The Films of 2019 That Disappointed Me
While yesterday was about the films that surprised me in a good way… today’s about the ones that didn’t fare so well. The ones I saw and went, “Oh, that’s a shame.” Well, that’s the kind version. Usually it’s more like, “Holy shit. Come on guys.” I’ll specify what each one was as I get to them.
But today is for the films that just did not meet my expectations. Either because they made me think they were gonna be better than they were, or because they fucked up a good idea/cast/concept, or just because “What the hell was that?” I will specify that this does not mean I disliked the films. In fact, there’s 5one film on here that I really liked that still disappointed me. Mostly it comes down to which films most made me think, “Yeah, it could have been so much more.”
So here are the films of 2019 that most disappointed me:
1. Brian Banks
Weird choice to start, but now that I’m starting to look into year-end stuff, I realized that I actually had expectations for this one back in January. I thought the story was really good and even though the director was not someone you’d expect to make something like this (he did Nutty Professor, Liar Liar and Bruce Almighty), we were coming off Green Book, where I unfairly dismissed a movie from a director changing genres. And the result was basically a half-step above one of those faith-based movies. It’s so badly written and so generic I was shocked and appalled at how bad it was. And while I shouldn’t have been that surprised, my disappointment really stems from the fact that they really should have done this man justice for what happened to him, and this is basically Lifetime movie bad.
2. The Current War
This one feels like a double gut punch. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon directed flat out one of my absolute favorite films this decade: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. I adore that film. So to see that his next film was based on a Black List script about the electric wars between Edison and Westinghouse, starring Michael Shannon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Nic Hoult, Tom Holland and Katherine Waterston… I was all in. And then, Weinstein rushed it to Toronto when it wasn’t finished, it got disastrous reviews and then fell off the face of the earth. Oh, and there was that whole scandal that left the movie entirely in limbo. Fortunately, they got it back, it was recut, they added a new score, a couple of minor scenes were reshot and the “Director’s Cut” was released this year. So already the film was somewhat compromised, because it got shitty reviews based on an incomplete cut and had Weinstein all over it. So it was always gonna be tainted in the eyes of viewers in some way. But I hoped that we’d finally get the movie, and we did. Only… it didn’t work. It’s just not interesting. The actors can’t make it interesting, the direction tries to be lively but makes it feel almost like it’s trying too hard along with the editing, which is treating it almost like it’s Aaron Sorkin dialogue or something. It’s just one of those things that never comes together. And I’m just disappointed that it didn’t. Not at the film so much as much as I’m disappointed that I don’t love it. And I really wanted to love it.
3. Dark Phoenix
I don’t think anyone actually expected a good movie out of this, so I’m not disappointed in that aspect. I’m disappointed in how much of a whimper this once-mighty franchise has gone out with. Maybe it just was never built to be sustained. The first go-round got two good ones and then Bret Ratner fucked it up. Then they kept the only good through-line of it all and spun off to Wolverine films, which started off shaky but got increasingly better as they went along. Then they rebooted it with First Class, which was really good. And maybe the big mistake was rushing right into Days of Future Past rather than continue with just the First Class crew for another film or two. Because imagine if you ended with that film. People would be raving about it as a perfect culmination. Instead, they did that and then came back with Apocalypse. Which just felt dull. The cast felt disinterested and the film just didn’t work. And then they sold Fox to Disney and it felt like they rushed this one into production just to get one last bite at the apple before they lost it forever. And the result feels like it. They didn’t even call it X-Men! But they clearly tried to go and sneak this one in while they still had the cast and could make another one, because if Disney were involved in this, they’d probably have said, “Hey guys, you know we’ve got Skrulls in Captain Marvel, right, and you can’t call them that?” Because they literally had to go in and completely reshoot the entire third act of the movie after Captain Marvel came out because they realized they had the same villain. It’s just a disaster on so many levels. But really the disaster is that they wasted what was once a very exciting young cast that could have done new things with the franchise. Come to think of it, it feels like a lot of things that happen in this country in all walks of life — old people run something into the ground, then young people come in and make it new and exciting again, and then old people come back in and force themselves back into it, fuck it up again and somehow blame the young people for it. What an ignominious ending for a once-promising franchise.
4. Detective Pikachu
This isn’t going to be about how they ruined my childhood. Because this movie isn’t Pokémon. It’s Detective Pikachu, based on the game that’s its own little offshoot of Pokémon. I know that because I actually looked up the story to Detective Pikachu and found out — that’s actually the story of the game. Which is weird as hell. So I’m not gonna rail how they fucked up something I grew up with and all that stuff. BUT… what I am gonna say is that, while I know the Pokémon company didn’t want to give up the film rights to the primary game and only relented on this because it was separate, the finished product of this film is certainly not gonna help an actual Pokémon movie get made anytime soon. It’s just… bland. Ryan Reynolds was not the right choice for Pikachu. And the story just felt generic and not really all that exciting. The problem was that the studio who got the rights is a studio that makes huge budget franchises. They don’t make mid-budget genre films. And for this movie to have worked, it had to be done in the style it was meant to be done — detective noir. Not noir per se, but you know what I mean. The colors could be there, but you had to have it be character based, not too jokey, and you really had to settle in on what the material was rather than trying to build it out for the widest possible audience. And the result is a film that’s not for no one. Maybe some nine year olds will enjoy it, but the box office returns prove that no one really wanted to see this or cared about this. And I could have completely expected that to be the case, which is why what I’m disappointed about with this is the fact that it’s gonna make an already nervous company even more nervous because they just watched a movie company fuck up their brand. So now, we might never get a Pokémon film (not that one would necessarily be a good idea or turn out well anyway, but I’d rather maybe a chance at a good one someday than never).
5. Frozen II
The avenue of my disappointment is very narrow and specific, but it’s still disappointment. On the one hand, I love that they didn’t even bother to try to make this a good movie. They used Disney straight-to-video resources on a theatrical film. This was Lion King II, Aladdin II… this was all those unofficial official sequels that exist, but not really. Any other time in this company’s history, this would never have come out theatrically. But they’ve fully sold out and only care about the money now, so of course this was going theatrical. But they really didn’t even try with this. The story is slight at best, the songs are instantly forgettable and they’re openly referencing the first movie within the dialogue as if to get idiots to go, “I get that reference!” And you know what? I respect that. HOWEVER… to me, the Disney Animated Film canon is very special. It shouldn’t be, now that they’ve done sequels in back to back years despite only having one official sequel in their entire history before this (Rescuers Down Under), but I always thought of a Disney animated release as something to look forward to. And the fact that they just didn’t even try with this is really disappointing to me. They stopped hand-drawn animation altogether, and they stopped caring about the princess films that got them to where they are (not entirely, but mostly), and now they’ve just totally sold out in every way, and it really saddens me. The film completely met my expectations in every way, but… that’s not a good thing. Come on, guys. Have some standards. Walt was a lot of things, but he never skimped on quality.
I knew it would be bad, so that’s now why I’m disappointed. Why I’m disappointed is because M. Night Shyamalan got all our hopes up and then just immediately drove that truck into the ground. As much as I like some of his early stuff (mostly Signs. I’m ambivalent on Unbreakable and The Sixth Sense is very good), he just wore himself out with diminishing returns (The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening), eventually getting to a point where his films were just bad. People tried to claim he was back after The Visit (which I still maintain is an awful movie), but then there was no denying how solid Split was. Hate on him all you want (and I do. Mostly on his writing), but Split was a very tense and engaging film. And then the last two minutes are just mind-blowingly bad, because he tied it into a larger “Unbreakable” universe. And then he threatened us with this film, which was gonna bring back Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson and have all three in the same movie together. And this was all people talked about for a year. I heard so many goddamn updates about this movie because people thought they wanted it and that it was gonna be great. And what happened? It was bad. The character you get the most of is Willis, who is the most boring of the three. Samuel L. Jackson doesn’t show up until halfway through the movie, and all three are in a psych ward for the majority of the film. And he builds the universe out even further, with some shadowy organization… dude, keep it fucking simple! Why couldn’t it just be Willis hunting this guy down, Jackson taking him in as the brawn to his brains and then the three of them are just fighting it out in society? Why not just make that movie? I’m sure we’d all have preferred that version. So yeah. I knew it wasn’t gonna be good, but what I’m most mad about is that Shyamalan got all our hopes up that just maybe he wasn’t gonna make terrible films anymore, and used all of that good will to just slam our faces in it. It’s like person who blew up their car coming to you and going, “Look, I built one from scratch.” And you go, “Oh wow! You know what, here’s the last little bit you need to finish it, because you did such a good job so far.” And then they finish the car and then immediately drive it into a fucking utility pole. Same old Night.
7. The Goldfinch
This is an entirely ‘on paper’ one. John Crowley, coming off Brooklyn, shooting a film with Roger Deakins behind the camera. Based on nothing else, that should have been a really solid movie. The book was a bestseller, so I had to assume solid. Maybe not top ten of the year, but there’s no way we couldn’t have expected good things from this. And man, was this boring. I fell asleep in the theater. I had to go back and rewatch a good chunk of this movie because I couldn’t stay awake during it in the theater. It just flat out doesn’t work. And I’m not gonna shit on the movie. Sometimes things just don’t work. Sometimes a novel doesn’t perfectly translate to the screen. It’s totally understandable. But that doesn’t make it any less of a disappointment. I saw who was behind it and I thought it was gonna be awesome. And it wasn’t. So I’m disappointed. It’s not the end of the world.
8. Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Disappointed, but not surprised. The fact that the first one was as enjoyable as it was is the surprise to me. Because I really liked that first Godzilla movie. And then people freaked out because there wasn’t enough Godzilla and all that other shit. So now, what did we get? Fucking everything. Every goddamn Godzilla monster is in this, to the point where the plot doesn’t matter at all. And now they’re setting up Godzilla vs. King Kong, which… please no. The first one looks like a masterpiece compared to this, which is just loud noise and monster toys fighting each other. Which I guess some people wanted. I did not, and I’m very upset that I don’t have a semi-decent Godzilla franchise to look forward to anymore.
The first Harriet Tubman movie ever (which is a conversation in and of itself we should be having) and this is the final product? I knew it was gonna be bad from the poster, which is her holding a gun. And you knew there that they didn’t know what they were making. Or they were misguided it into making it something it shouldn’t be. Because studios see period as bad bets financially. And the only way you can truly make something like this, unless you have a real auteur behind it (which, all due respect to Kasi Lemmons… she makes great movies, but she’s not the kind of filmmaker that could get a Harriet Tubman movie made the right way), is by giving it the kind of ‘action’ sequences and story angle this movie has. Because you need to give the lazy, uncreative studio marketing team something to run with to try to sell people who are never gonna watch the movie anyway that it might be worth seeing. It’s literally the bad version of what a Harriet Tubman movie would be. If SNL made a parody trailer of a Harriet Tubman movie, it would have the exact scenes in this movie turned up maybe 20% from what they already are. It’s not that it’s a terrible movie, it’s just… what Harriet Tubman deserves (which is so much more than just a movie about what she accomplished. Remember when she was gonna be on the $20 bill and they delayed it because racists are in charge of the country? Because I do. But I digress) from a film is so much better than this. This is so unfortunate. Because now they’re not gonna make another one. This might be, pound for pound, the most disappointing film of the year just because its subject is one of the most undertold stories in the history of the United States, and they just… fucked it up. They did. They fucked it up. I’m not gonna pretend like they didn’t. I appreciate the effort, but the unfortunate truth is that films about black history made by black filmmakers don’t have the amount of opportunities to fuck up the way white filmmakers do. You think Midway fucked up anyone’s career? They’ll make another shitty big budget World War II movie in the next five years. We may never get the Harriet Tubman movie her story deserves. And that’s why this movie is so disappointing to me.
10. The Highwaymen
This one’s a no-brainer for me. Woody Harrelson and Kevin Costner as the lawmen who captured (well, brutally murdered) Bonnie and Clyde. Directed by John Lee Hancock, who has made nothing but solid films recently (Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks, The Founder). How could it be bad? Well, turns out… how it could be bad is if the actors are in a different movie from the one that got made. I don’t know where the disconnect happened. Was it in the editing? Was it that the director told them to do one thing but directed something else? I don’t know. And it’ll remain a mystery. Because the way this movie begins, you’re looking at an Assassination of Jesse James style meditation on the death of the Old West and the last of the old style lawmen. And then you get some weird old-timey chase movie of sorts. It’s really weird. I thought Kevin Costner’s opening scene was one of the best character introductions I have ever seen. And what Harrelson is doing in this is some of the best work I’ve ever seen him do. But the rest of the film is just totally different from that. It shouldn’t be about Bonnie and Clyde. It should be exactly what it sets up to be about. And yet, they have these weird scenes of them chasing young kids through the streets and that scene where Harrelson is taking a piss and Bonnie and Clyde pull up. That one at least works on paper, but on screen it just doesn’t. I don’t know what happened, but if they stuck with one tone and went with it, I’d have been happy. One version would have been significantly better than the other, but it would have felt uniform. This version… now I see glimpses of the movie I could have gotten. And this version is not good enough to make me not be disappointed in not having gotten that one.
11. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
I really liked this movie. My sense of disappointment with it is for one reason and one reason only: I thought the next film was what I was getting here. It felt like it was taking a side step rather than a step forward. You end the second film going, “Okay, so he’s about to be excommunicato and everyone’s gonna be out to kill him soon on orders from the High Table. So clearly he’s gonna go kill the High Table.” And then you get this film and it starts off as you’d expect… then there’s a Russian ballet school, and he’s in the desert cutting off a finger, and there’s dogs and shit.. as awesome as this movie is, I was wondering what the point of it was in terms of the overall arc of the series. And then you get to the end, and the final line is basically, “Hey, you wanna go fuck up the High Table now?” And I’m like, “Yeah, I was ready for that shit two hours ago!” And that’s why I’m disappointed. I was kinda hoping they’d get to that here so we could move forward to something new that I’m not expecting. I love this franchise and it hasn’t truly disappointed me yet. But not going to the obvious next step and just sort of vamping for an extra film felt like a weird choice.
12. Late Night
This one’s an external disappointment. I’m not mad at the film at all. In fact, the film turned out exactly as I expected it to. It was the fact that it came out and people leapt to praise it as this amazing movie that featured Emma Thompson’s best performance in years (which was already a misnomer, since Emma Thompson’s best most recent performance is always ‘the last one’) with great writing that really talked about what it’s like for a woman. And really… it’s not. It just felt like Mindy Kaling writing a vehicle for herself. That’s what I expected it to be. It doesn’t really do anything particularly unique or interesting. In fact, it feels kinda flat and lazy at times with how it diminishes and minimizes some of the aspects of the story that should be focused on more. And I’m disappointed that I was sold a bill of goods on this movie from the public at large that it just can’t live up to. It’s just a decently solid movie and that’s it. And the fact that I was told it was more than that led to me being very disappointed with it.
13. The Laundromat
It’s rare to see Steven Soderbergh on this list. Usually he’s on either the ‘surprised me’ list or the ‘holy shit this movie needs to be seen by more people’ list. And it’s not even like this movie is bad. Because it’s not. It’s quite good, actually. But I was disappointed by it because, based on the people involved, I thought I was getting a different kind of movie. Gary Oldman, Meryl Streep… you think this is a heavy hitter of a movie. But instead it’s just kind of… Big Short-lite? There’s no other way to explain it. Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas exist in a weird alternate reality for most of the film (which yes, I get it. That’s the point), narrating to the camera, explaining what’s going on basically the way Ryan Gosling in The Big Short does and how the celebrity interludes do. But it never really works and feels kind of clunky. And then there are these little vignettes throughout. You get the Meryl bits, which tie the film together, but then there’s the story about the dude fucking his daughter’s roommate, and Jeffrey Wright… it just feels like the whole is less than the sum of its parts. And the tone never quite clicks together. And then it does that ending with Meryl. Which… don’t know what that was or what they were going for, but sure. It feels like there’s a version of this exact movie that does work better, but it just doesn’t happen here. And while it’s solid and worth seeing for many different reasons, I’m just disappointed because I really wanted this to be great. And usually I’m underrating Soderbergh rather than overrating him. Which makes this so surprising for me.
14. Lucy in the Sky
This is another one that’s based on what I expected back in January. Noah Hawley, who created Fargo and Legion, directing a space movie with Natalie Portman. So I expected perfectly solid, bordering on really good. By the time it was coming out, my expectations had dropped (and I still didn’t really know what it was about), but even still, I expected more than I got. The trailer was, admittedly, not great (they couldn’t wait to use that Beatles song). But the film… it’s not even about space. She’s in space at the beginning, but we don’t even really see it, and the film is about her coming back to earth and dealing with all the after-effects from having been to space and wanting to go back. And it’s based on a real astronaut and something that happened. So as I’m seeing this, I’m kind of invested for a while, and it’s fine, but I’m dealing with waiting for something else to happen, and Natalie’s weird southern accent that’s just distracting, and thinking about how Ellen Burstyn after Interstellar is again playing an old woman in a space movie… and I’m just not that into it. And then we get into the last forty minutes of the film and I’m really wondering what the fuck is going on. It just didn’t work for me. And maybe if I’d known truly what it was about it wouldn’t have been so disappointing to me, but man, did I have much higher hopes for this one.
15. Men in Black International
Wow. The entire list is alphabetically in the first half of the alphabet. That’s weird. (This is the type of shit I notice/am interested in.) I think we can all understand why this is here. It’s a relatively beloved franchise. And by that I mean — everybody loves the first movie. The second movie is pretty good. And the third one is bad, but we’re all kinda okay with it (plus admittedly that last scene with Jones and Smith is really nice, even if most of the rest of the film is terrible). It’s a universe we like. So the idea that they were rebooting it with a London branch that had Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson in it, coming off their chemistry from Ragnarok… who wasn’t excited for this? Plus F. Gary Gray directing… he’s made some great movies and has done action well before. It was almost foolproof. That is… until it wasn’t. I don’t know what the fuck kind of track they decided to take for this, but it was the wrong one. Hemsworth is just stupid and aloof for the whole movie, and then you find out, “Oh, yeah, that’s by design. He’s not really that stupid and aloof.” And it’s like, “You only get one first impression, guys.” It’s like Goblet of Fire. We get that one first impression of Mad Eye Moody and then you realize, “Oh, yeah, that’s not really him.” And so then for the rest of the films, he’s there, but you don’t really know him, and he’s not really a part of the action. He just exists. It was a very weird choice. And the film just flows from that decision. It’s lazy and boring and none of the plot works, the CGI feels like a burden and it’s just a badly written and executed movie. And given all they had to go in with, it really should not have turned out this badly at all.
– – – – – – – – – – –