The Worst of 2021

‘Worst of’ lists have become widely unpopular in the film-viewing community in recent years. “Celebrate what you liked, don’t bash what you didn’t,” is the prevailing argument. Well, yes… but also, film watching inevitably involves taking the rough with the smooth. (Hopefully unintentionally: if you’re watching something you’re certain you’ll dislike, why? (Says the guy who intentionally watched all five Twilight movies, so, yeah, sometimes there might be a reason.)) Also, I’ve done this list for 14 of 100 Films in a Year’s 15 years, so now would be an odd time to stop (next year, after the first year of the new-style site, I’ll think again).

Before we begin, a reminder that my best and worst lists are selected from all 207 films I saw for the first time in the past year, not just 2021’s new releases.



The 5 Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2021

In alphabetical order…

The Birth of a Nation
D.W. Griffith gets a lot of credit for being a great innovator of the silent era — mainly because he was fond of blowing his own trumpet, and I guess a lot of people unquestioningly bought it (plus ça change). Whether innovative or derivative, his work as director is sometimes striking, and Birth of a Nation would be a pretty entertaining… were it not horrendously racist and brazenly pro-KKK. There’s no half measures here; no “well, I suppose you could interpret it that way”: the film is explicitly and undeniably in favour of the KKK and what they did in the wake of the American Civil War, to the extent the Klan used it (and I guess probably still do) as a propaganda tool. Any other merits it has a film are not strong enough to outweigh that side of it.

Cats
This is every bit as bad as you’ve heard. It’s littered with bizarre production decisions — things that would be a bad idea even if they hadn’t then been poorly realised in a rushed post-production. But it’s not just the freaky cat/human hybrid characters or inconsistent sense of scale that let this down: the underlying musical is mediocre, with mostly forgettable songs and an incredibly thin narrative. Why this was such a long-running hit on stage, I’ll never understand.

Dumb and Dumber
A film that lives up to its title. At no point since its release in 1994 has Dumb and Dumber ever appealed to me, but it has its fans (it even generated a prequel and belated sequel, remember?) and, crucially, was on iCheckMovies’ Most Checked list, which I’ve almost completed (just four to go, thanks to this). Were it not for that, I wouldn’t have watched it. I don’t think I would’ve been any worse off if I never had.

Mortal Kombat
Not the new one, but the one from the mid-’90s, an era when various attempts to transfer popular video game franchises to the big screen gave such unwaveringly poor results they tarnished the genre for decades (in fairness, it’s not like there have been many/any that deserved to dodge the bad rep). Plus, it’s by Paul W.S. Anderson — a double whammy of reasons to expect something awful. And it is indeed a cheap-looking, semi-incoherent, unexciting load of tosh.

Plan 9 from Outer Space
Sometimes you watch a “bad movie” cult classic and, even though it is technically a terrible movie, you have a great time — I’m thinking of The Room or Love on a Leash here. Theoretically, Ed Wood’s famed Z-movie should fall into that camp. If anything, I think it’s the originator of “so bad it’s good”. For some people, that is how it plays. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for me — I just thought it was poorly-made rubbish.


The 21 best films I saw for the first time in 2021.

Ed Wood (1994)

2015 #134
Tim Burton | 127 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Before he descended into self-parody, Tim Burton made movies like this: a biopic of the eponymous ’50s filmmaker, renowned for his so-bad-they’re-good productions. Burton still contributes his trademark dark quirkiness, but it conjures a subject-appropriate tone rather than aimless Burtonesqueness.

It’s the same with Johnny Depp’s lead performance: affected and childlike, as usual, but here to depict a naïve, deluded, optimistic oddball human-being, rather than a self-consciously outrageous fantasy figure.

The result is a true story whose themes and moods are enhanced by stylised moviemaking — much more interesting than either the genre’s regular staid realism or Burton’s later empty theatrics.

4 out of 5

This drabble review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015. Read more here.