Monday, January 13, 2020

10 Movies from 2019 That I Didn’t Care For

Counting down all the 2019 movies I watched from least-favorite to most.

52. Serenity

Before I get into the list, I need to say that 2019 was a very good year for movies. I had issues with the 10 movies in this post, but I only actually hated one of them. At the end of this post will be movies that I almost enjoyed if not for some minor details.

The one that I hated though: that's Serenity. I'd heard that it had a bonkers twist ending, but that's a lie. It's bonkers, but it's no twist.

The film isn't subtle about forecasting what's really going on, so the end doesn't reveal any new information. It simply confirms what not-even-all-that-careful viewers will have long ago understood.

Although I shouldn't use the word "understood" since none of it actually makes any sense.

51. Coyote Lake

Coyote Lake starts with a great concept, but switches what it's about partway through. A woman and her daughter, Ester (Camila Mendes from Riverdale) rent rooms in their secluded home near the Texas/Mexico border. But they only rent to human traffickers and drug smugglers, then murder the bad guys and take their money. It's the foundation for what might have been a great crime thriller.

Sadly, all that is just a disguise for what the movie actually wants be: a coming of age story. Apparently Ester's mother is meant to be deeply controlling, but that's not made clear until a handsome young drug smuggler comes along and points it out. His perspective is extremely biased and he's not a good dude to begin with, so it's disappointing that he's so successful at changing Ester's opinion about her mom. Yes, mom is strict, but she's running a highly dangerous vigilante operation. Having some rules seems to be in order and I never got the sense from the performances early in the film that this was a situation that Ester wanted out of. Her dilemma at the end of the film didn't work for me at all.

50. Body at Brighton Rock

Starts off looking like a survival thriller and it would've been a better film if it kept that path. Karina Fontes is a good actor with a lot of charisma. I looked forward to watching her inexperienced park ranger character try to get through a night alone in the wilderness, guarding a dead body and potential crime scene from wild animals and possibly other intruders.

Sadly, the film decides it wants to be a horror movie complete with supernatural elements, unnecessary jump scares, and a protagonist who makes terrible decisions even considering how unprepared she is for her situation.

Really looking forward to seeing Fontes in more stuff though.

49. X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Nobody asked for an X3 remake and I considered skipping the theatrical release until a friend pointed out that Fox's time with these characters probably deserves a final high-five and "good game" as it comes to a close. I've seen all the others in the theater; it felt right to see this one that way, too. Sadly, though the quality of the series has been inconsistent all along, it's too bad that it finishes with such a bummer film.

There are some things I like. The extreme close-ups was a distinct artistic flourish that worked to pull me into the emotions of the characters who got that treatment. And as tired as I am of the comics trope of villainizing Charles Xavier, it's handled well here by humanizing Xavier as someone who's made well-intentioned mistakes rather than making him deliberately nefarious. I didn't rewatch the previous films before seeing this one, so I don't know how well this connects with his earlier characterization (I hear from others that there's a lot of discontinuity in general between Dark Phoenix and the preceding movies), but without that close reference, it works.

Unfortunately, almost none of the other characters do. I don't care about Jean Grey or Cyclops or Mystique or the Beast or any of the other characters most impacted by Jean's tragedy. The film is full of great actors doing good work (really spotlighted by those close-ups), but the Phoenix Force is a dumb concept to begin with (even in the comics) and only worked as a plot device once because Chris Claremont had built such a dramatic soap opera around these characters that Jean's death would have been powerful no matter what the cause. And maybe because I was a teenager when I read that story.

Whatever made it work that one time, it doesn't work in this film and it's certainly not helped by the addition of generic aliens with random powers and the flimsiest connection to the Phoenix Force, even if one of them is played by Jessica Chastain.

48. Under the Silver Lake

This was pitched to me as a modern noir and there's a mystery angle to it, but it doesn't really work as a mystery story. Because, it turns out, that's not actually what it is. There are mysteries upon mysteries, but Andrew Garfield's Sam is only interested in some of them and it's a little haphazard which ones keep his attention. That's the point, though.

The film is actually about a young man with no purpose. The craziness around him works as an allegory for all the paths he could be taking, but won't commit to. It would be depressing except for Garfield's immense charm and just the sheer inventiveness of the weird situations that writer/director David Robert Mitchell keeps throwing at him. I think I'd like it more after a few more viewings and a chance to think harder about what's going on. There's a lot here.

47. Rambo: Last Blood

Entertaining just barely enough as a Death Wish-esque revenge film, but despite an end credits montage reminding us of events from previous films, it's as much a Rambo movie as A Good Day to Die Hard is a Die Hard movie. It's especially disappointing considering the set up by 2008's Rambo. This could have been something special.

46. The Legend of 5 Mile Cave

I enjoy Adam Baldwin as an actor and this is a fine adventure story for kids. It's a about a young boy and his widowed mother in the 1920s who agree to house a mysterious drifter (Baldwin) in return for helping them on their small ranch. As the boy gets to know the drifter, the man tells stories about a Western hero with ties to a lost cache of gold and possible connections to the boy himself.

It's a low budget production with costumes off the rack and a homemade stagecoach. Whatever "family friendly" means to you, whether good or ill, this is that.

45. The Silence

The Silence is based on a 2015 novel, which makes the similarities with 2018's A Quiet Place look pretty bad for A Quiet Place. But A Quiet Place is the far better movie in almost every way. If it was inspired by The Silence, it improves it.

Silence has some great actors going for it, but gets weird at the end by throwing in a cult that makes no sense given the apparently small amount of time in which it's supposed to have developed. Maybe it's more reasonable in the book, but in the film it's shoved in sideways I guess to raise the stakes in the third act and give the characters an enemy they can actually defeat. Neither is needed.

44. Captive State

There's so much going on in Captive State that I almost want to suggest it would be better as a TV mini-series, but that's a disservice to the incredible achievement of the film. There are a lot of characters and a lot of activity and goals and motivations to keep track of, but the film mostly succeeds in this. There were plenty of times when I struggled to keep up, but that's as intended and it all holds together by the end.

I still don't like that some of the actors I came for (Vera Farmiga and Alan Ruck, especially) have little more than cameos, but the film does focus on some core characters enough to satisfy me. It also reveals that there's an actual story that it's telling (and it's a good one), but that's not apparent until late so that most of the film feels like an exercise in world-building without a definite plot. Again, that's not what's happening, but on first viewing it was hard to tell until the very end. This is another one I'll want to revisit.

43. Shazam!

Taken on its own, it's a fun, unique, and well-constructed superhero story. I enjoyed it on that level.

But I have nitpicks. Many nitpicks that each by itself wouldn't detract from the movie, but as a group they keep me from fully appreciating it. Many of them are old-man complaints born of my love for a specific version of this character and the movie in my head that I wished this was. They aren't fair and I won't subject anyone to them. Some - like a certain almost-cameo that should've just been a real, honest cameo - feel more valid, but are still minor issues. I believe that Shazam! does a lot of good and people should see it; it's just not my bag and that's okay.


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

This list fits in with what I said when Variety's Worst of 2019.
This year's "worst" feels more mediocre than terrible. There isn't a Michael Bay Transformers or an Emoji Movie to fuel the hate train like previous years.

Even Dark Phoenix can't spark a fire of hate since everyone knows that with the Marvel purchase, this one doesn't matter. Even with the addition of outer space and aliens, it feels so much smaller than previous X-installments.

Michael May said...

That's a great point about Dark Phoenix ire being lessened by the lame-duckness of it all. There's no need to get upset about the direction of the series when there's no more series. And everyone's just eager to see what Marvel will do.


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