Its been a good long while since I thought about sitting down and writing something and there is a good reason for that. My last piece, a tiny look at Disney’s Jungle Cruise was all the way back at the end of August and since then the thought of writing about film, or more specifically cinema became somewhat of an afterthought. The reason for that is I started working in one and all the magic of the movies mixed in with the minutiae of the day to day experience of serving customers and checking screens. The thought of devoting my free time to writing about it too became a bit too much. That being said, I felt compelled to continue my year ending tradition because honestly, I love writing these lists and noticing little things about these films all over again anew.
However before the best, I think its important to acknowledge what didn’t work and why. So here is a few films that just didn’t work, despite their best intentions.
Acclaimed film distributor A24’s ‘true’ story of an exotic dancer’s crazy trip to Florida never for a second feels necessary or particularly inspired despite the social media infused through line it builds itself around to make it seem unique. You see, Zola is based off a twitter thread for which most of the films script follows, even down to the words that come out of these outlandish character’s mouths. Many saw it as a discussion of the dangers of sex work in modern America hidden beneath a wild party film. What it actually was, was a vapid exercise in style over substance and despite some game performances, it just feels utterly hollow under the surface.
Antoine Fuqua’s latest film is an adaptation of a Danish film of the same name. Set within a 911 dispatch office in Los Angeles, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a particularly high strung call operator handling a call he takes a personal attachment to. Despite being set in the same building with most of the ‘action’ taking place off screen, The Guilty still keeps pace effectively but it does so at the expense of logic and character. The film’s script, written by True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto flips from overly cerebral to utterly empty on a dime depending on what Gyllenhaal’s character needs to know in that moment. The hard fought moments of reflection Fuqua is trying to build crumble on the flimsy building blocks Pizzolatto has laid out for him. It might just be the most disappointing film this year, mainly because hidden within it is the bones of something really quite special.
The previously mentioned Jungle Cruise is a Disney film in name only, it lacks everything else that represents the best of the mouse house. From a definable character to a signature style, there is never a moment in Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt’s popcorn flick that anything feels outside of the expected. Throw in some garrish CGI, a few nonsense supernatural plot points and blend into an unrecognisable formula of bad ideas and even worse acting. It makes Cruella look like high art in comparison.
The 10 Worst films of 2021
10.Godzilla Vs Kong
Back when it was revealed that Warner Bros were using Godzilla to craft a ‘Monsterverse’, there were eye rolls from even the most avid fans of both King Kong and Godzilla. Now that their big bust up actually exists, it has once again divided people with one of my friends even launching it to the top of his rankings for the year. I however am firmly in the other category where I long for the human factor in a film that seems to be trying to create meaningful stories outside of the monster mayhem but consistently fails to deliver. While I admired the visual wizardry of Godzilla: King of the Monsters when it was released it was empty of strong characters or writing. Godzilla vs Kong doesn’t have a distinct visual style to fall back on, it looks small for such a grand picture and without that to fall back on there really isn’t anything to hold onto in this rudderless film.
9. Mortal Kombat
I swear this list isn’t just remakes or sequels, although I’ll eat my words when I get around to 7 and 2. That being said it is hard to ignore Kombat’s complete disregard for the campy nonsense it should know it is. While the ultra-violence taps into this feeling of utter silliness the film’s script plays up, director Simon McQuoid makes his film so self serious and relentlessly humourless that the whole premise becomes even more nonsensical. I mean honestly, its a film about a fighting tournament for combatants with superpowers. Clearly trying to avoid the failures of the original film, McQuoid fails to recognise there is a place for cheese and camp as long as the performances play along. Mortal Kombat doesn’t even try for a minute to enjoy itself and that’s a shame.
8. The Colour Room
The opening shot of The Colour Room is one of my favourite shots of the year. The camera glides over the smokestacks of the kilns of a pottery factory and all the different colours blend into the smoke and it hints at a vibrant film full of life and complexion. It never materialises. Almost immediately it settles in to a tried and tested approach to biopics that sucks the life out of something with much promise. Matthew Goode and Phoebe Dynevor are stuck in lifeless roles, given few moments to shine, instead forced to keep the story on path, never to provide the colour it so desperately needs. Ultimately it is the lack of adventure here that turns The Colour Room into a dull history lesson instead of entertainment.
7. He’s All That
Curiosity got the better of me and swathes of others with this shallow remake of the 90s cult classic She’s All That. Starring TikTok celebrity Addison Rae (because why not I guess?) in perhaps the worst performance of the year, He’s All That isn’t just bad, it seems to seem intent on offending its audience by actively mocking them for being fickle and unable to take a joke. Sure it frames it as commenting on the toxic power social media can have on teenagers but it does so by generalising Rae’s own audience as idiotic sheep. I mean, I accept that most people are watching this Netflix calamity to know just how horrific it is, it would just be nice not to be judged for it by a piece of fiction.
6. Red Notice
There is a moment early on in Netflix’s big budget heist thriller that it becomes painfully obvious that everything coming up is going to be excessive. From the expensive shots, the lavish locations and the over the top action, you can see every dollar pumped into this Ryan Reynolds, Dwayne Johnson and Gal Gadot starring vehicle. The problem with that is even the performances and the comedy push too hard with Reynolds playing himself but on amphetamines while Gadot is given the painful task of drawing in the male audience in a shameless and derivative way. The worst part is that never for a second is there a function to Red Notice, a reason for its existence. For a film all about cons, the biggest one here is the film itself.
5. Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy
Although 2020 afforded me time to watch plenty more documentaries during my time in lockdown, I only got around to watching two this year. One of them was Crack, a years spanning documentary about the influx of crack cocaine on black communities and while it has laudable goals, it stretches itself so thin when it comes to what is relevant that it really plays as a verbal history instead of a discussion of crack cocaine’s huge, undeniable influence on American history in the 1980s. Not only that but its so painfully dry there is little here to grip you in the way this saga should. It’s not that the material is dull, its just framed in a way that never makes the most of the details in ways other, far better documentary’s would have.
4. SAS: Red Notice
This british action thriller surprisingly has nothing to do with the earlier Red Notice as Ruby Rose holds a train hostage in the channel tunnel as lovable action hero Sam Heughan tries to save both them and his girlfriend/fiancé. It’s the tried and tested Die Hard formula that never seems to disappoint if you are looking for a mindless romp through action movie clichés and painful casting choices. Rose makes SAS a smidge more gruelling than most B movie action features here and Tom Wilkinson doing American for a pay check doesn’t really help matters.
3. I Care A Lot
I think the worst thing a film can do is misjudge its own tone. It makes a film feel directionless despite having a coherent plot, interesting characters and an entertaining if unremarkable soundtrack. I Care A Lot jumps from comedy to drama to somewhere in the middle frequently within the same scene and the subject matter is so dark the oftentimes whimsical, victimless comedy that goes with it makes for a nauseating watch. While it was lauded as a film to watch and even scored a few award nominations and wins, this one just didn’t function in any meaningful way for me and often made me feel repulsed by just how clumsily it was put together.
2. Army of Thieves
When Zach Snyder’s Army of the Dead first debuted earlier in the year it was hard to envision a film that does so much and says so little with what seems like a huge budget and limitless creative freedom. It’s prequel, the lazy franchise building Army of Thieves seems stuck in Snyder’s rote world and manages to make a film with no less that three heist sequences, seem like one of the blandest films of the year. Not only are the performances bad but the dialogue is painful, a mixture of childish humour and smarmy bravado masquerading as cool. While Snyder’s first film at least had a style and identity to it, Thieves is missing any originality or identity and it sucks what little life was in it straight
1. Outside The Wire
It takes a special kind of quality for the first film you watch all year to also retain the title of worst film you’ve seen all year. Outside The Wire holds that honour for me having been my introduction to 2021 having spent the first two weeks catching up on old releases and finalising my lists. Shooting for a semi-realistic, futuristic action thriller and providing some supposedly harrowing commentary on the modern state of society, this Anthony Mackie thriller is laughably condescending, lazily written and so under populated with genuine characters that its remarkable I remember anything that took place here at all. In the end Outside the Wire leaves a sour taste in your mouth, not for saying something or relevance but for a wealth of bad writing, cheap action and derivative Elysium callbacks.
From someone who has been writing these lists for a few years now and compiling them in silent for even longer I’d be remiss in not saying that 2021 in my opinion has been a lacklustre year in film and while these films represent what I consider to be the ones that fell short, it was harder to choose this year due to an array of disappointments. That being said, there were also some truly brilliant things to watch so look out for my top 20 of the year in the days to come.