Last year had quite a few rough in the gems. There’s an apocalyptic energy in the popcorn-scented air; every movie feels as if it must be the final note on its themes. This feeling from behind the scenes has made these movies grander, bigger,
For my dishonorable mentions I’ve decided to point to the two biggest disappointments of the year for me; even though Richard Linklater’s Apollo 10 1/2 and Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling were definitely not the worst movies released this year, I personally went into them with higher hopes that made watching the two movies so much worse. I especially don’t enjoy seeing Linklater’s latest movie immediately after pronouncing him my favorite director. His thematic richness and intelligent camerawork have been superseded by nostalgic triviality. Meanwhile, in a year of almost exclusively blunt and often paper-thin attacks at privilege, Don’t Worry Darling stands out as the bluntest and the thinnest, as well as the one that decided to straight-up bully. Neither of them is totally without merit and I even generally found Apollo 10 1/2 a mind-numbing fun watch, but I expect better.
5) Luck (dir. Peggy Holmes)
The big story surrounding Luck is far more interesting than the film itself, so I suppose I’ll start there. This represents founder and former head of Pixar John Lasseter’s first credit after his firing from the studio due to complaints of long hugs that made his employees feel uncomfortable. Lasseter was then hired by Apple’s animation branch to help incubate some of their original films.
Yet original is not the word that comes to mind when thinking of Luck, as much as the word derivative. In this Monsters Inc. and Inside Out knockoff, an unlucky former foster kid finds herself whisked into the world of luck, where she meets a black cat (Simon Pegg), leprechauns, a dragon, uh, a unicorn… yeah umm… stuff like that. So then, she like, tries to save the world and I guess learns that bad luck is actually good or whatever?
My halfhearted flippant tone matches that of the movie. Luck never stops world-building until the very climax, and none of it is consistent or interesting. The AI-generating scripts and pictures that have become so popular this year are the perfect shorthand for what this movie and its mediocre animation feel like. It only deserves to be 5 on this list due to Pegg’s performance (which is quite funny and deserves a bit of credit for his utilization as a story point) and a unique foster-sibling dynamic that tickles the emotions even if it doesn’t quite make the Pixar magic tears swell.
4) Pinocchio (dir. Robert Zemeckis)
You may think you’ve already seen this movie, but you haven’t. All changes made to the Pinocchio story for this reboot are for the worse, often robbing the puppet of agency and insisting that nothing is his fault. Blame here is explicitly placed on his father and the evil around him; Pinocchio is Frankenstein’s monster, and we are to pity and accept him for who he is. Becoming a real boy is no longer his main motivation, but his father’s, so the audience may understand that a message of perfect acceptance and the absence of free will.
If you’re going to watch this new age “nobody is bad except the people oppressing my growth” message, at least watch it when Guillermo Del Toro does it in his animated version released this year; Disney, and regrettably legendary director Robert Zemeckis, have no stomach for it. Our hero being robbed of choice further forces us to consider ourselves just going through the motions of a story we already knew when it was better told. Outside of Tom Hanks as Geppetto and Keegan-Michael Key as Honest John, this shipwreck is the unsalvagable crash of the live-action remake ocean liner.
3) Jurassic World: Dominion (dir. Colin Trevorrow)
There’s just nothing here. Bringing back the original cast of Jurassic Park to help stop a corporation from utilizing genetic advancements for global warfare, Owen (Chris Pratt) and the rest of the gang dodge through some of the worst editing of the year while remaining near untouchable by the supposed dangerous threat of these dinosaurs. It very quickly becomes apparent that nothing is at stake here except the film’s box office dollars, and watching the characters go through the motions of a Jurassic World movie without Spielberg’s direction nor any heart to the movie’s story is a disappointing slog.
If you want to read more of my thoughts then check out this article I wrote for Collider, which breaks down how clearly both the aesthetic and storytelling choices director Colin Trevorrow made were a whiney fit made out of resentment for being fired from the ninth Star Wars episode.
2) Minions: Rise of Gru (dir. Kyle Balda)
This year, TikTok and the nostalgia of a generation drove ticket sales up as teens went to the theater to see Minions: Rise of Gru dressed in suits or as different characters. Their post-postmodern irony has lost any bite; at this point they’re just seeing it because they genuinely like it, and are kidding themselves that this is a joke or meme. This franchise has been running just long enough that a certain age group that was the perfect age to see the original film now has enough disposable income to use it on something disposable.
There are movies like Minions: Rise of Gru that tire me so thoroughly with their lack of storytelling effort that I feel as if I’m putting more effort into bashing them than the filmmakers did into making them. Let that not be so here; Minions: Rise of Gru is bad, bland, boring storytelling for little babies. Don’t see it; no number of layers of irony will serve as ample protection.
1) Firestarter (dir. Karim Hussain)
This lifeless lump of smoldering rock brings to mind desolate planets devoid of life with thin, suffocating atmospheres. During one scene in the film, I found myself trying to convince myself that “this can’t be that bad” only to realize I’d been staring at the theater’s ceiling in a daze shoveling popcorn into my mouth. My eyes literally slid off the screen, while my brain bore stunned stupidity rather than losing my mind looking at the screen. Nothing bored me more than watching this subpar execution of a Stephen King novel burn. At a mere 95 minutes, half of one of the many lengthy blockbusters this year brought, this felt like the longest theater experience of 2022. Individual shots are chosen for their trivial beauty without regard for storytelling as if the filmmakers were on a student short film, and thus constructed the movie around creating Vimeo cinematography reels for potential employers rather than caring about anyone who would see the full breadth of their so-called efforts.
As for every other aspect of the film, there’s just nothing special to grasp onto. The writing is a paint-by-numbers sub-X-Men origin story with tensionless wandering scenes. I would approach belief in Zac Efron as a young dad if only I was cheering for his goal of whisking away his daughter and thus delaying the movie’s ending longer. This is what comes from our “elevated” horror; poorly written B-movie scripts now have to be so gosh-darn straight arrow molasses slow and stripped of their inventiveness and humor to demand to be taken seriously alongside their A24 counterparts. The filmmakers forgot to add anything creative thematically or cinematically to this soulless product of generic influences left on default settings. Unlike the rest of the films on this list, which are often IP-driven blockbusters or family films backed by large corporations, this Firestarter reboot felt not like a robot-generated “good time”, but a personal insult to anyone who would buy a ticket to the director’s commercial for their own talents.