14/09/2021 By RuneLite
Which Netflix original movies are worth streaming?
This article has been updated through the end of 2020.
Netflix has spent the last few years and several billions of dollars on a crusade to be taken more seriously. Ever since it began branding its logo on original films in 2015, Netflix’s primary goal has been to divorce itself from the “digital dollar bin” reputation it established upon first pivoting from the snail-mail service, now an unsettlingly faint memory, to streaming. It was not so long ago that the service formerly known as “Netflix Instant” well, sucked; it was a repository for direct-to-DVD sequels, little-seen stand-up specials, and candy-colored kiddie cartoons seemingly plucked from Lisa Frank’s more vivid night terrors. And so Netflix exec Ted Sarandos made a dignified selection for his first narrative go on the silver screen: Beasts of No Nation, a movie about child militias in Africa, with a well-pedigreed creative team (Cary Fukunaga was comin’ in hot off his True Detective stint, Idris Elba was a brand-name star) and their according awards potential. It’s a real movie, and by my count, a pretty good one.
The second film they released was the one where a donkey explosively sharts all over Adam Sandler. Since then, Netflix has bagged an Oscar, elbowed its way into Cannes, and spent more than Panama’s gross national product on content. These days, Netflix is made up of a fair amount of movies that attain mere forgettability instead of outright awfulness. But it’s produced some genuinely good films, as well — as we speak, both Da 5 Bloods and Mank are both contending for Oscar action. Below, we attempt to rank every single Netflix original movie through 2020 (excluding documentaries, in the interest of this list remaining ... bingeable).
Unranked: Cam In this cyber-thriller, the commonplace annoyances of working on the Internet — getting back in to a locked account, dealing with trolls, thirsting for numerical affirmations of your output — assume an uncanny existential terror in league with the eldritch fever dreams of David Lynch. Go-getter cam girl Alice (Madeline Brewer, reinforcing the Lynch comparison with a star-making performance that channels both Naomi Watts and Laura Harring) starts to unravel after she sees someone broadcasting from her channel using her name and her face, who is nonetheless not her. Her frantic maneuvers to secure her livelihood and sense of self climax in a semiotically loaded grand finale that can stand up to the most chilling setpieces of the new millennium. Fortified by verisimilitude that writer Isa Mazzei carried over from her days as a sex worker, directed with neon-laced sleekness by Daniel Goldhaber, and credited as “a film by” the two of them, it’s an inventive and cerebral addition to the recent American horror boom. [Ed. note: Due to conflict-of-interest type reasons — the filmmakers are friends of mine — I’ve opted to exclude this entry from the numerical rankings.]
514. Oh, Ramona!Are there just no rules in Romania? The American studio system has safeguards in place to prevent content this sexist, this repugnant, this hysterically deluded about its own rightness to ever reach the public. No such luck in Eastern Europe, where living boner Andrei (Bogdan Iancu) gives himself a makeover from virginal dork into a self-proclaimed “pussy destroyer” with the pick-up-artist getup to match. His new life as a master of seduction mostly entails treating women with flagrant insensitivity while they moon over him anyway, a nauseating wish-fulfillment fantasy straight from the Men’s Right Activist handbook. But wait, there’s more! Exhortations from Andrei that he’s “not like the other boys,” disgusting nondiegetic insert shots of fingers squelching into ripe produce, and one rousing monologue in which our hero vows to never bed a plus-sized woman ever again all combine to make this a matchlessly rancid piece of work. (Fun fact: the original title was Suck It, Ramona! Wonder why they changed it?)
513. The Do-OverLet’s start the ranking with the most noxious entry in Sandler’s fruitful collaboration with Netflix. David Spade plays a henpecked beta cuck unsatisfied with his pitiful existence, which makes him receptive to an intriguing offer from old buddy Sandler when they meet up at their high-school reunion. A flimsy scheme to reinvent their lives by pinching a pair of dead guys’ identities goes about as poorly as one could reasonably expect, and mostly just cues up tired gags about being tired. That’s the one faintly redemptive feature of this otherwise barren movie: The Sandler filmography gets a rare flash of self-awareness when Spade’s emasculated loser screams, “I’m so tired of women lying to me and fucking me over!” while in a full-on fist fight with yet another “untrustworthy female.”
512. The Last Days of American Crime [Screenwriter takes long drag from PCP-laced future-cigarette] Right, so: in 2024, the government’s going to forget everything we learned from A Clockwork Orange and Ludovico everybody except cops out of all bad impulses via processor chips in our brains, which means this guy — oh man, what if he was seriously named Graham Bricke, and everyone just kept referring to him as “Brick” — he has one week to steal a billion dollars from a “money factory” (you know, like, the place where they print money, whatever) before the forced pacifism brain-signal goes live, but he starts sleeping with the fiancée of the guy he’s working with — that guy’s rich, so his name should be Cash, as in money — and so there’s some double-crossing in there, except that first they need to counterfeit a bunch of money and trick the government into buying it from them, all of which they carry out in the most joylessly hyperviolent manner conceivable. And all the music that isn’t an EDM remix of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” sounds like rejected Papa Roach B-sides. And it pretends to be two and a half hours long (legally actionable to start with), but is in truth one hundred hours long, or perhaps neverending.
511. Rim of the World The filmmaking entity known as “McG” has to be a government psy-op designed to turn the people of the United States against the moving picture form. Tinfoil hats and red-yarn-covered corkboards aside, I cannot hazard any other guess at how someone who’s made ugliness, stupidity, and taking the easy way out into his directorial signatures could have gotten so far in this industry. With the last-ditch efforts of four unpopular kids (a timid nerd, a mini-greaser, an intense yet largely silent Chinese girl, and an Indian imitation gangsta) to scurry through an alien invasion in progress, McG gets to try his hand at a ‘Diet Amblin’ style cribbed from Stranger Things. All that separates his latest feature from the word-of-mouth hit series is its orange-Fanta color grading, convivially racist jokes about Jackie Chan, dimestore CGI, and bone-deep idiocy. Whenever the official Netflix twitter account goes on a tear about their commitment to progressivism and art appreciation, this film should be held up as an incriminating counterexample.
510. Game Over, Man! What kind of kompromat does Adam DeVine have on Netflix’s board members? There’s no other way to explain how he keeps getting execrable concept comedies pushed into existence as if through a sphincter. In this putrid Die Hard clone, he reunites with his former Workaholics pals to portray a trio of hotel custodians who must disarm a hit squad holding a weirdly cameo-heavy party hostage. (Spoiler alert: Flying Lotus’s head explodes, Scanners-style. Also: Jillian Bell soils herself.) Slathered in gay-panic gags and reaching its nadir with an anilingus set piece that will leave all those who see it emotionally scarred, it’s a heartening sign that the Sandlerian legacy of, ahem, half-assing it will remain intact for years to come.
509. I Love You, StupidThe hatred of women that courses through this list’s lowest-ranked film Oh, Ramona! has made its way to a new contender for that ignominious title. It’s the same deal: cold fish Marcos (Quim Gutiérrez) pledges to reinvent himself as an irresistible ladykiller, and with the counsel of a Argentine Jordan Peterson self-help guru, he decides that condescension, manipulation, and negging must be the most direct way to achieve that. As with its Romanian relative, this Spanish flea’s misadventures in ass-getting lob a fat joke that should’ve died out in the ‘90s, along with a bonus transphobia joke that should have never been made in the first place. It only gets worse as he figures out that he’ll be happier with a nice girl, so he decides to grace the cool-girl pal (Natalia Tena) he’s been mistreating this whole time with the privilege of his hand. To quote Carmela Soprano: that is not a match made in heaven.
508. The DirtWith the Oscars all given, we thought that Bohemian Rhapsody had done all the harm that it could possibly do, a false sense of security that left the American public totally unprepared for this unholy Spencer’s Gifts version of the paint-by-numbers musician biopic. As Jeff Tremaine’s boorish take on the Mötley Crüe legend would have it, what made the hair-metal superstars such meteoric successes was their ability to be bigger assholes than everybody else. They’ll hoover up every narcotic in sight, they’ll bang anything that moves (including and especially your girlfriend), they’re pathologically narcissistic, and the film loves them for it. Each song is in actuality an ode to douchery in all its forms, and boy does it take many forms: every flavor of misogyny we’ve got, an unforgivable extended metaphor likening heroin addiction to a mind-blowing yet unreliable lover, an even worse bid to mine pathos from the death of a child. This selfsame douchery is in the human form of Pete Davidson, too, as a sniveling record executive that the band scorns for being slightly less of a prick than they are. An embarrassment of douche riches, truly.
507. Operation Christmas Drop There are laws in place ensuring that digital media web sites clearly identify all sponsored content as such, separate and distinct from the actual writing motivated by thoughts or ideas. This exceptionally sickening art-as-subliminal-advertisement brought to you by the friendly cooperation between Netflix and our pals in the U.S. Air Force makes clear that the movies need similar governance. An all-business congressional assistant (Kat Graham) is sent to a military base in Guam to kick the tires on an annual flight drill in which trainee pilots airdrop crates of Christmas decorations and gifts for the grateful Micronesians in the region. Her hatchetwoman ruthlessness is no match for the cocky come-ons of a Top Gun reject (Alexander Ludwig) and the spirit of Christmas, leaving us with the two equally suspect morals: one, that the islanders love having American soldiers occupying their ancestral land, and two, that no one has any business messing with the budget of the Air Force. Is this our merry Christmas?
506. All the Bright Places Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s 1774 novel The Sorrows of Young Werther inspired a rash of copycat suicides with its soul-scraping depiction of a young man’s chronic depression; in 2017, Netflix took the baton from Goethe, shuffling off his sense of perspective and poetical prose for the death-glorifying 13 Reasons Why. The angry letters they received about that one clearly did not stop them from giving the thumbs-up to this appalling YA romance in which one teen (Justice Smith) must be sacrificed to his own bipolar disorder so that another (Elle Fanning) may learn the value of life. Films like this, which promote the poisonous notion that what’s broken about a person is what makes them beautiful, should be sealed in airtight polyurethane drums and sent to the biohazard waste dump where they belong. The final shot is followed by a title card reminding the audience of the suicide hotline; the filmmakers have included it because they know they’ll have to.
505. The OutsiderMaybe you already know this film as “the Jared Leto yakuza Netflix movie.” Maybe you’re friends with one of the critics who were contractually obligated to review it, and consoled them as they rocked back and forth while babbling that they thought The Last Samurai couldn’t get any whiter. Maybe you saw the ads, depicting Leto’s U.S. expat who sets up shop in the Japanese criminal underground and promptly beats them all on their own turf, and maybe you wondered if the full-back koi tattoo wasn’t a little on-the-nose. Maybe you heard the word “SUMO!?” as a distant scream, as thousands impotently begged to understand how such a tone-deaf display of old-school Orientalism could have come to be. When will Jared Leto be stopped, and who among us can do it?
504. You Get MeAn erotic thriller neither thrilling nor erotic, filled out with a cast of post-Disney starlets and Vine stars temporarily separated from their handlers, this poor-man’s Fatal Attraction plays like a rich symphony of bad choices. We all know the drill: Guy steps out on girlfriend, guy breaks things off with side piece, side piece turns psycho and wreaks vengeful havoc on guy. That time-tested formula gets sullied here by awe-inspiringly dumb dialogue (“I love Tumblr,” one character says, in a subtle reminder that we all someday shall die), and an inability to impose the sexual maturity the story calls for onto the teen characters enacting it. Most troubling of all, this film inadvertently makes the argument that the erotic-thriller tradition necessarily can’t survive in the millennial generation. Up until Lohanian — Lohanesque? — star Bella Thorne gets all stabby, the tensest moments see our boy dramatically sending a text message and his sleuthing girlfriend dramatically checking Facebook. The kids have no idea what they’re doing. Get off my sexy, homicidal lawn!
503. True Memoirs of an International AssassinQ: When is an Adam Sandler movie not an Adam Sandler movie? A: When it’s a showcase for his regular associate Paul “Kevin James” Blart, Mall Cop. Though the Sandman does not show his face in this feature — a dime-store espionage flick that casts Blart as a spy novelist who stumbles into one of his own stories — his authorial fingerprints of passive chauvinism and total stylistic indifference have been smeared all over the frame. More to the point, this film presents a grossly inaccurate depiction of the writer’s creative process. For starters, who deletes a sentence by repeatedly pressing the ‘delete’ key for each individual letter? Highlight and delete, man, or at least hold the key down! Who’s got that kind of time?
502. Malibu Rescue: The Next WaveLong swaths of this sequel to a movie that never had any right to exist in the first place will remind viewers of the SNL sketch about the “Disney Channel Acting School,” in which young thespians learn how to mug for sassiness and bulldoze one punch line after the other. Everything that the “lovable” misfits on beach patrol do during the Olympics of lifeguarding has the flavor of acting without the essence, like a cabernet that doesn’t taste quite right because you unwittingly purchased a bottle marked “Wine Product.” Elaborate metaphors seem like the only means of capturing the unnerving sensation of un-movie-ness permeating this unit of screen entertainment. Their words have the cadence of a joke without humor, not even a failed humor; their dynamics divide them into romantic pairings free of any desire or chemistry. They’re all just reading the words on the page.
501. Malibu Rescue Critiquing this film, which I assume has been made by a crew of ninth-graders with a budget of thirty-seven dollars, makes me feel like a bad sport, as if I’m kicking the last wobbling knee out from a piteous one-legged puppy. But if democratization of content really was the whole idea of Netflix’s streaming revolution, then we must evaluate the puffs of intestinal air right along with the new Cuarón, so here goes: a cast of Nickelodeon alumni and [shudder] Instagram influencers take to the sand and surf for a slobs-versus-slobs lifeguard comedy so feather-light that it barely exists. At a suspiciously short 69 minutes — truly, the nicest run time of all — it comes and goes without leaving any indentation on your mind or soul, a memory-foam movie if ever there was one. I’m reminded of an old friend’s Alabamian mother, who taught us “bless your heart” as an insult reserved for those too harmlessly dumb to make fun of directly. Bless these people’s hearts, every last one of them.
500. A Christmas Prince: the Royal BabyAs if to quell any further bickering over whether this unholy trilogy really is cinema or just trumped-up television, this film opens with a skippable “Previously On...” recap of the preceding installments. It’s all downhill from there, as button-nosed Queen Amber (Rose McIver, presumably funding a boat) prepares to deliver the heir to the kingdom of NotRomania while reexamining her own role in the monarchy. Even if this wasn’t the most gormless, laughless entry in the series, and it is, it would still suffer from its self-defeating efforts to service two competing fantasies. In the first, a woman is whisked off her feet by a man so perfect that his love instantly gives her a life of wealth, glamour, and leisure. But because what makes that tempting also makes it a smidgen sexist, the film puts forth a counterfantasy of female agency within that first fantasy; Queen Amber wants to continue being a journalist, and believes that she should be part of treaty-signing protocol. On top of everything else, it just means the least.
499. The Kissing Booth 2The guidance counselor that briefly consults with high school senior Elle (Joey King) about the college application process hasn’t done her job. The central conflict in this squib of a sequel pertains to her choice between Harvard (and her long-distance boyfriend Noah, already a student there) or UC Berkeley (where her A1 day-one Lee has enrolled). At no point does the film stop to consider that factors other than which boy she’ll be near should be guiding her decisionmaking, a tell that no one has given any thought to who this girl really is. She has no interests or characteristics beyond her passion for Dance Dance Revolution, existing mostly as an extension of two guys this movie isn’t even supposed to be about. This film ladles an oversized (this thing is 131 minutes!) serving of expired anti-feminism onto the tray in a splatter, and the next one’s already on the way. Another sequel will come in 2021, whether we like it or not.
498. The Kissing BoothTeens and their mushy, impressionable brains should be kept far away from this putrid rom-com that plays like the most regrettable studio acquisition of 1989. They’ll get all the wrong lessons from the inadvisable courtship between spunky Elle (Joey King) and bad boy Noah (Jacob Elordi), a relationship forbidden due to Elle’s lifelong friendship with Noah’s brother Lee (Joel Courtney). Director Vince Marcello plays off male possessiveness and other manifestations of entitlement — so much fuss gets made over how this poor girl chooses to dress — like the order of the day, hardly batting an eye at Noah’s nagging violent tendencies. The movie works tirelessly to uphold the hollow honor of “dude code,” that unspoken etiquette dictating how men may lay claim to and trade access to the women in their lives. Let it instead die the natural death awaiting it.
497. Mrs. Serial Killer There’s no overstating the white-hot stupidity of this Indian thriller, but I’ll let the plot speak for itself: the pregnant Sona (Jacqueline Fernandez) is distressed when her husband Joy (Manoj Bajpayee) gets arrested on suspicion of murdering mothers-to-be and aborting their unborn children, so to convince the authorities of his innocence, he and his lawyer convince poor Sona to abduct and murder another victim fitting the profile. She’s hesitant but acquiesces, and then acts so surprised when it turns out the husband getting her to commit homicide on his behalf really was the killer all along. Even more dumbness has been poured in to cement the cracks between the primary dumbness blocks; Sona’s rescuer inadvertently locks himself in a closet for no reason, and when the plot needs her to, she pulls information she doesn’t know out of thin air. It’s the kind of movie that makes you think you could probably write a movie.
496. The Ridiculous 6Sandler stretched himself a little bit by getting into genre work with this Western. Springing this viciously unfunny John Ford riff on America two weeks before Christmas 2015 like a present nobody especially wanted, Sandler portrays a leathery cowpuncher on a search for his wayward Pa with his legion of half-brothers. Their ramble through the countryside mostly exists to cue up collar-tug-worthy cracks at Native Americans and an inexplicable number of “jokes” revolving around donkey feces.
495. The SilencePart of me wishes I could simply cut-and-paste my blurb about Bird Box here with a few altered proper nouns and kick my feet up. That’s more or less what the makers of this movie did, so why should I put in any more effort? The militant sameness enforced by this algorithm has never been so perceivable, as it sculpts a 2016 novel into a remora clinging to the underside of A Quiet Place and its sensory-deprived progeny. The monsters hunting by sound are impish bat freaks in this instance, and until the late-in-the-game introduction of an evil priest, shunted in to fill the empty space where a real antagonist should be, each beat syncs up with a corresponding section of its twin. Not even the divergent casting — Stanley Tucci leads his family to safety, while Chilling Adventures of Sabrina star Kiernan Shipka is his daughter by cross-promotional synergy — can provide any sense of individuality. The dead giveaway: It was written by a guy who made his name penning rip-offs.
494. I Am Not An Easy ManYou’ve got to hand it to France — they may be as good at churning out unfathomably ill-conceived studio comedies as Hollywood. Hell, given the country’s more casual relationship to the strictures of political correctness, they’re probably even better. Case in point is I Am Not An Easy Man, a “comedy” that makes I Feel Pretty look like a Betty Friedan book. One afternoon, a chauvinist pig walks into a pole on the street and awakens in a world where the roles of men and women have been completely reversed! The satire just writes itself! Though, in a much more real way, it does not. The script goes for every easy joke, no matter how distasteful; the sight of men running around in Juicy tracksuits with “HOT” on the butt is sub-camp-skit funny, but a scene that faces him with the same sexual harassment he’d previously practiced is nothing but chilling. On the bright side, Bright’s mastery of allegory appears subtle in comparison.
493. A Christmas Prince: The Royal WeddingHeavy is the head that wears the crown, as they say. Newly coronated queen Amber (a returning Rose McIver) finds the truth in the statement as she gets settled in the throne to the postcard-scenic kingdom of Aldovia — there’s some embezzling going on in the state kitty, but who cares, really — just as the film itself learns how hard upholding its own reputation can be. This sequel isn’t shy about reproducing what audiences liked in the unaccountably successful original, adding yet another layer of unoriginality to an already-thick casserole of unoriginality. And when you clone a clone, surprising new genetic defects crop up, such as a mincing Indian manservant/stylist character guaranteed to appeal to homophobes and colonialism nostalgists alike. Those who didn’t wrinkle their lips at the sugary taste of this peppermint-flavored confection the first time around, however, can take solace in the same wheelchair-bound cuteness factory (Honor Kneafsey), the same upstairs-downstairs tensions between the classes, the same chaste paperback lovey-dovery.
492. GirlThe predominantly cis-gendered critical corps at the Cannes Film Festival gushed over Lukas Dhont’s study of a trans ballerina wrestling for control of her own body, while actual trans viewers out in the world beyond the Croisette largely condemned it. But even for someone with a little less skin in the game of gender, it’s not hard to see the failings of Dhont’s good intentions. (If we’re willing to give him the benefit of that particular doubt, that is.) He assumes a voyeur’s peering vantage point in the many scenes focusing on the private anatomy of Laura (Victor Polster, who, like Dhont, is not trans); we can nearly hear heavy breathing as she carefully tapes down her penis. To say nothing of the remorselessly exploitative finale, in which the mutilation that Laura inflicts on herself is treated not as rock bottom, but as a happy ending. Dhont and Polster have been working the press circuit, repeating ad nauseam that they’re not out to wrong anyone. The canyon between their words and deeds is pan enough, but for more in-depth criticism, read someone who knows what they’re talking about.
491. Mute You can’t fault Duncan Jones for believing in himself. This sci-fi epic is an incoherent mess filtered through an intensely personal vision, and the result is something closer to Battlefield Earth than Southland Tales. Jones clearly poured a lot of himself into the outlay of a techno-Berlin in the year 2035, peopled as it is by such oddballs as Silent Amish Bartender Alexander Skarsgard and Flamboyantly Mustachioed Black-Market Surgeon Paul Rudd. The writing confounds the viewer by constantly bursting out into narrative seizures about robot sex or child pornography while remaining steadfastly boring through its two-plus hours. It’s the rare film that’s impossible to describe without making its badness sound more entertaining than it actually is.
490. The Fundamentals of CaringThat this film could actually manage to be worse than its title is a grim sort of accomplishment. Its pathos is so disingenuous and suffocating that not even Human Embodiment of Charm Paul Rudd can salvage it. He plays a depressed writer (red flag No. 1) who’s going through a divorce (red flag No. 2) following the untimely death of his son (red flag No. 3), and coping by taking new work as a live-in caregiver (red flag No. 4) for a smart-aleck teen (red flag No. 5). Together, they set out on a cross-country road trip (red flag No. 6) and pick up a potential love interest for the boy in a streetwise drifter girl (red flag No. 7), who is also Selena Gomez (red flag No. 8). By starting with a premise so rich with potential for overcooked emotional manipulation, the film sets an uphill battle for itself so steep that it can fall right off the mountain.
489. When We First Met When you’re into someone who’s not into you, it’s hard not to imagine what you could have done differently; if only you had worn this shirt instead of that one, said something smooth instead of something awkward, made a move at just the right moment ... The vast majority of us come to accept that sometimes it’s just not meant to be, and move on. In this rom-com of toxic infatuation, however, Adam DeVine’s lovelorn lame-o spends years secretly lusting after his best friend (Alexandra Daddario) only to happen into a time-travel booth that sends him back to their first night together. The film behaves as if his efforts to use his extensive knowledge of her personality to trick her younger self into falling for him are sweet but misguided. In actuality, he’s a moving embodiment of that immortal Onion article “Romantic-Comedy Behavior Gets Real-Life Man Arrested.”
488. The Wrong MissyLauren Lapkus sets all her dials to maximum capacity as the date from hell in this comedy linked to the expanded Sandlerverse by star David Spade and production company Happy Madison. One errant text message lands Spade on a tropical work retreat not with the vixen of his dreams, but with Lapkus as the similarly-named handful, a living manifestation of the phrase “chicks are crazy!” It plays like an SNL sketch that simply refuses to end, as she and her wacky lack of social graces cause everything from thumbscrew awkwardness to mass destruction. Of course the movie tries to save face by coupling its two main characters up, but to do that it must magically turn Missy from a live-action Looney Tune into a sympathetic, reasonable human woman. Goes to show: if you’re gonna make a bad joke, just make it. The worst thing you can do is backpedal.
487. The Holiday CalendarUntil you give it a quick Google, this one’s a stumper. It’s a pretty by-the-book Yulesploitation flick — a small-time photographer happens upon an enchanted Advent heirloom and must choose between a hot-jerk doctor or her childhood bestie, who’s thoughtful and a good listener! — except for leading actress Kat Graham. Films like this live and die with the winningness of their leads, and both the script and camera treat Graham like she’s a project-carrying name, despite the fact that her lifeless performance could be easily interchanged with that of any other C-lister. But one online search and, ah, it all becomes clear: Graham has spent years as the star of The Vampire Diaries. Except that this ploy to parley her niche notability onto a broader mainstream platform doesn’t stand a chance unless Graham’s got the chops to back it up. The script doesn’t do her any favors, but it’s not as if she’s ready to meet it halfway, either.
486. Father of the YearOur world is full of unknowable mysteries: How does the aurora borealis form? What happened to D.B. Cooper? And for the love of all that is holy, what is going on with David Spade’s accent in this half-baked Happy Madison production? His character Wayne seems to hail from the same stretch of the Rust Belt as Spade’s dirtbag extraordinaire Joe Dirt, but his voice places him somewhere in the Little Australia neighborhood of Boston. That’s the sturdiest point of interest in this comedy of beta-male manners that pits Wayne against rival dad Mardy (Nat Faxon, who has an Oscar), much to the chagrin of their college-aged sons (Joey Bragg and Matt Shively). Their idiotic feud to determine the top paterfamilias leads to accidental MDMA-dropping and male breast enhancement, but the mischief does little to perk up an otherwise stultifying family outing. This film is the equal and opposite reaction to the era of the Hot Dad.
485. The Babysitter: Killer QueenThe most persuasive argument against the very idea of Hollywood — as a place where talent rises to the top, while the market’s natural selection eliminates the weak — has to be the continued employment of McG, who puts so little of himself into the internal logic and simple making of his movies that they barely qualify as movies. In every sense, the center cannot hold for this sequel seemingly thrown together over a long weekend. Not in the broad strokes of the plot, which resurrects characters we saw obliterated in the first film for no good reason just so we can all do the same thing again, and not in its finer points, which turn school counselors and convenience store clerks into juvenile yet sex-crazed MAD Magazine doodles. A good teacher would hand this back to McG with a big, red “PARTIAL CREDIT” and an offer for a do-over, with some effort this time.
484. The Awakenings of Motti Wolkenbruch Some foolhardy Netflix exec retitled this from Wolkenbruch’s Wondrous Journey into the Arms of a Shiksa, which would’ve introduced goyische audiences to the Yiddish term for a non-Jewish temptress right off the bat. Class-A nebbish Motti (Joel Basman) falls for one such siren in this Swiss romcom, much to the consternation of his overbearing mother and the rest of their Orthodox enclave in Zurich. So begins a sexual coming-of-age narrative (coming-of-age!) that could’ve been a revealing peek into another culture or a showcase for some good Semitic yuks, were it not for two crucial errors. The film first forgets to make Motti someone worth following for an hour and a half, presuming that by virtue of being a Nice Jewish BoyTM he’s already won us over, even if everything past that niceness is ineffectual, selfish, or pitiful. And the women who cross his path, from the shiksa we’re informed has a sensational posterior to the Israeli babe he meets while in Tel Aviv, exist solely to help him become a man. At least it’s not Oh, Ramona!, but it tries to be, which is almost worse.
483. Good Sam Kate Melville’s adaptation of an airport paperback with attractive sales figures bills itself as a “feel-good mystery,” naturally posing the question of to whom this all feels good. Only the most warmth-starved hearts would fall for this film’s hokey brand of email-forward optimism as it wins over the jaded one by one. Some incognito do-gooder has been leaving bags of cold hard cash with strangers around New York, but doubtful cub reporter Kate Bradley (Tiya Sircar, better known as The Good Place’s Vicky) wants to find the real story. A street-toughened city gal, she can’t believe someone could possibly be so generous, and only through a saltine-flavored love triangle with a businessman — bad — and a firefighter — good — can she uncover the identity of the anonymous donor. Between the “practice random acts of kindness” hogwash and the DOA romcom hogwash, there’s simply too much hogwash to go around.
482. The PlayersIf director Stefano Mordini is to be believed, infidelity is as much a part of Italian heritage as pasta and Roman Catholicism. This anthology of comedic shorts about married men with wandering eyes affirms all the least-flattering national stereotypes of Italians as horned-up loverboys who won’t let spouses or consent get in the way of a good affair de coeur. (Which is French, but you get the point.) The regressive gender dynamics can make it difficult to see the humor in, say, the story in which a man pays off employees of the hotel at which he has his meet-ups to gaslight his wife, or the one in which a wife finds her husband’s glory hole patronage sweet and quirky. In some cases, or maybe just one case, the man ends up on the losing side of the joke. But even then, the greater message still seems to be “broads, am I right?”
481. A Christmas PrinceI’ve got a theory that if you showed this Yuletide rom-com to someone who had never seen a movie before — ideally, someone who had never even heard of movies — it would positively charm them. Few movies cycle through the clichés of their genre with such a rigorous lack of imagination, and if someone hadn’t already grown tired of the klutzy but cute workin’ girl who falls for a debonair, rich Adonis, they’d feel for our gal Amber (Rose McIver). They wouldn’t bat an eye at the ludicrous plot sending this newly minted reporter on her first-ever assignment to report on the royal family of a fictitious European nation, and they wouldn’t think twice about the improbable mix-up that brings Amber closer to the dashing prince under the pretext of mistaken identity. They wouldn’t roll their eyes at Amber’s conniving brunette-haired foil, or the last-minute deus ex machina that brings the leads — who met earlier that week — together in marriage. This theoretical person would take it all at face value and love it. Sadly, we cannot be so naïve.
480. Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back — Evolution This digitized spawn of the very first feature-length Pokémon movie recycles the original shot for shot, replacing 1998’s hand-drawn animation with cutting-edge CGI and announcing that we learned all the wrong lessons from Disney’s eyesore Lion King remake. Once again, the genetically engineered Mewtwo invites Pokémon trainers from far and wide to a remote island for an Enter the Dragon-type tournament showdown, in actuality a way to capture the most exemplary specimens and clone them for a Poké-army. Hmm, a movie about high-tech soulless doubles whipped up so that they may take the place of the real deal — there’s a mirthless irony in here somewhere. Even the most undeveloped child can see that there’s more color, brightness, feeling, and overall life in the 2D style than its 3D equivalent, which looks like what a layperson viewer would refer to as “butt salad.”
479. The BabysitterThis ’80s-throwback slasher from notorious Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle director McG is an inexplicable Satanic-panic flick that pits a nail-biting kid against his hottie coed caretaker and the rest of her death cult. Why, when he first catches an eyeful of the group (which also includes Bella Thorne, suddenly everywhere) turning a game of spin the bottle into a bloodbath, do the words “WHAT THE FUCK” suddenly fly onto the screen in giant red text? And then later on, when he uses a handy knife given to him by his good pal Anton Chekov in the first act, why does McG throw the phrase “POCKET KNIFE ... BITCHES!” in our faces? Why does the film break up its PG-13 comedy with geysers of gore that John Woo might call “a little much?” Why, after getting shot in the chest, is Bella Thorne unconcerned about her own health and wholly preoccupied with her cans no longer being perfect? Why is there so much trouble in the world?
478. The Larva Island MovieWe’ve been sold a false bill of goods. More dedicated researchers than I have discovered that this “film” is more like a clip package made up of excerpts from a pair of Korean-produced animated series about a pair of compulsively farting grubs and the shipwreck survivor stranded on a desert island with them. The selections have been strung together with a useless framing device in which our man relays his recollections of this time in his life to a blogger at a restaurant, presumably the only scenes produced for this release in specific. The humor is spirit-breaking, the animation horrendous (one close-up shot of ice cubes floating in a glass of water looks like an MS Paint debacle), and the emotions atrophied. Not even the fleeting frames of hardcore fish sex spliced into this children’s entertainment can help it along.
477. Brij Mohan Amar RaheEvidently a satisfactory number of people tuned in for Brahman Naman and Lust Stories, because Netflix has continued their campaign to sew up the Indian sex farce with this comedy that Adam Sandler might describe as “a little on-the-nose.” Not since the days of the Entourage movie has a script’s gender politics so transparently outed itself as being written by men: bra shop proprietor Brij Mohan (Arjun Mathur) can’t stand his humorless shrew of a wife (Nidhi Singh) and wants to begin anew with his 24-year-old girl on the side, so he pulls a move I call the Slimeball Tom Sawyer and fakes his own death. Of course he can’t make a clean getaway, and eventually he (in the guise of his assumed identity, Amar) faces a comeuppance. Seeing someone contemptible get their just desserts should be gratifying, and yet the absence of any character that isn’t a mean-spirited manifestation of male insecurity prohibits that feeling. It is, at least, slightly less unpleasant than The Do-Over, though not for lack of trying.
476. Mutiny of the Worker BeesA warped ideal of success informs this comedy, a Mexican revision of the American Dream in which corporate disruption provides all the fulfillment that would otherwise be provided by love and family. Would-be entrepreneur Omar (Gustavo Egelhaaf) fully subscribes to the perverse start-up worship flourishing in Palo Alto, his ambitions in app development an end in and of itself. (There’s some rubbish at the top about Omar’s grandfather requiring an unspecific medical operation, never to be mentioned again.) There’s a lot of glory and luxury to be had in the tech world, a Peter Pan fantasy in which boys are never made to grow up, and tyro director Carlos Morett lounges in it without once wondering about its deficiencies. Omar and the Office Space rejects writing code with him go up against the working stiffs in management, but at the end of the day, it’s a winner-take-nothing game.
475. WhippedIt’s starting to feel like there’s one guy in Netflix’s international acquisitions department using his powers for subterfuge against the feminist cause. He’s the one who fought for Oh, Ramona! and I Love You Stupid, and now he’s picked up this Indonesian battle of the sexes in which everyone comes out a loser. A handful of men worry that they’ve allowed themselves to become “whipped” — the kind of dweebs who do everything for their girlfriends, who are shown to be just the worst people alive — and enlist in a class to cure them of their soyboy inadequacies. The teacher, a primped-up Halloween costume version of herself, helps them awaken the alpha males laying dormant within, though she’s got some extra credit waiting for them that they might not be ready for. This barely-a-twist allows director Chandra Liow (a pro YouTuber) to claim that this salute to ‘50s gender norms is really a lampooning of the same, but the perfunctory turnaround can’t erase the glee of the early scenes’ hatred for women.
474. The Last SummerWhile I’m steadfast in my belief that “The Summer That Changed Everything” is one of cinema’s most dependable subgenres, William Bindley did his darndest to convince me otherwise with this soulless imitation. The almost-too-telegenic graduates that this film follows for three magical months before college — an ensemble led by K.J. Apa, better known as TV’s Hot Archie Who Fucks, and Maia Mitchell of The Fosters — scarcely register as human. Bindley sends them on Instagram-filtered walk-and-talks down Chicago streets at magic hour, rattling off notable alumni of NYU’s film school (she’s a cineaste-in-training, he has dreams of EDM stardom), and not for one second does it resemble a conversation between members of our species. They’re not even the smart-mouthed comic-strip characters of a Can’t Hardly Wait, a clear influence on the film’s open stock-type-bandying. They’re an adult’s idea of teens, portrayed by twenty-somethings that look thirty, animated by a dope’s idea of wit.
473. BlockbusterWhere did the French get their reputation as masters of romance? July Hygreck’s tone-deaf rom-com could singlehandedly rewrite the national caricature, so repellent is its approach to courtship. Lola (Charlotte Gabris) kicks Jeremy (Syrus Shahidi) to the curb with good reason, and still the film tacitly cheers him on as he goes about whipping up a DIY superhero movie to win her back. Because Lola loves the capes-and-tights set, this gesture is presented as a thoughtful, quirky demonstration of devotion in the vein of Be Kind Rewind (that Lola’s favorite director is explicitly stated to be Michel Gondry, who cameos in the film, should not come as a surprise), instead of an unsavory homage to the guy who wouldn’t stop playing piano. The most baffling aspect of all is that a female director would be behind this blend of toxic male entitlement and high-viscosity corn syrup.
472. Isi & Ossi Oliver Kinele transposes the lyrics of Pulp’s anthem “Common People” to Germany for this romance of class tourism. Isi (Lisa Vicari) has had it with being a billionaire’s little princess, and goes to get a minimum-wage job at a burger shack for a taste of the real world. It’s there that she meets coarsely-mannered boxer Ossi (Dennis Mojen), and hatches a foolproof plan to get back at her parents: she’ll have Ossi pose as her bad-to-the-bone boyfriend, and in exchange, she’ll pay his way through the fight circuit. Has any movie relationship begun under false pretenses ever not bloomed into the real thing? Rom-coms come alive in execution, and this one does not rise to be the best version of itself. (Rapping grandpa: Still A Thing, Apparently!) It can’t even cough up a real ending; our couple just decides to be poor and happy together. Though, of course, if she calls her dad, he could stop it all.
471. BudapestIn Europe, gangs of bros raise the bachelor party to the Nth degree with so-called “stag weekends,” non-stop bacchanals of liquor-chugging, cross-dressing, and generally dishonorable behavior. In this aspirationally moronic comedy from (where else!) France, two suit-wearers (Manu Payet and Jonathan Cohen) make a career change into the party industry, arranging such unspeakable getaways under the banner of Crazy Tours. This premise mostly acts as a container for lots of narcotics, pendulous breasts, and other monkey business, all of which is for nothing more than its own sake. The contentious debate over depiction vs. endorsement — whether a film can show men behaving badly without condoning their seductive misbehavior, the question Martin Scorsese must re-answer every five years — ends here, with a film that makes zero effort to interrogate or rise above itself. One-time Hitman director Xavier Gens is simply too accommodating to the men making all the accommodations.
470. Intuition (La corazonada)None of the accepted reasons for a film to sire a prequel or sequel — the resolution of lingering questions, the chance to hang out with a beloved character once again, the promise of another box-office bonanza — apply to this vestigial appendage hanging off of 2018’s Perdida. Perhaps the veritable tens of viewers for that featureless, rewarmed crime procedural have been waiting to get the backstory of cop Pipa (Luisana Lopilato), but even they will be enraged to find that most of the screen time belongs to her senior partner Juanez (Joaquin Furriel). The multiple cases they tackle in these two hours, an unfocused length giving it the disjointedness of a TV binge-watch, do nothing to illuminate who these people are or why we should take interest in their work. I once read that for latter Hellraiser sequels, they’d just take random horror scripts and jam Pinhead in there; it feels like the same thing has been done to presumptive franchise leader Pipa.
469. BrightWhile definitely the most high-profile bad Netflix movie — a budget big enough to lure Suicide Squad director David Ayer and star Will Smith, plentiful CGI, a log line as simple as “orc cop” — this feature-length insult to the concept of allegory is not quite the worst in the library. But credit Ayer for giving it the ol’ college try, rehashing the racial commentary of his breakout script Training Day for an alternate Los Angeles where hulking magical beasties stand in for black folks. From this unsound premise he weaves an incomprehensible story involving a powerful magic wand, Noomi Rapace as a tremulous elf, and latent plot-hole-fixing superpowers revealed at just the right moment. The merciful among you may feel moved to award Ayer some pity points for following an original thought instead of churning through more franchise fare, but the script relinquishes any goodwill with four simple words: “Fairy lives don’t matter.”
468. Fatal AffairNo, you’re not having a stroke and misreading the words Fatal Attraction. With a lack of shame so deep as to border on impressive, director/cowriter Peter Sullivan makes surface-level alterations of race and gender to Verhoeven’s original, but it’s the changes closer to the core that kill this thing’s spirit. Ellie (Nia Long) is living the dream — big house, high-power lawyer job, photogenic family — but feels like a stranger to her husband (Stephen Bishop). We know where things go from here, with a brief indiscretion (Omar Epps) leading to the other man’s obsession, but Sullivan has commitment issues. Ellie doesn’t even actually cheat, going no farther than a momentary makeout in a club bathroom, because Sullivan can’t or won’t make her as genuinely dislikable as Michael Douglas could be. There goes all the spice the erotic thriller genre once held, and indeed, all the eroticism.
467. iBoyThe primary utility of this rinky-dink attempt at a superhero movie (I’ll say this but once: Do not produce an effects-driven action film if you do not have the budget to make those effects look good) is to determine Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams’s viability as a big-screen quantity. That’s really the only intriguing question in this unattractive, rote squandering of a neat concept, namely, a crime-fighter with the power to interface with all electrical devices. While some of us might use technopathy to redistribute wealth or expose covert wrongdoing, our hero Tom (Bill Milner) instead goes after neighborhood toughs like a USB-enabled Kick-Ass. Williams, as Tom’s inevitable love interest, is fine.
466. The After PartyWorldStarHipHop, that august online repository of fight clips, uploaded freestyles, and twerk videos, produced this misbegotten rap comedy in their first foray into feature-length entertainment. We know this because of the big honkin’ Worldstar logo that flashes over the screen in the opening seconds, and because of the guy who yells the trademark “WORLDSTAAAAAR!” when grinding MC Owen (up-and-coming rapper Kyle) projectile pukes on Wiz Khalifa in front of a hundred recording iPhones, and because the website makes him a laughingstock in the very industry he’s trying to break into. But even without the name-drops, the Worldstar stamp would still be evident from the long line of rapper cameos, some better than others. (Jadakiss stopping by to drop a little knowledge about Eric B. and Rakim plays a tad better than [checks notes] Desiigner musing on his love for cute animal vids.) Netflix’s attempts to game the numbers have never been as undisguised as when Owen and his best friend/manager Jeff (Harrison Holzer) try to glad-hand for a record deal with living catchphrase machine–slash–animate social-media account DJ Khaled. “Wise up!” is Mr. Khaled’s advice, words the film itself would’ve been smart to heed.
465. Tau Riding high off his Oscar win for a Winston Churchill buried under pounds of prosthetic jowl, Gary Oldman estranged himself even further from humanity by voicing the artificially intelligent computer program that gives this dismal sci-fi project its title. Looming over a captive test subject (Maika Monroe), Tau’s twisted creator (Ed Skrein) explains that this A.I. is so advanced that it must be “cut off from the outside world,” which amounts to Tau acting like a complete dumbass all of the time. Left alone with Monroe’s wily prisoner, he peppers her with infantile questions mostly about what different words mean, eventually segueing into a pas de deux most accurately described as “Ex Machina on stupid pills.” What does it mean to live, Tau wonders; this critic found himself wondering the same thing, albeit in a more existentially despairing tenor.
464. Sandy WexlerThis biopic of a fictitious, incompetent, ill-mannered talent manager benefited from the subtle handicap of lowered expectations, exceeding the likes of The Do-Over with a handful of decent one-liners and some amusing celebrity cameos. One gets the impression that Sandler’s actually trying in this train wreck, as opposed to the more passive train wrecks that preceded it. But praising the “best Adam Sandler movie for Netflix” is like choosing your favorite dental procedure. Either way, by the time it’s over, you won’t be able to feel part of your face.
463. The TribeHow the same laws requiring Lee Daniels to slap his name on The Butler fail to prevent confusion between this stink-bomb and the superlative 2015 film of the same title (also on Netflix as recently as a few months ago!) eludes me. God save any poor soul looking for the latter who lands on the former, another dispatch from French studio comedy hell. [Deep breath, as if bearing the weight of all my past mistakes:] A layoff-happy meanie CEO shrugs off his long-lost birth mother when she accosts him outside his office building, but after a head injury leaves him a little slow on the uptake, he happily joins [second deep breath] her predominantly elderly dance troupe. A film so brazenly lazy and slapdash doesn’t qualify for full sentences, so: Butt jokes. Big-man-dancing jokes. Family! CEO nice. Movie!
462. Spenser ConfidentialPeter Berg and Mark Wahlberg seemed to have a good thing going there, spinning red-white-and-blue accounts of lunchpail heroism from real-life tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombing or the BP oil rig explosion. I personally found this long-term project abhorrent, but even I wouldn’t deny that the system worked, so why go and blow it on this chewed-up cop comedy? Berg is too committed to his muse’s throbbing masculinity to accept that Wahlberg’s only funny when put forth as a knowing parody of himself (see: The Other Guys), instead doing so halfway and mostly unwittingly. As he gets out of prison — following a smackdown from his pal Post Malone — and goes to work ridding Massachusetts of crime, he essentially morphs into the Parliament-smoking, Dunkin-chugging hero BostonMan. From the loudmouth girlfriend (Iliza Schlesinger, doing a so-so Amy Adams in The Fighter) to the nameless nonwhite gang members whose presence says more than the characters are allowed to, it’s the movie that the trailer for Boston Accent has been waiting for.
461. #realityhighOne day, Congress will pass a bill rendering hashtag movie titles punishable by law, but until then, we’re stuck with this utterly clueless Clueless wannabe. (Or Easy A. Hell, even The DUFF. This is the saddest kind of bad movie, one that feels like a worse version of so many wonderful movies.) The latest in a long line of films that know teenagers use social media but utterly fail to understand how, this pat after-school special dispenses nuggets of wisdom about being true to yourself and knowing who your friends are that possess all the depth and nuance of a tweet. I pray that today’s teens, for their own sake, will get better nostalgia objects than this one.
460. The Cloverfield ParadoxThe greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the viewership of Super Bowl LII to watch this movie. Turns out all the hubbub over the zero-warning release was all compensation — for a plot cobbled together from no fewer than four classics, for cut-rate production values suggesting the producers set most of their $45 million budget on fire, and perhaps the most cynical, mercenary approach to connected-universe franchising yet. Gugu Mbatha-Raw does her best as an astronaut mourning the death of her children (would you believe that comes up later on in the film?) as she and her colleagues inadvertently shoot themselves into an unpredictable parallel dimension. A handful of nifty set pieces get kneecapped by technical shortcomings, and the big reveal as to what the hell this all has to do with Cloverfield is so cheap, so manipulative, and so nihilistic that it could have come from one of the latter seasons of The Walking Dead.
459. PolarThe dream of the ’90s — when making Pulp Fiction, but dumber and more violent, was the highest station to which an up-and-coming director could aspire — is alive with Jonas Åkerlund’s stylized-to-a-fault translation of a noir-shaded comic series. Hit man Mads Mikkelsen is two weeks out from hanging up his holsters, so he does the safe thing and savors some well-earned R&R over two uneventful weeks. Sike! His boss (Matt Lucas) sends his underlings to kill the much-feared “Black Kaiser” so that the cost of his pension won’t come out of the company kitty. But Åkerlund has no time to get hung up on the vindictive side of human resources, he’s off smacking us across the face with freeze-frame title introduction cards for each bundle of quirks passed off as a character. The constant Ol’ Faithfuls of blood are plenty, the imbecilic non-twist clarifying the purpose of Vanessa Hudgens is just too much, and killing an angelic French bulldog for no other reason than jollies is the final straw.
458. Work ItAnother brick in the wall of dance-team titles. This one sets out to launder the kid-TV talents of Sabrina Carpenter (no one has ever been less believable as the awkward, uncool everygirl) and Liza Koshy into a new level of industry legitimacy, placing them in a movie that only affirms that how staggeringly outclassed they will be by the Haley Lu Richardsons and Zoey Deutches of the world. Unequipped with comic timing or a skill for reaction, they lumber through the usual tournament-style competition in service of that favored plot motivator for teen movies, college admission. Bad acting, bad writing, sure — but what of the dancing, presumably the reason anyone’s watching? There’s nothing to see here that can’t be found in a more technically honed form in hundreds of Instagram clips, and they won’t make you gag on a last-minute message about cross-cultural unity through movement. Where have you gone, Julia Stiles? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
457. The PromSo many mainstream productions on Broadway champion the importance of being true to yourself, a potent moral for the misfits and outcasts that tend to be attracted to musical theatre. This crowd-pleasing Great White Way tourist attraction, an empty exercise in feel-goodery adapted for the screen by the aptly self-congratulatory Ryan Murphy, starts from the popularity with LGBTQ teens and reverse-engineers a story from there. A quartet of stage actors (Nicole Kidman, James Corden, Andrew Rannells, and, egregiously, Meryl Streep) in need of a cause célèbre to make themselves look sympathetic travel to Indiana to support an earnest young lesbian (Jo Ellen Pellman) forbidden from taking her girlfriend to the school dance. A few sticky melodies — “Zazz” is a faux-Fosse highlight — can’t overcome the ruthlessly calculated script, altogether cynical in the way it exploits its presumed audience’s soft spots to mechanically extract pathos. (The less said of Corden’s impression of a gay man, bad not because of who he is but because it is just bad, the better.)
456. The Red Sea Diving ResortThe expression “bad for the Jews” refers to the quality of being deleterious to the Jewish people, used in cases when one of our own has done something particularly shameful as well as instances of goyim doing harm to the community. This film falls under the second category of BFTJ, in casting a red-blooded and blue-eyed Chris Evans as a Mossad agent named Ari Levinson. Tapping Captain America to portray an Israeli commando would be like getting J-Law to play Anne Frank; Jewish viewers can smell the falsity like a brisket cooking in the oven. The boneheaded miscasting and the underlying unfamiliarity with the culture hamper the whole of this Argo-style extraction thriller, which pulls out the Talmudic passage from Schindler’s List at a make-or-break moment that ends up broken. Throw in one severely mislaid “Hungry Like the Wolf” montage and an undeserved final-act moral stand, and we hit peak BFTJ. Slavery, genocide, and now this?
455. Feel the BeatAs is the case with so many entries loitering around the lower end of this list, this film has a mistaken impression of itself. The script and camerawork frame leading lady Sofia Carson as a movie star she simply cannot be. The hoary premise — a cutthroat Broadway chorus girl gets her moral bearings by returning to her sleepy Wisconsin hometown and coaching the local junior dance team to glory at regionals — requires a true celestial object of the screen in order to work, a winning combination of personality and song-and-dance talent that compels us to eat around all the other stuff. (The cheap pathos milked from Deaf Girl and Tomboy Girl hocks a loogie in the face of School of Rock, which did this earnestly and honestly.) We need someone we’d follow anywhere, an Emma Stone or even an Anna Kendrick, but Carson’s total lack of screen presence brands her as another automaton marched out of the Disney laboratory.
454. Death NoteAfter slogging through this American anime adaptation, the best thing a viewer can say about director Adam Wingard is that he’s a master of misdirection. We were all so focused on the question of whitewashing in this originally Asian property that the media narrative almost entirely ignored how defiantly uninteresting this movie is. How could a story that reimagines Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov as a hot genius teen on a lethal mission to cleanse the world of evil and features real-life god of death Willem Dafoe as an apple-munching CGI god of death, possibly turn out so dull? It’s not just the visual flatness that trades the bustle of metropolitan Japan for permanently grey Seattle, but that this morality tale’s moralizing is fundamentally inconsistent. It contradicts itself too many times to make any lucid point.
453. All the Freckles in the World I once saw a cartoon wherein Mouses Mickey and Mortimer had a volleyball competition to determine who would win the privilege of Minnie’s four-fingered hand; it ended with her rebuffing them both, stating that no woman wants to be made into a trophy. If a kiddie short from a childhood [REDACTED] years ago understood this, how is it that writer-director Yibrán Asuad hasn’t caught up? He sees his cast’s assorted girls as accessories to be obtained in this account of a Mexican boy’s maturation, colored as it is by the competitive spirit of the 1994 World Cup. Jóse Miguel (Hanssel Casillas) gets into futbol because he believes his flavor-of-the-week will be into him after he bests her current boyfriend on the pitch; he doesn’t, but she still ends up with our boy, despite him learning not a single blessed thing about how to treat a woman. (Then he blows that too, moving on having shown no growth.) Suggestible young men, don’t try this at home.
452. The Week Of Anything setting up Rachel Dratch to do a long-form Lawng Eyeland accent cannot be all bad. But she’s merely a supporting player on Netflix’s latest two-hour episode of the Adam Sandler show, a hellacious and unending variety program in which the softest-working man in show business alternates between his tiny-man squeaking and his angry-man yelling. (Not all funny voices are created equal.) Dratch and Sandler are the proud parents of the bride in this nuptial culture clash as they struggle to fit in with the black groom’s family, in particular his suave surgeon dad Chris Rock. There’s a bit of Lady Bird–ish insight on the awkwardness of being in the lower half of the middle class, but it’s hard to hear over the sound of Sandler’s strangulated yowling.
451. Happy AnniversaryHow can the end product of a team-up between two performers as generously lovable as Noël Wells and Ben Schwartz and a bulldog puppy end up so grating and charmless? Blame writer-director Jared Stern, the guy responsible for The Intern and the short-lived sitcom Dr. Ken, who packs this portrait of a disintegrating romance with unbearable one-liners like, “It’s not called gently reclining in love, it’s called falling in love!” The film traces their slow breakup from fight to fight, forgetting to first give the audience a compelling reason to root for these two self-absorbed platitude factories to stay together. Without that, their separation feels only right and overdue, eons removed from the mournful register Stern’s going for. The film gets to the conclusion that some relationships aren’t worth struggling for about 80 minutes after everyone else.
450. Walk. Ride. RodeoLast year, Chloé Zhao spun a heartland tragedy with The Rider, a glowingly received film about an injured rodeo star’s convalescence and eventual return to the ring. Amberley Snyder’s life story clip-clops down the same dusty Wyoming road — the real-life 19-year-old would not let a car crash paralyzing her from the waist down keep her from her purpose — but director Conor Allyn and star Spencer Locke’s interpretation of it reduces her struggle to an outline of itself. Though the facts may be real and the stunts authentic, her pain is all fake. The country-rock soundtrack plays at cookouts in the deepest reaches of Hell, and as Amberley’s mother, Missi Pyle is acting in an entirely different (and likely better) movie. Only the most dedicated horse girls will be able to make it through this rough ride without getting thrown.
449. Airplane Mode How dare direc