Exclaim!'s 15 Most Disappointing Films of 2019
Published Dec 19, 2019From your stale breakfast sandwich and coffee that's slightly off through digging into your itchy sheets at night, there's no shortage of disappointments on any given day. That sense of dread extends into pop culture, too, where letdowns are churned out on the regular.
Disappointment can mean myriad things. Perhaps a film was shrouded with hype and early praise, only to reveal itself as a middling experience. Perhaps the work came so close to greatness but failed to stick its landing, resulting in a depressingly bland finale. Or perhaps it was just a straight-up turd.
We'll explain the inclusion of each film as best as we can, if only to avoid death threats from angry Detective Pikachu stans. Either way, here are Exclaim!'s 15 Most Disappointing Films of 2019, including a triple dose of Adam Driver. (For some much better films, be sure to check out Exclaim!'s 15 Best Films of 2019 and Exclaim!'s 26 Most Underrated and Underseen Films of 2019.)
15. The Dead Don't Die
Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Jim Jarmusch's two latest films, Paterson and Only Lovers Left Alive, proved that the iconoclastic independent filmmaker still had invention and verve left after decades of works of all scales. The latter, a snapshot of vampires struggling with the length of immortality, also suggested his interests could find a compelling home in a genre film. His latest, the zombie film The Dead Don't Die, shows that's not always true. With a cast of Jarmusch recurring regulars like Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton, he produced a cinematic parody that can't rise to parody, a dry comedy begging for life, a collection of conventions repeated without comment.
14. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Terry Gilliam had been working on his adaptation of the novel Don Quixote for 29 years, which is fitting, since that's approximately how long it feels to sit through this thing. Okay, it's actually "only" 132 minutes, but the whole thing is an interminable slog of smug meta narratives, nonsensical zaniness, and possibly-maybe-kinda-racist jokes about Islamic terrorists. It feels like sitting through more than two hours of someone trying to describe their crazy dream, and that fact that it took Gilliam almost 30 years makes it seem all the more pointless.
13. Tell It to the Bees
Directed by Annabel Jankel
Tell It to the Bees displays the ultimate disaster of a book to screen adaptation. The source material is changed so much to the point it comes across as homophobic. Instead of taking importance in the central love story, the film leans on the violence inflicted upon its subjects. I don't know what the filmmaker's intentions were, but this isn't a film for lesbians.
12. The Souvenir
Directed by Joanna Hogg
The Souvenir is by all means not a bad movie, but its arrival couldn't help but feel a little disappointing. Joanna Hogg's 2007 film debut Unrelated established her as a crucial cinematic voice, and she's been a shoo-in for the Criterion Collection ever since. The Souvenir, her first collaboration with A24, was so beloved in its early phases that a sequel was already greenlit, shot and produced with plans for a 2020 release. Could this be her masterwork? The answer, in short: not really. The Souvenir is a solid enough look at British class and drug addiction, but it certainly doesn't live up to its promise.
11. Detective Pikachu
Directed by Rob Letterman
The Pokemon are cute and the world-building is amazing. Detective Pikachu is a Blade Runner-esque buddy cop mystery that's interesting for the most part, but the comedy and performances are mediocre at best. Perhaps it's only a film for die-hard fans, as those who are casual fans or not fans at all won't get the same experience. It's fun, I guess, but you should just stick to the TV show.
Directed by Neil Marshall
I'd love to make fun of Hellboy's plot, but that would require me to understand anything about whatever the fuck this was. It's all sub-plots and no actual plot, as the titular monster does something or other involving Nazis and secret societies. Actor David Harbour seemingly does nothing except put on red makeup and stand in front of a green screen, and an ancient "Blood Queen" gets reincarnated just to keep Milla Jovovich busy. Those Hellboy films from the '00s were actually pretty good, but director Neil Marshall and screenwriter Andrew Cosby forgot to come up with a story for this one.
9. Her Smell
Directed by Alex Ross Perry
A bloating runtime and some truly unbelievable dialogue bolsters this unrealistic and ill-informed look at a mid-level rock band on the verge of imploding. Containing a frustratingly uneven pace, the film spends around 60 percent of its time in claustrophobic backstage scenes before gallivanting elsewhere. The one thing it has going for it is Elisabeth Moss, who truly transforms into her character. Unfortunately, said character is an absolutely dreadful and irritating person that one would never willingly opt to spend time with.
8. It Chapter Two
Directed by Andy Muschietti
As bloated, indulgent follow-ups go, It Chapter Two fails to capture that refreshing blockbuster spark that the first film represented for the horror genre. From its shoehorning of the children cast in to compensate for their bland adult counterparts to its excessive runtime and flaccid scares, the sequel takes all the goodwill from the first film and has nothing but stale humour and an overstuffed plot of half-baked character development to show for it. One would've thought the splitting of King's novel into two films was supposed to offset the needlessly convoluted nature of the source material, but here we are.
7. The Laundromat
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
A biographical film that feels unconventional but discusses a subject that isn't all that interesting. Still, being from Soderbergh, it showed some promise, but it turned out to be completely forgettable. I came out of it not feeling like I was educated on its subject matter and all I remember is Gary Oldman talking like the Ikea guy and Meryl Streep doing brownface.
6. Men in Black: International
Directed by F. Gary Gray
An iconic sci-fi comedy franchise and two incredibly charismatic, up-and-coming lead actors: what could go wrong? Well, if you're Men in Black: International, the answer to that question is "a lot". The comic timing and chemistry between Thor: Ragnarok co-stars Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson wasn't enough to save this clunker of an entry in the Men in Black series, which was already running out of steam by 2012's Men in Black III. Hemsworth and Thompson try their best to inject life into this soulless corporate cash-grab, but an exhausting dependence on CGI and a meandering plot sucks any glimmer of spark before it has a chance to shine.
Laura Di Girolamo
5. Where'd You Go, Bernadette
Directed by Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater is at his most schmaltzy and deprived of edge with this middling adaptation of Maria Semple's best-selling novel. Essentially a soapbox diatribe where the director bends over backwards to defend the worst and most ugly behavioural quirks of the creatively gifted, the perfunctory style and bland family sentimentality makes it feel like Linklater never believed in the source material, only the objectionable and forced message it profligates. It's a real shame that this mediocre, airless tragicomedy could be the last film he completes before Merrily We Roll Along releases sometime in the 2040s.
4. Lucy in the Sky
Directed by Noah Hawley
The director of TV's Fargo making a space movie starring Natalie Portman — sounds great, right? Lucy in the Sky squanders its potential with obtrusive over-direction, plus a protagonist who's a shitty person in all the most boring ways. It's based on the wild true story of Lisa Nowak, an astronaut who allegedly wore an adult diaper while carrying out an attempted kidnapping, but this film strips out the most interesting parts and leaves us with what amounts to a suburban midlife crisis set on a NASA base. It's as clumsy as the titular Beatles reference.
3. The Goldfinch
Directed by John Crowley
Adapting Donna Tartt's beloved 2013 novel of the same name was never going to be an easy task, but the team behind The Goldfinch inexplicably decided to make their job even harder by intentionally obscuring some of the story's most crucial plot points, leading to an exhausting, confusing mess. Unconvincing and uncharismatic performances by the leads don't help — it's unclear whether or not they know what's going on, either. Those interested by the story of love, loss and a stolen painting are better off (re-)reading the book.
2. Zombieland: Double Tap
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
There are worse movies on this list — seriously, have you seen Lucy in the Sky? — but there's (almost) nothing more flat-out disappointing than Zombieland: Double Tap. Ten years on since the original, the filmmakers succeeded in trotting out the original cast, but neglected to come up with a script with any new ideas whatsoever. Aside from the addition of a few paper-thin stock characters, this has all of the exact same jokes as the first Zombieland, but minus the playful sense of fun. At best, it'll make you want to turn it off and re-watch the first movie; at worst, it'll make you question whether the original was actually all that good to begin with.
1. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Directed by J.J. Abrams
We loved The Force Awakens. We'll go to bat for the sometimes-divisive The Last Jedi. But after this latest Star Wars trilogy injected the fun back into the franchise, here comes The Rise of Skywalker to spoil the mood. With an overstuffed plot, some pandering nostalgia and a dour tone, Episode IX simply isn't as enjoyable to watch as the films that preceded it. Perhaps even worse, it completely forgets what really made the last couple of episodes so strong: the vibrant on-screen chemistry been the leads. After so much build-up, the overriding feeling of watch The Rise of Skywalker is, "who cares?"