The Very Worst Movies of 2020: From Netflix’s ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ to Robert Downey Jr.’s ‘Dolittle

It’s been a good year in film overall—but there have still been plenty of stinkers.

Our Marlow Stern and Kevin Fallon break down the worst of the worst.Marlow SternSenior Entertainment EditorKevin FallonSenior Entertainment Reporter

Marlow: Well, we’ve discussed our holiday movie and TV recommendations, you’ve gifted us a comprehensive rundown of the best TV shows of the year, and I’ve curated a list of the most overlooked movies of the year, so now we’ve arrived at the grimmer stuff: the worst movies of the year. And lordy, there have been a lot of contenders, from Tyler Perry’s latest carnival of misogyny to Shia LaBeouf playing what appears to be a Mexican assassin.

Kevin: “Shia LaBeouf playing what appears to be a Mexican assassin” is one of the most truly cursed phrases you’ve written.

Marlow: And this was before we learned he’s an off-screen monster. I’m going to kick things off with the Shia vehicle, The Tax Collector. Filmmaker David Ayer has long harbored a rather questionable obsession with documenting Latinx gangs in L.A., from Training Day to Harsh Times to Street Kings and beyond. But his trading-in-the-worst-stereotypes shtick was turned up to 11 in The Tax Collector, a world where Latinx gang members engage in blood sacrifices and are seemingly all cold-blooded killers. Then there’s LaBeouf’s appropriately-named character Creeper, who Ayer has claimed is “a whiteboy who grew up in the hood,” but you wouldn’t know that from the film, as LaBeouf—who again, is white—has been given dark-trimmed hair, a considerable tan, is covered in gang tattoos, and is affecting a barrio accent. It’s a pretty clear-cut example of brownface to me, and Ayer’s explanation feels like backtracking. It frankly makes the Hilaria Baldwin controversy seem tame by comparison.

Kevin: The Hilaria Baldwin fake-accent clips could themselves be their own anthology of worst films of the year. The Small Axe of opportunistic appropriation. The clip of her “not knowing” the English word for cucumber may be the piece of filmed content I watched this year that I’ll end up thinking about the most. But I digress from the task at hand, which is to talk about how unbelievably awful Robert Downey Jr.’s Dolittle was. A bacchanal of CGI ugliness, inscrutable tone, and convoluted mythology, it features the Avengers star looking more miserable than I remember seeing any actor look on screen and culminates with an enormous fart. A literal, deafening fart. Given how unwatchable everything was up to that point, it’s the first thing in the film that actually seemed appropriate. I can’t believe how much money was wasted on something so indefensibly and irredeemably bad.

Marlow: That movie cost $175 million before it underwent 21 days of reshoots, and still turned out terrible. Imagine assembling a cast that includes Downey Jr., Antonio Banderas, Emma Thompson, Ralph Fiennes, Marion Cotillard, Jim Broadbent, Michael Sheen, Rami Malek, and Tom Holland in service of something so godawful! It’s here I’ll remind everyone that this film was directed by Stephen Gaghan, who was once one of the hottest screenwriters in Hollywood after winning an Oscar for penning Traffic.

Kevin: I’d like to go back 20 years and tell Y2K Kevin that the guy who wrote Traffic would one day pen a kids’ movie script in which a CGI gorilla kicks a tiger voiced by Ralph Fiennes in the balls while a packed theater takes in the entire “bit” in total and complete, unamused silence

Marlow: I mean, he was so famous that he somehow cameoed as himself on Entourage, as a screenwriter. Quite a dramatic fall from grace. Speaking of, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Tyler Perry’s A Fall from Grace, which is predictably packed with the filmmaker’s trademark “fallen woman” misogyny and infidelity-shaming—although nobody is punished with AIDS this time—as well as an overall sense of sloppiness, littered with boom mics, awkward cuts, and the unforgettably discordant, memeable line, “Ashtray bitch!”

Kevin: If we’re going to talk about outrageous lines of dialogue that became memes, shall I bring up the instant-classic of nonsense lunacy from Hillbilly Elegy: “Everyone in this world is one of three kinds: Good Terminator, a Bad Terminator, and Neutral.” It’s a reference to The Terminator, a movie beloved by Glenn Close’s Mamaw character, and the fact that it is a line of dialogue that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever either in relation to the Schwarzenegger movie or in the context of which Mamaw is using it doesn’t seem to faze anyone involved with the film. It is the backbone of the inspirational speech that gets J.D. Vance, whose memoir the film is based on, to change his life. The thing about Hillbilly Elegyis that there is nothing redeemable about it, not even the performances by Close and Amy Adams, which are so desperate and hammy it’s a shock to see them come from those two talented actors.

Marlow: I blame the Academy for putting these two talents in this desperate, Oscar-starved position!I blame the Academy for putting these two talents in this desperate, Oscar-starved position!

Kevin: By chronicling J.D.’s straddling of his Appalachia upbringing and his yuppie future as a Yale Law grad, ostensibly the movie was meant to say something about the class divide, the two Americas, and the part of the country the media so often ignores. But Ron Howard’s take was so bogged down by Oscar-bait histrionics and festishized hillbilly tropes that nothing nuanced or remarkable was said at all about self-defeating generational cycles, let alone building any bridge to understanding between red and blue America.

Marlow: And then Ron Howard started retweeting notorious bigot Ben Shapiro’s defense of the film. I can’t with this. The only film that I couldn’t even finish this year was Netflix’s remake of Rebecca, featuring a wooden Armie Hammer and miscast Lily James, who has never really left much of an impression in any of her films.

Kevin: This EGREGIOUS Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again erasure

Marlow: “Deluuusions!” Filmmaker Ben Wheatley is undeniably talented, but here has stripped the story of all the gothic horror and romance that made it so intriguing in the first place. What’s left is a hollow, mildly unnerving travelogue. Oh, and how dare you waste Queen Kristin Scott Thomas like this, who deserves so much better. Alfred Hitchcock and Daphne du Maurier are probably spinning in their graves. Another film I could barely sit through was Irresistible, otherwise known as the movie Jon Stewart sat out the Trump era to make. I hate to harp too much on titles, but why does it sound like an early-aughts rom-com?

Kevin: Or, like, an ABC drama about CIA agents having an affair that lasted for one season.

Marlow: “Irresistible: Thursday nights on ABC.” And why, in addition to their unsettling age gap, do 58-year-old Steve Carell and 33-year-old Mackenzie Davis have zero chemistry? Perhaps it’s because of the unsettling age gap? Either way, a disaster.

Kevin: Gross. I have to admit that I forgot that Jon Stewart movie existed. Sorry to this man. But if I was going to bring home a conversation about the worst films in this, the worst of years, I would say it is most appropriate to end on Artemis Fowl. Yet another abomination of a family film, this one climaxes with a scene in which Josh Gad, playing a dwarf burglar named Mulch Diggums, unhinges his jaw, nosedives into the dirt, and plows through Ireland’s precious earth with his mouth, projectile defecating it out the other end. Josh Gad geyser-shitting for the kids? That’s 2020, folks.

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