Keep in mind that I don’t see every movie that’s released in the course of a year, but because I wasted my time suffering through these, I took special glee in shredding them in my reviews (which you can read in full by clicking on the titles of the films).
Tomorrow, I’ll wrap up my look at last year’s movies with a list of the Best Documentaries Of 2021.
#1: “Annette” There are plenty of bad movies. You’ve seen them every time you’ve browsed Netflix or any other streaming service in frustration and had to scroll past hundreds of them. Or you could just check the IMDb page of Rob Schneider. But “Annette” is bad on a different level. I haven’t seen anything this horrible since the Jennifer Lawrence/Javier Bardem misfire “mother!“ a few years ago (my review is here). That title ended up on my Worst Movies Of 2017 list — and “Annette” beats it by topping my Worst Movies Of 2021 list. The plot is relatively simple. Adam Driver plays Henry, a standup comedian, and Marion Cotillard plays Ann, an opera singer. They have a relationship, get married, and she gives birth to a child, Annette, who is played by an animatronic puppet who looks like Chucky from the “Child’s Play” slasher movies. Things get turbulent in the adult relationship for no reason whatsoever, and Ann dies on a yacht in a storm a la Natalie Wood. Henry discovers Annette can sing and exploits her abilities for fame and fortune over the objections of Ann’s accompanist-turned-conductor, played by Simon Helberg (Howard on “The Big Bang Theory”). To make matters worse, the songs — by Ron and Russell Mael, brothers from the rock band Sparks — are so bad that, if I were still on the air, I’d use this movie’s songs as punishment music during the Harris Challenge. You’ve heard of people walking out of a musical with the tunes still echoing in their heads? If anyone remembers anything from this soundtrack, it will be in their nightmares.
#2: “The King’s Man” I’ve written often that action movies require great villains. This one — a prequel to two other “Kingsman” movies –has Rasputin, Lenin, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Tsar Nicholas. You read that right. Some of the worst despots of the early 1900s. Too bad they’re all stupidly written, cartoonish, and badly overacted. Meanwhile, the cliché-riddled heroes — played by Ralph Fiennes, Harris Dickinson, Gemma Atherton, and Djimon Hounsou — are stuck in a preposterous plot that involves the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which led to World War I. From there, it proceeds to, oh, why am I even bothering to explain this nonsense, which is unconvincingly filled with situations that exist merely to get us to another sword fight. “The King’s Man” is absolutely horrible. An utter waste of time.
#3: “The Virtuoso” Just days after Anthony Hopkins won the Best Actor Oscar for his phenomenal work in “The Father” (which I reviewed here), he shows up in a supporting role in an absolute dud called “The Virtuoso.” It’s the first feature script by James C. Wolf, whose writing is so lazy he doesn’t even bother to give his characters names. Hopkins is The Mentor, an ominous figure who gives orders to a professional assassin known simply as The Virtuoso (Anson Mount). In voiceover, as we see him killing a target from an apartment across the street, the hit man explains the precision, preparation, timing, and anonymity his job requires. It’s the kind of movie that tries to convince us its protagonist has a heart by having him feed a stray dog which shows up at his cabin in the woods, where he’s retreated after being haunted by flashback images of the dead woman. Oh, and don’t bother asking how he lives off the grid, yet has wifi service and can use a laptop to look things up so far away from civilization.
#4: “Limbo” This is the story of refugees from war-torn countries who fled to Europe and ended up on a small Scottish island, where they await a decision on their asylum applications. The central character is Omar, a Syrian, who shares quarters with an Afghani, a Ghanaian, and a Nigerian. None of this is compelling. “Limbo” is merely a series of mundane scenes of mundane lives. Imagine being forced to sit in the DMV office with nothing to read and no one interesting to talk to. Even when the four men join their fellow refugees on the island at a “cultural awareness” class run by two inept local residents, nothing engrossing takes place. I debated whether the scenes were supposed to be amusing breaks in the mundanity but, if so, they fail. “Limbo” does show the desperation of refugees trying to join a new society, but it is labored and boring, two words that never make a movie worth watching.
#5: “French Exit” I was really looking forward to seeing “French Exit,” because after it played some film festivals last year (before the world locked down), it drew rave reviews for its leading lady, Michelle Pfeiffer, whose work I’ve always liked. What a disappointment! Not so much for Pfeiffer, who does a fine job as Frances, an upperclass New York socialite widow who’s shocked to discover — despite seven years of warning from her accountant — that her money has run out. When asked why she didn’t plan better, she replies, “I thought I’d be dead by now.” This is all played as if it’s witty satire, but I didn’t smile once while slogging through the 110 minutes of “French Exit.” I didn’t care at all about Frances, whose arrogance and impertinence are never funny.
#6: “12 Mighty Orphans” If you took every cliché from every underdog sports movie — even if they were based on true stories — and rolled them into one, you’d have “12 Mighty Orphans.” It’s the story of the Mighty Mites, the football team of an orphanage in Fort Worth, Texas, during the Great Depression. Their new coach is Rusty Russell (Luke Wilson), who has given up a lucrative career at Temple University to teach and create a football program at the orphanage. But he’s up against the odds. There are the usual obstacles for the boys, plus a couple of villains, but neither of the bad guys, nor any of the other teams in the league, can stop the Mighty Mites on their way to the state championship. Telling you that might seem like a spoiler, considering the dramatic buildup to whether they can get that far as the movie unfolds. But Roberts and his screenplay blow it by opening up with a scene from halftime of that big game — so in the first minute, we already know the orphans will get there! Feh.
#7: “Swan Song” This movie comes off like the saddest-ever episode of “Black Mirror.” If you had a terminal disease, would you allow a scientist to create a duplicate which could take your place in the world and live the life you’ll never have? Mahershala Ali plays Cameron, a terminally ill man who is offered that opportunity by Dr. Jo Scott (Glenn Close), who has developed the technology to make Replacement Cameron, complete with all his thoughts and memories, to carry on without anyone — including his wife and son — knowing. The overriding problem of “Swan Song” is that it moves at a snail’s pace. At first, Cameron can’t make up his mind about the procedure and, when he does, he’s riddled with doubt over never seeing his wife and son again. As good an actor as Ali and underused co-star Awkwafina are, the simple fact is that watching sad people being sad isn’t entertaining.
#8: “Dear Evan Hansen” If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s the danger of spouting falsehoods. That’s one of many reasons “Dear Evan Hansen” bothered me. At the heart of its plot is a white lie told by Evan, an awkward high school student, in an attempt to soften the sadness of the parents of another student, Connor, who committed suicide. But that’s not all. Evan doubles down on that lie, then piles more falsehoods on top of it. Doing so makes him popular at school, with Connor’s parents, and with Connor’s sister, Zoe. If that sounds to you like an unlikely scenario for a feel-good musical, you’re absolutely right. The question I kept asking while watching “Dear Evan Hansen” was, “Where’s the fun?” Even musicals full of conflict and tragedy (e.g. “West Side Story,” “Fiddler On The Roof”) have scenes that put a smile on your face, with songs you can’t forget on your way out of the theater. “Dear Evan Hansen” has none of that. Oh, and the songs aren’t that good — bad news for a musical.
#9: “Concrete Cowboy” The worst thing about “Concrete Cowboy” is that it doesn’t have nearly enough Idris Elba or Lorraine Toussaint. When those two names are attached to a project, my hopes are raised because they always give very good performances. But director/co-writer Ricky Staub underutilizes them to the point where long stretches pass with neither of them anywhere in sight. In case the overriding theme of the movie doesn’t hit you over the head, there’s this line: “Horses ain’t the only thing that need breaking around here.” There’s probably a good documentary to be made about the century-long tradition of the actual concrete cowboys of Philadelphia — and the history of Hollywood whitewashing Black cowboys out of every cinematic depiction of America’s past — but this fictionalized story is nothing more than a badly edited, too predictable, big snooze.
#10: “Land” Like Reese Witherspoon’s “Wild,” Robin Wright (who also directed) set out to make a movie about a woman battling the elements to overcome a personal tragedy. As in that story, “Land” shows off some beautiful vistas, but not much else. Sure, you’ll root for her character to find a way to overcome the mental anguish she suffers by beginning a new life in the great outdoors. However, there’s virtually no drama to keep you interested otherwise. “Land” is so bland it wouldn’t even make it as a movie on the Hallmark channel. Its pacing is far too slow, and its conclusion seems almost tacked on. Wright is a fine actress and does an admirable job as a director, but (like Witherspoon) needed better material to work from.