Sometimes, we have great expectations for the movies we’re looking forward to seeing. Excitement, anticipation, and optimism are just parts of the human experience – film or otherwise – and sometimes they will grow to magnitudes that we just can’t help. And when movies can’t meet that intense eagerness with something that we feel earns it, is that truly the movie’s fault? Does that make those movies bad?
My Biggest Disappointments of the 2010s
Shutter Island (2010, Martin Scorsese, USA)
OK, so like… even I was gonna be interested in a horror movie by Martin Scorsese of all people and we were riding high enough on The Departed having his most engaged feature film directing at the time since The Age of Innocence to dive right into this and… it maintained a gothic enough atmosphere to not be a total wash, but I also don’t know how the world’s most predictable psychological thriller could be found engaging by any viewer.
Hot Tub Time Machine (2010, Steve Pink, USA) & Cowboy & Aliens (2011, Jon Favreau, USA)
Let’s start from the top: don’t make the same mistake as I did and get overhyped for movies based on their titles. Snakes on a Plane lived up to my expectations and more but that was a fluke. Just because a title is as straightforward and blunt and ridiculous as these two does not mean the movie won’t be a miserable thing to watch.
True Grit (2010, Joel & Ethan Coen, USA)
Remember when I said these were bad movies in the intro? Yeah, I was just being facetious. There’s going to be many movies up in here that are just fine but unimpressive to me and we have met the first on the list where that turns out to be the case. When we hear “Coen brothers Western”, we obviously have to expect better than this where it feels practically everyone except Hailee Steinfeld are recycling their best work (even if Roger Deakins is pretty close to career-best here). Especially as the follow-up to three masterpieces in a row.
The Adventures of Tintin (2011, Steven Spielberg, USA & New Zealand)
Once again, it’s ok as adventure movie but there’s a reason I went with The BFG instead of this on the Best Popcorn Movies list and that mostly has to do with how undercooked some of the special effects felt, even by 2011 standards, where the The BFG was able to fix up those kinks. But The BFG wasn’t a big damn release the way that Tintin was and while the movie in itself was amusing in the moment, I find so much of its adventure easily evaporates from my mind looking back outside of the famous one-shot chase.
The Muppets (2011, James Bobin, USA)
I’ll cop to being a weirdo on this who just feels like The Muppets aren’t really feeling like The Muppets here for me. And it’s bouncy and pleasant anyway and the new songs are nice and I did feel my heart soar when Animal rolled the drums for “Rainbow Connection”, but it delivered more an empty nostalgia rather than the sort of unexpected craft and zaniness and I just don’t feel Jim Henson or Frank Oz’s personalities under the felt is replaceable. And I think the brand’s attempt over the past ten years to restyle itself as The Office with puppets feels very wrong to me.
Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012, Benh Zeitlin, USA) and Whiplash (2014, Damien Chazelle, USA)
Sundance hype, dude. It’s setting you up so that even if the movie isn’t bad (as neither of these are), you’re still likely not going to catch something that lives up to it. And both movies happen to have aesthetical decisions that are… not my favorite things for them to have. In Beasts of the Southern Wild‘s case, it’s the most egregious utilization of shaky handheld camerawork since we’ve decided it was the new source for rustic realism and in Whiplash‘s case, it’s the overreliance on close-ups that doesn’t seem to have much value to a story that resembles any given teacher-based indie of the 1990s. I’m glad some good movies came out of Sundance (a rarity in my eyes), but I didn’t feel they were good enough.
John Dies at the End (2012, Don Coscarelli, USA)
“The book is better” is such a cop-out and I wonder if it would just be better to admit that it was a long-time dream project of mine to adapt this book and its sequels to film (though has been less of one since the namesake of John Cheese was revealed to be a creep). But in all honesty, it’s simply the case that I felt Don Coscarelli – a director I love and admire and am influenced by – just wasn’t particularly right for the sort of directions the story had to go. The cosmic elements feel small-scale, entire jokes are cut off mid-setup in a manner that makes me wonder if Coscarelli truly understands comedy, and there’s no sense of losing your mind in endless juvenilia the way that the book gave me.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012, Christopher Nolan, USA & UK)
To be quite honest: I think the last few scenes stick the landing. I think that final montage is pretty much the perfect satisfying collection of beats to close out the trilogy with. But the movie beforehand? Yeesh. There’s an unfair mountain of expectation that the sequel to The Dark Knight had to face but that doesn’t stop me from feeling underwhelmed regardless of how superficially BIG it tried to aim for. It all felt less focused and weighty as the sum of its parts, those parts being sound and fury and nothing else.
Step Up Revolution (2012, Scott Speer, USA)
It’s not just that it’s the least of the Step Up movies but it’s also just the LEAST of the Step Up movies. Meaning that there’s less trashy melodrama, less ambitiously choreographer, less devoted or campy to get the kind of verve that a psycho like me has reliably received from the other five movies in this franchise. And especially so soon after Step Up 3D reached the pinnacle of guilty pleasure with me.
To the Wonder (2012, Terrence Malick, USA)
I still owe this a rewatch sometime soon so it is entirely possible that I won’t stand by it, especially in the wake of recognizing what sort of structural experimentation Malick had been going for between 2011 and 2019. That said, I feel like if To the Wonder was going to convince me that Malick was cooking some dope shit, it would have revealed it to me. And that’s ignoring what a huge feat it will be to ignore how Olga Kurylenko and Ben Affleck give the least interesting lead performances in Malick’s career.
A Field in England, High-Rise, & Free Fire (2013-’16, Ben Wheatley, UK)
Oof! Man, it has been an utter heartbreak to watch Ben Wheatley go from the most promising genre filmmaker on the strength of Kill List and Sightseers to… being the sort of guy who makes formalist exercises rather than formalist experiences. It’s clear that there is thought put into each one of these films, dedication to an internal schema, and each one has been less satisfying than the last and Free Fire outright has nothing to show for it by the end.
Escape from Tomorrow (2013, Randy Moore, USA)
The most egregious and infuriating of these: we will probably never get another movie made this way again. There was one shot to use the concept of secretly shooting an entire motion picture in Disneyland and Walt Disney World (at least one that doesn’t look like complete ass like the ending of The Florida Project) and what was it all wasted on? Some pseudo-Lynchian nonsense that felt more like a glorified Adult Swim episode than an indictment of Disney as a brand or a compelling family drama.
Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return (2013, Will Finn & Dan St. Pierre, USA & India)
Don’t listen to me, I’m a sick person who was really looking forward to the worst animated movie of all time and instead I got this forgettable trinket of a thing. Mediocrity is always less welcome to me than active garbage, screensaver look or not.
Winter Sleep (2014, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey)
Cannes 2014 was definitely one of the highlight experiences of my decade, but it really says something that this was the movie I was most excited to catch at the Palais based on the impressive utilization of duration that Ceylan has shown in his previous film Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and then suddenly it turns out to have been made up of two great long exhausting scenes and a whole bunch of sincer material that nevertheless made me fear falling asleep (seriously, the seats at the Palais are that comfortable). The winning of the Palme d’Or was the beginning of my disillusion with that esteemed of film prizes.
Mr. Holmes (2015, Bill Condon, UK & USA)
Ian McKellan… as Sherlock Holmes? The possibilities are endless here. And instead we gave those keys to Bill Condon and he gave us the sleepiest picture you could possibly get out of the concept and maybe the sleepiest movie of Condon’s whole career. I felt more active in my utter hatred for Beauty and the Beast than I did watching McKellan waltz his way through a character with no challenge.
Jason Bourne (2016, Paul Greengrass, USA)
Even if I was firmly of the attitude that three movies is a nicely round enough number to leave the franchise at, I would have thought that Greengrass and Damon both returning would have brought the sense of frazzled urgency and sweat that said trilogy delivered if in shorter portions. And instead it didn’t have any of that urgency or a sense of surprise or anything. I’m now convinced that the missing link in Tony Gilroy is key to it and maybe if they make a sequel, they should get Gilroy back as writer but y’know what? Fool me once…
The Fate of the Furious (2017, F. Gary Gray, USA)
Fast & Furious spin-off Hobbs & Shaw would almost belong as this list alongside the series’ eighth installment if it wasn’t for one thing: I was still able to have fun with that overlong broken movie. Fate never gives us the opportunity to smile once it jumps into the being the “dark chapter” of the series. There’s an excellent race sequence in Havana opening the film and almost as soon as Dom turns a corner around, the mood drops. And that is flatout murderous for any popcorn movie to be, let alone one that should be gleefully smiling about the chemistry between its familia ensemble. The absence of Paul Walker sadly cannot be helped (though attempting to replace him with Scott Eastwood was truly cringe-worthy) but manufacture Diesel’s separation from the group for an extended amount of time and it’s a scattered and moody piece that’s left.
Alien: Covenant (2017, Ridley Scott, USA & UK) & The Predator (2018, Shane Black, USA)
You’d think that these choices of directors would be the most can’t-miss choices to bring each franchise to its former glory and instead they get so close to the mark (both of them have top-tier gore and violence; there’s a capital G-Great performance in Fassbender for Covenant and Rhodes for Predator) that I had to walk out asking if that was really it. In Covenant‘s case, I’d blame Scott still stuck in his nihilistic “hate humanity” phase to a degree that he’s still convinced is profound enough to treat this potential sci-fi grindhouse shlock like an arthouse piece. In The Predator‘s case, it’s a reminder that Shane Black the writer takes priority over Shane Black the director and for some reason the latter believed that what a franchise about watched brawny men get ripped to shreds by a monster was missing was PLOT and MYTHOS.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017, Luc Besson, France)
I’m going to sound like a psycho putting this on my disappointments list since I’ve been pretty clear on the fact that I consider this a really great movie. I just always thought it had the makings of being a much better movie than it is and it bothers me like a fucking piece of food stuck in someone’s teeth that the solution is staring right there in front of us: it’s one of the few bad Dane DeHaan performances and that man needed to be replaced by Alden Ehrenreich or something.
The Shape of Water (2017, Guillermo del Toro, USA)
Few feelings as awful as watching a director you deeply admire finally receive the boost in recognition you think he should have received all throughout his career and it ends up being for a movie you had very little use for. The monster himself is a miracle of effects and makeup and pantomime, but the story and its treatment feel like transients from some very dated post-war musing on bigotry, mixed in with the sort of distance and shallowness that made those films disinteresting as social commentary.
Disobedience (2017, Sebastién Lelio, UK Ireland & USA)
I have a friend who slowly tried to warn me that Lelio is useless as hell as filmmaker and I just had trouble buying into it because there was enough about Gloria and A Fantastic Woman that I thought worked, but then Disobedience and the announcement of Gloria Bell (that movie itself turning out to be useless too but at least in a way that I was prepared for) that brought me to sanity realizing just how little Lelio brings to his films and how his lead actresses appear to do almost as much heavy-lifting as Lars von Trier’s lead actresses. Disobedience had me reeled in with the promise of Rachel-on-Rachel romantic drama and they ended up having to carry that stale drama.
Thor: Ragnarok & Jojo Rabbit (2017-’19, Taika Waititi, USA)
In general, I think modern-day Disney has proven to corrupt so many filmmakers I hold dear but none of those filmmakers have proved to be as hard to let go as Taika Waititi. Thor: Ragnarok had occasional appearances of color and certainly more amusing irreverence than any of the other Marvel Cinematic Universe movies could hope to have, but it was still delivered in total visual flatness (delivered solely by production design rather than cinematography) and it also egregiously wastes Cate Blanchett in a way I can’t forgive. Meanwhile, Jojo Rabbit hits on the same premise and themes as the tremendous Boy except in complete tonal misfire for a topic that you don’t want to be nearly as inept regarding tone. It’s wild how strongly these two movies affected my goodwill to Waititi to the point that the words “Taika Waititi slated to direct Star Wars film made my heart sink” (though I am deeply hopeful that Next Goal Wins gets me back in his corner).
Isle of Dogs (2018, Wes Anderson, USA & Germany)
I love Wes Anderson. I love dogs. I love animation and ESPECIALLY stop-motion animation and ESPECIALLY the sort of stop-motion animation that Anderson showcased in Fantastic Mr. Fox. I love Japanese culture and aesthetic. And I especially love post-war Japanese cinema such as Kurosawa Akira (which Anderson shows an affinity for in the movie). So this was needless to say one of my most anticipated movies of the decade.
And I liked it. I ONLY liked it. Do you see how disproportionate a response that feels compared to what’s in this movie?
Mute (2018, Duncan Jones, UK & Germany)
It is probably the least interesting usage of neon-based cyberpunk future noir that such an aesthetic could possibly be, not even dynamic enough to be a lived-in future world the way that the best future noirs are. Maybe it was still the case that Jones was trying to cope with papa David Bowie’s death, but there’s only so many bad movies in the wake of his grief that I am capable of following hoping for another Moon or Source Code. And in any case, many of the character decisions are inexplicable enough to understand why studios didn’t want to touch the movie. I remember particularly thinking that this was going to be the best Blade Runner sequel of the decade and instead it ended up the worst Ghost in the Shell remake of the decade.
Greta (2018, Neil Jordan, USA & Ireland)
Isabelle Huppert was coming in from her greatest year knowing she could do any film and we as an audience would be able to eat it up. And among the things she decided to indulge in was this apparent can’t-miss concept of a crazy stalker thriller. Except if she had fun making it, I didn’t have remotely any fun watching it. It felt like Jordan et al. were committed to playing in the most miserable possible aesthetic and structural decisions to just let us be so far ahead of the situation that we wait for it to catch up. Is it too much to expect good fucking exploitation cinema from people that aren’t Rob Zombie and S. Craig Zahler?
Glass (2019, M. Night Shyamalan, USA)
Say what you will about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and I happily will say what I will being no fan of them) but at least they have the good sense to have their cursed world-building occur in duration rather than at the very last fucking second like Glass somehow decided was necessary. And even if we dismiss such a misfire of an ending, it’s hard not to shake off the feeling that this movie felt more eager to act as Unbreakable sequel than Split sequel. Which good for anyone if that’s what they were looking for – your reward is a somnambulist performance by Bruce Willis, somebody should check his heartbeat – but I absolutely have no love for Unbreakable and find the declarations of it as great superhero cinema to be mad. Glass certainly shares Unbreakable‘s lack of narrative thrust.
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2019, Mike Mitchell, USA Denmark & Australia)
You wouldn’t expect me to be disappointed by how many musical numbers they gave Tiffany Haddish but compared to how many jokes are definitely not in the movie, it feels like they came into this sequel with their priorities a bit wrong. Especially since those priorities felt like reeling in on the sort of ambitions that the first movie performed upon, which is a bigger disappointment considering how this movie revolved its plot around the one particular beat from the first movie that broke the narrative potential for sequels wide open. What does it say that I think The Lego Batman Movie played more with the twist (and more with the lighting) than this did?
The Curse of La Llorona (2019, Michael Chaves, USA)
It wasn’t even the connection to the reliable Conjuring universe that got me amped for this movie (given that the marketing for this film inexplicably buried that aspect, maybe they knew they had a stinker on their hands and wanted to keep hopes for Annabelle Comes Home‘s doomed box office), it was just the introduction of some non-white legend and Linda Cardellini’s potential as scream queen (especially for the folly of cultural appropriation). Well, I must say that… sure, the Conjuring movies don’t have the most sophisticated or innovative formula for their scares but they get a lot of mileage out of their application of those familiar scares (other than Annabelle which is even worse). The Curse of La Llorona gets absolutely no mileage out of its scares and it makes me fearful over Chaves directing the next Conjuring movie.
Ema (2019, Pablo Larraín, Chile)
If you’re going to try to deliver psychology and emotion through dance, it’s important that you don’t forget the psychology and that the emotion is more than just skin deep. And of all the filmmakers to forget that, I wouldn’t have expected it to be Larraín, who was one of my favorite new finds of the whole decade. Or more particularly his regular writing collaborator Guillermo Calderón, who shapes a pretty opaque central figure like he did before in The Club and Neruda (that The Club was also a film I disliked should have been a warning sign) and gives us no reason to keep pushing past the character’s film-long deflection from any interiority. The only reason to stick around is the gorgeous dance scenes and shockingly for me – the long-time devotée of Climax, Step Up, Pina, Cunningham, etc. – it wasn’t enough this time around.
Color Out of Space (2019, Richard Stanley, USA)
I’m going to ignore how spoiled Mandy made me as a viewer of cosmic Nicolas Cage and just call this an instance of a director’s eyes being a little bit too big for his stomach: the build-up is tremendous as a grab-bag of horror movie tones that wouldn’t make sense connecting together if it wasn’t for how erratic and confused the movie was supposed to feel in the first place, but the final payoff didn’t meet up what the film was promising (making this kind of a reverse of The Dark Knight Rises for me). Maybe Stanley will have a bigger budget with The Dunwich Horror, but based on the strength of Dust Devil and Hardware, I wonder if it’s to end up like a John Dies at the End scenario (which I totally forgot to add to this list) as a work by a filmmaker who is best working small-scale rather than large-scale.