So… 2020. What else is there to say about it that hasn’t already been said?
It goes without saying that this has been an extremely difficult year for all of us, with much of it dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic which has forced the country into a new set of restrictions in order to stop the spread. It has also meant, very sadly, that most if not all of the year’s most anticipated movies have had to be either pushed back to next year, or released onto digital platforms to accommodate people at home. The likes of Mulan, The Witches, SCOOB!, Happiest Season and The Lovebirds have all bypassed cinemas in favour of home releases or Netflix distribution, which for cinemas perhaps isn’t the best news because it puts them further out of pocket in an already financially strived year for them. Even the brave few which went full speed ahead with a theatrical window – most notably Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, Wonder Woman 1984, and the frequently-delayed The New Mutants – didn’t perform as well as they could have in the middle of a pandemic, leading some to speculate that 2020 might have just spelled doom for the theatrical market going forward.
However, while it is true that cinemas are in dire trouble right now with a dry schedule and the lack of tentpoles designed to bring audience in en masse, I truly do not believe that the big-screen experience is going anywhere. The cinema has become a way of life for a lot of people, and despite the rise of streaming and on-demand it will always be best to see movies the way they were meant to be seen: in a giant auditorium surrounded by lots of other people who are there to have as much fun as you are. That is why I truly think that, once it is officially safe to do so, cinema as we know it will come back in a major way in 2021 – not only will there be plenty of movies to choose from, but people will revel in the packed crowds, sold-out venues and exciting experiences they missed out on during lockdown and beyond. I have enough faith in people’s desires to see big movies on enormous screens to feel confident enough that next year will remind us all of the pure joy that comes from going to the movies.
Before then, though, we must be forced to look back at the worst of an already terrible year.
That’s right, it’s time yet again to spotlight the lowest of the lowest, the rotten eggs, and the absolute stinkers of 2020, because lockdown hasn’t stopped these abominations from seeing the light of day (as if we haven’t suffered enough!)
First, though, a quick recap of the rules: films are only eligible if they were given an original UK release between January 1st and December 31st 2020, meaning that it has to have been out in the UK between those dates in order to qualify without being released elsewhere in the world beforehand (this includes cinema, on-demand or streaming releases). Right away, this means that any of last year’s awards contenders like Parasite, 1917 and Jojo Rabbit – which were released in the States and other territories in 2019 before eventually making it to the UK in 2020 – are therefore ineligible. This also applies to any movies that may have been reviewed on this website during film festivals or early advance screenings but do not have an official UK release until next year, which would mean that current awards contenders like Nomadland, One Night in Miami and Ammonite are also ineligible for these lists (just so it remains fair for films primarily released this year in the UK). This year, I have also reviewed some films which were exclusively made to be shown on television (Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology comes to mind); unfortunately, these will also not be counted towards the final lists because, well, it wouldn’t be all that fair to the more traditionally released movies in contention.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, it’s finally time to see what has made it onto our bottom list of the year – but not before a few less-than-honourable mentions (in no particular order):
Love Wedding Repeat
Brahms: The Boy 2
Black Water: Abyss
Coffee and Kareem
And now, we can officially kick off with…
15 – HILLBILLY ELEGY
“Failed Oscar bait” doesn’t even begin to describe the unfortunate circumstances of director Ron Howard’s empty adaptation of the best-selling memoir by J.D. Vance.
By all accounts, it’s a movie that should work, with not just Howard on-board but also well-established actors like Amy Adams and Glenn Close in prominent roles, but Vanessa Taylor’s flimsy script prevents any of those things from bringing to life a story where you seriously don’t care about anything. Instead, it’s a collection of loosely-connected scenes made up of one-dimensional stereotypes, stock inspirational monologues, and characters who lack any depth or cohesion because we barely spend much time getting to know them.
I almost feel guilty about putting this movie on my Worst of 2020 list, because unlike a lot of other movies you’ll find on here, there is at least a bit of ambition to its name. When you have a director like Ron Howard in charge, you’re bound to get some level of effort, and the same goes for Adams and Close who do give their thin characters all that they have to offer, but it really does come down to the script which fails to capture the genuine emotion and intrigue that Vance’s book inspired about the rural working-class of backwater American life.
It’s a movie that just isn’t much of anything, even when it has all the ingredients to at least be something, and that’s why it’s ultimately on this list (albeit on the bottom end)…
14 – FANTASY ISLAND
It’s understandable why Blumhouse was tempted by the idea of turning the classic TV show Fantasy Island – where Ricardo Montalbán grants his guests the opportunity to live out their fantasies – into a straight-up horror, but the end result is scary for a lot of other reasons.
An endlessly dumb movie with nonsensical twists and turns around every corner, director Jeff Wadlow – whose last film, Truth or Dare, also ended up on this list a couple of years ago – squanders any potential with this idea by effectively making things up as he goes along, with obnoxious characters performed awkwardly, an inconsistent tone that changes every five minutes, and perhaps most crucially the unfortunate miscasting of Michael Peña who, try as he might, cannot replicate the easy charm that Montalbán carried in the original show.
To make my viewing experience of this movie even worse, circumstances forced me to catch an 11pm screening (back when such a thing existed), technically making this a midnight showing when you incorporate ads and trailers into the mix. I could have been snuggling up in bed, waiting for the next day to slowly come round the bend, but instead I was forced to keep my eyes open for Fantasy Island, a movie that I’m pretty sure was killing off my brain cells one by one whilst fighting to stay awake for this stupid, stupid movie.
Now that’s a viewing experience – and by extension, a movie – that should never be anyone’s fantasy…
13 – SCHEMERS
Music promoter Dave Mclean directed, co-wrote and produced a film about his own life story when he was a young Dundee man starting to make a name in the industry, but instead of offering any real insight into the ins and outs of his fickle business, it was nothing more than a thinly-veiled vanity project made for nobody other than himself.
Filled with first-time filmmaking incompetency, from awkward camera angles to hide its lack of budget to ripping off entire styles from other films like Trainspotting, Schemers is an exercise in perhaps having too much creative power over their own life story, and even then it doesn’t stretch far enough to make you care for any of its characters or the work that they are doing. Mclean’s own cinematic persona is far too unlikeable to cheer on, since he treats his family, friends and love interests like utter trash, while lead actor Conor Berry doesn’t have the charisma to pull off any of his character’s smarminess and smug self-satisfaction.
Mclean’s ego is clearly in charge, though, because it is so convinced that the story it’s telling, and the people it’s happening to, are the most interesting thing to happen to Dundee since its V&A museum. Unfortunately, whereas Trainspotting brought the city of Edinburgh much more into the public consciousness, Schemers is destined to be just a mere blip on Dundee’s radar because it lacks the wit, style, sophistication and intrigue that Danny Boyle’s film was able to bring.
Dundee will certainly get its own Trainspotting equivalent in due time, but this isn’t it…
12 – INFAMOUS
Bella Thorne has had a rather prolific year, for better or worse, not just starring in four major film releases but also courting controversy after she undermined online sex-worker platform OnlyFans by creating an account (where she became the fastest user to earn over $1 million, after just 24 hours), and inadvertently inspiring an unpopular payment change for its more reliant users.
That story, incidentally, is way less trashier than Infamous, a starring vehicle for Thorne which turned out to be a misguided attempt to bring the Bonnie & Clyde story into the age of social media. Putting aside the fact that we already had a modern-era version of that story this year with Queen & Slim, the film is far too pretentious and heavy-handed to realise it’s simply Terence Malick’s Badlands for douchebags, with unappealing leads who you lack any sympathy for, and an ugly visual style where you can practically smell the stale cigarette smoke and gross body odour coming off the screen (thank God this wasn’t in Smell-O-Vision).
It thinks it’s saying some deep, meaningful things about the nature of online stardom, with its “poetic” camera angles suggesting a more thoughtful tone, but at its core there’s really nothing to find. It’s as empty as a scrunched-up can of Coors Light, and not even Thorne herself is a strong enough actress to sell her character’s incredibly vapid obsession with becoming Instafamous, nor her sudden embracing of a dangerous criminal lifestyle. It’s a dull, gross and profoundly unappealing movie that thinks it’s far cleverer than it actually is, but doesn’t realise that it needs far more of a soul and a voice to actually leave an impact.
Even more mind-boggling, as you’ll find out over the next couple of days, this isn’t even the only Bella Thorne movie on this list…
11 – SACRILEGE
New UK horror distributor Bad Blood Films didn’t have much luck with their debut feature, for not only was it released just weeks before the coronavirus outbreak shut down cinemas across the country back in March, denying it a theatrical longevity most independent movies could only dream of, but the film itself was an unfortunate mess on a whole other level.
On some level, you have to give an ultra-low budgeted movie like Sacrilege a bit of leeway, because the filmmakers didn’t have access to certain production materials that could have fixed its numerous on-screen problems. Unfortunately, when you pick apart the script, with its dumb characters, nonsensical plot, and alarming lack of scares, you realise there wasn’t anything substantial to work with in the first place, and it still fails no matter what budget it may be working with.
It isn’t a promising start for director and Bad Blood co-founder David Creed either, who rips off everything from The Wicker Man to even Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 while bringing nothing original of his own, and gets some very one-note performances out of his actors who are shot as though it’s about to turn into a porno at any moment. It’s just a super-lame horror that would’ve been one of those forgettable Hammer movies from the 1970s that had faded into obscurity, and it’s hard to see any other fate for it in today’s age of horror cinema.
Hopefully, Bad Blood Films will be able to make a Blumhouse-type name for themselves in the future, but they need to find better material before then…