humanity. The Russo Brothers directed the hell out of this one: the epic battles, the personal relationships, and the control of it all. Lifelong fans of these characters got something special and well deserved. For cinema goers, we saw the phrase, the sky is the limit, come to life. Despite what happens with the future of Marvel, this large narrative, and this film, were miraculous events that will be remembered forever.
A24 is a studio that seems to understand what makes a great film. Moonlight still resonates as strongly as it did back in 2016. Once again, they gave us a story that packs an emotional punch. Here, we are presented with a family that has it all until a tragic mistake changed everything. The story is split into two parts: one about the son and the other about the daughter of the family. Relative newcomer, Taylor Russell, plays Emily, whose story shows to keep moving through the darkness, towards the light, and that love is a powerful thing. Kelvin Harris JR., who was also brilliant in this year’s Luce, a film that just missed this list, is slowly becoming one of my favorite young actors. His journey, as Tyler, is horribly tragic, and Harris does the heavy lifting to make us feel his pain. The performance should’ve received a lot more attention than it did. Sterling Brown also does fantastic work as the father just trying to hold it together for his family’s sake. The Oscar winning composers, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, compile music that adds even more dramatic weight to both siblings separate, but equally powerful, journeys. At the front of it all is director and writer, Trey Edward Shults, who shows that the phrase, Sophomore Slump, doesn’t exist in his world.
When the casting of Tom Hanks isn’t the best thing about your film, even though he is spectacular, you know you’ve done something special. Director Marielle Heller brings the same life lessons and heart that Mister Rogers brought to each one of his episodes. Based on the real friendship between journalist Lloyd Vogel, who was battling personal demons at the time, and the legendary icon, the story benefits from the visual medium of film. Many of the memorable moments on Fred’s show make their way into this story in the most delightful, and creative, ways possible. Matthew Rhys gives Vogel just the right amount of toxic energy for Mister Rogers to contend with throughout the story. Hanks makes Rogers both a mysterious and powerful force of love that helps Vogel get his life back on track. It isn’t a biographical picture, but more of a love letter, and tribute, to who Mister Rogers was to us all.
3. Little Women
There maybe a new director/actress duo in Hollywood, and if they keep giving us this kind of work, let them be collaborators for countless future projects. Back in 2017, Greta Gerwig released Ladybird, with Saorise Ronan as the lead character. The film was a success. Grewig’s script won the Best Original Screenplay prize, and her follow up was to be an adaptation of the classic Little Women. Gerwig’s take possesses a beautifully old school Hollywood feel, with another amazing script, beautiful production design, and stellar performances across the board. Unlike many tone-deaf female Hollywood writers and directors, who have trouble separating good story telling from trying to push an agenda, it’s a story that showcases wonderfully written and performed female characters, whose struggles and victories are done with class and professionalism. While newcomer Florence Pugh, who received a supporting actress nomination, gave depth to the hated Amy character, it was Ronan’s show. The young actress was a marvel as Josephine. Ronan fully gives her all to the character who understands that she, as a woman, is too smart and ambitious for the time period she lives in. She understands that to succeed you must sacrifice, a part of life one must face, as a man or woman. I’ve been a fan of Ronan for years, and with this one, she once again shows why she will be one of the greats.
No, this film didn’t win Best Picture to push some sort of agenda in Hollywood. This won because it was a masterclass of filmmaking. Bong Joon Ho crafted a story that mixed so many genres together, with him hitting each one out of the park. Ho’s script, which also nabbed the Oscar, brilliantly guides us through a story of class warfare, both analyzing the rich and the poor. On top of that, it had a twist that just changed the direction of the story, yet never lost control. The film is hilarious, heartfelt, nerve racking, and tragic all at once. The ability to pull off one of those successfully is impressive, but to nail all those parts, is something to be fully appreciate. Don’t let the fact that this is subtitled sway you, it is worth it.
Before I reveal my pick for Best Picture, here are the films I chose in 26 years I’ve been following film.
1993- Schindler’s List
1994- Pulp Fiction
1996- Everyone Says I Love You
1997- Good Will Hunting
1998- The Truman Show
1999- American Beauty
2001- A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
2002- The Hours
2003- Mystic River
2005- Batman Begins
2006- United 93
2009- Up in the Air
2012- The Master
2014- A Most Violent Year
2017- The Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
1. The Irishman
There are so many things that make Martin Scorsese’s epic mob movie the best film I saw in 2019. First, this is Robert DeNiro’s best work in years. Yes, he is in a genre that defined him, but he goes a lot deeper with his gangster persona this time. The film may feel long, to some, but by the time it is over, you realize that it needed to be that long for the emotional parts to be as impactful as they were. Steve Zaillian’s outstanding script is a peek into the mob’s influence in the history of this country and a love letter to the power of unions, or the essential worker, as they have been referred to as of today. It also contains some of the smoothest dialogue to be spoken by a group of actors this year. Other than DeNiro, both Al Pacino, whose never been in a Scorsese film, and Pesci are incredible here too. While Pacino injects Hoffa with stubbornness, which is his downfall, he also gives Hoffa the same high energy, associated with the legendary actor, but is careful never to make Hoffa a walking cartoon. He is a man, despite his shady dealings, who believes in the power of a strong America. Pesci’s most memorable role, and one he won his only Oscar for, was playing the psychopathic gangster Tommy DeVito almost 30 years ago, in Goodfellas. Here, he is just as dangerous, but in a far more subtle, smart, and cunning way. In certain scenes, Pesci conveys so much with a look. Scorsese had to bank on Netflix financing him, since no one would give him the money or run time, to do what he wanted. In the end, it was a risk that paid off. An epic story like this needed time to flourish, and under the guide of Scorsese, it flies high. Every part of this production is solid: the cinematography, production design, and overall tone of the picture. There are some who criticize the computer effects done on the faces, which are passable, but that is a minimal critique of this epic masterpiece. Many scenes between his actors, specifically between DeNiro and Pacino, just shows when these guys are on, just like a pair of made men, no one can touch them.